A 1953 Follis 650b

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Here is a very pretty 1953 Follis Mixte featuring Nervex lugs, Fratelli Brivio hubs, Mavic 650b rims, a Simplex Juy rear derailleur with 4 speed freewheel, and a number of other nice features.

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Follis was another highly regarded French builder, founded by Joseph Follis in Italy in the early 1900’s. In the 1920’s, the company established its headquarters in Lyon after Mussolini took power. During and after WWII, the Follis company expanded and began building all kinds of bicycles, varying in purpose and price range, many of which were re-branded by other marques.

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Bonjour, Nicole.

This Follis was owned by Nicole Montbarbon, who resided in Bourg, Ain, France. A clearly visible owner’s name tag was a requirement for all French bicycles during this era.  Nicole took good care of her machine.  Even though the finish is very scratched, the bike appears completely intact and all original, possibly even down to the Michelin 650b 44 mm tires, color matched to the white Sufficit grips and rubber block pedals.


Mavic alloy rims.

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White rubber block pedals


Michelin 650B 44 mm tires – heavily cracked sidewalls means they are not safe to ride and should be replaced.


Follis branded Jeay style brakes, nickel plated.

These Follis Jeay-style brakes are a bit nicer design than others I have seen. The inner plate, which pulls up on the caliper arms when the brakes are engaged, has a groove for each arm to travel on, so they stay in adjustment a bit better.


F.B. – Fratelli Brivio hubs.


Nervar crankset

Fratelli Brivio hubs are a nice touch, though the finish is now gone.  F.B. was an Italian component maker who first built hubs for Campagnolo, among others, as well as under their own name.  Nervar cranksets are not as highly sought after as Stronglight and T.A., but can be equally nice.  This one’s finish is pretty bad off, and it probably wouldn’t be worth it to re-chrome it.  Instead, the patina adds to its vintage appeal.


Minimal brazing for the top tube/seat tube attachment. Through the frame cable routing for the rear brake.


Lined lugs.


Brass barrel adjuster for the rear brake.

I have been amazed at the number of different ways a mixte frame can be configured. In this case, the twin sloping top tubes are hand bent at the seat tube attachment, where they are minimally brazed, before travelling back to the rear dropouts. The frame includes pump pegs, double eyelets front, single eyelets rear, and braze-ons for the shifter and dynamo.  However, this particular frame was not built with the highest quality workmanship.  Although the Nervex lugs are fancy, the drop outs are stamped, not forged, and the finish work on the ends is just so-so.  Even so, a cursory examination of the tubes revealed absolutely no dings or dents, just a lot of scratches and lost paint.

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The lighting system looks intact, except for some broken wiring.  The lamps and dynamo are branded SELF.  The lenses and reflectors are not cracked and have a fun art-deco look to them.  Note the yellow front bulb.

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Simplex Juy Bell Crank derailleur

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Rigid chain guard

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Simplex shifter mounted to frame braze-on.

The Simplex rear derailleur is frame mounted.  This model uses a “bell crank” to move the cage. I haven’t worked on this model before, but fortunately catalog scans are available from Disraeli Gears.

Simplex 05-filtered

This derailleur has open pulleys at the back of the cage, allowing you to remove the chain from the derailleur without breaking it, a helpful feature. The chain is a Sedis model Yellorex, which also appears to be original to the bike.

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Luna Model 122B leather saddle.

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Matching leather tool cases.

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Brass wingnuts, branded “L.P.”

I originally acquired this bike as a “donor” – to give me some needed parts for other projects I am working on.  However, given its completeness and classic beauty, I may change my mind and restore it.  Perhaps that would please Nicole, wherever she may be.  Nous verrons!

Early 1950’s French Mystery Mixte, Part II

1953 Oscar Egg Mixte

I have dated this bike to the early 1950’s.  It is most likely a 1953 model, given the “53” code on the Fratteli Brivio (F.B.) hub cones, the “53” code on the Regina 4 speed freewheel, and the Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur, which matches visually to photos of other TDF models I have located dated as 1953 models (and includes a few features not seen on the late 40’s models).  However, there is also a “51” code on the Melas fork mounted dynamo, but an earlier date code for a component such as this doesn’t necessarily indicate the bike’s date of creation.

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Oscar Egg lugs. Note the small diameter tubes.

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I say “creation” instead of “manufacture”, as clearly this unique mixte, with its Oscar Egg lugs, was a custom build.  Unfortunately, there is no headbadge, nor are there logos of any kind present on the frame.  However, some barely visible white and orange paint artifacts still remain on the seat tube indicating the presence of transfers which have either faded or were removed.  And, on the headtube there is a shadow of what was once an oval or triangular sticker.

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The fork is likely not original to the frame.  Its brake reach is 7 mm longer than that of the rear brake reach, necessitating the use of longer reach Weinmann 810 sidepulls on the front (with the rear using a Weinmann 730).  In addition, the downtube shows evidence of a front impact, further supporting my theory that the original fork was replaced.  The fully chromed fork, although in beautiful condition, is not as nicely finished as the rest of the frame, with crude file marks still visible on the inside of the fork crown lug.

