Turns out a wine barrel has enough wood to make about two bikes.
America’s increased infatuation with craft alcoholic beverages has also led to increased interest in things crafted out of the barrels those alcoholic beverages are made in. Wooden beer, wine, and whiskey barrels have been turned into everything from surfboards to guitars to makeshift Christmas trees. Back in 2017, I even covered a bicycle made from old Glenmorangie Scotch casks, but although riding a Scotch barrel bike around Scotland sounds fun, everyone knows the more classic trope is biking through wine country. So here’s a custom bicycle practically built for that activity: one made out of old wine barrels.
Industrial designer and University of Kansas professor Lance Rake caught the attention of bike lovers (and just lovers of cool things in general) when his “Cooper Bicycle” — named after the word for a barrel maker — was on display at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Sacramento last weekend.
“A friend and I were visiting Ferndale, California, last summer and saw a bench that was made from old wine barrel staves,” Rake told me via email, explaining his inspiration for the project. “I recently finished a bike design that used bamboo pulled into curves to create stiffness from a strong, but flexible material. The curves of the steam-bent barrel staves reminded me of those curves. So driving back from Ferndale we stopped at the Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, and they generously donated one.”
That single barrel provided more than enough wood for Rake to craft his bike, a process he says “wasn’t too difficult.” But then again, he is an industrial designer, and his explanation proceeded to go a bit over my head.
“I measured the arc, length, and thickness of a typical stave, and overlaid that shape on top of my favorite city bike geometry. This was done in 3D CAD,” he began. “I found I had to lengthen some of the staves, so I incorporated a v-splice (similar to those used on traditional English longbows), which worked perfectly. Metal parts were made from typical steel bike tubing. Dropouts and special fitting were waterjet cut from steel. Finishing was surprisingly easy: I sanded the loose parts of the inside charred surfaces, revealing hints of the wine-stained oak. The outside surfaces were cleaned up a little, but you can still see signs of weathering, and evidence of the bands that held the barrel together.”
If your own dreams of building a wine barrel bicycle are suddenly dashed, don’t worry: Rake told me he hopes to sell Cooper Bicycles at some point. “I want to make the plans and patterns available to local artisans so we can make bikes from local resources,” he continued. “We are still developing our ideas for sales and production.”
In the meantime, I found myself wondering if he planned to use his wine barrel bike for a wine tasting adventure of his own. “I hate to admit I’m a bit more of a beer and whiskey drinker,” he tells me, “but my wife is into Red Blends.” So maybe the next project can be a wine barrel tandem bike?