Bamboo bike frames offer a strong, sustainable, and beautiful alternative to traditional metal or carbon fiber frames. In some cases, bamboo even outperforms traditional bike frame materials. Of course, there are some drawbacks to consider. This guide outlines the pros and cons of riding a bamboo bike. We’ll cover ride quality, weight, durability, comfort, pricing, looks, longevity, and more to help you decide whether or not a bamboo frame is for you.
What is a Bamboo Bicycle?
A bamboo bicycle is a standard diamond-framed bicycle with a frame made from bamboo. The top tube, down tube, seat tube, seat stays, and chainstays are all made from bamboo tubes. Bamboo is used as an alternative frame material to aluminum, carbon, steel, or titanium. All different kinds of bike frames can be made from bamboo including road bikes, mountain bikes, touring bikes, tandems, electric bikes, cruisers, and cargo bikes.
Only the frame tubes of a bamboo bike are made from bamboo. The tubes are held together with carbon fiber or natural hemp fiber and resin or epoxy. The other components including the fork, wheels, handlebars, seat post, stem, and drivetrain are all standard bike parts made from metal or carbon fiber. The rear dropouts, bottom bracket shell, and head tube are usually made from metal. There is often a metal insert in the seat tube for added strength.
A bit of Info about Bamboo
The bamboo plant is a member of the grass family, Poaceae. It grows mostly in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Bamboo grows in straight, hollow, cylindrical columns. The fibers in the bamboo stem, called vascular bundles, have a similar tensile strength to steel and a compressive strength similar to concrete.
These characteristics make bamboo an excellent material for bicycle frame building. Along with bicycles, bamboo is also used to make a wide range of products including cooking utensils, fishing poles, fabric, furniture, flooring, scaffolding, charcoal, and more. It is an incredibly strong, durable, and versatile material.
How are Bamboo Bike Frames Built?
First, frame builders heat-treat or cure the bamboo. This process involves heating the bamboo tubes with an oven, a torch, or sunlight to remove moisture. Heat treatment tempers and strengthens the material and reduces the likelihood of cracks forming from expansion and contraction during temperature changes. It also creates a hard shell on the outside of the bamboo, which helps with durability.
Next, the bamboo tubes are cut for length, shaped, and mitered so they fit together. Manufactures use a jig to hold the tubes in place and to give the bike the desired geometry. The metal bottom bracket shell, head tube, and rear dropouts are also positioned in the frame at this time.
The tubes and metal parts are then bound together at the joints. Manufacturers can use a number of different techniques to bind the bamboo tubes. Higher-end bamboo frames are typically bound together by wrapping the tube joints in a natural fiber such as hemp rope. The joints are then sealed with a plant-based eco-resin. This is the preferred construction style because the fiber and resin are natural and environmentally friendly materials. These materials also expand and contract at similar rates to bamboo during temperature changes. This makes the joints less likely to crack or fail.
Some manufacturers use carbon fiber and epoxy joints. These are a bit less reliable because the bamboo and carbon fiber have different rates of thermal expansion and contraction during temperature changes. For this reason, carbon joints can fail sooner. Another tube bonding style is lugging. Lugs are sleeves that the bamboo tubes fit into at the joints. The lugs can be made from metal or carbon fiber. Lugged bamboo frames are the least common design.
After the frame is constructed, the tubes and joints are sanded to give the frame a smooth finish. The frame is then coated with epoxy, varnish, or polyurethane. This adds waterproofing, strength, and durability. It also gives the bamboo a beautiful shiny look and smooth finished feel.
You can then install your favorite standard bicycle components to the bamboo frame. Some bamboo frame manufacturers also sell complete bikes. Many manufactures also offer customizations. For example, they can customize the frame’s hub spacing, geometry, brake mount type, tire clearance, and more. Again, bamboo frames use standard bike components so there are no compatibility issues to worry about.
Why Use Bamboo to Build Bike Frames?
