Less is more.

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Less is more.

Post by Nick »

From Superbikeplanet.com Monday, February 27, 2006

Scenes From Behind The Bamboo Screen — Does Your Motorcycle Have Wabi-Sabi?

A Few Words In Praise of Simple Motorcycles
by nick voge

Every possession you acquire is one more thing to worry about.
Japanese proverb

It is the morning of September 19, 2005. In celebration of Loris Capirossi's epic victory at the Japanese GP, I'm riding to the beach on my 1967 Ducati 350 Sebring. Named after the Ducati's win in the 1965 Sebring race, the 350 was, like Loris' Desmosedici, the biggest and most powerful Ducati of its time. Dr. T would later graft two of the Sebring's top ends onto a single crankcase to create Ducati's first 750 V-Twin.

These days, the Sebring spends most of its days "in storage" under the house with the spiders and rats. But with fresh gas in the tank, the battery from my Honda 305 Dream and a 'generic' license plate, the bevel gears are soon humming their familiar tune.

Like the moss growers in Kyoto's Zen temples, it has taken me many years to cultivate the fine patina of rust decorating the bike's every chromed surface. And the faded silver paint, unintentionally camouflaged by random black dollops of ER15 anti-rust coating, perfectly complements the stealth nature of this unassuming machine. Like the deadly alien Predator which could make itself unseen to its prey (but not to the governor of California) the Ducati is the 'invisible motorcycle" ... the anti-Poseur.

Like a woman wearing a mumu, the Ducati passes by unobserved by all, including the police. On it I can run red lights, make illegal U-turns, speed (well, sort of) and pull all sorts of outrageous two-wheeled shenanigans, all of which go completely unnoticed. And this is merely one of the reasons I am so fond of the Sebring. Another is its mechanical attractiveness.

Though I no longer bore listeners with litanies on what is in reality a highly sophisticated fifties era GP engine ... the crankshaft isolated from engine oil to prevent power-sapping windage, the 5-speed transmission with an overdrive top gear, the mechanically brilliant bevel-gear OHC cam drive, the way the exhaust header is isolated from the cylinder head to reduce head temperatures, the fine quality of the all-aluminum engine's castings, the extra 3 horsepower I got by bolting on a 28mm Mikuni carb (with lengthened intake tract)....oops, sorry, I still brag about the 70mpg mileage.

It is the Ducati's miserly fuel consumption I'm gloating over while waiting at a red light next to a Ford Expedition, another one of those ostentatious 4-wheeled behemoths of which American drivers are so fond. The driver, a lady in her late thirties, is no doubt on her way home to the 'burbs after dropping little Johnny off at his private school. Or, more likely, on her way to work in order to pay off that 40K worth of Rube Goldbergian engineering. (Just how much of one's soul does one have to sell to pay off a 40K vehicle?)

"More Horsepower. More Torque. Less Fuel," reads Ford's own copy. No kidding, the beast gets all of 14 miles per gallon "estimated." How did that copy ever make it past corporate? And they won't even print the weight of this monster in the specifications, too obscene (2 1/2 tons, or about 4,800 pounds more than my Ducati).

As usual when waiting at traffic signals, the mind wanders. Looking over at the giant I marvel at its gargantuan size. You couldn't buy one of the monster's wheels for the $450 I paid for my Ducati. And not much change from a Hundred after filling that tank.

However, if, as Michael Moore assures us, Americans are a frightened and deeply insecure people, the SUV makes perfect sense. In fact, one auto industry study found that SUV owners tend to be insecure, vain, self-centered and unsure of the their driving skills. As Keith Bradsher writes in "High and Mighty", one of the most telling books about Detroit since Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed", what consumers said was "If the vehicle is up high, it's easier to see if something is hiding underneath or lurking behind it." There you have it in their own words, these bullies of the road, like bullies everywhere, are cowards at heart.

