If you could build your own bicycle, would that make you more eager to skip the car and cycle around your city?
A design studio called Arquimaña, based in the Basque Country in northern Spain, is betting on it. For the past four years, they’ve been working on an open source design for a wooden bicycle—called OpenBike—that can be downloaded for free. Their goal was to design the most sustainable bicycle on the market and make it possible for anyone to construct it from scratch.
Raquel Ares and Iñaki Albistur, founders of the studio Arquimaña, provide prototyping and digital manufacturing services to other designers and creators. In 2017, they came up with the concept of OpenBike, after observing that in Basque Country, much like other places, the streets were clogged with highly polluting cars. They wanted to develop an eco-friendly bicycle that people could get excited about building themselves and received financial support from the department of planning, housing, and transport of the Basque government to do so.
Bicycles are inherently less polluting than cars because they don’t generate greenhouse gas emissions. But Ares and Albistur wanted to cut pollution from the manufacturing process, too. First, the user finds a fabrication lab near them using this website. (There are more than 2,000 around the globe.) The main body of the bicycle is made from plywood, a renewable resource, which the lab cuts out using special machinery. The seat, front hub, and hand grips can be 3D printed out of silicone, or even better, recycled from old bicycles. The wheels need to be purchased separately. And since the user can build the bicycle in a digital fabrication lab in their own city, there aren’t any emissions from transporting the finished bicycle to the user. “We were focused on small-scale, local manufacturing,” says Albistur.
Albistur notes that the OpenBike isn’t necessarily cheaper to make than other bicycles on the market. Buying the plywood and other components will cost around $500. And this wooden bike is slightly heavier than some of the lightest alternatives out there. But Albistur says the studio’s goal wasn’t to make the most high-tech bike on the market; it was to create a community of people. He describes the OpenBike as a manifesto on sustainable urbanism, distributed manufacturing, the responsible use of resources, and shared knowledge. In other words, by creating one of these bikes, a person is making a statement about their values around sustainability and inviting others to join in the mission.
This year, Arquimaña launched the finalized design. And the bicycle is currently on display inside the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale and the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism. So far, seven bicycles have been fabricated using this design, in addition to the founders’ own bikes, which they use to ride around Basque Country. A group of makers in Seoul managed to build a functioning OpenBike in two days. “It was really amazing to see our vision come to life,” says Albistur. “People anywhere in the world can now download the design and make their own OpenBike.”