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Bamboo bikes up the green commuting ante

Grass Frames locally operated

Bamboo is pretty amazing stuff.

Did you know that this rapidly growing grass can be used to make musical instruments, flooring, clothing, ski cores, certified motorcycle helmets, beer and even bicycle frames?

Of all these uses, the last one intrigued me most (though I'm also curious to sample bamboo beer). Earlier this week I went to visit Vancouver's own bamboo bicycle makers, Grass Frames.

Al Roback, the inspiration behind Grass Frames, introduced me to the team and gave me a tour of their workspace. The bright, clean studio tucked off Main Street has its own cutting and grinding space where bundles of Tonkin bamboo are cut down to size for the various parts of the frame.

Plant oil epoxy and hemp fibres are used to bind the frame together before aluminium fittings and the customer's choice of components are added to finish the build. Each frame takes about 40 hours to assemble from scratch, and the team often works seven days a week to put them together.

The finished bikes are things of beauty and clearly labours of love. Natural bamboo pieces gives each bicycle a distinct, unique appearance that can't be replicated with carbon fibre, steel or aluminium. The Grass Frames ethos is to use natural products, source local materials and reuse and recycle whenever possible. The bamboo is grown in Chilliwack; cracked or unusable stems are donated to community gardens or craft fairs. Scrap aluminium from local merchants is rescued and repurposed to create smaller fittings. Even the epoxy is mixed in silicon muffin trays that can be easily cleaned and reused, rather than plastic cups that are thrown away.

Roback continues to look for ways to make the company even more eco-friendly, with plans in the works to grow bamboo in Vancouver. Then, of course, there's the most important question of all: how do the bamboo bikes ride?

I took one out for a spin and was impressed. It's incredibly light-not much heavier than my road bike-and the frame has a such subtle suppleness it makes the bike feel nimble and lively.

Riding up and down the bumpy alley behind the studio, what also struck me right away was how much the wood frame dampens the road buzz, even with a rigid fork. Based on my short test ride, I thought that a bike this comfortable and light would make a great daily commuter, and still be an excellent choice for longer road rides.

If you're interested in finding out more about Grass Frames, check out their website at or visit them at the Epic Sustainable Living Expo May 11 to 13 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. They will also be at the Mini Maker Faire June 23 and 34 at the PNE.

You can also arrange your own test ride through Bikes For All (

Grass Frames bikes look good, ride great, and their production leaves an impressively small carbon footprint.

Cycling is already a green method of transportation. With a bamboo bike, it's greener still.

Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Send a comment to [email protected].