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Bicycling

Bamboo Bike Studio Fabricators Make a Pit Stop in San Francisco

8:19 AM PDT on June 8, 2010

bamboo_bike_profile_small.jpgBamboo Bicycle Studio
bike. Photos: Matthew Roth.

On the way to a local caffeination recharging station near Mint
Plaza last week, I locked my bicycle next to two very odd rides: The
frames were bamboo and the bamboo tubes were connected with fiberglass.
The frames looked solid, but seeing a bike that wasn't made of steel or
some alloy was striking in its singularity.

Sitting outside Blue Bottle were two young men who fit the bicycle
courier profile quite well, so I took a chance that the bikes might be
theirs and asked about them.

The two cyclists were part of the Bamboo Bike Studio in
Brooklyn, NY, where they teach weekend bamboo bike building workshops.
Josh Rovner, one of the founders of the Bamboo Bike Studio, explained
their workshops as an opportunity to teach do-it-yourself bicycle
building skills while promoting bamboo as a sustainable design
alternative to other bicycle frame materials. Over the course of a
weekend, they teach participants how to
build their bikes from scratch and send them off on the bike they just
built.

Rovner, originally a student of film, turned to building bamboo
bikes after volunteering for Columbia University's Bamboo Bike Project,
where he caught the bug and now makes his living in part by teaching the
workshops.

Their studio has been featured in numerous media outlets in the two
years they've been teaching classes, which has resulted in tremendous
interest in the bikes. Their four-person workshops are booked through
September and they have a waiting list approximately 400-people long.

San Francisco was less a business trip than an opportunity to ride
the city and Rovner said their next destination for new workshops was
Ghana. They will be taking a trip in July to try to establish themselves
there and begin teaching frame-building classes.

Asked how they were different from handmade frame builders or
bamboo frame specialists like Calfee Design, which has marketed a bamboo bike that can
be used for racing, Rovner said, "We don't build these as
performance bikes, we build them to be strong."

bamboo_bike_tranny_small.jpg

As
testament to their strength, Rovner, a part-time bicycle courier, has
put nearly 4,000 miles on his bike and has found no problems with frame
durability.

Though they have experimented with bamboo from various locations in
the U.S., Rovner said the bamboo in the frames they currently use is
from the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.

Besides the bamboo frame and the fiberglass joints, the frame
builders use stainless steel tubing in the seat and to anchor the step
to the steering column. They also use factory parts for the
transmission, the bottom bracket shell, the front fork and the
handlebars.

The cost of the workshop depends on what you build:
If you only build a frame, it's $632; if you build a complete bike, it's
$948. Rovner admitted they make just enough "to keep playing and keep
engineering," though he'd like to scale up and bring costs down.

He also acknowledged "it's a bit of a novel purchase, I think, for
someone who
just wants to learn how to build something like this," but he said the
interest in learning about bike building is as much the purpose of the
classes as making a living doing it.

"I don't want to build you a bike. I don't want to sell you a
bike," he said. "I
want to teach you how to build your own and as a consequence I want you
to teach three of your buddies to build their own."

stem_and_downtube_small.jpg

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