Renault or Bugatti?

Renault or Bugatti?

To North Americans, it may seem odd that the most advanced classic bikes – the ones that have inspired our “real-world” randonneur bikes – came from France. When I was growing up, Italian bikes ruled. British bikes came second. A tier or two below these dream machines were French bikes.
If you wanted the best, you chose an Italian bike: Cinelli, Masi, Colnago, Bianchi were names that cyclist revered. You bought a Peugeot, Gitane and Motobecane if your budget was limited: You got a bike with a full Reynolds 531 frame for half the price of a Cinelli. So you put up with some gaps in the brazing, accepted black-painted instead of chrome-plated lugs, and lived with components that lacked the finish and finesse of Italy’s best.
In the car world, it was similar: You dreamed of an Italian Ferrari or Maserati, or at least an Alfa Romeo. French cars rarely were at the top of the list: Renaults had a dodgy reputation for rust. Citroëns were stricken with poor reliability (caused mostly by mechanics unfamiliar with their advanced technology). Peugeots appealed only to people who weren’t really into cars. Yet today, many of the most prized cars, the ones that win awards at Concours d’Elegance and are featured in magazines, were made in France.
With French cars and bikes, you need to look further back to understand why they are now considered among the very best. During the 1930s, many of the world’s best and most glamorous cars came from France. Bugattis traced their “pur sang” (pure blood) directly to the race cars that dominated during the 1920s. Delages (above) were the ultimate in sporting luxury. And the swoopy Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos (top of the post) were show-stoppers unlike any others. And even the mass-produced machines from Citroën were innovative: They introduced unibody construction and front-wheel drive on a large scale.
It’s easy to overlook that France has long been a leader in technology. The French built Europe’s first space rockets, the first supersonic passenger plane (the Concorde, together with the British), and Europe’s first high-speed trains. Some of the famous car makers are still in business, too. Hispano-Suiza makes jet engines. The original Bugatti company is the world’s largest producer of landing gear for airplanes. Their high-tech expertise made it easy for them to get out of the unprofitable luxury car market and into more lucrative aerospace work.
Speaking of aircraft, during my research for the René Herse book, I learned that both Ettore Bugatti and René Herse worked at the Breguet aircraft factory during the 1920s (Bugatti) and 1930s (Herse). Perhaps this explains why the custom screws on Bugatti’s cars share some design elements with those on Herse’s bikes?
The cross-pollination between the makers of aircraft, cars and bicycles was not limited to René Herse. Louis Delage was a customer of Camille Daudon’s, and he later wrote that his Daudon was the most marvellous piece of machinery he’d ever owned. This from a man whose company made some of the first V12 engines!
Key to understanding the French bicycle builders is their location. Herse, Alex Singer and Daudon all had their shops in or near Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris that specialized in high-end metalworking.
Levallois-Perret was an extraordinary place. The Citroën factory was just across the Seine. The factories of Hispano-Suiza and Delage were nearby. And when Ettore Bugatti designed aircraft engines during World War I, the government installed him here, too. The reason for this concentration was simple: There was a great network of machine shops, foundries, platers…
For the bicycle makers, this meant that they had incredible resources right at their doorsteps. Making stems, brakes, cranks and bottom brackets requires sub-contractors who can forge and machine the components required.
There also was a large pool of skilled labor. Jean Desbois, long-term framebuilder at René Herse, told me how he was hired by Herse when the machine shop where he worked closed during World War II. (His boss didn’t want to work for the Germans.) A number of similarly skilled workers found refuge with the constructeurs of bicycles. It appears that the Germans didn’t expect the bike makers to be of any use for armament production, so they just ignored them. Good thing they didn’t know that Herse was an expert machinist who had worked on prototype aircraft!
It’s much easier to make great bicycles when you are in a neighborhood full of people like Desbois, who was an expert metalworker. During the late 1940s, the lugs on Herse’s frames were filed by two workers from the Morane-Saulnier aircraft factory, who came by the Herse shop after hours. Desbois told me: “They were experts in filing metal.”
Not only did the constructeurs have all the resources needed to make highly advanced bicycles, but they also had a ready clientele. Engineers and other professionals appreciated fine bicycles, and the more technologically advanced the bikes were, the better. These customers not only appreciated every detail of the bikes, but they also were willing to pay for custom racks, lighting wires that ran inside the frames, and innovations like the carbon brushes inside the steerer tubes that transmitted the lighting current from frame to fork without external wires.
This confluence of factors did not exist in other countries, where cycling was very much a working-class sport. Neither Enzo Ferrari in Italy nor the Bentley Boys in Britain had any interest in bicycles. There was little market for ultra-high end cyclotouring bikes.
The great machines from builders like Herse, Singer, Daudon, Routens and Barra have little in common with the mass-produced French ten-speeds that became popular in North America during the Bike Boom. Just like the Bugattis and Delages of the 1930s came from a different world than the sad Renaults that were sold in the U.S. during the 1980s.
The glorious French cars of the streamline era are unaffordable and impractical today, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs remain as exciting to ride now as they were then. The cars may be distant dreams from a bygone era, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs have inspired a new generation of North American constructeurs. Their bikes are ridden every day, and they give their riders as much joy as the originals did more than half a century ago.
Further reading: René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders
Photo credits: David Cooper, Cooper Technica (Delage Aerosport), Peter Rich (Velo-Sport with Ferrari)

