A cash-poor Black Belt town in Alabama is an unlikely birthplace for an inventive new bike technology. But that’s exactly what it became, when an enterprising nonprofit joined forces with a ragtag group of bike enthusiasts and designers.
Recently unveiled as a Kickstarter campaign, the team’s elegant, streamlined Semester Bicycle is much more than a bike; it’s a two-wheel vehicle for economic development.
“What we did initially was fix up old bikes for the community, which we’ve subsequently transitioned into a high-school skills-building shop class,” explains Pam Dorr of nonprofit HERO, short for Hale Empowerment & Revitalization Organization, referring to Hale County, Alabama. Focused primarily on housing and job creation, the nonprofit has incubated half a dozen enterprises, from a pie shop to a rag cleaning business for local medical labs.
After launching HEROBike, the organization then started experimenting with locally harvested bamboo. Through a partnership with Bamboo Bike Studio, HEROBike began offering a variety of DIY kits, ranging in price from $299 for just the bamboo to $699 for all the materials and tools necessary to build a bamboo bike frame. When asked how many kits have been distributed, Dorr said, “Well, we shipped kits to seven countries in just the last week, to give you some idea. More importantly, for every bike we sell, we’re a step closer to another job.”
But HEROBike’s big breakthrough—the focus of its Kickstarter campaign—came with the invention of a bike frame comprised of structural bamboo "HexTubes,” made from flat strips of bamboo that are lined with carbon fiber and then laminated with a glass epoxy. (The rear triangle, lugs, and fork of the bike are powder-coated steel.) The tubes make for a sleek frame that’s lightweight and vibration-absorbing, while doing away with the aesthetically unappealing ribs found on whole pieces of bamboo. And at just four and a quarter pounds, a medium size frame weighs little more than a MacBook Pro.
How local and environmentally friendly is HEROBike’s crop of bamboo? It’s grown “without irrigation, pesticides, or chemicals, right outside our workshop,” according to the group. To be sure, there are other bamboo bikes, including kits and full bikes that HEROBike produces, but this new technology is poised to enable mass production, a level of consistency, and an ultra clean aesthetic never seen before.
“It’s stylish and distinct from a design standpoint,” explains Dorr, who, before visiting Greensboro years ago and deciding to stay, spent nearly two decades in the apparel manufacturing world, working for companies such as Esprit, Victoria’s Secret, and BabyGap in product development and management.
HEROBike is offering two versions of what it calls the Semester Bicycle series: the Commuter, its take on a standard single-speed messenger bike, for $799; and the CityBike, complete with woven bamboo fenders as well as front and rear racks, for $1,299.
“The whole community of Greensboro is rallying around this and excited to see the bike succeed,” explains Dorr. “We’re replacing a shuttered business and helping to bring life back to Main Street.”
You can get your own bamboo bike—or just the frame, fenders, or some classy apparel—by backing HEROBike’s Kickstarter campaign now through August 29.