Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ride it if you have it

Pulled from the garage every spring, ready to go, just as you remember it from last year. Brush off the cobwebs, a spider scurries from under the seat. Put some air into those 27" tires, a quick pull of the brakes to make sure they're still solid. That old Sekine comes out every summer, paint still colourful in the sun, ready to ride down the block, to the park, around the city and beyond if you've still got the legs. Sekines are best for riding.

Sekine RM-10, probably from 1981

Spotted this nice blue Sekine RM-10 out last Sunday, just before the official start of summer. Looks like it was taken right out of the garage and ridden down the street- original parts, not too much wear. It's rare to see a head-turner, higher-end model like this, especially in such nice condition (Shimano 600 group components, nice rims, seatpost, high-end Tange fork and frame). When I see a Sekine of this quality and condition, in my size, it takes a lot of willpower not to leave a note offering to buy the bike; but I realize that the bike is usually worth more to its owner than I'm willing to pay. I imagine that I'd always like to keep a Sekine in my house, ready to ride- and luckily I do have one. I'm still commuting a couple days a week on the old, tricked-out SHS frame; red, shiny, and faster than you'd expect. Those old 27" tires sure roll smoothly, and does anyone really need more than 10 speeds? That Sekine is a sweet ride, just wish it were my size!

Also, in case you were wondering- I am still selling copies of the Sekine Zine! I never expected to sell as many as I have, and am down to my last two copies left from the previous print run. Since orders continue to trickle in, I will get more printed soon. I also continue to collect any weird Sekine ephemera or stories, and I'd still like to hear from any factory workers (or managers) out there- so don't hesitate to contact me (rod of the flies @yahoo.ca, no spaces).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

DIY Decal Restoration

The Sekine promotional materials I've read brag about their multi-step paint process, and 30 years later many a frame is still "lustrous and long-lasting." The decals, however, are another matter. Applied after the final clear coating of the frame, the decals are prone to peeling or abrasion, and I've seen more than a few missing letters. The seat tube decals hold up rather well, possibly because of their larger adhesion area and minimal edges.
The main advantage, I suspect, of decals over the paint is that it speeds up the factory's production process. Applying decals below the clear coating would introduce a slower step, and possibly contamination, into the production.

I have a frame I am restoring, and the old downtube SEKINE decal was long stripped away, with faint ghost outlines remaining. But what's the point of riding a Sekine, if people don't know it's a Sekine?
Luckily, it's not hard to make a simple, lettered decal. I made a photocopy of some mint SEKINE letters to use as a stencil, and found some sticky vinyl paper to use for the decal. With some careful effort, I traced then cut out identical lettering for each side.
Cleaning the frame is a crucial step. I used some toxic-smelling solvent to help carefully dissolve any remaining old decals, and finally wiped down the frame with rubbing alcohol (which leaves no residue).
Carefully, I applied the new decals into the ghost of the old, firmly pressing down the edges to make sure they stick. Et voila! The DIY decals are quite sharp looking, and from a few feet away look factory-new.


Before and after.

The seat tube (and frame tubing material) decal would be much harder to reproduce (and more specific to the model year), and I'd have to enlist a professional print shop to make them. Which is exactly what a friend of mine did when restoring his vintage Sekine. He had more than a few sets made, and they are for sale if you're restoring a Sekine of your own. Contact for info.

There's also a shop or two making vintage decals for bicycles- but I haven't seen any Sekine decal sets yet. Velocals.com is good, with lots to offer.

Edit 5/2014:
Jim Nielsen from Vancouver has scanned the originals and re-printed sets of the Sekine downtube decals. He has a few sets for sale. Your best bet for replacements is to contact him directly via e-mail: jimbotoad (AT) shaw.ca

Monday, June 18, 2012

Eyes Always Open

Through the rainy winter months, my passion for this project dwindled a bit as I didn't see many Sekine bicycles out on the streets. My theory is that since the majority of the bikes were equipped with steel rims, they have poor brake performance (especially in the rain!), and Vancouver gets a lot of rain and has a lot of hills. Many serious commuter cyclists have also upgraded to more efficient, modern bikes- although I've seen many old Sekines filling the role of a "winter beater". I think I spotted more Sekines on Craigslist than I did outside.

Now it's summer again, and warmer weather brings out a wave of old ten-speed bikes and fair-weather riders. Pulled out of garages, storage rooms and balconies where they've been sitting for months or even decades, the old bikes re-appear in numbers increasing to match the sunny days. I find it interesting to note how many cyclists, spurred on by the recent bike movement, are riding bicycles produced during the last great bike boom.

Sekine spotting; late model RM30 converted to flat bars.
A Sekine rides by over there, and I see one parked over here. Mostly faded and scratched over decades of use, with rusty bolts and mis-matched replacement parts, the bikes wear well (although the SEKINE decals tend to peel off). I'm delighted to spot the occasional mint specimen; chrome forks and glossy paint shining in the sun, all original parts still fresh after a long slumber in the back of an attic. Shiny fenders, original kickstand, original brake pads (yikes), maybe there's even a shop sticker or an old bicycle registration tag on the frame.

Flat handle bars are a common sight on many old ten-speeds; a modification that helps make these racer-style frames (with long top-tubes) more comfortable. Only a few Sekine models came from the factory with an upright cruiser bar; these so-called "touring-style" bikes were the cheaper 5-speeds (SHL 276 & SHC 276, SIA 053 & SIA 853, MTL-35F & TM-35F).

Most of the Sekine bicycles that are actively used display more than a few modifications- years of wear take their toll, parts wear out and get replaced. Unfortunately, when it comes time to replace worn-out parts, many owners balk at repair costs and instead go shopping for a shiny new bike. Sekines are old technology, and while they're still useful, it's often true that they simply aren't good as newer bicycles.