Bamboo offers a number of unique characteristics that make it an excellent material for building bicycle frames. For example, bamboo offers an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio, vibration absorption qualities, and great durability. Bamboo is also sustainable due to the speed that the plant grows as well as its carbon absorption. It’s also easy to grow. In addition, bamboo tends to grow straight without any knots or curves. These characteristics make it a fairly easy material to produce, process, and work with.
A Bit of Bamboo Bicycle History
The history of bamboo bikes goes back over 110 years. The first bamboo bikes were patented and introduced in England in 1894 by the Bamboo Cycle Company. In 1896, a U.S. patent was granted to August Oberg and Andrew Gustafson to build bike frames from bamboo. Due to the development of affordable and strong steel and aluminum alloys during the same time period, bamboo bicycles never really caught on and were never built on a mass scale.
In recent years, bamboo bicycles have made a bit of a comeback. Mostly due to the green movement and desire for sustainability. People want bicycles that are made from renewable resources in a sustainable manner. These days, bamboo is used to build high-end hand-built bicycle frames. They are still a niche product but are gaining popularity.
Pros and Cons of Bamboo Bikes
- Comfortable ride- The organic fibers and low density of bamboo give the material excellent vibration control and shock absorption qualities. A bamboo frame offers a similar ride quality to carbon fiber. Bamboo is less rigid than aluminum so the ride is less harsh.
- Sustainable and environmentally friendly- Bamboo has a low carbon footprint. It grows quickly and easily in many climates. It doesn’t require pesticides, fertilizer, or much water. The plant also absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. It is also easy to harvest and process.
- Durable- Bamboo doesn’t fatigue or corrode. The stiff fibers give it a higher tensile strength than steel. A bamboo bike can survive a harder sudden impact than a carbon fiber without cracking or failing.
- Fast and efficient- Bamboo frames are torsionally stiff. This allows for an efficient transfer of power from your legs to the rear wheel. For this reason, bamboo bikes climb and accelerate well.
- Good handling- Bamboo doesn’t flex too much. This allows you to maintain your line and corner predictably. Bamboo bikes handle similarly to carbon fiber bikes.
- Long-lasting- A bamboo frame should last almost as long as a titanium or steel frame if it’s taken care of. The material doesn’t fatigue, degrade, or corrode. It is a buy it for life material. A bamboo frame should outlast an aluminum frame.
- Bamboo bikes have a positive social impact- Many bamboo bikes are built in impoverished or underemployed rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast-Asia. Framebuilding provides jobs and brings money into the local economy.
- You can build your own bamboo bike- Bamboo doesn’t require any special skills like welding to work with. There are also DIY bamboo frame kits available. With a bit of work, anyone can build their own bamboo frame.
- Can be repaired- If a tube cracks, you can repair it with some fiber and resin. If you dent your frame, you can make a patch from carbon fiber. It is also possible to replace a tube.
- Lightweight- High-end bamboo frames weigh about the same as aluminum frames and a bit less than steel frames.
- Bamboo is beautiful- The material offers a completely natural look. The varnish brings out the grain. Bamboo bikes are also an interesting combination of technology and nature.
- Expensive- Bamboo bikes cost more than comparable carbon and metal bikes because they are all hand-made. Expect to spend $2000+ for a nice bamboo bike.
- Poor aerodynamics- The bamboo tubes used to make bikes are thick in diameter compared to steel or carbon frames. The tubes are also round. They cause more wind resistance which slows you down.
- They draw attention- People may stare or stop you to ask questions about your strange-looking bike.
- Bamboo frames are less durable than metal frames- Bamboo can crack during an accident. It is much more likely to crack than a steel or aluminum frame if you crash. You could also crack your frame by over-tightening a component.
- Not the lightest- Bamboo frames are heavier than carbon fiber frames because they are denser. Some bamboo frames are heavier than steel.
Bamboo Bike Weight
Bamboo is a lightweight material. High-end bamboo bike frames weigh a bit more than comparable aluminum frames. Mid-range bamboo frames weigh around the same as comparable steel frames. Bamboo frames are heavier than carbon fiber frames. A lightweight bike is preferable because it can climb and accelerate faster and maneuver more easily because there is less mass to move around.
