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!

Commuting on a Vintage Bicycle

French 1939 Sironval Recumbent. A 24 inch wheel at the rear and a 22 inch wheel in front.

One of the biggest obstacles to attracting new cyclists is the fear of maintenance.  Bicycles are time consuming, messy, and non-intuitive. That’s a (fun, IMHO!) fact.  It’s so much easier to drive your car, order Lyft or take public transportation, and avoid the challenges involved in becoming a commuter cyclist – right?

Meanwhile, certain members of the retail cycling industry seem to lack the will or interest in helping to educate new cyclists on the many, and rewarding maintenance tasks which routine cycling requires.  Instead, the marketing focus is on overcoming these obstacles with technology – such as belt drives, e-bikes, index shifting, bike share, and the like.  And for new and returning cyclists it can feel like the retail industry’s focus is on intimidating and humiliating newbies, catering only to elite competitive cyclists and wannabes.

While I believe new technologies are critical to the future success of the cycling industry, I don’t necessarily believe that they are critical to the success of the cyclists themselves.

Lightweight box style rims, components drilled to save weight, and custom racks and fenders are not necessarily something the regular cycling commuter wants to think about. For a commuting cyclist, safety, efficiency and reliability are the most important elements in determining whether to ride, and what bicycle to ride.

While new bicycles and e-bikes can address some of the needs of new cycling commuters, vintage bicycles, modified as needed, can actually provide much greater utility for a new or returning commuting cyclist.

Over the last 25 year I have cycled regularly from my current home to downtown Portland where I work.  That ride offers steep hills, sharp turns, and plenty of discouraging encounters with car drivers.  Often in the mornings when I ride over Mt. Tabor, I have spotted the same cyclist – someone about my age, riding a fairly upright bike.  We have nodded and waved to each other over the decades.  Recently, I noticed this cyclist was ascending the hill I was descending with quite a bit of speed.  When I passed her, I realized she was now riding an e-bike, and that made me smile.  Yes, keep riding, and find the right bike to do it with.

But what is that bike?  I think the first thing to look at is the drive train – which involves choosing among internal hub gears, single speed, or derailleur options.  Chain driven derailleur-geared bikes offer the greatest range of gears as well as the greatest efficiency.  Derailleur equipped bikes are also the most time consuming and messy when it comes to routine maintenance.  These are also the most commonly found vintage bicycles. They are generally very reliable, and are the easiest to learn to work on yourself.  Their components have not been designed for built in obsolescence.

A cyclist in a relatively flat environment can instead choose a single speed or internally geared option, and that will mean very little routine maintenance for the rider, but potentially expensive service costs should the internal hub fail.  Vintage Sturmey Archer hubs are extremely reliable, and with only routine lubrication can last many decades without the need for an overhaul.  So, a good choice for commuter cycling in a relatively flat environment would be a pre-1970 bicycle with a Sturmey Archer internally geared hub.

I would like to make the case for the derailleur geared bicycle as the most desirable choice for new commuting cyclists.

You can achieve, by far, the greatest gearing range and the most efficiency by using a front and rear derailleur with at least two rings up front and 6 or more cogs in the back.

But, I have often seen neglected triple crank bikes, with teeth wear only on the middle chain ring.  Their riders decided not to figure out how to shift or trim out the front derailleur, and instead used only the middle ring.  That is something to take note of.

The other reason vintage bicycles are so much more suited to new and returning cyclists is their steel frames, usually lugged, and often quite beautiful.  It is a matter of pride to venture out on one’s well-designed, comfortable, and eye-catching lugged steel frame and ride among the masses of heavy, stiff, uncomfortable aluminum frames, or those of questionable reliability such as carbon fiber.

A Meral for Town and Country

Bicycles with 650B wheels are nicely suited to a relaxed riding style.  The wider rims and greater clearances on the bike’s frame allow for plump, comfortable tires.  Often, vintage 650B bicycles are set up as city style bikes, with minimal gears and an upright position for the cyclist.

