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?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Keeps rollin' on

I'm excited to say that so far, the Sekine Project zines have sold better than expected. I'm currently working to get them into bikes stores or co-ops, to reach anyone interested in a good read. Sekine were a relatively small manufacturer, but this bicycle brand seems to possess a huge nostalgia factor for many Canadians.
I'm even more excited to acknowledge all the wonderful people I've met through this project. Recently, through my efforts at distributing the zine, I've been introduced to many more cyclists who remember Sekine and have something to share.
Nice Medialle headbage with a white fill, on this SHS 271 from 1974

Naively, I had assumed that once the zine was printed the real work would be over and the project would be finished. Seems a silly notion, in hindsight. What's happened is that with most people I meet, the zine brings out their enthusiasm for Sekine, and I hear a good story or learn something new. So the project keeps rolling on, and I'll try to keep posting interesting items on this blog.

I'm soliciting constructive comments and memories from every reader, because with a project like this, there's always something new to learn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now in Print!

It's finally finished! Behold the Sekine zine:

Sekine zine cover pages

After months of editing and revisions, the zine is finally printed and ready to go. An large envelope stuffed full of Sekine zines accompanied me yesterday to Canzine West. Quietly put onto the table and launched without fanfare, the zine sold well and received some very positive initial reviews.

The Sekine zine is a black-and-white, 36-page photocopied booklet that details the history of Sekine Canada Ltd. It contains more information about Sekine than you'd ever want to know, and includes photos and tidbits you won't find anywhere online. If you've ever wondered about Sekine bicycles, where or how they were made, this zine has all that information- and more.

Sekine zine inside pages

Sekine zine exclusive photos

It's not a detailed guide to specific bicycle models, as a vintage catalog accompanied by a learned eye is more accurate. The zine does, however, contain general identification pointers, a serial number guide, and an extensive reference list for further reading. Given time and a budget I would have written a book; but this zine is quite good and a lot cheaper!

Sekine zine, more inside spread

Sekine zine, more photos
The zine is available to order directly from me. Paypal is easiest, but I'd still accept old-school cash through the mail. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me (rodoftheflies AT yahoo DOT ca). Buy yours today!

Sekine Zine + Postage

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Crash

A beautiful sunny morning, clear blue skies and dry roads. We both had the day off, and it took a while to get out of the house. With fun and frivolous diversions in mind, we set off on our bikes. I was riding my fixed gear, my girlfriend was on her single speed Sekine mixte.
A block from our house, approaching a familiar four-way intersection on a stale green light, I was in the lead. Anticipating the traffic lights, I figured the girlfriend was a good distance behind me. As the light changed from green to yellow, I was nearing the crosswalk and suddenly decided to stop, rather than go through the intersection, and slammed on my front brake, skidding the rear wheel a bit.
Just coming to a stop, I had about a second's warning as I heard a noise from behind me, an "Oh shi-" WHAM! The impact pushed me and bike through the crosswalk, where I fell onto the ground. "Ahh, what the F*CK!" My girlfriend had been following more closely than I'd thought, and had just enough time to slam on the brakes before plowing into my bike's rear end.
"Owww. Dammit. Are you okay?" Four lanes of motorists looked on as we dragged our bikes off to the sidewalk. Somehow the Sekine's brake lever was snagged in my bike's rear fender, and I picked pieces of my shattered tail light off the pavement. We examined the damage.
Some fender stays got bent, but my wheels and the rest of the bike seemed fine. Let's have a look at your Sekine- uh oh.

Twin top tubes bent upward, flaking the paint. Not shown, but the fork was bent back as well.

Lower lug broken away from head tube. The lower spoon on the lug dug into the tubing, buckling it nicely.

Obviously, the Sekine is toast. Had we crashed further away, she could actually have ridden this bike home (slowly, as the fork bent far back the steering is quite wonky). Steel, as they say, is real. The material fails in a way that, to me, seems nicely predictable, obvious, and relatively safe. Fixing this frame, although technically possible, would require so much labour and new tubing that it's not a realistic option. This is actually the third crash this 30-year old frame has been through (with just its current owner) and it's time for a replacement.

