Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Ideale Saddles


Ideale saddles were a brand of leather saddles made by Tron et Berthet from Pont Saint Pierre, Eure Department, Haute-Normandie, France. Tron et Berthet sourced their leather from two suppliers in France, one in the north of the country and one in the south. The leather for the best saddles had to be a certain thickness, too thin and the saddle top would stretch and sag, too thick and the leather fibres would break as the top was formed causing failure of the saddle. Even when cutting up the hide, knowledge was needed as to which parts of the hide were to be used for the best saddles, the rest of the hide being used for children's saddles. Tron et Berthet under Marcel Berthet, had started their Ideale saddle production in the 1930s and had an association with the Dunlop Company of Fort Dunlop, Birmingham before the outbreak of the Second World War. Tron and Berthet had sourced some of their machinery from England, which would later cause problems, as it was calibrated in imperial dimensions (inches) and of course, France was metric, which required time consuming conversion. 

Changing patterns in agriculture after the Second World War was to have an impact on Ideale, as cattle breeds were changed to facilitate greater food production. The newer breeds did not produce the type of leather Ideale required and made sourcing the required leather much more difficult and expensive for the company. The changing fashion, within cycling, from the 1960s onwards, for Italian plastic saddles like Unica-Nitor, would also have long term impact. As the fashion amongst cyclists changed from a purely leather saddle, in favour of leather covered padded saddles over a plastic base, (Cinelli, Concor, Milremo, Rolls) meant in reality, many cyclists were not prepared to invest time and discomfort in breaking in a leather saddle to achieve a comfortable seat. So Ideale's market share for bicycle saddles began to decline, as their top of the range saddles were leather, in addition to the other difficulties.  Ideale also had VAR Tools produce a saddle adjustment spanner which would fit both Ideale and Brooks.   
Unlike the English made Brooks saddles, Ideale leather saddles were waterproof, so didn't absorb rain water and sag if they got wet. Ideale had developed their own secret process which allowed the leather to be waterproofed in the saddle manufacturing process. Ideale also experimented with different materials for their saddle frames. Initially they used steel, which on some models was chrome plated. Chrome plating became harder to have done towards the end of production, as changing health and safety regulations forced many platers to close.  Tron et Berthet also experimented with alloy and produced saddles (Model 90R Competition) with an alloy frame. Towards the end of production in the 1970s Ideale made saddles with Titanium frames and seatposts. Special saddles were produced on occasion, an example of which I saw with the leather top drilled full of holes for lightness much like the fashion for drilled components used by time trialists in the 1970s. 

Ideale did produce a copy of the Brooks B17 saddle (Model 80 Record)) which sold well. They also developed the Daniel Rebour branded Model 92 'Diagonale' and Model 88 Competition.


The Berthet family sold the business to another company which wanted to modernise the business and mass produce the leather saddles. In reality, the new owners had little appreciation that the leather had to be hand worked. Their attempts at mechanisation failed and the company went bust approximately six months after the new owners took over. A sad end for an iconic brand. Ideale saddles are well regarded by collectors and were the saddle of choice of many French 'constructeurs'. Ideale saddles in good condition are now beginning to command high prices on French ebay.
Ideale saddles was one of the lines that Ron Kitching imported and sold from his Harrogate cycle parts business. They were considered expensive by many in the 1970s and I don't have any recollection of any local clubmen from that time using an Ideale saddle in this part of Ireland.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

A car journey through Normandy


On my recent visit to France I had occasion to travel by train from Gare St Lazare to Rouen and meet up with my contact at the railway station there. The journey to his home was fascinating, as we discussed our passion for cycling. Franck had a long association with the French cycle trade and knew Daniel Rebour (a family friend) very well and a lot of the constructeurs personally. He also remarked that he knew the late Jacques Anquetil, who had a penchant for women and drink. 'Maitre Jacques' had retired to the village of La Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel and was often to be seen, in his lifetime there, driving about the roads on his tractor.

