This year at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, I noticed a few different builders using bamboo as their material of choice for creating bicycle frames. While I was aware of the use of bamboo in bike building prior to going to the show, I was definitely surprised the testimonies to its strength and durability that I heard after talking to several people at NAHBS. It turns out that bamboo is actually a well-suited material for bikes due to its natural strength and vibration-dampening properties. And, best of all, it’s cheap and sustainable.
Here are some of the bamboo bike builders I came across at NAHBS 2017:
Craig Calfee has been in the bicycle building business for a while, specializing first in carbon frames, delving into producing bamboo bikes in 2005, and making history every step of the way. As one of the pioneers of bamboo frames, he took his operations oversees, bringing bamboo bikes to Ghana after noticing a need for them during a trip to Africa. People used bikes a lot, but there weren’t enough of them to go around, and bamboo was plentiful. He taught the locals how to build bamboo bikes so that they could provide themselves with means of transportation, but also sell their work and boost local economies. You can find out more about this ongoing project on the Calfee Design website.
Calfee’s latest project is the DIY bamboo frame kit. Anyone can order one of these kits, which includes the tubing, metal parts such as the head and seat tube inserts, rear dropouts, and bottom bracket, casting tape, tools, and instructions. Kits are available for almost any type of bike, from BMX to mountain to road models, and a plethora of different frame sizes and wheel size options.
“Build your yoga practice or build a bike,” states the Container Collective website. This might sound like an unlikely marriage of activities, but maybe it’s actually perfect. After all, I’d probably need some yoga to calm the frustrations I might encounter while trying to build my own bike!
The Container Collective is located in Lakewood, Colorado, on the outskirts of Denver. Russ Hopkins, whom I met and got to play bike polo with at NAHBS, is head of the bicycle end of things, and he hosts bamboo bike building workshops several times a year. Each weekend-long workshop includes instruction and materials to build either a frame-only or a complete cruiser, singlespeed, 5-speed, or 9-speed bike.
If you’re not feeling the DIY aspect, you can also order a custom bike from the Collective. And, if you’re in the area, they offer bike maintenance and service as well.
The bike pictured below, which was one of several of Container Collective’s bikes on display at NAHBS, features a Sturmey-Archer kick shift coaster brake rear hub. I got to ride it around briefly, which was the first time I’d experienced a hub like this. To shift between the two gears, you simply kick the pedals backwards and then pedal forward again. The bars on this cruiser encouraged a very upright and fun-ready ride position and the blue accents appeal to the eyes. I’ll take one, please.
Indeed, these bamboo bikes, as well as many of the bikes seen at NAHBS, are true works of art (no pun intended).
Barret Werk is an avid cyclist and woodworker from Hawaii. He builds everything from furniture and home goods to bicycles. Bamboo is prevalent on the island, so he started working with it in both his domestic projects and bike builds.
He also teaches courses on working with bamboo, including bike building classes at the Honolulu Museum of Art. He said he was shocked when he first started teaching, how quickly the classes filled. It’s much more expensive than any of the other courses the Museum offers, so he figured no one would sign up. It turns out that a lot of people want to learn how to build a bamboo bike.
Right now, bikes are a side project for Werk as part of his woodworking business, but he hopes to grow this side of operations in the future.
Those are just a few of the bamboo bikes that I got to check out at NAHBS. You can find more NAHBS content from this year and previous years here.