The following is a list of some Japanese bicycle brands that I have come across, with scattered information about them. I welcome additions and corrections, most of this material is from memory, which may be faulty.
- Center-pull caliper brakes were pretty much out of fashion by the beginning of the 1980s.
- "Æro" side-pull brake calipers, with the upper arm close to the centerline of the bike, were mostly used in 1981-82.
- Down-tube shift levers mounted on top of the down-tube, instead of on the side, were mainly supplied in the 1982-83 model year.
- By 1986, most models had indexed shifting.
- Mountain bikes with "U-brakes" under the chainstays were mainly from the 1987 model year, though some were made in '86 and '88.
Note that many of the brand names commonly perceived as being manufacturers, are not actually manufacturers, but rather are trading/importing companies, who have bicycles made for them by other companies. This is not a bad thing, and many of the top brands work this way. The company whose name is on the down tube will design the bike, specify the equipment, and provide quality control. Some brand names have been, at different times, manufacturers and importers. In fact, sometimes a company with an actual factory will have some models made by other (overseas) factories, while making others in-house.
- American Eagle
- A short-lived brand name from the mid-70s bike boom. I believe that it got into trouble for the misleading name, and reverted to the Japanese name "Nishiki."
- House brand of Louisville Cycle & Hobby, Louisville, Kentucky
- While Bianchi is best known as an Italian brand, it was having bicycles built in Japan to its specifications for several years in the late 1980s. These were particularly nice bikes, with better workmanship than the Italian models.
- Bridgestone is an enormous multinational company, one of the largest tire companies in the world...and a fairly small bicycle company, with its own factory in Japan. In the late 1980s and early'90s, its U.S. bicycle division was run by Grant Petersen, a brilliant, talented and idiosyncratic designer.
Petersen, a hard-core cyclist, marched to a different drummer than most of the industry. He introduced many innovations to the market, and also strongly resisted other trends and innovations that he didn't approve of.
Bridgestones have a backwards numbering system, and, generally, the lower the number, the higher the quality.
Road Models RB-1, RB-2, RB-3, RB-T
Bridgestone "road" bikes, particularly the legendary RB-1, combine frame design taken from classic Italian road bikes of the '70's with excellent Japanese workmanship and functional, reliable parts. The RB-1 was extremely popular with racers, and held its own against competing models costing hundreds of dollars more.
The RB-2 had the same geometry as the RB-1, but with slightly less expensive tubing and considerably less expensive parts.
The RB-3 was a low-end model, of little interest.
The RB-T was a touring bike introduced in the early '90s, a time when touring bikes were extremely out of fashion with manufacturers. It was a very nice bike, but had trouble competing with the left-over stock of mid-80s touring bikes still in the pipeline. This bike also came with Avocet slick tires, which are splendid tires, but difficult to sell, since most people assume (incorrectly) that they will provide poor traction.
Mountain Bikes MB-1...MB-6
Bridgestone was one of the first companies to jump on the mountain bike bandwagon in the 1980s, but from a "road" perspective. Early versions of the MB-1 came with drop handlebars and 126 mm dropout spacing!
The predominant style of mountain bikes in the early-mid '80s had the "California cruiser" geometry inspired by the Schwinn Excelsior "klunkers", with 44 inch wheelbases, 18-inch or longer chainstays, and frame angles in the high 60-degree range. These bikes were very stable for downhill use on Repack hill, but were not very good climbers. Petersen's Bridgestones had much steeper frame angles and much shorter chain stays, making them considerably more maneuverable and nimble than the older designs, and considerably better climbers. In the '80s, this design was considered "radical", but it proved itself on the trail, and was copied by everybody a few years later. This Bridgestone design still is the standard for rigid-frame MTBs.
Some MTBs were made in Japan, others in Taiwan, different models in different years. You can easily tell which, because the Japanese models all used lug construction, while the Taiwanese models were T.I.G. welded.
In the early '90s, the Taiwanese MB-0 (a.k.a. "MB-Zip") pushed the envelope of lightness for steel-framed mountain bikes. These top-of-the line bikes were amazingly light, but, unfortunately, a bit too light, and prone to frame failure if ridden hard off-road.
The XO series
There was constant tension between Bridgestone USA and the parent company in Japan. While the bosses realized that Petersen was a very talented designer, he was perhaps a bit too individualistic and eccentric for the corporate culture. There were forces in Japan that wanted to make a more mainstream bike, like everybody else. In the give and take between the divisions, some models went one way, others the other way. The CB-series (City Bike) was intended as a bike for the non-enthusiast. There was nothing wrong with them, but nothing special, either. These were all Taiwanese models.
