The RIKUO saga

The RIKUO RQ750 1957. More photos in "RIKUO - Diverse FOTO"

                              Rikuo


The Rikuo saga, Harley-Davidson and birth of the Japanese MC 
   
Written by Sven Hansen, from an article in "Cycle World" in the late 70s.
  
Although there may be irony in the industrial history, there's irony in Harley-Davidson's new appeal (in late 70th)  for protection against the Japanese motorcycle industry.  Because  it was for a large part Harley-Davidson, who founded the Japanese motorcylelindustri.
For a quarter century ago, Harley-Davidson and the inheritor of HD, called Rikuo, built in Japan at a factory equipped with HD tools and people who were trained by HD in Milwaukee in the state Wisconcin, USA.
  
Years ago, even before they were built in Japan, HD was the most popular motorcycle in Japan. They were used by the police, the Imperial Guard, the Army and of all who desire the one tough and reliable motorcycle. HD engines were so successfully filled that Japan before first motorcycle industry was founded in rivalry with official cars.
Such giants as Mitsubishi, Mazda and Daihatsu, all got their start in the automobile field, as they followed the HD's enormous success recently in Japan.
  
HD's history in Japan dates back to 1912 when the Imperial Army imported one of HD's models for testing. In 1916 the Nihon Jidosha (today "Yanese" which is the leading importer of foreign cars to Japan) acquired distribution rights for HD in Japan. This year imported the 5 piece 1917 models, 3 twins and 2 singles. 2 years later they imported a Harley with a sidecar equipment for the army.
Over the next few years, imported Nihon Jidosha a small number of machines, but conspicuously not spare parts.
  
Perhaps because of Nihon Jidoshas somewhat apathetic attitude was "Kotoboeki", a sister company to a giant pharmaceutical company, the envisaged distributations of Harley, in the inner and outer Mongolia and elsewhere where Milwaukee muscles were worth use. 
   
When they see an untapped market in Japan, traveled Alfred E. Child in 1924 to the Far East as an export sales agent and stopped in Japan to assess the market.
It was a pretty bad time for an American to visit Japan when the U.S. government had just decided to exclude Japanese immigrants.
  
Arthur Davidson, sales manager and viceprecident, pondered the situation and ordered the Child to leave Japan and travel directly to Shanghai. But instead of following his boss's orders, occupancy Child at Frank Lloyd Wright`s old Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. 
Child discovered that some or perhaps all the machines, which were intended for Mongolia, was diverted to Japan in Nihon Jidoshas name, without his knowing it.
  
An ugly spotty appearance, Baron Okura, who was Jidoshas precident, demanded to continue to be HD's sales agent in Japan.
But Child said no, unless Baron Okura could
stack a decent sales and service systems up.
  
All negotiations ended with Kotoboeki got the goldpit, fully supported by Sankyo. And a goldpit it was. Since the 1923 earthquake had destroyed the streets of Tokyo and Yokohama,  then they were only passable by wheelbarrows ....
and motorcycles.
  
Child had worked quickly. He sailed back to America, only 40 days after he was an come to Japan with an order for 350 piece 1000 cc Harley-Davidson, all fitted with sidecars, spare parts for 20,000 dollar and 3,000 dollar special tools.
Child had also entered into an agreement denominated in that he was Sales Director for the newly opened group, Harley-Davidson Sales Company of Japan.
  
While it lasted, it was the Japanese army started to take an interest in motorcycles. They had bought a single Indian, but began to favor Harley-Davidson.
Army engineers were quite astonished by the facts that the first reputable imported in 1912, was "still going strong", 9 years and 83.000 miles after.
  
In 1924, well backed by Count Katsu, began Murata Iron Works to build a copy of the 1922 model Army. The factory called their machine for "Giant-Go".   Noburi Murata send one of the first copies to the army. After the first test, the army rejected the machine because of the Prodigal construction and because Murata not had the necessary "know-how" to mass produce the machine. Daring play, the first factory neither did the motorbike market collapsed.
But Murata learned from his mistakes and turned to Meguro, who was perhaps the most famous name in the early '60s Japanese motorcycle and founder of today's Kawasaki motorcycles.
  
