An R. Ducheron City Bike

I’ve completed my rebuild of this lovely R. Ducheron.  When I received the bike as shipped from France it featured a newly painted framed, and a mix of components dating from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.  Determining when the frame was actually built has proved challenging, and for a long while I couldn’t figure out which direction I would go with my restoration.

Sadly, the bike was not shipped in a standard bike box, perhaps to save shipping charges.  And, the seller did not protect the drop-outs, so the fork ended up with some alignment damage, as well as the rear triangle.  A little strong-arming took care of this.  Then, I took to evaluating the components to determine when this bike might have been built.  The Normandy round hole hubs, with “Normandy” in quotes, and the style of Super Champion labels on the rims would date the bike to the 1950’s or early ’60’s.  But, some of the other components “original” to the bike were not consistent with this time frame.

After disassembly, the frame and fork weighed in at a respectable 5.5 lbs.  Rear spacing is 120 mm, with the front at 95 mm.  The effective top tube length is 53 cm, with a 49 cm seat tube.  With fork rake at 45 mm and the top tube angle measuring a slack 72 degrees, trail comes it at a very high 66 mm with its “original” 700c wheelset.

The style of the Huret drop-outs would mean that the bike had to have been made on or after the time that Huret introduced its first parallelogram rear derailleur in the late 1950’s.

But, this puzzling tab on the downtube, which would have been for aligning the clamp-on downtube shifters is accompanied by brazed on shifter bosses.  And that would mean that someone brazed the bosses on later than when the original frame was built.

But finally I decided to forget about all of that and just build the bike into one that I would enjoy riding on my Portland commutes, while remaining true to its French heritage.  While the bike was shipped with 700c wheels, it seemed to cry out for a 650b conversion.  To accomplish this, I used a set of 1960’s Maxi-Car hubs laced to Super Champion rims, along with Mafac Raid brakes.

For the drivetrain, I was stuck with Huret, but decided to use a more performance oriented component group than the Huret Alvit set which came with the bike.  I happened to have a matched set of Huret Success rear (titanium) and front derailleurs which were in good shape.

Since I wanted to have the shifters close to my hands, I installed some Shimano shifter pods (sorry!), and used some French threaded bolts to attach them to the Huret shifter bosses.  From there, using a wonderful hinged stem clamp from Rivendell, I mounted some Simplex Retrofriction shifters.  They work amazingly well with the Huret derailleurs, and make up for any shortcomings in the derailleurs themselves.

I installed a 5 speed Maillard 14-30 freewheel, which coupled with the original Stronglight 49D crankset provides a nice gear range for the hills I encounter on my commute.

The original Ideale saddle is a Rebour model, and it is in excellent condition.  It’s mounted to a Simplex SLJ seatpost, also looking quite lovely.

For the rest of the build I kept the original custom steel front rack with alloy stays, but discarded the oddball Ava stem (with its 7mm bolt) and Phillipe porteur bars in favor of these comfy V-O tourist bars with a tall Nitto stem sanded to French size.  I also discarded the original Weinmann levers in favor of the Mafac model, to match the Raid brakes.  The rear hanger already featured a Mafac piece for use in threading the cable from below as is needed on a step through frame such as this.

Here’s a photo comparing this bike to one of Ducheron’s competitors – Camille Daudon.  While the Ducheron is not a mixte frame, lacking the extra set of stays to the rear drop outs, I did not experience any unpleasant frame flex on my test ride today.

Riding the bike today I was pleasantly surprised to be enjoying the smooth ride, comfy Rebour-blessed saddle, and well-performing drive train, even though the Mafac brakes squealed like crazy (after adjusting for toe-in and sanding the rims and brake pads.)  So, I’ll be trying out some different brake pads, and I still need to mount the original fenders, and add a frame pump and bottle cage.  I’m looking forward to getting this bike out on the road and putting some mileage on this lovely artisanal masterpiece.

My Favorite Multi-Tool

Like most cyclists, I’ve tried many a multi-tool over the years.  But, my Topeak “Alien” multi-tool, which I purchased sometime in the 1990’s, is my favorite.  I’ve been using this tool for decades, and it still looks and functions as new.

There are many things to love about this tool, not the least of which are the many individual tools available.  I think this model has 26 altogether.  While some of them may only be needed occasionally, when cycling far from resources, or just commuting home on a miserable rainy Portland evening, the abundance of tools available in this single mechanism has meant the difference between needing a rescue or being able to make it back in one piece.

