Nitto of Japan
May 24, 2011 12:08 AM   Subscribe


as quaint as that was, i'd prefer a video of a visit to the maxway factory. they make frames for a huge number of brands, some of them by hand. brooklyn machine works also still makes some of their stuff by hand. here they are turning out a stem on a CNC machine.

no hate, though. this post has given me the desire to pick up one of their rear racks.
posted by mexican at 2:29 AM on May 24, 2011

I love my Nitto noodle bars. In the UK Hubjub (to whom I have no connection apart from as a customer) have a wide range of their bars and stems.
posted by Huw at 2:42 AM on May 24, 2011

I'd love to see something like that, but it was so badly filmed and edited. I hate to be a dick, but just a bit more thought would've enhance that film a hundred fold.
posted by Magnakai at 3:01 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's right hipsters...your mom welds your fancy bike accessories.
posted by toekneebullard at 4:29 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bike parts can certainly be objects of machine art. I still love my old-school Avid Tri-Align 2 brakes. Simple design and damned effective.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:34 AM on May 24, 2011

I didn't watch the video, but I enjoyed this photo essay tour of the Nitto plant.
posted by exogenous at 4:57 AM on May 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

There was a TV program on the BBC recently where this guy went around Europe and the US visiting bike component factories and buying parts for his dream bike. I don't remember what the program was called but I believe there's a book of it too (in both the program and book he also goes into the history of each part of the bike). Anyway, there were a couple of factories where they literally wouldn't let him film inside due to the secrecy of how they manufacture the parts (whereas others were fine with it). Also, there was a place in the US (in Portland, I think?) where if you cycle to work you get subsidised food at the staff canteen, and there's a annual two-month period where if you cycle every day you get two extra days of paid holiday, all of which frankly sounds fucking awesome.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:50 AM on May 24, 2011

The TV programme was Ride of My Life: The Story of the Bicycle and the related book is It's All About the Bike, both by Rob Penn.
posted by Huw at 6:02 AM on May 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yes! My Nitto bars, stem, seatpost and front rack are very nice. I'm even lucky enough to have a Nitto waterbottle cage, which is pretty decadent, but came with my bike when I bought it used. Very few bike components manufacturers still make old-style parts like quill stems and handlebars with smooth round curves and even fewer make them as pretty as Nitto.
posted by Drab_Parts at 6:04 AM on May 24, 2011

I liked that photo essay.
posted by OmieWise at 6:10 AM on May 24, 2011

brooklyn machine works also still makes some of their stuff by hand. here they are turning out a stem on a CNC machine.

CNC machining is not "by hand."
posted by Doohickie at 6:23 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to have a shoe fetish until I discovered Pearl stems and Noodle bars.
posted by applemeat at 6:27 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

wait ... so if I read the photo essay right, the Nitto factory is in Fukushima? The same place that's been evacuated due to the nuclear plant meltdown? Should we start hoarding our Albatross bars and Model T bottle cages now?
posted by bl1nk at 6:36 AM on May 24, 2011

None of my beloved old three speeds are modern enough to fit Nitto stuff, though I hear it's quite lovely. My bicycle fetishes lie instead with Brooks B-67 (the single most amazing piece of leather ever to grace my ass) and the indestructible Sturmey-Archer AW-3. Of all my tangled fixations, bicycle engineering is the one most uncomplicated by terrible social, economic, or environmental implications.

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.
~H.G. Wells

posted by sonascope at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2011

I'm curious, how does Nitto differ from other bike part factories? I enjoyed the video, but it seemed like the mixture of automation and human work was due to ease of manufacturing, rather than sentimentality. I'm not convinced that you end up with a higher quality part by involving people in repetitive manufacturing tasks.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:12 AM on May 24, 2011

Nitto’s factory is located in the scenic hills of Fukushima.
now there's a name from the news...
posted by at 7:16 AM on May 24, 2011

This is a distraction tactic. The real factory is in the back, where both robots and Bangladeshi children toil 24-7 in overcrowded, steamingly hot conditions.
posted by rhombus at 7:24 AM on May 24, 2011

It's a factory where they bend pipes. I don't get the fascination people have with paying more for things built without outdated methods or materials.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:15 AM on May 24, 2011

I don't think I understood classic bike parts from anything other than a looks-nice esthetic until I got a wide Nitto Noodle handlebar.

