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Rolling Out Bamboo Bicycles


Up next, Flora Lichtman is here with us for our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.


You went with something Seattlely(ph). How would I describe it - Seattle-like this week for this week's video.

That's right. When in Mayor McSchwinn's city, you have to go with the bikes. Lightening it up for pick of the week, but - as usual.


LICHTMAN: Oh, yes. This week's video is about, not just any bicycle builders, these are folks who are building bicycles out of bamboo.

FLATOW: Bamboo.

LICHTMAN: Bamboo frames.

FLATOW: Strong enough? A bamboo frame?

LICHTMAN: Well, yes. As you can see in our video on our website, the guys at Valid Cycles - so Justin Claassen, Evan Cook and Tyler Jones - took us to their workshop in Woodinville. Aptly...

FLATOW: Aptly, yeah.


LICHTMAN: ...outside of Seattle. And they demonstrated just how strong bamboo can be by smacking it on the ground, by jumping on it, and it really is amazing. I mean, these are like tree trunks. So this is not your garden variety, at least, in my garden.

FLATOW: In your backyard in Brooklyn, it's not the same.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, which is not this big.

FLATOW: Bamboo that grows in Brooklyn is not on these bikes?

LICHTMAN: No. This are, you know, the inside is like an inch thick almost.

FLATOW: Yeah. Wow.

LICHTMAN: And you can really smack it against anything. They said that they're just - seem to be indestructible. But, you know, there are other problems with building with bamboo.

It's a natural product obviously. So a big thing in bikes is getting them aligned. And they said one of the things that took them years to figure out at Valid Cycles was how they get these poles all straight. So they had to build their own jig. I know that our bike geeks out there are going to like this.

FLATOW: Bike geek. They're going to love this.


FLATOW: But one of the question I need to ask you, as a bike geek yourself...


FLATOW: ...is how did it ride.


FLATOW: Did you ride one?

LICHTMAN: I did. I - of course, I wanted to take one for a test drive.

FLATOW: You're a big biker. We know that.

LICHTMAN: It's a little bit different from my 1980s beater. This, you know, these are handmade pieces of art. And, you know, there are things that were different about it.

One thing that I heard from Justin Claassen, who's an avid cyclist and he's one of the founders of Valid, is that over a long period of time you notice the vibration less. There is some dampening, they say, that bamboo has a sort of natural dampening. So if you're riding really long distances, there - that might be a reason why you would want to go bamboo. But it's - I thought it would be lighter. And it's not actually that much lighter than your run-of-the-mill metal.

FLATOW: Right. Of course, there is the coolness factor, right...


FLATOW: ...to have the only bamboo bike on the block or in Brooklyn. I can put more B's together if I could.

LICHTMAN: Big time.

FLATOW: There you go.


LICHTMAN: Yeah. I know you really did get the sense of that's what part of what this is all about. And they said that when they ride - they all ride them around - and whenever they're at a stop sign, people are yelling out, is that bamboo, you know, maybe in Seattle. I don't know.


LICHTMAN: But, yeah, they are really - they're beautiful, I mean, and they're pricey too. So the frame goes for about $1,500 and a full bike is, you know, $2,500 to 3,000.

And so I was like, how do you convince people to spend that amount of money on a bike? And they were like, look, it's like a piece of art. You know, do you convince someone to buy a piece of art? No.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: It was for people who are sort of touched by this. And when you saw what goes into it, you will understand. I mean, it's a week of sanding and scrapping and chiseling. It really - it was kind of an amazing process.

FLATOW: Yeah. And it's a beautiful video you made. It's up there on our website at sciencefriday.com. You can watch how they build the bikes. They talk about the bamboo where they - they're bringing in from Vietnam and choose it, right?

LICHTMAN: That's right. Their cream of the crop, they say.


FLATOW: You imagine going bamboo shopping?

LICHTMAN: I asked them to paint this picture because I was like, what is this like? And apparently, it's this huge warehouse. And, you know, some people are buying stuff for their fences or whatever. But for the bikes, you need perfect specimen. So they're really looking at each one, and the coloring is different on each one. So you have a unique product in the end because no two poles are alike.

FLATOW: And there you have it. It's our Video Pick of the Week. It's up there in our website at sciencefriday.com if you ever think you want a bamboo bike or want to see just a beautiful-looking bike.


FLATOW: And the real craftsmanship, as you say, the handmade crafts, old fashioned...


FLATOW: ...craftsmanship that goes into building these bikes is up there for you to see. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for this hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.