Via Oddity Central and Cyclelicious, here a bike built from over 10,000 glued-together birchwood popsicle sticks. Sun Chao's bike is a novelty - it took 4 years to build and with its wooden tires is not ready for strenuous riding - yet wooden and bamboo bikes are no longer pure gimmick - in fact, Renovo of Portland is currently working on a new line of hickory-based commuter bikes.
Photo: A. Streeter.
You couldn't say wooden or bamboo bikes are mainstream. Yet Renovo's Ken Wheeler insists wood is currently the most sustainable material to use to build bicycle frames, as wooden frames don't "require extracting finite materials from the earth." Wheeler has constructed beautiful high-end bicycles out of wood for some years (as has Calfee), selling them globally to collectors and enthusiasts looking for light weight and beauty.
Wood and bamboo have the advantages of being renewable resources, and take less energy to prepare for frame use than steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Still, the resins used on a wooden frame are not sustainable, and render the bike frame unrecyclable at this point. Still, wood and bamboo's further advantages are that they can be locally procured in places where bikes and small manufacturing are desperately needed.
Recently, Wheeler said the results of the recent Oregon Manifest utility bicycle design competition left him disappointed (Renovo didn't enter), and eager to do more to promote wooden bikes as truly innovative and ready to be sustainable utilitarian bicycles.
Photo: A. Streeter.
Only one bamboo/wooden bike was among the 33 entrants for "ultimate utility bike" in the Oregon Manifest 2011 challenge. A bakfiets-style cargo bike built by Art & Industry's team of Michael Downes and Jeff Sayler and pictured above, it was constructed from bamboo plywood. The Downes/Sayler bike didn't win any prize or honorable mention at the competition, and in reflecting on that at his blog, Downes writes he believes it is because the bike was in bamboo plywood.
"Until we establish a proven track record with this material and method of construction it will always be viewed as a gimmick, a one of a kind like a toothpick Notre Dame." - Michael Downes, Art & Industry
Meanwhile, Wheeler is hard at work trying to establish that track record, at least material-wise. A new shop in California's Bay Area is giving his bikes more visibility. Renovo already has a bamboo bike on the market, the Pandurban, priced at $3,400 with internal hub gearing. However, Wheeler says he wants to make a wooden bike for the rest of us, and instead of following the time-consuming process of testing "every single stick of wood" for his high-end bikes that combine different woods, he'll stick to a single wood, Appalachian hickory, for his new commuter series.
The hickory is plenty stiff enough for a commuter frame, Wheeler said he believes, and is FSC-compliant wood. This new line of "everything" bikes will be built with light utility and commuting in mind - sort of a "café crusier" Wheeler called it.
Stay tuned. Unlike spending four years as Sun Chao did on his wooden bicycle, Wheeler said he is hoping to introduce his café cruisers in the next couple of months.