Velobrico Workshop: 1930s Wonder tandem (update 1)

While trying to find some info on the Wonder tandem, (it’s easier to research on the net in winter than brave a cold workshop), I came across this great forum, all in French, related to this manufacturer from St Etienne.

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Some fantastic advertising posters.

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A few pictures of tandems, but Ravat models, not Wonder. This one looks pretty similar to mine. Similar derailleur, “gents” saddle at the front, wider “ladies” saddle at the back, same tool pouch, mudguards, but it has a split down tube and the top tube carries through to the rear seat tube.

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From the look of these pedals, mine aren’t original.

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I imagine myself pretty much as the chap in the photo below, casually pointing out a route on a map to his female companion.

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I was curious why the chain goes all the way from the front chain ring to the freewheel on my tandem. Typically I have seen one shorter chain between chain rings, and another between the rear ring and the freewheel.

The advert above says that this is how Ravat tandems were deliberately designed, along with a short rear wheelbase and thin lateral tubes, which “improves stability, rigidity and performance”. That’s a bit of a vague claim, and I don’t see how the chain length would help with that, but when I ride it I guess I’ll decide for myself!

Once I start on the restoration in earnest, I’ll be sure to reach out to the forum members. Looks like the only place to go!

Velobrico Workshop: Wonder tandem

A new arrival in the workshop today (yes, it is easier to start projects than finish them…). something really quite special indeed.

I’ve always fancied a tandem. Not really sure why. They’re heavy, large, unusable without a trained partner, don’t fit on the car, look a bit weird. But still, they do look fun, in an eccentric sort of way.

I’ve also thought it would be cool to own a bicycle from every decade of the 1900s. Well I have managed to tick both boxes with this one.

This is a “Wonder” tandem from the mid 1930s, seemingly remarkably original and in excellent antique condition.

I have never owned a vehicle this old, nor repaired anything with this much history, so I’m going to be treating it very carefully! That said, this isn’t going to be a garage queen restoration. My intention is to use it, but keep as much original patina as possible.

Watch this space, this is going to be an interesting restoration and a very unique bike to research, fix up and ride.

Any tips more than welcome. I’m in uncharted territory with this antique =)

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What makes for the best commuter?

Mountain bike, hybrid, road bike or fixie?

As far as I can tell, cycling in cities is becoming more popular. I have commuted by bicycle to work for the last 8 years or so, first in Paris, then in Singapore. Over this period, I have the feeling there are a slowly increasing number of people riding to work.

Cycle commuters seem to come in various flavours.

Some choose vintage road bikes that have seen better days.

Some use fixies or single gear with freewheel, with or without brakes, coloured chains, aero wheel discs etc.

Some use purpose built hybrids with mountain-bike style frames, often front suspension and larger than 26″ wheels with skinny tyres.

Some choose Dutch-style town bikes, usually with a basket somewhere and sometimes with backward pedalling brakes.

And some choose old mountain bikes, that have probably never seen a mountain…

I fall into this latter category and, for the most part, rode old, ugly mountain bikes to death work for much of the last 8 years…

I have had the good fortune to commute in countries where public transport is efficient and cheap, so cost was never a motivator.

For me the main incentive was that I enjoy riding, that it got me to work faster than public transport and that a little bit of exercise doesn’t do you any harm.

Cycle commuting is something that takes a little time to get used to. And in that time, one probably changes the route taken, clothes worn, equipment used, the bike itself and the attitude to other road users.

For me these choices were generally driven by the principle of “I don’t want to die”. Crashes aren’t nice. Everyone has had one (or more), and would like to avoid them as much as possible.

For a time, I commuted by 1980s road bike. It was exhilarating and fast, but it didn’t take long before I had enough close shaves to figure out it wasn’t sustainable. Also I find the dropped position on the handlebars limits visibility and comfort (on the neck), high-pressure 23mm tyres on cobble-stones are like riding a pneumatic drill, and 30 year old brakes and drop handlebars aren’t the best way to avoid getting splatted.

So while a 90s MTB isn’t the coolest way to get to work, it’s safe, comfortable and bulletproof.

