Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

By Liza Coviello

Liza Coviello is an art administrator and ceramic artist who lives in Philadelphia, PA.  She loves biking, among other outdoor activities, and is always looking to “green up” her lifestyle.

I love my bike helmet.  It is the second one of the exact same make/model that I have owned.  The first may actually have saved my life, but definitely saved me from head trauma and I can’t thank it enough for this.  My only issue, and it is unfortunately a very big one, is my helmet’s environmental impact and its lack of sustainability.  Biking itself is an extremely sustainable method of transportation.  Its only requirement for energy is man-power, and its further popularity will be a benefit to the environment by reducing the amount of cars on the road.  For example, reports have shown that air pollution from cars causes 300,000 extra cases of bronchitis in children, 15,000 hospital admissions for heart disease, and 162,000 asthma attacks in children – all in one year.  Plus, we must take into account the fact that car traffic causes noise pollution, requires much more space for driving and parking, and requires the production of vehicles (another environmentally damaging industry), roads, parking lots and garages, and a laundry list of materials and activities to maintain them.  So, the question that has been plaguing me lately is whether the pollution created by the production and existence of this helmet outweighs the positive effects of using the helmet while riding my bike.

Let’s review what I know:  I’ll start by describing the various materials used in the production – First, polycarbonate, the material used for the exterior shell and all fastening agents, is the least polluting and harmful of the materials, so I feel that it is a good place to start.  Technically, this plastic can be recycled – at which time, during combustion, toxic chemicals are not released.  For recycling, however, the major issue with this plastic and indeed, one that you will find with the other helmet materials, is that it is produced in a number of ‘types’.  The recycling number system that you can find on the bottom of plastic containers was developed in 1988 by the Society of Plastics Industry.  According to their website, “Plastic is not any one material. Rather, it is a family of related materials with varying properties… The success of a product often is dependent on matching the right plastic – with the right properties… The same is true when the material in question is a recycled plastic. The more uniform the post-use plastics going in, the more predictable the properties of the recycled plastic coming out. Coding enables individuals to perform quality control (i.e., sorting) before recycling, ensuring that the recycled plastic is as homogenous as possible to meet the needs of the end markets.”  Essentially, those numbers that you see on the bottom of your plastic food container and are surrounded by the recycling logo specify what type of plastic it is and with a little research, can help you to find a place to recycle it.

Even after we address the issue of whether or not this polycarbonate shell CAN be recycled, we are left with the problem of its extraction from the other materials.   Unfortunately, removing the shell from the foam core is a laborious task and often, not possible by the user.  If the wearer is able to separate the parts, the shell could be recycled.  This is great news!  Now, if only I was unable to locate any centers or helmet vendors who were able to accept old helmets in order to dismantle and recycle them for me!  I found only one location in the country (in Boulder, Colorado) which may be able to take helmets and dismantle them for recycling – the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials.

Let’s continue.  The core of the Slant is made from EPS – expanded polystyrene.  This material is non-biodegradable and is made from a non-renewable, non-sustaining, and quickly disappearing commodity, namely petroleum.  Although it can be recycled, the rate at which it is currently being recycled in the United States is less than 10%.  Since it is such a versatile and cheap material, its uses are many and it is therefore highly present in our landfills.  Polystyrene comes in a several different varieties.   The foam used in this helmet is different from Styrofoam food containers, only in how it is created. Other polystyrene types include extruded polystyrene (the type of plastic used for CD jewel cases) and Styrofoam™, trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company.

In addition to the negatives that I have already elicited, polystyrene, when heated, can leach styrene into surrounding materials.  Stryene is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin.  It is for this very reason that people are warned never to microwave foam food containers.  “Styrene has been listed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) since 1987 as “http://www.inchem.org/documents/iarc/vol82/82-07.html” group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” IARC reaffirmed that decision in further reviews in 1994 and 2002.”  Although it is unlikely that a user would ever put food in their helmet, heat it up, and eat out of it, I feel it important to point out the potential dangers from the materials it is made from, regardless of the likelihood of their causing problems.

The last major material that makes up this helmet is nylon.  Nylon is used for the interior padding, as well as the straps which hold the helmet to wearer’s head.  The manufacture of nylon creates nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas that is 310 times as potent as carbon dioxide.  The creation of this material contributes heavily to global warming, making it one of the most environmentally damaging textiles to manufacture.  Because of its superior durability, it was an obvious choice for items such as seatbelts, leashes, harnesses, and of course, straps to secure a bicycle helmet.

