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A student design for a bent-ply bike

Mountain Bike, Student Design 22 2182

John Hobson submitted an entry to the commuter bike competition late last year. Since that time, he has completed a prototype of his laminated wood bike design a part of one of his design courses. Attached are a couple of pictures of his prototype…his description of the design follows:

“The frame is designed for a commuter who wants to cycle to work to be more eco-friendly than taking a car, train or bus. The bike is both eye catching and practical, drawing attention for its unusual curvature as well as its wooden construction. This makes it an ideal showcase for environmentally friendly transportation.

The frame is made from laminated strips of beach ply running from the headtube to the dropouts in one smooth curve. The curves are around 40mm in thickness to provide enough strength to cope with the forces involved in cycling and to stop it flexing. The mid tube is also curved to provide additional aesthetic appeal as well as strength; the tube is a shaped piece of wood holding both curves in position whilst providing areas for the seat-post and bottom bracket to be attached.”

Based on John’s description, I am assuming that the 2×4 seat beam shape is not finalized. I think a little shaping in that area would help to unify the design quite a bit.

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  1. brado1 June 16, 2009 at 1:31 pm -  Reply

    Kind of reminds me of the Darwin Fish emblem

  2. James June 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm -  Reply

    Anon, I think you are right! In fact, I posted some of my bent-ply bike sketches some time ago.

    Classic bent-ply chairs are appealing because the laminated wood flexes as you sit down, but is rigid side to side. A laminated ply bike that is vertically compliant could be quite interesting but I think there are some significant challenges to overcome.

  3. Anonymous June 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm -  Reply

    I wonder how much flex the frame has. If done right it could be a good thing, particularly for a hard tail mountain bike.

  4. John Hobson June 16, 2009 at 3:59 pm -  Reply

    this is the first bike I have built (im only 18) but it was great fun! The frame actually has very little flex, though is on the heavy side especially for mtb usage. As James said the "2×4" post is not the finalized design as I ran out of time to do any shaping before it had to be submitted to the exam board!

    Thanks John

  5. Charlie June 16, 2009 at 5:03 pm -  Reply


    Very nice design. I think you are right that lots of environmentally oriented bike commuters would like to buy it. To make it more of a commuter, you'd of course want lower rolling resistance tires and probably a lighter fork, as well as lights and a rack. You'd also need to assure people that the finish would protect the wood in wet weather.

    One fun thing about a beefy wood frame is that if you want to mount a rack or water bottle, you don't need eyelets–you just use a wood screw to put them exactly where you want them!

  6. Bazza June 16, 2009 at 5:41 pm -  Reply

    I like it. But, isn't the head-tube angle a bit FR/DH? Wouldn't it make the steering response a little slack for town/commuting?
    But, it's a minor issue. Easily correctable.

  7. Astroluc June 16, 2009 at 6:02 pm -  Reply

    this is a pretty sweet idea; I like that the wood is nealy exlusive to the frame and other elements of the bike are still your "normal" parts… the frame is sexy, too (aspiring woodworker, here). I actually like the solid and striking way the "seat-tube" looks… it's a great contrast to all of the curves a bike (and this bike, in particular) naturally has.

    I have a real appreciation for wood and like to see it used in interesting, and potentially useful, ways.

    Hey John! Is this a working prototype or just a mock-up?

    If it's working, how did you integrate the stem/stearing tube/headset to the wood?

    What type of finish be (or would) you use for the wood to fight off the inevitible weather?

  8. Anonymous June 17, 2009 at 5:35 am -  Reply

    It looks good, but if it is supposed to be a practical commuter bike – why no mudguards or chain guard?

  9. matula June 18, 2009 at 6:41 pm -  Reply

    no it's not a really nice is idiotic. for a showcase on wood workmanship and design with wood on the other hand, it is very nice.

  10. James June 19, 2009 at 7:17 am -  Reply

    Matula, idiotic is a bit harsh. Try to be constructive with your criticism as other have.

  11. Rie21 June 19, 2009 at 9:20 am -  Reply

    Hello, I read your article here and I feeling good. Nice article. I will bookmark this blog to my favorite. I hope we can Exchange links with my blog ( Can increase our traffic anyway. Waiting for your confirm.



