Some of you may have heard of bamboo bikes before -- and if not, you have now. While the term “bamboo bike” may make you think of some primitive bike that is made entirely of natural materials, and resembles something from the stone age, that’s nowhere close to the truth.
In fact, bamboo bikes can be traced back to 1896, although they never really took off, thanks to the increasing popularity of aluminum and steel for bikes. At the core, “bamboo bike” refers to the frame of the bike, which is actually made from bamboo. That’s pretty much the definition of it.
Sound a little hard to believe? A plant for a frame? You’d be surprised. Some of the highest-end bamboo frame bikes sell for as much as $4,000, and offer several advantages over metal frame bikes.
So, let’s examine what a bamboo bike is, how it works, and what distinct advantages it can offer for your riding.
Some bamboo bikes try to utilize the material as much as possible, but those are considered more of a novelty. For the most part, bamboo bikes feature a frame made from bamboo, and that includes the top and bottom tubes, the seat tube, and the stays at the rear.
The joints of the frame can be made from a number of materials. Lower-end bamboo bikes melt resin material and shape it at the joints. More expensive frames utilize carbon frame material on the ends of the tubes, as it’s both lightweight and strong.
And that’s pretty much it. The main parts of the frame are made from bamboo that has been carefully crafted and shaped, and then covered with epoxy to give it reinforcement and added strength. All other parts are metal or carbon fiber, and that includes the fork, handlebar, seatpost, and everything else.
The end result is a beautiful frame with a natural aesthetic that will certainly get you a few looks and questions when you take it out.
But bamboo bikes are about more than just looks. They offer a wide range of benefits that span everything from the ride quality and frame strength, to the environment, and social initiatives.
Bamboo bikes definitely have a unique and alluring look, and allow you to stand out by riding a bike that’s literally made from something that grows out of the ground. This is all well and good, but there are a number of tangible advantages you can get from them.
As you may imagine, a bike frame made from bamboo is going to be very light. A bamboo frame is very comparable to the weight of a quality aluminum frame, and sometimes even lighter. Although not as light as a carbon frame, bamboo is still noticeable light, and this can make a big difference in your ride.
Bamboo frames that are outfitted with carbon fiber materials are usually even lighter, making them an easy way to obtain a light frame without having to rely on conventional metal frames.
The first thing that appears in someone’s mind when they think about the idea of a bamboo frame is that it will literally snap in half the moment you hit a bump in the road. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Bamboo is actually made from interwoven fibers, not unlike a carbon frame. It is extremely durable and strong as is, but when you add an epoxy sealant to prevent any cracking, it becomes exponentially stronger.
Bamboo doesn’t stress like metal does. Over time, metal frames can actually stress from slight bending, but bamboo remains steadfast. Like carbon fiber, it may not survive a particularly bad wreck, but that doesn’t stop anyone from purchasing a carbon frame, does it?
Bottom line, bamboo is tough, durable, and able to withstand large amounts of stress over time.
All frames offer a bit of flex, led by the flexibility of carbon fiber frames. Aluminum offers a bit of give, with steel coming in last. When a frame is flexible, it allows for better shock absorption without the need of relying on front or rear suspension. Road bikes don’t have the option of suspension, so the shock absorption of the frame is key.
Bamboo naturally has quite a bit of flex, while still offering the required amount of stability. In fact, in many cases, it may even be more flexible than carbon fiber, depending on the bike.
Either way, the flex of the frame absorbs plenty of shock on its own, leading to what’s a noticeably smoother ride when compared to many other frames.
Bamboo grows extremely fast, and can be found all over the world. It’s easy to harvest, easy to grow, and replenishes itself at a quick rate. Basically, it’s the opposite of using wood, as trees takes decades to grow back.
Bamboo is becoming very popular in a number of industries, including furniture, flooring, and even clothing. When purchasing items made with bamboo, you can do so with the assurance that it is a virtually unlimited resource that replaces itself when harvested responsibly.
Bamboo bike manufacturers make it a point to source their bamboo from responsible producers that are strategic in how they gather their bamboo. It has a small carbon footprint, and produces far less CO2 when being manufactured than metals.
Several international organizations have used the booming bamboo bike trade to help communities that could easily benefit from it. One of the most prominent examples is the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative.
Supported by both the United Nations and the United States, the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative provides jobs to those that live in Ghana’s rural communities, and lack access to jobs in urban areas.
The program trains and employs locals to produce bamboo bikes for an affordable price, selling them around the world, and to the nearby community. The bamboo is sourced locally, and also helps employ bamboo farmers in the area.
As you can see, bamboo bikes offer a wide range of benefits to yourself, others, and the world at large. Bamboo bikes are available for numerous budgets, and can easily provide you with a sustainable, socially-conscious bike material choice that also ensures a smooth, durable, and light ride quality each and every time you hit the road or trail.
Have you ever ridden or purchased a bamboo bike? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear your experiences.