Cyclowood, a Default-article by Theun Karelse
The small town of Verin is quite an energetic place where youngsters look hip and the streets are full of bikes. When the Default team enters the town we chance upon a small but professional looking bike shop called Bicicletas Chinquena. We enter looking for possible spare parts and bike gear. Hanging on the wall in the shop is an unusual looking racing-bike. It seems to have been made out off wood, but somehow is incredibly light in weight. The shopkeeper explains it's indeed a wooden bike and adds with pride that this remarkable object has been fashioned by artisans living in Verin! Minutes later Nico has established a meeting for us with the mysterious local bike maker.
About an hour has passed. The Foldians have found lodgings for the night and are standing on a corner in central Verin waiting for Gerardo the woodworker. We imagine what such a guy would look like; dark hair (obviously), bespectacled, probably not too tall, strong looking, wearing shorts, perhaps a bit like a Spanish Patrick but missing a finger?.. Around the corner comes a guy that somewhat fits the description. In passing he gives us a fleeting glance and whispers something to Nico. It turns out to be a dealer trying to sell us some cocaine! Moments later the real Gerardo turns up. We soon find ourselves in the back of his no-comfort pickup truck. We get out at a large house. Its starting to get dark. Inside other members of the family are waiting; Gerardo's father and brother. Several wooden bikes stand in the back of what must be their showroom, which is almost entirely made out of wood, but looks more like a dining room.
Our hosts turn out to be a family for artisans who for at least 4 generations have been woodworkers. They specialize in curved wooden structures. The father is the expert woodworker, the brother the main test-pilot taking the bike for incredible endurance rides and Gerardo seems to be the sails person. He proudly shows articles in leading Spanish and English cycling magazines with pictures of himself holding up the wooden frame. Nico is interviewing the gentlemen and gets out his camera for a recorded interview. It makes for a somewhat surreal scene in the wooden room. We are invited to wine and sausage.
Now Gerardo's father describes the work of the family and their ancestors. They are craftsmen and their workmanship has developed with the appearance of modern technologies such as microwave ovens to extend upon the knowledge they inherited. These things he insists cannot be achieved in a single generation. They have learned each step and every step is an entire process in itself. The harvesting of the wood for example is only done at full moon. Theun adds that indigenous peoples of India do the same with bamboo. Gerardo and his family do everything themselves from the harvesting of wood to selling the bikes. Somehow this family of artisans is attempting to morph into a hip brand. The somewhat unappealing standard microsoft font that makes up the logo shows the tensions between these worlds. To them the bike is an object where art and science meet. Many frames have been made and burned 'like a poet rewriting a poem'.
Pacôme introduces to them the idea of making a wooden Brompton folding bike. The suggestion meets with great enthusiasm, perhaps fueled by the amount of wine that has been poured.. Could the wood be applied as shock absorbers? Does a wooden helmet make sense? Drawings are made. Processes and machines explained in detail. We leave our kind hosts duly impressed with their level of expertise and with the realization that if we were to ever join forces with them in a bike building workshop it would probably have to be in their Verin studio, with their materials and purpose-built machines. This kind of set-up can't easily be copy-pasted just anywhere, its more rooted.