There is perhaps no vehicle better for the environment and for your health than the bicycle. But not all bicycles are created equal. Some bikes are built using materials that are more eco-friendly or economical, while others offer superior performance.

The majority of bicycles you’ll find on the market today are built from steel, titanium, aluminum or carbon fiber. But bicycle design is constantly evolving, and designers and engineers are always testing out alternative materials. While some of these materials offer little more than an aesthetic appeal, many others offer genuine cutting edge advancements over standard components.

Chances are you’ll find something you like on this list whether you’re a hipster, engineer or environmentalist. Here are some of the top bikes made out of alternative materials:

Photo Credit: Renovo


Nothing looks quite so vintage as a polished wooden bicycle. Wood is probably most used as a frame material due to its aesthetic appeal, though it also has a number of performance advantages that shouldn’t be ignored.

Take for instance this beautiful wooden-framed bicycle by Renovo (pictured above). According to the folks at Renovo, wood frames are lightweight and offer superior shock absorption. Wood’s fatigue life rivals carbon and is substantially longer than aluminum or steel, and it also won’t dent like metal frames can.

Because wood is renewable, it is more eco-friendly too. And since it is a relatively cheap and abundant resource, it is ideal for bicycle construction in remote communities, such as in East Africa.

For a more diverse look at how wood has been utilized as a material by bicycle designers, check out this thorough roundup at Mother Nature Network.

Photo Credit: Segal

Magnesium Alloy

Segal bikes, a company out of the bike-friendly nation of The Netherlands, specializes in bicycles made from magnesium. Since magnesium has only about 64 percent of the density of aluminum, a chief advantage of this material is that it is ultra-lightweight. (About 35 percent lighter than aluminum and 75 percent lighter than steel).

According to Segal, magnesium bikes are also superior at absorbing energy, making them a more comfortable ride. Eco-conscious cyclists can also rest assured that they are fully recyclable.

You can customize your own magnesium-framed bike at Segal here.

Photo Credit: Boo Bicycles


Bamboo might be the trendiest alternative bike material for the eco-conscious consumer, and for good reason. Because bamboo is a fast-growing grass, it is as abundant as it is renewable.

It also looks great, and performs even better. Bamboo’s durable, hollow shaft seems purposely designed by Mother Nature for bicycle construction. Some of the material’s principle advantages include improved vibration damping and high crash tolerance. It also offers a smooth and comfortable ride even over harsh terrain. The fact that a bamboo bike blends in with its natural surroundings on the trail just adds to its aesthetic appeal.

There are a number of designers specializing in bamboo on the market today, but a notable one is Boo Bicycles. Their bikes are among those which have been raced at the highest level by professional cyclists.

For a nice roundup of some of the other options available for bamboo bikes, check out TreeHugger’s list here.

Photo Credit: EADS UK via


Could a functional bicycle really be made out of nylon? Thanks to some Space Age technology, yes it can. Not only is this bicycle made from nylon, but it is actually as strong and sturdy as steel.

Designed by development engineers Andy Hawkins and Chris Turner of the Aerospace Innovation Centre, the bike is constructed of successive, one-tenth-of-a-millimeter-thick layers of fused nylon powder. The manufacturing method was borrowed from a process also used in the construction of satellites.

Though this prototype’s unusual design is not exactly ideal for the professional cyclist, a more practical version is supposedly in the works. Who knows, this might just be the future of high-performance bicycles.

A video by the BBC featuring more about this bike’s construction can be seen here.

Photo Credit: videonatelinha/Youtube


Plastic is unfortunately one of the most ubiquitous materials around today, and since most plastics are not biodegradable, they don’t make for very eco-friendly construction materials. But what about recycling some of that plastic and using it to construct eco-friendly bicycles? That’s making the most out of a bad situation.

One inventor in Brazil is doing exactly that, creating the Muzzicycle. Built entirely from plastic collected in some of Brazil’s largest landfills, Muzzicycles turn trash into transportation. At their website they even keep a running tally of how much plastic they are able to recycle annually. The bikes are also economical and can be bought over the internet for only about $140.

You can view a CNN report about how the bikes are constructed here.

Photo Credit: Giora Kariv/Vimeo


Cardboard is probably the last material you would choose to construct a bicycle with. It might even seem like an impossible feat. But that’s just because you aren’t as inventive as engineer Izhar Gafni, designer of the world’s first completely practical cardboard bicycle.

Gafni’s inspiration was the physics of origami. By folding cardboard over itself in the right way, he found that it could actually be made remarkably sturdy. Gadfi admits that his first prototypes “looked like delivery boxes on wheels.” But just take a look at the finished product: it’s not only functional, but pretty stylish too.

They are “strong, durable and cheap,” according to Gafni. He estimates they could sell for as little as $60 each.

Though the bikes aren’t ideal for the high performance cyclist, they are entirely suitable for the eco-conscious, casual commuter. Check out a short documentary about how Gafni constructs the bikes here. You may have to see it to believe it.

Photo Credit: Onyx via


Is there anything that can’t be made out of hemp? The Onyx Hemp Bike by Onyx Composites makes use of cannabis in a way you might not have imagined possible before.

To build the bike frames, hemp fiber is dunked in epoxy resin and wrapped around a styrofoam core. The resultant frame ends up being 60 percent hemp and 15 percent bamboo, with the rest made from carbon and aluminum.

According to Nicolas Meyer, the engineer behind the design, the formula creates a frame that is sturdier than bamboo or carbon fiber alone.