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Turning Japanese – Nitto, the best bike parts in the East

Remember those dreadful ‘90s TV adverts for discount supermarket chain Netto? The tagline was ‘Netto, Scandinavian for value’? I think there may even have been one with Ulrika Johnson wearing a pointy-horned ‘viking’ hat.

Well I’m happy to announce this post has nothing to do with Scandi bargain-merchants and everything to do with Nitto, the high-quality Japanese component maker.

Let’s start with a little bit of a history lesson.

If you know the brand you can’t even think about Nitto without thinking of Japan, of fixies and of that uniquely Far Eastern sport of keirin. Keirin was created after the second world war by the Japanese government, to was intended to satisfy a hunger on the part of the public for a new form of gambling and as a distraction from the awful economic conditions in the country. It remains one of only four public sports on which people in Japan can legally gamble. 

In the ’50s, as often happens when large amounts of money are changing hands, the keirin tracks all over the country quickly became hotbeds of mob activity, with major public disturbances – even riots – occurring at races that were perceived to have been fixed by the gangs. A governing body was required, to keep the sport honest, and that responsibility fell to the Nihon Jitensha Shinkōkai (which means Japanese Bicycle Association and is usually abbreviated to NJS). The NJS was also responsible for approving the parts used in keirin bikes, to ensure they were of the best quality and that the playing field was fair – an NJS-approved stamp quickly became a globally recognised mark of quality, with only a limited number of brands receiving this honour.

And that’s where Nitto come in.

The brand is as traditional as you like, still made entirely in Japan and still only making metal bike components. They had a look at carbon fibre, but decided they’d rather keep doing something they were the best in the world at than try to learn how to work with this new-fangled material. Their association with keirin also makes them very popular with the fixie scene, which takes a lot of its cues from keirin (whether it knows it or not).

We dug up this awesome video featuring the company president, Akira Yoshikawa, which sheds a little bit of light on just why they have a claim to be one of the best makers of bike components in the world. With gratuitously gorgeous definition and some hypnotic shots of machinists at work, trust us, you’re going to want to full-screen it.

Factory Visit to NITTO from Ryota Kemmochi on Vimeo.

If you follow us on Instagram you’ll have seen this recent build, which features a Nitto handlebar (bars are their ‘signature’ item, if you like). We love building with Nitto gear, because we have confidence that not only is it super-fly, but it’ll also last absolutely ages.

Nitto, Japanese for awesome.

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