From Cycle EXIF’s technical correspondent, Richard Gearing. In his spare time, Mark Kelly creates bicycle frames under the guise of Lyrebird Cycles. He refers to these frames as ‘The Tonewood Project’ — so named because of the Australian hardwoods used in the finished article, which are renowned as ‘tonewoods’ by Australian luthiers.
Mark doesn’t come from a woodworking background, and that is important to understand when you consider his approach. He didn’t specifically set out to make a wooden bike, but to make the best bike he could using acoustic design principles. Quite simply, wood happened to be the answer.
In Mark’s own words: “The woods are used to form tubes in combination with other materials chosen for mechanical and acoustic properties — namely boron fibre, carbon fibre and basalt fibre. These are then combined with stainless steel to make the bike by an amalgam of standard metalwork and composite tube to tube construction techniques.
“The layup of each tube changes with its intended use. I can alter the number of layers and the compositions of these layers, including which woods are used where, which composites to use where and whether to use unidirectional or bidirectional fabric. I can also alter the layup angles for all the above, giving me a large amount of control over the tube properties.”
On this bike — number two of two thus far — the joins are carbon fibre (Mark’s personal version is joined with stainless steel lugs), as is the bulky BB and surrounding area. Those stainless steel chainstays are Reynolds 931, the steel-to-carbon bond join of which is a little agricultural in appearance — but that carries its own charm in allowing the hand-crafted nature of the bike to feature.
Besides which, the offset is some of the most beautifully finished wooden tubing you are ever likely to lay eyes on. The Blackwood on the top tube particularly is smooth as silk to the touch, and catches the light in the most incredible manner. Sealed with Tung Oil rather than being epoxied or varnished, it has a stunning satin finish.
For those doubting whether the materials add up to a capable bike, I’ll quote Mark again: “The red toned wood in the pic is Eucalyptus Grandis… the stiffness to weight ratio is 26 — slightly better than aluminium, titanium or stainless steel”. And, to add further weight to the argument: “My favourite demonstration is to smash one of my wooden tubes against a titanium tube of equivalent size and weight. The titanium loses. A carbon tube would fare even worse”.
As for the ride, I’ve ridden much less capable, and less stiff, race bikes — and even fewer that corner as well as this or offer quite such an element of genuine surprise or enjoyment. Only the low BB, long chain stays and surprising comfort mark it out as being anything other than a race-focused machine and, at only 7.5kg as pictured, it is far from porky too.
Component-wise, this ended up being a very up-to-date build. The portions of the bike that do come from a standard groupset are Dura-Ace 9000. The Dura-Ace cranks and bottom bracket made way for the Turn Zayante M30 cranks and BB (which were reviewed on here recently). The latest incarnation of the now-renowned EE Brakes replace the DA9000 units, providing power by the truckload in a minimal package.
The wheels are a collaboration using wide format 50mm Curve Cycling rims and White Industries T11 hubs, which were built by Zak of Skunkworks Bikes in Sydney — the build quality of which was enough to help dampen the bike’s slightly harsh front end whilst giving nothing away in lateral stiffness. Zak also balanced this particular set, adding very small strips of extra weight to offset the valve. A trick borrowed from the motor industry which makes a surprising difference, particularly in faster corners.
It is difficult to pick quite what it is that makes this bike feel as good as it does, but if it is that combination of mechanical and acoustic properties then Mark is truly onto a good thing. Regardless, this bike has been quite an eye-opener, and has become my go-to bike. I honestly wish more of you could see it in the flesh though — that finish really does need to be seen, and touched, to be believed.