Readers’ Rig: Twain’s 1986 Nishiki International
A Classic 'Restomod'
Readers’ Rig: Classic and classy, that’s Twain’s ‘Restomod’ – a steel Nishiki International bike from 1986 with modern 10-speed SRAM Red gears, 3T cockpit, Look pedals, Fizik saddle and HED Jet 50 wheels. Modern functionality with retro style.
Name: Twain Mein
Location: San Francisco Bay Area, CA USA
Frame: 1986 Nishiki International “Restomod”
Group: SRAM Red 10-speed shifters, derailleurs, and brakes
Handlebar/Stem: 3T ARX-Team alloy stem, 3T Ergosum Team carbon handlebar
Wheels: American Classics Argent Tubeless, Hed Jet 50’s
Pedals: Look Keo Ti
Saddle: Fizik Antares
Other: Ritchey carbon seatpost, Reynolds Ouzo Carbon fork, Chris King threadless headset, 2006 9-speed Ritchey Carbon Crank (565 grams), Alligator shift cables. Specialized S-Works Turbo tires, SUPACAZ bar tape
Weight: When new – 24 lbs, 2 ounces. Currently: 17 lbs, 11 ounces with American Classics Wheels, 18lbs 6 ounces with Hed Jet 50 Wheels.
“Restomod” – a 1986 steel-framed bike with modern 10-speed SRAM Red components and Hed Jet 50 wheelset
Summary: I think it is appropriate to compare this bike to a restored old car where the car is upgraded with new suspension, wheels, engine, interior, etc. This is typically known as a “Restomod”. While the engine – me – for this bike has stayed the same (and has lost horsepower with age), most of the parts have been upgraded and the bike has lost six pounds in the process while still maintaining its magical ride quality and, in my opinion, looks better than when it was new.
With lighter American Classics Wheels – total weight, less than 18lbs!
When did you buy it?
I bought it in 1986 when I was a Junior in college at the University of Oregon. It opened my world to cycling and triathlons. It was my “first love” of bikes that ultimately created a passion for cycling and cycling equipment. Since purchasing it, I have bought fourteen bikes. I still have five in the stable and the garage is a little bit crowded.
What made you choose this bike?
I had brought a heavy commuter bike to college but then joined a nascent triathlon PE class sort of by accident (it had to do with a cute girl). It quickly became apparent that the older bike was holding me back. So I looked for a new one. When I was evaluating bikes, I deliberated between this and a Bianchi Limited. The Bianchi had a beautiful purple paint job and Shimano 600 SIS indexed shifting. Back then, indexed shifting had just become available. But the Bianchi was $50 more and the handling was too twitchy for me – there was a lot of toe overlap with the front wheel. The Nishiki had a lesser spec and came with a mix of Suntour Sprint (think Ultegra) and Cyclone (105) parts and, traditional friction shifting, but had a smoother ride quality. Uniquely, the frame used larger than normal diameter Tange 1 steel tubes which likely contributed to the smoother ride. As far as I know only super high end Masi, with the Volumetrica, experimented with large diameter steel. So this was a notably different bike when the industry was mostly centered around Columbus SL/SP, Reynolds 753/525 and Tange 1 and 2 in standard diameters. Big tube aluminum frames (Cannondale) were just emerging so it was pretty bold that a mass market focused brand like Nishiki had gambled on a design like this. Bicycle Guide Magazine had also given it a very favorable review which reinforced my feelings – I still have that actual magazine issue and pictures of the article are attached.
Article from Bicycle Guide, June 1986. Over 24 pounds!
Advertisement for the International from the same edition of Bicycle Guide. Note how they really tout the component selection, even down to the toe straps
And though the bike was kind of funky looking with grey paint and day-glo pink accents I really liked it. But it didn’t have the revolutionarily new index shifting. So I negotiated with the dealer to upgrade the shifters and rear derailleur to Shimano 600 SIS for $50, making it the same price as the Bianchi. Sold! Bought it for $500. (Looking at inflation that would put it at just over $1000 in today’s prices. That still seems like a bargain.)
Racing at a Coors Light Biathlon in 1990, original paint scheme, with Scott Aerobars, Detto Shoes and first generation LOOK pedals
Have you done any modifications/additions to it?
