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.

Book Review: Bicycle Design by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing

Rohloff Speedhub 14 courtesy of Bicycle Design, by Tony Hadland & Hans-Erhard Lessing, p. 242

I like to keep my vintage bicycle library stocked with both old and new volumes.  This book, published by MIT in 2014, caught my eye on a trip to my local Powell’s.  Bicycle Design was written by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, the latter being a physics professor and Hadland being a Raleigh and Moulton expert and author of a number of cycling books.

This is a book dedicated to the science and design of the bicycle and its components, with an extensive discussion of historical developments and many interesting illustrations and photos.  The entire first half of the book is well worth the admission price I paid – about $35.  There is a fascinating discussion of wheel design and development which includes spoking patterns and engineering concepts.

There are so many interesting engineering designs and cycling innovations in this book that it is hard to single out notable developments.  The book is organized topically, except for the first chapter which deals with Velocipedes and their forerunners from an historical perspective. The remaining chapters address drive train, wheel engineering, braking technology, and transmission, before launching into chapters organized by accessories and applications.

One topic that can be challenging to vintage bicycle enthusiasts is an understanding of the wheel rim designs of the day.  Westwood rims are designed for brakes which will engage the rim rather than the sidewall, while Endrick rims can accommodate brakes which engage the rim sidewall.

C.M. Hanson, 1895 Clipless Pedal

One fascinating innovation described in this excellent resource is Hanson clipless pedals shown above.  At the time, various manufacturers were experimenting with shoe/pedal attachment options.  Another idea involved a magnetic shoe/pedal attachment, developed in 1897 by Henry Tudor of Boston (US patent 588,038).

Mafac, Resilion Cantis, modern cantilevers, courtesy of Bicycle Design p. 277.

This book includes discussions of most historical cycling developments.  However, the authors note their one glaring omission:  derailleurs.  Because derailleur history has been discussed by a number of other authors, that topic is given cursory treatment in Bicycle Design.  If you don’t already have a copy of this tome, I recommend adding it to your library.

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.