That said, if you’re going to spend a lot of time riding, you may as well enjoy it. So maybe spend a bit of cash and get something decent looking instead…

So I’d say, whatever you’re riding, keep safe, and enjoy your commute.

What do you guys and girls commute on? What do you enjoy most about your ride?

Velobrico Workshop: Motobecane Eclair (1986) update 

A couple of weeks back I posted about the latest addition to the Velobrico pile of bicycles. A mysterious Motobecane Eclair. Mysterious mostly becuase I couldn’t find out much information about the bike.

Since then, I found that Motobecane went bankrupt in 1983. The remaining assets were purchased by multiple parties, including Yamaha, and rebranded MBK.

I found a French Motobecane brochure from 1986, but no Eclair. All brochures I could find from after this date were for mountain bikes or BMXs, under the MBK badge.

So still no trace of the Eclair (which from looking at the components, should date from about 1986).

Then a breakthrough clue.

Through a Google image search I found some photos of a couple of Motobecane Eclairs. All had been repurposed as fixies or otherwise lightly modified, but were always in the same colour scheme and interestingly also in the same large frame size.

And all located in Germany….

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The other clue as to provenance came from a sticker on the down tube with ZEG written on it. This stands for “Zweirad Einkauf Gemeinschaft“, which I understand to be a bulk purchasing cooperative.

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So I’m guessing when MBK went bankrupt, they sold their remaining inventory, along with exclusive licences to sell Motobecane branded bikes, in certain national markets.

So Germany got the Eclair, and similar variants maybe appeared in other countries. I wonder if Spain got the Profiterole, and Italy the Paris-Brest (yes, it is the name of a patisserie as well as a bike race).

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Has anyone spotted something similar? Just this morning I saw a MBK (not Motobecane) Mirage with a similar looking frame (internal cable routing and same seatpost clamp under the rear stays) in Zurich.

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The Eclair needed quite a bit of tweaking before it could be safely ridden, but eventually I got it out the door and went for a fairly long 65km test ride.

Prior to the test ride I noticed the rear wheel was untrue and had very loose spokes. I tightened them, trued the wheel, and after a few small test runs they seemed to loosen again. So further tightened them, same story. Then I switched out the spoke nipples on the loosened spokes.

This was sufficient for it to survive the test ride, but the spokes definitely loosened again by the end of the ride. Given I can’t remove the spokes without removing the freewheel and can’t do that without a tool that doesn’t disintegrate on the first use, it seems easier to just switch out the rear wheel with a new one. I can’t really imagine why spoke threads could be stripped (which seems the only explanation for the continual loss of spoke tension). Does anyone have experience with that?

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The test ride was otherwise very positive. The brakes are good, though not as powerful as modern equivalents. The mudguards kept me clean =). I was glad not to have to use the lights as the dynamo seems to add 5kgs to the bike when in use…

The handlebar position gave me pins and needles. I get that on some of my bikes but not on others, and have never figured out exactly why that is. Reach or top tube length?

The VP Components pedals were a pleasant surprise, well built, comfortable and suitable for both regular shoes or MTB cleats. Apparently the low cost B’Twin pedals sold in Decathlon are made by VP Components, so buy with confidence.

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The bar tape has stretched apart in the usual spot, on the tops behind the brake levers.

Basically, the downward pressure applied by one’s hands spreads the wrap open over time. This is very common and is so easily avoided by “reverse wrapping”, where you rotate the tape outward from the top (right bar clockwise, left bar counter-clockwise). It’s a neat technique, and worth trying if you haven’t done so already.

I averaged 29 km/hr for first 18kms of my ride (until my phone died) and never did the bike feel unstable. Not bad for a purpose-confused hybrid/aero/tourer/commuter frame!

While the test ride was successful, and this frame offers a good ride, it is just far too big for me.

The current saddle doesn’t look good, so I intend to swap that onto another bike and replace it with a more comfortable one, more suited to a hybrid bike and less “race-y”.

