When our bamboo bike team heard rumors that fresh bamboo was growing wild along the sides of New Jersey roads, we set out to do some harvesting. Unlike buying store-bought bamboo, harvesting fresh bamboo allows us to control the treatment method, which is essential to rigorous evaluation of our process. New Jersey homeowners have planted a fair amount of bamboo in their backyards over the years and, as is the case with many weeds that grow of their own accord, this bamboo has grown beyond the boundaries of individual property lines. This means that New Jersey has a substantial supply of fresh bamboo growing on public property.
We needed to replenish our bamboo stock in order to support the construction of six more bamboo bikes – bringing the total number of bikes we will have produced to nine completed models. One of these bikes is to be distance-tested to see how long it can last in prime physical condition; five will be used for destructive testing in order to test different bike constructions and ensure product safety; and three will be sent overseas to Ghana as sample bikes, for a Ghanaian investor with whom we are working in Kumasi.
On our first trip down, we took the train, and met up with Nick Frey from Sol Cycles. We talked multi-density fiberboard, crème brulee recipes, and saving the world. More importantly, we spent a beautiful morning in the bamboo grove, searching for canes ready to blossom into bicycles.
On our second trip, we decided to rent a car so we can harvest all that we need. Driving around New Jersey, it was Sean who noticed the bamboo field growing thick in one of the backyards we drove past. We stopped the car. We approached the house. We had struck gold (or at least some large quantities of good-quality bamboo). The house – and its bamboo-laden backyard – was owned by a friendly New Jersey sculptor who taught design engineering at a local high school. He had an appreciation for art and design and was intrigued by our project. Besides, he told us that the New Jersey highway patrol had tried to kill the bamboo that had started encroaching upon the road, and couldn’t do it. How wonderful it was to learn that his overgrown property was useful for something!
Useful indeed. We were able to pick up enough bamboo to keep our bike construction on schedule. We were getting ready to take our leave when this New Jersey homeowner offered us a tour of his large and winding backyard, which we accepted. We listened to him explain that he had sold portions of his land to a Sri Lankan Buddhist group (they too must have gravitated toward the bamboo), and then we came upon it: a huge, imposing, towering statue…of the Buddha. It was the largest Buddha statue in the Western hemisphere, he told us. Built by the Sri Lankan Buddhist group. Standing in front of this gigantic Buddha, in the middle of a bamboo field, by the side of a road in New Jersey, we thanked the kind teacher of design engineering for a completely surreal experience. We made our way back to the car, and then back to our lab, with armfuls of bamboo to make bikes. The small world we live in!