Dropping Out

Early 1950’s Simplex dropout – long, horizontal, with eyelet.

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.

Chainstay braze-on for a Cyclo rear derailleur

1947 Simplex TDF with claw mount

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.

1972 Mercian Shimano dropout

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’s dropout chart

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.

A Simplex early style dropout with tab on the non drive side.

Hangerless dropout, requiring a claw

Campagnolo semi-horizontal dropouts on a 1970’s Jack Taylor

Stamped plain dropouts on an early 1970’s Raleigh with a 531 frame

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:

An early 1978 article on derailleurs and dropouts by Sheldon Brown, with interesting discussion of Type H and Type S rear derailleurs.

An historic overview of gear selection options through the decades by Bainbridge Classic Cycles, featuring an interesting photo of a freewheel with moveable cogs and a stationary rear derailleur.

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.

1953 Follis with integrated two hole Simplex bracket


1962 Cycle Competition Cyclotourisme by Daniel Rebour

I purchased this 1962 Daniel Rebour Cycle booklet from Jan Heine about 5 years ago.  Back then I carried it with me whenever I took public transportation to work (TriMet) so I could peruse its French language pages and stare longingly upon its Daniel Rebour drawings at my leisure. While I have never taken a French language class, I studied Spanish extensively in my youth and was at one time fluent in that language.  That made it easier to have a rudimentary comprehension of what I was engrossed in while bumping along toward downtown Portland on the bus. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want the pages of this rare vintage publication to become dog-eared, so I set the booklet aside in my special bin for special stuff not to be messed with.

Unusual through the frame cable routing for rear centerpull Mafac brakes.

I have consulted this little tome a few times since then when I needed some background information on components and bicycles produced in the early 1960’s.  Recently, I dug it out because I had remembered an odd through the frame cable routing for a rear centerpull (Mafac) brake.  And even more recently, I wondered if this little booklet contained any information about French Cyclo rear derailleurs.  I figured probably not, as these derailleurs were becoming obsolete by the late 50’s.  And, I was right about that.  But, I once again was drawn into this publication, which is organized by bicycle component categories:  Frames and tubing (Le Cadre); Bottom Brackets (Les Roulements); Cranksets (Le Pédalier); Chainrings (Les Plateaux); Pedals and Toe Clips (Pédales et Cale-Pieds); Wheelsets (Les Roues); Tubular Tires (Les Boyaux); Derailleurs (Les Derailleurs); Brakes (Les Friens); and the remaining chapters on saddles, handlebars, and accessories.

Sunglasses in your kit – 1962!

Mudflap with 3 point attachment.

Classic Rene Herse 3 arm crankset.

A 1961 Goeland.

Daniel Rebour’s treasured drawings are featured in a number of print publications.  One of these is Frank Berto’s The Dancing Chain.  I frequently consult Berto’s book for insight and guidance on setting up vintage derailleurs.

Daniel Rebour contributed significantly to our understanding of vintage bicycle components.  He left a legacy that all cyclists benefit from, especially those of us committed to preserving the legacy of vintage bicycles, and we are all the better for it. I am grateful for his contribution.

A Meral for Town and Country

Bicycles with 650B wheels are nicely suited to a relaxed riding style.  The wider rims and greater clearances on the bike’s frame allow for plump, comfortable tires.  Often, vintage 650B bicycles are set up as city style bikes, with minimal gears and an upright position for the cyclist.

My recently acquired early 1980’s Meral randonneuse cried out for a 650B conversion.  It was built with Vitus 788 tubing around a set of narrow, 700c rims.  The bike as originally configured had a high bottom bracket and minimal tire clearances. These elements would normally indicate an ideal bicycle for a 650B conversion. Still, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful converting the bike, because the brake clearances were odd – with the front brake having less reach than the rear brake. In times past, competitive oriented bicycles were sometimes built with more brake reach in the rear than the front, and that was so that a shorter reach and therefore stronger brake could be used at the front end.

The rear brake reach on this bike is greater than the front by more than several millimeters.  When it came time to install the Mafac Raid long reach brakes, this fact made me concerned.  In order to have the rear Mafac Raid brake pads contact the new 650B rim, I needed to angle them down slightly, which is not ideal.  There are other options for dealing with brake reach problems, including installing brackets (a la Sheldon), and filing some material off of the caliper arms, to allow the brake pads to sit a bit lower.  None of those options appealed to me.

Vintage Mafac Raid brake calipers with V-O squeal free pads.

I decided to ignore the problem for now, as the front brake reach was perfect for the conversion to 650B, with plenty of room to position the brake pads correctly.  I am using Velo-Orange’s smooth post “squeal free” pads for this set up – and they are working perfectly and as advertised.  Since the front brake provides 70% of a bike’s stopping power, I haven’t noticed any issues involving the angled rear brake pads.  Meanwhile, here are some photos of the rest of the build:

Brooks leather grips, Tektro vintage style levers, V-O thumbies, Campagnolo shifter

Velocity A23 650B rims

Shimano Tiagra hubs

Meral custom steel fenders, wine cork spacers

Meral custom steel rack, with mounts for front flashlight.

This project was loads of fun, thanks to the beauty and quality of this vintage Meral bicycle.  The custom fenders and rack were a perfect match to its new Town and Country personality.  V-O’s thumbies worked well for this build – they can be used with just about any type of shifter so are more adaptable than their Paul’s competitor.

I used a lower end 650B wheelset that I will not purchase again, and I consider the wheels as a placeholder for now.  Probably I will build the ideal wheelset for this bike when the time comes, and will sort out the lighting options at that time.  Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos of this amazing vintage bicycle which now has a new lease on life.  I have included the specs and full build list at the bottom of this post.

A view from the back – with a tiny vintage reflector installed on the custom fenders.

Original Brooks Pro saddle.  Through the frame brake cable routing for the rear brake.

Campagnolo shifter on the seat tube braze on – intended for a BB mounted dynamo. Nicely executed seat cluster.

This gorgeous custom Meral steel rack can also be installed at the rear of the bike.

The drive train is a single 42 tooth drilled ring up front, with a 7 speed cassette at the back, controlled with a vintage friction Campy shifter.

The specs and build list are as follows:

Frame and fork:  Early 1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 steel tubing, 54 cm ST, 56 cm TT, through the frame brake and dynamo wiring, 2 rack mounts on the seat stays, 2 rack mounts on the fork, bottle cage mount, shifter braze-ons, ST dynamo braze-on, 127 rear spacing.

Drive Train:  Vintage Sugino crankarms and Sugino drilled 42T ring; new 7 speed cassette, vintage Lyotard pedals, Shimano SLX rear derailleur, original T.A. bottom bracket, replacement T.A. spindle of shorter length, V-O thumbie with vintage Campagnolo friction shifter.

Braking: Vintage Mafac Raid long reach centerpull brakes, new V-O smooth post pads, new Tektro vintage style levers, new blue color matched housing.

Wheelset & Tires:  New 650b wheelset: Shimano Tiagra hubs on Velocity A23 rims (purchased from Harris), tires and wheelset are placeholders for now.

Saddle and Seatpost:  Original Brooks Professional saddle, original JP Routens slanted seatpost clamp.

Bars, stem and headset:  new Soma Oxford handlebars and Nitto Technomic stem (sanded to French 22.0 steerer size), original French Stronglight headset.

Accessories:  Original Meral custom steel fenders, original Meral custom steel front rack, new V-O bottle cage.

Ready for a leisurely ride wherever you want to go.