Fresh ideas: Riding bamboo from East to West
July 27, 2011
“Before this trip, all I knew how to do was fix a flat tire.”
I know how to change my bike tire, too, but not much more than that. Armed with that knowledge, would I build a bicycle by hand and then pedal it almost three thousand miles? Rose Lavelle did.
Rose, her sister Nicole, J Vernal and Marc O’Brien spent a couple of nights with us on their way from Greensboro, Ala., to San Francisco. Three thousand miles on handmade bamboo bicycles. They left Greensboro on June 4, after taking a week to build their bikes from bamboo they harvested from someone’s backyard.
They call themselves Alabamboo Make and Ride, and their ride is to publicize the growth of a native bamboo industry in rural Alabama. Alabama’s former first lady Marsha Folsom, who is heading an initiative to promote bamboo agro-forestry as an economic development strategy for rural Alabama, visited Greensboro to see them off.
They built their bikes with the guidance of Fence Heanue from the Bamboo Bike Studio, who came from Brooklyn, N.Y., to help them. The bikes are workmanlike and, well, organic-looking. These are no thousand-dollar weekend-warrior bikes.
They’re not shiny but they look trustworthy.
The other day Nicole discovered a crack in a bamboo section of her top bar and was dismayed. They’ve become attached to those bikes. But she assured me that the crack wouldn’t result in structural failure. Fence told them you can have up to three cracks in a segment and it will still be fine. They dried the bamboo before they built the frames, but we figured the extreme difference in climate between hot, humid Alabama and hot, dry Nevada may have caused the crack.
The way motorists share the road with bicyclists has been on my mind lately, since working this spring to pass the Nevada Vulnerable Highway Users Act. We heard some horrifying stories from riders who had been run off the road and injured. I asked the Alabamboo team whether they’d been harassed by anyone on their cross-country journey. Other than a full beer can tossed out of a truck window at them in Tulsa, Okla., they said, drivers were courteous and friendly, especially in the South.
They’re due to arrive in San Francisco on Saturday, almost two months after they began their trip. I asked them what’s next. Rose said she wants to take a bike tour every year on her birthday. Marc is considering riding around the coastline of Iceland. And Rose can now repair a broken chain, adjust a derailleur, fix brakes and generally take care of her bike in any circumstances – besides, of course, knowing how to build a bike frame out of bamboo, should she ever need to again.
• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a long time resident of Carson City.