Iowa State Univ. Wooden Bike Kills It!

We’ve seen wooden bicycles before but not like this. Students at Iowa State University designed and then built this “Form Y” wooden bike. Stress and structure considerations were all part of the design process. This is not a fancy concept but is an actual working bicycle.

What is the purpose of a wooden bike?

Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project handlebars
Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project | ISU

The idea behind the build was to make a bike from non-traditional materials and processes. But it had to be not only made differently but had to be functional. Stress points around the frame needed to be taken into consideration and remedied in the design.

Once wood was determined to be the material they would use, the students had to figure out what type of wood would work well. Ash was the winner here because it not only looks and feels good but has the strength. It’s hard, dense, and looks beautiful when finished. 

A lot of little details had to be figured out

Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project seat post
Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project | ISU

Everything from grain direction to joints and also aesthetics were part of the areas explored by the students. Overlapping joints and connections had to be figured out. Even things like routing the cables were beautifully thought out. Most of the cables needed run inside of the frame and aren’t visible. 

If you can see the areas where frame members join, the tolerances are tight. The woodworking skills show excellent craftsmanship. But what about the design?

What does “Form Y” mean?

Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project side view
Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project | ISU

The Form Y design starts with the “Y-Wing” in the center of the bike. Both visually but also functionally, the Y-Wing holds the bike together. Besides being the key part of the frame, it also forms the seat tube and chainstay.

Dropouts on the frame allow for chain adjustment on all bikes. This was a crucial aspect that the team needed to get right. The chainstay that holds the dropouts ended up being made from ash veneers. They were then glued together into a mold creating a super-strong support structure for the dropouts. 

A lot of design was applied to chainstays and dropouts to make it all work together

Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project dropouts and belt drive
Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project | ISU

The dropouts themselves were custom-made out of aluminum. They dovetail with the Gates carbon belt drive and disc brake drivetrain chosen for the project. Some elegant curves and craftsmanship come together at the juncture of the chainstays and dropouts. It’s a complex area of the design that one could stare at for a long time to take it all in. 

In all, it looks terrific. No specs were given as to the weight or the cost. Both are important aspects of any design. In this case, though, being a school project means not having to address every single piece of the pie. 

But now the question becomes is there a way to manufacture, market, and distribute a bicycle like this? We hope so.

Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project belt drive
Iowa State Univ. wooden bicycle project | ISU

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