Wabi-sabi for mechanics

The Professional Bicycle Mechanic Association’s Mechanics Minute newsletter has been crossing our virtual desks and it’s pretty awesome. So we thought we’d share the most recent edition with you. Check it out!

By Ric Hjertberg

Wabi-sabi is a traditional Japanese aesthetic that’s become well known in the West. Roughly defined as the beauty of imperfection, it is regularly invoked in architecture, fashion, and lifestyle discussions. Even without it, western culture has always seen beauty in imperfection—an abandoned gas station, archeological ruins, a quietly bleaching bone in the desert. However, in Japan, it’s more than just one way to see things. It is key to the fundamental nature of beauty and authenticity, as much as the Greek concept of perfection in the West.

Wabi-sabi’s three underlying principles: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Few mechanical scenes are as much in tune with these concepts like bicycle mechanics. We work on bikes to slow down their wearing out, all the time knowing that the goal is a machine turned to dust through valuable and enjoyable riding.

We regularly adjust our repair strategies to fit the use, the costs of replacement, and the time available. Beauty comes from work appropriate to the bike. Few vehicle mechanics are challenged with the extremes we enjoy: from high tech ornamentation to rusting dumpster salvage.

More than most trades, bicycle mechanics is informed by riding itself. It’s very rare that a bicycle mechanic is not intimately connected to cycling, riding and reflecting on the machine’s function. Our work is infused with this awareness. It’s journey, not destination, oriented.

The real reason I’m reflecting this way relates to tools, those wonderful extensions of our hands that make the work possible. While we all admire and envy a perfectly formed and balanced tool that is nearly new, there is great satisfaction to one that shows wear and even less-than-perfect function. It might come from a relative or be a survivor of a tool kit you’ve largely re-equipped as your career grows. These unique, imperfect, and worn items are part of the way each of us embraces this work. Here are a few of my own favorites, tools that embody wabi-sabi for me. They keep us grounded, give our boxes character, and help make the workshop feel like home.

What’s your favorite wabi-sabi tool?

unnamed (5)

unnamed (6)

unnamed (7)

This piece was originally published in the Professional Bicycle Mechanic Association‘s Mechanics Minute newsletter.

Print



Back to Top