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So, when did Japan frames become sweet, and what brand ushered them in?

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So, when did Japan frames become sweet, and what brand ushered them in?

Old 03-25-19, 01:52 PM
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uncle uncle
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So, when did Japan frames become sweet, and what brand ushered them in?

So, it's the early 1970's, and slowly but surely, more and more parts, sweet working bargains, are coming from Japan makers, like Suntour, Shimano, Sunshine, SR, etc.. No longer are Japan products occupying only the very entry level spots... they are moving upward. Next, in line, the Japan frame decked out in Japan made parts... but who led who? Share your tales of Japan junk, or Japan zen... what bicycle and bicycle brand, and year, ushered in the Japan age of great bikeness?
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Old 03-25-19, 02:09 PM
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Originally Posted by uncle uncle View Post
So, it's the early 1970's, and slowly but surely, more and more parts, sweet working bargains, are coming from Japan makers, like Suntour, Shimano, Sunshine, SR, etc.. No longer are Japan products occupying only the very entry level spots... they are moving upward. Next, in line, the Japan frame decked out in Japan made parts... but who led who? Share your tales of Japan junk, or Japan zen... what bicycle and bicycle brand, and year, ushered in the Japan age of great bikeness?
I "discovered" SunTour derailleurs around 1974. GTs to handle a triple. So much better than any derailleur I had ever used before, double of triple. 1977 I bought last year's Fuji Professional from the shop I worked at and raced it. Cyclone, Gran Compe, Nitto, Sugino. Fully as much a racing bike as any of the European race bikes I was racing against. (Yes, a few parts were lesser parts (the seatpost), but many were a real step up. I had the best brakes and derailleurs out there. Kept my mouth shut as no one was willing to hear it.) The frame was different from European frames but well built and excellent. Allowed this body to go as hard and fast as was possible. Couldn't ask more. That year Superbe came out on the Fuji Pros. Gorgeous bikes! Never got to ride one. I doubt they rode all that differently than mine with its Cyclone/NItto/Sugino etc but the beauty factor was all there.

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Old 03-25-19, 03:56 PM
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Fuji was off and running no later than 1971. They introduced "The Finest", then upped it with "The Newest", and were up to at least 3 or 4 very sweet models, right on time for the bike boom. They may not have been the first Japanese bicycle manufacturer to offer great quality frames, but they were certainly amongst them.
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Old 03-25-19, 04:15 PM
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How about tSchwinn's 72/73 World Voyageur, which I understand was made by Panasonic:

1973 Schwinn World Voyageur
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Old 03-25-19, 04:29 PM
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My sister had a Nishiki that was really nice. I think she got it in '74. I think it was the second to the top in their line. The mid range bikes were the ones I appreciated most. Don't think we ever sold any high-end Japanese bikes. I have a Centurion Semi-pro that has a really nice frame, but it would have been made later
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Old 03-25-19, 04:31 PM
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The Fuji S-10-S (?) was the first Japanese bike to hit all the right buttons in the US market, IMHO.

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Old 03-25-19, 04:32 PM
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Sheldon Brown has a nice write up on the upswing of Japanese bicycles. Panasonic,and Fuji come to my mind when I think early Japanese bikes. Of course, the Panasonics may not have said Panasonic on it, it might have said Schwinn. It is interesting that Fuji was mentioned above. because, not only did Fuji make good bikes at all levels, they had beautiful paint jobs.

https://www.sheldonbrown.com/japan.html
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Old 03-25-19, 04:50 PM
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For me, the Fuji Feather, and I honestly did not see a Fuji bike in person until 1978.

I really can't think of any Japanese-made bikes besides Fuji that I was "aware" of during the 70's.
They just were not as well known. But I knew of Fuji. The ones I saw were ace.
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Old 03-25-19, 05:03 PM
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First Japanese bike I owned was an SR, back around '80 or so. They made a lot of inroads early on, then promptly vanished. I seem to remember Nishikis, and a few oddball brands like Shogun. I didn't live in a big biking area at the time, so I don't know what the people who had money were riding then. I think what you see on the used market is a pretty good way of roughly estimating what was out there at the time, via armchair bike archaeology, and CL is lots of fun for that. Seems like the masses of people mostly rode Schwinns until around the early 80's, judging by what I see for sale.
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Old 03-25-19, 05:14 PM
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The first I saw were Nishikis, probably imported by Lorne Shields in the late 70's. Fuji's were rare in my parts.
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Old 03-25-19, 05:29 PM
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Fuji was East Coast, Nishiki, and a wee bit later Cenrution were West Coast distribution, The shop I worked for looked at Fuji but the shipping would have gobbled up any profit.
(actually same problem for Trek initially freight to the West was expensive.)
Then came the house brands like Niko.
​​​​​​​I forgot Univega, another West Coast brand.

