Setting Up a French Cyclo Rear Derailleur, Part II

Cyclo rear derailleur with cable installed – 1941 Goeland

The 1941 Goeland I have been gradually “restoring” (translate: preserving and making rideable again) was equipped with a French Cyclo rear derailleur.  The French model is not to be confused with its British counterpart.  Although the two derailleurs operate with a helical sliding bolt and friction shifting, the set-up of the cables and shifters is different between the two country’s versions.  The French model features a c’est la vie attitude:  no cable stops; no housing; set up success determined by your close connection to someone in the know.  The British version has cable stops at both ends and cable housing for the entire length of the one piece cable (often described as a two piece system) which has a nipple welded to the middle of the cable to fit the slot in the helical bolt.  The two Cyclo models seem to be a case of British pragmatism vs. French ingenuity.  I think both are to be enjoyed and experienced.

A British Cyclo 3 speed model

According to Classic Lightweights, the Cyclo rear derailleur was first introduced in France in 1924.  It was the most widely used rear derailleur from the 1930’s through the early 50’s.  Disrealigears has a more extensive discussion of the company’s history which you can read about here It seems that while the British version of this derailleur thrived in the 1920’s through the 1950’s, the French version was under attack by and ultimately succumbed to Simplex.  That may explain the difficulty involved in setting up the French version of this rear gear changer.


Shifter cable routed through derailleur spring.

Once you have sourced an appropriate cable (I harvested a NOS cable from a British Cyclo, which had its nipple welded on to the cable – you can also source a nipple that can be threaded on to any tandem length shifter cable), one of the most baffling elements of the set up is how to keep cable tension on the rear nipple, which must engage the helicoid bolt in order for the gear to shift.  The photo above from a 1956 advertisement shows that the cable is routed through the derailleur spring. This definitely helps keep the cable nipple in place, but it is not a perfect solution.  Nevertheless, this is how I set up the shifter cable for the 1941 Goeland.

The 1940s Cyclo shifter is a pretty little thing, weighing about nothing, but looking very nice.  The arm of the shifter angles away from the frame just enough, but the length of this shifter’s lever is short compared to others of this era. The entire device is made from aluminum alloy, except for the outer steel cover, shown above. 

This is the “conjoiner” which connects the two shifter cable ends together.  It is probably actually some kind of evil spirit.  No joy can be derived from working with this little device.  It fits into the slot on the inside of the shifter.  I can’t really comment from here except to say:  watch out!

Here is the conjoiner coming out of its slot  (of course!) on the shifter.  I had become too confident when I thought I had my cable tension dialed in. So, when the conjoiner popped out of the shifter, I realized that where was no way to avoid the double wrapping and shifter twisting steps that I used when setting up a 1947 version on my Camille Daudon.

French 3 speed freewheel prior to cleaning and lubrication.

Rigida 650b wheelset with 1941 rear hub – a flip flop version with butted spokes.

I am still in the process of restoring the 1941 Rigida Deco 650b wheelset.  That has involved re-tensioning the spokes, cleaning and reviving the rims, and rebuilding the hubs.  The freewheel has now been removed, cleaned and lubricated.  The threads on the filp flop rear hub are in good shape, so once I have the freewheel back on the rear wheel, with a period correct chain installed, the set up of the rear derailleur should proceed with haste – or so I hope!

11 thoughts on “Setting Up a French Cyclo Rear Derailleur, Part II

  1. Nola
    Sorry to contradict you slightly 😉
    but the “english” version of the cyclo was also sold in France. With cable stops and or partial or full housing.
    Actually the brazed support shown on the english version is also seen on a lot of french bikes of the period 1940/1950. Quite often on less upmarket bikes than with the brazed specific two or three “arms” support seen on the prestigious framemakers.
    this is a version very often seen on mixte frames or mens frames but with a upper arrival of the cable either along the midle stay of the mixte frame or along the seatstay of a men’s frame.
    I have a few frames expecting restoration with such a setup.
    I would say the cable path is a bit more easy than along the chainstay but the tuning of the cable as “nightmarish”
    But frankly the cyclo efficiency is to me worth the hassle compared to the simplex competitor with its inside “piston mechanism” which I find less agreable.

    • Hi Bruno, thanks for your perspective on the Cyclo set up vs. Simplex. I remember seeing a photo of an Alex Singer that had a 4 arm braze for the Cyclo rear derailleur – very beautifully executed. The Cyclo derailleur is a “no normal” in that there is no tension on either side of the derailleur, although maybe a slight bit of pull to the higher gears due to the chain stay spring. For that reason it may offer better performance, but I am not completely convinced of my logic on this. I have yet to ride this bike and to try out the shifting.

    • Thank you, Josh. This derailleur has unique features that are difficult to describe and to photograph. It’s unfortunate that there seems to be no technical drawings for the French version of the Cyclo from this era.

  2. Vintage Bicycle Quarterly had an article “Blood, Sweat and Tears — Setting up a Cyclo Rear Derailleur” in Vol. 4 No. 2, Winter 2005, p.13, which you may find helpful.

  3. Hi Nola, this is a fascinating article on a task that I am also struggling with. I am trying to recomission a Sun Vitesse with a British Cyclo setup. I have a few queries which perhaps you and/or others might be able to help me with. The cable is rather frayed and so I am trying to source another, which is proving almost impossible. The cable on mine has a metal pin cast onto the cable, which fits into the hole on the shifter, rather than the screw-on pin that you have. The cable guide and pin hole on the shifter are too narrow to accept a screw-on pin. There is screw-on pin at the derailleur end which sits into the drum. So my first question is…any suggestions on suppliers for this cable, other than ebay which has drawn a blank. Secondly, the steel cable sleeves have ‘ball stops’ fixed onto the deraileur ends which don’t appear to be removable from the sleeves. Should these be removable and transferrable to new sleeves? If not are there any tips for cleaning/refurbishing the sleeves so that the cables run smoothly inside. Finally, both the jockey wheels are very slack on the bearings despite the fixings being tight, which means the wheels twist loosely. I am not sure whether this is designed in to allow the jockey wheel to steer slightly as the chain shifts from one sprocket to the next, or whether it is just very worn. If it is the latter then it could be terminal, as the ball bearings themselves don’t appear to be too bad. Any help on all the above would be really appreciated. I can e mail photos if that helps.

    • Hi Nigel, from what I can tell by looking at various Cyclo derailleur models, there seems to be a lot of variety in cable routing. I think if you source a replacement cable, it would come with the “ball stops” on the sleeves. I recommend searching both French and UK eBay sites. Sometimes you can buy a whole derailleur that includes a decent cable for less than what they sell for in the U.S. The jockey wheels on the several units that I have do have some side to side free play, but not excessively so. You might also find some helpful documents disraeligears:

  4. I am restoring a 1938 Claud Butler father bought new. It has the British cyclo derailleur. Unfortunately, over the years I have lost.the cables, and part of the shifter. Do you have any suggestions on where I might obtain the necessary parts?

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