Although nylon can be recycled, recent estimates say that less than one percent of all nylon actually gets recycled.  Since it is a thermoplastic, it is relatively easy to be melted down into pellets and then reprocessed.  Much of the reason that it is not recycled, however, is due to the fact that nylon is produced into such a large variety of fibers and fabrics.  Unfortunately, not all nylon materials can be recycled together and must be separated out by their type.  A good example is the fact that the padding and straps on the Bell Slant are not of the same nylon type and could therefore, not be recycled together.  This is not the only problem for nylon recycling, though.  Often, a type of nylon is locked into a combination material that is produced in mass quantities.  Carpet is the best example of how this occurs.  Most carpet is made from a blend of nylon and other materials.  According to an article I found, each year in the United States, carpets containing about 500,000 metric tons of nylon end up at the dump.  Scientists are currently trying to find a way to “unlock” the nylon in order to recycle it.  In this research I also found that there are companies that do recycle the material, but will not accept all types of it. There are, however, places where you can post listings to buy and sell nylon scrap by their type to be reused and recycled.

It is important to keep in mind that helmets cannot be “reused”.  Their ability to perform in the event of a crash is voided after only one impact.  It is for this reason that riders are instructed to discard their helmets if it has been involved in any type of impact.  The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute states, “The foam part of a helmet is made for one-time use, and after crushing once it is no longer as protective as it was, even if it still looks intact.”  Often, helmet-selling companies are willing to check the foam core on a helmet, in order to ensure that there are no cracks and it is still viable.  Sadly, a single crack in the core can make it possible to fly off on impact.

Due to the fact that there are so many barriers to the recyclability and reusability of a bicycle helmet, many riders have found creative ways to deal with these discarded items.  I came across several internet forums seeking suggestions on alternate uses for an old bike helmet. Recycle This, a blog that is dedicated to finding alternate uses for items which cannot be recycled, allows users to post queries and seek suggestions.  Often the suggestions tend towards attempting to remove the foam and then recycle it, or use it for packaging material.  Other posts suggest that the owner use the helmet as a planter, or container of some type.  Although I feel it a very positive thing that riders are concerned enough about the sustainability issues of a bicycle helmet to seek solutions on the internet, I found little to suggest that much effort is being made to try and reduce the number of these items being produced and discarded, without the possibility of reusing or recycling them.

I am happy to report that there are some efforts being made to create more eco-friendly helmet options.  These options are still very few and from what I have found, not very easy to obtain.  The first helmet that I encountered was one made from all natural materials, the exterior of which is bamboo.  This helmet, produced by a French company named Roof, is a very limited edition and very expensive (roughly $350).  Other points to mention: this helmet is only available in Europe and is designed to be a motorcycle helmet, so it does not have the type of ventilation associated with a bicycle helmet.

In addition, a concept helmet has been designed by Lacoste® which is comprised of sustainable materials.  The exterior of this helmet is covered in organic wool, the shell is a thermoformed bio-plastic, and the core is a low-density cork and soy-based foam. The cork core is capable of absorbing the same amount of energy as the polystyrene used in traditional helmets.  Soy-based foam’s popularity has been increasing in the furniture industry over the past few years.  Companies such as Martha Stewart Living and Ford Motor Company have been using this foam in an effort to get away from the petro-chemical polystyrene foam to something that is a renewable resource.  As for the bioplastic used for the shell, it is derived from renewable sources such as vegetable oil.  Bioplastics also create less greenhouse gases than regular plastics and create significantly less hazardous waste during production.

An industrial designer has also taken on the challenge of finding a more eco-friendly helmet option by designing a recyclable helmet made from polypropylene.  This helmet is not yet in production for sales, but the sheer fact that it has been designed should help to jumpstart research and design in this arena. Julian Bergignat’s intention was create something lightweight, low-cost and recyclable. His helmet design, Tattoo, is extremely unique, but has yet to be tested for safety and impact resistance.  My own personal opinion of the helmet is that it does not look like it is capable of protecting a rider in an accident, but I will wait for the testing to pass judgment.

While searching for eco-friendly alternatives to the traditional bike helmet, I have stumbled onto some unique concepts, but none more unique than a helmet which is designed to recharge batteries.  A proposal for the Wind Helmet was drawn up by a Malaysian designer, Wai Hoong Leng.  All of this helmet’s materials would still fall within the realm of non-sustainable resources, but the upside is that you would be able to use man-power to charge your various electrical items like cell phones and mp3 players, instead of plugging them in or using disposable batteries.  This concept is definitely a far shot from what I was looking for in terms of a helmet whose production was less damaging to the environment, but I thought it important to elicit other designs which are seeking to make themselves more worthy of the damage they are causing.

Most recently, I have found a very elegant design for a helmet that was based on an old French army helmet. French designer Kévin Goupil used cork, a sustainable material, for the exterior and for the impact-bearing property of the helmet.  Since this is such a new design, I was unable to glean more information about the remainder of its properties or whether it is intended for bicycle riders, but based on pictures, it appears to have the typical nylon straps and little to no ventilation.

Armed with all of this information, what does an avid cyclist do?  I honestly haven’t been able to answer this question for myself yet.  As any good recycler and semi-environmentalist would, I worry about purchasing another helmet thereby encouraging this harmful production and waste cycle.  On the other hand, I know it to be an ignorant thing to go without a helmet, or to ride with something that will offer me less protection.  And since I just noticed the first crack in my foam liner, I will soon be making a decision whether to buy another or keep searching in hopes of a much more green solution.  For now, though, I am in helmet limbo.


