[CR]Fwd: Constructeurs/technical trials/drillium

Date: Tue, 3 Jun 2003 18:55:29 -0700
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
From: Jan Heine <heine@mindspring.com>
Subject: [CR]Fwd: Constructeurs/technical trials/drillium


Thank you for your note in response to my post on the CR list. I feel your points are of interest for the entire CR audience, thus, I hope you are fine with my replying through the list. Also, considering past animosities between us (which I hope are a thing of the past), I prefer to have all my correspondence with you open for all to see, as I have for quite some time now.

You take issue with my definition of "constructeur." You define it as somebody who assembles bicycles.

In addition, a few months ago, I heard that somebody was taking issue with my magazine, and with my definition of "constructeur." If I understand it correctly, they claimed that a "constructeur" simply is a one-man shop, unlike a bigger operation like Peugeot. (This definition would elminate Singer, Herse and many others, who employed 2-6 people during their best days.)

However, despite these two different definitions, I stand by my definition of constructeur. Ernest Csuka in the interview in VBQ 1 made it very clear that Bianco "was not a constructeur, just a framebuilder. He didn't make bikes, just frames." (quoting from memory).

Similarly, in VBQ 2, Roger Baumann said of the maker of his bike (after he left Herse) that "he wasn't a constructeur, but a framebuilder. I had to do the rest myself."

In both cases, the distinction between "constructeur" and framebuilder is very obvious. The constructeur will make a complete bike, with racks, fenders, lights, etc., as an integrated unit. A framebuilder will make a frame and fork, and leave the rest up to you (which is perfectly fine in the case of a racing bike, but doesn't work so well for a randonneur).

To your Peugeot:

In the late 1930s and 1940s, Peugeot tried to convey a "classy" image with their mass-produced bikes, similar to American car makers labeling their cars "Custom," etc. in the 1970s. Peugeot's ads in Le Cycliste make it sound like a Peugeot was the equal of the best constructeur bikes... So it makes sense they'd label their bikes "Peugeot, constructeur."

I used the term "drillium" because that had been used in previous CR threads. Obviously, this is not an area where I am knowledgeable.

Jan Heine, Seattle

P.S.: The following is Ken's mail to me, unedited.

>Status: U
>Date: Tue, 3 Jun 2003 07:30:55 -0700 (PDT)
>From: kenneth denny <kendenny55@yahoo.com>
>Subject: Constructeurs/technical trials/drillium
>To: heine@mindspring.com
>I believe you are missing sevaral points. To begin with, you
>frequently misapply the French term "Constructeur". In the French
>cycling trade it simply means one "who assembles bicycles", and not,
>as you have suggested "one who constructs every aspect of a bicycle.
>I have a 1939 Peugeot that says "constructeurs" on the headbadge,
>even though the only Peugeot component on the bike is the frame.
>Regarding the popular fad of drilling out components. The over used
>california-ism "Drillium" is a term that is way over used, and was
>applied in an article that Frank Spivey wrote many years after the
>trend was started by Masi and Cinelli in the mid 60's.
>Faliero Masi once rationalized that it was not about "lightening"
>)when asked why he drilled out Eddy Merckx's brake calipers), but
>about cooling. In any case, I believe it is simple aesthetic
>enhancement, with no redeeming lightening rationale, a real
>machinist aesthetic if there ever was one.
>Date: Tue, 3 Jun 2003 07:05:51 -0700
>From: Jan Heine <heine@mindspring.com>
>While working on issue 4 of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly, dedicated to
>the famous technical trials, I came across a few interesting facts.
>Not only were the trials rigorously administered, so there is no
>doubt about the light weights - you will see the results sheets in
>VBQ 4 and 5.
>Also, in one event, Lionel Brans (a constructeur) entered a machine
>built with a Caminargent frame. To Americans, this may seem puzzling
>- how can Brans be the constructeur when Caminargent built the frame?
>Clearly, the French cyclotourists considered the person who put the
>bike together, who made sure fenders, lights, racks, derailleurs and
>all worked together, the constructeur. For them, the frame is only
>one part of the bike, maybe more important than fenders, wheels or
>other parts, but not by that much. In fact, it was common among some
>smaller builders to buy a raw frame, add braze-ons, paint and decals,
>build the bike, and sell it under their name.
>I have felt similarly about my Rivendell. While Rivendell provided
>the raw frame to my specs, the finished product (shown in VBQ 3) is
>very different from anything you can buy from Walnut Creek. When
>people ask me what I ride, I am reluctant to say "A Rivendell,"
>because I don't want Grant et al. to get in trouble because somebody
>wants to order a bike with different clearances from standard, with a
>custom front rack, custom handle-bar bag QR, aluminum fenders, custom
>light mounts, etc.
>Of course, most of the well-known constructeurs made frame and bike,
>so that distinction does not apply. But it becomes apparent that the
>constructeur is NOT a framebuilder as we understand it.
>And finally, how did those bikes get so light? First of all, many of
>the older components were/are amazingly light. Second, a lot of
>drilling, and more importantly cutting.
>Which gets me to my question: How much is saved by drilling out
>parts? Somebody must have before/after weights, or be able to compare
>drilled vs. undrilled parts.
>I suspect the savings are small - Ernest Csuka once told me how they
>spent an hour to drill out a chainring, and then weighed it. They had
>saved 2 or 3 grams. I think to really save material, one had to cut
>away whole sections. How about pedals with the center sections cut
>away, so that the spindle is exposed? Or headsets with exposed balls.
>You'll see those in VBQ 5 (in fact, it's vol. 2, No. 1), part 2 of
>the technical trials.
>What is the point, you may ask? And you are right. The point was not
>to make superlight bikes, and many critics at the time were quite
>scathing about constructeurs "who exploited the rule book." The point
>was to make lightweight bikes (a good randonneur went from 33 lbs. in
>1933 to 24 lbs. in 1936) that held up for hundreds of miles on the
>worst roads imaginable. Bikes that carried a load and handled well on
>mountain roads. Bikes that resemble the wonderful randonneur bikes
>built in France from 1946 onwards. And that goal was achieved.
>Shameless plug: Read all about it in Vintage Bicycle Quarterly. Info
>at http://www.mindspring.com/~heine/bikesite/bikesite/index.html
>Jan Heine, Seattle
>617-523-1173 H
>617-620-2011 M
>Do you Yahoo!?
>calendar with sync to Outlook(TM).