Bicycles. If you’ve ever visited Amsterdam you’ll know that the Dutch use their bikes to travel everywhere, cycle anywhere and park them in the most unlikely of places. But with health experts recognizing the advantages of cycling (as opposed to driving), bikes are becoming an increasingly common sight in other cities around the world, including London. And there, the startup Bamboo Bicycle Club is dreaming about other cycling advantages, such as reducing our carbon footprint. To make that a reality, they have been constructing bikes with bamboo frames. Last weekend, they added an even more remarkable dimension to that project at a public event at the Design Museum in London, by 3D printing and test riding a Bamboo Bicycle.
This Bamboo Bicycle Club was actually founded by bike riding engineers James and Ian, who had a lot of fun working on their own enthusiastic experiments in building bamboo bikes. They therefore decided to set up a bicycling community with like-minded people to help them build beautiful, strong, and environmentally friendly bikes. This event at the Design Museum is actually the culmination of all that hard work and enthusiasm; over the last three years, the club has actually been teaching people of all ages to build their own bikes using natural resources, such as bamboo, hemp and eco-resin.
And as James and Ian explain, they are not just doing this to help the environment – though it is a very important goal. But they also want to give people far more flexibility and control over their own modes of transport. “We want to explore the future of DIY, independent bicycle building, creating a harmony of new technologies, sustainable materials and traditional techniques,” they explain. “Imagine a world where you can create your own home-grown bicycle; and customize it for snow, cargo, or even with 100mm tires. This is the concept that we are trying to pioneer, using 3D printing technology, which will rapidly become a commonplace and low cost tool.”
These weekend events have slowly been growing in size and importance, and naturally evolved into a platform that offered home building kits (which can be ordered on their website, starting at £260) to help people across the UK, though their emphasis has always been on open source sharing too. “Open source information sharing has allowed some leading innovations in the world of bamboo bikes, which we share with our members. The club continues to grow and innovate, creating a friendly community of bike builders, creative thinkers and cyclists,” they explain. “Our freedom to make things ourselves is being increasingly restricted, but bicycles are still something which we can tinker with, modify, build and ride! Against a tide of mass consumption, we believe that in the future people will choose and customize more and more, to create the ideal product for them.”
What’s more, they believe that bamboo is actually perfect for building bikes. “It provides incredible properties for creating the perfect bicycle you will love,” they say, adding that it is also widely available. With the changing climate, even the UK is becoming increasingly suitable for bamboo. To maximize their efficiency, the developers have even worked on various research projects with Portsmouth University and students from Oxford Brooks University.
After countless bikes and hours spent designing, all these efforts now led to The Future of Cycling event, held in the Design Museum London last weekend. Visitors could see the Club in action, as they undertook a pioneering live challenge to design, print and test ride a bamboo-framed bike. The project was financed through a Kickstarter campaign that actually brought in £12,000 (more than $17,000 USD), generously provided to make this innovative project a reality. Also involved were researchers from the University of West London and Oxford Brookes University.
And though there were a few bumps in the road, the project was actually a complete success, with the 3D printed bamboo bike completed in just eight hours or so – spread out over two days. Co-founder James even took the bicycle for a maiden test ride, which proved its sustainability. “We believe it could create a really good, sustainable future for bicycles,” he says of the success.
But at this point you might be wondering: how do you actually 3D print a bamboo bike? Though some bamboo-based PLA filaments do of course exist, a bike needs to be able to carry the cyclist around safely and withstand the elements and the pressures of the road. That’s why the core of the bike frame are simply bamboo rods, with 3d printed carbon fiber reinforced lugs holding everything in place.
Firstly, 3D printing PLA molds, these were used to create the lugs. With the help of Oxford Brookes University’s composite research, they actually went for Nylon Reinforced Carbon Fiber, a material also used on Formula 1 cars, to ensure rigidity and strength. With the help of 3D printing specialists Dr Shpend Gerguri, all the parts were successfully made and glued into place at the event. “We have used a 3D printer that is quite hi-tech but we have also used simple tools and simple equipment. We have cut the bamboo using a handsaw which means anyone can walk in and do what we have just done very simply,” James said.
And while the case for bamboo as a bicycle material had already been made, the event shows that there’s definitely a place for 3D printing in the design and bicycle sector. “3D printing is no longer in its nascency; industrial uses of this technology range from printing bone replacements and prosthetics, to food. We’re even seeing the first generation of these printers available in schools and colleges. It is inevitable that 3D printing will soon become embedded into everyday living, learning and working – our responsibility as designers is to guide this technology for good, ensuring productive and useful outlets for its application,” they conclude.