Alabama: The New Bamboo (And Bike) State?

Ride or Die on IndieGoGo from Alabamboo: Ride or Die on Vimeo.

Bamboo once seemed like the wonder crop for sustainable products - from disposable plates to sheets and shirts, to bicycles. Bamboo's luster has dimmed a bit, but the Alabamboo project is determined to make bamboo and Alabama go together like Florida and oranges, Idaho and potatoes, and Maine and lobsters.


Photo credit Blair Stapp.

In fact, a group of determined cyclists on handmade bamboo bikes (designed aby the Bamboo Bike Studiofrom Alabama-grown bamboo) is hoping a cross-country ride they'll take this summer will help convince people that bamboo is the ultlimate sustainable agricultural wonder, and Alabama the ideal place to grow it.

The roots of the bamboo in Alabama idea stem from the fact that the United States has no domestic bamboo production, and imports everything that it uses. Alabama's climate is suited to bamboo growing, and a number of interests including Marsha Folsom, wife of former Alabama governor Jim Folsom, are at work to increase bamboo cultivation in rural areas of the state.


Photo credit Common Cycles.

A group of five Project M members (two women, three men) are undertaking the two-month bike ride this summer to get the word out about Alabamboo's plans. They'll set up a workshop in Greensboro to build their bamboo bikes, then ride north and west. The studio will be the beginnings of a new bamboo bicycle company, supported by Alex Bogusky of B-Cycle fame. Alabama doesn't have a great rep as a biking state, especially for women. But Birmingham is home to the BikeSkirt blog, and perhaps a bike manufacturer will draw new interest to commuter cycling in the state, especially as COMMON will be community owned.

Nicole Lavelle, a graphic designer who is part of the Alabamboo team, describes the effort like this:

"Alabamboo is the umbrella term that refers to the larger, multi-faceted initiative currently underway in Alabama and beyond. The main goals? To bring bamboo production to Alabama. This means the agricultural side of things as well as localized production of items made from bamboo," Lavelle said.

It's a collaborative effort, Lavelle said, that was touched off when Project M, which has a studio to refurbish bikes in Greensboro, got in touch with Brooklyn's Bamboo Bike Studio.

What inspired Lavelle, a graphic designer in Portland, to take the time to do the ride, which Project M devised as a way to get the word out about the bamboo bootstrapping going on in Alabama?

"This ride comes at a point in my life where I'm questioning the path a young person in my discipline is expected to take. I do not want to serve commercial interests with my energy and creativity; I want to apply myself to social contexts, effecting positive impact in communities I care about. The ride is a way for me to take action in support of a number of issues I care deeply about: bicycle transportation, agricultural and land-use issues, improving quality of life for rural communities," she said.

For more stories like this, follow April at Twitter.

More about bamboo:
What's So Great About Bamboo Clothing?
Is Bamboo Clothing Truly Green?
Bamboozled? Bamboo Fabric Far From Green, Says FTC

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