Sankyo had good relations in the National Guard, so when the Harley-Davidson looked evicted from their rented shop in Tokyo, introduced Matasaku Shiohara, precident in Sankyo, Alfred Child to the National Guard. And shortly after, HD was used by default there. On the civilian market, vied HD with their hereditary rival Indian, who was preferred by police who better liked Indians lower seat height. As the Scout model came on the market, it quickly became their favorite motorcycle.
Some British machines had gone on trial, but their lightweight high construction made it useless for the work that the American construction had the greatest success when it was very strong.
  
Morikichi Sakurai, one of Child's first employees, designed both lightweight and heavy duty back end for the new 350 cc Harley and 1000 cc V-twin. Some of these were imported without the rear and on them were Sakurais back end mounted.
These machines were very popular by everyone from post office and police to the riceshop round the corner.
  
In early 1930, established Daihatsu Matsuda (Mazda) as a manufacturer of three wheelers. Both Matsuda and Daihatsu manufactured their own engines and a few thousand of these machines came on the market every year, which gave the Japanese their first test of sales work in great style and an extensive service network, which was credited to them later. Sakurai, who built the first "wheeler", had been employed by the Child instead of Nihon Jidosha where he had worked since 1916, when Child commenced initiatives "Japan Harley-Davidson".   Child gave Sakurai the tidy sum of 200 yen per month to be included in the new company.
Due Sakurais great market knowledge, was the money well spent for "Japan Harley-Davidson",  the later "Rikuo".
  
Beside his work duties were Sakurai also indvolveret in Harley-racers and helped the first professional race run in Japan.
  
Harley-Davidson motorcycles was a phenomenal success in Japan, thanks Childs sales abilities. This gave Child 5 percent commission on every sold HD in Japan. Only a few years after his arrival in Japan, used both army, navy, post offices and the government HD.  Harley was expensive back then, like today. Late twenties, was the Japanese yen not worth more than a half dollar. For example, earned a university about 70 yen a month, so it was difficult for laymen to buy an HD, then such a 750cc cost 1638 yen and the 1200cc cost 1890 yen. Indian was a bit cheaper. Scout cost 1550 and Chief 1750 yen.
But since there was wide disparity in the service network, Indian lagged behind.
  
Child Shiohara suggested that they should test themselves, to get rights to build Harley in Japan. HD had never given any such rights, which included tools, machines and formulas for material qualities mm. But Shiohare backed the Child, and so he traveled to the U.S. and Milwaukee. Upon arrival at the factory in Milwaukee, met Child with four HD-founders William S. Harley and William, Walter and Arthur Davidson. They were all skeptical of his idea that there should pruduceres HD copies in Japan. But after much talk and in the light of the depression, the four agreed to give him the rights.
The only condition was that no Japanese Harley, or part thereof may prevent the sale of the Milwaukee bike in Japan in the future.
  
The new factory was located in Shinagawa, Tokyo, on land owned by Sankyo.  Sankyo was also the capital behind the factory.  Apart from Child and Barr, it was a pure Japanese business. It was the first complete motorcycle factory ever built in Japan.   Thanks to Child, was part of the production already started as early as the 1929th and i
n 1935, rolled the first complete motorcycle, made from Japanese materials and by Japanese hands, out of the factory gates in Shinagawa.
  
Alfred Child said that Fred Barr, who was Chief Constructor, Harley-Davidson and Sankyo are founders of the entire Japanese motorcycle industry.   And Morikichi and Sakurai agree. 
Harley-Davidson and Shinagawa factory are the true ancestors of any Japanese motorcycle that runs on the roads today.
  
In 1930 was the Harley-Davidson Model "V",  a 1200 cc sidevalve, the standard motorcycle in the Japanese Army when it was introduced in August 1929. The Japanese army decided finally to HD,  after testing the German BMW thoroughly.
But BMWen vibrated badly and there was a large engine wear, like force and ordinary life was pretty poor, compared with Harley.
  
