Winter Project: a Roadbike for the Ladies Who Fear Roadbikes

The house is full of excitement, as the Bicycle Fairy has visited me again! It was a Japanese bicycle fairy. She spoke through an interpreter, and these were her words:
The bicycle fairies have decided that you need a winter bike project! We have chosen this bicycle for a reason. When you see it, you will know what to do with it...
And indeed I knew exactly what to do once I saw this neglected beauty, her frame an enchanting mixture of mauve and champagne. She is a 1980's Shogun - a Japanese touring bike in double butted cromoly steel.

While I don't need another roadbike, I think that many other ladies out there do - particularly this bicycle, once I get through with it! What's so special about this bike? Well, I will start from the beginning. I hear a lot of stories from women who have tried to ride a roadbike, but felt that it was too aggressive and uncomfortable and gave up - as well as from women who would like to ride a roadbike, but are too nervous to try in the first place. I understand that state of mind, because when I first tried to ride a bike with drop bars, it felt awful and I eventually gave up. What then made me succeed on my Rivendell this year? For me, the big difference was comfort, stable handling, and a choice of components that I believe works especially well for women.

As far as comfort and stable handling, this Shogun has that down - whereas the same is definitely not true for all vintage roadbikes. This particular bicycle is stable and fairly relaxed - a vintage predecessor to the Rivendell philosophy, if you will. Just like I had an easy time learning on my Rivendell, I think this Shogun will be great for that -  with the benefit of a much lower price point.

My plan is to give this bicycle a make-over, to learn a thing or two about vintage Japanese bikes in the process, and then to find a new home for it in the spring. I will keep a lot of its vintage goodness, but will replace some of the components with my own mix that I have found especially comfortable and easy to use - and I think that other women will too. As I begin to work on the bike, I will explain what it is I am changing about it, and why. And I will also post a test ride report soon, comparing it to other vintage roadbikes that I have tried. I am excited about this project, because I think this bicycle is just perfect for a woman who would like to try a roadbike but is not confident about her skills. The right bike can make all the difference!


  1. very intriguing plan! which model shogun is it? indeed, it has relaxed angles and a long wheelbase.

    in case you need some inspiration for how to transform a shogun, i came across this pic on the 'net:

  2. I picked up a Shogun for $35 of C-List, turned into a fixed gear with a Harris Cyclery hub.
    They are decent in weight and the frames are just the right combination of flex and stiffness, if that makes any sense ;}

  3. luke - Oh what a timely comment! The Co-Habitant suggested I do this to mine, but I am opting for making it a geared touring bike for the ladies. How is the bottom bracket height in terms of fixed gear conversion? And do you not find the angles too relaxed? I am paranoid about the BB height after it turned out to be a little too low for comfort on the Italian racing bike I converted.

    somervillain - I look forward to scavenging some leftover components from the hopefully-generous person whose bike that is : ))

  4. I think that mine is set-up a little different more like a Terry, but I have more clearance on my Shogun than my old Raleigh Record (which had 27" wheels on both front and back) this should get you a pic of my Shogun ( don't mind my messy apartment) Copy without brackets, the cranks are 170's hope this helps.

  5. I dream of racing down the open road, exploring the country on a light and speedy bike, but I am one of those women you speak of who is really nervous to even try getting on one of those skinny diamond frames perchec on razor-thin tires. After reading your glowing review of the Sam Hillborne I've been reconsidering my aversion to road bikes with drop bars, although since I can't even do short-distance transportation cycling right now perhaps I should curb my enthusiasm until have enough time to try it out. I'll definitely be following this project closely and I can't wait to see the finished product!

  6. lukeofny - Thanks for the picture, and your kitchen is just fine compared to mine : )) Your model Shogun is very different from the one I picked up, and yours indeed seems like a good FG conversion idea. I think the colour-scheme is very suitable too!

    Claire - Yes, that sumarises my former state of mind pretty well. There was a huge discrepancy between what I imagined myself doing in my mind and what I was actually able to do... until I met the right bike.

