Book A Cycling Tour
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google Plus Share on LinkedIn Share on Email
Abhideep Virk: builder of bespoke bamboo bicycles

Cycling Blog

Abhideep Virk: builder of bespoke bamboo bicycles

Tweet This
Share This

September 9th, 2015

Back in early June one of our team stopped for lunch at a trail-side café near York. While they ate, one of the group got up and started chatting with a guy who’d emerged from a shack on the other side of the grounds, carrying a very intriguing bike.

The man was Abhideep ‘Abz’ Virk, owner of his eponymous company making “exquisite bamboo bicycle frames”; the bike was a slick mountain bike, hand-built and kitted out with flashy components. It was light as a feather.

We recently got back in touch with him for a chat.

Bamboo MTB

‘Speed’ – the bamboo MTB that caught our eye

In the modern design climate which Abz describes as “mostly steel and metal with the competition in aesthetics”, people may rightly ask ‘why bamboo?’. A wooden bike doesn’t chime well with people’s expectations.

But bamboo a shock-absorbent natural composite that can withstand millions of vibrations without distorting, lending itself well to the demands placed on a bicycle. It does needs to be kept lacquered to ensure optimum condition, but this is no more taxing than looking after a traditional bike’s paint job. Of the material he says “it’s a means to explore different technologies, it’s easy to get and to play with, and it’s sustainable.”

Abz’ initial attraction to the material came during a ride Nepal in 2013, and prompted him to begin asking whether it would be possible to build his bike from the material. On his return to the UK he moved around between friends’ houses with his rig, developing the design as he went and convincing himself that not only was it possible, but that it could be a lucrative business.

“Construction work, transportation and decoration all had some use of bamboo in it somewhere”

His current office – a portable home located in the grounds of a café on a Sustrans route in York’s outskirts – was found through collaborative working site HelpX. At first he helped out in the café and hostel in exchange for accommodation, but recently began to pay rent so he could focus more of his time on design.

The semi-transient working arrangement reflects Abz’ desire to retain full creative control over Virk and its bikes and to do so at his own pace: currently the project is a part time hobby, allowing him to develop, research and see what works in a low-pressure context.

He wants to avoid people interfering with his plans or the design process, deciding instead to hand-craft each bike individually to its rider’s specifications: as a result Virk doesn’t offer ‘models’, but truly bespoke bicycles. Each bike has its own name and personality.

Virk designs

Close-up of the crank-set from the Speed, Chute and Coast bikes

Abz’ goals are modest but his vision is strong: in a world where people value design he doesn’t just want to represent the bicycle, but to develop bikes that are an extension of their riders’ world-view. A statement on his website encapsulates this well: “if you can imagine a bike then we can certainly build it: mountain, road, city.”

The bamboo he uses is sourced from China, as the processes required for harvesting, drying and maturing it aren’t yet established in the UK. Chinese manufacturers do dabble in bamboo bikes but according to Abz, “they can’t get the quality”. Small scale operations like Virk, and Cerchio Ghisallo in Italy (who makes the rims used on Virk bikes), represent efforts by individuals keen to promote the material.

“I was in love with the material and also aware how much was missing in the engineering side of making a bamboo bike”

It stands up well to testing, too. The mountain bike was put through harsh testing but passed with flying colours, after withstanding the equivalent of 100,000 cycles. All Virk bikes are to be tested under EU safety standards.

He definitely thinks there is a niche to be filled, although not everyone agrees: “it’s just another material” people say, or, “it’s just grass”. He aims to break that mindset, and we wish him all the best.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Updates

* indicates required