When many American kids wake up this Christmas morning, they'll hope to find a new bicycle next to the tree. But what about a bicycle made out of a tree?
For some cyclists, a unique kind of bike frame is growing in popularity -- one made from bamboo. Actually a fast-growing form of grass, bamboo is said to make a greener, more comfortable two-wheeler that's just as strong as any metal-framed bike.
While several companies across the country now manufacture bamboo bikes, the folks at Bamboo Bike Studio offer a far different experience than a normal bike shop -- the chance literally to build a bike yourself in a weekend class. The firm has locations in San Francisco and Brooklyn. Customers can walk in on a Saturday and roll out on Sunday with a one-of-a-kind bamboo cruiser that they've made with their own hands.
"Most people nowadays, they don't really get to build things. And they especially don't get to see things start to finish," said Marty Odlin, one of the co-founders of the studio.
Building a bike in the studio costs anywhere from $600 up, though they also sell an at-home kit for prospective bike makers.
When Odlin and his colleagues opened up shop, they got their bamboo supply from the New York metro area. As their bike-making classes have grown in popularity, they've had to look farther afield, bringing in bamboo stock from Louisiana and Mexico.
Bamboo Has Long Been Used in Bikes
While bamboo bikes might seem to be riding on the overall popularity of green products, Odlin says the material has a long histroy in cycling, and he says that says that that the environmental benefits don't come with any trade-offs.
"Some of the original bikes were bamboo. Bikes started as wood and then they went to bamboo. That was back in the 1880s, and now it's coming back," said Odlin.
Odlin says a bamboo bike actually has an advantage over metal-framed ones -- it gives one a smoother ride, thanks to bamboo's natural ability to absorb vibration. And then there's also the green street cred.
"The bikes get an enormous amount of attention when you're riding them around," Odlin said, "but all positive. People are pretty excited."
Bamboo Helps to Get Cost-Effective Transportation for Poor Countries
But the Bamboo Bike Studio isn't just providing rides for well-heeled New Yorkers and Californians. They're also at work in Ghana, helping to equip a factory where locals can manufacture quality bikes for less money than the cost of an imported metal-frame bike. In Ghana, where bamboo grows plentifully, the target price for a bike is $65.
"A bicycle there means the same thing that a car might mean for someone here," said Odlin. "People can access 25 times more area on a bike... that's 25 times as many healthcare opportunities, 25 times as many educational opportunities, 25 times as many markets to sell their goods. Basically, giving somebody this cheap transportation can open up a whole world for them."
"It's just a great experience for everyone involved," Odlin said.