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.

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.

Bum Deal

I haven’t written much about bicycle saddles, and there is a reason for that:  saddle preference is a matter having little to do with “cycling lore” and much more to do with your body, the bike you are riding, and your riding style.  Just because I like a particular saddle on a particular bike does not mean anyone else will feel the same way.  That simple fact must be maddening for saddle manufacturers, which may explain the vast array of saddle choices available in the marketplace.

Leather saddles have survived the test of time, and are enjoying a resurgence of popularity today.  I ride on a couple of leather saddles on a regular basis.  However, there have been a few leather saddles that I have simply had to remove from my bike due to the astounding discomfort I experienced.  Over time, I have developed my own technique for breaking in leather saddles, which is probably true of many cyclists who prefer leather over other materials.  Daniel Rebour had his proprietary break-in technique as well. I also ride regularly on some leather and non leather covered plastic base saddles, which I have found to be on par with the comfort offered by some leather saddles.  Comfort being a relative term.

WTB Deva saddle with cro-mo rails

One of the plastic base saddles that I find very comfortable is this WTB Deva saddle with cro-mo rails, shown above as mounted on my 1972 Mercian. Bearing a strong resemblance to an ironing board, it is a saddle that many riders would probably eschew.  But, actual comfort is counter-intuitive when it comes to bicycle saddles.  Thick padding decreases comfort.  Wide and heavy saddles with large suspension springs may not necessarily be comfortable either.  I discovered this WTB Deva saddle only because it arrived on a frame and fork I had purchased a while back.  I was going to donate that well-worn saddle to the Community Cycling Center, but decided to try it out first on one of my bikes.  I was amazed at the comfort the saddle provided – it supported my bum in all the right areas, and was equally comfortable on a bike with low handlebars as well as a bike with a more upright riding position.  I tried riding the saddle with jeans, and after experiencing no discomfort, decided to purchase several of these saddles to keep on hand in case I wanted to install them on some of the bikes I ride regularly.  One thing I have learned about cycling components is that if you like an item now, buy several, as you may never find that model again.

One saddle that I could never make peace with is this beautiful Brooks Team Pro saddle.  I have never ridden on a more uncomfortable saddle, and I’ve ridden on a lot.  This Brooks would not break in, even after years and miles of use.  It has been treated, lubricated, left in the sun for days, pushed and pulled, but the saddle has never relented.

Here is the Brooks Team Pro on my old Davidson.  On this journey, about a decade ago, I decided to explore the cranberry bogs of Bandon, Oregon.  Unfortunately, the saddle became so unacceptable on my little tour, that I cut it short and headed home.  Bad, bad, saddle.

But, there have been several Brooks saddles that I have loved, two of which were used on my Cannondale T2000 for many years – a Brooks Champion Flyer and a Brooks B-17.  Both saddles broke in easily and provided many miles of service.

Because of the inconsistency in Brooks saddles I have used, I currently ride Cardiff leather saddles.  Shown above is the Cardiff on my Meral (left) and the Cardiff on my Panasonic (right).  These saddles resemble the Brooks B-17 saddles, but have a slightly different shape, as well as longer saddle rails.  This model is the “Mercia” which is 10 mm wider at the back than its Brooks B-17 counterpart.  As with all leather saddles, each one is different, even though the same model. The darker saddle on the left is actually far more comfortable than the saddle on the right.  Why?  It could simply be that the saddle mounted on my Meral is more optimized for a less upright riding position than that of my Panasonic winter bike.

From my own experience, Ideale leather saddles seem to have it all over Brooks and other competitors.  The saddles shown above are just a few examples of the many models manufactured by Tron and Berthet – a company founded back in 1890 and which went out of business 100 years later.  Too bad.  These are probably the nicest leather saddles ever made.  Below is an advertisement dating to the 1960’s.  Each time I have ridden an Ideale saddle on one of my restorations, I have been pleasantly surprised by the comfort Ideale saddles provide.

1969 Tron & Berthet brochure