What better way to celebrate this Arbor Day than to chop down some trees and ride them? One of the newest design ideas sweeping the handmade bike market are wooden frames, and with good reason. They range from sleek juxtapositions of new technology and old wood design, to glorified bauhaus coffe tables on wheels. Whether they can withstand the same abuse as carbon and steel remains to be answered in some people’s opinion but, not for those who have ridden them. One thing however, is for certain– scoring yourself a wooden bike makes you the most avant-garde hippy this side of this rad German dude, and owning one can make you feel great about yourself in so many different ways. Here are a few:
Any way you look at it wood is a more sustainable building material than steel or carbon or aluminum. Commuting by bike already scores you net carbon pollution points but there’s no doubt that raw materials require energy intensive extraction and processing procedures. Erba Cycles in Boston uses different gauges of bamboo at various stages of maturity for the tubing on his head turning rigs. Renovo bicycles, a Portland-based wooden frame builder uses American species of hardwoods for their bikes including Ash, Maple, Hickory and Walnut. Local wood. Hand built frames. That’s two birds with one plank of plant fiber.
Believe it or not, wood can withstand impact greater than carbon or steel–anyone who’s swung a wooden bat compared to a metal one can attest to that. What’s more, over time dents and dings in carbon and steel frames can propagate into more serious stress fractures that can leave your bike uselessly hanging in your garage or cost your hundreds in frame repairs. On impact, wooden bike frames not only take impact better, but can be easily bonded back together with epoxy and a heavy dosage of love.
Bikes are beautiful. Elegant simplicity in its many different forms, with the exception of Cannondale bikes–sorry but the Lefty looks like a handicapped cyborg. While, the future of metal and carbon frame bikes seems to be taking a turn for the mothership, wooden and bamboo frames are relics of the unwavering beauty that nature creates. With wooden bikes, every fiber is unique and unaltered. And the handbuilt construction ensures that quality is riding shotgun with durability.
It’s not enough that a bike drops jaws when you ride past people, it has to function as well as it flaunts. Bamboo, because of it’s fibrous construction, actually has dead spots between the fibers that absorb shock as you ride (when constructed properly. Those kids riding bamboo rigs through the Vietnamese congo would beg to differ). Some exotic hardwoods, such as Satine and Bubinga, are incredibly stiff and strong–up to 5 times your run-of-the-mill lumber yard planks.
Ever crack a steel frame? Luckily it can be easily welded back together. Alminum not so much, and carbon? don’t even go there. However dents and cracks in a wooden frame can be repaired and mended easily with a few simple tools and a bottle of airplane grade epoxy.
Think your wooden frame won’t last as long? Ever hear of the Bristlecone Pine? Trees by their nature have a structural makeup that resists bending and twisting from the wind for their entire life, which for the bristlecone pine, is nearly 5000 years. As a result, wood has a remarkable fatigue life that exceeds steel and aluminum and rivals carbon. Pair that with state of the art polymer coatings and a wooden frame bike will last longer than that block of Velveeta that’s been in your fridge since you moved out of your parents house.
Wooden frames can take all the abuse switchbacks and drops can throw at them. While a cosmetic scratch in steel or carbon can slowly eat away at the frame, the same scratch in a hardwood frame can simply be filled with epoxy and buffed out. Ask your grandma how if you’re unfamiliar with the process.
You can build one yourself
While companies like Renovo and Erba are crafting serious cycling machines from exotic and domestic woods, gobs of DIYers have been doing the same thing since the beginning of the garage. While styles range from recumbent style suspension bikes to something called the pencil bike, the beauty of handmade wooden frames is that if you have wood and hands you can make one yourself and that leads to the best part…
Social Corporate Independence
I’m swinging a big stick here but it’s one that needs to be swung. It’s getting harder and harder these days to align your consumption with an ethical conscience. Everything we purchase is part of a linear production process that has planned obsolescence written into its DNA. In two years your iPhone and TV will need to be replaced with newer, sleeker versions of themselves. Your Sram derailleurs and Shimano cranks won’t be as light and strong as the new ones on the market and you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with those right? A handmade wooden bike frame however, sits in the same category as that grandfather clock passed down through your lineage, and that’s something that corporations can’t take from you. The day our forests are clear cut in the name of bicycles will be a day worth observing but until then, bask in the fact that buying or building a wooden bike frame is money that isn’t going into the overstuffed pockets of disconnected corporate executives. As Connor Wood of Connor Wood cycles says, “Hug a bike, ride a tree”