The Renovo Badash 29er wooden bike. Arguably the only wooden bike we have seen at Bike198 that actually looks like it can shred trail and Renovo sent one over for us to throw a leg over. These past few weeks…that is what I have done, so we need to take a look at how this unique bike performs on the trail. Does it ride as good as it looks?
Renovo is pretty unique. While other bike companies have gone the bamboo route, Renovo uses a series of hardwoods to build their bikes which include everything from time trial rigs to this 29er HT. This particular Badash 29er came out of the Red Stag series of frames made of New Zealand Radiata pine and hickory.
The craftsmanship is nothing short of amazing. The amount of work that goes into making sure this frame is as much of a work of art as it is a mountain bike is mind blowing. As soon as I took it out of the box, I knew it was something special. With a 5.5 pound frame weight and a $2,550 price tag, you would expect this to be a high end, boutique piece, but it over produces on the wow factor. From the way the wood is constructed and joined together to the internal cable routing, every inch of this frame is thought out and executed to perfection.
Honestly…it is almost annoying at times. You would think I pulled up to the trail in a bright orange Lamborghini Aventador the way other riders have to come up and see the bike. If you are going to ride one of these at the trail, get used to talking about it a lot.
The bike came spec’ed with SRAM X.9, Manitou fork and some Sun Ringle wheels. The SRAM X.9 package is rock solid and while the wheels are nothing to write home about…they would get the job done. The difficult part is the Manitou fork who’s performance can’t seem get into the 2000′s. The 20mm TA was good for my riding style but the action on the fork and the extreme annoyance of the 5 bolt process of the front axle makes me hate the fork.
Taking a look at the geometry, the Badash has a HT angle of 71 degrees. This falls right in line with most 29er hardtails in the industry, but with the supplied fork…we would measure this closer to the 70 to 69.5 degree end given the longer travel. This is noticeably slacker than more race inspired 29er hard tail frames that are closer to 71 to 72 degrees. While a shorter travel fork would help the tight handling of the bike, I believe this is the right setup as the 5.5 pound frame weight is going to keep this bike from ever being a light race inspired 29er. If you are not going to be a race bike, make the bike more capable on the downs without completely sacrificing the ups.
I wasn’t really sure what to think the first time I threw a leg over the Badash 29er. Was it going to ride like a steel frame? Was it still going to be stiff enough? My guess was that the wood would deaden small bumps making the bike vertically compliant but laterally stiff, but there was only one real way to tell…get it dirty.
My initial suspicions were correct. The wooden frame did a great job of softening stutter bumps in the trail. While the frame did not feel as dead as I thought it would, it behaved a little bit softer than steel. It was almost as if the hardwood was absorbing vibrations so I didn’t feel it in the saddle and grips. Normally this deadening comes at a price, but the bike did not feel loose either. The rear end tracked very well keeping traction through g-outs and off camber turns. The stiffness of the frame in hard load situations was there as much as a steel frame but not quite as much as aluminum. If I had to compare apples to apples…it was almost like a well built carbon frame from that aspect.
While the bike was not overly heavy, it was not as nimble on the climbing end as a typical light hardtail. The frame characteristics described above did a great job of keeping grip, but when you stand up to hammer…that lunging forward feeling wasn’t quite there. Honestly, I do not see anyone seriously racing this frame, so that is not as much of an issue. But, it is something to be prepared for as you hit the trail.
When you get headed downhill, the bike really comes alive for a 29er hardtail. I was able to take this bike off of drops, jumps and through technical downhills with ease. The vibration damping characteristics of the frame made it almost seem like there was an inch of rear wheel travel aiding during the run. Like I mentioned before, this did not come at the cost of lateral stiffness either. The bike tracked very well and was even comfortable in the air with flatter landings. This bike can really take a beating and I was not expecting that at all. Normally I hate running hardtails on DH runs but I slammed the seat down and shredded it. Was I as fast as my suspension bikes? No, but I wasn’t itching to get back to XC trail either.
Overall: The Renovo Badash 29er Wood Bike
This bike is obviously not for everyone. If you are looking for something truly unique that still can be pushed like a real mountain bike should, the Renovo Badash 29er is exactly that. As you can tell with my Wolfhound, I am a sucker for works of art that can also be ridden out on the trail. When you roll up with a Badash 29er, you get a lot of comments like “I wouldn’t even ride that it is so nice” and “Is that seriously made out of wood?!”. It truly is a unique piece of art that can take a beating on the trail. It will not be a race bike or a brillant climber, but it will be an incredibly fun bike that you can not see anywhere else.
Bikes are made to be ridden and I had a great time with the Badash 29er from Renovo during the period it graced our stable. It is truly the only wooden mountain bike I have ever ridden that I actually enjoyed riding as much as staring at it. The hardwoods do a great job of absorbing vibrations that rattle your teeth loose on aluminum frames and the bike is surprising capable on the downhills (as we had to record on video below as proof).
A friend of mine sent me over a link to Renovo Bicycles and I found their lineup rather interesting.
Wood bikes are nothing new. There are manufacturers that have been experimenting with different wood frames for awhile. However, this seems like the first construction of a wood frame that actually looks like a real mountain and road bike frame. In other words, this looks like the first real world application of wood frames that would actually ride well on the trail.
The Renovo lineup is manufactured in Portland, OR and features everything from 29er mountain bikes to road bikes, commuter hybrids and tri bikes. Basically, Renovo covers the complete gamut of cycling outside of full suspension mountain bikes. If you are anything like me, the first question you are probably asking is…why?
We chose wood not because it’s different, not because it’s sustainable, but simply because we believe its engineering properties suit the requirements of most bicycle applications better than any other material. The performance of wood in applications more structurally demanding than bicycles has been well proven over many years. The most successful fighter bomber of WWII was the all-wood 400 mph British Mosquito, of which some 7500 were built. The all-wood unlimited hydroplanes Slo Mo Shun, Miss Budweiser and their brethren pounded through the water at well over 150 mph for many years through the ’70s, and the fastest unlimited hydroplane ever at 511 mph is all-wood.
But over the years, wood in high performance applications has mostly been replaced by metals and plastics because wood is far more costly to work with. Designing is difficult because it’s properties vary among species, and woodworking is demanding and difficult, so mass production is generally a non-starter. But where production is limited, and the properties of wood are matched to the product, it is difficult to surpass.
But, we don’t claim wood is the solution for everything, or even very much for that matter. As a lightweight structural material we know it’s also good for airplanes, boats, and a few other things. We’re often asked to make wheels, handlebars, forks and more, but these each have practical or engineering drawbacks. So, while we may make something in addition to bicycle frames, it will be just as conservatively designed and engineered.
Interesting concept and makes sense on paper at least. With every manufacturer on the planet in the race to have the latest carbon fiber frame offering, Renvo is going a completely different route with wood. It does make for an interesting and beautiful frame design.
The frames even come out to a 4 to 5.5 pound weight, so the ability to build a lightweight bike out of wood is completely doable. Oddly enough, the almost $3,000 retail price on the 29er mountain bike frame and $3,450 retail on the pictured road frame is not as much as we were expecting for craftsmanship like this when other manufacturers are charging much more for imported carbon frames.
The jury is still out if the claims Renvo is making about wood bike frames holds true on the road or trail as we have not ridden one personally, but this is an interesting and beautiful interpretation of the bike frame.