We took a detour past Chateaux Anquetil on the Rue des Andelys (D126) and past the memorial to Jacques at the edge of Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel. The memorial stands in black stone on an open green between the Rue des Andelys and the Rue des Jardins. There is a large 'maillot jeune' situated in the grass in front of the memorial. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph it from the car. We continued our journey along the Rue des Andelys to it's junction with the Rue de la Libération, Romilly-sur-Andelle. The T junction is marked by a large racing bike in tribute to 'Maitre Jacques'. Turning left onto the D321 we travelled to Pont Saint Pierre

 After crossing the Andelle river we turned right onto the Rue des Hautes Rives (D19) to see the Tron et Berthet factory where Ideale saddles were made. The former factory was located in an old mill that was originally water powered and only much later being converted to electricity. The former home of Marcel Berthet is located near the mill and the iron fence atop the garden wall was made from stamped out plates produced in the factory. 

Franck also was able to show me the De Dion Bouton car which was owned by Jean Francois Tron. Monsieur Tron had a badge made (like a bicycle head badge) with his name on it and fixed it to the grill of the car. 
This vehicle is belt driven via a narrow leather belt via a flywheel on the engine to a pulley wheel on the rear axle in the fashion of powering factory machinery from a line shaft. The vehicle had 4 spoked wheels, a basic carburetor and two speed gearbox.
Top speed was around 40km/hr. The car also shared space with a chrome Alex Singer Randonneur, and a Barra loop frame aluminium lady's bike. Franck explained that he had previously owned bicycles by Daudon and Sabliere


Franck is related to Marcel Berthet and told me that Tron and Berthet started in 1910 and the company had originally produced bicycle forks. Marcel had also been involved in the manufacture of gear boxes for early motor cars. Ideal saddles came later.  Franck then showed me a family photograph album from Marcel Berthet born in 1888. In it were photographs of Marcel riding semi-faired track bicycles used before 1914 to attack the hour track record. Marcel was an amateur rider but had ridden in the 6 day track races before the First World War and had won the Berlin 6 day race in 1910. Marcel had won the hour record three times, initially in 1907 in Paris with a distance of 41.520 Km. His friend and rival Oscar Egg had then broken his record in Paris in 1912 with a distance of 42.122 Km. This started a series of record attempts between 1912 and 1914, whereby Marcel would break Oscar's record, only for Oscar to take it back again. Final honours fell to Oscar with a distance of 44.247 Km before World War I intervened. Marcel had also raced against an Italian rider at the Vigorelli track in which the Italian was expected to win. Against the expectation of the crowd, Marcel won the race and received a stoney faced silence for his audacity. The hostility of the crowd was visible in the photograph.  

The UCI had ruled in 1914 against faired bicycles being used in record attempts and competition.  I was shown a programme from a track meet at the Vel D'Hiv track, Paris, in 1927 which Marcel took part in.   In September 1933 at the Parc desPrinces, Marcel, aged 47, was to use a fully faired bicycle 'the Velodyne', to break the hour record again. The early HPV was to attain a distance of 48.600 Km. A second attempt, using the same machine, was made on the record by Marcel two months later. The record was broken, increasing the distance travelled in one hour to 49.922 Km. 

Marcel's early record attempts before WW1 had been made on a Labor bicycle using a JOG handlebar, which was recorded in a postcard of the time. The Velodyne was a collaboration between Tron et Berthet and the French aircraft manufacturer Caudron. The records captured using the Velodyne were not recognised by the UCI, but it is an interesting early use of a fully faired Human Powered Vehicle (HPV). Marcel also developed a pedal in collaboration with Pierre Lyotard for use in the Velodyne. This was manufactured by Lyotard and was much favoured by touring cyclists. Marcel Berthet died in 1953 at the relatively young age of 65.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Travelling to Cycles Alex Singer




On a recent trip to France, I managed to achieve a long held ambition to visit 53 Rue Victor Hugo, Levallois-Perret, Paris, the shop of constructeur Cycles Alex Singer. The shop is located in the suburbs of Paris beyond the Boulevard Périphérique. As it is not located in the centre of Paris, I was apprehensive about travelling there. In reality it was easy. I checked information on the web before travelling and read all the dire warnings about using the SNCF Transilien suburban service, as being complicated. In actual fact, I didn't find that at all. 