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Comments (47)

  • sisyphus

    Great post, Jan!

    December 12, 2014 at 3:49 am
  • Jon Gehman

    I had no idea that Bugatti survived after the 50s, I shouldn’t have been surprised considering their experience with everything from Railway Engines, Racing Aircraft and Boats to one-off Pasta machines made for the sheer pleasure of well made beautiful things. Fine French machinery of all types seem to have a similar element of artistic focus along with the engineering that isn’t there in the same way with things from other countries.
    Along with my love of Lotus’ 7s and 11s, and various Lancia and Alfas, I once bought a Matra D’jet and tried to buy an Alpine 110 for just these reasons(and also because I was still too young to realize what I was getting myself into). If our paths ever cross I think we’ll likely talk about cars as much as bikes…

    December 12, 2014 at 6:54 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s funny how many car companies stopped making cars, and their fortunes immediately improved. Alvis in Britain was a good example – more money in tanks… Unfortunately, the same probably holds true for small bicycle makers. It’s a passion more than a way to make profits.
      René Herse had a hard time retaining his staff, because he didn’t pay them as much as they could earn elsewhere. (Jean Desbois left to become a taxicab driver!) Yet Herse wasn’t getting rich, either… Considering that he was the best – and by far the most expensive – of the constructeurs, that tells you something. And he worked at a time when skilled labor was relatively inexpensive. Today, making beautiful custom bikes is even harder. If you use standard industry labor rates and profit margins, you end up with prices like the Moulton. The top-of-the-line model costs $ 25,000!

      December 12, 2014 at 7:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Bugatti … one-off Pasta machines

      I recall when Bugatti’s pasta maker came up for sale when I was a teenager. Powered by a beautiful Bugatti steering wheel, it was quite the machine! It would be fun to make a replica, and use it whenever pasta is on your menu.

      December 12, 2014 at 7:12 am
  • Alistair Spence.

    Fascinating post Jan. I knew some of these details but you’ve tied together a lot of loose ends for me here. During the time I lived in Paris in the early 90’s my job called for me visit the Levallois-Peret, Neuill-sur-Seine, and Clichy neighborhoods often. I had no idea that that part of city was so heavily involved in manufacturing and metalwork related activities. Very interesting.

    December 12, 2014 at 7:22 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Levallois, Suresnes and all the other suburbs around there have changed so much. Now Cycles Alex Singer has to take their bikes 70 miles to get them chrome-plated! In fact, the Singer shop is probably the only one of these old metalworking shops that remain in the area.
      I remember when I first came to Paris, the old Renault factory on the nearby island in the Seine was still standing, albeit empty. Now the whole island has been redeveloped into an office park, I believe.

