Rethinking Smugness: Steel is the New Bamboo

There's an old saying about bicycle components. This saying goes something like, "Light, strong, delicious: choose two." Well, this no longer holds true--at least if you're a panda--thanks to the rise of the bamboo bicycle frame:

(Freds who ride bamboo bikes are called "Gilligans," while their retrogrouch counterparts are called "Robinson Crusoes.")

In recent years, cyclists everywhere have been lashing stalks of bamboo together like desperate castaways fashioning rafts, and a reader informs me that Brooklyn's Bamboo Bike Studio is now expanding:

Not only that, you can now go the the Bamboo Bike Studio and make yourself a bike out of (play this sound as you read the next word) steel:

The Brooklyn-based Bamboo Bike Studio (BBS), where DIYers make their own bike frame out of bamboo in a two-day workshop, is opening satellite studios and branching out into the assembly of steel frame bikes.

Wait, what? I thought bamboo bicycles were the ultimate in sustainability, and that the world was going to be saved by a new generation of bike-cultural basket weavers who grow their own transportation in community gardens. Well, apparently not, since it turns out the bamboo bike is about as politically correct as a disposable diaper:

The decision to branch out into steel frame bikes, oddly enough, was made in response to the assertion that the bamboo bikes were not totally green because they can’t be recycled. The epoxy used on the carbon fiber joints on BBS’s bamboo bikes isn’t recyclable. “We thought that was a valid criticism,” says Odlin. But the studio is testing bikes made with a bio-degradable epoxy and Odlin hopes that eventually bamboo bikes will be totally recyclable.

In other words, as far as sustainability goes, the only difference between a bamboo bike and a Cannondale Synapse is that the tolerances on the bamboo bike are looser than a congressman's ethics. Well, that, and the fact that bamboo bikes look better than Cannondales when they're bedazzled with elbow macaroni.

I'm also guessing that nobody's yet ready to discuss the cognitive dissonance involved in experimenting with bio-degradable epoxy in order to build a bicycle which will ultimately be assembled with the same metal components used on pretty much every other bike anyway. Then again, maybe I'm wrong and they're also experimenting with ball bearings made from seeds and tires woven from grass.

By the way, none of this is to disparage the act of making your own bamboo bike, which I'm sure is an enjoyable and edifying experience--I just happen to enjoy the irony. And certainly a homemade bamboo bike is more interesting than an imported crabon one. Sure, if you encounter a peckish panda your bamboo bicycle is liable to be eaten, but a reader informs me that if you run into a bear on your crabon bike it's not going to survive either:

The Sternbergs and other passers-by stopped to help Woodard and collect pieces of his broken bicycle, which were strewn everywhere. The carbon frame was snapped clean in two places.

Of course, as any steel apologist will tell you before you tell him to shut up (it's best to derail steel bike aficionados immediately before they manage to gain momentum), had the bicycle been of the ferrous variety then it could have been repaired. Sure, those repairs will cost you the price of three new frames, but then you wouldn't be able to brag on Internet forums about how your bike survived a bear attack.

Furthermore, as Larry Olmsted would surely tell you, had the bicycle been a titanium Seven it would have fit so well that you'd have been able to avoid the bear altogether thanks to the bike's telepathic handling. In fact, the 100+ question Seven Cycles questionnaire actually includes an entire section on wildlife evasion. And, should the unthinkable happen and you actually hit the bear, you can use your frame's superior strength-to-weight ratio and oversized seat tube to prevent the beast's jaws from clamping down on you.

Fortunately, in this case, the Sternberg family was there to assist the victim, but what if they hadn't? What if Woodward had been forced to spend the night in the wilderness? Well, if you're ever trapped with an unrideable bicycle, the first thing you should do is try to find some bamboo and build a replacement. However, if this is impossible, you should immediately build a cannon from your spokes and hunt for food:

This is yet another reason for retrogrouches to feel smug about their handbuilt wheelsets. Go ahead and try that with your Ksyriums. Sure, you could probably build a depth bomb with one of those exploding R-Sys wheels, but afterwards it would be totally unrideable. On the other hand, all it takes is two spokes to build a bicycle spoke cannon, after which you've still got 34 left assuming you're "palping" the Jobst Brandt-approved full complement of 36.

Here's the video to which they're referring:

Oh, give the guy a break. It's certainly a goofy commercial, but least he's not being shuttled around the city in a giant SUV. Plus, I bet he wasn't wearing a helment when he got punched in the head 10 times in Egypt either, and I don't recall people giving him a hard time for that:

Of course, while Anderson Cooper may be gray of hair, he's not yet technically one of the "peloton of Peter Pans," as described in this article which was forwarded to me by a reader:

When I saw the headline I just assumed it was about a bunch of people who ride in green tights, but apparently it refers to people over 50. I think we all know that cyclists age well, but the article did contain some interesting statistics:

Sixty-five percent of the members of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club are over 50, half the entrants in the club’s Wine Country Century were over 50, and 61 percent of the entrants in the recent Harvest Century Bike Tour in Healdsburg are over 50.

Really, only half? I'm actually surprised something called the "Wine Country Century" skews so young.

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