[CR]Bicycles in Japan in 1970

(Example: Bike Shops)

Date: Mon, 06 Dec 2004 23:35:46 -0500
From: "Doug Fattic" <fatticbicycles@qtm.net>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
Subject: [CR]Bicycles in Japan in 1970

The current thread on the list is about Japanese collectors. I don't know much about them but I do have some experiences to share about looking for good Bicycles in Japan in 1970. I lived for a year in Sapporo, Japan teaching conversational English. This was between the time I graduated from college and went to graduate school. Sapporo is on the northern island of Hokkaido where the culture is quite different from the 3 Islands to the south. At that time, there were lots of little bicycle/motorcycle repair shops in that city. I think before the year was up, I visited every shop that had some promise to sell nicer stuff. The big sellers were bikes for young guys that had a ton of accessories. It seemed that turn signal tail lights were all the rage. You would flip a button and the multiple rear lights would blink in sequence the direction one was turning. They were heavy monsters where gadgets were the selling point and not light weight. They kind of reminded me of bikes being sold to kids in the 50's. I didn't have the ability to understand much about the Japanese light weight market then and time hasn't shed much more light. I found several custom type bikes in various shops in Sapporo. Instead of a common 5 speed rear freewheel and normal Suntour derailleur, what I remember (now somewhat vaguely) was a "Cyclo" type of rear derailleur that was partially brazed on. What I recall is that they had an exposed coil spring similar to what might be in a clock. They had less then 5 speed freewheels. I thought they were kind of cool looking but I couldn't understand why they went for the old rather than the latest. I suppose this personal revelation (posted on a CR list no less) about this incredible lack of insight will dump me to the bottom of the "who's intelligent" opinion poll. I kept thinking that some of the new Suntour stuff would sure work better. Before I went over, I took my Campy parts (with centerpull Universal brakes) off my Hetchins hoping to find some kind of frame to hang them on. This proved to be a mistake. I should have taken the frame and I could have easily found the parts - although my prejudices at the time prevented me from thinking my frame deserved anything less than Campy. I kept them out as decorations in my apartment room. What I do remember is that Campy just wasn't sold then when looking around any city including Tokyo. Every month I would buy the 2 Japanese magazines (which I could only look at the pictures but some ads would be in English). One month showed an illustration of why Campagnolo cost so much. First of all there were big duties and then there is a Byzantine layer or distributors so the cost became prohibitive. The French stuff must have had a more reasonable cost and may explain why it is collected with interest there now because that is what was available then.

I do clearly remember that this was the time line (between 1970 and 1971) when bicycles went from being a backwater sport to becoming popular. I was reading a Time magazine article about how Americans had discovered light weight 10 speed bicycles. I couldn't believe it reading this in Japan. There were stores in Chicago that I would go see that carried lightweight equipment but I was alone in my area around Niles in having an interest in bicycles. When I came back, everyone was asking me for my knowledge and before no one cared.

I visited some framebuilding shops in Tokyo. Unfortunately I didn't have the experience that I acquired later to understand what I was observing.

On the way home in 1971, I went through Hong Kong and visited a racing bicycle type of shop. I bought a pair of Campagnolo high flange hubs (they looked cool to me and were to replace those cheap Tipo hubs Alf Hetchin had pawned off on me when I got my bicycle from him). I paid $17 American dollars for them. They were 32 hole front and 40 rear. Later I drove up to Gene Portuase's (spelling?), just moved to Cadillac, and got some Fiamme Yellow Label rims to lace to them. I also bought a $6 wheel truing stand to build them up with. He had an article in his Cyclo-Pedia on how to build wheels. It is still my favorite truing stand to this day.

So this personal journey might spark some other memories or knowledge about the development of bicycling in Japan. The bike boom in America starting in 1970 or Gene's Cyclo-Pedia. I wonder if I will ever get to tell stories about bicycling in Africa when I went with my parents to Rwanda in 1963. My dad went as a relief doctor to a mission hospital in Ngoma. In the capital city of the country of Burundi, I remember lots of bicycles that were 10 speed style.

Doug "usually in Niles but often someplace else" Fattic Niles, Michigan