  7. The bicycle fairy is generous and wise - that bike seems awesome! Great qualities matched with lovely colors, I'm envious of this winter project you're under-taking =).

  8. Peppy (the japanese bicycle fairy)November 19, 2010 at 10:44 PM


  9. I think you're going to have fun with this one.

    The color is very similar to one used by Univega in the same era. Those are nice bicycles.

    I am curious as to where the major changes will occur, and what you can bear to keep original.

    Keep this up and you might have to hang out your shingle as "Pre-Raphaelite Cycles" :)

  10. Looks to be about a 52cm frame with 27-inch wheels?
    The paint looks pretty good. Hope you'll consider bar-end shifters and that you have plenty of clearance for fenders.
    I built up a similar colored bike for my nephew. It looked quite handsome with red shellacked cloth tape.
    Good luck! It will be fun following your progress.

  11. Corey - Oh no, please no! I can't dstand the Pre-Raphaelites (no offense to those who like that style!). But maybe Jugendstil Cycles... Though that doesn't have a ring to it, does it : ((

    I think I know the Univega you speak of, and the colour of this Shogun is a bit more purple. I could be wrong though.

    MT Cyclist - It is a 53cm frame with 27" wheels, but the seat tube angle is fairly relaxed, so the step-over is same as it would be on a 52cm frame/ 700C with steeper angles. I was thinking aero bar on this one would look handsome, no? Fully twined of course.

  12. I'm about to restore my 1982 Shogun Cro-Mo 500. It has a relaxed geometry and was considered a "sport tourer." Lots of braze-ons for racks, but none for water bottles. This makes me think it might have been a custom bike, which Shogun produced at the time. It has lovely lugs, but it's filthy and rusty and needs serious tune-up work. Yours is in better condition.

    I'm going to clean it, put on new Panaracer Pasellas, put on new levers and hoods, switch out the ugly stem, put on stainless cables, replace the pedals with touring pedals, add a reproduction '80's brown leather saddle, brown leather bar tape, fenders and a rack. Then it will supposedly go to my boyfriend, but we all know what will actually occur :). I'll be watching your Shogun build with interest. Very nice bikes.

    I fell in love with a purple and white Panasonic road bike after buying a vintage 3-speed. Riding on the drop bars has been an interesting challenge, and the narrow tires were very scary at first. One key thing to feeling safe on a road bike (or safer, I guess) is to get the fit right. My bike shop helped me get the saddle back and stem up, so that I was sitting up a bit more. The other day I climbed on it and took off and realized that I wasn't nervous or uncomfortable at all. I think that ladies just need to get a good fit, and then put in short rides until they get used to the different position. Take it slow, and don't be afraid to use the brakes! Riding on a paved trail off the road helps too.

  13. One last piece of advice for loving a road bike again: get rid of the pedals with clips or cages, and get a pair of "rat trap" pedals. I was terrified of the cages that came on my road bike. I wasn't stable enough to worry about them each time I had to stop. Cages or straps can always be added later, or original pedals put back on, but knowing I can stop and start without worry is, as they say, priceless. I have MKS Sylvan Touring pedals on both my road bikes (or will on the Shogun, shortly), and I find them very easy to use. You can ride with any shoe, including cute vintage style tennis shoes, and they work well even in the rain. My fit don't slip, and I'm not in the Tour de France, so if I don't hill climb quite as efficiently, I'll live.

  14. Sorry I tied you to the wrong movement there, Velouria... I should know better than to attempt to peg an artist, even in jest ;)

    Jugendstil....I could see that. You'd be constantly
    teaching the proper pronunciation, though. And the poor Japanese bike fairy would get *so* flustered and embarrassed trying to pronounce it.

    Corey K

  15. Snarkypup - Thanks for the link to your pictures. Interesting, because mine is a 400 but has completely different lugwork than yours. Mine looks more like somervillain's 2000 except for the chromed stays. I need to do some research on the Shogun model numbers.

