Riding Earthbound's High-Pivot Bamboo Bike

Jun 29, 2021
by Matt Wragg  



When we featured Earthbound's high pivot bamboo enduro bike earlier this year, the response from many people was “What the hell?” We’re used to our bicycles being made from materials Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have approved of, so the idea of a bike made from a plant certainly raises many questions (and no, termites are not an issue).

Bamboo is not as crazy as material as you may first think though. After all, in parts of Asia bamboo is a commonly used material for scaffolding on building sites, and it’s not like the banking district in Hong Kong couldn’t afford steel if they wanted it.

Bamboo bikes aren’t a new thing either - each year at tradeshows you’ll likely find one guy at the back of the expo with a hardtail or a roadbike fashioned from bamboo. For those used to riding with little or no bounce in their bike, the idea of ride quality becomes far more important, and the flex in bamboo is said to be something quite special indeed.

It is one of those things I have been wondering about for a few years now, a little itch of curiosity I have been wanting to scratch. So when I found out that the man behind Earthbound Bikes, Jason O’Nions, lives just down the coast from me, I wanted answers.

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

Details

This bike is one you need to see in the flesh to fully appreciate the combination of refined detail and pure bodging. Take the green pearlescent flecks in the paint when it catches the right just right, or the scarab beetle on the top tube that glows gold from the right angle. The finish is on the lacquered carbon is just stunning. The bamboo itself is bigger than I expected from the photos too, giving the bike a surprisingly muscular stance.

Then you see the main pivot, which is a steel axle with a bolt on one end to pull it all together. It really illustrates the challenges for small frame builders - like trying to find the right size hardware, or having the tools to drill the threads into the frame. Jason confessed to me that the upper rocker link is from the Stanton he owned before this which happened to fit, and the idler is from a Forbidden Druid.

The rocker is made from two plates of CNC’d carbon. In true DIY-style, Jason explains to me that he couldn’t afford a CNC machine rated to cut carbon. So he took the cheap one he has and set it to run on the slowest setting and left it to run overnight to get a clean cut.

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg
Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

On The Trail

As luck would have it, I am about the same weight as Jason, so to start with I could jump on the bike and go. Although Jason is quite a bit taller than me, so I knew from the beginning that his 495mm reach was going to be a stretch for my 1.75m (5’9") frame.

For the two test trails I selected the climbing was an easy drag on the road. While the weight of the bike feels fine for a bike with these intentions, it felt much heavier to pedal. This is not down to the kinematic, as even with the shock wide open the amount of pedal bob was fairly minimal. Having not spent time on bikes with idler pulleys in many years, it is hard to say whether this is down to the idler or not, or whether there is a significant difference between this bike and a more commercially-produced one, but it definitely felt like hard work.

When I got to the trails, no matter what I tried with the shock I could not find a setting I felt comfortable on. Opening and closing the lockout had very little discernable effect on the feel, and the sag ring showed I was sitting way too high in the stroke. Talking to Jason afterwards, he explained that the shock had not been tuned to the frame, so it is impossible for me to say whether my struggles to get it working were down to the frame, the tune or the design of the shock. It is hard to fault Jason for speccing it though, away from his frame building escapades he works as a teaching assistant and quite simply he found the suspension cheap online.

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg
Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

Sospel France Photo by Matt Wragg

While this may all seem pretty negative, I think it says good things about the frame itself. The dominant ride sensation was a mismatched rear shock, the bike itself felt just like, well, a bike. If anything I was disappointed because I had high hopes for the flex in the bamboo, I imagined it would be a lithe, springy thing bouncing down the trail and to have the feedback from the frame overidden by the shock was frustrating. But maybe pairing that with a deadening high-pivot/idler layout is something of a mismatch. There was one instance where I felt like I was starting to get a grip on the bike, to see the potential I had hoped for and immediately a rock tore apart the rear tire and ended the test ride.

When Jason came to collect the bike we grabbed a loop around some of my trails together. Regardless of how I struggled with the bike, he wasn’t. On the loop I chose there is one section where you pass the ruins of an ancient farmers hut and the ground is covered with baby-head rocks. If your bike is working well and you’re feeling brave you can hold it absolutely wide open through there, pinballing through the rocks at around 50km/h. I have taught myself to stay off the brakes on my far more conventional YT Decoy 29, taking a few tries to build confidence. Jason had never seen the section before and stayed right there on my wheel.

The Future

Jason insists that he does not want to make these bikes, that he did this for his own amusement and hopefully to bring some attention to his bikes. His focus is on the gravel bikes and hardtails he has also been making. That said, after much (friendly) bullying, I managed to get an estimated price for a frame like this. He says that he would have to sell them for around €2,500. Within reason you could set your geometry and the kinematic (I would probably take mine without the idler and with way lower anti-squat), although he would need more Stanton linkages to make them. A unique, fully-custom, handmade frame for €1,500 less than most commercially available high-end frames? These days that sounds like a bargain and for me it would be worth it for my curiosity alone.


147 Comments

  • 147 7
 The first time I saw this, i was quite bamboozled
  • 68 3
 It seems the interest in these bikes growing really fast
  • 43 3
 @Lloydmeister: bikes like this are shooting up everywhere
  • 11 8
 I think he could've said the ride was quite... wooden!
  • 3 3
 Made me quite pale just looking at it
  • 8 7
 Pandas will be likely more bamboozled by it.
  • 9 1
 The market for them is getting hollowed out though.
  • 1 4
 Damn it, beat me to it haha!
  • 24 2
 A bamboo bike with a high pivot? I can’t be the only one to think that wooden work.
  • 22 3
 Can’t ride today……a panda ate my frame
  • 6 1
 I ve got wood
  • 1 29
flag quesoquesoqueso (Jun 29, 2021 at 9:07) (Below Threshold)
 delete your account and come back when your balls drop
  • 8 1
 I love how the good puns come in immediately and then decline in potency proportionally to their delay.
  • 15 3
 @quesoquesoqueso: I’m sure he dropped them in your mom
  • 4 1
 Came here for this, wasn't disappointed.
  • 3 0
 @quesoquesoqueso: that’s pretty funny.
  • 4 0
 This bike really sticks to the trail.
  • 4 0
 What do you call it when 3 of these bikes get together?.... a Treesome
  • 3 6
 @GM303: what do you call a bike made of wood ?
Shit
  • 1 0
 @scar4me: I think he said, the ride wooden be any better than carbon!!
  • 127 0
 Just chiming in with my POV as this thing always seems to trigger people......

I don't use bamboo because I'm trying to save the planet, I use bamboo because of the characteristics it brings to a bike (vibration damping and a favourable young's modulus) After riding road bikes and hardtails made of the stuff for a number of years I'm sold on it.

Out of curiosity I decided to challenge myself with a full sus just to see if I could. Considering I banged this out in a couple of months (inc the design with no prior knowledge of CAD etc) I'm over the moon with how it turned out.

I'm going to focus on Gravel bikes next, if anyone's interested my instagram handle is @earthbound_bikes

If anyone spots me riding this thing in the French Alps over the next few weeks come say hi and give it a test spin Smile
  • 6 0
 How does the bamboo hold up after a couple years?
A gravel bike frame sounds very interesting, but would it still be riding fine after, say, 5 years of dust and mud?
  • 26 0
 @Negetiv: Bamboo bike from the late 1800's says Hi Smile - images.app.goo.gl/QLBtjBaqXLyukngg6

I'm not worried about the elements, the interior of the tubes are sealed and bamboo is naturally water repellent (plus has a clearcoat)

Also regarding fatigue - www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0142112315000328

