Durable, elegant and elastic – wooden e-bikes make a lot of sense
E-bikes are usually made from aluminum or (if you’re willing to pay the extra) carbon fiber – lightweight materials that are corrosion resistant, lightweight and easy to work with. However, these are not the only options, and wood is a surprisingly practical alternative.
COCO-MATBIKE.FR is a Greek company founded in Athens that aims to prove that lithium and wood are a winning combination. It’s not just a proof of concept either – COCO-MAT currently makes six bikes (Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, Mentor, Telegonus and Argos), with various drivetrain options and two electric models.
The bikes are certainly striking – the entire frame is light wood, from the handlebars to the fenders – and they could soon be rolling down a street near you. TechRadar spoke to Dimitri Philippou, CEO of ARTC GLOBAL, which brings the bikes to the UK, to find out why your everyday rider should be made from wood.
If you think “COCO-MAT” sounds like an unusual name for a bike builder, you’re right. The company, which was founded by brothers Paul and Mike Evmorfidis in 1989, focuses primarily on durable furniture, bed linen and mattresses.
“Paul is a bit crazy,” says Philippou. “He’s the one who’s big on the environment – In fact, he’s on the Amazon on a river now.
“A few years ago he was riding in the Alps, his bike broke down and he decided ‘I’m going to do a wooden bike’. That’s where it came from.”
The first wooden bicycles were built about six years ago. At first they were used as a marketing tool, but they turned out to be surprisingly practical and people were so interested that the brothers decided to make a real business out of it. They started selling wooden bikes soon after, and three years ago they got into electric bikes as well.
The bike frames are made of American Ash from forests dedicated to growing trees for lumber. “It’s very ecological and very sustainable,” says Philippou. “From every tree we can make 50 bikes, and our commitment is to plant one tree for every adult bike we sell, so that’s a net positive.”
Frames are machine cut, then sanded and assembled by hand – a manufacturing process that releases far less carbon than traditional bicycle construction.
Grit, wind and fire
Philippou says riding the two- and seven-speed models feels like a regular bike. They are not intended for off-road use, but they can handle gravel and the elasticity of the wood provides some natural shock absorption.
Yet the climate in Athens is very different from that of Northern Europe – how can a wooden bicycle withstand the notoriously humid climate of the UK? “Wooden bikes are treated to repel water,” he explains.
“In fact, frames that originally had a three-year warranty are now going to have a lifetime warranty. Over time, we’ve seen how durable the bikes are, and now we’re confident. The components not wood, including the gear, have a one-year warranty and the battery warranty is two years.
The company assures riders that wooden e-bikes don’t need more TLC than conventional bikes (see our full guide to e-bike maintenance for more details).
“Their minimalist design and operation leaves almost no room for things to go wrong,” says Philippou. “Drum brakes and automatic gears ensure nearly lifelong maintenance free operation. If anything fails over the years our expert cycle repair partners in the UK will get the job done.
The use of wood, however, raises a question of flammability. TechRadar recently spoke to the Fire Protection Research Foundation about best practices for preventing e-bike fires, but does a wood frame present an additional risk?
“Of course, the frames are fire treated, so there are no problems and there is protection against short circuits and heat thanks to the battery pack management system,” explains Philippou.
In accordance with EU laws, the motor only starts when the cyclist is pedaling. The current battery has a range of 40-50km, much like a conventional mid-range e-bike, but the company is currently working on a new model that will keep going for up to 100km on a single charge. He is also studying the possibility of using Tesla batteries in future bikes.
The UK company will begin online initially, with the official launch taking place around March 18 to tie into Ride to Work week. Later, COCO-MAT hopes to open several stores in cities like Oxford, Cambridge and London where cyclists can buy and rent the bikes.
“You can go on bike rides, and it will be exciting,” says Philippou. “As well as all the great sights of the UK, you can experience them on an iconic and sustainable bike. The excitement is seeing the bikes on the streets.