Some time ago I found a wonderful and very moving film of Yves Montand singing ‘A Bicyclette’ In the lyric of this song he recalls childhood memories of cycling with friends, and their crush on Paulette, the daughter of the postman. The song is a moving recollection of the romance of a more innocent ‘golden age’ when simple pleasures were paramount and the bicycle was a catalyst for such pleasures. Times have changed but perhaps our interest in the things of the past, such as our passion for vintage bicycles, has much to do with such recollections of golden days gone by, and the stories that our bicycles have to tell. When researching the constructuer Dejouannet, I was delighted to see this song quoted in a newspaper article about Marcel Dejouannet dated 1981, the year of Montand’s performance at Olympia in Paris, referenced above.
The recent acquisition of a Dejouannet Randonneuse of the early 1950′s led me to research this very fine, but little known French ‘constructeur’.
Martial Dejouannet (d.1992) started making bicycles in Paris in the early 1940′s, and his son Marcel Dejouannet (1922-2007) joined him in 1946 to form Dejouannet Père et Fils. Father and son were both members of the Versailles Cycling Club, and Marcel was apparently a reasonable amateur racer.
Little is known about the early history of the Company and few bicycles from the early years seem to have survived. In 1959 Father and Son moved to a shop in the Place St-Jacques in Bressuire, a town in the mid west of France, in the Poitou-Charentes region. They took over the premises of an old bicycle racer, Charles Lacquehay, along with a concession for the increasingly popular Velo-Solex moped. Most of the finest bicycle makers were situated in either Paris or the Lyon/St.Etienne area, so Dejouannet was a little away from the epicentres of cycling activities but apparently grew a clientele of enthusiasts who appreciated the finer points of a quality maker of ‘made to measure’ artisan cycles.
Marcel Dejouannet’s daughter Claudine recalls that, when she was 13, her Father made a bicycle for her which had 650B wheels. The wheels were unusual in having 24 spokes arranged in groups of three, as he said this would make for a stiffer wheel. Marcel had a strict regime of exercise and diet, and in latter years followed the Taoist teachings of Stephen T.Chang, in particular the ‘Internal Exercises’ from Chang’s book ‘The Complete System of Self Healing: Internal Exercises.’ He exercised for about two hours each day. Claudine says that on a bicycle he was inexhaustible!
The majority of the archive material, such as the newspaper cuttings below, relates to the late 1970′s and early 1980′s. At this time Dejouannet was producing between 30 and 50 bicycles per year from their modest workshop in the town. Each bicycle took about 8 days to produce, and there was a waiting list of between 4 and 6 months. The articles stress the expense of the bicycles which in the late 1970′s were priced at between 7000 and 10000 Francs for a bicycle and around 12000 Frances for a tandem – Approximately 3200 to 4500 Euro, and 5500 Euro respectively by today’s standards. This prompted one journalist to remark that ‘Haute Couture’ is available on two wheels but is not within the range of everyone’s purse.’ Marcel responds that it’s not expensive in terms of satisfying a passion.
Martial and Marcel Dejouannet in the workshop in Bressuire in 1981, aged 84 and 59 respectively. Courtesy Mme F. and Mme C. Dejouannet
The titles of the articles are evocative – ‘Rayons de Luxe’ and ‘Le Couturier du Cycle’, the latter a term often applied to René Herse. Marcel said that he was reluctant to expand the business by taking on new employees, as his customers feel more confident in knowing that the boss is making the bicycle. Anyway, he says, even if he had the time to take on an apprentice ( which he didn’t ), the skills are lost and young people are not interested in such a profession. Above all anyone involved with the profession should have a passion for cycling and all that surrounds it. His customers, whether they be from Lille or Marseille were loyal, often returning to him for another machine, whilst one Charentaise family he equipped with bicycles for the whole family, including the 3 children. Another went cycle camping to Cap du Nord in Southern Africa, and three machines were sent to the United States. He says that making a bicycle takes patience, good tools, and a lot of elbow grease. It is working with the hands that gives flavour to life, he says, quoting Michelangelo.
A fine example of a Dejouannet of this period is seen below, a long distance touring machine with substantial racks made by the constructeur.
It is interesting to note the bracing of the rear rack including a strut to the Mafac brake mount, making for a very sturdy platform for luggage. It is built from Reynolds 531 tubing and is fitted with top quality French equipment of the period including Maxicar hubs, Mafac brakes, Stronglight chainset and Huret gearing.
