Bottin du Cycle 1951: The French Cycling Directory

I love cycling print media from days gone by.  This bible-like tome, the Bottin du Cycle, is a French compendium of all things cycling related.  Its 1,296 pages attest to the booming cycling industry in France during the post-war era.

The front, back, side, spine, and even the edges of the pages are covered in advertising. This book was meant to promote the industry, and I think it must have succeeded.  The ads featured on the exterior of the catalog include Caminargent (Caminade), maker of extraordinarily lightweight octagonal aluminum frames; LAM, a brake manufacturer; Sonnclair, maker of cycling bells; Pryma, a saddle maker, and Philippe, handlebar manufacturer.  Even the supplied bookmarks contain ads:  Dissoplast, a maker of glue and patches for repairing flats, and another ad for Caminargent.

The first part of the directory is devoted to a listing of the phone numbers and addresses of all cycling related retailers and manufacturers of the era in Paris (the blue pages) and then in the rest of France, by region and city.  The print in this section is very small, so I had to employ my vintage magnifying glass to read the text.  In it I found the telephone numbers and addresses of the French builders of the day, including listings for Camille Daudon, Robert Ducheron, Alex Singer, Rene Herse, and many others whose bikes have survived the test of time.

There’s even a section on “Cyclomoteurs” – bicycles made to accommodate a small engine, usually 50cc.  This ad features a frame style by Veloto amazingly similar to some of today’s e-bike models, such as this one available at Portland’s Clever Cycles.

Here’s an ad for Cycles Metropole featuring a drawing by Rodolphe Rebour, Daniel’s brother.

The rest of the book is devoted to featuring the retailers and manufacturers, arranged by category.  Ads appear throughout the book, some of them in color for those who sprang for a higher ad budget, such as Tron and Berthet, shown above.  I couldn’t use a scanner due to the book’s girth, so I used my camera to photograph some of the more interesting pages.  Here’s a look, for your enjoyment:

VAR tools – the gold standard, still made today.

Gnutti hubs – a competitor to Campagnolo.

Mavic and Super Champion rims – both excellent choices for a build.

LAM brakes, featured on many higher-end bicycles.

A Perry coaster brake internal hub.

An innovative hub design – removal can be done sans freewheel.

Arc-En-Ciel (“rainbow”) – loopy frames and whimsical handlebar – I have never seen one of these but would love to.

J. Moyne freewheels – my Camille Daudon features one.

And, of course, the compendium would not be complete without an offering from Peugeot.  The above PH models from 1951 are some of the best of their model range from this era.

This directory will come in handy when I need to research component makers and builders, and is also just a fun bit of cycling history.

Simplex Tour de France Rear Derailleur Adjustment

It’s been quite a few years since I last posted about how to set up a Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur.  These mechanisms were found on bikes dating from the late 1940’s to the early 1960’s, but are not in any way intuitive to fine tune.

The routing of the chain through the pulleys was so puzzling that Simplex had to include a chart in their technical instructions to indicate how this was to be done.  In fact, when I had first started my vintage bike restoration endeavors many years ago I had taken a vintage Peugeot to a reputable bike shop for some repair help with a rear wheel.  When the bike was returned to me, the chain had been incorrectly routed through the Simplex rear derailleur.  That shows just how perplexing this rear derailleur can be.

1953 French mystery mixte with Oscar Egg lugs

Recently, I have been working on my mystery French mixte with its Oscar Egg lugs.  The bike was equipped with tubulars which have proven to be a challenge to keep maintained, as I haven’t ridden this bike on a regular basis, even though they do offer a beautiful and comfortable ride. The glue holding the tires to the rims is no longer robust.  So, upon deciding to temporarily replace the tubular wheelset with a clincher set from the same early 1950’s era, I needed to perform a few tweaks to the Simplex TDF rear derailleur in order to get this bike set up so that I can ride it with more regularity.

My replacement clincher wheels are 700c 1950’s Super Champion rims laced to Normandy hubs.  I wanted to lower the gearing from the the original configuration, but had read that these rear derailleurs can only manage about 24-25 teeth maximum on the freewheel.  I found a 5 speed freewheel with French threads with a largest 25 tooth cog, and then adjusted the internal threaded shaft on the Simplex TDF rear derailleur to tune out the highest fifth gear, as this derailleur can only accommodate 4 gears.  (The bikes’ original drilled Regina freewheel’s largest cog is 21T).  This is accomplished by loosening and removing the nut on top of the knurled washer, and turning the threaded shaft as needed to position it correctly so that the chain lines up with the smallest and largest cogs as the pull chain is moved through its range of motion.  It takes a bit of trial and error.  The knurled nut is meant to be used to turn the shaft, but if that proves difficult, there are flats on the shaft which engage with a 12mm wrench.

Once the alignment to the cogs was correct, I proceeded to adjust the derailleur using the two spring tension adjustments available in this 1950’s rear derailluer:  chain tension, and pulley tension.  The chain tension is controlled by the spring on the arm, and the pulley tension is controlled by the tension on the pulley spring, using the notched mechanism, shown above.  Moving the pulley spring’s position clockwise increases the pulley tension.