So, hours later we both have some bruises and pains. The hospital x-rayed her arm, and luckily declared it unbroken. The nose of my Brooks saddle kicked me in the backside like a hammer blow. We'll heal and be a little wiser (I hope) for the experience, but this Sekine is done.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sekine Zine Update

The Sekine Project's original goal was to find out about the company, and eventually publish a small zine with my findings. I've been working to accomplish this over the past few months.
The booklet is well underway, with a target of having printed copies in hand by mid-November. I've spent hours editing the text and photos, revising and updating. New information keeps coming my way, which delays completion but is welcome because of the more comprehensive picture provided. I've been fortunate enough to have a few really good interviews, and talk to other knowledgeable people.
The zine will be around 30 pages, with something nice for a cover. When I have them done, I'll post them up here for sale. Cost will be printing+mailing.

In the meantime, here's a photo of an original Sekine lug set; Tange lugs and Shimano dropouts.
Nice forged dropouts, stamped and welded lugs need filing to finish.
I still welcome any submissions of information and Sekine bicycle stuff. Contact me via email; rodoftheflies (this space to prevent spam)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Original Decals

The other day, I had the the pleasure of interviewing a former Sekine employee. He was most generous; in addition to his time, he gifted me a set of original Sekine decals he had kept from 1979.

Sekine Decals

Ironically, the seat tube decal itself was printed in Japan. Now I need to find a frame worth repainting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Looking at Lugs

Let's take a closer look at that most important frame piece- lugs. Sure, lugs exist primarily to hold the frame together, but long ago frame builders realized lugs could be beautiful as well as functional. They were a chance to show off one's craftsmanship and distinguish a bicycle. Of course, mass-produced frames aren't afforded the same detailing as a custom-built, but even production lugs can have style as well as strength.

A basic socket lug with no ornamentation on a cheaper frame. Plenty strong, but heavy.

Looking at the lugs used by Sekine over the years, we see several different types. Obviously, you'll find the plain-cut socket joints used on bottom-end frames; but there's variance through the years and more expensive models. Many of the lugs resemble, at a glance, the famous Nervex lugs from France.

The famous "Continental-cut" lug appeared on thousands of Sekine's mid-70s SHT, SHS, & SHL frames. The lug features fancier cutouts, and retains its strength while reducing weight and adding aesthetic appeal.
I have yet to confirm a definite timeline for the various lugs, or reason why a switch was made. Also worth noting is that several other Japanese frame manufacturers used the same lugs as Sekine. In particular, the Nishiki (and later Norco) bicycles are nearly identical, and similar lugs are found on the lesser-known Azuki brand. It's also worth noting that there are several different types of lugs on the mixte frames; these are most noticeable on the head tube-top tube joint.

Another basic lug, yet it has some ornamentation

Sekine probably had a few suppliers for their frame materials, (for example, Shimano dropouts) but most notably Tange Industries supplied many of the lugs, and much of the steel tubing used to build the frames. Tange also made the forks for most of the Sekine bicycles.

The lugs pictured above are on frames made perhaps a year apart, around 1980. The one on the left is a cheaper frame; the lug is chunky and heavy. The frame on the right has nicer lugs, with long smooth tangs and more defined curves. I'm not sure what Sekine used for brazing material, but I'll find out soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

RM-20 Rides Like New

I took the newly-built Sekine out on a good 40km ride across town, and boy- this bike can fly. It's amazing how fast 30-year old steel rolling on 1 1/4" rubber can go. Power transmission feels solid, even though the ride seems cushy. The steering holds a strong line, almost to the point of unresponsiveness. Somehow, it's easy to set up a quivering speed wobble in the steering; but just as easy to snap out of it. The bike climbs a bit slow, but is very stable on the descent. And despite a bit of sun-fading, that red paint still looks great.

21" x 22" triangle.

Fit is the biggest issue; but I knew when I bought the bike that it was a size small. The seat post is raised to the max height (but still 2cm too low), as is the stem; which as a result, makes the bars feel flexy, and the bike looks a bit strange. Even with a 56cm top tube, the 60mm stem makes me feel a bit compressed; I notice that when I'm in the drops, I have to scoot my butt back almost off the seat to feel comfortable. However, I can probably ride short to moderate distances with no problems, and the small size makes the bike easy to whip around. I'd prefer handlebars wider than the 39cm c-c Road Champions, but feeling narrow can be nice on the streets.

