The Art of Recycling Bikes

September/October 2010 | Momentum Magazine | Download PDF

The 13th puncture turned out to be a lucky one for Graham Bergh. As he prepared to replace the heavily patched inner tube, he wondered: “Okay, what do you do with this?”

Unable to bring himself to just throw it out, the recycling educator turned it into a cradle for his speakers.

“I just started tinkering with the material, talking to bike shops, finding out they throw away like a thousand tubes per shop,” Bergh said. “There are 4,000 shops in the US. I did the math: There were four million tubes no one was doing anything with.”

He’s spent the 19 years since recycling inner tubes and other parts into products sold by his company, Resource Revival, based in Mosier, OR.

Bergh is just one of a number of cycling artists who have been inspired to transform the object of their passion – and its parts – into something new.

There are millions of bikes in Canada and the United States. According to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, an estimated 14.9 million new bikes were sold in the US last year. And while some of the parts used on those bikes can be recycled when they’re worn, reusing them provides another option, especially where facilities don’t exist.

Inner tubes, for example, can be ground down for rubber mulch at playgrounds. But when Shannon Hames uses tubes in her handmade bags and wallets, they stay intact – a conversion that uses less energy.

Reusing materials also means new ones don’t need to be made. “We need to use all these things that are already here,” said Hames, who runs Flat Bags from Nelson, BC.

Inner tubes aren’t the only part that can be transformed. Andy Gregg, of Bike Furniture Design, saw “a bunch of useful material piling up” while working as a bike mechanic, and wanted to find a use for it. He made his first bike chair for a college sculpture class nearly 20 years ago.

Bike parts – he uses mostly rims, handlebars, spokes and axles to make tables, chairs and other pieces in Marquette, MI – were something he was both familiar with and had easy access to. “It’s material that I like,” he added.

Brock and Cindy Garvin know what he means. Passionate cyclists, the pair have 10 bikes between them, and the boxes of parts to prove it.

“Getting rid of all those parts was hard to do,” said Brock from their home in Vernon, BC, where the couple makes jewelry from used chains, spokes and cables. “I couldn’t do it.”

After all, those parts are still good – and good looking.

“There’s a tiny, tiny little hole there somewhere, and that’s it,” said Hames, the bag maker, of the flat inner tubes she uses. “That’s the only thing that’s wrong with it. It just doesn’t work for that purpose anymore.”