TINICUM — Joe LaVallee has always enjoyed woodworking and building things with his hands. As a young boy, he remembers often taking objects apart, wanting to know how they worked. He was the kid who always hung around with his father, uncle and friends’ fathers, studying the way they fixed things or made things.

Therefore it came as little surprise when, as an adult, he became hooked on woodworking as a hobby. In his leisure time, he has creatively crafted coffee tables, butcher block tables, speaker stands, end tables and more. He recently built the inside of a sailboat.

“I enjoy woodworking, but I also love riding my bike,” LaVallee said. LaVallee, a lifelong resident of Essington, learned to ride a bicycle when he was 5 years old. His parents took him to a field off Jansen Avenue. With his mother at one side of the field and his father at the other, they gave him a back-and-forth running start until he grasped the concept. LaVallee, who has been an insurance adjuster for Community Association Underwriters of America for 35 years, has never stopped riding a bike since. Eventually, he learned how to fix them as well. He enjoys hopping on his bike after work and taking a whirl around town to unwind. In warmer temperatures, he takes his bike to the shore to ride on the boardwalk.

“One day, two years ago, I wondered if I could build a fully operable bicycle out of wood,” LaVallee said. “I really enjoy challenges so I decided to give it a try.”

The rest is history. The biker/wood craftsman has been building wooden bikes ever since. He still rides the first bike he built, and has put over 100 miles on it. The mountain-style bike, crafted from black walnut, cherry and maple woods, has 21 speeds, a leather seat and handlebars, and disc brakes.

“This bike is personal to me because it was my first, the one that started it all,” the biker said. “I will probably never sell it.”

When he completed the first bike, he brought it to a bike shop to be sure it was accurately built and would pass a safety check. The bike not only looked great, he said, but it rode great, too. When people noticed his unique creation, he began taking orders.

“People stop me all of the time when I’m out riding, because there’s no doubt that these bicycles are unique,” LaVallee said with a smile. “They want to know where I got it and then when I tell them I built it myself, they want to know how and begin to ask many questions. The bikes are eye-catching pieces of art, each one is unique. I don’t build speed bikes. I build smooth-riding cruisers, bikes to cruise around the neighborhood or down the shore at a casual pace. ”

Each bike takes about 40 hours to complete and sells for $2,000-$2,700, which barely covers the cost of LaVallee’s labor, he said. The craftsman burns his "Handmade by Joe LaVallee" brand signature into every finished creation. The bicycle builder never uses a pattern. Instead, he has about 10 ordinary bikes at his house, of various styles, that he looks at for models or templates.

On Saturdays, LaVallee works part-time in a blacksmith shop where he can also weld the bike parts. Although all of his bikes’ mechanical parts are brand new, all of his wood is repurposed. One bike was built from solid oak that he took from an old spiral staircase.

“I am all about ecology,” LaVallee stated. “I don’t feel it’s fair to go out and buy brand new wood if I can repurpose.”

LaVallee says that he finishes the bikes with Spar varnish, the product used on boats, which makes them strong, weather-resistant, UV protected, and able to withstand all the elements. So far, LaVallee has constructed five bicycles, with more on his radar for the near future. The bike builder said he is fortunate that he has a strong network of friends with similar interests that are there for him to troubleshoot, answer questions, scout him wood to repurpose, and support his bike passion in many ways.

“I just sold a woman’s beach cruiser that was made out of cherry wood,” LaVallee continued. “I just finished working on another beach cruiser, that’s currently for sale. It is crafted from over 80 pieces of wood. It’s all oak.”

The first wooden bike was built almost 200 years ago. What goes around, comes around, and wooden bikes have become popular again because of their looks and aesthetics. LaVallee says the bikes can also be customized to the individual.

“I am up to the challenge of building any kind of wooden custom bike from an idea that someone would bring to me,” LaVallee stated. “I enjoy challenges and I especially enjoy creating wooden bikes for people who can appreciate the look and feel of these special bikes. Right now, I am ready to begin work on a wooden tricycle, and I also hope to make a wooden tandem bicycle.”

LaVallee also hopes to make a wooden tricycle for his new granddaughter, Sage, born just three weeks ago to his only daughter, Danielle, and her husband Troy Czapor. Excited about his first grandchild, the new, proud grandfather chuckled that he has time to build the bike because it will be awhile until the newborn is ready to pedal.

“I’m not doing this  to make money,” LaVallee said. “I honestly don’t want to make a huge profit. I just want to make bikes!”

LaVallee, an alumni of the Interboro Class of 1978, is slowly edging toward retirement age and dreams of being able to create a few special bikes for people each year during retirement.

The bike builder is an active guy. He enjoys fishing and kayaking. A Prostate Cancer survivor, he also volunteers at Thomas Jefferson Hospital, supporting other men when they first get a cancer diagnosis. Right now, he’s fundraising for a 75-mile bike ride, Sept. 21-22, when he participates in the 2019 Bike MS City To Shore Ride. At the shore or back home in Delaware County, LaVallee’s true happy place is right in the workshop of his basement, where most of the bike building happens.

“I find true peace in my workshop,” LaVallee said. “It’s relief from the corporate world and I enjoy just losing myself in my bikes. Building these wooden bikes has really become my passion — I’m obsessed with it. They’re durable, stylish and really fun to ride!”

For more information on LaVallee's wooden bicycles, visit "LaVallee Bicycles" on Facebook, call 610-202-4255, e-mail lavalleebicycles@gmail.com or log onto  www.lavalleebicycles.com.

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