Another example is a chrome plated machine from 1982, featuring internal cable routing for the rear brake, and also wiring for the front lighting passing through the tubes of the rack. This machine was clearly made for lighter touring than the previous bicycle, having a removable rear rack and front pannier supports for shorter distance work.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone with a Dejouannet bicycle or other historical information regarding the marque. This article is evolving and I would like to add to it as new information becomes available.
I am very grateful to Mme.Françoise and Mme.Claudine Dejouannet, Marcel’s daughters, for the archive information, and to Claude Macé and Löic Chauvin for the photographs of their lovely machines
In the early days of cycling a bell was the most common means to warn pedestrians, horse riders and carriages of the approach of a cyclist. The earliest forms were simply globe-shaped rumble bells attached to the handlebars by a leather strap. They rang continuously as the machine rattled over the roadway. Later came a bell with a sprung lever to sound it only when required. If you were riding an Ordinary (penny farthing or high bicycle) this was very necessary to ensure that the horses were prepared for this strange beast passing by, often taller than the horse. As we know, horses are highly strung, and their reaction to bicycles, particularly high ones, can be unpredictable. There were many disasters in the early days with carriages running out of control, the horses having been spooked by cyclists, and there were many serious injuries to bike riders. As reports in cycling journals and many court cases evidence, there was quite a bit of animosity between horse and carriage owners and cyclists in the early days.
There were other means of making noise for cyclists. A small bugle, often made by Henry Keat and Sons of Stoke Newington, London, was used by Clubs as a rallying call. A number of the Clubs even had their own specific bugle calls. There were various other types of pocket horns and sirens.
Then there were whistles. These were commonly kept in the top pocket of one’s jacket, attached by a chain with a T-bar through the lapel buttonhole, or sometimes with a lanyard around the neck, so they could quickly be whipped out for use. Whistles specific to cycling are now very rare. The earliest and rarest whistle here is marked ‘The Kings Own’ and T.B.L.W. The latter stood for Thomas Bowling Lamp Works, after the Joseph Lucas works in Little King Street, Birmingham. ‘The Kings Own’ was used as a trade name for Lucas TBLW lamps as well. It dates from the early to mid 1880′s. It has two holes and consequently two tones. You can hear it being blown here!.
The second is an ACME whistle with a rider on an Ordinary on each side. I’ve never been able to establish if this whistle is from the time of the high bicycle, or made later as a decorative item. Still, its a rare and lovely beast. You can hear it being blown here!
The next whistle is marked ‘The Cyclist’s Road Clearer H.A.K. & Co.’ It was made by J.Stevens and Son of London and Glasgow, and probably dates from the 1890′s. You can hear it being blown here!
The other whistles pictured here are not necessarily related to cycling but I like to imagine they were the sort of items used by early pioneers of the road. I particularly like the Acme Siren, which you can hear in operation here.
The Paris constructeur Louis Moire was quite a prolific maker, from the mid 1930′s to the early 1970′s, under the Goëland (Seagull) name. From his shop at 44 Rue Etienne Marcel, he retailed mid-priced machines which were probably often made by outside frame builders. He seemed to like ‘Speedy’ tubing, a heavy duty cheaper product than the finer productions of Reynolds or Vitus. I’ve seen many Goëland bicycles, and they are often handsomely finished, but rather heavy and fitted with mid-range parts. Occasionally he produced special bicycles in top of the range Vitus or Reynolds tubing, fitted with the best parts and many hand made fittings. This is an example of such a machine.
Constructed in Reynolds 531, the frame has heavily modified and finely filed Oscar Egg (or possibly Nervex?) lugs. Goëland-made parts include front and rear racks, front derailleur and handlebar stem. Rear brake cable and dynamo wiring runs internally. The rear brake hanger arrangement is unusual with the cable looping around a neat alloy hanger and back up to the fitting beneath the saddle. Brakes are M.A.F.A.C. cantilevers with the early open-back levers. Rims are early Super Champion laced to Maxi-CAR hubs, fitted with rare Cyclo ‘Rapid’ quick releases. Mudguards are Lefol ‘Le Paon’. Chainset is Stronglight, with Tank pedals, and Tank 4-speed freewheel. Handlebars are Phillipe randonneur and the saddle an Ideale 59 Professionel. The most interesting fitting, though, is the Spirax rear derailleur. This remarkable and rare derailleur was designed by Raymond Bon in the late 1940′s. Bon was one of René Herse’s team riders. It works on a similar principle to the Cyclo, with the sprockets sliding along a rod with a spiral groove, but it has a single cable and a built-in spiral flat spring, which keeps the chain in tension much more evenly than the chainstay spring on a Cyclo. The gear is also ‘indexed’, the changer incorporating a ball bearing which clicks into place at each gear change. More about this gear in a later post (Does anyone have further information about setting up this gear?)