For example, a bamboo road bike frame weighs between 1.8 and 3 kg (4-6.6 lbs). A lightweight complete bamboo bike weighs in at around 9.1-13 kg (about 20-28lbs) depending on the quality. For comparison, a high-end aluminum frame weighs 1.4-1.8 kg (3-4 lbs.) Complete aluminum road bikes weigh around 8.2-9.1kg (18-20 lbs.) To compare, high-end complete carbon road bikes weigh just 6.8 kg (15 lbs).
The weight of the bamboo frame depends on a number of factors including the species, age, and thickness of the bamboo that was used as well as the joint bonding method. If you’re looking for the lightest bamboo frame available, look for one that bonds the tubes together with carbon fiber joints instead of metal. Carbon fiber is lighter than bamboo because it is less dense.
The components also play a major role in the bike’s weight. Most bamboo bikes are sold as the frame only so you choose your own components.
Strength and Durability of Bamboo Bike Frames
Some riders fear that a bamboo frame will break in half when hitting a bump or getting in an accident. After all, it’s just a plant. How strong can it be?
Strength really isn’t a worry with bamboo. The material has proven itself to be an incredibly strong and durable frame material. It can take a beating. You can ride your bamboo frame at high speeds and off-road without having to worry about cracks or fatigue.
Bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio. In fact, bamboo has a higher tensile strength than steel. This strength comes from the stiff natural fibers that the material is made of. The tubes are also fairly thick. Bamboo grows in unidirectional vascular bundles which are naturally interwoven. This makes bamboo surprisingly similar to carbon fiber in terms of its makeup. A bamboo frame can easily handle a heavy rider, and luggage as well as strong cycling force from pedaling and braking. In addition, bamboo has a higher compressive strength than concrete. The frame can take a hard hit without cracking.
For extra strength and durability, manufacturers add an epoxy, resin, or polyurethane sealant to the outside of the finished bamboo frame. This helps in improve durability in several ways. First, it prevents cracking. The epoxy seals up any imperfections in the natural bamboo. The epoxy coating also makes the frame waterproof. You can ride a bamboo bike in the rain, by the salty sea, and in high humidity areas without having to worry about water damage or corrosion. The epoxy also protects the frame from UV light that could degrade untreated bamboo. This way, you don’t have to worry about leaving your bike in the sun.
Most bamboo frames are built with a steel or titanium head tube, bottom bracket shell, rear dropouts, and seat tube insert. These increase strength and durability at some of the highest stress parts of the frame. This way, cracks are less likely to form at the joints. The metal parts also make it easier to attach standard components. Sometimes these parts are made from carbon fiber.
These features make bamboo frames a bit more durable than carbon fiber frames. They can withstand a harder sudden impact force without cracking or breaking. Bamboo frames are an excellent alternative to carbon fiber for cycling disciplines where crashes are common, like some forms of mountain biking.
That said, if you crash hard enough, you can crack a bamboo frame. Bamboo isn’t quite as durable as steel, aluminum, or titanium. A metal frame can withstand more force without breaking.
One benefit that bamboo has over aluminum frames is that bamboo has a fatigue limit. This means that bamboo can withstand stress below that fatigue limit for an almost unlimited number of cycles without the material weakening or fatiguing. For this reason, a bamboo frame should outlast an aluminum frame. Because aluminum does not have a fatigue limit the material weakens slightly every time a load is applied until the frame fails. Carbon fiber also does not have a fatigue limit but it can endure many more stress cycles than aluminum without failing. Like bamboo, steel and titanium also have a fatigue limit.
For some proof of the durability of bamboo frames, check out this blog by a woman who rode 8,000 miles across South America on a bamboo bicycle.
Of course, every bicycle frame will eventually fail after enough use. The most common failure point on a bamboo frame will be the bonded junctions, where the bamboo tubes are joined together. To be safe, you should periodically inspect the frame for cracks. Look around the dropouts where the seat and chainstays meet, the head tube where the top and down tubes meet, the bottom bracket area, and the seat post clamp area. If you spot any cracks, you want to repair your frame before a catastrophic failure occurs.
