Visit to Japan part 1 – Guu Watanabe Bicycle Luggage

On a recent visit to Japan Tomoko and I visited a number of bicycle related craftsmen and shops, including Toei and Grand Bois – posts coming later! First though, in a suburb of Tokyo, Shoichi Watanabe and his Wife Tomoko make the most beautiful bicycle luggage in traditional vintage style, largely based on the products of the French Sologne and Lafuma bags, but with some added detail and innovations. If you want to equip your randonneuse with the most elegant and beautifully finished handlebar bags and panniers, you won’t find any better than the products of Guu Watanabe. As well as their advertised range they will make pretty much anything to special order. At the time of our visit they were making a very complicated canvas and leather briefcase. The quality of Japanese manufactured canvas and vegetable tanned leather is first class.

As well as being great craftspeople, they were very welcoming and a pleasure to talk to. Shoichi San demonstrated to me how he does the leather binding on the edges of their bags…completely freehand, without an edge guide or feeder! Believe me, that is an incredible skill, gained from over 20 years experience. He explained to me how the supplier of his edge finishing leather strips has just closed down, so he is recommissioning an old machine in his workshop to make his own, 8 strips at a time – a very fiddly and time consuming job which he would rather not have to do!

We enjoyed seeing their neat and efficient workshop with lots of beautiful tools and machines, adapted to the purpose of making beautiful luggage. More pictures of their work can be seen on their Flickr pages here. Thank you to Shoichi San and Tomoko San for their time and for the warmth of their welcome, and for my new green canvas handlebar bag!

The word Guu (from the French ‘Goût’) means ‘in good taste’, and is fittingly applied to these fine craftspeople.


Randonneur Handlebar Bag

I’m trying to improve my skills on the heavy-duty sewing machine which will open up more possibilities for making things. A simple tip from a very helpful gentleman in a sewing machine repair shop, where I went to get some new needles, helped a great deal in taming the beast of a machine. It was simply to slacken off the drive belt so take up of power is much more gradual. This has stopped the machine running away at full speed and out of control! As a result I made this fairly simple handlebar bag out of proofed canvas and J. and F.J. Baker oak bark tanned leather. I say ‘simple’ but it wasn’t all that easy! All the raw edges had to be bound with bias binding, and getting the pattern right was tricky. I now have the utmost respect for the people who make Gilles Berthoud’s beautiful bags which are so very complex and beautifully made. I’m pleased with the results.

The bag is shown fitted to my partner’s very beautiful Gaidou randonneuse which will be featured here at a later date.

Bicycle Luggage – Joseph Lucas and Co.

A Joseph Lucas and Co. ‘Handy’ handlebar bag and a ‘Toura’ frame bag dating from about 1905, in remarkable original condition. Lucas, better known for their lighting, bells etc.. also made bicycle luggage, of which these are two very rare examples. They are featured in the 1905/6/7 Lucas catalogues. Over 100 years later they are still in great condition!