It's Saturday morning in Hackney Wick, east London, and apart from a mechanic deep in the bowels of a truck, the only sign of life among the small factories on a backstreet is a whine of machinery from an upper window - work has begun at Bamboo Bicycle Club.
The participants of
Britain's only bamboo bike course, three men in their late-20s, have been busy for three hours by the time I arrive. Jigs have been set for their three custom frames. Bamboo has been selected from a stockpile. Now crossbars and seatposts are being cut according to the lengths specified on each design's blueprint.
There's a sense of energy and industry. And of fun. Woodwork class was never like this.
Bamboo is one of the most interesting trends to emerge in bike construction. Names like Californian manufacturer Calfee Design or Yorkshire's Bamboo Bikes have revived a construction method pioneered as early as 1894. The problem for most cyclists is the price. A Calfee frame retails for $2,995 (£1,868) or $5,852 (£3,650) ready to ride. The entry-level Bamboo Bikes frame will set you back £1,199. Factor in £550 more to make it road-ready.
Cost and the design challenge led engineers James Marr and Ian McMillan to spend years cooped up in a shed in Brecon, Wales. Their idea was to establish a boutique bamboo bike manufacturer. Only after they had refined two years' research into a marketable product - James now tosses out phrases like "close-noded thick-wall tubes" while talking about bamboo - did they realise they were on the wrong track. "We realised we didn't want just to sell frames. We wanted to share the joy of making something; the craft of creating something unique and sustainable," James explains.
So, Bamboo Bike Club was born - more community than company since it launched in September, and still a project between full-time jobs. The £389 price of their monthly course buys you a computer-designed custom frame (road or mountain bike) plus a fun weekend of bike-building.