Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The journey to a new bike

what's left of my previous bike

So, as I wrote in the last entry, I am working on a new bike for myself. Above is what's left of the previous bike; handlebar, stem, levers, saddle, seatpost, crankset, bottom bracket, derailleurs and chain. I had meant to bring the wheels which is the next most important (and expensive) part of a bike after the frame, but I had no way of bringing them with me here. So, this is all I have left and I started thinking about building a new bike with that.

After some thinking, I started entertaining the idea that maybe getting a custom frame could is a real possibility. I had been looking at sites of various Japanese frame builders and came across this one which is the builder Nakajima, but they also sell Toei frames.

TOEI commuter

I had seen this Toei Commuter a couple of years ago while walking around Tokyo. It's a very nice bike and it seemed to have a good reputation among their owners. I thought it would be a good frame to consider as it is very reasonably priced for a custom frame at the starting price of 87000 yen ($995 US at writing of this entry) and the waiting is much shorter than it is in the US. I wrote an email to Nakajima while I was still in Portland to inquire about it and maybe get the process started early, so I could have the frame done sooner. Unfortunately, he never responded to my email.

After I arrived in Japan and I had mostly settled down in my new place, I started again to try and put the new bike together. On the Nakajima site, it said that the Toei frames are now taking about 7 months, so at that point, that seemed too long as I wanted to have it before this Summer was over. I started looking at the Nakajima bikes which didn't look as good to me before, but there were pictures of more recent ones like this one above looked OK, nice and simple. So, I called Nakajima and had a talk with him. This was really the first time for me to talk to a builder with the intention to possibly buying a frame. I was quite unsure of how to talk about it and I had a lot of questions, but he seemed really uninterested and almost seemed to want to talk me out of it which he succeeded after he told me the wait was 1 year.

I had looked into other builders as well, but none were as cheap as Nakajima or Toei, so I gave up on the idea.

Then I looked at the semi-custom frames by Panasonic like this one above. You can order this frame in 3 sizes (460, 510, or 550) and in any of 28 colors you like and it will be finished in 14 days! The only thing I couldn't tell was what the wheel size is. It kind of looks like they could be 26 inch, but even if that was the case, this seemed like a good possibility, so I went to a local Panasonic dealer to ask about it. I was quite ready to go ahead and order it, but I asked just in case if they had other steel frames that were similar. It was a good thing I asked because they indeed had something even more reasonable.

Yes, that's a Surly. All of you in North America are probably quite familiar with the Surly brand. They are quite a popular brand in Portland for sure. I'd never been super attracted to Surly's myself and I'd been thinking my next bike will be a Japanese brand, but this Surly frame was much cheaper than the Panasonic and with all the parts I still need to buy to complete the bike, I can use all the savings I can get. Many of you keen observers probably noticed that the bike is the Surly Crosscheck and not the popular Long Haul Trucker. While I have no intention of racing cyclocross, the LHT will be for the 26 inch wheels in my size, so I opted for the Crosscheck which are made for 700c wheels in my size. The only misgiving I have with this frame is that the bottom bracket is slightly higher than normal making the center of gravity higher, but I think I will get used to it and with this frame, I can be much more confident going over rough roads which there are plenty of around here.

Anyway now, the shop had ordered the frame for me and it is waiting for a few more parts to arrive before being built. They are building new wheels for me instead of getting pre-built ones as the kind of wheels I wanted weren't available and the parts for the wheels seem to be taking a long time. I called them today and they said it will be 1 or 2 weeks still. I was hoping to get it this week, but I have to be patient.

Anyway, so after looking at more exotic possibilities, I will end up with a very ordinary Surly bike. I'd been riding Kao's Trek ever since I'd been here and it's pretty good, but not quite right, so I'm really looking forward to getting my own bike and dialing it in and riding it all around this area which is quite a haven for cycling in this part of Japan.


  1. That's so weird that the frame builder seemed so uninterested in selling you a bike! What a shame. I think you'll be happy with a Surly though - everyone I know who has one loves it. I'm sure it'll serve you well, even if it's not quite as lovely as those japanese ones.

    And I just realized that I used to email with you many years ago, back when I was still running my record label, Fantastic Records. Somehow, I *just* figured out that you're mumbleboy - I used to watch all your videos regularly, and almost adopted a mumble while visiting NYC a billion years ago. That makes it even more of a shame we never got to meet when you were still in Portland!

  2. Hi jj!

    I think the builder had as much business as he can handle and wasn't too interested in having more. I'd been looking around the net and yeah Surly owners generally seem very happy with their bikes.

    Yes, Mumbleboy is me. I think I remember Fantastic records. I wasn't very social at all while I was in Portland, but if you ever come to Japan, we could meet and I can show you around for sure!