A note about accidental damage: One drawback to bamboo is that it is possible to crack it if you over-tighten a component during installation. This is particularly common on the seat tube when tightening the seat post clamp. Be careful when installing components that attach to the frame. You can avoid causing damage by using a torque wrench set to the manufactures specifications.
Bamboo Bike Comfort
Bamboo frames offer a springy and comfortable ride. The material does an excellent job of absorbing shocks and dampening vibrations from the road.
Ideally, you want your bike frame to have some vertical flex. This allows the frame to absorb bumps and vibrations from the road. This makes the ride feel smoother and more comfortable. If the frame is completely rigid, the ride will feel harsh because bumps from the road transmit through the frame into your body.
At the same time, you don’t want too much frame flex or the handling and efficiency will suffer. For example, if the frame is too flexible laterally, you waste pedaling power flexing the frame instead of driving you forward. It’s also harder to maintain a line while cornering if the frame flexes too much.
Bamboo bike frames offer an excellent compromise between vertical flex and lateral stiffness. In terms of stiffness and comfort, bamboo performs similarly to carbon fiber. In fact, some riders can’t tell the difference between a bamboo and carbon frame. Bamboo frames offer a more comfortable ride than aluminum frames because bamboo is much less rigid. It flexes more vertically. Compared to steel or titanium frames, bamboo is a bit less flexible.
One area where bamboo beats all other frame materials is vibration dampening. The natural organic polymer lignin in the bamboo offers incredibly vibration dampening qualities. The low density of bamboo also helps. For example, bamboo has a density of around 0.9 g/cm^3 while carbon fiber has a density of about 2 g/cm^3.
Because of this unique quality, many riders find bamboo to be the most comfortable bike frame material. It performs very well on rough roads. It is also an excellent frame material choice for bicycle touring. Your hands and arms won’t tire out as fast when the bike isn’t vibrating under you.
One potential drawback to bamboo frames is that manufacturers can’t fine-tune them as they can with carbon fiber or metal frames. For example, manufactures can’t control the exact thickness, diameter, or flexibility of bamboo tubes because they naturally grow the way they grow. They aren’t made in a factory. For this reason, some bamboo frames are more comfortable than others. It depends on the quality and thickness of the tubes that the manufacture selects. The best bamboo frames use carefully selected bamboo tubes.
With a carbon fiber frame, for example, manufacturers can control the exact thickness of the carbon, the direction of the fibers, the density of the tubes, and more. This way, they can make the frame flexible in some places and rigid in others. Aluminum frame builders can optimize the frame through hydroforming.
Of course, the frame isn’t the only factor that determines the bike’s comfort. The tires, seat post, saddle, grips, pedals, and frame geometry all play a role in the comfort of the bike. Wide tires do an excellent job of absorbing shocks and vibrations. Carbon fiber or suspension seat posts can greatly improve comfort as well. For the most comfortable ride, you want to choose high-quality components and a frame that fits your body. You can also install a suspension fork on a bamboo frame for more shock absorption.
Sustainability of Bamboo Bicycles
Most cyclists care deeply about the environment. For many of us, it’s the reason we ride a bike instead of drive a car or take the bus. One excellent feature of bamboo is that the material is completely natural, sustainable, and environmentally friendly. This makes it an excellent choice for cyclists who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
One unique feature of bamboo is that it grows shockingly quickly. Some species can grow as much as 3 feet per day. As a result, bamboo plants can be harvested in just 1-5 years. For comparison, many trees need to grow for decades before they are ready to be harvested for their wood. After farmers harvest the bamboo, the plant regenerates from its own roots. It doesn’t need to be re-planted after every harvest. These features make bamboo a renewable and virtually unlimited resource.
Bamboo is also easy to produce. The plants grow like a weed in a wide range of climates. It also requires very little water to grow. Bamboo can also grow in semi-arid regions on land that has little agricultural value. This allows farmers with little skill and few resources to grow bamboo.
