Mini Bikes From Japan

Craftsmanship as Detailed As The Real Thing

January 6, 2022

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Mini Bikes From Japan

Haniwaya3 is a creator from Japan who builds mini track bikes—at a 1:12 scale—in his home. The level of craftsmanship of these mini-bikes blew us away. Hiniwaya3 documents his entire build process on Instagram, which had us wanting to know more. He wishes to remain anonymous, but we were lucky enough to have a chat with Haniwaya3 about technical skills, creativity, and life.

I recently came across an article that mentioned how people have lost the idea of having a hobby. That we are now consumed by side-hustles and dedicating our time to productizing ourselves and our skills. The thought stopped me dead in my tracks—when was the last time I did anything just for the sake of it? When was the last time I worked on a craft, just for the sake of craft?

In the 6.5 years that I spent in Tokyo, I never got bored of the craftsmanship that was embedded into every facet of Japanese society. In my neighborhood, there were two sole-proprietor bike manufacturers that were renowned for their level of craft—Rew10 and Kalavinka. Rew10 and Kalavnika exemplify a Japanese idea called Shokunin.

Shokunin translates literally to craftsman or artisan; however, as with many translations from Japanese to English, much of the deeper meaning is lost. Ours is often a brutish language. Shokunin is probably better defined as dedication and mastery of one’s craft to deliver at the highest quality imaginable. Shokunin is an approach to life and a way of thinking through the lens of craft. It’s a title that isn’t handed out lightly.

I rediscovered that level of craft when I stumbled across the Instagram account of Haniwaya3. Haniwaya3 is modeling and assembling miniature replicas of well-known track bikes with staggering detail. Haniwaya-san (3 = San = Mr) wishes to remain anonymous and does not sell his miniatures.

We felt honored to have the opportunity to talk to Haniwaya3 and ask more about his work.

How did you start building miniature bikes? Where did the initial idea come from?

I'm just an ordinary middle-aged Japanese man who loves bikes. I majored in chemistry and currently work as an engineer at a chemical plant. I always had a dream of becoming a creator. I really wanted to work for a company like Nintendo, but I can’t really draw, make music, or program.

About a year ago, I took a look at my life and decided I wanted to do something different. I've always been into photography, and Instagram intrigued me as a platform to share work. But I needed to pick a theme. I asked myself, what could I do that was unique, sustainable, and fun? That answer hit me pretty suddenly—I had never seen plastic models of bikes in the world. Making mini bikes would mean I’d have to master the 3D printer and that could benefit my job and a new hobby.

So, I started building miniature bikes at 1:12 scale. My dream job.

There are some obvious technical skills in your work. What did you need to learn to make your bikes?

I actually started from zero and there were a lot of technical skills I needed to learn. Doing this properly meant I needed thorough knowledge of bikes, 3D modeling and printing skills, and miniature painting skills.

I love bikes. I've bought, disassembled, reassembled, and sold many bikes. I've always been more interested in customizing bikes than actually riding them. I especially like carbon-composite wheels and have been buying cheap used wheels my whole life. Over the years, I learned how to read geometry tables and understand size standards. This knowledge helped get me started.

By trade, I am an engineer, but have no experience with 3D modeling or CAD. One day, I happened to see a younger colleague of mine working in CAD and thought to myself, "If that young guy can do it, so can I!”. I found myself a cheap laptop and taught myself Fusion 360 an (almost) free software from Autodesk.

3D printing technology evolves really fast these days. The cost performance of 3D printers has improved dramatically and you can get a great printer for about $300-500. After a bunch of research, I settled on Nova3D’s Elfin2 MONO. Most 3D printers are made in Asia (not in Japan) and come with manuals that are pretty simple. I definitely needed to go online and look things up to get started with my printer.

Learning how to paint the models was more of a challenge. I started out using spray paint which didn't work too well. I ended up buying an airbrush this year which was yet another skill to learn but I'm quite proud of my paint jobs now. I found a painting technique on Twitter, that used women’s stockings as a paint applicator. Another learning from my experience is that it takes courage to go into a store and buy women's stockings :)

What does a typical day look like for you?

7:00 Wake up
7:15 Check last night's 3D prints
7:30 Get my son ready for school
8:00 Go to work
19:00 Come home
19:30 Dinner, bathe my son
21:00 Put my son to bed
24:00 3D modeling and painting
0:30 Check Instagram
1:00 Go to bed

Before I started making my bikes this schedule had a lot more of "staring at my phone".

How do you choose which bikes to replicate?

I choose my bikes based on one rule—they have to be cool. Seriously though, they have to be cool and they have to be track bikes without complicated logos or painted parts.

I love track bikes and focus on them in my builds. I love the simplicity of track bikes—short rear and front centers, and compact geometry. So clean. Also, my favorite composite wheels look good on them. Road bikes are often too complicated, and I don't have a lot of experience with mountain bikes.

What is the process to create a replica? How long does a bike take?

Each bike takes about two weeks. My process includes: deciding on a model, gathering materials, 3D modeling and printing, resin curing, surface treatment, and painting.

Choosing a model happens pretty quickly. I usually have 2-3 bikes I want to build in my head already, and I pick what I want at the time of building. For example, I recently chose the BMC TRC01 because of its sexy seat lugs.

For simpler designs such as aluminum or Chromoly bikes, chances are you can find a geometry chart on the manufacturer's website (or *ahem* Bike Gear Database). However, for vintage racers and rare models, there are often no geometry tables available. When this happens, I build the bike based on photographs. When building from photos, the proportions of the bike when viewed from the side are crucial. The reference photo has to be taken from the side with a decent lens. An easy way to tell if a photo is a good reference is to look at the roundness of the wheel. If the wheel is a perfect circle, not an oval, the photo is good. Getting good photos from the front and side can be difficult. When I can't seem to source any, I just have to do some guesswork. I use the standardized parts such as pipe diameter, rear-end width, BB width, etc. as a reference, then I create a 3D model from the photos. I usually upload this step of the process as an Instagram story.

