Wood is making a comeback in several engineering and manufacturing areas, from skyscrapers to bicycles. Two-wheeled wooden transport is going from purely a novelty to serious manufacturing as more companies enter the field. They are engineering bikes that not only offer no compromise over traditional metal or more modern carbon fiber frames, but also they are adopting sophisticated construction techniques that pair the beauty, warmth and shock-absorbing qualities of wood with the simple advanced technology of the most efficient transportation device man has ever invented.
Here's a quick look at a couple of American manufacturers of wooden bikes that are making inroads in this field: Connor Wood Bicycles in Denver, Colorado and Renovo Hardwood Bicycles in Portland, Oregon.
Connor Wood Bicycles is the creation of Chris Connor. On his website (connorcycles.com) he says, “There is nothing like the experience, the unbelievably smooth ride, and the distinct look that an individually crafted, hand-sculpted wood bicycle provides.” His bikes are made of steam-bent, Kevlar reinforced American hardwoods, such as ash and walnut.
He offers models such as Cruiser, Woody Scorcher, Woody Mountain, CX/Gravel bike, Mountain Cruiser, Cross Cruiser, and even an electric model. Prices range from $3,500 to $7,500. And if you are worried about durability of such an investment, he points out his bikes have withstood competition in the grueling Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race.
Renovo Hardwood Bicycles has built some 700 wooden bikes in the last seven years and has gone from emphasizing custom bikes to developing a line of production bikes to meet most customers’ needs and still be efficient to produce in their Portland, Oregon, manufacturing facility.
The company was started by designer Ken Wheeler, who is known for developing and manufacturing the Wheeler Express four-seat composite airplane. Also involved is Wheeler’s son Stu, who is a Marine Corps fighter pilot. With all that high-performance aviation background, it’s no surprise that the Renovo bikes are sleek and high tech. Their staff boasts experience that includes making guitars and fine and production furniture.
Contrasting wood to other frame materials for bicycles, Wheeler says on the Renovo website (www.renovobikes.com), “Historically, wood bikes came before metal bikes and we only half-jokingly say ‘metal bikes were invented because making a wood bike is such a pain in the ass.’ Well, it is unruly, but we've learned how to make it behave in this unusual application and it's proven to be superb as a frame material and well worth our effort.”
To make each Renovo frame, up to 40 pieces of wood are laminated to form blanks. Then a CNC machine is used to rough out the basic shape, which workers then refine by hand. The company emphasizes the durability and reparability of its frames. Selection of wood and frame design is based on rigorous research and testing. The result is a strong, high-performance hollow-wood frame that weighs between 4 and 5 pounds, offering durability and smooth ride quality. Prices for complete bikes range from about $4,000 to $7,500.
Emphasizing that wood can compete with more conventional materials, Payton Mayness won the Texas State Championship in 2015 on a Renovo Pursuit model.