I have this thing where when I say that I’m going to do something I inevitably have to do it. No matter how ludicrous or implausible, I’ve just gotta jump in headfirst and hope it works out, somehow it usually does. As it happened, one day in April I realized that I didn’t have a bike… and with no knowledge about how to actually build one I announced that was in fact what I was going to do.
Let’s face it, building a bike out of what is essentially panda-bear food sounds ridiculous. The first question that comes to most peoples minds is “why the heck would you do that?” Bamboo has hundreds of industrial and commercial uses, it’s fascinating stuff, and when it comes to bikes bamboo is actually an excellent frame building material. It’s lighter and stronger than steel/aluminum with better vibration absorbing properties than carbon fiber. I also think that it looks pretty cool. After spending a few weeks researching bamboo tensile strengths, epoxy curing agents, carbon fiber thermal expansion coefficients and a brief refresher on the Pythagorean theory from my tenth grade math textbook I figured I was as ready as I’d ever be to build a two wheeled death trap fit for Gilligan himself.
As it dries bamboo often begins to split, so it’s important to choose bamboo carefully and inspect it for any signs of splitting or weakness. Bamboo World in Chilliwack is Canada’s largest wholesaler of bamboo poles, so I figured they’d give me the best selection to choose from.
It’s important to spend some time getting your angles and measurements right, and for me the best way to do this was through an autocad program. It was kinda fun experimenting with different frame angles, but I finally settled on a roadbike concept that worked for me.
I ordered a bunch of frame parts from Nova Cycles, an online framebuilding supplier. There are tons of options but I ended up settling on:
2 steel dropouts
1 steel bottom bracket
1 Cromoly head tube (that needed to be cut to size)
1 Cromoly seat-tube (you just need about 6 inches inserted inside the bamboo downtube so the seat post can clamp)
The next step is to build a jig. This is actually probably the most important step because if you don’t get your angles PERFECT, your bike straight-up (pun intended) wont work. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on a proper adjustable bike jig… and if you’re making lots of frames that’s probably a wise investment, but you can also get creative if you know what you need to accomplish.
Out of a piece of junk plywood and a few dollars worth of plumbing fixtures and some trial/error I somehow finagled a bike jig that squared up the frame components perfectly. I can’t say this is the “best way” to go about building a jig, it was actually quite frustrating, but it is the cheapest solution that I could come up with.