Fuji has a long and fascinating history that includes producing some of the Bike Boom’s most popular rides.
After establishing dominance in Asia, Fuji flew under the radar in the American market until the Bike Boom of the ’70s. Following a period of Japanese bike stardom, Fuji had a tumultuous 20-year period that ended in bankruptcy.
The tale of Fuji Bikes is one that spans the last 120 years and includes more than a few standout vintage Fuji bikes. In this article we’ll be covering:
- A Brief History Of Fuji
- Vintage Fuji Road Bike Frames
- 4 Iconic Vintage Fuji Bikes
Let’s dive into vintage Fuji bikes!
A Brief History Of Fuji
Fuji was established as Nichibei Shōkai in 1899, experiencing swift growth and becoming the most popular bike manufacturer in Japan by the 1920s.
Fuji organized the first national stage race in Japan from Osaka to Tokyo in the 1930s, and sponsored the winning team, securing Fuji’s foothold in the world of cycling. This race remains a premier Asian race to this day.
Changed to Dainippon Cycle during the Second World War, the name would again be changed to Nichibei Fuji Cycle Company in the years after the war.
Following 50 years of dominating the Asian bicycle market, Toshoku America acquired American distribution rights for Fuji in 1951. Fuji bikes would begin being sold in American department stores, such as Sears & Roebuck, under the store’s name.
Selling Fuji Bikes under distinctly American names was a marketing tactic to increase the face-value validity of the brand in the skeptical Western market.
Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, no one in America wanted to buy a Japanese bike. They were seen as inferior to bikes manufactured in the West. This perception wasn’t entirely baseless – many early Japanese bikes were built with cheaper and weaker steel than their Western counterparts.
Things changed with the advent of Fuji America in 1971, Fuji’s American distribution front (not to be confused with their popular touring bike, also named the Fuji America). Fuji came out of the shadows and began selling bikes under the Fuji name.
Fuji’s habitual early adoption of new and high-end alloys, components, and manufacturing techniques seated them atop the throne of quality racers for the period. Concurrent with Fuji’s stepping out into the 70’s Bike Boom, Japanese bikes became synonymous with quality.
Starting with the legendary Fuji S10-S, and its 12-speed iteration the S12-S, there was no question that the Japanese giant had a knack for producing top-quality bikes.
Moving forward into the mid-’80s, touring was the hot new topic in cycling. Loaded touring bikes were built with the ability to carry multiple panniers and bottles, and were capable of providing long-distance comfort.
As American cyclists scrambled to outfit sportier race bikes for touring, Fuji responded with the Fuji America. One of the world’s first purpose-built touring bikes, it satiated the West’s hunger for a good quality all-arounder bike.
It was in the late ’80s and early ’90s that Fuji’s downfall began. Fuji was unequipped to answer the American mountain bike boom, which dominated the bicycle sales market by the end of the ’80s.
Coupled with their all-too-late move of bike production to Taiwan, and the bottoming out of the U.S. Dollar against the Yen, the Western bicycle ship had sailed, and Fuji was left on shore.
Although in decline, Fuji still had its hand in the high-end bike market, producing the first titanium frame race bike in the late ’80s. It still wasn’t enough to keep them on top.
Fuji Bikes filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and has since been acquired several different times. Though Fuji’s production quality and reputation as a top bicycle company have recovered, it pales in comparison to the popularity of Fuji from 1970 through the mid-1980s.
Vintage Fuji Road Bike Frames
Generally speaking, a Fuji vintage road bike from the ’70s or ’80s is likely to be a good quality bike.
In 1974, Richard Ballantine, a cycling writer and advocate for the sport, recommended Fuji Bikes at the top end of 4 different quality ranges, from basic to professional.
The subtext is that whatever Fuji vintage bike from this era you get your hands on is likely to be a top-notch bike in its class.
The quality of Fuji vintage bikes is attributable to their cutting-edge engineering during the Bike Boom era. They constantly pushed new technology and frame standards into popularly priced bikes of the time.
Fuji began using double-butted Chromoly framesets, as opposed to single-gauge tubing, on a wide range of their bikes. Double-butted tubing is thicker at the ends than in the middle, allowing Fuji to increase the strength of their bike’s welded joints while keeping weight down.
Using Chromoly as opposed to traditional carbon steel did the same. Chromoly is lighter and stronger than traditional steel, giving Fuji bikes a stronger, faster, and more responsive frame.
