Hidetaka Hirose, 1942-2020Jan Heine
Hidetaka Hirose, the genius behind C.S. Hirose, died early on Saturday. For 40 years, he built bicycles that were custom-built for their riders in every way: Not just size, geometry and tubing selection, but even the components.
Hirose bikes were always beautifully balanced. I had the privilege of riding a few, and seeing many more in action. He had an intuitive understanding of frame geometry that allowed him to tune each bike to its rider. They all handled beautifully, whether they were mini-velos with small wheels, cyclotouring bikes with a big handlebar bag, or bikes intended for a full camping load.
Before you could order a bike, Hirose-san invited you to join his Hirose Owners’ Meeting – a bi-annual, two-day cyclotouring journey on small backroads in the high mountains that he had scouted on his own weekend trips. Hirose followed his riders in his van and watched them pedal. This allowed him to build bikes for them that matched not just their bodies’ dimensions, but also their riding style. It also made for great riding, wonderful camaraderie and great food at traditional inns.
His small workshop in Kodaira (Tokyo) was filled with fixtures, gauges and tools. Many of them he had made himself. There were hundreds of them. He even built his own frame jig, which enabled him to work on both sides of the frame.
Hirose was not just a framebuilder, but he made his own components. He simply enjoyed making things, but his goal was always to improve, not just replicate. He liked desmodromic derailleurs (with cables pulling in both directions), and he made his own 10-speed-compatible versions of the classic Cyclo. Just as impressive was his desmodromic conversion of the Huret Allvit (above), a derailleur known for excellent shifts that were spoiled by its heavy action. Hirose’s desmodromic Allvit shifted smoothly, with a light touch and with a precision that the originals could only dream of.
Hirose also made front derailleurs, and he designed the mechanism and cage shape to match the rider’s pedaling style. It was all part of a true custom bike. The one shown above was also desmodromic. When I tried it at one of the Owners’ Meetings, I was impressed how smoothly it shifted over the wide range of the bike’s triple cranks.
As remarkable as Hirose’s bikes are, the man who made them was even more remarkable. Deeply passionate about bicycles, music and many other things and always smiling – we will miss him.
His shop, C. S. Hirose, is now run by his long-time customer and friend, Mr. Okada.