Is the Calfee Bamboo Bike Really Eco-Friendly?

bamboo bike Bamboo bikes are, as we recently pointed out, growing in popularity thanks to bamboo's status as the fastest growing (and hence most renewable) plant. The newest bamboo bike manufacturer to enter the spotlight is Calfee Design, a custom bike designer. But Calfee's nearly $5,000 bike isn't as eco-friendly as it appears upon first glance.

The bike, made from organic, biodegradable bamboo picked in the mountain's of Taiwan's Yushan National Park, goes through a number of steps before hitting the pavement. After the bamboo is picked, it is shipped to California, where its stems are smoked, treated with heat,and put together into a frame. The pieces of the bike are connected with hemp fiber lugs and coated with satin polyurethane sealant before being shipped to local dealers across the U.S. and the U.K. So while 60% of the finished product is made from sustainable materials, Calfee's bike also has a hefty carbon footprint that negates some of the environmental goodness of the bamboo growing process.

Bamboo can be grown in a variety of dry areas—even those that lack plentiful rainfall—so why aren't Calfee's bike materials grown, put together, and sold in the same place? The company is assisting entrepreneurs in developing countries with making bicycles out of locally sourced bamboo. Perhaps it should do the same in the U.S. and Britain.

[Via U.K. Daily Mail]

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  • David Bohm

    The article does bring up an excellent point though. That is one has to be very aware of how the entire process affects the end product.

    To date, nobody has done a LCA of bamboo vs. other frame materials. It has been done with items like ships for instance and the carbon footprint is indeed less with composite construction (wood and epoxy) but with a bike frame it is very, very small when you consider the mass of the item and the ability to recycle metal frame materials.

    Mark, I have to disagree with you about Taiwan. Taiwan is a first world country. The USA needs the revitalization. Taiwan is doing fine. I assume that Craig is sourcing it where he can find it as resources are limited here in the states. Hopefully not for long.

    I wrote a blog entry about it. I have started growing my own grove of Bamboo and in three years time it should be ready.


    David Bohm
    Bohemian Bicycles

  • Bill Wayne

    I love Calfee's Bikes! They are most certainly more sustainable than the alternative! We should be doing everything we can to encourage biking instead of driving - and bamboo is even better! I have been scouring the internet looking at every bamboo bike out there and I love what Panda Bikes ( ) are doing - a beautiful bamboo bike for under $900. I want one.

  • Mark Livingood

    With regard to where Calfee gets his bamboo, did you ever consider calling or Emailing Craig to ask, rather than making assumptions based on what you've read elsewhere? There's actually a few very good reasons why he ended up sourcing his bamboo from Taiwan relative to re-vitalizing the economy in a country that has special meaning to Craig and his family. However, with regard to bringing his bamboo production closer to home I'll go ahead and quote from another article where the author interviewed Calfee:

    "Calfee uses bamboo imported from Taiwan, but he hopes to find California-grown bamboo soon. "It would allow us to manipulate the bamboo as it grows," said Calfee, noting that it takes three years before bamboo is mature enough to be used in frame building."

    Just thought you'd like to know there's a bit more to it all....

  • Ariel Schwartz

    @Matthew Good points. I suppose my question, then, is why the company is using bamboo from Taiwan when it can be grown closer to home.

  • matthew homyak

    Calfee's Bamboo Bike is certainly eco-friendly! Try conducting a comparative life cycle analysis of steel, titanium, aluminum or carbon fiber and bamboo would win in a landslide. There are logistical supply chain issues with any product, especially with technical ones like bicycles that consist of numerous components but like Voltaire said, "Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good". Progress folks, progress.