1. We love cycling
There is nothing better than hopping on your bicycle with a small backpack and aiming for the next city over. It helps if there is a nice, clear bike path along the way. Last summer we rode to Rochester along the beautiful Erie canal. We stopped in Middleport for a lovely lunch at Alternative Grounds Caffe and then ended up downtown Rochester celebrating 70 miles with a bottle of wine at a tapas restaurant. The return home was less pleasant (does this canal ever end???) and finally ended in a very cold rain storm. By contrast, we also took a ride to Fredonia along Route 5. That was almost entirely unpleasant with the only exception being the last several miles where we were enveloped in the aromas of ripe grapes. We did stay in a beautiful, historic bed & breakfast, Brookside Manor, had dinner in Fredonia at EBC West and then made the trek back. The trek back was improved by taking a slightly longer route through the Southtowns and stopping at a pub. For us, the adventure is in the unknowns (no matter how pleasant or unpleasant), freedom to move, and in being out from under the oppression of our computer screens.
2. We love all kinds of bikes
Although we have managed to curb our enthusiasm for purchasing bikes to only a few select types (a road bike, a hybrid, a 1960s cruiser, a cyclocross and a mountain bike), now that we have the system and tools to build our own I foresee our collection growing rapidly.
We are very excited to build a bunch of production intent frames in the coming months. The first prototype was designed to fit my size, and was amazing to ride. The next lot of frames will be built in small, medium, and large frames so that we can get even more data (and so that Jessica can also ride a wooden bike)!
3. We love making things ourselves
Since a very young age I’ve been making things myself. The first substantial project was building a couple dogsled style sleds from old skis, some scrap lumber, and small saplings that I could scavenge with a hand saw. I built one for myself and another for my brother, and we’d take them on “expeditions” into the fields back behind the house.
This eventually evolved with the help of my grandfather when we built a go-kart together. It consisted of a combination of some old lawnmower parts, a few purchased components, and a bunch of custom machined parts. I learned about design, engineering, and machining, and this set me on the eventual course of studying to become a mechanical engineer.
As an engineer I’ve designed products and components in the automotive, aerospace, and industrial fields. As a hobby I’ve modified a vintage motorcycle frame to put modern suspension, wheels and brakes on it. Of course I’ve also been woodworking and doing a lot of bicycle riding. The combination of engineering, woodworking, and riding has lead to what we think is an outstanding “composite” frame with characteristics that can’t be found anywhere else.
4. We love a great historical connection
It may be hard to believe but bicycles were a catalyst for major societal changes just before the turn of the century. Not only were the first roads paved specifically for bicycles (and not for cars as you might think) but also women’s clothing changed significantly as a result of it being near impossible to ride in the fashion of the day. While researching Buffalo history, we came across this image of Main Street in 1890.Not surprisingly, the first bicycles in Europe were wooden and had wooden tires. While wooden tires were bone shattering and rightfully replaced by pneumatic tires, a wooden frame has benefits we’d like to restore!
5. Custom frame builders are all awesome
There are a few North American wooden bike frame builders that inspire us. And there are quite a few European as well. Our favorites include those that clearly love their craft and have some beautiful bicycles to show for it.
6. Engineering makes new and exciting things possible.
We love it when someone picks up our prototype for the first time and is amazed to feel how lightweight it is. We typically see things made of wood and have a perception of them being heavy. For example if a piece of furniture isn’t heavy, it’s typically perceived as being not very strong.
When we say that Normal Bicycles are engineered differently, it’s this lightweight strength that we’re talking about. The frames are designed with CAD software that allows us to predict both the strength and the weight before we even cut our first piece of wood. This is why engineering is so cool. To take it even one step further we maximize the strength of the wood itself by layering it up in different directions. Every part of the frame consists of layered wood veneer to maximize the mechanical properties.
Sure we could make a bike frame from metal, but it’s more interesting for us to use cross laminated hardwood veneer, reinforced in critical spots with carbon and Kevlar fibers, and finished with marine epoxy and sealant.