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I am building a soapbox (go kart) and I am planing on what materials I could use for the frame and the chassis. I have thought about using bamboo or steel.

Steel is normally the go to material when building the chassis and frame. However, I am starting to think bamboo may be a better choice. My reasoning is that:

  • Bamboo is less dense than steel, this makes the structure lighter and could enable it to go faster.
  • It is cheaper than steel. This leaves room for prototyping and allows me to iterate my way to perfection.
  • More flexible than steel this could be good as the go kart will jump over bumps and slides.
  • No welding would be needed.
  • Depending on the type of steel used, bamboo can have a higher tensile strength than steel.
  • More eco-friendly.

Also, it is possible to make a bamboo composite that produces a stronger bamboo based material.

Could you let me know your thoughts on what I should use: steel, bamboo or something else?

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    $\begingroup$ No experience in this area, but it certainly could be done. This bicycle company makes bamboo bikes. The tough part would be connecting the bamboo pieces. $\endgroup$ – sam Apr 27 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Sam While there is some bamboo in the frame of that bike, the joints and a lot of the frame is metal. $\endgroup$ – Eric S Apr 27 at 23:06
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    $\begingroup$ Why would lighter = faster, for a gravity driven kart? $\endgroup$ – Jonathan R Swift Apr 29 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ Why not both? Steel lower chassis with all the key parts fixed, bamboo upper frame to keep the C.O.G. low? $\endgroup$ – Jonathan R Swift Apr 29 at 8:15
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I think the only way to decide this is to make a preliminary design of your cart - twice, once with steel, once with bamboo. You don't need to engineer every detail, but you need to have close look at the critical issues:

  • How to connect individual members (with the tools and skills you have access to)
  • Cost
  • Weight, center of gravity
  • rigidity or stiffness of the whole structure and individual members
  • How does bamboo fail vs. steel?
  • Safety or which material is more likely to impale the rider in case of accident

In my experience, some issues only show up in manufacturing/building, but many issues will become apparant the moment you make a decent drawing of your design.

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The idea of bamboo is an interesting thought, but ultimately steel will be a better material to use.

You want a low center of gravity on a GoKart, and using bamboo will raise the center of gravity and make it easier to flip over when approaching turns. The connections would be your biggest problem. I design wood structures everyday and exposed connections are often large because thru bolts are required for larger forces. I could see you running into issues trying to coordinate the frame intersecting and getting the strength you need in shear, flexure, compression, and tension with a bolted connection rather than a welded connection.

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