Monday, January 13, 2014

Classic Tubes: Tange and Ishiwata

As the next installment of what I suppose has become a "series" on steel tubing used on classic bikes, I'll take some time to look at Japanese tubing manufacturers Tange and Ishiwata. Both companies made high-quality bicycle tubing that was in many ways the equal of European tubing giants Reynolds and Columbus -- although acceptance by the performance and high-end bicycle market (at least outside of Japan) took time.

Tange started out in 1920, originally producing bicycle forks, and expanding to butted tubing in the 1950s. By the 1970s, they had expanded to make all the frame components, including stays, dropouts and lugs. (Tange History)

Until the mid-80s Tange was probably best known for their mainstay tube sets, Champion #1 and #2 (later called simply #1 and #2) -- cold-worked, butted chrome-moly tubing that compared favorably to Columbus SL and SP tube sets. For instance, the down tube of Tange #1 was butted to .8/.5/.8 mm, while the #2 was .9/.6/.9 mm. These tube sets were used on a lot of higher end Japanese-built bikes being imported to the U.S. in the late 70s and early 80s. There were also thicker-walled, heavier sets, called #3, #4 and #5, available for loaded touring and other applications where more durability was required.

Tange also made a manganese molybdenum alloy, Mangaloy 2001, that should have compared pretty favorably to Reynolds 531, at least in terms of its basic characteristics, though it was heavier, (thicker walled than Reynolds) much less expensive, and generally found on lower-end models. In the early 80s, some lower priced Treks (such as the 400 series) were built with it.

A cheaper tube set was created by Tange in the 80s: Infinity -- designed as a good quality but low-cost set for lower-priced bicycles. It was a seamed tubing, which meant that it started out as flat stock. It could be rolled out with different thicknesses along its length, then formed around a mandrel and welded into a tube. Additional working made the welded seam invisible. Many people would be turned off by the thought of seamed tubing, but in reality, there was not likely a big difference in strength. And the manufacturing method used meant that the butting could be customized without adding complexity or cost.

In 1985, Tange hit the big time when they came up with their heat-treated Prestige tubing. Like Reynolds 753, but made from chrome-moly as opposed to manganese alloy, Prestige had the tensile strength to be drawn to super thin-walled dimensions -- only 0.4 mm in the center section with the regular version. A "Super Lite" version of Prestige was only 0.3 mm in the center section! Another advantage was that, unlike 753, no special certification was needed to use it, so Prestige gained much more acceptance among frame builders. Versions of Prestige are still used today.

I read an article by builder Dave Moulton about a bike he built with Prestige -- a one-of-a-kind bike because at that point in his career, Moulton's bikes were almost all built with Columbus. (Pictured on the left)

Another interesting note about Tange tubing is their relationship with Tom Ritchey. When Ritchey was looking for someone who could put into production some new ideas he had for butted tubing -- with specially tapered and directional-designed butted sections -- he first approached Columbus. Apparently, they were unable to manufacture it. He then went to Tange, who had recently started making their heat-treated Prestige, and they were able to make it work and manufacture it. Ritchey "Logic" tubing was the result. (Ritchey In His Own Words).

It is pretty difficult to find the history of Ishiwata tubing. The earliest mentions I can find of it are from the 1970s, but nothing very specific. In any case, their best tube sets through the 70s and 80s were seamless, double-butted chrome-moly, labeled "019" and "022." The late Sheldon Brown's website has some info about Ishiwata, most of which in turn came from Andrew Muzi of The Yellow Jersey bike shop in Madison, WI. (see sheldonbrown.com)

In material composition and in specification, Ishiwata 019 and 022 were (like Tange #1 and #2) very comparable to Columbus SL and SP. In fact, many people claim that the Ishiwata tubes were, at least in their surface finish quality, even nicer than the much more expensive Columbus tubes. For instance, in the early 80s, Tom Kellogg, probably best known today for his Spectrum Cycles, was working for Ross Bicycles developing their "Signature" line of hand-built bikes (something like their answer to Schwinn's Paramount line). Kellogg specified Ishiwata in those bikes. I found a quote that I couldn't verify, but Kellogg reportedly said of Ishiwata tubing, "It's like little men polished the inside."