See Biking Helps Environment, Health,  HYPERLINK “http://dukechronicle.com/article/biking-helps-environment-health” http://dukechronicle.com/article/biking-helps-environment-health.

See European Polycarbonate Sheet Extruders,  HYPERLINK “http://www.epse.org/faq8″ http://www.epse.org/faq8 , Questions for Professionsal, What is the environmental impact of polycarbonate?

See SPI – About Plastics – SPI Resin Identification Code,  HYPERLINK “http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=823&navItemNumber=1125” http://www.plasticsindustry.org/AboutPlastics/content.cfm?ItemNumber=823&navItemNumber=1125.

See the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials,  HYPERLINK “http://www.ecocycle.org/charm/index.cfm” www.ecocycle.org/charm/index.cfm.

See Assessing the Impact of Expanded Polystyrene on the Environment. Converanet.  HYPERLINK “http://www.converanet.com/chemicals-plastics-rubber/assessing-impact-expanded-polystyrene-environment” http://www.converanet.com/chemicals-plastics-rubber/assessing-impact-expanded-polystyrene-environment.

See Polystyrene,  HYPERLINK “http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polystyrene” www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/polystyrene.

See Polystyrene Fast Facts,  HYPERLINK “http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf” http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf.

See The Facts About Styrene, Cancer and Bike Helmets,  HYPERLINK “http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/the-facts-about-styrene-cancer-bike-helmets.php?dcitc=th_rss_science” http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/the-facts-about-styrene-cancer-bike-helmets.php?dcitc=th_rss_science.

See Polystyrene Fast Facts,  HYPERLINK “http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf” http://www.way-to-go.org/doc/PolystyreneFactSheets.pdf.

See Polymer Breakdown: reaction offers possible way to breakdown nylon,  HYPERLINK “http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_172/ai_n19377481/” http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1200/is_1_172/ai_n19377481/.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.recycle.net/Plastic/nylon/index.html” http://www.recycle.net/Plastic/nylon/index.html for a list of various nylons accepted at various recycling marketplaces.

See BHSI, When to Replace My Helmet,  HYPERLINK “http://www.bhsi.org” www.bhsi.org.

See BHSI, When to Replace My Helmet,  HYPERLINK “http://www.bhsi.org” www.bhsi.org.

See Recycle This,  HYPERLINK “http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/about” http://www.recyclethis.co.uk/about.

See Turn A Helmet Into A Planter,  HYPERLINK “http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/cool-reuses-bicycle-helmet.html” http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/cool-reuses-bicycle-helmet.html.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.roof.fr/products/product.php?id=5” http://www.roof.fr/products/product.php?id=5, Roof, Au dela de l’appearance.

Lacoste helmet – See  HYPERLINK “http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/lacoste-helmet.php” http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/lacoste-helmet.php.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.sustainableisgood.com/blog/2007/07/ford-using-new-.html” http://www.sustainableisgood.com/blog/2007/07/ford-using-new-.html, From Sustainable is Good, article on soy-based foam. .

See  HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic.

See  HYPERLINK “http://definitivetouch.com/news/julien-bergignat-tattoo-bicycle-helmet/” http://definitivetouch.com/news/julien-bergignat-tattoo-bicycle-helmet/ from Definitive Touch, regarding Julien Bergignat’s Tattoo bicycle helmet.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.dsgnwrld.com/wind-helmet-by-wai-hoong-leng-693/” http://www.dsgnwrld.com/wind-helmet-by-wai-hoong-leng-693/, from DSGN WRLD, regarding Wai Hoong Leng’s “Wind Helmet”.

See  HYPERLINK “http://www.stilsucht.de/07/2010/cork-to-be-alive/” http://www.stilsucht.de/07/2010/cork-to-be-alive/  from STILLSUCHT regarding Kevin Goupil’s concept cork helmet.


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The Sea Otter Classic was this past weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway here in Monterey, CA. Since we live here, my wife and I had the oppurtunity to ride seven miles up the road to visit, watch some racing, and check out arsenals of products, services, and organizations all related to cycling in one way or another. A day pass was $10. We thought about riding in the Gran Fondo, but we figured we ride around here all the time, and $95 can come in useful in so many other ways. I still want to do it next year. Maybe I can work with Riders One to get some riders into other races as well. These guys are just getting going and I like the direction they’re moving. More on them later.

The raceway itself is a 40 foot wide strip of smooth pavement about 2.2 miles in length that forms a loop among the steep foothills of the Santa Lucia Range. In the middle of the loop are hills perfect for mountain bike racing, and flat areas for exhibits and festival activities. Surrounding the raceway on all sides are eight campgrounds, perfect for indulging in four days of nothing but bicycles, beer, and more bicycles.

