Wednesday, December 23, 2009
After hemp came to the attention of the masses, lots of other natural fibres tagged along, such as banana leaf, nettles, and bamboo. The fruit leaves left no lasting impression so far, the nettles were hot for 15 seconds, and then bamboo, the fibre of which was really a plastic, became flavour of the month for a few years. Why, I do not know. Bamboo is a great plant, but it is not the best for fibre, and does not provide medicine and rope as does hemp. Nor is it known to produce great paper. It uses lots of water, so it is not a good idea to grow it where less water intensive crops could suffice. The fact that the fibres are actually plasticised has finally led to its reclassification in some countries, and the trendy panda wanna-bes are realising they were conned. Should have worn hemp! It's been a fibre of choice for over 2,000 years, and was the world's most traded commodity.
But bamboo has many good qualities to it. Its shoots are edible, and make a great ingredient in stir fries etc. It is also very fast growing, gaining up to a metre a day.
Previously on this site I noted the staff at Eco in Chiswick were riding bamboo bikes, which cost about 3,000 pounds sterling. Now this is catching on in the US. A recent article by Ian Ritz in The Epoch Times notes two American companies, Masueli Bikes of California and The Bamboo Bike Studio of New York, which are now supplying these. The advantage to the rider is flexibility, it makes for a smoother ride over rough terrain. But this is not such a new idea; the first bamboo bikers got their start on 26 April, 1864. And of course this is an environmentally friendly use of bamboo, as opposed to making it into a plastic and extruding it as a textile fibre.
Bike frames is one use that hemp does not have, as the stalks are much thinner. The record for a hemp stem is about 3 inches, but even then, the character of the stem, with the outer bast fibres and an inner spongy core known as the hurd, does not lend itself to bike frames. The cellulose content does increase with age, so overgrown hemp stems may have more applications than we know, but for now, bamboo reigns in the making of natural fibre bike frames. It has found another niche for itself and I hope this catches on. Nettles, banana leaves, and even hemp do not compare.