27 Feb 2020

Westport man makes kitset bamboo bikes

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:36 pm on 27 February 2020

Glenn Irving bought a kit set bamboo bike online from the UK and built it. It turned out to be so popular he's built several more.

He now sources his materials locally on the West Coast and spends up to sixty hours creating the unique bicycles.

“I stumbled across a crowd called the Bamboo Bicycle Club in London who sell kit sets.

“And I purchased one of those, it was a road bike. And over the next couple of months, I put that together.”

He was pleased with the results, he says.

“I have to say that riding a bike that you have built yourself is an experience that it's very hard to beat, and my first ride on that it was just smiles everywhere and it kind of encouraged me to keep going.

“It rode really well possibly better than my carbon bike. So that kind of motivated me to keep going and try a few different things.”

He then built a kit set mountain bike, but got to thinking about where the parts where sourced from.

“When I built those first two, I got the bamboo from England and I was sitting in my garage, and I'm thinking, I'm guessing this bamboo did not grow in London, probably somewhere in Asia and got shipped to London, and then it got shipped to me, and I reckon that there must be a better way of doing this.”

So he went in search of a local source of bamboo in the Buller district.

“As you might know, it rains a little bit down here, there's plenty of greenery and I managed to find, within 80 kilometres of where I live, two particularly good stands of bamboo. I chopped some down and dried it out for six months

“And every bike I’ve built since those first has been made out of Westport-based bamboo.”

He’s even planted some on his property so he has a source closer to home.

“The other thing that I've been trying to do is source all the other parts locally as well. So, some of the steel parts, a manufacturer in Christchurch is making those, the fabric that goes into all those joints I've now found a supplier in Auckland that can send those to me.

“So it’s just trying to bring everything back down to New Zealand scale rather than having to bring stuff in from overseas.”

The bamboo is attached to itself with epoxy glue and fabric tape, he says

“When you peel off the tape, you've got a got a perfectly functional bike at that point. You could jump on it and ride it if you wanted to.”

But to get the bike looking sharp look takes a fair bit of effort and a whole lot of sanding, Glenn says.

“It’s a little bit of a conundrum, when do you stop sanding to make it look good, and trying to get the balance between perfection and functionality, it has been a bit of a problem.”

He now has bile design software which allows him to make bespoke frames for different sized riders.

“I can tweak the design to suit the person I’m building it for,

I do have an e bike and a bamboo bike on my radar for two bikes away so looking forward to trying to tackle one of those.”

Glenn is an engineer by trade and is enjoying the practical application of his knowledge, he says.

“When I was doing my engineering degree, I discovered towards the end of it one of the things engineers don't do is build a whole lot of stuff. But I do enjoy building, so coming into the bike building thing is quite a nice joining of my building side and the engineering side of me and it's been a thoroughly enjoyable project to be working on.”

Although he doesn’t see it being a full-time business he is happy to take on commissions.

“It would be fair to say that there's people out there building bamboo bikes, so I don't know that I would ever make a living out of it. But I am quite happy to make bikes for people who want me to make them one.”

The Bamboo Bicycle Club in England got in touch when they found out what he had been doing, he says.

They caught saw the article in the Otago Daily Times and emailed to say if he wanted to set up a branch of the Bamboo Bicycle Club in New Zealand.

“What they do over there is run workshops through a weekend where people build their bikes and then they can ride off on them at the end of the weekend.

“So that has been something in my head about doing that over here.”

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