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December 21, 2008
What's the point of beautiful wood rims? Something "green?" An exercise in one-upsmanship? An edge in performance or feel? Pure nostalgia? Perhaps none of the above. Think of wood rims as a design device, an aesthetic option to create beautiful bicycles.
The mandate to reduce global impacts of our species fuels a quest for sustainable, renewable sources of materials and power. Wood is often mismanaged, but it is certainly renewable. Where else can the metals and synthetics we've come to trust on a bicycle be replaced without a serious performance compromise? Substituting wood rims on a fully modern racing bike usually means a negligible reduction in efficiency and speed compared with aluminum.
The modern bicycle is a personal accessory, a physics lesson, and a membership card, for better or worse. Every detail defines its design intent, owner's values, and social impact. Wood rims, especially as long as they're extremely uncommon, are an unapproached fashion statement.
There's no denying the advantages of wood. Rather than delivering the bone-jarring stiffness of aluminum, wood bends easily, absorbing shock and vibration. Its structure makes dents impossible. You can knock pieces off a wood rim or crush it into splinters, but you can't dent it. And without technical complexity or exotic materials, wood gives you a liquid ride and liveliness to enrich every pedaling moment.
There's beauty in integrity. Period-correct wood rims on a racing bike from the '30's, for example, can perfectly replicate the look of that era. Those machines were used in sporting contests, like 6-Day races, of a scale and intensity not seen since. No better way to remember and respect history than with authentic artifacts.
In spite of all these features, however, it's still about the bike. Beautiful bikes with wood rims are the objective of all this ranting. On that point, please enjoy a couple of beautiful machines.
First is a one-off masterpiece by Naked Bicycle's Sam Whittingham. Check these shots of a woman's style town bike built for Shimano (criteria: use an Alfine groupset). It was a smash hit at this Fall's Toronto and Las Vegas Bike Shows. More details here.
If Sam's isn't enough for you, here is a CX type design by Craig Calfee. Equipped and built at River City in Portland last month, it features Ghisallo Sport clincher rims and specially selected dark bamboo tubing.
Is a unique machine in your future?
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