My recently acquired early 1980’s Meral randonneuse cried out for a 650B conversion.  It was built with Vitus 788 tubing around a set of narrow, 700c rims.  The bike as originally configured had a high bottom bracket and minimal tire clearances. These elements would normally indicate an ideal bicycle for a 650B conversion. Still, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful converting the bike, because the brake clearances were odd – with the front brake having less reach than the rear brake. In times past, competitive oriented bicycles were sometimes built with more brake reach in the rear than the front, and that was so that a shorter reach and therefore stronger brake could be used at the front end.

The rear brake reach on this bike is greater than the front by more than several millimeters.  When it came time to install the Mafac Raid long reach brakes, this fact made me concerned.  In order to have the rear Mafac Raid brake pads contact the new 650B rim, I needed to angle them down slightly, which is not ideal.  There are other options for dealing with brake reach problems, including installing brackets (a la Sheldon), and filing some material off of the caliper arms, to allow the brake pads to sit a bit lower.  None of those options appealed to me.

Vintage Mafac Raid brake calipers with V-O squeal free pads.

I decided to ignore the problem for now, as the front brake reach was perfect for the conversion to 650B, with plenty of room to position the brake pads correctly.  I am using Velo-Orange’s smooth post “squeal free” pads for this set up – and they are working perfectly and as advertised.  Since the front brake provides 70% of a bike’s stopping power, I haven’t noticed any issues involving the angled rear brake pads.  Meanwhile, here are some photos of the rest of the build:

Brooks leather grips, Tektro vintage style levers, V-O thumbies, Campagnolo shifter

Velocity A23 650B rims

Shimano Tiagra hubs

Meral custom steel fenders, wine cork spacers

Meral custom steel rack, with mounts for front flashlight.

This project was loads of fun, thanks to the beauty and quality of this vintage Meral bicycle.  The custom fenders and rack were a perfect match to its new Town and Country personality.  V-O’s thumbies worked well for this build – they can be used with just about any type of shifter so are more adaptable than their Paul’s competitor.

I used a lower end 650B wheelset that I will not purchase again, and I consider the wheels as a placeholder for now.  Probably I will build the ideal wheelset for this bike when the time comes, and will sort out the lighting options at that time.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos of this amazing vintage bicycle which now has a new lease on life.  I have included the specs and full build list at the bottom of this post.

A view from the back – with a tiny vintage reflector installed on the custom fenders.

Original Brooks Pro saddle.  Through the frame brake cable routing for the rear brake.

Campagnolo shifter on the seat tube braze on – intended for a BB mounted dynamo. Nicely executed seat cluster.

This gorgeous custom Meral steel rack can also be installed at the rear of the bike.

The drive train is a single 42 tooth drilled ring up front, with a 7 speed cassette at the back, controlled with a vintage friction Campy shifter.

The specs and build list are as follows:

Frame and fork:  Early 1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 steel tubing, 54 cm ST, 56 cm TT, through the frame brake and dynamo wiring, 2 rack mounts on the seat stays, 2 rack mounts on the fork, bottle cage mount, shifter braze-ons, ST dynamo braze-on, 127 rear spacing.

Drive Train:  Vintage Sugino crankarms and Sugino drilled 42T ring; new 7 speed cassette, vintage Lyotard pedals, Shimano SLX rear derailleur, original T.A. bottom bracket, replacement T.A. spindle of shorter length, V-O thumbie with vintage Campagnolo friction shifter.

Braking: Vintage Mafac Raid long reach centerpull brakes, new V-O smooth post pads, new Tektro vintage style levers, new blue color matched housing.

Wheelset & Tires:  New 650b wheelset: Shimano Tiagra hubs on Velocity A23 rims (purchased from Harris), tires and wheelset are placeholders for now.

Saddle and Seatpost:  Original Brooks Professional saddle, original JP Routens slanted seatpost clamp.

Bars, stem and headset:  new Soma Oxford handlebars and Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French 22.0 steerer size), original French Stronglight headset.

Accessories:  Original Meral custom steel fenders, original Meral custom steel front rack, new V-O bottle cage.

Ready for a leisurely ride wherever you want to go.