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Peddling hemp and bamboo bicycles

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There’s no denying whether motorised or pedalled, Siem Reap is a town on two wheels. Aside from the occasional honking Lexus of course.  But now there are some new quirky two-wheelers in the mix.

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The Mekong Creations’ bamboo bikes were first conceived two years ago, and the bike frames are crafted from Stell Bamboo, one of the plants’ strongest varieties.

The hope is that Siem Reap will embrace bamboo. “Bamboo is lighter than steel, carbon or aluminium, it’s more resistant than steel and it’s flexible,” says Romain Gaudin-Spira, marketing man for the Siem Reap branch of Mekong Quilts. “That makes it more comfortable, particularly for long rides. It is shock absorbent, and reduces fatigue.”

Mekong Quilts and Creations both work under the umbrella organisation of Mekong Plus, founded by Belgian Bernard Kervyn in Vietnam 15 years ago. The two offshoots work to teach skills and provide sustainable employment for workers.  Two years ago, the organisation expanded its efforts into Cambodia with quilted, bamboo, and papier mache products sold in Fair Trade stores in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

The organisation recently saw a group of cyclists raise half a million dollars for the cause on a riding challenge from Ho Chi Minh City to around Angkor. Romain showed off the bamboo bike on the last leg of the trip.

While the bamboo bikes have begun to sell solidly in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, Romain says he’s hoping Temple Town will follow suit.

“Unfortunately in Siem Reap, local people like their new bikes to have famous brands. Travellers like the bike, but can’t buy it, so the other solution is the residents,” he explains. “We want people to come and give it a try.”

The bikes come in two forms: a city bike, which costs $180 and a mountain bike which is $435. “We can make it to personal specifications,” explains Romain, “Everything on it is Shimano. It has a very good disc brakes and a big suspension on the front.”

Romain says the bikes take a long time to make and that’s where the cost comes in.  “The bamboo is cut and left under the sun for one month. That helps the bamboo to be stronger. Then, after that, we need 50 hours per bike.”

The parts are connected with hemp. “First we used carbon resin, but now we use hemp. It’s better, more eco-friendly and it’s natural.”

Bamboo groves release 35 per cent more oxygen than a group on trees on the same plot, while replanting is more efficient, maturing in seven years compared to 30-50 for trees, making it one of the more sustainable and environmentally friendly crops.

“Bamboo is a fun material, it’s trendy, stylish and unique,” says Romain,

Mekong Creations aren’t the first to peddle bamboo bicycles – they’re also made in the US and Canada.

“They’re used in competitions and are really expensive,” says Romain. “Calfee, a professional frame builder, has been making them for twelve years now.”

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