Early 80s catalog scan from the Equus Bicycle Info Project
The names "019" and "022" refer to the claimed weight of the tube set -- i.e., "019" (drawn to 0.8/0.5/0.8 mm) weighed 1.9 kilos, while "022" (drawn to 0.9/0.6/0.9 mm) weighed 2.2 kilos. Less well-known (and much rarer) are the "017" and "015" tube sets. Despite not being heat-treated, these tubes were drawn down to super-thin dimensions. The "017" was 0.7/0.4/0.7 mm, while the "015" was 0.6/0.4/0.6 -- with the down tube even thinner (0.35 mm!) in the center section! Needless to say, these were only used for track or time trial bikes, and likely only for very lightweight riders.

Ishiwata also produced triple-butted and quad-butted chrome-moly tubing, known as EX and EXO respectively. It is not unusual to find decent-quality Japanese-built bikes with those tube sets. In the 1980s, they were apparently even producing carbon-fiber tubing (in their catalog they were calling it CFRP - or carbon fiber reinforced plastic) and aluminum lugs to join the tubes. (see the catalogs at Equus Bicycle Info)

Look closely at that unique little tubing
sticker on 3Rensho frames and you'll see
 the Ishiwata name.

Of course, many Japanese manufacturers used Ishiwata tubing (sometimes labeled under other names, as on some Fuji bicycles). Some, like 3Rensho and Nagasawa had/have a very high profile and their frames are sought after. But a particularly notable user of Ishiwata outside of the Japanese manufacturers was Trek. 

In Trek's early years (mid 70s through early 80s, that is), they made bikes using Ishiwata, Reynolds, and Columbus. According to the Vintage Trek website and from the Trek brochures of the time, the frames were essentially the same -- certainly equal in quality -- only the tubing was different (and the Ishiwata-tubed models used SunTour dropouts as opposed to Campagnolo pieces -- but like the tubing, there was really no difference in quality). In those early years, the model numbers would indicate which tubing was used (5xx - Ishiwata 022; 7xx - Reynolds 531; 9xx - Columbus SL/SP). Mainly because of the dollar/yen exchange rate and other market-driven factors, the Ishiwata-tubed models were significantly less expensive than the others, which probably (unfairly) gave buyers the idea that they were somehow inferior. They weren't. Today, in the vintage bike marketplace, they can be a good value. In any case, by some time in the 80s, the Ishiwata tubing was dropped by Trek.

Ishiwata ended up going bankrupt in 1993, but some of their employees went on to found Kaisei which is being used by a number of steel-frame bicycle builders today. It has a well-earned reputation for quality.

Although it took time for Tange and Ishiwata to fully gain acceptance outside of Japan, especially for top-level bikes, there is no doubt that their quality was the equal of the European standards. Even though Japanese-built bikes, especially by the early to mid 80s, were (and still are) considered to be exceptionally well-crafted, especially for their price, for a while many fashion-conscious buyers of high-end, top-level bikes still looked for Reynolds or Columbus in their frames. The Trek example mentioned above is a pretty good illustration of that. But in today's vintage bike market, those bikes represent a real value -- super bargains. And the marketplace for new steel frames today doesn't really seem to discriminate the way it once did. Maybe it's because in a world of carbon fiber and welded aluminum bicycle madness, anyone buying a new steel frame is already bucking "fashion" enough that the brand or nationality on a little tubing sticker (assuming there even is one) just doesn't matter.

27 comments:

  1. So, what Japanese tubing would this be? This is on my Nishiki Ultimate.
    http://i.imgur.com/lrxW1.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't say I'm totally stumped, but I don't know if I can find a definitive answer on that one. Searching old Nishiki catalogs, the Ultimate is hard one to find -- though I did find several references saying that it was essentially the same as a model called the Professional -- and perhaps the model name was changed at some point. In any case, again looking through old catalogs, most references to tubing that I can find that actually specify a brand list Tange. So that would be my best guess.

      Delete
    2. Yes, your guess is as good as mine. I have another Nishiki with a similar tubing logo, only gold, so I think it was just their way of indicating double butted chrome moly tubing without specifying the brand.

      Delete
    3. I don't know what tubing that is, but I will add a data point: That's the same sticker as on my 1980 Nishiki Comp II which used Tange double butted tubes per their catalog. From the age, that means mine is either Champion #1 or #2. My seatpost diameter is 26.6 so I'd guess it's Champion #2. However, I don't know if that's the same sticker they put on all their double butted frames or specific to Tange #2 frames.