      December 12, 2014 at 7:30 am
      • Rando Theo

        On my first trip to Paris, as a teenager, I randomly chose a location in my guidebook and traveled to it my metro and RER: the Parc André Citroën, built on the site of the former Citroën factory only 7.5KM by bike from Cycles Alex Singer. A much better tribute than an office park, it features themed gardens, greenhouses, fountains, large central lawns (where, on my second trip, I was chastised by a French policeman for throwing a Frisbee), and a tethered hot air balloon which will take you up for a view of Paris from above.

        December 12, 2014 at 9:48 am
      • kurtsperry

        Actually the Île Seguin [Ed: where Renault’s factory used to be located] is currently dominated by a rather undeveloped park with community gardens and paths and the home base composed of tents for the Cirque du Soleil troupe. It’s frankly not very picturesque. I think the redoubtable Jean Nouvel has plans drawn up for development but I saw no real sign of even shovels when I last saw it in May.

        December 12, 2014 at 10:51 am
  • Chuck Davis

    Oft overlooked is the Bugatti T251 of 1956 with its rear, transverse straight eight engine. the first rear engined F1 car of the modern era; not withstanding being heavy and slow few cars were as easy on the eye

    December 12, 2014 at 7:46 am
  • marmotte27

    Almost surprising there is still anything left of the once great French industry. So much of it has gone down the drain in the last decades. As for bikes, the French now import and ride Dutch style city bikes, American style Mountain bikes, German style Trekking bikes, completely oblivious of their once great cycling past.

    December 12, 2014 at 9:11 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think that will change. When I was a teenager living in a French family, people mocked my interest in Citroën DS… Now they are sought-after collectibles. The bikes from the French constructeurs already have a following in France, and it’ll eventually influence the mainstream, just like it has in Japan and the U.S. Consider that The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles has been released in a French edition…

      December 12, 2014 at 9:18 am
      • Jon Gehman

        It would be much more likely that one could make more Herse’ quality bicycles than to start churning out Citroen DSs again. Ahh, the Goddess…
        “The French follow no-one, and no-one follows the French”. For better or worse…

        December 12, 2014 at 9:26 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Actually, Rene Herse bicycles do exist – I am riding one that was made in 2011. A Citroën DS can be made only in a mass-production setting, but hand-made bicycles are alive and well. There are many builders who make them one by one, just like in the old days. And the components can be made on a relatively small scale, too, so my Herse even has Herse cranks and now Compass brakes, plus replicas of the old Philippe Professionel handlebars and a classic leather saddle.

          December 12, 2014 at 9:46 am
  • Luis Bernhardt

    Students of business call these places where a single industry thrives “clusters.” Milan is an example of a fashion cluster, as is Silicon Valley and Seattle (well, Bellevue) for computers. And now SLC, Utah for bicycle components!
    The British-made bikes of the 70’s bike boom were highly overrated. Too many unqualified builders trying to profit during a window of opportunity. I have been told that the reason some frames required 26.8 (instead of 27.2) seatposts was because they’d installed the single-butted seat tube upside down, and there were plenty of British-made bikes of that era that took 26.8 seatposts… A lot of frame failures, too. But then even italian bikes were not immune to quality issues. It wasn’t until I started racing a carbon fiber Trek in 1998 that i understood how a bike was supposed to feel in a hard corner. My previous italian bikes were so squirelly in comparison!
    My first good bike back in 1971 was a Peugeot PX-10. I sold it to buy a Paramount (which later broke), but thinking back, I really think the PX-10 was all I really needed. For my ability level, it would have made no difference to my racing vs any other bike I’ve owned; I would have just had to withstand the jeering at riding such an ordinary, non-exotic bike. I just had to upgrade the wheels and components, especially that stupid plastic Simplex derailleur that broke during the Nevada City race! Yeah, I wish i still had it. Press-fit bottom bracket would be required, of course!

