Sunday, February 26, 2017

On the Dating Scene



It's a situation which some people enjoy quite a bit, but which I, frankly, hoped to not find myself in again. I mean, the stress of it. The awkwardness. The expense. The uncertainty about future compatibility. And of course, that question most of us dread to even ask... What if he, or she, is French?

That's right dear reader, I am back on the dating scene.  This time around I am older, possibly wiser, and - most importantly - armed with calipers.



Where did we meet? Well, where else. On the internet. But it wasn't a random profile search that led me to him; in fact I wasn't even looking. We were sort of introduced, by a mutual friend.

This friend did not beat around the bush.

"Look here: I found a Sabliere. In your size. You must buy it."

"Oh good lord, why?"

"Because maybe then you'll believe that a bike from the 1960s can rival a modern racer in weight and performance."

"I already believe. I don't need another frame. I really, really don't need another fr..."

"Another frame?! This is not another frame, you philistine. This is a Sabliere!"

At this point, I should have slammed my laptop shut. Walked away. Taken a cold shower. Instead I clicked on the link.

The following week he arrived at my door. And yes... He was French.



Now, what, or who, is this Sabliere, you might ask? And chances are, ask you will. Because Charles Sablière of Lyon was one of the lesser-known constructeurs - custom builders of fine racing, randonneuring and cyclotouring bicycles - in the heyday of such machines in 20th century France. Nowadays, you are more likely to find a bicycle made by his son, Andre Sablière, who picked up the torch in the 1970s. As far as the father, Charles, it is slim pickings. You can find some information on the older Sablière's machines here, along with illustrations by Daniel Rebour, along with other scatterings of published words and images, mostly in French. The rest is, alas, word of mouth.

But while today the Sablière name is not as readily recognised as the names of Singer and Herse, it is nevertheless recognised in collector circles. Specifically he is known as an early adapter of fillet brazed construction, and for his exceptionally lightweight machines.

How light? Well, our mutual friend - the one who got us together - challenged me as follows: To fit the Sablière frameset with period-correct components of the sort the builder himself would have used, and see how the result compared to my 2012 Seven Axiom - or, a typical carbon fibre bike seen at club rides today, for that matter. He reckoned they would be similar.

"I want to believe," I replied. And wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into.



Of course, to fit the frameset with period-correct components, it must be known what the 'correct' period is. Which is where the dating comes into it.

So how does one date a bicycle, anyway? Well, you can't be too modest or shy when it comes to these things. Ideally, you'd inspect the bottom bracket. Look for a stamp indicating a serial number which can then be researched. Often the date itself will be part of that serial number, or stamped next to it.

In the absence of such an easy tell (which, alas, is the case with the frame in question) there are other visual clues. To my eye, the 700C frame - in its aesthetics alone - suggested the mid-1960s, and with this my friend agreed.



To confirm this, the measurements began - which for me, was pure torture, as I am hardly the most precise person in the world and seem to find it a challenge to even hold a ruler or a set of calipers straight. Still, after several tries I managed to get replicable measurements. The spacing between the rear and fork dropouts are consistent with 1960s manufacture. The inner diameter readings on the seat and head tubes, and the bottom bracket width, were all also consistent with a French frame of mid-late 1960s manufacture made using quality, thinwall tubing.

So we are going with the mid-late 1960s hypothesis. Now, getting the appropriate components will be another matter. The wheels are built (more on those later), but the rest is up in the air. And my oh my, I am not sure what I look forward to more: sourcing lightweight French components, or honing my downtube shifting skills! Perhaps I can barter hand-knit hats again for components and coaching sessions?



That the frame has been identified by a reputable party as a genuine Sabliere makes it rare and interesting. Still, its lack of markings makes it difficult to prove both this, and its age, definitively - which is frustrating, but also exciting, as it infuses the project with some degree of mystery.

The 1570gr frameset is a beautiful shade of shimmery cerulean blue and, aside from the tidy fillet-brazing, has some other cool features. Notice, for instance, the flattening of the downtube toward the bottom bracket. Also quite sexy are the super-skinny fork blades. The fork crown and the wrap-around stays stand out, embrace-like, against the otherwise sparsely embellished frame.



Overall, the frame has a look of minimalist chic about it. A nonchalant coolness. I imagine it smoking a skinny cigarette and shrugging its shoulders over a tiny cappuccino, as it throws me a glance - daring me to build it up and ride it, daring to compare it, without sparing its feelings, to the modern roadbikes I've ridden and praised over the past 5 years.

And that, dear readers, is where dating a bicycle lands you. Let this be a tale of caution.



28 comments:

  1. I got hooked on vintage thanks to you, only going modern to find something that fits me better. So... the first words that come to mind are "serves you right". And... I'm very jealous.

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  2. French? The '60's? Sounds like fun to me!

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  3. Is the quoted 1570g for the frame and fork? That's about a kilo less than my mid 80s Razesa. Where do they save that much weight? I'm sure your frame is smaller than mine (56cm), and I bet the tubing is narrower, but a whole kilo? I'd love to know how they managed that and why they stopped doing it.

    Oh, and welcome to the wonderful and infuriating world of vintage French bikes. Because standard sizes are for other, lesser people.

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    1. One of the first vintage bikes I owned was a '70s Motobecane. This was followed by a Mercier. A series of stupid but fun modifications to both was enough French stuff for a lifetime... or so I said to myself then!

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    2. Marianne never looked quite comfortable, but that Mercier was one of my favorites out of all the bikes you've brought into the fold.

      The Sabliere looks to be a real gem. Let me know what you are looking for partswise. I have friends with stashes that go back a half century.

