Old French Tandem

Thursday 2 September 2010, Filed in: General

Standing amongst a collection of bric-a-brac, between a disused railway yard and a cement factory, rusty and unloved, she stole my heart. I love to adopt lost causes: this one attracted me like a magnet, and even though she was a wreck, I realised that she had real potential.

Closer inspection revealed she was made in Marseille, in the 1950s by a Monsieur A Vidau and, what was more exciting , she remained completely as she was in her days of glory, with all her original kit, although very much the worse for wear. Leather saddles, (Ideale) cracked and sad, four speed cyclo rear mech and gears, cranks (Professionels), cantilever brakes (E.M.A.F. Depose).... It was another age, another time, but I was determined to restore her dignity with a rebuild.

So, she was a must and after some half hearted bargaining, as I really wanted her, the deal was done. As I hoisted her on to the car roof, Monsieur Steptoe smiled and patted the 80 euros in his back pocket. The look on his face revealed his inner feelings… “Ils sont dingues, les anglais”

A year and a half later, she gleams, with her pride restored . After hours of work, I know she is an eccentric old girl, with parts that work in odd ways. The continuous cable which is the rear mech runs from the control arm through the frame, around a small drum on a helix and back to the control arm. No springs, but it works and sounds just like a coffee grinder.

Her paint work was left in the trusty hands of Argos Cycles, who did an amazing job, with fine lines painted by hand. I stuck to traditional colours, cream with red lines, set off by the Lapize pump with red white and blue stripes.

The rear wheel proved the most difficult part to restore, being made in three parts, all riveted together: the rear Porthor brake hub, the hub itself and a large flange on the gear side. I had to remove the gear block before dismantling the hub. Even with a long steel rod welded to the centre nut, it would not budge… and that was with me AND my friendly car mechanic, Tony, hanging off the end. Eventually my patience ran out and I destroyed it, with a disc cutter and had the parts re-chromed: beautifully done, but even I gasped at the price! However, the chroming made her so attractive, I had the Simplex derailleur re-chromed as well. No expense spared, the end was now in sight. To restore the front and rear saddles, I dismantled them and bought new rivets from Brookes and turned them down.

But the piece de resistance is surely the bell, which is unique, working like a dynamo , lowered on to the rotating front wheel by a lever on the handlebars, it makes a sound reminiscent of an old French telephone.

She is a little reluctant to stop when I apply the brakes, as they are a bit “manana”. Well, maybe some things have improved over the years. She has JUX 42 dynamos back and front so you can not only hear her coming a mile off but also see her. Her wonderfully dimpled, Le Martele aluminium mudguards add to her charm.

On her inaugural ride, she went a lot faster than I expected, considering her 53 lbs. However, she is comfortable , with her well broken-in leather saddles. Although slow to manoeuvre, her braking distance is adrenalin making. Well, who cares… she is going to be fun for those special occasions and lazy summer days.

John Biddlecombe 14/12/08


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