When Japan Ruled The Road | Japanese Bicycles in the 1970s

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1971 Fuji Catalogue

In the early 1970s, the world bore witness to a Japanese invasion and, no, we’re not talking about Mechagodzilla. After decades of untrammeled expansion in their home market, Japanese bicycle makers set their steely sights on an even bigger prize: American roadways.

Starting with the introduction of Nichibei Fuji’s S10-S model in 1971, Japanese bike manufacturers rushed to meet a historic spike in America’s demand for road bikes. The big makers, with names both still relevant and lost to time, included the aforementioned Fuji, Miyata, Nishiki, Bridgestone, and even Panasonic.

Yes, that Panasonic.

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Panasonic bicycles on display in 1981

Japanese bikes garnered glowing reviews for their innovation, construction, and competitive pricing–Fuji even managed to snag first place in Consumer Reports Magazine three times in their first decade in America. (Full disclosure: we would have given it to them too, if only because they had a model called “Fuji’s The Ace.”) At the height of the 1970s bike-mania, Japanese manufacturers exported about a million bikes to the States per year.
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Centurion and Nishiki logos

The 80s ended all that. In the middle of the decade, fluctuating currency rates and a shift in taste towards mountain bikes conspired to end the era of Japanese racers. Many of the American subsidiaries declared bankruptcy and shuttered operations. But, if the presence of these enthusiasts shows anything, it’s that, in some places, Japanese bike-mania rides on.

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Koga Miyata Gent’s Racer

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Fuji S10-S

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Fuji Bike Back Cover

images: flickr, Panasonic Bike Virtual Museum, Classic Fuji Bike Museum

3 Comments

  1. still the best bike frames and parts makers in the world in my opinion.

  2. I don’t know the full story of Panasonic bikes, but for what it’s worth, Matsushita Konnosuke started off working in bicycle shop, starting at only 0.30, 0.40 yen a month, and finally making it up to 2 yen/mo. salary.

  3. Koga Miyata, whule a great line of bikes, were actually a Dutch brand and a different line than Miyata.

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