‘Cycles de France’ Book Review

Cycles de France has been available for just over a year, but it occurred to me that a lot of people may well not have come across it, since it is privately published. It deserves some recognition!

The book is written by Patrick Munoz and Philippe Montagné and consists of a large private collection of French bicycles, ranging from a 1900 Hirondelle to a 1984 René Herse. The text is in French, but if you can’t speak the language, then the excellent photographs more than compensate. The text is not extensive, so is easy to translate if you wish to learn more. The book is almost 200 pages long and there are 90 bicycles illustrated in detail!

As you would expect there are a number of bicycles from the great makers like Herse, Singer, Routens, Charrel and Barra, but there are also many much less known makers like Ferdinand, Maury, Sablière and Bourdel. The distinguishing important characteristic is that almost all of them are in highly original condition, quite often even down to period tyring and handlebar tape.

The book is a large format 30 x 23 cm, and a double page is devoted to each cycle. A photograph of the drive side of each machine is supplemented by several details, all well chosen and illustrating the many fascinating features of these unique bicycles. Additionally there are related illustrations from cycling journals, pricipally Le Cycliste, and Daniel Rebour’s wonderful period drawings of novelties from the very bicycles that we are looking at in the photo’s. The standard of photography is excellent, and the print reproduction very good too. There are also some related period photographs, advertising signs and posters, which further add to the interest.

The majority are classic touring bicycles, but there are also some town bikes, porteurs and a number of racers, including Jacques Anquetil’s aluminium 1953 Barra, on which he won the Paris-Normandie time trail in August of that year. The bicycle weighed just 7.75 Kg! This machine is deservedly honoured with four pages of the book. Jean Wauters 1934 Tour de France cycle, and Luis Ocana’s Zeus from the 1975 season, are 2 more racing bicycles.

There are many terrific examples of Herse and Singer, but just a few of the stand out bicycles for me were the two early rare Hirondelle bi-chaine machines; a late 1930’s Schultz tandem, a most innovative and extraordinary machine in outstanding original condition; the beautiful ladies Camille Daudon with his characteristic curved front rack and tool kit concealed in the handlebar stem; a magnificent Hugonnier Routens tandem weighing just 19.6 Kg, that looks fast standing still; the Narcisse of Henry Janot, and a unique Cycles Innovation with triangular tubing!

One outstanding detail is on a lovely little Alex Singer porteur. Attached to the front mudguard is a small plaque with some text from Dr.Ruffiér’s 1929 publication ‘Vive la Bicyclette’. Roughly translated it concludes: ‘It is a complete and definitive invention. We found it, it’s a wonder, and we will never replace it.’ What a wonderful and highly correct sentiment, which is amplified by the magnificent bicycles found in this very fine book. I highly recommend it.

The book costs 60 Euro plus postage and is available here. It’s worth every cent!

This post is published with the kind permission of the author. The writer of this article bought his own copy.