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There are bicycles in Okinawa. There are road racers and commuters, but not much in between. The racing folks tend to like their super-light carbon bikes and super-spandexy lycra kits. The commuters tend to stick with their less-expensive, rusty mamacharis and ride to work or school in whatever they need to wear that day. There seems to be a very small middle class of cyclists here who seek to better their commutes or go on adventures with their bikes. That’s what Taira Cycle hopes to change.
Bicycles in Okinawa are seen as a tool by most of the people here. A mere means to an end, rather than a lifestyle. Most racers would dispute this point, but then, not all of us can afford a 6.8-kilogram bike with all the bells and whistles. There is an untapped market of people that either can’t afford a new carbon bike every year, or want to ride a cheap dutch-style bike that will only rust and decay in the salt air. I think there are Okinawans and US military base personnel who would be willing to part with a little more money for the type of bicycle that can take them to work on asphalt and camping on dirt.
I had been looking for a shop that would fill this opportunity gap in Okinawa for a while now. Over the years, I haven’t found much. Sure, there have always been shops that could order pretty much anything you want. However, there weren’t any that were really dedicated to the type of cycling we are talking about here. Over the last year, however, Yoshi Taira opened up Taira Cycle in the Chatan area of Okinawa. He is looking to spread the idea of cycling as an adventure. Caring about your needs seems like an awesome way to start.
His shop is small. That may be the most important aspect. Communication with the customer is the first rule, here. The space has a very personal and accessible feel to it. There is no clutter, but it is not antiseptic, either. It is inviting and colorful. Yoshi himself is a very amiable and pleasant guy. He was all smiles when I walked in his shop. He speaks enough English to help you out. But if you want to get into details, bring a friend who speaks Japanese. He will try his best, though. So don’t let that keep you from visiting. His outgoing personality definitely translates!
If you are at all familiar with Circles in Nagoya, or Blue Lug in Tokyo, you would surely recognize Taira Cycle’s business model. They sell the same stuff. They offer quality products that are in the mid-range of affordability (in the bike world), they will custom build a bike from the frame up according to your needs, and most of all, they are experts at making you feel good about your purchase. These types of shops not only offer you an opportunity to go on rides and attend events together, they offer you a place in the modern adventure and commuter bike culture. This is important: Yoshi’s shop is the only one in Okinawa that operates this way.
As for his inventory, it is small. This way, if you are patient enough, you can get a bicycle that is yours and yours alone. For the moment, Yoshi is mainly a Surly dealer. Even though you may end up having the same Surly frame as his other customers, you will be the only one with that particular bicycle.
The personalized experience goes even further: Taira Cycle stocks and orders products like USA-made classics such as Chris King, Paul Components, Wolftooth Components and RAL. He also stocks Sim Works by Nitto which I have not yet seen at this level anywhere else in Okinawa.
All of this makes for a shop that doesn’t quite have a scene yet. However, I have a feeling that as soon as the locals realize that if they spend a little more, they will be happier in the long run. The reason for this is that Okinawa is a beautiful island. It has no shortage of amazing vistas and fun things to do on a bike. With traffic being so bad, a bike is really the best way to get around. What better than a bike from Yoshi that will last for a lifetime?