In addition, no pesticides or herbicides are required to grow bamboo. It also does not need fertilizer. Growing bamboo does not harm the environment because it doesn’t introduce any harmful chemicals into the ground.
Growing bamboo is actually beneficial for the planet. Because the plant grows so quickly, it can absorb up to 12 tons of carbon per hectare per year. It also produces 30% more oxygen than trees. This helps to mitigate climate change. For more info on the environmental impacts, check out this article.
In addition, bamboo used for bike frames is easy to harvest and process. It’s simply cut, dried, and shaped. It’s basically used in its natural form. There are no chemicals involved. Little energy is needed for processing. Many bamboo frames use plant-based resin and natural fibers to bind the frame tubes together. No heavy machinery is required. This results in a smaller carbon footprint than manufacturing comparable carbon fiber bike frames.
When the frame reaches the end of its life, the bamboo can be easily disposed of. Bamboo degrades away naturally because it is an organic material. Carbon fiber bike frames, on the other hand, end up in landfills because the material is not recyclable. Steel and aluminum bike frames are environmentally friendly because metals are easily recyclable.
Efficiency, Speed, and Aerodynamics of Bamboo Bikes
Bamboo is one of the most efficient bike frame materials. It performs similarly to carbon fiber. An efficient frame allows you to travel further using less energy. You can also maintain a higher average speed when your frame transmits power efficiently.
The main reason that bamboo frames are so efficient is the rigidity. When you pedal hard, your bike frame wants to flex from side to side. When this happens, you waste energy flexing the frame instead of pushing yourself forward. Bamboo frames are torsionally stiff. This allows the frame to efficiently transfer power from the pedals to the wheels. This stiffness comes from the large diameter of the tubes and the natural structure of the bamboo fibers. Bamboo doesn’t like to bend.
The stiffness allows bamboo bikes to accelerate quickly and climb well. They perform similarly to carbon fiber framed bikes. Bamboo bikes are more efficient than steel and titanium bikes because the frame flexes less so there is less energy loss as you pedal.
The light weight of bamboo frames also makes them efficient. It takes less energy to accelerate and maintain speed with a lightweight frame. Bamboo isn’t the lightest material, but it is lighter than steel in most cases.
One drawback to bamboo frames is that the bamboo tubes are quite thick. They are also round. The shape and size of the tubes makes bamboo bikes slightly less aerodynamically efficient. The thick bamboo tubes create some air resistance. This slows you down when riding at speeds above 10mph. Carbon fiber and aluminum frames, on the other hand, can be designed with aerodynamically shaped tubes, which reduce wind resistance. Steel and titanium bikes have small diameter round tubes. Aerodynamics really only matter if you ride competitively.
Bamboo Bike Ride Characteristics: Handling, Stability, and Responsiveness
Bike frames need to be stiff laterally so they handle responsively and predictably. When you corner hard, you need the bike to maintain its line without flexing sideways and sending you on an unpredictable path. At the same time, the frame needs some vertical flex to absorb bumps and vibrations. A good frame strikes a compromise between rigidity and compliance.
Bamboo bikes offer excellent ride characteristics. They perform similarly to carbon fiber bikes in terms of handling and responsiveness. Bamboo is stiff enough to allow the bike to turn quickly and handle predictably. At the same time, the frame offers enough flex that it remains comfortable and stable while riding rough terrain.
How Long Do Bamboo Bikes Last?
A bamboo frame can last pretty much indefinitely if taken care of. One reason is that bamboo does not stress or fatigue like aluminum and carbon fiber can. It has a fatigue limit. Of course, bamboo cannot rust or corrode either because it is not a metal. Modern epoxy that is used to seal bamboo frames also makes the frame resistant to UV light and waterproof. The bamboo and epoxy won’t degrade over time when exposed to the elements.
Even though bamboo can handle wet weather and doesn’t degrade in UV light, it’s best to store your bamboo bike indoors where it protected. The bike and its components will last longer this way. Chances are, some components are made from steel and can rust.