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For me this frame makes for a better a road racer than a commuter, mainly because I have never been a fan of commuting on drop-handlebar bikes. I find the riding position awkward for stop-start riding from traffic light to traffic light, and the skinny tyres poorly suited to cobble stones and tram tracks! But as a weekend racer for a taller cyclist. This bike would be great.

As a final thought, while browsing the Motobecane catalogues, I came across this most fetching photo from 1984.

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I just couldn’t wear shorts that… short.

Maybe that’s why I’m not a fan of Motobecanes?

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Velobrico Workshop: Motobecane Eclair (1986)

The newest addition to the Velobrico stable is an unusual Motobecane road bike.

I say unusual because at first glance it looks pretty normal, while a second glance invites a few questions.

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First off, from the rear you might notice the rear stays are particularly thin, aero indeed. Secondly there’s the internal brake cable routing which gives it a sleek, clean look.

But then there’s front and rear mudguards and internal electrical cable routing for the dynamo powered lights (brazed on fork mounts).

Finally, the frame is larger than one typically sees (60cm seat tube length). And this all seems to be a stock set-up, not subsequent modifications.

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So it’s effectively half urban commuter, half racer. A bit of a confused identity!

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To be honest, I never really cared for Motobecanes. Of all the major French bikes, I always found them to be a bit humdrum and uninteresting. I’d always more fancy a Peugeot, or a Mercier. Though I’m sure someone can convince me they are actually great, so feel free to do so!

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Nonetheless, if you want to find info on a Motobecane bicycle, there’s an obvious place to turn.

Except… no French website, ad site or forum would yield any info, or even a photo of a Motobecane Eclair.

Rien du tout!

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No Motobecane brochures I sourced contain any evidence of the Eclair. Though they do show very similar frames, also labelled as “inexternal brazing, lugless”.

The first appearance is in the 1982 catalogue, showing a “Profil” with internal routing and aero rear stays, similar to the Eclair. But it’s definitely not a commuter.

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So, a little more detective work was required.

Starting with the apparently original parts: The bike has a nice Shimano Golden Arrow crankset (FC-S125 1983-1986), Shimano Light Action rear derailleur (RD-L523 1986-1988), Shimano 105 indexed 6 speed downtube shifters (SL-1050, mid-late 80s), Weinmann brakes (570).

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The parts suggest the bike is from 1986, but made no catalogue appearances, and there is no evidence of it ever having existed in France. A mystery indeed!

Eclair means “lightning bolt” in French, but it’s also the name of a nice oblong pastry filled with crême patissière and chocolate icing, which you may be familiar with. So maybe this bike is a hybrid: half electric, half doughnut… Seems oddly fitting.

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Looks like some further detective work is required. Watch this space.

Some see death trap, I see… opportunity!

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I happened across an advert for the Peugeot Galaxie by accident.

At the time I had never seen such an elegant, early aluminium frame, and was not yet familiar with the lovely Vitus 979, 989 and 992 aluminium frames.

I really like the unpainted look, so you can see the material from which the bike is made, without much embellishment.

That’s probably why I like my Lemond Chambery so much, though the clear lacquer over the aluminium is prone to damage and bubbling.

I have never seen a Peugeot Galaxie in the flesh, so would be keen to see if and how the aluminium is treated to stop “worming” and other effects of aluminium corrosion.

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In summary, I think the lines of the Peugeot Pechiney Alumiunium frames are really quite beautiful. Simple, raw, sleek.

In the mid 1980s, Peugeot partnered with French aluminium manufacturer Pechiney, to develop an innovative new frame. The end result was a full lugged aluminium frame + fork weighing about 2kgs, held together without any bonding. Total weight including all components would be just under 9kgs.

A quick bit of googling will tell you these bikes are death traps, and that if you even look at one, you will spontaneously combust.

Pechiney Peugeot frame fault exampleApparently, the frame is prone to cracking at the bottom bracket and lugs, so definitely worth close examination before buying.

While I can well believe that early designs using new engineering concepts can have inherent design or manufacturing flaws, I wonder how much these are exaggerated by word of mouth. This does seem to be an issue with these frames, but surely this only affects a certain percentage of bikes?

