Reinterpreting a 1978 Peugeot PR65

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.

Mid Century Mercier Meca Dural

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This winter’s crazy weather in Portland, Oregon finally gave me the time and focus needed to complete the restoration of a very interesting bicycle – a late 40’s/early 50’s Mercier Meca Dural.  The frame is constructed with aluminum tubes joined with ornate aluminum lugs and internal steel expanders.  The front fork is good old steel, but the rest of the frame is 100% “duralumin” – the same stuff that blimps were made from.

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Once I finally had the rear wheel’s axle spacing and dishing issues resolved (the 650b Mavic rims/F.B hubs wheelset installed replace the incorrect 700c wheels on the bike when I acquired it), I could devote time to mounting the 650b tires and dealing with fender line issues.  This bike’s beautiful hammered Le Martele Lefol fenders were meant for tires a bit larger than the Panaracer 40 mm Col de la Vie tires I mounted to the the vintage Mavic rims.  That meant spacers. And, my favorite spacers are wine corks.  Therefore, it was necessary and advisable to open a couple bottles of champagne (the higher priced, the better), to obtain the corks needed to meet this objective.  The photos above show the champagne corks installed on the front and rear fenders.

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Another issue was the chain line adjustment.  Once I had the rear derailleur installed – a NOS Simplex Grand Prix – it became clear that even after adjusting it to push the derailleur as far in toward the frame as possible, and after re-spacing and re-dishing the rear hub, the chain line was off.  It was going to be necessary to push the crankset away from the frame, by a few millimeters.  Fortunately, with this unique frame’s method of joining of the bottom bracket with brass bolts to the chain stays, I determined that I could remove the bolts, and then re-position the bottom bracket accordingly.  I removed the bolts from the frame, lubricated the bottom bracket shell – which is a beautifully machined aluminum cylinder, then began the process of moving it slightly over to the right.  This took the work of a mallet as well as my Lozan BB lockring wrench, but finally I moved the BB cylinder enough to provide the chain-line I needed. One of the many interesting things about this bike is that the BB axle is hollow (to save weight) and the crank bolt on the left side is threaded backwards.  Something not to forget in the future!

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Ideale Model 80 leather saddle

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Simplex shifter

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Luxor headlight bracket

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Luxor 65 headlamp

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C.M. calipers with reversed hardware

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Vintage french rack, Huret wingnuts

The bike’s leather saddle – an Ideale Model 80 – might be worth more than the bike itself if eBay seller pricing is to be believed.  The saddle is a little dry, but after reconditioning it, I think it will prove to be very comfortable.  The “C.M.” brake calipers are a long reach mechanism from the 40’s that I used to replace the incorrect CLB 700 brakes that were on the bike when I purchased it.  You’ll note from the photo above that I reversed the hardware on the rear brake to accommodate this bike’s brake routing – to allow the cable to enter from underneath the caliper.  I also installed a French rear rack from this same era, as the original rack was missing.

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The above photo shows that the seat post lug is pinned, as compared to the rest of the lugs on this bike which are joined with internal steel expanders.  There were other methods of joining aluminum tubes back in the day when these bikes were built, but I think these Meca Dural examples are likely to survive the test of time.  We’ll see once I get this bike out on the road.

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Before

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After

It’s funny (but not really) that the before and after photos of this bike don’t look that much different.  Perhaps what’s different is my perspective – the bike is now ready for a test ride, with appropriate components, and a period-correct restoration to make the bike 100% rideable.  I threw my leg over the saddle today just to see how the bike felt and I was startled to find that this bike fits me perfectly.  I can’t wait to get it out on the road.  For that, the weather gods must provide.

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1953 French Mystery Mixte Out on the Road

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I decided to take the 1953 French Mystery Mixte out for its first test ride today.  I headed over to Sellwood so I could start the Springwater trail from Sellwood Park, and avoid downtown traffic.  This year, Summer riding in Portland has been a mixed bag.  It has been easy to be beckoned by the dry weather, but the recent heat waves and high humidity have made it challenging to enjoy even my regular commute.  Although cool and breezy, today was more humid than I expected, so my single water bottle turned out to be inadequate.