      Delete
  2. Hi, I recently discovered your blog and have enjoyed reading many of the posts. Today I spotted a halfway decent Shogun at my LBS. The sticker on the tubing said Tange 900. I knew I had recently read an article about the different types of tubing and then I remembered that I read it here. So I reread this post and surfed around to find out more. I came across this PDF copy of a 1988 Tange catalog from VeloBase.com. On page 17 the catalog lists Tange 900/1000 and Tange MTB 1000/1200 as being seamed not the Infinity. Did you misquote or is this in conflict with a different source? Thanks for all the interesting posts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi -- thanks for writing. I did see that Tange catalog you refer to, as well as others. You are correct that the catalog specifically lists the 900/1000 tubing as seamed, but doesn't mention "seamed" in its description of Infinity. However, I found many other references to Infinity as also being a seamed tubing -- numerous posts on forums, as well as this article from Sheldon Brown's site: http://sheldonbrown.com/centurion/
      I believe that it may have been part of Tange's marketing plan with Infinity, to downplay the fact that it was also seamed tubing. If I recall correctly from old magazine articles in the 80s, Tange felt that their process of working Infinity made it virtually the same as seamless -- hence the name "infinity" -- no beginning, no end. Nevertheless, I've seen posts on forums where people say they could still see the seam (when looking down the inside of the seat-tube, for example).
      There is a difference between Infinity and 900/1000 -- they are both chrome moly, double butted, and seamed -- but the butting on the Infinity is a little different -- they call it "tapered butted" and the transition between the thicker and thinner parts of the tube is smoother and a bit more gradual. I believe Tange positioned Infinity as slightly above 900/1000. There could have been a slight difference in the specific formulation of the chrome-moly steel, or the process of working the Infinity could have been a little more expensive (more likely). Lastly -- does any of it make a big difference when the tubes are brazed together into a frame? Probably not. I've read lots of reviews of bikes built with 900/1000, Infinity, #1/#2, and even Prestige. And apart from a few grams difference in weight (which are very hard to notice when actually riding), they all can deliver a a nice ride. If you find a nice bike, that's built well, fits properly, etc. etc., I certainly wouldn't turn up my nose just because it had the less expensive tubing -- but it might make the 900/1000 bike a real bargain.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for the info, you are a fountain of knowledge. I don't need another bike at this time, it just peeked my curiosity and I'm always looking for decent vintage bikes. I need to finish my current Peugeot project, I believe it's a 79 PV10. I don't think those are collectors but it has nice 531 tubes and it's my size.

    ReplyDelete
  4. been looking at a nice old Ridgeback Rapide frameset built using infinity tubing just cant make my mind up

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well - don't let the tubing influence your decision too much -- the infinity tubing, even though it's "seamed" shouldn't be considered "inferior." It's a perfectly good application for the product, even if it's a less expensive manufacturing technique.

      Delete
  5. At one point, I owned and rode two Treks: one built from Columbus SL tubing, the other from Ishiwata 022. I think any ride difference between the two had to do with the geometry: the Ishiwata bike, designed as a sport-tourer, had somewhat more relaxed geometry than the Columbus bike, which was intended as a criterium bike.

    I think the fact that Trek built the racing bike out of Columbus and the sport-tourer out of Ishiwata is indicative of the misperceptions you point out in this post. The Columbus frame, being made for racing and more expensive, was perceived as "better" by much of the cycling public at the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think nowadays, the Ishiwata-tubed Treks would be a great vintage find.

      Delete
  6. My son gave a 1975 Sekai 500 Sport frame to me and I am looking for some answers about the tubing. The seat tube O. D. is 28.6mm and had a silver foil tubing sticker reading "CROMO 4130. All the info I can find says the I. D. should be 27.0mm. However, being a retired Master mechanic and machinist I carefully measured the bore & found it to be 27.5mm! Yep! Did it 3 times & that's correct. Inspected the inside & it has NOT been honed or otherwise modified. What is this tubing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a tough one to say for sure. For whatever reason, companies didn't always identify the brand of their tubing, even though they did label the type (Cr-Mo, High Carbon, etc.). It's a Japanese-built bike - which would make it almost certainly Japanese tubing. It could be either Tange or Ishiwata, but it would be almost impossible to figure out which for certain. However, based on your measurements, you know that it's probably drawn to the same specs as the better quality tubes - like the Champion #1, or the Ishiwata 019 (or, at least the seat tube is). There is a little bit of info on the Classic Rendezvous site about Sekai -- they were a company in Seattle that imported Japanese frames.

      http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Japan/Sekai_main.htm

      There's a somewhat blurry scan of an old Sekai catalog on the Yellow Jersey site that lists a 500 model as having Ishiwata tubing.

      http://www.yellowjersey.org/SEKAI75.JPG

      Neither of those is likely to give you the definitive answer -- but it's a start.

