Vintage Cyclo Shifter and Derailleur How-(Not)-To

French Cyclo Rear Derailleur

After ruining 4 tandem cables and searching the internet in vain for guidance, I think I have now successfully set up the French Cyclo shifter and derailleur on my 1947 Camille Daudon.

Cyclo catalogue 559 page 04-filtered Cyclo catalogue 559 page 06-filtered

The only catalogs I was able find were these exploded drawings of Cyclo’s British models, which vary somewhat from the French model I was working on.  While the general concept is the same, the British version has cable stops both at the derailleur mechanism as well as at the shifter lever.

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This is the wrong way to do it.

Without the cable stops, one is left to mangle the cable while trying to tension it and ponder wrapping, double wrapping and twisting techniques to make the mechanism line up correctly and shift properly.

2014-04-20 001 003 Cyclo cable set up Cyclo shifter set up

If you enjoy working with tiny tools or are perhaps a clockmaker or camera repairer – this job is for you!  After identifying the basic tiny parts needed – a nipple for the rear derailleur cable, and a “conjoiner” for the shifter, and the related miniature Allen wrenches and screwdrivers – you are ready.

Cyclo cable nipple

Cyclo cable set up

After shifting the bike by hand to the middle gear, this bike’s rear slot landed at about 9 o’clock.  I installed the nipple and then wrapped the cable around twice.  Oh, I forgot to mention that you’ll need to use a tandem cable, cut off the ends, and then put the nipple about at the midpoint.  Once installed, I used a surgical clamp to hold the cable in place.  (Perhaps a surgeon would also enjoy this job.)  Okay, now for the hard part.

French Cyclo shifter set up French Cyclo shifter set up French Cyclo shifter set up

Threading the cables through their guides, you’ll end up with two ends to be “conjoined”.  After that cable fraying process comes the daunting task of figuring out how to loop the cable properly so that the shifter ends up in the right position.  I turned the shifter upside down and backwards, put the “conjoiner” in its slot, and then twisted the cable and threaded the shifter through the twist, and voila~!  The shifter is upright and the slot position looks good – and now it’s time to adjust the tension.

Cyclo cable set up Cyclo cable set up Cyclo cable set up

This turned out to be the more time-consuming and injurious (the now frayed cable ends caused numerous puncture wounds) part of the procedure.  I ended up identifying one of the cables with some blue tape so I could determine which end needed tension.  I put the shifter in various positions during this process to learn whether the tension was right across this 4 speed drive train’s movement.  It was trial and error, lots of the latter.

Cyclo rear cable

One of the things that kept happening as I was adjusting the tension was that the nipple would come out of its slot – even though double wrapped.  I came up with this temporary solution, shown above, of installing a small rubber band attached to the derailleur mount, which helps to keep the cables aligned.  Once the system stretches and the shapes break in, I will adjust the tension again and decide if the rubber band is still necessary.

Whew!  With the shifting now moderately functional, I am looking forward to rebuilding the hubs – or any other job that doesn’t involve tiny tools and puncture wounds.

UPDATE 4/30/14:

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While paging through a copy of a 1956 Le Cycliste magazine I came across this advertisement.  The rear cable is routed through the derailleur spring!  This solves the problem of keeping the cables aligned while shifting through the gears.  I am going to re-route the cables and hopefully that will solve the problem.

20 thoughts on “Vintage Cyclo Shifter and Derailleur How-(Not)-To

  1. Wow! Who came up with this engineering marvel? Must have been some French guy.
    Sorry. I know that I shouldn’t disparage the French. They’re the ones who invented champagne and the derailleur, after all. I admire your fearlessness when it comes to tackling these projects. I thought I had accomplished a lot when I screwed up enough courage to rebuild a Sturmey Archer AW hub. It felt like a great accomplishment, but it pales in comparison to your project. For the Sturmey rebuild, there are numerous YouTube instruction videos available, not to mention detailed printed material. And replacement parts are easy and cheap to come by.

  2. Hi,
    Have you finish to install your “Le Cyclo” derailler system?
    I just install mine (it’s exactly the same system as yours) on mid 1940’s french frame.
    After 2 days (!), I have found one solution and it works very well (I’ve done nearly 100 km with it now). The first thing to do is to use a tiny and flexible cable!!!
    If you want further informations, you can contact me!
    Olivier (a french guy)

  3. Hi, just stumbled across your excellent article. I have an old Jack Taylor bike that I have owned for 40 years. It too has a cycle derailler, which I am refurbishing. Have replaced the cable a couple of times and agree that it’s ‘awkward’ !!

