Japan in Autumn

Japan in Autumn

I just returned from Japan. It was an amazing trip of talking to Compass Bicycles’ suppliers and of collecting material for future Bicycle Quarterly stories. Most of all, it was great fun!
We got to see old friends and acquaintances, and meet new ones. We rode bikes with some, went to Onsen baths with others, enjoyed great meals, and appreciated wonderful company.
We rode on the wonderful roads that criss-cross the Japanese mountains. They often are just a single lane wide, and the climbs (and descents) seem to go on forever. We love hairpin turns… and we got to do them continuously for over an hour during the descent of Shirabiso Pass – under a full moon! Japan was a great place to do the last pre-sale testing of our new Compass centerpull brakes.
We practiced our skills at Rinko. It is very satisfying to ride up to the train station, and 15 minutes later, our bikes are packed in relatively small bags that we can carry on our shoulders, even on crowded Tokyo subway trains. At the other end, it takes ten minutes to reassemble the bikes into full randonneur bikes with fenders, racks and lights. I had known about Rinko for years, but it took first-hand experience to understand the beauty of it.
Now that we know people, we aren’t treated as visitors as much, so we can actually see people at work. For an upcoming feature of TOEI, we were able to watch these legendary builders at work.
At the Poly Japon bike meeting, we admired some of the most beautiful bikes in Japan. (Not to mention the awesome ride into the mountains straight from the hotel. It was so good that I got up early the next morning to have another run at it.)
We savored the food and truly had a wonderful time. Thank you to all our Japanese friends who made this trip such a success!

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Comments (23)

  • poke@poke.com

    Have you posted previously about your system for traveling with a bike? Sounds like you have it pretty well down, and I’d be curious to know your method!

    October 31, 2014 at 6:16 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s not our method – we did an article about Rinko in the Summer 2014 issue (Vol. 12, No. 4). A full report on how we built our Rinko bikes and how they worked out in practice will be in the Spring 2015 issue.

      October 31, 2014 at 6:43 am
      • Mitchell Gass

        Thanks Jan, I’ve been curious about Rinko after your reading your earlier article and am looking forward to the Spring 2015 article. I was having a hard time visualizing how packing a bike that way is possible without (1) scratching paint, (2) bending fenders, or (3) getting headset grease on the bag and/or dirt in the grease after the fork is removed. And for me, getting a threaded headset properly adjusted after reassembly, with everything tight enough to prevent loosening of the top nut, isn’t always a quick task even with full size wrenches, and that’s particularly true for roller-bearing headsets. Is it possible to provide a video to accompany your article that illustrates the steps? And can you tell us if the headsets they use have keyed washers – which in the USA are ubiquitous for current production threaded headsets, and which I’ve found can easily damage steerer threads – or something else?

        November 1, 2014 at 5:54 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          We’ll try to answer all your questions. The key to not bending fenders and scratching paint is simple: If nothing moves and rattles in the package you’ve created, then there is no risk of scratching or damage…

          November 1, 2014 at 6:02 am
      • Frank B.

        I wonder: Shouldn’t threadless headsets make more sense for rinko travel? No need for special tools or special headsets, any model should work. To keep the headset in place when disassembled, one could use the brake cable hanger for centerpul/cantilever brakes. For threadless systems this usually fastened with a bolt. Or am I missing something?

        November 4, 2014 at 3:40 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Threadless systems work well in that application, but the steerer tube is a little longer, so the bike doesn’t pack as small. I have a Japanese headset tool that is made from aluminum and very small. It weighs as little as a 5 mm Allen wrench. You use the Allen wrench to get the leverage you need…

          November 4, 2014 at 5:18 am
    • marmotte27

      @poke@poke.com: I allow myself to add this: In the article series on Jan’s Rene Herse, My Ultimate Custom Bike Part 3, there was a pictured description on how Jan packs his bike (which is in that respect a completely normal bike) into a bike case, fenders and all ( Vol.10, N°4, page 48).

      November 2, 2014 at 9:36 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The Rinko system makes the bike quite a bit smaller with only very minor modifications. I couldn’t take my Herse to Japan, because it doesn’t pack small enough for train travel, so I built a new bike for the trip (and future ones). We’ll report on the bike and our experiences soon.

