American Wood Bicycle Components 1896 - 1897

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There's a renaissance in wood frame and component building. Last week Marcel posted his blog on David's Renovo wood single speed bike build.

Taking a closer look at the origins of wood bicycle frame building, we find CYCLING LIFE a cycle trade paper. Cycling life published details of assorted wooden components including handle bars and bicycle frames. Inside the 1896 - 1897 cycling life trade paper, the merits of wood as a frame building material were discussed in advertising features.

In 2012 wood is gaining momentum as a frame building material that's lightweight, durable and workable. Renovo in America and Sano in Japan are two leading wood frame builders, as well as many other small manufacturers producing handle bars and frames, they seem to be appearing everywhere, there's one here in Brisbane and another on the Gold Coast as examples. In the late nineteenth century it appears that the same trend was gaining impetus for small firms, as wooden bicycle components seemed to "have a certain charm for makers on a small scale".

Back in 1897 - 1898 wood was competing with steel as a favoured material, particularly wood wheels and handlebars. The American monopoly on single tube tires included their tires being glued to wood rims. Single tube tires were equivalent to a ruberised hose pipe, literally an inner tube vulcanised into a hollow tube of rubber, then tightly glued to a wooden rim. American single tubes - when exported to Australia were seen to cause accidents in races, they were mostly banned and debate about their use continued until the late 1920's.

The difficulties of working wood in the late 19th Century are highlighted by this note about wood frame joints in 1897, "A perfectly safe joint between wood and metal connections has been one of the most difficult things to devise, and this has been the one great objection to wood bicycle frames, which otherwise have a certain charm for makers on a small scale." Beebe manufacturing company of Racine Wisconsin solve the problem of creating frame 'joints' by using steel. Beebe constructors inserted a triangle of steel which was tightened using a screw, preventing the wood socket from damage. 'Michigan rock elm' was used to build Beebe's wood frames.

Hess and Cottle manufacturing of Chicago produced Cottles '97 ram's horn bars, remarking that they were the only wooden ram's horn that will stand up, no jar, no quiver, the strongest and easiest bar made. Cottle's bars were reinforced with steel. Hess and Cottle bars could also be "made in any shape desired by riders....A steel tube is inserted through the wood before it is bent, imparting great strength to the product and affecting the elasticity."

Indiana Novelty Manufacturing Company of Plymouth Indiana made three kinds of wooden handlebars : Ram's Horn, Adjustable and Reversible. Benefits of using the Indiana Novelty bars included "prevention of numbness of the arms caused by long rides."

Wood and Bamboo Frames J. Oberg and Andrew. W Gustafson were applying for patents on their bamboo frame couplings, using hardwood to reinforce the bamboo at joints. The tubing was all bamboo with metal 'couplings'. Rivets were driven through the 'couplings' and a metal strap ran the length of the head tube on either side to provide reinforcing.

Eberhard Cycle company installed their own machinery at the back of their store and began producing wood frames which were made from laminated wood and reinforced with a small steel rod. Eberhard's used different types of wood and patented their process of joining the frames.

Bamboo Cycle Co., Milwaukee, will exhibit their bamboo wheels and double spoke hubs. The frame of the wheels is made of the best kind of bamboo. It is enameled in its natural color and will not absorb the moisture or shrink. Bamboo, by nature, is built up of thousands of fibers and reinforced every four or five inches by a solid natunil bridge or joint. By actual test a bamboo bar of 24 inches loug and 1 1-S inches in diameter has sustained a weight of over one ton suspended from Its center. The outer surface of the bamboo has a natural enamel which is not cut or injured in putting the frame together by means of a patent anchor or lock joint. All joints are of steel which taper on the inside towards the end. The bamboo bar encloses a steel thimble of the same taper. By a patent process the end of the bamboo is sized first and then tightly pressed into the joint, the steel thimble making It impossible to draw it out.

C.H Cowdrey of Fitchburg Massechusetts were engaged in manufacturing special wood rim machines and a special lathe for turning wood handlebars.

Fairbanks Wood Rim Company of Pennsylvania manufactured high quality wood rims, many of which survive today. Fairbanks also produced banjos. Other wood bicycle lines included handle bars, dress and chain guards. Fairbanks rims were made of curvilinear laminated maple segments, which were cemented together under hydraulic pressure, stating that "and which because of this principle of jointure, remain perfectly true both laterally and periphery, while the transverse grains of the adjoining segments or laminate absolutely prevent splitting along the line of spokes in the impact of collision or shock. Each segment is planed (both sides) to a thickness of mathematical exactness through the entire length, insuring absolutely unbroken contact when cemented - the adjoining segments."

Kundtz Bending Works of Cleveland Ohio also manufactured "reinforced laminated rims", the Kundtz process incorporated "two" rims, one inside the oter for durability and strength, and were completed to a "piano finish". Their diagram below illustrates the Kundtz method.

Waddel Wooden Ware Works had the capcity to turn out 1,000 wooden rims per day, other wood products included chain and dress guards. Waddel Wood noted that "In the event of the bicycle combination being successful, bicycle manufacturers ..could rely upon supplying them with wood rims..."

Winona Wood Rim Company had the capacity top run out 1,000 pairs of wood rims per day. The price of wood in large quantities was a concern for Waddel and Winona wood companies.

Below are the advertisements as they appeared in "Cycling Life". We'll update this wooden cycling blog whenever we unearth more on wood bike manufacture.

 C. H. Cowdrey wood bicycle rims

C. H. Cowdrey wood bicycle rims

 Beebe Manufacturing Company Racine Wood Bicycle Parts

Beebe Manufacturing Company Racine Wood Bicycle Parts

 1896 Bamboo bicycle

1896 Bamboo bicycle

 Winona wood rim bicycle company

Winona wood rim bicycle company

 Indiana novelty wooden bicycle handlebars

Indiana novelty wooden bicycle handlebars

 Wooden bicycle handlebars 1890's

Wooden bicycle handlebars 1890's

 1897 bicycle wood handlebar

1897 bicycle wood handlebar

 Cottles 1897 wood handle bar bicycle

Cottles 1897 wood handle bar bicycle

 Wood bicycle components

Wood bicycle components

 Wood bicycle rims

Wood bicycle rims

 Wood bicycle rim colour chart

Wood bicycle rim colour chart

The bicycle repairer must be well up in wood rim matters. The rims for a bicycle require as much strength, resistance and toughness as the spokes and hubs of a carriage. The best forest ash, properly used, makes the most satisfactory rims, and the close-grained hickory properly cured and bent gives good results. The coarse-grained hickory is heavier than the fine-grained, but when put to the test the lighter wood sustains from ten to fifteen per cent greater weight without breaking. Basswood is used by some manufacturers. First growth hickory has a coarse, crooked grain and is very knotty, making it unfit for rims, while the second-growth produces fairly good timber.

1. http://www.archive.org/details/cyclinglifeOOtest

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