Bicycle historians argue
over whether Leonardo da Vinci was the inventor of the bicycle, but
there are no doubts that a modern day craftman from the same area of
Italy made a workable modern two-wheeler from wood.
was first thought of in wood. Later steel and aluminium were used as
more resistant and practical materials. But one hundred years ago you
could buy a bike of hickory, elm or even bamboo. Bamboo bicycle companies
claimed wood was lighter and better than steel, and so it was. In 1899
some of these companies folded with investors claiming to have been
had the idea when I saw a programme on TV about Leonardo's Codices of
machines designed in wood," says Vinicio Magni. He owns 'Emmeart'
in Quarrata (Tuscany), a small workshop that produces wooden frameworks
which will become sofas and arm-chairs suited more for art galleries
than for living rooms. However the pinnacle of Vinicio's work is the
full-scale rideable wooden bicycle.
Signor Magni doesn't remember when he made his first prototype. "Since
I was young I wanted to build a bike without using anything but wood.
But I couldn't. A completely wooden bike doesn't work. So a few years
ago I decided to use some metal parts and to change the classical idea
of the bicycle. I've spent years trying to find the right design which
could shoulder the forces involved when cycling. My joiner mind has
always lead my project towards something beautiful like furniture."
In 1995 Vinicio patented his first workable two-wheeler. "It was
a summer weekend. I had promised to take my wife to Viareggio - a fashionable
town on the sea in Tuscany - and so I did. But I brought the bike with
me as well. On the sea-front I parked my 'number one' and sat on a nearby
bench to see what people thought of my creation. A crowd kept me there
for hours with compliments and questions. I think they gave me the will
to make my childhood dream comes true."
The racer is his latest brainchild. "I can use the racing frame,
which is the lightest and the strongest one, for mountain and touring
bicycles as well." The ash frame is 4.9 kilos. The wheels can be
in metal or wood as can lots of small extras like panniers, mudguards
and water-bottle holders. His daughter's bicycle also has a wooden seat
on the handlebars for his first grandson.
Last year his racer qualified 9th in a regional race, riding at an average
of 45 km/h. "I think it was Gianni Bugno who won that race,"
says Vinicio proudly. "My cousin Adele, who weighs 85 kg, has already
cycled my first racer for more than 1500 km and the bike is still perfect."
The resistance of the frame has been tested using a weight of 250 kg
left on the frame. "After a week the distance between the rear
and the front hub was increased by only 2 mm."
The bike can be in different colours or natural, but all are treated
with an antifungus liquid against water and sunlight - similar to that
used for the wooden furniture in gardens. "The wood is so impregnated
by this protective liquid that it's almost impossible to scratch the
Two years ago, Ernesto Colnago, the owner of the Italian custom-built
bicycle company, fell in love with Vinicio's bike. "Since then
Ernesto has given me a couple of tips and now I'm building my bicycle
with the most famous name of the two-wheeler world. I have just sent
some to him which are for the Ferrari chief manager Luca di Montezemolo,
the stylist Fendi and the Princess of Monaco. That's real satisfation
Why wood ? "My bike is definitely for those who love bicycles.
They can cycle on a hand-made practical piece of art and be proud of
it. There are people who buy Ferrary cars and Armani's clothes because
they are unique, beautiful and different. This is why 40 people have
already bought my bicycle. They are passionate cyclists who want to
ride something special to be admired. Most of them display the bike
in the living room."
Vinicio started working in wood when he was 9 - in 1948 - "I mixed
the glue in a big pot and helped my boss painting and holding tools."
Since the time when he could first saw, glue and hammer, he has used
his genius with the material to create his toys. His studio-office is
full of plane, car and building miniatures. Cycling has always been
his favourite sport and hobby. In the 70s he was a manager of the Sixar
racing team who won more than 40 amateur bike races in 5 years.
"Do you think Colnago can use your wooden frame to beat the hour
record ?" - I asked him sarcastically, but he shuts me up - "Don't
you know that the frame of the super-lights weighs less than 2 kg ?
No way can I reach that !" And then, after a moment of thinking
he sparks up again - "I'm waiting for the American ash which has
a specific weight 25 % lighter than the Italian one, ...but I will never
equal the super-lights."