It took a while for the Japanese brands to modernize the geometry and details to get noticed beyond the good components.

My view it was the 80's for the Japanese and then soon Taiwan bikes to become a major force. Pushing the ride and value to the peril of the Europeans.
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Old 03-25-19, 06:25 PM
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I paid attention first to Nishiki (American Eagle) on the Left Coast in my ill-spent youth but there certainly WERE Fujis present, the first I noticed them were in some SF shops, notably on Fulton St. and then on Stanyan. My impression was they seemed "conservative" but clearly had made a big play with the shop owners cause they were quite prevalent before a lot of the other "good" Japanese makes showed up. When Univega was strong a bunch of the bike snobs (I knew some by then) gave them high praise but I admit to thinking they were some weirdo marketing gimmick to amp-up the Italvega brand. (I was pretty dense, maybe still can be!)
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Old 03-25-19, 06:53 PM
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I bought an Azuki in 1971 in Havre, MT (20 miles from my home in Chinook)

they had a white Fuji with sew ups...... I lusted after that bike but had $160 for the azuki, not 400 for the fuji....if memory serves

So I would say Fuji was a leader.....but I rode that azuki all over the world (carried it on the coast guard ship i was on)
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Old 03-25-19, 06:57 PM
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In 1980 I purchased a Fuji S12-S Ltd. / black and chrome, Fuji labeled crank and derailleurs, 27 inch clinchers. Rigged it up for an east coast US trip. The bike alone was $400, a prior model year leftover, and sold on the premise was a better bang for the buck than comparable priced Trek. The shop I purchased it from was a camper outfitter, fairly new into selling bicycles, early Trek franchise along with Fuji. I don't recall what model Trek(s) comparing to the S12-S but the shop owner guided me towards buying it. No regrets.
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Old 03-25-19, 09:01 PM
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The first Fuji S-10-S that we unboxed and built at the shop I worked in during high school was a breakthrough. The Suntour/Sugino Maxy drivetrain was beyond all the Simplex/Huret/cottered crank bikes at that price point. I think that was early '72. The Finest arrived later that year and I bought one in '73. A bulletproof drivetrain, comfortable, light and fast with excellent fit and finish. In my opinion, those two bikes represent the turning point for Japanese brands becoming credible and eventually dominant.
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Old 03-25-19, 10:03 PM
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I say Fuji because they were sponsoring our Western Mass UCSF club in mid 70' s. Dealer was out of Boston. Top riders got Fuji club frames to ride. Rest of us rode what we could afford. Still wear my wool jersey with FUJI emblazoned on my back.
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Old 03-26-19, 04:43 AM
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My 1st bike shop purchase was in the early 80's, I went in thinking of Schwinn as a top quality bike, but the shop really touted the Fuji line as a much better value apples to apples. I went with Fuji. I believe they sold both so it wasn't like they would lose the sale if I went with Schwinn.

