Building bikes with bamboo isn’t new, but this is a particularly lovely example of what you can do with a little time, patience and a whole heap of skill. Having spotted Earthbound Bikes on Instagram, we had a chat with maker Jason O’Nions about the background to this bike.
Meet the Maker
First a bit about you. What’s your name, where do you live, what do you do, and do you have any relevant training for bike designing and building?
Jason O’Nions, I currently live near Nice and work in Education, and I have no training or background in design. I just have always had a bit of a tinkerer’s mentality in addition to a passion for bikes.
Building bamboo bikes is something I’ve dipped in and out of occasionally since 2010 using very humble methods. It wasn’t until last May I decided to learn CAD and 3D printing after watching a tutorial video on YouTube from Cobra Framebuilding. This removed so many barriers and has allowed me to really up my game. If anyone wants to start learning it’s a great place to start, if I can do it anyone can.
How many other bamboo bikes have you built now? What have you learnt along the way about building with bamboo?
I have made approximately 10 in total over the years, and I’ve just picked up lots of little things along the way which have allowed me to make incremental improvements. A big one though is tube selection, they aren’t all created equal and there are many different species etc.
Any disaster stories?!
No catastrophic failures if that’s what you mean! But the biggest mishap I had whilst building was the first time using CAD together with my jig. Basically, I clicked the ‘wrong dot’ when getting the numbers for setting up two bikes and the headtubes were placed too high. The mistake wasn’t caught in time and I ended up with two lemons. This isn’t a mistake I plan to ever make again! I hate thnking about it!
Where do you get the bamboo from? Do you treat it to make it stronger/more suitable?
It’s currently from Bambusa in Valencia. If anyone wants to get into building contact them and speak to Francesco, he is super helpful. I’ve always usually built without making any changes to the bamboo, but recently with these longer bikes I have added a layer of carbon fibre to the insides of the top tube and down tube. There is a post detailing this on my Instagram.
What are the good and bad properties of bamboo when it comes to bikes – both in the building and riding/upkeep?
With building the best thing about it is the accessibility, you can literally build a frame in your kitchen (I should know!) so it’s an awesome gateway into framebuilding that doesn’t require much equipment.
In terms of riding what really stands out is the ride quality. When I built my first road bike back in 2010 it was out of curiosity. But once I rode it I immediately realised how incredibly smooth the ride was and knew there was something more to it that I needed to pursue further, it felt like the road had been freshly tarmac-ed! I think bamboo is really under-appreciated as a frame material, there is a lot of scepticism but that is totally understandable.
As for the bad, getting enough lateral stiffness can be an issue, but this is something I’ve improved and it’s not a problem for me anymore. If you did a lot of wet weather riding it would be important to make sure it always had a solid clearcoat, but I’ve not had any problems and I treat my bamboo bikes as I would any other.
Designing the Bike
What other bikes do you own? Did any of your existing/previous bikes influence this design?
Stanton Switch9er FS (steel). Rose Pikes Peak (carbon), and the first gen YT Capra (in aluminium)
If any of them had an influence it would be the Stanton, it’s the first bike with a long enough reach to fit properly! also, I’m a fan of the high anti-squat values.
Is this a copy of an existing bike in bamboo, or is it all your own geometry?
It’s all my own geometry based on what I thought I would like. I made the chainstays a bit shorter at 435mm though because with high pivots they lengthen as the bike goes through its travel (446mm at 25% sag)
We’ve seen a few more high pivot bikes with idlers recently. What made you opt for this system?
I’ve been really curious to try a high pivot since the Forbidden Druid came onto the scene and hearing a bunch of positive testimony from riders. The typical comment on that bike was that is felt like it had more travel than a mere 130mm and felt like an enduro bike. The concept of a rearward axle path also just made sense to me, could you imagine how much worse the front suspension would feel if it had a forward axle path!? Eww, no thanks.
Another bonus of high pivot is that positioning the idler allows you finely tune the anti-squat. In my case I opted to create a system that has a very high anti-squat value of 160% but without a ton of pedal kickback you’d normally get with a conventional design. This is perhaps personal preference, but I love it! When you need to lay down some power in a standing sprint the chassis is so stable. I think we will be seeing more and more high pivot designs as more people try it and the benefits become realised.
Building the Earthbound FS Bamboo Bike
Did you buy any parts for the frame or is everything made by you?
