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.


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!




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.


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)


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….

Bicycle Restoration – A contrasting view

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 thought 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 made 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…..








Vintage Bicycle Restoration 1 – Restoration or preservation?

People often ask me about how to restore a bicycle. My first question is does it really need restoring?’. My personal philosophy is that I try to avoid restoration wherever possible. I consider that rare bicycles are important historical objects which should be treated with respect and sympathy, and their handling should be like that a painting might receive in a museum. For instance, over-painting or traces of poor restoration might be removed, but originality retained as much as possible. Unlike items in a museum, though, I prefer bikes to be usable.

Often bicycles are restored without a proper assessment of their condition taking place. So, the first thing to do is to clean the machine carefully but thoroughly, removing all encrusted dirt to establish the condition of the surfaces beneath (although there is some argument for leaving a certain amount of dirt as it can be considered part of the machine’s patina!) Oily and greasy parts can be cleaned off with paraffin, but avoid getting this on transfers or lining. Areas of paintwork can be tested by intensive cleaning with a mildly abrasive material such as 0000 wire wool or Renaissance ‘Pre-Lim’, which cleans away dirt leaving no damaging residue, again keeping away from transfers and lining. Then you have an idea of how to proceed.

I would say that my approach is much more about preservation than restoration. For instance, if a bicycle has original transfers I would not consider re-finishing it, even if they are just fragments. Modern reproduction transfers, if you can get them, are often little like the originals (see BSA below and Lea & Francis above), particularly if they contain gold and silver. I dislike varnishing over transfers as many people do because it looks inconsistent with the original finish and can yellow the transfers badly. I prefer to use an acid free polish like Renaissance Wax, which is used by museums to protect metal items and paintwork. Re-applied sparingly from time to time this provides good protection for fragile transfers, and has nothing harmful in it to degrade them. However, you do need to test a small area first to make sure the transfer is not affected in a negative way.

Modern paint finishes, too, are unlike the finishes of 50-120 years ago. (There is a parallel in car restoration where modern 2-pack paints look so very different to original cellulose paint finishes. 2-pack paint acquires no patina with time, whereas cellulose ages gracefully.) An example is my Lea & Francis Roadster. This bicycle is completely unrestored and in exceptional condition. The original enamel has more of a satin look, having been rubbed down many times before final polishing, and also due to the nature of the enamel used. Powder coating has no place on a vintage bicycle. It does not look at all ‘right’ in my opinion and should you need to remove it, it is a nightmare.

Likewise old nickel plating is quite different to nickel plating available today. The chemical constituency of modern nickel makes it look a different colour as well as having a different surface sheen. Take a look at the like-new original nickel of the 1908 Lea & Francis below. I particularly hate re-plating over pitted metal. This can also be dangerous when over ambitious polishing to get rid of pitting can thin the corroded metal to unsafe levels. I have heard of more than one re-plated handlebar breaking as a result of this. Better, I think, to leave the pitting, accept it as part of the history of the machine, and just clean and burnish it to distinguish the bright parts from the painted frame. I did this with the Rover safety bicycle.

The result of re-finishing and re-plating can mean that the bicycle looks very little like it did when new, although it may seem perfectly acceptable to people who have not researched the subject. I would much prefer to see a distressed original bicycle showing a history of its previous use and the patina of many years, than a shiny, glitzy machine purportedly restored to ‘like new’ condition. Very often corrosion looks worse than it is and careful cleaning of metal using different grades of wire wool, brass brushes and polish can produce a very acceptable finish. Here is an example of just that on my Pitard. I disassembled the corroded items on this front derailleur and cleaned off the corrosion on the wire wheel of the bench grinder. This was followed by polishing with increasingly finer grades of wire wool, and finally a protective coating applied to prevent it going rusty again. Jade oil is good for this purpose. I could have had these parts re-chromed, but deep polishing would have had to be done to remove the pitting, and then the newly plated shiny items would have been completely inconsistent with an otherwise original bicycle. I much prefer the the more subtle and restrained look achieved here.

I’ll be covering some more aspects of preserving vintage bicycles in later posts.