Bamboo bikes are growing in popularity
And are currently on display at The Design Museum’s Cycle Revolution Exhibition. Interestingly they appeal to the desire for bespoke and self-built.
The origin of bamboo bikes in the UK goes back to the 1890s with the Bamboo Cycle Co. who were based in Wolverhampton with a showroom in Holborn, London, from where they delivered bicycles to aristocratic families. These early bamboo bikes were joined using steel lugs and sold as a premium product to the elite classes.
The late 19th century simultaneously saw the growth of cheaper steel bicycles, which quickly came to dominate the market. Bamboo bicycles began to re-emerge in the mid-1990s with the recognition of composites as a viable bicycle material in conjunction with an increasingly eco-conscious population, but it was once again a premium product. The biggest growth currently in bamboo bikes is workshop and home-build kits due to the workable nature of the material.
The founders of Bamboo Bicycle Club began building bamboo bikes in 2010 and established the Club in 2012. They quickly realised that bamboo was an accessible material for a person to build his or her own frame from. It also allows the builder to create a unique frame customised to suit their body shape and needs, offering something very different to mass-produced frames. The founders of the club compare their frames to existing bikes on the market and find bamboo to be comparable and in some ways better than traditional frame materials.
The Club has now been running for over three years and runs workshops in London whereby people of all ages and abilities can create their own style of frame; including road bikes, track bikes, fat bikes, tandems, BMXs and they also offer a custom frame design option as well. In 2013 the Club launched a home-build kit allowing people who are unable to travel to London to build their very own bicycle at home.
Each kit is supplied with everything needed to build a frame, including a jig and detailed step-by-step instructions with supporting videos. The kit is extremely popular, with exports to over 30 countries. The Club also started an educational programme in 2014, encouraging the next generation of engineering, designers and cyclists.
Every builder creates their own unique bicycle and rides away on something made with their own hands. Testament to the durability of bamboo bicycles includes a London to New Zealand trip crossing the Pamir Highway in winter followed by monsoons in India. Other journeys include the San Marino Etape along with countless sportives and an everyday commute to work.
Bamboo is an unconventional material to build with. Unlike steel and timber, it has no certification and choosing the correct bamboo (from over 1,500 species) is key to the build. However, bamboo is extremely well-suited to bicycles due to its natural shape and excellent tensile strength. Unlike timber, bamboo has a denser cell structure on the outside rather than the inside, giving it a tensile strength three times that of timber.
Bamboo is not the only material in a frame, as it is impossible to join together with a conventional dovetail joint. Modern composites following the principles used for carbon bikes (carbon and glue) are used, allowing strong and durable joining methods.