23 July, 2007


Reading my new favorite magazine, Monocle, I came across a reference to Arrow bicycles of Japan. I hadn't looked at Arrows in a long time, but I find their style and business model very interesting. Arrow is a small brand of city bike. They come in only a few models and without logos. The styling is utterly simple and a small number of options are offered. I have read that producton is limited to about 1000 bikes a year.

There seems to be a bespoke version of Arrow as well, called Trunk. Notice that the selection of colors available is quite large and very Japanese. This is not a collection of colors you would imagine an American or European company would offer.

Among the more unusual product is a "chariot", a very neat grocery trailer, and a push scooter. Their selection of wire and wicker baskets and child seats are also noteworthy. Maybe we could have a chariot stage in the TdF?

Interesting company, this Arrow. It's nice to see the independent thinking. Look around the site and follow the links. You'll find some fascinating stuff. And don't miss the very cute shop turtle


Reference Library said...

I can't tell for sure, but I think I like the Arrow chainguard.

Ethan Labowitz said...

nice, the Arrow grocery cart trailer attachment is called Benhur: http://www.arrow.ecnet.jp/benher.html

i can think of a few people i know who could use such a trailer...

Anonymous said...

Very nice at a time when Wald is seemingly going by the wayside to see so many basket variations.

Benhur is worth buying just for the name, but I think for riding purposes the low front baskets will be best.

Make mine a light blue classic please.

Rick said...

Thanks for the interesting site. Love the "Boston Bag" under accessories...looks like it would be awkward to ride with it slung under the top tube though. The bells look neat too.

Strumelia said...

What a relief to see some interesting color selections for a change. I am so tired of seeing nothing but boring "Nascar" screaming macho racing colors being offered for bikes by the larger bike companies.
Check out that boss matt khaki , the pale blue-grey, and the soft light green, the rich salmon-y orange and vintage tractor green! Yum. These people know color. ;)

Anonymous said...

I prefer soft, neutral, usually organic colors. About half of their colors (lime geen, purple, etc) wouldn't wear too well, for me anyway.

Unknown said...

are those wooden incredi-bells? 'clack-clack,' rather than 'ding-ding?'

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced Americans secretly want these kinds of bicycles but are too afraid (or don't know how) to ask for them...

The only change I would make is an internal hub. other than that, these are beautiful utility bicycles.

It looks like the average price for a classic is $600? Am I reading that correctly?

Unknown said...

I have built two bikes similar to the Classic and tend to agree that the US wants bikes like this.

(here is my single speed: http://www.cyclofiend.com/ssg/2007/ssg068-joelmatthews0307.html I will be sending pictures of a Rivendell frame I built up more in the French city tradition to Chris just as soon as I find one till now elusive piece)

Many people stop me and ask about the bike. Most ask what I think are the better questions about riding comfort, visibility, carrying modest loads. I do get a fair amount of questions about how light it is (don't know, rides nice though) and whether I use it for touring.

Give them time, I guess.

One additional point: many bike manufacturers are making variations of the classic Schwinn middle weight bikes. Unfortunately, the emphasis is more pizazz than practical. With sensible size - say 45 to 50 smooth tires and a nice basket fore and good rack aft - those long trail coaster brake bikes are a good choice for urban riding.

In fact, Amsterdam's orange bike rental service rents a variation of them as the perfect day luggage hauling touring bike.

The point is that we in the US had a wonderful practical bike of our own, but fashion and time allowed it to become nothing more than a side show toy.

Unknown said...

Oh. And while they sure look cool, based on my own experience, I cannot recommend mustache bars for a regular city bike. The other Classic bar choices all look real practical.

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Anonymous said...

Bicycle 2.0, anyone?

Seriously, 'Model T' bicycles (logo-free, simple, effective, utilitarian) like the Arrow can be a 'reboot' for the bicycle industry and should be pursued by manufacturers.

David said...

Terrific link.

Thanks Chris.


ek said...

Old Schwinns are great, and I've owned quite a few. I think the hipsters in NYC are grabbing them all up though. You can literally see hundreds in a short weekend-Williamsburg, Boerum Hill, SoHo, Nolita.

