A Mystery Vintage Touring Bike Courtesy of Fred DeLong

I discovered Fred Delong’s publications much too late in my life.  DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling, first published in 1974 (the year I graduated from high school), is a treasure trove of both technical and non-geeky information, and includes photos and material I have never seen elsewhere.

Fred was a lifelong cyclist, author, and bike guru, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 2001, six years after he passed away in 1995.

His book is unusual for its time in American cycle publishing.  It features French, Italian, and British built bicycles, and includes discussions of 650b tires with supple sidewalls mounted on low trail camping bikes, avoidance of toe overlap on touring bikes, and the importance of clearance in frame builds to allow for wider tires, as well as eyelets and baze-ons for fenders and racks.  Sound familiar?

The above photos are close up crops of the original photo shown as figure 2.11 in DeLong’s 1974 guide.  While most of the other photos in the book contain credits or are otherwise referenced, this image was not referenced or credited anywhere in the book.  That means we don’t know who built this bike.

So, let’s start with what we do know about this bike.  According to DeLong, this bike’s features are as follows:

“Wide tubular platform carrier with pannier bags mounted…

Hollow aluminum alloy rims on Phil Wood sealed precision bearing hubs…

Alloy mudguards, front with sliding fender flap in raised position and built-generator lighting…

Mafac Cantilever tandem brakes, rear brake cable direct routing (200 degree cable arc) with hooded levers

Aluminum alloy Randonneur handlebars

531 chrome-molybdenum braze-welded frame – 71 degree head and seat tube angles

15-speed wide-range gearing (23-116) on TA alloy crank and chainwheel set.”

Remember, this book was published in 1974. The photos in the book are all probably from at least one or two years earlier.  Phil Wood founded his hub manufacturing company back in 1971 when, as a racer he became frustrated with hubs developing play and needing an overhaul after each competition. That led him to explore sealed bearing designs for hubs and bottom brackets.  By the time of the 1976 BikeCentennial, Phil Wood’s hubs were all the rave, with touring cyclists ordering up Phil Wood hubs for their wheel builds, in preparation for a cross-country journey.

The above photo depicts an extremely unusual (for the time) sloping top tube.  The builder’s logos are not clear enough to make out, but the down tube seems to indicate “XP SR”.  The seat tube reflects some circular and elliptical logos, presumably also indicating the builder/manufacturer and/or frame tubing transfers.  Is this a custom frame?  I think not.  A custom frame wouldn’t ordinarily have what appear to be model monikers on the down tube. As DeLong indicates in the text, the frame is made of 531 steel and is fillet brazed.  The rear brake features through the frame routing for the “200 degree” cable arc.  While not necessarily a custom feature, it is also certainly unusual for a non-custom frame built in the early 1970’s.

The other intriguing elements of this bike include:

An extension (presumably) on the Mafac levers

A cover (or something similar) on the rear derailleur

A front tire which appears to be wider than the rear tire

A very long reach stem – possibly to accommodate a shorter than desired top tube length

Generous fork rake combined with slack angles

Half step gearing with a tiny third ring

Who made this bike?  Ideas and speculations are welcome.  In the meantime, I discovered a bicycle ridden by DeLong which went up for sale a while back.  The photo below shows the bike, a French JB Louvet built with Reynolds 531 tubing, in disrepair.  But, it may give some clues about DeLong’s interests and preferences.

Fred Delong’s JB Louvet – courtesy of http://bikeville.blogspot.com/


Huret Rear Derailleurs

1980 Huret Challenger rear derailleur

There are some vintage components which I have never taken a liking to. Huret parallelogram rear derailleurs are one example.  These rear gear changers were introduced in the 1960’s.  The Huret rear derailleur line of this era ran the gamut from  the lower end Alvit models to the very lightweight Jubilee models.  In between are the Eco, Challenger, various Luxe models, Svelto, and the titanium version of the Challenger – the Success.  In my experience, the lower end Alvit models can actually perform quite well, even though they are fairly heavy and unattractive.

Huret Titanium Success rear derailleur

This titanium model (one of many Huret models in my parts bin) is very visually attractive, but is essentially exactly the same as its Challenger counterpart, engineering-wise.  One feature of both the Challenger and Success models is the ability to move the cage pivot to accommodate 24 or 28 teeth.

This is accomplished by screwing the cage pivot bolt into either the 24 or 28 tooth drillings on the parallelogram.  That is all very well and good.  Apparently, these derailleurs can accommodate a 31 tooth gear range, so they can be adapted to touring applications with the right set-up.  Frank Berto’s book The Dancing Chain has a comprehensive discussion of these derailleurs, along with commentary regarding his own experience using them on his bikes.  While noting their obvious shortcomings, Berto states that he has successfully used the Duopar models (which have TWO parallelograms), on his friction shifting touring bikes of this era.

Non “bastard” dropouts on the Meral…Huuureet!

Baffling complexity for what should be a simple attachment to the dropout. The black (not silver) bolt turns out to be one clue not to ignore.

Fortunately, the dropouts on the early 1980’s Meral Rando bicycle that I am currently working on are NOT Huret style dropouts.  They are standard Shimano/Campy so can accommodate pretty much any kind of rear derailleur option.  That set my mind at ease, in case something went wrong with my urge to disassemble the Huret Challenger which is original to the bike.

If you are into overhauling rear derailleurs, RJ the Bike Guy has a wonderful video showing the overhaul and reassembly of a Huret Challenger rear derailleur.  As it turns out, the process of overhauling is very straightforward.  The pulleys run on bushings which just need cleaning and lubrication.  The body also needs to be cleaned, with the pivot points lubricated.  The pivot spring on this derailleur was kind of kinked up, so we’ll see how well it performs once it has been cleaned, greased, and re-installed.

Huret rear derailleur instructions, courtesy of http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/Huret_instructions.html

Now to the most challenging part of the overhaul process:  installing the Huret derailleur into the dropout.  This step would normally be something no mechanic would ever even discuss, except to recommend torque settings for the installation bolt.  Not so with Huret rear derailleurs.  There are all kinds of parts, including bolts, washers, clamps, and b-screw adjusters to be considered.  I found myself really questioning my sanity as I attempted to mount my freshly overhauled derailleur to the dropout on the Meral.  Fortunately, disraeligears.co.uk came to the rescue.  As it turns out, the BLACK mounting bolt is very important – signifying the method which is necessary to secure the derailleur to a non-Huret drop-out.  This also determines the line-up of the b-screw adjustment piece, which can be put into two different positions – see above.  If you don’t have a headache by now, you are to be commended!  I will circle back around once I have the Huret Challenger installed and tested.

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.