Monday, April 18, 2016

Big in Japan

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
If you want to know a sure way to meet owners of unusual or interesting bicycles, it's really quite simple: Be seen with an unusual or interesting bicycle. Wandering through the small seaside town of Dunfanaghy on a pastel green folder, I encountered a woman named Janet. "I have a bike you might like to see," she said. "It's Japanese. Very typical Japanese. And old!"

Oh how easy it was to lure me up the narrow mountain lane that led to Janet's abode. And once there, I was nearly too stunned by the gorgeous house and view, to remember I came there to see about a bicycle. But soon enough it was wheeled out and I remembered!

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
I had not been sure what to expect from the "very typical Japanese" description. Possibly something like this? But the first thing I saw was a sort of rust sculpture on wheels.

"Was the original colour gray?" I asked.

"Black," clarified Janet helpfully. "...I think! It's been so long now."

It took some time for my eye to adjust and make out the form of a step-though frame, then notice the details - one of which jumped out at me soon enough: I was looking at a Bridgestone.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
But not the Bridgestone that is so loved and fetishised in the US for its Grant Petersen-designed road and mountain bike models produced though the 1980s. This was a Japanese Bridgestone. A city bike, it had no visible markings indicating model or year and felt even heavier to lift than it looked. Straight from Osaka to Dunfanaghy it came when Janet returned from Japan some years ago.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
Bridgestone Cycles Japan is a company that made - and continues to make - so many bicycles, that it's almost as if no one bothered to document them all. Identifying a specific model can be difficult.  But bicycles like this are very common in Japan. The prototypical utilitarian commuters, they are normal and unremarkable - and that is the whole point, as cycling itself is unremarkable.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
For some years, Janet had lived in Osaka for work. Everyone cycled there, she explained. It was easy and the best way to get around - less stressful than driving, or navigating public transport in a foreign language.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
"It was even registered to me," she recalls nostalgically, pointing out the decals which I cannot read.

Using the bike as her daily transportation, Janet had grown so used to it that upon returning to Ireland she brought it back with her. Unfortunately though, cycling is not quite as big in the UK and Ireland, where she has since lived, as it is in Japan. She does not feel comfortable riding the Bridgestone here and only keeps it in her shed for sentimental reasons.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
Despite being a very ordinary bicycle of its type, Janet's Bridgestone brimmed with interesting details - from its long fork rake, to its unusual rear hub (too rusted for me to discern any markings), and dial-like steering lock.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
But my favourite detail on this bike is the curved basket stay, routed around the headlight. It's funny, because I have seen this design element show up in a few custom handmade bicycles over the past years, and there are always comments about how exquisite, creative and original it is. Apparently not so much!

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
Also quite interesting is the wide, skinny-tubed rear rack, disassembleable to fold down flat.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
And the "Shift Eye" internally geared hub shifter, the likes of which I had not seen before.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
Despite the bicycle's long-neglected state, the components seemed to work when I tried them. The worn tyres and tubes need to be replaced. But with that done, and after a basic tune-up, I believe this bicycle would be quite ridable again.

Bridgestone Japan Commuter
True, cycling is tough here. And not as big as it is in Osaka. Still, I hope to some day be walking along the main street of Dunfanaghy and meet Janet, this time happily astride her old Japanese Bridgestone, rust and all. A bicycle once so loved and cherished surely deserves to enjoy an active retirement - and where better than in Ireland, by the sea?


28 comments:

  1. Mamachari FTW! On my visit to Tokyo years ago I was overwhelmed by the amount and variety of bicycles. Shame I did not think to bring one back with me. That would have been a lot easier and cheaper to do back then than it is now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell me about it. There is a Waffenrad with my name on it still languishing in Austria, not to mention all the bikes I can't get out of Boston. I can only imagine what it would cost these days to haul that beast over from Japan.

      Delete
    2. If you are shipping, say, a household, square footage in a shipping container is not anywhere near as expensive as air freight. Big cost overall, but if you *must* move that furniture you bought...
      There may be a freight solution for your Boston-to-NI bike dilemma, V.