Shifting with down-tube levers took some getting used to. Always reaching down, gauging cable pull by touch while keeping eyes on the road, ears listening for trim. The rear derailleur has a little quirk which could be termed "soft shifting". As the cable is pulled, a small spring-loaded arm on the derailleur body swings into contact to make the shift. This small, initial pull gives a mushy feeling at the shifter for a moment before engagement- I think I'd prefer a straight pull. Obviously, deft shifting will only come from practice, and the system is beautifully light and simple. Also, I will apply some thread-lock compound on the shifter adjustment screws, as they kept coming loose.

The gearing surprised me with its versatility. With a big 52/42 ring up front, the bike definitely likes speed, but this is balanced by a generous 14-28 range in the back. The big ring is actually useful around the city. Climbing the hills around Vancouver's bike routes, I definitely appreciated the 28T, and can see why old Sekines sold with this range may have been popular here. Long term, I'd probably switch the 42T for a 39T ring, just to add a bit more low-end for days when I'm tired.

Braking is probably the biggest concern with this bike. Going fast is thrilling, but it's more frightening when I know the brakes have a sluggish response. As mentioned in the re-build post, the brakes are Shimano Tourney long-reach side-pull calipers, which I have tried to augment with nice road cartridge pads and compressionless housing. Stopping is still more of a gradual affair that I'd like (compared to the disc brakes I'm accustomed to), however it's probably as good as it can get. Worst of all, after initial set-up, the rear brake caliper howled a painful vibration that travels up through the frame, buzzing one's genitals unnervingly. This is a clamorous problem, and I'm attempting to quell it by experimenting with the adjustment of the brake's center pivot nut (Update: setting the pivot a bit loose made a large improvement).

New tires, saddle, and bar tape make a big improvement.

On the initial quick test ride, the chain seemed prone to skipping off the rear cogs. Closer inspection revealed that this was probably due to insufficient chain wrap, caused by a weak derailleur pivot spring. My solution was to remove the dropout spacer inserts, moving the axle to the rear of the dropouts, and further past the derailleur pivot. So far this has eliminated the problem, although giving a 1cm longer wheelbase.

Overall, the bike is fun. It's exciting to ride something I've only looked at for so long, and it's strange seeing the bike parked in the house. It's red, chromed, silver parts, and pretty. I can't wait to take it out again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RM-20 Rebuild

After stripping, cleaning, and rust-checking the frame, I moved to do the same with the components. Despite the Sekine's composition of a few relatively simple parts, a thorough cleaning took hours.

Dirty essentials in the parts box

The derailleurs looked the most interesting, so I started with them. A rag and screwdriver to clean off decades of accumulated grime, and a bottle of Phil Wood oil to re-lube pivots and screw threads. Repeat the procedure with the brake calipers. The crankset was pretty dirty. Pulled all the chainring bolts, and spent twenty minutes wiping old, dried-up grease from the chainrings. Some oil on the bolt threads, and it all went back together smoothly.
The wheels that came on this bike when I bought it were mismatched, and not in particularly good shape. I replaced them with some other wheels I had lying around- from another Sekine, incidentally. Araya 27x1 1/4" alloy rims, laced with 36 spokes to Shimano hubs, with some choice new Continental tires.

Shimano Altus LT derailleurs, date code EI; 1980/Sep

The re-build went rather smoothly. Packed the old steel headset with fresh grease, gave it a push and watched it twirl. The cup-and-cone bottom bracket, Takagi brand matching the cranks, was an easy overhaul. New bearings with lots of grease, shielded by an inner dust shield, spins almost like new. Throw on the matching Takagi Tourney cranks, tighten down the spindle nuts, install pedals. Add on the Shimano Altus LT derailleurs and down-tube shifters, followed by the Tourney long-reach brake calipers. Bars and stem go next, install brake levers and line them up. A nice Brooks saddle goes onto the seatpost, because I don't much like riding on anything else. Some brand-new cartridge brake pads onto the calipers, and install wheels into frame. Brake cables go into new Jagwire kevlar housing, to make those brakes feel as good as possible. A new Shimano chain to drive the machine. Then it's a matter of final touches; adjusting derailleur limit screws, cable tension, brake pad alignment, snugging down nuts and bolts. Last to go on is the bar tape, and I hum and haw over flashier colours before defaulting to the basic black.

