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Bamboo bikes

Every other weekend, the Bamboo Bike Studio, co-owned by Sean Murray, Marty Odlin and Justin Aguinaldo, holds a two-day class where students build their own bamboo bikes.

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The Brooklyn business is the outgrowth of a research program at New York's Columbia University that looked at various methods to create affordable bike-building programs to be used in African countries such as Ghana and Kenya. Bamboo is used because it is inexpensive and sustainable, while steel is costly, heavy and difficult to obtain in Africa.

Bike class sizes are limited to five people to maintain a one-on-one type of teaching structure. Before the two-day class begins, participants provide information such as their height, inseam, riding experience and other details.

"So you come in Saturday morning, your jig is set up, and we have bamboo picked out to meet your geometry and your weight," says Murray. "We show you how to take the pieces and fit them together. After the frame pieces are tacked together to actually turn it structural, we show them how to take carbon roping and epoxy and it's kind of like weaving a rug, but in three dimensions. That's the first day and it takes about six to eight hours."

The frame dries overnight and, on Sunday, students do some cosmetic and finish work, put on the bicycle components, go through a safety check and then ride their bikes away.

"The bamboo is Phyllostachys angusta," Murray says. "It's from all over the tri-state area and is hearty up through Zone 5. It's invasive here. Folks will get in touch with us and say they have all this bamboo that is taking over their yards and ask us to come get rid of it."

The finished bikes weigh between 3 and 7 lbs. Murray says the bamboo has advantages over steel that enhance a bike's performance.

"It has great vibration dampening, but it is still as stiff as a nice bike. It's really quiet; there's no chatter even when you hit bumps and it is really comfortable."

Since classes began in June, the student bike builders have represented all walks - and rides - of life.

"It really is a pretty interesting group of people," says Murray. "We get environmental people, DIYers and bike nerds, of which I am all three."

Contact: Bamboo Bike Studio, 201 Richards St., Suite 107, Brooklyn, NY 11231.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

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