Bruno Wood Bikes–New Biking Sensation
By Pam Cox
Scott County Tourism Director
If Craig Gardner has his way, Bruno, Virginia will become the “wood bike” capital of the world.
After a successful 30 year plus career in chemical engineering, Gardner found himself back home in Bruno to care for his ailing parents, Walter and Ann. While caring for his parents, Gardner spent time perfecting a project that he began as a ministry in the slums of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A man of deep faith, Gardner found himself walking the inner city in downtown Baton Rouge, talking with its residents and learning about their life and needs. During these visits, one thing stuck out—the lack of transportation.
“I would see middle-aged men walking around the neighborhood—to the bus stop, to the grocery store. And I asked them, ‘Don’t you have a bike?’ To which they replied, ‘we used to,’ but it didn’t last long.”
This revelation led Gardner to a local Schwinn bicycle dealer who explained that the men in question were either given or purchased “cheap” bikes that didn’t last. While walking in the inner city one day, the Lord told Gardner to teach these men how to make their own bike out of wood. Gardner had never seen wood bikes before but, from his research, learned wood was a far superior material to create durable bikes. At the same time, he realized there were really no work programs for men. “There were plenty of social service and training programs for women and children, but few for men,” Gardner explained.
His concept was to provide both an opportunity for employment while, at the same time, providing transportation. He wanted to create a manufacturing hub for building wood bicycles. “It’s like the Biblical proverb, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’” Before Gardner could get the plan off the ground, he learned he was needed back home. This ministry would be put on the back burner, but the desire would remain.
He returned home in 2015 and his mother passed away soon after. Gardner’s father, Walter, had been active in Scott County and, once he returned home, Gardner began looking for ways to become involved in the community. He volunteered with Gate City Frontier to rebuild a downtown theater. After a few months, Gate City Frontier asked Gardner to be the volunteer Executive Director.
Whenever possible, Gardner continued working on and perfecting his wood bike. According to Gardner, wood is a superior material for creating durable bikes, plus the wooden frame doesn’t transmit vibration like other materials. This makes the bike perfect for riding on typical paved and gravel roads, and is a great choice for older riders, larger individuals plus folks who have given up riding traditional frame bikes due to neck and back injuries caused from the bike’s pulsation.
Walter Gardner passed away last Father’s Day. When Craig moved back to Scott County, he left behind his wife and three children. When the time is right, the plan is for his wife, Alison and, hopefully, daughter, Maggie to join him in Bruno. Sons Grant and Tyler are content to stay in Louisiana.
Gardner likes to say he is from Bruno, which is actually a small off-shoot of the Hiltons community in Scott County. As a result, he is marketing his wood bike as the “Bruno Wood Bike.” He hired Jonathan and William Carrier, self-trained craftsmen to construct wood bikes. With the help of the Carrier brothers and friend, Eric McMurray, Gardner has turned his father’s home at 9455 Bristol Highway into a retail/coffee shop for selling Bruno Bikes and other assorted wood products, plus coffee and baked goods. The old kitchen has been gutted and re-created using the talents of the Carrier brothers to construct new cabinets, a coffee bar area and additional amenities.
Outside, on an elevated deck they are creating a Pergola that can hold and display the bikes. Not only are these bikes functional, they are a work of art. Bikes are made from hard maple, cherry, ash, oak, black walnut, mulberry and cedar—all hardwoods that are readily available in Southwest Virginia. Bruno Bikes has a standard bike that it sells in the $500 price range. Bikes can also be custom made to fit the rider’s desires. Bruno Bikes will be open for business by mid-June.
In addition, Gardner plans to add bike excursions to Creek Island, located on the Holston River. He is extremely interested in growing the bike excursion business, taking customers up the Mendota Fire Tower Trail, to High Knob and other scenic points around Scott County and Southwest Virginia.
Eventually, Bruno Bikes will sell motorized bikes with a speed as high of 25 40 MPH. Naturally, the motorized bike offers an alternative mode of transportation. But, for the thrill junky, it offers an adrenaline rush recommended only for expert riders.
The mission of Bruno Bikes is “to bring the joy of bike riding back to everybody, and there’s nothing smoother than a wood bike.” Gardner said, “If you ride a wood bike and you’re a bike rider, you’ll go. ‘Oh my God, I’m on a Cadillac.’”
Gardner is so confident of the wood bike’s appeal that he will let customers test ride a bike for several days prior to purchase. (I’ve already placed my order. Hope to see other wood bikes riding around Scott County, Southwest Virginia and the Tri-Cities.)
For more information, contact Gardner at 225-333-2386.