The dust of the 2016 North American Handmade Bicycle Show has settled, and everyone involved is slowly getting back into routine. One of the more interesting bikes from the show was this bamboo Gates belt-driven fixed gear by California’s Calfee Design.
Craig Calfee is somewhat of a visionary. He built his first carbon fibre bike in 1987 and went on to make bikes for Greg LeMond; his bamboo frames are now as much an integral part of his business as his superbly crafted, all-American made carbon designs.
The benefits of a bamboo frame are many, but largely unrecognised. They are easily comparable to carbon and aluminium in terms of stiffness and energy transmission. Their tubes are more resistant to damage and impact, and their ride quality is smoother.
Another plus is the availability and low carbon footprint of bamboo as a frame material. The fact that Calfee Design has been instrumental in establishing bamboo bike building workshops in low-income countries is a natural progression.
Why bamboo has not gained wider acceptance as a feasible frame material is perhaps due, unfortunately, to its presentation. But if you want an example of what a modern bike that’s made of grass should look like, a Calfee is most definitely it.
Calfee’s bamboo tubes are mitred precisely in their facility, an old tank factory in La Selva Beach, California. The joining process roughly follows the same as that used for their custom carbon bikes, which are today considered among some of the world’s best.
For the bamboo Calfee frames, hemp fibre is used instead of carbon, and is soaked in a plant-based epoxy resin. This is then wrapped around the junctions, which can be sanded down to produce a join that is as smooth and tidy as any modern road bike.
The warm tones are continued through to the leather saddle upholstered by Carson Leh. All of the bamboo frames made by Calfee are ready for a Rohloff or, like this one, a silent and clean Gates Carbon Drive, making for a very smooth ride.
The one-piece custom stem and handlebar arrangement was painted with a deep red mahogany-like finish to match the forks, proudly set with the nautilus wheel logo of Calfee Design.
That logo is reflected at the rear of the frame also, which Craig originally scanned into a CAD program. “I did not mess with the proportions,” he says, “just the line quality. It is a good example of the beauty of the form-follows-function aesthetic that nature develops over millions of years, and is the inspiration for my design approach.
Special thanks to Tim Lucking and Gates Carbon Drive for the photography. See more of the bikes from the NAHBS that were powered by Gates on their blog.