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Two very similar plywood bike concepts

Bent plywood bicycle rendering by James Thomas

Bent-ply bicycle rendering by James Thomas- 2008

Five or six years ago while looking through a book of classic bent plywood chair designs, I sketched out a bike frame inspired by the work of Charles and Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto, and others. I had seen many plywood bike frames in the past, but none of them took advantage of the flexibility that is inherent in the forming process. They all used the material with the lamination oriented vertically (perpendicular to the ground). My idea was to eliminate the seat tube, and allow the two horizontally positioned pieces of laminated plywood to flex slightly and provide a bit of built in suspension.

classic bent plywood chairs

My bent-ply furniture inspiration board from 2008

There were a few issues to overcome with this design, so I never really proceeded past the concept stage. In February of 2008, I posted a page of my sketches here at Bicycle Design, and soon after that I did the quick Photoshop sideview rendering that you see here. That was it though…I haven’t really thought about the idea much since that time.

Bonobo bent-ply bike

Ploski's Bonobo bent-ply bike 2011

Imagine my surprise when I clicked a link on Designboom that was forwarded to me by a reader the other day. The Bonobo bent plywood bike, by Polish designer Stanisław Płoski, looks very similar to the bent ply concept bike that I posted a few years ago. At first glance, I felt like someone had just a made a prototype from those old sketches of mine. Of course, it could just be coincidence that the designs are very similar. That happens sometimes…especially when an idea is pretty basic like this one. Ploski’s design may very well have been inspired by the same classic furniture designs that prompted mine. Some of the details seem pretty similar though, so I wonder if perhaps he saw my old 2008 post before developing his Bonobo concept. Check out the two concepts together in the image below. I flipped the sideview image of the Bonobo bike so that both are oriented in the same direction. I can’t say for sure that my design “inspired” his, but there is no doubt that the basic idea is the same. I am a bit biased though, so I am curious what you all think. Could the Bonobo concept be based on my old sketches, or do you think it was just a similar design that was developed independently?

Update: Thanks to Julius for pointing me toward the blog for a video series called Everything is a Remix. It’s worth checking out for anyone who works in design, engineering, or any creative field. One of the quotes that stood out to me is; “We’re all building with the same materials. And sometimes by coincidence we get similar results, but sometimes innovations just seem inevitable.”

Regardless of whether Ploski saw my old sketches or not, I am glad to see the prototype of his design. Even though I never developed it beyond the drawing stage, I do think it is an idea worth pursuing.

2 bent ply bike renderings compared


Posted in Commuter, Concept, Student Design.

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17 Responses

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  1. Clancy says

    Nice a simple design. I built a plywood and LVL (laminated veneer lumber) bike in 2006. My design is not tops but the concept is much different. http://ratrodbikes.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=11557&p=116151&hilit=woodie#p116151

  2. Greg says

    Why would he go to the trouble of changing it as he did to make it less attractive? At a glance his design is more practical.

    • James Thomas says

      If you are referring to the shape of the two ply pieces….yes, his design is probably more practical. I’d love to ride it and feel how the frame flexes. It looks like a very well built prototype.

  3. Johann Rissik says

    Yours is more elegant and his seatpost-to-top-plank junction is problematic. Now please stop CADding and make one;)

    • James Thomas says

      Yes, I should make one…just need to find the time. I guess that is why the design has been sitting in a folder for years.

  4. Fuzzy Math says

    2008 is not 5 or 6 years ago

    • James Thomas says

      Ha, ha! 2008 is when I posted the sketches and did the rendering. The original sketches were drawn quite a bit prior to that; probably around 2005 or 2006.

  5. Pierre says

    In my opinion, this is just a coincidence. Your design, James, is indeed much more refined and elegant.

  6. Odair says

    Bicicleta é um transporte ecológico, seja qual for o seu design

  7. Keith says

    Both designs look really cool. Would look forward to both bikes getting beyond the prototype stage.

  8. Peter kornum says

    Fishing for praise, for somthing you dident bother finishing…. Take the high road…. Your design is great… But imagine the amount of work he put in to actually make it work… Just look at the dementions of the plywood etc.

    • James Thomas says

      I was not fishing for praise at all. The post was just my initial reaction to seeing a very similar design to one I had posted previously. As I wrote in my update though, I am glad to see that he made a working prototype (an nice one at that) and I acknowledged that the similarity between the two designs could very well be a complete coincidence.

  9. Ken says

    i have a question,if your weight up to 100kg,
    can it support for that?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Naturschönheiten: Holzfahrräder | Bicycle Fashion linked to this post on March 26, 2014

    […] Holzfahrrad (Quelle: Lagomorph Design) Alien (Quelle: Rob Pollock) Bent-ply Fahrrad (Quelle: James Thomas) Holzweg Fahrrad  (Quelle: Arndt Menke) Mahogany Bike T2 (Quelle: Sanomagic) WOOD.b / Nexus […]



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