Deep within the backstreets scattered along the Tama River are numerous workshops specialising in what seems like a limitless number of crafts. The area still retains many of these unique makers and artisans, despite the city’s constant evolution. Among these ageing workshops Equilibrium Cycleworks is something of an anomaly. Run by bespoke frame builder Vladimir Balahovsky, originally from Latvia, who’s own story of becoming a bicycle frame builder is just as unique.
The dream of building handmade bicycles was a succession of coincidences, beginning with the restoration of vintage Italian racing bikes which initially grew his fledgling obsession. Frame building courses in Japan at the time had extremely long waiting lists spanning many years, but undeterred Vlad continued to research and educate himself about techniques and materials, immersing himself in the craft. On visiting a local workshop Vlad met Ohtaki Masami, a passionate and respected NJS certified frame builder. Hesitantly asking if he would teach him his craft, Ohtaki-san unexpectedly agreed and without hesitation explained which tools Vlad would need to begin his education. He’d stand for hours, just watching how his teacher moved, observing the calm beauty in the detailed way he used his tools.
They built complete frames together before it was time for Vlad to work on his own, but unable to afford all of the tools in the beginning he was restricted to practicing his technique, brazing steel tubes together through hours of repetition, gradually building confidence in the art before finally creating his first frames. Initially cutting all of the tubes by hand which gave him a more direct connection to the type of steel he was working with, a valuable insight early on into the idiosyncrasies of the material.
A committed cyclist himself, when he began his own workshop, Vlad naturally understood that the only real opinion that mattered was that of the rider. It was through this process that his own personal style of frame building emerged…