Renovo Hardwood Bicycles

Renovo builds stunning bicycle frames from various hardwoods and laminated bamboo. From the Renovo website:

Bicycles of wood have been built since the 1800’s, but because the frames were solid rather than hollow, the advantages of wood for bicycle frames was masked by their weight.

The Renovo offers crisp handling, superb ride quality and stunning looks thanks to select woods, a blend of cutting edge CAD/CAM manufacturing, state-of-the-art bonding and finishing technologies, and old-world, hands-on craftsmanship.

Why Wood?

  • Lightweight; a frame weighs from 3.5 to 4.5 pounds.
  • A magically smooth ride thanks to its unique ability to absorb vibration–you feel the difference immediately.
  • Stiffness to order: from carbon-stiff bubinga and others to the supple smoothness of laminated bamboo; you can tailor the stiffness and ride to what you want, not just what comes off a production line.
  • The hardwood frame is remarkably tough. It easily withstands impacts that ruin butted metal or carbon frames.
  • The fatigue life of wood rivals carbon and is substantially longer than aluminum or steel. The Renovo is an heirloom quality frame.
  • The Renovo frame is environmentally friendly, with sustainable woods and low VOC waterborne sealers and finishes.

The Panda
The Renovo Panda delivers rider happiness in laminated bamboo. In four models, the Panda is our made-to-order, complete bicycle. Laminated bamboo is ultra-green, ultra-durable, and strong, with the smoothest ride of any material we’ve worked with. There are two versions of commuters, a road bike and a fixie (we are in Portland). We’ve worked hard to make these mostly handbuilt bicycles affordable. They are a treat to ride, a treat to look at; they’ll make you smile with pleasure.

I’ll have a Renovo Pandurban bamboo commuter in-house for a road test later this year.

More about Renovo

21 Responses to “Renovo Hardwood Bicycles”

  • brad says:

    You just have to remember to keep your bike a safe distance from the campfire when you’re touring!

  • jdmitch says:

    Oh… wow… those are pretty… and decently equipped for the price too.

  • Ows says:

    Beautiful.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Wonderful bikes. I would love a wooden recumbent made with this process. :)

  • Nova says:

    I’m a bit confused by this: “The fatigue life of wood rivals carbon and is substantially longer than aluminum or steel.” What does this mean exactly?

    Does it refer to the materials only, or to frames made of them as well? I’ve always thought that a steel frame had a wonderful fatigue life compared to carbon fibre. Am I mistaken or did you mix up your words?

  • Alan says:

    @Nova

    The quote was from the Renovo website so I can’t say exactly what they meant. They may be referring to fatigue cycles as opposed to impact which is the usual CF killer..

  • Ken Wheeler says:

    Re. fatigue life:
    Without getting all engineering-like here… Because wood handles fatigue so well, as late as the ‘40s, engineers thought that wood had an unlimited fatigue life. Modern testing equipment and methods has found that’s not true. Specifics on fatigue in wood can be found in ‘The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction’ 2005, which covers it pretty well for the lay person starting on page 379. On page 380, you’ll see a graph comparing fatigue in wood to metals and composites, confirming statements on our website. These guys have done more testing and research on wood and bonded wood than nearly anyone.

    Another source is ANC-18, the U.S. Army, Navy joint publication titled, ‘The Design of Wood Aircraft Structures’, wherein they simply state (among deeper stuff), ‘wood is less sensitive to rapidly repeated loads than are the more crystalline structural materials (metals), resulting in a higher endurance limit in proportion to the ultimate strength.”
    There’s lots more, but these two pretty well sum it up.
    -Ken

  • Ken Wheeler says:

    Sorry, I should have mentioned that I’m with Renovo. And while I’m at it, the fatigue life refers to the materials only. The frames reflect the properties of the materials they’re made of only if properly designed. For example, the first aluminum frames were limp as noodles because the aluminum tubes were sized as if they were made of steel. But aluminum is not as stiff as steel, so they had to be larger to equal the stiffness of steel. Same deal with wood or bamboo.
    -Ken

  • Alan says:

    Thanks for the information, Ken. Interesting stuff..