I was anxious to see how the Challenge Strada Bianca tubular tires felt.  I even wondered if somehow the ride would be transformed by the legendary smoothness and purported supple sidewalls of tubular tires.  I was brought back to reality worrying that I might get a flat.  But, one upside to tubular tires is not having to carry a spare tube, patches, or tire irons.  I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have to carry an entire spare tire (or two, plus glue and a sewing kit).  So, I didn’t even bother with a pump, and just stuffed a few tools and my cell phone into a tiny seat bag.

As I got underway, I felt like I was riding an e-bike. Wait. The bike is long and tall, and  I was in a fairly upright position with the city style bars.  Yet I was positively rolling!  Could it be the tubular tires?  Well, it turned out to be a tailwind, which I discovered when I reversed direction to head back to my starting point on the trail.

After this moment of elation, I concentrated on what the bike was telling me as I sped along, passing nearly everyone:  responsive frame, comfortable saddle, smooth-as-glass hubs, easy shifting, and no lateral flex (thanks to the twin sloping top tubes of this mixte frame).  The tires felt fast, yet more comfortable than similar 30mm width tires that I have ridden, and handled the brief time I spent on hard packed dirt when I took a detour with no mishaps.

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The gearing is very high, and even moderate hills required a standing position to maintain cadence.  I ended up not using the highest gear, and rode the bike as a three speed.  Fortunately, the Simplex Tour de France derailleur can handle up to a 24 tooth cog, which means that the gearing could be lowered from its current 59-83 gear inch range, down to a low gear of 52.  That would help make this bike more versatile.  Even so, hill climbing will remain challenging.

A tubular tire oddity is that they lose pressure very quickly.  They will lose several pounds overnight, and a lot of air after a week.  That’s one reason you’ll see bikes with tubular tires kept elevated, so that no flat spots or creases develop in the sidewalls.  For this outing, I had inflated the tires the night before with about 85 lbs in the rear tire and 75 lbs in the front, but as I was riding I felt sure that I had lost pressure especially in the rear tire.  In the future I will plan to inflate the tires before each ride – which is a good practice anyway.

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I enjoyed using the old Lyotard Marcel Berthet pedals with their original clips and straps.  I hadn’t rebuilt them yet, and even so they performed just fine for this short trip, and were easy to get my shoe in and out of.

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The narrow braking surface of the Clement rims is imprinted with a pattern, theoretically to improve braking.  In practice, the rims emitted a high pitched whining sound whenever the brakes were applied.  While the noise did alert others to my presence, I want to find a way to make braking silent, so will be experimenting with some different brake pads.  I also still have friction in the rear brake cable, which I need to troubleshoot.

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1953 French Mixte at Tilikum Crossing

1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

Yesterday, I had taken the 1972 Mercian out for a spin, so it was interesting comparing the riding experience of these two different bicycles.  The Mercian is a classic 1970’s road bike, using 700c tires on a small frame which happens to fit me perfectly.  It has a 100cm wheelbase, but similar (and higher than I prefer) wheel flop and trail numbers (wheel flop 17 and trail 59).  I was not disappointed in the handling of the mixte.  I did not have any trouble maneuvering at slow speeds, whereas the Mercian does exhibit the unwieldy feel of a high wheel flop bike when riding at slow speeds. The long 109cm wheelbase helps to keep the bike feeling more stable than it otherwise would. Both bikes are comfortable yet performance oriented, and versatile enough for any kind of riding, with the right gearing.  Neither bike has rack mounts, but both have fender eyelets.  With a saddlebag support, either bike could be put into daily service as a commuter, and the Mixte’s high gearing and light 22 lb weight could allow it to do double duty as a training bike.

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The city style bars have flush mounted levers, which although stylish-looking, means that the only way to adjust the position of the levers, is to adjust the handlebars.  My wrists and hands were uncomfortable after a while, because they were not in a neutral position, so I’ll be making adjustments to the bars as well as completing a few other minor tweaks.

The bike’s first ride left me impressed.  Riding it today reminded me again of how well the cycling industry had developed by the end of WWII.  Its high end components and beautiful Oscar Egg lugs translate into a well-appointed, lightweight bicycle that is perfectly competent and comfortable to ride. I am looking forward to riding it again.