[CR]"New" bike test: 70's Gitane Tour de France

(Example: Component Manufacturers:Cinelli)

From: "Thomas R. Adams, Jr." <kctommy@msn.com>
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
Date: Sun, 09 May 2004 03:29:34 +0000
Subject: [CR]"New" bike test: 70's Gitane Tour de France

First, a few questions about this Gitane Professional Tour De France in case any one knows:

What is the vintage of a Gitane TDF with the following characteristics: Green paint, the "foil" decal set (down tube says Gitane in one sticker, then "Professionnal Tour De France" in a seperate, smaller type sticker, seat tube has a big silver foil diamond shaped sticker that says "Service Course" along with a palmares list, globe and "Gitane"), no braze on bits other than a rear centerpull cable stop and a shift lever stop on top of the down tube, Simplex drop outs, french thread, vauge remnants of a full set Reynolds 531 sticker, serial # 3224234(?). Items on it when it reached me were Simplex Criterium derailluers, Stonglight 93 cranks, Mafac Competition brakes, Campy Grand Sport high flange hubs laced to Ambrosio clinchers (wheels probably not original). I'm guessing '72-'73, but would be happy to be corrected.

Does anyone have full decal sets either for sale of for a refinish? Harris has non matching seat tube graphics, but I'm looking for both seat and down tube items. It rides so nice, I'm tempted to spend some more $ on her.

There's an oval sticker on the seat tube below the tubing sticker with a red hand, saying "custom made". Did Gitane have a custom frame program for the US?

There's a partially legible decal on the right chainstay, saying "XXXX luxe QQQQ ymerise" Can't read the X's and Q's, and I'm not sure how many letters are in the illegible portions. Anyone know what this is saying?

So as was said earlier today, Harvey Sachs passed this gem on to me via a CR list posting earlier this year. When I picked it up at Trexlertown, my first impression was of dirt: this was definitely a well used bike, with a thick crust of chain oil and road dust on the lower bits of the frame and the entire drivetrain. Not neglected, just not washed. The chain was still supple, but thickly coated with oil. Apparently the former owner believed in regular chain oiling, but not cleaning. The frame itself, although well scuffed and with tired paint and rust specks on the chrome was straight, no crash damage, and all of the parts were cleanable. Never having ridden a Gitane, I decide to give her a try. If it's good enough for Anquitel, Hinault, Lemond and Fignon, it's probably good enough for me. If nothing else, the brakes are probably worth most of the purchase price.

At home, I proceed to strip the frame down. Although the lugs look like they never saw a file, the mitering in the bottom bracket is quite good. Also, there's not a pool of rusty water in the BB shell, a good sign. The parts are so dirty, they go into a box for future cleaning. I rinse off the frame, which has almost zero effect on the alluvial deposits. It's scrub brush, sponge and elbow grease to scrape down to the paint. If nothing else, I probably remove half a pound of dirt.

Sorting through the boxes of parts, I come up with a mixed group just to get the bike on the road. Simplex SLJ mechs (the rear is a Peugeot badged long cage), Huret Bar Cons (courtesy of Martin Copeland), Weinmann brakes from Proteus (thanks Jill), 1st gen Dura Ace hubs (Tom Hayes, I think) laced to modern Mavic rims, an Avocet Touring II saddle (courtesy of Chuck Brooks), Nitto I beam stem (merci, Paul Brodek) and bars, Sugino Mity Tour 175mm cranks and an Edco BB (both from Trexlertown, and the only french BB I have: the races on the stronglight BB in the frame were a bit scored, and the BB was loose when I removed it). Hmm, looks like I lost the little widget that fits into the Mafac front cable hanger and keeps the housing from popping off the hanger. Well, zip tie the housing to the hanger, and hope it doesn't pop loose at an inconvenient time.

As all this work goes forward, I wonder at the life this bike has led. The evidence of the dirt indicate may thousands of miles have rolled under these wheels. There was a Pletscher rear rack and two panniers included in the deal. Maybe it started as a racer, then shfted over to commuter duty, with an occasional weekend outing. The handlebars themselves show that this was a bike for a serious rider who took time to get things set up to his satisfaction. There were seven layers of black cotton bar tape on the bars. The bars were about as big around as a potato. It takes quite a while to peel 7 layers of tape off a bar.

Anyway, I make a big push Friday nite to get everything back to gether, ready for a Saturday morning debut. I take a parking lot spin Friday to check things, and wow, this is a nice riding frame. Can't wait for Saturday morning.

Out the door early, I'll just do the 10 mile loop, in case anything needs fixing. But the Gitane, bucking and snorting at the sound of the bell, isn't having any of it. Down the road we go, me with a big grin. Ths frame is absolutely dialed in for me, comfortable, stable, but plenty of forward drive with a nice firm bottom bracket and reasonably nimble. I decide to extend the ride to climb Mt. Mitchell. The Gitane soars up the hill with aplomb, climbing nicely both seated and standing. Then down the twisty descent, absolutely carving up the turns. As I said, dialed in. I go a little further, to try the big climb up to Kings Highway. Again, excellent road manners from M. Gitane, showing exemplary patience with my meagre horsepower as we grind up the slope. Then we whoosh down Chapel Hill, take Sleepy Hollow over to Navesink River road, and thread our way through the bumpy pavement and traffic of Red Bank. Nothing fazes the Gitane. I get home after 35 miles, and I'm one happy guy.

Needing to show her off, I drive up the Scotch Plains and drop in at the Bike Stand, Steve Willis, Prop. Steve, good guy that he is, digs into the stores and finds a good Dia Compe front cable hanger to replace the maimed Mafac unit. It even has a quick release! And Steve installs it for me while I wait (I don't have the wrenches or the channel locks for the jumbo knurled rings on the french head set). Steve remembers an old Gitane, a Super Course, from his past. We toss her on the scale, and she comes in at a very reasonable 24.5 pounds, excellent given the 63.5 cm size and stout wheel set. A light set of sew ups, and she'd be down around 22 lbs.

So here I am back home at night, ready to ride again tommorow morn. I ponder about the unknown history of this bike. I envision many hot dusty days and rainy commutes, sunday club runs and maybe some weekend battles. And I'm sorry someone had to give her up after many years of loyal service, but happy she fell into my hands. New old stock is nice, and 'hung in garage for 20 years' catches my eye like everyone elses, but I think I prefer, old, battle scarred and proud.

See you folks on the road.

Tom Adams, Shrewsbury NJ