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Building bamboo bikes in Beijing
to start a community conversation on mobility.
Building bamboo bikes in Beijing to start a community conversation on mobility.
139 backers pledged $17,869 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Bamboo Bicycles Beijing

$17,869

139

UPDATE: We're making the push to build a sustained social enterprise!

Thanks to the 112 amazing backers, we have made our first goal of 15,000USD to run Bamboo Bicycle Beijing's community workshop until October 2014 with subsidies to make the workshop more accessible!

Our next goal is to become a socially, environmentally, and financially sustainable organization. From here on out, all pledges will provide the foundation to identify sources of renewably-farmed bamboo and partnerships with bamboo-abundant villages in China. If BBB meets this goal of reliable, sustained bamboo, we will be able to design DIY kits to offer aspiring bamboo bike makers throughout China! 

We want to open a bamboo bicycle workshop in Beijing, China to start a conversation about what our city's mobility could be if the community has a hand in it.

With your support, Bamboo Bicycles Beijing will be able to teach 25 Beijing residents to build their own bamboo bicycles, build our first fleet of handmade bamboo bicycles, establish ourselves as a 5-day-a-week social space for the Beijing community to start reshaping what mobility looks like in China. (To see our story, watch the video above or the text at the bottom!)

Why Bamboo Bicycles? 

When people in China see our bamboo bicycles they usually ask if they are safe and durable. Our research, tests, and experience have shown bamboo bicycles are not only as safe and long-lived as metal and carbon bikes but they offer delightful performance: natural shock-absorption, super light, and stiff maneuvering.

Moreover, a handmade bamboo bicycle using locally-sourced bamboo and hemp fibers is a gleaming beacon of hope in Beijing's dismal, polluted city. In other words, you look cool riding one and it's a nod to a future of sustainable transportation!

However, this Kickstarter is not about mass producing bamboo bicycles, but rather teaching people to make make their own bamboo bicycle in weekly, bilingual workshops.

So, why a bamboo bicycle making workshop in Beijing, China?

One bamboo bicycle cannot save the environment, but it can start big and important conversations about how we and our mobility choices affect our community and its environment. This is why Bamboo Bicycles Beijing is about 以小见大, "seeing the big from the small". By opening a community space, providing a fun and constructive experience, and working together we believe one small bamboo bicycle can kick off a big conversation about how our mobility affects our lives here in Beijing.

Bamboo Bicycles Beijing is the first open, do-it-yourself bamboo bicycle workshop in China. We seek to help people make, think, and talk.  There are some very, very good bamboo bicycle workshops around the world today. Some are set up as non-profits in African nations providing local employment and locally-produced transportation. There are also hip DIY workshops in developed nations like the UK, US, and Australia that make some really inspiring and personalized bamboo bikes. Yet, Beijing (and especially the Chinese young people we work with) faces its own challenges:

  • An increasingly stratified society- Rapid urbanization paired with skyrocketing housing costs, an adolescent market economy paired with backdoor corruption, and an influential government paired with a weak-voiced public - These tensions have resulted in social inequities that make life in Beijing feel cold and isolating.
  • A deteriorating urban environment- More cars, more factories, and more food safety scares have made living in Beijing not only uncomfortable but unhealthy.
  • A stifling education system- Long school days, large classes, and multiple-choice tests that determine students' futures mean there's little opportunity for young people to explore, engage, and create things that are meaningful and important to them and their communities.

We believe the solutions to these challenges lie using hands-on workshops to start a conversation about MOBILITY and the culture we're building around it:

