On this Friday evening, with the gentle cool breeze blowing across my summer garden, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite photos of my bicycle restorations from the 1920’s through the 1950’s:
Rear dropouts determine what derailleur options are available for a given frame. Rear dropout spacing also determines hub options, with derailleur equipped vintage bicycles having narrower spacing than their modern counterparts. And, the shape and style of the dropout are important as well: horizontal dropouts allow for wheel adjustment fore and aft, whereas vertical dropouts make rear wheel removal easier. Eyelets on the dropouts mean integrated fender and rack mounts, a definite plus.
Little attention is paid to this important feature of any vintage steel bicycle. Vintage dropouts include: old style Simplex dropouts (shown above – but often model specific), newer style Simplex dropouts, Huret drop outs (several styles), Campagnolo dropouts, Shimano and Suntour dropouts, and stamped or forged dropouts with no integrated derailleur hanger. Some vintage bicycles feature chainstays with integrated braze-ons or dropouts for Simplex, Cyclo, Huret and other rear derailleurs.
Plain dropouts require a “claw” attachment for the rear derailleur or a braze-on or clamp for the chain stay. For vintage bicycles, plain dropouts without a hanger do not in any way indicate a lower end frame. Many nice upper end vintage steel frames did not have manufacturer specific brazed dropouts. So, do not be afraid of the “claw”. In fact, having plain dropouts on a vintage bicycle can be helpful, because derailleur options are automatically expanded, depending on the style of claw chosen.
The above Daniel Rebour drawings depict two different styles of Huret dropouts. Huret rear derailleurs can be a bit (translate “a lot”!) more difficult to set up than Simplex derailleurs. By contrast, setting up Shimano, Suntour or Campagnolo derailleurs with their matching tabbed and threaded dropout at 7 o’clock seems almost too easy.
After the early 1980’s or so, dropout hangers were not so much an issue, because dropouts on derailleur equipped bikes after this point in time featured standard Shimano/Campagnolo hangers which were adopted as the standard by other component manufacturers.
Sheldon Brown developed this helpful chart shown above, although it is missing some key information. He does not address the baffling array of hanger styles which existed in days of yore.
There is only one resource on the web that seems to have a comprehensive overview of dropout styles and rear derailleur compatibility issues. This helpful chart can be found at a site called The Headbadge. Velobase also has an extensive database of vintage style dropouts. These resources can help anyone restoring a vintage bicycle determine whether and how to change the existing rear derailleur, and how to determine compatibility options.
In addition, there are a few other web resources that can help you with derailleur and dropout considerations:
The Dancing Chain by Frank Berto is also an important resource – even more so because it is in book form. If you don’t want to explore vintage derailleurs and dropout styles, the information presented in Chapter 15 – “How Derailleurs Work” will be worth the cost of purchasing this book. The author’s discussion of derailleur composition, chain gap, pulley spacing, cage geometry, and spring loaded pivots is invaluable to an understanding of how derailleurs work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.