This is a really tasty bike… if you’re a panda. That’s just one of the cruel jokes cracked at the Calfee’s expense since it arrived at the office.
Don’t laugh: bamboo, a type of grass, has good vibration-damping properties, it is very stiff and very tough. It won’t go soggy if ridden in the rain because it is coated in satin polyurethane. To stop it splitting the tubes are smoked and heat treated. The lugs are made of hemp fibre.
As bamboo grows abundantly in hot climates and needs little cultivation – but is highly labour intensive if it is to be turned into a decent bike – Craig Calfee realised that manufacturing bamboo bikes could provide jobs, bikes and money in developing countries if people could be taught how to make them. Calfee is involved in projects to achieve this in Ghana and Zambia, though his production bikes are made in California.
In addition, growing bamboo produces no CO2 and like all photosynthesising plants, it produces oxygen while absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Bamboo also produces 35 per cent more oxygen from carbon dioxide than trees and more effectively binds soil to prevent erosion. Each frame is made by hand using no electricity.
So, how does the Calfee ride? Being careful to avoid ‘planted’ or ‘wooden’, here’s a surprise – it rides like a bike! The test bike with Ultegra SL weighed just under 18lb. It feels stiffer than many carbon-fibre bikes. It is smooth on the road, with vibration indeed absorbed very effectively. It is not the most comfortable bike we’ve ever ridden, but you certainly wouldn’t describe the ride as harsh.
There’s no point in directly comparing the Calfee with a £3.5K carbon race bike, but if you want a sporty bike that is unique and that will be a talking point wherever you go, this is it. It is also right in tune with the green aspect of cycling. We would like to see the African-made bamboo bikes sold in Europe at a lower cost, and we are told that the intention is to see if the African projects can be made part of the process in the long term.