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How to Make a Bamboo Bike

World’s largest grass is stronger than you think

14

Some people are tinkerers—they whittle tiny statues from pieces of wood or bars of soap or knit baby booties.

Michael Mann leaves these folks in their own sawdust and yarn scraps. He’s built a 17-foot kayak from light wood and industrial-sized cheesecloth and recently put the finishing touches on a bamboo bike.

“It’s partially about sustainability,” says Mann (GRS’12), who finished the bike last spring. “But it’s really about utilitarianism and being able to build and repair things by yourself.”

A doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences department of geography and environment, Mann says his creations come from the enjoyment of working with his hands, with an added bonus that they help protect the environment.

His idea of building a bike from bamboo evolved after seeing one online. Although several websites featured such bikes, he couldn’t find a site dedicated to step-by-step building instructions. So he improvised, which spawned his blog documenting a process of trial-and-error.

In a basement workshop lit with a single LED bulb, Mann spent hours after school and on weekends working on the bike. A rickety folding table, scattered with cans of epoxy and random tools and gadgets, served as his workbench.

Being a soup-to-nuts type of guy, Mann hunted for a local bamboo source and found one in “a generous fellow’s backyard” in Jamaica Plain. He spent three months firing and drying his harvest, only to have two-thirds of his poles split. It was just one of several bumps in the road. Mann returned online and ordered three pretreated, eight-foot-long black bamboo poles, and from January to April he sliced, mitered, and sanded them into a bicycle frame. He then joined the poles using hemp fiber and epoxy.

Before the bike’s parts could be glued together, every bamboo surface required sanding to the grain. Mann credits his Dremel handheld sanding and mitering tool for saving countless hours of work. Without the gadget, he says, “I would’ve been sanding until I was 90.”

A frame of PVC pipe stands on a chunk of plywood. Mann used this jig to align his bamboo bike, the hardest part of the job. He was able to use BU Bikes’ truing stand to center the wheels.

Mann stands in his backyard beside his new bike (his third bike, but first made from bamboo) on a recent sunny afternoon. The bamboo poles shine with a natural glow, their sheaths spotted like the elegant legs of a giraffe. The bike is beautiful and quirky.

The Connecticut native points to those parts he was unable or chose not to make: cork handles, a seat post, front fork, wheels, pedals, and an eight-speed gear hub—among others.

Saving money wasn’t one of Mann’s goals: the bike cost almost $800 to build. He says he couldn’t resist souping it up with a fancy back wheel and an internal gear system.

The bike rolls smoothly along as Mann pedals down a side street in his Brookline neighborhood. He hopes to use it for all his commuting and has already shown off the bike to friends. His idea is to encourage others to be handier—even if it means merely patching jeans or baking a loaf of bread.

For a guy who’s already built two modes of transportation, what’s next? Mann answers easily: another bamboo bike.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

14 Comments

14 Comments on How to Make a Bamboo Bike

  • Anonymous on 06.07.2010 at 1:14 am

    Very cool bike!

  • matthew on 06.07.2010 at 9:29 am

    pretty cool bike

  • Infamous Carrot on 06.07.2010 at 10:27 am

    Soup to nuts cool bike!

  • Anonymous on 06.13.2010 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for this story

    Don’t know if I have what it takes, but I’ll check out Michael’s blog to learn more about how to build a bamboo bike. Maybe you’ll see another BU student cruising on Comm Ave with one?

  • Anonymous on 06.22.2010 at 9:44 pm

    Very well done, now Mike can reach the pinnacle of coolness by building a bamboo recumbent bicycle!

  • Anonymous on 06.25.2010 at 9:26 am

    This company also made a bamboo bike

    http://www.biomega.dk/
    If you go to ‘Bikes’ and ‘Bamboo Bike’

  • Max on 08.19.2010 at 9:41 pm

    Bamboo Bike

    WOW!! This is really cool. How about the durability? Will it last?

  • Aanmelden zoekmachine on 09.12.2010 at 6:06 am

    Great bike

    Excellent idea, would buy one!

  • kcornuelle on 09.14.2010 at 9:32 am

    Comments below were posted when this story was previously published.

  • Anonymous on 09.17.2010 at 7:11 am

    Zambikes

    This Zambian company supports environmental and economic sustainability for Zambians through sale of Bamboo bikes: http://www.new.zambikes.org/

  • Anonymous on 09.22.2010 at 1:45 pm

    That’s a beautiful bike, for sure. Most experiments with bamboo as a frame material have been upscale, boutique projects. Craig Calfee has been building bamboo frames for years. He’s your man if you’re ready to drop anywhere from $1895 to $4495 (frame only):

    http://www.calfeedesign.com/bamboo.htm

    Of course, you can go even greener by being a gleaner. I salute all the savvy BU undergrads pedaling around on old Univegas, Peugeots, and Treks — in a word, going with a good used steel frame, which will outlast you (and a bamboo frame) if you take minimal care of it.

  • Anonymous on 12.24.2010 at 5:38 pm

    i'd like to build one - can you help?

    Have you published any further details beyond this video that would help me build one at home? Examples: how do you select the bamboo? How do you fit the headset and crankset? What do you do for the rear break and rear wheel drop outs, etc. Thanks if you can help!

  • Atolye 2B - Resim Kursu on 11.05.2011 at 11:24 am

    Cool green bike!

  • Graham Boswell on 07.13.2012 at 10:07 am

    While it is important to address the amount of carbon dioxide that we are responsible for putting into the atmosphere, we cannot overlook the other, more harmful, greenhouse gasses, methane and nitrous oxide.

    Methane is 23 times as powerful a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide; nitrous oxide is 310 times as powerful. 40 percent of methane and 65 percent of nitrous oxide produced from human activities come from livestock. (source: US Emissions Inventory 2008)

    The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has stated that livestock accounts for a greater percentage of human produced greenhouse gasses than all of transportation. One calculation, by the World Watch Institute, found that livestock are responsible for 51% of all human produced greenhouse gasses.

    If everyone in Boston stopped driving cars and instead got around on bikes, it would make a huge difference. However, animal agriculture would continue to devastate the planet. Riding a bike will not keep rainforests from being destroyed, as 70 percent of our rainforests have been slashed and burned in order to raise livestock (source: World Bank Working Paper no. 22). Every second that goes by, 89,000 ponds of excrement is produced by livestock raised for food in the U.S. alone. (Source: World Watch Institute). This massive amount of untreated feces, which comes from industrialized animal agriculture, destroys local ecosystems; riding a bike will not prevent this. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

    The wonderful thing is that we don’t need animal agriculture. Not only can we live on exclusively plant based foods, it turns out that a balanced diet of whole plant foods is much better for our health.

    I bring this up because I feel it is irresponsible to discuss green living without considering the consequences of our food choices, given the massive impact of animal agriculture on the planet.

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