In 2009, inspired by the bike culture in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, a small group of young designers in my program called Project M conceived and launched a new bicycle collective called Nada Bike. Nada is a community of people who believe that sometimes simple is best and that "less is more." Less cars, less gas, less smog, less paint, less gears, less lycra, less fat. More independence, more health, more freedom, more sustainability, more DIY, more fun.
For $100 (plus shipping) you got a membership card that looked remarkably like the world's simplest bike frame. Because that's what it was. An unpainted fixed-gear or single-speed bike frame. You build it up the way you want. With parts you have in the garage or from a garage sale. Or fancy ones you buy. No logo, no marketing, no profit. Just a simple "Do It Yourself" bike for a community of people with a common set of values and interests.
We ordered an initial shipment of 120 steel frames, made in Taiwan, set up a website and launched Nada Bike. Bike Snob NYC did us a favor by posting "worst bike site ever" and members started signing up, quickly depleting our supply of steel frames. Luckily, right before we re-ordered more steel frames we connected with Marty Odlin, one of the founders of Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn. BBS was running workshops teaching people about sustainability while building their own bamboo bike in a weekend. Inspired and helped by Marty, we switched our focus from steel shipped from Taiwan to bamboo grown and fabricated into bike frames in Greensboro, Alabama, where we have a Project M Lab.
The Black Belt of Alabama happens to have ideal conditions for growing bamboo. In fact, we were able to harvest enough to build our initial prototypes from wild forests nearby. We learned that bamboo is a miracle plant that grows very quickly without pesticides, water or re-planting. It also yields the largest biomass per acre and has the most carbon sequestration while growing. We've been told that the US is the largest importer of bamboo in the world, mostly from China, and grows hardly any.
Fatefully, we then met a terrific woman named Marsha Folsom, wife of then Alabama Lt. Governor, Jim Folsom. Marsha was heading up an initiative to get bamboo grown as an agricultural crop in Alabama in partnership with Jackie Heinricher from Booshoot. Booshoot is a company based in Washington that has developed technology to produce bamboo tissue culture for growing bamboo, since it's impossible to grow from seed. We branded this initiative "Alabamboo" hoping to make Alabama mean bamboo like Florida means oranges, Idaho means potatoes or Maine means lobsters.
It's been fascinating watching things organically present themselves and align around an authentic desire to do meaningful things that help shape a positive future. The latest addition is a cross-country Alabamboo bike adventure this summer. Stay tuned.