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Splinter Bike and the Wooden Bicycle Land Speed Record

Road Bike, Wooden Bike 15 1960

Splinterbike wooden bicycle designI have posted about quite a few wooden bikes in the past, but none quite like this one. The Splinter Bike, created by British craftsman Michael Thompson is made entirely out of wood, without a single piece of rubber or metal. Aside from glue and paint, the entire bicycle (drivetrain, bearings, axles, and all) is made from various types of hardwood.

A Bike Biz article about the Splinter Bike explains that the project started as a bet:

“Thompson, a joiner, boasted he could make a fully wooden bike and his friend James Tully called his bluff.

The cogs, wheels and frame are made from birch ply. Ironwood – an oily wood – is used where moving parts meet. The pedals and handlebars were made from an old broom handle. There’s no chain. Instead there’s a 128-tooth cog that links the chainring and the gear on the rear wheel.”

It is a pretty impressive design exercise, but apparently simply building the bike wasn’t enough. With Tully, an accomplished triathlete, riding the bike on a velodrome, Thompson plans to break the “100% Wooden Bicycle Land Speed Record”. Well…not exactly break the record, since no such record has been attempted before. They do plan to set an official record with the Splinter Bike though.  Initially, Thompson and Tully “didn’t realize that setting a land speed record involves certain unavoidable costs.” As Thompson says on his website, “We thought that we could knock up a wooden bike and run it down the road, follow along in a car, check the speedo and hey presto… we’ve just set a land speed record!” It is not that simple though, so they are now trying to raise £7500 to pay for the specialized speed measuring equipment that they will need.

Thompson has documented the building process on his blog. Now that the bike is complete, it is interesting to look back and see the earlier prototypes and drawings.  Most of the posts are interesting, but I particularly liked the one that showed how the wooden tire surface was enhanced with 3.5mm of grippy adhesive. It doesn’t look like the most comfortable ride ever, but it definitely beats a raw wood contact surface on the track. It should be fun to continue to follow the blog as the bike undergoes testing and refinement before the official record attempt. I will definitely be watching to see how that attempt goes…best of luck to Michael and James.

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  1. Andy April 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm -  Reply

    Entirely out of wood, except for the rubbery glue that makes the tires. Oops

    • James Thomas April 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm -  Reply

      It’s still “officially” glue though. That’s ingenuity if you ask me. Besides, it’s not like three and a half millimeters of adhesive is going to cushion the ride much. It’s mainly just for friction.

      • Andy April 29, 2011 at 2:21 pm -  Reply

        The whole bike is certainly ingenuity and a neat design. Just seems against the 100% wood purpose though to top it off with some form of glue that is probably made with complicated chemical processes which juxtaposes the simplicity of the rest of the bike being only wood.

        • Andrew May 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm -  Reply

          This is mostly plywood, which is all about chemistry and mechanical ingenuity, anyway. Apparently it’s the same glue as is used in the plywood itself, if you really want to be nitpicky about it.

  2. Nick F April 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm -  Reply

    This thing is amazing. It’s got a great aesthetic… looking hyper-functional but also sort of quirky.

    Doesn’t seem like the most comfortable or efficient handlebar setup for timetrialing though… I wonder why they went with that. Also those wheel cutouts (which his blog said were for weight savings) may not really be improvements due to the increased drag.

    Genius design all around though.

    • Nick F April 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm -  Reply

      Actually… It occurs to me now that those bars may be perfect for doing an Obree position, and if so… YES. I love it.

      • Ross Nicholson April 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm -  Reply

        celophane is made from wood.

    • Andy May 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm -  Reply

      The wheel cutouts can only make it slower. On a track where there’s no wind, and you are able to bring it up to speed first, than solid disc wheels would be the way to go. The cutouts only add air resistance in this case.

  3. ben May 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm -  Reply

    And how long might this last?

  4. christian May 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm -  Reply

    7500 British Pounds to tell you how fast your going. Hello??? Something sounds sketchy to me about the price. I have a Garmin and it will also tell me how far I go and map it on 25 different websites of my choice. I bet that would cost another 1 million for all that data. Seriously 7500???

  5. R.Kyle May 6, 2011 at 11:25 am -  Reply

    Is this really running or what? The first pictures looks just like a thin plywood but when you get on the front view the wood was so thick, so i wonder if this really running.

    Product Design Company

  6. Mick Allan May 9, 2011 at 7:47 am -  Reply

    Saddle’s not flat….

  7. Scot May 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm -  Reply

    Seems sketchy. Could this be less bike board and more billboard .

  8. David June 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm -  Reply

    Any cork used in this build?

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