Once I have the model created, printing is rather simple. I prepare the 3D model for printing using open-source software called Slicer. Slicer prepares the model by cutting it into about 4000 layers in the Z-axis direction. The total height of my models is usually about 80mm, and Slicer will divide it into 4000 equal parts at a pitch of 0.02m. It takes about 5 seconds to print one layer or about 6 hours for all 4000 layers.

After printing the model will have uncured resin on its surface. This resin is super toxic. The resin is cleaned with isopropyl alcohol (IPA) which is also considered harmful. It really is a hellish process. Resin stinks, and so does the IPA. The only trouble is, the stinkier it is, the stronger the final model will be. So, I wear a gas mask like Darth Vader. Then, I use additional ultraviolet light for final curing.

From here on, it's the same as with any plastic model. The model has lamination marks on the surface that I smooth using sandpaper; then I apply primer, color, and a clear coat. Easy.

How does making the bikes make you feel? How does it enrich your life?

I am having fun. Creating these bikes is a very important part of my life right now because they make somebody like me, an average Japanese worker, feel like an actual creator. Making bike models is one of the milestones in creating my world. I still have a long way to go.

"Creating these bikes is a very important part of my life … they make somebody like me, an average Japanese worker, feel like an actual creator."

My challenge at the moment is the fact that I can’t respond to all the requests from my followers and this disappoints me. There are so many people who want my bikes as gifts for their friends, loved ones, themselves, or for various other reasons. I want to apologize here for not being able to respond to them. It's fun to make models for me, but I haven't quite thought about how to scale their production—an exciting goal to have.

How important is precision when building bikes?

For me, it’s not important at all. If I need to deviate from the original design because of building difficulties or design reasons, I don’t hesitate.

For example, consider the spokes on a wheel. The diameter of a spoke is typically 2mm. Even if I could 3D print a spoke at 1:12 scale it would probably fall apart while the support material was being removed. Some other modelers use brass wire or piano wire instead of printing spokes to look like actual real wheels. At this point, There’s no way I could do that. What matters most to me is the finished art piece.

The level of detail is incredible. You can see the teeth in the chainrings and even the links in the chain. What type of printer and material do you use?

I’ve started printing chains recently but I'm still trying to perfect it. My printer uses UV light to cure the resin which works great for smaller details.

Surprisingly, this printer uses an LCD panel like the ones used in smartphones to control the UV light. It is the resolution of the LCD panel that determines the resolution of the printer. Mine is an inexpensive kind and uses an LCD of about full HD (2K). It can only print roughly 10x17 cm at once which is just enough to print one bike. This takes about 6 to 8 hours.

Because it uses liquid crystal, it leaves stacking marks (pixel marks) on the printed material.

Better printers have higher resolution LCDs; and, for example, models with 4K LCDs seem to be able to print more (and cleaner) details. I heard printers with 8K LCDs have come out recently. You probably no longer need to file with these printers. Since 3D printers are evolving so quickly, you should only trust information about 3D printers that is less than six months old.

Why do you not sell the bikes?

People ask me this a lot. The main concern is around licensing issues. I have a lot of respect for the bike manufacturers and don't want to upset them. Currently, I am printing well-known brand names on my models without any permission. I believe I am allowed to do that because I’m not selling them.

The solution might be to start my own brand and sell bikes with my original designs. This is more in line with my dream to create my world. I am very excited about it. I also want to push myself to see how far I can go without borrowing well-known bikes and brand names. If you have any good ideas on how to scale this, please contact me via Instagram.

Do you consider yourself Shokunin?

No. My goal is not to be a Shokunin who’s mastered precision, but to become an entertainer who excites and inspires people. A Shokunin uses craftsmanship in the service of others. I create for myself. I want it to be less serious and more silly. I'm a jokester by nature. My writing so far for this interview has been too serious and it makes me want to puke. I want to do more silly things.

In Japan, we have a type of bicycle racing that people can gamble on called Keirin. Keirin bikes are regulated to be clean and fair. The bikes are only allowed to be built by people who are authorized by the Keirin regulatory organization. For example, Tsukumo Cycles and their brand Kalavinka is one of them. Keirin bikes are custom-made for riders. Keirin builders are true Shokunin.

Do you have any thoughts about where you’d like to be in 5 or 10 years?

Over the past year, I've taught myself all the skills I need to make miniature bikes. The next step would be to sell bikes designed by me and build a miniature bike store.

I very much want to start telling the stories behind the bikes I create. I plan on building a miniature piste-bike crew, with original action figures and relating their culture, not just the bikes themselves. That way I can show people my world.

If you could give any insight on life, creativity, or anything, what would it be?

I am generally considered a happy person but I spend 11 hours a day at the office. I always look for ways to make those 11 hours exciting but that is challenging at my current company.

In my early twenties, I accepted my job because I needed a salary and stability—I didn't have time to think about what I really wanted to do. Now in my forties, I do. I chose to be a creator and invest two hours a day in that dream.

One year later, I'm getting better at CAD and 3D printing, I have a solid following and a totally new direction. For just two hours a day, my life has changed.

Come back and check out my work in ten years!

Additional Creds:
Photos: Haniwaya3
Translation: Shoko Hemmingsen
Editing: Brigitte Lachapelle


barry lachapelle
barry lachapelle

Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.

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