The bicycle is in excellent original order. The only non-original part being the rear lamp. The original rear lamp appears to have been fitted to the left rear chainstay, as there is a lug and wiring there. The transfers are in reasonable condition, whilst there is extensive light blue lining, beautiful executed.
I will be carrying out minimal work to the bike, touching in a little of the missing enamel, and replacing cables and handlebar tape. One unusual feature of the bike is a rather jazzy colour scheme. The lining is pale blue, whilst the dynamo wiring and brake cables are green, and the brake hoods are red! The little windows in the head lugs are also filled with green paint. This is quite an unusual colour scheme and I intend to keep it like that. I have yet to find green cable outers similar to the disintegrating originals, and red second-hand mafac hoods (anybody got some?), so it may temporarily be finished with light blue bar tape and cable outers until I find the correct parts.
So, here are some pictures of the bike in its as-found state, with more to follow in a later post.
More pictures of Goëland machines here.
Click on photo for large-scale image
My initiation into the wonderful world of French bicycles of the great constructeurs was some years ago during a visit to the collection of the March Family, near Bordeaux. I had not previously seen machines by Herse, Singer, Barra and Charrel before ‘in the flesh’, but I was struck by the subtlety and elegance of these wonderful bicycles. Unlike British bicycles of the period, there was little showiness about them. Instead of ‘fancy lugwork’ there was restrained detail, sober paintwork rather than ‘flamboyant’, and an integrated look utilising custom made items, rather than a series of shop bought components bolted to a frame. The cachet of these bicycles was in their attention to detail and their functionality. I became enthralled with them.
Last week an eagerly awaited and very weighty package arrived at my local post office. Luckily I was on my Porteur as carrying this monster of a book might have given me a hernia. This 424 page book weighs in at around 6lbs or over 2 Kgs. It was very thoughtfully packed in a box with custom made foam blocks on each corner, resulting in the book arriving in excellent condition.
Jan Heine is well known to enthusiasts of touring bicycles and in particular the classic marques of René Herse and Alex Singer, through his editorship of Bicycle Quarterly. Last year his Company Compass Bicycles acquired the trademarks, designs and other assets of Cycles René Herse, whilst Mike Kone continues to make Herse bicycles at Boulder Bicycles in Colorado, USA. Heine’s enthusiasm for the bicycles of Herse led to the enormous task of compiling this book from thousands of archive images, and the recollections of many of Herse’s colleagues, riders, and friends. Above all is the input of Herse’s daughter Lyli, one of the greatest women riders of the 50′s and 60′s, during which period she was eight times French Champion.
There are over 400 photographs in the book, mostly from the archive, but also images of about twenty original machines which illustrate the evolution and perfection of the marque. The drawings of Daniel Rebour add to the visual attraction of the book.
What makes this book for me is the clearly meticulous research carried out by the author. Each archive photo is captioned in detail and the text is liberally enhanced by the recollections of people that were actually there when the events happened. The chapters on competitions such as the Technical Trials and the Polymultipliée de Chanteloup bring to life the vibrant cycle-touring race program during the 40′s and 50′s, and these are areas little covered by other publications. These events placed emphasis on light weight and reliability, with points being gained for the lightest machines, but also deducted for any failures of parts brought about by the long and punishing courses. They were the proving grounds for new, lighter and better components. I was particularly struck by the importance of the Tandem in these events, again an area supported sparingly by other cycling publications. Herse’s numerous successes were not only in cyclotouring events, but also included the Women’s World Championship won by Geneviève Gambillon in 1972 and 1974, Briek Schotte’s win in the Paris-Tours of 1947 and Louison Bobet’s victory in the 1959 Bordeaux-Paris. On the track there were successes too, with 24 hour World records for Roger Baumann in 1953 and Yves Gilbert in 1957.
