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.

1947 Camille Daudon – Component Details

After many years of stops and starts, I’m finally completing my restoration of the 1947 Camille Daudon that came into my possession about 5 years ago.  The above photo shows its condition when I first acquired it.  The frame had been re-chromed, but the rest of the bike hadn’t been overhauled.  There was seemingly not that much to do, but one thing that hadn’t been set up by the previous owner was the Cyclo derailleur, which uses a one-piece cable set up that can be challenging to master.  There were a few other mishaps that made the process longer than I imagined – but that is kind of the norm when it comes to restoring bicycles from this era.

I’ve previously written a great deal about this wonderful bicycle, but haven’t yet described its components, so I’ve included a compendium below.  The bike as pictured weighs about 20 lbs, and as you will see, all components were selected for their quality and light weight.

Wheelset – Pelissier Plume hubs on unbranded 650b alloy rims with Huret drilled winguts

Bars – Unbranded alloy city style bars, with wood dowels.

Stem – Camille Daudon lugged stem with hidden tool kit.  The stem clamps directly to the steerer tube.

Brake calipers – LAM Super Dural Model H with original pads.  The interchangeable hardware allows for reversing the direction of the cable (for mounting on a mixte-style frame).  The caliper arms have no up-down adjustment, meaning that brake bridge and fork length precision was required.

Brake levers – Unbranded alloy levers 

Headset – Stronglight – model unknown

Cankset – Stronglight 49 with Rosa 42 tooth ring, 165 mm arms, anodized blue.

Bottom Bracket – Unbranded alloy with hollow axle and reverse thread left side threading, weight 197 grams.

Derailleur/shifter – Cyclo Standard, Daudon modified shifter

Freewheel – 4 speed J. Moyne – 14-24 (identification thanks to reader Bruno)

Grips – Original Velox grips replaced with Felt Grenoble

Saddle & Seatpost – Ideale Model 65 with duralumin frame and alloy clamps (broken).  (The broken clamps spurred an unsuccessful years long search for a replacement, and I ended up modifying some clamps designed for tubular rails).  Unbranded alloy stem with closed top.

Pedals – Unbranded with alloy cages

Camille Daudon was known for modifying existing components and creating his own. It is possible that many of the unbranded pieces were created by him.  These Daudon-created parts might include the seatpost, bottom bracket, brake levers and maybe even the pedals and rims.

The final step is setting up the Cyclo derailleur and shifter – a daunting task.  Fortunately I recently discovered a technical guide dating from the 1930′s on the disrailigears website, which has proved very helpful.  Stay tuned for the results of the last step in restoring this wonderful machine!

Removing (or Not) a Stuck T.A. Fixed Cup

I recently took my 1980 Meral out for a spin, and found myself not enjoying the ride.  At first I thought the problem was me – I’ve been getting back in shape after a long and unpleasant illness over the winter and spring.  But as I climbed Mt. Tabor heading home, I realized that something must be going on with the bike.  When I pulled into my garage I remembered that I hadn’t overhauled the bike since building it up back in 2013.  Um, that’s 6 years!  Whoops! So, I put it up into my stand and found that the rear wheel hub was rough, and the bottom bracket was REALLY rough.

I had purchased the frame and fork, which included the T.A. BB, in late 2012 from a French seller on eBay.  In early 2013 I built it up, converting it to 650b in the process.  One of the issues I encountered during that process was not being successful at removing the T.A. fixed cup from the bottom bracket, even after putting it in my vise and using the frame for leverage.  I built it up and went about my business, using the original T.A. 374 spindle with its 122mm length.  I remember that I had a lot of trouble getting the BB adjusted correctly, and at the time wondered if the lock ring had been cross threaded at some point.

New (1953) lockring threaded on to 1980 T.A. adjustable cup.

Original locking on top, replacement on the bottom. The 1953 replacement is oddly in much better shape than its 1980 counterpart.

When I removed the adjustable cup and lockring I found that it had indeed been cross threaded at some point.  Fortunately, the threads on the cup were fine, so I located a suitable French threaded lockring replacement – this one from a 1953 BB that used a cottered crank spindle.  It was in great shape and threaded on to the cup beautifully.  So, that problem was solved, and I proceeded to clean the cups, repack them with grease, and install new bearings.  But, the same problem I had encountered initially did not go away.  I could not get an adjustment that eliminated freeplay but also allowed for a smooth feel when turning the spindle.

Locking adjustment method NOT recommended by Sheldon Brown.

I did a little research and even tried out Sheldon Brown’s lockring adjustment method which involves NOT holding the adjustable cup in place while tightening the lockring, and instead letting them move together for the final adjustment.  This is not how I learned to adjust BB’s, but the method seems to have some merit:  because of the design of the threaded cup, tightening the lockring while holding the cup with the spanner tool, could actually loosen the adjustment.  Ultimately, neither method (mine or Sheldon’s) would give me a perfect adjustment.  At that point I concluded that maybe I just wanted to replace the BB with something different.  Let the torture begin!

Fixed cup removal tool – a la Sheldon

Various wrenches for providing leverage, including a Park alignment tool

Tightening the fixed cup tool using some torque wrenches.

The process for removing a French threaded fixed cup with Sheldon’s removal tool is different from a “normal” fixed cup because the threads are right hand instead of left hand so the cup is removed with a counter clockwise motion.  After tightening the hell out of the nut on the outer side of the fixed cup so that it can’t be tightened any further, you then tighten the bolt on the inside, thus moving the washers in a counter clockwise motion.  I tried out all of my tools at hand and even attached the Park took to my breaker bar for extra leverage, but had no luck in turning the BB shell.  I also tried the reverse process, just in case this was one of those French BB’s that was threaded in a non French way, but to no avail.

So, to kick it up a notch, I soaked the BB with penetrating oil for a week.  In order to keep the oil inside the cup, which I filled to the brim, I used a Belgian Ale cork, more dense than a regular wine cork, and shaved it to fit into the lower opening of the fixed cup, then held the frame horizontal in my stand.  A few drops leaked out over the week (it IS penetrating oil after all), but the bulk of the oil stayed inside the cup, hopefully breaking through the frozen threads.  Hope springs eternal!

But that did not work at all.  Even after getting more leverage on my breaker bar by placing the bike upside down and using all my body weight to push down on the Park tool attached to the breaker bar, the fixed cup would still not turn.  Foiled!

Now was the time to end my suffering by accepting reality.  The fixed cup was here to stay.  So, then I pondered whether the T.A. 374 spindle was slightly warped, thus making it impossible to achieve an adjustment.  I searched my parts bin for a replacement and found a Stronglight 118 mm spindle that was in nice condition.  The 4 mm shorter spindle would not cause any problems because I already had plenty of chainring clearance with the other spindle (using 2 rings on a T.A. crankset).  I put the replacement spindle in, and achieved a perfect adjustment on the first try!  So, while I was never able to removed the fixed cup, at least I’m going to be able to continuing enjoying my sweet little Meral 650b.