I kept my eyes out for signs of sustainability, but didn’t find much. The Sea Otter Classic itself however is apparently dedicated to “sustainable development” as read in their mission statement:

“The mission of the Sea Otter Classic is to make people’s lives better through participation in sport and recreation and through celebration of an active outdoor lifestyle. We will accomplish this mission without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the benefits of a sustainable environment.
We have been committed to sustainable development of the Sea Otter Classic for 20 years. This concept encompasses ideas, aspirations, and values that will inspire all of us to become better stewards of the environment and that promote positive economic growth and social objectives. We understand that environmental protection does not preclude economic development and that economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.”

I’m not sure I buy it. I’m sure there are some good intentions, but when it comes down to it, there is nothing very sustainable about the event besides getting more people on bicycles and promoting bicycles in general. Encouraging riders to actually ride to the event would have been a good first step. They could’ve offered a discount or something. I understand folks came from all over the world, so cars are expected, but how about a sign at the entrance that tally’s the weight of carbon all those cars used to climb the three mile long hill to get up to the raceway from the highway. We did see at least a few companies who are serious about either reusing materials, or using sustainable materials like bamboo. Cyclelogical was selling shirts made from recycled materials, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company ran their coolers with solar panels, and Calfee had bamboo bicycles on display. Pedro’s, a company that takes pride in its biodegradable products had a bike washing station and Clif bar is reusing wrappers to make bags. These are clearly moves in the right direction, but there is a lot more to be done. OK, enough with the babble, here are some photos. The whole album is at the bottom with some race photos and shots of the site.

I also get up close to another bamboo bicycle, this time made from bamboo laminate. Besides bamboo, Renovo also builds bicycle frames with other types of woods such as Padauk, Black Walnut, Port Orford Cedar, and Curly maple. They claim to use only sustainable sources of wood, originating mostly in Oregon, and their claims about wood taking the prize as the best material for making a bike frame are well argued. They are also beautiful. Here are some nice shots:

The fella in the backround is the Renovo artist. He’s been making bikes like this for about a decade. CNC maching is used to carve out the frame halves. Notice the butting in the seat tube! They are a small operation with just a few folks churning these beauties out. Here are some more photos. The laminated bamboo bike is the Panda and is the “economical” Renovo at just under $2k.

For one of their Panda bikes they used a belt drive instead of a chain. This drive system does not require lubrication and is being used more and more. The major drawback, of course, is that it is a belt and the bike has to accommodate the installation by allowing the opening of the right rear triangle. Not a problem on Renovo since all their chainstay to dropout connections are bolted together. I’m not sure what I think about this yet, but time will tell its story.

We also some some bags made of old tires and tubes from Totally Tubular Design in Santa Cruz, CA. Creative!

You’ll find more photos including some from the races we watched and of the site in this Picassa album:

Sea Otter 2010

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People have been using bamboo as a material for bike frames for quite some time. There were even companies selling bamboo bicycles around the turn of the century:

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These guys were on to something! Bamboo bikes are back and they’re better than ever! A lot better. These days, high-end bamboo bicycles are successfully competing against their carbon fiber brethren in races as well as in the showroom. Think of the time and money mankind has spent trying to engineer the perfect material for a bicycle when, all along, mother nature was growing it in her garden! With a little bit of inspiration, engineering prowess and strive for excellence, Nick Frey, owner of Boo Bicycles, is showing us exactly what bamboo is capable of. Like many of the great names in bicycle brands, Nick is also is a professional racer. He races for Team Jamis Sutter Home. Want more? He holds a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering! Can you guess what one of his design projects was?

To keep track of what Nick is up to you can visit him at nfrey.blogspot.com. He took some time out of his busy schedule to talk The Sustainable Cyclist about bamboo and the bicycles his company is producing.


(The Sustainable Cyclist): Would you tell me a little about your background and what sparked your interest in bicycle design? What sparked you interest in bamboo?

(Nick Frey): I recently graduated from Princeton and now run Boo Bicycles and race for Jamis Sutter Home, the top professional team in the country.  I have been racing on the road for nine years and have been on some of the most successful teams in the country at all ages, raced in Europe and at the World Championships in Stuttgart in 2007, and am a multiple National Champion.

Boo Bicycles is the evolution of what began as a mechanical engineering design project at Princeton.  Three classmates and I were a part of a very successful project to build a bamboo bicycle, and we were inspired by Craig Calfee and his bamboo creations that we had seen at various trade shows.  We knew Calfee Design could produce a work of art that you could ride, but we wanted to produce a high-performance racing bicycle from bamboo and carbon fiber that would rival titanium and carbon fiber bicycles.

The project was so successful that we started a company to produce them, Sol Cycles, but we all had so many things going on between mechanical engineering courses and starting a company that we were unable to succeed due to lack of time and energy.  However, I knew we were onto something and I could do this after I graduated, so I started a new company called Boo Bicycles.  I do not make the bicycles–they are made by a team of expert craftsmen led by James Wolf in Saigon–but I design, test, market, and sell the bicycles worldwide.  We have formed a very successful relationship.  As a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, he has an incredible eye but his quality and attention to detail is unparalleled.  James has over 15 years of experience working with bamboo, designing and building furniture and complete buildings and bars, so he compliments my experience in the cycling world perfectly.