There was an upsurge of interest in cycling in France after the War, and Herse capitalised on this with up to six employees working away in his shop making frames and the many custom designed components that he produced… handlebar stems, chainsets, brakes etc.. which required a lot of hand finishing. But as soon as the early fifties orders began to decline and by the later part of the decade the advent of the moped and affordable motor cars such as the Renault 4CV and Citröen 2CV had taken hold, and led to a lean period and a much reduced staff. The sixties were made healthier by the interest in Herse bicycles from the American and Japanese markets. After Herse’s death in 1976 Jean Desbois took over the shop and continued to make great bicycles with his own distinctive handwriting until retirement in 1986.
I have often heard said that Herse’s bikes are ‘over-rated’. This generally comes from people who have not even seen one, yet alone ridden one. It has been mine and my Wife’s privilege to be able to ride Herse bicycles, which are very special indeed. This book cements the place in history of this great marque. It is not a ‘coffee table’ book but a substantial and detailed history brilliantly illustrated with numerous archive photographs, an informative and entertaining text, and wonderful bicycles. It brings alive a ‘golden age’ when these machines were at the zenith of the constructeurs Art.
The book is highly recommended and is available here.
A recent purchase was a Marcel Dejouannet touring bicycle in very original condition. It’s a fairly straightforward job to clean up and preserve this bicycle, but I thought that it would illustrate well some of the techniques I use, and some of the thought processes involved. This series will feature ‘before and after’ photographs of various parts of the bicycle, and a definitive guide on how to shellac handlebar tape.
I bought the bike because it was a fine example of a rare maker of considerable quality. Dejouannet made bicycles up until the late 1980′s, the company being founded by Martial Dejouannet in Paris in the 1940′s. Later, working with his son Marcel he moved to Bressuire in the mid-West of France. As part of the process of restoration I have been researching the maker. Little is known of them so I am digging further and am now in touch with his family, who are kindly providing some history and photographs of Monsieur Dejouannet, which will be published here in the near future.
This machine is light, indicating a top quality tubeset such as Reynolds 531 or top level Vitus. It is fitted with classic high-end duralumin touring parts – Stronglight chainset, Maxi-CAR hubs, Pivo alloy rims, Lefol mudguards, Bell wing nuts, Philippe bars and stem, Mafac brakes, Cyclo 4-speed gear. Additionally there are other nice features such as the ‘constructeur’ built front and rear racks, internal dynamo wiring, annular bearing bottom bracket, and a Nivex-style rear dropout which enables rear wheel removal without touching the chain: When removing the wheel you shift the chain over onto the chain rest, which is integral with the dropout, then unscrew the drive side wing nut which is permanently fixed to a short piece of axle, and is also captive in a special fitting. When you release the left hand wing nut, the wheel drops straight out with ease, and without getting greasy hands!
I never rush into working on a bicycle. You need to sit and look at it for some time, contemplating what to do, before starting to pull it to pieces. I find that a good beer helps in this process. Then I take extensive photographs to record every aspect of the bike for future reference, and to aid re-assembly.
The next part of the preservation process is to try and date the bicycle and assess to what extent the parts on it are original. A few indicators are noticeable: The Mafac brakes are the early type with ‘m.a.f.a.c.’ stamped on them.
The full stops between the letters denote 1950′s production. Similarly, the second pattern Maxi-CAR hubs indicate 1950′s. The overall style of the bike together with the parts fitted indicate a date of early 1950′s, during the golden age of French touring bicycles.
Internet research to find pictures and information about similar machines is also useful. In this case it threw up little information about the maker, and few photographs of machines except for much later ones. The excellent Forum Tonton Velo is generally very useful for information on French bicycles, although it is almost exclusively in French. If you are interested in French bikes then you should learn some French anyway!
The glaringly non original parts are the front derailleur and the brake hoods. The front derailleur lever indicates that it was probably fitted with a ‘Le Chat’ unit, brazed to the seat tube. Unfortunately this was cut off and a modern Shimano unit fitted. There is no damage to the seat tube, and I intend to replace the front derailleur with an original style unit. However, many of you will know that a cable operated ‘Le Chat’ is as rare as hen’s teeth so the only option may be to make one! On searching Tonton Velo I found a drawing of a Le Chat cable operated derailleur, can you believe? (courtesy velodutch63 on Forum Tonton Velo)
However, this is the version where the cable pulls from above, whilst this bike was fitted with a pull from below version. After more digging Dutch collector and connoisseur of French bicycles, Rob Van Driel, very kindly provided me with photographs and dimensions of his Le Chat FD, fitted to his Alcyon randonneuse, complete with dimensions of all the parts. Information sharing like this is so important in this process, and I am indebted to him. So, I am now in a position to have a go at making a replacement.