Taking only a brief moment to step back and admire the new Sekine, I head out the door. The red machine surely looks a gem, but only a ride will tell; and that's the next post.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Model RM-20 Frame Details

The bare bones

Even before I bought my Sekine, I knew that any used bike would probably require a complete re-build. An overhaul would both ensure reliable long-term function of the bicycle, and bring it to a riding standard I'd be content with. Happily, a re-build is work that I enjoy doing, and I was eager to get into the details.

Tange 1" threaded fork, chrome-plated

Warning: bike nerd/mechanic stuff ahead!
As soon I had the chance I stripped the frame almost completely, leaving in only the press-fit headset cups and crown race. A bare frame is much easier to clean, although there were some thick streaks of hockey tape residue that required a lot of elbow grease to remove. A thorough cleaning gave me opportunity to look closely over the entire frame, and I examined where an old kickstand mount had slightly crushed the rear chainstays, and discovered a dent at the base of the downtube. Some quick sprays of Frame Saver into the 30 year old frame & fork tubes to slow any unseen rust seemed prudent.

Shimano LF dropouts, 130mm rear spacing

Frame laid bare (and leaking Rust Check) I took the opportunity to weigh it and get some photos. I present, for your Sekine-nerding enjoyment, specs for the RM-20 frame & fork:
Seat Tube: 53cm/ 21"
Top Tube: 56cm/ 22"
Chain Stays: 435mm
BB Drop: 60mm
Wheelbase: 1040mm/ 41"
Seatpost: 26.4mm
Brazed-on cable-guides and stops, DT water bottle bosses
Frame Weight (incl. steel headset cups): 5lb 10oz/ 2.56kg
Fork Weight (incl. steel headset race): 1lb 14oz/ 0.84kg (fork is chrome-plated)
I do not currently know the head/seat tube angles, nor the fork rake (anyone..?)

Inside the BB shell. Shimano cable guides brazed on top.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Prices from the Past

How much was that Sekine bicycle worth back in the day when it was new? I've managed to find a few retail prices scattered in old newspapers. Here's a listing from a Winnipeg bike shop in 1975:

SHS 270 - $250 - Deluxe cro-mo lightweight ten-speed
SHL 271 - $169 - Mixte hi-tensile lightweight ten-speed
SHC 270 - $160 - Hi-tensile lightweight ten-speed
SIA 271 - $130 - Hi-tensile
SIA 101 - $124 - Hi-tensile

Listings from previous and following years show that over time, prices climb (predictably) ever higher.
Now that we know how much they sold for back then, we can approximate what a Sekine would cost today using The Inflation Calculator. Of course, nowadays a lugged steel frame would probably cost a lot more, but you'll likely be getting a better product.
If you're buying a used bike, always subtract for wear, keep in mind the components you might have to replace, and remember that vintage does not necessarily mean good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Joining the Owner's Club

I've never owned a Sekine of my own. I've worked on them, fixed one up for my girl, and looked at dozens of them on the streets over this past summer.
Haunted by dreams of riding my own Sekine machine, I've been browsing the used bike ads on Craigslist for the past while. The other day I finally saw something I wanted to buy, a red RM-20 lightweight:
The Sekine RM-20, with disembodied hand

Took it for a quick test ride down the street, and it seemed alright. A quick look-over to make sure there was nothing obviously wrong with the frame hinted the bike needed much work, giving me grounds to bargain down the price. The lady selling was the original owner; since buying the bike in 1981 she'd ridden it countless miles all over the west coast. I handed over a fistful of bills, and doubled off home on my new (old) Sekine.

Buyer beware, of course. As with the majority of used bikes bought off Craigslist, this one needed more than a few repairs. Some things were obvious, some weren't. Here's a list: The cables and housing (almost always) need to be replaced, handlebar foam is worn out, the chain is worn out, the tires were old and starting to crack, the rear wheel was a mis-matched 700c, the seatpost is a tad short for me, the front brake pads have hardened. Add to that all the labour required to tune this machine to my standards (basically, a full overhaul and detailing). Despite all this, I think I paid a fair price, and got a nice little bonus out of the deal (post to come later!).

It's mine to work on now, mine to ride and obsess over. My first Sekine!

