Entrepreneurs: Master woodworkers Bill Holloway and Mauro Hernandez, who craft custom wooden bicycles using traditional techniques through their San Jose, Calif.-based business, Masterworks Wood and Design.
"Aha" moment: In 2010, orders had slowed for custom furniture, doors and moldings made with traditional woodworking techniques, leading the pair to toss around ideas for new products. "Someone said, 'I bet you can't make a wooden bike,'" Holloway remembers.
Roll with it: Hernandez and Holloway knew that early bikes were made of wood but questioned whether their concept--a rideable work of art--could fly. When their plywood prototype turned out to be both stylish and functional, the woodworkers grabbed their bevel-edge chisels and planes and began building a wooden bike for the mass (albeit high-end) market.
Most of the bike parts, from the frame and forks to the handlebars and seat, are made of wood, with chrome chain, hubs and other components. Unlike modern bikes with shocks, Masterworks bikes rely on the wood's natural flexibility for a smooth ride.
Wood whisperers: In addition to traditional and exotic varieties such as walnut, oak, madrone and camphor, the pair uses salvaged wood from felled urban trees, fences, warehouses and piers to build the custom cruisers, ensuring that each bicycle built by Masterworks is one of a kind. Each design, with names like Defender, Interceptor and Freedom, has its own unique character. The Sheriff was made from a redwood fence that was being torn down. "The wood was old and filled with nail holes and rust marks, so we designed a bike with a Western theme," Holloway says. "We let the wood do the talking."
Labor of love: There are no dovetail or other automated machines in the wood shop. All pieces are carved by hand, even the dowels used for connections. While most creations are single-speed cruisers, Hernandez and Holloway have also built a three-speed model and a pedicab that accommodates a rider and two passengers.
The simplest bike takes 85 hours to build; more complex designs can take upward of 125 hours. Although wooden bicycles are a small piece of the business, interest from enthusiasts and collectors is strong enough to keep the woodworkers carving. "We've seen a big increase in the number of people with custom cruisers, so we knew there was a market--a specialty market, but a market nonetheless," Hernandez says.
Joy rides: Hernandez was riding his wooden cruiser around San Jose when a police officer pulled him over. Instead of giving him a ticket, the officer commented on the bike. "He said, 'It's the coolest thing I've ever seen, and I want to take a picture,'" Hernandez says.
The bikes may look like works of art, but Holloway is adamant about functionality. "[They] are not showpieces," he says. "We built them to ride." Adds Hernandez: "We designed the bike so it feels like riding a chopper. It has a badass stance that makes it so cool to ride."
Cost: Prices start at $5,500. Masterworks markets custom cruisers at trade shows, special events and at WoodBicycle.com.
Up next: Masterworks is designing a wooden bike shaped like a guitar, with carved musical notes. It will retail for $17,000.