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James's Bamboo Road Bike Build

Posted by James Marr on
James's Bamboo Road Bike Build

What made you decide to build a bamboo bike?

I love cycling, and have always been curious about building my own bike. But I have never had the confidence to have a go because of the bewildering range of components and standards out there. When I saw that bikes could be built from bamboo, I just had to give it a try!

Besides, I work in sustainability research, and the idea of using natural materials for the frame intrigued me. The extraction and processing of metals have detrimental impacts to the environment. Aluminium is incredibly energy intensive to refine (so much so that it used to be more expensive than gold!). Carbon fibre is also a wonder material, but is a pig to recycle. We should be seeking to build from more natural materials where possible, and bamboo offers just that chance. It also offers the chance to source a frame material that can offer social benefits to those harvesting it by providing an income to communities in developing countries.

Tonkin bamboo which James used on his bike

Did you enjoy building the bicycle from scratch and would you recommend the experience?

I would definitely recommend the workshop. The opportunity to think about a design of bike and bring that vision to life is well worth it. I enjoyed the mix of planning, thinking and doing. Another bonus is that James has put together finishing kits which can be bought to go on the bike, and that really helped remove the uncertainty over choosing the components.

And strange as it might sound, perhaps the most important thing I gained from the experience was the confidence I now have to look after my new bike, and to work on my other bike. Since the workshop, I have stripped my other bike back to the bearings and rebuilt it! I would never have attempted that before.

What did you find most difficult about your bike build?

I found making the joints really taxing. This is because I did not have enough faith in the strength of the flax and epoxy combination (for the record I was so wrong about that!). As a result the joints are larger than I might have otherwise got away with.

I also thought I was going to hate sanding down the joints to the final smoother finish. But actually that turned out to be one of my favourite bits of the whole build. Really, really therapeutic seeing the finished bike starting to take shape in front of my eyes.

How would you describe the ride of your finished bike?

I got to ride the bike home from the workshop on the last day. And I live waaay outside of London.

The ride was smooth, and surprisingly nippy. I got to join the commuters on a Cycle Superhighway, and enjoyed keeping up with the more athletic ones. I’ve since done some more tweaking and it’s feeling better and better all the time.

I was not targeting a particular weight in my design, but it is lighter than my gravel bike (a Genesis CDA 10), and I think I could have made the bamboo bike lighter still.

What would you improve about the build experience or your finished bike?

I would like to sand down the joints more. I way overspec’d them, and they could be much sleeker. But other than that, there’s not much I’d change!

Complete finished bike, with Aphex Sram groupset and Avid Brakes.

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