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Calfee, Bamboo, Bikes, and Africa

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  • Richard Risemberg
    Article: http://tinyurl.com/2jdgxw Slideshow: http://tinyurl.com/yt6zee ... -- Richard Risemberg http://www.bicyclefixation.com http://www.newcolonist.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 18, 2007
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      Article: http://tinyurl.com/2jdgxw
      Slideshow: http://tinyurl.com/yt6zee

      Text:

      > Bamboo bike quite the offshoot
      >
      > Ten years ago, a Santa Cruz shop owner's dog got him thinking. Now
      > he hopes his concept will take root in Africa.
      > By J. Michael Kennedy
      > Times Staff Writer
      >
      > June 18, 2007
      >
      > Funny where an idea will take you. Ten years ago, Luna the dog —
      > part pit bull and part Labrador retriever — was gnawing on a piece
      > of bamboo growing behind Craig Calfee's bicycle shop outside Santa
      > Cruz.
      >
      > On Sunday, Calfee was due to arrive in the West African nation of
      > Ghana, intent on making bamboo bikes for the desperately poor.
      >
      > Chew toy to bicycle. Whimsy to good deed. Santa Cruz to Ghana.
      >
      > Not that this story is anywhere near finished. It's still anybody's
      > guess whether something will come of this project.
      >
      > Which brings us back to Luna, may she rest in peace.
      >
      > Luna was adept at crushing wooden sticks with her powerful jaws.
      > Give her a piece of wood, and she'd chew it to splinters in no
      > time. But the best she could manage with the hard, round stalks of
      > bamboo was a tooth mark or two.
      >
      > And that got Calfee to wondering: If bamboo was strong enough to
      > withstand Luna, why couldn't it be a bicycle frame?
      >
      > Since then, Calfee has gone from building clunker bamboo bikes to
      > fashioning sleek, pricey racing machines that turn heads in even
      > the snobbiest pace lines. He's built 91 bamboo bicycles, enough for
      > their reputation to spread across the country. And, perhaps as
      > important, enough for Calfee to have faith in his unusual
      > contraptions.
      >
      > Craig Calfee is no ordinary bicycle shop owner. He's considered one
      > of the country's elite bike builders, someone who creates machines
      > for the likes of Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour de
      > France. He fashions the lightest of bike frames from carbon fiber.
      >
      > His shop is outside Santa Cruz, a community known for its laid-back
      > style. His only link to the Third World is a long-ago trip to
      > Africa. Yet somehow, more by accident than design, Calfee and his
      > bamboo bikes may provide a means for rudimentary transport in the
      > emerging world.
      >
      > In a sense, Calfee is part of a bamboo craze sweeping the United
      > States. Bamboo is suddenly chic, now that it's being made into
      > everything from baby-soft T-shirts to baseball bats. Gone are the
      > days when it was the stuff of cheap, ugly curtains and tacky lawn
      > furniture. Bamboo has arrived.
      >
      > "The uses are almost endless," said Dan Keesey, president of
      > Gardena-based EcoDesignz, which sells everything from bamboo
      > clothing to furniture. "You can eat off it, wear it and sit on it."
      >
      > And sleep on it, eat with it, walk on it and fish with it, to name
      > but a few other uses.
      >
      > In Calfee's case, you can also ride it.
      >
      > He still has that first bike he made a decade ago. He uses it to
      > run errands around town but doesn't bring it to the shop much
      > because a customer might get the wrong idea. The bike has a big
      > split in the wood — which he's repaired — and its mustache
      > handlebars aren't exactly state-of-the-art.
      >
      > "A little rough" is how Calfee describes it — an experiment that
      > worked well enough to tool around town. But the novelty was
      > infectious, albeit on a small scale.
      >
      > "I built a few more for friends," he said. "I was just playing
      > around with it, not taking it seriously. But people started asking
      > about them, so I decided to start offering them to the public."
      >
      > He made one for an ex-girlfriend in Tucson and another for a
      > customer in San Francisco. He'd get e-mails from people looking to
      > make an environmental statement. And word spread among hard-core
      > riders that the bamboo bike cushioned road shock over long distances.
      >
      > Among the believers was Ken Runyan of Emmett, Idaho, who owns a
      > hardware and bike shop and saw Calfee's bamboo creation at a Las
      > Vegas trade show. He ordered one to sell (the frames go for
      > $2,700), but ended up keeping it for himself. He found he liked it
      > better than his other bikes.
      >
      > "It's a great bike," said Runyan, 63, who rode it in Hawaii's
      > Ironman triathlon last year. "The bike continually gets double
      > takes and questions. People look at it and ask if it's really made
      > of bamboo."
      >
      > And, of course, there are the obligatory jokes: Keep it out of the
      > rain so it doesn't sprout; use it for firewood if you get lost;
      > you'll never lack for a toothpick.
      >
      > But Runyan said he also noticed his times were faster on long
      > rides. And when he cracked the top tube of his frame, all he needed
      > was Super Glue to patch it up.
      >
