Bridgestone SMS Max derailleur main image Bridgestone Klimatic derailleur (1st style) main image Bridgestone Klimatic derailleur (2nd style) main image

see also New Cycling 08/1965 - Bridgestone ad

see also New Cycling 08/1965 - Bridgestone ad

New Cycling August 1965 - Bridgestone advert thumbnail

see also New Cycling 02/1967 - Bridgestone ad

see also New Cycling 02/1967 - Bridgestone ad

New Cycling February 1967 - Bridgestone advert thumbnail

Founded in 1931 by Shojiro Ishibashi, Bridgestone are a vast multinational conglomerate, that claims, amongst other things, to be the second largest tyre manufacturer in the world. Kookily, the literal translation of ‘Ishibashi’ is supposedly ‘stone bridge’. The similarity between the words ‘Bridgestone’ and ‘Firestone’ (a tyre company formed in 1900 by Harvey Firestone) must then be coincidental. In a crowning act of weirdness, Bridgestone bought Firestone in 1988.

Bridgestone started manufacturing bicycles in 1949, and have used the Bridgestone, Anchor and Kabuki brands.

I believe that in the Japanese bicycle market Bridgestone are seen as a slightly bland middle market brand, strong on quality and engineering, but not really the stuff of dreams. I have a memory of a trade show at which Bridgestone showed a film of a process by which they cast whole bicycle frames in a single step - they claimed these frames were as strong and light as more conventionally produced items - but it all sounded more suitable for mass-producing quality commuting bikes than for testing the limits of technical performance. I believe that Bridgestone are currently (and have long been?) the biggest selling brand in Japan, selling over a million units in 2004.

Outside of Japan, and particularly in the USA, Bridgestone has a completely different image. This is all down to one Grant Petersen, who ran the US operation from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. Grant Petersen was a ‘real’ cyclist and had strong ideas about what made a ‘real’ bicycle.

At the time, I understood his key idea as being that Bridgestone should make bikes that combined all the best of European design, in terms of weight, handling, frame geometry, styling and detailing, with all the best of Japanese manufacturing technology - frames that were actually straight, paint that actually stuck to the metal and, of course, components that actually worked. In this way he hoped to provide the cyclist with a product that had the sophistication and learning of a French or Italian bike, without having to put up with the murderous blend of arrogance and incompetence that typified the French and Italian manufacturers. Think wines, where New World consistency handed out a beating to French wine growers all too eager to blame a ‘bad year’, or motorcycles, where clean, reliable Hondas slaughtered oily Nortons and leaky Triumphs. Imagine a quality bike company that was even open for business in August (one of the busiest months of the year) - encroyable! C’est fou!

Grant Petersen’s idea was very meritocratic, even utilitarian, in its focus on what worked. It was also beautifully executed, with original and beautiful catalogues and branded accessories (like pure wool jerseys) that exactly hit the spot. But cyclists love a cult, and, even worse, we love a cult based on exclusivity - on the idea that everyone else was wrong. Like the snake that eats its own tail, Gary Petersen’s Bridgestone got caught up in all this and suddenly arrogance was back in the driving seat, leaving Bridgestone ill equipped to cope with the twin pressures of a rising Yen and a plethora of new mountain bike brands entering the US market. Bridgestone closed their US operation in 1994.

For major bicycle brands it’s handy to be meritocratic, but essential to be democratic - cult brands with ‘strong’ , even benevolently dictatorial, leaders rarely prosper at the volume end of the market. Speaking of which, I believe that Bridgestone are one of the producers of Moulton bicycles.

Grant Petersen went on to found Rivendell Bicycle Works, and found his spiritual home - real cyclists, real bicycles, real quality, real craftsmanship and a real niche cult. In his time at Bridgestone he championed any number of seemingly mad ideas that have since become mainstream - you can only admire his foresight and courage and wish him well.

In terms of derailleurs, Bridgestone was interesting in two ways:

  • Firstly, as the biggest Japanese manufacturer, it saw an advantage in keeping both Shimano and SunTour in business, and in keeping the temperature of competition high. The Bridgestone range often seemed to contain matched pairs of models at each price point, one with SunTour the other with Shimano.
  • Secondly Bridgestone’s Japanese operation was critically interested in expanding the market, and making bicycles for everyman. For this reason Bridgestone seemed to be particularly interested in the early indexed systems that were often shunned in the West.

Like Fuji, Bridgestone did not manufacture derailleurs, but at various times they had derailleurs branded up for them by SunTour (and possibly Shimano).

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