Meeting the Bamboo Bike Master
Its not often that I get to meet someone with more experience than I in the confluence of bamboo, bikes, and solar all together. However, the other day it happily happened! I was able to drop in to a bamboo bike making workshop featuring renowned bamboo bike master maker, Craig Calfree.
Craig has been building bamboo bikes for years and has traveled around the world teaching others to make them. In fact he trained my friend Englebert in Manila, the maker behind my first two bamboo bikes.
It had been a full week, and all I had was the one day to stop in on the workshop. I had thus been contemplating what I would discuss with Craig in the moment that I would meet him.
Fortunately, when I did make, in between assembling several bike frames, Craig had a good moment to talk.
What impresses me most about Craig’s work isn’t so much the bikes– its how he has successfully empowered others around the world to make bikes from local materials and thus created a movement that now has a life of its own. Bamboo bikes are now made all over the place and the innovation has taken on all sorts of forms and functions.
Sound familar? Yes… its alot like our work with ecobricks– using local materials to enable local making and innovation. When our Ecobrick trainers leave a community, the folks keep making, innovating and sharing Ecobricks onwards. Just like the bamboo bike phenomenon!
In my work disseminating ecobricks, I’ve come to realize that the most important question is the fundamental one: Why Ecobrick? With this question one gets to the tectonic plates beneath the movement: the paradigm shifts in consciousness that are so crucial.
And so…. I asked Craig “Why Bamboo bikes? Why all this trouble to make a bicycle in this counter-tradition material?”
As I expected, his answers were fascinating. Let me summarize…
First, of course, bamboo is organic, it grows green and is imminently renewable– unlike the high energy extraction of metals through mining, the need for a factory and foundry. Second, there’s the unique performance benefits of a bamboo frame over a metal one: it’s more flexible and better absorbs vibration. Thirdly “there is the DIY dimension”. Compared to buying a bike, it way more fulfilling to make your own bike, cultivate a livelihood making bikes for others (my friend Eng had my first bike made in an underemployed community in Manila– the guys were super proud of their work!). Fourth, through every aspect of the bike one is undermining the global corporate dynamic: your biking (no oil required!), your materials, production and sales are all local.
Craig paused for a moment after this list. I was pretty familiar with these reasons– although it was great to hear him articulate it.
But then he continued, “There’s one other curious reason though…”
“Over all my years building bikes for others, I keep hearing that people are happiest riding their bamboo bike. They may have a steel, carbon or even titanium frame bike in their garage, but of all their bikes they say that their happiest rides happen on bamboo.”
I wondered if it could be because of how people come to identify with their bamboo bike. Afterall, when I ride mine around I get a lot of attention and comments. Heck, it’s become part of my own identity.
“Well there is that” he agreed “but it goes deeper”. Craig explained that he felt that humans have a fundamental need to be in harmony with cycles of life, the ecosystems around them. For instance, if one has to hike through the jungle, there is a more than practical pleasure to be able to do it smoothly and harmoniously– to breeze through without getting scratched, bitten and bugged. In the same way, on a bamboo bike there is an innate knowing that one has deepened the harmony of the ride.
And in additional to the smooth, confident, eye catchin ride… this just feels Good.
Time to make some more bamboo bikes!