That said, those bikes are cheap, as in under $200 fully refurbished. These new plain-jane city bikes, while looking to be excellent quality can go for upwards of $1000. At that pricepoint you're going to get some customer shock. If someone get make one of these for under $400 in the USA....

Anonymous said...

Isn't the main cost of producing a nice bicycle the frame? Can't a good (albeit maybe on the heavy side) lugged steel frame be produced in, say, China and imported to the States and outfitted with middle shelf components... thus keeping the price point at around $400?

Velo Orange said...

While the frame is expensive, the components can often cost more. We could probably have a properly designed city bike frame and fork TIG welded in China for under $200 (retail price), but the quality might be marginal.

I have yet to see a good quality lugged frame from China. Taiwan is the place for economical lugged frames and high quality TIG welded frames at reasonable cost. Frames like these will be at the top of my shopping list at Inter bike this year. We don't want to buy stock frames, but we do want to see the quality coming out of various factories.

Anonymous said...

What would be wrong with stock frames if they were steel and either TIGed or lugged? If it's a quality issue, would the average city bicyclist really notice?

Velo Orange said...

We would want a stock frame with proper fender mounts, rack mounts, double dropout eyelets... We'd also want the same rather slack and low-trail geometry that has proven to be so fantastic on the current city bike.

Of course, there are plenty of off-the-shelf city bike frames available in Taiwan that we could just slap our decals on and re-sell. That's the way a lot of mountain bike frames, carbon road frames, and BMX frames are "developed". Did you know that with a couple of phone calls we could have a full carbon VO racer-boy frame that is identical to some "famous name" frames in your LBS, no design work required, but I digress? A stock frame would be great and we are planning to have one, but it has to be to our design.

Anonymous said...

"We would want a stock frame with proper fender mounts, rack mounts, double dropout eyelets... "

Ah - that makes sense. And yes, the geometry is very important.

I'm curious: let's say you've got a stock frame from your specs. You've got a set of midrange (though quality) components to put on it. How long does it take for one person to put together the bicycle so that it is ready for sale?

Anonymous said...

Before I go buying a TIG welded (or lugged for that matter) made in China frame in order to hit a price point of $400, I'm going to use $100 to go find another 80's vintage Nishiki frame or 70's vintage Matsuri (by Nissan) frame - both lugged steel mind you - spend another $125 on parts and $50 on labor - to resurrect a real classic for under $300.

If you can find the frame for free as I did in one case, make that under $200.

While hunting for these frames, I've seen classic Motobecanes, Raleighs and Peugots that were too big for me. All for under $100.

I have a friend who builds these up in his barn and regularly sells them for $200 in Boston.

If $500-900 is too much for a new, handcrafted bespoke single speed, think about saving an old frame before jumping on a Chinese trade imbalancer.


Anonymous said...

Where are these old frames found? Can they be blasted and repainted easily? Do they have 'city geometry' for casual riders or commuters?

Anonymous said...

"where are these old frames found?"

We've recovered 6 such frames in the past two months from: the local Salvation Army thrift shop, yard sale, Craig's List, eBay, the local dump, and the neighborhood (once word got out on what we were seeking). This is in a town of 45,000 70 miles outside Boston.

I haven't blasted/repainted any of them.

My geometry options are limited because of my relatively skimpy stand-over height. I used the Nitto Periscopa stem and Dove bar from Rivendell to achieve city bike comfort beyond expectations.

You need to search and be patient - but not ridiculously patient.


Velo Orange said...

Anon, It takes me a few hours to assemble a bike, but I'm a lousy mechanic. The guys that do it for a living could probably build up a frame in 20 minutes.

Bruno, Old French and Japanese frames are great and I love them; heck, I own and ride several. But you won't get the features or geometry for a really great city bike along with light tubing in those old inexpensive frames. And a lot of folks simply can't be bothered to find, repaint, and build up an old frame. There might be a business opportunity in that.