Fuji was also the first to manufacture a titanium bike frame in the late ’80s. This space-age metal is a fraction of the weight of steel and far more resistant to fatigue and impact damage, making titanium frames a cutting-edge move for the cycling industry.
4 Iconic Vintage Fuji Bikes
#1. Fuji S10-S
The Fuji S10-S is the bike that changed everything for Japanese bikes in the West.
Introduced in the American market in 1971, the Fuji Road Racer Model S10-S was a high-tension steel 10-speed machine that took the world by storm.
This bike offered a remarkable mixture of weight, strength, and responsiveness amongst similar bikes. Built on a 73-degree by 73-degree classic geometry, the S10-S was both nimble and comfortable.
A perfect bike for racers and enthusiasts.
Early models would be built with high-tension steel, later models would use double-butted Chromoly. Both older and newer S10-S models are phenomenal vintage Fujis.
If you’re looking for an S10-S with double-butted Chromoly, look for a model from 1978 or later, when S10-S became the Fuji S10-S LTD.
It became a hallmark bike for not only serious cyclists but casual riders who sought out an upgrade.
Compared to vintage Italian or French steeds, the components are nothing special. The S10-S was commonly outfitted with Japanese components such as Suntour shifters and derailleurs, Ukai rims, Nitto bars, Sugino cranks, Dia Compe brakes, and Sunshine hubs.
While not fancy, these components were practical and functional.
#2. Fuji “The Newest”
The Fuji Road Racer Model “The Newest” was another standout vintage Fuji bike.
Introduced to the American market in the 1971/72 Fuji America catalog, it was one of the more popular racing bikes of the ’70s.
Fuji Bikes in the early ’70s were very similar, with slight differences in specs and geometry.
The differences you’ll see between the S-10S and The Newest are the more aggressive 74-degree parallel geometry and stepped-up build quality using double-butted Chromoly.
In its debut 1971 model, The Newest used effectively the same components as the S10-S. The 1973 Newest stepped up the component quality using higher-end Suntour derailleurs.
If you find yourself with an earlier model Newest, you’ll be able to find lightly used or new dead-stock Suntour components online, like the ones used on the 1973 and later models.
Similar to the S10-S, the Newest had Suntour shifters and derailleurs, Ukai rims, Nitto bars, Sugino cranks, Dia Compe brakes, and Sunshine hubs.
#3. Fuji America
The Fuji America was Fuji’s purpose-built touring bike.
First appearing in the Fuji catalogs in 1975, the Fuji America was an instant classic. The Fuji America was advertised as having been ridden on three separate 13,000-mile tours.
A major functional feature of the Fuji America was the adequate space to equip the bike for bikepacking. This vintage Fuji whip also had Fuji’s exclusive 18-speed gearing, providing cyclists with optimal touring performance.
Built with a 73-degree parallel geometry, and equipped with many of the same high-end components as Fuji’s modernizing race bikes, there’s much to love about the Fuji America.
Complete with Suntour shifters and derailleurs, Ukai rims, Nitto bars, Sugino cranks, Dia Compe brakes, and Sunshine hubs, this was another beautifully assembled, highly functional Japanese bike.
If you find yourself with a Fuji America, there is a point you’ll want to note. In 1977 Fuji started using the Ukai 700C wheel. Before this, the Fuji America came equipped with a 27″ x 1 1/8″ rim.
This difference is marginal, but wheel sizes can be finicky with clearance, especially on vintage bikes.
#4. Fuji Titanium Dura Ace
The Fuji Titanium Dura-Ace was a historic bicycle. It was the first production titanium bike and the first production bike to come equipped with a Dura-Ace groupset.
Introduced in 1987, the titanium frameset was paradigm-shifting for the cycling industry. Advertised as scratch-free and corrosion-proof, the Fuji Titanium also came in at a pound lighter than Fuji’s previous top-spec racer model, the Fuji Opus.
Original model-year Fuji Titanium frames alone go for over $1000. This should come as no surprise, as this bike is a piece of cycling history.
Titanium frame bikes are still thought to be “forever bikes”, bikes that can take tens of thousands of miles of abuse and keep begging for more.
The Fuji Titanium came in three models: the top-spec version was equipped with the flagship Shimano Dura-Ace groupset. The only components on the Titanium that weren’t Dura-Ace spec were Nitto bars and Araya rims.
The original Fuji Titanium with its pure titanium build, as opposed to more modern titanium alloy builds, is considered relatively rare and valuable. Getting your hands on one is an incredible score for any vintage Fuji road bike fan!