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Wooden Bike Settles A Bet With A Splinter

The Splinter Bike, built by carpenter Michael Thompson.
Courtesy Michael Thompson
The Splinter Bike, built by carpenter Michael Thompson.

Michael Thompson, a carpenter in Norfolk, England, claimed that he could build anything out of wood. Even a bicycle.

He boasted to a cyclist friend that he could build a bike that was 100-percent wood. "He just laughed at me and said, 'I tell you what, if you build it, I will ride it,'" Thompson says.

He calls his creation the Splinter Bike, and true to Thompson's word, there are no metal parts — not even a chain.

"It's what they call a fixed-wheel bike, which means that you can't free-wheel; the pedals will always be turning whilst the bike is in motion," Thompson tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. "It's also the same design as what a track bike would be at the velodromes at the Olympics."

The Splinter Bike weighs in at 71 pounds. It's made mostly of birch plywood, but there are a few specialty items, too. "The most interesting one is Lignum vitae, which is a naturally oily, self-lubricating hardwood," he says. The bike's handlebars, he adds, are crafted from an old broom handle he had in the shed.

Wooden bikes aren't a new idea. "There's lots of wooden frame bicycles and bamboo bicycles," Thompson says, "but they all have metal wheels and gears and brakes, of course, which we don't have."

Instead, his bike uses cogs. "All I've done, really, is just connect the pedal gearing to the rear wheel hub gearing by simply placing another gear cog in between," he says. "That then transfers the human energy from the pedals to the rear hub, just the same as in any regular bicycle."

It was a lot of work for a bike Thompson can't even ride; he made it to fit his bet-losing cycling buddy. In victory, Thompson is humble.

"The biggest thing I learned was not to be so flippant and make statements that might cost you a lot of time to fulfill," he says.

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