Bamboo bikes

Next Saturday, the 7th of July, is the start of the 2007 Tour de France. This year the event starts in London before crossing the channel and heading south to Marseilles. 3 weeks and 3500 kilometres later, the remaining riders finish on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Now, we’re not going to analyse the actual event – somewhere there will be an article that discusses how environmentally unfriendly all the support vehicles are and how much carbon is emitted by the helicopters used by the camera crews – so we’ll just contend ourselves (for now) with the fact that it’s a celebration of the world’s most influential invention.

Tour de France bikes are normally constructed out of exotic composite materials, aluminium alloys and titanium, which are neither inexpensive to produce nor particularly sustainable. So, how about manufacturing them out of a material that is both sustainable and renewable?

Which brings us to a neat little story about a Californian bicycle manufacturer, Craig Calfee, who is about to set off for Africa to look at the viability of manufacturing bamboo bikes in Ghana.

“If there were an award for “Bicycle with lowest carbon footprint” (least amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the production of the frame), this frame would win, hands down.”

Now, at $2500 dollars for the frame it’s not really affordable, so the bikes for Ghana use bamboo lashed together with hemp fiber.

When bamboo is treated it forms a very hard wood which is both light and exceptionally tough. Some of the larger species can grow at a rate of over 1 meter per day, making it particularly suitable for use as a renewable crop.

a Calfee bamboo frameThe prototype bike was built entirely without the need for power tools, which is an essential requirement to facilitate easy manufacture in developing countries. The other part of Calfee’s visit is to look at existing transportation arrangements in rural areas of the country, and specifically the needs of Ghanian women, because they are the ones who tend the crops, do the chores, control the money and are most in need of access to affordable transportation.

If you really want to see some appropriate technology in action take a look at these wooden bicycles in East Africa.

the first bamboo bike

This may or may not be the world’s first bamboo bike.

The example in the picture dates from 1896 and is in Prague’s technical museum.

It was made in America, so it’s like a “great grand pappy” of the Calfee bike.

For more links, here’s one courtesy of the American Bamboo Society and this is a bamboo mountain bike frame. If you’re really into bamboo, you can always join the World Bamboo Organisation or you could buy some black bamboo from the Guardian. Very funky.

via hippyshopper. Images © Calfee Design and


Ben is our resident marketing monkey, and spends an unhealthy amount of time obsessing about keywords, ranking and other marketing voodoo.

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