Would you ride a bike made from bamboo canes?

By Dr Shpend Gerguri

Dr Shpend Gerguri at Oxford Brookes University writes about an innovative and alternative material to traditional framed bikes, following research with Professor James Broughton.

At Oxford Brookes we’re delighted to partner with Oxford’s cycle campaign – Cyclox – in Oxfordshire’s first Celebration of Cycling. We’re supporting the Celebration with a series of events and resources for staff, students and the local community.

There’s no doubt the popularity of cycling has soared as we look to travel in more eco-friendly ways. The pedal bike is seeing unprecedented growth in bike sales as a result of current mobility trends.

Cycling is certainly a green way to travel, and with my colleague Professor James Broughton we’ve been researching how we can make bike frames more environmentally friendly. 

As part of our work in the Cycle Mobility Group – which carries out design, manufacture and research work into bike design – we’ve been investigating bamboo as a potential bike frame material. Bamboo is a natural resource, and effective at reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, absorbing between 100 and 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. And it’s one of the fastest growing plants on earth, growing up to 36 inches in 24 hours.

Surprisingly it was introduced as an optional frame choice for commercial bikes in the UK back in 1897, however metal frames using alloys such as steel, aluminium and now carbon fibre have become the common materials of choice in the manufacture of frames, with varying sustainability credentials. But it’s time we had another serious look at using bamboo frames – our research has shown they can compete with traditional frame materials.

Why build a bike from bamboo? 

Despite initial scepticism that bamboo could perform as a bike frame, it is in fact incredibly durable, resistant to impacts, and has been proven to dampen out vibrations more efficiently than its metal counterparts. A bamboo frame can be hand crafted and assembled at home in as little as four hours, and be specially customised for the rider. 

The bamboo bike project at Oxford Brookes has been a great journey for us and the engineering students. We have seen an idea develop from simple concept sketches to a working prototype, which was tested in the gruelling TransAlps eight-day mountain bike race across the Alps. The naturally grown bikes held up across 650 kilometres (410 miles) and more than 20,500 altitude metres of climbing. 

Exploiting bamboo’s natural strength and inherent damping properties produced a comfortable and smoother bike ride. The project is a great example of Oxford Brookes’ focus on sustainable engineering with a practical application. 

Learn more about Bamboo bicycles

With my colleague Professor Broughton I’m sharing more about this fascinating journey with a free public lecture (open to all) on Wednesday 29 September, prompted by our recent involvement in the

Global Cycling Network Plus documentary ‘Bamboo Bikes: Fad Or Future’.

The hour-long online lecture starts at 6pm, and will consider recent developments related to design, performance and sustainability, and benefits of building your very own bamboo bike. The lecture is free and available for anyone to join – sign up here.

Photo: Dr Shpend Gerguri participating in the TransAlps race

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