The use of a longer fork than original means that the headtube angle is slacker than originally conceived.  I measured it at 68 degrees, compared with the 71 degree angle of the seat tube.  According to this helpful guide from Damon Rinard, you can determine the effect of using a longer or shorter fork on your bike’s original frame geometry.  Conclusion: even fairly large length differences don’t matter all that much.  An 11 mm difference in fork length only changes the head angle by .64 degrees.  In this case, the slacker angle increased the wheel flop a bit, but the trail measurement of 58 mm and the wheel flop of 20 mm are still well within the normal range.

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Ideale TB 14 Saddle

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City style Scheeren bars, highly polished, with original grips

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Clement tubular rims


Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs

Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs

This bike is a study in contrasts.  It is built with top end, very light components.  As pictured it weighs only 22 lbs.  The use of the very best hubs available at the time laced to the Clement tubular rims indicate a rider who wanted speed and comfort, and was willing to pay for it.  The timeless Marcel Berthet Lyotard pedals include Christophe toe clips and leather straps, further evidence that the bike was meant for spirited riding. On the other hand, it has slack geometry, city style bars, and a heavy, but comfy Ideale TB 14 saddle.  It is also a larger mixte frame, measuring 55 cm x 55 cm, with a very long 109 cm wheelbase.  Although there are single fender eyelets front and rear, there are no rack mounts.  When cleaning the bike, I found evidence that a rear saddlebag support had been clamped on the seat stays.

Regina Model Fulgur Regina Model Fulgur

The Regina drilled 4 speed Model Fulgur 15-17-19-21 freewheel was an especially nice bit to find on this bike. The teeth show no wear, and with a little oil and cleaning, it looks and sounds brand new.  Some freewheels, such as SunTour and Regina, emit an incredibly pleasing sound, and this one is no exception.

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Simplex TDF rear derailleur mounted to the model specific Simplex drop out

After setting up Simplex TDF plunger/pushrod style rear derailleurs more than a few times, I have finally got the hang of it.  For this build,the derailleur responds extremely well and shifts as quickly as any modern derailleur, without any over shifting required.  Fortunately, I had the original chain, so I was not left to guess about chain length, and I think that helped a lot.  The new chain is a bit longer than I would have cut it if I had not had the original.

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Titan seatpost, gold lined lugs

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Favorit PWB (Prague Warsaw Berlin) crankset

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Highly polished stem, bars, and headset.

All of the components had been highly polished, even the Weinmann sidepull calipers.  Cleaning them was very easy.  The frame took more work, as there was a heavy layer of gunk over the paint.  The resulting sparkle was well worth it.  I was very surprised at how nicely even the silver paint on the stays cleaned up.  The bike really does look impressive.  An unusual feature is the curved rear stay, to allow the brake cable to lay flush against the frame.

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Curved rear stay

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Through the frame wiring for the fork mount dynamo, not yet installed.

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Flush mounted levers, Scheeren bars, Phillipe stem

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Simplex shifter with helpful cable stops

This was one of those bikes that I wanted to keep as original as possible.  However, the frayed brake cable housings had to go, as they were not usable.  I have a stash of vintage cable housing in various colors and from various periods.  I have found that this silver colored housing which I believe dates to the 1960’s has a really nice vintage-y look.  I had a length that was in good condition, so used it to replace the brake cable housing.  I decided to keep the shifter cable housing original.  Although the outer casing is cracked in areas, far less forces are exerted on shifter housing and the interior coils were fine, so I lubricated the original shifter housing and installed a new cable, which had to be sanded down a bit in order to fit into the Simplex shifter mechanism.  I did not install the Melas fork mount dynamo – it had probably failed long ago and was not useable.  I hooked up the pretty rear lamp, and will now try to source a fork mount dynamo from the period which has an integrated head lamp.

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I have yet to test ride the bike and to experience the tubular tires, the mounting and gluing of which not only expanded my knowledge (and possibly fried my brain), but made me feel glad to live in the era of high performance, supple clinchers.  Back then, tubulars were really the only option for comfort and performance.

I’ve got some friction in the rear brake cable, and I suspect I’ll also have a bit of noisy braking when I venture out.  So, there’s more effort still to make in getting this bike back on the road. It will be interesting to see how the bike rides, given its contrasting features.

Totally Tubular

Clement tubular rims

After reading up on how to mount tubular tires, I can’t imagine why tubulars are no longer popular. There are really only about 10,000 steps involved in the process, which can span several decades if done properly.  And, tubular tires are lighter and more svelte, and ride better with lower rolling resistance than clinchers, yes?

So, when it came time to put new tubular tires on the French Mystery Mixte I am restoring, I was glad to finally have the chance to immerse myself in the tubular experience. Kind of like surfing the waves…on a bicycle.  It also helps that marijuana is now legal in Oregon.


First of all, I needed to find some MUCH wider tubulars than the skinny 20 mm racing tires, shown above, which came mounted to these very nice vintage Clement rims. After a few years of searching, (Time is not linear, when dealing with tubular tires, nor is it to be regarded in any way. Get over it.) I came across these 30 mm Challenge Strada Bianca tubulars, which really looked perfect.