(SC): People have been making bicycles out of bamboo in Asia for a hundred years or more. Why do you think this is the case? What is it about bamboo that lends itself to use in a bicycle frame when compared to other types of wood? What about compared to other types of bicycle material such as carbon fiber, aluminum and steel?

(NF): Bamboo is an incredible plant as well as building material.  Here’s this for a quick summary: it is one of the fastest growing plants known to man, it is one of the most efficient means of sequestering carbon dioxide known to man, it is one of the strongest natural materials known to man, it grows back after being cut, and it spreads like a weed.  It is truly one of the world’s most amazing living things, plant or animal.

Bamboo has been used in everything from water wheels to scaffolding for skyscrapers because it is readily available, easy to work with, and very strong and durable.  Use in a bicycle frame is just another application for which it is perfect.  One of the most interesting characteristics is the ability to dampen high frequency vibrations, meaning a stiff and light bicycle frame can also be very comfortable, a property that is unique and very desirable in a bicycle.


(SC): Many people these days understand that bamboo is a versatile sustainable resource. It is abundant, grows quickly, and can be made into bicycle frame tubing with little production because, well, it grows as a tube. Where do you see bamboo as a bicycle frame material headed as we get deeper into the 21st century?

(NF): Actually, that’s not entirely true.  Our tubes go through an extensive treatment process over the course of four months to maximize stiffness and durability, and then every tube is drilled out internally to a specific wall thickness to minimize weight and tune the ride characteristics for each frame size.  We preserve the natural finish and shape of the tube rather than using a laminate because we feel Mother Nature has perfected the material, and we only need to massage it to make it into a top-end racing frame.

I see bamboo as the next big frame material.  There was steel for decades, then titanium and aluminum promised lighter weight, higher stiffness, and an improved ride quality (for the former).  Then carbon came along and reduced weight further while maintaining or increasing stiffness, but durability and ride properties often suffered.  It is quite difficult to reduce weight, increase stiffness and durability, and preserve a smooth and lively road feel.  Bamboo is never going to be as light and stiff as carbon, but it is close–and for 99% of riders today, they are not looking for the ultra-stiff race only frame anyway.  The ride quality and handling of bamboo is unmatched, and I feel that Boo is on the forefront of this movement–we make a race-winning bamboo-carbon fiber hybrid bicycle that blends the best aspects of both materials to make a unique and superior product.


(SC): Would you like to share some of the work you’ve done (and I’m sure continue to do), on the life span of bamboo frames? From my understanding, over time bamboo will develop longitudinal cracks. Is this preventable? What are some reasonable outlooks on bamboo frame life span when ridden on a daily basis?

(NF): The cracks that bamboo experiences are purely cosmetic when paired with carbon fiber joints.  We have done much structural testing on this, and the bamboo’s strength is not affected by longitudinal splits.  They are the result of a different contraction rate from the inner, younger bamboo material to the denser, older material on the exterior of the tube, so when they are dried during the treatment process, the material naturally wants to split.  We have invested a great deal into preventing splits through tube treatment processes as well as our bamboo source.

We have a ten year warranty on our frames and believe they are far more durable than most carbon fiber frames.  A Boo Bicycle is an investment and we want our customers to be happy for many years and thousands of miles!


(SC): Boo Bicycles makes high-end, artisan bicycle frames, but that’s not the end of the road for bamboo. There are programs in Africa that teach people how to make basic bamboo bicycles from their native bamboo plants. Is Boo Bicycles involved with any organizations that provide assistance to poor communities in need of transportation that have easy access to bamboo? If not, do you see Boo bicycles participating in these sorts of activities in the future?

(NF): Boo Bicycles is working with the Bamboo Bicycle Project as a consultant and a potential future partner.  I have personally taught the BBP’s founders some things about bamboo bicycle frame construction and I think they are doing great things in Ghana and have plans to sell low-cost sustainable bamboo bicycles throughout Africa.  It’s a ways off in the future, and Boo will be focusing exclusively on the high-end market for the time being, but a low-cost model is definitely something we envision for the future.


(SC): There is a place in New York City where you can go and make your own bicycle from bamboo. There are independent folks sprouting up left and right making their very own frames from bamboo in their back yard. The Sustainable Cyclist even has a research project of its own that involves building one. In a sense, this shows how accessible building frames with bamboo is here in the United States. Soon we may see many more people out there riding homemade bamboo bikes to work, and then hopping on their Boo for that weekend group ride or race. How is the rest of the industry going to react to this, especially the powerhouses like Trek and Specialized? Will they try to come out with a bamboo product line?

