Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.


Turning bamboo into two-wheelers

June 14, 2010
By Nik Olsen

For sale: Strong, lightweight bicycles hand-constructed with quality components paired with the finest bamboo in the world. Unique ride guaranteed.

Fort Collins-based manufacturer is born

Panda Bicycles co-founder and CSU alumnus Jacob Castillo and his business partners create custom bamboo bikes built in Fort Collins.

Welcome to the world of Panda Bicycles, a Fort Collins-based manufacturer that grew out of a cohort in Colorado State’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise concentration, a Master of Science business administration program offered by the College of Business.

Jacob Castillo, John McKinney, Jim Schmitt, and Mark Schlink – all CSU alumni – are the pedaling force behind the operation that started peddling Panda Bicycles in September 2009. The process from paper to production took about a year, then customers snapped up 25 limited-edition Panda bikes in just three weeks.

“Our goal is to be a legitimate, competitive force in the bicycle market,” Castillo says. “We’re not just building bikes, we’re building a company.”

Bamboo grown in Mexico

Panda bikes start the journey in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where bamboo grows with the strength of steel, the weight of aluminum, and the dampening qualities of carbon fibers – all desirable characteristics for human-powered transportation. The bamboo comes from sustainable plantations that give local workers needed jobs at fair-trade wages.

McKinney was working on sustainable housing projects for a summer GSSE program in the Yucatan, where he discovered the bamboo. Although bamboo isn’t the best for home construction, it’s ideal for bicycle tubing.

Light, strong, phenomenal ride

Panda Bicycles

(6 images)

Alums Jacob Castillo and Jim Schmitt work on a pair of bamboo Panda Bicycles.

Jim Schmitt sorts through bamboo used to make one-of-a-kind bicycles.

Jacob Castillo poses with an environmentally-friendly Panda Bicycle on Mason Street.

Castillo and Schmitt take a spin on bicycles they have hand-crafted from bamboo imported from Mexico.

Castillo is shown working in the start-up business space in Fort Collins.

Each Panda Bicycle is unique and hand-crafted in Fort Collins.

“It’s light and strong and has a phenomenal ride feel,” Schmitt says as he tinkers with a wheel on a model called “The One.” The feel has been compared to riding a stick of butter: “It’s that smooth.”

Panda isn’t the first business to fashion bamboo into bike frames, but it’s breaking ground in making such bikes available to the public at prices two-wheeled commuters can handle. 

Start-up help for new businesses

Panda Bicycles operates in the back office of a business incubator that is hosted by the city of Fort Collins that provides start-up help for new businesses. And although the operation isn’t glamorous, Panda Bicycles is exactly where the owners want to be in this bike-friendly town. “It really fits the ethos of CSU’s and Fort Collins’ sustainable focus,” Castillo says.

The business is still on the ground floor, so the owners are seeking investors and keeping an eye on the future. For now, there’s no time for daydreaming about long, lazy rides, as tempting as that may be. Buckets of cut bamboo, stacks of gears, and piles of wheels are waiting to be fashioned into clean, sustainable, environmentally friendly, two-wheeled transportation for the masses.

Every bamboo bike is unique

“People see them in the community and take notice,” Schmitt says as he turns his attention back to the bike of the morning. “I can’t believe the positive response. The bikes are heirlooms. Every one is unique.”


Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Spring 2010.