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Japanese Steel: Classic Bicycle Design from Japan

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Japanese Steel: Classic Bicycle Design from Japan

Old 05-20-19, 02:24 PM
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Japanese Steel: Classic Bicycle Design from Japan

I ordered this book and received it on Saturday. Really nice book. On the one hand, it's a nice "coffee table" book, with lots of great pictures. On the other hand, there's lots of great info on the framebuilders, component makers, and tubing manufacturers, and details like decoding the serial numbers on frames. Highly recommended for fans of Japanese steel bikes from 1964-1994.

https://www.rizzoliusa.com/book/9780847861705/
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Old 05-20-19, 02:28 PM
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Does it say whether Miyata manufactured all of its tubing in-house, or did it contract with other companies (e.g., Ishiwata) for certain kinds of tubing? Some people were arguing about this last week, IIRC.
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Old 05-20-19, 02:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Lemond1985 View Post
Does it say whether Miyata manufactured all of its tubing in-house, or did it contract with other companies (e.g., Ishiwata) for certain kinds of tubing? Some people were arguing about this last week, IIRC.
I'll have to look through it later and see what it says about that. The author clearly did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people in the making of the book.
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Old 05-20-19, 04:57 PM
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The photographer ( @ScottRyder ) is an active member here and expert on Fujis. The author has also posted here looking for contributions of specific models to the book.
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Old 05-20-19, 05:05 PM
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I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.

Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?
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Old 05-20-19, 05:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.

Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?
Outside of keirin, no, there isnít. They are export bikes copying euro designs and usually specíd/developed by importers.
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Old 05-20-19, 06:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.

Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?
Outside of keirin, no, there isnít. They are export bikes copying euro designs and usually specíd/developed by importers. There was considerable innovation by suntour and shimano.
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Old 05-20-19, 06:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.

Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?
As to the '73 Nishiki, it was an outgrowth of the desire of Westcoast Cycle Supply to create a line for the American market. They brought in Leonard Hearst, owner of Hans Ohrt bicycles in Beverly Hills Ca to go along with on a trip to Japan to provide insight and help spec bikes. Leonard was impressed by the Suntour V GT rear mechanism, the slant parallelogram really allowed a wide range rear freewheel and "half-step" chainwheel spacing.
The bikes with those set ups can be attributed to Mr. Hearst.
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Old 05-20-19, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by repechage View Post
As to the '73 Nishiki, it was an outgrowth of the desire of Westcoast Cycle Supply to create a line for the American market. They brought in Leonard Hearst, owner of Hans Ohrt bicycles in Beverly Hills Ca to go along with on a trip to Japan to provide insight and help spec bikes. Leonard was impressed by the Suntour V GT rear mechanism, the slant parallelogram really allowed a wide range rear freewheel and "half-step" chainwheel spacing.
The bikes with those set ups can be attributed to Mr. Hearst.
The Olympic came with a Shimano Eagle rear derailleur, a 14-34 Shimano 333 freewheel, and some kind of cottered steel 3-arm 52-36 (mid-compact double!!) crankset, and it weighed around 40 pounds. Mr Hearst may have played a role in the component selection, which was reasonably well thought out for the price point. I think the "design" of the frame was "grab some cheap tubes and braze them together in this shape." Curiously, the bike requires a 21.1mm stem.
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Old 05-20-19, 07:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.

Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?
Andy, I do think there was a lot of initial "copy-perfect-improve," but there was definitely a lot of innovation, too, which the book does go into. Components and tubing, definitely. As you know, I'm a sucker for Suntour, and there is a lot of discussion in the book of their many innovations, not the least of which is the slant parallelogram rear derailleur.

There are some bikes in the book that I didn't even know existed, such as the Nishiki Superbe and Ultimate, and Lotus Unique. I really like some of the stories and info about the company founders, too, such as Konosuke Matsu****a of Panasonic.
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Old 05-20-19, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Lemond1985 View Post
Does it say whether Miyata manufactured all of its tubing in-house, or did it contract with other companies (e.g., Ishiwata) for certain kinds of tubing? Some people were arguing about this last week, IIRC.
So, it does suggest that Miyata manufactured all of their tubing in-house, although it does mention using Kaisei tubing for the 2012 model Asahi (yup, they still make bikes, just not for the American market).
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Old 05-20-19, 07:48 PM
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Originally Posted by johnnyace View Post
Konosuke Matsu****a of Panasonic
Sometimes I really hate software.
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Old 05-20-19, 08:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
The Olympic came with a Shimano Eagle rear derailleur, a 14-34 Shimano 333 freewheel, and some kind of cottered steel 3-arm 52-36 (mid-compact double!!) crankset, and it weighed around 40 pounds. Mr Hearst may have played a role in the component selection, which was reasonably well thought out for the price point. I think the "design" of the frame was "grab some cheap tubes and braze them together in this shape." Curiously, the bike requires a 21.1mm stem.
He was influencing the bikes for the '71, '72 model years, the upper tier models mostly.
Frame design was really a challenge. Design for production, keeping the same or near same top tube lengths for too much of the seat tube size range, too high a bottom bracket. (that might have been the lawyers, don't want a buyer to bury a pedal in a turn) Long front center dimension so that with fenders there would be no overlap, I recall only one short lived touring model with fenders.
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Old 05-20-19, 08:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
Sometimes I really hate software.
Yup, apparently the forum foul-language filtering software doesn't understand context. Should be M-A-T-S-U-S-H-I-T-A.
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Old 05-20-19, 10:25 PM
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Andy K and johnnyace yeah what a shame as I got dinged in posting Panasonic's founders name in reference to my two Panasonic's.

