Bamboo bikes take root in the US, Africa and DIYers' garages

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The first time I heard about someone making a bicycle out of bamboo — Craig Calfee at Calfee Designs in California — I thought it might be a joke.

But while those Calfee Design bamboo frame bikes might put smiles on their owners' faces, they're no joke. Many bicyclists prefer them because of their ride, but also because they use a sustainable frame material.

Several other bike makers have begun using bamboo for frames, and this weekend National Public Radio reported on a Brooklyn-based Bamboo Bike Studio where interested bikers can build their own bamboo bikes. Basically we're talking do-it-yourself bamboo bikes.


That cost is about $900, and it includes the lessons, the bamboo, use of the shop and all the components.

NPR describes how two of the shop owners, Justin Aguinaldo and Sean Murray, harvest the bamboo from some landscaping that's gone wild over in New Jersey. They bring back their chosen pieces to the shop where the wood is hardened by blowtorching it, then baking it in an oven.

The joints are connected with a sawdust and resin mixture, then wrapped in carbon fiber tape that holds soaks up an holds the bonding mixture.

More than fad

Another of the owners, Marty Oldin, says they've put about 80 bamboo bikes on the road. He says that the do-it-yourself nature of the bike creates a bond with the bike rider.

“There is a concern that bamboo bikes become this fad. And we could sell a whole bunch of them for a whole lot of money to a whole bunch of people very quickly and then nothing after that, right? It becomes a fad and dies out. We feel like we're building something with more enduring value than that.”

The Bamboo Bike Studio owners also provide prototype testing and construction with the Bamboo Bike Project at the Columbia University Earth Institute. The project seeks to set up bamboo bike factories in Kumasi, Ghana; Kisumu, Kenya; and Quito, Ecuador.

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Calfee, the first maker of the bamboo bikes, helped to launch that program in 2007 when he collaborated with members of the Institute on the design and construction of a prototype bamboo bike that could be built in Kumasi.

The work has continued in Ghana and Zambia, where a locally owned company, Zambikes, is building bamboo bikes for use in the rugged countryside, as well as for export to the U.S.

Check out the Bamboosero website for more information about the projects in Africa.

More bamboo

Other bike makers are turning to bamboo in frame design.

Portland-based Renovo Bikes makes bike from bamboo, as well as other hardwoods.

Panda Bicycles in Colorado is making bamboo bikes for urban commuting.

WebbWorks in Thailand is making bamboo bikes.

And not surprisingly, the Instructables website has directions on“How to build a bamboo bicycle.”

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