Not Just a Novelty

Abu Ren tests a frame at Simple Bikes’ headquarters— as well as their warehouse and factory—in a small room on the 11th floor of an apartment complex in Chengdu, China.

Not Just a Novelty Abu Ren's Bamboo Revolution

Abu Ren lays a naked bike frame on the ground of his shop, steps onto the rear triangle and starts bouncing up and down. 

It would be an impressive show of strength on most bikes, but the frame Abu is standing on isn’t some new carbon weave or titanium alloy. It’s bamboo and hemp, which Abu built himself, by hand.

“Bamboo is super strong,” he says. “It can take big hits because it bends and spreads out the force. With aluminum and carbon fiber, impacts are focused. It’s a really good material for making bikes.”

The frame isn’t a novelty. Abu built it for his company, Simple Bikes, located in Chengdu, China. Abu’s vision for Simple goes beyond creating beautiful bikes; he sees it as a way to change the entire bike industry, one environmentally and socially conscious frame at a time. It’s a big goal for a guy who lives in China, a country that is only just embracing recreational biking.

Bikes have always been part of Abu’s life. When he was 6 years old he would straddle the bottom tube of his dad’s massive, utilitarian commuter bike, nicknamed “Chinese monster,” and coast down hills near his home in Lhasa, Tibet. The love continued through middle school, where he spent much of his free time at his uncle’s bike shop, and eventually on to university in the city of Chengdu. During the semester, he’d study mechanical engineering; during his breaks, he’d take off on multiweek road bike tours, climbing 9,400 vertical feet from the subtropical Sichuan Basin to the 11,000-foot backroads of the Tibetan Plateau.

After earning his degree, Abu landed a job as a product design engineer. Eight hours a day, he’d stare at a computer screen and think about biking, being outside, and his previous adventures doing both. A few years earlier he’d met Jim Hamp, an ex-pat Canadian who had long dreamed of leading tours into the remote mountains of the eastern Tibetan Plateau. When Hamp started a touring company in 2012 called Extravagant Yak, Abu quit his engineering job to lead hiking and sightseeing trips for western tourists. In 2014, the company decided to add mountain biking, and Abu found himself scouting potential routes through the rolling grasslands around the mountain city of Kangding.

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“It was my first time mountain biking,” he says. “It was really hard, but the excitement and adrenaline rush of going down at maximum speed, trying to dodge all the obstacles and not fall, is something else.”

Abu spent his winters working in Extravagant Yak’s office, and often found himself with idle time. When he was a product designer, an acquaintance once asked him about building bamboo bikes. Abu spent three months researching the process, but that’s as far as it went. Now, with nothing else to do, he dusted off the research

Bamboo is somewhat of a wonder resource. It grows incredibly fast and is biodegradable, yet is also light and durable, with a tensile strength equal to steel and more compressive strength than carbon. This, Abu decided, was the perfect frame material—for performance, yes, but also as an alternative to more damaging traditional options.