SKF Bottom Brackets with French Threads

SKF Bottom Brackets with French Threads

Many wonderful bikes have been made in France in past decades. Not just the great machines from small constructeurs like René Herse and Alex Singer (above), but also more common bikes like the Peugeot PX-10, the nicer Gitanes and many others. High-end French bikes often used relatively lightweight tubing and a geometry with relatively low trail, which made them perform and handle very well.
The only “problem” with many French bikes is that they use metric threads and dimensions. Even though the world has adopted the metric system (with the exception of one rather large country), the bike industry has standardized on British units for most components.
This means that finding parts for French bikes can be difficult. For stems, the difference is small (22.2 vs. 22.0 mm). You can lightly sand a modern stem, and it will fit into the steerer tube. Seatposts and derailleurs don’t wear out quickly, and used parts can do the job. That leaves bottom brackets as a major problem. The days when Campagnolo, Shimano, Edco and many other companies made high-quality French-threaded bottom brackets are long gone.
To alleviate this situation, we now offer SKF bottom brackets with French threading. There is a small upcharge, because they are made in very small production runs. Like all SKF bottom brackets, the French versions carry a 10-year warranty that includes the bearings. All square-taper spindle lengths are in stock now in British, Italian and French threading. Click here for more information.

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Comments (23)

  • Greg

    Brilliant! I have been hoping for this for some time. Now even more of those great vintage French framesets will get resurrected and pressed into service (which is a good thing…). Are all lengths available, or just certain key ones (116 comes quickly to mind…).

    April 6, 2013 at 10:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      All lengths are available, both in JIS and ISO taper. We don’t offer ISIS spindles in French threading, but even those could be made on special order. (All SKF bottom brackets use the same shell and bearings, only the spindles are different.)

      April 6, 2013 at 10:40 am
    • Chuck Davis

      The only down side to this might well be trying to find (what be neccessary on occaision) French BB taps to clean up that old BB shell

      April 7, 2013 at 4:01 pm
      • Greg

        I’ve got those, no problem. Fork die (in French threading) as well…

        April 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Usually, if there is a BB in there already, you take it out and put a new one in. With a cartridge unit, like the SKF, you don’t need to worry about facing the BB shell.

          April 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm
  • Steve Palincsar

    Headsets and pedals for French bikes are problems as well, aren’t they?

    April 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Headsets: The pressed-in cups are the same size. The threaded cup and locknut are very close. Way back, as a student, I once accidentally installed a French-threaded Stronglight A9 headset on an Italian frame/fork. There were a few aluminum shavings when we first put it on… It’s still on there, and has lasted more than 60,000 miles.
      Pedals: French, BSC and ITAL pedals are very close. For a while, TA made one model called “BSC/FR”. My old Singer actually uses clipless pedals in FR cranks. The first time, they were a little hard to screw in, but ever since, it’s been fine.

      April 6, 2013 at 3:42 pm
    • Greg

      French-threaded (M14 x 1.25) crank arms (especially aluminum ones) are easily re-tapped to ‘standard’ (9/16 x 20) threads. Yes, the headset threads are different, but French-threaded headsets are out there (both new and NOS ones). The bottom brackets were really the primary issue, imo, as they are crankset-specific (but need to thread into the frame that you want to use them for), so there are many permutations of them, and almost no one except Phil Wood and Co. makes French-thread versions of current-production high-quality bottom brackets (until now!). This is a really smart move, in my opinion. It will take time to build up sales of these bottom brackets, but there are zillions of French-threaded frames out there that are no longer so ‘unusable.’ The 22.0 mm stem quill diameter issue is a PITA, but as Jan suggested, you can get creative in solving that one sometimes….

      April 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        French-threaded (M14 x 1.25) crank arms (especially aluminum ones) are easily re-tapped to ‘standard’ (9/16 x 20) threads.

        Even though most bike shops have the taps for pedal threads, my experience is that you often can just screw in the modern BSC pedals.

        April 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm
  • somervillebikes

    There are other options for French threaded BBs. You can take any Shimano UN71/72 (readily obtainable NOS) and replace the rings with Phil French rings. Also IRD sells replacement rings including French threaded for their cartridge units.
    As for pedal threads, I wouldn’t ever try threading in BSC pedals into M14 cranks; too much chance of cross-threading, and the pedal will always be difficult to put on and take off. Re-tapping French cranks to BSC is so effortless and fool-proof that it doesn’t make sense not to. Taps are inexpensive ($30) if you want to do it yourself. I have several sets of French threaded arms that I re-tapped to BSC and this way I can easily swap any modern pedal between bikes as needed. I only have one remaining French threaded crankset, which has a pair of French threaded pedals that never need to get swapped between other bikes.

    April 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I often find it difficult to determine whether a set of cranks is BSC or FR. The threads really are very close – hence TA offered an “in-between” pedal that fit both.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm
      • Greg

        I’m still with the others on this subject. If you force a BSC pedal into M14 x 1.25 arms, you can potentially cause a crack and an arm failure. The old Campagnolo Record left arms were notoriously tight when installing (the correct 9/16 x 20!) pedals, which sometimes led to seizing and/or arm failures at the pedal eye, many years later. Re-tap those M14 x 1.25 arms if you want to use 9/16 x 20 pedals in them! Pedal taps are not expensive, and it’s quite easy to do the re-tap, honestly….

