Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why wood?

As I've mentioned previously this project is about creating a wooden framed cargo bicycle. As we are enamored and familiar with 'bakfeits' style, two-wheeled, cargo-in-the-front cargo bicycle that is the pattern we have chosen to follow. While 'longtails' and tricycles all have their merits it is the front loading, two wheeled (in line) type that we feel has the most potential in terms of function and aesthetics. I list aesthetics because our goal is not to create a 'better' cargo bike but a more beautiful product that resonates on an emotional level. That is not to say that function is not our concern. On the contrary it has to 'function' in a way that would merit the term 'cargo bike' (i.e haul loads safely & efficiently). We just feel that function has a subjective component that can never be fully met and that the aesthetic of utility bikes, bar a few exceptions, has been given a back seat in the development of this form and type of transportation.

So why wood? Well, first of, let us be clear that we don't come at this from some half baked notion of creating a 'sustainable' or 'green' product. Every time we drive out to the shop we burn hydrocarbons and the tools we use to rip, saw, shape & weld material to our will are powered by the coal burning Boardman Plant and the salmon killing monolith that is the Bonneville Dam. The meager wind powered portion of this metric is merely a salve to our guilty consciences and another derivative of hydrocarbons. Construction of this project will involve volatile organic compounds, exotic glues, paints and epoxies not to mention waste material that might or might not be recyclable. Wood products contribute to deforestation, habitat loss, mono culture and global warming. They require the burning of more oil to log, process and transport them to where they can be sold at maximum profit. So, no, our wooden cargo bike will not be saving the world anytime soon.

So we chose wood out of happenstance and a genuine fascination with how this material can be applied to a human powered vehicle. We foresee no business model here so it is unlikely that this will offer any 'real world' solutions. In other words this is a selfish project that sustains deeper needs and desires that have nothing to do with notions of utility or sustainability. This project is, at its root, about process. It is about the minutiae of the journey from concept to manifest object. It is about the day to day discovery and how we adapt and deal with the limitations imposed by both our aspirations and the tools & materials we hold in our hands.

From a straight forward technical standpoint wood is an excellent material for a bicycle. It is, as Ken Wheeler of Renovo stated, natural carbon fiber comprised of cellulose (the fiber) and lignin (the binder). High performance aircraft and boats are still fabricated from wood as are bridges, buildings and furniture many of which have stood for decades if not centuries. In many cases properly engineered wood can out perform steel, aluminum and even carbon fiber. The question is not whether wood is a viable frame material but rather why aren't more people building wooden bicycles?