10 April 2013

The Perfect Ride

Written by Published in Design

The Perfect Ride ©Julia Sumi

James and mate-turned-business-partner Ian run a bamboo bicycle-building workshop in East London. From everything James says and does it’s clear that for him, this is more for pleasure than business

cycleworkshop6‘Unsustainable life is when you’re not enjoying life,’ says James, as he perches on the edge of his wooden desk.

The Bamboo Bicycle Club is a partnership between James Marr and Ian McMillan, two bike-riding engineers who aim to create a knowledge sharing community for building robust and safe bamboo bicycle frames. ‘We want to transfer the skills and experience we have gained over the last two years.’

James has come a long way, from building his first bicycle frame in his disgruntled sister’s front room to co-running a weekend workshop for those who want to follow in his footsteps and ride their own bamboo bicycle frame. ‘My passion for bicycles began from an early age. My mother is from the Netherlands, so growing up I spent a lot of my childhood surrounded by bikes and regularly going on tours and using a variety of bicycles for regular commuting,’ he says. James studied Design Engineering which gave him ‘a healthy passion for design’ and made him increasingly interested in sustainable products which are viable alternatives to existing norms.

‘It’s a social thing,’ James claims, and looking at all the photos of people posing with their bikes and enjoying the workshops it’s hard to disagree. The Bamboo Bicycle Club has been running weekend workshops, and top up sessions so you can fit everything to your frame, for six months. ‘People absolutely love the weekend,’ says James, not meaning to boast but simply beaming at the positive impact that the workshop has on people.

Upon signing up to a weekend workshop you decide all the elements for yourself: what kind of frame you want to build, whether it’s comfy or speedy, road or mountain. Then James, the designer of the pair, works out the geometry of the frame and simulates the build electronically and prints a step-by-step guide to help you through the weekend.

Both James and Ian are present at all workshops and as classes only consist of four people there is a 2-1 ratio of pupil to teacher, which means ‘anyone can make one.’ At the beginning of the weekend you choose your bamboo, light or dark, speckled or not, you set up your jigs, and then off you go.

After the initial ‘set up’ the front and back triangles get pinned into place and by the end of Saturday your frame looks good enough to ride. Sunday sees the introduction of hemp, which glues the frame together, and after a few hours waiting for it to dry everyone heads down the pub. Upon returning the last thing to do is unwrap the tape that holds the joins together. It all sounds very simple, and from the way James describes it, with so much joy, it gives you that boost of energy that you need to spur you on.

cycleworkshop8So, why bamboo? Well ‘it’s flexible, and more sustainable than steel’ says James, who can also source people vintage or even bamboo handle bars to fit to their new frames. ‘We make it as cheap as we can,’ he continues, ‘I always try to give something a go.’ Bamboo is unique, no two bikes will look or ride the same; there’s no welding involved and if you want to bind it in colour, you can.

In the UK, cycling on the roads has risen by 12% in the last 10 years; London is the biggest contributor to this rise with an increase of 110% since 2000. In the light of the 7/7 bombings in London, cycling has become more than a form of transport – a way of living: Londoners are cycling to work, from work and for work.

I believe strongly in promoting sustainability in communities and feel that the Bamboo Bicycle Club will allow people to achieve this as well as giving a different dimension and joy to cycling.

Currently, The Bamboo Bicycle Club are the only bamboo frame workshop in London and given that four in ten Britons own a bicycle, the current UK market has been valued at £705 million, making the bicycle business a profitable enterprise for any entrepreneur: whether they’re in it for the money or not.

Join the club at bamboobicycleclub.org



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