(NF): Interestingly the build-your-own-bamboo-bike operation in NYC is run by the very friends of mine working on the Bamboo Bicycle Project.  I think that operations like this are a reflection of the interest in the material, just like there an incredible numbers of individual steel and titanium builders.  It gives us confidence that more and more people will come to accept bamboo as a viable building material for bicycles, and we have focused on building the very BEST bamboo frame on the market.  While it is not very difficult to source bamboo, make a jig, and miter and wrap some tubes to create a frame, it is quite difficult to make a refined product that is stiff, light, responsive, and beautifully finished.  I raced our first bamboo bicycle, a Princeton design project, in the Rutgers Season Opener, but it was not stiff at all, not very light, unimpressively finished, and unrefined.  It has been almost two years since that first bamboo bike was built and it’s been an incredible amount of testing and refinement not possible with the expertise of James Wolf and the racing experience of yours truly.  This is why Boo will be positioned to take advantage of this growing wave of bamboo bicycle design, and also why manufacturers like Trek and Specialized will likely never get into it.  There is too much investment needed to perfect the frames and too much handwork–these will always be handmade, high-end, artisan frames.


(SC): Whats next for Boo Bicycles?

(NF): We will be growing our brand at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, Eurobike, and Interbike in 2010.  We will be building our dealer network to include one top bicycle shop in each major metro area, and I have a network of sales representatives riding and racing Boo around the country, spreading the word.  There will always be a focus on refining and improving our bicycles, bringing out new models, and advancing the product.  For the near future, Boo’s focus is on increasing visibility and sales while maintaining excellent customer service.


(SC): In closing, please say anything you’d like about sustainability within the bicycle industry.

(NF): The bicycle industry is fragmented.  There are racers and commuters, freeriders and BMXers.  We need to come together to promote certain causes, and green/sustainable is one.  The entire bicycle industry can benefit from this through improved sales, and while it may not seem that racers and commuters have anything in common, that is simply not true. Many of my racer friends commute to work for training, and many of my racer friends actually STARTED racing after riding more and more when commuting.  It should not be a fragmented or divisive industry because, let’s face it, just riding a bike is green and healthy!  I would like to see, at minimum, at acknowledgment that cyclists are all part of the same family, whether a top professional or a two-mile commuter.

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After researching and writing the article on alternative materials, I knew I needed to write an article dedicated to bamboo.  According to the Book of Bamboo by David Farelly people have been making bicycles from bamboo since at least the late 19th century. Its a natural material for a bicycles since it grows in strong tubes that are relatively straight. It also happens to be lightweight, very strong, and in abundance in many parts of the world. Bamboo takes as little as 3 years to mature for use, and can grow almost anywhere. To make bicycle tubing from raw bamboo you don’t need to do that much. Harvest, cure, and cut to size. All other bicycle tubing material requires some kind of production that involves many more steps than what bamboo requires. The point I’m trying to make is that bamboo could be the most sustainable material to make a bicycle from. There is no mining involved to obtain the raw material, almost no energy is used to produce the tubing, and when grown responsibly bamboo is a source that just keeps on giving!

I’d like to show you some examples of bamboo bicycles that are currently being made. I’ll start off with Craig Calfee. Take a look what Calfee has done with Bamboo. The properties of bamboo make it a competitive material for making high end racing bikes of this very style.

I took it upon myself to do a few simple calculations comparing steel to bamboo. For comparison I used a 4130 steel cross section having an outer diameter of 28.6mm and a wall thickness of 0.6mm. This is a common size for seat tubes and down tubes on road bikes. Using the yield strength of 4130 steel I determined the maximum load this section could bear before yielding in compression or tension. I then took that load and determined what area of bamboo would be strong enough to support it without breaking. 4130 steel has a Yield strength of 63,100 psi, and bamboo has a Ultimate strength of 8,700psi (Janssenn, 1991). The reason I used the yield strength of steel and the ultimate strength of bamboo is because failure is considered when steel yields and when bamboo cracks.

I then took the resulting section of bamboo and tested it against the steel section in bending. I imparted a maximum moment on a simple beam end to obtain the maximum deflection. The maximum moment was determined by the sections geometry, and strength. The maximum deflection was determined from the sections geometry, strength and modulus of elasticity (E). The E of 4130 steel is 30×10^6psi and the E of bamboo is 2.7×10^6psi (Janssenn, 1991).

From that simple structural analysis I determined that a bamboo tube with a length of 24″ having a diameter of 1.5″ (38.1mm) and a wall thickness of 0.15″ (3.8mm) will have the same strength in compression and tension as a 4130 steel tube of the same length and diameter of 28.6mm (1.12″) and wall thickness of o.6mm (0.02″). These two tubes also deflect the same amount when a maximum moment is put on one of the tube ends (see the bending diagram below).

Bending Diagram

Bending Diagram: Simple beam, End Moment

Now, having two tubes of similar axial strength and rigidness, I calculated the weight of each tube. For the density of 4130 steel I used 0.283 lb/cubic inch and for bamboo I used 0.014 lb/cubic inch (Jansenn, 1991). The weight of the steel tube comes out to be 0.56 punds while the weight of the bamboo comes out to be 0.21 pounds. This of course does not include the internodes of the bamboo. The steel tube is over twice the weight! No wonder folks build bikes from this stuff! The next set of calculations I’ll do is to compare how these tubes act in torsion as well as repetitive stress. If you want copies of the calculations I’ve done, just ask. I didn’t want to post them so as not to bore people. Now, how to connect these tubes to get a lightweight, stiff bicycle?

