To the BAMBOO CYCLE Co, Ltd:-
In reply to your letter I am pleased to state that I have ridden the Bamboo Cycle you supplied me with last December, about 1500 miles and am very pleased with it. It is quite the best for hill climbing I have ever had.
– (Lord) Edward Spencer Churchill
The Bamboo bicycle was a very expensive machine. In 1895, as a public relations exercise, the Bamboo Cycle Co delivered Bamboo cycles to the top English aristocratic families, and asked them to comment on their usage. The reports were included in the Bamboo Cycle Co 1897 catalogue. Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, the son of George Spencer-Churchill, 6th Duke of Marlborough, was born on 28 March 1853 and died on 5 May 1911.
1898 Bamboo Cycle Co Light Roadster
These machines initially had frames made of bamboo because it was very strong, lightweight and free from corrosion. In practice steel proved to be a much better material for the purpose, so not many of the original bamboo bikes were made. Later cycles made by the company used steel disguised as bamboo. By 1899, the world’s first bicycle boom was over: expensive models suffered most and, like many other cycle manufacturers, the company went out of business.
I purchased this machine from a friend who, as you can see from my photos below, keeps it in his bedroom. He explained that although other wooden bikes would suffer from woodworm, bamboo is not subject to woodworm attacks. For this reason, though few were made, most have survived intact. It’s in excellent original condition and ready to ride. Compare it to the catalogue illustration below. I’ll collect it from him on my next visit, and add better photos to this page.
BAMBOO CYCLE CO LTD
59 Holborn Viaduct, London, E.C
Starting with English patent 1894/8,274 of 26 April 1894, the first bamboo bicycles were shown at the London Stanley Show of 1894 and caused a sensation. With a London showroom at 59 Holborn Viaduct, and works in Petit Street, Wolverhampton, this company produced a large range of machines; road racers, roadsters (including one with double top tube), lady’s safeties and youths’ bicycles.
Geo. Sanders was the Wolverhampton works manager in 1898. A company of the same name based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and producing a ‘Bamboo’ model in 1898 may have been connected. The bamboo tubing was held in aluminium lugs. It was claimed that the bamboo frame provided increased comfort in the days when the roads were not surfaced. Furthermore the machines were claimed to be light weighing about 25 lb., but were not in fact much lighter than conventional machines. Prices were expensive and ranged from 20 to 28 guineas. Excellent testimonials were obtained from people in high society but it was not taken seriously by accomplished cyclists. A ‘Doolittle’ back pedalling brake was fitted. There were also adjustable handlebars. However, the use of bamboo never caught on and, despite producing some machines in steel, but with the appearance of bamboo, the company only lasted until 1899.