2017 Renovo Aerowood
This bike has been on display at the shop for a while now, so we have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking right now. Let’s answer the first few questions that you have before we move on:
Yes, it’s actually made out of wood.
Yes, it’s a real racing bike.
Some of the bikes in our museum are novelties that were never really meant to see much action. We have a bicycle lawn mower that was fun to try but not very practical. We have a single-speed belt-driven chopper bicycle that is perfect for parades but not much else. Ditto for the bicycle “dragster”. This Renovo was not a novelty, it was a real attempt by real craftsmen to capture a piece of the high-end road bike market.
This particular machine was given to our friend and cycling luminary Eben Weiss, a.k.a. BikeSnobNYC for review on his popular blog and his features for Outside magazine. It was ridden on country lanes, New York City streets and raced in Central Park.
Rain or shine, it was (or is) a “real” bike.
So the way that the frame was made was that thin layers of wood (Oregon maple and African wenge?) were bonded with epoxy to form a layered laminate material, probably similar to how parts of a carbon frame would be made. These wooden pieces were then milled using a CNC router to shape them and the resulting seatstays, chainstays, and hollow main-triangle halves were sealed and glued together. There are aluminum sleeves inside the head tube and the seat tube, an aluminum bottom bracket shell, and metal dropouts to secure the wheels.
Every Renovo frame was hand-sanded and finished with a satin or glossy polyurethane clear coat (our glossy-finish bike was considered a cosmetic “blem” and was sent to journalists out on the product review circuit because the polyurethane got cloudy white in a few spots).
The bike rides beautifully, with a mellow springiness that is easy to relate as a mixture of the best ride qualities found in good steel and carbon fiber bikes.
Sounds like a great bike, right? Too bad we can’t sell you one of these as the original Renovo company has shut it’s doors.
Was it termites that got them?
No, unfortunately it was the forces of capitalism, not termites or a flock of hungry woodpeckers that destroyed Renovo’s wooden bike business.
Some of this is conjecture, but there are quite a few hurdles to leap in order to make a profit in the wooden bike world. Labor and how it relates to delivery time and production level is one hurdle. You need to put a lot of hours into building one of these bikes, and hiring the right help couldn’t have been easy or cheap. If you’re selling a custom boat or a luxury car you can always raise your price to cover your costs, but road bikes have a much lower price ceiling. Hurdle number two would have been delivery times. Again, customers for high-end luxury goods are usually willing to wait for their one-of-a-kind item, but $100,000 deposits will float a company a lot longer than a $1000 deposit will, regardless of the final price tag. That last hurdle would have been the wood. Metal and composite frames that come out of a mold are always going to be pretty consistent. Wood doesn’t cooperate like that. One “blem” frame out of 10 or one wooden bike that starts to squeak (you know how much you like it when a pedal starts making a ticking sound, right?) and your profit goes out the window as you spend the time and materials to replace it.