  • Duncan Watson says:

    A bike like this is very appealing to me, Portland is close enough to be almost local (200 miles). Sounds pretty amazing.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Soooooo beautiful. And if people want a cool paint job, I’m sure that’s possible, too. I don’t need another bike, but if I were in the market, these would be at the top of my list! Superb, beautiful. Also, I think the prices are very reasonable for such custom quality work. Well done!

    Scott

  • Jonathan says:

    Aside from my day job, the two activities in my life that fill most of my time are cycling and designing and building furniture. This bicycle could be the perfect marriage of the two (for me to buy, not to attempt to build…). Very interesting indeed.

    My only question would be if it’s designed to have an internal gear hub, why not build it with horizontal dropouts and lose the chain tensioner?

  • Roland Smith says:

    Beautiful bikes. :-) I’ve been thinking glulam would be an interesting material to make a recumbent frame from. I’ve seen some homebuilts that look pretty nice.

    @Nova

    Composites behave quite well under repeated loading (fatigue). You can load a well-designed composite structure to the breaking point repeatedly without ill effects. The rub is that they don’t undergo plastic deformation as opposed to metals. An overloaded composite structure will fail suddenly and catastrophically. I’ve seen it happen in testing multiple times. In my humble opinion there are a couple downsides to using carbon fibre laminates for bike frames; first is cost (both of the material and of the processing), second would be a the low wear resistance (e.g. a chain rubbing against the frame could quickly damage it).

    @Ken Wheeler

    I’ve been reading your website on engineered wood. Very interesting material for an engineer indeed! The craftsmanship of your frames looks top-notch. It is a shame that the construction of wooden planes like the Mosuito isn’t more well-known. Have you ever thought of doing recumbent frames/bikes? I was wondering about the way the frames are joined. Have you ever thought of making the frame tubes out of rolled-up veneer? That would save a lot of material. And you could wrap layers of veneer around the critical joints. (guess I’m showing my composites background here…)

    I must admit that I have some trouble with the phrase “carbon-stiff bubinga”. As an engineer who has been working with carbon fibre composites for over a decade and who has been looking at wood as a renewable replacement in a specific application, I have found that a carbon/epoxy laminate is much stiffer that any wood. Even a quasi isotropic carbon/epoxy laminate can easily reach a stiffness of 50 GPa, and a standard unidirectional laminate is around 125 GPa in the fiber direction. Unidirectional ultra high modulus carbon/epoxy laminates can reach a stiffness of 300 GPa. As far as I was able to find, the stiffness of wood lies in the 6-30 GPa range, with only a few over 25 GPa. The figure I found for bubinga was around 16 GPa.

  • Ken Wheeler says:

    Hey Roland,
    You’re quite right about bubinga, or any wood or bamboo for that matter. My use of ‘carbon-stiff’ in that sentence and context referred to the ride quality differences of frames made from the various woods. As in the aluminum example above, we’ve developed structural stiffness through configuration, coupled with the stiffness of the particular material. A less stiff wood would of course yield a less stiff ride.
    And before you catch me on it, I should clarify the aluminum example above. I said that ‘aluminum is not as stiff as steel’. While that’s the common understanding, and for the example it works, aluminum, steel and (many woods) are roughly equal in stiffness—on a pound for pound basis.

    Adding to the difficulty of the structural use of wood is its anisotropic structure. The wrapped veneer which you suggest greatly increases the torsional stiffness of the tubes by orienting the wood fibers to the torsional loads. I have experimented with that arrangement, and produces good results, but it’s challenging to execute. I have in fact filed a patent application for the process.
    We’ve absolutely considered a recumbent and I’m eager to do one, but for the moment, got a full plate.
    And Jonathan: we will lose the chain tensioner. See above sentence, and for now, ‘Perfect’ is the enemy of ‘works great’.

    Ken @ Renovo

  • Nova says:

    @Ken Wheeler: Thanks for the extra info Ken. I love the idea of wood, and will be interested to see how the frames hold up over the years. Are these strictly laminated veneers, and is the finish structural as it would be for a carbon/plastic frame?