Bridgestone bikes tend to have long top tubes.
This site has an extensive separate Bridgestone section, including complete catalogue scans from 1987-94, click here.
Centurion, like Diamondback (formerly "Diamond Back") was a trademark of Western States Imports (W.S.I.). Starting in the late 1970s, W.S.I used the Centurion brand for its road-bike line, and Diamond Back (later Diamondback) for its BMX and MTB lines.
The Centurion "Comp TA" was a particularly nice sport bike, but W.S.I. had to abandon this model designation due to a conflict with an automotive tire manufacturer that owned the trademark. W.S.I. substituted the model name "Dave Scott Ironman", making this possibly the first mass-produced bicycle targeted at the triathlon market.
In the early '90s, W.S.I. stopped using the Centurion brand name, and applied the Diamondback brand to its road models as well as the BMX/MTB lines. There is also an unrelated Centurion bicycle company based in Denmark
- Diamond Back
Diamondback BMX, MTB Formula One
See also "Centurion"
Fuji started the "invasion" with the S-10-S, the first Japanese adult bike designed successfully for the U.S. market, and later the first moderate-priced 12 speed. The "Newest" racing bike was a serious contender in its day. The Del Rey was an excellent sport-touring bike. The "America" was an early "credit-card" touring bike, featuring 18 speeds, SunTour barcons (a SunTour trademark for bar-end shifters), and 622 mm (700c) wheels (which were rare in the U.S. at that time, in the late '70s-early '80s.)
The Fuji Touring Series was a fine range of loaded touring bikes in the mid '80s.
Fuji fell on hard times in the early '90s. It was one of the last Japanese bike companies to shift production to Taiwan after the fall of the dollar against the Yen made Japanese bikes uncompetitive in the U.S. It is my belief that Fuji, being a latecomer to Taiwanese production, took a while to build up a good working relationship with the Taiwanese factories, because the early '90s Taiwanese Fujis were not so hot. Current Fujis are fine, but the company has not yet recovered the reputation it had during the Glory Years.
See also the Classicrendezvous Fuji Page.
- Brand name used by Bridgestone in the early '70s. These were pretty crummy bikes.
When Japanese bikes were in high fashion, many companies went out of their way to market bikes under Japanese-associated names, including Lotus, Mikado, Shogun, and probably others. Kabuki was a trade name of Bridgestone (a Japanese company with a non-Japanese name!)
The Kabuki line used some unusual construction techniques, specifically, a system of sticking the frame tubes into a special mold and forming cast aluminum "lugs" in place around the ends of the tubes. The most notable of this line was the "Submariner" which used un-painted stainless steel tubing, and was marketed in seacoast areas for its rust-resistance. Because the cast aluminum lugs were not flexible like steel lugs, these bikes didn't use a conventional seat-post binder. Instead, they used a seat post with an expander wedge like that of a handlebar stem...you had to remove the saddle from the seatpost to adjust the height, then re-install the saddle! Even sillier, many of these frames had what looked like a conventional seatpost bolt mounted in a projection of the rigid lug, simply to provide a place to mount a cable stop for the center-pull caliper brake!
Kuwahara is best known for its highly regarded BMX line. Kuwahara BMX bikes were featured in Spielberg's E.T. The Extraterrestrial (Bob Haro was doing the stunts.)
Kuwahara also made touring bikes and tandems, not widely distributed in the U.S.
Kuwahara supplied the bikes for the 1988 Canadian Olympic team.
The Lotus brand was introduced in 1980. It was made by made by Tsunoda, distributed by Alpha Cycle, Syosset NY.
- Odyssey, 1981
A sporty 18-speed, with a racing-type frame
- Odyssey, 1981
Matsushita (pronounced "mat soo shta") is one of the largest corporations in Japan, if not the largest. It doesn't emphasize the Matsushita name in English-speaking markets, and is better known as "National" or "Panasonic."Panasonic is most noted in the bicycle market for its tires, which are among the best.
Miyata is a major manufacturer, and made bikes for export under other names as well, notably Univega. Miyata even draws its own tubing, and pioneered triple-butted tubing. The mid-80s Miyata 1000 was possibly the finest off-the-shelf touring bike available at the time.