Shortly after purchasing it, I guess the rain in Eugene, Oregon, really affected the hubs. Either that or I was gullible when the bike shop mechanic said my wheel bearings were toast. So the first upgrade was a new wheel set; bombproof 36-spoke Mavic MA40 rims with Campy Record hubs. I still have them. The hubs are positively jewel-like. I also got in to Triathlons in my Senior Year of college and outfitted the bike with a shorter stem, rear wheel disc wheel cover, and Scott aerobars. I took it to the Bud Light National Triathlon Championship in 1988 at Hilton Head and raced it against the likes of Mike Pigg, Mark Allen, and Lance Armstrong. In 1990, I did the Wildflower Half Ironman race for the first time and turned in a bike split of 2:38. The Nishiki, with all of the aero add-ons, must have weighed 27 lbs or more at the time! I have done that race twelve times since and have spent a fortune on newer bikes that I raced on that were far lighter and, arguably, more aero. Incredibly, that bike split was my 2nd fastest ever. Through the journey of owning this bike, I got it repainted in British Racing Green. I temporarily converted it for “off-road” use, fitting a flat bar and mountain bike brake levers. Then I put on a cyclocross fork with canti brakes up front and let my friend use it as a cross bike for about a year. He returned it to me with a hole ground in to one of the chain stays and a cracked rear wheel drop out. Fortunately, because it is steel, I was able to have the wounds fixed.
Cracked rear drop out. Amazing that Steel can be healed
Fast forward to 2008 and I got on a kick to try and commute to work on it every day for three months. I had a Frankenstein arrangement of parts including a mix of 8- and 9-speed Shimano 105/Ultegra/Dura Ace components. Incredibly, the shifting was still flawless. I also upgraded the heavy stock steel fork to a carbon Reynolds Ouzo Pro carbon and installed a Chris King threadless headset. It also carried a fender, lock, lights, and toe clips.
The bike in commuter guise
I then hung it up for a few years and stopped riding it. I was primarily riding my Cervelo S3 that was featured in 2018 in rider’s rigs. I eventually upgraded that S3 to 11 speed SRAM with electronic shifting so I decided to take the old SRAM Red 10-speed components from that bike and put them on the Nishiki. (This said, I still have the original 6-speed shift levers, one of which is used as a key chain, and the rear derailleur.) Imagine that. The ancient Nishiki had started off as a 6-speed. Now it was 10-speed! I cleaned up the bike and, remarkably, was able to find original decals on Ebay for the head tube, down tube and even the Tange 1 label. What’s really remarkable is that, in this process, the bike has gone from a portly 24+lbs to now around 18! Incredible for a steel bike with a five pound frame.
Chris King Headset, Alligator cables, and Nishiki decal
Regarding wheels, while the American Classics Argent wheels are lighter and get the bike to sub 18-lbs, I actually prefer the heavier Hed Jet 50’s with Specialized Turbo tires. The ride is remarkably smooth even though the bike looks sort of like a bizarre “restomod” with aero rims on an old steel bike. Sort of like putting on 20 inch “dubs” on an old Chevy Nova.
How many miles/kilometers do you do a year?
I ride between 3500 and 4000 miles per year but also swim and run as triathlon is my main focus. I figure 80 miles/week of riding is a good benchmark.
Tange 1 decal
What do you love about this bike?
The ride quality is so smooth. I now ride it during the week for shorter though somewhat meditative rides that just get me out there to maintain fitness. The ride is very smooth and the drivetrain is virtually silent. It’s like being with an old friend. Just cruising around, the ride is sublime.
Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork, no longer made
Favorite riding areas?
I primarily ride the Nishiki on short rides around my hilly neighborhood here in the Bay Area almost every day during the week, just to get out there.
Another view with the Hed Wheelset
Top riding experience on your bike?
The first was hitting 53.5 mph on a downhill on Willamette Road in Oregon when I first got it. That was thrilling! Then it was riding in triathlons back in the day, but now it’s just getting out during the week for a casual few miles, just gliding along. Not to sound corny but it reminds me of simpler times.
I am tempted to have it completely stripped and repainted in either dark red or BRG again and get the chain stays chromed. If I got it repainted I would hope that I could still find original Nishiki decals.
It’s amazing how an old friend like this is still something I look forward to riding with great fondness. If I tried to sell it, the commercial value would probably be really just a few hundred dollars. But to me, it is priceless. And it’s the only bike in the stable that I have kept for 34 years. I hope it (and I) will still be around for at least another 34 years at least. Good lord, I will be 88 then!
Thanks to Twain for sharing his ride with us. Got a bike that you walk into the room just to stare at? Well, how about sharing it with fellow PEZ fans and getting it featured in Readers’ Rigs so we can all stare at it! Send us a Readers’ Rigs submission direct to [email protected] and your bike could be featured in all its glory here on the pages of PEZ.