Over the next little while I'll be posting as I tear down and re-build this bike.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sekine SHB 271

A look at an earlier Sekine model, the SHB 271, dating from 1973:

( click photo for larger )

This 10-speed model was basic and solid. Sporting the 'Jewel' head badge, it had the familiar modern downtube lettering, and a CS 'lion's crest' seat tube decal declaring "World Finest Bicycle Made by SEKINE". The derailleurs are Shimano Lark (r) and Thunderbird (f), with Fingertip shifters, Tourney center-pull brakes. SR cranks, stem, and handlebar. The bike I examined had Shimano hubs, although steel and 'semi-large-flange', but did include alloy wing nuts.

The frames were certainly built at Sekine's Tokyo factory, the complete bike likely assembled there as well before shipping over to the Canadian distributor. It seems the SHB was superseded by the SHC model, once production was up and running at the Canadian factory (late 1973).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ken's Sekine

Ken was kind enough to send me some photos of his old ten-speed lightweight. Bought in 1976, and it looks like he took great care of it. The frame serial number suggests it was made in 1974, and maybe shipped from the factory later that year or even in 1975.

I would peg it as an SHS. The lugged frame has the shiny chrome-plated stays with Shimano forged dropouts, and a chrome-plated fork to match; with a sticker boasting of "Champion" butted cro-mo steel tubing. The head badge is the ubiquitous Sekine Cycle "Medialle", with a white fill. The seat tube has the CS crest topping Sekine Canada Ltd, with the modern SEKINE lettering on the down tube. It's worth noting the cable stops are Shimano bolt-on, as opposed to brazed-on.

The bicycle is equipped with the full Shimano package- Tourney centre-pull brakes, Fingertip downtube shifters, and Titlist front and rear derailleurs. SR double-ring alloy crank. Shimano safety-brake levers sit on a Sakae Custom "Road Champion" handlebar, held by an SR stem. Original chrome-plated seatpost and quilted seat.

The wheels have the common Shimano high-flange 'windowed' alloy hubs. The steel rims seem a bit out of place, as most models I have seen were equipped with alloy rims, though it is possible only later models had the lighter wheels. Ken had changed the tires, and added mudguards and a rear rack.

Ken admits is was tough letting go of the bike; hopefully whoever bought it treats it well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Distributed by Beacon Cycle

Before the establishment of Sekine Canada Ltd in 1973, the bicycles had to be imported to North America. Beacon Cycle was perhaps the only (confirmation, anyone?) Sekine distributor in the United States.

These made-in-Japan Sekines are readily identified by the "World Finest Bicycle Made By Sekine" decal on the down tube, also sporting a Jewel head badge, and are Suntour equipped. I've seen and read about a few of the bikes found in the United States that have a Beacon Cycle decal somewhere on the frame, and I've also seen what appears to be a factory "Distributed by Beacon" Sekine decal on the seat tube. May look something like the one pictured*

I was pleased to find more information about Beacon on Howie Cohen's Everything Bicycles Collection. It seems Beacon had strong ties to Japan, which probably lead to the relationship with Sekine.

It seems that after the establishment of the Canadian factory in 1973, North American distribution was controlled by the Acklands Co. of Winnipeg. It's not clear yet if the relationship with Beacon Cycles was continued, and there's evidence Sekine was attempting to expand their U.S. dealer network.

*Photo linked from Hdacy's Sekine Flickr set

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Another Sekine, parked at a rack in Edmonton. This one, made in Japan, had some interesting decals and that familiar CS jewel head badge.

Just another call-out to anyone with anything Sekine to share; serial numbers for the database, memories from the factory, photos from the 70s when you and your friend toured on your ten-speeds to the next province over- send it up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What's it Worth?

I have a few stock answers at the ready, for that inevitable moment when I'm asked to evaluate someone's bicycle. "It's probably worth more to you than anyone else," or "I'll give you $10 right now," are my favourite shortcuts to the same point.

TL/DR: Your old Sekine is not worth more than $200, unless it's really nice, properly tuned, and has new parts.

There's an adage that an item is only worth as much as a buyer is willing to pay; and that amount depends a lot on both the item and the buyer. If I already have three bikes and my shed is full, I wouldn't pay much for another one, no matter how nice. On the other hand, if the bike isn't worth much but I really need one, I'd pay more.
Among the many thousands of Sekine bikes out there, probably only a few dozen are actually collector's items. These are the unique, custom-built, high-end racer models, preferably in mint shape. From there, the market interest declines, until eventually you're looking at a trailer full of miscellaneous rusty parts.

