Just in: Calfee Bamboo road bike

Tope end sportive machine that's all natural fibres

by Dave Atkinson   November 12, 2009  

Carbon? Titanium? Flax? Carrot fibre? Meh. The next big thing in framebuilding is bamboo, and US outfit Calfee design are spearheading the trend. Well, them and the guy who always shows up at the Bristol Bikefest with a MTB made out of sticks.

Not even sticks, to be accurate: bamboo, as any pub quizzer will know, is actually a grass. So this is a bike made out of grass. Is that wise? Well, Calfee think it is. The overall weight of the frame (4-6lb depending on the build) won't appeal to the weight weenie brigade but the vibration damping qualities of bamboo, say the makers, are second to none, far better than Carbon or Titanium. This is a bike aimed at the moneyed sportive set, and with a price tag of £3,800 for our test model specced out with Ultegra 6500 it's certainly a premium bit of kit.

It's not just a technology for the rich though. Bamboo is easy to grow in most climates and the construction of a bamboo bike is a labour-intensive process that's not easily mechanised. both these factors mean that bamboo bike production is well suited to developing countries where the people can grow the bamboo locally and produce the bikes by hand for local use. With the bike such an important vehicle in developing communities the bamboo bike could have a big impact, and Calfee are piloting a scheme in Ghana to train workers to build the machines.

The mainframe of our test bike is all bamboo; you can spec Carbon fibre stays at the rear if you want to firm things up back there, as the bamboo stays aren't as stiff. The bamboo is smoked and heat treated before the frame is constructed to make sure the tubes don't split; each frame is covered by a ten-year guarantee. The joints are wrapped in hemp fibre, in keeping with the nature of the bike, and all cable guides are attached this way too before the frame is finished with a matt polyurethane coat.

No doubt: it's an amazing looking bike. Everyone that's seen it so far has heaped praises upon it, at least from an aesthetic point of view, and the attention to detail is superb. The bike as specced weighs in at 8.7kg/19.2lb so it's not over light for a bike that won't leave you much change from four grand, but that's not really the point. As to the ride qualities of bamboo, well we'll report back on that soon. Stay tuned.

8 user comments

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Thats a work of art! I tried to make a bamboo mtb frame at uni when on a sustainable design degree and it was tough, tough to find the quality of materials and then work them into both a useable but attractive form. I love the look of this bike, I want one...but not for that money!!!

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
12th November 2009 - 17:20

4 Likes

£3800??? someones taking the p**s and I bet its not the guys knocking em out in Africa Thinking

posted by Il Ciccione [1 posts]
12th November 2009 - 17:55

4 Likes

£3,800! I know what bike(s) I would spend that much on and its not a bike made out of sticks.

demoff's picture

posted by demoff [344 posts]
12th November 2009 - 19:22

4 Likes

What about Termites and Borer weavil?

derailled's picture

posted by derailled [1 posts]
12th November 2009 - 21:33

4 Likes

Nice change from the norm, good concept.

posted by T0m [4 posts]
12th November 2009 - 23:11

4 Likes

Interesting idea - bit pricey though.

My kids both learned to ride on a Like-a-bike with no pedals before graduating to proper bicycles. It's made of sheet plywood and to be honest, I think this is a really good material that could be used to make a full-sized bicycle. Bear in mind that the highly successful WWII Mosquito bomber/fighter bomber was made from plywood and only in the very latter stages of the war did the Germans develop a fighter fast enough to catch it.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
13th November 2009 - 11:17

5 Likes

bamboo, schmamboo. I don't think it's the first time this material has appeared on a bike. Hanging up in my dad's shed is a pair of wheels with sprint rims made from bamboo that he used on Herne Hill track, way back in the 1950s. I'm guessing bamboo was used even before that on other bike components. But Calfee have brought it into the 21st century.

posted by grumpeur [7 posts]
22nd November 2009 - 22:55

2 Likes

While earlier models used a bamboo tube/carbon lug combo, currently all the bikes are built with hemp lugs (heavier riders can choose carbon chainstays for added stiffness). Calfee constructs the hemp lugs using a fiber-wound construction method. Starting with long strands of natural hemp fiber (procured locally from Ecolution in Santa Cruz, California) the hemp fiber is saturated with an epoxy, and then tightly hand wrapped under tension around the epoxy tacked and mitered bamboo tubes, very similar to lashing together tubing. Calfee says they are able to compress out any extra resin or bubbles, leaving very little void content. The hemp fiber gets built up, and eventually sanded down into a nicely shaped lug form that also acts as a type of external butting.

posted by watson [1 posts]
4th March 2010 - 6:38

5 Likes