A 1920’s Griffon

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Here is an unrestored Griffon bicycle.  I don’t know the date of manufacture, but judging by its components, it appears to have been built in the 1920’s or 1930’s.

Although Griffon Bicycle Company was one of the earliest bicycle manufacturers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical information available.  The company was founded in the late 1800’s in Paris, and became well known for their motorcycles, which were first built around 1901.  The company is also known for its iconic vintage bicycle advertisements, which are now sold all over the web in poster form.   However, as to the bicycles themselves, it is hard to find catalogs or details about specific models and years when built. It appears that Griffon was absorbed into Peugeot some time in the late 1920’s.  Fortunately, these old machines do turn up with some frequency on French eBay.

Griffon head badge

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I was drawn to this bike because the condition of this machine was extraordinary, given its age.  I have no insight into the serial number, except to wonder if the 11 at the front of the sequence is the year of manufacture (which I doubt).  The head badge is hidden under a bit of rust and corrosion, but even so, the vibrant blue, red and gold colors can be seen, along with the image of the mythological flying Griffon – a creature with a lion’s hind end and a raptor’s front end, yielding a fierce looking winged beast.

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2015-05-05 005Dunlop Le Pneu tires

It has Westwood style rims, branded S – AEP, which are color matched to the frame, and really look beautiful.  The old Dunlop Le Pneu tires are completely corroded. Dunlop was the first to introduce pneumatic tires for bicycles in 1887.  When I measured the rim diameter as 650 mm, I had a slight panic attack – what the heck size is this?  As it turns out, these wheels are 700A or 37-642 ETRTO or ISO 28″ x 1 3/8″.  That is not a size that is even listed on Sheldon Brown’s rim size chart.  Yikes!  Thankfully, there are several sellers around the world (although not in the U.S.) where these tires can be purchased.

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The condition of the frame is striking.  Virtually all of the box style lining is still visible, and the two tone color scheme is still very evident – being “army” green and very lime green, with long, pointed transitions on the top tube and down tube.  Even the logos are in good condition.  It is quite a large machine, measuring out at a 59 cm top tube and a 55 cm seat tube, with 66 degree angles for the head tube and seat tube, giving it that laid back look.

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The bike looks quite sturdy, and will probably be very comfortable to ride, given the geometry and the large wheels.  It features a fixed/free flip flop rear hub with 21 teeth on the freewheel and 18 teeth on the fixed cog.  The chainring has 46 teeth.  With the large wheels, that yields some big gears – about 62 and 72 gear inches.  Probably the bike would be dismounted for serious hills.  The pretty hubs, each with an oil port, were made (or branded) by Griffon.  Actually, I suspect that most of the components were probably made by the company itself.

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Everything on this bike seems oversize.  The Glorieuse saddle, also in amazing condition, is very long.  The huge bars measure 76 cm end to end.  I think these are the widest bars I have seen.  The brake levers are very nicely made, with a surprising ergonomic curve in the lever.  It will be fun to see what else I discover about this bicycle as I begin to overhaul it.

11 thoughts on “A 1920’s Griffon

  1. Holy smokes. Another treasure. Well done. You have some serious bike juju. With those huge wheels and the relatively small frame, I imagined the bike had some serious toe overlap. But then I took a second look at the frame’s slack angles and decided it’s probably not all that bad. N o doubt a thoughtful, thorough restoration is in this bike’s future.

    • Hi Tom, thank you for your feedback. I think the frame looks “small” because of the large wheels. The front-center distance is 660 mm, so there is no danger of toe overlap, even with wide tires and wide fenders (600 mm being the general guideline for avoiding toe overlap). The wheelbase is 103 cm! It’s a relaxed riding bike with a long wheelbase and I suspect it will be very comfortable to ride, even though hill climbing will be challenging.

  2. Powerfully charismatic machine. Sort of a Bugatti in its raw appeal, mystery and loveliness. The rake and energy of this roadster is audacious! Thanks for the discerning tour of its highlights. So impressed that you will undertake this. Jim Duncan

    • Thanks, James. It’s an interesting looking bicycle and really brings to mind what cycling life was like back when this bike was built. I will share my progress on the restoration of this bicycle, which I will endeavor to keep as original as possible. Thank you for your support and encouragement!

      • There are still a few Aussie ‘semi-roadsters’ around ( I have 2 with this wheel size ) Most of our basic non-racing bikes from the 50s and 60s had 700A 28″ tyres and coaster brakes, or 26″ (590mm) for smaller sizes. I guess there is some slight demand for 28s here. Many non-city roads were gravel at that time so the 1 & 3/8″ (37mm) would have been a good tyre then.

    • Hi Laurent, these calipers are clamped on to the seat stays and fork legs, as you note. There is a groove along which the brake pads travel toward the rim when the levers are pulled. This is an early design that was replaced by modern calipers where the spring is located in the caliper arms. The springs for these brakes are located in the clamped on brackets.

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