I’ve had a blue 1978 Peugeot PR65 in my shop for some time. The bike was 100% original when I acquired it, and is in beautiful condition. I had put it together after its arrival from France, but was unhappy with the ergonomics and with some of the components.
There were two versions of the PR65 in 1978, but only one appears to have been built with the Reynolds 531 tubing used on this bike – the “luxe” model.
The paint quality is very nice, and the bike looks nearly new. All of the nicer components of this era are present – a Stronglight TS 3 arm crankset with 48/38 rings, Mafac Racers, Mavic rims and Bluemels fenders to name a few.
Plastic Simplex components removed.
Simplex shifters removed.
But the incredibly uncomfortable ergonomics (long top tube combined with low stem and no rise porteur bars) along with the ugly plastic-infused Simplex components made me want to make some changes, which is not something I will usually do with a 100% original bike. But, a bike that gets ridden is always a better bike than one that is not.
A good example of the hideousness of Simplex’ obsession with plastic during this era is shown above. A normally elegant downtube cable guide is made into a bizarre monstrosity. Often these plastic components will break, especially the plastic clamp for the front derailleur, so I also regard these plastic Simplex components as unreliable.
Simplex dropout as modified to accept both Shimano style and Huret derailleurs.
Notch engagement on the Huret derailleur.
B screw engagement for a Shimano style derailleur.
First up was the need to do something about the Simplex dropouts, since I wanted to have other rear derailleur options. I decided to attempt to file notches in the the plain round unthreaded dropout, and to tap it out to 10M. I created both a “7 o’clock” notch for Shimano style derailleurs, as well as a set of notches for Huret. The process took quite a while, but I was successful.
Wanting to be true to the bike’s French heritage, I chose to use replace the Simplex components with Huret, selecting a Svelto for the rear derailleur. The Huret front derailleur is a bottom pull style that needs housing, so an appropriate Huret cable guide with a housing stop is also needed, as shown above.
Replacing the bars was also not a simple swap, due to the French sized steerer tube. Since I wanted to use a modern upright handlebar, I needed to sand an appropriate stem down to French size (22.2 to 22.0), which also takes a bit of time and patience. This is a vintage Cinelli stem mated to a set of Nitto tourist bars. I needed some strong and reliable shifters to handle the Svelto rear derailleur, and these lovely vintage Suntour bar mounts do a great job.
The bike as now configured is amazingly comfortable – perfect for commuting and for exploring. If I were to keep this bike, I would probably cold set the rear triangle to 126mm (from 120mm), and build a set of 650b wheels around a nice, vintage hubset. This would allow use of wider tires than the 700c x 28mm tires shown above, which is about as wide as the bike will accept with the Bluemels fenders. I’m planning to list this bike soon on my store page, so I’m hoping it will find a new home and have a chance to get back out on the road, as the bike certainly has many miles to go, and will get you there in true French style.
All of my bikes, from “newest” to most vintage are set up with vintage cranksets. I prefer the quality of the finish and materials as well as the reliability of the chainrings and crankarms to newer models. Of course, there have always been lower end models in any product line, but even low budget vintage cranksets are often superior to their modern day counterparts.
Even my 1990’s Terry ( a NOS frame which I built up with vintage components) features an early ’80s Shimano 600 crankset that has simply never worn out over decades of use. This model is a triple, with separate drilling on the inside of the spider which allows the 30T inner ring to be installed. Some triple cranksets are equipped this way, rather than reducing the bolt circle diameter (“BCD”) of the spider.
Stronglight 99 with drilled rings, 86mm BCD
T.A. Cyclotouriste crankset with 50.4 BCD
Vintage cranksets are often beautifully made, using a square taper connection to the bottom bracket, and featuring a variety of crank arm lengths, generally ranging from 160mm to 175mm, and bolt circle diameters which vary from the tiny Stronglight 49 & T.A. models 50.4mm diameter used on touring bikes up to 144mm used on high end racing bikes which need larger rings.
Stronglight Model 80 with 86mm BCD
1980’s Ofmega crankset with 144mm BCD
Selecting the right vintage crankset for your bicycles involves many considerations which include: crank arm and chainring material (steel vs. alloy); chainring spider design (5 arm vs 3); chain-line and spindle length, crank arm length, torque settings for the attachment bolts, the attachment to the spindle ( square taper ISO vs. JIS, or cottered), number of rings (1,2 or 3); and the all important measurement – bolt circle diameter (BCD), which determines the smallest ring you can use. Other ancillary considerations include whether or not to use elliptical chainrings, threading characteristics of the crankbolts and bottom bracket, and what kind of pedal threading you have on the crankarms.