  • How might building my own MOBILITY connect Beijing into community? In Beijing, we hear a lot of frustrations with how our mobility divides and estranges us:"I need to own a car before I can get married." "I had to rent a BMW for a meeting so I would lose 'face.'" "When I'm on the subway I keep my head down in my smartphone." Yet, mobility also brings different people together by helping us traverse differences. We believe sharing the experience of designing and making one's own mobility with others helps build a diverse and supportive mobility community.
  • How might my MOBILITY impact the environment? Beijing's motorization has resulted in more cars, more congested roads, and more air and noise pollution. Yet, Beijing has all the elements to be a fun and sustainable cycling city. We believe the small decision to cycle in Beijing (especially on a bamboo bicycle!) creates a big opportunities to design Beijing for a future of low-impact modes transportation. Rather than valuing a monoculture private cars, we can diversify the modes and planning mobility.
  • How might MOBILITY enable Chinese young people to explore, learn, and create? In recent years "do-it-yourself", gap years, and study abroad have taken off with Chinese young people. These explorative and creative learning experiences help Chinese young people find an alternative to the stifling education system. We believe using your own hands to build your own mobility practices critical and creative thinking about the challenges we face in today's society. Building and talking about bamboo bicycles means practiced learning about engineering, urban planning, environmental studies, economics, and whole range of topics. 

Sounds like a lot to talk about, right? These are the issues, ideas, and hopes that we have discovered making our own bamboo bicycles in Beijing. We hope that by leading more people in making their own bamboo bicycles this discussion will spread, grow, and influence. That's our long-term mission, but we also have short-term goals that we need your help in achieving!

How do the workshops work?

Starting in late April, Bamboo Bicycles Beijing will offer 2-day workshops to both Chinese-speaking and English-speaking participants. With this Kickstarter, we will offer the DIY workshop at a highly-subsidized price to ensure a diversity of participants who are not only interested in a cool bicycle but also passionate about educational and social experience of building bicycles as a community. Each workshop will produce 4-5 bamboo bicycles.

It takes 2 full days to make a bamboo bicycle frame including:

  • selecting properly aged and cured bamboo poles 
  • shaping the bamboo poles down to fit snugly together
  • securing the poles within our custom-designed bike frame fixtures for precision alignment and sizing
  • wrapping the frame’s joints in layers of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and hemp fiber composites
  • shaving down the joints for a streamlined aesthetic
  • laminating the completed frames in a protective layer of epoxy (or tungsten oil) for a natural finish
  • interviews, photos, and post-production design 

Bamboo Bicycles Beijing will also be producing media about the multimedia stories behind each bamboo bicycle and its maker. This will include both an entrance and exit interview with the maker and his/her thoughts on the idea of mobility. The goal is to use this media to record and build a continued discussion about the role that one’s mobility could play in solving the challenges we face in today’s Beijing.

What will this Kickstarter achieve?

Goal 1: $15,000 for The Community Workshop

  • Materials for 25 subsidized bamboo bicycle frames made by residents and visitors of Beijing.
  • The first fleet of bamboo bicycles- Our first fleet of bicycles will be used let people experience the quality, reliability, and joy of riding a bamboo bicycle. They will be available for trial and rental.
  • Bamboo Bicycles Beijing workshop and community space located in Beijing's traditional alleyways on Langjia Hutong. The space needs basic improvements included ventilation and air filters, painting, storage solutions, and work tables.
  • 5 workstations with frame fixtures already designed, prototyped, and ready to be ordered and set up. We've designed our workstations to be space-saving and flexible so that our space can change, move, and grow.
  • 5 sets of tools and equipment for participants make 5 bikes per workshop.
  • Media production and online documentation of workshops, bikes, and especially participant discussions on mobility in Beijing so you can follow our progress. 
  • 5 sets of safety equipment and helmets for bike builder/riders (Beijing needs more helmets!).

Goal 2: $25,000 for sustainable sourcing and partnerships

  • Renewable, sustainable bamboo sourcing- Bamboo Bicycles Beijing has received generous donations of high-quality, cured bamboo for our first fleet of bamboo bicycles, but we hope identify a renewable and sustainable source of bamboo. Working with Tsinghua University's RISE student group, Bamboo Bicycles Beijing will identify domestic sources of bamboo, evaluate them for their environmental and social impact, and develop socially-responsible partnerships. This funding will also allow Bamboo Bicycles Beijing and RISE to conduct fieldwork to assess the potential to develop bamboo bicycle making into a social enterprise that stimulates socially-responsible, environmentally-sustainable development to rural Chinese villages. (The idea is inspired by the several organizations that are doing great work in Ghana, Zambia, and Uganda/Rwanda. While the challenges are not exactly the same, China's rural development continues to present environmental and human risks. More to come on our website!)

