Five years ago, Jan Gunneweg and Piet Brandjes started making and selling wooden bikes through their company Bough Bikes.
They are now so popular that they are part of a shared cycling scheme at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport business park, and Dutch companies including Novotel and Rabobank have bought the wooden bikes for their employees and guests to use.
It’s no surprise the Dutch have embraced the wooden two-wheeler, they are after all Europe’s most prolific cyclists.
But they are far from alone.
Companies making wooden bikes
While the race has been on – particularly for road competitions – to make bikes as sleek and light (and therefore fast) as possible, wood has been making a quiet comeback.
Bough Bikes are made from hardwoods such as ash and walnut, which are sustainable sources of wood. The founders say the bikes are more environmentally friendly than using steel, because wood requires much less energy to process.
One US company, Renovo, has been making wooden bikes for even longer, and has recently started using old whisky casks. The prices are steep, but then every bike is made by hand. The company also makes frames from hardwoods, and claims that wood absorbs four times as much vibration as carbon and that the frames are just as hollow and lightweight.
Connor Wood Bicycles, which makes bikes in Denver, Colorado, from American hardwoods, argues that a wooden bike’s appeal lies in its distinct look and feel.
These bikes, by Danish company Coh & Co, mix wood and carbon together to make a composite frame. The company says that wooden bikes are much easier to repair than their metal counterparts, and proper sealing makes the wood completely waterproof.
Bikes can be made out of bamboo, too. A social enterprise called Beijing Bamboo is teaching young Chinese people how to build their own bamboo bikes as part of the effort to tackle the growing number of cars on the road in China.
Booomers International sells bamboo bikes with the aim of providing poor people in rural Ghana with the means to gain economic freedom. The company employs local Ghanaians to make the bikes, which become a cheap form of transport for schoolchildren in rural areas.
Building modern wooden bikes
Wooden bikes are nothing new. The first bicycles were made from wood. And professional cyclists used wooden rims on wheels up until the 1980s.
But recent advances in technology have meant that wooden bicycles can be built much faster. Bough Bikes say that it’s thanks to an advanced computer-controlled milling machine that it is able to produce wooden bikes in larger quantities.
Modern woodworking machines, as well as extremely strong and durable adhesives have also helped.
The manufacturers generally agree that they make wooden bikes because they love the material, and the way it connects riders with nature. According to Jan Gunneweg and Piet Brandjes, their bikes are a perfect mix of a love of outdoors and a love of natural products. “If you design from nature you will always create something that people feel comfortable with.”
Denver-based bike maker Chris Connor says it’s also the fact that people can’t believe a bike can be made from wood.
Will they catch on?
However, don’t expect to see them whizzing down every street too soon. Sales are still low – Renovo has only sold 1,000 in the past 10 years.
Connor says it takes 40 hours to make a bike, and whilst he has seen interest outside of the US, he still only expects to sell 20 bikes this year.