Because of its light weight, vibration damping, and sustainability, bamboo is slowly starting to be used in bicycle frame production, though the industry is still dominated by aluminium frames.
Bamboo bikes were first patented in England by the Bamboo Cycle Company Ltd., and introduced to the general public on 26 April 1894. A US patent was applied for in 1895, by August Oberg and Andrew Gustafson, and granted in 1896. However, with the development of tougher industrial metals, such as steel and aluminium, large-scale usage of bamboo to build bicycles never happened.
Though bicycles are a staple of transporting humans, in both rural and urbanised areas, bamboo bicycles are currently not widely introduced; however, with the advent of the Green movement, bamboo is being used again, primarily for high-end racing/touring bicycles. Today, bamboo bikes are starting to enter the market once more as low cost alternatives to the relatively expensive and unsustainable aluminium/metal bikes.
Several aspects of bamboo are extremely valuable to both cyclists and bicycle manufacturers: high strength-to-weight ratio, vibration control, and sustainable growth. Because of bamboo's tendency to grow straight, it does not exhibit "knots" and "turns" in its wood, unlike other types of wood. As a result, bamboo has a higher tensile strength than steel, as well as a higher compression strength than concrete. This tendency also allows for excellent vibration control, which, in turn, provides for a smoother ride and increased stability on rough terrain.
The bamboo poles can be joined in a number of different ways. The earliest models used metal joints which were then tightened around the bamboo. Another approach is to wrap the joints with resin saturated fibers to make composite lugs around the bamboo frame members. Currently, for modernised track bicycles, carbon fibre is used for the remainder of the parts that are not made of bamboo due to its light weight (e.g. the fork, because it is difficult to find a perfect piece of bamboo that fits into the fork socket of the frame).
Because of its low cost and sustainable growth, bamboo is currently being used as a cheap alternative to traditional steel/aluminium bikes in many rural areas. For example, the United Nations and the United States are currently funding the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative. Created by Bernice Dapaah, the initiative which to address climate change, poverty, youth unemployment, and rural-urban migration by creating jobs for young people, especially women, through the building of high quality bamboo bicycles. Currently[when?], over 1000 of these bikes have been sold to consumers in Ghana, Europe, and the United States.
A similar project to the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative was the "Bamboo Bike Project", started by engineers at Columbia University, created a small number of bamboo bikes from 2007 to 2011. This was done with the intention of "building a better cargo bike for poor Africans in rural areas at a much lower price, while also stimulating a new, localised bicycle building industry in Africa for Africans", without much further assistance from outside sources. However, the Bamboo Bike Project has not been active for the past several years, as no further publications after 2011 can be found regarding its work.
Professional grade bamboo bikes are extremely expensive, with several high-end models (designed for mountain and road racers) having a manufacturer's suggested retail price upwards of 3200 USD. For example, Bambikes, based in the Philippines, sells mountain, road, cruisers, and BMX bicycles for 1700 USD. Calfee Designs, based in Santa Cruz, California, sells road bicycles for 3150 USD.
This giant variation in cost has two main reasons: relative wealth of the consumers purchasing the bikes, and the difference in production quality. In the United States, all parts incorporated into the bike are high-end, similar to the parts used in professional carbon fibre bikes. The machines used to laminate, waterproof, and join the individual bamboo bikes are state-of-the-art. The Ghanaian bikes, on the other hand, are literally joined together by warming various glues over fires, while sourcing many of the additional parts (e.g. chains, bolts, etc.) from either low-cost Chinese-made parts or local markets.
- "Bamboo Cycle Company". BikeBamboo.com. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Aleles, Nicholas; Collins, Hayden (27 April 2015). John Downey, Brodie Green, Amaia Gritsko, Angela Langford, Mitchell Lewis, Samuel Longwell, Lena Pafumi. "Management of the Design and Construction of the WPI Bamboo Bicycle" (PDF). Worcester Polytechnic Institute Major Qualifying Project (Worcester Polytechnic Institute). Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- The Railway News ... 1895-01-01.
- "Bamboo Bikes Initiative in Ghana - UN and Climate Change". UN and Climate Change. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- "The Bamboo Solution | DiscoverMagazine.com". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-21.
- Rottke, Evelin (27 October 2002). "Mechanical properties of bamboo" (PDF). RWTH Aachen University Publications. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
- Mutter, John (2011). "Bamboo Bike Project". Bamboo Bike Project. The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
- Jones, Corinne. "Ghana’s bicycle which is creating jobs while it saves the soil". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
- "Bamboo bikes have benefits". SFGate. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
Media related to Bamboo bicycles at Wikimedia Commons