Could bamboo be the new carbon? Though bamboo bikes have been around since the late 1800s, they’ve long been considered a novelty item, an amusing notion for tree-huggers to get excited about, but who would ever really own one? Well, manufacturers of bamboo bikes are out to change your mind and are picking up speed. Professionally built bamboo bikes are winning awards as competitive performance bikes. Bamboo, the fastest growing plant on earth and thus, one of the most renewable resources, offers a natural vibration damping quality for a smooth, forgiving ride. Bamboo bikes rival metal frames in terms of inherent strength and lightness.
In 2005, bike designer and engineer, Craig Calfee of Calfee Design built bamboo bikes as a publicity stunt for his employees and friends. When they all raved about the smoothness of the ride, he decided to go into bamboo bike production. Calfee has since partnered with various organizations and projects to provide bamboo cargo bikes to residents of Ghana with plans to expand to other African nations. Goals of the various projects, such as the Bamboo Bike Project, include alleviating poverty by providing sustainable transportation in rural areas and fostering an African bike building industry. With bamboo readily available in these areas, the start-up cost is low to train the native people on how to build bikes. The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative won last year’s SEED award for entrepreneurship in sustainable design.
This year’s NAHBS featured 6 American bamboo bike builders, including Calfee as well as Panda Bicycles and Boo Bicycles. Aptly named Panda Bicycles builds steel lugged bamboo frames and are committed not only to sustainable design but to using the most earth friendly practices in their bike production. Boo Bicycles, who says the ride quality of bamboo is unmatched, makes bamboo mountain bikes as well as road, fixie, touring, and cyclo-cross. While these bikes may be earth-friendly, most would agree they aren’t budget-friendly. They generally around $2,000 to $3,000. But since bamboo doesn’t rust or fatigue, it lasts longer than metal. Other bamboo bike manufacturers include Bamboo Cycles, Biomega, Zambikes, Renovo, Threepenny Bikes, and Organic Bikes.
Still not convinced a bamboo bike could handle the rigors of your daily commute? Check out this video from Calfee’s staff test ride in Ghana: