If you follow Mat on Instagram ( @CondorBMX ), there’s a good chance you have been seeing some photos of his latest creation that he has been working on… again… popping up. If you haven’t caught on by the title or the photo above, Mat has been experimenting of the possibility of using bamboo as a feasible material for BMX. The bike itself looks pretty crazy, but based on what we’ve been hearing it sounds like this isn’t as crazy as it looks. If there’s one thing we know, Mat isn’t scared to try new things and BMX is in a much better place product and riding wise because of it.
With each photo we saw on Instagram, we started getting super curious as to just what Mat was working on. We were able to catch up with him to find out just what started this whole bamboo bike idea and learn a little bit about the results that Mat has seen so far! Let’s take a peek!
3 different prototypes from over the years…
So the other day you posted up some photos of the latest version of a frame you have been working on with bamboo. When did this whole idea start up for you?
This was a while ago, like 5 or 6 years ago.
I feel like Bamboo has been used in other parts of the bicycle industry, right? Were there any examples you saw that kind of helped you get the initial concept going?
Not really. I just saw skyscrapers in 3rd world countries being made out of bamboo and I thought either they are dumb or ingenuous and I am dumb. After doing some research I found that I was the dumb one.
The photo you posted up a photo the other day giving us a look at the 3 different versions you have worked up since you started this project. Can you tell us a little bit about the different things you tried that worked and didn’t work?
At first I was thinking of doing a traditional frame style out of bamboo, but I had decided to use ply instead of straight bamboo stock. The ply would be stronger and more consistent, but not in the same triangle configuration bikes are traditionally made from using steel. So I had to re think how I would design a bike if this were the first bike to be made, and see it through the material I was conceiving it from. Then it was about taking the grain of the bamboo ply and gluing it so they crossed each other and formed an I-beam sort of structure out of bamboo ply.
The original Bamboo BMX frame.
How did you actually go about making the frame? I feel like working with bamboo is probably pretty tricky?
I had a friend who is handy with wood and it was a lot more simple than I had thought it would be on paper. Since it was in ply form, it wasn’t any different to work with than birch or other forms of wood
Ultimately, you have found a way to create a frame that can take some serious abuse. What kind of testing went into this to see if it would hold up?
I started off riding it on vert, then I took it to the park. I offered a new bike to anyone who could break it. One kid took it and kept doing huge backflips to flat over and over and it didn’t budge. That’s all I did, no tech testing, just ghetto backyard style testing.
The 2nd Bamboo BMX frame.
What are some of the pros and cons of using bamboo versus chromoly? It seems like the actual “look” really the only downside to bamboo to me.
The Look is funny because it’s different, but I didn’t put any thought into the cosmetics of it, just the engineering of it. In concept I think it would give a lot more mobility and clearance to perform without having to clear a higher more bulky design, like triangle formed steel/chromoly bikes are now. The shape can be designed to look more sleek.
Here’s a quick bullet point review on bamboo. As a result, in structural engineering tests bamboo has been shown to have…
• Strength: Bamboo’s tensile strength can exceed that of carbon fiber, aluminum and steel
• Higher compressive strength than many mixtures of concrete
• Higher strength-to-weight ratio than graphite
• Bamboo is the fasting growing plant on earth, it has been measured growing more than 47 inches in a 24-hour period.
• Bamboo produces up to 35% more oxygen than hardwood trees and absorbs four times as much carbon
Did you use any actual frame geometry for this or was it just something you kind of winged just to see if it would work?
I used my Condor frame as the template for the geometry, but I more/less winged it because I didn’t build an exact fixture to insure everything was spot on.
The latest Bamboo frame that Mat has been trying.
Are you cooking up a 4th version? I feel like I saw something about you trying to get some BMX friendly geometry to work for this?
I’d love to. This new interest sparked me to dream up the next version. There are definitely modifications to be done and added. I actually brought this to the Interbike trade show one year. More people told me I was out of my mind than said they thought it was a cool idea, so at that time I thought maybe this is just another one of those ideas I have to keep to myself and enjoy. But, with Hybrid cars and more conscious environmental thinking, maybe it’s time for another swing at it.
I think I saw this final bike weighs in at 29 lbs… Which for those of us that have been riding for a while doesn’t seem too unreasonable for a weight, haha. I saw a lot of people asking about weight. Is there anything you could do to get it down even more?
That last complete bike model weighed in at 29 lbs. This is with a lot of extra unneeded weight in the bolts I used to apply the headset and seat. I could easily lose 4 or 5 lbs. if I used aluminum instead and/or lessened the wall thickness of the headtube clamp. The babmboo could also not be as thick, I over designed it for strength on these first few. I’d have to take it apart and weigh the frame separately, but at the moment I haven’t. I have faith it can be re-engineered to compete with the weight of the current bikes on the market.
Did you expect to get the reaction you did when you posted it up on Instagram?
NO! I guess timing is everything. I’ve posted it before, just with less explanation. It feels good to have a random dream surface again. I still doubt it will be anything that becomes a commercial commodity, but just that people appreciate the innovation and support change and progression is as good as any other resource for me.
I know you said you aren’t putting these into production or anything, but could you see bamboo being a real thing in BMX some day?
Anything is possible. We are running out of just about every other resource and the cost would be so much cheaper with a positive environmental impact. I think it may be a necessity some day. We all may be long gone by then, but bamboo won’t be.
It sounds like Hoffman Bikes have a ton of new product for 2014 that will be released. Can you give us a few hints as to what to expect this year?
The market has been so tough that I laid back for a couple years to let the waters clear some. I’ve saved up a lot of ideas and have been inspired by my team to keep creating the next best things that will help keep up with the progression of our sport. I have a lot of more crazy ideas that are more radical than bamboo bikes I’ve been working on for a few years. These are really progressive ideas, but rad and a bit crazy, in a good way. So maybe be on the look out for a few more of these, but most important is Hoffman Bikes will continue to make the best bikes with heart and soul for the riders by the riders. I’m also working on a way to introduce more kids to BMX and recruit them into our world. I have a good strategy for this too.
Mat putting the bike to the test!
Any other projects you are cooking up that you can tell us? Can we expect a weed whacker motor to be attached to anything anytime soon?
Even better…. 😉 – Thanks Kurt!