If you happen to find yourself in San Francisco this weekend, and furthermore, if you find yourself in Dolores Park, you are likely to see Nicolas and Danilo Masuelli. And you are likely to notice their bikes. The pair are a couple months into a new venture: designing, building and selling bike frames made of bamboo.
San Francisco hipster street cred: Check. Sustainable building materials: Check. Smart, cheap marketing (sitting around in the park all day with their bikes): Check. These two are onto something.
Nicolas Masuelli, an industrial engineer by trade, learned about working with bamboo during a government internship in Argentina before moving to California. He taught his brother Danilo the bike-building process, they hung out a Masuelli Bikes shingle and the pair started fabbing the bikes about two months ago. They source the bamboo and nearly all of the bike parts, including hemp roping to connect the bamboo sections, locally.
Each frame takes about two to three weeks to build, and can be customized to fit the customers’ specifications, says Danilo. Right now, most of the frames they make are designed as fixed-gear, or track bikes or free-wheel single speed bikes. However, they’ve made frames for mountain bikes and geared road bikes, as well.
“We are building fixies because that’s what we think is the right target market,” says Danilo. And he’s probably right. Fans of fixed-gear bikes tend to be interested in sustainable, locally-made products. Plus, Masuelli bikes have a vintage look that’s in vogue in cycling circles these days.
Bamboo was first used for building bikes way back in the late 1800s, but its modern-day resurgence can be traced to Craig Calfee, a bike designer based near Santa Cruz, Calif. Having built his business making carbon fiber frames, Calfee started tinkering with bamboo more than a decade ago. Eventually, elite riders started trading their carbon fiber frames for his wooden creations and Calfee Designs now sells award-winning and much-coveted mountain and road frames.
We’ve written about Calfee and Bamboosero Bike startup, which is fostering a bamboo-bike industry in Ghana and partnering with Zambikes in Zambia.
The Masuelli brothers aren’t quite ready to launch such an ambitious effort, but they are hoping to advance the use of bamboo as a building material. Bamboo’s tensional rigidity trumps steel and it offers great vibration dampening, which lessens fatigue after a long ride. It’s very durable and—because bamboo grows quickly and in many parts of the world—can be harvested and used in a highly sustainable fashion.
While they might not have the cache or following that Calfee enjoys, Danilo and Nicolas also don’t command as high a dollar. The Masuelli frames are priced between $600 and $700, while a bamboo frame from Calfee Designs runs around $2700 (although less expensive models are available through Bamboosero Bikes, for import).
Danilo and Nicolas leave the process of selecting and installing the components to the buyer, largely because as a small, garage-based operation, they can’t obtain components at wholesale costs so building out the entire bikes would make them unreasonably expensive.