    I agree about the importance of fit, but for me even when the fit is good I can sense a great deal of variation between bicycles in terms of comfort and stability. A roadbike can fit perfectly, but can still be too aggressive - as in over-responsive, or "twitchy" - for a beginner cyclist. Toe overlap is also something that scares some cyclists quite a bit, so it's good to find a bicycle without. There are loads of things like this - including good tubing, angles, and many other factors - that all contribute to a bike seeming "scary" vs "safe" - at least in my experience.

    Corey - Sorry for my strong reaction : )) For the record, Impressionism is out as well. But Expressionism is good.

  16. velouria said: " I need to do some research on the Shogun model numbers."

    i would be eager to know what you learn. the history on this bike brand is spotty, and i've only been able to put together a very partial history and model heirarchy. this is what i've learned about the model heirarchy based on seeing actual bikes in the wild and on the forums:

    90- cheap city 3-speed, hi-ten frame, stamped dropouts

    100- cheap 10-speed, hi-ten frame, stamped dropouts

    200- cheap 10-speed, hi-ten frame, stamped dropouts

    400*- cheap 12 or 14-speed, hi-ten frame, stamped dropouts

    400*- better 12 or 14-speed, chromoly frame, "tangaloy" fork, stamped dropouts

    * seems to be variation in this model depending on the year

    500* - higher end 12 or 14-speed, chromoly frame, forged dropouts

    600- higher end road bike, aggressive geometry, high quality chromoly frame and fork, forged dropouts, high-end shimano components (usually shimano 600)

    1000- higher end road bike, aggressive geometry, high quality chromoly frame and fork, forged dropouts, high end road bike components, some years had funny double triangle at seat cluster (i forgot the name for this style)

    1500- loaded tourer, 18-speed, high quality chromoly frame and fork, forged dropouts, relaxed geometry, heavy duty touring/mtb components with cantilever brakes

    2000- loaded tourer, 18-speed, high quality chromoly frame and fork, forged dropouts, relaxed geometry, heavy duty touring/mtb components with cantilever brakes (probably successor to 1500 as only found in later years than the 1500)

    3000- high end racing bike, lightest possible chromoly frame and fork, full dura-ace race components

    prairie breaker- full mtb

    alpine GT- loaded tourer, probably a successor to the 2000, identical to the 1500 and 2000 but only found in later model years.

    i have both a 2000 and 1500, both loaded tourers, and i'm having a hard time understanding how shogun distinguished these models, since they have identical geometry and sizing, identical components, and only minor differences in the braze-ons. i think that they are the same model, with the "2000" replacing the "1500" somewhere around 1984. similarly, the "alpine GT" replaced the 2000 sometime in the late 80s.

    shogun bikes seem to date back to the late 1970s, and the last ones i've seen are from around the late 80s. the head badges went through several iterations over that time.

    as for who actually built shogun frames, that's anyone's guess. panasonic and miyata made the frames for many smaller brands (such as univega), but i don't think either of my bikes were made by these manufacturers. based on the lugwork, seatstay caps and other small frame details, i suspect my two shoguns were made by kuwahara.

  17. That is as much as I have been able to find, only I did not even bother looking into the higher end ones. Mine is the better 400 model, but even among those there was variation. For example, apparently some versions of the model had a more aggressive geometry and fewer braze-ons, whereas other versions (such as the one I got) had relaxed geometry and more braze-ons. I don't know why. What struck me most about the bike was how comfortable the frame looked, which is why I decided to get it. I think it's a decent model, though by no means top notch, and will be just the thing as someone's first roadbike.

  18. You could have looked for a cult Bridgestone bike from the late 80s early 90s. Grant Petersen was the driving force behind their design.

    And they echo much of what later became the Rivendell philosophy.

  19. True. I could have also looked for an actual used Rivendell I suppose. But I'm just working with what the Bicycle Fairy brought me : )

  20. normanF: the thing with those old bridgestones is that their "cult" status means that many people who have them know what they're worth, and they can fetch a small fortune. shoguns, univegas, and other lesser known brands don't have the name recognition and therefore can be had for next to nothing, despite being really nice bikes.

