The Wabi-sabi of a Bicycle
The Wabi-sabi of a Bicycle
Words by Mark Tearle
Bicycles by their very nature are simple, economic and austere, yet contain a modesty and sense of fun that provides an intimacy and appreciation of ingenuous integrity, usurped by hardly any other means of transport or sporting equipment. There’s a romance about the bike that fills pages of glossy magazines and other refined publications, websites and books – all in appreciation of the aesthetic beauty and simplicity of this wonderful invention.
I look at my own bike, which I’ve owned for 18 months and I find the scuffs and the the paint chinks on the dropouts and rub marks on the headtube, where I failed to apply helicopter tape to protect the frame, all add to that aesthetic. It was great when it was new but it is even better now, because my marks have been indelibly left on the frame.
18 months of riding hard, training, racing and generally mucking about in all weathers has played their part in the bikes impermanence. Each mark and scuff has a story to tell, as much as the lines around my face and the scar tissue on my body, yet there’s life in it yet to continue to have more adventures.
My bike is a Neil Pryde Diablo – seemingly impossible to get hold of now days as the relatively new cycling brand quickly pushed their efforts to the more aero and apparently comfortable Alize model, whilst pushing the envelope in their Bura SL and award winning Bayamo TT bikes.
The Diablo is still available, though hard to get hold of via the network of dealers and demo centres in the UK. You might have more luck direct from Neil Pryde themselves.
Neil Pryde bikes are popular amongst my team mates, our small team boasting collective ownership 3 Neil Pryde bikes, including my own. That might be because we all knew the local Neil Pryde rep. at the time and he did a very clever sales job on us all, or because we believe in the brand and rate them as something above the norm of the plethora of Specialized and Cervelo’s usually present at Surrey League races – nothing wrong with those brands of course.
I liked the Diablo as soon as I sat on it – it was handed to me as a demo to ride about on for a few weeks, I think by that point I already knew I was going to buy it. I was new to carbon fibre and the ride quality was a revelation. It is a twitchy and playful bike that has a cheeky insouciance to push you to go faster, like an impetuous child yelling “faster Dad, FASTER”…
At the time of buying the stealthy exposed matt black carbon frame wasn’t at every-other-bike-on-the-road proportions as it is now. It was new, it looked different and it stood out.
The frame takes on an angry and angular profile with the bulk of carbon material in the semi aero headtube and bulky bottom bracket – the solid, yet sinuous downtube and toptubes slightly twist their form to carry the forces of the wind along and through the frame whilst the shape of the rear triangle tucks the back wheel neatly under the rider – the frame is incredibly stiff and aggressive in nature. I guess there is a reason they named it the Devil.
I’m not precious about my bike, it is there to be ridden and ridden hard, but I do take care of it, after all these things are an investment worth looking after. It has served me well, and each time I get on it and the drive chain is maintained and well oiled, the frame gleaming, the braking system giving the right feedback, the wheels true and the bearings running smoothly my admiration grows. I’m often to be found sitting on the saddle, in the living room next to my stereo as a record is spun on the turn table – I call this my ‘ponder perch’… it amuses my children that I sit on my bike inside the house.
I have been accused of being overly romanticising cycling by a good friend, but like they say, “If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” “[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
This to me is my bike and my cycling experience.
Wikipedia defines Wabi-sabi thus: ‘Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, the other two being suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.’