Bicycle Quarterly – From Seattle to Japan

What´s the most striking parallel between Bicycle Quarterly and this blog? Correct, the lapse in publication of three months or so.

Recently the new issue of Jan Heine´s Bicycle Quarterly arrived, alas in the midst of yet another hectic week so that I just could not find the time to read it properly. When I did it was another great experience, even more so than the preceding issues. As usual, both photography and language are crisp and precise, there is an academic approach not found in any other cycling mag I am aware of, and Jan manages to keep his cycle parts business and his journalistic standards apart by using his famous disclosures that BQ´s sister company sells the product reviewed. In fact, his impartiality in testing has broken friendships and led to concerns that no cycle manufacturer would submit any more bikes, which is quite something.

The whole project of a bicycle mag about mostly French randonneuring cycles developed from a series of articles in the Rivendell Reader in 2002. While I don´t (yet) have the issues in which Jan´s articles appeared, here´s a snap of two comparable covers, #19 the earlier, and #29 the later design, of course:

RRThe copy used by Grant Petersen was entertaining to read, though sometimes a little stressful; wanting to be different at any cost, getting across the Californian style of cycling, a touch of esoteric stretchiness. Why do I mention this? Look at the first two issues of Jan´s VBQ:

CBQDo you notice the similarities in design? Masthead, loads of copy on the cover page, a headline in between. Both of course tie in with a number of other publications, especially scientific reviews, but still. However, Jan´s texts were different from Grant´s right away – in the beginning Jan didn´t sell any goods and he applied a strictly scientific style of writing. Small wonder looking at Jan´s background.

What a development to the latest issue, in full colour and sporting 74 pages:


So, what makes this, the latest, issue special? I guess first there is a high personal longing level on my side with a number of articles resulting from Jan and his co-worker Hahn Rossman´s visit to Japan.

shinshu18Their article on a tour of the Japanese Alps describes something I would really, really like to repeat some time as a visit to Japan and its progressive cycle industry is a dream I have harboured for a long time. Jan describes Japan as a thoroughly fascinating country and its inhabitants as just as thoroughly friendly and blessed with a sense for coping and having great ideas as the result.

For instance: What do you do when you have one of the most highly developed train systems in the world but when this system doesn´t cater for cyclists? You develop an ingenious idea which makes the solution look simple:

rinko18This then goes into a bag which meets Japanese train requirements. A complete bike was reduced to what you see in the photo in 12 minutes with the help of two Allen keys only, and even though the owner of the bike performs this little wonder regurlarly, there is hardly a scratch on it, due to the Japanese knack for packing things. Note how the rear mudguard separates just aft of the brake bridge. Also the headset comes to bits without any special tools. And I love the quick release pedals.

The people behind all this are some of the world´s best and most famous steel frame builders. Names like Toei, Nagasawa, Hirose and Zunow come to mind instantly, but also Grand Bois (the make Jan and Hahn tested when they toured in Japan) and Iribe are not to be forgotten. There is a good list of them on the Velo Orange Blog.

level_witchwandThis photo shows Mr. Shikuo Matsuda, builder of the famous Level Keirin frames, applying the “witch wand” hot aligning technique.

The next big issue is the myth busting article regarding Campagnolo. I can already hear a number of long-standing Campag collectors grumbling, but as per ususal Jan´s findings are well-documented and his approach is not clouded by the uncritical behaviour induced by too many advertisements which keep staff on many cycling mags on their toes not to cross any ad customers.campagnolo_10A number of contemporary illustrations accompany the text – like this one showing two precursors of the famous Campa Gran Sport derailleur (right): The 1946 JIC, incorporating a return spring, and the 1937 Nivex, introducing the parallelogram principle. Jan asks himself if Tullio Campagnolo knew about the JIC – that he bought two specimens of the Nivex seems to be certain.

Lastly, I personally am glad that despite the huge development that Jan´s magazine has taken over the last 12 years, the hand made, personal feel is still there. The test bike isn´t ready yet? OK, let´s put it through its paces it without mudguards. After all, it should work just as well. An accident? It can´t mar a major article on another bike – the copy will be adapted so that the reader still knows all the important facts. I hope this way of publishing will continue for a long time.

Disclosure: I have not been paid for writing this post. Sadly, I have not been paid for any post so far. There must be something wrong with my blog.

All the photos, except my crummy snaps of the old mags, are courtesy Bicycle Quarterly.



  1. Posted July 6, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I couldn’t agree more: BQ is certainly one of a kind, and Jan seldom fails to provide articles that enlighten and intrigue me. This issue focusing on Japan, for instance, is very revealing and certainly has me wanting to retrace their routes and seek out some of my own. I’m intrigued with the concept of pass hunting, which has a strong following in Japanese culture. And for me, the most interesting cycling-related article I’ve read in quite some time is the short text and accompanying photos that exemplify how a bike may be broken down and packed for travel. In twelve minutes? Astonishing! (And ingenious – I am left to wonder if one of the tall frames that my long Nordic legs demand could be modified for similar packing. I have a Japanese Silk for which this might be an appropriate gesture.)

    I look forward to each and every issue of BQ, as do so many others who are interested in this rather esoteric brand of cycling. I love that Jan takes on topics, big and small, that one will never encounter in the mainstream cycling magazines. Those publications have their niche, of course, but the content is largely repetitive and hardly unique. And a story about cycle-touring in Japan? It would wind up on the cutting room floor…no doubt such a story could never sell more bikes or accessories to a readership more interested in the pretense of race gear.

  2. Alexander
    Posted July 23, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    Interesting how cycling reading histories can be so similar. Are there any other people out there, for whom it went from Rivendell to BQ here in Germany? At Brevets in recent two or three years I see more and more (well, 6 or seven up from one) Jan style bikes. I always loved the stories about French Randonneuring in the 30ies to 50ies, a history almost unknown even to French bike people, as I found out when hosting colleagues who are even working as bike lobbyists in France. But at Brevets in France its all Carbon, mostly (unlike in Britain). So: fascinating how various Bike cultures develop. Tried FRont Bags and fatter, supple tires: works perfect, love it. Another contribution of Jan that we should give a thought also here: gravel. When do we see the first “strade bianche” brevet in Germany? I know there have been tentative experiments with Cross Country Brevets, but somehow it doesent seem to have legs. But a look at the map shows that the grid of unpaved roads might be there. One thing I would like to see more in BQ: reviews of production bikes in the range of € 2000 instead of 7000€. I quite like my Surly Cross Check Randonneur. After all, cycling must not always feel like the new golf.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s