I hope some of my bikes outlast me Smile
  • 5 0
 @earthbound-bikes: your bikes are amazing. I'd love to have a bamboo hardtail someday. We need more people thinking outside of the box.
  • 3 0
 @DylanH93: Thanks Dylan Smile
  • 2 0
 @earthbound-bikes: awesome work. I think the ecological reason is a good one too. Hope to see you soon in the Alps Wink
  • 1 0
 Couple of months? that's amazing.
  • 2 0
 If you ever need anything CNC cut give me a shout. I've got a 5-axis milling center with through-spindle cooling (for those nice straight-flute carbide bits we all like to run at 15k RPM) as well as a lathe that I'd be happy to run parts on for you over the weekend for the cost of material plus a shout-out for my company when someone asks you where you got a part fabricated.
  • 59 3
 How many pandas went hungry to make this bike?
  • 61 1
 None as a panda doesn't eat this part of the plant. It eats, shoots and leaves.
  • 44 1
 @mi-bike: sounds like bad houseguests
  • 2 1
 @Staktup: eating bamboo tends to cause collateral damage.
  • 5 1
 @mi-bike: That sounds like an REALLY angry panda!
  • 1 1
 @mi-bike: Pandas may still be very drawn to it.
  • 9 0
 @mi-bike: Eats, roots, shoots and leaves!
  • 1 0
 @CanBLine: well played indeed.
  • 13 0
 Funny story. My kid used to call me a panda because of dad bod. One day kidding around with the kid and he dares me to eat bamboo. I figure pandas cant be wrong and I ate a nice fresh shoot. First pandas must have no taste buds because it was awful. Second after eating it son says only pandas eat it because they are the only animals that can process the toxins inside. I was so ill after. Not sure if it was the toxins or the taste, or just in my head.
  • 3 0
 @fabwizard: Bamboo shoots are used in Asian cooking all the time.
  • 3 0
 @RayDolor: yes but you cook off the poisonous parts and you only eat the shoots.
  • 1 0
 @RayDolor:
Google says
Some bamboo carries a toxin that creates hydrogenic cyanide when chewed or digested. Proper cooking or preparing gets rid of cyanide (cyanogenic glycosides) so that it's safe to eat or use. You do not have to bother with the canned shoots because they are absolutely harmless with no further cooking required.Mar. 6, 2019
  • 3 0
 @fabwizard: All's I know is that in my friends' backyard, where bamboo stands have kinda taken over, S.E. asian people come around quite often asking to cut the shoots for their cooking.
  • 1 0
 @RayDolor: Apparently, would have been fine if i had cooked and not eaten raw. Thinking back on it my taste buds are curling up yuck.
  • 1 0
 @fabwizard: isn't that eucalyptus? Only koalas eat it because it's toxic and basically has zero nutrients?
  • 1 0
 @DylanH93: as above according to google- cyanide for bamboo, but i believe you are correct about eucalyptus.
  • 41 1
 Buys a Medium sized frame. Ends up with 760mm reach and 520mm chainstays a few weeks later.
  • 5 0
 Must be trimmed weekly.
  • 11 0
 Perfect bike for growing kids
  • 39 0
 As a man shaped like a panda...a bamboo frame might be appropriate for my next bike.
  • 22 3
 Carbon is more eco-friendly than bamboo (said all the yeti and santa cruz owners)
  • 16 0
 I wooden mind riding one of these.
  • 17 4
 Second paragraph: 'If its strong enough to pass H&S requirements of a Chinese construction site, it must be strong enough for your bike'... erm... nah I'll pass thanks.
  • 1 0
 I was thinking the same thing...
  • 1 1
 Touche!
  • 7 0
 when you objectively look at bamboo under a microscope, it's clear that it's not different from any man made composite material - only this one is nature produced. The original composite material.
  • 6 0
 Exactly right, bamboo is a unidirectional composite. Smile
  • 7 0
 Isamabard? Is that a cross between a civil engineer and the capital of Pakistan?
  • 7 0
 Ha, I swear I get more dyslexic as I get older...
  • 8 1
 I cannot take my eye off the fact there's no bar ends
  • 2 0
 Just stick a piece of wood in there.
  • 4 0
 That's my fault, I popped my grips on to ride it, but couldn't find the plugs and then forget until I came to process the photos. After the bike had gone back...
  • 7 0
 And mom said bikes dont grown on trees.
  • 1 0
 If you we could grow more useful components that often break on bikes on trees like...derailleurs, brakes, pedals, chainrings.
  • 5 0
 This is awesome! I'd love a well set up HT in bamboo.
  • 6 0
 Hippy high pivot bike!
  • 3 0
 Imagine if this was a yellow ebike! The beet battery attracts bears. The bamboo frame attracts pandas. The yellow brings all the wasp.
  • 1 0
 That would keep you moving.
  • 1 0
 Boo Bicycles made high end bamboo bicycles for years. I still ride their fat bike. Even after many years riding during really cold winters and taking it on long summer bikepacking trips, the bamboo has held up great. Only issue has been a squeak that has developed. It’s coming from one of the joints where the bamboo and aluminum come together. A little bit of play has formed.

