The $70,000 wooden bicycle

By Peter Suciu in Detroit, Michigan | Friday, October 19, 2012 2.58pm

The Dutch are well known for their love affair with the bicycle and no city in the world is as synonymous with bicycles as Amsterdam. But the Dutch are also known for their thriving furniture design community, and the Netherlands even has its own trade group, DUFEX (Dutch Furniture Export Organization), which is dedicated to the promotion of its furniture abroad.

Perhaps in the future DUFEX might also help promote Dutch cycling, as the Thonet Chair Company recently commissioned the design of a bicycle – one that costs just a mere $70,000 – by London designer Andy Martin.

For that kind of money you might think that the Thonet bicycle would be made of some “unobtainium” space age material, or be crafted from gold. You’d be wrong, because this bicycle is made of the same material that Thonet has been utilizing since the 1851 World’s Fair – wood.

Thonet is actually most famous for its iconic No. 14 chair, which was introduced in 1859, when Queen Victoria of Great Britain was just 40 years old, and the American Civil War was still two years off. Thonet still makes a version of the chair, the No. 214 and only time will tell if the bicycle design endures as long.

In fact, the company was making its iconic chair before the standard bicycle was even designed, so in a way the concept design – which utilizes the same steam-bent process that Thonet has used for more than 150 years – is just a new take on an old design. Just don’t expect to ride off with one anytime soon.

“The Thonet Bike by Andy Martin is a concept study by British designer Andy Martin, not a finished product,” said Anuschka Rattunde, Thonet Chair Company spokesperson. “The bicycle is not ready for serial production.”

One gear, 70 grand: one gear, 70 grandOne gear, 70 grand

This isn’t in fact even a full collaboration between Thonet GmbH. and Martin, but rather the designers take on the Thonet process. However, the chair makers are impressed by what Martin was able to achieve using its process.

“The concept reveals in an exciting way how bentwood technology can still inspire designers to create experimental work today,” Rattunde told BikeRadar. “Andy Martin developed the concept independently without Thonet’s involvement after first meeting with Thonet in 2010.”

Martin told Fast Company that he looked to design something that was along the lines of the traditional Dutch bike, something that is of course as iconic as the No. 14 chair, but instead moved away from the traditional to focus directly on the material and the bending process.

The result was a bike that was in essence re-imagined Thonet’s hand-bent wood designs, with the result being something akin to a Thonet chair.

Thonet's beechwood bike: thonet's beechwood bike

“The raw formed Beechwood is very tactile and has a slightly 'nude’ feel to it,” Martin recently told Fast Company. “We wanted the bike to have a progressive aesthetic and still feel handcrafted.”

The process did also involve a few more twists along the way to get the right shape. While the frame is made entirely of steam-bent wood, CNC machines were used to finish the contours while carving critical reinforcement joints.

The bike also features carbon-fiber wheels, something that gives it a little new to blend with the old and traditional. The result is something that would likely turn heads, even in Amsterdam.

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