    December 12, 2014 at 9:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Clusters like those is also a reason most of our components are made in Taiwan or Japan. Trying to make forged square-taper cranks in the U.S. would be very difficult…

      December 12, 2014 at 10:01 am
      • Gabe

        Yep, high end or custom bicycle production is a good example of cluster economic theory in action. You can currently see it happening in the US in locales like Portland, Northern California, or the greater Boston area amongst others. While the factors for each spatial clusters existence are discreet to their specific locale, they do share some general factors that were also in existence in Paris during the “golden age” of framebuilding.

        December 12, 2014 at 6:13 pm
  • J-D Bamford

    Anyone with an interest in early 20th century French automobiles would love the Mullin Museum in Oxnard, CA. Their bespoke collection of Bugattis, Delahayes, Talbot-Lagos, etc, is jaw dropping. Even my wife wanted to linger in the midst of their technical and artistic beauty…

    December 12, 2014 at 10:44 am
  • bruce dance

    whilst I agree that pre-war French engineering is not well understood, I’d also argue that for other countries, Britain included. It is all now passing from living memory. ‘Touring’ was a different thing in Britain, over different terrain, so touring bikes were different too. If you examine period ‘off the peg’ bikes e.g. from Sun, Selbach and Claud Butler, they might not be Singers, but they are superbly crafted by any standards, often having many innovative engineering features. They were certainly not inexpensive! Also there were hundreds of makers who would indulge the client’s every whim in custom machines. [There is more to see online e.g. at ‘’ and ‘classic’]. They were used by fairly serious riders, too; 250 + miles in a weekend would be commonplace; not a Brevet, just an ordinary club outing!

    December 12, 2014 at 11:29 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that there were wonderful British bikes from various eras. However, there was a class difference, where cycling in Britain was not a pursuit of the upper classes.
      In France, cyclotouring was almost classless – Madame Porthault told me how she didn’t even know the professions of other riders in her club until many years later. One was a high-court judge, the other worked at Renault… It helped that in early post-war France, income inequality was at its lowest ever in that country.

      December 12, 2014 at 11:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Ron Kitching, the famous wholesaler of continental bike parts, tried to sell René Herses in the UK. He wrote in his autobiography that they were too expensive for the British market. He also wrote that the tandem he owned always found many admirers when they took it out. Photos of his stand at the York Rally are in the René Herse book.

      December 12, 2014 at 1:35 pm
  • Bruce Dance

    Racing in Britain was certainly dominated by those from working class backgrounds, and clubs were largely comprised of similar folk. But to construe from this that the upper classes were not cycling at all and that there was thus no market for more expensive machinery is a bit of leap.
    If you bought (say) a Selbach in the 1930’s it cost three or four times as much as a basic machine, and was fitted with roller bearing bottom bracket, roller bearing headset, and Reynolds taper tubed frameset, considered at that time (rightly or wrongly) to be superior to ‘ordinary’ 531 tubing. The cost would be two or three month’s salary for an average working man. Similarly if you (say) bought a Sun Wasp tandem, you were choosing to buy not mere transport, but a machine that cost more than an autocycle with an internal combustion engine. And these were not the most expensive machines available, just the upper end of the ‘off the peg’ ranges.
    Immediately following the war, utility riders and tourists in the UK could of course purchase inexpensive machines, but many chose to buy machines with hub generators (first manufactured in the 1930s), rugged four-speed hub gears, fitted with stainless steel spokes, stainless steel rims, battery-backup lighting, integrated locking (in the frame or the fork) and so forth. These machines were (for mass-produced machines) of remarkable quality, and were sold with a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. I still see them being used as daily transport in my home town, even though they should perhaps be in museums now! Those wanting OTP lightweights were equally well served, and if you were prepared to pay for it, there was arguably never a better time to buy a custom-made frameset/bike. The tubing and the components that would be fitted to it, such as aluminium rims, aluminium handlebars, aluminium brakes, aluminium hubs, precision ball bearings, intricate gear parts etc would (if not custom made) come from nearby factories that would also be producing aircraft parts or other sophisticated military hardware on other lines. Much of this is unknown or forgotten now.
    It ultimately becomes a matter of judgement as to whether one interpretation of ‘a lightweight touring machine’ is/was more valid than another; one thing is certain, that there were superb quality machines being produced in many places at this time to meet the needs of the wealthy/discerning.

