For the last dozen years or so, we’ve had the pleasure with providing our customers with nearly every bamboo product imaginable. From bamboo pens to bamboo paper, bamboo water bottles to bamboo towels, bamboo cutlery to bamboo underwear. But no matter how hard we try, seems like people always manage to come up with a request for a bamboo item that we don’t carry.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had people ask about bamboo bicycles. Over the years, we did have one bamboo bicycle in the shop, and it turned a lot of heads, but before anyone could buy it, I decided to keep it for myself. To be honest, it was a actually more of a novelty bike than a high-performing mode of transportation. Still, while running short errands around town, it never fails to fetch a lot of compliments.
The fact is, when you buy a good bike, you want to buy it from a place that specializes in bikes. You also want to have a selection of bikes to choose from, so you can get the right size and color and style that you like. And finally, you want the assurance from a real bicycle mechanic that everything is in ship-shape, and that when it’s not, you know you can trust them to repair it.
As a bamboo specialty shop, Bambu Batu doesn’t really meet any of those criteria, and it’s not really our style to pretend that we do. That’s why we never really got into the bike business. Sure, we shared a few bamboo bike stories on social media when they came across our radar, and some really cool photos, too. And if we knew someone in town that was carrying bamboo bikes, we’d gladly send our customers there. (San Luis Obispo is fortunate to have a couple of great bike shops with some very helpful and knowledgable staff: Art’s Cyclery and Foothill Cyclery; also Trinity Cyclery in Grover.)
So although we don’t sell bamboo bikes, we’re happy to answer all your bamboo questions. And we always love to talk about and promote a good bamboo product. So if we know where to find a good bamboo bike, we’ll point you in the right direction.
Bamboo Bicycle Backstory
It would be easy to assume that the bamboo bicycle is a recent invention, the brainchild of some new age, granola-hugging tree lovers. But in fact, the origins of the bamboo bike go back more than a century. The Bamboo Cycle Company of England patented the first bamboo bikes in 1894, only eight years after the first gas-powered automobile from Karl Benz.
The advent of stronger and lighter-weight metals rendered the bamboo bicycles impractical and uncompetitive, so they never really took off. At least not for another hundred years or so. In the past decade, environmental enthusiasts have taken the idea to a new level, where the 19th century innovators would have never dreamed. Today, there are a tremendous variety of bamboo bicycles available, including some very high performance mountain bikes and racing models. (See below.)
Why Bamboo Bikes?
In addition to bamboo’s long list of environmental benefits — renewability, sustainability, carbon sequestration, oxygen production — the material’s light weight and tensile strength make it an excellent option for bicycle construction. Take a closer look at bamboo’s characteristics, and the choice is obvious. Most varieties naturally grow like straight, hollow tubes. It really doesn’t take a ton of imagination to turn a few stalks of bamboo into a bike frame.
Furthermore, bamboo’s abundance in developing countries makes it a very practical and ideal alternative to industrial metals like steel or aluminum, especially in tropical regions. And as environmental awareness spreads globally, the interest in natural alternatives to industrially intensive materials is growing everywhere. So sometimes, entrepreneurs in some pretty far-flung places are finding ways to capitalize on a very readily available resource and sell their uniquely stylish bikes to eager and affluent westerners. But today I just want to take a look at a handful of my favorite bamboo bike companies.
A Survey of Bamboo Bicycles
Boo Bicycles of Fort Collins, Colorado, probably produces the biggest selection of bamboo bikes anywhere. Their 10 different models include an amazing array of mountain bikes, city bikes, gravel racing bikes and an urban commuter bike. When you’re ready to invest in a serious bamboo bike, give these guys a call.
Each of their bikes is handmade, using the highest quality bamboo in combination with aluminum and/or carbon fiber. Boo Bicycles’ website features dozen of photos of cycle races in the Rockies, various bamboo bike models, and close-ups of the technical features. It’s also filled with information and videos describing the ecological benefits of bamboo as a readily renewable resource that grows without pesticides or fertilizers and doesn’t require industrial processing.
Boo Bicycles sells directly on their website. They offer completely built bikes as well as separate bicycle frames. Keep in mind, these are some serious high performance cycles, and some of them sell for $10,000 or more.
A young company based in Minnesota, Greenstar conceived their first bamboo bike in 2010 and had their earliest prototypes on the road by 2012. Today they offer two basic styles, a single speed fixed-gear and a 21-speed EcoCross Hybrid. Each model comes in a wide range of sizes and colors, and every bike is handmade from bamboo and recycled aluminum.
Greenstar touts their product as the Affordable Bamboo Bike, with the EcoCross Hybrid selling for around $549. Their website includes a directory of dealers across the country who carry Greenstar Bikes, including Trinity Cyclery of Grover Beach, just 15 minutes south of Bambu Batu.
Located in prime cycling country, on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, CA, Calfee Design makes an remarkable line of high performance bicycles that combine bamboo, hemp and carbon fiber. Calfee claims to have created the first modern bamboo bicycle back in 1995. Their website lists tremendous selection of bike frames, priced roughly between $2-5000.
What I really like about Calfee are their Do-It-Yourself bamboo bike kits. DIY bamboo bike frame kits for a couple hundred bucks, and you won’t need any welding equipment, because the bamboo is so easy to work with. And of course, since you’re building it yourself, you can customize many of the features to make a bike that’s truly unique, just like you!
The bamboo bicycle business is really booming in Ghana, and here are a couple examples to prove it. Boomers International produces a very attractive line of bamboo bike frames which are available for purchase online and from My Boo in Germany. Most frames are priced around £350. In cooperation with Boomers, My Boo also sells the complete line of electric bikes in Europe, for around £1,400 – £4,000.
In addition to delivering an impressive product, Boomers is making an important difference in Ghana. Their factory has delivered more than 2,500 bikes since they began production in 2014. Today they have a staff of 50, who all receive a livable wage under fair working conditions with breaks and health benefits. They also employ more than 200 bamboo farmers.
Not only that, but Boomers also provides free job training for young Ghanians and sponsors hundreds of local children with school scholarships. In conjunction with UNICEF, the company has donated more than 150 of their bamboo bikes to local schools, mostly to young girls.
We couldn’t do a story on bamboo bicycles without including this philanthropic enterprise. More than just another company selling bamboo bikes, the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing carbon in the atmosphere and to improving lives in the west African nation of Ghana.
Over the past decade, they have manufactured thousands of bamboo bikes for rental in Ghana’s urban centers and for free distribution in more rural areas. The organization is committed to re-greening the country with huge plantations of bamboo, to be harvested for bikes, biofuel, and other modern applications. At the same time, they are creating jobs and opportunities for young men and women throughout the country.
This is just a small sampling of a few of the most interesting bamboo bicycle companies operating today. There are plenty more out there, like Simple Bikes in China, and In’Bô in France. If you have a favorite brand of bamboo bike that we overlooked, please tell us about it in the comments section below.
FEATURED IMAGE: Bamboo Bicycle from Calfee Design