Tom Kabat admits he’s always been wild about bikes. “In high school, I was a bike snob,” he says. “Today, I like all kinds of things about bikes. I’m into bicycle advocacy. I do bike repair on bike to work days. I like getting people into biking.”
For the past 10 years, the Menlo Park resident has been constructing bikes out of wood and found materials. The recumbent bike he’s pictured on features a driftwood log from Mendocino Beach, plywood wheel stays, and an orange juice can to keep the chain in place. “You don’t have to use supplies from a bike store to build a bike,” he says. “And, you can mess around with just what a bike is.”
What Tom doesn’t do is sell his bikes, although he has given some away to friends. “I don’t want a business,” he says. “I want to explore how to do things badly.”
In the past decade, he’s made only about 14 bikes due to the fact that they take “a lot of thinking and sketching.” Sometimes his bikes decay in his backyard, and he takes them apart to start anew.
To suggestions that he’s famous — at least on the mid-Peninsula, he responds: “My fame is secret. When I first started making wooden bikes, it was a totally personal hobby. I wasn’t letting anyone see the bikes nor did I ride them in public. Then, a friend in my neighborhood encouraged me to share the bikes. It’s been fun — I find that bikes are a great sorter of people!”
Tom, who just participated in the recent Makers Faire, offers some tips for making wooden bikes online and shares some of his favorite bikes, including the one at the top of his list — the pencil bike.
Photos by Scott R. Kline