Vintage bicycle pricing is a fickle thing. People seem to buy them because they either have a sentimental attachment (collection), or because they just need something to ride (functional). The price depends heavily on the combination of functional and collectible, as every prospective buyer sits somewhere in the range. There's also the Hipster factor, which tends to inflate the value of some "vintage" goods, but that's another topic.

Eventually functional value reaches a maximum, probably around the point it's feasible to buy a brand-new equivalent. Collectible value, however, is only limited by an item's perceived value- the reason one painting will sell for millions and another won't. See chart. The line curves because most bicycles are just functional, while a few rare ones are worth collecting. Midway through the curve is the sweet zone of a functional bike that comes with a story.

Your bike is worth more if:
It has perfect paint. It's unused. It has forged dropouts. It has high-end parts. It's rare.
Your bike is worth less if:
It's rusty or dented. It's heavily used. It has stamped dropouts. It has cheap steel parts. It's common.

Just keep in mind that it's not a retirement fund, it's a bicycle. That Sekine is a machine built to be used, and as such may be worth more to you than anyone else.

Monday, July 4, 2011

At Work, in 1974

Linked from the Facebook group CFB Rivers Manitoba - Little Base on the Prairies 2011, the Memoriam Album. Captioned: "This is a picture of Valerie McIntosh working at Sekine in 1974..."

A few notes of interest from this photo. Sekine Canada's production process used conveyors to move the frames around as they were assembled into complete bikes, some of which is visible in the background. Valerie appears to be installing the rear wheel, but is not wearing uniform work clothes. Note the frame is a lower-end 5-speed mixte model, with stamped dropouts, steel wheels, mudguards, and cottered cranks. Also note the branding- SEKINE moderne font, modern seat tube decal, "Made in Canada" sticker, and the spoke protector.

Post 'em if you got 'em.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sekine Blacky

Among the first Sekine bikes to appear in Canada was the Blacky.  Made in Japan, they were introduced for the spring season in 1971, and were still being sold in 1973. When the Canadian factory was established, the more oddball models like the Blacky were phased out, probably because consumer demand for "high-rise" bikes declined as the five and ten-speed market exploded.
This model came with drum brake hubs, Suntour lever shifter and Skitter rear derailleur for a 4-speed freewheel, and a bottle dynamo powering front lights. It has its share of Sekine badging touches; a metal "CS Blacky Power Drum" headbadge, "CS" mudguard flap, an oversize "Sekine Bicycle" reflector on the rear rack, and the usual "World Finest Bicycle Made By Sekine Cycle" downtube decal. With small wheels and step-through frame, it is well-suited to shorter cyclists.

I had the opportunity to get a close look at one of these strange little bikes at New West Cycle the other day. Craiglist posting with more photos:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sekine: On the Street

 Photo: Beat-up Sekine commuter, bought for a song. Probably a 1976 SHT 270; with butted tubing, Shimano Crane rear derailleur, Titlist front, SR cranks, and original Fujita suede saddle.

In an effort to find out more about these bicycles, I stop and take a look whenever I see one on the street. Locked to a rack, riding by on the bike route- my head turns. If it's an interesting bike, I'll even chase the owner down for a chat. Most people are pretty friendly and nice about this, and many even let me take photos of their bike and add the serial number to the database.

Today, I'm going to have some business cards printed up to give to the people I talk to. I'll still be a weird bike nerd, but it's always more legitimate if you have a card.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sekine Canada Ltd, A Brief History

Sekine Cycle was founded in 1912, grew over decades, and expanded during the 1960s. During the 1970s bike boom, Acklands Ltd of Winnipeg distributed Sekine bicycles in Canada. To avoid a 25% tariff on imports, Sekine Canada Ltd is established as a joint venture in 1973. A plant is built in Manitoba at the Oo-za-we-kwun Centre, located on the former CFB Rivers air base 240km west of Winnipeg. The plant employs mostly Native trainees, supervised by Japanese engineers. In 1976, the Rivers plant expands, with a yearly production target of 50,000 bicycles, employing nearly 100 people. In 1980, North American interest rates hit an all-time high, and Sekine Canada Ltd. undergoes a change in ownership. The Oo-za-we-kwun Centre is phased out by the government, and shuts down in 1981. Amid allegations of mismanagement, labor and cash flow problems, Sekine Canada enters difficult times. After a creditor calls in a debt, Sekine Canada goes into receivership, from which it never recovers. In January 1982, Sekine Canada Ltd's assets are sold off to pay outstanding debts.
Notoriously, after 1988 the old Sekine hangar site was occupied by a pig farm.

