© Ornus

The Ornus gravel bike, in bikepacking mode

Marginal grains: Check out this new wooden gravel bike from Italy

The bike has a frame made from ash that weighs 1.9kg

Clock17:00, Monday 20th November 2023

Over in Italy, some ambitious designers have gone against the grain with a new gravel bike, made of wood. The Ornus, from a new company of the same name, is a gravel bike with a frame made of solid hardwood.

It weighs in, the company says, at 9kg, with the frame alone weighing 1.9kg. It's available in three build options which cost between €6,800 to €8,300 depending on the spec.

How is it made?

Ornus makes the bike from ash, which is "carefully selected for seasoning and fibre characteristics". Ash is indeed a good choice; it's shock-resistant, strong, and has been used for years in other sporting items like oars, hockey sticks and baseball bats.

Read more: How is carbon fibre made?

To make each frame, the pieces are shaped on a CNC machine until they are, according to Ornus, "transformed into very light shells, which are joined and reinforced by patented membrane grafts". Indeed, the larger tubes on the frame are hollow, although the smaller ones are solid ash.

The wooden components are glued together around aluminium internal connectors, which Ornus says are "made with special aluminium alloys for aeronautical applications". The brand claims that these connectors make this bike strong enough to cope with "the most challenging gravel tracks, rough roads and mixed terrain safely and in full control".

At the very least, the frame appears to be safe. The bike has received the EN ISO 4210 certificate of conformity, which demonstrates that the bike has the strength, durability and structural redundancy required. Even so, for many of us it would take more than a certification to dispel the fear of the wooden frame splintering between your legs in a crash.

Why wood?

In terms of advantages over traditional materials, Ornus says that wood offers "a natural ability to absorb vibrations", thereby improving comfort. In fact, the brand claims the bike behaves, "just like carbon fibre on the asphalt and steel off-road", which seems hard to believe.

The brand says the frame is more sustainable than traditional frame materials. Wood is of course renewable and sustainable, and the material can be chipped and reused in other forms at the end of its life cycle. Equally, machining wood requires far less energy than machining metal.

Read more: Why you should consider aluminium for your next bike

Then again, using hardwoods is often less environmentally friendly than it seems. Hardwoods take years to grow and are usually shipped great distances between being grown, processed and manufactured. And unlike aluminium or steel, a wooden bike cannot be melted down and reshaped into another bike.

Made to order

The bike has a 45 day delivery time, which suggests that each one is made to order. Owing to the material, each bike will be unique, with its own grain patterns.

Payment is made in two stages: 15% upon ordering, and the remainder upon delivery, and the bike is available with three specs:

ORNUS G1 - €8,300

  • Groupset: Shimano GRX820
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Speed 42db

ORNUS G2 - €7,800

  • Groupset: Campagnolo Ekar 13s
  • Wheels: Campagnolo Levante

ORNUS G4 - €6,800

  • Groupset: Shimano GRX810
  • Wheels: Fulcrum Rapidred 5

Beauty is truth, truth beauty

The confusing and hyperbolic website for the Ornus is stuffed full with claims like "the perfect symbiosis of form and function, the goal of every designer not only in the sporting world". It's a confusing place to be, and provokes more questions than it answers.

The one thing that is very clear is that the frame is spectacular to look at, and a celebration of craftsmanship. Ultimately then, rather than a technological breakthrough, this bike is first and foremost a very beautiful oddity.

Since it's only been on the market for a couple of months, we're yet to see whether this bike will be a success. Will the wooden bike grow in popularity, or are Ornus are barking up the wrong tree? Either way, they're in a good position to branch out.

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