The Noodle is not a Nitto design -- it was designed by Grant Peterson -- but Nitto might have been the only factory that could be counted on to manufacture it to work exactly the way it does. It may be a non-moving part but it is a complex one all the same; a complex curve that feels good under the hand in multiple positions and postures, sturdy enough to endure heinous abuse without feeling rock-hard. I find the Noodle more comfortable untaped than any other handlebar with any amount of coverage. I've gone on rides of dozens of miles with basic leather bike gloves and can still grasp a post-ride beer bottle. It Just Works, and it looks great too.

And that's what made me really understand why a certain segment of bike aficionados obsess about long-dead bike designers, obsoleted genres of cycling, and provenance of manufacture; there are a lot of things that people poured their life's effort into learning how to make well in commercial quantities, which in subtle ways contributed to a pleasure of use, ease of use, or were optimized for reasons we've forgotten.

I can't make myself fall down the rabbit hole of wool-encrusted retrocyclery. I will not cry if freewheels disappear from the face of the earth -- freehubs are so much better. The consolidation of a zillion different component sizes down to a categorical few has allowed parts to be cheaper and better, and helped obsolete bad tech (eg, right-threaded bottom brackets). Bike technology got a kick in the pants some time in the past fifteen years and for all the missteps and planned obsolescence, on the whole bikes work better at every price point than they did a couple decades ago.

But I do sometimes worry about the good stuff that gets left behind and am glad that there are people actively seeking them out and fostering their revivals.
posted by ardgedee at 8:18 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

This fetishization of bike parts is super weird. The idea that anyone would pay 60 bucks for a bottle cage is absolutely bizarre. I have two: one that I bought for $2 and one that I bought for $6. They both do the exact same thing exactly as well as each other: hold a water bottle until I want to drink from it. What more are people getting by paying ridiculous sums of money for these things? Not lighter weight, since if you want that you go to carbon fiber.

Seriously I do not get it.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Quill stems? Really? People still build bikes with quill stems? I honestly thought they were just not used any more.
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2011

GuyZero ... on distance rides and tours, I like having a quill stem to allow me to make on-the-fly height adjustments to my handlebars. Some days, I like being low and aero and later in the day, I'd like to sit up taller and give my back a break.

with that said, I'm sure that most folks don't go for quills because of height adjustability. it's more of an aesthetic thing -- vintage looks to go with a lugged steel bicycle.
posted by bl1nk at 10:07 AM on May 24, 2011

a lot of custom builders still build bikes with quill stems. if i was having a custom bike built for me i wouldn't even have to think about whether to go threaded/quill or threadless.
posted by rainperimeter at 10:15 AM on May 24, 2011

I like having a quill stem to allow me to make on-the-fly height adjustments to my handlebars.

So while this makes some sense, I try to avoid field repairs like the plague and doing this on purpose would make me very uneasy. Then again, the old-school stems didn't need torque wrenches rated to tenths of a newton-metre. You just cranked the damn thing tight.
posted by GuyZero at 11:42 AM on May 24, 2011

On a custom bike? I would get a threadless stem, myself, but that's just how I roll. Otherwise I would want it to look like a classic standard French porteur, down to the balloon tires on 650 B rims. The 650 B bike I've got already rides like a dream. It's a wheel size that deserved reviving.

The problem is, ultimately, that there is no good headset/steerer mechanism, only a number of good-enough varieties optimized for different parameters. Having set up and adjusted both quill and threadless, I find threadless steerers a lot less nervewracking. Threaded steerers feel better-behaved when they're dialed-in, but that's not as easy to do.
posted by ardgedee at 12:04 PM on May 24, 2011

On my bike with a quill stem I like a Gorilla Headlock (not this kind) to keep it from loosening up.
posted by exogenous at 12:39 PM on May 24, 2011

Seattle has (or has had, anyway-- I haven't looked lately) a bunch of great used bike part stores, and over the years I accumulated more than a dozen Nitto bars and ten or so stems, with a bias in favor of the upright styles.

I wish handlebars were easier to mount and dismount, because I love switching them back and forth just for fun.

I switched from bar tape to stretched silicone rubber tubing without glue mainly for comfort and a better grip, and that has made changing bars so much easier, though not easy enough. I'm thinking of going to small, fat o-rings.