I'm not against Chinese made products in principle, capitalism is never really fair and these imbalances eventually work themselves out. Of course it's hard to take the long view if your job has just moved overseas. I still wouldn't source a VO frame from China because of quality concerns. But sourcing a good quality production city bike frame in Taiwan seems reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to be too contrarian, but carbon may become the material of economy bikes and would be a wonderful material for city bikes or even randos. I'll go hide now.

Anonymous said...

Neil -- problem with carbon for city bikes is it won't stand up to abuse of clanking against bike racks and cooking in UV rays.

There, you can come back out now.

Agree that the Arrow color pallette is refreshing.


Reference Library said...

$40 lugged frameset:


They are pretty common here in Philly (messengers and fixie crazed hipsters). Chris, I think you're right... there is an opportunity for the right person to build up these old frames into decent bikes. I know I would pay $350 if I needed/wanted one. But I think a more interesting concept is that of Arrow, a well-built city bike for $500-600.

Anonymous said...

I picture a reproduction of the Arrow boutique state side:

There are samples of each bicycle in the shop. A color palette and a wall of accessories are there to choose from.

The customer sits on a range of sizes of the frames (in black) in the store and is measured accurately for the best fit.

They choose their accessories. They choose the color. They pay.

A week later the frame (and accompanying accessories and component set) arrive at the shop and the bicycle is put together and the customer is called to pick it up.

All the same bike. All similar accessories. All the same components.


Reference Library said...

Sounds nice.

Chris, maybe you will need to keep the shop open on Saturdays.

C said...

"problem with carbon for city bikes is it won't stand up to abuse of clanking against bike racks and cooking in UV rays."

Yeah, carbon is fragile. Hence the reason they use it in military helmets, helicopter blades, aircraft surfaces, etc., etc. many of which are now soaking up the UV rays at in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also explains why they use it in race cars that are built to slam into concrete walls at 20mph yet still allow the driver to walk away unscathed.

Then there were all those carbon bikes in the Tour that kept smacking into the asphalt during the rainy time trial last weekend. I seem to remember those bikes all shattered into a million little pieces...oh wait, that's not right. Instead the riders got right back on them and kept riding.

But hey, I'm sure you know more about these materials than all those silly engineers. ;)bplsnlst

Unknown said...

A beautiful early '80s 55 cm Trek 959 frame sold on e-bay last week for about $350. The 959s were made with columbus tubing, Cinelli bottom bracket, very nice lugs.

They have 126 mm rear spacing. If the frame were bigger I might have popped and then made some wheels with my VO sourced Pelissier hubs and otherwise built up a very good Rando with all the odd parts I have lying around.

That said, for not all that much more, I could get a beautiful Jonny Coast VO frame that will look better than the Trek even at Midnight under a new moon out in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

Anonymous said...

c: having worked in a bike shop for about 7 years, i've seen one steel frame break due to rust, 2 bent steel forks, one from riding it beyond its limits, ie gapping stairs on a skinny mtn fork, and one because the user smashed it into a parking garage.

however, i've seen 3 specialized carbon frames come un-glued, 1 specialized carbon handlebar in broken into tiny pieces, a few snapped carbon stays on fisher sugars, a snapped top tube on a carbon lemond, a snapped carbon fork on a performance brand bike, broken carbon lugs on a look frame, and 4 sets of broken stays on trek OCLV frames. this from a shop that sold mostly aluminum bikes, so its not as though carbon was the big thing there.

my point: carbon breaks. the blades of helicopters and the wings of new planes are over built a little more than the frame on a giant TCR 2.2 lbs frame and fork. carbon is very strong is certain respects, but very brittle in others. its not a wonder material, its flawed just like everything else.

also: it's plastic, and plastic looks like crap the minute you start to beat it up a bit. it looks like a used childs toy.

Anonymous said...

The only reason carbon racing bikes fail is they push the weight envelope to extremes.

C said...

"i've seen 3 specialized carbon frames come un-glued, 1 specialized carbon handlebar in broken into tiny pieces, a few snapped carbon stays on fisher sugars, a snapped top tube on a carbon lemond, a snapped carbon fork on a performance brand bike, broken carbon lugs on a look frame, and 4 sets of broken stays on trek OCLV frames."

