1953 French Mystery Mixte Out on the Road

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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1953 French Mixte at Tilikum Crossing

1972 Mercian

1972 Mercian

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.

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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.

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


A Very Unusual Bicycle

Oscar Egg lugs - Mystery Mixte

Oscar Egg lugs – Mystery Mixte

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This vintage bicycle has challenged my research abilities.  I purchased it recently on eBay and had this basic info from the seller:  a post WWII Oscar Egg lugged mixte, no marquis, but probably French built, with top of the line components, including tubular Clement rims laced to F. B. hubs – plus a number of other interesting components that were new to me.

Immediately, I began to wonder about when this bike was made and why there is no marquis or headbadge to indicate the builder.  But, I’ll put aside that weighty question, and present these photos taken before disassembly:

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Favorit PWB cottered crankset – Prague Warsaw Berlin

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Simplex shifter with cable stop

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Gevov wingnuts

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Fratelli Brivio (F.B.) hubs

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Bluemels Lightweight Mudguards

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Oscar Egg Mixte lugs – note the very small diameter tubes

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Weinmann sidepulls – an 810 on the front and a 730 on the back

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Phillipe stem

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The bike shop in Kern Frankfurt, Germany where the bike was ordered.

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An extraordinary Titan seatpost

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Seatpost lug with gold paint to match the lug lining

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Frame paint detail

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An ornate pump peg, plus evidence of a front impact. The tubes appear straight and undamaged, however.

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Frayed cable housing, french headset.

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Clement 700c tubular rims.

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A 4 speed Simplex Tour de France rear derailleur mounted on the model-specific and quite robust Simplex dropout. A real contrast to the delicate downtubes and chainstays.

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Rare Scheeren alloy handlebars.

Oscar Egg head tube lugs.

Oscar Egg head tube lugs.

Curved seat stay presumably to allow the rea brake cable to lay flush against the frame

Curved seat stay, presumably to allow the rear brake cable to lay flush against the frame

Lugged chrome fork, way more clearance than needed by these narrow 20mm tubulars

Lugged chrome fork, way more clearance than needed by these narrow 20mm tubulars

Melas fork mount Dynamo. The front light is not original.

Melas fork mount dynamo. The front light is not original.

I am looking forward to having the time to undertake this fascinating restoration project!  I have been involved with restoring a number of late ’40s bicycles.  This one, I think, will add some depth to my knowledge base.