Many manufactures use natural fibers and plant-based eco-resin to bond the bamboo tubes together instead of carbon fiber and epoxy joints. The natural materials are longer lasting because they expand and contract at around the same rate as the bamboo as temperatures change. This reduces the likelihood of cracks forming or joints failing.
Realistically, you should get 10-20 years of use out of your bamboo frame if you take good care of it. A bamboo frame should last longer than an aluminum frame and about the same as a steel or carbon fiber frame. It may not last a lifetime like a titanium frame.
Of course, even though bamboo is strong and durable, it is more brittle than metal. It can’t withstand as hard of impacts as steel or titanium without cracking. If you ride in a cycling discipline that is particularly demanding on frames, there is a chance that your bamboo frame will crack during an accident. If you expect to crash often, you’re probably better off riding a metal frame. For example, you probably won’t want to use a bamboo frame for downhill mountain biking.
Social Impact of Bamboo Bicycles
A number of international charity organizations use bamboo bike production and sales to help impoverished communities. Particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bamboo is an excellent material for this purpose for a number of reasons. First, bamboo is easier to work with than metals because no advanced welding tools or knowledge are required to build bamboo bikes. A bamboo frame can be built with basic hand tools. Even without electricity. Workers can also learn how to build a bamboo frame relatively quickly and easily. The plant grows locally in the regions where these programs are needed. This way, local farmers benefit. In addition, locals can buy and use the bamboo bikes for transportation. The charity can also sell the bikes internationally for a profit.
The most famous and successful of these programs is the Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative. This program trains locals to build durable and affordable bamboo bikes. Some of the bikes are sold internationally and some are used locally in Ghana for transportation in rural communities. The bamboo is locally sourced.
This program helps by providing jobs in rural areas where few jobs are available. It creates jobs for women and young people. These groups often suffer from unemployment. The program also addresses poverty by paying frame builders a decent salary. The bikes also help to improve transportation in rural areas of the country where transportation options are limited. In addition, the program also addresses climate change by producing an environmentally friendly and sustainable product. The Ghana Bamboo Bikes program receives funding from the United Nations and the United States.
Beauty and Looks of Bamboo Bikes
Many cyclists enjoy the natural aesthetic of bamboo bike frames. A bamboo bike is like a piece of artwork. The varnish that is applied to the finished bike brings out the beautiful natural grain of the bamboo. On many models, you can see the natural nodes along the stem. On some frames, you can see light burn marks from the tempering process. This all adds character and makes each bamboo bike unique.
Another part of the appeal of bamboo bicycles is that they combine nature with technology. You can install the newest, most high-tech cycling components on a frame that is made from a material that grows completely naturally. The bike looks like some kind of primitive technology but performs just as well or better than many modern bicycles.
Bamboo bikes are also interesting and unique. They draw attention. Many people have never seen one before. While out riding, fellow cyclists and non-cyclists alike may stop to ask you about your bamboo frame. It’s a real conversation starter.
Of course, this can also be a negative feature. People will occasionally stare at you while you ride by or stop to ask you questions about your bike. If you’re the kind of person who likes to blend in, you’ll probably want to avoid bamboo frames.
You can DIY a Bamboo Bike
Most of us don’t have the tools or know-how to build a metal framed bike. It is a complicated process that involves technical welding and metalwork. Carbon fiber frames are even more complex.
If you’re willing to put in some time and learn a few new skills, you can build your own bamboo bicycle relatively easily. The material is approachable, forgivable, and easy to work with. Building your own frame would make for a great winter project for the off-season.
For step-by-step instructions, check out this cool guide to building a bamboo bike from Instructables.
You can also purchase bamboo bike kits that contain all of the necessary materials and tools to build your own bamboo bike. For example, check out these kits from Calfee Design.
