Vitus Steel Tubing

Long before Vitus began making bonded aluminum frames (Vitus 979), the company had an extensive history of manufacturing quality steel bicycle tubes.  According to Classic Rendezvous, Vitus began as Ateliers de la Rive, on the outskirts of St. Etienne, a city southeast of Paris, near Lyon.  Beginning in 1931, they began making tubes branded as Rubis and Durifort.

Durifort Tubing advert from the Octobre 18 1947 edition of Le Cycle

Durifort advert from the June 1947 edition of Le Cycliste magazine

These 1947 ads, which appeared in Le Cycle and Le Cycliste magazines, show that Durifort tubing was the brand promoted by the Ateliers de la Rive company as the company’s best offerings.  Numerous races were won, with bicycles using the Durifort tubing.  At this time, Rubis tubing was also offered, and was featured on a number of bicycles offered by the manufacturers of the day.

Vitus advert – 1956 Le Cycliste Magazine – Volume 10

 

1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 tubing

By the 1970’s, Vitus was making a variety of tubesets with different wall thicknesses, both butted and straight gauge.

I have owned and worked on several bicycles with Vitus tubing, the oldest of which is a 1947 Peugeot Mixte which featured Vitus Rubis tubing. I still have this bike in my collection.  Although I have seen examples of Vitus’ bonded aluminum frames, I have not ridden one.  I understand that these frames have similar flex characteristics to the alumiminum ALAN frames, which feature aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs, but Vitus 979 frames do not include steel lugs.

It would be nice to have a resource which identifies the characteristics of each designation of Vitus steel tubing, but this seems to exist only in fragments on various websites.

A writer called vertkyg on the gitaneusa.com forum has developed a fairly complete Vitus timeline, with interesting photos and commentary.  He derived much of his information from a 1974 version of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling.  As I didn’t have this book in my collection, I ordered a copy and found it to provide a wealth of information, as well as being an interesting commentary on the bicycle industry of the mid 1970’s.

Tube Thickness Guide – courtesy of Delong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

Continuation of the tube thickness guide, courtesy of DeLong’s

The top photo above shows that Vitus tubing in 1974 was offered as the following tubesets:  172, 971, and Durifort.  Durifort was a butted set, but was otherwise identical to the 172 tubeset (although by this chart, I think both tubesets were butted).  971 tubing was presumably the best offering of the time, with its lighter weight .9/.6 wall thicknesses for all of the main tubes.

Steel Tubing Characteristics, courtesy of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

This additional chart shows the properties of various tubing offerings of the era. Vitus 971 tubing is shown to have ultimate psi strength in excess of Reynolds 531, and as you can see from the above chart is significantly stronger than lower end steel tubing of this era. It is much stronger than the Titanium B 338 tubeset noted on the table, and greatly so, as is Reynolds 531, of course. Vitus 971 and Reynolds 531 tubesets show similar performance characteristics, and could certainly be seen as equals in the marketplace at this time.

My early 1980’s Meral features this steel Vitus 788 tubeset.  Available catalogues from this era do not feature this designation.   From what I can surmise, this was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes, thus the 788 designation.  Whether I am right or wrong about that, one thing I know is that Vitus steel tubing is competitive with the Reynolds and Tange tubesets of this era.

UPDATE 10/21/17:  Reader Bruno (see comment below) has shared a different timeline of the Vitus, Durifort, and Rubis tubing brands and their related owners.  It appears that all of these brands were initially owned by separate companies, and that Durifort was folded under the Vitus brand in the early 1970’s.  The link he shares has many historical advertisements – if you don’t speak French you can use a translate tool to study the material presented there, which includes an article written by Daniel Rebour which reviews the history of Vitus.

French Threaded Shifter Bosses

While I usually love all things French, I was perplexed to discover that the shifter bosses on the early 1980’s Méral Randonneuse I am currently restoring are not threaded “normally”.  What is normal threading for a shifter boss?  Well, it’s the same  5 mm x .8 that you will find on much of the rest of your frame:  bottle cage mounts, rack mounts, etc.