      Mamachari are pretty neat utility bikes. Saw all manner of them in Vietnam, and surprisingly, found 3 or 4 a year at the local bike co-op in Santa Cruz, California, including a Bridgestone much like this one only silver. It was a single speed though, so no "Shift Eye". Had the rear band-brake, too.

      Delete
    3. I did look into that and it costs more than I am able to spend at the moment, and probably for the next couple of years. It's not like I "need" those bikes after all. Some day it will be nice to have them all in one place though!

      Delete
    4. They will be overjoyed to be back in the same place together, surely. ;)

      Delete
    5. It's funny where bikes end up. You might be interested to hear Velouria, that your old Bella Ciao (formerly of this blog header), is still residing in Cambridge, only it's the Cambridge in England now. It arrived after a leisurely trip across the Atlantic in a shipping container (along with lots of our other possessions and a few bikey friends) just last week.

      Delete
  2. Amazing view and another new friend for you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am starting to realise that most of my current friends I have either met through bicycles, or have introduced to bicycles. Kind of funny, but I'm not complaining.

      Delete
    2. What a happy coincidence! I hadn't realised how beautiful the Northern Ireland coast is. I have been to the West coast of Eire as my wife is from Kilkenny and it was amazing there also. So undeveloped, perhaps it's the weather!

      Delete
  3. Is that an externally contracting drum brake rear?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is that what you think it is? Could be. I've been trying to figure out exactly what sort of rear hub/ drum brake that is after the fact, but my photos are not informative enough (I was distracted by conversation and don't think the bicycle's owner expected me to examine it THAT intently!).

      Delete
  4. Grant Petersen would appreciate that bike's beusage, not to mention the heritage. With a little TLC, some grease for the bearings, a little oil for the chain and hub, a little tweaking to make sure the cables work, it would be a fine rider. I love my MB-3, a Craigslist bargain that's my daily commuter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you want to get a sense of the variety of Japanese Bridgestones out there, @velo_ero on instagram documents them (and other cool bikes in Japan). Worth a look!

      Delete
    2. I've never seen an IGH shifter quite like that Shift Eye, but then I've never been to Japan. It kind of reminds me of Shimano's Rapidfire mountain bike shifters.

      Delete
    3. I have seen a few unusual shifters on Japanese city bikes now, including ones by Shimano I had not seen elsewhere. I think there is just more variety overall, reflecting the larger market that exists there for that type of bike.

      Delete
  5. What is the dial underneath the headset lock nut? Is it some kind of steering lock, to keep the front wheel from turning when the bike is parked or being loaded? Or is it something else?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As far as I understood, a steering lock. Though how exactly it works I am not sure - there appears to be a dial of some sort!

      Delete
    2. It almost looks like a Rinko dial for breaking down the front end for travel.

      Delete
  6. "If you want to know a sure way to meet owners of unusual or interesting bicycles, it's really quite simple: Be seen with an unusual or interesting bicycle."

    So true! You could even say that I owe my social life to my vintage 3-speed collection.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (insert "No way! I collect those, too!")


      So, I heard you like old 3-speeds ...

      Delete
    2. If only that worked as a pickup line!

      Delete
    3. You mean to tell me it doesn't?!

      Delete
    4. "want to follow me home and look at my stamp collection?" ;-)

      bm

      Delete
  7. I prefer the Yamaguchi mixte in the post you linked to. Sadly, I suppose neither is ridden anymore, one kept as a collectors item the other as garage junk. Sometimes I wish for a service, like a bicycle Air B&B, where people could borrow interesting bikes from those who do not use them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know a few bicycle collectors now who have tried, either formally or informally, to turn their 'stables' into libraries of sorts, where people can come and try vintage bikes, or even borrow them long term, no strings attached. Each has told me there are surprisingly few takers.

      Delete
  8. I know this is off-topic, but given you were in Donegal... I've just come across this Donegal-based manufacturer of cycling kit - www.tadaias.cc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup! I'm in touch with them and hoping to visit soon.

      Delete