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Silk Bicycle Factory CEO Tadashi Arai
Using his experience as a competitive cyclist, Arai immersed himself in bicycle manufacturing. He established his own factory in 2005, and now strives to build bicycles that meet his own high standards.
A custom-made item is more expensive than any branded product. In particular, custom bicycles vary widely in terms of safety and comfort depending on each cyclist’s physique and individual quirks. Silk Bicycle Factory CEO Tadashi Arai is passionate about bicycles and searches for ways to make them safer and more comfortable. Using his long experience with bicycles and state-of-the-art materials, he continues to steadily produce new, high-quality bicycles.
The Japanese road cycling team used Silk bicycles from Katakura Industries at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, proving to the world that Japan could produce superb sports bicycles. The team acknowledged that the Silk’s excellence helped them achieve outstanding results, instantly boosting its popularity. This was a shining moment in the golden era of Japan’s cycling history, during which many domestic manufacturers vied to produce the best bicycle.
Tadashi Arai, CEO of Silk Bicycle Factory, loved bicycles from a young age and yearned for a fast,cool bicycle. A 1970s bicycle magazine made the biggest impact on him as a child.
“I was surprised to find that custommade bicycles existed, and thrilled to learn that I could personally create my dream bicycle,” he said.
After reading the magazine, Arai disassembled his own bicycle and began to reassemble it. His love of bicycles only grew, and he went on to compete in national cycling races. After university, Arai took a job at Katakura Industries, the manufacturer of the Silk, and devoted himself to building bicycles.
He was involved in planning and designing a bicycle series for enthusiasts, and continued his quest to build the ideal bicycle. Before long, however, bicycle manufacturing entered the age of mass production, and many bicycle manufacturers’ hopes were crushed by the major manufacturers.
A Calling to Establish His Own Factory
When Katakura Industries eventually started to shut down its bicycle production line, Arai personally bought much of the unwanted machinery.
“I’d always believed that I would one day become a manufacturer, so I acquired the machinery,” he said.
Arai found a warehouse in Saitama to stockpile the surplus machinery.
This warehouse eventually became the Silk Bicycle Factory workshop.
Bicycle Production Moves to Taiwan
After quitting Katakura Industries, Arai opened a bicycle shop as a retailer, but Japan’s bicycle manufacturing sector was driven into an increasingly dire situation as the yen continued to appreciate. He predicted that the future of bicycles was in Taiwan, so he closed shop and joined a Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer. He was happy as long as he could build quality bicycles.
“It was simply a matter of building and providing quality bicycles. If the price wasn’t right, the manufacturer would slowly go out of business. Back then, only Taiwanese manufacturers were producing quality bicycles at reasonable prices that kept customers happy.”
At first the Taiwanese bicycles were not accepted in Japan, but this changed with the boom in mountain bikes. The sales of Taiwanese bicycle manufacturers, who produced the majority of mountain bikes, soared in Japan.
Bicycle Culture Killed by Globalization
Healthy sales of Taiwanese bicycles were not a problem for Arai. In time, though, he began to doubt the Japanese belief that worldwide hits were automatically goodquality products. The Japanese had forgotten that Japan once produced its own superb bicycles.
“This was the result of placing too much importance on efficiency and low costs. Eventually I realized that Japan was no longer disseminating products and ideas to the world. I hated the thought of individuality being lost as globalization advanced.”
“I feel the essence of manufacturing is sitting face-to-face with customers and creating something together. If personalized manufacturing wasn’t sustained, nothing would be labeled, “Made in Japan,” Arai asserts.
Eight years ago, Arai reopened the factory under the name Silk, returning to the heart of manufacturing. As a tradesman, he carefully builds each bicycle whi le consulting with the cyclist throughout the process. Despite the current state of Japanese bicycle manufacturing, Arai sees a bright future in building high-quality bicycles that meet the needs of individual cyclists.
“It is a bit more expensive, but every bicycle develops its own story as each part is selected and fitted. This is reflected in the cyclist’s enjoyment of their cycling experience. I am happy when someone recognizes this value in our bicycles,” says Arai.
Silk Bicycle Factory
1414 Ishizaka, Hatoyamamachi,
Interview and Text: JQR