"Dairen",  the Manchuria branch of the "Japan Harley-Davidson" had made good business with various Chinese warlords.  Among them also Chang Kai-Chek, which bought 200 sidecar machines since the Japanese army invaded in 1931. In 1935, ceased cooperation between Sankyo and Harley-Davidson when Sankyo was allowed to produce the bike under the name "Rikuo", t he first "Rikuo" had gathered at the end of the 1935th.   It was a real "Made in Japan" motorcycle.
The first Japanese machine that was completely manufactured in Japan, from throttle to the rearlight.
  
It was a great moment, as chief designer Sakurai took the kick starter down and brought the engine to life. The name "Rikuo" means in Japanese "The continent's king".   It was named to Shiobaras daughter after a row in Keio University's fight song.
The name indicates the Rikuo was mainly meant for, namely the army transport across the Asian continent.
  
But all was not easy for the new Rikuo. In February 1936 took Sakurai to Manchuria with Rikuo No. 1,  to demonstrate it with the Kanton machingun.  It was minus 36 degrees Celsius, when Sakurai and his sidecar mounted Rikuo was ready to go at Mukden.  Sakurai knew that if Rikuoen failed him, he could fall into the hands of  the Chinese guerrilla forces.  So the whole time he whipped Rikuoen in the traces of tanks and four wheel vehicles. He had all the worlds reasons not fall behind. As night fell, he made himself a campsite.
The worst part now began,  for the night was terribly cold and Sakurai felt he still sat on the machine.
  
Army vehicles and tanks had small ovens to maintain the engine and gearbox oil hot. This luxury Sakurai had not, so when he should start the Rikuo in the morning, the kick starter would not even move, so stiff was the oil in the cold. Sakurai was afraid to crack the gear shaft, something that often happened if we would force the engine to turn around when it was so cold. The rest of the army had left, so he was all alone on the Manchurian plain except for a galloping horse in the horizon. Sakurai was thinking about a puny pony had to be better than his Rikuo and ran mad and bitter up on the kick starter again.
And the engine run again and then he thundered away after his goal.
  
But so far so good. Manchurian army had no use for his machine and sent him home again, with the message that he could come back when he could produce something they could use. With these words in mind, gave Sakurai to construct a machine that also had features on sidecar wheel.
They succeeded, simple and almost impossible to destroy.
  
At the Army's testing area near Gotemba, at the foot of Mount Fuji, Rikuoen fared better than even the best of the army's horses. Final test was run halfway up the side of Mount Fuji, a task that gave even the light tanks great difficulties as the increases gene was 30 and up to 45 degrees. An officer looked from the mountain to the machine and then on Sakurai and said: "I will chop my head and give it to you if the "thing" can climb this mountain".   It did so and made it easy.
And an embarrassed officer would give him his unconditional apology.
  
In 1937 the bike was adopted by the entire Japanese army. But the name was no longer Harley-Davidson and nor Rikuo. But an "Army Type 97".  When the war between China and Japan broke out in 1937, there were so many orders for Type-97 in Rikuo that they could not possibly comply with them. So part of the orders were given to Nihon Jidosha whose bike was different than Type-97th.   It had a 1300 cc engine which was based on 1935 model Harleys "VH-80". And briefly produced Matsuda also Type-97th and f rom 1935 to 1940 built the  Shinagawa factory 1479 Rikuos and the price was 1600 yen per. pieces. Some of these were in private hands, but most went to the police and of course the military. By the end of the second
World War II were built more than 18,000 Type-97 by the various factories in the country.
  
After the Japanese defeat, dropped many Type 97 in Chinese hands. It is said that a transition was set in local Chinese production, for use in the People's Liberty Army. If this is true, we have a remarkable event in motorcycle history. Namely, a Chinese copy of a Japanese version of an American motorcycle.
Probably a task to find replacement parts for such a size.
  
Later appeared Sakurai, a four-wheel light version for use in the rice fields. It was fitted with a Harley engine. They built 5 test models and tested for the Army's satisfaction.
But then broke out the Chinese war and the Army forgot all about the Rikuo jeep.
  
What had happened to Alfred E. Child, the man who started it all?  Yes, he had established his new company, "Nishiman Harley-Davidson Sales" in Shimbashi, Tokyo. And it went amazingly well. He had good connections to Shinagawa and sold several hundred new Harley to his "rival" through the 1936th.  
But when the Japanese government fiddled with the levy in 1937, had Child sell it all to Sankyo in April 1937, after which he traveled to the U.S. and sheathed the last string between Milwaukee and Japan.
  
