French Bicycle Luggage 1 – Panniers – Lafuma, Sologne, Berthoud

It’s always good to have luggage the fits the age and style of the bicycle… In this case the French touring bicycle. Below are examples of small panniers from three French makers, from different periods – Lafuma, Sologne and Berthoud. The Lafuma examples are the earliest, dating from the 1950’s/60’s, whilst the Sologne items were supplied new with an Alex Singer bicycle in 1970 and hardly used. The Berthoud pannier is new. Berthoud bought the Sologne brand many years ago and continues to make a range of their products today, largely to the old patterns, but brought up to date with modern attachments.

There has been much debate elsewhere about the quality of Berthoud items in comparison with the original Sologne pieces, and indeed I would agree that the finest bags pictured here are the Sologne ones, but one has to remember that as well as the problems of finding skilled workers today to make these items, the materials change over the years too. The leather used by Berthoud is not as good as the Sologne bags, whilst the canvas is much the same high quality. The backing boards on the Berthoud bags are also robust, probably better than Sologne. The plastic Rixen and Kaul attachments, which adapt to virtually any rack, are ugly and obtrusive but the latest versions of these work well in practice. Previous R & K fittings had design problems, were fiddly to adjust, and often broke. The point about the Berthoud items is that for the price, they are really a very fine quality item, and are well suited to a stylish modern bicycle. They also age nicely, the canvas fades a bit and they acquire ‘patina’. If you want the exceptional quality it comes at a price – Check out the beautiful items made by Shoichi Watanabe.

Lafuma comes third in my reckoning. Thinner canvas, cheapish quality leather and lightweight rivets and fittings, characterise these offerings. On all of the ones that I’ve seen, the backing boards distort badly and are not waterproof. Rather than the functional spring anchor on the reverse of the Sologne bag, there is a crude leather tie to secure the pannier to the rack – fiddly and not very secure. Nonetheless they look ‘correct’ and function reasonably on a period machine where they are likely to encounter only light use.

In later posts I will take a look at French handlebar bags and early cycling luggage.

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Randonneur Handlebar Bag

I’m trying to improve my skills on the heavy-duty sewing machine which will open up more possibilities for making things. A simple tip from a very helpful gentleman in a sewing machine repair shop, where I went to get some new needles, helped a great deal in taming the beast of a machine. It was simply to slacken off the drive belt so take up of power is much more gradual. This has stopped the machine running away at full speed and out of control! As a result I made this fairly simple handlebar bag out of proofed canvas and J. and F.J. Baker oak bark tanned leather. I say ‘simple’ but it wasn’t all that easy! All the raw edges had to be bound with bias binding, and getting the pattern right was tricky. I now have the utmost respect for the people who make Gilles Berthoud’s beautiful bags which are so very complex and beautifully made. I’m pleased with the results.

The bag is shown fitted to my partner’s very beautiful Gaidou randonneuse which will be featured here at a later date.

Barralumin Laterale Randonneuse c.1948

I’ve just completed this spectacular Barralumin aluminium bicycle made by Nicola Barra.

When I bought it there were a just a few parts missing including the wheels, and it has taken some time to find exactly the right period parts. No ‘restoration’ as such was carried out, just very careful cleaning and light hand polishing only… which took about 50 hours! It was very important not to damage the full set of original transfers. Being a large 62cm frame (c to c) Barra presumably added the extra lateral tubes for additional rigidity. All main tubes are in Barra’s extraordinary tubing which transitions from vertical oval at the head, to round, to horizontal oval at the BB.  The quality of workmanship is amongst the best I have ever seen on any bicycle and is a testament to Barra’s great skills as an innovative aluminium welder and frame builder.

Interesting features include the rear derailleur spring being INSIDE the chainstay. The spring is anchored inside the BB and a cable attached to the other end exits just in front of the RD. The handlebar stem is made by Barra and even has hand made aluminium nuts and bolts. Front changer is a Le Chat with a beautiful Barra-made sliding changer and lever. His own cantilever brakes are fitted and these have adjustable toe-in!

Barra custom parts: Front and rear racks, handlebar stem and bolts, Cyclo gear hanger, cantilever brakes with adjustable toe-in, duralumin brake wire hangers with adjustable rods (made from bicycle spokes), steel front and rear brake cable hangers (rear incorporating seat pin clamp), front changer mechanism and rod, internal rear derailleur spring. Internal dynamo wiring.

Other parts: Stronglight chainset with Cyclo Rosa alloy rings, Stronglight alloy BB, Lyotard pedals with Lapize duralumin toe clips, Cyclo alloy 4 speed rear derailleur, Le Chat front derailleur, AVA handlebars, GB end plugs, Mafac Guidonnet levers, Mavic 650B rims, MaxiCAR hubs (blue seals), Trois Etoiles spokes, Bell wingnuts, Grand Bois tyres, Ideale 57 saddle, Soubitez dynamo and lamps.

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Found Inside 1953 René Herse Frame……

I started work today on a 1953 René Herse Randonneuse. When I removed the fork I found that the ends of the top tube and the down tube were plugged with screwed up pieces of paper. The top one was a sheet of lined paper with some indiscernible faded writing on it and the other was a flyer for Stronglight, stating their victories in competition during 1952, including the Bordeaux-Paris. I wondered why Herse would have plugged the tubes like this and the only thing I can think of is that they might prevent contamination of the Herse dynamo contact brush located in the head tube, if the bike was turned upside down. Question is… should I put it back?!

