Beautiful Ridable Art
This is a guide to lugged fixed gear frames, by NJS and other builders. In the ever-developing quest for lightness and performance, the once prevalent classic steel frames that were highly sought after for their workmanship and strength have become all but obsolete in relation to track bikes and road bikes in general. Many modern fixed frame builders have taken advantage of space-aged materials such as aluminum, carbon fiber, and titanium, which provide performance and lightness but simply lack the soul of old world craftsmanship. Luckily however, there will always be a defined space in the purist’s heart for finely worked lugged frames, so small companies still exist solely for the love of hand building bikes, and even larger brands will generally keep a lugged frame in their line.
Steel of course will never be as light as aluminum, the more common material in modern frames. However, there are still plenty of reasons to buy a steel bike. Lugs, the small joints that hold classically designed frames together, do so much more strongly than joints that are simply brazed or welded. They are stylish as well, with many builders crafting lugwork that becomes a brand calling card due to their unique style. Steel also flexes while aluminum maintains rigidity. This makes for a noticeably smoother ride, which is highly valued for urban riding. Also, steel bends when under extreme stress instead of snapping like carbon fiber does notoriously. This often overlooked characteristic mean be the difference between a ruined fork and a trip to the emergency room. All in all, if you actually race your bike, or ride it on a track, a more tech conscious bike may be for you. However if you want an awesome ride through the city or around your suburban neighborhood, a steel frame can’t be beat. Like any piece of sporting goods, there are many frame brands and models to choose from. Prices range from the easy- to- swallow, up to the astronomical sums one can spend on a totally hand made, fitted, and custom work of art.
NJS frames are made by many manufacturers specifically for meeting the regulations set for Keirin racing. Their craftsmanship and rarity has made them a popular import for Westerners looking to build the nicest bike possible. Some of the most popular builders include 3rensho, Nasagawa, Bridgestone, Campagnolo, and Panasonic. These frames are characterized by their artisan craftsmanship and superior quality. Many builders require long waiting lists due to the aging craftsmen’s output of fewer than 10 frames per month. For this reason, most NJS frames are bought second hand from Japan, where they are sold due to racer crashes. These frames are generally in well enough to good condition, butare let go of because of small dents and dings.
New frames can be bought of course, but are much more expensive and hard to come by. Panasonic has recognized and began catering to the growing American customer base, so their frames are arguably the easiest to acquire new in the states. Should you choose to build on an NJS frame, remember that they are made for the track, and while durable and agile, should be treated with care and respect. On the venerable Italian side of things, Colnago, and Campagnolo also make NJS quality (although not technically certified) frames, which bill at prices comparable to those manufactured by the Japanese.
Other Frames & Vintage Finds
For the consumer who wants craftsmanship on a budget, Viking and Debernardi bicycles offer well-made frames starting at around $500. Sparton frames, which are made by hand but use more inexpensive tubing, can be had for under $400.
Last but not least, many current manufacturers, from Schwinn to Cinelli, have made lugged frames in the past. The vintage frame market is alive and thriving, and one can spend days hunting for treasure on eBay, Craigslist, and track swap meets around the country. A lot of these old treasures were only made for short runs, so their rare appearance is definitely to be taken advantage of if one has the funds to do so. These frames are timeless, and as such, old frames carry equal if not higher amounts of respect and admiration as new ones. My opinion is this: If you decide NJS isn’t for you, dig around the vintage market and see what you come up with, because with the four hundred you might spend on a new middle quality frame, a beautiful vintage one might have been had with some lucky proper searching.