New ways to ride are constantly being created by clever peddlers around the globe. With the opening of the Melbourne Bike Fest last night, we thought we would take a look at one craze sweeping the globe – bamboo bikes – and talk to Melbourne’s resident bamboo bike bloke Michael Efford.
“Bamboo’s a beautifully appropriate material to make bike frames from – it’s a pre-built hollow tube designed by nature that’s amazingly strong and easy to work with,” explains Michael, when asked why on earth one would think of making a bike frame out of bamboo.
“It has lovely ride characteristics – it’s flexible enough to absorb a lot of road vibration yet stiff enough to still give good power transfer,” he says. “It’s also completely renewable and very fast growing, which is great for the planet – and you don’t need to know how to weld anything, making it a very accessible material to work with.”
As a trained multimedia graphic designer, Michael spent years designing objects using 3D modelling software and, being “a complete bike nut”, he saw the new business – aptly named Bamboo Bikes – as the perfect nexus of his two big passions.
“Having computer-bound jobs for the last 10 years has left my lower back in ruins and it was getting harder and harder to sit and work each day – so I did something about it.
“I quit my desk job and rented a studio and designed workbenches that I can use while standing up to build the bikes. It’s been a better life ever since.”
We asked Michael a few questions about his new pursuit…
What are the biggest challenges of working with bamboo for bike frames?
The biggest challenge would be finding the perfect pieces of bamboo to work with. There’s over 3000 different species of bamboo that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Bikes need bamboo with thick walls, yet still be light enough to use on a frame.
It also has to be the right diameter for the various parts of the frame, along with no traces of ‘wood borer’ (bugs that eat bamboo), cracks, rotting or scratches. So the selection process can take some time, and given that no two pieces are the same it’s going to be very hard to mass-produce bamboo frames.
What’s the response been to the bikes so far?
Great! People from far and wide have contacted me with affirmations of joy about the first bike. It’s also had some showings in local press and turns a few heads when stopped at intersections.
It’s also made it to the finals of the Melbourne Bike Festival’s ‘Better By Bike’ competition, which I’m very happy about!
Where can we get one?
People can contact me through my website and we can discuss what sort of bike they’re after and go from there. At the moment I’m keen on staying a small custom-built service for people that understand the benefits of bamboo in the first place.
I’m planning on producing 5 more prototype frames to hone my skills in the craft as well as taking on 5 more custom orders in the next 6 months.
In the long term I hope to be able to run bamboo bike building workshops so that people can learn the joy that is building and riding your very own hand-made bike.
The Melbourne Bike Fest runs from 24 – 28 November 2010. Check out the full program here.