When new Japanese bicycle brand Funriki launched last December it had the unusual distinction of being picked up both by serious cycling magazines and the fashion press. These were proper bikes that cycling otaku could appreciate, with looks that would appeal to those who usually care more about style than finding the ultimate brake pads. When you meet the people who created the Funriki bike you can see why the word “fun” was incorporated into the name. The company behind Funriki is Diatech Products, a young bike business founded by Kota Sakurai. Diatech is based in an airy warehouse building in Uji, near Kyoto, which has the advantage of being close both to the city and to prime mountain biking territory – perfect for a small company of dedicated cyclists.
“When we started the company we specialised in professional bikes, but wondered if we should widen our audience,” says Sakurai. He talked it over with Ryotaro Taniguchi, a designer from Nagoya who works on Diatech’s original products. Taniguchi is passionate about bikes, but he also has fashion experience, having spent years designing bags for brands such as Margaret Howell. “We wanted to make a quality, entry-level bike that was a bit more fashionable,” he says. “Something you could enjoy as more than just a piece of equipment.”
The idea behind Funriki is simple: it offers a basic model that can be customised. Customers can configure their own combination of frame, wheels, chain, pedals, saddle and handlebars. “You can change the wheels the way you’d change your shoes,” says Taniguchi.
The basic Funriki – an elegant single-gear bike – costs ¥54,600 (€430) but once you’ve added the leather saddle, eight-spot SS wheels and a two-curve handlebar it’s more like ¥105,000. Another option is a handmade steel frame (for ¥150,000) made by octogenarian craftsman Yoshik-azu Takagi. It takes him a week to make each one. The distinctive logo is designed by Gaku Nakagawa, a monk from Kyoto who is also an illustrator (for monocle and other publications). Nakagawa used Idaten, a Buddhist deity often depicted with an eight-spoked wheel, which in his Funriki incarnation has morphed into a bicycle wheel.
Funrikis are being sold at 80 shops in Japan. “I liked the concept immediately,” says Kei Nakazato, whose Harajuku bike shop F.I.G. is the main Tokyo outlet for Funriki. “At the beginning, I thought the customers would be young but we’ve sold them to a wide range of people.”
“With mass production, they have to make at least 1,000 identical bikes, so there’s not much room for personal expression,” says Taniguchi. “By offering custom-order and keeping the basic design simple, we don’t restrict the customer’s imagination.”
Once people outside Japan see these bikes, exports can’t be far behind.