Renovo Hardwood Bicycles: Part 2, Renovo R3 Road review.

By | April 10, 2014
Renovo R3 Road made of ribbon
maple and Purple heart.

In case you missed it, check out part one, the Renovo factory tour.  It is clear that Ken and the rest of the crew put a lot of effort into wood bicycles.  From start to finish, a custom wood bike can take 6 months!  Ken Wheeler, Renovo’s owner, did not come from a woodworking background.  He was better equipped to build a bike out of just about any other material, but he chose wood because it is better for the environment, Renovo means I renew in latin.  Renovo prides itself on sustainable practices.  In additon to its reduced environmental impact, Ken also feels that wood is a superior material for bike construction.  Renovo’s bikes are beautiful to look at, but appearance means nothing it doesn’t ride well.  Lucky me!  I got to take one of these beauties out on the road.

Renovo only makes 100 bikes a year.  One of the problems of such a small facility, is that you cannot expect to find a number of bikes in every size and configuration at your disposal.  I was warned of this in advance and was very happy to ride the 56 cm bike given to me.  However, if I were a potential customer (as I would like to be one day) about to drop thousands of dollars on a bike, I would expect to have a test ride on a bike that matches the dimensions (Renovos come in standard sizes) and model of bike I end up purchasing.  I would also likely ride a larger and smaller version of the bike just to be sure.  I suspect that having several bikes in each size built for test rides would be impractical.  To overcome handy order form with extensive measurements on their website.  People from all over the world order Renovo bikes without stepping foot in their Portland headquarters.  If you want a bike off the rack, go to your local bike shop and take it home that afternoon.  If you are ordering any custom bike, you want something special.  Renovo is no exception.  Be prepared to put a lot of thought into your new bike.  That is half the fun!  I do suspect that Renovo would work with a customer such as myself who wants some saddle time on the varying sizes and models prior to purchase.
this, Renovo offers bike fit services as well as a

So Renovo road bikes include the R1 Road, R3 Road, R4 Road and the R5 Aero Road.  I got to ride the R3 Road.  The bike is middle of the road in terms of price and geometry.  It is built to be responsive, but not aggressive.  My R3 Road was equipped as follows:

  • Frame Size: 56 cm
  • Frame Materials: Curly Maple and Purple Heart
  • Shifters: SRAM Force
  • Brakes: SRAM Rival
  • Derrailleurs: SRAM Force
  • Fork: Ritchey WCS
  • Bar: Ritchey Logic
  • Stem: Ritchey Pro
  • Seatpost: Ritchey
  • Wheels: Rolf Prima Elan RS
  • Tires: Continental 4000s

My last test ride was in the midst of a record setting rain storm.  This time it was a partly sunny crisp spring Portland morning.  I started at Renovo’s headquarters, crossed over the bridge into downtown Portland and back several times.  I got to experience several short climbs and decents, but overall the terrain was a bit too flat.  I also experienced every type of paving except chip seal.  It was a spirited ride, but I was not aggressive as I usually am on a test ride for three reasons.  They are as follows:

  1. It is early in the year and I was not in very good shape.
  2. The Rolf wheels are a low spoke count, lightweight wheel.  I have been known to break such wheels.
  3. This is one of a 100 bikes destined for an customer who spent their hard earned money for it.  I typically test demo bikes which are meant to be ridden hard.

Despite my caution, I feel that I was able to get a good sense of the Renovo R3 Road.  My impressions are as follows:

Positives:

The most noticeable thing about riding a Renovo is what is missing.  This bike is amazingly quiet.  The only sound to be heard is the the soft hum of the tires.  At one point a fellow cyclist passed me which really made the quietness of my ride apparent.  His bike buzzed and rattled over every segment of concrete we rode over.  The lack of noise is not just apparent to the ears.  Road vibrations are greatly reduced.  I took the R3 over several segments of rough cracked asphalt.  Each time, I softented my elbows and raised my butt expecting a jarring hit that never came.  More than one I looked back to check the terrain I had just rolled over.  You still feel the road but the extra ‘noise’ of the riding experience are greatly reduced.  This thing would be a pleasure on a long ride.  On climbs, the R3 feels stable, fast and smooth even though my legs did not.  The wood seems to smooth out the herkey jerkey nature of my climbing style.  The bike felt equally stable on descents which builds confidence.  The R3 just feels planted to the road.  There is no shimmy, no shake and no harshness.  It is unlike anything I have experienced on a bike.

Negatives:

SRAM Shifting could be
crisper and smoother.

My R3 Road test bike was only 56 cm.  I typically ride at least a 58 cm. Obviously as the result, the cockpit was cramped and the handling was a bit twitchy.  I like a bike to be responsive, but like the input to be a bit more deliberate.  Otherwise, I was amazed by the stability of the R3.  The solution to the handling problem is easy.  Ride a bigger bike.  Renovos are not the lightest bikes on the market.  They claim to have about the same frame weight as an upper end steel bike.  I would guess my R3 Road was in the 16-18lb range.  By my standards, this is still a very light bike.  The R3 Road was rolling on a lightweight set of Rolf wheels.  I would expect super snappy acceleration with such a light set of wheels.  The R3 accelerated smoothly, but I would not call it snappy like the BMC TeamMachine or the Giant TCR I test rode previously.  I wonder if the wood absorbed some of my acceleration.  Renovo can tailor their frame material to suit the rider.  I my 56 cm R3 Road test bike was build with a 240 lb Clydesdale in mind.   I also admit that my legs may not be capable of ‘snappy acceleration’ at this point of the season.  Catch me in September when I am 20 lbs lighter with a couple thousand miles in the legs, and it may be a different story.  🙂

Components:

This is my second experience with a SRAM drivetrain.  The first time I rode SRAM I was very impressed.  This time, it was as I remember, however I did not like it as much.  Braking power is great compared to typical rim brake in my experience.  However, I felt that control was lacking.  I found that I was frequently locking up the rear wheel during braking.  The other thing I noticed is the missed shifts.  I have ridden SRAM twice, both times it had been recently been gone over by a good mechanic.  Even so I experienced missed and slow shifts both times.  As I understand it, SRAM is difficult to tune.  As a result, I would be hesitant to specify SRAM components if I were getting a Renovo.

Conclusion:

The Renovo was unlike any bike I had ridden before.  I cannot imagine anything better on STP, RSVP, RAGBRAI or other long ride.  It is a stable platform for climbs and instills confidence on descents.  I worry about acceleration and would discuss this in depth with Renovo if I were to order my own.  I suspect they could tailor frame materials to suit a beefy Clydesdale such as myself.  If I were serious about purchasing a A3 Road I would first test ride the R4 Road and a bigger R3 Road.  I rule out the R5 Aero Road because it is not available with disc brakes (hopefully one day).  I dream of road bikes with discs.  Mmmmmm!  Renovos are not cheap, but they definitely in line with other mid to high end mass produced bikes.  I want one!

Thank you!

I want to thank Renovo for granting me access to their facilities.  I sent them an e-mail out of the blue asking for a look around.  Ken was more than generous with their time.  We spent about 1.5 hours touring and talking to Ken and Albert.  They were so generous with their time, I became worried I was keeping them from their work.  I then spent another hour on one of their bikes.  Ken told me that this is the most satisfying endeavor he has undertaken.  It is so satisfying because he gets such positive feedback from customers.  Based on my experience, it is easy to understand why.

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