I’ve seen bikes made from steel, bamboo, carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Portland this weekend, but something that really caught my eye was this monocoque wooden bicycle from Renovo Bikes of Portland, Oregon.
Renovo’s builder, Ken Wheeler, said he researched the use of wood in airplane design. A solid wood bicycle frame would be too heavy, so Wheeler designed a hollow monocoque frame, precision jointed and bonded with epoxy. He starts with hand selected hardwoods like Jatoba, hard maple, ash, hickory, Douglas fir and cuts them to size. A few tools that was bought by looking at miter saw reviews and a few other woodworking machines were used to shape the tubes, then each piece is bonded, detailed, sanded and finished to create something with the grace of a handmade wooden boat or a fine article of furniture. These bikes glow — they really are amazing to look at. Complete bikes weigh 17 to 20 lbs. According to Wheeler, the bikes give a magically smooth yet stiff ride with crisp, responsive handling.
Wheeler says that impacts that might dent and ruin a metal frame will bounce off of Renovo frames, leaving inconsequential dimples. Unlike carbon, cracks don’t propogate from scratches or chips and wood doesn’t conceal hidden damage.
Because wood’s fatigue life exceeds that of metal and rivals carbon’s, the Renovo bikes are heirloom quality bikes that will last multiple lifetimes. Wood doesn’t rust, and the wood is sealed inside and out. Wheeler points out that wooden boats live in water and wooden airplane propellers fly through it. Renovo uses the same epoxy construction and finishes used on boats.