Challenge 30 mm tubular tires

Once they arrived I was suitably impressed, and offered my prayers to the tire goddesses. Offering prayers is one of the 10,000 steps involved, and it’s kind of like the 1st step of a 12 step program–you can’t miss it and expect to move forward in the process.

Now we move on to the steps involving the tires themselves, not to be confused with the steps involved in preparing the rims. Since the tires are round, it makes sense to mount them to a nice round tubular rim, and stretch the hell out of them by inflating them up to 180 psi. It is helpful, but not required, to have some extra tubular rims around for this very step. Sadly, I had donated my only set (Nisi rims which I had removed from one of my project bikes) to the Community Cycling Center last year.  (No good deed goes unpunished.)  So, I mounted them to the very rims upon which I needed to complete the other few thousand steps (Glue sniffing high coming up…in a few decades), inflated them to 60 psi for a few thousand hours , then to 120 psi, for a few more thousand hours (180 psi to be disregarded). Then, to properly age them, I threw them under the dank crawl space in my basement, in accordance with this helpful advice from BikeSnobNYC.

After a few years had passed, I started to work on the hubs (oops, I forgot to rebuild them BEFORE I started this process, but because Time is not relevant here, it ended up not really mattering).

If one can have an out of body experience while rebuilding hubs, I can attest to the experience with these amazing Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs.  These are the most beautiful and well machined hubs I have ever seen.

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F.B. hub cones and axle – 53 code on cone face – zoom in to see

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I did not polish these hubs.  I simply cleaned them with a degreaser and then was blinded by by shiny finish. The “53” code on the cones is, I suspect, a date code, and that would correspond with the other components on the bike.  I’ll keep it in the back of my mind for now.  I rebuilt the hubs in the quickest Time ever.  I now see the logic of this.  The nice hubs make up for the Time warp involved in properly gluing and mounting the tubular tires.

After rebuilding the hubs and truing the rims, it came Time to contemplate what to do about the glue residue remaining after I had pushed the old tubulars off the rims.  After reading too many articles to list here, I determined that:  1) old glue doesn’t matter all that much so don’t worry about it, and 2) old glue is really scary and will cause the newly glued tires not to adhere evenly to the rims, so lose sleep over it.  Then, I read this guidance from Jim Langley and decided that I would sort of remove some of the old glue on the rims as follows:  I took the plastic handle of one of my brass brushes and spun the wheel in the truing stand while applying pressure with the handle to the rim edges to remove any blobs adhering to the most critical surfaces.  I then took a cone wrench and applied the curved surface to the inner part of the rim, and smoothed out the remaining glue there.  I had also dug out the glue that was imbedded in the spoke holes, which was necessary in order to true up the rims.  And I had to remove a bit of remaining tape that had molecularly bonded with the remaining glue, and came off in small, sticky strings (string theory?) which took quite a bit of Time.

Then, I cleaned everything with alcohol and a clean microfiber cloth.  Whew!

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Day 10,453:  Aaahhh. It is now Time to apply glue to the rims and to the inside of the tubular tires.  Before beginning, it was necessary to have my shop vacuumed and sterilized by an industrial cleaning company, so that not one speck of dirt or dust could make its way onto the rim or tire surfaces during this surgically precise procedure.  As you can guess, that process took quite a bit of Time, and may have never actually happened (in the alternate tubular universe).

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I decided to use Panaracer glue, for no particular reason.  I read the instructions indicated on the glue tube (prior to sniffing the glue), so I felt really well informed about how to use the product.  Then, I ignored the instructions completely.  The final process of applying glue to the rims and the inside of the tubular tires is a real leap of faith.  I applied beads of glue to the rims, skipping over the spoke holes, about 4 sections at at time.  I took an old, but once nice paint brush and smoothed the glue out over to the rim edge, which is the most important place for the glue to end up.  I opened all the doors and windows in my shop area, but even so, I found that it was best to simply stop breathing, for about an hour, as I was painting the glue onto the rims.  Then, not in accordance with the instructions, I painted the glue to the interior of the tubular tire, after having cleaned the surface with some alcohol.

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Then, Time was finally of the essence.  I needed to mounted the gluey tire to the gluey rim, and true it up so that the tire was properly mounted with no high or wobbly spots.  Because the glue had become very tacky at this point, and because my brain was possibly oxygen starved (or on a glue high), I had a bit of trouble getting the tire to true up on the rim, even though I had practiced this maneuver as a “dry run” a few Times before.  While I changed my Latex gloves several Times during this process, I ended up using a rag to move the tire around over the rim.  But, finally I mounted it reasonably well and checked the tire on my truing stand.

I had to take some Time off before tackling the other rim and tire, and I am feeling better.  Now the that the glue has hardened, I can’t wait to corner at really high speeds to see if the tires will roll off and kill me.

Before that happens, here are some of the very helpful resources I consulting during this process:

Jim Langely

Jobst Brandt

Park Tool

Reynolds Cycling

And, of course:  BikeSnobNYC