Everyone has their own vision of the ultimate bike but when you get to a certain level where you are dealing with craftsman/artists their creations were functional art no matter what the country of origin.

To own and ride such, is bliss.
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Old 05-21-19, 06:14 AM
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Originally Posted by since6 View Post
Andy K and johnnyace yeah what a shame as I got dinged in posting Panasonic's founders name in reference to my two Panasonic's.

Everyone has their own vision of the ultimate bike but when you get to a certain level where you are dealing with craftsman/artists their creations were functional art no matter what the country of origin.

To own and ride such, is bliss.
Indeed. Which two Panasonics do you have? The lugwork on the Professional 7000 is amazing. I've never given their bikes much thought, until seeing the high-end models.
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Old 05-21-19, 08:01 AM
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johnnyace, I have a Team 1200 Custom (PICS) a one of and a Team America Custom, if you search Team 1200 Custom and Team America Custom you will find my posts with pictures of these bikes. They were both made in the last years Panasonic was available in the United States. The PICS bike is hand craftsmanship and robotics while the America is pure art/craftsman ship, which I am in the process of setting up with new seat post/stem & handlebar to fit me. Once released to ride again these two will be first up to be ridden.
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Old 05-21-19, 08:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Lemond1985 View Post
Does it say whether Miyata manufactured all of its tubing in-house, or did it contract with other companies (e.g., Ishiwata) for certain kinds of tubing? Some people were arguing about this last week, IIRC.

Miyata didn't open its tubing mill until the 1981 model year, so everything prior to that is definitely 2nd party and in my experienced the double butted tensile and better tubing was sourced from Tange, at least as far back to Miyata entering the USA market during the mid-1970s. From 1981 onwards until at least the time they exited the USA market, Miyata manufactured all the butted, steel alloy tubesets used in their bicycles. Plain gauge tubing is not mentioned and circa 1987 Miyat offloaded production of three base models with plain gauge CrMo and h-tensile tubing to Dodsun of Taiwan. The tubing decals on these frames are generic, not mentioning Miyata like on the butted steel alloy tubing decals of the era, inferring they are 3rd party sourced. Then there is the question of the alternate material frames that started appearing in the late 1980s; aluminum, titanium and carbon fibre. Again there is no definitive statement that I've found in any Miyata literature to say that they manufactured these tubes. So, about all we commit to is that Miyata manufactured all the butted, steel alloy used in their frames from 1981 until at least they exited the USA market.. The practice continued with Koga-Miayta in the European market and in the domestic Asian markets, though I don't know for exactly how long.
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Old 05-21-19, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
Miyata didn't open its tubing mill until the 1981 model year, so everything prior to that is definitely 2nd party and in my experienced the double butted tensile and better tubing was sourced from Tange, at least as far back to Miyata entering the USA market during the mid-1970s. From 1981 onwards until at least the time they exited the USA market, Miyata manufactured all the butted, steel alloy tubesets used in their bicycles. Plain gauge tubing is not mentioned and circa 1987 Miyat offloaded production of three base models with plain gauge CrMo and h-tensile tubing to Dodsun of Taiwan. The tubing decals on these frames are generic, not mentioning Miyata like on the butted steel alloy tubing decals of the era, inferring they are 3rd party sourced. Then there is the question of the alternate material frames that started appearing in the late 1980s; aluminum, titanium and carbon fibre. Again there is no definitive statement that I've found in any Miyata literature to say that they manufactured these tubes. So, about all we commit to is that Miyata manufactured all the butted, steel alloy used in their frames from 1981 until at least they exited the USA market.. The practice continued with Koga-Miayta in the European market and in the domestic Asian markets, though I don't know for exactly how long.
T-mar - as I'm sure you're aware, there are Koga-Miyatas with non-Miyata tubing (Columbus Max and the Tange Aero for instance).
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Old 05-21-19, 09:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
I'm curious. My "Japanese" bikes are a 1982 Specialized Sequoia, which was definitely designed in the USA; a 1980 Schwinn Voyageur, which the Schwinn catalog claims was "designed by Schwinn's sophisticated cycle engineers"; a 1987 Centurion LeMans RS, which I think has a decal claiming it was designed in the USA though I believe the designer in question was Japanese; and a 1973 Nishiki Olympic, which I don't think anyone would admit to having designed. My point is that I'm a little surprised to see "design" put forward front and center like that. When I think of the role of Japanese companies in the history of modern bicycles, I think primarily of a copy-perfect-improve cycle in the realm of manufacturing.


