Thursday, January 14, 2010

An old French bike revisited

Two years ago this month I was given a vintage French bicycle project that expanded my view of bicycles and the way that I ride. At the time I was working as a graphic designer, commuting by bike & Cal train to San Francisco on a vintage metallic blue Fuji S-12-S single speed (I since sold and is now somewhere in Portland). I was working for a small boutique graphic design firm in the SOMA district, that catered to high-end clients including a prestigious local Bay Area University and some smaller upscale wineries in the Napa Valley, all from a dingy, cramped and drafty garage-level basement of a custom designed live/work building.

The last day I worked at the design studio, I met up with a friend who had said he had a bike project he thought I might be interested in. We met in SOMA and he took me to a storage place near the old Greyhound bus service facility. There, he gave me a bike frame that had been stripped of the paint and a box of parts.

It was a French bicycle with the head badge "Charles Pelissier". The frame was very light and the parts were weathered, but it seemed like an interesting project, so I couldn't refuse.

Doing some research, I found a photo of the complete bike plus a version of the original catalog. This was a randonneur bike made in the early 1950s. Charles Pelissier was a French racing cyclist, the younger brother of Henri and Francis Pelissier who also raced. His career wins included 2 national cyclocross titles and 16 stages of the Tour de France. In 1930 he set a record of 8 stage wins in one Tour de France, a record shared later with Eddy Merckx and Freddy Maertens.

I wasn't that famliar with French bikes of this era and in looking for more info on this bike, it was a revelation to learn more about the history and tradition of French Cyclo-touring bicycles. One great resource has been Jan Heine and Seattle based Bicycle Quarterly Magazine. Although this bike is no Rene Herse or Alex Singer, it's a very light weight and well made bicycle.

A few key components were missing, including the bottom bracket and most of the headset. The frame has a very unusual bottom bracket thread, larger diameter and with a finer thread pitch than standard French cups. It turns out the frame had been retrofitted with an Alex Singer bottom bracket. The Alex Singer shop in Paris, of whom Ernest Csuka recently passed, apparently had a while-you-wait retrofit where the bottom bracket shell was bored and retapped for the patented Singer bearing/cup set-up — a design that has inspired the Phil Wood bottom brackets still made today.

Over the last 2 years I've been acquiring some hard to find replacement parts, including a newer alloy square taper TA cyclotourist crank to replace the original cottered Sronglight 49A steel cranks, NOS Mafac cantilever brakes and an NOS Stronglight P3 headset. I also had the frame repainted. I recently found a machinist to make the bb cups and I'm hoping to have the Pelissier back on the road this spring. More on this follow....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Archival Clothing Musette

I got my musette from Archival Clothing in saturday's mail. A lot of thought went into the design of these and they're well constructed. Simple is good.

From velotouriste

It has a 1" web strap that is not adjustable, but is sewn to the bag at an angle, so when you have it over your shoulder, the bag rests horizontal when it's behind you. The main bag, 12-1/2" x 10-3/4", is made of waxed canvas. The wax reinforces the fabric and makes it more water and dirt resistant. The top and inside vertical seams of the bag are what is known as "taped" and have a length of fabric folded over the edges and stitched for reinforcement.

The waxed canvas on this bag brought back memories of my first jacket during my period as a motorcyclist, a Belstaff Trialmaster made of waxed cotton, very functional with big pockets with brass buttons and lightweight compared to a leather jacket–yet still looked like leather. Although waxed cotton Belstaff's are no longer made, this jacket has achieved it's place as a classic. Waxed cotton appears to be making a comeback now in the mainstream fashion realm with new jackets in this fabric being produced by J. Crew (under license with Belstaff) and new designs by Swobo.

In the age of plastic, nylon and carbon fiber, there's something about non synthetic materials that are definitely more appealing and it's nice to know independent manufacturer's like Archival Clothing are doing innovative new work using classic materials with their new musette bags.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Musette Bags

I've been looking for a good lightweight musette style bag for a while and just ordered one the new musettes from Archival Clothing in Springfield Oregon.

Previously I've managed to pick-up a few team issue musette bags used to give lunch to bike racers in competition events, (and often tossed by riders after the they go through a feed zone).

Race musettes are usually very lightweight cotton or nylon. They make a very handy extra bag if your traveling light on a road ride, easy for carrying extra food or a camera and/or stuff in a jersey pocket. I used one of these race musettes to carry a small digital camera and a few extra snacks on a climb up Monitor Pass previously that worked out well. I've been looking for something a little heavier (that will last) and Archival Clothing's musette looks good.