The Renovo R4 Pursuit's curvy frame is built from what its Portland, Oregon based maker calls 'nature's carbon', which is to say, hardwood.
Why wood? Renovo is quick to dismiss the idea that wooden bikes are a novelty item only, citing the material's intrinsic strength, durability, fatigue resistance, and sustainability. Advances in computer controlled woodworking machinery and the quality of modern adhesives mean that Renovo can produce a frame that's on par weight-wise with high end steel offerings, and which claims to offer performance and comfort levels to rival the best carbon.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, and neither do bikes… oh yes they do
The polished, exquisitely perfect joints of the R4 put us more in mind of luxury furniture than a bicycle, a curious counterpoint to the sober mechanical efficiency of the drivetrain components. Beneath the lacquer, the Renovo is a monocoque construction of machined-out wooden sections, built as separate halves and then joined down the centreline of the frame. Although the wood is itself shaped to very fine tolerances (0.005”/0.13mm), metal sleeves are used in critical areas including the head tube, seat tube and bottom bracket. The rear dropouts and brake bridge are metal too.
The only construction oddity (inasmuch as a wooden bike can be anything other than odd) is the decision to route the front derailleur cable through the top tube, requiring the use of a direction-reversing pulley on the seat tube, like those found on 'cross bikes. Renovo says this is the result of space constraints imposed by the wooden construction, which preclude an ideal cable run from underneath. The rear brake cable is internal too, and on our tester the generous cable lengths fouled on our knees when we got out of the saddle – annoying, but not unsolvable.
Stout metal dropouts are neatly integrated with the wooden stays
That aside, the real surprise with the Renovo was that it rides like a proper race bike, with handling that's accurate and quick. The ride quality is firm and direct, but smooth, the bike gliding over rough surfaces rather than chattering. It's also respectably stiff when you give it some power, no doubt thanks in part to the voluminous bottom bracket area, which houses a threaded metal sleeve to receive the sensible external bearing cups. The Rolf Vigor Alpha wheels on our tester, another Oregonian design, do it no harm either. Their rim section is nothing special, but they're lively thanks to their weight, and eye-catching too.
Our R4 was fitted with the latest SRAM Force 22 groupset, which performed flawlessly, its Yaw front derailleur doing a good job of eliminating chain rub. The comparatively tall gearing was a shock to the system after months on compacts, but Renovo will spec the bike to your taste, so you've got plenty of options.
Visible grain on the head tube contrasts with functional-looking componentry
It probably hasn't escaped your notice that Renovo's selection of componentry has an unapologetically American slant to it. The theme continues with the fork – a simple but elegant Road 2.0 from Utah-based bling specialist Enve Composites – and the Chris King headset, another Portland treat. The FSA finishing kit bucks the trend, but it's beautifully finished stuff, especially the feathery carbon bars.
The Renovo's ornate appearance won't appeal to all and it's far from cheap. It is however, beautifully made, a pleasure to ride, and a fine demonstration of what's possible. Sometimes you can see the wood for the trees.