    December 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are absolutely right that some of the 1920s and 1930s machines in Britain were world-class. In fact, the tapered tubes inspired some French makers, and of course, Reynolds 531 tubing was developed for the British cycle industry, but became the world standard. The best French bikes, as well as many Italians, were made from 531…

      December 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm
  • Giovanni Calcagno

    Jan, you are right regarding the French cars like Bugattis etc., albeit my all time favourite car is still the Citroen DS (which was designed by Bertoni, an Italian expatriate) though my father was a die hard Alfista who passed to Mercedes when Alfa stopped building rear drives. I like also the Traction Avant . In the 60s and 60s the French built small cars like the 2CV and the R4 which was affordable and reliable yet they are virtually unknown in America. It’s always been a mistery for me why the French wasn’t good at building motorbikes as they was with cars, bicycles and airplane.

    December 12, 2014 at 4:07 pm
  • jeffoyb

    I didn’t know Bugatti was French! … I just sold my uncle’s marvelous old Citroen DS. I’ll sigh about that the rest of my life. I inherited it but it wasn’t running, was trashed, and too far away. And I’m not really a mechanic. …Tho I would’ve become one and learned French to have a car like that. Well, I did have one. For a month. So tonight I’ve been painting a Heller kit model of it. Same colors. Sigh. … I’m surprised no one said VOISIN. Wondrously French Deco almost beyond imagining, it was also first an airplane company and then the starting place of Lefebvre, dashing young engineer who built — and raced — an amazing race car called the Laboratorie. He then changed companies and became lead engineer for … the Citroen TA, 2CV and DS. Come on! Be still my heart!

    December 12, 2014 at 6:49 pm
  • David Pearce

    Very interesting post, Jan. I don’t know enough, I am not experienced enough to add anything to this discussion, but what you have laid out is very interesting.
    But at the same time, I wonder about the other European countries, specifically the Germans. Why do we never learn what German builders did? We have the SON dynamo. Surely Germans were interested in and built bicycles too? What about Polish bicycles? What about Spanish bicycles? What about Russian bicycles? What was happening in the rest of Europe?
    How come Mexico has no indigenous car of its own, but keeps on assembling VW cars and others perhaps, too?

    December 12, 2014 at 8:24 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Good questions. Germany is the biggest bike market, but traditionally had relatively few bike enthusiasts. Just like the U.S. with cars… It almost seems that things need to be luxury goods to draw out the craftsmen who try to improve them and make the best. Italy had few cars, but they were the best. France had more bikes, but nowhere as many as Germany (per capita)… but those who rode often cared more about their bikes and were willing to pay for better ones.

      December 12, 2014 at 8:45 pm
    • mike

      There were a lot of very good framebuilders in germany – at least in the 50/60/70ties. I have only limited knowledge before WW2, but after it bicycle sport was mainly about racing, on tracks and roads. And it was a sport for working class members mainly. Touring bikes in high quality were not very common – the german dream of traveling was doing that with your tiny own car.
      Looks to me like the the french had a more or less unique culture on traveling by bike and doing long distances with it (e.g. Diagonales). This might explain the need and market for high quality bikes with light, fenders and racks?!
      Thanks for the post, Jan,
      with an old Delahaye shown at a Motor Show in Cologne in 1980 my love for old things started. I just was stunned by the elegance of a 1939 Type 165 California ….
      The most exciting story I have ever read on french engineering is the one about Etienne Oehmichen and his first successful flight with a helicopter in 1921. Similar to the story about the frambuilder contests Herse and Singer participated, the french had a contest on developing a helicopter.

