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.

Richard Ballantine – writer, cyclist, and foreseer of cycling’s future

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I first read one of Richard Ballantine’s cycling books in the late 1970’s.  I am not sure which edition of his “New Bicycle Book” it was, but I was charmed by his quirky take on the history, beauty, challenges, and mechanics of all bicycles, and of touring bicycles specifically.  His book featured some of the lovely cycling drawings of bucolic England by the British artist Frank Patterson – which are totally uncredited in the 1987 edition I currently own – as well as other technical drawings by artists John Batchelor and Peter Williams.  In fact, there are no photos whatsoever in this 1987 edition.

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1987 Edition.

The only photo is this cover photo – featuring a classic 1980’s boy mechanic lovingly encouraged by his girl counterpart.  Fortunately, this volume tends to redeem itself once read. But this was just one edition of Richard’s New Bicycle Book, swimming in a vast sea of Richard’s cycling publications which spanned from the early 1970’s up through the early 21st century.  Richard passed away in 2013 at age 72.

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Photos of Richard working on his bikes seem to always feature him on bended knee(s). This intrigued me, as I don’t think I have ever knelt down to work on my bike, at least not while it was upright on two wheels. Perhaps I should try it!  As to his mechanics’ skills, those were to remain in question. What Richard was known for was his unabashed enthusiasm for cycling as a transformative experience, and that is something I not only share with him, but will remain eternally grateful for his vision of cycling’s future, and his influence which is still felt today.

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Richard was born into a publishing empire, so it must have seemed natural for him to continue the legacy.  The Ballantine family portfolio included Bantam and Ballantine imprints, which were sold to Random House in the 1990’s.  He was the founder and publisher of Bicycle Magazine, and was involved in publishing numerous other books for his family business.

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Ritchey Montare ad courtesy of MOMBAT.

In the early 80’s, Richard imported 20 Ritchey Montare mountain bikes into the U.K., which were the first commercially available mountain bikes in Britain at the time. Essentially, he kick-started the MTB industry in the U.K., and established a cross country race as well as a charity which lobbies for better conditions for cyclists – the London Cycling Campaign – an organization still going strong today.

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In the year 2007, just 6 years before his death, he published City Cycling, in response to the growing worldwide bicycle transportation movement.  He seemed to me always the mad scientist – fascinated with both the odd as well as the truly brilliant.  A person who remained true to himself, regardless of trends and politics.  I wish I had met him. His legacy will live on through the many cyclists and readers who have and will discover his amazing contribution to cycling, and possibly to the well-being of the earth itself.

Old School Touring

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

1985 Nashbar Toure MT

Of all the fads and trends in the cycling industry, the touring era that accompanied the 1976 BikeCentennial in the U.S. was probably the most positive.  While not everyone wants or needs a touring bike – a touring bike is a bike that can work well for all kinds of riding.  And, due to economic conditions during this era – favorable exchange rates for the Japanese yen and the oil crisis of the early 70’s – the U.S. market was flooded with low cost, high quality touring bikes in the mid 70’s to mid 80’s.  These bikes often survive intact, as they were quite well made to begin with, and were usually equipped with top of the line components.

Japanese brands like Centurion, Nishiki, Bridgestone, Fuji, Miyata, Panasonic, and Univega were among the most well known manufacturers to build high quality touring bicycles.  Raleigh, Peugeot, Trek, Specialized, Austro-Daimler, Gitane, Motobecane, Mercier, and others also joined in to build some of the nicest touring bikes ever mass produced.

These touring bikes of the late 70’s and early 80’s hold a special place in my heart.  Their excellent build quality and beautiful design represent freedom, exploration, and adventure.

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This lovely 1985 Nashbar Toure MT is a great example of the quality that could be had for a reasonable price.  The frame was built for Nashbar by Maruishi – a Japanese builder not as well known as others, but still producing a beautifully brazed machine of double butted cro-mo steel.  The gorgeous blue sparkle paint and well brazed seat cluster show off its quality.

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All the finish work is top notch.  This is a bike I would keep for myself if it were my size.

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Brazed on rack mounts

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Sealed Tange headset

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SunTour downtube shifters.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs. No maintenance required.

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Classic Blackburn bottle cage.

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2nd bottle cage mount underneath the downtube.

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Seat tube has no bottle cage braze-ons – left clean for mounting a frame pump.

There are so many nice features on this amazing bike that it’s hard to list them all.  One reason that the bike is so pristine, however, is because long ago the SunTour Mountech rear derailleur had failed, and the bike was put away, thankfully in a dry, clean space.

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So, I replaced the rear derailleur with a Shimano 600 long cage mechanism from the same era.  It works perfectly with the original 100% SunTour drivetrain.

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Triple crank with half step gearing.

This bike was built in the days of gear shifting pattern obsession.  Half step gearing was a way to have a routine shifting pattern that would maintain cadence as the terrain changed.  In practice, at least for me, I prefer not having to constantly double shift, so I am not enamored with half step gearing and have, when confronted with it, replaced the large middle chain ring with something smaller, such as a 40 or 42.  But, some riders love half-step gearing and more power to them (pun intended).

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Araya 27 Inch rims.

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Nashbar logo on the downtube.

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Sealed cartridge bearing hubs, Suntour freewheel.

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SunTour Mountech front derailleur

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SunTour chromed forged dropouts with single eyelets on the rear.

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Powerful Dia Compe cantilevers.

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Lowrider fork mounts.

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SunTour sealed cartridge bearing bottom bracket with chain line adjuster on the drive side.

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Beautifully machined BB shell.

It would be tough to find a similarly engineered touring bike with these quality components, for a price that even remotely comes close to what you can buy this bike for now.  One problem is that most cyclists associate Nashbar with low end liquidation components, rather than any kind of quality.  But, back in the 1980’s, the arrival of the Nashbar mail order catalog was an exciting event.  I ordered many wonderful and interesting components for my old 1976 Centurion from Nashbar back then.  Today, however, the company is known for its discounted and discontinued parts, rather than for quality bicycles, for better or for worse.

This wonderful old touring machine is going to a friend’s stable in Southern Oregon, where I know it will be ridden and appreciated.  I hope to join him and his spouse on some wonderful rides through Southern Oregon wine country, and I will be a bit jealous his bike.2016-09-13-001