Re: [CR]french bike quality

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Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2005 07:34:39 -0700
To: Fred Rafael Rednor <>,
From: "Jan Heine" <>
Subject: Re: [CR]french bike quality

The following applies only to the custom-built bikes from the famous constructeurs, not French production machines.

From my experience, even the best French bikes vary in quality a bit, just like the best Italian bikes. Especially among the early bikes, as well as in the 1960s, when there were few orders, there are some stunning bikes, where you will be hard-pressed to find even a small flaw. These bikes can stand up even to the much-revered modern American custom frames.

Obviously, it was mostly these special bikes that we put into our book. For example, the 1950 Herse as well as the 1952 bike from the Paris bike show (on the cover), and the 1962 Singer are just sublime in every respect. Lugs beautifully filed and thinned, even brazing, no sign of overheating, etc.

Back then, competition was intense - in the 1940s and 1950s, dozens of builders were competing for very discerning customers. And in the 1960s, there weren't many builders left, but even fewer buyers.

That said, the French cyclotourists always have looked at bicycles differently from most Americans. To them, the overall line of the bike is most important. The best-filed lug is no good if the fenders don't follow the line of the wheel gracefully, or if the overall proportions are wrong. To describe it in the terms Fred used, they move inward. First they look at the bike from 10 feet away. If it is nice, they move to 3 feet, then to 1 foot, etc. The frame really is only part of the entire bike.

It seems that many Americans are used to starting at 1 foot and moving outward... The frame is considered the heart of the bike, and if the rack is sloping downward because it is a poorly fitting production item, that is OK as long as the lugs are perfect.

Neither approach is better, just different.

As for French racing bikes - at least in the early post-war days, racing was for poor people trying to make a living on the road. Bikes were of little interest to them, as long as they worked OK (meaning as well as the next guy's bike). Later-on, when the bike boom hit France in the late 1960s and 1970s, production racing bikes were the equivalent of our mid-range Treks. Good bikes that did everything most people asked them to do, but not much more.

Jan Heine, Seattle Editor/Publisher Vintage Bicycle Quarterly c/o Il Vecchio Bicycles 140 Lakeside Ave, Ste. C Seattle WA 98122

>I think that the "someone" who wrote that comment (i.e. me) was
>trying to _defend_ the French bicycles. I really can't speak
>about the bikes in Jan's book. All I can say is that the few
>original condition Herse and Singer bikes I've actually
>examined had small blemishes that could not be seen from a
>distance of 3 feet (1 meter) but which could be seen on close
>inspection. But the overall beauty and quality of the bicycles
>was of a high level.
>For example, although I have only seen photos of the Japanese
>copies of the French randonneur bikes, my impression is that
>these copies achieve a level of near-perfection in their finish
>that the originals never achieved.
>If I'm wrong, it's only because I haven't seen them all...
> Best regards,
> Fred Rednor - Arlington, Virginia (USA)