Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fuji "Vent Léger": a Vintage Mystery

I spotted this unusual bicycle near Union Square in Somerville.

It is imprinted with the romantic name Vent Léger (which means "light wind" in French).

Every part of the bicycle is branded, even the handlebar basket.

Apparently, it was made by Fuji: There is a Fuji headbadge and headset, as well as a sprung Fuji saddle.

The interesting thing, is that I cannot find any information what so ever on this bicycle. It has what looks like a Japanese registration sticker on the downtube. It may have been made exclusively for the Far-Eastern market.

Underneath the dirt and rust, the lugged steel frame is a very nice shade of dark blue-gray.

There are two brake levers on the handlebars, but the lever for the rear brake is not connected to a cable. There could be an after-market coasterbrake hub on the rear wheel - Or could it be that the bike is a fixed gear conversion? It is a single speed, so technically that is possible - though I shudder to think of anyone climbing hills on a bike like this in fixed gear.

In any case, the enclosed chaincase protected Vent Léger's privacy, so I will never know what was up with the rear brake.

A close-up of the Sanden dynamo light.

And a close-up of the rear rack and wire dressguard.

I can see no dates on the bicycle, but by the degree of wear I would estimate 1970s. I know that not everyone will find this "mystery bike" fascinating, but I am intrigued by the complete lack of information about it and drawn to the very logistics of its presence here. I mean, someone must have actually flown this bicycle here from Japan. God knows how many years later, it now stands in the overgrow grass next to a chainlink fence in Somerville. But at some point, someone must have carried flowers in the basket and groceries on the rack. Someone must have loved it and cared enough to want it with them.

18 comments:

  1. You are such a bike geek, Veloria. I love your bicycle finds and features. You must live in vintage bike heaven. Keep them coming. PS: thanks for cross-posting.

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  2. This to me looks like a Japanese Mamachari. The yellow sticker near the head tube looks like a city registration sticker. For some reason quite a few of the Japanese people that move to this country bring these bikes rather than buying one here. Too bad it's in such a bad shape though.

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  3. Aw, thanks Dave : )
    And that's a Yes on vintage bike heaven.

    Mumbleboy - Hm, so you think it is a relatively recent "Mamachari" but just in really bad shape? I still don't know what to make of the missing cable for the rear brake.

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  4. It's hard to tell how old the bike is. I think design of basic mamahari has remained the same for quite a while, but it's probably not from before the 80's.

    Fuji bikes seem to have a complicated history with the company first beginning in Japan, but now is mostly based in the US. They mostly make higher end sport oriented bikes and imports them back to Japan, so I think it must have been a while ago that they were selling mamachari bikes in Japan.

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  5. What a treasure... a shame about the rust, but so many interesting features and I love the branding on all elements of the bike. You do live in an interesting part of town, spotting all these vintage rides.

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  6. Filigree "unburies" yet another interesting bike. I agree that it will have been for domestic market use, and how got here is anybody's guess. But still interesting to see and ponder over.

    Aaron

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  7. ". . .imports them back to Japan"

    From China and Taiwan, where they are not only made, but the owners of the American owner of the distribution rights to the Fuji brand are located.

    Could you follow that? Yes, it is a complicated history. Complicated enough that it can be based in America, make claim to be American, and yet still be a wholly Asian owned company. It's become a front for a shadow investment firm. They ("They" would be the Ideal Bicycle Company, and minority owner) make a full range of bikes, right down to little kiddie bikes and are perfectly willing to sell bikes in Japan and elsewhere that they don't offer to Americans if there is money in it.

    It's kinda like the Japanese version of the Schwinn story and I'll bet many Japanese don't realize that Fuji bikes aren't Japanese anymore, just as most Americans don't realize Schwinn isn't American.

    THIS bike, however, looks to have been made before all that, when the Japanese parent nested companies still owned the American distributor company that they had formed. Maybe even when they still made the few odd bikes in Japan for the Japanese market. They went bankrupt in the late 90s.

