ligneus m. (feminine lignea, neuter ligneum); first/second declension

  1. Of wood—wooden.
  2. Similar in texture to wood—woody.

This all started a few years ago when bike guru Mike Burrows came to our office one evening to give us a talk  about his career in bike design and the development of the Lotus bike and Windcheetah. He brought along a stealthy looking low racer recumbent that he said was his favorite bike and spent the hour long talk extolling the virtues of recumbent bikes. I was sold. When i got home that evening the first thing i did was type ‘Recumbent bike’ into google to see how to get my hands on one. It didn’t take long to realise that it is a very niche market and you don’t get much change from £1500 for the most basic models. That was WELL out of my league as a fresh engineering graduate and so the idea of a home made wooden bike began to develop…….

The wooden bike stable now includes the bikes below (click images to go to the individual pages) but i’m sure there will be others to add to the collection in the future.


There’s also an ‘Engineers Corner’ with some technical information/ research in the various pages under Why Wood

I hope you enjoy reading about my wooden bikes and would encourage anyone who is partial to tinkering with tools to have a go. I’d be really interested to hear about any interesting projects that you’ve got on the go.


23 thoughts on “Ligneus

  1. I am building a wooden bike at the moment out of Elm and London Plane, I wanted to make it out of English hardwoods but i want it to be elegant and made by myself. thanks for the website as I have been pondering different ways of doing the bottom bracket and steaering tube etc. its very helpful

    i’ll let you know how I get on

    • Hi Peter
      Thanks for getting in touch and glad you found the site useful. I don’t know what type of frame you’re building or how far down the line you are with it but my only comment would be that London plane and elm are both quite flexible woods and are likely to give a softer more flexi ride. Not a problem if you’re not using it for any serious riding though . If you’re after English hardwood then id recommend ash, beech, oak or walnut as suitable zones for a good frame. They’re all stiffer, stronger and more durable than plane or elm. Durability is important because even though you’re going to seal the wood the last thing you want is decay around the bottom bracket because a stone flew up and chipped it and then let water in on a wet ride. Cheers Nick

      • Thanks Nick I was thinking of doing the rear stays out of oak and something else but I think that the frame should be ok out of plane and elm. I was not actually going to make it hollow to give it more strength. My business is selling woodworking machinery so the cutters and machinery are not a problem I was wondering if I should do half lap joints around the frame corners or alternatively do a finger joint at the top tube and the bottom bracket. I am more concerned about the integrity of the joints than the wood type. The construction is 9mm elm then 20mmLondonplane then 9mm elm all the way around. What do you think ?

      • Again, it depends what you want to use it for. If you’re going to ride it regularly and want a decent bike then I’d make it hollow to save some weight. A solid frame will turn out very heavy. Finger joints will work fine but you will have to be careful where you place them. An unreinforced finger joint connected perpendicular to the grain will, quite likely split the grain. Are you London based?

  2. yes I may well hollow it out. I am based in Brighton and want it just to ride around town. I am going to do half lap joints as I dont really trust finger joints, with a half lap joint if its laminated up Its got to be stronger really I think. Ill let you know how its going when Ive done it !

    • Hi Peter
      I wasn’t saying don’t use finger joints. They’ll be 10 times quicker than half laps and that’s what I’ll do for the next build. Just make sure they’re in sensible places. i.e joint half way down head tube with the aluminium insert tying the 2 sides together, joint at the bottom bracket with the chain stays tying across either side of the joint and a joint in the seat tube below the top tube with the aluminium seat tube insert tying the joint together.

      I look forward to seeing progress!

      • I did the half lap joints as I think it’ll be stronger. Ive made it quite hollow by routing out the members and the weight seems fine. just doing the back stays now. can you advise on how much meat to take off round the head tube? theres about 8mm round the head tube at the moment before trimming it down but more at the front. Ive stabilised it all with woven glass tape round the tube and into the joints so it is pretty strong. Im going to make the front forks as well . Any advice on this. was thinking of doing it as I have with the back stays with a 3 piece lamination elm,plane,elm with glass tape in the glue. what do you think ?

      • Hi Peter
        Glad to hear its coming on well.
        My frame has 5mm walls on all the tubes including around the head tube. The wood right at the front will play very little part in the structural integrity of the frame as the strength mostly comes from the glue joint between the aluminium insert and the main body of the frame.

        My honest advice for making wooden forks would be don’t bother! Compared with steel/aluminium or carbon, wood is much more flexible and weaker for the same size of element. The only way the wooden frame works is by making the tubes wider and thicker than normal. So if you make a wooden fork then you’ll either have to make them much bigger (wider and fatter) but hollow or make it solid to increase the ammount of material. If you make them bigger then they become much less aero and look like a kids bike! If you make them solid then they’ll be very heavy and will affect not only the overall weight but will alter the handling due to the change in weight distribution (front to back).

