Headquartered in Tokyo’s ultra-hip artists’ district of Nakameguro, bicycle design company Kinfolk has been creating custom handmade frames since 2008. Last year the multi-continental company, comprising John Beullens, a Sydney native now living in Tokyo, New York-residing duo Maceo Eagle and Salah Mason (who also own Brooklyn’s Ways & Means design studio), and LA-based NASA mathematician Ryan Carney, was named Wallpaper*’s “Best Ride” in its 2010 design awards. NOWNESS caught up with Beullens to talk betting, bars and, of course, bikes.
How did Kinfolk get started?
I was living in Japan at the time and I went over to New York to visit Maceo, who had been going back and forth between the two cities buying bicycles over here. When I was there Ryan Carney, a friend from LA, was visiting as well and [with Salah] we all went out drinking. In September of 2008 the guys came over to Tokyo with the intention of setting up a bicycle brand, and at the same time I was signing the lease on a new premises for a lounge bar, so it all happened [simultaneously].
What's special about your bikes?
Bike couriers like the Japanese steel handmade frames because they're very well made and you can ride them for ten years. Japanese handmade frames had been pretty impossible [to get] up to that point, as the only way you could hope to get one was to learn Japanese and go down to one of these shops and try to convince the guy to make you one. Our idea was to approach some of the builders of these frames and see if they wanted to collaborate on a brand offering Maceo and Salah’s design and aesthetics.
The tradition of handmade frames comes from Keirin racing, right?
Yes, the whole industry of frame-making in Japan is all about Keirin racing and gambling. The races are a big thing––a lot of money changes hands. The guy who wins the final race at the end of the year gets $1m.
How many bicycles do you turn around in a month?
They're handmade so we have to limit the amount; it’s generally around ten bikes a month.
What is the day-to-day cycling experience like in Tokyo?
Tokyo is a great city to ride around, it's cold in the middle of winter but the roads are great. People have been riding bikes here for ages, so the drivers are quite conscious of the riders on the road and there are no holes, the roads are really well kept.