Nagasawa Racing Cycle
Nagasawa Racing Cycle
by Teisuke Morimoto
photographs by Yohei Morita
translated by Yuki Mogaki
People Consider Nagasawa a legendary bike builder. People respect him, fear him and some even try to avoid him. His eyes are almost sharp enough to cut everyone he faces in half without mercy, no one can stand his stares.
There are many legends coloring Nagasawa's career. After graduating from college, he went to Italy in 1970. Being a trainee at Pogliaghi, then spent the next six years at De Rosa learning from "the old man." One day Ugo De Rosa ordered young Nagasawa to build a frame for Eddy Merckx. Nagasawa asked how? De Rosa replied "like an offering to the God."
Unfortunately, we do not know if this anecdote is the fact or not. Nevertheless, Nagasawa does not like to talk about the past; he is still an active, top-ranked frame builder to this day.
"You got to ride your bike like you ride your wife."
That's Nagasawa's favorite phrase. "Hey! We got Toraya's Yokan!" in joy of receiving our gift, the Japanese sweets, he was yelling at his wife nearby. For years they had correspondence between Italy and Japan, and finally got married when he came back from Italy.
In 1976, Nagasawa met with Koichi Nakano, who had just graduated from Keirin School a year before. In '77, these two started working together, which their combined efforts created a cycling legend; 10 consecutive world Championship sprint titles. This V-10 was the result of industry teamwork, Araya rims, Kashima saddles, Nitto stems and Hitachi rugs. Many parts were developed and produced in collaboration with these domestic manufacturers, and Nagasawa was acting as a hub to liven up the whole industry. This was a time before the Plaza Accord. The Yen was still weak, and the Japanese bicycle industry was getting on the economic boom. Many companies put lots of effort to back up the new superstar Nakano and reaped the benefits. Ironically, another industry leader Shimano was not the part of this team effort.
Nagasawa brought a revolution to Keirin frame building as well. At the time, a regular seat post diameter was 26.8mm; but since Nagasawa introduced single butted tubing, 27.0mm and 27.2mm became the standard for the Keirin. Nagasawa also introduced the skeleton with a near vertical seat tube with Nakano's frames.
Many Keirin riders are constantly visiting Nagasawa to order their frames and often end up listening to him preaching about his peculiar way. If a rider talked about his vision for the ideal frame and tries to specify the measurement for top tube length and seat post angle, Nagasawa would burst and say, "well you tell me this pipe and that pipe, but I am against the current trends and stuff. Fushimi, Kojima, they all got very rigid, steady, unorthodox pipes. Make the frame rigid, then even if you have heavy gearing stepping on it hard, it just won't flex, it just holds tightly right there, and you have to know by now, that is better. Stop questioning bullshit about this pipe that pipe, you don't ride pipes! Pipes are the problem child of this whole thing!"
In fact, even Koichi Nakano never had a chance to learn the actual measurement for his own frame.
Generally Nagasawa's frames are considered heavy and rigid. It is said that only when you learn and manage to ride these frames well, you get good race results. But that does not mean that Nagasawa would abandon you and would not teach you anything; he actually asks riders about their family members, and teach them how to train themselves in order to survive as Keirin riders until their youngest family member grows to become an adult. When he talks to the racers that way, Nagasawa looks gentle.
Keirin riders are not just ordering another frames at Nagasawa. By listening to every minute details about what components would be used in finished bike, he actually designs whole bike structure. Nagasawa does not like people having illusions about his frames. He knows it is the daily practice that brings good results.
"It's a timing thing, you might manage to ride well on that day. I hate guys saying I got a good result, a bad result, because of my frame."
Nagasawa usually starts his frame building in the evening in his basement workshop. No holiday, 365 days. He and his son Takashi, the two of them work silently, from dusk till dawn. Contrary to what one might expect, it is nothing like boot camp. Nagasawa gives gentle advice while Takashi absorbs obediently. Just calmness, just father and son.
Not only a frame builder, but he is an expert frame repairer on top of that. Everything he builds are treated as if they are his children. Top tube exchange, dent fix, filing off on the beaten up end pieces, putting more effort than building a new frameset. If unable to fix, the frames become still life art objects in one corner of the workshop. Head tubes chopped off to make up penholders on the desk, they would never be thrown away.
Nagasawa's frames are one of the most popular NJS frames on the street worldwide, and there's a reason for it. "Pista racers were built for track usage, so if you use them on the street it would be crumbled here and there. If an American guy rides a frame built for a Japanese Keirin racer, it would be broken within one year. My frames are only a bit strong," said Nagasawa. In fact they are much stronger compared to other NJS frames, so that they just withstand the daily usage on the street. He also repairs any frame came out of accident. That's because it is his child. He does not want to do any repair at all, it's just too much work. But when a wounded child came home, who would abandon it? On the day of our visit to the workshop, he was actually repairing the frame sent from NYC. It's expensive, but repaired frames are all dressed in new paint jobs, good as new. In fact, Nagasawa describes it "same as new."
Currently it is very difficult to order a new frame at Nagasawa except for Keirin racers. But if you were lucky enough to get a chance to visit his workshop, the gift you bring to him would not be anything else but Yokan from Toraya. He said, it actually makes a fine combination with Sake.