[CR]In defense of the French bike (allons enfants de la patrie, le velo de gloir est arrive ...)


Example: Framebuilders:Doug Fattic
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
From: <rfitzger@emeraldis.com>
Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2001 13:21:35 GMT
Subject: [CR]In defense of the French bike (allons enfants de la patrie, le velo de gloir est arrive ...)

Ah, the Francophobe response to French bikes! Forgive me for rambling here ... I suspect that most folks who dislike Gallic iron do so from the perspective of

(a) - French dimension standards are just plain wierd, compared to everyone else

(b) - over-exposure to cheapo bike-boom gas-pipe specials

As far as (a) goes, it helps to stop and think a moment - French dimensions make sense if you think metrically. Back before ISO stuff came along, the metric system was the wave of the future. I just turned 40, but I remember well how thoroughly indoctrinated we were that inches, feet and miles were doomed measurements, due to be consigned to the dustbin of history by that triumph of French Jacobinist/Rationalist/Revolutionary modernism, the metric system.

Viewed from a metric perpective, the French bike dimension system was perfectly logical. You got an even 28mm seat tube, an even 22mm stem diameter, etc. French threading was logical and rational. The fact that it lost out in the marketplace doesn't make it inferior - partisans of Apple computers and Dvorak keyboards and friction shifting may say amen here.

As far as (b) goes, yeah, the French sold a bunch of cheap junk, too. So did the English, the Italians (anybody remember the gaspipe Bottechias and A. Camera bikes?), and even the Japanese. Of course, if you put alloy rims and a SunTour VGT luxe on a UO-8, it rode pretty well, to be honest. Sure the brakes squealed, but most brakes back then squealed, and they still worked pretty well.

Not mentioned above is the observation that the really fine French bikes WEREN'T racing bikes. French racing bikes (with few exceptions) were utilitarian beasts like the PX-10 or the Gitane TdF - not that there's anything wrong with that. The finest French bikes were the touring and rando bikes - which never took off over here until AFTER the French influence was gone, when the Japanese touring bikes that duplicated many of their features took over in the late 70s-early 80s.

This hits right at the biggest issue I have with the whole American bike scene, from the early 70s on. It's been geared towards racing fantasies. The only folks keeping the flame alive during the dark ages between the era of Six-Day Races and the great Bike Boom came out of not only a racing tradition, but a track racing tradition. These guys LIKED fast, steep angled, short-wheelbase iron. Charlie Hamburger was an exception - Gene Portuesi's world view was closer to the dominant one. Even bikes sold for use as touring machines in this country had more ties to racing iron than they resembled the elegant, well- thought out, extremely practical but unfortunately rare and expensive French rando machines. Apart from getting a custom Herse or Singer, the closest the average American cyclist came to such a French bike was the utterly basic AE-18 - which was gaspipe with fenders.

Russ Fitzgerald rfitzger@emeraldis.com

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