    • Thanks, Graham. Probably mechanics of that era had a few tricks up their sleeves, but that knowledge seems to have been lost, and we are left to muddle through!

  4. Thanks posting this. I’m about to tackle a French Cyclo and this has been really useful.

    Did the cable nipple you used come with your derailleur? Mine is missing one and I’m not having much luck yet finding a replacement. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • There is a nipple on the cable, half way along and this povides the drive to turn the rear mechanism. This is usually soldered to the cable as it’s very small and has a round profile to fit in the hole. Note that I have seen cables of different sizes, so they’re not all the same !!. There is also a seperate nipple that joins the 2 ends of the cable, located within the lever.

  5. hi everybody, I want to restore this bike but I can not understand the operation of the rear gear, can you help me?
    I would also like to know where to recover the missing pieces of shifter
    sorry, but I can not post pics

      • Dear Nola, I restored my 1968 tourer last year which has cyclo gears on it. I haven’t seen another bike with these gears before, but as i’ve had the bile since 1972, I’m fairly familiar with it. Please excuse me if you know some of these points. The cable operates effectively as a loop, with a small soldered nodule attached to the wire that inserts into the rear gear mech.. There is a small pin inside that runs in a spiral groove and therefore, as you turn it one way it moves the chain to the higher gears and the otherway, towards the spokes (lower gears). If you send me your email address, I can send you photos of the finished article. I currently have the bike stripped down for winter maintenance, so could also take pics of the components. When rebuilding mine, I sourced some parts via ebay. There are some parts available through French sellers. Some parts I had to make, as I have access to lathe an milling equipment, but hopefully you won’t need this. Hope this is helpful. Best regards Graham

  6. Great information here ! I have late 50’s / early 60’s French Dilecta tandem with a 5 speed cyclo derailleur and I am preparing to replace the cable. 2 questions – I measured my existing cable at 1.19mm, slightly narrower than standard cable – In finding a long length of replacement cable will it help if it is fairly flexible ?
    Also I have never been able to shift into all 5 gears and am wondering if mine should be a 4 speed but somebody put a 5 speed cluster on it. Any idea when cyclo went from 4 to 5 speed ? The derailleur is marked ” Randonneur 6V 2.38″ if that helps

    • Hello Rob. Good questions. The 2.38 signifies the chain link width in mm of the inner plate of the chain. This means a 3/32 chain designed for 5 – 7 speeds. 6V would indicate 6 “vitesses” – meaning a 6 speed derailleur. So, you may already have the right derailleur for a 5 speed f/w. However, I think it might be a British Cyclo given the model year you indicate. British Cyclo derailleurs were sold in abundance in France during the 50’s and 60’s, according to my research. Albert Raimond (founder of French Cyclo) died in 1953, and after that French Cyclo made freewheels only, and not derailleurs. However, his sons continued to offer rear derailleurs under the Cyclo name with the one piece cable and the helicoid bolt, sometimes with two springs. It appears that a 6 speed model was offered during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Frank Berto’s book The Dancing Chain is a good resource on this subject. As to the cable – the more flexible the better, but if your model has the cable stops, I don’t think the width of the cable will matter all that much. If your derailleur doesn’t shift well, it may need disassembly and cleaning. If you’d like to post a photo of the Cyclo – that might help in further identification and trouble shooting.

      • Great info ! The bike is at my friends house where we are working on it – will send pics asap.
        I actually own the Dancing Chain and will get it back – (lent to a friend)

  7. Cyclo derailleurs axle length is the main factor for the number of cogs it can handle
    roughly the 3 speed axle was a touch above 5cm, the 4 speed a touch above 6 cm and the 5 speed a touch above 7cm. I have heard that there may have been 6 speeds in the later days but if logic were to be respected, it would possibly need to be longer ! The randonneur model with a sort of chain guide is also less frequent.
    About the length of the cable, because of the tandem length, I would be careful not to throw away the original if you still have it. As the small soldiered piece which makes the wheel turn ( with the cable loop) and then displace the jockey on the axle is of paramount importance and not easy to replicate.
    And the diameter of the cable is also not that anodyne as it impacts the easiness to form the loops ( at both ends).
    Some pics would be useful….

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