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Pedal Nation Expo Features Sustainable Products

OPB | April 3, 2012 5 p.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 12:59 a.m.

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3rd Annual Pedal Nation Bike Expo

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From wooden wheels and wooden helmets to woolen attire, the third annual Pedal Nation Bike Expo — which brought a record crowd of approximately 6,000 people to the Portland Expo Center — showcased sustainable products alongside more traditional bikes and accessories.

Pedal Nation is an annual event at the Portland Expo Center.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

“Portland is an interesting place in that regard,” said event organizer Aaron McBride. “We’ve noticed that each year more and more companies are showing up with … alternative, sustainable types of products and the people who are coming really respond well to it.”

Case in point, Renovo Bicycle brought their hardwood bikes frames to the Expo. While some may question the durability of a wooden bike, the Renovo website says its wooden frames are comparable to those made from conventional materials like aluminum, steel or carbon fiber and meet the weight specifications of pro riders. 

Renovo hardwood bikes are strong enough for competition racing and look pretty while doing it.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

Renovo’s John Rasmussen noted that before the Industrial Revolution, most products, including bicycles, were made from wood and held up well over long periods of time.

“From the application of wood in aviation and the application of wood in maritime application — we’ve deduced the frames using some of those techniques. We figure you put someone thousands of feet in the air, or miles out at sea, it’s going to be tried-and-true technology that will work two feet off the ground around town.”

Rasmussen added that Renovo has recently developed a line of frames made from American-grown materials which they call their Appalachian series. “They actually come out at a discount to the customer because we’re able to source those for less per board-foot then we do for some of our tropical and exotic woods.”

Even with this “sustainability discount,” though, consumers will find that the cost for a handmade frame can top more than $3,500.

Sacro Bosco makes wheel rims from locally sourced wood.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

About 100 feet away from the Renovo booth, Sacro Bosco Bicycle Works was showing a wheel rim made from hardwood.

“The great thing about wood over metal rims is that wood has a natural elasticity, so if you’re on a long touring trip, it’s going to be that much more comfortable,” said William Cress, a representative for Sacro Bosco. “They’re just as strong as a metal rim, but not quite as strong as a carbon rim. We’re really aiming for the ‘city bike,’ ‘town’ crowd.”

Cress also explained that the failure rate of wood rims is on par with and often superior to their metal counterparts. And he added, “We try to source all our wood locally, so it’s sustainable. We manufacture and distribute out of Portland and we’re in the process of setting up a retail store here.”

Coyle's "Tree Piece" line of helmets attracted a lot of attention for their looks.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

In addition to wooden frames and rims, wooden bike helmets made an appearance at this year’s Expo.

“I started making them as a hobby about 12 years ago for kayaking,” said Dan Coyle of his “Tree Piece” line of bike helmets.

Coyle acknowledged that safety is top of mind for most consumers: “The first thing that people ask is: ‘Are they safe?’”

Coyle said he conducted extensive research with Oregon State University’s wood science department, testing a variety of materials to find which would best supplement the structure of a helmet’s wood shell. Ultimately, he learned that cork was rated the most protective.

Aside from looks and safety, Coyle noted that wooden helmets last longer than conventional ones, adding to the sustainable nature of his product.

Nan Eastep is an artisan tailor who specializes in custom bike wear.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

In addition to bikes, the latest in bike attire was on display as well.

Nan Eastep, owner of B. Spoke Tailor, was a master tailor who specialized in men’s suits before she developed her signature, classic take on bike gear — with a slight twist.

All of Eastep’s products are made from high-quality wool, that, whenever possible, is sourced locally. But according to Eastep, acquiring local wool is becoming more difficult.

“At the birth of this country, people came and they set up mills on rivers all over the East Coast and there was a lot of wool… Over the last 30 years or more, wool mills have closed and there’s hardly any left…. You have to find your wool elsewhere.”

Eastep lauds wool for its natural wicking ability and ability to keep people warm, even in wet conditions. In fact, in the early days of cycling, wool was standard attire for top-level athletes. The nod to cycling’s past isn’t simply manifest in the technical properties, but the design style of Bspoke’s products also hearkens back to that golden age. 

“One thing that I want to do with my work in my lifetime is bring people’s awareness to how distanced we are from something as simple and something that should be as accessible as wool cloth.”

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