Enthusiasm is contagious. And there’s a guy out there by the name of Eric, who is absolutely stoked on bamboo bikes. We first crossed paths with Eric back in November and since then, he’s been a regular visitor to the Stalk workshop. Sometimes, you can get caught up in the trials and tribulations of running a small business, and forget why you started this to begin with. Eric’s enthusiasm to learn the craft reminds us why. He wrote a blog post on his website (www.nagooyen.com) a few months back that we just loved, so we got permission to re-post his perspective here. Enjoy.
At a family Thanksgiving party this year, I was fortunate to bump into Zack of Stalk Bicycles. Zack was inspired to build bamboo bikes while he was living in China. He noted the abundance of the material and its uses in construction…and decided that he wanted to build bamboo bikes. After talking to him at the party for nearly an hour, I was, in one word…stoked. Stoked at not only witnessing the craft of bike building, but seeing one built out of a material that grew straight out of the ground. A material that was once a living plant. The bike…an object that typically conjures visions of 2-wheeled steeds, built of steel, aluminum, titanium, alloys and more recently, carbon fiber.
Zack was explaining to me the properties of bamboo and how there are over a thousand species of bamboo out there…they’re not all the same, but they are universally known for being a strong and lightweight material. Furthermore, bamboo like most woods, have the unique property of being strong, stiff and yet…flexible. They can bend (to a certain extent), and return to shape without fatiguing the base material. Aluminum bikes are light…but notoriously stiff. Also, if you bend aluminum back and forth, it will eventually snap…try doing that with the pop tab from an aluminum soda can. Steel is noted as being more flexible, but heavy. Recently, progress has been made with laying up carbon fiber to give it flex properties…but it’s damn exclusive (aka “expensive). Bamboo seems like the magic material for bike building. But I digress.
So a week after Thanksgiving, I went over to Stalk Bicycles’ shop to check out how it was done. I didn’t get to get my hands dirty on a frame on this day, but I spent another few hours hanging out with Zack and Lars talking about bikes, their shop (which is inside of a former World War II machine shop, complete with old 2-ton cranes and the light odor of machine oil and metal) and their plans for taking bamboo bikes mainstream. At the moment, they build custom bikes…and when I say custom, I’m comparing it to getting-a-custom-suit custom. They create the geometry and choose the type of bamboo for your bike per your body “specs” (e.g. weight, height, inseam, etc), your preferred riding position, and more that I don’t know about. The end result is a bike that’s built just to fit you, that’s truly unique, and has been built by artisans. Note the bike in the pictures: the attention to detail was truly awesome. They even made bamboo cable guides that blended seamlessly into the frame. Imagine the effort involved with choosing individual bamboo stalks to fit cable sleeves, then drying them, cutting and sanding them to shape, and finally “welding” them to the framey to look seamless. If that’s not craftsmanship, I don’t know what is.
Anyhow, enough of my blabbering. Most of the pics you see here are of a bike frame that they built for a fundraising event. This frame is unique among their frames because it also features artwork from one of the most highly regarded tattoo artists in the Bay Area (Philip Milic, founder of The Old Crow Tattoo shop in Oakland). I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Lars and Zack have invited me back to help them build a frame. I’ll bring my camera. =)
Stay tuned folks, there’s definitely more to come.