I have deep love for vintage bikes, and as easy as it is to lust after old Italian or French frames, I have a soft spot for upper-end Japanese steel.
During the American bike boom, Japan filled a major gap in US production, giving us heaps of Fujis, Nishikis, Univegas, Bridgestones, Centurions, and more. I’ve owned and sold too many of these bikes to count, and the vast majority of them were entry to mid-level bikes of their day. They were nice enough, but they tended to be heavy and the ride quality left a lot to be desired. However, every Japanese brand had their top level offerings, and many of these frames rivaled their European counterparts in craftsmanship and ride quality.
Miyata was originally a Japanese firearms manufacturer which re-tooled to create bicycles (gun barrels are tubes, so I suppose it was a natural progression), and because they had the ability to draw their own tube sets in-house, they were able to fine tune each frame for a ride quality that was unrivaled by the majority of their competitors. Miyata’s top level bikes had a different tube set for every size frame that they offered, ensuring that the 50cm frame would ride exactly the same as the 58.
At Miyata’s peak, they offered splined, triple-butted tubes (similar to Columbus SLX) which made their frames lighter, stronger, stiffer, and more compliant than any other competitor at the time. In fact, a Miyata 1000 of that era is still a very sought after touring bike, and rides far better than most modern touring bikes. *find a decent one for sale and the price will reflect this.
Now, not all Miyatas were excellent bikes, and they definitely produced a slew of lower quality steel for their less-expensive models. The quality of the frame and build were dictated by the number of the model; The higher the number, the nicer the bike. So a Miyata 912 is a significantly nicer bike than a Miyata 312.
Remember the fixie craze? Yeah, unfortunately so do I. I built the above bike out of a 1984 Miyata 310 that was destined for the scrap heap. It was one of the lower end models but it was a lot of fun to ride and I still miss it.
This leads me to the current issue with vintage Japanese bikes; there just aren’t that many nice ones left out there. Thousands of them were turned into single speeds and fixies between 2005 and 2010. Braze-ons were ground off, frames were spray-painted, and many were crashed and destroyed.
Finding a nice one nowadays is rare, and the odds of finding one that’s barely been ridden is even more rare.
A completely original 1987 Miyata 912
I couldn’t believe my luck when I came across this bike. This particular model was near the very top of the Miyata line, with only the Team and Pro models being above it. Plus, it was my size. Even better, it was one-hundred-percent all original, all the way down to the tires and bar tape. And, it had hardly been ridden… Like at all.
This bike has spent the better part of thirty years sitting against a wall in a heated garage, patiently waiting to see the road again.
Now, as nice it was, it would be a shame to just keep it as a museum piece. A bike of this quality deserves to be ridden and I had every intention of getting this bike back on pavement. However, while there is still an art to building a nice steel frame, components have come a long way since 1987, and I am not the biggest fan of downtube shifters, tiny cassettes, and super deep drop bars.
I stripped the bike down to the frame, washed and waxed it, and then treated the insides of the tubes with framesaver to prevent any possible rust (If you’re gonna ride a steel bike through a PNW winter, I highly suggest you treat your frame).
*I should note that I cleaned and kept all of the original components, even the bar tape. The original Shimano 600 group is in fantastic condition and someday I may restore this frame to it’s original state.
With the rebuild complete, the frameset has now been completely modernized with a Shimano 105 11-speed groupset and a set of Mavic Aksiums wrapped in 25mm Vittoria Corsas (the only thing remaining original to the bike is the Shimano 600 headset and the bearings in it are still butter-smooth).
The black components look amazing on the frame, and the ride quality… well, it rides far nicer than any steel Surly, Kona, or All-City I’ve ever thrown a leg over. In fact, it rivals the 2001 Lemond Zurich I once owned, and that was an 853 pro team frame.
The term “Steel is Real” gets thrown around a lot, but I have ridden plenty of steel bikes that may as well be boat anchors; lacking any real road feel or positive characteristics.
This bike is not one of them. It has all of the comfortable qualities that one expects from a nice steel frame, but it’s also snappy. It accelerates and climbs surprisingly fast, and it feels absolutely planted in corners. I can remove my hands from the bars and it will track straight and true. It responds to rider input the same way that any upper-level modern bike does and it sucks up road noise and bumps as if they were never there.
This is one of those bikes I waited patiently to find, and the wait was totally worth it.