The Mahogany Table Bike

I don’t often have the opportunity lately to just try a bunch of new design ideas.  We’re grateful to have been busy this past year building Urban Scouts and No.124 gravel bikes for customers, and launching Wood Bike Supply as a new brand for all things wood bike related.  New ideas have been directed toward turning the Urban Scout into a DIY kit, and also in the form of frame building process improvements.  Once the snow started falling and 2019 began winding down we had a bit of breathing room to take a step back and think about where we wanted to take Normal Bicycles in the coming year.

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The Philly Bike Expo this past November marked the culmination of a lot of ongoing work, including customer bikes, multiple video projects, and a show-specific bike. Once we returned home and I got back into the shop I pulled out a couple scrap pieces of reclaimed mahogany I was saving from an early 1900’s dining room table.  I had been working on a new frame design and the reclaimed wood was the perfect thing to use for a new build!

This table was full of surprises once I started measuring it out for the CNC blanks. The first thing I noticed was that the thickness varied quite a bit, so the lugs were designed around the table thickness in order to make it all work.  The other interesting thing I found was that this entire folding end of the table had no seams or joinery in it.  Is it possible this is one massively wide piece of wood?  That must have been a big tree!  I’m really happy that it can continue its life as a bike frame.

The geometry on this bike stayed the same as our No.124 frame.  It’s technically a gravel bike if it has to be categorized, but we like to think of it as a “ride all day, go anywhere you want” kind of bike.  After building and riding them for about a year there isn’t anything I’d change about this geometry – it’s really dialed in.  I started with the No.124 platform for this mahogany prototype and began adding features.

First, I took away the rocker dropouts.  I know this isn’t adding features, but we have longer term plans to remove weight from the dropout brackets so this is a stepping stone toward achieving that goal.  As a way of “rapid prototyping” for these brackets I cut them from a thick carbon fiber plate on the CNC router.  It’s totally overkill but since we’re not molding these it’s best to lean toward extra-strong rather than extra-light. This iteration will have Paragon Machine Works rocker inserts glued and bolted to the carbon plate once it’s done.

Next item on the list is to increase tire clearance.  This is a major design challenge with the wood construction method we use on our frames.  As the tire gets larger it moves closer to the front chainring, taking away the space where the wood typically fits.  Most builders can use a chainstay yoke, which is a thinner, often solid piece of metal to connect the drive side chainstay to the bottom bracket.  Our stays are already predominantly solid wood and we don’t want to let go of the smooth and flowing lines on the frame, so for this frame the stays became tall and narrow to open up some space.

Finally, I worked some CNC magic on the inside of the lugs to remove weight and also give a pathway for fully sleeved internally routed cables.  It’s pretty easy to install the internal cables on a No.124 frame, but I wanted to get rid of the little external loop of cable around the seat or bottom lug.  With this new design you push the cable housing in at the head tube and it comes out at the rear wheel.  It makes assembly and maintenance really simple.

The frame went together surprisingly well for having so many design and construction changes incorporated into it, and the mahogany really changed color with the first layer of finish applied.  It was at this point that the frame started catching the attention of the original owner of the mahogany table, and after a few short conversations we decided that this table bike should go back to the home it originally came from.  I had designed the geometry for myself, so it also helped that we are the same size and fit!

The wrap-up of this build also happened to coincide with our move from Buffalo to Seattle, so after cleaning up and sending the frame for clear coat I continued packing and boxing up the entire workshop.  This build captures a significant milestone for Normal Bicycles.  The table donor and new owner of the bike is a crucial member of The Foundry, the maker space and small business incubator where we rented space for our workshop.  In addition to that, this last build in the Buffalo workshop is a culmination of all of the design and construction methods I’ve learned since starting this adventure in our basement on Normal Avenue back in 2017.  Finally, in addition to this bike frame the table ended up being used in multiple other woodworking projects at the Foundry.  I can’t imagine a better way to wrap up our time building bikes in Buffalo.

It was decided that the focus of the build would be to capture everything we love about the Urban Scout – simplicity, functionality, and comfort – while incorporating additional brown tones in the components to accent the mahogany.

The result is a riser bar, ergo grip, SRAM 1×11, 650B, allroad bike equally at home running around town, trekking along the back roads, or bombing through the snow.

We’ll have the bike on display at NAHBS, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show from March 20-22 in Dallas, TX before it heads back to Buffalo to its eager new owner.

Categories: Technology