L. Pitard Campeur Bicycle c.1948

Louis Pitard Cyclocamping bicycle c.1948. Frame number 388. Made in Paris to high specification this bike is light and has all the best parts of the period. The front rack is braced to the front brake cable hanger, whilst the rear low-rider rack is removable. I suspect the tubing is either Reynolds 531 or top of the range Vitus, due to the low weight of the frame.

The bike was quite rough looking when I got it, but many hours of careful cleaning brought it back to a very presentable state.

There was very little wear on any of the parts. Pedals and chainrings are like new, so it clearly didn’t do much camping! I suspect everything is original except for the rear lamp. I replaced the perished rubber handlebar grips with tape and shellac, and replaced the broken rubber mudflap and damaged toestraps with leather to exactly the same dimensions.

Parts are: Early Mavic rims on MaxiCAR hubs, Stronglight chainset with Cyclo Rosa chainrings, Cyclo rear mech, Le Chat/Pitard front mech, early MAFAC brakes and guidonnet levers, AVA randonneur bars, Soubitez lighting, Durex mudguards.

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Recent Discovery: G.Ferrand Randonneuse c.1950

A recent discovery in the UK, this is a rare machine built by little known constructeur George Ferrand in Macon, France around 1952 for Medwin Clutterbuck, a well known English Cycletourist. He travelled extensively in France, the UK and USA both pre and post-WW2. He was CTC Consul for Sussex and wrote a self-published memoir of his cycletouring adventures when he was in his 80’s. Prior to World War II Clutterbuck became friends with Rabauld, Editor of ‘Le Cycliste’, as well as the cartoonist Jacques Faizant, and he also met a jeweller and cyclotourist called Charles Daussin, who lived in Macon. It is assumed that Daussin introduced him to Ferrand.

The bike is on 650B wheels and is made of light tubing. It has numerous nice details: Finely electric welded frame, custom front and rear racks and bottle cage, hand made front changer, Herse type cartridge bottom bracket, custom stem with brazed on boss for bell, internal brake and dynamo cabling, internal expander seatpost, brazed on mileometer bracket, rear cable guide, chain slap guard.

Parts fitted are top quality too with the rare 5 speed Cyclo gear, MaxiCAR hubs, Bell wingnuts, Mavic canti’s, Stronglight 49D, AVA bars, GB end plugs, Lefol Le Paon guards, Ideale 48 Professionel alloy saddle, Wolber Super Randonneur tyres, Ad-Hoc pump, Radios lights and JOS dynamo.

It is completely original except for later Mavic rims. It is light and rides very well indeed.

Does anyone out there know anything about this fine maker?

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René Herse Mixte 1947

A wonderful example of an early Herse Ladies Mixte bicycle from 1947. In completely original condition and as per the receipt which came with the bike. All original finish and lining, with unusual Gothic Herse handpainted script on downtube, and no RH initials on head.  Herse chainset and stem. Lam brakes. Cyclo 4 speed gear. Grand Bois 700 x 28 tyres on Record alloy rims, Trois Étoile spokes and Maxi hubs. The nice little cast rear rack is missing its stays, and not knowing what they looked like I’m having a long think about what to do to replace them and blend them in with the bike. Any suggestions?

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Barra c.1940-41

A very rare steel light touring bicycle by constructeur Nicola Barra. Original finish and transfers. Fillet brazed Vitus tubing. Barra front and rear racks and Barra handlebar stem. Duprat Professionels cranks and Stronglight alloy ring. Tank pedals. Cyclo aluminium 3 speed gear. Alloy 650B rims, Maxi hubs and Trois Étioles spokes. Grand Bois Hetre tyres. Durex mudguards. Mafac cantilever brakes (probably replacements) Ideale 63 Cyclo-Touriste saddle. Later Jos lighting. Almost finished with just a few details to sort out….. nice papillons need to be found, a couple of the cyclo cable tabs are broken and do I change the handlebars to drops?

Better known for his Aluminium bicycles (Barralumin), Barra also made porteurs ––42730275.html – and steel bicycles such as this one. Steel machines of his are rarer than the aluminium ones. He is also credited with inventing the first modern cantilever brake around 1936. These brakes even had adjustable toe-in.

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Alex Singer 1970

An excellent example of the work of the great Paris constructeur Alex Singer, or rather Ernest Csuka, who took over the business when Singer passed away. Dating from 1970 it has beautifully filed simple spearpoint lugwork and is finished in the house pale blue metallic with part chrome stays and forks. This randonneuse is on 700c’s and is fitted with the Singer hand-made stem and front rack, and chainstay protector braze-ons. Mavic rims on Campagnolo hubs, Spidel derailleur and simplex retro-friction changers. TA cyclotouriste triple chainset and 6 speed block. Maillard 700 pedals. Mafac Racer brakes. Brooks Professional saddle on Simplex alloy post. Lined alloy mudguards with Singer custom mounting reinforcements. Shellac coated handlebar tape.