      > "It's still kind of a gimmick bike," he said. "But I wouldn't have
      > any qualms about selling it to anybody."
      >
      > So word spread through Runyan and others that the bamboo bike was
      > for real. Calfee started thinking about his unusual form of
      > transportation. The plant itself — a member of the grass family —
      > was common throughout Asia and Africa. And bicycles, he knew, meant
      > transportation, which often translates to jobs in the Third World.
      >
      > In somebody more energetic, Calfee's musings could have led to
      > philanthropic solicitations. But Calfee's a bike guy from Santa
      > Cruz. So instead he put a small item on his website,
      > calfeedesign.com, saying that a bamboo bike could have some value
      > in developing nations, if someone took up the cause.
      >
      > But that someone was not going to be him.
      >
      > "I just had a feeling there were a ton of hoops I'd have to jump
      > through," he said. "I figured if anyone was interested, they'd call
      > me."
      >
      > What he hoped for was a grant writer or sugar daddy to get the
      > project going. The blurb linked to a Calfee-written paper outlining
      > the virtues of bamboo bikes, including the availability of
      > materials, the lack of need for electric tools, and increased
      > mobility and access to jobs and markets. Included was a picture of
      > a bamboo bike frame whose pieces are lashed together with hemp
      > fiber. Calfee figured that sooner or later, someone with cash or
      > connections would see the site.
      >
      > Five or six people saw the website item and did call, but nothing
      > happened. Then Calfee received an e-mail from David Ho, a hard-core
      > cyclist from New York who was thinking about buying one of Calfee's
      > custom carbon fiber bikes.
      >
      > While he was on Calfee's website, Ho clicked on the bamboo bike link.
      >
      > "He had some ideas jotted down about how bamboo bikes could be used
      > in these settings and what the advantages might be," Ho said.
      >
      > It happened that Ho worked for the Earth Institute of Columbia
      > University, a nonprofit organization that focuses on sustainable
      > development and the world's poor.
      >
      > The two men discussed both carbon fiber bikes and bamboo bikes. Ho
      > sent Calfee a copy of "The End of Poverty," written by the
      > institute's director, Jeffrey Sachs, who is often cited as one of
      > the major thinkers on Third World economies.
      >
      > Calfee said he had "vaguely" heard of Sachs but liked the ideas in
      > the book. Ho started drumming up support within the institute for
      > the project.
      >
      > The institute eventually financed this week's trip to Ghana for
      > about $25,000. Calfee, Ho and one other representative from the
      > institute will be in the country for 10 days. They'll be living
      > cheap to stretch their dollars, a good portion of which will be
      > eaten up by airplane fares.
      >
      > Ho thinks the short time should be enough to at least cover the
      > basics, including talking to bamboo suppliers and lining up bicycle
      > fanciers. They want to find people interested in making the bike
      > frames, as well as sources for epoxy, resin and sisal — a fiber
      > used for making rope, sacking and insulation. The bottom line,
      > Calfee said, is to be able to make a frame without using power tools.
      >
      > Said Ho: "The other part of our visit is to look in rural areas for
      > what they are using for transportation and how to improve it." In
      > particular, Ho said, he wants to focus on the special needs of
      > women, because they often tend to crops, do the chores, control the
      > money and need transportation.
      >
      > One group Calfee and Ho used for advice in preparing for the trip
      > is the Village Bicycle Project, based in the unlikely locale of
      > Moscow, Idaho. The project has sent more than 18,000 bicycles to
      > Ghana over the last seven years, and provided tools and repair
      > classes throughout the country.
      >
      > David Peckham, the project director, has ridden bamboo bikes and
      > describes them as "lovely." But he also said there are pitfalls,
      > even in Ghana, where the official language is English and bicycles
      > are common.
      >
      > "I can't say whether or not this is going to work," Peckham said.
      > "As far as I know, they are going for 10 days. I think this is a
      > terribly short amount of time to get something done. Also, they
      > don't seem to grasp how slow everything goes and how hard it is to
      > get something done."
      >
      > Among other difficulties they could encounter, Peckham said, is
      > that although bicycles come into the country duty-free, there is a
      > tax on parts, which could raise the price of assembly.
      >
      > Calfee says he's no Pollyanna and realizes there will be pitfalls,
      > including the ones Peckham cited. But he also thinks success in
      > Ghana could mean success in other places. And they've got to start
      > somewhere.
      >
      > "It's very much in the beginning stages," he said. "We might fail
      > miserably. But it might just take."
      >
      > All because of Luna and her bamboo chew toy.
      >
      >
      > michael.kennedy@...

      --
      Richard Risemberg
      http://www.bicyclefixation.com
      http://www.newcolonist.com
      http://www.rickrise.com
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