I flew from Dublin to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The easiest way to get to Cycles Alex Singer from Charles de Gaulle airport is to take the airport shuttle from Terminal 1 or 3 to the SNCF RER station under Terminal 2 and take the RER route B train to Gare du Nord. The train I took was an express to Gare du Nord, so it couldn't have been simpler. At Gare du Nord, follow the exit (Sortie) signs for the Rue de Dunkerque which is the main entrance to the Gare du Nord. You come up onto to a concourse above the RER platform, with the exit signs directing you to the right up a flight of stairs to the main station concourse and the Rue de Dunkerque. You want to stay on the level you are on (first level) with all the ticket machines, walk straight past all the machines and turn left. You should see signs for the RER route E which is the train service which goes direct to the Gare St Lazare.  (You can try using the Metro if you want a slower, more convoluted and challenging method of travel to the shop!) 

The RER train ticket can be bought from one of the automated ticket machines, which offer English and Spanish language, by touching the appropriate flag on the touch screen. Once you have purchased your ticket, follow the signs to the platforms. The RER station at Gare du Nord is called Magenta. You need to take the train for Haussmann-St Lazare for the Gare St Lazare. The return train to Magenta, is the service to Tournan en Brie. You will need to check the TV information display screens on the platforms. They will tell you the direction of travel, time of trains and most importantly, the platform the train will use. If you are travelling early in the morning, be warned, this service is heavily used by commuters. The fact the carriages are double deck should give you an idea of how much this service is used. Once you arrive at Haussmann-St Lazare, follow the signs from the platform for the Gare St Lazare (trains) which will bring you into a shopping concourse. 

SNCF have a ticket office in this concourse.  There is also an information office on the same floor near the station door and second one on the platform concourse upstairs. You will need to go to this upper level and turn right to get onto the main station concourse area leading to the platforms. There is a regular 10 min train service to the Clichy-Levallois train station. The train service you need is the Nanterre University train, which usually leaves platform 7 or 8. Again you need to check the TV screen for train information, which will give you the departure time and platform the train is leaving from. Clichy-Levallois station is the second stop out from Gare St Lazare. 
The station entrance is under a railway bridge and you will need to turn left, to go out onto road which leads to the Rue Victor Hugo. Follow this road to the Rue Victor Hugo and turn left again. Walk down the street. The shop is located down the street on the right hand side. You can find a detailed map of the area of Paris on Google maps. If you scope down to the Rue Victor Hugo and the station details, print it and take it with you for reference, you can't go wrong. When I arrived on a Tuesday lunchtime, the shop was still closed. I had to wait until 14:00 hrs for the shop to open.

The interesting thing about using the train in Paris is the chance to have a look at all the bikes parked in the bike racks at the stations. I took a few photos of the one outside Gare du Nord on the Rue de Dunkerque.
Quite a few mixte bikes, Motobecane and Peugeot. I also spotted a Roger Riviere bike which I grabbed a photo of. 

What is striking when compared to Ireland is the complete absence of carbon. While cycle shops in Ireland seem to be wedded to selling carbon for every kind of use, the French are much more practical and pragmatic. Steel bikes are much in evidence and in use as a practical means of transport. What else can you expect from a great cycling nation?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The book 'Wiener Mechaniker Raeder'



I recently purchased the German language book 'Wiener Mechaniker Raeder' which has dusted down long forgotten and little used, A level German vocabulary. My computer keyboard is English, so I don't have the umlaut or eszett and have used the English dipthong 'ae' instead of the 'a umlaut' in the title. The book is subtitled 'A journey through more than a 100 Vienna bicycle makes 1930 – 1980'. The blurb on the back translates as:-

Vienna is big, but the diversity of Viennese bicycle marques was once much bigger; more than 100 marques existed in the city from the 1930s to the 1980s, among them innovative, oblique, noble, freakish, good dependable, solid and off the peg, - for example, noble racing bikes with paint finishes from another time (Rih), Aero bicycles from 50 years before the aerodynamic craze (RZ), prototypes from aluminium and small diameter steel tubes (Austria-Alpha), lugless welded frames (Degen), rethinking of frame design ( Wisent Einheitsrad), to name but a few examples.  For the first time, the complete history of the Vienna bicycle marques in a picture book, with all marques from Alpenrad to Ziel. 



