Friday, April 25, 2008

Ocean Custom Keirin / Street Fixed Gear Frames

Last week I wrote about the Kilo TT, a cheap-as-chips yet pretty nice track frame. Now it’s the time for something completely else.
I’m personally a big fan of Japanese Keirin track bikes. Hand made pieces of lugged steel art, always custom made by a master of the craft with years of experience in a small workshop. Built for speed and as simple as possible, yet always with super neat details and certain flair, and with respect for Italian tradition of pista bike building tradition. 
In Japan there are still today many NJS certified custom frame builders building custom ordered track bikes and sometimes also road bikes in their workshops. Many of these builders have apprenticed with previous generations’ masters before becoming a sensei themselves. Bit like that Samurai swordsmith, Hattori Hanzo, in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.   
If you want read more about Keirin bikes, click here to Keirinculture’s site and scroll down a bit to the ‘Why NJS?‘ Section, here’s a quote: 
The (Keirin) frames, no matter what brand, are always of the highest quality. When you’re thinking about a used keirin frame, think about everything that went into it. The racer orders the frame according to his personal preferences, ones that he’s developed after racing for up to 30 years. Even with that status he will pay anywhere from $1000 to $2500 for a frame. There are no sponsorships in keirin racing. He chooses the frame tubing (now usually Kasei or Columbus), lugs, and paint, too. After that he waits, weeks or months for the builder to finish.

Now, while in practice anyone could order a frame from these masters, the waiting times are often long and the language can often be bit of a barrier to a non-Japanese would-be-customer. And many builders will take orders only on personal appointment to discuss the order in person and measure the customer themselves, and accept only cash up front and so on. 
But there is an easier option. Rene and his NJS Super Market blog has a distribution deal with Kusaka-san. Mr. Kusaka used to make famous Vivalo keirin frames for more that 30 years in his workshop in Kansai, Japan, before quitting in last november after a nasty freak accident of a-fork-breaking-in-a-race and starting a completely new Ocean brand of street pisuto (read: fixed gear in Japanese) bikes with new business partners. 
I guess it suffices to say this about Mr. Kusaka;  it’s been estimated somewhere that during last few years up to a 30% of all Japanese Keirin Pros rode Vivalos. That tells you something about the quality and craftmanship the man possesses. Ok, you might’ve guessed it, I’m bit partial to Vivalo because I have one myself.  
Anyhow, now the workshop is busy at work again and the deal with Ocean is that if you want a custom-made frame you can now easily choose between three different and incredibly nice looking models with many special custom options from BB height to paint color and decals, and most importantly your own sizing, of course, with the starting price of meagre 1040 USD + S&H. 
Here’s all the infoa bout Ocean framesets.  
And I urge you also to look here and drool over the Flickr set of detailed pics of the frames
One more point is that used Keirin frames, when they pop up for sale in Ebay or in blogs, are often dented, rusty or just generally in bad condition, basically too expensive considering the condition. Keirin frames also tend to be pretty small, usually below 55cm. So if you are a taller guy or a gal, this is might be your only option to get a real handbuilt Keirin track bike. 
Keep in mind that Rene also sells some used Japanese frames and has always a nice selection of quite reasonably prices used and new hard-to-get NJS bike parts as well as made-for-order Panasonic keirin frames through his blog. And if you end up ordering something, remember to say Hi! to Rene from Jussi, ok?


tiny said...

ah... that explains the Ocean background story...

not that this matters, but I suppose that explains why there's no claim that they're NJS approved (again, who cares if they aren't Keirin racers?)


Jussi said...

Yes, that's true, Ocean frames are not NJS certified, but they're 'built for the streets', so to say.

Ocean will apparently apply for NJS certificatation as soon as they can but getting it will take at least three years as NJS rules require that the brand needs to have been making frames for at least three years and so on.

Derek said...

That araya blue front rim is AMAZING! Where could I find a set of those rims? What kind are they? I have never seen araya rims like that.