text and photos by Mark Koghee
“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it.” Mark Twain, American author
Koga Miyata Gentsracer with custom paintjob, Campagnolo Chorus groupset.
Koga Miyata was a joint venture of Dutch company Koga and Japanese bike builder Miyata. Miyata built the frames, Koga assembled them in the Netherlands. My frame is from the 2004 collection. The frame is made of double butted FM1 steel tubes made by Miyata. The tubes are identical to Columbus Max. In 1993, 1994 and 1995 Koga Miyata offered frames with original oval Columbus Max tubes. Then after an absence of two years they offered again steel frames with oval tubing but this time not from Columbus but their own FM1 steel.
The Max design sits between retro and modern. The engraved lugs and narrow 1 inch headtube give this bike its classic appearance. The oval and oversized tubes give it a touch of today. Even for 1980ies and 1990ies standards the frame isn’t light. But it is strong and stiff. Even a powerful pedaleur won’t bend the frame. Remarkable details in the frame are the engraved lugs, a threaded hole at the bottom of the top tube to fix a race number and the bidon cage holes on the bottom of the downtube. This frame allows for mounting three bidon cages. Apparently the downtube comes from Koga’s popular travel bike the Radonneur which is still made today. Koga, which stopped the joint venture with Miyata in 2010, isn’t offering steel race bikes anymore. Miyata still does but on a small scale.
The Gentsracer was in 2004, next to the Full Pro, the only steel bike in the Koga Miyata line-up. The frames were the same, the forks and parts were different.
Since I bought the frame in 2007 I had it repainted in the paint scheme used by Koga Miyata in the beginning of the 1980ies. The blue and gold design, as used on the bikes of the IJsboerke team in 1980 and the Capri Sonne team in 1981, is my all-time favourite Koga Miyata paint scheme.
The bike is a work in progress. At first I built it up with parts from an old bike. When I had the bike repainted in 2012 I changed the carbon fork with threaded steel steerer for a non threadless carbon fork with aluminium steerer so I could use an aheadset. This brought the weight down in the front of the bike. As a result the bike accelerates a lot quicker. In 2013 I put a new Campagnolo Chorus group on, making the bike even lighter.
I never weighed the bike and I have no intention to do so. For me it feels light enough now. Bike weight is overrated, unless your name is Chris Froome, Vicenzo Nibali or Alberto Contador and you are fighting for seconds in a Grand Tour. When I lift up my bike and I lift up a modern high end carbon bike I feel mine is heavier. But when I walk up a ramp with my bike in one hand and the carbon bike in the other hand, I hardly feel a difference.
I race with this bike, I time trial with this bike, I ride in the mountains with this bike, I ride gravel roads with this bike. It’s for me the ultimate ‘one does it all bike’. I still have a pretty good engine and the bike rolls like a high speed tank when I put some power on the pedals.
“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.” Christopher Morley, American author
A bike is just a means of transport. It’s a tool to ride. Like the cyclist has its bike, the carpenter has its hammer. But that simple it isn’t. You don’t see carpenters endlessly discuss if the hammer made of material A is better than the one of material B, if brand C is better than brand D, if hammer E is lighter than hammer F and if the black hammer would suit the work outfit better than the brown hammer. We cyclists do. We can fill whole evenings discussing Campagnolo, Sram and Shimano, steel, aluminium and carbon, weight versus aerodynamics. A race bike is simply not just a bike, it’s a tool surrounded with mysteries and emotions, tales and stories. It’s sometimes a vehicle and artwork in one. And here is why.
This story starts in 2007. In the autumn of that year I entered Dutch bike shop Kroone Liefting looking for a steel frame which I could use to ride Paris-Roubaix the next spring. There was nothing sexy about steel frames in 2007. I was just looking for something strong that could take the beating of the cobbles. I found a lugged Koga Miyata frame from 2004. It had a modernish white, grey design which looked hideous to me but it was a real bargain. Not surprisingly because no other cyclist in the Netherlands would, in his or her right mind, buy a steel frame in 2007. At home I built the frame up with parts from an old bike. I never got a bike that cheap. Since, the bike had many iterations. The bike is way past cheap now.
My bike was ridden for the first time in the winter of 2007-2008. It didn’t impress me. The bike felt slow and I certainly did not think much of it. It was a steel bike with old parts after all, it just couldn’t be good. That I rode just as fast with it than with my modern aluminium Ridley, was not something I realized yet. After Paris-Roubaix the bike ended up in the back of the shed where it stored dust. I don’t really remember taking it out for riding much.
But I did from time to time and the bike started to grow on me. With its engraved lugs and its sleek lines the bike is reminiscent of the bikes ridden by the heroes from my youth, the cycling stars from the 1980ies. Back in those days a race bike was for me an unreachable dream. Seeing the steel bike took me back to the days I used to drool over photos of bikes in cycling magazines. And now I had one myself.
I caught myself looking more at the Koga Miyata than at my Cervelo S1, my number one bike at that time. The more the bike reminded me of the days of my heroes Greg Lemond, Phil Anderson and Steven Rooks, the better it rode for me. That my first race bike, paid for from the earnings from a newspaper round, was a Koga Miyata contributed to the sentimental value of the bike that by 2012 had become my favorite bike. And because I emigrated from the Netherlands to Slovenia the same year, I decided to repaint and upgrade the Koga Miyata as a goodbye present to myself. It was a sentimental choice in sentimental times.
My bike is just a race bike, says my brain. But my heart tells me it is more than that. Not only is it a machine with invisible emotional value, I see the lugged steel frame as a work of art. I know it’s not made by a machine but by human hand. A bike builder of Miyata Japan put his skill in making my frame. Physically, the engraved lugs and neat build and subjectively the ride quality give proof of a building process with skill and passion.
My bike rides fantastic, my bike rolls. There is nothing more subjective than ride quality but riding my bike seems like being in a conversation with the road. And while science will claim that the steel Koga Miyata is slower uphill than a lighter carbon bike, I haven’t noticed it. Which is not strange considering that form of the day, my own weight of the day and the weather of the day are much bigger factors in my riding speed.
My bike is a classic and will always remain classic. It will never be ‘soooo last year’. It doesn’t have last year’s compact design, today’s super lightweight high modulus carbon tubes or tomorrow’s X seconds faster aerodynamic profile. It’s a proper bike in all situations and with the durability of steel, will still be a proper bike in many years to come.
Steel doesn’t have a magic ride quality that makes it faster or better than lighter and more aerodynamic bikes, it even isn’t more comfortable than many carbon bikes. My bike is not any better. It’s a very proper tool for its job and its classic looks and sentimental value makes it the best bike for me.