Elegance in Motion
Bamboo, hemp fiber and plant-based epoxy: These may sound like items on a list of OG materials your iconoclastic hippie buddy is using to construct a greenhouse for his new medical-marijuana grow operation rather than the ingredients of a high-end bicycle frame. But master framebuilder Craig Calfee is showing high-performance bicycle enthusiasts that sustainable materials are a viable option in a world of toxic compounds and conspicuous disposability.
As an early pioneer of carbon fiber bicycle frames, Calfee experimented with frame materials for more than two decades before he became intrigued by bamboo. Calfee noticed an abundance of bamboo used as a construction material while on a trip to Africa. He knew a bit about the material’s strength-to-weight traits and vibration-dampening characteristics and theorized it could make a good bicycle frame. In 1995, Calfee built his first bamboo bike and, after nearly 10 years of research and development, began full production in 2005.
As a natural material, bamboo is one of the most readily available and renewable resources used in the bicycle industry today. It is known in the engineering world for its high durability and has been used in the construction of buildings, medicines, clothing and more. But does it make a good bicycle?
Amazingly, bamboo offers a ride quality similar to that of a high-end carbon bicycle, but noticeably smoother. Excellent power transfer, supple dampening characteristics and a durable frame construction make this Calfee Bamboo Adventure one of the most practical bikes I’ve ridden. Sure, at $3,000 for a hand-crafted bamboo frame, it may not be the cheapest option available, but its timeless elegance, superior durability and eco friendliness make it well worth every penny.
With more than 40 hours of craftsmanship sunk into each handmade frame, Calfee takes bamboo construction seriously. From field to frame the process is simple; yet building a quality product takes time and persistence. Each piece of bamboo is heat treated to remove all moisture and to morph a somewhat pliable pole of green bamboo into a brown rigid stalk. Each piece is then carefully cut to size for its use on a custom frame.
Lashing each frame joint together using tightly wound, epoxy-soaked hemp fiber creates additional strength to the stress-prone joint areas. The epoxy provides a matrix, helping to evenly distribute the forces throughout the hemp fibers in the joints, creating what Calfee claims as “the strongest natural fiber composite we tested.”
Although Calfee and other bamboo framebuilders have paired bamboo tubing with carbon lugs, Calfee believes pairing natural and synthetic materials creates little room for the natural material to adapt over time. “We found that long term, carbon and bamboo are not as compatible as we would like,” Calfee said. “While there may be ways to encourage them to play nicely, we found that hemp fiber worked really well, and as a natural fiber, it certainly fit with the bamboo from an eco standpoint.”
With Calfee’s extensive framebuilding knowledge, he understands the importance of each piece of material in a frame’s construction. Thus, each piece of bamboo tubing is hand-selected with a specific purpose and rider in mind. This makes ordering a custom Calfee bamboo bicycle a unique and personalized experience.
But how does it ride?
Over a billion years of development, nature offers some amazing materials, and bamboo is no exception. With its hollow structure and longitudinal fibers, it makes a perfect bicycle frame material. Hollow segmented sections within each stem of bamboo provide vibration dampening while aiding in the distribution of impacts. These characteristics, paired with Calfee’s framebuilding process, create a well-rounded bicycle frame that not only rides well but is naturally durable. Because he builds full custom bikes, Calfee fits each frame specifically to a rider, and with almost 25 years of framebuilding experience, Calfee guarantees the bike will fit like a glove.
On gravel and dirt roads, the Bamboo Adventure excelled. Dampening characteristics, based on the varied tube thickness of the bamboo stalks, kept the bike smooth and stable on bumpy Forest Service roads. Wider 28c tires made the Bamboo Adventure a versatile all-around bike that is still snappy and responsive enough to take on the local group ride. Though a little heavier than a similar carbon bike, the Bamboo Adventure comes in at 19.8 pounds built with Campy Record, HED Ardennes wheels, and SKS Fenders.
Calfee has hit a home run with the application of bamboo on this adventure touring road bike. It rides like a dream. It’s a durable, comfortable and environmentally conscious machine, satisfying all of the criteria of a high-end bike and doing so with elegance and style. –J. Carr