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.