If they weren't such a danger to everyone on the road (including themselves) one would almost feel sorry for their drivers. This is highly ironic, for studies have shown that SUVs (and pickups) have significantly higher death rates than many compacts. This is partly because the contraptions can't get out of their own way, and partly because they are essentially trucks, with none of the safety enhancing crumple zones designed into minivans and passenger cars.

Still, at times, knifing deftly through the streets on my lightweight and nimble Ducati, I can't help feeling like a mouse in a roomful of cats. But this cat isn't going to get me! Just as I start enjoying my feelings of self righteousness the light turns green and smugness is put aside for more prosaic concerns, like staying out of the monster's blind spot. No worries. By the time the driver awakens from her stupor and gets the leviathan underway, I'm already shifting into third gear, racing the cloud-driving wind to the sea.

Parking the Duc at the beach, I am again struck by its clean lines and elemental simplicity. One cylinder, one carb and one wire running from the points to the coil beneath the fuel tank: the essential motorcycle. Simple, easy to work on, lightweight and inexpensive, the Ducati embodies all the qualities which have traditionally defined the motorcycle.
Compared with modern motorcycles, which are expensive, heavy, hard to work on and complex, this aged thoroughbred is a paragon of virtue. Although, weighted down as it now is with so many levels of meta-meaning, the old Duc looks decidedly heavier than usual.

Saigyo would have appreciated the Ducati. Formerly known as Norikiyo Satoh, this 12th Century samurai was one of a long line a famous Japanese recluses. Tiring of the materialism of life in Kyoto, Japan's capital, he changed his name to Saigyo and left the worldly life to become a Buddhist priest. He commemorated this step with a poem:

This world so dear cannot be cherished enough. I leave my life to save it.

Building a humble hut on the outskirts of Kyoto, he lived the simple life of a recluse, unfettered by society's demands. From time to time he would set out on pilgrimages, following in the footsteps of poets who had come before him. Saigyo would certainly have been sensitive to the Sebring's aesthetic appeal. He would have understood its wabi-sabi.

An important characteristic of the Japanese aesthetic is the intentional introduction of deformation. By destroying perfect shapes a form is revealed in which the beauty hidden behind the perfect, the beauty that cannot be approached through rational thought, is apparent. The old teacup, chipped and cracked from generations of use, and lovingly repaired over the years, is valued far more than shiny porcelain from a modern factory. No other people have elevated simplicity to so high an art form as the Japanese. Where else but on the isolated islands of Japan could the simple acts of arranging flowers or serving tea have evolved into a philosophy of aestheticism?

The term used to express this aesthetic is wabi-sabi. Almost untranslatable, wabi is the appreciation of simple, unadorned beauty, while sabi is the discovery of beauty in an old, well-used object.

So it is with our machines. Motorcycles, like people, are loved for their flaws; nothing is less interesting, or more inhuman, than perfection. How else to explain the junkyards filled with modern bikes? How else to explain my affection for this old and weathered Ducati? The great irony in all this that the modern motorcycle is another sad example of how possessions ostensibly designed to set us free only enslave us further. After all, if you can't change a tire or a drive chain without running shamefacedly, tail between legs, to your local service department (No Customers in the Repair Area) how can you be free? If you have to work like a slave for years to pay off all that wonderful technology, who owns whom? We flatter ourselves in imagining that we own our possessions when in fact they own us. Real freedom comes from maintaining and repairing your simple, inexpensive motorcycle yourself.

The waves were great!
From probably the only person in the world who rides a Ducati 350 Sebring for daily transportation.
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Re: Less is more.

Post by DesmoBro »

Wow Not sure if you'll ever come back and check on this but Killer story...I hope you still ride that 350 daily PM me if you do... I have just started picking up my own sabi
....For some reason I decided to build a Fish Bike.....
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Re: Less is more.

Post by Spagjet »

best thing I've read in a long time. Everyone should read it. If you don't understand it you probably never will. He really needs a chopped GTS though, the extra piston really lessens the danger of being run down by a nong in a massive financial millstone...
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