Recent article for Design Teaching Magazine

Latymer Upper School has been working with James Marr of the The Bamboo Bicycle Club over the last two terms. In early November we took a group of AS level Product Design students to East London to work on a project to build their own bicycle frame from bamboo. The process involves using a hemp webbing which is wrapped around joints and soaked with an epoxy resin.

This collaborative project allowed our students to work through a technical design and make process and to gain valuable insights into elements of quality and craftsmanship that they may otherwise never experience.

Some insights into Bamboo

Bamboo is the largest member of the grass family and bamboo cones are some of the fastest-growing plants in the world due to a unique rhizome-dependent system.  Each of the 1,500 species of bamboo exhibits distinctive properties and certain species of bamboo can grow 35 inches within a 24-hour period, at a rate of 0.00003 km/h (a growth of approximately 1 millimetre (or 0.02 inches) every two minutes). Bamboo has a unique structure; the strongest fibres are located on outer cells, unlike wood, which has a stronger core.

Bamboo holds many advantages over traditional materials such as timber and steel. It has a higher tensile strength than steel and better compression than concrete. On average the tensile strength is 160 N/mm2, which is roughly three times that of timber.

However, one of the greatest challenges facing the widespread use of bamboo as building material is the lack of consistent information and mechanical properties. Bamboo strength will vary depending on whether it has been harvested from the bottom, middle or top of the plant. Growing and treating conditions can vary, resulting in an inconsistent product. The emergence of bamboo laminates will enable the creation of a new, more consistent product.

Potential applications for bamboo vary greatly. Here in the UK we are most familiar with bamboo furniture, while countries such as India and China use it as a food staple, as well as in the construction for bridges and housing, textiles and eyewear. It is gradually becoming used in higher-end products such as flooring, bicycles and surfboards.  As bamboo is not native to the UK, we are largely unfamiliar with it being used as anything other than in traditional gardening applications.

However, in an increasingly global marketplace it is becoming easier to source bamboo and this opens up a number of designing and making possibilities, all which can have strong links to issues of sustainability as a result of the nature of the material.

In its natural cylindrical form, it offers interesting options as it can be worked, split and joined in many interesting ways.  As a laminated sheet it becomes a ready alternative to manufactured boards and timbers. Usefully, it can also be laser cut.


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