If you’ve never tried a bamboo bicycle, you may be skeptical. The first concerns that come to mind might be whether the bike is durable and practical.
The truth is that bamboo bicycles have been around for nearly 130 years. First introduced by the Bamboo Cycle Company in 1894, bamboo bikes have a long, proven track record.
Why Bamboo Bikes Are Expensive
Several factors contribute to the relatively high price of bamboo bikes.
Bamboo bikes are expensive mainly because the cost of bamboo has grown steadily. It only grows in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Also, the bikes are unique and handcrafted. Dedicated, expert labor for quality products is costly in bamboo bike production. Each bamboo bike can take more than 40 hours to create. That’s four or five days for a single bicycle.
Bamboo bicycles get built in proximity to where bamboo is grown, but far from their main customer base. So the cost of shipping the bikes to the U.S. and U.K. increases the cost of the bicycles by up to 600 per cent!
What Is a Bamboo Bicycle, Anyway?
When people refer to a bamboo bicycle, they’re just describing the frame. This includes the top tube, down tube, seat tube, chain and seat stays—in essence, all the parts that make up that classic diamond bike shape.
Materials like metals or carbon fibre are still used for the other integral components of the bike, such as the fork, handlebar and seat post. And of course, all the mechanical components are standard bike parts. The better the quality, the more the bike will cost.
How Bamboo Bicycle Frames Are Built
Frames from bamboo require a lot of attention to detail. Not any piece of bamboo can become a bicycle. Only the strongest, most blemish-free pieces are selected. Once chosen, the bamboo gets inspected for cracks, dents or other imperfections that may have occurred naturally or during transportation.
Heat-treating the bamboo tubes is the next step. Frame builders’ methods vary. Some use an oven, torch, or leave them to dry in the sunlight to remove moisture. This process tempers and strengthens the material, reducing the chances of cracks forming. This can occur when the material expands and contracts during temperature changes.
Then the piece gets cut down to size. It takes one or sometimes two pieces of bamboo to construct the entire bicycle. Once the pieces of the frame are measured and cut, they are tightly bonded together using lugs.
The binding components have to be strong, moldable material. The material selected also adds to the cost of a bamboo bicycle. The stronger and lighter the lugs, the more expensive the bicycle will be.
Once the bicycle frame gets assembled and bonded, the bamboo and joints must be reinforced using an epoxy sealant. This helps prevent cracking and makes the frame stronger and able to carry more weight. Bamboo that is not reinforced will still last up to five years. But this step adds to the overall quality and durability—and, of course, to the price tag.
Benefits of a Bamboo Bike Frame
Bamboo bikes have many advantages:
- Absorbs road vibrations. One of the most noticeable features of bamboo is how well the material absorbs road vibrations for a potentially more comfortable ride. This is due to the wall thickness of the bamboo at 4 mm, as opposed to standard metal bike material at 0.8 mm.
- Strength-to-weight ratio. Bamboo also offers a competitive strength-to-weight ratio. Bamboo’s internal structure consists of interwoven fibers, so it’s comparable to carbon in structure and it’s also lightweight.
- Fatigue limit. Bamboo has a fatigue limit, meaning it can withstand the stress of a load below the fatigue limit for an almost unlimited amount of cycles, without weakening. This fatigue limit gives bamboo an edge over carbon bike frames and aluminum frames, which will weaken over time.
- Sustainability. A major appeal of bamboo bicycles is that bamboo is a sustainably grown natural material. Ethical bamboo bike companies plant 2–10 seeds for every piece of bamboo that the bamboo farmers harvest. It grows quickly, can absorb up to five times more carbon dioxide compared to pine, and can produce 35% more oxygen than other trees.
- Easy to work with. Bamboo’s straight, knotless stocks make it an excellent material to produce and manipulate.
If you desire transportation that is ethically made, original, handcrafted, unique and eco-friendly, then a bamboo bicycle is a dream come true.
Cost of Bamboo Bikes
Bamboo bicycles have come a long way from their original creators. There are now companies throughout the world that create and design bamboo bicycles of various models for different kinds of cycling. There are bamboo road bikes, hybrids, even full-suspension bamboo mountain bikes.
But, as in every aspect of the industry, quality and care will raise the price.
If your main interest is in the novelty aspect of owning a bamboo bicycle and you want to support local communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana has a celebrated tradition of making bamboo bicycles. These affordable bamboo bikes ship to the European market.
Bernice Dapaah earned an entrepreneur-of-the-year award for creating the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. The program created hundreds of jobs for local community members. Before the pandemic, they sold over 1,000 bikes in Europe. The bamboo bicycles retail for around $480 USD after shipping. They keep costs low by using basic components.
If you’re shopping for a top-of-the-line bamboo bicycle, check out Earthbound Bikes. These beautiful bamboo bikes are handmade by Jason O’Nions. He’s been building, riding and pushing the boundaries on bamboo bicycles for over a decade.
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Personally, I have never ridden a bamboo bicycle, but I can’t deny they look pretty cool! Now and then we get a request for them at the bike shop. So they are certainly in demand in my corner of the world (British Columbia).
The higher cost is the obvious drawback to bamboo frames. So are they worth the expensive price tag? It depends on where you are and how you are riding it. A novelty bicycle as part of your collection to show off? Absolutely! Go for it.
But if you’re looking for a single mode of transportation or you’re planning on competing with it, there are more affordable options that are easier to maintain and repair. So a bamboo bicycle doesn’t seem practical in the long term.
If you’re trying to decide between a bamboo bicycle and a different style of bike, my advice would be to test ride as many as you can find. Figure out which feels best to you.
With limited availability, you may end up having to take a leap of faith and order one online. So do your research and select a reputable bamboo frame builder. If you want to save some money, you could try ordering a bamboo bike kit to build it yourself.