Calfee uses carbon fiber with resin to secure the joints of the bamboo. For the high end bamboo bicycle makers out there, this seems to be the method of choice. Here is a photo from Brano Meres Engineering:

Brano Meres Engineering

There are also folks out there constructing these bikes using natural fiber and resin at the joints such as Bamboo Bike Studio and Evolve Bicycles:

Bamboo Bicycle Studio

The other type of joint I’ve seen out there is by the newest builders to the bamboo scene, Panda Bicycles. The are making bamboo bikes from external steel lugs. Similar to how older steel road bikes (and many new ones too!) are made.

Panda Bicycles

The tubing on the Panda bike is smaller than on the others, and clearly the joints are different. They hope to be a more economical bike than those other fancy ones. Right off the bat, Panda’s tubing is looking slightly thin to me, and I’d worry about stress spots forming along the edges of those lugs, but I think they are on to something. I think there on to making bamboo bikes for everyday people here in America and not just the high end market. Lets get a sustainable material in the mass market for new frames! Bamboo Bike Studio in New York is also on to this idea, except they offer a class for one weekend where you walk away with bicycle in hand for about $1000. Evolve Bicycles also has the right idea offering their pre-built bikes for $800.

Since bamboo grows everywhere, bamboo bikes can be made anywhere. There are organizations like Bamboo Bike Project who have dedicated their cause to showing certain groups in Africa how to make bicycles from their native grass, and now there are groups sprouting up in America showing Americans how they too can make bicycles from bamboo. What an exiting time!

I’ve started my own project revolving around bamboo. Looking at the joining methods currently used, I’m not completely satisfied. I don’t believe the joint needs to be as bulky as the fiber wrapped joints, and I think having steel external lugs on bamboo tubes may present problems in the long run. I’ll try building a frame with another method I’ve devised to see if it is viable. You’ll be able to keep track of the project here at The Sustainable Cyclist.

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I don’t subscribe to Bicycling magazine, so I don’t get to read the editors introductions all too often. It just so happens my grandmother-in-law likes to send me things about bicycles. In the mail today, I got the September issue of Bicycling magazine courtesy of her. Who knows how she got it, but that’s not the point. Loren Mooney, the editor-in-chief of this publication, wrote a letter to the readers entitled “It’s Easy Being Green”. She starts the piece by announcing this issue of Bicycling is the Green issue, even though there is nothing to indicate this on the cover and none of the content is different than usual. She then goes on to say that Bicycling magazine is “Green” every month. Why? well because cycling is green! Thus, her logic is that her magazine is “green” as well. This, ladies and gentlemen is GREENWASHING!!!!

I couldn’t find an online version of this prime example of greenwashing, so I scanned the magazine page.

It's easy being green

It's Easy Being Green by Loren Mooney

She goes on to say that cyclists are more environmentally friendly people. She backs this up with personal anecdotes. So, because Loren grows her own lettuce and buys organic milk, ALL cyclists are more environmentally friendly than the rest of the population. right! Also according to Loren a characteristic of being environmentally friendly is noticing those ugly bottles, cans, and trash on the side of the road as well as breathing, and appreciating fresh air. Gee wiz! according to Loren, all you have to do to be green is ride your bike, enjoy fresh air, and dislike garbage on the side of the road! This may even give you more ideas, like buying local and organic food products. So, after you go on your evening training ride dressed in spandex riding your titanium steed that was just upgraded to Dura-Ace last season, you can sit down to an organic dinner and a copy of Bicycling magazine and know that you’re helping the earth. And just in case your feeling a little guilty about buying a magazine printed on paper every month, Loren assures us that bicycling recently switched to paper stock that use’s “slightly less fiber” and ink that is “vegetable based“. Oh boy, so instead of switching to FSC certified and recycled sources, you decided to uses “slightly less fiber“. Apparently the reduction in the fiber is so small, she had to use the word slightly. I’m not impressed Bicycling magazine, and I hope your readers are smart enough to recognize this poor attempt at greenwashing.

What is greenwashing? Simply put greenwashing is a company’s attempt to jump on the eco-friendly/green/sustainable band wagon without actually doing anything except change their marketing. You can read more on wiki. They want people to think “wow, that Bicycling magazine sure is doing their part to save our fragile planet” when actually, they are doing absolutely nothing. In fact, I could argue that they are doing more to hurt the earth then if Loren never wrote that pathetic piece of marketing crap. How? by the very act of greenwashing! There are legitimate companies out there trying to do their part to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, but when a company partakes in greenwashing, the consumer has a tougher time determining what is a legit green product, and what is not. This pulls attention away from the companies that are actually trying to help our Earth. Companies who greenwash essentially muck things up and it pisses me off!

