22 February 2010

RAW Bamboo Bikes - 'The Dale' Mountain Bike

Calfee bamboo framed mountain bikeI almost always ride a full-sus these days. The Orange Five does everything well, and most things outstandingly well. I guess I love it because you can point it down steep nasty stuff & it laughs at it! So I'd kind of forgotten the joy of a good hard-tail bike

The last HT I rode regularly was a DMR Switchback & when it was the only bike I had no complaints really. Since selling most of the DMR, the last time I was out on a HT was one of the G3 fleet bikes when a customer wanted to hire my Five for the day. Annoyingly (a bit, anyway) the G3 was better than the DMR to ride, despite being a much cheaper build and having stock bars that are a bit narrow for my tastes (although they suit most people)

What made the RAW stand out for me was the obvious difference in the ride between it and other 'good' bikes. I felt almost zero trail buzz. There's nothing wrong with the DMR or the G3, when you ride them you think “yep, nice, wouldn't change anything”. But the first few seconds on the bike was enough to know this was in another league. Ever since finding the website I've been really curious to see one, so I jumped at the chance of a test ride. Having said that, I was almost expecting a fragile feeling bike that would need riding 'carefully'. Kind of how lots of people imagine carbon to be. But the solid feel & almost silent ride inspired confidence early on. I should say this has been used regularly by Rachel the importer and as a demo bike for about a year already

Calfee bamboo framed mountain bikeIn my experience a comfy HT frame usually means not so quick acceleration and a fast HT usually means feeling battered at the end of the day (to generalise slightly). The RAW however really was the best of both. It seemed to surge forward, but without that combination of clatter/vibration you get in varying degrees with most HT's. It really is very quiet & I found myself in the big ring almost any time the trail straightened out. At the end of the day I had way less of the usual aches, and that's with a dodgy hand & shoulder waiting to play up at any time (sympathy optional)...

Craig Calfee, the frame builder has been going for over 20 years and this shows in the handling. The bike feels right, it's not a gimmick or a green idea from a non-bike company. He has a history making advanced carbon fibre frames, even a tandem. Greg Lemond was the first customer for road frames! The first bamboo frame was built in 1995 but just as a publicity stunt. 12 more were made for employees, relatives & friends. They felt the feedback on the smooth ride quality was too good to ignore and began production in 2005. The MTB frames are only available in bamboo as it is more 'crash tolerant' than carbon apparently ...which is nice to know
Recommended fork travel is 80 or 100mm. The bike I rode had 80mm Reba's which did a splendid job. I ride 140mm as a rule but the 80mm combined with such a comfy frame seemed to be plenty. Although nothing to do with the frame, Rockshox forks always impress me these days, the Toras on the G3's are better than they have any right to be for the cash

What the bike isn't going to do is beat a full-sus down something steep, rocky & super technical, but it will make it no problem with decent technique (see skills courses!) But as a race bike it would do just fine. The difference between this & some other race bikes is that you'll definitely want to ride it for much of the rest of the time as well. I would most certainly like one, and although I'd probably still ride the Five more of the time, it'd be close!

One thing I didn't do is get a weight. You might think this was just lazy, and you might be right! But on a serious note I think weight is sometimes a bit of a red herring. Until about 2005 I had a no-sus (or fully rigid in normal speak) Dave Yates frame. It was light. The bike weighed about 23lbs. It felt quick. A long ride left you feeling like you'd had a good kicking for about 3 days after! The DMR was next & I built it more for strength, so it came in at about 29 or 30lbs. 1st ride out when it was built, just down the street I had to check the computer was calibrated because the speed was surely wrong! It was a good few mph (the good old days) faster. Now, as far as I can see, if a bike accelerates quicker & then holds its speed better, the extra weight doesn't really count? Because if a lighter bike is flexing where it should be stiff, you're wasting as much energy as carrying extra weight. I wouldn't have said this added up until I had 2 bikes to compare. I'm not saying all light bikes are flexible & inefficient, just that if a bike is very efficient then it doesn't necessarily have to be the lightest. And with the RAW Bamboo frame, add in the distinct smoothness of the ride & you have a bike that you feel fresher on for longer. Maybe, if you're still with me, a bit more explaining is needed? In that if the bike is comfy, how can it also be efficient? Well the vibration dampening seems to be a property of the material & not dependant on using flexible tubes. In fact I couldn't see or feel any flex under pedalling forces, whereas there's a noticeable amount on many steel frames & a bit on many ALU frames. At a guess I'd say it was somewhere near 25lbs maybe

If I get an accurate weight I'll add it in later. But like I say, on it's own weight doesn't tell you everything

It seemed perfectly happy to do this, which also made me happy...
Calfee bamboo framed mountain bike

size nominal size effective top tube length stand over height head angle seat Angle
large 18" 22.8”
31” (78.7cm) 71° 73°

Frames cost £2349, a s/s bike is £2999 and geared bikes start at £3250

You get a 10 year guarantee on the frame, which goes a long way to prove they believe in what they build

www.rawbamboobikes.co.uk +44 (0) 7970 780514


  • extremely quiet, almost silent – even without a chainstay protector fitted
  • felt very solid & tough, the chain stay seemed to have shrugged off chain slap way better than steel/ALU frames
  • very comfy for a HT
  • very fast accelerating, was in the big ring surprisingly often
  • geometry good, steering fast & precise without being twitchy. Climbed & descended well, stable at speed
  • Green! Bamboo is sustainable & they build by hand without using electricity in the build
  • if you don't want mass produced, the Calfee is as far from it as you're likely to get!
  • 10 yr guarantee!

  • Pricey, but it does feel like a top of the range bike, and if I had the spare cash I would have already ordered one! So, bad in the usual way that we generally want quality stuff to be cheaper than is possible...
  • not loads of tyre clearance on the one I rode, but they will custom build. And I didn't feel it needed huge tyres once I stopped looking & started riding

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