The Cyclepedia Exhibit at the Portland Art Museum


On my lunch hour yesterday I finally decided to catch the Cyclepedia Exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, which runs through September 8th.  Since I already had collector Michael Embacher‘s book, I was looking forward to seeing some of his unusual bicycles close up.  I wasn’t expecting to be able to photograph the exhibit (although I was the only one doing so at the time) so I only had my iphone with me, and I apologize in advance for being unable to present higher quality images here.

008The exhibit features only a handful of the 100 bicycles presented in the book, and they were arranged in a kind of figure 8 pattern, dangling from wires hung from the ceiling, presumably to give the impression of forward movement.  I didn’t at all care for this way of displaying the bikes, because it was impossible to see the handlebars, top tubes, cable routing, and saddles in detail.  And, it was difficult to walk around each bike because very little room was left between each bike’s front wheel and the next bike’s rear wheel.  In fact, as I was maneuvering to get into position for some photos I accidentally bumped one of the bikes, causing it to swing back and forth, and was then admonished by museum staff to “please be more careful”.


Since I didn’t have much time, I decided to concentrate on the bikes in the exhibit which interested me most:  the 1937 Shultz Funicolo, the 1939 Sironval Sportplex Recumbent, the 1968 Rene Herse Demontable, the 1937 Caminade Caminargent, and the drive train of the 1925 RetroDirect Hirondelle.  There was no pamphlet describing the bikes in the exhibit, and there were no plaques or signs accompanying each bike to give the museum-goer any information about the bikes.  I noticed most people were drawn to the newer racing and time trial bikes – admittedly very sexy looking. But also, I think the influence of racing on the cycling industry has indeed “ruined the breed”, as Grant Peterson opines, such that the general public only relates visually to racing oriented bikes.

031My favorite was this amazing Sironval recumbent, built in France in 1937.  I wanted to just hop on the comfy looking seat and pedal away.


The linkages on the handlebar are connected to the the stem to provide for steering.  I wondered how well these worked and what kind of feedback was felt in the bars when encountering bumps.  Then, I could not figure out what this device was that is mounted to the fork leg.  There were no wires coming out of it.  There are numbers on the dial and several levers along the side.  A bell?  An alarm clock?


These stunning lugs are attached by screws to the octagonal aluminum tubes on this 1937 Caminade Caminargent, whose photo is the first one shown at the top of this post.  This bike weighs 18.3 lbs! Unfortunately, the tubes were prone to twist inside of the lugs and these bikes experienced some frame failures, but they are notable for their innovation, and the beauty of all the hand-made components.


The 1937 Schulz Funiculo had some very interesting features, not to mention its single oversized tube taking the place of the traditional (and strong) triangle.  The rear freewheel has 40 teeth, and is drilled to save weight.  There aren’t any rear derailleurs today that can handle a 40 tooth cog. I wasn’t able to study the mechanism sufficiently to understand how it accomplished this feat.  I am not sure if the large cylinder at the connection point to the frame houses a big spring, or if this was a chain oiler. The front brake is also quite an engineering mystery and was even the subject of a contest in Jan Heine’s Bicycle Quarterly – with the winner successfully guessing how the brake worked.


The 1968 Rene Herse Demontable was designed to be disassembled for travel.  Consequently, the shifters are mounted on the seat tube for ease of separation.  One merely needed to unhook the rear brake cable, loosen the quick releases on the top tube and down tube, and the bike could be broken down.


Then, I got to see up close the drive train of this 1925 Hirondelle – dubbed “Retro-Direct”.


Invented before derailleurs were reliable, this mechanism can be pedaled forward on the smaller cog, and then pedaled backward to shift to the larger cog for hill climbing.  I cannot imagine what it might feel like to pedal backwards while climbing uphill.  Apparently, in 2007 a British cyclist pedaled the Paris-Brest-Paris distance (746 miles) on one of these vintage machines, and aside from pedals falling off a few times, he managed to complete the course.

Overall, I give this exhibit a B minus.  One of my disappointments with the book is its lack of informative details on each bike. Instead, there is a brief narrative, a highly abbreviated spec table, and an occasional amusing anecdote.  As with the book, this exhibit is too much show, and very little go.  But for most who will be drawn to this exhibit, they will hopefully get an inkling of cycling’s rich history and its amazing innovators.

UPDATE:  After looking at some of my photos more closely, off on a far distant wall is a giant banner which lists the bikes on display and a brief description of each one.  Unfortunately, not only did I not see this important feature, no one else did either, at least while I was there, and that is probably why I never noticed it.  So, maybe I’ll upgrade my rating to a B.

Setting Up a Simplex Tour de France Rear Derailleur

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If you’ve never encountered a Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur (first introduced in 1947), you would be among the majority.  Even experienced mechanics can be flummoxed by these plunger/push-rod designs, as they bear little resemblance to modern derailleurs.  Founded by Lucien Juy in 1928, Simplex gained prestige and market share by developing and perfecting a rear derailleur which properly tensioned the chain regardless of which gear the rider was using.  This breakthrough translated into 100’s of prestigious races won in the 1930’s with bikes equipped with the Simplex derailleurs.  In 1936, Simplex was the first company to introduce a 5 speed rear derailleur – a breakthrough which lasted until the late 70’s.


