Vitus Steel Tubing

Long before Vitus began making bonded aluminum frames (Vitus 979), the company had an extensive history of manufacturing quality steel bicycle tubes.  According to Classic Rendezvous, Vitus began as Ateliers de la Rive, on the outskirts of St. Etienne, a city southeast of Paris, near Lyon.  Beginning in 1931, they began making tubes branded as Rubis and Durifort.

Durifort Tubing advert from the Octobre 18 1947 edition of Le Cycle

Durifort advert from the June 1947 edition of Le Cycliste magazine

These 1947 ads, which appeared in Le Cycle and Le Cycliste magazines, show that Durifort tubing was the brand promoted by the Ateliers de la Rive company as the company’s best offerings.  Numerous races were won, with bicycles using the Durifort tubing.  At this time, Rubis tubing was also offered, and was featured on a number of bicycles offered by the manufacturers of the day.

Vitus advert – 1956 Le Cycliste Magazine – Volume 10

 

1980’s Meral with Vitus 788 tubing

By the 1970’s, Vitus was making a variety of tubesets with different wall thicknesses, both butted and straight gauge.

I have owned and worked on several bicycles with Vitus tubing, the oldest of which is a 1947 Peugeot Mixte which featured Vitus Rubis tubing. I still have this bike in my collection.  Although I have seen examples of Vitus’ bonded aluminum frames, I have not ridden one.  I understand that these frames have similar flex characteristics to the alumiminum ALAN frames, which feature aluminum tubes screwed and glued into steel lugs, but Vitus 979 frames do not include steel lugs.

It would be nice to have a resource which identifies the characteristics of each designation of Vitus steel tubing, but this seems to exist only in fragments on various websites.

A writer called vertkyg on the gitaneusa.com forum has developed a fairly complete Vitus timeline, with interesting photos and commentary.  He derived much of his information from a 1974 version of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles and Bicycling.  As I didn’t have this book in my collection, I ordered a copy and found it to provide a wealth of information, as well as being an interesting commentary on the bicycle industry of the mid 1970’s.

Tube Thickness Guide – courtesy of Delong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

Continuation of the tube thickness guide, courtesy of DeLong’s

The top photo above shows that Vitus tubing in 1974 was offered as the following tubesets:  172, 971, and Durifort.  Durifort was a butted set, but was otherwise identical to the 172 tubeset (although by this chart, I think both tubesets were butted).  971 tubing was presumably the best offering of the time, with its lighter weight .9/.6 wall thicknesses for all of the main tubes.

Steel Tubing Characteristics, courtesy of DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles, 1974 edition.

This additional chart shows the properties of various tubing offerings of the era. Vitus 971 tubing is shown to have ultimate psi strength in excess of Reynolds 531, and as you can see from the above chart is significantly stronger than lower end steel tubing of this era. It is much stronger than the Titanium B 338 tubeset noted on the table, and greatly so, as is Reynolds 531, of course. Vitus 971 and Reynolds 531 tubesets show similar performance characteristics, and could certainly be seen as equals in the marketplace at this time.

My early 1980’s Meral features this steel Vitus 788 tubeset.  Available catalogues from this era do not feature this designation.   From what I can surmise, this was apparently a butted tubeset with a 7/10 top tube, and 8/10 down and seat tubes, thus the 788 designation.  Whether I am right or wrong about that, one thing I know is that Vitus steel tubing is competitive with the Reynolds and Tange tubesets of this era.

UPDATE 10/21/17:  Reader Bruno (see comment below) has shared a different timeline of the Vitus, Durifort, and Rubis tubing brands and their related owners.  It appears that all of these brands were initially owned by separate companies, and that Durifort was folded under the Vitus brand in the early 1970’s.  The link he shares has many historical advertisements – if you don’t speak French you can use a translate tool to study the material presented there, which includes an article written by Daniel Rebour which reviews the history of Vitus.

1947 Camille Daudon – Frame Details

My 1947 Camille Daudon bicycle, custom built for Irene Faberge Gunst, is currently in a state of disassembly, so this seems a perfect time to share some details of the frame’s construction.

While I have some information about this bike from the previous owner, I wasn’t sure about the steel tubing.  Because the previous owner had re-chromed the frame, all the original decals and transfers were lost.  So, I was delighted to see this VITUS logo on the steerer tube when I removed the fork.  This logo probably means that all the frame tubes are Vitus – a quality steel tubing made by the French company Atelier de la Rive.

The work done to create this frame is far beyond anything you would ever see today, except from a custom builder.  The creases in the chainstays, to provide clearance for the crankset and the wheels are beautifully executed.  And, the sloping downtube connection to the seat-tube is one of my favorite designs for mixte bikes that use a single, rather than double, sloping top tube.  This type of robust brazing firms up the frame, and gives the mixte bike better handling characteristics.  Peter Wiegle has continued this concept on the mixte frames he has built.

Pinned chainstays

Another interesting feature are the pins used to secure the chain stays, as can be seen by peering inside the bottom bracket shell.  Pinning the tubes was a method used by a number of builders of this era, and is even continued today by Mercian, whose process involves using a brick oven to heat the tubes for brazing.  I don’t know whether Camille Daudon used this heating process, as the only tubes which are pinned in this frame are the chainstays.

The finish work on the stays is beyond anything I normally see – simply extraordinary.

This frame has only a few braze-ons -the shifter mount, pump pegs, and shifter and brake cable routing.  Most notably, there are no braze-ons for a dynamo nor for a chain guard.  Since this bike was designed for commuting and city riding in San Francisco, that seems odd to me.

1947 Camille Daudon mixte, prior to re-chroming

Prior to being re-chromed, the frame looked as above.  As you can see, the chrome was seriously compromised.  Chroming a bicycle frame is a harsh process that may not yield the results you are looking for.  It is very labor intensive, and will remove some brazing material from the frame.  It is essential that the frame be thoroughly cleaned and the old plating removed before re-chroming.

The previous owner thought that he had prepared the frame correctly for the chroming process, but unfortunately a small section of the drive side seat stay developed a hole during the re-chroming, due to incorrect preparation.  This is an area of frame construction where failures can develop.  However, in this case it looks like the combination of incorrect preparation, along with the harshness of the re-chroming process itself, caused this hole to develop. While it is a small flaw, it’s something to take note of.

I haven’t decided yet whether I will try to re-create the Daudon logos which were original to the frame, as shown in the above photo.  I love seeing such a large head tube on a smaller frame such as this, which should provide for a comfortable riding experience.

Best of all about this disassembly process was seeing the codes engraved on the fork and rear dropouts – “471” which makes me think that this was the very first bicycle off the line from Daudon’s shop in 1947.  A nice, and interesting,  thought.

Frame dimensions:

Seat tube:  50 cm

Top Tube -effective:  52.5 cm

Wheelbase:  102.5 cm

Frame Weight:  5 pounds, 15 ounces

Material: Vitus steel tubing