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Old 03-26-19, 05:32 AM
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I picked up my first Fuji, a Fuji Del Rey, in 1986 and it was a great bike. Couldn't afford the higher-end frames as a teenager, and the Del Rey was my first bike for touring/racing. The local bike shop had pointed me to Fuji, and they weren't wrong in their pick.
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Old 03-26-19, 05:44 AM
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Based on my experience, the Japanese entered the USA market with a relatively conservative approach. After World War II there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment and their products did not have a good reputation. Consequently, the highest priority for them was a reliable bicycle and the early, entry level frames were typically overbuilt. with a very relaxed geometry and a relatively "dead" feel. As their reputation in the marketplace grew, they started to veer away from the conservative approach and fall more in line with European racing models. As such there is no single break-through. Each brand/manufacturer had their own timeline, though in general I'd say their frame design evolution started in earnest when the Japanese started developing their own high end component groups. While there had previously been some nice frames, I'd target Shimano's introduction of Dura-Ace for the 1974 model year, as the catalyst that prompted Japanese designers to up their frame game in the American market. By 1975 we had SunTour Cyclone and Shimano 600, followed by high-performance 700C wheelsets in 1976, so things trickled down pretty quickly to the mid-range in the late 1970s.
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Old 03-26-19, 06:18 AM
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Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
Based on my experience, the Japanese entered the USA market with a relatively conservative approach. After World War II there was a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment and their products did not have a good reputation.
As a child in the 60s, I remember the common phrase "Cheap ,,,,,, made in Japan." In about 72 a friend bought a Panasonic bike, his dad having been convinced it was the best value. I had a Raleigh Record which in my eyes certainly had more prestige. We were all on low end bikes, but they were all we could afford and we thought of them as 'quality' low end bikes. They were at least lighter than the Schwinn branded competition.

Panasonic seemed an especially odd brand for a bicycle as they were starting to make a name in the electronics market, which was in the same transitional phase of moving from being seen as cheap imports to being viewed as value for the dollar. Japanese cars were greatly improving their market acceptability at the same time. Whatever the product, the 70s was the period when Japanese manufacturing went from being seen as cheap to being seen as higher quality at a lower price. By the time the 80s came around, Japan was a major player in the world's economy. This was perhaps aided by the fact that at the same time American manufacturers were trying to cut costs and often in the process dropped standards of quality. In 1970, an American product was usually seen as higher quality than a Japanese import. 10 years later, that image had flipped.
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Old 03-26-19, 11:40 AM
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The earliest Japanese bike to pass through my stable would be an early seventies Fuji "The Ace". That bike was pretty decent, sporting many of the features that European high end bikes were offering, at the time...




This early seventies Japan made Sekine was a second early seventies steed, but not necessarily of higher end quality...


And my final early Japanese bicycle offering would have to be this early seventies Skyway and it was anything but high end...
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Old 03-26-19, 12:02 PM
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I don't think anyone leaped out in front of the others, but Fuji did something very smart, which was to introduce its top models before the others. That gave the name prestige. As @repechage says, it depends on locale. I lived in NYC and spent a lot of time in Boston. I believe Fujis were imported by a Boston company.

I started working at a bike shop in NYC in 1978. At the bottom end of "good bikes," we pushed the Peugeot UO-8, UO-9, and UO-10 and some Raleigh bikes. If you wanted something above that, we recommended the Fuji S10-S. We had some Panasonic bikes, too. For us, the Fuji bikes had the lowest defect rate of any brand, by far. They were a joy to assemble. The Raleighs and Peugeots often had problems. NYC is an unusual place where brand loyalty matters less than elsewhere. We didn't have to carry Schwinn. Some people thought that a Panasonic bicycle was weird, but when we assured them that they were very high quality, they took our word for it, and rightly so.

In the 70s and 80s, in every industry that Japan was in, they didn't try to make the very finest product. Their strategy was to give the finest product at a given price point. And it was an excellent strategy. This is probably why Nikon cameras were regarded so well.
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Old 03-26-19, 01:50 PM
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I have a 87 Centurion Ironman and a Japanese built Schwinn PDG Series 5 Tange OS built bike. I love the ride.
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Old 03-26-19, 02:20 PM
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I grew up in rural Ohio, so we were always a couple years behind the trends on the East or West coasts. I remember a kid on my bus raving about getting a new Fuji around about 1975. I got my first 10 speed around a year later, a used Kabuki from a local shop. Prior to that, I had only known Schwinn, Raleigh, or Huffy.
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Old 03-26-19, 02:24 PM
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I appreciate that there were quite a few very nice Japanese made bikes in the 80's but the OP asked what brand ushered them in. That certainly happened well before the 80's.

Here's a comparison opportunity between my 1972 Fuji Finest (with several non-original components), and someone's 1971 PX-10. I don't think the similarities are accidental - especially as the PX-10 had been around for a few years by 1971, when I seem to recall reading, Fuji launched their upper-tier models.



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