Riding the Old Peugeot 650b Mixte

Peugeot 650b Mixte

I have put off making some final adjustments to this vintage Peugeot 650b mixte, knowing that I needed to dial in the Jeay brakes and work out the other little bugs that always come up during a frame up build.  But with today’s unnaturally warm weather, I decided to take the bike out into the wiles of Portland.  Even though this Peugeot is positively a city bike, Portland’s traffic scene and “bike culture” are in no way conducive to safe and leisurely riding on this type of machine.  So, a weekend trip along Springwater corridor and through the Eastbank Esplanade is the most enjoyable way to learn the handling characteristics of a new ride such as this.

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I am not sure why it is so tempting to think of a 70 year old bike as clunky and incompetent, but riding this machine today reminded me again how well the cycling industry had developed by the time the Germans occupied France in 1941.

First of all, this is no clunker.  It weighs 28 lbs as pictured (without bag), and that includes the fork mounted dynamo, fenders, and heavy Gauthier leather saddle.  Not bad!  The frame is made with Vitus Rubis tubing, which was used on higher end models in the 30’s and 40’s. The front end had no unpleasant “wobbly” feeling as can exist on some mixte frames, and handling was easy at all speeds.  Maybe the long wheelbase and super slack seat tube angle provide for the comfortable ride – but it is really fun to corner on this bike.  Kind of like riding on a roller coaster.  Whee!

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The Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur works perfectly out on the road, with accuracy, and no trimming.  Of course, there are only 3 gears here.  And what big gears they are, ranging from 54 to 75 gear inches.  I have to wonder about these giant gears on older machines that I encounter.  Were people stronger then?  Did they simply walk up the hills?  Is France totally flat?  Ha.  I can lower the gearing a bit by going up to 24 teeth, which is the maximum that this derailleur can handle.  Or maybe I’ll just tough it out for now.

Simplex Tour de France

It is very difficult to find builder information for bikes manufactured in France during the occupation years.  Based on some reading, I have learned that the cycling industry in France actually experienced a “bike boom” because petrol was unavailable to the populace, so driving was no longer really an option for most people.  And, there is a lot of shame surrounding those businesses who benefited financially during those terrible times, even though they may have been among the resistance on a moral and intellectual level.  The disruptions to normal business practices during the Nazi occupation, as well as this shame and possibly the need for secrecy has meant that it is nearly impossible to determine what exactly was going on in some of the cycling shops in France during the time.  I have found it interesting that there were sudden innovations (Simplex derailleurs) and new companies emerging (Mafac) right after France was liberated.  I suspect that research and innovation was in fact occurring during the occupation years, but went on, undocumented.  (Jan Heine has an interesting blog post about this topic here.)

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Correctly dating this Peugeot has been challenging.  Peugeot catalogs during the late 30’s and 1940’s cannot be found.  There is very little information about what was happening at the Peugeot factory during the occupation, with the implication that they actually shut down.  Some websites claim that the factory did shut down during the occupation, but I think they may be referencing only the automobile factory, as by this time the bicycle factory had been separated out as a distinct division, located in Beaulieu (Mandeure), France.  So, my best guess based on its original components and on the frame characteristics is that this bike dates to sometime in the late 30’s through the 1940’s.

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I was worried that the wood grips, which are very comfortable, would fly off the handlebars during vigorous climbing, as they are connected to the bar only with a conical cork insert located inside the grips, which I tapped into the bars with a mallet.  They held fine.  The Gauthier ladies leather saddle was shockingly comfortable – no changes were needed there.  I was also concerned that while the brake levers are quite lovely, the shape would inhibit emergency braking, with their slight arc in the middle restricting the movement.  As it turned out, braking was quite noisy!  This alerted others to my presence.  I had installed Kool Stop orange pads on the front, but had left the old funky Mafac pads as is on the rear.  Big mistake!  This bike needs Kool Stops front and rear, plus a complete cleaning and sanding of the rims to eliminate braking squeal, which I have now done.

Vintage Peugeot

Peugeot 650b resting at home

Thank you to Shawn at Adventurepdx, for this nice old Carradice bag which goes perfectly on this Peugeot.  I don’t use saddlebags much, and was shocked just how much you can jam into this thing.  It is the perfect addition to the bike and adds all the utility needed to make this a useful commuter and weekend rider.

Goeland 650b Date Mystery Solved

Goeland Mixte 650b

When I first purchased this Goeland in 2013, I was told by the seller that he thought it was all original.  Later, I discovered photos of this same bike on the web, but with a different, and apparently much nicer wheelset – Maxi car hubs on Rigida Chrolux rims – instead of the heavily corroded no-name set that was shipped with the bike.  The seller insisted that that wheelset was just an idea for a rebuild and that the bike he shipped was likely all original, but that he wasn’t sure of the manufacture date.

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I photographed the bike, then began disassembly in the summer of 2013.  I noted that there were a number of “41’s” stamped on the bike – on the rack tang, on the steerer tube, and on the bottom bracket.  But, since the seller was fairly sure that this was NOT a date code, I proceeded with my assumption that the bike was a late 40’s or early 50’s model.  And, there was also a 305 code stamped on the drive side drop-outs, front and rear.  In retrospect, it is interesting how one can ignore the obvious.

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When I purchased the bike I knew it needed a few small frame repairs.  Since I hadn’t yet made up my mind about how to proceed on that front, I set the project aside.  Then, the seasons passed.  Finally, the right moment came so I turned my attention first to the funky looking wheelset.  Right away I noticed some unusual features.  First of all, the rims are actually painted yellow, inside and out, with parallel black stripes running along the spoke bed.  When I removed the braided rim protector, I noticed a starburst pattern on the spoke nipples, and the use of washers.  I then noticed that the spoke heads bore the same pattern. Then, to my surprise, I noticed that the spokes were double-butted!  As I was handling the wheel I became aware of how light weight it was, even though made of steel – in fact, I had to use my magnet just to confirm this for myself. The unbranded hubs are very nicely machined, although the chrome plating is now rusted and pitted.  I started to work on removing the corrosion from the hub’s outer surfaces, and on trying to remove the crud and corrosion from the rims.

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I tried all kinds of products, and ended up using Menotomy’s oil with some super fine steel wool (Grade 00000).  As I was patiently (sort of) working away at the corrosion, I spotted what looked like some lettering, and started to feel a sense of excitement as I gradually rubbed away enough gunk to make out the writing:  Rigida DECO B Fabrication 1940-41!!!

I had to do some research on the web to confirm that DECO was indeed a Rigida model, and that it was Ridiga’s practice to put a date of manufacture on its rims – both things turned out to be true.  The rear wheel has what I think is a Cyclo model 3 speed freewheel, but I cannot make out the model name, nor the engraving on the spoke protector:

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Meanwhile, the work on the rims is coming along.  They will never look great, but they will have an interesting “patina” and the hub cones and axles are definitely salvageable.

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And, it was fun to bring the frame back out to look at it again and to appreciate its build quality.  I had forgotten about this nice finish work on the seat lug and mixte seat tube stays:

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I ended up concluding that the “305” code stamped on the drive side drop-outs is the serial number.  One idea is that they used a simple sequential numbering system, but I don’t have a way of knowing how many frames per year the Goeland company would build.  I haven’t been successful at finding any information about Goeland serial numbers.

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1941 Goeland 650b Mixte

But now that I know the date of manufacture, I really am impressed by how well this bike has survived, and now feel more motivated to bring this project to completion.