Jan Gunneweg was 3 years old when he started woodworking. Growing up on a typical Dutch house boat in the north of the Netherlands, Jan joined his father at repairing the boat in the summer. It was his first contact with wood; and it set the course for the rest of his life.
At the age of 10, Jan had built an armada of wooden model boats. Each time Jan finished a new boat, he would hold it up to his mother and say he wanted to go to the Woodwork Academy, to learn how to build a real boats. And indeed, years later, Jan did go to that same academy. But he did not end up building boats; he started building bikes instead.
At the Academy, Jan lost interest in boats. Jan – who had been a semi professional ice skater until an injury forced him to quit – had been gripped by road racing like a boa constrictor grips its victim, and he poured his passion into his profession. For his graduating masterpiece, Jan set out to build a wooden race bike. To demonstrate wood can rival steel and carbon, Jan participated in national races – where he easily kept up with competitors.
His hobby and passion evolved into his business. Jan creates wooden bikes, wooden sunglasses, wooden poker tables. Students work in his workshop, eager to learn from Jan’s mastery of the trade. Jan shows them what to look at: grains in the wood must be straight as an arrow, blurry grains deliver blurry products; cherry wood and walnut are best for stiff, rigid racing bikes; ash is better for flexible road bikes.
Currently, Jan and his team only make bikes to order, and consequently prices start at EUR 6000,–. But they are working on a line of bikes to be produced on a larger scale, and at a lower price. Jan expects those bikes will be a success: the bikes are easy to ship, and easy to assemble – ‘somewhat like IKEA’, says Jan.
Then he smiles, and turns back to his work bench. He brushes away wood shavings, picks up his scraper, and continues smoothing the surface of a cherry wood bike frame.
IKEA is still a long way to go – and we’re glad it is.