I found the contents of the book fascinating. It educated me as to the variety of different bicycle makers working in Vienna, some from the 19th century onwards, others appearing for a few years after WW2, then disappearing. The bicycles used to illustrate the book are well photographed and in some cases I would have liked to have seen a little more detail, such as head lugs etc. However, I'm sure the authors were forced to cut down the amount of material, to be able to make the book format and they have done a superbe job. The book has the following chapters:- Introduction (Prolog), Authors thanks (Dank), The bicycle marques A – Z (Wiener Fahrraedermarken A - Z), Puzzling machines (Ratselhafte Gaule) , And now? (Und Jetzt?), Picture index (Abbildungsverzeichnis), Bibliography (Literaturverzeichnis) and finally about the authors (Uber uns). The book is printed on glossy art paper, and each marque is given an introductory text box showing the years of production, the company address, the owner details and whether they built their own machines or not. There is then narrative text, accompanied by the superbe photographs. The authors have a passion for their subject and have done their research well, as they mention some bicycle makers lost in the mists of time, of whom, only a printed advert from a newspaper or magazine show they existed at all.

The cast aluminium RZ / Err-Zett children's bicycle illustrated on page 235 of the book and on the front page of the publisher's website, predates the Kirk Precision cast magnesium frame by some years. The authors record 'Wem dieses Design einfiel, ist leider nicht uberliefert, vielleicht war es ja ebenfalls Ottomar Rosenkranze selbst' – 'Whoever came up with this design, is unfortunately not recorded for posterity, but perhaps it was Ottomar Rosenkranz himself'. The frame material used in the Kirk Precision may have been different, but the concept of a cast frame was clearly established much earlier by RZ / Err-Zett and gives weight to the old saying 'There is nothing new under the sun'.

The book has a small section pages 332 – 338 on puzzling machines (german jocular chapter heading meaning enigmatic old nag, or gift horse!) which the authors believe to be Austrian bicycles made in Vienna but of which they have little or no information. The book finally brings the story up to date with information on modern framebuilders working in Vienna.

The book can be bought via the publishers website and is now available through Amazon,  the ISBN number is 978-3-85119-342-8. If you order a book through the publisher's website, you will be sent an invoice in Euros, which will have to be paid through your bank. Once payment has been made, delivery to the UK takes around two weeks. The book is well worth the money and is cheaper than some of the recent Japanese and US books on Toei, Singer and Herse. The authors have set out to record methodically the custom built marques originating in Vienna over a 50 year period and add considerably to the body of historical knowledge. It shows what can be done and it would be nice to see a similar work published on the framebuilders working in the London area over a similar time period! The only caveat is that if you rely on an internet language translator, you will get a literal translation of the words. The danger here is that you often need to translate the concept, not the literal words, to make sense of what is meant by the authors. However, it has been a very enjoyable and educational time spent with my old German dictionary and this book, discovering the delights of the Vienna bicycle trade. I can heartily recommend it.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Frozen handlebar stem


I bought a 1982 Hirame Model 48 SUMA bicycle frame a couple of years ago on e-bay, which came complete with a frozen handlebar stem. Hirame were made by Kuwahara, from Osaka, Japan and imported into the UK in the early 1980s, by the now defunct bicycle business Evian (G.B). The frame had been used as a winter bike, judging from the nature of the corrosion and all the gear tunnel braze ons and rear gear hanger had been removed from the frame. It was no longer in the original paint. My frame is not from a top of the range machine built with Ishiwata tubing. It was my intention to restore the bike to as near original as possible, with all Japanese parts. The frame originally had full chrome forks and rear dropouts. The difficulty was how to remove the original alloy stem which was stuck in the frame due to galvanic corrosion? I intended to try and save the stem if possible. It would be easy to cut the stem and melt the seized part out of the steerer tube with a gas torch. I had done this in the past and read of various methods on web forums, of how to remove the stem, but all involved the destruction of the alloy stem. I preferred to try a different method. Making sure that the expander bolt assembly was in the stem and tightened up, I up-ended the frame and hung it over a drip tray. I then poured a product called Plus-Gas, down the steerer tube, leaving a small reservoir above the expander bolt and left the frame for three weeks, refilling from the drip tray as required, adding some new liquid each time. Once the liquid had finally drained out of the steerer tube, I then righted the frame and inserted a front wheel into the forks. I then released the stem expander bolt and inserted a used, salvaged, long steel riser MTB handlebar into the stem to try and turn the stem.

