Progress is a wonderful, slow and complex process. Homo erectus' jump from bipedal locomotion to 19,000 rpm MotoGP race bikes took millions of years. The recent migration of music from Mozart to MP3 took centuries. Progress is not explosive, it is incremental. Ideas, materials, technology and craftsmanship evolve slowly.
The road from horse power to horsepower was paved with many intermediate creations -- some successful, some not. The internal combustion gasoline engine persisted. The electric car was tried and shelved but not buried, Its coming back.
Early automobiles were called "horseless carriages" for good reason. They were manufactured by carriage builders using the materials, machines and techniques at hand -- saws, chisels, planes, needle, thread, wood, screws, nails, cloth and leather. And iron and steel only where absolutely necessary. The challenge was to marry the torque and iron of an internal combustion engine to the wood wheels, frame and craftsmanship of an elegant carriage. The Fisher Body Division of General Motors sprang from a furniture maker in Norwalk, Ohio and Boeing kept its factory busy building furniture when airplane orders dried up after World War One. Joinery is pretty much the same whether it us used to build a wheel, a wall, a wing or a wing back chair.
In a photo album on the right are photos of a wood bicycle I found on display at the Cape Cod National Seashore Museum. Strictly speaking, it is a wood/steel hybrid comprised of a steel frame, cranks, chain and sprockets tied to wood hubs, spokes, rims and fenders. The fenders are beautifully thin, delicate and graceful while the mortise and tenon joints that tie spokes to hub are substantial enough to resist the compression, tension and flexion that comes from a road more suited to cattle than cars.
Far from being a one-off, it is assembled from mass produced interchangeable parts and while neither light nor sleek, its basic shape and configuration is little different from today's battle scarred BMX or featherweight fixie.
We've moved on, but on our way to aluminum, magnesium, titanium and composite construction we stopped briefly at the wood bike.