Jay Kinsinger rides into the future on his one-of-a-kind wooden bicycles
Jay Kinsinger doesn’t just ride bicycles—he creates them.
Kinsinger’s love for cycling began the first time he rode a bike at age 6. He started building steel bikes when he was 14 years old and worked in bike shops throughout high school and college. As the years progressed he decided to combine his hobby for woodworking and his passion for cycling to create wooden bicycles.
“I saw some wooden bicycles pop up on the internet and thought, ‘That’s pretty neat,’” says Kinsinger. “I thought I’d give it a try.”
The idea took off, and Kinsinger transformed his personal project into a successful business—Sojourn Cyclery. The company takes custom orders from customers around the world and has constructed every model of bicycle imaginable. From a simple cruiser built for a retired couple in Florida to a tandem bike made for an “aficionado” in Toronto, each bicycle is unique in its own way.
Wynn and Susan Arnold ordered a custom-made wooden tandem bicycle from Sojourn Cyclery in April and say it’s worth every penny.
Kinsinger custom-made the tandem specifically for the couple. He took their weight, shoe size, inseam and body measurements to ensure the bike would fit them perfectly. After completing the bicycle, Kinsinger drove to Florida to present the tandem to the Arnolds.
The bicycle was even better than they expected.
“It’s lightweight, it’s beautiful and it’s functional,” says Susan Arnold. “There’s nothing like it. It’s just so much more than we ever thought it would be.”
Kinsinger, an associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Cedarville University, decided to use walnut wood for his bicycles after conducting a multitude of tests and determining that wooden frames are stronger, lighter and absorb road vibrations more efficiently than typical metal frames.
He tested a steel bicycle frame along with his wooden frame and discovered that the steel frame began to bend at 800 pounds while the wooden bike frame test had to be stopped at 1,200 pounds because the fixture holding the frame started to bend.
“I was blown away,” says Kinsinger. “The wooden frame was lighter than steel frames. It just had a lot of positives—they’re obviously prettier, absorbed the road vibrations and are stronger than steel.”
On metal bike frames vibrations are reduced but not completely absorbed because the vibrations spread throughout the metal. Wooden frames absorb vibrations, which makes for a comfortable ride, explains Kinsinger.
“I love the way the bike rides. It’s very smooth because the wood absorbs some of the road vibration,” says Kinsinger. “And they’re just beautiful work.”
The process that goes into creating each bicycle is as intricate and beautiful as the finished product itself.
Kinsinger begins making his bicycles by building up several layers of walnut wood, which he refers to as “engineered plywood,” and laminates the layers together. Kinsinger creates the frame in two halves, which enables him to hollow out the wood to be lightweight.
After he finishes hollowing out the unfinished frame, Kinsinger puts metal inserts where the pedals will be placed before gluing the two halves together. After many hours of sanding and finishing, he has a completed wooden bike frame.
“My first bike took probably (300) or 400 hours to make,” says Kinsinger. “I kept working at it and now I can crank them out in about 50 or 60 hours—it still takes a while.”
Kinsinger is meticulous when creating his bicycles; he goes through this specific process with each bike for every customer. The end result is worth it—he creates “rideable art” through master craftmanship.
Kinsinger has created a multitude of different wooden bikes—touring bikes, tandem bicycles, two-niners, mountain bikes; even unicycles. However, his most inventive bicycle yet may be the “Elettrico” wooden e-bike.
Electric bicycles, more commonly known as e-bikes, combine pedaling power and electric energy. As the rider applies more force the motor makes it easier to pedal.
“They kind of help you—the harder you press the pedals the more assist they give you. They’re really fun,” says Kinsinger. “I call it the ultimate sustainable transportation.”
E-bikes are a great alternative for both retirees and millennials, says Kinsinger. Some seniors who enjoy cycling simply just can’t go the miles they used to when they were younger, while many millennials who are living in cities forgo cars but still want to commute to work.
The “Elettrico” e-bike is the solution to the problems of two very different generations—cyclists can exercise while using a method of sustainable transportation.
“[It] is a very green approach. It’s not going to be sitting in a landfill for 1,000 years like a lot of carbon-fiber frames,” says Kinsinger. “It’s going to be sustainable.”
This rideable art does come at a price, however. The cost of the frame for a single bike is $3,500 and for a tandem it’s $6,500, explains Kinsinger.
“Since I don’t buy mass quantities like Trek or Cannondale I have to pay more for my parts than they do,” says Kinsinger. “Custom bikes are expensive.”
Although the price tag for these wooden bikes may seem hefty, Sojourn Cycler offers something even more valuable. Kinsinger doesn’t just construct wooden bicycles for customers—he also teaches clients how to build the unique bicycles themselves.
Kinsinger shifted his business into an educational pursuit after discovering that for each person who wanted to own or buy a wooden frame there seemed to be 10 or more who aspired to build their own.
Kinsinger and his wife, Andrea, recently traveled to California for a Sojourn Cyclery workshop hosted by four Apple employees.
Megan Gardner, one of the attendees, jumped at the opportunity to build her own bicycle. After she decided to create a ‘gravel grinder,’ Gardner rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
“It was just a really cool and unique opportunity—I got to be more involved in the building of the bike,” says Gardner. “I get to show people this wooden bike and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, and I made part of it, too.’”
Kinsinger walked these cyclists through the process of creating their own wooden bike frames. After three days of hard work his mentees walked away with a sense of pride knowing they built their own bicycle.
Sojourn Cyclery has evolved since its conception, and Kinsinger has grown along with it. However, his unique wooden bicycles have withstood the test of time.
“The bikes are really beautiful and they’re just so much fun to ride. I ride on my wooden bike and I get all kinds of questions,” says Kinsinger. “It’s hard to even get away from it—people are always wanting to know about it. They’re as much fun to look at they are to ride.”