Bicycles

A not-so-Normal approach to building wooden bikes

Jessica Vreeswijk Kudla and Chris Kudla, with their custom gravel bike at NAHBS
Jessica Vreeswijk Kudla and Chris Kudla, with their custom gravel bike at NAHBS
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Normal Bicycles' custom gravel bike is worth about $6,000
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Normal Bicycles' custom gravel bike is worth about $6,000
Normal Bicycles' Urban Scout commuter bike, on display at NAHBS
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Normal Bicycles' Urban Scout commuter bike, on display at NAHBS
"It's multiple layers of maple veneer, laminated together," said designer/builder Chris Kudla, describing his tube-making process
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"It's multiple layers of maple veneer, laminated together," said designer/builder Chris Kudla, describing his tube-making process
The wooden tubes are joined to one another using an aerospace grade aluminum alloy and titanium fasteners
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The wooden tubes are joined to one another using an aerospace grade aluminum alloy and titanium fasteners
Jessica Vreeswijk Kudla and Chris Kudla, with their custom gravel bike at NAHBS
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Jessica Vreeswijk Kudla and Chris Kudla, with their custom gravel bike at NAHBS

Although wooden-frame bikes may not be a common sight out on the street, they're plentiful at events such as the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. So, what makes one stand out there? Well, it helps if it's made in a non-traditional manner – which is the case with Normal Bicycles.

The metal bike frames that we're used to consist of tubes, which are joined together via either welds or lugs. Many wooden frames, on the other hand, consist of two carved-out sides that are bonded together down the middle. Normal Bicycles, based out of Buffalo, New York, splits the difference – its frames are made of wooden tubes.

"It's multiple layers of maple veneer, laminated together," said designer/builder Chris Kudla, describing his tube-making process. "By doing that, I can make the wall thickness a lot thinner, and also have these long sections of tubing that I can cut to length. It helps with stiffness, the weight, and also manufacturing."

"It's multiple layers of maple veneer, laminated together," said designer/builder Chris Kudla, describing his tube-making process
"It's multiple layers of maple veneer, laminated together," said designer/builder Chris Kudla, describing his tube-making process

It should be noted that there's also a thin layer of carbon fiber lining the inside walls of the tubes. Those tubes are joined to one another using an aerospace-grade aluminum alloy and titanium fasteners. A marine finish is also applied, to keep the wood from being damaged by rain, snow or salt.

The ride quality of the resulting bike is said to provide a solid connection with the road, but without the bumps and shocks.

Normal Bicycles' Urban Scout commuter bike, on display at NAHBS
Normal Bicycles' Urban Scout commuter bike, on display at NAHBS

As far as weight goes, the custom gravel bike that was being showcased at NAHBS weighs a claimed 22.5 lb (10.2 kg). Chris and his wife/business partner Jessica also had one of their cheaper, production Urban Scout commuter bikes on display (pictured above) – it tips the scales at 25 lb (11.3 kg). Pricing for the Scout ranges from US$3,200 to $3,550, depending on the package. The gravel bike, on the other hand, is worth around $6,000.

"I'm an engineer doing woodworking," Chris told us, describing the origins of his unique approach. "Most of the time it's woodworkers doing woodworking, so I think that's where it comes from."

Company website: Normal Bicycles

4 comments
Grunchy
Wood bikes are built just for novelty and not because of any practical reason. You may as well make a bike out of a bunch of broom handles, “oh yeah this thing is absolutely amazing, who knew broom handles work so good, hey come buy it it’s just $4,000” can you be any more insulting of my intelligence? Good grief!
paul314
Wood and steel have similar strength-to-weight ratios. In some construction, the added thickness you need with wood is actually a good thing because of buckling considerations.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
I used wooden cores for parts of fiberglass bikes and telescope mounts. They were closer to being expendable molds than wooden structures, except, maybe the telescope base block.
ljaques
It flexes so much that you don't feel the bumps and shocks? I see. A wooden bicycle is not, and never will be, worth $6k, no matter how you break it. One good pothole and it's toast, I'll bet.