I did as much as I could myself but the link that drives the shock is from my Stanton, the idler is from a Forbidden Druid, and two small links and the main pivot were machined locally – about 200m from where I live!
I made the carbon parts (swing arm plates, pivot and shock mounts, chain-guides) using a super cheap (200 euro!) CNC machine from Aliexpress! it even has a laser module which I used to create the stencils for the artwork. I’m so happy with that bit of kit.
The Stanton link was what made this design possible though, my original plan when I started this in November was to make a simple single pivot, but having the link in hand allowed me to go crazy 🙂
Does the finished geometry match the plan?!
Everything is spot on.
|** (446mm @ 25% sag)|
How much does it weigh?
The frame with all the linkages totals about 3.6kg. A bit on the porky side which surprised me but totally worth it. In comparison my bamboo hardtail weighs 2.05kg
Does it have a name?
I was toying with Warlock as a nod to the Druid which inspired me to build this, but for whatever reason it never happened! Maybe I should add the name now?
What design measures did you include to deal with the forces of the suspension on the frame? Any special reinforcements anywhere?
As I understand it, a proper engineer would employ something called an ‘Finite Element Analysis’ which is a computer simulation of the forces involved under use – but I am not a proper Engineer! I simply used lots and lots of carbon fibre in key areas and bolstered them with lots of hope and optimism. I think it has worked…….
What’s the process for getting the beautiful smooth and shiny finish on the joins?
Hard graft! I really wish there was some sort of secret to this, but alas it is simply lots of time and elbow grease. Through experience I have gotten a lot better at laying down the carbon fibre evenly and symmetrically, but once it cures under a wrap of compression tape it emerges full of hills and valleys which require sanding flat by hand which is immensely time consuming. I think the results are worth it though! A word of caution for anyone wanting to try the dust is hazardous and you need to wear an appropriately rated respirator.
What was the trickiest bit to get right during the build?
No single thing stands out, but with it being my first full suspension and having to learn everything in a short span of time, every step was like a new obstacle. It was also a challenge to remain optimistic about the outcome and not feeling like it was a stupid idea or beyond my ability, especially with not having access to a workshop or fancy equipment.
The Finished Earthbound Bike
How does it ride? Are you happy with it? Have you found any quirks? Anything you’d change in hindsight?
After I finished the Hardtail in November, I was so happy with how it turned out, the ride quality is something else. The vibration damping and slight flex just allows you to go faster than a normal hardtail with more grip and it’s less fatiguing too. I just had to try and carry this over to a full suspension. I was half expecting to end up with a lemon, but somehow it has all just worked! This new bike is by far the best bike I have ever owned and I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Strava also agrees!
Does it creak when riding it or hitting drops and rough stuff?
No weird noises, it’s actually very quiet.
Do you have an estimate of how many hours it has taken?
I deliberately shy away from ever timing a build because I feel that if I had an actual number, it would dissuade me from ever building again! But I have a feeling it is around 50 work hours on construction. Much more for all the time learning and designing!
The build pics make it look like you’re doing this project in corners of your living room and patio, rather than a fancy workshop. But then you’ve got a CNC machine, which is a pretty specialist bit of kit. What’s your set up really like – techno workshop heaven or elbow to elbow with the laundry?
Let’s just say my other half is very very accommodating! This is very much a home build.
What’s next? Another personal build project, or any plans to take this further?
I have been pretty full on and obsessive with this since last May and I have just become a new Dad so a break is due. But the next thing will surely be a balance bike for the little man! Or maybe a gravel bike for myself, Haha. But I don’t have any real plans to take things further, it’s something I would love to do but crafting everything more or less by hand makes it very time consuming, it leans more towards artistry than production. Also, I find the public perception of bamboo bikes is that they are just a novelty (their loss!). For now I am content with having made a bike which I absolutely love.
One thing for sure is that this last bike has lit a fire in me for designing so who knows what the future holds, I’m always open to opportunities and would love the chance to collaborate on something else and develop my skills further.
It’s certainly a beautiful bike skilfully created. If you want to see how not to build a bamboo bike (or how it might turn out if you’re not yet adept at building much more than Lego) then check out the making of the Bamboo Bastard.
We couldn’t let the opportunity to dig this utterly incredible and unique bike review out from the archives at this point.
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