Japanese Steel: A New Beginning

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This article was originally written for the Kinoko Journal. This version includes photos we didn’t include in the journal.

During my last trip to Japan I was invited by Shin Ichi Konno of Cherubim Cycles to visit the Tokyo School of Cycle Design where he teaches twice weekly. You would assume with something as common as a bicycle, a object which exists in every village and town across the globe and requires very specific skills to design and manufacture, that colleges teaching cycle design would be common. But this is not the case. In fact the Tokyo School of Cycle Design is a world first. Frame building and mechanics schools do exist often offering courses which last one to two weeks. The TSCD course duration is two to three years. Students study everything from mechanics to cycle design with a strong emphasis on frame building.

I left my tour of the school with my jaw on the floor. Although all teachers in TSCD come from the cycle industry the school was founded by the Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry. Their campuses are situated in the heart of Tokyo’s most fashionable Shibuya district in modern buildings purpose built for the school. Its a alluring place to be. The school was filled with the sounds of grinding and whirring and courtyard was filled with students bending metal with blow torches and hammers. I walked pass glass walled class rooms full of students stitching shoes and buffing jewelry. On the top floor frame building is taught. The classroom has about 15 jigs all with welding facilities. At a glance it looks like a factory but look closer and you’ll see pencil cases and frames of all different shapes and geometries. Other class rooms are devoted to bicycle design and mechanics as well a machining room on the ground floor. I saw rooms filled with Park Tools professional mobile tool kits, each student has their own. I sat in on a class on rim design, one of many I would hope. And saw their school shop which sells Nitto quill stems, Mizuno tools and a galaxy of frame building materials. Yes my jaw was on the floor.

As I walked through school one question grew in my mind. What will happen to these frame builders when they graduate? They will leave the school with more than enough experience to build professional quality frames. Obviously there is no straight forward answer to this question and in reality every graduate cannot or will not want to setup shop and start their own brands. But I am sure if you love hand made cycles Japan will soon again be the place to watch and a golden age is coming.

 

I was able to ask course founder Rinri Mizuno a few questions:

 Why did Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry choose to open a school of Cycle Design?

- The main focus of our school is jewelry and shoes. We not only teach our students to design but manufacture also. We saw the similarities between making jewelry and frame building and thought this was a good opportunity to do something new. We saw that bicycle culture was changing and more people are becoming interested and passionate about frame building but there was nowhere to study the subject. Also we have a rich culture of frame building in Japan based on Keirin. Most people focus on the racing and gambling but not on the frame builders who are very skilled. I wanted pass these skills onto a younger generation.

Can you tell us about the curriculum?

- We offer a two and three year course. In both courses students will become experts in bicycle design, assembly, maintenance and manufacturing. The three years course offers students among many other things to explore more creative projects.

How many students will graduate this year and what are their job prospects like?

 - This year we saw our first 20 graduates in March from the two year course. Most students are going into employment as bicycle mechanics and engineers for bicycle companies. Some students will setup shop as independent frame builders and a few will find employment with existing frame builders. As the course is very new the bicycle industry is very interested in our graduates. Their level of skill is very rare with young new employees.

 

Photographs and Interview by Max Lewis