They still have a website, but I don’t think they are still making bikes?
Www.boobicycles.com
  • 2 0
 The guy who makes those bikes (James Wolf) is my inspiration, he makes some seriously next level bamboo bikes. I guess you have one of their Aluboo bikes? I believe they did have some issues with those Frown
  • 2 0
 @earthbound-bikes:
Yes, the aluboo, still a great bike. I just duct taped the joint and that stopped the squeaking. Obviously it’s not a structural issue, I don’t trust duct that much!
  • 1 0
 I'm curious, what's the abrasion resistance like? I'd be nervous about taking a bamboo splinter into any part of my body and can imagine a wrong slide along a top tube as one tends to do after a dead sailor or flying W dismount could be a hazard if the surface were compromised. What's your thought and is that even a concern?
  • 1 0
 Bamboo has a super smooth and quite tough natural skin, also a human applied clearcoat. Double wrapped Wink
  • 3 0
 Extra points will be awarded if the tube connections were only electricians tape and zipties.
  • 2 0
 Super cool! I was looking at making a bamboo roadie frame with DIY at home pack from Bamboo Bicycle Club, they look like a fun little project.
  • 1 0
 @mattwragg The DVO shock sag ring is misleading since the stroke is much less than the exposed shock would suggest. Going by eye doesn't work. gotta measure since it doesn't compress to the end.
  • 3 0
 Just add water to grow the chainstays
  • 1 0
 So its a carbon fiber bike with a few Bamboo bits...what's the point? Not enough bamboo happening here IMO to call this a bamboo bike.
  • 1 0
 Calfee will make you one with hemp lugs
  • 1 0
 @thegoodflow: That would be more intriguing, but would it still be a full squish bike?
  • 4 0
 Looks like a Szechwan.
  • 2 1
 Can this really be called a bamboo bike though there is way more carbon there then bamboo??
  • 5 1
 It is all carbon, but would be nice if could grow more of it?
  • 4 1
 Bamboozled
  • 1 0
 Get rid of that lower chain guide and there would be significantly less drivetrain drag.
  • 2 0
 The new high pivot Norco Range does it better by the looks. i'll copy it sometime Smile
  • 2 0
 @earthbound-bikes: sorry that wasn’t aimed at you, more the reviewer. Great job getting such a nice product together, it’s quite an achievement getting it to this point.
  • 1 0
 What cassette is that? Its not an XX1 but its gold and has a Shimano derailleur
  • 1 0
 Aliexpress special my friend ! So far I climbed 8000m with mine and I can't fault it so I will get another one when the time comes. 70€, 400g, compatible with HG hubs, you can't go wrong.
  • 1 0
 @earthbound-bikes: how many miles did you put on it so far ?
  • 3 0
 @Balgaroth: not enough to comment on lifespan personally, but its working very well.
  • 1 0
 Hope its fire proof bamboo.
  • 1 0
 Can’t ride my bike has termites
  • 1 0
 So rad!! I'd love to give this a go!
  • 1 0
 Awesome project, totally impressed Jason!
  • 1 0
 I guess you can play music with that.
  • 1 0
 being picky here, but it'd look better in one solid color
  • 2 2
 If I bought that bike I'd be so excited I'd get wood.
  • 2 1
 Jason O’Nions ... lol
  • 1 0
 Any relation to the photographer O'Nions?
  • 1 0
 @jmhills: Or the artist Shallot?
  • 1 0
 Whatever!
  • 1 0
 I wear bamboo socks
  • 1 0
 Me too, also bamboo underwear
  • 1 0
 I wear bamboo shirts...they're very silk like.
  • 1 1
 How is there a market for this?
  • 2 0
 There isn't necessarily. But there is a surplus of handy people with a desire.
  • 1 0
 Do a HUCK TO FLAT!!!
  • 1 0
 but does it shred
  • 1 1
 this bike grows with you, just add water
  • 1 1
 Trees kill
  • 1 3
 So we're gonna ignore the fact that it has an 11s XT deraileur, 11s SLX cranks, and a 12 speed XX1 cassette?
  • 1 0
 Aliexpress 11 speed cassette.
  • 5 8
 Why?
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