By Lauren Foliart
City News Reporter
When customers walk into Calfee Design, a Santa Cruz bike company, they don’t see row after row of sparkling new aluminum and carbon bicycles. Instead, they are met by freshly cultivated bamboo bikes.
James Weineerger, Calfee Design employee, explains.
“It was actually [founder] Craig Calfee’s black Labrador, Luna, who inspired the whole thing,” Weineerger said. “One day [Calfee] took a scrap of bamboo and decided to see what kind of damage the dog could do to it.
“But Luna couldn’t get even a notch in the stick of bamboo. So, [Calfee] decided, why not give it a shot as a frame-building material?”
Craig Calfee began manufacturing bamboo bikes as part of a mission to make the most durable bike frame possible. After surviving a bad bike accident in 1987, Calfee set his company, Calfee Design, in motion, hoping to produce a bike that could endure almost any collision.
Calfee Design creates street and mountain bikes made out of bamboo, both known for damping vibrations and having a high crash tolerance.
In addition, the bamboo frames release a minimal amount of carbon dioxide during their production, making them not only enjoyable to ride, but an eco-friendly alternative for bicyclists as well.
“While obviously there’s the ecological sensitivity, the fact that it’s a sustainable material, and now we’re using hemp fiber as part of the construction,” Weineerger said. “But it’s also very comfortable, a lot of the vibrations from the road are dampened because bamboo has little flexibility.”
Bamboo has become prevalent as an alternative resource for a range of industries in the past few years. From clothing to furniture, and now bicycles, bamboo has proven successful in many forms.
“[Bamboo] is a renewable resource with a speedy growth rate,” said Tommy Williams, an employee at Eco Goods, an alternative general store that uses organic and recycled materials in its products. “It’s really good at replenishing itself and the environment.”
However, the price of Calfee bamboo bikes deters many customers that would normally support the use of sustainable resources. Ranging from $2,600 to $3,200 the bikes are too expensive for many environmentally conscious bikers.
“The type of people that have that money are not necessarily the same kind of people that are very green-minded and who want to commute day to day on a bicycle,” said Ben Alexy, employee of Slough’s Bike Shoppe in San Jose. “Those type of people are usually looking for high-end, flashy things.”
Along with doing its part in helping the environment, Calfee Design began making efforts in Africa, teaching Ghanaians the skills to produce their own bamboo bikes.
“The goal is essentially to allow them the technology and teach them the techniques to build cargo bikes,” Weineerger said. “Most third-world countries just don’t have the same access to cars and a lot of their time is spent carrying materials and food, so providing them with that transportation is the goal.
In 2007, in light of the bamboo bikes’ success, Calfee Design posted an ad on its website asking for funding to travel to Ghana and pursue the proposed mission. The Earth Institute at Columbia University responded and sent Calfee to Africa.
Weineerger said, “So far, the frames that have been built [in Ghana] are good examples of the possibilities and success our company hopes to see.”