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“The joy of building – and riding – a bike”
Published: 20th August 2019
Written by: James Marr
by Paul Bouscarle
It never occurred to me that I could build my own bike until my friend Jerry told me about a couple he’d met whilst cycling in Italy who had built bikes from bamboo. We moved rapidly from that chat – and a quick phone call to James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club in London – to a plan to undertake a 1,000-mile charity ride through Italy following the route of the 1955 Mille Miglia car race.
Building the bikes with James’ guidance in his London workshop was a truly rewarding experience – it seems mad to think that a novice can do this, but it works and it’s great fun. At the end of the second day the three of us who attended the workshop together had rigid but unfinished bamboo bike frames, which we took home for filling, smoothing, painting and lacquering. Having ordered the parts from James, we then returned to the workshop for a day’s assembly. We’d built our own bikes!
There was nothing in the workshop build that was difficult – you just have to work carefully and methodically and, most importantly, listen to James’ advice. He’s helped hundreds of folk like us build their own bikes, so he knows every trick in the book. Your bike is built in a jig set to your precise frame size, which James works out once you’ve given him your vital statistics.
You start off my choosing your bamboo, for size and colour. I went for a mottled front triangle and a dark brown rear triangle, just to be different – most of the bamboo is the regular, lighter cane colour. I chose orange Hope hubs and other orange Hope finishing kit, which sets off the dark bamboo beautifully. To complete the Che Guevara look, I sourced camouflage bar tape and a camo Charge Spoon saddle.
On James’ recommendation, we all went for Hope touring wheels, Sram 1 x 11 gearing, disc brakes and a Condor carbon fork. The bike looks a million dollars and rides beautifully: the combination of the bamboo frame and the carbon fork gives the smoothest possible ride on a road bike. I’d say that it’s even smoother than my steel framed Condor Fratello: that’s high praise indeed!
Along with fellow bamboosters Jerry and Paul, I trialled my bamboo bike in the Pyrenees, where it took all kinds of terrain in its stride. It was comfortable on the rough stuff, rock-solid on the fast descents and light enough for some pretty tough climbs. There is no better all-round bike.
Now all I need to do is to start training for those nasty Apennine climbs…..