Quoting Consumer Report

Part of the reason I created this blog was to reach out to anyone who might have information about Sekine they'd like to share, and the internet makes this easy (right?).
This blog also seems a good place to share some of the tidbits I've found, that maybe won't have a place in the paper zine.
For example: The Canadian Consumer magazine ran the article Test Report: Ten Speed Bicycles in their June, 1980 issue. They tested many bicycles, one a Sekine RM-30. Costing an average of $198 in 1979, the bicycle had a mass of 13.7kg, a wheelbase of 1.05m, a seat tube angle of 72.5, and a gear inch range of 38.6 - 100.3. Its "Front Collision Strength" was rated as "Good" (what that means, I don't know).
The RM-30 did well against its competition, though its handlebars were found to have some 'deflection'. "The Sekine is light, expensive, has a short wheelbase for responsiveness, a comfortable seat angle and a comfortable but unresponsive frame.

Made my wheels go round just reading that.

Serial Number Database

The question often arises; "When was my bike made?"
I'd like to tell you, but I can't. I can guess, but I don't know for sure. The only way to really know is to check the serial number (found stamped on the underside of the bottom bracket); and then you have to know the code.

I heard a guy on had set up a database of numbers to decode the system. It's simple: by gathering a large sample of serial numbers (and other information) you can pick enough clues out of the pile to crack the code. But I wasn't able to contact him, so I had to start my own database.

So far I have over 60 serial numbers. Most people I meet on the street are actually very forthcoming when they find out what I'm doing. I've also gathered any numbers I can find online. My little database, though patchy, is growing and starting to reveal patterns. When I have a good guess, I'll post up the code so anyone can find when their bike was made.

If you have a Sekine, I ask that you kindly email me ( rodoftheflies ) no spam, please ( ) the serial number and as many details about the bike as you have (every owner should know the serial number of their bicycle, anyway). I won't post this information online (but you can, if you want- comments below!). A clear photograph is best for reference (and your own insurance). Good additional information to include: type of headbadge, any frame decals, type of frame, style of dropouts, paint and chrome, components and their date codes, the more details the better.

And T-Mar, if you're out there, I'd love to compare numbers.

Introducing The Sekine Project

What about Sekine bicycles? How about everything!

This project grew from a desire to learn about the company- who they were, how they started. When I couldn't easily find accurate information, I had to start digging. The more I found, the more I wanted to know. What about this bike, or this model? Why do they have different head badges? So many questions, so few answers. So far, I've discovered a lot of interesting information, and I'd like to know even more. Eventually, I dream of condensing the information I've found and publishing a small zine; whose photocopied pages will be found, tattered and grease-stained, in bike co-ops and workshops across the land.

I've never owned one and only ridden a few, but I've come to appreciate these bikes everywhere I see them. I'm the weird bike nerd who stops you on the street to talk about your old Sekine. I'm not crazy, I'm just doing some research. Mind if I take a photo for the record?

Do you have a Sekine? Did you work for them? Racee one of their bikes? Have an old photo or story to tell? Do you ride one to work and treat it badly? Post a comment, or send your photos and stories to share.

The Sekine Project. More than you ever wanted to know about Sekine Canada Ltd.

SEKINE, the beautiful cycling machine

The ultimate in fine craftsmanship, precision built, to give you top performance. Enjoy an effortless ride, in comfort, and in style. Peak performance. Positive drive. The result of engineered parts, precisely hone and fitted to give you luxury cycling at an attractive price. Plus quality, built-in, to last and last. Treat yourself to the satisfaction of owning the best bicycle dollar value available. The more you look at a Sekine Bicycle, the more excited you'll be about owning the beautiful cycling machine. You'll look better on a SEKINE.
- copy from a newspaper advertisement, 1974