Cateye seems to be one of those brands that has been there since the beginning. Well at least the beginning of our memories of cycling products, especially when it comes to bike lights. It has the sort of logo that looks like it was designed 30 years ago, and most probably it was.
A Solid Reputation
It’s a company that seems to have a pretty solid reputation for the products it makes. But I never gave much thought about where it comes from, their story and the people behind it. Three years ago Mayu and I started our big cycling trip from South Africa to Japan, and we were on the hunt for some rechargeable, front and rear lights to keep us safe at night, in fog or in the cities along the way. Cateye popped up in our minds straight away, and it turns out their head office is just down the road from Mayu’s house in Osaka! We sent them an email to ask if they wanted to support our trip with the promise that one day we would ride into their office to say hello. They were super positive about our journey and said they’d love to help us out. And three years later we turn up at their doorstep.
It was quite a surreal feeling, as most global brands, are just brands, and brands live in our collective imagination, on the internet, in magazines. Rarely do we think about the building where the products are conceptualised, tested and marketed. So it was quite strange sitting down at their meeting table talking about the history of the company, with someone that had been with Cateye for the last 25 years.
Visiting very few Japanese workplaces myself, I’m not exactly qualified to tell you what a Japanese company is like, but Cateye felt very Japanese. The matching uniforms, the polite welcome we received, the customary cup of green tea. And whenever we asked a question about the company, the focus was always on the future, and how they are striving to improve their products. The impression I got, was they are a company that focuses on making first and foremost the best products they can, and when something supersedes something else, they will bring it out as soon as possible.
Cateye don’t push the ‘we are the best’ approach in their marketing, the vibe I get is ‘we are always trying to improve’ that’s quite a humble message and maybe one of the reasons they are leaders in their field.
Cateye, a much catchier name than the previous ‘Tsuyama Works’ took off more than 70 years ago, when they launched themselves into the global marketplace making high quality reflectors. From that start, they began making bicycle lights and later on, bicycle computers. It was very interesting to take a peek at some of their vintage pieces, reminding us how times have moved on. The space dedicated in the early lights for disposable batteries were outrageously huge and took me straight back to my childhood days, thinking about all the torches I used to have as a kid. Now days all their high quality bike lights take a rechargeable battery designed by Cateye themselves, which is a welcome world away from those chunky duracells. What a pain that would be, trying to find decent replacement batteries as a cycle tourist in the days gone by.
The most impressive light we were shown, was the eye blinding, fan powered volt 6000. Handmade in Japan, it took one serious looking battery pack and gave out a very blinding light. You’d cause a few accidents on the road with a light like that, and therefore it is restricted to off road use only. Very understandable as I was struggling to see for quite a few minutes, after stupidly looking directly into it.
Cycling On The Mind
We want to say a big thanks to Takaura San for taking time out of his day to give us the tour of Cateye’s head office. I must add though, at times it was difficult to keep him on topic, as soon as he found out about our plans to cycle around the country, he would often divert our attention to google maps and explain one of the many bicycle routes he knew about in Japan. It was obvious that he was just another keen cyclist, more interested in riding than talking about lights, reflectors and computers. And let’s be honest, without the cycling, Cateye wouldn’t exist. Thanks for your tips Takaura San! Overall Mayu and I had an interesting morning visiting Cateye and we will continue to use Cateye lights for our travels around Japan. Which unlike our past travels will involve a lot more night city riding, the only economic way to travel around any Japanese city.