The horrible brake hoods are very clearly modern replacements so they can simply be cut off and thrown away. The Mafac levers would have either had no rubbers at all, or been fitted with rubber half-hoods.
The enamel paintwork is generally in good condition except for on the racks. They may warrant some careful re-painting but this will be kept to a minimum.
At the end of the ‘contemplation’ process, I decided that this bicycle should be kept as original as possible, carefully cleaned, with some very minor touching in of paintwork only, replacement of non original brake cable outers, and replacement of the front derailleur. The bicycle will be serviced, including rebuilding of the stiff Stronglight headset and replacement of brake rubbers. Tyres will be replaced.
To be continued….
I don’t normally publish comments arising from my blog posts, but this one from Bruce in The United States was interesting and thought provoking:
‘There seem to be two diametric schools of thought on the preservation / restoration argument. Though neither of them seem to agree, there is the same school of though that some antique collectors subscribe to. Dirty is better and clean is not cool. Patina is a nice word for dirt and abuse in the minds of some. I have antique furniture, and though I am not tempted to refinish pre-Colonial antiques, I am always looking at some of the bikes I have.
The second school of thought is the complete replacement of the paint and decals for an out of factory look. Many of the restoration painters will exceed the quality of paint done by a factory or even that done by small hand made marques.
I have received many frames that few wanted because ‘distressed’ look doesn’t sell to the public. I admit that a good refinish is expensive, but if you only want it done once then it might as well be a professional job. If you have ever been at a cycling ‘jumble’ or show the ones that stop the crowds are those refinished to perfection, and parts restored and polished. One you would like to display in your home would be one done by some of the best custom painters in America.’
My first article about restoration was a personal opinion about my approach.
I have a few observations relating to this comment:
‘I have received many frames that few wanted because ‘distressed’ look doesn’t sell to the public.’
The fact that they don’t sell to the public doesn’t mean that they are ‘undesirable’ either from a historical or aesthetic point of view. I don’t prepare my bikes to be saleable, I preserve them to retain originality and to make them usable.
‘Many of the restoration painters will exceed the quality of paint done by a factory or even that done by small hand made marques.’
Exactly! Refinished bikes will often look nothing like the bike did originally. Many original finishes, particularly to lightweight bikes, were in fact a little on the crude side and showed the marks of hand finishing designed to be purposeful rather than showy. Bikes were designed to be used not to be shown. In this country there is a restorer of vintage Rolls Royce motor cars called P. & A. Wood. The quality of their restorations are incomparable, but their refinishing work is probably considerably better than the original finish, perhaps giving us a distorted picture of the original qualities of these cars. Modern materials are not like the ones used 50-100 years ago, so there is no way that a re-finish is going to look exactly the same as the original. Polishing alloy components is another grey area – I know from my examples of NOS alloy components that they often weren’t highly polished to start with, yet polishing to mirror finish seems to be widely accepted in the restoration fraternity. Likewise reproduction transfers are often not at all like the original versions, so once again the ‘flawless refinish’ is in fact highly flawed.
‘..the ones that stop the crowds are those refinished to perfection, and parts restored and polished.’
I think that there is a very considerably growing number of people that will take more notice of the slightly distressed original machine as opposed to the show example. This is evidenced by the market for all types of vintage and veteran bikes where prices are higher for totally original machines.
‘One you would like to display in your home would be one done by some of the best custom painters in America.’
Not for me, thank you!
Originality like in these examples is impossible to reproduce. Once it is lost, it’s gone forever…..
It’s been a revelation to me that so many people are interested in my blog! Thank you to many thousands of you for looking and taking interest, and for sending many nice and encouraging comments. So, to all of you in Great Britain, France, USA, Japan, Thailand, Czech Republic, Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Armenia, Mexico, Slovenia, Canada, Portugal (that was just yesterday!) and everywhere else, have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year!