Are we dating?

2015-09-06 016

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.

2015-09-06 013

2015-09-06 011

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

2015-09-06 004

Griffon bottom bracket cup with “9” code

2015-09-06 012

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.

2015-08-06 005

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

2015-09-06 010

CCS Seatpost clamp, closed top steel seatpost

2015-05-05 020

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.

2015-09-06 006

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.

2015-05-05 002

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.

A 1920’s Griffon

2015-06-23 018

Here is an unrestored Griffon bicycle.  I don’t know the date of manufacture, but judging by its components, it appears to have been built in the 1920’s or 1930’s.

Although Griffon Bicycle Company was one of the earliest bicycle manufacturers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of historical information available.  The company was founded in the late 1800’s in Paris, and became well known for their motorcycles, which were first built around 1901.  The company is also known for its iconic vintage bicycle advertisements, which are now sold all over the web in poster form.   However, as to the bicycles themselves, it is hard to find catalogs or details about specific models and years when built. It appears that Griffon was absorbed into Peugeot some time in the late 1920’s.  Fortunately, these old machines do turn up with some frequency on French eBay.

Griffon head badge

2015-05-05 003

I was drawn to this bike because the condition of this machine was extraordinary, given its age.  I have no insight into the serial number, except to wonder if the 11 at the front of the sequence is the year of manufacture (which I doubt).  The head badge is hidden under a bit of rust and corrosion, but even so, the vibrant blue, red and gold colors can be seen, along with the image of the mythological flying Griffon – a creature with a lion’s hind end and a raptor’s front end, yielding a fierce looking winged beast.

2015-06-23 011

2015-05-05 005Dunlop Le Pneu tires

It has Westwood style rims, branded S – AEP, which are color matched to the frame, and really look beautiful.  The old Dunlop Le Pneu tires are completely corroded. Dunlop was the first to introduce pneumatic tires for bicycles in 1887.  When I measured the rim diameter as 650 mm, I had a slight panic attack – what the heck size is this?  As it turns out, these wheels are 700A or 37-642 ETRTO or ISO 28″ x 1 3/8″.  That is not a size that is even listed on Sheldon Brown’s rim size chart.  Yikes!  Thankfully, there are several sellers around the world (although not in the U.S.) where these tires can be purchased.

2015-06-23 007 2015-06-23 012 2015-06-23 015 2015-06-23 010

2015-05-05 002 2015-06-23 003

The condition of the frame is striking.  Virtually all of the box style lining is still visible, and the two tone color scheme is still very evident – being “army” green and very lime green, with long, pointed transitions on the top tube and down tube.  Even the logos are in good condition.  It is quite a large machine, measuring out at a 59 cm top tube and a 55 cm seat tube, with 66 degree angles for the head tube and seat tube, giving it that laid back look.

2015-06-23 013 2015-06-23 008 2015-06-23 002

The bike looks quite sturdy, and will probably be very comfortable to ride, given the geometry and the large wheels.  It features a fixed/free flip flop rear hub with 21 teeth on the freewheel and 18 teeth on the fixed cog.  The chainring has 46 teeth.  With the large wheels, that yields some big gears – about 62 and 72 gear inches.  Probably the bike would be dismounted for serious hills.  The pretty hubs, each with an oil port, were made (or branded) by Griffon.  Actually, I suspect that most of the components were probably made by the company itself.

2015-05-05 017 2015-05-05 020

2015-06-23 006 2015-06-23 001

Everything on this bike seems oversize.  The Glorieuse saddle, also in amazing condition, is very long.  The huge bars measure 76 cm end to end.  I think these are the widest bars I have seen.  The brake levers are very nicely made, with a surprising ergonomic curve in the lever.  It will be fun to see what else I discover about this bicycle as I begin to overhaul it.