Today, for the first time, I got to ride a bike with Huret Jubilees derailleurs. (I have ridden much of the old stuff, but the Jubilees have eluded me until now.)
The bike is a mid-1950s Alex Singer, redone in the early 1970s with new derailleurs. Mafac Racer brakes, either original or part of the redo. One-piece headtube-headlugs, chromed, chromed fork crown, ends, the rest is Singer blue, but a lighter tone than most. Internal expander seatpost, and a few other lovely touches. And of course the full randonneur equipment, with front rack, lights, remote-controlled generator, fenders, etc.
Lovely ride and handling, as they all have, although awfully harsh. Since other Singers with the same tubeset (including the super-skinny fork blades), same geometry, same rider, same handlebar tape and same tire pressure are the most comfortable bikes I have ridden, I put this down to the skinny (labeled "28 mm" - ha!), hard, obviously poor quality tires. It still astonished me that the tires totally can mask all other factors involved. (I wonder how many bikes I have dismissed in the past after one ride, when all they needed were better tires!)
But what about the shifting? Well, it's perfect. Whether it is that the derailleurs were set up by the Singer shop, whether they have had 30 years to losen up just the right amount - I don't know. But with no practice, every gear worked perfectly, including all three chainrings, shifting in the middle of hills, no matter. Definitely better than a Campy NR, and on par with a Simplex Prestige.
A week or so ago, we discussed whether the French only spec'd French parts out of some sort of nationalism. After pondering this a bit, the answer for Singer and Herse, at least, has to be no. Most Singers since the 1960s appear to have Campy pedals, not Lyotard or TA. This includes Ernest Csuka's personal bike. The reason is simple: they are probably the best pedals ever made. Also, Herse seems to have preferred Swiss (Weinmann) over French (Mafac) brakes for the most part. Not sure about the reason here, but surely not nationalism. This weekend, I found an older Singer order sheet, with a proposed spec. For brake levers, it said "Mafac or Shimano RX-100," for cranks, "TA or Shimano Dura-Ace."
So if they didn't like to spec Campy NR headsets or NR derailleurs, the reasons were not that these parts weren't French.
Now I can't wait to put on decent tires, better shaped bars (these are a track shape with no place for my hands behind the brake levers), and go for a really long ride!
Jan Heine, Seattle (who wonders whether discussing bikes is appropriate when my country is preparing to kill tens of thousands or more)