In Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve featured a number of the great bicycle builders in Japan: TOEI, C.S. Hirose, Iribe and Level. We did a brief feature on Bicycle Shop Gen – one of my favorite shops anywhere in the world. This year, I had the opportunity to visit again.
Bicycle Shop Gen is the passion of Genzo Yoshizawa (above). The shop is tiny – it occupies what used to be a single-car garage – yet it contains one of the most amazing collections.
Inside, the shelves are overflowing with beautiful and rare components. Classic French headlights… Every model of the sought-after Ad-Hoc pumps… Derailleurs…
Bicycle Shop Gen specializes in building up TOEI frames. On display are Mr. Yoshizawa’s eight TOEIs, each equipped with very special components.
It’s difficult to photograph the shop, because it holds so much in such a limited space. I could look for hours and still discover new details. Some things are easy to notice, like the beautiful fork rake for which TOEI’s bikes are famous…
… or the chainguard with the elegant cutout of the TOEI logo.
Each bike is special and unique. This “Sports Model” has different lugs from the others. I like the pump peg that is brazed onto the lug.
Aficionados will appreciate the super-rare mid-1970s first-generation Super Record derailleur. This was Campagnolo’s response to Huret’s superlight Jubilee derailleur. For the Super Record, Campagnolo used titanium bolts to save weight and black paint to update the optics a bit. Most importantly, this derailleur was the start of the Super Record groupset that became the dream of a whole generation of cyclists (myself included).
The TOEI even features the rare Porta Catena, a chainrest that allowed wheel changes without having to touch the chain. There is an interesting story behind this part: When Tullio Campagnolo bought two Nivex derailleurs from Alex Singer at the 1948 Salon du Cycle, they came with dropouts that incorporated a chainrest like this. The Nivex derailleur inspired the immortal Gran Sport – the first parallelogram derailleur for racing bikes. Today, all derailleurs trace their ancestry to the Gran Sport and the Nivex that guided its design.
What about the chainrest? I imagine that in the 1970s, somebody at Campagnolo found the dropouts with the chainrests in a drawer and decided that this was a neat idea…
Originally it was intended to be used with a 5-speed freewheel, but 6-speed spacing (the chain rest sits where the sixth cog usually goes). The craftsmen at TOEI went one better and mated it to a six-speed freewheel.
The system came with a special shift lever that had a lock-out for the last position, so you didn’t accidentally shift onto the chainrest when you slammed the lever all the way forward for an all-out sprint.
The Porta Catena wasn’t a big success, but its importance for cycling history goes beyond its rarity value: Campagnolo’s chainrest looks exactly like the Nivex, and it corroborates Alex Singer’s story that the Nivex inspired Tullio Campagnolo when he developed the Gran Sport derailleur.
In addition to the wonderful TOEI bikes, Bicycle Shop Gen has numerous classics on display, like this Lygie with Campagnolo’s Cambio Corsa shifter…
…as well as Alex Singers (foreground) and René Herses (background). The bikes are in spotless condition, yet they all get ridden, because Mr. Yoshizawa is an avid cyclotourist. For me, that is the best part.
If you are ever in Tokyo, Bicycle Shop Gen is definitely worth a visit. Their address is:
Nishigaoka 1−27−8, Kita-ku, Tokyo, Japan; Zip code: 115-0052. Their web site is in Japanese, but it includes a map. Make sure that they are open before you head their way – Mr. Yoshizawa’s hours are variable.
Thank you to Misao Takigawa for taking me to Bicycle Shop Gen.