Auto maker Audi has partnered with custom bike brand Renovo Hardwood Bicycles to offer a line of high-end belt-drive performance bicycles that are both fashionable and functional. The so-called “duo” project between Audi and Renovo is one of the more unique partnerships between a bike brand and a car maker. Like fine cars, bicycles are increasingly viewed as a must-have lifestyle amenity among well-heeled consumers. “Audi’s demographic is interested in high quality and high performance,” says Renovo founder Ken Wheeler. “Renovo’s demographic is very similar.”
Duo was born during a visit to Renovo’s Portland, Ore., studio last winter. A team of executives from the German auto company spent four days at Renovo, discussing options for custom bikes that would appeal to their customer base. “Audi was looking for bikes that reflected their concept of combining art and function and engineering,” says Wheeler. “But they also wanted practical bikes that their owners and customers could use every day.”
Two bikes in the duo line will feature the new CenterTrack system from Gates Carbon Drive, a grease-free alternative to bike chains that is increasingly popular among urban cyclists and commuter bicyclists due to its low maintenance, cleanliness, strength and modern aesthetic. In addition to the Gates belt drive, duo bikes feature disk brakes and LED lights, carbon fiber components, and wood selected to match the interior of Audi vehicles. Here is how Audi describes the two belt drive models, the duo City and duo Sport:
- duo City — A cafe/leisure bike, urban explorer and all-weather commuter; the most approachable bike for casual cyclists. Features include an upright position for short distances, comfort and traffic vigilance; wide puncture-resistant 32mm tires; LED lights; fenders; rack; The duo City drivetrain features the smooth, quiet and grease-free Gates CenterTrack belt drive coupled to the Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub gear, for effortless and maintenance-free shifting. Price: $6,530*
- duo Sport — A fitness, long-distance all-weather commuter, perfect for cyclists seeking long-distance comfort and safety. The Sport drivetrain features the smooth, quiet and grease-free Gates CenterTrack belt drive coupled to the Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal gear hub, for effortless and maintenance-free shifting. Other features include drop bars for long distances; minimum fenders; medium width and puncture-resistant 28mm tires for less rolling resistance. Price: $7,350*
For Wheeler, who founded Renovo after working with wooden boats and as a builder of wooden kit airplanes, the deal with Audi is an opportunity to expose more consumers to the beauty and performance attributes of wood. “Wood is expensive to work with but it’s strong and light,” he says. “It also has great ride quality.” The Renovo website has gotten more hits than ever in the company’s history since Audi announced the duo project. Wheeler says interest in Renovo’s belt drive bikes will likely boom as Audi places duo bikes into some of its 300 dealerships, exposing a vast new audience to wooden bikes and Gates Carbon Drive.
Audi launched the duo project on April 2 to show its corporate principles of “progressive innovation that also blends craftsmanship and styling with performance and technology,” Audi says in a news release. Automotive and tech media including CNET are all over the story, with CNET calling the bikes “Audi’s woody two-wheelers.”