Idaho craftsman turns love of cycling into new business

Clark Corbin

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 11:09 p.m. MDT

Stewart Harris of Idaho Falls is a woodworker by trade who hopes his wood frame bikes will become popular.

Associated Press

IDAHO FALLS (AP) — Stewart Harris might develop a problem with stalkers and gawkers if he continues riding his custom wooden-frame bicycles through town.

Since December, the 48-year-old Bonneville County man has designed and built custom Bee's Bikes in his woodshop north of Idaho Falls. Made from bloodwood, purple heart and maple, Harris' bicycles are so striking that they stop traffic.

"I get complimented all the time," Harris said. "When I'm riding, people have followed me into a parking lot (with their cars) and asked 'Is that a wooden bicycle? Wow, I've never seen one."

Working with wood is nothing new to Harris. He has spent nearly 25 years building cabinets, rails, fireplaces and homes through his local business, founded in 1989 as Harris Doors — now Harris Builders.

The bicycles are a new trick, though.

In 1980, Harris developed a love of cycling while serving with the U.S. Air Force in Germany. He joined a local cycling club and loved riding through Europe.

After he returned home, Harris married, started a business and had children. His bicycles spent more time in storage than on the open road.

That changed in October, however, when Harris returned to Germany to reconnect with an old Air Force cycling buddy.

The trip inspired Harris to become more active in cycling. Since he'd always been fascinated with wood and building challenging projects, he decided to try to build his own bicycle.

Named for his beloved springer spaniel, Bee, it takes Harris from 20 days to two months to complete each frame. Harris said he would sell a frame for about $1,500. A completed bike, with high-end components, would fetch about $4,000 (each is unique and custom designed to the owner's height and build).

A completed bicycle with components weighs 23 pounds, slightly heavier than modern carbon fiber bicycles on the market. But Harris figures a few extra pounds won't matter to potential customers.

"It's comfortable and what it really is, is a nice piece of artwork that is functional," Harris said.

Dave Wilding, owner of Dave's Bike Shop, 341 W. Broadway, is a fan of Harris' bikes. Wilding displayed one in his shop earlier this year, and got a chance to ride it. It offered a quiet ride and was stiff laterally, indicating it gives good performance, Wilding said.

"It's beautiful," he said. "The different woods he used were really tasteful and his ability to work with wood is very apparent."

Bee's Bikes are dependable, too, according to Harris, who ran over a cattle guard at 45 mph and plans to complete a 100-mile "century ride" aboard one later in Salt Lake City.

The wood he uses in his frames is comparable to the British wooden Mosquito bombers that were used in World War II.

Although the local market for such a bike might be small, Wilding said he hopes to again offer them at his shop.

If Harris could develop an online presence, Wilding believes there would be strong interest nationally in the custom creations.

Eventually, Harris hopes he can focus exclusively on building the bikes.

"It would be amazing if I went to a bike race and met someone who was actually riding one," he said.

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