Is there a distinctly Japanese tradition in bicycle design (apart from components)? If so, when did it emerge and what are its characteristics? If I buy the book will it answer questions like this for me?

In my opinion, "Designed in the USA" was marketing hype to soften the guilt of Americans wanting to buy superior Japanese manufactured products. Prior to the early 1970s bicycle boom, "Made in Japan" was considered to be an indicator of a bicycle that was inferior to an American manufactured bicycle. The boom changed all that and Americans began to appreciate that the Japanese could build a better bicycle at a cheaper price. That is why the American Eagle brand changed it's name to Nishki and American brands with Japanese sounding names (ie. Azuki, Lotus, Nishiki, Sekai, Takara, etc.) started appearing. At the time, lots of jobs were being lost to Japan and there was tremendous pressure from unions and the government to "Buy USA". The American marketing brands hoped that such "Desinged in the USA" labels would give them the edge over true Japanese brands like Bridgestone, Fuji and Miyata, while appealing to America pride by emphasizing that there was some USA content and that more of the purchase price would remain in the good old US of A.

Of course "Designed in the USA" is a very ambiguous term, exploited by the marketers. At it's very least, it could apply to somebody looking at a foreign supplier's catalogue and saying. "give me standard model xxx bicycle in this colour with my decals on it" or "what can you give me for $xx.xx with these components". At the other end of the spectrum, you could have designers engineering frame geometry and tubing gauges. Most often, it was probably somewhere in between, with designers selecting a standard frame design, choosing some options in braze-ons, finish and the component mix.

With regards to distinct Japanese designs, "keirin" has already been mentioned. However, there was something even more unique. The Japanese developed very flamboyant bicycles outfitted with every accessory and gadget imaginable (i.e racks, fenders, pumps, multiple lights, instrument consoles, turn signals, brake lights, disc brakes, etc). They're usually referred to as GT/GTO models. Many of the large Japanese companies had multiple models of this style of bicycle in their product line, indicating that it was very popular in Japan. Sekine Canada imported small quantities of their GTO model and this is the only model I've seen in North America. All the others I've seen are from Japanese catalogues (see attached for examples).




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Old 05-21-19, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
T-mar - as I'm sure you're aware, there are Koga-Miyatas with non-Miyata tubing (Columbus Max and the Tange Aero for instance).
Yes, I've seen the Koga-Miyata model with Columbus Max but couldn't remember the exact year and didn't want to research it, hence my open ended statement. Regarding the Tange Aero frames, they fall under the plain gauge exception. Regardless, they are both worth mentioning.
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Old 05-21-19, 10:08 AM
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The fancy schmancy Koga-Miyata aero bike that I'm thinking of was almost definitely that Tange aero tubing that the higher end Panasonic Aero used...as well as the Lotus upper end aero...and they were butted. I even once saw a centurion with it in a photo! I don't recall Koga-Miyata offering the lower end variant of that tubeset.

Always exceptions.
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Old 05-21-19, 11:02 AM
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Originally Posted by KonAaron Snake View Post
The fancy schmancy Koga-Miyata aero bike that I'm thinking of was almost definitely that Tange aero tubing that the higher end Panasonic Aero used...as well as the Lotus upper end aero...and they were butted. I even once saw a centurion with it in a photo! I don't recall Koga-Miyata offering the lower end variant of that tubeset.


Always exceptions.

I'd have to check the Koga-Miyata catalogues but the American version of the Aero Miyata did not use a butted set, as neither the literature nor decals mention butting. There were two Tange Aero Dynamics tubesets but they were called plain gauge and double plain gauge. The latter had thicker lateral walls but this difference in gauge was consistent along the entire length of the tube, which is different than butting. I can appreciate why some people would consider this butted, as it's not a single gauge but since Tange considered it a variant of plain gauge, that's how I prefer to classify it.
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Old 05-21-19, 12:17 PM
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Originally Posted by T-Mar View Post
I'd have to check the Koga-Miyata catalogues but the American version of the Aero Miyata did not use a butted set, as neither the literature nor decals mention butting. There were two Tange Aero Dynamics tubesets but they were called plain gauge and double plain gauge. The latter had thicker lateral walls but this difference in gauge was consistent along the entire length of the tube, which is different than butting. I can appreciate why some people would consider this butted, as it's not a single gauge but since Tange considered it a variant of plain gauge, that's how I prefer to classify it.
Interesting! I - thought - I recalled seeing the word butted on the Tange decal, but maybe I saw what I expected to following the word double.
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Old 05-21-19, 12:31 PM
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The tubing used on AR6000's was called 'Aero dynamics Cro-Mo D.P.G.' -- Double Plain Gauge, I would guess. I had one at one time. Damn nice bike.
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