Can you make a bicycle from grass? Well, strictly-speaking yes, since bamboo belongs to the grass family and those who make two-wheeler frames using this robust material are keen to sing its praises.
Advantages include an incredibly high strength-to-weight ratio, excellent vibration absorption qualities, which make for a smoother ride, and exceptional durability.
The environmentally friendly production aspect is another plus point and on top that, bamboo is actually better than steel in terms of tensile strength. It also takes less electric power to make a bamboo bike than a metal one and the frame is completely recyclable.
Making bikes from bamboo is not new. The technology went out of fashion years ago when steel became popular for making frames and it was later supplanted by aluminium.
The world's first bamboo bicycle was manufactured in London in 1894 but it was not until 2005 that American Craig Calfee ushered in a new era of bamboo frame-building.
A number of companies have now specialised in using bamboo for a bicycle's most important component, including German firms My Boo, Pine and Faserwerk. Swedish maker Eker ("spoke" in English) has been selling such bikes since 2021 and we chose one of their models for closer scrutiny.
Who is it aimed at? Eker markets its Stark model as a cross-country mountain bike which makes it a kind of race-ready MTB.
The technology: The manufacturing process is unusual and it takes around 80 hours to complete a frame, says Eker co-founder Stefan Krisch. It starts when the bamboo is harvested in Uganda where suitable canes are cut by hand. The frame is assembled in the capital Kampala.
The production method: The bark of the Mutaba tree is used with a natural epoxy glue to attach the canes to each other.
"We cut the bark into strips and wrap it around the tubes using a certain pattern which ensures maximum all-round rigidity," said Krisch.The darker colour makes the bark sections stand out "and since each frame is unique it is a real challenge to produce consistently good frames to our strict specification," said Krisch.
No two tubes are the same so for example, the test bike's frame weighs 2,905g, but the Eker can range in weight from 2,400 - 2,800g for size M. The company gives a five-year warranty on the frame.
"Because of the high fibre content, our bamboo frame will not break even under heavy load or through direct impact," said the man from Eker. The material is also highly resistant to wind and weather.
To boost overall resilience, Eker not only coats the inside of the tubes but also gives the frame with four top layers of clear varnish at the final manufacturing stage.
The biggest advantage over common frame materials such as aluminium or steel is an ecological one: According to a report by Duke University in North Carolina, the production of a bicycle frame made of aluminium generates about 250kg of CO2, while even that of a carbon frame produces 67kg.
The opposite is the case with bamboo. As a renewable resource, it actually binds CO2.
"According to our calculations, the bamboo used for an Eker frame is equivalent to absorbing 773kg of CO2 from the atmosphere," said the Eker co-founder.Equipment, accessories, peripherals: The bike features components from well-known brands, in this case Sram. The hydraulic disc brakes and the shifting components come from the American supplier. Rear derailleur, crank, sprocket set and chain-ring (32 teeth) derive from the MTB entry-level GX Eagle group.
The suspension fork with 100mm of travel comes from Rockshox (model Judy Gold) and the 29-inch wheels are mounted on thru axles.
Michelin studded tires are mounted on the test bike, model Wild Racer (29 "x2.1"). However, fancier equipment can be specified. Eker also accepts special requests for custom wishes.
The riding impression: "Our bamboo frame is light, durable and offers the rider a degree of flexibility without being too soft," says Krisch. And indeed: In the saddle, you always have the feeling that your leg power is being translated directly into forward motion. The bike is pleasant to ride and thanks to the fat tires, it absorbs many slight bumps unlike a stiff aluminium hardtail.
The look: The bamboo look also makes the MTB an eye-catcher and passers-by often ask you where they can buy one.
The price: The Stark costs from €3,900 (RM17,707) upwards. Pedals (from €63/RM286) and bottle cage are extra (from €15/RM68). If you don't fancy the natural bamboo look, you can order the frame in black for an extra €110 (RM499).
To sum up: This is the perfect bike for eco-minded MTB racers who want to make a statement too. It's pricey, but does wonders for your personal carbon footprint. – dpa