Calfee Design building bamboo bikes for the first and third worlds
By Ben Coxworth
March 2, 2010
We’ve seen bikes with frames made out of aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and even IsoTruss tubes, but bamboo? Well yes, actually, we saw some here in Gizmag just last May. Back then, we were looking at some fairly basic city bikes built by Brazilian designer Flavio Deslandes. This time around the bamboo bikes are decidedly higher-end creations, built by Californian designer Craig Calfee, of Calfee Design. Although these bikes are definitely high-end, he’s also working on using bamboo to provide employment and cheap transportation for the people of Ghana.
Calfee started out building carbon fiber frames in 1987. In 1995, as a publicity stunt, he built a bamboo-framed errand bike. It spawned 11 others, built for staff, family and friends, who commented on how smooth the ride was. By 2005, he decided to go into production. He now offers road racing, triathlon, cyclocross and mountain models.
Bamboo is used for all the main tubes, although you can choose carbon chainstays for extra stiffness. The bamboo is smoked and heat treated before construction, to prevent splitting. The tubes are joined together using hemp fiber lugs, then everything gets coated with polyurethane.
The finished frames weigh four to six pounds, and are said to offer excellent vibration damping, while also providing good stiffness. Calfee claims that the bamboo is very crash-resistant, to the point where he doesn’t even offer carbon mountain bike frames anymore. Bamboo also, of course, has a much lower carbon footprint than traditional frame materials - only water and sun are required to produce it.
While Craig’s bikes are definitely aimed at the affluent buyer, he’s also trying to get inexpensive bamboo bikes into the hands of villagers in Ghana. In 1984, he came up with the idea of a bamboo bike program while visiting Africa. He noticed that there was a lot of bamboo, but not enough cargo bikes, and not enough jobs. Since that time, he has been working on teaching local entrepreneurs how to build their own bamboo bikes, and looking for sponsors to provide funding and supplies. He plans to extend the project to other developing nations.
Calfee’s creations cost upwards of $US2,695 for the frame only, and can be purchased direct through his website.