Goal 3: $35,000 for a 100%-bamboo bicycle by incorporating traditional bamboo craftsmanship

  • 100% Bamboo and Natural Materials- Our bicycle frames are primarily bamboo and hemp, but there are some materials that are not as environmentally-friendly (epoxy resin, carbon fiber, wheels, handlebars, pedals, etc.). With just a little financial wiggle room, we will begin researching and practicing traditional Chinese bamboo crafts to make our bamboo bicycles more natural. We will start with learning about bamboo bending, bamboo weaving, bamboo fibers, and bamboo construction methods to reduce our reliance on less-renewable materials. This research and design phase will begin with learning from expert craftsmen through Taiwan's Bamboo Culture Park.

The Rewards

 Who will I be supporting?

Other than supporting the participants of this workshops with tools and materials, you will support the efforts and dreams of an international group of young professionals who share the aspiration to make bamboo bicycles and change how Beijing thinks about mobility!

 The Story of Bamboo Bicycles Beijing 

Thirty years ago, Beijing used to be the bicycle capital of the world. Today, the city is filled with smog and congestion. Bike lanes are filled with parked cars. And, the city has become a graveyard of rusting bicycles.

In 2012, I began picking up these bicycles, breaking them down, and then putting them back together again - good as new! 

Yet, some frames just could not be saved, but I still would sawed off useful parts of the frame thinking that perhaps they'd come in handy. 

One day as I picked up one sawed-off, rusting, dented aluminum tube and it occurred to me that it was awfully similar in size and shape to the bamboo that filled the Temple of Earth park near my apartment.

One quick Google search revealed that bamboo can make very good bikes and the idea was not new. (The first bamboo bike was made in 1896 in England!). Bamboo frames are not only safe to ride, the bamboo's natural properties actually make for an incredibly smooth ride: shock absorbent, lightweight, and exceptional strong and stiffness for responsive maneuvering. The hundreds of varieties of bamboo offer all kinds of colors and shapes which make for truly unique and attractive bike frames. And, of course, bamboo is a very renewable resource growing as fast a 1 meter per day making it perhaps the most environmentally sustainable bike-building material. To me, bamboo + bicycles seemed liked a great idea!

But the best thing I learned about bamboo bicycle? You don't need to be a rocket scientist to build your own. I built my first bamboo bicycle frame a few months later:

I learned to use Chinese to speak "bicycle." I scoured Chinese factories for parts and tools. I received a grant from the Taiwanese government to research bamboo craftsmanship in Taiwan. And most importantly I made a lot of friends, supporters, and mentors who gave rise Bamboo Bicycles Beijing. 

We worked on building bamboo bicycles with better tools, higher quality materials, finding a space for our workshops,  designed our own equipment and pieces, reached out to the community, and streamlined our design procedures. And the bikes we're making now are safe, light, beautiful, distinctive, and a simply-pleasurable ride.

Now we're ready to share with the community, and we need your help. For us, Kickstarter enables us to take the next step to not just build  more bamboo bicycles but build our contribution to our community. Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you soon!

Risks and challenges

We have identified and addressed the key challenges facing Bamboo Bicycle Beijing. Firstly, we want to be sure that all the bamboo bicycles given to our supporters meet our standards for safety and performance. This means that all the bikes we send out will be made by our experienced trainers, checked by his/her peers, and test ridden. Secondly, we also fear that the cost of making bamboo bicycle be oneself would prohibit a diversity of participants in our workshops so we have turned to Kickstarter to offer support, but we will still ask that participants contribute to the cost of making their bicycles to ensure commitment and quality throughout each process. Finally, the sourcing of sustainable and properly aged and cured bamboo is a challenge in a less-than-transparent market. Luckily, we have procured a donation of bamboo from experts in Taiwan, but as we continue extra due diligence must be paid to ensuring the quality and impact of our bamboo sourcing.

Please let us know if you have any more questions or ideas!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 5 or more About US$ 5

    A real thumbs up on Facebook- Why just press a button when we will actually take a photo of a real thumbs-up for you in Beijing's hutong and post it on our Facebook page!

