Saturday, May 5, 2007

The world's finest bicycle

Hello. This is my second bike building diary. In the first, I (with a little help from my friends) converted a geared Batavus bicycle to a simple single-speed. The single-speed Batavus quickly became my favorite bike to ride. Eventually I hung up my trusty geared commuter and never looked back. After a year or so riding one freewheel gear exclusively, it was time to go all out and get fixed.

The naked frame: nigh-unlimited potential

Here's where the trouble all started, with a pretty red Sekine frame. Sekine bikes were built in Japan before moving production to Canada in 1973 through the early 80's. According to sources,
If it says "world's finest bicycle" on the downtube in place of the brand name then it is of Japanese manufacture and is pre-1973. Early '70s models use the diamond shaped headbadge with the rhinestone and GS in the centre.
That sure sounds like my bike. All signs point to Japanese manufacture, except for one incontrovertible piece of evidence: a tiny "sekine canada" sticker at the bottom of the seat tube.

Sekine stickers on the seat tube: Japanese or Canadian?

Regardless of provenance, the bike has been moderatly beat up over the course of three decades. It's not going to win any beauty contests for the paint condition, but the frame has got nice colors and lugging. Of course, all steel, because steel is real. Here's a close-up shot of that rhinestone headbadge.

Diamond-shaped Sekine headbadge with inset rhinestone

I dropped some money on a new wheelset and drivetrain so I could build up the gearing how I like it. We special-ordered a narrow bottom bracket so the cranks didn't stick out comically apart from the frame. My selections were graciously rounded out with some reserved parts from the Sibley Bike Depot, where I got the frame.

Dia-Compe centrepull brakes

I planned to have more involvement with the process this time around, but with a bike this simple, there isn't an awful lot that really needs to be done. Downtown Dave and the Sibley Volunteer Crew ended up doing most of the hard work (wheel building, bottom bracket and headset stuff).

Brooks saddle "before": looks bad, feels worse

The saddle is beautiful vintage leather, unfortunately beat up and worn out from abuse. Originally we thought it was a French knockoff. On close examination you can barely make out a stamp on the side, almost entirely rubbed away, that identifies it as a classic Brooks.

A little tender loving care restored the original honey brown sheen, which is a big aesthetic improvement. Sadly, not even Proofide can fix the structural damage. The cracks are actually more visible now that it's been cleaned.

Brooks saddle after Proofide: looks better, at least

With the restoration complete, such as it is, I sat back and waited for the building to be finished. When I heard that my bike was ready, I took the bus downtown on a quiet Sunday morning and rode back from the shop. Here's a photo after returning home. The bike looks good, but it wasn't ready for the prime time. The next time I rode, it was a trip back to the Bike Depot for some essential modifications.

Fresh back from the Sibley Bike Depot

On my first ride, it soon became painfully clear that the frame was smaller than ideal (about an inch shorter than my fits-like-a-glove Batavus). Job one was to find a longer seatpost and jack that saddle up a couple inches. Now my knees aren't in danger of hitting the handlebars, and my legs don't cramp up within minutes.

New seatpost: taller, shinier, better

Next step: finding and installing proper pedals. My Shimano clipless pedals began life on my Bianchi Strada commuter, where they carried me to work through many a wet and sleepy morning. Since then, they had migrated to the bottom of a plastic bin in the garage. They were still MIA when the bike was built, so we used crappy loaner pedals in the meantime. I replaced those, dusted off my fancy cycling shoes, and snapped in. It was a satisfying feeling.

St. Paul bike love: my favorite frame detail

I rode for around a week with this setup, then took one last trip to the Bike Depot to wrap up the final details. The taller seatpost was easier on my legs, but I was constantly bent over and pushing on the bars to keep my butt on the seat. A new stem pushed my handlebars up to an appropriate height, and we finished the job by covering them in grip tape.

Cockpit: raised bars with soft grips & stealth brake lever

That brings us up-to-date, and to the beautiful bike you can admire at the top of this page.