Business Irish

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Great vibes as Woodelo bikes become cycling tour de force

Tom Prendeville

Published 09/03/2014 | 02:30

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Liam Murray taking to the hills on the Woodelo bike

IN THE 1980s, UK Tory grandee Norman Tebbit famously advised disgruntled constituents in the job-starved North of England to "get on their bike".

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However, Tipperary-based Liam Murray decided to go one better and actually manufacture his own range of bespoke designer bikes.

He was a land surveyor who quickly found himself out of a job when the housing business went belly-up. Rather than sink into disillusion-ment he put his free time to good use.

To while away his idle days he rekindled his boyhood hobbies of cycling and woodworking. Along the way he became curious about bikes in Asia that are made of bamboo.

As a challenge he decided to try and build a bike frame out of Irish ash, the same wood hurleys are made from. To his surprise, the bike was as tough as nails with no vibrations, especially off-road on rough surfaces – a major consideration for serious long-distance cyclists who frequ-ently complain that their passion can be a bone-shaking experience.

Out of the ash bike experiment grew the idea of Woodelo Bikes, which since its inception has started to gain a reputation of being the Porsche of bikes.

Liam Murray explains how he got his Thurles-based business on the road: "I am not a formally-trained carpenter or cabinet-maker but I have always been interested in woodwork, and in a previous life I dabbled in furniture making – but I was always big into cycling.

"I have been developing the idea of wooden-framed bikes for three years and last summer we finally started the business. Initially, we got some assistance from South Tipperary Enterprise Board, who helped us acquire machines and specialist software, which was a great help."

Within months, Liam Murray won a prestigious prize at Bespoke UK, the custom-made bike show, which put the small novice company on the map. What caught cyclists' attention was the fact that Wood-elo's hand-crafted bikes have little or no vibrations, unlike steel, carbon fibre or aluminium-framed models.

"The best way to put it is to imagine the last time you used a hammer which had a metal handle.

"Everyone knows the shock you get from the handle when it hits the nail compared to a handle made of wood.

"Wood is the smoothest ride of all and people are amazed when they take an ash bike out for a ride," he explains.

Uniquely, Woodelo market the bikes not only as utility machines but as objects of art in their own right.

"Each bike takes four weeks to manufacture from start to finish – they are really art in motion. People like the aesthetics of the bikes. One of our most popular models is a six-gear bike which we call "Special Branch".'

Bespoke handmade craftwork is going to cost significant money – each bike is retailing for €2,000. However, in the world of high-end bikes, cost is not an issue, with serious cyclists prepared to pay up to ten grand for a bike. In 2012 Damien Hirst's "Butterfly" Trek Madone, a gold-plated, two-wheeler studded with Swarovski crystals and coated with real butterfly wings, sold for an eye-watering $500,000. Although an outlandish sum of money, the Hirst bike is indicative of how far bikes have come from their humble utilitarian origins.

Despite the cost of high-end bikes, Liam and his brother Daniel have a waiting list of international orders that grows every week.

"There is massive growth in the market – especially for custom bikes – people are going away from mass produced generic bikes. With our bikes we would see them as very much an export- orientated product.

"We are currently looking for an investor to help us get into the lucrative USA and UK markets. And when we get to 500 units per year we will be expanding and taking on more staff," Liam added.

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