Interview with William Cress
Why make wooden wheels?
My first experience of wooden rims started when I purchased an old 1890’s track bicycle. The rims were beautiful, over 100 years old and still in fair condition. After reconditioning the hubs, cleaning and re-truing the wheels – My business partner Eric Brockman and I threw on some retro looking tubulars and we were hooked. I decided to try and replicate the wheels that we had on this bicycle. After a lot of research and development, the seed for the Kestral flyer wooden bicycle rim was born.
During my research for building my replica rim I found that there were few companies still making wooden bicycle rims. CB Italia (from Italy), with whom Sacro-Bosco is proud to also carry their full range of products alongside our own customs rims. Ghisallo (also from Italy) represented in the US by Wheel Fanatyk. There are also some small French, Swiss and Japanese operations. Nothing really to speak of made in the USA. I wanted a US made product. This was the start of Sacro-Bosco.
Sacro-Bosco is loosely translated in Italian as “Sacred Wood” named after the garden at the Viila Orsini in Bomarzo Italy. The garden poking fun at the egotistical iconography of the Este and Medici families is very applicable to modern events of today.
Since the dawn of cycling, bicycles have used wooden rims. It was the mainstay for bicycle rims until the 1930’s and remained in use on the track until the 50’s. This was mainly due to woods strength and lightness until the arrival of high strength aluminum alloys.
Wood has some interesting properties that modern composites and metal rims find hard to replicate. One of these properties is its innate ability to flex and retain its shape. In many ways this can lead to a perceptively more comfortable ride on bumpy roads and long distance rides. The other property is braking performance in rain. Heat has a hard time penetrating wood and therefore transfers to the pad making it dry quickly – resulting in increased performance. The other properties are very obvious: wood is unrivaled in its beauty and novelty, as well as being green.
What keeps you interested in the custom building industry?
I like to think that there is an interesting intersection between engineering, art and design. Custom building represents this intersection to a tee, weather it is our own design or those of our customers. Despite the fact that many of today’s builds have their roots in the industrial revolution – it amazes me that so many of the ideas, patents and innovations of the past are being adapted and reinvented for modern design.
Where do you look for inspiration? What’s out there that is inspiring you these days?
For me inspiration comes from industrial stream lined design – ultra high tech and vintage. I find that interesting applications of new cutting edge materials alongside old materials alike, very exciting. There is nothing like a beautiful machine that is also a work of art presented in some new fantastic way.
What type of wood do you use? How have you determined which wood is best?
The test of time has determined what suits wooden rim building best. Over a hundred years of experience combined with modern materials and methods come together to make the modern wood rim. Hardwoods such as white oak, hickory, elm, ash, beech and maple lend them selves for shaping and steaming. Other wood types can be tricky and just not suitable as rim material either due to its strength or steam bending properties.
When Sacro-Bosco first started, we produced the kestral flyer in Portland from locally sourced wood as much as possible. We used 3-5 laminations tapered and staggered so that you could not see the seam. All of it steam bent, shaped and finished by hand. Because it was laminated we could use differing wood combinations in the lamination process to create interesting visual striping when desired. We now have most of our wood sourced by an Amish Ohio shop – for our Amish rim line. Rather than lamination we use a single piece of wood finger jointed together in the way rims have been made for over 100 years. As you can imagine, Amish wheelwrights have generations of experience and are very green in their methodology – all handmade. Here we mainly use white oak and hickory and ash, though, as with all custom work, we can use most hardwoods.
Tell me about one of your favorite projects.
Our newest project is going to be a front and rear springer cruiser with dual bars and bronze plated 29er, but we didn’t quite get it finished in time for the show. We have just started a collaboration with Liam Murray of Woodelo out of Ireland. He produces fantastic wooden performance frames. Also, Penny is our custom copper plated bicycle made for us in collaboration with Bella Donna. Simple Italian inspired frame, combined with our wooden wheels creates a beautiful and simple ride-able city bike. Simplicity is the key and in many ways and very hard to obtain – both in the building process and in the ride itself.
What are you most looking forward to at OR Handmade Bike Show?
The builders from Oregon are the creme de la creme of hand built frame makers and I am excited to see the innovative ideas and designs that they create. The functional art that they produce is always top notch and ahead of the curve when it comes to design.
The Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show is October 20-21 in Portland so we’re profiling the many talented makers who will be showcasing their skills in person at the show.
10am to 5pm on Saturday and 11am to 4pm on Sunday | Vigor Industries 5555 N. Channel Ave. in Portland.