As this technique is not used today, that does suggest this was a failed experiment, but it remains interesting from an engineering and aesthetic perspective nonetheless.

One positive outcome of fear is that it keeps buyers away, and prevents a bike becoming so sought after that it is unreasonably expensive. Not that this was ever a top line racing frame with high-end components…

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There seem to be three variants built around the same frame. In order of prestige and original sale price, these are: Galaxie (Shimano components), Comete, Cosmic (both with French components). Oddly, some Galaxies have external cable routing, and some internal, though they were only sold for a couple of years.

These come up regularly on French second hand websites for not much money, often misdescribed, and one day I will pick one up.

If I stop posting after I buy one, it’s because I spontaneously combusted.

August in Paris

On a recent trip to Paris I was pleased to see that more people now seem to be cycling than was the case a few years ago.

There are public hired bicycles (the famous Velib’), tour groups on bikes, commuters on bikes, bikes parked on top of bikes, hobos on bikes, artist installations on bikes, recumbents, “col de cygne” (swan-neck) town bicycles, foldable bicycles, hipsters on fixies, bikes being reclaimed by nature, bikes with motors (the humble Solex…), bikes with batteries, goods delivery bicycles, bicycle taxis, weekend racer carbon aero bicycles, fully suspended mountain bikes, supermarket bikes, expensive bikes, cheap bikes, old bikes, new bikes, nice bikes and not so nice bikes. Even some tandems too.

Now all of this is not new for Paris. There always were a fair amount of bicycles, and France has a huge cycling heritage, but there are definitely more cyclists now. I’m not sure what’s driving this, but guess it could be: a desire for a more sustainable lifestyle? fashion? fitness? economic austerity? a combination of the above?

Cycling infrastructure, however, does not seem to have developed much. Sure there’s a few “cycle lanes” painted on some roads (often contraflow to traffic – delivery van drivers love that on narrow lanes…), and some separated from road traffic (but shared with buses, taxis and some of the maddest scooter riders on earth), but there is very little provision for public (or private) cycle parking whatsoever. I did see a few more dedicated cycle lanes than previously, but there is quite a way to go before cyclists are safe and respected road users here. That said, many cities do not have the level of infrastructure provided here, and it is clearly not putting people off pedalling…

One other great event which is still running is the “Paris Rando Velo”. This is a group ride around central Paris, leaving from Place de l’Hôtel de Ville every Friday night from 10pm until midnight or so, organised by volunteers who come up with a different route each week.

While riding in Parisian traffic may be hair-raising for the unaccustomed, the volunteers provide a very effective cordon around the group, ensuring it is never troubled by scooters, drivers, pedestrians etc., and that no-one can get lost. Usually the arrival of the group is well noticed as (apart from consisting of a large number of bicycles…) it is always accompanied by a chap pulling a trailer with a light and sound system, usually playing eclectic things like Abba or Michael Jackson. My hat goes off to him for pulling heavy car batteries around Paris every Friday night! The pace is usually relatively slow, which makes the ride manageable for all. Also, there’s a pause halfway round, at which people might share a granola bar, or a cup of cognac. Most people ride their own bikes, but many use the rented Velibs. It is free to participate, and you can peel off at any time if tired.

I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to enjoy Paris in a different and quirky way, or discover bits of it you never knew. Riding across the Seine at sunset, in a bicycle convoy led by a man pulling a trailer blasting out Kylie Minogue is pretty unconventional, and will make for a good story. Check out their website: Paris Rando Velo

My friend and I opted to do our own little Paris tour this time. You can check it out here.

Paris is as charming and quirky as ever. Next time you visit, see it by bike!

PS. if you’d like to follow any of my rides, feel free to follow me on Strava.

Velib's by night

Velib’s by night

Bush or bicycle?

Bush or bicycle?

Nature reclaiming parked bikes

Nature reclaiming parked bikes

Another bike taxi

Another bike taxi

Bikes chained to bikes

Bikes chained to bikes

Covered bike taxi

Covered bike taxi

The Velib'

The Velib’

A full bike rack

A full bike rack

More full bike racks

More full bike racks