Bicycling magazine really could do a green issue. They could interview community bicycle shops that work tirelessly to get used bicycles back on the road. They could promote steel bicycles over carbon fiber. They could eliminate their advertisements and articles promoting titanium. They could eliminate car advertisements in the magazine. They could feature articles on Bamboo bicycles and the people who build them. They could print their magazine on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. They could showcase the clothing companies using wool instead of synthetics. They could focus on bicycle commuting over bicycle racing. These things are just a minimal start. I can think of hundreds of things they could do for a green issue!

I’m angry! I’m angry because Loren and Bicycling wrote this piece as a strategic marking move and nothing more. It distorts the view on companies that really do care about the earth and strive to make sure it’s habitable for generations to come. This is just another example of the bicycle industry being way behind.  Just because you ride a bike does not make you “green”. It takes a lot of hard work to live your life in a sustainable way. It is not “easy“. Riding a bike instead of a car for transportation is one way of being more sustainable, but if you drive your car to work everyday and only ride your bike in the evenings and weekends, you’ve done more harm to the earth than if you never bought a bike in the first place. Why? Because in order for you to be a “green” bicycle owner, you have to use it instead of your car, otherwise, your doing more harm than good by purchasing a non-sustainable bike product. Bicycling magazine owes it’s entire community an apology for trying to mislead them.

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If you travel the online world of cycling its hard not to come across Competitive Cyclist. They are the keepers of all things “high end”. This includes repair work as well. As I’ve eluded to before, a common perception among aficionados of the high end, is that if it’s a couple seasons old, its time for some new stuff. I’m not sure where they get this idea. Hmmmm, lets see, it couldn’t be that the major companies in the component industry come out with new products every single year and need their marketing departments to get consumers to buy the new product and ditch their perfectly working older model for the sake of performance? could it? In order to stay competitive with each other, these companies believe they need a new product every year, and they need to convince us that the stuff we already have needs to be upgraded. That way, we buy it, they make a profit, and their sale numbers are better than the competitions. When Campagnolo came out with 11 speed Super Record, I was reminded of that MadTV skit about razors. Now, of course, Shimano has electronic shifting. What’s next? I’m all for innovation, but not for making stuff just for the sake of making stuff.

Here is a bit of evidence that marketing goes a long way to make sure planned obsolescence stays part of their game. Listen to what Andy says about his old group! Its quite clear from this video that the folks over at CC could care less about the sustainability of their products. All they seem to care about is selling top shelf bikes and bits in as large a quantity as possible. You still riding that Ultegra groupo from 2004? Whats wrong with you?

In case you couldn’t hear him, this is what he said: “…and since my Dura-Ace 78oo was a few years old, it was the perfect time for me to shop for new components…”

So, if your components are a few years old, you better hop right on over to CC and pick up yourself some brand new components that will be ready for ditching in just a few years time! What a deal!

I’m ashamed this sort of marketing goes on in the cycling industry. Why not sell a product that is ethically sourced, will last forever, is completely serviceable, performs well, and is as innovative as I need it to be. I would pay a little more for that!!!! To boost sales, the companies could invest in lobbying in order to pass laws that make our streets more cycling friendly. They could also invest in advocacy programs and community bike shops that strive to get folks riding bikes. This would mean more people riding bikes, thus more customers for them to sell their goods too. As of now, they focus their attention on the top shelf riders, and count on all the other riders to keep upgrading, because maybe, just maybe, that 11th cog will get you that Cat 1 status you’ve been dreaming about.

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Every now and then I stick the words Sustainable and Cyclist in Google to see what comes up besides this site. Today, Sustainable Cycling popped up! This is a race team out of Indiana that had 14 wins this past season! It makes me very happy to see these guys doing their part. Maybe I can convince them to buy a fleet of used steel bikes for their next race, or maybe wool jerseys! One step at a time. Here is a quote from their mission page:

“Sustainable Cycling will strive to be the most dominant amateur cycling team in the state of Indiana. Our program will focus on developing our elite riders into the most competitive, cohesive category 3 cycling team centered around sportsmanship and teamwork.

Sustainable Cycling will not only strive to advance the sport of cycling, but we will also promote environmental sustainability through our carbon-neutral initiative and local environmental projects. We will set a positive image for fellow cyclists by identifying constructive ways to influence our environmental surroundings.

Sustainable Cycling will uphold the obligations to our sponsors by acting as “live” marketing tools to spread brand awareness during training and racing events. We will maintain close ties with sponsors to ultimately help them achieve their goals through this venture.”

I really do hope these guys continue to win. It brings awareness to the fact that the cycling industry has a long way to go. If I lived in Indiana, I would be at the first 2010 race to meet these guys. If you do live in Indiana and want to cover this team for the The Sustainable Cyclist in the 2010 season, please Contact Us. For now, I’ll give them a link and try to check in every now and then. Go Sustainable Cyclist!!!

Here is their logo:

Sustainable Cycling

Sustainable Cycling Race Team


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