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!


  1. Hey Rod!
    I still have a Sekine, and would sell it, if you're interested in it!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hey Rod,
    I've got a very nice Sekine bike that I need to sell. As much as I'd like to keep it, the frame is too big for me. I believe it's the SHX 270 model, and it is almost full Dura-Ace. Take a look at some of the pictures here: