Oberlin Blogs


December 22, 2008

Joe Dawson ’12

Aahhhhhh! (that's 'Ahhhhhh' like the sound you make after taking a satisfying drink of Coke Zero™, not like 'Ahhhhhh please don't lock me in that iron mask for years because I look like my brother the king')

I just ate my first real meal at home since Thanksgiving, and I feel supremely relaxed. Christmas shopping, sleeping late, and hanging out with old friends has done great things for my health as well, as the cold that bugged me all finals week is finally subsiding. As I plunged through my first set of college finals, I realized that I hadn't really been stressing out about them like I thought I would. Of course they were stressful, they were two-hour long tests worth a healthy chunk of my grade, but last weekend I found plenty of time to do a crossword puzzle, take some photos, watch movies, and play lots of Minesweeper around the two hours I spent studying each day. It wasn't really a conscious choice, but I don't really think that camping in the library with flashcards and a week's supply of Red Bull would have helped me anyway. I've done decently in all of my classes all semester, and I'm not going to understand anything now that I didn't before.

So what did I worry about this week, while every single other student was crapping their pants over finals (Oberlin has never smelled so foul)? Bamboo. Where could I get some, how long would it take to get to my house in Missouri, which variety would be best for building a Gilligan's Island-esque bicycle? I never realized fully the intricacies of the bamboo trade on the West Coast until I tried to buy 20-ish feet of Vietnamese bamboo from Washington for my Winter Term project. I figured I could just call in an order, but these are serious bamboo traders. They have laws about shipping bamboo across state lines, some people won't ship it unless you order a bale of the stuff. Guess how much a bale is. 250 poles! That's way more than I need. What kind of bamboo craftsman can make that many bikes? Not me.

Perhaps I should explain. As the deadline for Winter Term project submissions drew closer, I had a very foggy idea about what mine would be. I thought about doing something academic, and then laughed. I figured building something would be pretty challenging, and I like to ride bicycles, so the obvious choice would be an ornithopter! Or a bicycle. Here were some other brainstorms I had:

  • Learn to play an instrument (not a bad idea)
  • Perfect my already stellar disposable lighter repair skills
  • Go on a sleep diet (The idea is not to lose weight, just get by on like four hours of sleep a day by taking 30 minute naps every three hours or so. Sounds like FUN!)
  • Belts!
  • Build: An ornithopter (seriously, but like a small one), a bike frame, a robot, or a real woman, produced from a Barbie doll in a thunderstorm (talk about your weird science!)
  • Run. Sounds lame, right? Apparently this was my friend Justin's Winter Term project last year. His goal was to run 100 miles per week for four weeks in January. I think the stress fracture after the first week slowed him down, quite literally.
I settled on the bike idea. Since I can't weld, it would have to be made out of something I could cut, sand, smooth, and tack together. Framebuilders in Canada and China and other places do use bamboo to make bike frames, and I decided if they could, I could too. Professionally-made bamboo frames cost something like $5000, and are super lightweight. Mine will cost about $75 and probably weigh half a ton for all the epoxy I'm going to put on the joints. To be honest, I was a little sheepish about asking my Biology professor, whose specialty is botany, to sign off on a project only tangentially related to his field and kind of easy, in my opinion. The Office of Winter Term states that:

Students are expected to complete Winter Term projects that
are academically relevant, rigorous, experiential, and educationally
rewarding. Viable projects are those that involve academic
study and/or field experience, as well as experiential learning--including
internships and community service.

Hmmm, a bicycle made out of bamboo surely falls under academic study. Or field experience. Really I'm doing a community service, since otherwise I'd probably be encouraging kids to eat paste all through January. Laughing to myself after leaving Prof. Moore's office (he actually fell for the whole 'bamboo bikes are biodegradeable' thing. [French accent] Ze fool!), I wondered how people would react when I told them my project. The first person I told was my coach.

    "Wow," he said. I didn't know how to take it.
    "Yeah, I took the easy way out--"
    "No, no, that sounds really cool, actually. You should see some of the projects that have come across my desk. That's definitely in the top third."

Top third, bitches.

In the future, I really am going to do something 'academically rigorous' and all that crap. For now, I'm just happy to be working on something that I'm excited about. I'm sure I'll run into a million little problems to work out and maybe kill myself riding a homemade bike down the street, but I'm sure it'll be worth it.

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