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  8. Thanks everyone for the info. Seems that it is probably an '80s Mamachari then. I could definitely see why someone would bring this bike over from Japan rather than buy one here - bikes like this simply did not exist in the US.

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  9. I like that someone brought the bike all the way from Japan! Too bad it's not as loved now, but maybe again one day.

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  10. Nice find. In Somerville I have found many similar bikes in the trash [and then fixed them up or took the cool parts for projects]. This bike is a very average Japanese commuter bike, that was riden to the train station. I would think an 80s model. Single speed freewheel, that once had a rear "band brake", similar to todays hub mounted roller brake. The brake most likely had an issue and was removed...then left to die, locked to a pole. These bikes are brought over by college students and then thrown out, because of the hassle of shipping. These bikes are also abandoned in Japan too...lots of them. Once there was a guy in SF that was buying containers of the abandoned Japanese bikes and selling them in SF...at Momovelo [now out of business] Another note on these bikes is that the bars and rims are stainless steel...but the rest of the parts [spokes etc..] are made of cheap steel.

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  11. Thanks for your comments Mike. It is sad that this bicycle is probably missing the rear brake altogether and stands abandoned. It is locked up with a U-Lock, so I was hoping that maybe it was in use despite its condition.

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  12. Oh, I love it! No way it was made to be exported to the US; it's definitely for the Japanese market. I don't know whether or how much Fuji exported to Europe; I lived in Paris for 2 1/2 years and have been to Europe several times since and have not seen a Fuji there. (On the other hand, I've seen a number of Koga-Miyatas, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany.) But if Fuji ever exported to Europe, the bike you've shown would've fit right in.

    By the way...Your blog has got me seriously thinking about getting a Pashley Princess.

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  13. oooh poor bike. I bet it's my size too. Too bad it isn't avail for me to have fixed up and a cute beater bike.

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  14. @Justine Nicholas Valinotti: Koga-Miyata is not Japanese although the Miyata part is. The -ga in Koga stands for Gaastra, the Ko- is mrs. Marion Gaastra whose maiden name is Kowallik, and Miyata is the name of their Japanese frame builders. The factory is in Heerenveen, Friesland, like Batavus.
    Gaastra is a Dutch bike builders dynasty. Andries Gaastra founded Batavus (which is Latin for Dutchman) in 1904. His son Gerrit Gaastra took over in 1951, built the company up but retired in 1973. Gerrit's son and successor Andries also left Batavus in 1975 to found his own company Koga which is at the top of Dutch bike building. In 1992 Andries sold Koga to the Atag Cycle Group which six years earlier already had acquired Batavus. In 1998 Atag formed the Accell group which comprises Batavus, Koga and a number of smaller bike factories. The fourth generation Gaastra, Gerrit, is a bicycle consultant in Germany where he has a factory idworx bikes in Wachtberg; this makes very high quality mountain and racing bikes.

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  15. Frits - Cool, I did not know that Batavus was Latin for Dutchman. Thanks for the fascinating Koga-Miyata history lesson!

    Vee - I bet who-ever owns this bike might be only too glad to have it taken off their hands.

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  16. Frits:

    Thank you for the telling us the Koga story. It's quite the "family affair," isn't it?

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  17. Filigree - Those Batavi are a bit mythical. As Caesar writes in the opening sentence of his De bello gallico: " Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, etc." the Rhine delta was inhabited by Celtic tribes, generally referred to by the Romans as Belgae, which were driven out about 100 years BC by German tribes Batavi and Chatti ("cats") coming in from the East. The Batavi were then recruited by the Romans to guard their Northern borders. Over time, the tribes merged to a general population and the term Batavi only was revived in the 16th century to glorify Holland's past as what now suspiciously sounds like an Aryan nation. L'histoire se répète, toujours.

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  18. Update: The speculations that this bicycle stands broken and unused were wrong. I rode by it the other day and saw that the saddle was covered with a plastic bag (it had been raining) and its parking position was slightly different. It is alive!

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