        November 2, 2014 at 10:13 am
  • Edwin Williamson

    I wanted to take a virtual look at some of those roads, but google did not do that well with “Shirabiso pass.” Can you post a few road numbers and town that the pass connects so we can check it out?

    October 31, 2014 at 8:29 am
  • David Pearce

    I know this is not the correct allusion,
    but you are really the Henry Ford of bicycle manufacture!
    Who would be a better allusion? Bugatti? Lamborghini? Dr. Porsche?

    October 31, 2014 at 6:01 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Actually, we don’t make bikes… and are in the component business almost accidentally, because the components we like aren’t made elsewhere. One of the people who inspired me is Denis Jenkinson, the British car journalist who also raced (mostly as a navigator/passenger on sidecar motorbikes and in long-distance races). He was the readers’ eyes and ears “on the inside” of the car industry. I can only aspire to the quality of his prose, though!

      October 31, 2014 at 7:48 pm
      • David Pearce

        Well, thanks for the heads-up about “Jenks” — his books sure look gorgeous (just like yours!). I’m prob’ly going to have to buy the one about the Jaguar XKE’s! Did you ever get to meet him? Any picture of you & he together?

        November 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I wish! We are quite different generations. A man to my taste, though, living in a place where the only electricity was generated by a Fiat 500 engine… There is a book with a compilation of his writings, the report from the Mille Miglia he won with Stirling Moss is worth the price alone.

          November 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm
      • David Pearce

        Indeed, I don’t know why I alluded to car manufacturers. You are a Journalist, and a fine one. And an excellent business executive who is helping revive and even improve some of the great technology and historic bicycle components of the past. Thanks for all of it! We need more people like you.

        November 2, 2014 at 7:21 am
  • Nathan Johnson

    Excellent timing on this blog post. I plan to be in Kyoto in about a week and am thinking about visiting Gran Bois to inquire about purchasing a rinko (I’m currently working and living in Asia so I could discuss a bike order on this trip and return to pick it up on a future trip). Perhaps you plan to cover this ground in a future BQ issue, but could you give any tips for requesting a rinko from I’s Bicycles? How is his English or will I need a translator? Any specs or components you can recommend if you were ordering one? I’d greatly appreciate your suggestions.

    November 1, 2014 at 7:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Ikuo and Harumi Tsuchiya, the owners of Cycles Grand Bois, speak excellent English, so you should have no trouble. Also ask them for suggestions to ride from their shop – the awesome mountain roads start just a few blocks away!

      November 1, 2014 at 10:06 am
  • nickskaggs

    The Spring 2012 Bicycle Quarterly mentions that short riders should try and use the lightest tubing available for their (stiffer) bicycles, but that’s about all I took away from it.
    Have you noticed any interesting Japanese real-world changes to frame design to accomodate smaller riders on randonneur-style bicycles? I noticed the rider to your right in the second photograph of this post has what looks like a very tall handlebar bag on a relatively small frame.

    November 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      She is holding my bike, not hers, hence the tall bag on a tall frame! (I had to trigger the camera self-timer!)
      In Japan, the only builders we’ve really heard talk about frame flex and performance are the builders of Keirin bikes (see the article on Matsuda/Level in the Summer 2014 issue)…

      November 1, 2014 at 6:18 pm
  • KT

    Does a younger generation of frame builders exist to take over for the old guys? It’d be a shame to see the quality and enthusiasm lost.
    When will you begin to lead small tour-groups to Japan, or France? I’m all ready to go.

    November 3, 2014 at 11:57 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There is a younger generation of builders… but as always, transferring the knowledge from one generation to another is going to be difficult. Instead of leading tours – I don’t need another job! – we’ll try to provide the information that you need to go yourself. It’s much easier to get immersed into the culture if you travel alone or with a partner, rather than in a group of foreigners…

      November 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm
  • jprichard10

    Speaking of Compass centerpulls… are these still on track for early November release?

    November 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’ll probably be mid-November. Everything is settled, but the polishing of the brake shoe holders is taking a little longer.

      November 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm

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