  21. saw this on etsy, thought of this blog:

  22. Those are made by Amy of Bobbin & Sprocket! I have a pair and will hopefully review them soon.

  23. "This particular bicycle is stable and fairly relaxed"

    but wouldn't a relaxed seat tube mean you would need to reach your arms out farther, or does the handlebar stem need to be the same angle as the seat tube ?

  24. Anon - The top tube length and the angle of the head tube are adjusted for that, so the reach remains the same. But in general, if a reach on a bike is too much, one can also get a shorter stem and raise the handlebars a bit. At least that works well for women with short torsos, like me!

  25. I like the color of that Shogun.

    Japanese bikes of that time were possibly the best mass-produced bikes ever made. Most of them were well-designed, and nearly all of them were manufactured to high standards. Not for nothing did Grant Peterson take his inspiration from those bikes, the fact that he worked for Bridgestone notwithstanding.

    The B-stones were indeed great bikes. Others have mentioned Shoguns and Univegas. To that list I would add two of my favorites: Panasonic (who built LeTours, Super LeTours and other bikes for Schwinn) and Miyata.

    An art movement that describes those bikes? Hmm... Although the bikes are Japanese, Impressionism doesn't quite fit. Then again, there's a kind of reverse-Impressionism: As Monet and some of his contemporaries drew their inspiration from Japanese art, the first good Japanese bikes were based largely on French and British designs.

  26. I know what you mean about variation in this brand. My bike has rounded tops on the seat stays, whereas someone else posted a pic on bike forums of the same bike, from the same year, and it had completely different seat stays, more like yours. His bike also had two water-bottle braze-ons. Mine has none. I've seen a 400 mixte with the same paint as mine, and a 500 painted without the two-tone. My bike has early Shimano Deore tri-color components, but other 500's from the same year have Shimano 600 components. It's all very hodge-podge.

    I haven't been able to really ride mine yet, as it needs such a complete overhaul. I'm hoping to start it this week, with a mentor from Bike Forums. I'm going to attempt to do it all myself! Then I'm going to replace the cog on my Raleigh Sports. Then I'm going to... I don't know. But vintage bikes are quickly empowering.

    I'm sure different road bikes have different ride qualities, but honestly, I wouldn't know. When I bought my '89 Panasonic, I hadn't ridden a road bike since the year this one was manufactured! When I got it as it was originally set up, it scared me to death: cage pedals, bars twisted down and stem set low, seat set high, and very narrow tires all combined to make me think it might be unrideable for someone like me. But we jacked the stem up to maximum, set the saddle down and back, replaced the pedals, and I'm loving it. I traded the original saddle for a different used white one, just for looks, but the smaller "new" saddle also added to my sense of control. It fits better, and I'm more comfortable, so I feel more stable. I recently tipped the nose of the saddle up so I would stay in the same spot all the time, and that helped too. Most of all, I just ride in small bursts, building my tolerance of speed slowly and giving myself permission to be me, not a 20 year-old guy with zero fear.

    For what it's worth, I have a disease that causes severe nerve damage throughout my body. One of the hallmarks is a skewed sense of speed/position in space. You think you're afraid of falling? Imagine if you were both terrified of it (it's my greatest fear) and PRONE to it! I've had some serious tumbles over the bars, trust me. But in the end, I take things slow and let my inherent stubborn nature guide me: I can do it, dangit, and no one can tell me I can't! So here I am, riding a 22 year-old racing bike with very aggressive geometry, and loving it. If I can, anyone can.

  27. "a Japanese bicycle fairy"


  28. Snarkypup - Interesting; I think we may have some problems in common, which may also account for similar tastes in bikes. I am glad that you are able to ride comfortably!

    kfg - No, it's not what you think. This bike really is "for the people" and I don't plan to start collecting Japanese bikes. Italian bikes on the other hand...


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