On this Friday evening, with the gentle cool breeze blowing across my summer garden, I thought it would be nice to share some of my favorite photos of my bicycle restorations from the 1920’s through the 1950’s:
Louis Moire founded Goeland Cycles at 44 Rue Etienne Marcel in Paris in 1935. He intended to offer high quality frames which could be built up around lower cost components. He called himself a “constructeur”. In reality, Goeland frames were probably outsourced to other builders.
A few years ago I purchased a Goeland bicycle on eBay. I knew from the photos that the bicycle needed some minor frame repairs, but judging from the seller’s photos, nothing seemed catastrophic.
The seat stay rack attachment had failed, and the mixte sloping top tube attachment to the right side seat tube had also cracked. Another brazing mishap involved the rear rack – one of the brazes had failed.
But, after preparing the frame to be cleaned and waxed, I saw that the Cyclo derailleur mount on the drive side chain stay had also failed. I hadn’t noticed this before, but if you look closely at the above photo of the right side derailleur mount braze to the chain stay, you can see that it has detached.
That made me think about this bike’s history. While theorizing is probably something to be avoided, I do believe that this frame was built in 1941 (at least the Durifort main tubes which are beautifully brazed with nicely filed Oscar Egg lugs). The frame and fork feature numerous “41” markings. However, some of the components indicate that this bike was built up for riding in the late 1940’s. The brake levers and calipers are MAFAC, a marque not introduced until 1946 or 1947 according to my research.
The wheelset for this bike dates to 1940 or 1941. Since all the other marks on the frame are “41”, I have concluded that this bike is a 1941 frame.
I have theorized that this Goeland’s Durifort main tubes were brazed in 1941, and as you can see from the above map of occupied France this bike may have not been built up during the occupation. Perhaps the bike was never assembled until after Paris was liberated in 1944. At that juncture, manufacturing and other activities that had been halted during the occupation would have been put on overdrive, due to pent up demand.
As was typical in cycling workshops of the time, experienced builders would assemble the main tubes, and apprentices would be assigned the job of the “simple” brazing – rack mounts, and other braze-ons. Perhaps this particular apprentice needed a bit more training. If the final assembly of this bike occurred after Paris was liberated, that would help to explain the MAFAC brakes (A new marque, previously known as Securite). However, the numerous frame failures on this Goeland are notable. And, I think they do relate the sketchy history that accompanies the Nazi occupation of France during the mid 1940’s. One possibility is that since metals were in low supply during the occupation, the less important brazes got minimal silver or brass for their brazes. The bike has no dents or bent tubes, and is not out of alignment, indicating that the failures were not the result of a crash.
My goal now is to honor Annie Laurin’s bicycle. I have decided NOT to repair the frame, but rather to preserve this Goeland in its original state, serving as a map to this Goeland’s history. That history includes brazing errors, which possibly contain some important information.
I decided to take the 1953 French Mystery Mixte out for its first test ride today. I headed over to Sellwood so I could start the Springwater trail from Sellwood Park, and avoid downtown traffic. This year, Summer riding in Portland has been a mixed bag. It has been easy to be beckoned by the dry weather, but the recent heat waves and high humidity have made it challenging to enjoy even my regular commute. Although cool and breezy, today was more humid than I expected, so my single water bottle turned out to be inadequate.
I was anxious to see how the Challenge Strada Bianca tubular tires felt. I even wondered if somehow the ride would be transformed by the legendary smoothness and purported supple sidewalls of tubular tires. I was brought back to reality worrying that I might get a flat. But, one upside to tubular tires is not having to carry a spare tube, patches, or tire irons. I can’t imagine what it was like to actually have to carry an entire spare tire (or two, plus glue and a sewing kit). So, I didn’t even bother with a pump, and just stuffed a few tools and my cell phone into a tiny seat bag.
As I got underway, I felt like I was riding an e-bike. Wait. The bike is long and tall, and I was in a fairly upright position with the city style bars. Yet I was positively rolling! Could it be the tubular tires? Well, it turned out to be a tailwind, which I discovered when I reversed direction to head back to my starting point on the trail.
After this moment of elation, I concentrated on what the bike was telling me as I sped along, passing nearly everyone: responsive frame, comfortable saddle, smooth-as-glass hubs, easy shifting, and no lateral flex (thanks to the twin sloping top tubes of this mixte frame). The tires felt fast, yet more comfortable than similar 30mm width tires that I have ridden, and handled the brief time I spent on hard packed dirt when I took a detour with no mishaps.
The gearing is very high, and even moderate hills required a standing position to maintain cadence. I ended up not using the highest gear, and rode the bike as a three speed. Fortunately, the Simplex Tour de France derailleur can handle up to a 24 tooth cog, which means that the gearing could be lowered from its current 59-83 gear inch range, down to a low gear of 52. That would help make this bike more versatile. Even so, hill climbing will remain challenging.
A tubular tire oddity is that they lose pressure very quickly. They will lose several pounds overnight, and a lot of air after a week. That’s one reason you’ll see bikes with tubular tires kept elevated, so that no flat spots or creases develop in the sidewalls. For this outing, I had inflated the tires the night before with about 85 lbs in the rear tire and 75 lbs in the front, but as I was riding I felt sure that I had lost pressure especially in the rear tire. In the future I will plan to inflate the tires before each ride – which is a good practice anyway.
I enjoyed using the old Lyotard Marcel Berthet pedals with their original clips and straps. I hadn’t rebuilt them yet, and even so they performed just fine for this short trip, and were easy to get my shoe in and out of.
The narrow braking surface of the Clement rims is imprinted with a pattern, theoretically to improve braking. In practice, the rims emitted a high pitched whining sound whenever the brakes were applied. While the noise did alert others to my presence, I want to find a way to make braking silent, so will be experimenting with some different brake pads. I also still have friction in the rear brake cable, which I need to troubleshoot.
Yesterday, I had taken the 1972 Mercian out for a spin, so it was interesting comparing the riding experience of these two different bicycles. The Mercian is a classic 1970’s road bike, using 700c tires on a small frame which happens to fit me perfectly. It has a 100cm wheelbase, but similar (and higher than I prefer) wheel flop and trail numbers (wheel flop 17 and trail 59). I was not disappointed in the handling of the mixte. I did not have any trouble maneuvering at slow speeds, whereas the Mercian does exhibit the unwieldy feel of a high wheel flop bike when riding at slow speeds. The long 109cm wheelbase helps to keep the bike feeling more stable than it otherwise would. Both bikes are comfortable yet performance oriented, and versatile enough for any kind of riding, with the right gearing. Neither bike has rack mounts, but both have fender eyelets. With a saddlebag support, either bike could be put into daily service as a commuter, and the Mixte’s high gearing and light 22 lb weight could allow it to do double duty as a training bike.
The city style bars have flush mounted levers, which although stylish-looking, means that the only way to adjust the position of the levers, is to adjust the handlebars. My wrists and hands were uncomfortable after a while, because they were not in a neutral position, so I’ll be making adjustments to the bars as well as completing a few other minor tweaks.
The bike’s first ride left me impressed. Riding it today reminded me again of how well the cycling industry had developed by the end of WWII. Its high end components and beautiful Oscar Egg lugs translate into a well-appointed, lightweight bicycle that is perfectly competent and comfortable to ride. I am looking forward to riding it again.