If you blink, you might miss the sight of a few reworked pieces of grass whizzing by on a set of wheels. And if they happen to be painted in bright yellow, you’d be entirely forgiven for not believing that the bicycle frame that just zipped across your line of vision, is made entirely of bamboo.
This is what happened in Ubud earlier this year, when a bamboo bike was spotted wheeling around town. Its proud owner? Chinese native and Bali newcomer, Su Xiaofang.
In July 2015, Su (aka Suskita) set out from China on a bamboo bike that she calls Little Prince; her travels have thus far led her to cities around Asia and Europe. Earlier this year, Suskita’s compass pointed her towards Indonesia, and a volunteer stint at the Bali Spirit Festival. She returned two months later, to explore more of Ubud and beyond.
“I don’t like long distance cycling,” says Suskita, “cycling from one country to another doesn’t interest me. I pick the cities that I’m most curious about, and take a plane, bus, train or even ferry to get there. At this stage it’s not being about adventurous, but to go where people gather.”
Riding on a custom-made bike sweetens her journey: “Having a bamboo bike is so cool. If it’s handmade, you have a stronger connection with your bike.”
But Suskita is not alone in venturing out on a bike of this species; she is among a growing number of intrepid cyclists around the globe who are taking to the streets and highways on a hand-crafted bicycle built from bamboo.
Sievituo Solo, a Nagaland native, cyclist and eco-activist, is attempting to pedal across 20 countries in 180 days – on his bamboo bike – while attempting to set a new world record for the longest distance traveled on a bamboo bicycle.
Solo, who harvested and assembled the bike’s bamboo framework himself, is seeking to raise awareness about the versatility and abundance of this fast-growing plant in his home region and abroad. To prove the limitless potential of bamboo, Solo is taking his bamboo-inspired message on the road, hoping to drum up support and interest in eco-friendly travel.
In early May, Zimbabwe-born Sean Conway completed the first phase of his ‘Ultra Triathlon’ along the British coast, after cycling more than 3,200 miles. All of it, on a bike built of bamboo. Conway is the first and only man to cycle, swim and run the length of Britain. After packing up his beloved bike (named Matilda), he swapped his cycling shoes for sneakers and set off on the next phase of his triathlon.
To quench a growing thirst for bikes made of bamboo, DIY workshops are popping up around the world; from Ghana to Berlin, London to Alabama, bamboo bikes and build your own workshops are creating a stir in sustainable living circles.
Some are founded on the principle of creating a network of like-minded cycling enthusiasts or eco-conscious principles. Based primarily on an open-source model, where information is freely shared among everyone, these workshops strive to impact a wide spectrum of commuters and travelers.
Others are set up as sustainable social enterprises that act as catalysts for community development. HERObike, a small socially-conscious business, was established in 1994 as a vehicle for ending rural poverty in the state of Alabama. With the support of the local Bamboo Bike Studio, volunteers and donated resources, the organization has trained locals in the art of bicycle-building, turned it into a viable business – all the while supporting local environmental initiatives.
While some focus on uplifting locals into learning sustainable practices that lead to an increase in income and wellbeing, others set their sights on exploring the world beyond their borders.
China’s first bamboo bike workshop was founded by David Wang, an American native who came to Beijing as a Fulbright scholar. An avid cyclist, Wang set up Bamboo Bicycle Beijing to encourage a more bike-friendly attitude in the city, and to lure drivers away from a dependence on cars and into a more active commute outdoors. (Despite increasing levels of pollution, in China and elsewhere, optimism remains a hallmark of cycling diehards around the world.)
Hong Kong was the launching point for 28-year old graphic designer Chan Yanki’s cycling journey to Norway. Chan set out in early 2016, with a goal of inspiring other “narrow-minded Hong Kongers” to dare beyond their ordinary lives, and “just do it.” She intends to ride her home-made bamboo bicycle a total distance of nearly 20,000 km, crossing China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Once Chan arrives in Tromso, Norway – in time to view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) – she will hold a record as the first woman to complete a world tour on a bamboo bike; a bike that she built herself at Bamboo Bike Beijing, the oldest bike workshop on the mainland. Constructing the bicycle was not without its challenges.
But Suskita, who with the help of friends and technicians, also built her Little Prince bamboo bicycle at the Bamboo Bike workshop in Shanghai, cherishes the experience and all it taught her. “I sweated more than a hot yoga class,” says Su, “When you cut, you need to focus like meditation, otherwise you can cut your hands. The first time I rode it, from pieces of bamboo into a real bike, I was so thrilled.”
Asked if she would build another bike of bamboo, she offers a firm no. But, in the same breath, she adds: “I feel pity for people who buy a completed bike because they lost the joy and pain of building a bamboo bike.”
Copyright © 2016
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