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    3. @RichardKendrick That would have to be a frame-only weight.

      @Velouria Is le tube horizontal oversized? In your photos, it appears to be similar in diameter to le tube diagonal.

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  4. Can't wait to see photos of it fully built up!

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  5. My first good (European) road ("10 speed") bike around 1971 was a Follis also from Lyon. It wasn't anything special w/stamped dropouts, cottered cranks and Simplex gearing. But it had the most beautiful color of blue - I call it French blue. Up until last year, it was the only bike I've ever sold - in order to upgrade to a professional level Italian race bike. Lately I keep my eyes open for a higher quality Follis in my size but without success. A Gitane seems more likely. I did find a nice Cinelli Supercorsa frameset a couple of years ago that is also in a beautiful shade of blue. In fact, I get more compliments on that bike than any I've every owned. And it fills a gap that I've had - a steel, especially Italian, road bike as I went from aluminum to titanium to carbon fiber.

    I think I'm about to purchase a new frame and thinking of having it painted blue - so thanks for the heads up on "Cerulian." I'd sort of settled on Royal Azure but will research further.

    And don't worry about down tube shifting. I used to use only my right hand and shift the rear with my thumb. That was pretty easy as it doesn't require any fine tuning like the RD.

    I like to buy framesets w/bottom brackets and headsets installed for the very reason you mention. That said, I don't think you'll have too much trouble sourcing some nice French parts to complete the build. Plus, you can just cruise over to France and source them that way :)

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  6. Hey, I was born second half of the sixties too; next week half a century:-) Interesting to see what else was made in those days. Love the style of the sixties. Elegant, fragile and refined. The more I read about classic bicycles the more I realize that the good ones form this era and even before had already reached a level of perfection which is hard to match even today. After attending a course in lugged (silver) brazing a few years ago, next spring I am going to have one in fillet brazing. Never thought I would because I always found lugged construction more interesting to look at. But with age, knowledge and consciousness my taste for what is beautiful or good develops too. Velouria, I am really looking forward to your follow up on this puristic Sabliere. In particular I am interested to learn more about the frame details, wall thickness, fork weight and the philosophy/motivation of Sabliere behind his choices in frame construction.

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  7. Is it your size? What threading does it have in the bottom bracket?

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  8. NOT where I expected this blog to go, but happy days!!! I have emailed you with a list of components to trade in case you were serious. Cannot afford to buy your wooly things, but a trade would be lovely. Looking forward to seeing this bike up and running.

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  9. I'll start boxing up parts, let me know how to figure out what size sweater I wear...

    Spindizzy

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  10. The classic rendezvous list/forum on google groups has a number of experts on French lightweights and frame-builders. They might be able to add details about your frame, as well as parts sourcing, if you're interested. Glad to know the name Sabliere. Thanks for the pictures and write up. It's an exciting project.

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  11. Let's see... even a cheap car of today is better built than a '60s luxury sedan, but here is a 50 years old bike frame that puts most modern ones to shame. Newer isn't always better.

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  12. What cömes tö mind is; heuw dö jo checque a frame för straightness without a 'Makkapär'. I dön´t knöweu.

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  13. Like a greek tragedy I have an assortment of vintage / old French bikes and bits. I am based in France and like a trade, let me know if there is something you need and I'll do my best. Johannes.

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  14. I've had several French bikes. I love the way they ride. The component that will be the most difficult to source is the handlebar stem. French used 22.0 I.D. Steerer, everyone else uses 22.2. The steerer tube threading is usually French and is the bottom bracket shell. Velo Orange sells French bottom brackets and headsets, but not '60's correct. You can still buy NOS Stronglight A9 French threaded headsets. French seat tubes are metric O.D. ( at least sometimes) so you may have some problem clamping a non-French F.D. A Simplex F.D. will fit fine. This is a fun project and you will enjoy the results. Good luck.

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    1. I sand down a threadless stem adaptor from 22.2 to 22.0 -
      it takes about half an hour - and then I can use any length
      of threadless stem. Not as aesthetically pleasing as a quill
      stem but easier to source.

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  15. Once you go back to the dark side of steel, you may never come out. Great fun ahead! Shine on you crazy diamond (frame)!

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  16. Oh boy. I don't envy you, but look forward to seeing him built up. Great color, too!

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  17. I do not see any lugs except the fork crown, the head tube is thin with out the extra head tube lug as well. That would save a lot of weight on a bare frame. I can not tell if it is fillet brazed or just gas welded. It is a fine looking frame so have fun with it.

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  18. I actually prefer that rather cleaner lug-free look to the more traditional, ornately lugged 'English' look.

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  19. I sympathize regarding the downtube shifters, I don't dig'em either, but you could go Bar cons! I love those - Masmojo

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    1. I installed my first set of barcons in 1971, and have had at least one bike with them most of the time since. Barcons are not as precise or quick shifting as down tube shifters. The biggest annoyance is tapping the right shifter with your knee when climbing out of the saddle and getting an auto-shift into the wrong gear at the wrong time. The only thing you need to pay attention to with downtube shifters is that your hand is darned close to the front wheel. Not a problem once you're practiced at it, or if the bike has fenders, but things can get nasty real fast if you get your finger caught between the tire and fork crown.

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  20. This is what happens when you snoop around those internet bikey hook-up sites like Cycletinder and Gravelgrinder.com

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  21. I love projects like this! Nice find! I love fillet brazed frames. I own several. I love the smooth and seemless look. It's like one continuous piece.

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  22. 1570 gr frameset (with fork)? Or does the bare frame weigh 1570?

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  23. I read this just after watching a Django Reinhardt video honoring his birthday.

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