Heck, I've seen more than that! However, this has little to do with the material and everything to do with the application. As the aerospace and defense industries have proven, you can make composites that are extremely impact resistant. The fact that the bike industry has chosen not to go this route isn't the fault of the material.

Also just because you've seen more carbon frames break in your shop experience isn't an overall indicator of durability. Heck, I started working in shops back in the 80's and overall I've seen far, FAR more steel frames have issues but I don't use that to form an overall assumption about the material.

I've seen enough parts and frames of all materials fail. Design still trumps material and you can make good (or bad) parts and frames out of aluminum, steel, titanium or composites. I'd take a well made Calfee carbon frame over a poorly made 80's era steel Colnago in a nanosecond. By the same token I'd take a VO steel frame over some bargain bin Chinese composite frame. I'm a material agnostic. I don't think steel is the best nor do I think carbon is the best. What does bug me is when people say ignorant things like composites not being impact resistant or aluminum being stiffer than steel (which naturally explains why track sprinters use steel bars!)

Anonymous said...

Chris Lowe:

Military equipment is wildly expensive and usually expects regular inspection and maintenance. Race cars bodies are designed to shatter, dissipating crash energy. The frames crashed in the TdF (and those uncrashed) will be tossed by the end of the year at the latest. I don't how those examples show how carbon fiber relate to mass-market transportation bicycles. OTOH, I have a graphite golf club shaft that has a notch worn in from rubbing around in the bag. A steel shaft would show no wear. I guess most golfers don't care because they keep chasing the latest and greatest thing.

That said, carbon fiber might be the ideal material for mass-producing mixte frames in the French constructeur design as discussed in the Peter Weigle article in the latest Bicycle Quarterly. Peter mentions how difficult the middle stay/seat tube/top tube junction is to braze, with tiny tubes connecting the seat tube to the stays. That could be potentially very easy to knock out in carbon fiber, and most riders can be accommodated with only two sizes.

Anonymous said...

I'm old and set in my ways. I wouldn't own a carbon bicycle on bet, but when Anonyme cites the high cost of carbon fiber, I think he misses part of my original point. The price of carbon bikes is falling fast and eventually will be probably be the cheapest way to build a bicycle.

Carbon can be a wonderful material. You can build in any ride characteristic you chose without adding substantial weight. I only reason I mentioned city bikes, is that the fenders, etc could be incorporated into the initial design rather than hung on after the fact.

Anonymous said...

This is starting to sound like a lunch table debate at MIT.

It's hard to imagine the constructeur in his shop apron sweating over a carbon frame.

It's easier to envision somebody in a lab coat with a tyvek shower cap and darkglasses handling the carbon frames with gloved hands.

My raods are cracked and pitted. I like riding on dirt roads. I am heavier than the BMI charts says I should be. Catastrophic failure aside.Carbon lacks soul. That's one of the reasons I won't pour my dollars into it.


C said...

"It's hard to imagine the constructeur in his shop apron sweating over a carbon frame."

Don't be so sure of that! Years ago (~1989-90) I visited Craig Calfee when he was still working out of a garage space on Minna St. near downtown San Francisco. It was most definitely not a lab coat environment by any means! In fact it looked just like any other frame shop except there was no torch hissing away. This was when he'd just received an order from LeMond right after Greg had signed with the Z team.

Reference Library said...


I've spent the last few days poring over the variations of Arrow. Each shop has it's own personality, website, staff, shop pets (I found one page with dozens of photos of the shop cat), and local customer. I am fascinated, a believer. I am 100% behind a VO effort towards a simple, city bike in the spirit of Arrow. I showed the bikes to a number of people in my office, Schwinn cruiser collectors and fixie freaks, but mainly folks who would like to ride bikes and have no particular dedication to one or the other. They all agreed that the Arrow is exactly what they needed (and really wanted). And kids bikes!

Anonymous said...

How can the Arrows be ordered stateside? What sizes are they available in?