Ryu Yukawa is a creator of bespoke road and track bikes and owner of evolver, based in Nagoya, Japan.
Evolver combines space-age frame building technology, cutting-edge componentry and bold, original design.
Evolver is best known for its track machines, supplying frames to some of the biggest stars in Japanese keirin racing. Ryu's extensive contacts in keirin were invaluable in the preparation of our major feature on keirin racing, which appeared in Conquista issue 10.
However, Ryu also builds bikes for a wide range of serious road riders from all over Japan, who together form a tight-knit community with a passion for Ryu's cutting edge technology and radical paintjobs.
Conquista was delighted when Ryu asked us whether he could put our logo on the jersey of his community of riders - on both track and road. We took the opportunity to talk about his background and his business.
We love your jersey with the Conquista logo! Can you tell us the story of how it came about?
It all started when Brian Hodes was invited to attend the Keirin Grand Prix at the end of 2015: the first western photographer ever to be invited to a GP. I’ve known Brian for years: we’ve become good friends.
Conquista took Brian’s amazing photos and turned them in to a huge 40-page feature, all about the history, rules, economics and culture of Japanese keirin racing. I can’t think of another western magazine that has devoted so many pages and so much attention to keirin. I was so pleased, and so grateful to both Brian and Conquista that I decided to put both your logos on my new jersey.
[NOTE: more of Brian's extraordinary photography can be found at his website veloimages.com. It is the veloimages.com logo that appears on Ryu's jersey.]
Conquista isn’t available in Japan, and of course most people here wouldn’t be able to read it. But I always pass my copy around and everyone likes to take a look.
Tell us about yourself. How did you come to create evolver?
I lived in California for most of my teenage and college years, so about fifteen years altogether. I raced road bikes there, but I retired in 1994 because I felt like I had gone as far as I could. Once I stopped racing I stopped riding altogether.
I came back to Japan for good in 2000. It was tough to find work. I worked at a company that manufactured furniture, then at an aerospace company, and eventually a sort of trading company. I didn’t enjoy it.
Then one day an old buddy from high school suggested we start riding again. It had been fifteen years since I had ridden a bike. I had put on so much weight that none of my cycling clothes fitted any more. And I had got rid of all my bikes. But my friend sorted me out with a '90s Colnago, and we started to ride together.
Of course, when I started riding again I also started looking at other people’s bikes. Wow! In the space of fifteen years everyone had gone from 8s to 11s. I realized I couldn’t ride my classic bike any more.
I looked around but I couldn’t find anything I liked. So I decided to build my own bike. Because I had experience in aerospace I knew where to get high-grade carbon fibre. It’s not that hard to find good materials. But it was hard to find someone to build the actual frame. Most Japanese frame builders are very good, but very pricey.
So that’s how I started producing my own bikes, and evolver was born.
How do you work?
People knock on my door and ask for help, then I weigh and measure them, and I suggest the right frame size and stiffness for each individual customer. I’m not really a bespoke frame builder, but I know about carbon fiber. It’s like owning and running a restaurant: I know a great chef, and I know where to find the right ingredients. I bring them together, and the results are delicious!
You seem to be well-connected to the world of professional keirin racing.
I know a lot of professional keirin riders, and I've known pros for a long time too. One of my friends has been a professional for twenty-five years. But then I sold a frame to one of the SS class pros, which meant I suddenly gained a much higher profile.
[NOTE: all professional keirin riders are graded. SS is the highest grade, granted only to the top nine riders in any one year. At the end of the year, these nine compete in the Keirin Grand Prix for a prize of around $1m.]
Some of the professionals who ride my bikes are Toshiya Asami, Yoshikazu Mizutani
and Nobuharu Kobayashi. But I don’t do mass production, so I can’t keep up with the demand.
So who gets to wear the evolver jersey with the Conquista logo?
Anyone who buys an evolver frame can get the jersey. The riders aren’t a team, but I call them my members. I have about seventy members now: the photos just show a few of the guys.
I don’t sponsor a team, but some of our members do compete, and when they do, they wear the jersey. They are my moving billboards.
If you speak Japanese, or are willing and able to get busy with Google Translate, you can find out more about Ryu and evolver, and see lots more pictures of their fabulous bikes, at their website evolverbikes.com.
In the YouTube video below Ryu is featured riding the unique 5km cycling track in Morikoro Park, Nagoya.
This year's Keirin Grand Prix will be held on December 30. To learn more about the fascinating world of keirin racing, see our feature in Conquista issue 10.
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