      Delete
  7. Please forgive me for my error! I listed the inside dimension incorrectly. The sites call out the inside diameter as 26.0mm. My frame measures 26.4, which allows a wall thickness of 1.1mm rather than 1.3mm. This would seen to indicate a better tubing due to thinner wall thickness. None the less, I'm bringing this one back to life with a full Superbe Pro groupset and fitted with 700c wheels the right way by lowering the rear bridge. It is a terrible thing when a decent steel frame is retired to the trash. Keep saving those old souls!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have a Raleigh with a Wishbone rear post and Tange infinity cr-mo tapered double butted tubing. I hear this is rare, do you know much about the model?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You didn't mention if it was a road bike or a mountain bike, so it's hard to narrow it down. Does it have a model name anywhere on it? The only Raleighs I'm familiar with that had a wishbone rear stay configuration were some of the Raleigh USA Technium models that had bonded-together frames that combined steel with aluminum in different frame tubes. Some of them were decent bikes, but I dont know how rare they were. I don't think they were generally high-end bikes, but sme of them may have been.

      Delete
  9. Ohh sorry. I believe it was mountain bike model, but now its a road/commuter bike. At the moment I don't know what model. It says Crosslight on it...apparently it is close to their Serengeti model.

    ReplyDelete
  10. There is an older 1974 catalog of Ishiwata's tubing (as well as many more) here:
    http://cyclespeugeot.web.fc2.com/reminiscencebyenglish.htm
    The thing I find interesting - stated on the second of three pages under "Results" is "Victorious The World Proffesional Road BARCELONA 1973 BARCELONA (SPAIN)" The spelling is as printed.
    This would have been Felice Gimondi riding a Bianchi produced by the Reparto Corse department. I think I have seen old photos of this bike (with weight saving details like the Super Record brake pivots were brazed to the frame) but I never would have thought it was made with Japanese tubing brand that's not well remembered. The catalog also mentions a amateur and pro victories in cyclocross in 1974. These are the kind of results that make a pedigree.
    Also worth mentioning in the story of Ishiwata is the buy-out in the early 90s where the resources became Kaisei tubing. Another highly regarded but not well know brand that's still going well today.
    I was researching because I have an early 80s Trek 510/515 This bike was a deal at $500 especially when compared to the 531 version that was $100 more. They had the exact same parts spec' so the only difference was equal quality but not well-known tubing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Have a 1982 Bianchi Limited made with Ishi 022 full frameset built in Japan for Bianchi with Sugino, SunTour Cyclone, DiaComp components. Mighty sweet ride to this day!

      Delete
  11. typical oops . . . I hadn't read all of the page Ishiwata/Kaisei history is well covered.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ishiwata tubing was used for "Revell of London" bikes in the UK during the 80s, which were fairly good bikes. Particularly Revell Ritmo's came with Ishiwata 022 tubing. Other models came with Reynolds 531.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Just wondering where the Miyata Triple-butted and Splined tubing fits in here. Are they part of the Tange or Ishawata families?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Miyata reportedly had their own tubing mill, so they were separate from the other two. I have no doubt it was high quality tubing, though I don't think they made it available to other manufacturers -- though if they did, it probably bore different names. Miyata was a pretty big operation anyhow, as they made bikes for a lot of other brands - such as Univega and Specialized in the 80s.

      Delete
  14. I have a 'Saracen' road tourer circa 1982 from the UK - Sold by Bell St Bikes in London. It has Ishiwata 0245 Butted tubing. It was a little less expensive than the Reynolds 531 but am wondering if you had any thoughts on this? Obviously a little heavier than the 022 tubing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Any thoughts on the Ishiwata 0245? Obviously heavier but it quite a smooth ride. Have it on a touring frame 'Saracen' circa 1982 sold in London from Bell St Bikes

    ReplyDelete