The smaller the BCD, the smaller the chainring you can use with the crankset. This is very important. Cyclists who need lower gearing want cranksets with smaller BCDs, so that they can ride steep hills and haul stuff, whether it be a change of clothes, a touring kit, or the week’s groceries. Unfortunately, many off the shelf cranksets feature large bolt circle diameters, often 130 which can only accept a 38T ring as the smallest. While this shortcoming can be overcome by a triple crank with a smaller inner ring BCD, many cyclists including myself prefer the simplicity of a double crank. There are many examples of older triple cranksets, but plenty of vintage double cranksets are designed for a wide gear range. How did they do it? A smaller bolt circle diameter is the answer.
This T.A. Cyco-touriste crankset shown above is one way to achieve a wide gear range using a two ring crankset. You’ll see that there is a large tooth difference between the outer and inner rings. That means it is necessary to use a front derailleur specifically designed to handle the big shift between the inner and outer rings, such as the Simplex Super LJ shown above, which has a large inner cage plus a relatively steep angle on its parallelogram, plus a long cage rear derailleur.
1947 Stronglight crankset with Rosa rings and reverse threading on the non drive side crank bolt, lockring, and BB cup.
If you are using a single chainring, you can’t go wrong with a Stronglight 49D which can accomodate virtually any chainring size that is made. Older French bicycles sometimes featured reverse threading for all the BB components, as on my 1947 Camille Daudon. French cranksets generally have French pedal threading on the crankarms. However, it is not difficult to tap out French threading to English if needed, as long as you have the right tools. Velo Orange has a good discussion of this process here. There are still plenty of French threaded pedals available if you find yourself in need.
PWB Prague Warsaw Berlin Favorit crankset
1940’s Rene Herse 3 arm crankset
1947 Peugeot cottered 3 arm crankset
1970’s Stronglight 3 arm crankset
Most vintage cranksets have 5 arm spiders, but some have 3 arms, such as Rene Herse and Stronglight as well as other vintage models, as shown above. If your crank has a 3 arm spider, you’ll be limited in ring choice, since 5 arm cranks were the standard for many decades. However, 3 arm cranks are lighter weight, and can look quite elegant without sacrificing strength and reliability. And, believe it or not, cottered cranks are not necessarily low-end. Many are very lightweight and strong, as in the beautiful Favorit PWB set on my 1950’s Oscar Egg mixte, shown above.
Sugino crankset with 152mm arms
While much is written, studied and debated regarding the right crank arm length for your cycling endeavors, I hold to the most logical analysis: shorter cranks for shorter cyclists. As Georgena Terry has quipped, if we were all 3 feet tall, we would design bikes suited for our bodies’ geometry. Isn’t that obvious? Apparently not, but I encourage riders to experiment with a variety of crank arm lengths, as well as to research the health risks associated with riding too long crank arms for one’s height.
Most off the shelf crank arms come in the 170 mm length. But there are many lengths available, ranging from the shorter 152mm arms up to 185mm or more. Shorter arms are ideal for bikes with lower bottom bracket heights (which I prefer), and for most of my bikes I use 165mm. For me, this length offers a comfortable cadence, and minimizes pedal strikes while cornering.
Spindle length is important because it determines whether you can use a double or triple crankset. The longer the spindle, the greater the clearance of the chainrings from the chainstays. However, you also need to make sure that your chainline is proper given the crankset and spindle you have chosen. Ideal chainline is when the chain follows a straight line back to about the middle of the rear cogs when it is inbetween the two rings (or on the middle ring if a triple). While chainline can be adjusted by rearranging the spacers on a rear axle, it’s also important to make sure that you are using the correct spindle length to insure the best placement for the chain. You can also add spacers to the drive side BB to move the chain out a few millimeters, which is especially helpful if chainstay clearance is a problem. Park Tools has a good discussion of chainline concepts here.
1941 Goeland with Cyclo cottered crankset
Crankset selection can seem daunting, but it is important to remember that most vintage cranksets, whether square taper or cottered, will be an attractive and reliable addition to your current ride.
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.