Interesting article on Japan by Bob Rogen (Team Rogen) by way of Tom Truong. --Chuck Schmidt, South Pasadena, Southern California
>From California to Japan to Experience "New Cycling," by Bob Rogen
Hello from Sacramento California. I am a cycling enthusiast who enjoys riding on country roads as well as our citys 50km bicycle trail. I also enjoy collecting bicycle parts and bicycle related postcards and literature. My wife and I recently visited Japan and this story will discuss some of the wonderful bicycle experiences of our trip and my impressions of the classic bicycle scene in Japan. But this story actually starts in 1984 when I discovered "New Cycling" magazine at Jitensha Studio in Berkeley (near San Francisco). I saw many issues with photographs of road and touring bicycles built with racks and fenders and lights, and these bicycles fascinated me with their elegance and purpose. Although I could not read Japanese I was able to understand the style of these bicycles from the photographs and this led me to become an enthusiast of the French style of bicycles built by Alex Singer, Rene Herse and Jo Routens. Several years ago, my friend Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycles published an email address for information about "New Cycling" magazine. The response to my email request for information was sent by Tsuyoshi Nakahori, and thus began a correspondence that has blossomed into a friendship. When I knew that my wife and I would visit Japan this past February, I contacted Tsuyoshi and he worked his magic to help us experience "New Cycling."
A Special Visit
On our first morning in Tokyo our new friend Manabu Kikuchi arrived at our hotel to take us to the TOEI operation. This was exciting because I had learned that TOEI was an important builder of touring and randonneur bicycles in the classic French style of Rene Herse and Alex Singer after seeing many photographs of TOEI bicycles in the pages of "New Cycling." Tsuyoshi had sent me photographs of his 2000 Millenium TOEI bicycle and I also knew that they were celebrating 50 years of operation with commemorative 50th anniversary edition bicycles that featured engraved stems and special headbadges. We were greeted at TOEI by Hiroshi Yamada, Jiro Hoshino and Yasuaki Kobayashi. All were happy to have two Californians visit them! We learned that TOEI builds standard production models as well as custom models, and also supplies frames to other manufacturers-quite an accomplishment from a single operation one-room shop until you realize that Hoshino-san has been building frames for 40 years! We saw Tsuyoshis blue 50th edition bicycle being fitted with mudguards while Manubas GOTO red bicycle waited nearby. As we inspected lugs, tools and a very interesting wheel truing stand our questions were answered and several old and new TOEI bicycles were brought out to show us. Hiroo Watanabe came by to visit, and he and I discovered that we both knew Tom Ritchey and Grant Petersen so that helped communication. Our special visit included lunch together and then taking pictures in front of the shop. This was a special visit and it was clear to see why so many classic bicycles in Japan are made by TOEI: similar to Californias Tom Ritchey, they are able to provide a high level of volume and workmanship, such that each bicycle a unique.
Parts and bikes everywhere!
While visiting TOEI we learned that the customer must supply the parts necessary to complete the project. If you seek a custom bicycle with parts from the classic manufacturers (TA, Stronglight, Campagnolo, Huret, Super Champion) then the bike shop with the largest number of classic parts must be Hasegawa Jitensha. I have never seen so many boxes and shelves of classic parts under one roof. I felt like an archaeologist uncovering rare species of bike parts as I wandered around the store. Wood wine crates, cardboard boxes, and plastic tubs are filled with beautiful parts. Rims and tires hang from the ceiling. My eyes were moving everywhere as I tried to see all of the parts and bikes. Mrs. Hasegawa brought us coffee as Manuba helped me communicate my joy with Hasegawa-san. Customers came by to shop and visit, and when I learned that Hasegawa-san is the second generation owner I realized why I saw so many classic parts. We inspected a beautiful chrome Rene Herse bicycle in the front window and a 1940s touring bicycle stored in the back, and I looked at so many parts in between. I purchased some parts for my newest bicycle project and a Daniel Rebour book. We left knowing that we would probably never see a bicycle shop like Hasegawa ever again.
A bicycle temple in Kyoto
My patient wife told me that 29 February was to be a day to visit temples and dry rock gardens in Kyoto. I was happy to do that as I really like the patterns of the rock gardens. But secretly, well maybe not so secretly, I knew I was also going to Is Bicycle Shop, home of Cycles Grand Bois. I liked this shop the moment I saw the neat front and the names of famous bicycle brands painted on the front window. Owner Ikuo Tsuchiya greeted us as we took off our shoes and wore sandals to walk on the wood floors of this small but neat shop. I liked seeing the different colors of the Grand Bois bicycles on display as a beautiful chrome Rene Herse bicycle caught my eye. Many classic bikes hung from the ceiling. Parts were neatly stored in plastic bins, and vintage parts boxes were displayed to give the shop an artistic look. I took many photographs and purchased some more hard-to-find parts. As we left, I realized that this was a small jewel among all of the temples that surround it in west Kyoto, and I hope to return.
Visiting the Japanese Alps in Kanda
After visiting Kyoto we returned to the Kanda section of Tokyo. Tsuyoshi gave us a map he drew showing places to eat and the location of the Alps bike shop. We went to Alps together and, again, this was a special shop for me because I do not see many shops like this in America. Lots of chrome racks hung from the ceiling, as well as tires and rims. Touring and city bikes were displayed showing the possibilities for creating a special bicycle for ones purpose. I especially liked the old parts and boxes the were displayed: the old parts boxes were very colorful but are very difficult to find these days, so to see many of them is exciting. I purchased the "Special Made Cycles" magazine I wanted, and thanked the owner for saving so many old and forgotten, by others, bicycle parts and boxes that make us happy. I wish California had a shop like Alps where one could go to order a quality commuter, camping or sports bicycle.
Handmade Bicycle Fair
We extended our visit to Tokyo one extra day in order to attend the annual Handmade Bicycle Fair. This would be a unique opportunity to view a number of bicycles from Japanese custom bicycle makers, and a fitting way to end our visit. We met Tsuyoshi and Manuba at the TOEI booth and saw their beautiful TOEI 50th anniversary models. I then went to the Watanabe booth where I met master frame builder Shoji Watanabe, a longtime friend of my friend who owns Jitensha Studio in California. Watanabe-san showed a beautiful touring bicycle with custom brackets for small Gilles Berthoud bags that mount low on the forks-very clever design (this bicycle is m shown on the cover of "New Cycling" number 3, 2004). Watanabe-san was very happy to have me test ride this bicycle and I found it elegant and fun to ride (although a bit different for me to ride on the opposite side of the road). The fair attracted many people interested in bicycle design and fine workmanship, and I noticed a lot of interest in the touring and sports models of TOEI and Watanabe. This is a good sign, and I hope all builders who offer these types of special bicycles will find many happy customers in the future.
Some closing thoughts
The success of this trip would not be possible without the kindness of our friend Tsuyoshi Nakahori and our new friend Manabu Kikuchi. Their generosity allowed us to see people and places we would have had great difficulty finding, and we are thankful for their efforts. We had a wonderful visit to Japan and are planning a return visit to experience more of the culture, food and people of this special country. I wish the readers of "New Cycling" many happy miles on their bicycles. Domo arrigato.