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Creative roots


A wooden bicycle with a Japanese heart


In a small workshop in Shin-Kiba, Tokyo, classical wooden boat-building techniques are applied to the manufacture of wooden bicycles. While wooden bicycles are made in various places around the world, "Only mine are used in actual road races," says artisan Sueshiro Sano.

Now head of SANOMAGIC, Sano was born into a family of shipbuilders with a business dating back to the Edo period. From early childhood, he grew up with a love of making things with his hands, and by the time he was in middle school, his skills already exceeded those of an adult artisan. Longing to make ships, he spent six years learning design and drawing from his father, completing his first ship on his own in his senior year of high school.

At the time, the Japanese media didn't believe such a ship could have been made by a student. But the editor-in-chief of WoodenBoat, an American magazine for wooden boat owners, builders and designers, took note of Sano when he sent a letter to express his frustration. WoodenBoat's editor-in-chief dubbed him "Sano Magic," and from that time he started to get global attention, receiving orders in Japan as well.

While he has continued to make ships using advanced Japanese shipbuilding techniques, Sano recognized that the average person is seldom capable of appreciating a ship beyond its external beauty. Looking for a way to allow the skills of Japanese shipbuilders to stand out and get recognized, he hit on the idea of making sturdy bicycles that could compete with high-tech racing bikes. In 2007, he began producing wooden bicycles through classical shipbuilding techniques.

Sano wanted to make a wooden bike that was flexible, fast and light. The bicycle ultimately produced through SANOMAGIC's unique capabilities weighs about 7 kilograms (less than most metal bikes) while its mahogany frame is just as durable as metal. It's capable of reaching racing bike speeds yet as flexible as a string instrument. Its exquisite design is a piece of perfection, the combined embodiment of Sano's unwavering conviction and 200 years of history.

"It's like 'Japanese guts' –showing what Japanese people can do," Sano says of his achievement. "It's my job to physically prove that Japanese people can make things that can compete with, or even outdo, products made in Europe or America. I always keep this in mind when I make things at work."

Praised abroad for its beauty and construction, when SANOMAGIC's wooden bicycle was displayed at EUROBIKE, a bicycle tradeshow in Germany, Sano was immediately flooded with orders. In 2011, it was exhibited in the famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London, drawing still more responses.

Sano's schedule is filled with orders until 2017. It takes about three months to make one bicycle, so only three can be produced per year. Though priced at 2 million yen each, they might be considered a good value if one takes into account the incomparable quality to which they're constructed. Sano is now producing wooden speakers that are receiving praise from world-class musicians.

Looking to future generations, Sano hopes to pass on not only his techniques and traditions but a sense of the importance of classical Japanese manufacturing. "Japan's strengths are earnestness and diligence," he says, adding, "The most important thing for manufacturing in Japan is for artisans to have a sense of pride in being Japanese."

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