Anjou Velo Vintage 2013 – Team Alex Singer to the rescue!

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This year’s edition of Anjou Velo Vintage was an enjoyable affair, despite the weather trying its best to spoil it. Many hundreds of vintage bicycles gathered at Saumur, in the Loire Valley, for the weekend rides. There are many images of the event on the internet which capture the atmosphere far better than I could, but I’ve found no better than Romain’s fantastic photographs here. Tomoko was riding her Barra whilst I was on my 1948 Alex Singer. During the 87Km ride I glanced down at my Stronglight chain ring and saw that one of the bolts was coming undone. At the crest of the hill I stopped where a bunch of cyclists were congregated. By extraordinary chance they turned out to be Olivier Csuka ( the owner of the Alex Singer shop in Paris ) and ‘Team Singer’, all on beautiful Singer bikes, including a superb 1950 chrome tandem and Ernest Csuka’s personal bike, both illustrated in the ‘Golden Age’ book. An 8mm spanner was quickly produced and Olivier insisted on tightening the chain ring bolts for me. After many handshakes, the ‘Entente Cordiale’ was strengthened and I was on my way to complete the ride despite some vicious winds and heavy showers which necessitated hiding under a tree for a while.

Many thanks to Olivier Csuka and Team Singer!

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Olivier Csuka lamenting my technique
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Nearly there!
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Dejouannet Bicycles – A brief History

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’.

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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.

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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.

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Martial and Marcel Dejouannet in the workshop in Bressuire in 1981, aged 84 and 59 respectively. Courtesy Mme F. and Mme C. Dejouannet

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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.

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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.

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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

Goëland Special Randonneur c.1950 with Spirax Derailleur

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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

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René Herse by Jan Heine – Book Review

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Vintage Bicycle Restoration 2.1 – Preserving a Dejouannet Randonneuse

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.

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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!

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You can read further about my approach to restoration here and here.

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.

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The full stops between the letters denote early 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)

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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.

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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….

Hottest day of the year ride

First of all, my apologies for the lack of posts lately. Vintage Bicycle Blog is re-locating (subject to contract!) to the lovely countryside of the Lincolnshire Wolds, where a large coach house awaits the bicycle collection and workshop. I’ve been busy having a major clear-out and preparing for the move.

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year and, since its cooler on the bike, we went for a ride to the beer festival at the Compasses pub at Littley Green. The temperature soared to 32 degrees whilst we tasted a few fine real ales. There was a huge thunderstorm in the middle of the day, at which point we were safely under cover eating our lunch. In attendance was a very nice 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Le Mans replica, and there was ploughing by vintage tractors in the field behind. Fine examples of Fordson, Ferguson and Caterpillar tractors with period ploughs were in action. A lovely event with a very amiable atmosphere.

Later we cycled on to teas in Pleshey Churchyard, with wonderful home made cakes and lashings of tea. Tomoko was riding her 1946 René Herse, which she reports hardly needs pedalling at all, and I was on my 1970 Alex Singer.

All in all, a grand day out!

Reyhand Tandem ‘Road King’ c.1936

This Reyhand Tandem was built by the legendary Lyon maker André Reiss. Reiss had a short career, beginning constructing bicycles under his own name around 1934. Sadly he was killed in action in the Second World War in 1940. Reyhand won the Critérium Cyclotouriste des Alpes four years in a row from 1934. In 1935 the bicycle piloted by Bernadet covered 643 kilometres and 11,000 metres of elevation. The machine weighed just 10 kilograms. Reiss also won the Concours de Machines (or Technical Trials) of the Groupe Montagnard Parisien three years in a row from 1935 to 1937, and the Grand Prix Duralumin. The emphasis of these events was lightness combined with quality of construction and reliability. His machines used the newly available Duralumin components to achieve light weight combined with strength. Reiss’s exceptional quality bicycles and tandems quickly became highly desirable, and his machines were in the very top price bracket, such was their cachet. His tandems employed the twin diagonal bracing which he patented.

Reyhand produced a ‘Week End’ model tandem which was made from Durifort tubing, weighing 24 kilograms fully equipped, but his top of the range machines used Reynolds 531 and duralumin components to achieve a very low weight of approximately 16.5 kilograms, very light indeed for a 1930’s tandem. This is one of the more expensive lightweight machines, designated ‘Road’s [sic] King’ in the 1938 Reyhand catalogue.

Parts include early Stronglight cranks, cantilever brakes, 5 speed Cyclo gear, Lefol brake levers and mudguards with Comodo rear rack, Maxi rear drag brake, Mavic alloy rims, AVA stem and handlebars. Non-original parts include the front wheel and the the chain rings (I’m looking for a ‘Cyclo Rosa’ double chain ring set if anyone can help please?) Other nice features include the bracing on the non drive side rear to add strength for the rear drag brake, and the internal cable routing for this brake.

It’s likely that this machine was ‘updated’ later by the addition of cantilever brakes replacing the original Jeay calipers, and re-painted. It also seems likely that these works were done by the Reyhand shop, since the finish and lining decorations are very similar to Henry Chaix’s Reyhand on p.30 of ‘The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles’, and the person who did the work had access to the Reyhand transfers.

The original paint finish was silver but unfortunately it has been coated with a badly applied coat of brown varnish, presenting a big problem to remove this coating without destroying the original lining. Preserving this wonderful tandem will be a long term project!

Click on photo’s to enlarge

French alloy mudguards – Mavic INAL and Robineau RBN

Lefol is a familiar name in the manufacture of mudguards or fenders, particularly for their Martelé (hammered type) and Le Paon (Zeppelin type) versions. But here are two lesser known makes of mudguard fitted to quality French touring bicycles… RBN and Mavic. RBN is the brand name of Robineau, based in Paris at least from the 1930’s until the 1950’s. They made mudguards under the model names of Durex, Alrex and Mangalium, and also chain guards. Pictured here are three different versions of the Durex type – the earlier ones fitted to a 1938 Barra have a rather nice scalloped decoration and a very simple script ‘RBN’, whilst the later version fitted to a Pitard, date from the late 40’s or early 50’s and have the more familiar RBN decorative trademark stamping in the shape of a tree. Both types are for 650b wheel sizes, and have flattish profiled sides, whilst the last one pictured is half round for 700c, and were fitted as original equipment to a 1953 René Herse. Obviously Durex mudguards offer superior protection! Mavic, of course the maker of very fine wheel rims, also made mudguards with the INAL model name. Here they are pictured as original fittings on a 1948 Alex Singer. Again, they are for 650b and have flattish sides.

Le Couco-Coo – French Alloy Bell

Fitted to my porteur is this rather nice novelty of a French alloy and steel bell… The Couco-Coo. You can hear what it sounds like here! It has a very simple mechanism which cleverly strikes the alloy top bell first and the steel lower bell on the return stroke thus making the couco-coo sound! There is a cockerel embossed into the lever and the name is on the other side.

Bicycle Luggage 2 – Sologne Fishing Creel on 1946 Porteur Bicycle

As well as bicycle luggage, the Sologne Company made a range of other quality items. Not strictly for bicycles but ideal for the Porteur front rack, this is their fishing bag or creel, probably dating from the 1950’s/1960’s. Formed around the basket is a ‘jacket’ of leather-edged canvas, secured to the basket by leather straps. The hole in the top is to feed in the fish you have caught. There is a removable canvas strap. It is very light indeed and, being particularly large in size for a creel, there is plenty of space inside for other uses… I regularly use it for the post office run. More pictures of the porteur here.