    Also, because I really do love wood, is there any chance that you are using FSA or similarly approved woods? I see a lot of claims to “sustainability”, but no mention of ethical sourcing of the woods (some of which, like the exotic hardwoods, take a lifetime or more to mature, so unless you think these frames will last that long…). I do appreciate that wood is a “natural” product, and hopefully less energy intensive to source and process than other frame materials, but that doesn’t mean we should feel entirely comfortable cutting it down faster than it can grow!

    Thanks again.

  • Roland Smith says:

    @Ken

    I hear you on the ride quality. And I must say that your frames look very slender compared most homebuilts I’ve seen, like this recumbent lowracer . (This page is in Dutch, but the photos should speak for themselves.) But I guess most homebuilders don’t build test frames first. :-)

    Wrapping veneer might sound difficult, but I would think it is not very different from what the composites industry has been doing with prepregs for decades. See e.g. how carbon fishing rods are made. It all comes down to applying glue to the veneer layers, wrapping the material around a tube, put the whole in a vacuum bag, seal the ends, apply vacuum and wait for the glue to harden. Or use a matched metal die and a press. The big downside is that the process is quite labor-intensive. On the other hand, it might be doable to automate it to some degree, epsecially if you stack very thin layers of veneer in different orientations together and then roll that around a tube. I guess one would need to choose a quite sticky and thixotropic glue to hold the pieces together while you’re working on it. But there would be several epoxies that fit that bill.

    I’ve been thinking of using what I’ve learned about composites over the years and applying that to wood manufacturing, but I have to learn something about wood first. :-) I guess my goal would be to make a bike with the flowing lines of the beautiful velokraft ones.

  • Ken Wheeler says:

    Alan, I apologize for the length, but, well, here’s answers…
    Needless to say, we are also interested to see how the frames hold up, but fortunately we have well-proven technology to rely on; the construction of boats, aircraft, glu-lam beams, and wind turbine blades among others. We also apply the knowledge gained from extensive study of wood and adhesives in structural applications by many companies, universities, and in fact, the U.S. government, so we’re not pedaling blind on this issue, which is why we can confidently offer a 10 year guarantee on the frames.

    There are many, many examples of structural wood which have long endured greater stresses than a bicycle, including the Aeronca Champ airplane, introduced in 1945 with a wooden wing spar, and the Bellanca Citabria aerobatic airplane, produced from 1964 to 1995, also with a wooden wing spar. It is rated at 5 Gs, which means the wing will support 5 times the 1650 pound weight of the airplane when doing aerobatics, or 8250 pounds. Many hundreds of both planes are flying today. (The wing spar is the main structural piece in the wing, supporting the entire weight of the airplane when flying).

    Our wood frames start as planks of solid wood. The bamboo frames are made from 1” thick sheets of bamboo which in turn of made up of 3/16”x 1/2” pieces of bamboo stalk laminated together. The particular bamboo is ‘Moso’, the largest variety, with stalks up to 7” in diameter.

    The finish is not structural, it just keeps the frame looking good, and the moisture at bay. I don’t know of any frame where the finish is structural—carbon frames just have paint.

    Certification of timber by FSC or others is problematic for many reasons. But lack of FSC certification does not mean the wood is not sustainably harvested. In the past 50 years, the timber inventory in the U.S. has increased, yet only 20% of the timber is FSC certified, and mostly the high volume softwoods at that. If we only manage to certify 20% here, imagine what it’s like in Africa.
    To illustrate the complexity of clear-cutting forests, mining is one of the main contributors. The Grande Carajas project in Brazil is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, and a huge clear-cutting operation. Bauxite mines (aluminum) in Brazil are strip mines; also huge. Save a tree, buy a wooden bike!

    I think an abbreviated comparison of the process to produce various frame materials would be useful. Near as I can tell, the comparison looks pretty much like this:

    Carbon fiber: It’s produced from propylene in a complex, 2500° Centigrade!, energy-intensive process. Propylene is a non-renewable plastic extracted in another energy intensive process from crude oil, natural gas or coal.

    Steel: Ore is extracted from open pit mines with giant diesel-driven drills, shovels and trucks, most larger than your house, and some larger than an apartment building, none of which burn bio-diesel. Oh, and dynamite. The ore is processed with crushed limestone, also mined from huge quarries. Coal is also required, lots of it; it is usually strip mined, then converted to coke in a nasty process generating air pollution, acid waste, and acid drainage. The ore is then melted in furnaces requiring 150 KW hours of electricity per ton of steel, along with manganese, chromium, nickel and molybdenum, each from separate mines. The ingots produced must then be turned into tubing, another hugely energy intensive process.

