A few weeks ago, I visited the Tokyo Handmade Bicycle Show. It was a lot of fun seeing what Japanese builders are doing these days.
Before we entered the show, we parked our bikes outside. The bike parking area by itself was worth a visit: Virtually every bike was a special, handmade machine. It’s nice to see that they get ridden. Some had more patina than others, but all were remarkable.
Inside the show, the first stand (Sanomagic) showed wooden bikes. Wooden bikes aren’t so rare any longer, but these machines, built by a ship builder, also feature wheels, saddles, seatposts and stems made from wood. Most parts are made from wood or carbon fiber…
…or a combination of both: The carbon-fiber Ergopower levers are inlaid with wood.
The incredible workmanship continued with amazing steel frames from Level and Makino (above). Mr. Makino really takes the art of making bicycle frames to the highest level. His frames are simple, yet exquisitely crafted. The lugs are filed super-thin and crisp, and every part of the frame is shaped to perfection. We talked about a feature for Bicycle Quarterly about his bikes and his shop.
Dobbat’s bikes feature neat details and a very cute logo.
Montson adds a touch of whimsy with their panniers. They can be removed with one hand and carried as a briefcase.
Underneath is this complex rack, custom-made to support the bag.
Most Japanese custom builders offer a cyclotouring bike with a bag-support rack – here is Ravanello’s machine.
Toei showed that they don’t only build exquisite cyclotouring bikes: Their show bike was equipped with Shimano Di2 and Nitto’s new carbon handlebars. The frame was as beautiful as expected from these masters of their craft.
Wooden wheels made another appearance. I was told that these are both comfortable and fast. Maybe I’ll have to try a set!
C. S. Hirose showed a fully equipped randonneur bike with his own version of the 1920s Cyclo derailleur (10-speed compatible and super-smooth in their action), custom-made lights and many other interesting features.
The other exhibit at Hirose’s stand was a very cute (and very pink) matching pair of bikes for a mother and daughter. The daughter’s tiny machine was fully equipped with cantilever brakes, derailleurs and even a light mount on the front rack.
Hirose routed the derailleur cable via this custom-made little pulley, so the levers could be on the top tube – easier to reach for the little girl.
Silk showed an interesting “Demontable” frame that comes apart with minimal tools. The bottom bracket shell just contains a bolt that holds the rear triangle. The rear triangle incorporates a second bottom bracket shell, in which the actual BB is mounted. The fork’s steerer tube and stem expander tube are one and the same, so when you unscrew the stem bolt, the fork can be removed. Interesting!
Equally exquisite was Watanabe’s show bike, made for a customer with the rarest of rare components, from first-generation Campagnolo Super Record components to a Stronglight crank and bottom bracket with titanium spindle. In Japan, some bicycle collectors like to order new frames which are equipped with classic parts.
Gravel and cyclocross bikes are still fairly rare in Japan, but that is changing. The Tokyo Design School showed a ‘cross bike built by one of their students. The photos in the background show the student racing her bike.
Cherubim is one of the most creative builders in Japan. The bike in the foreground doesn’t have a seat tube… They also build traditional frames, like the one in the background.
Endnote by mob
There are a number of frame builders in Japan; some of them have a Keirin background, i.e. they specialize on track frames, although from time to time they may also build some other types. Among the most famous track frame builders are Nagasawa, Kalavinka, Sampson, Makino and Baramon.
Some other builders are specialized in the field of touring bikes like Watanabe, C.S. Hirose or Raizin.
And some are outright famous, at least in Japan like Cherubim, Tojo, Ravanello or Amanda.
If you would like to get an overview about frame builders, check the very comprehensive list at Tokyo International Cyclists.
But no matter how you turn and twist it, it is almost impossible to lay your hands on one of these bikes if you don’t reside in Japan and have some connections to the builder itself, a shop or some Japanese amateur/pro riders. It is even almost impossible to do something very simple and purchase a Panasonic racing bike unless you have a connection to a bike shop in Japan.
This isn’t special about Japan by the way, one would have a equal hard time to order a frame from an American or British builder