Friday, September 19, 2014

Unboxing an Oscar Egg

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
For one accustomed to currently-made, constructeur-inspired machines, seeing one of the originals can be a surreal experience. All the imitated elements - from the intricate lugwork, to the fat 650B tires, to the artful chaincase and elegant rack, even to the colour of the paint - are there. And yet the bicycle looks and feels different from the modern remakes. In some ways it feels like a book illustration come to life, more than a real bike. 

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
In the darkened hallway stands a box, torn open at the top. When I see the words "Oscar Egg" on a powder-blue tube, I feel such lightheaded excitement that I need to walk away. 

I am not certain why the name of this particular builder engages my imagination. A Swiss bicycle racer who later settled in Paris to sell and manufacture bike parts, he is perhaps best known for his lugs, which were used by a variety of European builders. Complete Oscar Egg bicycles are less common, and there seems to be some debate as to whether he actually built them himself. Aside from this, little is known of him or his work. The man himself appears in photos as a broadly smiling, amicable fellow, with a round face and perky ears. The name Oscar Egg suits him. The name somehow also suits itself - the O in Oscar resembling an egg, and the font in which it is inscribed reminding me of an old children's book cover.

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
I step outside to photograph some bikes of Nick's - the collector whose warehouse I'm in. When I return the Oscar Egg is unboxed and propped against the wall - unassembled, the parts just resting on top of one another. The machine is teeny-tiny, a 50cm frame perhaps, and a perfect, powdery shade of robin's egg blue. And it's a city bike, with upright handlebars and relaxed angles.  

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
The unassembled bike cannot be easily moved, and the patchily lit hallway makes for a film-noiresque viewing.

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
The dramatic flick of the Alu-Dur chainguard.

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
The rounded forms of the rear rack. 

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
The plump 650B wheels, the indentations on the fenders, the jewel-like lights, the wingnuts, the delicate-looking pulleys…

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
My eyes dart from one detail to another, and so perfectly like itself each part is that it hardly seems real. The bike is from the 1950s, and not a particularly high-end model, judging by the simpler style of lugwork. Not that these things are particularly well documented, when it comes to Oscar Egg. 

1950s Oscar Egg City Bike
The details of this bicycle's construction may never be known. I lament this, while in my head plays a black and white silent film in which Humpty Dumpy, clad in an old work apron, sits bent over a pile of lugwork with a file and polishing cloth, his elbows moving jerkily as music builds to a crescendo. 

25 comments:

  1. That's a gorgeous color. I would love to see that cleaned up and in running condition. A honey-leather saddle and fresh cork grips would be just the thing for it.


    Wolf

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    1. The owner's plan is to clean it up, get it ridable, and keep it on display for visitors to try. Looking forward to that!

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  2. That's funny because I have the same image of Humpty Dumpty working on bikes when I see or read about Oscar Egg lugs and bikes. lol

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  3. That bicycle is my size, love it! The colour!

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  4. At first I wasn't sure I liked the baby blue color schemes that I had seen on a couple of modern rando bikes. But something about this bike looks just right. Hope you can take it for a spin once it's assembled. I always enjoy your impressions of how a bike rides.

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    1. So far I only stood over it… and am pleased to report it has no toe overlap :)

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  5. Oscar Egg held the world hour record 3 times.

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  6. I've seen two Oscar Eggs. (It seems so odd to say that)--one in Kopp's Cycles in Princeton, NJ; the other in Paris.

    When I saw the one in Princeton, I didn't know the name. Fred "Fritz" Kuhn, the owner of Kopp's, took it upon himself to educate me. I am grateful for that.

    The one in Paris was in a shop on la Place de la Grand Armee. From what I recall, it was much like the one in your photos: a smallish city model, in a similar color. On the other hand, the one I saw in Princeton was, if memory serves, more performance-oriented: the geometry was tighter. And it was painted a different shade of blue: more like "Anquetil blue".

    Seeing both of those bikes was, as you say "surreal"..

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  7. When I worked in bike shops in the mid 70's seems like every owner had a bike or two like this in the back room. Always interesting…Swiss, French, English, not like anything one would see for sale on the floor. Sometimes they bought them only to see the company go out of business so the bikes just sat in the back room still in the box. All these interesting features and colors. I grabbed a couple of them before they were tossed :)

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  8. "Relaxed geometry" always makes me think of "relaxed fit" pants. While not mechanically simple, the bike is more elelgant and elemental than more modern poseurs.

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    1. makes me think of adirondack chairs, linen trousers and Hawaiian shirts

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  9. I once got to ride an Oscar Egg from the 1930s - the one we featured in "The Competition Bicycle". It had a remarkably modern feel, and I wouldn't have any qualms riding it in a road race today. The handling, performance and overall feel was like a good steel bike from the 1970s or 1980s.

    It had a Super Champion derailleur with a shifter fork under the chainstay - which was indexed, but not in the way we know today. You shifted two notches to move the chain, then back one to center the shifter fork to prevent chain rub. Not the fastest shift, but it worked well enough.

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  10. Talk about eye candy! I can only imagine what it will look like all cleaned up.

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  11. you and your writing are simply beautiful!
    liebe grüße aus österreich
    c.

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  12. I believe by the time Oscar Egg began building bikes, the silent era had ended.

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  13. That is one lovely bicycle!

    I just picked up a handle bar bag from Dill Pickle after reading about them on here. I love it.

    Keep up the good work.

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  14. My first thought on seeing this bike was "Curious George Rides a Bike".

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  15. What a Beauty ! I have a set of those hammered fenders with the 2 relieved stripes and that rack as well. The stripes being metallic red. I have a red metallic Peugeot PX 50 that I keep meaning to start on. I am not sure if it will be drop bars or city bars. I have Super Champion 650B rims with a Schmidt generator up front and an orphan Shimano Dura Ace rear hub for a 9 speed cassette. Will never get tired of looking at the old French goodies!

    vsk

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  16. it's likely this bike was made in one of the factories in StEtienne and is a great little vignette of France's post war retooling from arnaments to bicycle production.
    Stay tuned, a ladies' model may be making an appearance at Three Speed Hub in weeks to come.

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  17. oh yes, hammered alloy mudguards are like crack... it's terrible ;)

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