      December 15, 2014 at 6:05 am
  • John Duval

    When I began in product development in Los Angeles in the mid 80s, it was common practice to visit all the manufacturers, toolmakers, platers, finishers, injection molders, or whatever other manufacturing resource to do design reviews at the drop of a hat. Their expert feedback was priceless in learning my trade. Now all these resources are overseas, while language and culture barriers make learning difficult, and developing or using new manufacturing techniques is much more difficult. Now my young staff learns manufacturing from me instead of manufacturers. I know first hand how valuable these manufacturing clusters are.

    December 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I totally agree, which is why Compass Bicycles has an engineer in Taiwan. It’s also one of the reasons why we’ve visited Japan – apart from the great riding and wonderful food! You simply cannot communicate effectively by e-mail. The subtleties are lost, and you never get the type of discussions that you can have when meeting people in person and speaking their language.

      December 12, 2014 at 8:46 pm
  • alliwant

    I think your final observation is very telling The bicycles of decades past are still fine rides, but the cars are impractical. I’ve come to believe that the bicycle as developed over the last century or so is a timeless innovation, one that will last longer than most of us care to imagine.

    December 13, 2014 at 12:31 am
  • starostneradost

    May I add that the French did not build the first supersonic jet plane – the Americans did (Chuck Yeager and all that), but one thing which is very much on our desks today owes much to the French – the personal computer (Bull) and the internet (minitel).

    December 13, 2014 at 4:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right about the Concorde – my wording was imprecise. I corrected the post to read “first supersonic passenger plane”.

      December 13, 2014 at 5:38 am
  • Paul Richard

    Wonderful essay. It must have been a wonderful time to be in and around Paris when the great builders were at their peaks. But today, USA seems to be the center of the universe for bikes inspired by Herse/Singer/Routens, etc. it is, indeed a wonderful time to be cycling in America! You note that chrome plating was and is important to bike builders. I see chrome plating being challenged by environmental regulations. There are companies actively looking for alternatives to create similar surfaces with different methods. One way is thermal spraying of nickel chromium blends and then polishing to achieve the same hardness and corrosion protection expected from Chrome. In an interesteing twist, this new approach is largely being driven by the aircraft industry, where chrome plating is still used in many areas. One of the leaders in thermal spraying chrome surfaces is the French aerospace company, Safran. I am involved in the thermal spray industry, and I could see this technology eventually being common for constructreurs. Good news for us all.

    December 13, 2014 at 5:08 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Chrome-plating is not good for the environment, as it creates hazardous waste. I feel that if you create something of lasting beauty and function, then even with the current process, it’s a worth while trade-off. Chrome-plating a few tiny pieces of cycling equipment will make them beautiful and functional for decades. However, chrome-plating pickup truck bumpers, which are expected to last 10 years at best, and doing so in Mexico, where the environmental practices leave a lot to be desired, seems like an incredible waste to me.
      The thermal spray process sounds interesting. Can it be sprayed uniformly enough to create the brilliant luster that the chrome baths produce?

      December 13, 2014 at 5:55 am
      • Paul Richard

        I have a question out to a business associate who owns a thermal spray facility. In the meantime, I did find a Rogers University paper where it is noted that “optical mirror” finishes can be achieved, although it is a result of polishing. I know that is a part of the process, but it seems that it relatively cost effective, and is not facing the same environmental challenges as traditional plating.

        December 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm
  • Giovanni Calcagno

    Is the thermal spry process also called PVD?
    I am having a new rando bike build by a local builder here in Italy and the chrome plater proposed this new PVD process. He says is more expensive than chrome plating but much more hard and durable

    December 13, 2014 at 6:12 am
    • Paul Richard

      PVD is considered a thin film coating. A vapor is applied in vacuum chamber of some kind. I am not as familiar with it, but I think it can create very strong coatings. for example, it is used to coat drills and tools and can extend their life substantially. Oerlikon, a Swiss company, Is one of the leaders in PVD, and they just bought another Swiss company that is the leader in thermal spray technologies. Thermal spray coatings are thicker, but can also be as thin as a chome plate finish. I will find out more about the comparison to actual chrome plating processes and share with this blog.

