Bamboo-Frame Bicycles – an Entrepreneurial Opportunity

by Catherine Haug

Last week, National Public Radio featured a piece on hand made bamboo bikes:  Do It Yourself: Building Your Own Bamboo Bike. This story featured the Bamboo Bike Studio, who offer classes and workshops. They also champion the creation of small businesses in developing countries, to make these inexpensive bikes out of sustainable bamboo.

But anyone can make and use these bikes, not just those who live in developing countries. All you need are wheels, gears and pedals, bamboo for the frame, and materials to join the bamboo.

Unlike working with steel and other common bike materials, bamboo is a natural material that requires only woodworking skills that one can master in a weekend!

Sustainable material

Bamboo is a type of grass, that grows “like a weed” if given the chance. While most common in tropical and sub-tropical areas, varieties may also be grown in our Northern clime (see below). It is becoming increasingly common for household uses such as flooring, countertops, furniture, and cutting boards. And for making bamboo fiber which can be spun into yarns for fabrics.

An interesting fact about bamboo, is that it produces up to 35% more oxygen than hardwood trees and absorbs four times as much carbon, making it an ideal carbon-sequestering crop. (From What Makes Bamboo Green)

It is a sustainable, strong, and lightweight material ideal for bike frames and cargo baskets. The sustainable aspect is important, as the rare metals more commonly used in bike frames: aluminum, titanium, cast magnesium, carbon fiber, and the heavier steel, are being depleted and becoming increasingly expensive.

Bamboo requires no refineries, mines, smelting or long-distance freighting; all processes that consume huge amounts of precious energy and pump toxins and greenhouse gases into our environment.

While U.S. supplies of aluminum, titanium, magnesium and iron have already peaked (meaning that supplies are diminishing toward zero), bamboo is still a thriving weed. (For more on material depletion, refer to the paper, Continuously Less and Less, by Craig Clugston; see sources for url).

Viable community enterprise

The Bamboo Bike Studio website states that entrepreneurial businesses such as sustainable bike manufacture are important not only for using local, renewable resources, but also for:

“Creating jobs, stimulating enterprise, … and spawning interrelated businesses (lacing wheels, stamping drop-outs, machining bottom brackets, sewing seats), bamboo bike factories will teach fabrication, manufacture, assembly, and management skills; skills that are transferable to other local emerging industries.”

The part about “interrelated businesses” is important because it strengthens community by creating jobs and supporting interdependence of the community members.

Growing Bamboo in Montana

According to, bamboo will grow most everywhere on the planet except polar regions. American Bamboo Society FAQ page, suggests there are cold-hardy species that will grow in our area, but of course they may not grow as fast as in warmer climes.

Bamboo has a reputation for its growth getting out of hand, but the Jade Montain Bamboo site (Tacoma WA) indicates “in our cool [Pacific Northwest] climate bamboo does not spread rapidly, and it is much easier to control than many other plants.” They have a customer in Eureka. Refer to their Growing Bamboo in the Northwest site for growing tips.

Lewis Bamboo (Alabama) indicates they have customers in Butte.

You can also contact the American Bamboo Society for more information.

Sources & Links

Comments are closed.