Bamboo may be the composite tubing that literally grows as trees, but while any gardener who has let it get out of control knows all too well, this wonder material is not easily mastered. Indeed, Souplesse reckons there are about 60 hours’ labour in every frame before it gets to surface finishing and lacquering. The results are undeniably beautiful and literally one-of-a-kind.
Also unique is the business model. Richard Chapman, trained in engineering and materials science, is the UK and customer-facing half of the business. The frames are built in Africa by Kasoma Noordin, who trained under the Bamboosero project to help bike builders in developing countries reach international markets. As they put it: “Richard brings the science, engineering, testing, designing and access to European methods, Kasoma then works magic using both African sourced materials, a fine selection of hand tools and an huge amount of time.”
It’s no surprise to learn that the project is, really, a hobby – the bamboo bike business, says Richard, is not his day job. Scanning the scene at Bespoked, he describes the hand-built bicycle business as something “you do because you’re a bike geek”, not to make money. The show, he adds, is a gathering of lots of people chasing small numbers of customers and his rough estimate is that maybe one in three actually earn a living at it: “You scratch along the bottom and every once in a while somebody throws you a bone.”
He says that without a hint of anxiety, wearing the demeanour of someone who can afford to work at it, however hard, part time. In any case, he looks likely to keep “scratching along” – anybody who would make a “Raleigh Chopper” out of bamboo is clearly in love with bikes.