I'm often asked what is it that I find so special or interesting about old Japanese bicycles. I will attempt to briefly answer that question, not through a lengthy expose, but a few short videos. I hope that through these videos you too will gain some insight and perhaps even be convinced, that there truly is something special about vintage Japanese bicycles.
(Note even the smallest setting is still too large to display the entire video. If you would like a better view click on the hyperlink above the video and view directly from Youtube)
Based on my experience, the best vintage Japanese rod brake bicycles are from the 1950's. It is not easy trying to find bicycles produced over 50 years ago. Typically they are listed on Ebay/Yahoo auction as "junk". Admittedly, most have see better days and are in pretty rough shape. But, with a little elbow grease, what some consider to be "trash" can be transformed into a "treasure".
Trash to Treasure
I consider the 1950's to be the Golden Age of utility bicycles in Japan. A period when bicycles were prized possessions and, for the majority of families, their only private mode of transportation.
Bicycles from this period were over-engineered and built to last a lifetime. Sure today "Made is Japan" is synonymous with good quality and Japan's reputation for superior electronics, motorcycles and automobiles is well known. But before the Japanese made superior electronics, motorcycles and automobiles, they were busy making very good bicycles. I believe that, a precondition to being able to restore something made over half a century ago, is that it be well made in the first place.
I truly like the many items and their quality that can be found on vintage bicycles, many of which are no longer found on today's bicycles.
There are many enthusiasts who restore American, British and other old bicycles. There are countless sites for information on Schwinn, Raleigh, Coventry, Sunbeam, Hercules, etc, etc., and their reputations are well known. It saddens me that there is so little information on what I consider to be an important chapter in Japanese manufacturing. The majority of research and information is predominantly devoted to the rise of the Japanese automobile industry, and though very limited, it is refreshing to see attention being paid to the rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry as noted in Japanese Motorcycle Wars. Did you know that none of the Big Four (Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki) were in the motorcycle business prior to WWII. They began after WWII and rose to dominate the world market.
I find it fascinating that a country devastated after WWII, a country with negligible natural resources (the CIA Fact Book lists Japan's only natural resource as fish!) was able to rise to capture a significant, and in some cases the majority, of the world market share for consumer electronics, motorcycles, automobiles, etc.
Immediately after WWII Japan concentrated on bicycle production, exporting to Asian countries, in particular those formerly colonized by England. By 1959 Japan rose to surpass England as the world's #1 exporter of bicycles. This seems to be a missing chapter in Japan's rise in manufacturing. I hope to contribute to fulfill that void, even if in but a very, very, minute way.