Compared to a new bicycle, most old ten-speeds suffer from cumbersome shifting, poor braking, and are on the heavy side of the scale. But the old steel parts and frames do have a couple inherent advantages- they were simple, easily serviced, and built to last (and currently have a reto-cool appeal).
So used-bike classifieds are full of old ten-speeds; items ranging from mint to mangled. It's a real circus out there, and every summer it amazes me how much sellers are asking for used bikes (especially in Vancouver). That old Sekine might have cost $250 new, but now it's used- and over 30 years old. A mint condition model is worth more for its nostalgia than its usefulness.

Here are some general, quick tips on buying a used Sekine:
- Check out the forks; if they look bent or pushed back, the bike has been crashed. It won't steer properly, and may break.
- If the forks don't have chrome tips, it's the cheapest model.
- If it has a "Jewel" headbadge, it's an older or cheaper model.
- If the wheel rims are shiny chrome steel, the brakes will suck.
- If some amateur mechanic has put the bike together, beware.
- Almost no Sekine is worth more than $300, and for more than $150 it better have new tires and parts.

Buying a used, 'vintage' bicycle is a real buyer-beware situation. Used bikes are initially a cheaper purchase but often have hidden problems; and usually they still need work or replacement parts. If you're not familiar with the mechanics of bicycles, you're almost better off buying a new cycle from a bike shop that will take care of you and provide support and advice.
But if you love that old Sekine cycle- fix it up properly and ride it like it's 1979!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sekine Canada's 1975 Catalogue

At last, a look at the Sekine line-up from the first years of production. An original catalogue has been delivered to my eager eyes!

Every bit of this booklet is awesome. Factory workers wearing the company's short-lived blue smocks. The lifestyle photography, set on the Manitoba prairies, features fashionably dressed couples caressing each other.  And those classic Sekine bicycles, with gleaming pie plates, chainring guards, steel rims, and reflectors. As they say in French: Bicyclette Sekine – Notre spĂ©cialitĂ©... la qualite.

I'd like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to Lorne Shields for sending me this catalogue; which I now share with all you Sekine fans out there. Click to see the entire Sekine 1975 Catalogue

Friday, January 13, 2012

Some Weights and Measures

Some geeky technical specs to start your morning.

Thanks to one of the mechanics at the Recyclistas shop in Victoria, BC for this tip. It seems Sekine bikes have an odd 70mm bottom bracket shell size; but use the common 1.37"x24TPI threading. Many older road bikes would be the ubiquitous English-standard 68mm shell, although Italian BBs were also 70mm (with a different threading).
Not sure exactly how many of the bikes used the 70mm size, but they were probably on most models, at least up to 1979. Need to check some more frames.

1974, model SHT

1977, model SHL


Some more technical information. While I had the above pictured frames stripped down, I weighed them both. Both frames have the same lugs but predictably the mixte frame, with its plain steel and extra tubes, is 2lbs heavier. Here's the numbers:
20" Sekine SHT: frame 4lb 7oz, fork 1lb 10oz (Combined 6lb 2oz)
This was Sekine's second from top-of-the-line frame. Lugged, with chromed stays and fork. Built with butted Cromoly tubing and Shimano drop-outs and fork tips.
20" Sekine SHL: frame 6lb 8oz, fork 1lb 13oz (Combined 8lb 6oz)
This was Sekine's nicest mixte racer frame. Lugged, with chrome-dipped fork. Built with Canadian-made hi-tensile tubing, stamped dropouts.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Second Printing!

I'm excited to report that the first print run of the Sekine zine has completely sold out. It was amazing to witness the stack of printed copies steadily dwindling in singles and pairs as deliveries went out the door. It's always so nice to see someone's eyes light up when they flipped through a copy, so I promptly went back to the printer to make a second batch. That fresh photocopy smell, and a new stack of folded covers!

The Sekine Zine: a bit obsessive

If you'd like to buy a zine in person, I'm happy to report that a few awesome bike shops now have copies under the counter:
- Our Community Bikes (Vancouver)
- New West Cycle (New Wesminster)
- Fairfield Bicycle Shop (Victoria)
If you know of a shop that might be interested in the Sekine zine, contact me and we'll set something up. And as usual, copies are always available directly from the order page

After "Made in Japan" but before "Made in Canada"

Still hearing about new tidbits of Sekine information and meeting people as the Project rolls along. Stay tuned for more posting in the new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Factory Footage

Dark and frosty outside? Get a mug of hot tea, and settle in to watch these videos. Learn about the mysterious inner workings of bicycle factories!

Here's a look at the French manufacturer Peugeot, from 1985:

It looks as though Peugeot manufactured their own tubing, forks, and even rims. Sekine's factory was much smaller and limited in scope, but used some similar processes.

From the How It's Made video series comes this episode about a bicycle factory (CCM):

Interesting because they're manufacturing plain, low-tech steel bikes, in Canada, much like Sekine did. Obviously some of the manufacturing machines are more advanced (in particular more fully automated wheel building), but it's a simple flow- frames, paint, sub-assembly, conveyor belt final assembly.

Campy chain manufacturing, from the How It's Made series:


And a look at modern, mass-production factory wheel building:

Although this factory is in China, the Sekine wheel build process was similar. Hand lacing, with an automatic machine tensioning, then final truing by hand.

Last but not least, a look at Continental bicycle tire manufacturing.

There's also a longer, very detailed Schwalbe-produced video on Youtube that's worth watching. It's interesting to think that even Canada used to have bicycle tires manufactured domestically.

Anyone else have some good links to bicycle-factory videos?