        April 7, 2013 at 4:29 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          BSC pedals are 14.28 mm in diameter (9/16″). FR pedals are 14.0 mm. The difference (0.28 mm) is within the tolerances – I would not be surprised if a French-threaded Campagnolo pedal was larger than a BSC-threaded TA pedal… Considering that female threads always have a little extra room, there is no way your FR cranks will explode when you try to thread a BSC pedal in.
          The pitch of a BSC pedal is 1.27 mm. That of a FR pedal is 1.25 mm. Those are so close that it’s not even worth talking about.
          So for practical purposes, FR and BSC pedals are interchangeable. TA realized this, and made one model to fit both, which they labeled “BSC/FR”.

          April 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I just measured a bunch of pedals:
          – Look BSC: 13.8 mm
          – Gipiemme BSC: 14.0 mm
          – TA FR: 14.0 mm
          – Shimano BSC: 14.2 mm
          – Campagnolo BSC: 14.3 mm
          As you can see, the tolerances between makers are greater than the difference between standards. And Greg is right, Campagnolo pedals do appear to be tighter than other makers’.

          April 8, 2013 at 7:09 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I often find it difficult to determine whether a set of cranks is BSC or FR. The threads really are very close – hence TA offered an “in-between” pedal that fit both.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm
      • somervillebikes

        Whether or not certain of the threads, it never hurts to run a tap through them if the intent is to use BSC pedals. Even if BSC to begin with, a turn of the tap now and then keeps the threads chased and clean.

        April 7, 2013 at 4:56 am
  • Heather

    Ah, c’est bon! I have an old low end gitane mixte out back that I have given up on, it was so frustrating. It did have that certain frenchness in the ride quality, but having already been frankenbiked by many owners much of the drive train was incompatible and sketchy. The fenders(not sure if they are steel or aluminum) are beautiful, so I will salvage them(along with the mafac brakes) before the frame goes to the reycling depot. Upgrading french bikes is traumatic! Many people give up on their craigslist finds, or do not even have a clue what they are getting into! VO have a french threaded bottom bracket, but their bottom brackets are poor quality so that only left the phil woods option.
    I have various french parts and they do create challenges I didn’t even imagine when I sought them out. I have a TA cyclotouriste crank, but the pedal threads….even 2 sets of french lyotard french pedals would not fit. Italian threaded, british standard will not fit either. A lyotard set was forced on, but just barely. I may have to have them retapped. My simplex retrofiction shifters with the collar are meant for a thinly tubed bicycle, so have had to make a shim for it if it is to be used by the frame I am trying to work on. My husband and I even bought some vintage belleri handlebars pour les enfants because we wanted narrower handlebars than is standardly available, but the diameter of the tubing is quite thin so makeshift shims had to be made. One of my dream bikes is to have a french LIGHTWEIGHT mixte that I can put the french parts on, 650b wheels and glide along demurely.

    April 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My simplex retrofiction shifters with the collar are meant for a thinly tubed bicycle,

      French tubing is metric, so the down tube measures 28 mm in diameter, rather than the 28.4 mm (1 1/8″) of British/Italian bikes. So standard clamps don’t fit without shims. Clamp-on front derailleurs also don’t fit well. Many companies used to make parts for French bikes, but in the 1980s, most French bike makers went to British threading and dimensions, to help their exports. I remember how Peugeot catalogues of my youth explained that now their bikes used BSC bottom bracket threading.

      April 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm
      • Matt Sallman

        Now if you just make Swiss fixed cups to go with the French adjustable side, those of us with old Motobecanes can stop living with our ancient bottom brackets. I doubt the fixed cup I have could be made to work with the rest of the SKF unit. I realize this is probably so minimal a market to be unlikely.

        April 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The fixed cups aren’t so hard to make… but minimum orders are 100 pieces! Let’s see how much demand there is for the French BBs first!

          April 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm
  • Billy Ketchum

    Hi. I’m a big fan of making things work, However as close as French and BSC pedal threads may be, I’ve seen plenty of problems from putting one pedal in the other crank, e.g. stripped crank threads or pedals that are very difficult to remove. I think it’s much wiser to use the correct pieces here and, as has been noted, it’s very easy to tap French threaded cranks to BSC.

    April 8, 2013 at 1:30 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I doubt that you get stripped threads from putting a slightly oversize pedal into a crank. That usually occurs when you ride with your pedals loose on the cranks.
      By all means, if you have the tap handy, run it through the cranks. But if you are standing there with a set of FR-threaded cranks and a set of modern clipless pedals, I suggest you first try whether they fit without undue forcing, before you load up the bike in your car and drive many miles to a bike shop who has the tap.
      Of course, with all pedals, you need to put grease on the spindle before you install it. As an added precaution, you could remove the pedals after a few rides and reinstall them, making sure that everything is fine.

      April 9, 2013 at 5:34 am
  • Greg

    The aforementioned IRD BB cups seem to be offered in Swiss as well as French. I’ve not tried pressing off/on different fixed-side cups with a cartridge bottom bracket, but that is apparently an option for Swiss (in addition to Phil Wood & Co.) until the SKF units are available in Swiss-flavored versions…..

    April 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

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