Fortunately, the technical manuals have survived, and there are internet resources to help – the most valuable one being at my favorite U.K. website – Classic Lightweights.  However, if you don’t speak British, some elements of the setup will be mysterious, at best.

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One of the most puzzling aspects of this derailleur is the chain routing.  The photo at the left depicts the WRONG chain routing.  The photo at the right depicts the CORRECT chain routing.  It’s important to carefully study the drawing in the technical manual to make sure you’ve got the chain routed correctly.

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There are two tensioning mechanisms in the derailleur – something which is true of all modern derailleurs.  The plunger/spring at the left photo above controls the tension on the pulleys.  It can be adjusted by moving a tab which is inserted into the notches shown on the left side of the knurled nut, shown in the above left photo.  The inside spring which attaches to the arm of the derailleur controls the arm swing, shown in the above right photo.  It’s adjustment is controlled by loosening the screw on the outside of the arm and moving the spring’s hook up or down on the arm.

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The inside spring controls this movement.  There needs to be some flex here to handle the changes in the chain when the gear is changed.

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One thing you will learn, eventually if not right away, is that each wing nut is of a different proportion.  The drive side wing nut arms are positioned higher so that they will clear the derailleur.  You’ll need to completely remove the wing nut in order to get the rear wheel in position for mounting.

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Another thing you’ll need to know if you are working on a bike without its original parts is the cage swing capacity of the derailleur.  In this case, its swing capacity was for a 3 speed freewheel, and not the 4 speed freewheel that I wanted to use.

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Once set up, my methodology for adjusting this derailleur involved trial and error – shifting rapidly among the gears and checking to see how the chain tension was affected and how the derailleur performed.  If you are working on a bike without the original chain, you will have to guess at chain length, which these derailleurs are very sensitive to.  If you have the original chain – don’t mess around with the chain length – keep it exactly the same even though this seems counter-intuitive.

The derailleur has no limit screws.  However, the whole mechanism can be moved inward and outward from the freewheel by loosening the outer bolt and turning the derailleur inward or outward, then tightening again.  There isn’t a lot of adjustment here, but this adjustment mimics the limit screw adjustment on modern derailleurs.

Having set up a few of these now, I feel I am almost getting the hang of it!

1930’s/40’s Peugeot Mixte 650B – Part II

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I have just about finished my recreation of this 1930’s/40’s Peugeot Mixte.  The bike was incomplete, as shown above, so I set about locating the appropriate parts to bring this old bike back to life and to make it rideable.  Right now, the bike looks great, but there’s a little more work to do on making the braking system stop the bike effectively.

This particular model is built with Rubis tubing – a Vitus brand that was used on higher end bicycles beginning in the 1930’s.  Unfortunately, over a decade of Peugeot bicycle catalogs are not available – from 1937 to 1950 – so it is not possible to determine which model this is, or what year.  During the war years, the Peugeot factory was under German control for a time, and there is very little information available as to what was happening in the cycling industry during the German Occupation. The serial number at the left rear drop-out includes an “H” so it is likely this is an H model.

The frame was in remarkably good condition, with all the brazing intact.  Although I tentatively dated the frame to the late 1930’s, I believe that it was later upgraded with the 1940’s or 1950’s Simplex Tour de France derailleur that was included when I purchased it. The frame has braze-ons for an earlier style of derailleur, however.

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I wanted to use the 4 speed freewheel shown above, but the Simplex TDF derailleur did not have enough cage swing capacity to cover all 4 cogs.  In fact, it measured out as exactly equal to the 3 cog freewheel shown above right, meaning of course that it was built as a 3 speed derailleur.  In a separate post, I discuss the procedures and issues related to setting up a Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur – no small feat.

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Through the frame cable routing, Jeay brakes

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Simplex shifter

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Possibly the original pump

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Another view of the Jeay brake cable routed through the frame – a nice touch.

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Full chainguard with blue pinstriping. The crankset and pedals are very lightweight – pedals are aluminum but unbranded.

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Peugeot logo still very vibrant


Vitus Rubis tubing

Vitus Rubis tubing

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Pin striping still evident on the fork legs. The wheels are not original, nor are the fenders.

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Jeay Brakes

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Headtube badge in nice condition

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The aluminum bars with wood grips and custom aluminum levers were a perfect addition to bring this bike back to its glory.

I harvested the 650b fenders and wheels from another French rando bike.  The hubs are by Normandy laced to 650b Wolber Super Champion rims. The aluminum fenders are unbranded.  The frame has some nice features, including the braze-ons for the Jeay brakes and the thru-the-frame cable routing for the rear brake.  I still need to install the rear and head lamps on the fenders and mount the dynamo, and get the lighting wired up.  But that can happen after its first test ride, coming soon.