Back in the 1700s before strong, lightweight metals were available, the first bicycles were made almost completely of wood. Crude wooden bikes are still used in many developing countries today, built from whatever recycled timber can be found. And as interest in sustainability and renewable energy grows, not only are more people (re)turning to pedal power, there is renewed interest in wooden frame bicycles. Renovo Hardwood Bicyles combine "high-tech magic and fine craftsmanship" to create a range of bikes from hollow wood and laminated bamboo, and are confident their bikes are “the smoothest bike you'll ever ride, stealth quiet, light and responsive, stiff as you want.”
Many folk think wooden bicycles look good but can’t compare on performance. Rider tests on Renovo’s R2 would seem to prove otherwise. Men's Journal said, “It's pretty, but how does it ride? Damn well...it can hang with carbon-fiber rivals”, while a triathlete with a collection of fancy bikes said his Renovo is now his favorite ride for its combination of smooth ride and stiffness. A customer who replaced his custom carbon bike with a Renovo said “The Renovo is much stiffer, smoother, much better looking; I love it.”
Jokes about 'wood' and 'stiffness' aside there are many reasons to consider a wooden frame. For starters, they’re lightweight – a frame weighs from 3.5 to 4.5 pounds and a bike 16.5 to 20 pounds.
Wood absorbs vibration better than metal, giving a smoother ride. It's also tough and will withstand impacts that butted metal and carbon can’t.
Renovo says the fatigue life of wood rivals carbon and is substantially longer than aluminum or steel. If the frame does get damaged it can easily be mended or refinished.
The frame's stiffness can be tailored to your requirements, from carbon-stiff hickory to the supple smoothness of laminated bamboo.
Finally, Renovo frames are environmentally friendly, recyclable and biodegradable. The company uses sustainable woods, bamboo and low VOC waterborne sealers and finishes.
Another concern about wooden bikes is their ability to stand up to harsh weather conditions. That was true in the past, however Renovo frames have more in common with high-tech wooden bridges, yachts and planes.
They combine state-of-the-art industrial adhesive, sealer and finish technologies with cutting-edge computer-controlled machining to “produce a bicycle frame that will endure a lifetime of hard use without the problems of consumer-grade wood products”.
Durable epoxy coating techniques from the world of wooden boats and linear polyurethane finishes, used on aircraft and cars, provide extreme durability and long-term protection from heat, cold, sun and moisture.
The bikes are built using a monocoque (hollow) frame. Two halves are bonded together along the long axis of the bicycle. The technique was developed in Germany during the first World War for all-wood aircraft and, as the lightest method of construction, has been used in high performance aircraft, race cars and carbon bicycles.
Much care is taken by Renovo in finding the right timber for the customer. They spend "ridiculous amounts of time at four different specialty lumber yards searching for and choosing the perfect lumber” and “much more time back at the shop deciding how to cut and match the 8 to 24 pieces of wood that make up a frame”.
The result is a super tough, beautiful and high-performing bicycle.
According to Renovo bamboo provides the smoothest ride of all. It’s also super responsive, lightweight and green. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world and it absorbs nearly 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases while producing 35% more oxygen than the same quantity of trees.
Renovo admit laminated bamboo has a greater carbon footprint than tubular but argue it is not by much, and that its superior performance outweighs the concerns. The company isn’t the only manufacturer to produce bamboo cycles; a range of bamboo bicycles was recently released in Denmark.
The Renovo range extends from the Panda laminated bamboo commuter models ($1,425 for the basic model, complete bike) to the top-of-the-range R4 Pursuit ($2,300 frame only). There are several options for sizing.
If you’re in the Portland area why not hit them up for a test ride.