Bicycle Diaries: From a <i>bamboo coup</i> to bamboo bikes

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From a bamboo coup to bamboo bikes

If you're the most unpopular politician in your country, don't ever, ever leave to attend the UN General Assembly in New York. This is particuarly true if George Bush is giving a speech on his vision of a democratic Middle East. There's a good possibility that your military, cheered on by the voters, will boot your ass out of office.

This is exactly what happened yesterday to Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. While listening to our president fulminate against the Iranians and Syrians, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, with a key endorsement from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, declared marshal law. It is the first bamboo coup in fifteen years in a country where they used to be commonplace with 17 of them between 1932 and 1991.

Like all good coup leaders around the world, General Boonyaratglin has urged calm. He's invited Thaksin's cabinet to stay at the army's headquarters for their own safety but warned that Thaksin, if he returns, may face trial on corruption charges. He also promised that the coup was temporary; its purpose to appoint a special national assembly to revise the constitution. Currently, the general is busily vetting candidates for a new prime minister.

Thais, in general support the coup. In fact, Thaksin is so unpoular that the country's bikers still plan to celebrate International Car-Free Day on Friday. They will pass by the King Rama V statue, before rolling to the head office of the metropolitan police. There, bikers plan to thank the officers who have provided road safety to bicyclists. Unfortunately, their friendly celebration could turn into a New York-style Critical Mass. General Boonyaratglin, a muslim, has banned all public gatherings of more than five people.

The ban would not only be a blow to a fragile democracy. Bike culture has deep roots in Thailand as well. Bikes are still the preferred mode of transport for the country's 64 million population. Each year tens of thousands of tourists roll through dense jungles and past ancient monuments. In 2003, Raleigh, once the largest bike company in the world, shifted much of its manufacturing to Thailand after closing the factory doors in Nottingham.

And Thailand leads the world in the development of bamboo bikes. Although this early 20th Century model is American, both the materials and inspiration were Thai. Bamboo is a strong, lightweight, enviromentally friendly and relatively cheap. As a result, it's the material of choice among many alternative transportation advocates and bike designers alike.

For these reasons, bamboo is also an excellent material for cargo trailers. Designs for this model are freely available from Carry Freedom, a UK business. They will email them if you
  1. tell them what you are using the bicycle trailer for
  2. send them photos of the bicycle trailer you build
  3. tell them about your improvements and modifications
I've been considering a cargo trailer for that which rolls since I saw one at the Chicago Greentech Family Fun Fair last Saturday. My only concern was the weight for my wallet as well as my back. I think bamboo may just be the answer. All I'm waiting for are the plans and a little help from my friends at West Town Bikes.

Perhaps too it will add a little bit of support to those troubled by the Bamboo Coup in Thailand.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear mr. garth,

i hope you are fine! i dont know if u remember me.. :P my name is sophia papamichalopoulou and i am a greek cypriot who was attending the bicommunal summer youth camp at the NIU. i was that crazy girl who insisted that horses are the best animals :PpPpPp are you? i met with some people from the camp last weekend(including michalis) and it was really fun! before i cuntinue i have to say, speaking for everyone, that we totally liked your lectures and the things you tought us... one thing i took with me from your lectures is "to be proud of what I am, and let other people be proud of what they are"

i am very happy to hear that you are visiting our island in october, and this is the actual reason i am writing. me and two other guys from the camp(panayiotis and christos) were wondering if you would be interested to come and talk to us and other students at our school. we have already talked to our director and he agreed that it would be nice to have you as a guest speaker at one of our assemblies. it is an english speaking highschool so you dont have to worry about the language and it is called the "american academy" in larnaca (

i am confident that you will have a great time in cyprus and i look forward to hearing from you, especially about our offer


23/9/06 15:11  

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