I discovered Fred Delong’s publications much too late in my life. DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, first published in 1974 (the year I graduated from high school), is a treasure trove of both technical and non-geeky information, and includes photos and material I have never seen elsewhere.
Fred was a lifelong cyclist, author, and bike guru, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2001, six years after he passed away in 1995.
His book is unusual for its time in American cycle publishing. It features French, Italian, and British built bicycles, and includes discussions of 650b tires with supple sidewalls mounted on low trail camping bikes, avoidance of toe overlap on touring bikes, and the importance of clearance in frame builds to allow for wider tires, as well as eyelets and baze-ons for fenders and racks. Sound familiar?
The above photos are close up crops of the original photo shown as figure 2.11 in DeLong’s 1974 guide. While most of the other photos in the book contain credits or are otherwise referenced, this image was not referenced or credited anywhere in the book. That means we don’t know who built this bike.
So, let’s start with what we do know about this bike. According to DeLong, this bike’s features are as follows:
“Wide tubular platform carrier with pannier bags mounted…
Hollow aluminum alloy rims on Phil Wood sealed precision bearing hubs…
Alloy mudguards, front with sliding fender flap in raised position and built-generator lighting…
Mafac Cantilever tandem brakes, rear brake cable direct routing (200 degree cable arc) with hooded levers
Aluminum alloy Randonneur handlebars
531 chrome-molybdenum braze-welded frame – 71 degree head and seat tube angles
15-speed wide-range gearing (23-116) on TA alloy crank and chainwheel set.”
Remember, this book was published in 1974. The photos in the book are all probably from at least one or two years earlier. Phil Wood founded his hub manufacturing company back in 1971 when, as a racer he became frustrated with hubs developing play and needing an overhaul after each competition. That led him to explore sealed bearing designs for hubs and bottom brackets. By the time of the 1976 BikeCentennial, Phil Wood’s hubs were all the rave, with touring cyclists ordering up Phil Wood hubs for their wheel builds, in preparation for a cross-country journey.
The above photo depicts an extremely unusual (for the time) sloping top tube. The builder’s logos are not clear enough to make out, but the down tube seems to indicate “XP SR”. The seat tube reflects some circular and elliptical logos, presumably also indicating the builder/manufacturer and/or frame tubing transfers. Is this a custom frame? I think not. A custom frame wouldn’t ordinarily have what appear to be model monikers on the down tube. As DeLong indicates in the text, the frame is made of 531 steel and is fillet brazed. The rear brake features through the frame routing for the “200 degree” cable arc. While not necessarily a custom feature, it is also certainly unusual for a non-custom frame built in the early 1970’s.
The other intriguing elements of this bike include:
An extension (presumably) on the Mafac levers
A cover (or something similar) on the rear derailleur
A front tire which appears to be wider than the rear tire
A very long reach stem – possibly to accommodate a shorter than desired top tube length
Generous fork rake combined with slack angles
Half step gearing with a tiny third ring
Who made this bike? Ideas and speculations are welcome. In the meantime, I discovered a bicycle ridden by DeLong which went up for sale a while back. The photo below shows the bike, a French JB Louvet built with Reynolds 531 tubing, in disrepair. But, it may give some clues about DeLong’s interests and preferences.