Octogenarian bike mechanic still 'wrenching' his own way

March 05, 2013

By CHIKAKO NUMATA/ Staff Writer

OSAKA--Kesashichiro Tagawa began tinkering with bicycles in the postwar years when he apprenticed with a bicycle shop in Osaka.

He learned the basics--how to repair flat tires, how set up brake calipers and how to adjust derailleurs. Gradually, he became more skilled, learning the art of welding steel tubing mated to lugs to build bike frames. At around 25, he opened his own bicycle shop and has never looked back.

Now 85, a visit to Tagawa's shop in Hirano Ward is a visit to no ordinary bike store. It is a treasure trove filled with all kinds of one-of-a-kind two-wheeled devices.

“That’s a bicycle of compromise,” Tagawa says of an odd looking tandem bike that seems to be a mirror image of a single bike. The tandem's two sets of saddles and pedals were placed on each end of the frame, facing in opposite directions. When one rider pedals forward, the other has to pedal backward. The two riders need to confer on the direction they are headed through discussion and compromise.

It was around 1975 that Tagawa first began experimenting with nonstandard bikes of his own design, when he came up with a bicycle with tiny 6-inch (15 centimeter) wheels.

According to the Bicycle Museum Cycle Center in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Tagawa’s mini-bike became the forerunner in creating a microbicycle craze in Japan.

“I just did it because I wanted to try it out myself. I was having fun, that’s all," Tagawa says. "I’m sure people thought I was a fool or something. I guess I'm an oddball.”

His shop is cluttered with oddball bikes, too.

One bicycle had a heart-shaped frame. Another seemed to be an offspring of a skateboard and bicycle--the rider kicks the ground with his feet to create forward momentum.

One of Tagawa's creations has huge wheels that measure 2 meters in height and was listed in Guinness World Records. Tagawa says he has created so many of these out-of-the-ordinary bikes, he has stopped counting.

“(The bicycle) is the best vehicle ever,” Tagawa says.

The octogenarian believes that the bicycle is a clean mode of transportation that allows for the freedom of travel without polluting the air.

Take good care of it, and the bicycle will serve the rider for a long time, Tagawa says.

Although Tagawa gets a kick out of coming up with new, quirky bicycle designs, most of the bikes he deals with and sells are the normal types.

When he hands over a bike to a customer, he makes sure that he gives instructions for good maintenance.

At 85, Tagawa says he has had some health problems, but he is trying not to let that slow him down.

“I can’t bear to close the shop," he says. "I love my work too much.”

* * *

Tagawa’s shop is located at 1-7-11, Nagaremachi, Hirano Ward, Osaka. (Closed Tuesday through Thursday).

By CHIKAKO NUMATA/ Staff Writer
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Customers at Kesashichiro Tagawa’s bike shop are greeted by a monster bicycle with 1-meter tall wheels. The rider is supposed to hop on the saddle by finding a telephone pole and leaning the bike against it. (Yoshiaki Horiuchi)

Customers at Kesashichiro Tagawa’s bike shop are greeted by a monster bicycle with 1-meter tall wheels. The rider is supposed to hop on the saddle by finding a telephone pole and leaning the bike against it. (Yoshiaki Horiuchi)

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  • Customers at Kesashichiro Tagawa’s bike shop are greeted by a monster bicycle with 1-meter tall wheels. The rider is supposed to hop on the saddle by finding a telephone pole and leaning the bike against it. (Yoshiaki Horiuchi)

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