    Aluminum requires so much power to produce, some call it congealed electricity; it requires some 8 to 10 kilowatts of electricity per pound to produce. More strip mining here. Huge greenhouse gas producer, hydroelectric consumer (largest in the world), and salmon annihilator. River pollutants too. Final product is ingots, still gotta make tubing, big transportation chain.

    There are about 20 million bicycles sold in the U.S. annually, most of which are steel or aluminum.

    Titanium: Strip mined from sand in wetlands which don’t recover for hundreds of years. In the U.S., it’s converted from ore to titanium tetrachloride with a wicked cocktail of pollutants in a process which generates noxious fumes, sludge, slurries, and wastewater. In Russia and China, the major producers, the ore is reacted with sulphuric acid generating large amounts of air pollution and waste—up to 3 ½ pounds per pound of titanium dioxide produced. After that, to obtain a pound of titanium from either precursor requires some 2 ½ KW hours of electricity. Still don’t have tubing. Big transportation chain.

    Wood: Good-hearted rednecks wielding chainsaws cut the trees. Tractors move and load the logs onto trucks, which other rednecks drive to the mill. Mills with just a few guys rough-cut the logs into lumber which is then kiln dried. Bigger operations are more efficient. Offshore operations may not use rednecks and the lumber arrives on ships, then trucked to Portland. Several of our favorite woods are harvested in the Northwest, so no ships required.

    We make our own tubing with a 10hp electric router, a few saws and things. And sweat.

    Bamboo: The fastest growing plant and arguably the most sustainable material on the planet. The stalks are harvested, split, milled, boiled and laminated into sheets in hydraulic presses. Most comes from the Orient, so it arrives by ship, then trucked to our shop.

    I’m pretty sure that wood and bamboo win the contest for least environmental impact, least pollution and the only sustainability, especially as I skipped a lot of the mining/smelting/tubing processes for brevity, such as it is.
    Ken @ Renovo

  • Random Ray says:

    Sweet bicycles , I agree with the sustainability issues ,it is definitely less damaging to use wood . I mean face it we need steel and aluminum , they are recyclable which is good yet they take a lot of energy and make a mess in the environment . Yes , I like them but , what about some curves in the frames ?

  • Ken Wheeler says:

    “what about some curves in the frames ?”
    Check the Renovo R2 and R4, they have curves. But curves are much more difficult to make, so one of those frames alone costs more than a complete Panda bike, reflecting the added labor.

  • Random Ray says:

    Thanks for the reply Ken . Yes , I went to your site afterwards and the R4 and R2 look really great . I thought that the wood frames were laminated ? I figured if laminated with the direction of the the curve it would not be any harder to make . Strength issues maybe ? I would laminate with the curves , cut it in half , rout it out , then glue it back together . Or does the CNC router have trouble with curves ? Frankly a hand router used with a guide would probably work just as well for curves . Sometimes a skilled craftsman trumps high tech . Or what about about a pin router ? Any thoughts on a touring bike ? You have these older riders with money that aren’t going to race . The wood bikes should make beautiful and comfortable transport . It always makes me laugh when I see an old fat rider on a 10 grand plus race bike ” course they make the steep hills look flat ” . Hey , we like cool bikes Too, not just the ” kids ” .

  • Ken Rasmussen says:

    I just stumbled across this website. Remarkable! Great site, great contributors. I’m trying to sell my Laser sailboat so I can buy a Renovo frame. They ride very well–nicely damped and torsionally stiff. The appearance is through the roof. I’ve got to have one.
    I’ve restored several old bicycles recently, and the labor and expense to make a crusty old machine new again is almost beyond reckoning. Over and over, I’ve thought to myself, “I wish I could travel back in time and buy one of these new.” In each decade there are a few bicycle makers who stand out for their creativity, the excellence of their designs and their craftsmanship, and the beauty of their creations.
    In light of that, I’ve got to get one of these Renovos. Does anyone want a Laser sailboat?

 
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