Here are specs for the 1984 Miyata 1000, from the catalogue, provided by Bill Mennuti:
- Sizes (seat tube/top tube): 50/53.5, 54/55, 57/56.5, 60/58, 63/58
- Chainstays: 45cm
- Wheelbase: 105.2 cm (57)
- 72 degree parallel angles (except 50 cm - 71 deg head tube)
- All Miyata CR-MO DB tubing, Miyata Professional lugs, Suntour GS-6 ends 26.8 mm seatpost 3 bottle braze ons, 1 cage and a rear rack included
- Colors: Dark Platinum and Mountain Blue (no clear coat, stick on decals, frameset in Platinum only)
On the complete bike:
- Headset: Tange Levin
- Bar/Stem: SR Randonneur / SR Royal-2
- Brakes: Dia Compe 980, NGC -200 levers
- Derailleurs: Shimano Deore XT-EX, XT-106 shifters
- Freewheel: Shimano UG Gold 5 speed, 14-28
- Crankset: Sugino TAT 50x40x24, sealed BB
- Pedals: MKS Sylvan
- Tires: Miyata (Panaracer) Super Touring Nylon Belted, 700x32c SSW
- Rims: Araya Model 16A3, 36 hole front, 40 hole rear
- Hubs: Suntour, sealed bearing w/ QR (no further model info given!)
- Spokes: 14 ga stainless
- Saddle: Selle Italia anatomic, suede top
- Seat Pillar: SR custom P5B 26.8 mm
- Cushion rubber grips
- Approx. weight: 27.5 lbs (57)
Miyata touring bikes, including the 1000 and the lesser (but still extremely nice) 610, came with very unusual tires, Panasonic radials. These may be the only radial bicycle tires ever sold.[And for good reason: the radial cord provided too little lateral rigidity, making the tires feel odd. -- John Allen]
- Nishiki got off to a good start in the U.S. market, but made the error of selling some models to department stores, creating bad feeling against the line among independent bicycle dealers. Nishiki lost a great many dealers as a result of this.
Panasonic, the bicycle brand of the mighty Matsushita conglomerate, made very nice bicycles, beautifully built, but never very successful in the U.S. market.
In the late '80s, Panasonic had a plan to supply semi-custom bikes, using "just-in-time" production methods. The program was called "P.I.C.S." (Panasonic Individualized Custom System). The frames were stock, but were painted to order (with the customer's name optionally painted on the top tube) and with a custom-length handlebar stem.
Panasonic also made bicycles under other names under contract, most notably, for Schwinn...the Schwinn Le Tour was the first non-Chicago Schwinn.
From a posting by Yellow Jersey's Andrew Muzi:
Japanese-built Panasonic/National/Matsushita frames are of excellent quality at each price range. You can distinguish them from outsourced bikes by the serial number location. Osaka-built frames are serial numbered on the lower headlug. The second digit is the year, e.g., T5M78563 would be a 1985 frame
Peugeot is primarily an automobile manufacturer. Most Peugeots were built in France, but there was a period in the mid- late-'80s when Peugeot mountain bikes were being built in Japan. These were very well-made, lugged-frame bikes, but of somewhat dated design even then. Current Peugeot bikes sold in the Americas are made in Québec.
For information on French-made Peugeots, see my French Bicycles Page.
An Austrian company, but some Puch models were made in Japan.
- Raleigh & Rampar
Sometime in the '70s, Raleigh of England sold the U.S. rights to the Raleigh name to Huffy. During this period, some models were made in Japan, though most were sourced from Taiwan. The "Rampar" name was originally a house-brand name for parts distributed by Raleigh U.S.A. (RAleigh AMerica PArts) but was later applied to low-end Asian imported bikes distributed by Raleigh U.S.A.
- Royce Union
See entry under "The Dark Ages"
A short-lived brand of decent-quality bikes.[Also Greek for "body", as in "psychosomatic", and Aldous Huxley's name for a feel-good drug in the book Brave New World. It is the name of a city in Japan-- John Allen]
Le Tour (made by Panasonic.)
A low-end brand from before the bike boom, not to be confused with the maker of the Skyway BMX wheels.
In addition to complete bicycles, Specialized is a major brand name in parts.
This was a Sears-Roebuck brand. Here's a Suteki Web page.
Georgena Terry, specializing in bikes for women (usually with a smaller-than-usual front wheel) was getting very nice frames from Japan for several years.
A brand name of Lawee, Inc., former importer of Motobécane. Most Univdga Japanese bikes were made by Miyata.
Univega was one of the first major companies to market mountain bikes in the early '80s, with its Alpina series.
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