After the second World War in 1945, "Rikuo Nainenki" registered in "Automotive Division of Commerce and Industry" in Tokyo, as a motorcycle factory. The company started a civilian production in 1946 and in 1947 was the largest Japanese motorcycle factory.  There  was built 252 years Rikuo sidecar bikes and 74 solo.
There were only built 120 other Japanese motorcycles this year, all solo.
  
Rikuo 1947 was a 750 cc sidevalved V-twin, based on a 1935 Harley-Davidson Baby Twin. Wheelbase was 1460 mm and the bore and stroke was 69.85 to 96.85, giving a stroke volume of 746.6 cc. The engine had a wet swamp and was fitted with a hand operated oil pump, so the driver could give it a wimp oil when pressed. 3-speed transmission was still operated by hand shifter and there was fitted reverse of sidecar bikes.
The engine gave 14.9 bhp at 3700 rpm.
  
The bike was very popular in Japan and Rikuo was eventually in a different look,  just as it was mounted telescopic fork. Production increased over the years and peaked in 1953, when 1983 machines rolled out the factory gates, including 79 sidecar bikes. This year also came the 750eren called "RQ", with alluminiumheads, compression ratio 5,8:1 and 22 HP. 
It had a top speed of 110 km/h.
  
A street test described Rikuoen as 95% perfect. The hand-operated oil pump, here was the cause of the missing 5%. The machine was remarkable because of its amazing features at low revs. And the police liked it, because of its own creative drive to the many roads that had not been finalized. And it means almost everywhere that was bad roads in Japan at that time. Road tests noted that the machine could run into topgear, even on mountain roads so slow as down to 20 km/h.  And it still could accelerate smoothly and quickly without having to unwind.
This was possible by manipulating the handlebar-mounted ignition adjustment handle, as was noted in the test.
  
In the years following were Rikuo further developed. And the last model, "RT" with alluminummotor, gave 27 bhp at 5000 rpm. The compression was high as 7.0:1 and the bike weighted 238 kg. The top speed was 137 km/h.
The hand-operated oil pump had disappeared and "RT" model had a dry sump and 4-speed gearbox with footshift.
  
Rikuo was still made at the old Shinagawa factory. And in 1958 began both factory and motorcycle show signs of age. In 1930, the side valve engine to be considered a work of art in science.  And  three decades after it was a living fossil. Its performance was a joke against the other Japanese overhead valved motorcycle engines.  Balloon tires and rigid rear was nothing on the new swing arm arena.
So the trick tremendously to placate the increasingly discerning motorcycle people.
  
Motorcycle Market in Japan, had very little room for "Big-Bore" motorcycles. Honda and Tohatsu, and others in the 50-250 cc market. As long Rikuo had a monopoly on "Big-Bore" could the factory survive, because of the police and a handful of enthusiasts. But when Cabton and Meguro send big cubic, overhead valved parallel-twins on the market, it was the doomsday for the Shinagawa factory. As Meguro introduced a 650 cc, overhead valve twin in 1957, nearly stopped the sale of V-twins.
In 1958 there were only sold 520 Rikuo, only a third of the good years.
  
As a last act to reverse the picture, built Rikuo in an "RX-750" model that was based on the "RT" model, with modern twinsadle, alluminiumsmotor with overhead valves and seamless alluminiumswheels.  Rikuo "RX-750" was meant as a response to the American Harley-Davidson. But the old machine could still not succeed in fighting the Meguro, Hosks and Hondas that were built in European style.
And in 1960 closed the Rikuo Nainenki factory their gates forever.
  
This was the end of an era. When the first Japanese-based Harley-Davidson motorcycle appeared, the Shinagawa factory was the most modern in the country and throughout the Japanese motor industry. And by the time when the last Harley-Davidson based motorcycle was built, were the Shinagawa factory hopelessly outdated. 
And Japan was well on the
way to dominate the world market for motorcycles. 

Photos:  Look in  "RIKUO - Diverse FOTO"
 
And it all started with Harley-Davidson!
 
Thank you for lending your time
Sven


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13.02 | 10:39

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