While we’re on the topic of bicycles from the East, here’s an interesting example of a vintage Japanese-made commuter. At first glance I thought it was Chinese-made based on the rod brakes, enclosed chaincase, hairpin saddle and black paint, all standard issue for bikes in China. Upon closer inspection it is indeed Japanese, with plenty of badges indicating its origin. It even has old Araya rims, something that many more modern Japanese road bikes used. An internet search produced nothing on Undes, Hayashiya or Best bicycles, all names that are present on it. I know that bicycles from the orient often have multiple names on them, any of which can refer to the manufacturer, distributor, model etc., but was hoping one of them would provide a starting point for research. Alas, nothing. So, if you know something about these please share. Also, if you know how to read Japanese and can decipher any of the markings I’d be very appreciate.
I’d known about this bicycle since 1988 (or so) after seeing it hung in the corner of my friend Leo’s garage. Leo was a horder extrordinaire, meaning the garage was packed to the rafters with all manner of stuff. The bicycle was of course stowed in the very back corner of the garage, effectively walled in by a mountain of old toasters, boxes of newspapers, vintage toys, broken light fixtures, tin cans full of straight nails, old car parts and pretty much anything else you could think of (and some you’d could never imagine). I didn’t know until many years later than under all that junk there were actually three cars, a 1927 Buick, a Maxwell (I forget which year), and a 1909 Sears. All runners, all beautiful, but all filled, then stacked on until you couldn’t see so much as a headlight, a tire tread, anything.
Leo passed away in 2012 and the family began the monumental task of de-hoarding, no small feat, even for the five siblings. By July of 2019 there was some semblance of a goat trail towards the back of the garage. Not all the way, mind you, but for a bicycle junkie, it was enough.
It took some low-level mountaineering skills to reach the bikes, and then 4 people and a bucket-brigade effort to cut the twine holding them to their nails and finally shine some daylight on them. I don’t think the family was thrilled that I had to stand in the Maxwell, and at one point, on the Sears, but again, bike junkie.
I can see where Leo would have acquired the other two bikes, a balloon-tire Schwinn and an old Brit racing bike; those probably turned up in town, at a yard sale perhaps. But the Undes? I’m pretty sure the brand was only sold in Japan, never meant for the American market. We already had tons of bicycles that more than filled the market niche that the Undes would have served. With one gear and weighing nearly 50 pounds it certainly didn’t surpass the standard American iron of the period. Maybe a serviceman brought it back, or it could have possibly been shipped here as a novelty after someone visited Japan. It’s all guessing at this point. For the sake of the bicycle’s history, or at least to quell my curiosity, hopefully someone out there will be able to offer some insight. Fire away with your thoughts, opinions or whatever.
Here it is, all shined up and ready to ride. The Brooks saddle is now dyed a shiny black, new Carlton decals have been installed and the bars have been re-wrapped with original white plastic tape. The bike rides well enough, though the handlebars are a bit narrow for long rides. Still, a pretty bike that was definitely worth the time.
This nice old Carlton showed up last week. Already pretty clean, the “Before and After” transition won’t be as dramatic as some, but that’s not to say it’s ready to go. It’s missing tires and most of its decals, the grease in the bearings is petrified, and the original Brooks B15 saddle has lost most of its color and suppleness. In other words, it’ll still be in the work stand for 8-10 hours.
Based on workflow I’m guessing it won’t be ready for it’s “After” shots for about a month. If you like Carltons it should be worth checking back, though.
Ahh, my first bike, a second-hand 20″ single-speed with a rattle-can red paint job and dented fenders. It was nothing to look at, but I loved it nevertheless. I rode it everywhere, or at least everywhere a 5-year old could. Pretending it was a top-fuel dragster, I’d purposely high-center the rear wheel between its training wheels and pedal with all my might, executing the dirt equivalent of a burnout. I’d use more or less the same method but creep slowly forward, digging long trenches in our driveway, much more efficient than using my Tonka backhoe.
I understand why folks have a strong connection to their first bikes. Like the beat-up little Schwinn-built B.F. Goodrich girl’s bike that showed up here one day 7 months ago. It wasn’t rare, it wasn’t collectible per se… Heck, it wasn’t even a full-size bike, but rather a diminutive 24″ wheel model. The fact that the customer had kept it for 69 years was no accident, though. …And any attempts to talk her out of a full restoration fell on deaf ears: Sometimes a bike is restored not because it’s rare or valuable, it’s love, pure and simple.
The B.F. Goodrich went into the shop queue and soon enough was underway. I discovered there’s something liberating about restoration without worrying about the cost vs. subsequent value. It’s a good thing because the Goodrich threw the scales off almost immediately and never looked back.
So here it is, all shiny and running like a champ. No garage queen, the owner says the bike still fits her so she’s gonna ride it. Maybe I’ll teach her how to do a burnout when she picks it up.
I love them all, of course: old racing and touring bikes, 3-speeds, folders, track bikes, early wood wheel jobs… But the ones that really get my heart pounding are balloon-tire bikes. They’re just so over the top. Tanks, lights, springs, chainguards, horns… all of which could have been pared down weight-wise, or at times, left off completely. My fondness for these beasts obviously has little to do with how they ride, something akin to pedals mounted to a Buick Roadmaster.
So, it’s always a joy and pleasure to bring one back from the dead. Take a gander at the “before” photos and you’ll see a bike that was d.o.a. or at very least, flatlining. What’s worse, it arrived in pieces which always makes things more difficult. Thankfully the bike was more or less original and the owner had been very diligent to keep everything together. He was also infinitely patient throughout the whole restoration process that involved multiple false starts and what seemed like ions waiting for replacement parts, chroming and the like. Hopefully it’s all worth it to him. God knows I’m panting, and not just from test riding it.