I have put off making some final adjustments to this vintage Peugeot 650b mixte, knowing that I needed to dial in the Jeay brakes and work out the other little bugs that always come up during a frame up build. But with today’s unnaturally warm weather, I decided to take the bike out into the wiles of Portland. Even though this Peugeot is positively a city bike, Portland’s traffic scene and “bike culture” are in no way conducive to safe and leisurely riding on this type of machine. So, a weekend trip along Springwater corridor and through the Eastbank Esplanade is the most enjoyable way to learn the handling characteristics of a new ride such as this.
I am not sure why it is so tempting to think of a 70 year old bike as clunky and incompetent, but riding this machine today reminded me again how well the cycling industry had developed by the time the Germans occupied France in 1941.
First of all, this is no clunker. It weighs 28 lbs as pictured (without bag), and that includes the fork mounted dynamo, fenders, and heavy Gauthier leather saddle. Not bad! The frame is made with Vitus Rubis tubing, which was used on higher end models in the 30’s and 40’s. The front end had no unpleasant “wobbly” feeling as can exist on some mixte frames, and handling was easy at all speeds. Maybe the long wheelbase and super slack seat tube angle provide for the comfortable ride – but it is really fun to corner on this bike. Kind of like riding on a roller coaster. Whee!
The Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur works perfectly out on the road, with accuracy, and no trimming. Of course, there are only 3 gears here. And what big gears they are, ranging from 54 to 75 gear inches. I have to wonder about these giant gears on older machines that I encounter. Were people stronger then? Did they simply walk up the hills? Is France totally flat? Ha. I can lower the gearing a bit by going up to 24 teeth, which is the maximum that this derailleur can handle. Or maybe I’ll just tough it out for now.
It is very difficult to find builder information for bikes manufactured in France during the occupation years. Based on some reading, I have learned that the cycling industry in France actually experienced a “bike boom” because petrol was unavailable to the populace, so driving was no longer really an option for most people. And, there is a lot of shame surrounding those businesses who benefited financially during those terrible times, even though they may have been among the resistance on a moral and intellectual level. The disruptions to normal business practices during the Nazi occupation, as well as this shame and possibly the need for secrecy has meant that it is nearly impossible to determine what exactly was going on in some of the cycling shops in France during the time. I have found it interesting that there were sudden innovations (Simplex derailleurs) and new companies emerging (Mafac) right after France was liberated. I suspect that research and innovation was in fact occurring during the occupation years, but went on, undocumented. (Jan Heine has an interesting blog post about this topic here.)
Correctly dating this Peugeot has been challenging. Peugeot catalogs during the late 30’s and 1940’s cannot be found. There is very little information about what was happening at the Peugeot factory during the occupation, with the implication that they actually shut down. Some websites claim that the factory did shut down during the occupation, but I think they may be referencing only the automobile factory, as by this time the bicycle factory had been separated out as a distinct division, located in Beaulieu (Mandeure), France. So, my best guess based on its original components and on the frame characteristics is that this bike dates to sometime in the late 30’s through the 1940’s.
I was worried that the wood grips, which are very comfortable, would fly off the handlebars during vigorous climbing, as they are connected to the bar only with a conical cork insert located inside the grips, which I tapped into the bars with a mallet. They held fine. The Gauthier ladies leather saddle was shockingly comfortable – no changes were needed there. I was also concerned that while the brake levers are quite lovely, the shape would inhibit emergency braking, with their slight arc in the middle restricting the movement. As it turned out, braking was quite noisy! This alerted others to my presence. I had installed Kool Stop orange pads on the front, but had left the old funky Mafac pads as is on the rear. Big mistake! This bike needs Kool Stops front and rear, plus a complete cleaning and sanding of the rims to eliminate braking squeal, which I have now done.
Thank you to Shawn at Adventurepdx, for this nice old Carradice bag which goes perfectly on this Peugeot. I don’t use saddlebags much, and was shocked just how much you can jam into this thing. It is the perfect addition to the bike and adds all the utility needed to make this a useful commuter and weekend rider.