[CR]Cheap and good Fuji bikes

(Example: Framebuilders:Tony Beek)

Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2005 10:04:54 +0900
From: "Dennis Young" <mail@woodworkingboy.com>
To: <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>, <biankita@earthlink.net>
In-Reply-To: <MONKEYFOODlib4g3Sv000002188@monkeyfood.nt.phred.org>
Subject: [CR]Cheap and good Fuji bikes

Addressing the ability to put out high quality Japanese frames for what seemed like a fairly minimal cost in the 70s, I can offer my experience as possible food for thought. I was apprenticeing in Japan in the mid 70s, and the work ethic there at that time was un-arguably the strongest on the planet. No matter what time of night I left the shop and road home to my freezing in the winter six tatami mat room, every factory that I passed, small or large, still had it's lights burning. Overtime everynight was just about a given. Our shop was much that way, and we knocked off an hour early on holidays, much to everyone's great pleasure. I was 100 percent stressed from it, no free time. At the monthly assembly where we all bowed our heads in prayer to the woodworking God, the workshop manager would encourage us to work even harder, for the good of Nippon! Other countries were complaining that the Japanese worked too much, and something had to be done about it, pressure was being levied against the government in Tokyo, primarilly by the US I believe. The Japanese economy was really heating up during these "bubble" formative years, and labor costs were still relatively low, though much in balance with the cost of living then. Japan was on it's way to becomming a major economic power, on the sweat of it's workers, and weakness of the yen against the dollar and other foreign currencies. Foreign oil was still pretty cheap at the time. Companies had the money coming in to upgrade their production methods, so the wheels could turn faster and smoother. Soon such far away entities as the Beverly Hills Hotel and Van Gogh's "Portrait of Doctor Gachet", would fall prey to the power of Japanese corporate wealth. Most families if they had a car (many didn't), it was a small compact, and few were complaining after going up to the office to collect their summer and winter bonuses. If you combine the labor intensive ability to put out quantity quality goods, with the fact that the yen/dollar exchange rate was one-third what it is today, I think you can get an idea of how high standard goods at what appeared to be low cost were being accomplished.

Dennis Young Hotaka, Japan
> This question has puzzled me for years: Clearly a handcrafted frame
> made by a small shop, where almost all steps are followed up by a
> single set of hands is a time consuming thing. This must be true
> especially when the highest standards of craftsmanship are desired.
> However, most of the frames that were made during the 70's bike boom
> were made with assembly line approaches and with certain tasks assigned
> to one worker and no single oversight seeing each frame from conception
> to finish. Obviously the Japanese capacity to turn out good acceptable
> product during the late 70's and early 80's was remarkable. I read
> brochures which indicated that the Fuji factory and others were using
> computerized this and that and high tech such and so. These bikes had
> quad butted cr-mo tubing and lugged frames that rode straight and had
> no gaps and lovely paint jobs with no orange peel nor drips. Also these
> factory bikes were inexpensive due to favorable exchange rates and
> efficient productivity. The question is, how long did a bike frame take
> in man hours from tube cutting to final paint finishing? How does this
> compare in hours to say an Italian factory that made only a thousand
> frames a year or an American shop that turned out 50 frames a year?
> As a novice in this whole field, I am astounded by the how much a
> modern computerized welding factory like Honda or Mazda is forced to
> charge for a frame or sub frame part in a car. One must pay hundreds of
> dollars for an upper control arm that has no standards for appearance,
> no hand labor, no esthetic appeal, no carefully tapered tubing, and
> then I look at a $400 Japanese bike from the 70's which obviously has
> high quality steel, high standards of fit and finish and the frame must
> have been manufactured for something like $100. How was this possible?
> In a day and age when I am guessing that the cost of quality tubing
> alone was substantial, the cost of labor was not free, paint, shipping
> etc...; How could such a thing have been done for $100 say. Italian
> shops, during this same period were selling their finished frame,
> including shipping, mystique, minimal advertising, office staff etc for
> $350 to double that and more. This pricing scheme seems more in line
> with reasonable profit and yet in no way seems excessive. From any
> angle, the bikes manufactured during the late 70's seemed like a
> bargain, whether Japanese or European or for that matter American. What
> seems like less of a bargain is a modern aluminum extrusion that today
> sells for $1500, where the stem looks like it was assembled by Mrs.
> Hoffman's 5th grade metal working class, and the fork appears to be a
> replacement part for a Bowflex.
> Garth Libre in Miami Florida
> (by the way the Brian Bayliss black bike with leather seat and
> handlebar tape is a truly lovely sight)