ZAMBIKES

12.12.2011, building a bamboo bike.

Back in november I’ve purchased this bamboo frame from ZAMBIKES, an American start up company that distributes bamboo bicycles produced in Zambia, thereby employing local workers and supporting the whole community. Not that I really needed a new bike, but I was instantly captivated by the story and fascinated from bamboo as material for frame construction when I read the article in the 11/2011 issue of german Tour magazine. Thus, I decided to contact the company and see if it was possible to build a custom bike around a bamboo frame. Due to the limited access to bike parts in Zambia the company sells complete bicycles only either as simple single-speed variants or with the Shimano Nexus internal gear hub, however is able to deliver bamboo frames in whatever geometry the customer desires. So I decided to go for it and order a frame with cyclocross geometry, with the aim of self-assembling the bycicle from scratch (the other option, a professional mechanic, being way too expensive). This is the story of this challenge.

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18.12.2011, compatibility issues.

Having never assembled a bycicle before, the first problem was to find out which components are needed and to solve compatibility issues between them. As I wanted to purchase the parts over the internet in as few orders as possible in order to contain the shipping costs, these problems were to be solved already at the initial blueprint stage, which envisaged a final product based on the Shimano-105 group. So I began to battle through the various online catalogues trying to learn about the different headset systems, standard tube diameters, 9- to 10-speed compatibility issues, etc. Beside the various online informations provided by the sellers, the Sheldon Brown’s website and a nice book written by my friend Guido Rubino (webmaster of cyclinside.com) became my principal references.

The frame arrived in great shape and looked surprisingly sturdy, a very nice piece of handcraft! There was unfortunately a major problem with it, in so far that the backstays were not fitted with bosses to mount cantilever brakes, making the use of 700×35 cyclocross tires impossible.

As sending the frame back was an highly impractical and costly task (and since my purchase was also meant as a support to the ZAMBIKES project) I decided to keep it and try to do the best out if it. So I began to overhelm Vaughn, co-founder of ZAMBIKES, with mails full of questions.

First I thought about some solution to adapt the existing frame to cantilever brakes, like adding clamp-on cantilever bosses, eventually together with the use of brake boosters in order to minimize stresses to the frame. However, as the market seemed to be poor in solutions for that option and compatibility issues  that could only be solved using a trial-and-error approach still remained, I decided to go with the Tektro R539 standard reach brakeset, i.e., conventional dual-pivot caliper brakes with arms adjustable up to 57 mm length that should allow tires up to 700×32 to be mounted.

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23.12.2011, purchasing the components.

I’ve spent a good amount of time during the last few weeks in adding, swapping and deleting items from an excel sheet listing all the components needed to assemble a bicycle. Not only had each item to be compatible with the others, but also appearance and functionality had to be properly tuned. I managed to keep the number of sellers low by purchasing only from Rose Versand (the bulk of the Shimano-105 group), Bike Components (fork, seatpost, stem & handlebar) and Chain Reaction Cycles (Tektro R539 brakes). Frame and components will be associated to a set of Shimano WH-R550 wheels that I’ve purchased several years ago as spares for my Canyon Roadmaster Pro and then used as main wheels on the now defunct Giant “Frankenstein”: the only thing that I’ve to do to make them fit with the rest is to update the sprocket from 9 to 10 speeds. Having placed all the orders before Christmas I hope to get the goods as soon as I’m back from the holidays in order to start the assembly.

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31.12.2011, delivery problems.

Got some e-mails from the sellers, most of the articles were shipped and are underway with one important exception: the Pacer Fork from Surly which isn’t in stock at Bike Components and for which the deadline for delivery is unknown. I can not exchange it with another fork since it is the only one for which the technical specifications guarantee 100% compatibility with standard reach brakes that are necessary for additional tire clearance.

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05.01.2012, at work.

I’m back from the holidays and in the last few days the postman rung twice or even three times. Most of the components are there and I told the people at Bike Components to ship the goods anyway, even if the fork is still missing. That way I will be able at least to start with the assembly of the frame. Installing the bottom bracket and the crankset wasn’t so difficult, even if I expected the latter to fit in more easily and I had to struggle with a rubber mallet to get it all the way through. In contrast, the rear derailleur had simply to be screwed on the back fork ends and its installation posed no problem at all.

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10.01.2012, adding some more pieces.

Still waiting for the fork I decided to go on with some minor works. I’ve thoroughly cleaned my old Shimano WH-R550 wheels and replaced the old 9-speed with the new 10-speed cassette. I also added the 27.2 mm seatpost (which barely fitted the tube), the Mundialita saddle and the beautiful Salsa seatclamp. The whole starts slowly to look like a real bicycle


I was very glad to discover that the Tektro R539 brakes were indeed able to accomodate the 700×30 cyclocross tires leaving enough room for dirt and mud. It was sufficient to clamp the rear wheel toward the back of the horizontal rearward-facing fork ends.

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15.01.2012, bamboo standards.

The 34.9 mm derailleur clamp was the maximum standard size available to purchase. Unfortunately, it wasn’t simply large enough to fit the oversize bamboo vertical tube, which was one or two millimeter too wide. After considering different options to solve the problem like an expensive custom-size carbon clamp, the use of an extra-long bolt  or even sanding down the frame, I ended with the more simple (and less risky) solution of sanding down the clamp to enlarge its inner diameter to about 36 mm. This was successfully done with the help of my friend Davide assisted by Mr. Dremel.

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Update: until I’ve the time to post the complete report, the complete pictures of the different stages of the construction are available on Facebook.

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