How did bicycles get to Japan?

GSAstuto

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#3
I read somewhere that a member of the imperial family was into ordimarys and along with his brother, scouted and rode many of the same routes we love today. But on an ordinary! And used a bag of rice on a hemp rope for braking down the descents! This is going back to Meiji period. It stands to reason since members of the royalty were often educated abroad or by visiting specialists. And cycling started as a gentry level sport.
 

joewein

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#4
I read somewhere that a member of the imperial family was into ordimarys and along with his brother, scouted and rode many of the same routes we love today. But on an ordinary! And used a bag of rice on a hemp rope for braking down the descents!
Now we know who started the infamous trend of riding fixed gear bikes on Japanese roads without proper brakes! ;)
 

GSAstuto

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#5
Well, actually going brakeless was the norm. It wasn't until people started riding safety bikes that rim brakes became at all popular. Nothing to do with trend. If anything, safety bikes are a trend in comparison. And what's a 'proper brake' ? I hardly see two chunks of rubber scraping the side of rim controlled by a wound cable and Rube Goldberg lever a 'proper brake'.
 

FarEast

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#6
Well Miyata Bicycle Company is the oldest bicycle company in the world and was formed in 1892 and was originally part of the Miyata Gun factory and are still operating today from the same location.

Fuji bikes was born not so long after and originally called Nichibei Fuji Cycle Company, Ltd. in 1899 they were also the founding fathers of racing in Japan with the first ever stage race held between Osaka and Tokyo and sponsored the winning team, that race is what is now know as the Tour of Japan (JCF and not the JCRC Tour Du Japon).

Keirin didn't appear in Japan until post WWII were it was a welcome distraction from the depression and aftermath of WWII and the first races started to appear around 1948.
 

FarEast

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#8
Nope... Raleigh first opened its doors in 1921.

But yes Bianchi is older and was born in 1885 buit wass not registered as an official company until 1900 when they went in to automobile production.
 
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#10
Miyata Bicycle Company is the oldest bicycle company in the world and was formed in 1892
I think you'll find that Bianchi and Raleigh, at least, are older.
Nope... Raleigh first opened its doors in 1921
:p

I think it would be very strange for the first ever bicycle company to have been formed in Japan. Nevertheless, 1892 is an impressively quick jump onto the bandwagon. さすが明治時代
 

Ludwig

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#13
Thank you, everybody, very illuminating, esp. the links Mike posted.

Another interesting question would be how early did Japanese bikes or bike components leave Japan (I mean by commercial means, rather than military)? Maybe we can have guesses first and then Mike reveals the facts... :)
 

FarEast

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#14
:p

I think it would be very strange for the first ever bicycle company to have been formed in Japan. Nevertheless, 1892 is an impressively quick jump onto the bandwagon. さすが明治時代
Not saying they are the oldest as there are plenty out there much older.... just saying they are the oldest registered bike company. Its a bit like BASS or MGM assurance, plenty of companies out there that were opperating before them just those guys got either thier trademarks out or registered before others did.

I just wanted people to realise that Japan has a very long heritage in the cycling world and it isn't a new contender.

Tim as you rightly point out ther first bikes from Miyata were copies, but soon they went their own way and started creating thier own unique designs that ended up all over the world.
 

GSAstuto

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#15
Variations on a theme already played by the Brits and Italians. The one thing that the Japanese builders had uniquely, though, was their 'Samurai Steel'. The blacksmithing in Japan was so highly evolved that they were already using high carbon alloys, and thus lighter, stronger frames than almost everyone. And because the people were smaller (alot), they tended to build smaller ordinary's appropriately, that, surprisingly, were quite good handling.

It's really too bad about the decline of Keirin, because that more than anything boosted the quality and quantity of frame makers in Japan. Now it's just a legacy market and very few, if any have a chance to continue due to lack of apprentices or market.

Another interesting note is that in the boom of the 70's and 80's the most popular Japanese bikes were actually designed by non-Japanese. For example, Bridgestone, who retained Grant Peterson in the 80's to build some of the most radical and forward thinking models (like the RADAC series).

Frustrated by the high cost of the Italian and British bikes - and no way I could afford a Paramount, which was considered creme de la creme when I was in my teens, I happened across the emerging Japanese brands starting to come across the Pacific at that time. A fraction of the cost and the Tange tubed framesets were equal to anything Reynolds was putting out. I rode a Miyata, then got a coveted Sekai. My track bike was a Bridgestone and I rode my old Panasonic (even until 2yrs ago) as a Muletto.

I think the Japanese makers quickly jumped onto the Italian school wagon with their safety (standard) bikes and most of the Japanese frames I've ridden or admired have been deeply influenced by Italian designs and geometry. They tend to be more upright (steeper seat tube) and shallower headtube. I think this also corresponds with the need to build shorter top tube to suit smaller riders - so it just naturally works out that way - and result is a good handling, responsive bike that isn't too twitchy. In fact , I use this philosophy even now when building most of my Ti bikes. If something isn't broken, don't fix it!

Also - Japanese makers tended to use hand brazing techniques more than 'furnace brazing'. So - they could work with thinner tubing more effectively. Something that you got only from silver brazed Italian or British high-ends at the time costing many many times more.

The history of cycling is amazing. And for such a seemingly simple machine it has so many variations and qualities derived from detail it's incredible. And no matter how mature and evolved the bike is, there is always more room for improvement and advances in technology and materials. Who knows what we'll be riding 50yrs from now - however one thing is for certain, it will still be a 'bike' !


Not saying they are the oldest as there are plenty out there much older.... just saying they are the oldest registered bike company. Its a bit like BASS or MGM assurance, plenty of companies out there that were opperating before them just those guys got either thier trademarks out or registered before others did.

I just wanted people to realise that Japan has a very long heritage in the cycling world and it isn't a new contender.

Tim as you rightly point out ther first bikes from Miyata were copies, but soon they went their own way and started creating thier own unique designs that ended up all over the world.