One of the best parts of building your own bamboo bike is that you get to choose the exact components, frame features, and frame geometry that you desire. For example, you get to decide the type of brakes, gearing, and handlebars you use. In addition, you can add mounting points for racks and bags. You can also choose what tire clearance you want and tweak your frame to make the geometry more aggressive or upright. This way, you can build the perfect bike for your style of riding. It’s also simply a cool accomplishment to build and ride your own bike frame.
Can You Repair a Bamboo Bike Frame if it Cracks?
If you crack or dent your bamboo frame in an accident or you notice a crack forming after heavy use, you can generally repair it. In fact, bamboo frames are often easier to repair than metal frames.
The repair process depends on the severity of the damage. To fix a crack, start by drilling a hole at the sharp ends of the crack. This prevents it from expanding further by spreading the stress around the hole instead of the edge of the crack. This technique is known as stop drilling. After drilling, you’ll want to use some type of resin to reinforce the cracked area. For example, you could use epoxy or eco resin or even some strong glue.
To repair a dent no a bamboo tube, you may be able to remove the damaged material and replace it with a patch. A carbon fiber patch sealed with resin would work well. If you’re worried that the tube is weakened, you could also try injecting some epoxy inside to strengthen it.
If the damage to a bamboo tube is so severe that you can’t repair it, you may be able to replace an individual bamboo tube. Whether or not it’s worth the time and money to do this depends on which tube is damaged and the way the tubes were bonded together. This would involve creating new joints to secure the new tube to the rest of the frame. It’s a big job but possible. You would probably only want to attempt this if you built your own frame to begin with.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are risks to repairing a bamboo frame. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you make the repair improperly, the frame could fail unexpectedly. This could cause serious injury. I recommend you don’t make your own repair. Take the frame to a professional instead.
One drawback to bamboo frames is that there aren’t many bamboo frame builders around who can repair a bamboo frame. An average bike shop won’t attempt to repair a bamboo frame for you. There is just too much risk if the repair doesn’t work. This means you’ll either have to ship the frame to the manufacturer to repair it for you. Your only other option is to make the repair yourself.
To read about some common problems and how to fix them, check out this short guide to bamboo bike repair.
Of course, not all cracks and damage can be repaired. If a crack gets too big the bike becomes dangerous to ride. The frame could fail catastrophically without notice. In this case, you’re better off retiring the frame and getting a new one.
Tip: Many bamboo bike manufacturers guarantee their frames. Sometimes for up to 10 years. If a crack forms, you may be able to get your frame repaired or replaced under warranty. Be sure to check your warranty before you make any repairs by yourself or buy a new frame. Making your own repair could void the warranty.
How Much Does a Bamboo Bike Cost?
One of the main reasons that bamboo bikes aren’t more common is the cost. A high-end complete bamboo bike could cost $2000-$4000+. If you just want to buy the frame, you’ll spend about $400-$600 for a mid-range model and $1000-$2000 for a high-end model. You may also have to pay for shipping because you probably can’t just go down to your local bike shop and buy a bamboo bike. DIY bamboo frame kits usually cost around $250-$350. You’ll probably have to buy some tools as well. Of course, if you just buy or build the frame, you’ll have to buy and install your own components. Any way you cut it, bamboo bikes are expensive.
To compare, you can buy a complete mid-range steel or aluminum framed bike for around $1000-$1500 and a decent frame for $300-$500. There are also plenty of gently used metal framed bikes on the market.
The main reason that bamboo bikes are so expensive is that they are all hand-built. They are not mass-produced in a factory. The production requires more labor hours than regular bikes because the process can’t be easily automated. An average bamboo frame takes 35-45 man-hours to produce depending on the design and finish. This adds to the cost.
It’s not really possible to mass-produce bamboo frames with machines because every piece of bamboo is different. Every piece of bamboo has a slightly different diameter, shape, and wall thickness. After all, it grows naturally. We can’t control how it grows. Metal frames, on the other hand, can be mass produced in factories because each metal tube is exactly the same as the next.
