UK’s first ‘home grown bicycle’ heading for epic Andes biodiversity journey with UK adventurer and author
A bicycle made out of golden bamboo grown in Cornwall has just been completed in a workshop in east London, ready to take environmental champion Dr Kate Rawles the length of South America.
In December the former University of Cumbria lecturer is to set off on The Life Cycle, a unique approach to environmental communication, raising awareness and inspiring positive action on biodiversity loss, one of the most urgent and least understood environmental challenges.
The bike was made by Kate at the London-based Bamboo Bicycle Club from bamboo grown at the Eden Project in Cornwall. The canes were cut from a large clump thriving just outside the world-famous Biomes. “As far as we know this is the UK’s first home grown bicycle,” Kate said. “We’re delighted to have built it, and to be launching it on this mountainous environmental adventure.”
Empowering people to build their own bikes is a big part of the Bamboo Bicycle Club’s ethos. Learning to build her own bike out of a very sustainable material attracted Kate to them.
She aims to cycle from Costa Rica in Central American to Cape Horn at the tip of South America - a distance of nearly 6,000 miles - following the spine of the Andes and exploring biodiversity: what it is, what’s happening to it, why this matters and, above all, what can be done to protect it.
The ride is an ‘adventure plus’ follow up to The Carbon Cycle in which Kate cycled from Texas to Alaska, with a focus on climate change. Her book based on that journey was shortlisted for the 2012 Banff Mountain Festival Adventure Travel Book Award and was a runner up in the UK People’s Book Prize. She has since given hundreds of talks about it to very wide-ranging audiences, from the Royal Geographical Society to local cycling and rambling groups.
Kate said: “The aim of ‘adventure plus’ is to harness the power of adventure to raise awareness and inspire action on some of our most urgent environmental challenges.”
She believes that though we may not yet be doing enough about it, most people now understand that climate change is real and urgent. But biodiversity loss, every bit as important, is much less well publicised and understood.
“I hope I can use The Life Cycle to help change this,” Kate said. “It’s a hugely important issue, with real impacts for people and other species too. And there is so much we could be doing to help arrest what’s been called ‘The Sixth Great Extinction’ – driven by us, with many win/win solutions and potentially positive outcomes.”
Being made of golden bamboo grown at Eden means that the bicycle will have a lower carbon footprint than a steel equivalent. The proper name is Phyllostachys aureosulcata and the plant originates from China.
Kate added: “I am working with Mike Berners-Lee at Small World Consulting to figure out how much lower, but we know that overall, this bike will have a really light environmental footprint. In addition to the frame being made from UK bamboo, we’ve tried to source the other parts of the bike from the UK where possible. I’m doing everything I can to keep my own carbon footprint down on this journey – including crossing the Atlantic by cargo ship rather than by plane – and am delighted that the bike can be part of this too. It’s so fitting, to be riding a biodiversity ride on a bike made of bamboo grown at the Eden Project.”
Dr Mike Maunder, Eden’s Director of Life Sciences, said: “We wish Kate a safe, exciting and successful journey through the incredible landscapes of South America. We are very proud that our bamboo is being used for such an arduous adventure. Bamboo is an incredible resource for humanity - it protects millions of acres of watershed and as a sustainable crop provides building materials, food and fibre. At Eden we are working to replace polluting and wasteful single use water bottles with multi-use containers made from bamboo.
“Kate’s adventure will take her through some of the most diverse and spectacular cultures and habitats on the planet - through mountains, mangroves, rainforest and grassland. This is also a region of rapid environmental change. The rainforests of South America are a critically important global resource holding vital stores of carbon and freshwater (they are weather makers) and the source of so many important crops including chocolate, brazil nut and rubber.”
James Marr of the Bamboo Bicycle Club said, “Kate is going to experience something completely different with this bike. She is a seasoned cyclist but I don’t think people have really travelled by bike until they’ve built one themselves. This bike will be an ambassador for the sustainability and empowerment principles that Kate and the Bamboo Bicycle Club stand for.”
Kate lives in Ulverston, Cumbria. She is a keen hill-walker and sea-kayaker as well as a cyclist, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society a member of The Adventure Syndicate and a biodiversity ambassador for Ibex Earth.
A short film of the bamboo bicycle build, made by Lizzie Gilson, can be viewed at https://youtu.be/ByggVZb0iV4.
Kate is giving a talk about The Life Cycle adventure in London at 6.30pm on Monday, Nov 21st at Library, 112 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4BD. The evening is compered by the adventurer Russell Smith and hosted by Ibex Earth. Tickets, which are free, can be booked here:
Kate will be available – with the bike – for press interviews from 11am at the venue that day.