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It's high-tech bamboo. No, really, it is

MakeLab, a collaborative design group in Alabama, USA, is looking for financial backing on Kickstarter to set up a project to make Semester bikes from bamboo and carbon fibre.

The bikes look really interesting. They’re made using proprietary ‘Hextubes’. Unlike most bamboo bikes – and there are a lot of designs out there – these have a carbon-fibre skin on the inside, and the outside is covered with a glass/epoxy lamination.

The bamboo fibres run parallel along the length of the tube, while the carbon fibre and FRP skins are laid at 45°. The designers say this both provides torsional rigidity and protects the bamboo, and that the resulting Hextube is incredibly strong and lightweight.

They reckon the design dampens road vibration (yes, pretty much everyone claims that). Plus, they’re able to make tubes of consistent size, weight, and wall thickness, so the strength and performance is the same across different bikes.

With many bamboo designs that use simple bamboo poles, there’s a lot of variation from one bike to the next because… well, you can’t tell bamboo how to grow. As well as the Hextubes, the Semester bike is made from powder-coated cromo steel.

The bamboo used here is grown locally in Greensboro, Alabama – the town where this project is based. Watch the video to see the innovative transportation system used to move the bamboo from source to the workshop. Okay, they just put it on their shoulders and carry it across town.

“We have a high-strength, high-performance piece that could far outperform what’s existing now in bamboo and would rival the performance of any materials used on bicycles,” says Lance Rake, Industrial Designer at MakeLab.

The main motivation for the Kickstarter campaign is to create jobs in an area short of industry and the bikes look great in their own right. We’re not sure how the handwoven bamboo fenders (‘mudguards’ to most of us over here) would stand up to a British winter, but they’re certainly distinctive.

The Semester bikes will be available in different specs costing as little as $799 (that’s about £517 at today’s exchange rate). As usual with Kickstarter, you get various rewards based on the amount you pledge. MakeLab are looking for $40,000. With 15 days to go, they’re on $15,000.

Go to their Kickstarter page for more info or to make a pledge.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

16 comments

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Gashead [35 posts] 3 years ago
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At an additional $400 to ship outside the US they won't be getting my backing.

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banzicyclist2 [299 posts] 3 years ago
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I think the novelty would soon wear off. I rather have one of the leaf speed bikes made in Irland from ash

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derek n clive [253 posts] 3 years ago
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banzicyclist2 wrote:

I think the novelty wood soon wear off.

FTFY  3

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downfader [212 posts] 3 years ago
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If we can "train" cucumbers and bananas with special bottles into a straight shape, can we not also develop a bottle to train the bamboo?

I think the bike looks cool but most people just want a cheap bike to get them A to B or to train on. It doesn't look like either would appeal with this bike.

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Mart [110 posts] 3 years ago
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How much of this bike is bamboo? 15% ?
Those mud guards wont last long in a UK winter with all that horrible salt on the roads.

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billyman [148 posts] 3 years ago
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I was on my mountain bike last summer riding along our local canal when a young lady flagged me down and asked me to help lift her trailer up some stairs, I noticed her bamboo bike and we got chatting, she had just cycled the full length of Africa and was doing something similar for the uk

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Skylark [184 posts] 3 years ago
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Why so st'pid?

F . A . I . L .

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Ham-planet [112 posts] 3 years ago
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A glowing article on some half-baked kickstarter? It's like I'm really on BikeRumor.

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Nick T [1059 posts] 3 years ago
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downfader wrote:

If we can "train" cucumbers and bananas with special bottles into a straight shape, can we not also develop a bottle to train the bamboo?

I suspect bamboo would just break the glass tube it's in, the stuff is unstoppable. Allegedly, folk due punishment were once tied on top of it, it can grow several inches per day. Ouch.

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downfader [212 posts] 3 years ago
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NickT yes, we had to help remove it from our neighbour's property. The species they had doesn't grow as fast, maybe half an inch a day, but it was invasive and blocked the light out.

Even so I think it could be an experiment for cultivators to try.

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Al__S [1212 posts] 3 years ago
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Problem with directly using bamboo is that the properties of one pole of it can be quite different to the pole that grew right next to it. Field to field variation is huge, year on year bigger. There's no reliable way to non destructively test.

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antonio [1162 posts] 3 years ago
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Guarantee against Panda attacks when touring China?

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jackh [121 posts] 3 years ago
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It seems to me that over half the point of bamboo bikes is their sustainability/recyclability credentials. I work with researchers who are looking into the recyclability of carbon fibre composites, and whilst it is possible, it is certainly not easy or cheap, and importantly it doesn't produce material at the same grade as the original bicycle.

So the idea of this kickstarter is to wrap bamboo in CFRP and an exopy resin on the outside? So you inherit all the bad things about CFRP and none of the advantages of bamboo.

I would advise people who are interested in a sustainable cycling to invest in a steel frame, and failing that aluminium. Whilst these materials do have a high energy investment up front, they can be recycled into bikes of equivalent quality for generations.

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jackh [121 posts] 3 years ago
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On a more positive note, love the mudguards  16

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northstar [1107 posts] 3 years ago
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This crowd funding / kickstarter idea is getting out of control, half the ideas are fanciful at best.

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Chuck [588 posts] 3 years ago
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jackh wrote:

It seems to me that over half the point of bamboo bikes is their sustainability/recyclability credentials. I work with researchers who are looking into the recyclability of carbon fibre composites, and whilst it is possible, it is certainly not easy or cheap, and importantly it doesn't produce material at the same grade as the original bicycle.

So the idea of this kickstarter is to wrap bamboo in CFRP and an exopy resin on the outside? So you inherit all the bad things about CFRP and none of the advantages of bamboo.

Just what I thought. This approach implies that bamboo isn't actually a great material for building frames from, which begs the question of why you'd want to do it- other than to be able to say your bike is made of bamboo, or at least looks like it is.