Crafting bikes by hand is one way professor Jay Kinsinger worships.
“When I create wooden bicycles I feel (God’s) pleasure,” Kinsinger said. “It’s a form of worship for me.”
Kinsinger, who has taught mechanical and biomedical engineering at Cedarville for 16 years, said the first wooden bike he builttook him more than 400 hours to complete. Fortunately, he said, since he’s had quite a bit of practice at this point, he’s gotten the time down to about 100 hours. Kinsinger said he’s hand-crafted about 12 bikes by himself and helped others make about 10 more.
Kinsinger said he’s been cycling since he was about seven and has been an avid woodworker his whole life. He said he had access to nice tools and training because his dad was a shop teacher.
Kinsinger also worked as a bicycle mechanic in high school and college. During high school, he and his best friend planned to pedal from coast to coast.
“He told me we should do it when we graduated, and I agreed,” he said. “When we graduated, he got busy and went off. So I ended up cycling from coast to coast myself in 1981.”
Kinsinger said he has also gone cross-country biking all over the world, including Europe, New Zealand and Australia, but all that was still during Kinsinger’s time with standard metal bikes.
Kinsinger built steel bicycle frames as a hobby for three decades before he started using wood for bike frames.
“About four years ago, somebody showed me a picture of a wooden bike, and woodworking is another thing I really love to do, so I said to myself, ‘Wow, that looks pretty neat, let me see if I can do that,’” he said. “I put my two loves together, and I haven’t looked back.”
He said his first wood frame was a manufacturing challenge and novelty.
“I soon realized that wood is fantastic material to use for frame building: very tough, light weight, no need to know how to weld (steep learning curve) the wood absorbs vibration so it has an incredibly smooth ride, sustainable (can’t get more green than a tree) and they are award-winningly beautiful,” Kinsinger wrote.
And he’s always trying new things.
“I’ve built tandems, a 29er mountain bike, a custom frame for a dwarf, several folding travel bicycles, cyclo cross bikes, electric bikes, a few normal road bikes and a unicycle,” Kinsinger wrote.
With the completed bikes, Kinsinger said he rides them a lot, including a cross-country trip with his son last summer.
Kinsinger, who has four children, said he’s ridden across Europe with his family, as well as taken many other local trips with them.
“Just last summer, we pedalled from the University of Dayton to Notre Dame for a charity ride,” he said. “It was called Ride for Life, and it was hosted by Dayton Right To Life. We rode two wooden tandems, and one boring metal tandem because, well, I’ve only got two wooden tandems.”
Building the bikes together
Kinsinger builds his own bikes for fun, but he also serves as a senior design project advisor for the mechanical engineering program. One of the project options this year was to assist Kinsinger in the construction of an electric wooden bike, a task four mechanical engineering students selected.
Benjamin Tuttle is one of the seniors Kinsinger has been working with on the bike.
“I first decided to get involved with the bikes as a junior, when I saw the senior design crew of that year working on them,” he said. “For five years, I went on road biking trips with my dad and brother, and I really enjoyed it. That did a lot to develop my passion for biking.”
Tuttle’s role in this year’s endeavor was the “mechanical technician” – he tested the strength of the wood and carbon fiber components before they were used in the frame.
Grant Kovac, another member of the senior design team, prepares the wood for the bikes and composes the layouts.
“Kinsinger pitching the idea for the electric bike, at first, I was pretty hesitant,” he said, “but I decided to take it on because it was a really interesting concept.”
Kovac said he’s essentially Kinsinger’s muscle for the project, and he constructed the chains for the first electric bike.
“Building the first bike probably took more than 100 hours, which was largely due to the fact that no one really knew anything about making e-bikes,” Kovac said. “Kinsinger was used to building regular bikes, but this was completely new to him, too.”
Kinsinger said he’s has had good responses to the wooden bike project on the list of potential engineering capstone projects and already has a team slated to work on the project next year.
“Wooden bicycles combine two of my passions,” Kinsinger wrote in an email. “A definition of creativity I like is: putting together two previously unrelated objects or ideas and make something new.”
Dominique Jackson is a junior broadcasting major with a concentration in audio and an arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. When he’s not recording, he enjoys writing poetry, singing loudly and ignoring most societal norms.
Cedars editor Lauren Eissler contributed to this story.