Today’s Feature, July 28-29: Craig Calfee

January 18, 2008 at 6:29 pm (Today's Feature)


We’ve all heard the phrase, “What do we do when we fall of the horse?” The majority of the world will tell you that the best advice is to, ‘get back on.” In the case of Craig Calfee of Calfee Design however, there?s a lot more to it. Calfee, one of the most innovative minds in bicycle design, literally flew off his own bike in a devastating head-on collision over 20 years ago. Ever since that crash, Calfee has been re-inventing the blueprint for bikes of all kinds, and helping others along the way.

The inception of Calfee Design in 1997 began a trend for Craig Calfee, constantly raising the bar in bicycle technology with designs such as the Tetra Tetra Tandem and the Dragonfly. Now working on his latest project, Bamboo Bikes, Calfee has realized this venture means more than building a superior bike frame. These novel bikes can not only assist some of the world’s greatest tri-athletes, but also help those less fortunate in third world countries, rich in bamboo. The Bamboo Bike Project is a collaboration between David Ho and John Mutter of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Craig Calfee that aims to both build a better bike for poor Africans in rural areas, as well as stimulate a bicycle building industry in Africa to satisfy local needs. While the project is complex, don’t think that Craig Calfee is satisfied with only the business of bicycles. He’ll look to conquer the automotive industry next. Read his XXQs to find out more.

XXQs: Craig Calfee

PensEyeView.com (PEV): What was the original inspiration for your passion in building bikes?

Craig Calfee (CC): I’ve always liked building things. That led me to major in sculpture at Pratt in NYC. But I built my first bike because I crashed a bike and needed another one. I was working in a shop that made carbon fiber boats so i thought I’d try making a frame with that material.

PEV: What types of riders purchase your bike?

CC: All kinds. Racers, recreational cyclists, triathletes, bike messengers, geeks, anyone likes nice bikes.

PEV: Are you an avid rider yourself?

CC: I don’t ride as much as I used to. But when I ride, I ride pretty hard.

PEV: You’ve recently been in the news for your bamboo bike frame design. What was the inspiration behind this?

CC: I just wanted to try it. I needed a good publicity vehicle for the big annual trade show and my pit bull dog showed me how tough it was.

PEV: How do the frames hold up?

CC: Very well. They can be made very tough, with thick wall material. Much more impact resistant than carbon fiber.

PEV: Will they be beneficial in competitions like triathlons?

CC: Yes, especially with their vibration damping capabilities. People don’t realize it yet but road buzz makes you tired. It affects your racing far more than having aero shaped tubes.

PEV: Have you heard from any riders who prefer the bamboo design?

CC: Plenty of people who own several bikes have contacted me to tell me they always gravitate towards riding the bamboo bike over their other bikes. At least one top age group triathlete has relegated his $9,000 carbon wonder bike to the status of “training bike” after finding he is consistently faster on the bamboo bike.

PEV: One of your visions is to have the people of third world countries that are rich in bamboo construct their own bamboo bikes. What benefits will these people get from a bamboo bike?

CC: Ability to create tremendous value for their labor by using a readily available local resource to make an incredibly useful product. It can be done with minimal investment in tools, no electricity and provides much needed employment. The resulting bike can be designed for their particular use, and that might be the best thing about it. Oh yeah, it encourages the use of bamboo rather than clearcutting the forest.

PEV: Was there an experience in your life that urged you to help less fortunate people?

CC: I had travelled to remote parts of Africa 25 years ago and saw how desperately poor they were. Contrast that with how incredibly rich the developed world is and it becomes clear that we should all try to help balance the distribution of wealth.

PEV: You recently took a trip to Ghana to explore this idea. Did this trip meet your expectations?

CC: It exceeded my expectations. The people who expressed an interest were very enthusiastic, talented and ready to make this idea a reality. All the parts are there. They just need to get coordinated and managed well. I hope this is an example we can translate to other areas with the same success.

PEV: Did anyone accompany you?

CC: Two professors from Columbia University, David Ho and John Mutter.

PEV: What did it mean to you to have someone else see your idea and believe in it enough to help get the ball rolling?

CC: At first, it was no big deal – perhaps I’m too close to the idea and it’s obvious to me. But after hearing about the skepticism they met in the process of obtaining funding, I appreciate the efforts they made on behalf of the idea. They really came through.

PEV: What did you find out about the local transportation systems? Were bikes a mainstay? If not, would your bikes be a great use to the population there?

CC: In the countryside, people think nothing of carrying 100 pounds of agricultural produce for 5 or 6 miles. It takes all day, is hard work and nets them about two dollars. If you have a bike that can carry that kind of load, you have a serious moneymaker. The problem is that the bikes they have are not designed for that kind of work, so they break down a lot. Having a bike that holds up under hard use will allow them to triple their income. That will trigger a flood of improvement, like educating the kids, improving health care and making time to enjoy life.

PEV: Would bamboo designs aid, not only in transportation, but in the performance of jobs as well?

CC: The fiber wrapping technique we developed for making the frames can be used to make countless other things. It’s also great for repairing things like tool handles and furniture.

PEV: What other groups have shown an interest in your idea and share your vision?

CC: A few other NGO’s have written to me about trying it in the Phillipines, Malawi and China.

PEV: Judging from your last trip, will there be another one in the works, either back to Ghana or a different country altogether?

CC: We’ll do a follow-up trip back to Ghana and make sure it works there. Then we’ll evaluate it and consolidate the model for transferring it to other countries.

PEV: What would you say to your doubters about this project?

CC: When you see the reaction to the bike and the enthusiasm by people who recognize the multiple benefits, the doubters transform into encouragers.

PEV: Have you been involved in other charitable bike events?

CC: Not really. A few sponsored athletes but nothing on this scale.

PEV: What role should local governments have in promoting the use of bikes as an urban transportation device?

CC: Try to make the environment safe for biking by simply enforcing traffic laws and having substantial consequences for drivers hurting cyclists. Bike lanes help a lot, too.

PEV: What is next for Craig Calfee?

CC: Natural fiber composite electric cars.

For more information on Craig Calfee, check out http://www.CraigCalfee.com

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