Almost 9 months ago I built a frame jig for a bamboo bike. Between work and life, I didn’t actually finish the bike until Thansgiving, and I’m only getting around to blogging about it now.
Here’s the finished bike:
I’ve wanted to build a bamboo bike for a long time. More than a year ago, my bike (aluminum frame) was run over by a car (thankfully I wasn’t on it). The frame as a whole was in sorry shape, but the lugs were perfect for a bamboo frame.
I started designing my frame by using Bikecad: http://www.bikecad.ca/1327254791539 You could also use Sketchup or any other CAD program. But its also just really easy to use a ready-made parametric model from Bikecad. I later used the dimensions from Bikecad to CAD a frame-building jig. A roughly dimensioned drawing of that jig can be found here: bamboo
I chose to use mostly 2 by 4’s since I had lots of scrap wood and a miter saw. If you’re welding, wood probably isn’t the greatest idea. But I’m just gluing sticks together. I think you’ll see that this is certainly not the most accurate of jigs, but its good enough for what I’m after.
In the image below you can see there are two places where I didn’t have scraps that were long enough, so I spliced some pieces together.
Here is a time lapse of me building the jig:
The head tube is supported by a threaded rod. There are two PVC tubing end caps inside the steer tube that keep the it concentric with the threaded rod. I needed to drill centered holes into the end caps so I could put them on the threaded rod. Without a lathe, I put various concentric things into the end cap until I had something small enough to serve as a drill bit guide. I used layers of tape to build things up to the right diameter. Depending on the size of the steer tube you use, you could also use PCV end caps as spacers, or just build up small ones with layers of tape, until they are the right diameter.
I also used a hole saw to make plastic fender washers for each end of the head tube to keep epoxy from getting inside.
To hold the rear drop outs I used a rear axle, but you could just use a threaded rod, too.
I found some PVC pieces that work well for holding the bottom bracket, too.
Before making the actual frame, I made a test joint to give myself confidence that it would be strong enough and to try out the process. The materials I used were:
– 2-part epoxy from ebay (search: EPOXY RESIN MARINE BOAT BUILDING HIGH IMPACT 32 OZ.KT). This wasn’t as low-viscosity as I was expecting, but it worked fine
– hemp garden twine, since all the raw hemp fiber I could find was really pricey
– Harbor Freight electrical tape ($3.99 for 10 rolls!), for compressing the joints. I went through like 4-5 rolls, so definitely get the cheap stuff
Anyway, for the test joint, I made a huge mess, made a really ugly joint (forgot to take a picture of it before sanding), sanded/dremeled it down, and coated it with a thin layer of epoxy (not really necessary). The resulting joint was surprisingly stiff. I pulled as hard as I could and couldn’t feel any flex.
Later I cut it open, just to see how it looked inside. A few things to note:
– There are a number of small voids from poor compression. I tried to avoid this by applying thinner, more even layers of hemp and epoxy
– There is a lot of epoxy in the joint (probably hard to see from the photo) compared to the volume of hemp fibers. I forgot to perforate the electrical tape that I wrapped around the joint for compression. Perforating the tape lets the excess epoxy seep through.
– A pool of epoxy had developed inside the bamboo tube (especially visible on the right side where the epoxy flowed down the tube. This would be a waste of epoxy and make the frame unnecessarily heavy. When building the frame, I was careful to seal all the seams with 5 min epoxy (gorilla glue would probably work well, too) so this couldn’t happen.
– The actual miter joint between the bamboo tubes isn’t great, but that doesn’t seem to matter much. For the actual frame, I was pretty messy about mitering the tubes.
Stay tuned for the actual building of the frame!
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Beautiful bike! I’m curious how it has stood the test of time. I would be worried about the bamboo drying and splitting lengthwise (although I’ve not researched anything about bamboo frames, so maybe it’s not a concern).
Thanks for detailing your build and sharing.
Thank you for reading! I’ve mostly been riding it as a commute bike, and there’s no sign of damage yet. I think the finish at the end provides a good enough moisture barrier that splitting isn’t an issue. Bamboo bikes are actually commercially available (ex. Calfee Bikes), but there are a fair number of other home made builds documented on the internet, too.
Cool, I appreciate all your documentation (on all your projects) – very inspiring.
I came here by way of the lolriokart and chibikart projects that you and some of your friends did. A friend and I are updating a bike project and needed to figure out how Ackermann steering works… so the trike didn’t help a ton, but the lolriokart did 😉
If you’re ever in NYC on a hot day, drop us a line! http://mobilepoolparty.tumblr.com/
Beautiful bike, one of the best finishes I’ve seen on a home project!
Thank you for reading!
Your detail in this blog is incredible, thanks for the advice.
I’m from Italy
I built my bamboo frame in berlin. Some witty guys teached me how to do. They built a jig on their own..
Now i’m looking for instructions to try to build my own jig to go on building other frames.
But I’m so dummy… thank you for your instructions and congratulations for your creativity
Sounds like fun, good luck! 🙂
Hi there! Thanks for the blog, very inspiring! I am starting on my frame this summer. I have all materials (including locally grown bamboo, in holland) and will start building the jig. I was just wondering, how did you get the geometry of the frame? Did you make a drawing or just copied another frame by measuring?
Hi Ernest! I don’t know how I missed your comment, and am sorry to respond so so late. The tool that I used to plan the jig geometry was this website: http://www.bikecad.ca/1327254791539 That is a link to the frame that I built, you can feel free to generate your own game. Then I designed the jig in a separate CAD program based on the frame geometry from bikecad. Hope that helps!
Hi aqian, thnx for the reply anyway, I started with a frame from bamboo bee with hemp fibre joints. at the same time I used an old frame of which i replace the tubes. But since the weather is not that good they are both on hold now 😉
I what a nice and complete blog you made on the bamboo bike. I am going to build one this summer. I have collected all materials but I still wonder how to get a good geometry for the bike. How did you do that, have any tips. The info I find on the internet is either too complex or too simple.
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What kind of bamboo did you use and where did you get it from?
I actually just used hardware store bamboo from the gardening section, not sure what species. I ended up going through quite a few poles to find the right sections I wanted to use (free of defects, straight enough, etc). I am not sure if dried bamboo (like you get at hardware stores) is as good for tempering, which is I think where you take a torch to the bamboo and heat it just enough to caramelize the sugars but not enough to burn it. This apparently makes the bamboo stronger. I’ve only put this bike through casual commute riding and it seems to be holding up fine.
I want this jig frame building
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