Photo by Calfee Design

Photo by Calfee Design

Craig Calfee was screwing around with carbon in bike frames way before it was cool. Arguably, Craig’s a big reason why carbon came to be regarded as cool. He’s also a big reason why bamboo moved into a space where it could also become a respected frame material. And Craig is always keeping it fresh by continuing to up the ante with his ingenious solutions year after year…

BIKERUMOR: Why did you first decide to build your first bike? Who did you build it for?

CRAIG: In 1986, was working at a job building carbon fiber rowing shells and became fascinated with the material. I was in charge of making carbon fiber tubes for the outriggers and thought it would be cool to try building a bike out of the stuff. The motivation to actually start building the first one came after I crashed the Schwinn Varsity that I had been using for commuting to work. I had bent the frame and it was unrideable, so I decided to make a replacement for it.

Photo by Calfee Design

Photo by Calfee Design

BIKERUMOR: What is your origin story? How did your company get its start?

CRAIG: My first bike turned out pretty well but I wanted to make another one and make a few improvements. My girlfriend needed a bike, so I built one for her. Then a buddy wanted one and then another. Feedback was like: “You should go into business making these!”

BIKERUMOR: Why did you decide to make a living out of it?

CRAIG: I offered my boss to help develop the bike further but he was too busy on the Olympic Team contract. So I quit that $9/hr job and moved out to California to start building bikes. My mom loaned me some money to get started. Molds were made and a garage in San Francisco was rented out. I hired a couple of bike messengers to start building the bikes with me. We test rode them and abused them until I was confident they would hold up when sold to paying customers. Greg LeMond found out about the bikes and ordered 18 of them for his team. That really put us on the map!

Photo by Calfee Design

Photo by Calfee Design

BIKERUMOR: What got you excited about building bikes when you first started out?

CRAIG: After riding that first bike for the first time, I immediately felt the vibration damping of the ride quality – and I already knew about the stiffness to weight ratio. I realized it was far superior to metals and knew it would revolutionize the world of high-performance bicycles. I was pretty excited to realize that I had stumbled on it so early. I felt the same way when riding my first bamboo bike in 1995. And again when the Manta prototype suspension road bike was ready for action.

Photo by Calfee Design

Photo by Calfee Design

BIKERUMOR: What’s the cool thing you’re bringing to the show this year?

CRAIG: Hard to choose which one: the integrated rack on the Dragonfly Adventure bike, the “Car Killer” bamboo cargo bike or the wild paint job on the tandem.

BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?

CRAIG: Go for it. But be ready to work a lot of hours without pay. You really have to love this kind of work. But if that’s the case, it won’t seem like work. And if you end up getting paid for it, don’t brag too much that you get paid for doing what you love!

CalfeeDesign.com

12 comments

  1. chasejj on

    “bamboo became a respected frame building material” ? Prove this statement. I would really like to see proof of this.
    BR has 10 bizarre readers who like bamboo and it is somehow respected?

    Reply
  2. Durianrider on

    I had a Calfee bamboo in 2008 and the seat tube split open in about a week. Then I noticed I had cracked the chainstay junction at the BB and it was slowly getting bigger. Calfee wasnt too interested in hearing about it and shortly after the bike was actually stolen.

    I was bambooless for about 2 years then got a WebbWorks bamboo in March 2011 and have thrashed the fructose out of that for the last 5 years.

    Bamboo is a solid material.
    If you want bamboo art work get a Calfee.
    If you want a bamboo bike you can bloody flog into the ground get a WebbWorks.
    Third of the price too.

    Reply
  3. A. Margaret on

    I demo’ed a bamboo Calfee road bike (built with Ui2, carbon cockpit, etc) and it was definitely a unique experience. Undoubtedly, there is a considerable degree of refinement that goes into building a bamboo bike, and ultimately, you’re really paying for a piece of art. As someone who has ridden and raced every material out there, the bamboo was by far the most compliant and stiff bike I’ve ever ridden. A dream on descents, but definitely a slog on climbs. My build (a 48cm) was a whopping 24.5 lbs…so, super comfortable on long days but not super practical outside of that. Definitely an eye catcher, though.

    Reply
  4. Craig Calfee on

    Yes, the bamboo bikes have evolved over the years. First, they were too light and some would crack. Then we sourced thicker wall bamboo but they gained some weight. Now we drill out those heavier tubes and they are back to a reasonable weight. Yet they are still plenty tough, getting ridden on incredible expeditions like Cycle for Water’s Alaska to Argentina trek and Rob Greenfield’s two transcontinental rides.

    We are always very interested in the older frames getting any upgrade/repairs as needed. And the early adopters are much appreciated!

    As for questions about bamboo being a “respectable” material, I’d say it’s not for the high level racing as carbon will always beat it from a pure performance standpoint. But it can still be comparable to all other materials with all of their various plusses and minuses. Where it’s gained a lot of respect is in the DIY movement and all the new hand crafted bamboo bike companies that are popping up. Just google “bamboo bike” and see how much interest there is out there!

    Reply

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