|TOUR||NOV 2010||Jörg Spaniol|
Collection Embacher: the most beautiful bike collection of the world
Art in the Attic: The Viennese architect Michael Embacher has a big passion: he is collecting rare bicycles. More than 200 exhibits are hanging in the attic. For TOUR he unbarred the treasure chamber
What are we meant to think about someone who stands surrounded by his 200 valuable bicycles and claims that he is actually not a classical collector? When, to top it off, he has his bicycles photographed on a white, mirror face for several thousand euros, and uses them to illustrate an opulent photo volume? Michael Embacher once again looks over the handlebars of his treasures gathered in the sticky, hot attic and reveals the story of his great pleasure in the beautiful, genuine, and odd.
In just seven years, Embacher, an architect by day, has put together a bicycle collection that makes the bicycle section of the Deutsche Museum in Munich look like the storage space of a lost and found office. Embacher has 200 racing bikes, touring and folding bikes, and several mountain bikes. Sparkling, extravagant, and colorful—but for a “classical” collector, first and foremost: chaotic. “I do not collect according to brand names, year of make, or sporting achievements,” he says. “And I am also not someone who strives for completeness.” The craziest collectors are, for example, the Japanese says Embacher. “Some put originally packed parts in apothecary cabinets like in libraries, with a protective packing around the packaging. That is not my world. I collect bikes that I like.”
Michael Embacher’s criteria are exclusively his certain taste, his professional knowledge, and his love of technical extravagance—regardless of whether it has led to a technical breakthrough or a fiasco. Embacher is from Vienna, and for that reason most certainly blessed with a particular sense of humor. It thus comes as little surprise when the forty-five year old chuckles gleefully when the tour stops at a bike with a cast magnesium frame. “Do you know why there are so few of these? The entire factory went up in flames within a few minutes. The stuff burns like a match. Over and done!” Or his verdict about a folding bike with a tricky construction, “what nonsense! Extremely clever engineering, but a total pain to ride!” laughs Embacher. Yet it would be completely wrong to accuse him of Schadenfreude. Michael Embacher collects works by builders who have remained resolute in treading their own paths – if need be, to glorious failures, which demands an almost brotherly respect.
This love of the special creative path has to do with his job: with his staff of twelve he works in a huge loft office on projects at the intersection of design, architecture, and art. Embacher designs art exhibitions or the Austria’s presence during its EU presidency; he has patents for furniture hinges and he fine-tunes detailed solutions for renovating Vienna’s Schloss Schönbrunn: Without making any compromises in material, form, or function.
Embacher’s affinity for rare bicycles is nourished by the beauty of mimimalist technology. “The bicycle is a highly complex mechanical instrument that has actually exhausted its potential, but is nonetheless constantly further developed—that fascinates me. The less there is to a bicycle, the greater it is.” The collector is a passionate cyclist, in his leisure time and everyday life. When possible, he cycles to his business appointments—and consciously does without the added “distinction” of flaunting a big limo. “Bicycles are ingenious devices to improve our cities,” he says, excitedly. “But in the provinces, of all places, a lot of politicians have yet to understand: not only those who have no other choice ride a bike! I am glad whenever I see someone riding a bike. That is good for the mind, too.”
The collection has long arrived at a point where Embacher has begun to worry a bit. Even if bicycles don’t eat hay, they still have high operating costs. A mechanic repairs and cares for the inventory regularly—most of the bikes are ready to ride! – and: it is an immensely valuable investment. After a tough battle, an insurance company agreed that one can’t simply insure these bikes like your normal used bike, based on its present, decreased value. Embacher’s collection of beautiful bikes is meanwhile listed as an art collection there. Its precise value is difficult to estimate, as every individual bicycle is simply as valuable as one of the world’s collectors considers it to be, and is willing to pay for it. A backlight alone can cost 800 euros, or a well preserved unique piece can cost more than a mid-class car. “When I began the collection seven years ago, it came from an impulse. In retrospect, I would say it was at just the right time, as prices have meanwhile exploded,” says the collector, a realist. But then, after a few pensive seconds, the old love of the object shines through again. “In the evening, sometimes I come up here all alone and think about which bike I want to ride the next day. That is pure luxury.”