      December 13, 2014 at 10:03 am
    • Paul Richard

      Based on what I have learned, you are going to have the best solution from your frame builder! I asked an industry expert, and he confirmed that thermal spray still has not been able to duplicate the thin coating and high luster of chrome plating, but PVD can do it. It seems the limiting factor is the size of the vacuum chambers (they are usually maximum 1 cubic meter), so complete frames might be difficult. But, perhaps this is the future for chrome solutions.

      December 15, 2014 at 6:18 am
      • Rob

        To bring this back to the golden age, Hurtu in Paris offered thermally coated, metalized steel frames in the late 1940s. Possible coatings included aluminium, nickel and cadmium. These metals were vaporized and sprayed onto the steel.

        December 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The Hurtus I have seen were painted, but amazing in many details nonetheless. The tandem we featured in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 3 with its bifurcated seat tubes (single tube at the bottom, two tubes at the top) was nothing short of mindboggling. Add twin top tubes, and you wonder how it all rode. The top-of-the-line model even had a bifurcated down tube…

          December 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm
  • Tom Howard

    What a fascinating and very timely post. Just the other day I was wondering whether the surge in custom and semi-custom bikes that has taken root in the U.S. had also emerged — or should I say re-emerged — in France. On Google I found a French page for Alex Singer cycles, but I couldn’t decipher much because I don’t read French. Here’s hoping that a future issue of Bicycle Quarterly will devote space to modern day French constructeurs. I would read every word. Oh, wait. I already read each issue cover to cover.

    December 13, 2014 at 10:21 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There are some custom builders in France, but most make racing bikes. Cycles Alex Singer and Gilles Berthoud are among the few who specialize in cyclotouring bikes. We’ve covered both of the latter: There have been a number of articles on Alex Singer, starting with the very first issue that was dedicated entirely to this wonderful shop. We also tested a Berthoud bike.

      December 14, 2014 at 8:25 am
  • thebvo

    What’s the story behind the Ferrari 275 GTB in front of the bike shop?
    Just another day in Seattle? I doubt the owner will be taking that up any gravel mountain passes in the future, but boy oh boy that sounds like fun to me! On a Herse, or a Ferrari…

    December 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      That photo was taken in the 1960s – that is Peter Rich’s Velo-Sport in Berkeley, CA. Seems like the Ferrari was owned by a customer of theirs. The photo originally was published with the Peter Rich interview in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 4, No. 4. Peter had a lot of interesting things to tell about cycling in Europe and the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s…

      December 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm
      • Luis Bernhardt

        I never met Peter Rich, but I lived in Berkeley (where I went to elementary and junior high school) in the early-mid 60’s, and I bought my first bike as an adult at Velo-Sport (a cheap Japanese-made Centurion). In junior high, a friend of mine always talked about bike racing, and I learned who Jacques Anquetil was. This friend had an older brother who was a local bike racer, and I would be regaled with stories of training rides down the potted San Pablo Dam Road, and crashing at feed zones. And as a matter of fact, their family owned a real French Citroen with the air-oil suspension. They’d sometimes drive up to Burbank Jr. High (later to be named West Campus Berkeley High School) to let my friend off, and they’d release the air and the car would drop about five inches. Very cool for a young teen.
        In 1971, Peter Rich put on the very first Tour of California. It had all the local and US teams, including the national team with John Howard and John Allis, plus a team from British Columbia that included Brit Roger Sumner and German Sigi Koch. Augustin Alcantara brought the Mexican Windsor team, and on the gravel-covered Ebbets Pass climb, the then-37-year-old Sabas Cervantes took off alone and won the stage. Alcantara then promised that a Mexican would win all the subsequent stages, and they did, with Alcantara taking the GC. I only saw the race when it went thru Berkeley, all these Ford Pintos with bikes mounted on top!
        Years later, when I raced masters-age stage races in Mexico, Sabas still showed up to win his age group, still in the blue Windsor jersey, and aided by his Windsor teammates.

        December 15, 2014 at 10:41 am

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