Before going further into the weeds, it’s always a good idea to look at a component’s schematics.  Here is the front page of the TDF instruction guide included with these models.  I also consulted the excellent advice from Peter Underwood at the Classic Lightweights website.  After some contemplation, I decided to overhaul a NOS Simplex TDF that I had in inventory, which needed cleaning and re-greasing, hoping this would illuminate this derailleur model’s nuances.

Upon removing the outer nut with a 17mm wrench, I proceeded to removed the pulley cage, which takes an 11m wrench.  The outer steel flexible cover over the shaft reveals an internal spring.  This model had lots of extra washers, which I ended up not replacing (more later!).  After cleaning and lubricating all the parts, came the difficult task of getting the pulley cage back on to the shaft, with its attendant spring.  After some trial and error, I realized there is always a trick to getting derailleur spring back where it should be.

After taking time to review the schematics, I realized that I needed to move the threaded shaft as close as possible to the notched piece, so as to push the moveable part of the shaft down as far as possible.  While holding the spring and cover tightly in place, I was finally able to thread the pulley cage back on, sans a few washers!

And finally, I was successful at re-assembly.  This NOS derailleur now has free-running pulleys with all parts lubricated and is ready to roll.

Meanwhile, I had tried various adjustment scenarios, changing the chain tension and the pulley tension.  The above is a video I made discussing the various adjustments possible for this derailleur.  I initially set the chain tension to push the derailleur back so that I could use the 25T freewheel I had selected.  But, you will see from this video, that by doing so, my shifting performance has suffered.

So I decided to reduce the chain tension by adjusting the nut at the back of the mounting bolt (which has the chain tension spring threaded around it).  This is done by removing the spring from the arm, releasing the bolt, moving the spring back or forward (in this case, forward to reduce tension), and re-tightening the nut.

You can see from the above video that my shifting has improved dramatically.  However, upon taking the bike on a test ride, the torque on the drive train while riding caused the derailleur pulley to contact the 25T cog, making the bike unrideable in that gear.  So, back to the drawing board!  I’ll either switch the freewheel back down to a 24T model, or fiddle with the tension adjustments yet again (NOT!), and most likley swap out the front chain ring for something a bit smaller to help make this bike more rideable for a Portland commute.

Goodbye, Old Friend

I’ve bought and sold a lot of bikes and frames over the years.  Some were bikes that I meant to restore/refurbish and pass on, others were bikes that I rode for a while and decided against keeping them as daily riders. Letting a bike go doesn’t really mean much about the bike itself, but does mean something about the rider.  Each of us has unique interests, passions, body geometry, needs, desires, and energy, and some of these might change over time.  The right bike will be transformative.  Knowing when to let go of a bike is an elusive skill set.  Here are a few bikes I’ve passed on for others to enjoy:

A 1960’s Raleigh Royale, converted to 2 speed:  This bike was one of my forays into single speed riding.  I kept the close ratio double front crank, and used a single speed freewheel at the rear, with no front derailleur.  Riding this bike helped me realize how much I didn’t want to ride single speed or fixed.  The idea was that I would move the chain by hand on the front (a la the old days before front derailleurs) and then move the hub in the dropouts to adjust chain tension.  In practice, I never did this.

A Bridgestone X0-5:  this bike came to me with all original but low-end components.  I removed those and replaced them with some much nicer parts., including a SunTour Sprint crankset.  The very nice Cro-Mo frame on these bikes is the same as the higher end versions, and so with a bit of upgrading this was a wonderful bike to ride.  I kind of regret selling it now, but on several occasions I’ve spotted this bike out in Portland’s wild, ridden by its very happy new owner.

A Reynolds 531 Cilo Pacer:  this was my first foray into Swiss bikes.  Cilo went bankrupt in 2002, but prior to that was known for building some very nice machines.  The frame had some minor rust, and the components were racing oriented.  I decided to pass the bike on without building it up, as I wasn’t sure it would be right for me.  It was equipped with a full Campy groupset, which I saved, and ended up selling the frame to a very interested younger cyclist.

A 1979 Large Peugeot Mixte:  this basic Carbolite 103 Mixte was actually really fun to ride.  Everything on this bike worked well, with very little restoration needed.  It’s an extra large mixte – perfect for taller commuting cyclists, and features a front bottle dynamo, working perfectly.  I hope whoever has this bike is enjoying it.

A Schwinn Passage touring bike:  this is the bike that “got away”, and I now wish I still had this one in my stable.  It’s an amazingly competent and practical touring bike that works equally well for commuting and sport riding.

An Early 1980’s Davidson:  I wanted to love this bike, but never was able to come to terms with its geometry.  I put a lot of miles on the bike before selling the frame and fork to a cyclist planning a touring adventure.  I kept the original Shimano 600 components, transferring many of them to my early 1990’s Terry Symmetry.

If a bike doesn’t feel right for you, even after making a few modifications, then it’s time to pass it on to another rider.  A bike that gets ridden adds so much value to the whole scheme of life.  Bikes are highly personal, very unlike cars.  The comfort of the cyclist is paramount, so don’t feel bad about selling a bike on.  Its new owner may find a lifelong friend.