Subscribe to San Francisco Magazine

Mod Lux Feeds

Now Playing

Justin Aguinaldo (in the baseball cap), at the Bamboo Bike Studio, leading a build-your-own workshop. 

Jennifer Luce flew in from Atlanta just for the class. 

Ben Buckley shows off his finished bike. 

Vive la DIY-cycle!

In which a tool-shy bike lover discovers that the do-it-yourself movement may be misnamed.

Since moving to San Francisco, I’d followed the DIY movement wistfully, nose pressed to the glass. I baked bread. I grew tomatoes. But build something? I was sure I couldn’t. Which was too bad, because I’d always harbored a secret desire to be a compagnon, one of those elite journeymen who since medieval times have toured France town by town, practicing crafts from stonemasonry to boilermaking to patisserie. I could see that San Francisco’s artisans and DIYers had the same pragmatism and fraternal spirit, but a compagnon’s rigorous training—that seemed unachievable to a bookworm who could barely knock in a picture hook.
     Then one day, a block from my apartment, I stumbled onto the Bamboo Bike Studio, which has been holding bike-building workshops since December 2010—growing, largely by word of mouth, until classes now sell out months in advance. BBS is DIY, serves the global community (one of the first local shops to use sustainably grown bamboo for its frames; helped build a bamboo bike factory in Ghana), and is rigorous, mais oui. Weekend workshops run for up to 40 hours. I was a biker in need of a bike, so I took the DIY plunge.
     Justin Aguinaldo, former champion bike messenger, now BBS’s designer and S.F. studio head, made it easy: I’d build a Coaster, an affordable basic model ($750)
with room for added features. But I couldn’t get Friday off, so I arrived at 8 a.m. on Saturday—to find my classmates hours ahead of me. No matter. While Justin showed them how to bind the lug joints to the bamboo shafts, I assembled my frame, using a plane measure, sight, and touch to position each shaft. Then Justin set me to shaping my lugs (made of very tough balsa wood) using hand files, a task that took most of a 13-hour day.
     Compagnon lesson number one: Apprentices don’t need experience or skills, just patience—medieval patience. As we newbies toiled, alumni wandered in. One was finishing two bikes: wedding gifts for his sister and her fiancé. These journeymen helped me with tips and practical support—one doing as much shaping on my toughest lug in 15 minutes as I had in three hours. I was grateful: I would have done it alone, but now I could coat my lugs with fiberglass before we stopped for the night.
     Compagnon lesson number two: Liberté, but even more, fraternité.
     Sunday I graduated to resin-soaked carbon tape, wrapping the lugs in intricate patterns to optimize the joints’ strength. I wouldn’t finish that night, but I cheered as one of my companions wheeled a complete bike out in glory.
     This weekend I was back in the studio, filing away at the hardened carbon and making friends with a new workshop gang, and heard that the night before, a man
cruising by in his car had rolled down the window and shouted, “You make bamboo bikes here?” Yes, he was told. “That’s unpossible!” he exclaimed, and sped off in
his steel box. He was wrong. All bikes are possible, including mine, thanks to what BBS taught me: It’s not DIY. It’s DIYT— Do It Yourself, Together. 

982 POST ST., S.F., BAMBOOKBIKESTUDIO.COM