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    Prints of our Bamboo Bicycles Beijing post-cards (10 cards) and a handwritten thank you and smile.

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    Bamboo Bicycles Beijing Custom Tote Bag- Great for markets, libraries, and carrying bamboo snacks for pandas to munch on. (no shipping fee to China)

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    A Bamboo Bicycles Beijing t-shirt- A fresh, light bamboo-fiber t-shirt that according to our bamboo buddies wicks away sweat better than cotton.
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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    A Bamboo Bicycles Beijing hoody- Who knew bamboo fiber clothing could keep you warm and cool? This hoody should have a Kickstarter of its own.
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    Pledge US$ 85 or more About US$ 85

    Tea in Bamboo and a Tote- Nothing is more pleasant and refreshing than a cup of fresh green tea on a cool summer evening. The tea leaves are harvested, rolled, and dried in our trainer, Candy's hometown and they're packaged in our handmade bamboo storage containers. Plus you can carry it around in style with our tote bag!
    (no shipping fee in mainland China)

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    Pledge US$ 100 or more About US$ 100

    Tea and Tee and Tote Combo- Get a T-shirt, Loose-leaf tea and our snail-mailable postcards.
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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    Pledge US$ 350 or more About US$ 350

    FIRST DIBS: BUILD YOUR OWN BIKE! Our goal is to have people build their own bamboo bikes and ride them away. If you or someone you know is in Beijing, sign up here and get first pick of when you want to participate (July-October 2014). We will walk you through each step in making your own bamboo bicycle frame over the course of 2 days (English and Chinese). You can choose to salvage components from discarded bikes or purchase your own set of components.

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    Pledge US$ 500 or more About US$ 500

    Adopt a bike (and hoody, t-shirt, and tote!)! As Bamboo Bicycles Beijing own fleet of bamboo bicycles grow, we will be giving each bike it's own soul with its very own name. You give the name and design style (colors, handlebars, etc) of one of Bamboo Bicycles Beijing's own bicycles! We'll also document the entire production process of your adopted bamboo bicycle. Plus we'll send over printed photos, a t-shirt, hoody and tote bag ;-)
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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    Pledge US$ 700 or more About US$ 700

    Bamboo Bicycle Beijing custom handmade frame- We know you want to give one a spin and the best way to do it is to get the frame and build it up yourself at your local bike shop. Just send us your measurements and our trainers begin crafting!
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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    Pledge US$ 1,300 or more About US$ 1,300

    Black/White 1-speed bamboo bicycle and gear!- After speaking with you about your preferred bicycle style, sizing and black/white preference, we'll make the frame, load it up with wheels, handlebars, pedals, and everything and send it to you! And we'll give you a t-shirt and tote bag to sport while you're riding!
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    Pledge US$ 1,600 or more About US$ 1,600

    Fully-loaded, handmade 5-speed bamboo bicycle and gear!- After speaking with you about your preferred bicycle style, sizing and colors, we'll make the frame, load it up with wheels, gears, pedals, and everything and send it to you! And we'll give you a t-shirt and hoody to wear while you're riding!
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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    Pledge US$ 5,000 or more About US$ 5,000

    5-day guided tour of Beijing on your own fully-loaded 5-speed bamboo bicycle complete with a Peking Roast Duck dinner with our team, pick-up and drop-off to and from airport. Tours include expense-paid trips through Beijing's traditional hutong (see our Hutong Sofa Ethnography project), the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and seasonally appropriate outings to places such as the 789 Art District, Houhai Lake, and/or the Temples of Earth, Heaven, Sun, and Moon. Basically, we will make sure your stay in Beijing is the bee's knees!

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    Pledge US$ 250 or more About US$ 250

    Name a toolkit (and get tote, hoody, and t-shirt)! Participants will be working with tools that you helped fund, so we think it's only fair that you can name and design the toolkit! In addition to a bamboo fiber t-shirt, hoody, and tote bag, we will etch your name and your words of inspiration to the users of the tools should bear in mind as they build bamboo bicycles. You will also be updated with photos, names, and thoughts of the participants who used your tools to make a bamboo bicycle.
    (no shipping fee for mainland China)

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Funding period

- (25 days)