From The Ashes, A Wooden Bicycle Is Born

Although the pandemic has brought its wave of worries, it has also brought some positive things to the surface.  One of these is that it has encouraged a more active mode of traveling by way of bicycles. For many, the slower and more environmentally friendly form of traveling is the silver lining of the pandemic.

The use of bicycles has seen such a spike, globally, that the demand for bikes has surpassed the supply of their spare parts leading to high-profile manufacturers fearing their businesses might bottleneck and get into a pitfall.

Twmpa Cycles, located in Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border, has a different perspective. Twmpa uses wood to manufacture the frames of bicycles instead of typical elements like steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. They do this by using wood from the Ash Trees that grow in the United Kingdom.

Where Did The Idea of Wooden Bicycles Start?

Twmpa Cycles Founder Andrew Dix.
Twmpa Cycles Founder Andrew Dix. Courtesy of:

Cardiff-born founder of Twmpa Cycles, Andrew Dix, spent 17 years polishing his furniture-making skills. He is also an avid bicyclist.  While staying in Hay, he used the rugged and cracked sandstone bridle pathways of the Brecon Beacons for riding the bicycles on mountains.

At the Hay Festival, the idea for Twmpa Cycles was planted during a talk with an author, Rob Penn, who was also an enthusiastic cyclist. Penn was looking for a skilled person who would create art pieces for his upcoming book, using a fallen ash tree. In that moment, Dix's innovative mind went into overdrive with ideas.

In a conversation with Penn, he talked about different items he could create. He suggested building a bike, however, realizing he had no experience in this domain, he ended up building a writing desk instead. But, something had sparked inside Dix and he had decided in his mind what he would want to build next.

And Just Like That Twmpa Cycles Was Born

Deconstructed view of a Twmpa Bike.
Deconstructed View of a Twmpa Bike. Photo Credit: Andy Dix/

The inspiration for the name of Twmpa Cycles was taken from one of the peaks of the Black Mountains. While it took about two years, Dix brought his vision to life and succeeded in building his first wooden bike.

After some test rides on difficult roads and research, he realized that using the wood from an ash tree was a cheap and easy-to-process material. For its brilliant vibration absorption property, the bike turned out to be surprisingly comfortable even on rugged roads.

Dix's prototype intrigued other renowned cyclists that prompted him to discover modern ways of production. Joining hands with Cardiff Metropolitan University’s FabLab, he mixed digital design manufacturing with his existing skills.

He now obtains ash tree products from a nearby sawmill. He also uses computer-directed technology to shape the bicycle's facade and adds other frame parts in his workshop.

People were skeptical about the durability of the wooden bicycle to which Dix explained that they offer a better weight to strength ratio than any other material like aluminum or steel. The wooden bicycle managed to cover around 3,000 miles of distance on difficult routes. Additionally, the prototype passed all the trial tests with flying colors.

Living next to the Black Mountains, Penn, who sparked the idea to create this for Dix, has also taken a trial ride of the wooden bicycle as he wrote about it in a documentary - Ride of my Life: The Story of the Bicycle.

Improving the Global Carbon Footprint

Andy Dix, says that the idea of fewer cars and more bikes on the road should be encouraged. With raising valid environmental concerns, the company has a clear mission on the integrity and sustainability of the bicycles.

Dix has always tried to make his work as environment-friendly as possible. He intends to use a technology powered by sunshine to manufacture bikes from captured carbon, rather than depending on processed elements or slabs of plastic being dumped in the landfills.

The bicycle manufacturing industry has been struggling with its energy-intensive production and massive carbon footprints with the green and sustainable goals in the market.

Specialized, one of the internationally recognized companies, collaborated with Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to conduct a research study on the environmental impacts of this industry. It uncovered that a bicycle made from an aluminum frame produced the same amount of carbon emission as driving a petrol SUV for 15 million miles.

Although the industry is improving its carbon fiber recycling, the material consumed in the manufacturing process makes up one-third of the whole material, while the reports of factories dumping leftovers into the sea are also received.

A tone of planked wood produces only 457kg of CO2; while on the other hand, aluminum produces 4,532kg of CO2.

However, even with all of its environmental benefits, one obstacle to adoption is the wooden bicycle's cost. The starting price of a standard Twmpa frame is £3,000, which unfortunately is out of reach for many.

In spite of any obstacles, Dix is passionate about his company and will continue on his mission towards creating a globally positive impact.  He has been working with a Scottish startup, FreeFlow Technologies, to recently develop a wooden e-bike that would be useful for a city commuter.

Dix is hopeful about the influence his new company can make to eliminate the global carbon emission and he believes Twmpa's example is a positive step.

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