Three Speed Spotted: Panasonic Tourist (and Japanese three speeds in general)

This post originally appeared on Urban Adventure League on 26-Dec-2012.

 

You probably have figured out by now that I like the humble three speed. And when one hears “three-speed”, one might think automatically of Britain in the middle of the 20th century and Raleigh bikes in general. Yep, England has the strongest association with three speeds, due in no small part to Raleigh and Sturmey-Archer. Yet bikes of many nations used three-speed hub gears, including the US.

But if there’s one country besides France that Americans don’t usually associate with internally geared three speed hubs, it’s Japan. That’s probably because when Japanese bike brands entered the US market during the Bike Boom, everyone was concerned about light racey bikes with ten speeds. For the most part, that’s what we got with Japanese brands like Panasonic, Fuji, and Nishiki (and Japanese-made, American-branded bikes like Centurion and Univega.) But during the seventies three-speeds were still a thing, and from what I can tell every Japanese company offered a three-speed during this era.

Of course, this wasn’t the 1950s, where a three-speed in the US or UK was a pretty sophisticated bike. (In the US derailleur bikes in this era were very exotic and rare.) But by the 70’s three-speeds were at the very bottom of the pecking order, in the back of the catalog and with the lowest-end componentry offered. These, according to bike snobs of the era, weren’t serious bikes. Pshaw, I say. They were basic, no-frills reliable transportation that offered such “heavy” accessories like fenders (mud guards) and chain guards.

I’ve owned one “Japanese” three speed in the past, a 70’s Schwinn Collegiate. Yep, Schwinn was an American company, but by the 70s they were importing a lot of bikes from the Far East. I use “Japanese” in quotes because Schwinn got bikes made by not only National/Panasonic in Japan, but also Giant in Taiwan, and through the hazy memory of time (it’s been almost ten years since I owned that bike) I can’t remember what the “Made in —-” sticker said. Anyways, it had the characteristics of Japanese three-speeds of the 70’s: hi-ten lugged frame and the dreaded Shimano three-speed hub. (It was a decent hub–while it worked, but they are difficult to fix.) I enjoyed riding my Collegiate more than my other bike during that era, my Giant Rincon city/mountain bikes, even though the Schwinn was a tad too large and had steel rims, which meant sucky braking power. (Thankfully it had a coaster brake in the rear.) Riding this bike gave me an appreciation for the simplicity of three-speeds, and ten years later I’m a Retro-Grouch.

I don’t see many Japanese three-speeds “in the wild”, so when I do run across one of them, I make a big deal over it. (Yeah, I’m weird like that. Where others would get excited over a nice vintage Italian road bike with Columbus tubing, I get excited over the low-end stuff.) So when I spotted this Panasonic Tourist on Saturday, out came the camera and I started snapping away.

Like all of the Japanese three speeds of this era, it featured a Shimano three-speed hub. Some of them had a coaster brake hub built in, including this specimen.

The bike was purchased in Livermore, California, and has a California bicycle license.

Nice Rampar-branded bottle dynamo/headlamp combination.

Can’t tell what year this bike is, but it could very well be a 1974, as it matches this catalog page from the same year. Interestingly enough this bike uses a 27″ (ISO 630) wheel size.

3 sped rear hub derailleur? Click to embiggen.

*****

Still, the holy grail of Japanese three speeds would be (of course) this Miyata. I love how it takes aspects of British city bikes (three-speed hubs) and mixes it with aspects of French city bikes (integrated racks and lighting system.) And because it’s Miyata, they take it to the next step of classy with a mostly enclosed chaincase and Chro-Moly tubing. I’d love to spot one!

Click to embiggen.
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