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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Round the world, on a drainpipe

Thanks to a very rainy 1st May weekend, we had the chance to explore the Luzern transport museum. Great museum for kids (and big kids), with lots of interactive stuff, planes, boats, trains and cars.

Among all that, they squeezed in a few interesting bicycles.

A racer from 1905

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A Swiss military bicycle. Apparently unchanged in design for almost 100 years… (must be heavy!)

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An early tandem from the 1930s

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They also had an early mountain bike (nicer but similar to some of my collection, Deore LX etc.) and an interesting bike which completed a tour of the world.

Ridden by Armin Honegger, this 1955 British Hercules completed a 149,000km round trip of the planet. Looking at this bike, Herr Honegger commands some serious respect. Nowadays, most people wouldn’t even ride to work the supermarket on this, so it just goes to show what is possible with simple technology.

No need for a thirty three gears, aero tubes, electronic shifting, air damper suspension and carbon fibre. This guy went round the world on a (well built) drainpipe with three gears and crummy brakes. Well done that man!

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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.

Not sure how to fix something? Watch someone else do it first!

Bikes are relatively simple machines. Much easier to repair than say, a motorbike, or a car, or a TV. But while they are relatively simple, they still pose a number of challenges to the home mechanic.

Each component on a bike is relatively straightforward, mechanically speaking. But anyone with more than one bike will know there’s been a whole host of different components over the last decades.

Every bike has a bottom bracket, and hubs, and pedals, and handlebars, and brakes. But the way these have been designed and put together over the years has varied dramatically.

As a result of these variations, each different component works slightly differently, is adjusted differently, might be threaded differently, etc. Pretty quickly, the home mechanic finds they need a whole host of tools to undertake the same task (e.g. change a bottom bracket) on different bikes!

But the web is your friend. The internet is an amazing resource to check things out without damaging components by doing something incorrectly, and youtube channels allow you to see people fixing stuff first-hand.

Repair and maintenance instructions can be unclear in written/photo form, and video can really help improve clarity.

I’ve recently added a few youtube channels to my Blogroll that I find helpful. They’re over on the right of my page. Check them out, hopefully they can help you too.

Velobrico Rides: TD3-14

As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently came across an interesting event in Switzerland, the Tour des Trois.

In a nutshell, the principle is to gather a group of cyclists, with a passion for vintage bicycles, and riding, and ride together through three countries, in a single day, in a matching historical cycling outfit.

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The ride covers c.130kms and 1,900m total elevation, with one long, steep climb of 400m close to the start, at Gempen in Switzerland. The ride begins in Leymen, France in Alsace (Haut Rhin), proceeds east into Switzerland into the canton of Solothurn, swings north through canton Basel, across the Rhine into Germany (Baden-Württemburg), before crossing the Rhine again back into Alsace, and looping south back to Leymen.
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For my part, I had never done such a long group ride before, or put so many kms on any of my old bikes, nor strained them with any heavy climbs, so was unsure as to whether it would be possible without mishap. But to spoil the plot early on…. It is entirely possible, and everyone of the 50 or so riders finished with beaming smiles and nothing worse than a few punctures.

I had intended to complete the ride with my 70s Mercier (which has not yet featured on the blog), but the combination of heavy forecast rain, weak Mafac brakes, steep descents, tubular tyres and a high proportion of unsurfaced gravel track on the route pushed me to make a last minute switch to my more modern (yet still “vintage”) bike, the Fuji Del Rey (1983). 2014-06-29 06.36.26

The weather forecast up to a week before the ride was for constant rain and thunderstorms all day, and the forecast worsened the closer the day came. The night before the ride, after some last minute preparations to the Fuji, I could hear the rain lashing down and could only imagine what it might be like to ride 130kms in constant rain, with or without a rain jacket, in 15°C… (esp. after being used to riding for the last 3 years in Singapore between 28-32°C!).

Weather-wise, the day went like this: Got up fairly early (rain), drove to Basel (in the rain), got out of the car (rain stopped…), sun shone more or less all day, finished the ride, drank a beer, said goodbyes, got in the car (rain restarted immediately…). The timing of the weather was so freakishly perfect, literally to the minute, that I’m not sure who bribed the clouds but am eternally grateful for it!

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While the Fuji had better brakes, better derailleurs, better shifters, better tyres, and a generally more modern, comfortable and planted feel than the Mercier, it also happens to have much higher gearing (to which I hadn’t previously paid any attention… not sure if the freewheel/cassette is original). As a result, the ride up to Gempen was a punishing slog, and I’m not entirely sure how I did it. But I did! This gearing would also explain why I had previously struggled to make much progress with the Fuji in the Alps. I am pleased to now be able to blame my corncob freewheel for my poor climbing instead of my weak thigh muscles =), and from now on will pay more attention to counting teeth…

The Fuji was one of the least glamorous bikes of the day, and there was a fantastic display of bicycles from 1953 onwards. Italian, French, Austrian, German, Swiss and British bikes were all ridden, mostly steel, but some nice early lugged aluminium frames too (e.g. Alan). IMG_1194 IMG_1079

The best thing for me was to see such beautiful bikes being ridden. Properly ridden. Not just on roads, but through mud, tree roots and over gravel, through puddles, pot-holes and up big hills, even though most of them have tubular tyres.

It is a real pleasure to see museum pieces being used, not just kept for show like china dolls, by individuals who both appreciate their beauty, engineering and historical significance, but aren’t afraid to get them muddy, risk a crash or a failed and difficult to replace component.

The TD3 is organised by a great team of guys, mostly based in the Basel area, and has now run for 7 years or so. Flash provides friendly tech support, and takes some great photos, in his fantastic red VW combi van. Many of the pics in this post are his, and you can see much more interesting information about Hetchins bikes on his great website. There are a number of pitstops around the route for food/coffee/fruit/granola bars etc., and the event manages to be casual, yet very well organised in a seemingly effortless manner (which hides significant preparations on behalf of Stefan and his team).

The ride is open to all, subject to application, and using a pre ’85 bike with matching outfit, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Many of the participants travelled from far afield to join the ride, e.g. from Berlin, or Austria, so while the number of participants is relatively small, it’s a dedicated and friendly group of guys.

Check out the TD3 website for application opening for the TD3 15. I hope to meet you there. With a nicer bike than mine.

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Vintage gear for a vintage ride

At the end of the month I’m participating in a historical bike ride of c.130km through France, Switzerland and Germany (tour des trois).

I plan to ride my late 70s/early 80s Mercier (which has not been featured on the blog before! Though it has made a guest appearance in the blog logo…..) with tubular tyres and all French components. A restoration post will follow shortly!

130km is a long ride by any standards, let alone on a 40 year old bike. Wish me luck! I’m not sure which will fail first, me or the bike… Here’s hoping I finish.

Also, while participants are to ride pre ’85 bikes, they must also be dressed in vintage (or replica vintage) cycling gear. I’ve got the bike, but didn’t have the clothing!

Thankfully ebay came to the rescue. I not only found a vintage cycling top, but one from a cycling club in the very city where I grew up, Newcastle upon Tyne! This seems to be from the Tyne Electric CC cycling club. Anyone know anything about it or a bit about the club?

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I also found and old pair of cycling gloves from when I was a teenager. They’re horribly coloured so should be suitable as early 1980s…! However, they seem to have mud on them.

Possibly a stupid question, but does anyone know the best way to clean them? Just pop them in the machine on a gentle wash??

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