A highlight of my trips to Japan is visiting Cycle Store Hirose. It’s a truly special place.
I enjoy talking about bikes with Mr. Hirose. His knowledge is deep, and his ideas and thoughts never cease to surprise me. This time, I was proud to show him the Compass decaleur that licenses Hirose’s locking mechanism. He had seen prototypes before, but this was the first time that he saw the final production version. I was glad that he approved of the decaleurs.
My Japanese still is very limited, but fortunately, Natsuko and our friend Meisei are becoming expert translators! Meisei’s new bike was almost finished, and we took it outside to admire it. Mr. Hirose is much more than a framebuilder – there aren’t many parts on the bike that he didn’t make or modify in some way.
Meisei’s bike is equipped with Hirose’s own desmodromic rear derailleur. Inspired by the classic French Cyclo, it’s entirely hand-made and shifts very smoothly. Mr. Hirose is proud that the latest version is 10-speed compatible, but Meisei opted for just 8 cogs on the rear cassette.
Mr. Hirose also makes his own front derailleurs. The cages are custom-shaped for each rider, depending on how they pedal and shift. That is one reason why Hirose wants to meet each customer and see them ride before designing their bikes.
Meisei’s new machine is a beautiful bike, and I could have spent much time admiring it. The winter sun bathed the bike in a golden light, but the cold of this Tokyo winter day drove us back inside.
The shop is crammed with Hirose’s bikes, old and new. There are classic machines that he made decades ago, as well as brand-new customer bikes waiting to be picked up. Each is special in some way. Mr. Hirose loves to develop new solutions for old problems.
He prefers to equip his bikes with centerpull brakes. Many mountain roads in Japan are incredibly steep, which can tax the brakes of tandem. Mr. Hirose has found a solution: old mountain bike U-brakes really are very beefy centerpulls!
Mr. Hirose attaches the front rack to the brake pivots for a fully integrated solution. This leads to an interesting juxtaposition of slender steel tubes and massive brakes, but most of all, I am sure the brakes perform well.
During every visit to the shop, I have admired this yellow bike. Now I finally realized why it seemed so familiar. I had seen a sister bike, almost identical except the color, in the very first book about Japanese custom bicycles that I had bought from a friend many years ago. The grainy B&W photos had impressed me very much back then. It was the first time I saw centerpull brakes with brazed-on pivots, custom stems and many other details. Unable to read the descriptions, I did not realize that the derailleurs also were custom-made, rather than just old French components.
But they are, and so are the shift levers. I love the simple, but elegant lugs on this machine, and for a moment, I thought of painting my Mule in the same yellow. Unfortunately, I don’t think my large frame would look as good in this bright color as this much smaller bike.
Koushou Kinugawa (of Helavna Cycles) joined us, and we discussed the next bike in the queue, built around Compass Naches Pass 26″ x 1.8″ tires.
Mr. Hirose showed us the new gauge labeled “343”. He uses these gauges to check the spacing of the bridges and fork crown from the axle center to make sure the fenders will fit perfectly. The many gauges show the great variety of bikes Mr. Hirose has built – each represent a tire and wheel size!
Time passed quickly, and suddenly, it was time to go. I love visiting great builders – there is so much to discover and learn.
- Cycle Store Hirose was featured in Bicycle Quarterly 53. The issue also included a test of a Hirose Mini-Velo.