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Bamboo bike quite the offshoot

J. Michael Kennedy, LA Times
Ten years ago, a Santa Cruz shop owner’s dog got him thinking. Now he hopes his concept will take root in Africa.

…Which brings us back to Luna, may she rest in peace.

Luna was adept at crushing wooden sticks with her powerful jaws. Give her a piece of wood, and she’d chew it to splinters in no time. But the best she could manage with the hard, round stalks of bamboo was a tooth mark or two.

And that got Calfee to wondering: If bamboo was strong enough to withstand Luna, why couldn’t it be a bicycle frame?

Since then, Calfee has gone from building clunker bamboo bikes to fashioning sleek, pricey racing machines that turn heads in even the snobbiest pace lines. He’s built 91 bamboo bicycles, enough for their reputation to spread across the country. And, perhaps as important, enough for Calfee to have faith in his unusual contraptions.

…In Calfee’s case, you can also ride it.

He still has that first bike he made a decade ago. He uses it to run errands around town but doesn’t bring it to the shop much because a customer might get the wrong idea. The bike has a big split in the wood — which he’s repaired — and its mustache handlebars aren’t exactly state-of-the-art.

…”It’s a great bike,” said Runyan, 63, who rode it in Hawaii’s Ironman triathlon last year. “The bike continually gets double takes and questions. People look at it and ask if it’s really made of bamboo.”

…So word spread through Runyan and others that the bamboo bike was for real. Calfee started thinking about his unusual form of transportation. The plant itself — a member of the grass family — was common throughout Asia and Africa. And bicycles, he knew, meant transportation, which often translates to jobs in the Third World.

…It happened that Ho worked for the Earth Institute of Columbia University, a nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainable development and the world’s poor.

The two men discussed both carbon fiber bikes and bamboo bikes. Ho sent Calfee a copy of “The End of Poverty,” written by the institute’s director, Jeffrey Sachs, who is often cited as one of the major thinkers on Third World economies.

…Ho thinks the short time should be enough to at least cover the basics, including talking to bamboo suppliers and lining up bicycle fanciers. They want to find people interested in making the bike frames, as well as sources for epoxy, resin and sisal — a fiber used for making rope, sacking and insulation. The bottom line, Calfee said, is to be able to make a frame without using power tools.

Said Ho: “The other part of our visit is to look in rural areas for what they are using for transportation and how to improve it.” In particular, Ho said, he wants to focus on the special needs of women, because they often tend to crops, do the chores, control the money and need transportation.

One group Calfee and Ho used for advice in preparing for the trip is the Village Bicycle Project, based in the unlikely locale of Moscow, Idaho. The project has sent more than 18,000 bicycles to Ghana over the last seven years, and provided tools and repair classes throughout the country.

David Peckham, the project director, has ridden bamboo bikes and describes them as “lovely.” But he also said there are pitfalls, even in Ghana, where the official language is English and bicycles are common.

“I can’t say whether or not this is going to work,” Peckham said. “As far as I know, they are going for 10 days. I think this is a terribly short amount of time to get something done. Also, they don’t seem to grasp how slow everything goes and how hard it is to get something done.”
(18 June 2007)
Recommended by JMG at Gristmill (Too fricking cool) (discussion follows at this link):
Nature is still the best engineer — though good human ones take advantage whenever possible.

Here’s a terrific, hopeful story about a bike designer who got a dog-gone good idea about making bike frames out of a widely grown, cheap, strong, environmentally sound material: bamboo.

Related: Bamboo Bike Project (homepage)

UN Calls for Pedal Power to Reduce Environmental Damage

Agence France Presse (AFP)
KUALA LUMPUR – More bicycle riding and other lifestyle changes are urgently needed to reduce climate-altering carbon emissions that are damaging Asia’s health and could also threaten the economy, the World Health Organisation said Monday.

Climate change contributes directly or indirectly to about 77,000 deaths per year in the region, according to WHO estimates.

“So far the impact is on the health of the people. If the trend continues, it may have an impact on the economy,” said Shigeru Omi, WHO’s regional director for the Western Pacific.

…Omi proposed greater use of bicycles, the use of clean energy sources, and tax incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

“… we have to adopt lifestyles that are not only healthy but also environment friendly such as reducing the use of private vehicles, walking more or riding bicycles,” he said in a speech.
(2 July 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

Have Canoe, Will Cycle: World Heritage Sustainable Commuting

Mark Tovey, WorldChanging
The Rideau Canal, iconic emblem of Ottawa’s beauty, is, as of today, a UNESCO world heritage site, joining twelve other Canadian sites. It was chosen not for its natural charm, but because “it bears witness to the fight for control of the north of the American continent.” However, there is probably another way the Rideau canal should be recognized — as an emblem not of beauty or war, but of sustainable, person-powered commuting.

As I noted in a previous Worldchanging post, Ottawa is already one of the bicycling capitals of the continent, in large part due to its 170 km of bicycle paths, of which the Rideau canal is one of the most important backbones.

You can cycle almost the entire length of the Rideau bicycle path without ever having to cross a road. On Sundays, during the summer, Ottawa closes the road that runs beside the canal as an impetus to recreational cycling, walking, and in-line skating.

People cycle both sides of the canal to get to work in both summer and winter, in one of the coldest capitals in the world.

…It is no surprise that people choose this as their commute. It’s not only easy on the pocketbook, it’s easy on the eyes. Beauty (especially natural beauty) is an important component of making sustainable urban commuting more attractive.

Lets take a moment to celebrate the canal. Let’s also look at what a difference it can make to have such a beautiful bike/skateway for daily travel. Try a little experiment. Look at some of these photos, and compare this route in your mind to a half hour’s commute on your favourite highway.
(30 June 2007)

Time pedals on for Critical Mass

Joseph Rose, Portland Oregonian
… Critical Mass — once a traffic-clogging solidarity movement that swarmed the streets with leg muscle and blinking lights, enraging motorists, occasionally prompting police to break out the pepper spray and demanding attention from the halls of power — has deflated in Bike City U.S.A. [Portland, Oregon].

For years, it was common for the event to draw 300 to 500 cyclists, sometimes teetering between celebration and anarchy. One 2003 ride drew more than 1,500 participants. But this year, the monthly rush-hour gatherings have struggled to top a dozen pedalers.

Where did the mass in Critical Mass go?

Some bikers say they stopped participating in the 14-year-old ride because of what they see as draconian police patrols. But others questioned whether a protest against automobile dominance is needed any longer in a town widely considered the nation’s most bike-friendly.

“My feeling is that most people in the bike scene have just moved on,” said Jonathan Maus, who tracks Portland’s flourishing and often eccentric bike culture on his blog. “Evolution has something to do with it. We’ve made considerable gains in this city and we don’t need Critical Mass any more to say, ‘Hey, we’re here!’ “

That’s not to say that Critical Mass, which takes place in more than 200 cities around the globe on the last Friday night of each month, is dying everywhere.

Earlier this year in San Francisco, Critical Mass cyclists smashed windows on a minivan that drove into the pack, terrifying the family inside. Since then, crowds ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 have pedaled peacefully through downtown with a heavy police escort.
(1 July 2007)