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Dunlop Le Pneu 700A tire with “290” code

One of the things I enjoy about working on vintage bicycles is the sleuthing necessary to determine a bike’s provenance, and the thrill of discovery when all the clues come together.

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Griffon steerer tube with builder’s mark plus a “9” code

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Griffon bottom bracket cup with “9” code

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Griffon wheel axle with “9” code. Note the felt seals enclosed in steel covers. 

While disassembling and cleaning the components of the 1920’s Griffon I am restoring, I kept finding the number 9 (or could it be a 6?) on various components – the steerer tube, front and rear axles, and bottom bracket cups.  I also noted that the Dunlop Le Pneu tires had small numeric codes on each tire – 290 and 295.

Meanwhile, I have been researching the history of the Griffon Bicycle Company, and found references to their absorption into Peugeot in 1928.

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Peugeot freewheel and fixed cog

When I removed the rear wheel I was elated to see this astoundingly pristine Peugeot freewheel, and its fixed cog counterpart for the fixed/free gearing on this beautiful old Griffon.  The freewheel has a small oil port with hinged cover, and with some cleaning and lubrication, the freewheel spins smoothly and sounds great.

Based on this evidence, I suspected that this was a 1929 machine.  But, I wasn’t completely convinced of my conclusion, so I continued with my research.

henri gauthier saddle 1920's catalog

1920’s Henri Gauthier Catalog

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CCS Seatpost clamp, closed top steel seatpost

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Henri Gauthier Glorieuse Model 76 Saddle

The bike’s Henri Gauthier Glorieuse Model 76 saddle was in such great condition that I questioned whether it was original to the bike.  However, I discovered this 1920’s catalog on the French Ancien Velos Lyonnais website.  This doesn’t mean that this saddle wasn’t manufactured for years hence, but, it does help to build my case that this is a 1929 bicycle.

The steel seatpost is well machined and is closed at the top.  The steel seatpost clamp is labeled “CCS”.  Both are of higher quality than similar seatposts and clamps of later eras.

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The size of the bottom bracket shell provides more clues.  It is 70 mm wide, with a 46.6 diameter. French shells are typically 68 mm wide, even those from the 1940’s on.

Also, you can see the pin in one of the tubes – showing the method of brazing.  In the early days of frame brazing, bicycle tubes were pinned, rather than tacking the lugs with brazing material, before heating and brazing.  This technique is actually still used by Mercian and possibly some other frame builders who use brick hearths to heat the frames before brazing.  This technique helps to eliminate the possibility of overheating the main tubes.  It was nice to see the bottom bracket looking free of rust, with all the threads in good shape.  For a bike that is almost 90 years old, that is amazing.

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So, most of my evidence indicates this is a 1929 Griffon.  But, I’ll keep an open mind as I continue the restoration work on this great old bicycle.

700A Tires from the Land of Oz

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The Vee Rubber 700A tires I ordered from Velogear in Melbourne, Australia arrived today.  I was amazed at just how big they are – the official rim diameter for these tires is 642mm, as compared with 700C tires with a 622mm rim diameter.  They are also known as 28 X 1 3/8, not to be confused with 28 X 1 1/2, which have a 635mm rim diameter.  Their treads look beefy and well-suited for riding on gravel and rough roads.  And the tires appear well made, with no visible blemishes or anomalies.  Vee Rubber is based in Thailand, and I have tried out one other set of their tires, with no disappointments.

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I was riding my Vespa today, so strapped the tires to the back of the scooter to bring them to my shop.  Even rolled up, the tires extended beyond the luggage rack.

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A 650c tire fits completely inside these 700A’s with room to spare, and 44mm 650B tires look puny in comparison.

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I also purchased a couple of tubes.  Even with shipping to the U.S., the total cost for tires and tubes was under $100, thanks to the current favorable exchange rate and the low cost of the tires themselves.  As far as I know, 700A tires cannot be purchased anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.  However, there are some French shops that carry them, in addition to several in Australia.

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These tires are going to replace the corroded Dunlops on the 1920’s Griffon that I am (slowly) restoring.  With the arrival of the new tires, I am now more motivated to continue working on the Westwood style rims, which, although lovely, have enough rust to keep me busy for days.

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I suspect that once I get the bike mechanically sound, I’ll take it out for a spin before I complete all the reviving and cleaning of the painted and metal surfaces.  I am curious to experience what it will be like to ride on these big new tires, combined with the laid back angles of the bike itself, while steering it with its 76 cm wide bars, which are about twice as wide as the bars on most of my personal bikes.

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Should be fun!