        As I said previously, it depends what you’re going to use it for. I wouldn’t do a 40mph decent on a road bike with wooden forks as you can’t make them stiff/strong enough without altering other aspects of the ride quality. I certainly wouldn’t recommend replacing the steerer for a wooden steerer unless it was solid. And even then I’d want to test it properly before I used it. Even with an alu steerer I’d want to test the joint to make sure it was fine. The stresses on the fork/steerer around the crown race are regularly highly loaded during front wheel braking and hitting pot holes. I’ve never done the calculations to design a wooden fork because i feels like the wrong material for the job.

  3. hi Nick, adrian hatton here, just letting you know im still on with the wood bike. Im finger jointing as described above , iIm using white ash(centre band) padauk (pinstipe) and sepele outer. ive been building a vacuum press machine since xmas which was a project in itself!! this should give nice even glue lines (using atmospheric pressure) i will post some photos and a link in the next couple of weeks, cheers again

  4. I actually have only ended up on this page because I saw your single-speed locked up in Chiswick Park and wanted to know where I could get one! Gutted it’s a one-of-a-kind! Looks great though.

  5. Hey Nick, Ovangkol looks beautiful! Great properties too for a wood steed! Quick question – would you use west system epoxy again? Obviously you had a great result with it. I used T88 epoxy , its vey poular in the USA for wooden aircraft building and mixes 1:1 ratio (by volume) and whats great is that its not toxic. Cant wait to see the Ovangkol bike!

  6. Hi Nick. Thanks for the education on this morning’s commute and for dropping me on the bridge incline! Frame obviously not as flexible and energy sapping as I thought. Let me know if you ever commute in on Woody 2. Would really like to see that too.

    • Hi Mike
      Thanks for the message. I always enjoy meeting people on my commute. Cycling becomes more social when you ride an odd bike! I don’t often take Woody 2 into work as I don’t like commuting on +£3k worth of bike. I’ll drop you a line if I bring it in to town in the near future.

  7. Hi I am currently designing to build my 2nd wood bike. I am building it out of Jarrah a local hardwood that is very dense. I was wondering how thick you tubes were on your Woody 2? By way it looks amazing and how big are each of your tubes and stays as my first has a lot of bend at the bottom bracket? My first bikes Down Tube was a round 56mm diametre however still bends a lot with 5mm thick walls.
    I noticed in one of your comments you said against a wood fork. Formy first bike I built a solid plywood fork it weighs only 621g with an alloy steerer and is just amazing to ride on and really completes the bikes look.

    Thanks Hayden

    • I’m always hesitant to advise people how thick to make the tubes as it is completely dependent on the wood that is used. If you built my Woody frame using weaker woods then it would certainly be dangerous due to the thin tubes.

      I still don’t believe that it is possible to build a safe fork using plywood. May be possible but heavy with a dense hardwood though. By safe, i mean a fork that would stand a chance of passing the same front impact tests that all commercial forks have to pass.

      • Thanks Nick

        Yes I made it out of a structural hardwood ply. My first bike was built to a budget as all believed I couldn’t do it. It rides amazing I amazed at how little flex it does have, knowing plywood is not as strong. However jarrah has a 850kg density so it is very heavy and my first bike frame weighed 2363g. Seeing as jarrah is a very simmiliar wood to padauk I wanted to see as a guide how thick you tubes were and what overall (diametre) of your other tubes are.

        How is your next bike going?

    • Hi Hayden, was your first frame also made from plywood? Frame strength and stiffness is obviously partly due to the size of the tubes but also the material properties of the particular wood that you use. Plywood typically uses wood (typically birch) that is significantly weaker and more flexible than a wood like Jarrah. This is combined with the fact that half the wood in a sheet of ply is facing the wrong direction and the grain is perpendicular not parallel to the tube so will give very little benefit to the strength and stiffness of the frame. So for an identical geometry I would expect a Jarrah frame to be well over twice as stiff and strong as a ply frame. It will however be heavier as it is so much denser.

  8. The tubes are 2.5-3mm thick with a down tube of 52x90mm. However at that thickness the build tolerance has to be spot on as you can’t afford to go any thinner. I designed it assuming that I would use a CNC router but in the end used cutting templates and did it by hand.

    Also note that the internal stiffeners are essential when the frame is this thin. I designed and tested these extensively before I built the frame. This included running a 1 year masters engineering project at Oxford University and building some tubes that we tested to destruction!

    Plenty of bike ideas on my ‘to do’ list but no time to build them.

    Have you got a picture of your first frame?

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