It gave easily and with a little effort, levered out of the frame. There was much evidence of galvanic corrosion, especially in the slot at the back of the stem above the shaped expander nut.



I cleaned the alloy with a brass brush before using a metal polish. There was a linear crack spreading horizontally, each side of the circular hole at the top of the slot designed to prevent cracking!
I would guess the damage maybe occurred when someone tried to remove the stem, whilst it was welded in through corrosion, prior to the frame being sold. I am disappointed that the stem is not safe to re-use, but it was worth the effort to try and remove it in a non destructive fashion.  I have learned something along the way.   I don't know if this method will work in every case, but I will certainly try it again in the first instance, to try to remove a stem without damage, before resorting to a more destructive method of removal as a fall back position.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

1925 Raleigh Roadster


It is one of the dilemmas that any collector or restorer of old bicycles faces at some stage, to restore or not? I received a 1925 Raleigh bike for some repairs last year. The bicycle had great sentimental value to the owner. It had belonged to his uncle from new and had been his uncle's main form of transport for most of his working life. The bicycle had been ridden at least 44 miles return journey, daily to work, carrying his tools and his 'piece'. The wheels had been renewed in the 1950s judging from the date code on the Sturmey Archer hubs. This would equate to a major overhaul of the bike and probable conversion to a three speed gear, from single speed, after roughly 25 years of use.  The rear wheel was a quality Raleigh product, 40 hole stainless steel Westwood rim, laced with stainless steel spokes into a Sturmey Archer AW hub. The front wheel was a very rusty chrome Westwood rim, laced with equally rusty spokes into a Sturmey Archer GH6 dynohub. 

My concern was to try and keep as much of the bike original as possible, but it was obvious that the hubs were in need of some attention. The bike was covered in a black oily filth which had protected the chrome plating on the hubs. Once the rear AW hub was opened, it was one of the dirtiest I have ever had to strip.

The component parts all had to be thoroughly cleaned to be able to assess the extent of the wear. What was obvious, following cleaning, that the cones were badly worn, along with the driver and ball ring. The springs all needed replacing as well. The axle threads were also very worn, but as the bike was only to be used occasionally, I decided to keep the axle as the sun pinion teeth were good. New parts were fitted and the hub internals re-assembled and lubricated. Once the completed internals were refitted into the hub shell, it was obvious the new parts had not removed all the play from the bearings. The left hand K517 ball cup was obviously very worn and tired from the heavy mileage it had endured. To top it all, the threads stripped on the axle when putting the wheel back into the frame. I wanted to keep the back wheel, so the AW was stripped down again. The left hand ball cup was removed after some reluctance.

A suitable spanner was used with an 'enforcer bar' to increase the leverage, so as to overcome the reluctance of the ball cup to screw out. A new old stock K517 ball cup was fitted after the hub shell threads had been thoroughly cleaned then greased. The hub gear internals were then stripped down again and a new axle fitted and the unit rebuilt. This was then inserted into the hub and quickly and easily adjusted. The indicator rod was then refitted, before the wheel was put back in the frame. The gear cable was then refitted to the indicator rod and adjusted so all the gears worked. I next started on the front wheel. The rim and spokes were both badly corroded. In addition the rim had a number of flats. I stripped the dynohub down to check the hub shell ball cups but these were worn out too. 

