By Dave Clemente

Our author gets admiring glances as he rides the greenest bicycle

The bicycle is a clean machine, loved for its environmentally friendly characteristics as much as the refreshing blast of air that assaults the face of its rider.

Its green potential is undisputed and based on the fact that the only things it burns up are calories. Now attention is shifting to minimizing pollution during its manufacture.

Renewable materials are a logical choice, and bamboo is currently the favourite. Renowned for its versatility, strength and durability, bamboo is widely used in Asia for scaffolding and home construction, and is starting to be used in bicycle frames.

In Africa there are ambitious plans to produce bamboo bicycles to replace traditional models imported from China, often poorly suited to local conditions.

Professor John Mutter, of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says that Africa imports some 30 million bikes a year, but does not have a single manufacturer. A partnership between Columbia's Millennium Cities Initiative and a Ghanaian businessman intends to mass produce a robust 'cargo' version, with a rack over the back wheel to allow people to take their produce to market.

The model I tested was rather different: a high-end mountain bike. It has a hand-made bamboo frame, joined with flax fibre lugs and resin -- which on initial inspection looks like parcel tape covered in glue. It was designed by Oxford Brookes University, and is distributed by Yorkshire-based RAW Bamboo Bikes, at £1,750.

Though bamboo bikes are praised for their environmental credentials, the designers say they were motivated more by the grass's structural properties, and claim that the variety they use has the strength of steel with the responsiveness of carbon fibre.

Though London is not the mountain bike's natural setting, the state of its roads in winter meant the bike had plenty of potholes and rough tarmac to grapple with.

The bicycle came equipped with hydraulic disc brakes and lockable front suspension -- a nice feature for the road. My 8.5-mile ride to the office began quickly as I raced downhill, squarely hitting every road hump to test the frame and suspension.

The braking was superb. More surprising was the rigidity of the frame. I expected the bike to flex under acceleration, but it steered and tracked straight, in addition to soaking up road vibration, which is a credit to both the bamboo selection and the joints. The bicycle also attracted quite a lot of attention from other cyclists at traffic lights. On the whole it has the attributes one would expect of a high-end mountain bike, and can sit confidently alongside the competition. There are rumours of a hybrid version in the near future. However it is likely to be some time before bamboo-framed bikes enter the price range of the average commuter.

Nonetheless, this bike demonstrates the possibility for lower-cost, higher-volume production down the road, and the coolness factor is a definite bonus.

The development of pedal power is unlikely to stop at bamboo. An Israeli inventor has unveiled a prototype bicycle made almost entirely of recycled cardboard. According to the inventor, it will have no metal parts and will be so cheap -- about £12 -- that theft will not be a worry. Whether it will draw admiring glances at the traffic lights is an open question.


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