Setting Up a French Cyclo Rear Derailleur, Part II

Cyclo rear derailleur with cable installed – 1941 Goeland

The 1941 Goeland I have been gradually “restoring” (translate: preserving and making rideable again) was equipped with a French Cyclo rear derailleur.  The French model is not to be confused with its British counterpart.  Although the two derailleurs operate with a helical sliding bolt and friction shifting, the set-up of the cables and shifters is different between the two country’s versions.  The French model features a c’est la vie attitude:  no cable stops; no housing; set up success determined by your close connection to someone in the know.  The British version has cable stops at both ends and cable housing for the entire length of the one piece cable (often described as a two piece system) which has a nipple welded to the middle of the cable to fit the slot in the helical bolt.  The two Cyclo models seem to be a case of British pragmatism vs. French ingenuity.  I think both are to be enjoyed and experienced.

A British Cyclo 3 speed model

According to Classic Lightweights, the Cyclo rear derailleur was first introduced in France in 1924.  It was the most widely used rear derailleur from the 1930’s through the early 50’s.  Disrealigears has a more extensive discussion of the company’s history which you can read about here It seems that while the British version of this derailleur thrived in the 1920’s through the 1950’s, the French version was under attack by and ultimately succumbed to Simplex.  That may explain the difficulty involved in setting up the French version of this rear gear changer.


Shifter cable routed through derailleur spring.

Once you have sourced an appropriate cable (I harvested a NOS cable from a British Cyclo, which had its nipple welded on to the cable – you can also source a nipple that can be threaded on to any tandem length shifter cable), one of the most baffling elements of the set up is how to keep cable tension on the rear nipple, which must engage the helicoid bolt in order for the gear to shift.  The photo above from a 1956 advertisement shows that the cable is routed through the derailleur spring. This definitely helps keep the cable nipple in place, but it is not a perfect solution.  Nevertheless, this is how I set up the shifter cable for the 1941 Goeland.

The 1940s Cyclo shifter is a pretty little thing, weighing about nothing, but looking very nice.  The arm of the shifter angles away from the frame just enough, but the length of this shifter’s lever is short compared to others of this era. The entire device is made from aluminum alloy, except for the outer steel cover, shown above. 

This is the “conjoiner” which connects the two shifter cable ends together.  It is probably actually some kind of evil spirit.  No joy can be derived from working with this little device.  It fits into the slot on the inside of the shifter.  I can’t really comment from here except to say:  watch out!

Here is the conjoiner coming out of its slot  (of course!) on the shifter.  I had become too confident when I thought I had my cable tension dialed in. So, when the conjoiner popped out of the shifter, I realized that where was no way to avoid the double wrapping and shifter twisting steps that I used when setting up a 1947 version on my Camille Daudon.

French 3 speed freewheel prior to cleaning and lubrication.

Rigida 650b wheelset with 1941 rear hub – a flip flop version with butted spokes.

I am still in the process of restoring the 1941 Rigida Deco 650b wheelset.  That has involved re-tensioning the spokes, cleaning and reviving the rims, and rebuilding the hubs.  The freewheel has now been removed, cleaned and lubricated.  The threads on the filp flop rear hub are in good shape, so once I have the freewheel back on the rear wheel, with a period correct chain installed, the set up of the rear derailleur should proceed with haste – or so I hope!

Vintage Cyclo Shifter and Derailleur How-(Not)-To

French Cyclo Rear Derailleur

After ruining 4 tandem cables and searching the internet in vain for guidance, I think I have now successfully set up the French Cyclo shifter and derailleur on my 1947 Camille Daudon.

Cyclo catalogue 559 page 04-filtered Cyclo catalogue 559 page 06-filtered

The only catalogs I was able find were these exploded drawings of Cyclo’s British models, which vary somewhat from the French model I was working on.  While the general concept is the same, the British version has cable stops both at the derailleur mechanism as well as at the shifter lever.

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This is the wrong way to do it.

Without the cable stops, one is left to mangle the cable while trying to tension it and ponder wrapping, double wrapping and twisting techniques to make the mechanism line up correctly and shift properly.

2014-04-20 001 003 Cyclo cable set up Cyclo shifter set up

If you enjoy working with tiny tools or are perhaps a clockmaker or camera repairer – this job is for you!  After identifying the basic tiny parts needed – a nipple for the rear derailleur cable, and a “conjoiner” for the shifter, and the related miniature Allen wrenches and screwdrivers – you are ready.

Cyclo cable nipple

Cyclo cable set up

After shifting the bike by hand to the middle gear, this bike’s rear slot landed at about 9 o’clock.  I installed the nipple and then wrapped the cable around twice.  Oh, I forgot to mention that you’ll need to use a tandem cable, cut off the ends, and then put the nipple about at the midpoint.  Once installed, I used a surgical clamp to hold the cable in place.  (Perhaps a surgeon would also enjoy this job.)  Okay, now for the hard part.

French Cyclo shifter set up French Cyclo shifter set up French Cyclo shifter set up

Threading the cables through their guides, you’ll end up with two ends to be “conjoined”.  After that cable fraying process comes the daunting task of figuring out how to loop the cable properly so that the shifter ends up in the right position.  I turned the shifter upside down and backwards, put the “conjoiner” in its slot, and then twisted the cable and threaded the shifter through the twist, and voila~!  The shifter is upright and the slot position looks good – and now it’s time to adjust the tension.

Cyclo cable set up Cyclo cable set up Cyclo cable set up

This turned out to be the more time-consuming and injurious (the now frayed cable ends caused numerous puncture wounds) part of the procedure.  I ended up identifying one of the cables with some blue tape so I could determine which end needed tension.  I put the shifter in various positions during this process to learn whether the tension was right across this 4 speed drive train’s movement.  It was trial and error, lots of the latter.

Cyclo rear cable

One of the things that kept happening as I was adjusting the tension was that the nipple would come out of its slot – even though double wrapped.  I came up with this temporary solution, shown above, of installing a small rubber band attached to the derailleur mount, which helps to keep the cables aligned.  Once the system stretches and the shapes break in, I will adjust the tension again and decide if the rubber band is still necessary.

Whew!  With the shifting now moderately functional, I am looking forward to rebuilding the hubs – or any other job that doesn’t involve tiny tools and puncture wounds.

UPDATE 4/30/14:

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While paging through a copy of a 1956 Le Cycliste magazine I came across this advertisement.  The rear cable is routed through the derailleur spring!  This solves the problem of keeping the cables aligned while shifting through the gears.  I am going to re-route the cables and hopefully that will solve the problem.