A Note About Bamboo Frame Safety
A bamboo frame typically will not fail catastrophically without notice. Because the bamboo is exposed and not painted, you’ll see cracking or splitting before the frame fails. The ride quality may change as well. This gives you some advance warning to either repair or retire your failing bamboo frame before it’s too late. For this reason, bamboo may be safer than other frame materials.
Carbon fiber and aluminum bike frames, for example, can catastrophically fail without notice. Both materials fatigue over time until they eventually crack and fail. If your frame splits in half while you’re bombing down a hill at 30mph, you could seriously injure yourself. This kind of catastrophic frame failure is not common but it does happen.
To be safe, you should thoroughly inspect your frame every season, regardless of the material it is made of. You should also inspect it after an accident, if you hear an unfamiliar creek, or if the ride quality changes. If you find damage, you should repair the frame before you ride it.
To inspect a bamboo frame for damage, look closely at every frame tube and joint for cracks or dents. Pay special attention to the joints. These are the most likely place for the frame to fail. Look closely at the bottom bracket area, the rear dropout area, head tube area, and the area around the seat post clamp. You should also inspect the bottom of the downtube and chainstays. Rocks can get kicked up and damage the tubes. It can help to use a cloth to wipe the frame. Cracked areas may catch on the cloth.
If you spot some potential damage, use a coin to tap around the surrounding area. The area surrounding the crack or dent will sound dull if the frame is damaged. You can also gently press on the dented or cracked area. If the area feels soft, the frame is probably damaged. If you suspect frame damage, you should stop riding the bike until you get it repaired. At the very least, take it to a professional to have it inspected for safety.
Bamboo Bicycle Recommendations
There are a handful of bamboo frame builders around the world. Some only sell frames. Other sell complete bikes as well. Some even sell DIY bike kits. Frame options are fairly limited. Most brands offer a road frame and gravel/off-road frame. You can often have the frame customized for your height and weight and the components you plan to install. A few of the more popular bamboo bike manufacturers to consider include:
This company builds high-end bamboo frames in Uganda. They offer road bike, mountain bike, and gravel bike frame options. Their most popular frame is the GR-9. This is a gravel/adventure frame. Boogaali bikes only offers frames. Not complete bikes. They can customize the frame for your height and weight as well as the brakes, tire width, groupset, and headset you plan to use. Prices start at $500.
This California-based company builds high-end bamboo bikes. They offer complete bikes, frames, as well as DIY kits to build your own bamboo bike. They offer road and off-road models as well as a bamboo tandem. Calfee frames feature treated crack-resistant bamboo that is finished with satin polyurethane. They make the joints from natural fiber and plant-based eco-resin. The frames weigh between 6 and 7 lbs and feature a 10-year warranty. The drawback is that these bikes are expensive. Prices start at around $3000.
This company hand builds bamboo frames in Ghana. They offer complete city bikes and gravel bikes as well as frames. Boomers builds their frames from locally and sustainably grown bamboo. The tubes are bonded together with sisal fiber and a plant-based resin. The frames are finished with a polyurethane coating then inspected for quality. This company also operates in a sustainable and socially conscious manner.
This Singapore-based company offers complete bamboo bikes as well as DIY bamboo bike kits. You can buy their BIY Bamboo Bike Frame Set on Amazon here. They also offer a unique bike building jig that can help you fine-tune your frame’s geometry during construction.
Final Thoughts About Bamboo Bikes
Bamboo bikes are a beautiful and unique alternative to carbon, aluminum, and steel-framed bikes. They offer a comfortable, efficient, and stable ride. They are also durable and long-lasting. As an added benefit, bamboo frames have a small carbon footprint. Many bamboo bike companies also have a strong positive social impact on the area they are produced. Of course, bamboo frames aren’t for everyone. They are pricey, fairly heavy, and may be less durable than steel and titanium frames. The unique looks can also draw attention.
When choosing your next bike, it’s worth at least considering a bamboo frame. Whichever frame material you choose, I hope this guide helps you decide whether or not a bamboo bike is the right choice for your style of riding.
Have you ridden a bamboo bicycle? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!
For info on other bike frame materials, check out my guides: