Tradition and Technology
by Ted Constantino
Bicycle Guide magazine June 1987
Yoshiaki Nagasawa's shop rests in the foothills southeast of Osaka, in the village of Kashiwara. It is a good location-far away from the choking smog and impenetrable traffic of the country's business capital, and close to the border of Nara prefecture, where good cycling roads await.
Not that Nagasawa has much time to ride these days. As Japan's most famous frame builder, he is swamped with more orders than he and his single assistant can possibly hope to fill. He holds up a piece of paper filled with customers' specifications and notes wryly, "Only one piece of paper makes 26 bicycles." The situation is hopeless, but not serious.
Nagasawa's chief claim to fame, of course, is that he builds bicycles for Koichi Nakano, the ten-time world professional sprint champion. Nakano is also one of the world's richest cyclists; he earns over $400,000 a year on the keirin circuit. That kind of success has garnered Nakano a lot of admiration and respect, and has given his frame builder the lion's share of the bicycle business among the top-ranked riders.
'There are about 50 builders registered with the Keirin Association," Nagasawa explains. As with every facet of life in Japan, there is a chart that breaks these numbers down, and he dutifully spreads the sheet before us. It lists the 50 frame- builders, including the major brands such as Bridgestone and Fuji, and notes how many of that builder's bicycles are used in each keirin class. 'You see, Fuji has 71 riders using their frame, but only two in the top classes. Bridgestone has 1154 bicycles ii@ use, but very few in the top classes." Nagasawa's finger traces his own chart listing: 68 bicycles in the top class, 25 of them in the first rank. 'So I am very busy," he laughs.
Nagasawa didn't have his heart set on frame building when he attended the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He had just finished his second year of high school, and had never competed in a bicycle race. The Olympics changed everything. "As soon as the last race was over, I joined my school's racing club," he recalls. But he admits he wasn't much of a competitor. 'I was more interested in the mechanics of the bicycle. At the time, the Japanese racing association was trying to make some standard specifications for the frames. They imported many bike;, most of them Cinellis, in an effort to create a standard." Nagasawa seized the opportunity to study the Italian exotics; he took each one completely apart and measured the pieces. He noticed other racers and mechanics doing it, too, and wondered if the Italians were, as scholarly in' their approach to the bicycle.
That natural curiosity took him to Italy the following spring. "I graduated from school in March, and in May I was in Italy, looking at bikes." Soon thereafter, he apprenticed himself to Sante Pogliaghi for a year, and then moved on to Ugo DeRosa's small shop, where he studied frame- building for four more years. When he returned to Japan, he brought the essence of Italian frame building with him.
'The bicycle is sort of a picture," he says of what he, learned; 'it is artistic. Each bike has a basic function and specification. In addition to that, though, the bike has to be well-balanced and beautiful, both by itself and when the rider is on it. I build every bicycle as if everybody sees it and appreciates its beauty. I don't build in a mechanical way, because even if a bike is 100-percent mechanically correct, if it looks ugly when the rider is on it, then it is not successful.
"All of my bikes are Italian-style
bicycles. If you look at an Italian bicycle, you will see that it is
complete. Some other bikes are not well balanced; the seat is too
far forward or too far back, the cables are too long or too short-
something seems incorrect. Italian bicycles, though, are correct. I
try to bring that Italian completeness of concept to my work. I like
to make the bicycle look fast."