I’ve purchased another artisanal French bike to add to my collection, this one built by Robert Ducheron, who I had heard of but didn’t know much about.
While the bike arrived in a well taped box, charmingly covered with these oddball postage stamps, it had been packed using Styrofoam. I wish that product had never been invented. The stuff broke apart all over the frame and components, leaving its tiny carcinogenic particles embedded in every nook and cranny.
Unpacking the bike, I was amazed at the attention to detail at the drop-outs and seat stay. I can imagine the hours of file work needed to produce the beautiful crescents at each drop-out. The concave seat stay attachment was a Ducheron signature.
This is a step-through frame with a sloping top tube, not technically a mixte. The attachment lug of the single sloping top tube to the seat tube is a design I haven’t seen before. I’m excited to ride the bike and see how this method feels, and whether it helps to control the wobbly feel that some sloping top tube frames exhibit.
Other custom details include through the frame cable routing for the rear brake, and a custom from rack.
The condition of the paint surprises me, and I wonder if it has been re-painted. If so, someone did a fabulous job. The R. Ducheron logo is hand painted, and the rest of the sky blue paint is pristine.
I’m not sure how to date this bike. The components appear to be a mix of late 50’s to mid to late 60’s. The wheelset appears oldest, with the round hole Normandy hubs (logo in quotes), mated to yellow label Super Champion rims. The freewheel is a Cyclo 64. The crankset is a Stronglight with Dural rings. The drive train is Huret, with a rear Allvit, a derailleur which works very well but suffers from being regarded as low-end. The Phillipe porteur bars are a nice touch.
Advert from the 1950’s
Advert from the 1970’s
Some preliminary research into Robert Ducheron (b. 1910) bicycles indicates that he was an active builder before and through the WWII years, up to the late 50’s. There seems to be a hiatus, and then he reappears again in the early 1970’s. In the 1970’s advert, there is a reference to A.H.R. tubing, which seems to be a proprietary tube set developed by Ducheron, or exclusively licensed to him. I’ll be curious to see if I can determine the type of tubing used to build this custom frame once I get the bike disassembled for restoration.
When I left off from part 1 of my Maxi-Car hub overhaul project, I was having trouble disassembling the 1950’s Type 2 hubs that I was using as my training ground for learning the process of servicing and adjusting these well-regarded vintage components. Those hubs are still soaking in penetrant in the hopes of freeing up the axles from the inner races of the annular bearings. Now, I have pulled the Maxi-Car wheelset off of my 1977 Jack Taylor tandem, and am looking forward to achieving better results. That hubset is laced to 650b rims, and features a front hub with a drum brake (as an addition to the front cantilevers), and a rear hub with a freewheel.
The freewheel, axle and nuts were showing some rust, so I was prepared for the eventuality that it would not come off on the first try. That meant that the rear wheel of my 2nd Maxi-Car project is also soaking in penetrant, so I turned my attention to the front hub, which I was hoping to put off due to also having to address servicing the drum brake.
I don’t have a lot of experience with drum brakes and am not a big fan. But, they can work well for some applications. In this case, a tandem needs more than one front brake to safely descend steep hills, so the drum brake (which is actuated by the same lever as the front cantilevers – a double-cable mafac brake lever) is meant to augment the effectiveness of the rim brakes.
I started the process of removing the outer nuts and washers of what I thought was the fixed end of the hub, documenting each step as I went along. When it came time to remove the drum brake shoes from the hub shell, the component came out easily by gently lifting it up from the axle.
However, one brake liner was left behind, having become dislodged from its proper position on the shoe. Rather than worry too much about that, I continued with my process, thinking I would find the fixed side’s dust cover underneath the brake assembly.
But, that’s not what happened. Instead, I saw a black dust cap underneath the nuts and washers, with no holes for a pin-spanner. Hmmm…
When I flipped the hub over to the “adjustable side” that’s when I realized that this hub looks different from other Maxi-Car hubs. The dust caps are anodized black, and don’t have holes. Are these cup and cone hubs? The answer is yes!
I was kind of almost overjoyed to see these bearings peaking out from underneath the dust cover. But then I realized that I may not in fact be overhauling a Maxi-Car hub, but some other kind of hub. What could it be?
I took a closer look at the hub and saw that it is completely unbranded. There are no markings anywhere on the hub. The flanges and drum are steel, and the hub body is aluminum. The style of the rivets and the flanges matches up to a number of older Maxi-Car hub styles. Did Maxi-Car build regular cup and cone hubs? I don’t know. I do know what the hub is not. It is not a: Sturmey Archer, Sachs, Arai, or Shimano. The hub appears to be of older vintage than its rear counterpart. Perhaps the wheel was built up by Ken Taylor with the customer’s favorite older front hub?
