Electric bikes are typically made from aluminum or (if you’re willing to pay a premium) carbon fiber - lightweight materials that are corrosion resistant, lightweight, and easy to work with. However, they’re not the only options, and wood is a surprisingly practical alternative.
COCO-MATBIKE.UK (opens in new tab) is a Greek company founded in Athens that’s aiming to prove that lithium and timber 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 gearing options and two electric models.
The bikes are certainly striking – the entire frame is made from pale wood, from the handlebars to the fenders – and they could soon be rolling through a street near you. TechRadar spoke to Dimitri Philippou, CEO of ARTC GLOBAL, which is bringing the bikes to the UK, to find out why your daily rider should be made from timber.
If you’re thinking ‘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, mainly focuses on sustainable furniture, bed linen, and mattresses.
“Paul is a little on the crazy side,” says Philippou. “He’s the one who’s big on the environment – In fact, he’s on the Amazon on a river ride now.
"A few years ago, he was riding in the Alps, his bike broke down, and he decided ‘I’m going to make a wooden bike'. That’s where it came from.”
The first wooden bikes were built about six years ago. At first they were used as a marketing tool, but they proved surprisingly practical and people were so interested that the brothers decided to turn them into a proper business. They began selling wooden bicycles soon after, and three years ago branched out into e-bikes as well.
The bike frames are made of American ash from forests that are dedicated to growing trees for lumber. “It’s very environmentally focused and very durable,” Philippou says. “From each tree we can make 50 bikes, and our commitment is that we plant a tree for every adult bike we sell, so it’s a net positive.”
The frames are cut by machine, then sanded and assembled by hand – a manufacturing process that releases much less carbon than traditional bike building.
Grit, wind and fire
Philippou says that riding the two-speed and seven-speed models feels just like a regular bike. They aren’t meant for off-road use, but they can handle gravel, and the springiness of the wood provides a little natural shock absorption.
Still, the climate in Athens is very different to northern Europe – how can a wooden bike handle the notoriously wet UK climate? “The wooden bikes are treated to repel water,” he explains.
“In fact, the frames that originally had a three-year warranty are now going to have a lifetime guarantee. In the process of time we’ve seen how durable the bikes are, and now we feel confident.” The non-wooden components, including the gearing, has a one-year warranty, and the warranty for the battery is two years.
The company assures riders that wooden e-bikes need no more TLC than conventional ones (check out our complete guide to e-bike maintenance for details).
“Their minimal design and operation leaves almost no space for things that can go wrong,” says Philippou. “Drum brakes and automatic gears ensure almost a lifetime operation without maintenance. If anything fails in the course of the years though, our expert cycle repair shops partners in the United Kingdom will do the job.”
The use of wood raises a question about flammability, though. TechRadar recently spoke to the Fire Protection Research Foundation about best practice for avoiding e-bike fires, but does a timber frame pose an additional risk?
“The frames, of course, are treated for fire so there’s no problem there and there is short circuit and thermal protection through the battery pack's management system,” Philippou explains.
In accordance with EU laws, the motor only kicks in while the rider 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 rolling for up to 100km on a single charge. It’s also investigating the possibility of using Tesla batteries in future bikes.
The UK business will begin online at first, with the official launch happening around March 18 to tie in with Ride to Work Week. Later on, COCO-MAT hopes to open several stores in cities like Oxford, Cambridge, and London where riders will be able to buy and rent the bikes.
“You can have cycle tours, and that will be exciting,” Philippou says. “In addition to all the beautiful sightseeing locations around the UK, you get to experience it on an iconic, sustainable bike. The excitement is to see the bikes on the streets.”