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Bike Review: Bamboo Cross Country 29er

You’ve probably managed to catch a couple glimpses of the bike I was riding in Tibet. The last chance we had to attend this race, we all used bikes borrowed from other racers. Although a wonderful gesture of sportsmanship, there was one major dilemma. Most of the racers were a good head shorter than any of us. As you may have figured out, we find bike fit super important. It’s a large reason that beyond our large selection of stock-sized frames we offer full custom frame geometry.

Now, anyone who’s attempted a long ride on a bike that’s three sizes too small knows it’s tough. Top that off with other trying factors including the length of the race, the terrain, the altitude and the competition and you find yourself staring at several hours of grueling, uncomfortable riding. No bueno. So this year round we decided to put our minds to the drawing board.


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For us, just building a damn good bike isn’t enough. Beyond the years of designing, testing, trying and tinkering that’s gone behind our bamboo bikes we are always looking for ways to push the material, its application and discover the full versatility and practicality of its use in the widest array of riding conditions. There’s no one perfect bike, right? It’s only through firsthand experience and actively seeking out new roads that we’re allowed to really progress the art of our frame building.  It helps us learn and fully understand the perfect application of bamboo in bike building. This is the bespoke art behind frame building that I think any craftsman working with any material would readily agree with.

So we got to talking about the type of ride that I wanted to race on. Having ridden titanium and steel mountain bikes in the past, 26” and 29” wheels, I wanted a ride quality that acted as a natural blend of all the best qualities I’d gleaned from my previous riding experiences. The key factors in this build that we were aiming for spoke to a number of things. The stiff but supple feel of titanium. A larger wheel size felt more natural for a tall boy, at just over 6′ tall (190cm), but still with the nimble handling of a smaller wheel bike. Larry got to scheming and cooked up a gnarly new geometry. The frame features short chain stays. Likewise it’s got a relatively short wheelbase with sharper head and seat tube angles than most modern mountain bikes feature. To top it off, the top tube runs at a steep angle to meet the seat stays lower down the seat tube. This effectively lowers the frame’s center-of-gravity and stiffens up the bike, severely limiting lateral flex.

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The result? This thing is a real ripper. An unexpected bonus when paired with the Rock Shox Reba fork, WTB wheels and Shimano Deore XT 1×10 group was a bike with a weight comparable to a nice steel rig without tubeless (as spec’d it came in around 12.5kg or roughly 27lbs). It felt superbly well-balanced. Both the front-end and back-end of the bike felt agile and allowed for nimble maneuvering. On climbs the compact geometry and stiff bottom bracket cluster allowed for quick ascents. There was no uphill either long or steep that this bike didn’t dance up.

The steeper angles and tight wheel base of this bike gave it the feeling of a track bike version of a mountain bike. It steered straight and true, especially at speed, but could turn on a dime and felt well-grounded on hard turns (more so than any mountain bike I’ve ridden before). My favorite part of all about this ride was the sound rocks made when thrown at velocity off the tire at the down tube or seat tube. It wasn’t the familiar ping, ding or zing of a steel or aluminum frame. Nor was it the thwack, crack, whack of a carbon frame. No. The frame would resonate with the harmonious knock of a bamboo wind chime blowing in a heavy breeze. Bonus points for zen sensations.

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Of course there were a few things about this frame that weren’t ideal. Bamboo, although it shares a similar ride quality to titanium is a little flexier than a titanium tube set of relative diameter. This meant that with tight clearance in back with a larger tire, you’d occasionally hear the telltale “BR-A-A-AAAAP” of the tires shoulder treads clipping the stays on a hard turn. I had a similar issue with an old Merlin I rode several years ago, and although minor, can be a bit annoying at times. Additionally, the description of bamboo as supple is suitable for steeper descents. On a fast and loose downhill it does well to eat up bumps. However, on longer, more gradual descents with a pitted surface or washboarding the bike was springy. On smooth but uneven surfaces it almost felt bouncy. This equated to a harder effort on monotonous stretches of slightly downhill mountain road. It also very well could have been the altitude or my appetite but after 40 kilometers (25 miles) it almost felt like a fight.

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All-in-all the bike has me dreaming of riding it. As an experienced mountain biker accustomed to a berth of trail types, this bike was pretty damn good at what it did. If only I had easier access to the trails it needs to be kept happy. That said, if you’re looking for a hard-tail mountain bike that’s a bit more forgiving but still has the capacity to crush your local trails, then bamboo’s not a bad place to start. Are you graced with long legs and looking for a new ride? Then contact us about picking up this demo bike for an insane deal. She needs a happy home and the city streets are a lonely place for such a killer bike.

Photo credits to Tyler Bowa.  Follow him on instagram @tdbowa or keep up with the Factory 5 blog for more killer stories and photos.

3 thoughts on “Bike Review: Bamboo Cross Country 29er

  1. Well, this review of the Cross Country 29er answers my question about the knobby bamboo bike I spotted in Tibet photos. Sweet machine!

  2. Amazing photos.

  3. beautiful pictures ! thanks for sharing ! what an experience !

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