It was a case of find a replacement hubshell, fit new cones and refit the dynohub internals into the replacement hub shell. Once this was done, I built the hub into a new 32 hole 28 inch Westwood rim.
It was also necessary to fit a new front tyre. The new wheel was then refitted to the frame. I also fitted a new front mudguard at the request of the owner.
The bike was taken for a run to see that the gears worked properly. The headset and bottom bracket were both worn, with some play in the bearings, but this didn't have any adverse effect of the handling of the bike. Although very heavy by modern standards, the bike was actually very nice to ride unlike a modern heavy steel mountain bike. The bicycle felt lively and responsive to the pedalling input once the initial momentum had been gained. I can see how people toured on these roadster bikes 80 to 90 years ago. Although, not considered by some veteran bicycle aesthetics as being worth bothering with, who disparagingly refer to these machines as 'nondescript', due to the fact they were mass produced in a factory. These machines may have a low monetary value and lack the perceived cachet, or one upmanship of a rare brand or hand crafted bespoke frame, which some of these self appointed guardians, of taste and historical worth, espouse.  However, these humble machines do relate, very much, to social history. As the ordinary working man's transport before mass car ownership, they represented a considerable investment by the owner and were usually bought through the cycle manufacturer's hire purchase scheme, via their cycle agent. Their survival after decades of storage is an indication of the value in which they were held by their original owners. Where the history of a particular machine and it's owner is known, this can often open a historical window into the working and recreational life of the former owner.  As this machine predates the opening of the Raleigh factory in Dublin in the late 1930s, after which Raleigh increasingly had the lion's share of the Irish bicycle market,  the owner obviously made a conscious decision to purchase his Raleigh in a more varied and competitive bicycle market. It is now getting more unusual to find pre WW2 machines, as many older machines were scrapped as part of the wartime metal salvage campaign.  It was good to return an old veteran back into a rideable machine again.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Building a 650A Randonneur


The idea of building a 650A Randonneur bike came about after reading articles in the US cycling press about 650B French Randonneur bikes. I have never liked the MTB 26” wheel size, as from my experience, I found they didn't roll as well as older British 26” wheel sizes. The French 650B size is not widely available in the UK or Ireland, but tyres and rims were available in 650A or 26 x 1 3/8. Could I build a randonneur bicycle with 650A wheels, with a Schmidt SON lighting system for under £1000? This was the challenge. I began by sourcing a suitable steel frame. It was tired as found and I had it powdercoated a pale blue colour. It was fitted with a new Tange-Seiki threaded headset. The frame was not to be altered as it was worth more in it's orginal condition, so this was the first compromise. I used SKS MTB muguards, with Brooks leather mudflaps front and rear. A new triple chainset for square taper bottom bracket was sourced and a sealed BB unit was also fitted.
I chose to use some Sunrace components as I wanted to see how they well they worked, when compared to the more expensive brand name parts. The front stainless steel rack is a Velo Orange 'PassHunter' which didn't fit the frame as received. It had to be cut and re-welded to make it fit.
The STI levers whilst comfortable, don't allow the use of a handlebar bag, because of the routing of the cables like Shimano. They do work very well though. The wheels were built with stainless spokes and alloy rims. Tyres are Schwalbe. I have received comment about Schwalbe tyres being heavy and not rolling well. (I don't believe the correspondent had actually used the tyres in question, but had obtained his information from internet forums). I have to say, I have found them great, they are 590 x 37, roll well, comfortable on our less than perfect road surface, offer some degree of puncture resistance and are a heck of a lot better than some of the tyres I have used over the past decades. I have no problem riding the bike on these tyres for day rides or keeping up with others on bikes equipped with 700c wheels. The lighting system with the Schmidt SON Klassic hub is brilliant. I use the hub with a B & M Cyo and B & M rear light and I have no problem being seen and more importantly, being able to see and ride safely on the rural roads of the area.
I was able to build the bike for less than £1000. Am I happy with it? Yes, I certainly am, but having built the bike up, I know the problems encountered and compromises I had to make, so a Mk2 version will address some of these shortcomings. I enjoyed building the bike and working out the solutions.
I am very pleased with how well the bike rides and intend to take it on a tour next year. This year in terms of touring, did not pan out, owing to a health problem requiring surgery. (I am now well into the post op recovery, but still not able to drive or ride the bike). I loaned the bike to a friend for his evaluation. He rode upwards of 500 miles on the bike in the autumn of 2012. His impression was favourable, particularly the lighting system. If you were to commission a custom made frame, then your bespoke frame could address many of the pitfalls of using an existing frame, however this would be at a significantly increased cost. My bike was built to test ideas, assess components and come in under a strict budget limit. There was always going to be compromises, as compared to a bespoke bells and whistles solution, with a budget for branded components. Has my idea worked and delivered a bike which is pleasant to ride and fit for purpose? I think so. Following his testing of the bike, my friend's comment was, 'You could ride round the world on it'.