  12. Anonymous June 20, 2009 at 8:25 pm -  Reply

    Nicely done John , I like the design so much I was working on a similar one a while back . But you actually built it . With a little work on the seat post/bottom bracket your design will really ROCK . A very good use of wood . John you can play around with different types of wood and bamboo also. There are also ways of knocking off weight .
    matula you need to lighten up a little . My question to you would be what do you find to be an acceptable material for bicycles ? So far steel has been used successfully for bicycles and ,oh wait so has aluminum ,carbon fiber , plastic , bamboo ,wood , and fiberglass .Steel happens to be the most common material for bikes because steel is cheap , common , very easy to work and possible to mass produce .Oops , forgot titanium .

    Random Ray

  13. John Hobson June 22, 2009 at 4:37 pm -  Reply

    Hi, firstly thanks for all the comments and constructive criticism

    Secondly to answering a few questions:
    Random Ray – "What do you find to be an acceptable material for bicycles?" I think an acceptable material for a bicycle frame is anything that is strong enough and durable enough to withstand the stresses and strains produced from cycling, the choice of material depends on what properties you want in what balance i.e. steel tends to be softer and produce a more comfortable frame, carbon fibre provides increased rigidity and lightness.

    Astroluc – "Is this a working prototype or just a mock-up?" the frame is a working prototype, in fact I rode it on my school commute a couple of times, however it is very much a prototype as there are a few issues such as gear alignment so there are only 3 working gears, woops!!

    "How did you integrate the stem/stearing tube/headset to the wood?" The steerer tube and BB are currently epoxied in place, again a prototype solution, the idea would be to weld a small plate onto the side to provide a larger surface area and possible an area to bolt the part into the frame.

    "What type of finish be (or would) you use for the wood to fight off the inevitible weather?" The frame has been given a few coats on oil to initialy seel it, coats of varnish or laquer would provide additional protection against weathering.

    Bazza – the head angle is indeed very slack, I hold my hands up, I made a mistake setting up the drill and got it at the wrong angle but it still works!

    Think thats about it for now, im happy to try and answer any questions you have to ask so feel free to do so!!

    Thanks John

  14. Sean June 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm -  Reply

    Good work, John, keep going with this and resubmit to the blog when you have worked out the details. As a designer with Renovo Hardwood Bikes, I've noticed that your bike has a similar profile to our new road frame, the R4. I like it. As for the weight, our frames are a hollow monocoque, I wonder if you could make hollow bent-ply pieces to lighten up the frame while maintaining the rigidity.

    If you would like to check out the new R4, go to

  15. bmike June 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm -  Reply

    as an entrant to the 'commuter bike' competition i'm glad this didn't go anywhere…

    as a woodworking / bike project it is an interesting concept.

    as i've said on this and other blogs before – to make it a practical 'commuter' i think you need to spend some time commuting… in all weather, at all times of day and night. and remember that it doesn't have to be just for getting to work – how about a run to the grocer, a stop at the cinema, farmer's market, to hang with friend? why not a longer ride to a picnic or trail for a hike?

    a neat concept for the frame doesn't solve racks / fenders / gear / lights / rider comfort. and the suspension is overkill for most normal streets and paths, and even most dirt roads.

    bent ply is a cool and very adaptable material. integrate that with intended function – and you will have a better product.

  16. Major Taylor June 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm -  Reply

    Interesting…sure wish they would've been alot more creative with the 2*4 seat tubing

  17. karlpinturr September 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm -  Reply

    Why all the harsh stuff? John was only 18 when he designed/built this – give the guy a break! So what if his prototype doesn’t include a rack, chainguard (I’ve not seen one of those on a new bike for about 15 years) or mudguards? There’s certainly room for them (and, yes, improvement). Perhaps the mudguards (and chainguard?) could be a darker colour.. As for a rack, the only ‘problem’ I can see is marrying the usual need for a flat bed to the curves of the frame.

    Apart from that, I just wonder how environmentally friendly plywood is, given all the (synthetic?) glue needed to laminate it? But, maybe that’s just my lack of knowledge?

    Anyway, John, I hope you continue to refine and develop your ideas – and keep an eye out for stuff (like LonToe’s Instructable) that you inspire, and that it keeps you inspired in return.

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