The name Minoura is synonymous with cycle trainers, from simple rollers to the latest and most advanced variable resistance trainers as well as a range of accessories useful for indoor trainer use. Their work-stand range is just as impressive, from simple devices holding the rear wheel off the ground to pro-level standard heavy-duty units.
However, not much is known about the Japanese company that produces these items that suit both training and race-day use. At Taipei Cycle 2019, the Cycling Plus Malaysia team were fortunate enough to get a rare insight into Minoura.
Not too long before we arrived at the Minoura booth, we had absolutely no idea who we were meeting. It was barely half a booth with no frills, one trainer set up outside and very minimal equipment, easily missed if you weren’t looking properly. Vice President Takashi Minoura welcomed us in from behind a thin curtain, into a nondescript room set up for business meetings, with nothing fancy inside. Like many other booths in the rambling exhibition hall, this was where serious talks had been taking place, setting the tone for relationships and agreements for the year ahead.
After the normal pleasantries were exchanged, he offered us a drink that we politely declined, having just come from lunch. He’s a friendly 55 year old man, with a disarming smile that reaches his eyes when he talks about the company he loves.
He’s a bit of a teddy bear, and we can’t help but think that he would be a great boss to have. Very pleased to have met the folks who previously reviewed the Minoura Kagura trainer (Volume 17), it doesn’t take much to get Minoura-san talking; we even manage to delight him with some basic Japanese picked up from our travels.
Funnily enough, the company’s background has absolutely nothing to do with the fitness industry. “We only started making power trainers 50 years ago,” he begins, in the charming Japanese accent that the country is so well known for. “We have two businesses, heating systems for agricultural greenhouses and hen houses for the development of chicks. Many traditional heating systems use a lot of energy, but our systems decrease the energy costs by 30-40%.”
“This business was established by my grandfather,” he continues, beaming. “Our company was established in 1933, so it’s been 85 years. Our company is completely family-based. My grandfather passed away at very young at 54 years old. My father was the first son in the family, so he became president and his brother vice president. When my father retired, his brother was already old, so my elder brother became the president, at 26 years of age.”
“For me, when I was 21 years old and studying in university, sometimes I did part-time work in our factory. When I studied in junior high school I would come and do some work there during the summer holiday, winter holiday, spring holiday, I would do some welding, some assembling."
"My position is Vice President but it’s only a name. I am working as an employee. Sometimes I visit and talk with you guys (the media), sometimes I take care of customers or bicycle industry people, sometimes I visit industrial site and drive the truck, sometimes I carry the rubber and steel tubes, sometimes I use the tools too. Everything!”
“The first time we developed a bicycle rear rack and kickstand, we only sold two different models to Miyata, Bridgestone, Panasonic, Fuji, and many other complete bicycle suppliers. Then 30 years later, they ordered all models every time but only in small quantities. We should make many more but the production time is short, and only selling during winter season, January to April.”
“This is when the sales increase, our busy season. Japan’s New Year starts in April, after that the orders stop. Our employees - almost 120 people - are working hard during January to April. After the busy season is finished everyone asks “what do we do?!” So we decided to make our own Minoura brand product. Our current CEO Koji Minoura went to Europe and the US alone to look for bicycle accessory ideas, and that’s when we decided to make bicycle trainers.
Minoura’s first bicycle trainer was introduced in 1982, with a long running history since then. Until today, the company has churned out over 100 different models. The first models started utilised wind resistance by incorporating a fan in the design, the second was a roller type trainer with contact resistance, after which we developed a magnetic resistance trainer - the first in the bicycle industry. Once patented, many American brands like Schwinn and Trek signed on for a supply under an OEM arrangement.
From then on, Minoura’s technological expertise grew to also include smart trainers. It may seem like a lot of development over several decades, but Takashi explains that the company takes it’s time to create trainers with new technology. “Our development time is a bit longer than our competitors because we do it very seriously and everything is mostly made in Japan. Our production is still 90 percent in Japan so that we can keep our product quality. In Japan, QC (quality control) is very important.”
With so many models under the company’s belt, I’m curious as to what his favourite trainer is. His choice is surprisingly still the humble three roller trainer. “A stable trainer you can dance around, there’s no movement, it’s easy. A three roller makes you more careful because it is hard, it is different. You can increase your pedalling skill, your riding skill, your riding position.”
But technology has surely advanced since their first trainer decades ago, so the next question is where does the company go from here. What is the future for bicycle trainers, beyond the direct drive system? “Hmmm..it is...secret!” he laughs, with a twinkle in his eye.
Before leaving we have to strongly resist the temptation to give him a bear hug each, settling for the standard bow Japanese style, and a huge thank you for this rare insight into Minoura, a company that probably often doesn’t get the credit it deserves for its contribution to cycling in general.