Courtesy of Park Tools.

Fasteners have several elements that help identify their size, the two most important of which are: thread pitch, which is the distance from the crest to the crest, and thread diameter which is the outer measurement of the thread crests.  English threading is designated by the frequency of how many threads are counted along one inch.  This is know as “threads per inch” or TPI.  Metric threading uses the direct pitch measurement in millimeters, measuring between two adjacent thread crests.  A fastener designated as TPI is “standard”.  Unfortunately, some fasteners are “mix and match”, with both a TPI and a metric size, such as Italian bottom bracket threads labeled “36mm x 24 tpi”.  There are standard coarse metric threads which are designated with the letter “M” followed by the thread pitch.  For example M6 = 6.0 diameter with a 1.00 mm pitch.

This Méral has a shifter boss on the seat tube – for engaging a bottom bracket mounted dynamo.  When I acquired the bike, the lights and dynamo had been removed from the frame.  So, I planned on reinstalling a BB dynamo hooked up to a friction shifter on the seat tube.  That’s when I discovered that the threads on the shifter mounts did not match any threads on any shifters I tried, even including some Simplex shifters from this era.

Simplex Shifter with 6 mm x .8 threading

That’s because these shifter bosses are tapped with 6 x .8mm threads (not 5 x .8), as you can see from the above nomenclature on the bike’s Simplex shifter boss bolts.  These Simplex shifters use a nonstandard threading on the boss. My research indicates that Simplex used a variety of threading standards for its shifters:  5 x .8, 5 x 1.0, as well as 6 x .8, shown above.  Classic Rendezvous has a discussion of these sizing anomalies.

Soubitez BB dynamo

Here is one idea for a BB dynamo for this bike – a Soubitez which is in good shape. I’ll need to set up the seat tube shifter, and given that the boss threading is non standard, it’s back to the drawing board for now.

Sachs Maillard 6 Speed Freewheel

I removed this very nice early 1980’s Sachs Maillard 6 speed freewheel from the Méral Randonneuse I am currently restoring.  Since the bike is already in great condition, probably the better word is “servicing” – there isn’t much restoration involved for this Méral, being very well preserved already.

Meral Randonneuse – early 1980’s

Sachs Maillard 6 speed freewheel

This freewheel looked sparkly after just a tiny bit of cleaning.  It spins sweetly, with that pleasant sound that some vintage freewheels emit, like a Suntour or a Regina. The freewheel is well engineered, and is lightweight.

Notched tooth pattern

As I was cleaning and lubricating this freewheel, with its useful 13-28 cogs, I noticed these interesting notches on the cog teeth.  That made me wonder if this was a freewheel designed for indexing, and perhaps added later to the bike.  But that didn’t make sense, as the Méral is equipped with friction Simplex downtube shifters, which were clearly original to the bike.

So, I did a bit of research to find out what model this was, as well as to determine the timeline involving the Maillard and Sachs companies, wondering when they had merged.  According to Velobase and other sources, Maillard was absorbed into Sachs in 1980.  By 1989 the Maillard name was no longer used.  Sachs did indeed develop an indexing compatible freewheel, which supposedly can index with any system.  This was the ARIS model which stands for Advanced Rider Indexed System.  It appears the Aris line was developed in the late 1980s’, using their proprietary “Rapid Grip and Shift” tooth design.  So, why does early 1980’s this freewheel’s teeth have these notches?  Is it an early indexing model, or is it an idea that Maillard had developed before indexing was standard?  As far as I can tell, these notches in the cog teeth were present in early 1980’s models.  Velobase.com has several Sachs Maillard freewheels from this era, all of which have the notches on the freewheel cog. Reader insight is welcome!

The freewheel takes a standard splined tool, which can be had from Park Tools or other suppliers.  That was a pleasant surprise.  And, I won’t be needing to overhaul this freewheel.  With a little bit of lubrication – a light oil at first, and then heavier automotive oil – this freewheel will probably last another 35 years or more, and we’ll see how these notched teeth work out on the road.