The Bamboo Bicycle
Building A Bike Frame Out Of Bamboo
A bamboo bicycle is a really cool new alternative for a bicycle frame, and it's getting a lot of press these days. I get asked about this material fairly often, and the most common question I get is, "is bamboo a safe alternative?"
Bamboo bikes have a long history, and I think it's really great that the technology has come full circle. I support it wholeheartedly. Before you go and buy or build a bamboo frame, however, there are a few things you ought to know.
This article will take a look at bamboo bike frames, their history, and where they stand today in terms of other options. Are they just a fad or are bamboo bicycle frames a legit green bike technology? Read on to find out.
History of the Bamboo Bicycle Frame
The very first bamboo bicycle frame was built in 1894. It wasn't the only 'green' bicycle innovation to hit the market in those days. Wood was a common material in bicycle production, with many bikes sporting wooden frames and wheels.
Considering that the average bicycle weighed between 30 and 40 pounds at the turn of the century, bamboo for bike frames was a cheap, convenient and lightweight material choice, if somewhat flexible. The London Stanley Show of 1894 caused a small sensation when a bamboo bicycle was shown there.
The bamboo bicycle frame disappeared from view for about a hundred years, reappearing only recently, as the 'green' craze has taken flight.
The Technology of Bamboo
How Bamboo Bike Frames Work
Bamboo is actually a rather strong material when properly treated. The first step in creating a bamboo bicycle frame is to heat treat or 'cure' the bamboo. There are a number of ways to do this, such as smoking the material, using a heat torch, or baking the bamboo in an oven.
There are a few ways to join bamboo. Carbon fibre can be used at the various joints, or steel lugs can be inserted between the rods. The original method involved using hemp or bamboo leaves and coating them with resin to create composite lugs that the poles fit into.
The bamboo for bike frames needs to be waterproofed using some sort of polyurethane or lacquer treatment, or else the bicycle frame can start to rot or weaken over time.
Is Bamboo Any Good?
Bamboo Bike Frames In Reality
A bamboo bicycle frame is going to be very different from any other frame you're used to riding. First off, you need to expect some flex. This is normal, and does not indicate that the frame is failing. In fact, the flex has some desirable qualities: it greatly reduces vibrations, creating a far more comfortable ride. But it'll take some getting used to, the sensation is odd.
Bamboo frames are also very crash tolerant, meaning that they withstand impact well. If you know bamboo, you'll know that it's tough to crack even when it's soft. Heat treated, it withstands a crash very well, bouncing back with resilience.
They do have some downsides. It's not great to get a bamboo bicycle wet, even with waterproofing. It's hard to completely waterproof a frame, so if you leave it in the rain it can become less safe. Further to that point, bamboo is a pretty new technology, so there isn't really any standardization as far as frame building goes.