In the cycling world, the name “Calfee” evokes images of upscale, featherweight carbon-fiber road bikes, produced by California designer-manufacturer Craig Calfee. But bamboo now constitutes one leading edge of his portfolio, in part because the bikes, he notes, have “the lowest carbon footprint on the planet.”

Bamboo’s versatility is no secret. Certain varieties are fast growing yet extremely rugged. There are bamboo bridges, dams, boats, even airplanes [see “Bamboo Boom,” by Michelle Nijhuis]. And thanks to its shape and remarkable vibration damping, bamboo practically begs to be made into bicycles.

“Look at nature,” Calfee says. “A lot of my work’s already been done. Here are these straight, resilient tubes growing out of the ground.”

Today about a third of the 400 bikes that Calfee’s Santa Cruz factory makes are bamboo and getting strong reviews. At four pounds, the bamboo frames are heavier than Calfee’s signature carbon-fiber models but lighter than standard metal. They are priced at a hefty $2,500 for the frame, but otherwise their only drawback might be the nagging attention of curious passersby.

Calfee’s commitment to this new material goes beyond well-heeled cycling enthusiasts and professional racing teams. After he visited the West African nation of Ghana, Calfee established an outreach program and microindustry there to manufacture bamboo bicycles for local sale. With his training and logistical support, Ghanaians have begun to produce serviceable cargo bikes, using their local bamboo, which sell at very modest prices. Calfee plans to expand such operations beyond Ghana. Meanwhile he’s brought some jobs and optimism to the country’s poor. “My hope,” he says,” is that this will become a self-sustaining project.”

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Bamboo Bikes Grow."