Factory Tour: Hero Bike’s DIY Bamboo Bicycle Workshops & Semester Carbon/’Boo Campaign
We’ve written about Hero Bike a couple times now, first to showcase their Semester bike Kickstarter campaign, then about their build-a-bamboo-bike workshops and kits. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we took a detour from our Greensboro, NC, office to their Greensboro, AL, shop to see how they make the bikes and kits from locally sourced bamboo. And by local, we do mean local. All of their bamboo comes from within a five mile radius of the shop. They grow some on their own land and harvest it from locals’ properties.
Hero Bike was started by the HERO group, a community program originally developed to give at-risk youth something productive to do and, now, as a job training program. Indeed, Mike Gillis, the sole hero present on Thanksgiving Eve found out about the job but had to apply through AmeriCorps to get it. It’s one of several businesses under the Hero umbrella, and their neighbor business assists with the DIY bike building kits that ship out to home tinkerers.
The two bikes they build here -the pencil shaped Semester and the DIYers- couldn’t be more different, showcasing an entirely new way to make bamboo/carbon tubes…
Walk in the door and you’ll see a wide open space. It used to be a hardware store, now it’s both classroom and factory.
The “original” is in the background, the Semester up front.
The Semester couples existing frame parts like the rear triangle, BB shell, head tube and fork with sweet new wood-and-composite tubes. More on that in a minute.
The originals, after the frames are hand crafted during one of their workshops by you, are built up using whatever parts they have laying around. So, once you’re done with the 3-day course, you can actually ride away on your bike. If you (probably mistakenly) think you’re going to end up with something much cleaner than this particular frame, you can bring your own fancy parts to build the bike.
Workshops cost $650 to $1,100 depending on the type of bike you want to build. A $350 deposit holds your spot.
The bamboo comes in just like you see it here.
The bamboo is first cut into strips.
Then it’s planed into flattened strips and set out to fully dry. Once it’s completely dry, the edges are routed so it’ll fold into a hexagon.
From there, the strips are taped together as a flat sheet. Woven carbon tubes are glued to the bamboo, and a bicycle innertube is inflated to press it fully against the inside walls. Once it’s set, the tube is removed.
They sun dry for about 4-6 hours and voila, a bicycle frame tube:
The one on the right used a fiberglass tube rather than carbon, but production bike tubes are carbon.
The hex design came from Lance Rake, professor of industrial design of University of Kansas. The Kickstarter campaign was successful and they have about 40 bikes to build and ship by February.
Once the tubes are ready, things move along their work bench to get cut and built.
They keep plenty of inventory for building frames and for the classes.
They also keep plenty of saw dust.
If you were to get a DIY kit shipped, this is about what get.
Before the carbon wrap goes over top, balsam wood sections are used to give their shape, and fiberglass is used as a base layer. Supposing all this bike building work makes you hungry. After all, the workshops can entail 12-hour days of cutting, sanding, measuring, glueing, wrapping, etc. Fortunately, the most delicious of HERO’s businesses is right across the street:
Best. URL. Ever.
This was our piece of Cookies & Cream pie. It was $4.
And they use bacon!
MORE FUN STUFF
Ancient wheel truing stand?
Art is everywhere if you just look for it.
So are hipsters.
A few bikes they’re working on were scattered around the shop. The fixed gear is a more recent offering. They also offer 7/14/20 speed road bikes and a coaster brake cruiser, the latter being their best seller.
To judge Hero’s bikes on their finish quality compared to something from Boo and the like would be to miss the point. It’s not as smooth, but it’s cheap without compromising safety or functionality. And it adds jobs and helps troubled youth learn “green practices” skills they can take with them to higher paying gigs. And, for people like me (or not, considering how many high end carbon bike manufacturers I’ve toured) who think it’d be cool to work with carbon fiber but don’t have the slightest where to begin, they combine bike building, wood working and carbon fiber wrapping into a long weekend of affordable education. Win. Win. Win.
Why not, right?
For more info, check out HeroBike.org. Huge thanks to Mike for showing us around!