CAMDEN, Maine — The Bamboo Bike Studio staff won’t build you a bike. You can’t walk through the french doors of the 1837 blacksmith’s shop, hand them money and ride away. You’ve got to build it yourself.
For about $600 people can take two-day workshops at the Bayview Street store where they will be taught how to make a bike to their size and style. The bike building process doesn’t require any welding or special skills, so anyone can do it, according to the Camden store manager Jessie Odlin-Tobias. But the process can be grueling and involves about 30 hours of work.
“It’s intense. You want to cry at times because you work long and hard. But people find it’s worth the push,” she said.
Odlin-Tobias, 33, of Camden recently helped her brother open the Camden branch of the company, which will now operate as the business’ headquarters. For Odlin-Tobias, moving to Maine in May was a homecoming. She grew up in the state before leaving for New York where her brother hired her to work for the bike workshops there. They recently decided to move headquarters out of Brooklyn to coastal Maine.
“There is a great work ethic about Maine that we share — also the quality of life is great. I wanted to raise my kids here, and there is a demand here. There is already a boat building shop,” Odlin-Tobias said.
Currently the company has shops in New York, Toronto, San Fransisco and Alabama. It will be nice to be someplace more rural, Odlin-Tobias said.
“In big communities there are cool shops moving in for the youth all the time, but not as much in rural areas,” she said. “We’re excited to spread our love of doing things yourself. In Maine people are self-sufficient, but a lot of places you go people don’t know how to use a hammer. The knowledge you get you can use and you leave with a bike you love.”
Jody Maltese is a new hire at the company and is building her first bamboo bike. It’s already changed her perspective.
“It gives me confidence. I take it home. My washing machine is broken, I will fix it myself now,” Maltese said.
Odlin-Tobias expects locals to build bikes, but she said her business also seems to attract tourists who want a bike-building vacation experience. For instance, two of the bikes in the shop now are owned by a couple from London who built them in the company’s Brooklyn workshop and now need them tuned up before a long bike trip.
Currently the shop has a 13-year-old apprentice who is making a bike for himself. Odlin-Tobias wants to involve more young people in the shop. She is planning youth summer camps and workshops for local school teachers so they can, in turn, teach students to build bamboo bikes.
The bikes are customized to each rider, but the process is pretty standard. The customer starts with iron bamboo pieces that are imported from Mexico. The pieces are held together with metal devices and connected with balsa wood. Glue, fiberglass tape, carbon fiber and epoxy are then applied to hold the frame together. The shop supplies metal fixtures that allow the rider to then attach standard bike parts such as pedals, wheels and handle bars of their choosing to the bamboo frame.
Fixed-gear bikes are popular in the cities, but the three- and seven-speed bikes are also good sellers. Customers also have made racing, road, mountain and BMX bikes from bamboo.
“It’s a quiet ride, but it’s also stiff. With a metal bike when you ride, it bends. That won’t happen, but the [bamboo] absorbs shock, so it’s not bumpy,” Odlin-Tobias said.
The bike frames cost $600, which includes the workshop cost, but not the cost of the components such as handlebars. The shop officially opens April 1 and will begin hosting workshops May 19. Build-your-own bike kits are also available for people who want to make them from home. Those cost closer to $700.
For more information visit bamboobikestudio.useful-arts.com.
An early version of this story misstated that bamboo is a kind of wood. Bamboo is a grass.