The Bamboost is a bamboo composite pedal-assist e-Bike, using the Sram e-Matic system to assist commuters and city riders (especially on hilly streets). The detachable leather messenger bag can hold a rider's bike charger and lock, with plenty of room left for lunch.
Lance Rake, Designer
Pam Dorr, Executive Director of the Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization, Inc. (HERO)
A significant part of my current research at the University of Kansas is looking at ways to use design to help launch and grow local, sustainable businesses. I began investigating the use of traditional craft materials, tools and techniques some twenty years ago with a series of articles and presentations that spoke to the inherent beauty and efficacy of products made by artisans and craftspeople using locally available materials and designs that took full advantage of the skill and experience of the maker. I saw this first hand studying wooden boatbuilding in New Zealand. I found some of the finest examples of design available were the result of efforts by local luthiers, furniture makers, architects, and craftspeople using quality, locally-available materials, an aesthetic sensitivity based partly on tradition but equally informed by contemporary culture.
In 2011, John Bielenberg invited me to Greensboro Alabama to play with the possibilities of making a bicycle that could be made with locally sourced bamboo by local people who were in desperate need of jobs. The complexity of the problem was daunting, but irresistible.
In recent years, bamboo has gotten a lot of attention as a "wonder material" for furniture and product design- a sustainable resource with great physical strength and numerous environmental benefits. But what makes bamboo so appealing for designers and architects is its mechanical properties. It has tensile strength greater than steel, yet it also possesses considerable elasticity. This is why it continues to be used in applications ranging from structural scaffolding to fly-fishing rods.
I've also learned that for all of its great strength, bamboo is not stiff enough for many design applications. Over the last few years I have designed a number of products including bicycles, skateboards, paddleboards, and furniture pieces that require high strength, but also a degree of stiffness in selected areas. In order to achieve this, my design work also incorporates other materials from the exotic (carbon fiber, epoxy, Kevlar, and composite core materials) to the commonplace (road signs, telephone wire, milk crates, and billboard signs) to create high performance engineered composites that can be fabricated with simple hand tools in under-equipped workshops.
In order to come up with a design that could deliver the strength and stiffness required. I looked to the traditional bamboo fly rod as an example. I created a design using a hexagonal tube (like the fly rod), but I developed a way to fuse a high tech material (carbon fiber) to the bamboo to add the stiffness I needed. This juxtaposition of high-tech and low-tech, of old and new, of traditional and technical, became a rich new canvas for me. The Semester bike was created and has been in production since 2013.
In 2012 I went on a sabbatical leave to Mumbai to study bamboo and the process of creating craft-based small enterprise from A.G. Rao at the famous Bamboo Studio. On the Semester bike, I was working Bamboo like wood, using the tools and techniques that furniture makers would use. But I discovered that in India, most craftspeople split bamboo and weave baskets. This opened up the design possibilities of my work, enabling the creation of complex 3D forms.
I designed the Beacon Alley Skateboard with a generally concave shape that strengthens the board and gives the rider more control. Woven bamboo is a perfect material for this kind of three dimensional form because it can readily comply to complex shapes. The high tech sandwich core construction of a Beacon Alley board can be molded precisely under far less pressure, which allows us to make a deck that is responsive where you want it, and stiff where you need it.
The beautiful woven bamboo mats top and bottom are actually critical components of an advanced sandwich core panel. The "core" is made of end-grain balsa wood, known to be the stiffest and most shear resistant core found in boatbuilding and experimental aircraft and other high stress applications. Balsa also shows superior compressive and bonding strength to the skins, so we create a composite structure that is not only strong, but extremely durable. Critical areas are strengthened with Kevlar and/or carbon fiber reinforcement. The Beacon Alley Skateboard began production in our HERObike shop in Greensboro in November, 2014.
The Bamboost e-Bike began as an investigation to find ways to use the sandwich core construction techniques developed on the Beacon Alley Skateboard project applied to the creation of a bicycle frame. I studied many existing wooden bike frames, particularly frames made of plywood. While many of these designs are quite interesting, a major design limitation is imposed by the flat, planar nature of the material. A bicycle requires a 130-135mm spread at the axle of the rear wheel, a spacing of only 60mm as you go forward (rear tire clearance), spreading out to 70mm or so for the bottom bracket, but only needing to be 30 mm or so for the seat tube, and then about 40mm at the headtube. Obviously, using planar material will require considerable compromises along the length of the frame, generally making it bulkier than it needs to be. The ability of the bamboo skinned sandwich core material to conform to the constantly changing geometric requirements of a bicycle allowed me to shape the frame to specific localized needs. Further, I am able to "tweak" the material as needed to optimize performance. The rear part of the frame (chain/seat stays) were reinforced with Kevlar and carbon fiber for greater strength and stiffness. Carbon fiber was added locally to stiffen parts of the frame that showed a tendency to flex in prior tests.
Lugs were 3D printed dissolvable material, wrapped with epoxy impregnated carbon fiber and Kevlar cloth, then vacuum-bagged until cured. Finally, the printed core is dissolved and the lugs trimmed and sanded.
The Bamboost is introduced as a pedal-assist e-Bike, using the Sram e-Matic system to assist commuters and city riders (especially on hilly streets). The detachable leather messenger bag can hold a rider's bike charger and lock, with plenty of room left for lunch. Future generations of the Bamboost will be lighter and cheaper, using a multispeed rear hub and canvas messenger bag, but still incorporating the same frame.
I have used the HERObike studio in Greensboro, Alabama as the base for a broad range of bamboo-based design research from bicycles to furniture, to skateboards and paddleboards. Greensboro has become a platform for me- leveraging design thinking, technology, and the resources available locally in the community to create transformational change. If successful, this same approach could be scaled to work in under-served, underrepresented, and disadvantaged communities worldwide.