Thursday, September 24, 2009

French Inspirations: Beautiful Oddities

As a change from the Cape Cod theme, I would like to share these photos of some early French bicycles from the collection of Nick March. These pre-war bicycles are not quite mixtes, but they are not classic step-throughs either. Whatever their construction, they have an overall grace and elegance that I find inspiring.

This beauty is a very rare bicycle by Caminade (see here for additional details).

What makes it truly exceptional, is that the frame is alloy, with hexagonal(!) tubing and elaborate lugs. I have never seen a bicycle with hexagonal tubes before, so these photos blew my mind. I wonder what it feels like to ride this creation.

In the close-up photos, it appears as if the lugs might be bolted to the tubing, but I am out of my depth here. Any further details regarding the construction of this bicycle are welcome. This is definitely one of the most exceptional ladies' bicycles out there, and the condition in which it has been preserved is amazing.

This sage green bicycle is an Alcyon from the late 1930s. The mixte-like construction has twin stays that curve sharply at the seat tube, then connect to the lower part of the rear stays. One of the elements of early French ladies and mixte bicycles that appeals to me, is the colour scheme: The combination of pastel blue-green paint and chrome accesories takes my breath away - even when the bicycle is old and rusty and the paint is faded.

This ancient Helium is another example of the faded pastel green paint I love. Notice the curved stays again, which I have also documented on many bicycles in Vienna. The twin stays extend all the way to the rear drop-outs, but is the bicycle technically considered a mixte if the stays are curved in this manner? I assume the purpose of this design was to lower the step-over height, but what effect does it have on the bicycle's structural integrity?

Largely dilapidated, the Helium in the photo is in her owner's "destined for the trash" pile. I wish I could wisk it away to a bicycle history museum. My thanks again to Mr. March for permission to use these images; they are a treat to see.

24 comments:

  1. "I assume the purpose of this design was to lower the step-over height"

    Correct.

    "but what effect does it have on the bicycle's structural integrity?"

    It lowers it.

    "is the bicycle technically considered a mixte if the stays are curved in this manner?"

    Technically? Yeah, it is, although aesthetically I prefer those with a continuous bend rather than a sharp one. Practically? It does move rather in the direction of defeating the purpose of a mixte in the first place, although it's still stiffer than a plain double down tube. The sharper the bend and further from the dropout the stay ends, the more the whole effort moves towards pointlessness. It's all about forming, ya know, TRIANGLES.

    This is the sort of thing that is prone to happen when customer demand and "style" overcome good engineering sense.

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  2. Oh, yeah, as to the first bike. Welding "aircraft grade" aluminum alloy, particularly in light gauges was rather, shall we say, "problematic" before the invention of inert gas electric welding. Airplanes were riveted. Even the Alan frames of the early 70s that made aluminum a popular material for bikes weren't welded. The lugs and tubes were threaded and adhesive bonded together. "Screwed and glued" in the colloquial of the time.

    This bike is an early example of trying to solve the problem. The hexagonal section of the tubes is to keep them from rotating in the lugs so that the holes the bolts go through don't go all elliptical and shit.

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  3. I've really been enjoying reading your blog - and dreaming about possible lovely bicycles in my future. Thanks for the photos of vintage bikes and reviews. I love my hybrid for touring and weekend hill rides but someday -

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  4. wow, wow, wow! Gorgeous bicycles. The alloy bike is amazing.

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  5. I'm so enjoying reading your blog and dreaming about possible lovely bikes in my future. Thanks for the vintage photos and reviews.

    I love my hybrid for touring and weekend hill rides, but someday I'm going to have a bike that lets me wear fluttery skirts and flirty shoes - !

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  6. I'd never seen a bike like that either.

    wow, if you had more of that tubing, then all you need is a hack saw and an allen wrench to change the frame size. no need for years of learning the fine art of frame building!

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  7. The Caminade rear triangle is bolted together. However, the main tubes (hexagonals) are clamped into the lugs by means of a bolt with a square hole, invented by Caminade. A predecessor of the allen or hexacave screw. These bolts tighten the lugs against the tubes. Initially, the sales blurb claimed you could take the bike apart and fit it in a suitcase for travelling. Not a good idea, after 6 or 8 dissasembly / reassembly procedures, the tubes get "crimped".

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  8. SAVE THE HELIUM! We need to start a home for wayward and lost cycles. If you can get it, I can provide storage. ;-)

    The Caminade was a very interesting bike. Yes the tubes are either clamped and/or pinned in place.