I adjust the height of my bars all the time, often just because I'm fatigued and a slightly different position helps that. I usually carry the necessary 6mm Allen wrench in my pocket when I go riding for the day, in fact.

I have a similar mess of old pedals, too, and always carry at least one spare pair.
posted by jamjam at 12:58 PM on May 24, 2011

Anyone have a link to a tour of the LH Thomson factory?
posted by strange chain at 1:16 PM on May 24, 2011

jamjam, you can get "pop-top" headsets -- common for threadless stems but available here and there on quill stems too. They don't look as nice as the old standard single-bolt handlebar clamp, though.

You'll still have to figure out how to gracefully transfer the brakes/shifters/brifters from one set of bars to another.
posted by ardgedee at 1:58 PM on May 24, 2011

This video leaves a lot to be desired, but I hope I can shed a little light on why Nitto is considered one of the best. I don't have Nitto bottle cages, as they have nothing to do with the handling or feel of the bike.

I accidentally became a Nitto fan. No matter what components my bikes start with, everytime I upgrade or replace broken parts I en up choosing Nitto. Other brands may be cheaper or slightly more practical, but the build quality, feel and look of Nitto parts makes up for the difference.

I am looking at 3 very good touring racks, of similar price. A Surly Nice, a Tubus Logo and a Nitto Campee. The Surly is the toughest one, but the welds are just ugly and the lines are not very appealing. The Tubus is the most practical, but the finish is ugly and the welds are uneven. The Nitto has the best lines, finish and welds. The welds on the Nitto fill me with joy, really, they make me smile when I see them.

I will have to use the Tubus, because the double top rail is super practical, it lowers the panier's center of gravity and allows me to easily strap something to the top without removing the panniers.

I have used all kinds of handlebars, from many manufacturers. I used a highly recommended Salsa, but it never felt right in my hands. I ended up with Nitto, a wide Noodle and the Moustache are my favorites. The subtle curves fit my hands just right, and they feel solid and light.

There is one tiny little detail that makes the Noodle the best drop bars I've ever had. Just coming out of the stem clamp the bars curve a little bit backwards, then straighten out. Hold your arms in front of you at handlebar distance, in a natural position. Close your hands into loose fists, as if you were riding a bike on the tops. See how your index fingers knuckles are a bit forward of your pinky fingers knuckles? The noodle fits that angle perfectly, no need to add an extra twist to your wrists.

What I did this saturday:

On my bike:
Removed my Nitto Moustache bars and Dirt Drop stem.
Polished the stem to a mirror shine.
Installed widest possible Nitto Noodle bars.
Replaced all cables and housings.
Wrapped bar in cotton cloth tape, then shellac.
Removed a Nitto Campee large rack, installed a Tubus Logo.

On my wife's bike:
Installed a Nitto Mark's Rack up front.
Installed Nitto Cample large on the back.
Got rid of crappy hard to adjust seatpost, installed Nitto Crystal seatpost, the best I've ever had.
posted by Dr. Curare at 4:21 PM on May 24, 2011

This page seems to be their actual site in japanese or something... anyway, they have this crazy handlebar outrider attachment for when you have so much crap on your bars that you've run out fo space. It's either clever or crazy.
posted by GuyZero at 4:53 PM on May 24, 2011

I had a hard time focusing on this video.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:12 PM on May 24, 2011

I forgot to mention that some of my favorite Nitto parts were designed or revived from old designes by Grant Peterson. Mark's Rack was designed by another Rivendell employee. I really like Peterson's bicycling philosophy, I specially like reading about his years at Bridgestone, and I do love his frames.

Guy Zero: The convenient holder and the wire guards are very interesting items. If you do any kind of loaded long distance self supported riding, at one point or another you will have to improvise one of those parts. The Nitto versions are crazy expensive, but they look a little bit better than duct tape.
posted by Dr. Curare at 5:28 PM on May 24, 2011

a couple of you are mentioning issues with quill stems. but i'm not relating. i've ridden quill stems for a long time. my two daily riders are actually threadless right now however. but i work in a shop with 2 framebuilders here in town (portland) and the overwhelming majority of the bikes they make end up with quill stems.
posted by rainperimeter at 8:22 PM on May 24, 2011

I'm not a framebuilder in Portland - I work with nerds with more money then sense when it comes to buying bicycles so I have a pretty narrow view. Interesting to see that quill stems are in fact very much still around.
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 PM on May 24, 2011

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