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2011/05/16

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Interview with Sueshiro SANO

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We interviewed Sano to learn his opinions on the “tough” and “fast” wooden bicycles he creates with his outstanding craftsmanship. “A talented craftsman since elementary school age, how he shifted from boat to bike.”

- First, please tell me about your career history.
Sano: I am the ninth generation in a family of shipwrights. My family has built boats since the Edo Period. The founder and the second generation were based in Chiba, but the third generation of our family moved to Tokyo and settled there. For that reason, I am a quintessential Tokyoite.


- I found out that you were building authentic wooden boats as early as when you were in elementary school.
Sano: When I was in the sixth grade, I was told that I was better than any regular craftsman around.


- Wow, it’s amazing that a primary school kid could build a boat even though your are from a family of shipwrights.
Sano: Not really. It’s quite normal. A craftsman should start an apprenticeship at the age of 12 or 13 and become a craftsman by 16 or 17. My grandfather used to tell me, “You won’t have a future as a true craftsman unless you become a full-fledged craftsman by 16 or 17 years old.” I was strongly influenced by my grandfather and did absolutely everything to live up to his expectations. During my junior and senior high school days, I studied about boats after I came home from school and I also studied hard at school, getting top grades.


- So you not only mastered the techniques of a craftsman but also got excellent grades at school…
Sano: You cannot become a craftsman by learning techniques alone. If you want to build a boat, you need to be able to think logically about building a boat from scratch through studying various subjects well, particularly math, physics and mechanics. You need to train your brain, too.


- You have won international acclaim as a shipwright for your talent and effort, but why did you decide to build bicycles?
Sano: Because I thought I could impress people across the world. Bicycles are believed to go faster if they are made with hard material such as carbon fiber. However, when I checked this fact with my years of study and accumulated wooden boat-building experience, whichever way you look at it, a wooden bike should be faster. In fact, I have made a mahogany boat that is lighter than a boat made with carbon fiber. If it’s possible with a boat, it should be possible with a bike. So, I decided to build one.


- Why can a wooden bike go faster?
Sano: Think how you jump over a vaulting horse.
When you try to jump over it, you jump onto a springboard to increase the kick-off power. Similarly, whether it is a frame or a wheel, if you place a load onto soft material, you get repulsion.
Repulsion assists human’s own power. Hard material such as steel won’t assist in this way. Wood is a type of material that can be fully utilized as a tool to work to your advantage.


- Okay, then where exactly do you apply your excellent wooden boat-building techniques to wooden bicycle building?
Sano: For example, the steering wheel of a wooden boat and the wheels of a wooden bike are built with the same technique.


- The first test model of your wooden bicycle was completed in the spring of 2008. Currently you are building the tenth one. How have they evolved?
Sano: The test model weighed nearly 10 kilograms but the latest model weighs between 7 and 8 kilograms. Speed also increased significantly.


- That’s really light! I hope your bikes will keep on evolving. Are you going to stick to “wooden” bicycles?
Sano: I certainly am. You can make outstanding products when you use wood and we have indeed for over 200 years, generation after generation. It is my family’s belief. In our two-hundred-year history, many boat carpenters shifted to building steel boats for better profitability but my family was committed to wooden boats. Attitudes such as, “No one can handle wood like we can,” and “We take no compromise when it comes to making the finest products,” produce outstanding pieces of work.


- I hear you are using CatEye products, am I right?
Sano: Yes. I use a cycling computer and a headlight.


- How do you like it?
Sano: They are excellent. They are simple but have everything you need. They are perfect as they are now so there’s no room for me to request for improvements. (LOL)


- Well, now, can you tell me your goal for the future in wooden bicycle production to conclude this interview, please?
Sano: I’ve always wanted to make a wooden bicycle that is faster than a carbon one, but I now know for sure that I can beat carbon bikes. In the future, I am going to shift my principle and make something like a bike friday.


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Born in 1958 in Tokyo. Born into a family of long-established shipwrights with a history of over 200 years since the Edo Period. At the age of fifteen, he received attention when a US wooden boat magazine featured his wooden ketch. After graduating from Kogakuin University’s Department of Naval Architecture, he built offshore yachts and canoes. In 2007, he began building wooden bicycles. His tough, fast and comfortable wooden bicycles are highly acclaimed in Europe and other parts of the world.
For details, visit: http://sanomagic.world.coocan.jp/