Because I ride so many different bikes, some of them many decades old, having the box wrenches (8, 9 & 10 mm) on hand has helped me adjust Mafac brakes, tighten fender bolts, and make derailleur and shifter clamp tweaks.  Two of the box wrenches also feature 15 and 14 gauge spoke wrenches.  There is a serrated knife and bottle opener which can come in handy while camping, as well as a chain breaker.

There’s even a pedal wrench which can be deployed by attaching it to the supplied 8mm Allen key.  I’ve never had to use this, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

The multi-tool comes in two parts which are separated when you depress the Alien logo button, which allows the two sections to be pulled apart.

One of the most useful features of this multi-tool is that the box wrenches, knife, chain breaker, and screwdriver can be locked into place so that they don’t move around as you are trying to use them.  The plastic body also has two integrated tire irons. I’ve never used these because I always carry separate tire irons, but in case you find yourself without your favorite tire irons, these are always there.

My version of the Topeak Alien tool came with instructions which I am amazed that I still have, as well as a handy carrying case.  The weight of the tool is about 275 grams on my scale.  That’s sort of like carrying around an extra bottom bracket, and really is nothing to seriously worry about.  My model is no longer produced, and has been replaced by the Alien II and Alien III models.

The individual tools in this kit are made from stainless steel, and they have really held up well.  A close competitor is the Crank Brothers M19 multi tool, also made with steel (high-tensile), which I’ve also used over the years.  While both multi-tools are excellent choices, I think the Topeak’s range of functionality across different types of bikes from different eras gives it the edge.

Huret Allvit Rear Derailleurs

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

Despite being about the right age to have experienced a Huret Allvit rear derailleur in my youth (they were standard equipment on Schwinn bicycles and were manufactured in the multi-millions by the mid-1960’s), I missed out on the now well-reported unpleasant experience.  Due to my parents purchasing proclivities, I ended up with Sears’ (Puch) internally-geared bicycles, and then eventually a Shimano-equipped Volkscycle, that latter of which I put many miles on before figuring out that something better was out there.

Late 60’s to early 70’s model

I’ve been recently working on the restoration of a Robert Ducheron machine whose date of build has yet to be determined.  The bike was equipped with components dating from the 1950’s to the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.  It arrived with a fully matched group of Huret Allvit shifters and derailleurs.  R. Ducheron bicycles come highly prized, he being one of several artisanal French builders from the golden era.  So, if Allvit derailleurs were spec’d by Mr. Ducheron, it would indicate confidence in their performance and reliability.

I had started to disassemble the mechanism, while noting that the spring has two notched positions for controlling chain tension.  I also noted that the pulleys have adjustable cone ball bearings, rather than bushings.  Not something expected on a low-end product.  I also recalled that I’ve set up a few Allvits on bikes I’ve sold over the years, and remember being surprised at how well these “low-end” derailleurs shifted.

1962 Rebour drawing showing parallelogram

The above drawing, from a 1962 copy of Le Cycle magazine, shows the Allvit in all its glory, and with no less than 4 chain tension settings on the pulley cage.  You can also see that the parallelogram is positioned at the bottom of the arm, which means that it can match the height of the freewheel cogs to engage them without tons of chain gap.

1962 Rebour Huret Allvit

But, here is another 1962 Rebour drawing from the same edition of Le Cycle showing 3 chain tension positions.  It would appear that there were several configurations of the Allvit, even within the same model year.

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

And, here is a 1966 advertisement from Le Cycle magazine, with this version showing 4 chain tension options. 

Here is the full page of Rebour’s drawings in the Le Cycle 1962 edition, with accompanying text.  According to the narrative, at this point in history, the Allvit had been equipped on a number of racers and tandems, winning the Poly de Chanteloup on numerous occasions. If this derailleur is truly low-end, how could these results be possible?

And the answer is nuanced.  As time went on, the derailleur was cheapened, a process typical of the economics leading up to the 1970’s bike boom.  The steel arm, now covered, proved to be flimsy and easily bashed out of adjustment, and the pull required to move the parallelogram proved to be very high, causing cable failure.

So, with that in mind, I plan to continue my overhaul of the Allvit, aided by the above instructions, courtesy of disraeligears.co.uk, an English language version well worth having.  I’m hoping that with plenty of lubrication and adjustment, I just might get performance worthy of the Poly de Chanteloup!