    Aaron

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  9. kfg - Thanks for the comments. That is what I assumed, but it is good to have it confirmed by someone who seems to know what they are talking about. I know that even at its best a mixte is structurally inferior to a diamond frame, but the standard I would hold it up to, is that it must withstand the demands of racing and touring comparably to a diamond frame. At least with the 1970s mixtes, I know that manufacturers such as Motobecane and Peugeot were able to accomplish this.

    Aaron - I believe the owner has already disposed of the Helium. I agree about the home for wayward bicycles!

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  10. Maybe heavy riders + lots of baggage + serious touring can theoretically ruin a Mixte frame, but the overwhelming variety of different used/old Mixtes in the Boston area proves that they will rust/be ridden into the ground before a frame fails. There are so many Mixtes around here, some in excellent and some in poor condition, some left out parked in the rain and some babied with shiny accessories. Any bicycle can be a lemon (or be involved in a crash), but I'd be seriously surprised to hear that vintage Motobecane/Peugeot Mixte frames fall apart from regular use.

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  11. I think engineers need to keep style in high priority as they are designing utility frames. As millions of cheap, barely welded American middleweight bikes will attest, frames rarely fail from structural defect, the human just doesn't have that much power on tap.
    The engineering saying "if it looks right, it is right" goes hand-in-hand with "a thing of beauty is a joy forever"

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  12. like politics and computer operating systems, the debate over what constitutes a mixte will rage in perpetuity and i will not add to that debate (although i have my own opinion as to what defines a mixte :-)).

    what i will say is that a mixte has the capability of being structurally almost as robust as a diamond frame, and completely suitable for fully loaded touring. in the 70s and 80s, several bike makers produced mixtes for fully loaded touring ("grand tourers").

    part of the equation for frame strength is geometry, naturally (triangles, triangles, everyone!), but also the metallurgy. for example, loaded tourers were often designed with thicker chromoly tubing than was used in racing bikes of the same manufacturer (straight-tube or double-butted as opposed to triple or quad-butted). this caused a slight weight penalty in return for a bike that could remain more stable and structurally sound with a full load.

    a wonderful example of a vintage grand touring mixte is the miyata one-ten mixte: with high quality triple-butted, lugged chromoly tubing, cantilever brakes, wide-range gearing and eyelets for fender and racks front and rear, it was a beautiful mixte as well as a serious tourer.

    no problem using a mixte as a tourer!

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  13. Back in 1980, I was cycling through the Loire Valley in France. I saw an old paysan wearing a beret and riding a Helium very much like the one in the photo. He pointed to the bike and said "elle a plus que cinquante annees": It was more than fifty years old. And, I might add, he probably rode it every day of those fifty-plus years!

    By the way...Men on mixte or women's bikes is not so uncommon in Europe. I guess they're a little more secure over there.

    I can't look at that bike in the photo without thinking about that old man. Please tell me it hasn't been junked!

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  14. Justine - It depends where in Europe. In France yes, but in Austria I very seldom see men on mixtes. Vienna is full of old mixtes, but 99.9% of the time they are ridden by women. In Boston I do occasionally see men riding them.

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  15. it's pretty much normal to see men riding step-through or U-frame bikes in holland, as well...

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  16. Those bicycles are so elegant and lovely. I want to take the Caminade home and treasure it and shower it with diamonds :-). I assume the Helium DIDN'T find a loving home? :-( What a shame.
    My husband is embarrassed about riding my mixte. Dunno what the problem is!

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  17. Austrians just don't want to be 'girlie men,' as per one famous Austrian. :)

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  18. Hi MDI. Um... I'm Australian. Aussie blokes don't want to be "girlie men" either :-D

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  19. Carinthia - He was referring to my saying that men in Vienna do not ride mixtes, not mixing up Austria and Australia : )

    mixing / mixtes / Austria / Australia...
    ouch, my head!

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  20. Hello, is the Caminade for sale? Please reply to race23@gmail.com
    Thanks

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  21. Renan - The bicycle is not mine; if you read the post you will see it belongs to Mr. Nick March. I don't think he is selling, but you can contact him through this website.

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  22. The French call the lovely bikes sporting these frames "Berceaux". The French word Berceau has a cluster of meanings to do with cradles and bowers.

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  23. My Caminargent is now fully restored, see it here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/veloulli/sets/72157630973271074/

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