Cam with spring on the right, pivot on the left, lower brake lining missing.
Brake drum before cleaning
Brake drum after cleaning
While those thoughts cogitated, I went forward with cleaning all the parts and thinking more about how to attach the dislodged brake liner to its shoe. I know that drum brakes can build up a lot of heat, so using an adhesive that can tolerate high temperatures will be critical. The liners still have about 2.5 mm thickness, so if the adhesive problem can be solved, then I can complete the hub overhaul. If not, I’ll have to discard the hubs and build up a new 650b wheel using the original Weinmann rim, which is in good shape, and decide on what kind of front hub to use that would be appropriate for the 1977 JT. But, the next step for now is to get the freewheel off of the rear hub. Stay tuned!
I’ve been looking forward to starting a new project. A recent purchase – an early 1980’s Meral Randonneuse with a Reynolds 531 frame – is equipped with many desireable components: custom racks and fenders with integrated lighting, Huret derailleurs, T.A. crankset, and best of all: Maxi-Car hubs.
I’m also planning to begin restoration of my 1977 Jack Taylor tandem, which is equipped with Maxi-Car hubs. Feeling the need to experiment first, I purchased an older 1950’s wheelset (one that I wanted anyway) that also featured Maxi-Car hubs, so that I could learn the service procedure on that wheelset first.
These older hubs hail from the 1950’s, and were very dirty, looking like they hadn’t been attended to in many years. Type II Maxi-Car hubs can be identified by their solid, undrilled flanges. The rear hubs have the “key-hole” spoke holes on the drive side, which allow for easy spoke replacement but can make building up the hub a little more “interesting”.
Maxi-Car hubs were manufactured with “annular” bearings which are essentially cartridge bearings, in this case of the highest quality, and were atypical in that the hubs were adjustable as well as serviceable. The recommended service schedule is once a year, so about as frequent as regular cup and cone hubs. The difference is in the life of the bearings – lasting over 100,000 miles or more according to cycling lore.
There are several excellent resources on the web which provide technical and service specs, as well as historical information:
In addition, Velo-Orange Blackbirdsf, and Ebykr have paid tribute to these innovative components, first introduced before WWII. There is also an article in the Summer 2004 Bicycle Quarterly which provides step by step overhaul instructions. Unfortunately, that edition is longer available as a reprint.
I started with the front wheel, which takes a 16 mm wrench for the locknuts, and a 14 mm wrench for the adjustable cone. Following the instructions noted above, I removed the nut and red dustcap from the fixed side of the hub (identified by having no adjustable cone). Then I flipped the hub over to remove the nuts and washers on the adjustable side.
I photographed each step and also laid out the parts in order, so I wouldn’t forget their orientation when replacing them after cleaning and lubrication (not knowing what would come next!).
The next step involves using a small length of 1 1/2″ PVC pipe (or wood block with 1 1/2″ hole bored) and placing the fixed end of the axle into the opening so that the hub rests on the flange. Then, taking a rubber or wood mallet, one should tap “lightly” to cause the axle to drop down. When it does so, it should take with it the fixed side’s cartridge bearings and washers. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The above photo, courtesy of Bike-Cafe, shows what you should have after tapping the axle through. However, my axle would not tap through, even with some very robust strokes of my rubber mallet.
Not wanting to damage the axle, I decided to switch over the the rear hub. After removing the freewheel, I followed the same steps to remove the nuts and washers. When I attempted to remove the adjustment cone I discovered that it’s locknut was embedded into the cone and could not be removed. That meant unthreading the cone with the lock nut attached – not in any way ideal as doing so could damage the axle threads. Fortunately, I was able to get the cone off with too much destruction to the axle, and then proceeded to the next step of attempting to tap the axle out. Again, the axle would not budge. That’s when I realized that probably after 70 years of not being serviced, the axle had become permanently attached to the inner races.
After soaking the hubs in WD-40 for several days, I still could not budge the axles, so decided to try something a little more drastic. Right now, I’ve got the hubs soaking in PB Blaster, which is a smelly and environmentally questionable solvent. I’m going to give the hubs a week of soaking, and then again try to tap out the axles. If that doesn’t work, I may try the mysterious brake fluid solution. In the meantime, I’ve decided to pull the wheels from the Jack Taylor tandem and begin working on servicing those hubs, which I hope will yield better results.