I’m usually not very excited when the average 1970’s French bike rolls in the door. Plastic Simplex components, heavy frames, hard plastic saddles, narrow steel bars… And French threading. Yechh.
This Mercier caught my attention though, not because it was any great shakes quality-wise, but Lord, those decals. It was also pretty much new and very intact, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough. A couple of pretty Peugeots and a fine little Gitane Tourister came in about the same time and none of them joined the ranks of the Buzz Bomb collection. Lord, those decals.
Fellow Reno Rambler Jake Barrett had this frame hanging around his garage/shop for years. At one point he’d updated it, making it a townie bike of sorts. When I first saw it the bike was back to a frameset, more or less. Thankfully, Jake knew to keep the original parts around. After hinting and making pleading faces for half a year he graciously agreed to part with it.
One of my favorite parts of the bike (besides the paint color and the aluminum seat bag, of course) is the drivetrain. I can’t recall seeing very many early 60’s road bikes with triple chainrings. Rear derailleurs had a hard time managing 10 speed back then, so 15 was quite a stretch for short-cage derailleurs. Nevertheless, count ’em up and you’ll notice the Frejus has three steel rings up front. It must be pointed out that the Campagnolo Sportsman rear derailleur tries valiantly, but even so, it can barely throw around all that chain. At best I’d consider this bike a 13 speed, as the small-to-small and large-to-large ring/cog combinations are pretty much out of the question.
This early DS was built in 1976, the first “official” year of Roland’s business. He notes that he’d built a few framesets as early as 1971, but considers 1976 the year he took on framebuilding as an occupation.
The thick “disco” decals were only used for only a few years before Roland switched over to the design which he uses to this day. There aren’t very made of these early frames out there so we’re honored to be able to have one in the collection.
Thank you to Jeff Ross for graciously selling us the bicycle.
You know how it goes if you’re a bike collector: Sometimes you won’t run across anything worth mentioning for a long spell, and then out of the blue, a bunch will show up in one day. Such is the case with this collection of twenty bikes which arrived last Friday. They had been in the care of a local gentleman for a number of years, hung in his garage, dry, safe and largely unseen. I’d heard that the guy had bikes, but had never laid eyes on any of it until it fell into my lap.
Like most bicycle collections that are accrued over a long period of time, this one has a wide and varied range of styles, spanning more or less a century. There’s everything from an early Columbia Penny Farthing to a first-general handbuilt mt. bike, with a lot in between. Amongst the collection are some real beauties such as an early full suspension Pierce Arrow, a 1890’s Meteor, some early track bikes and a “Boogie Bike”, the aforementioned mt. bike which was reputedly made nearby in Nevada City, California. Throw in some original paint balloon-tire bikes, a few ugly repaints, a couple middleweights, a Raleigh 3-speed and a Schwinn stingray or two and there you have it.
I plan on highlighting the most intriguing of the lot over the coming couple months so please check back as they are individually dusted off, photographed and posted. As always, I’m also hoping to shed light on some of the more obscure bikes so feel free to chime in if you have insight into any of them.
As far as what happens to all the bikes, one or two will likely join the Buzz Bomb collection while the rest will either fall under the ebay auction hammer this spring and early summer or will be sold at our annual bicycle sale in June.
For now, I leave you with some images of the collection, taken upon their arrival.
I just finished up a minor overhaul on this Stevenson the other night. It arrived with an interesting mix of components; Campagnolo Record Ergo shifters running a Daytona front derailleur on a Centaur triple crankset and same rear derailleur. I wasn’t entirely sure that the combination would work, but so far so good.
Stevensons, as you may or may not know, are made by father/son team Bill and Sean Stevenson out of Olympia, Washington. Not sure of the exact age of this bike nor its provenance. When I get a chance I’ll ply the builders for info. In the meantime if you’d like to share any information about the builders and/or their bikes please feel free to chime in.
Some 20 years ago I helped restore this 1949 Phantom for Gary Klefman, the owner of the Schwinn shop here in town. It was one of the first restorations I’d done for someone else. To that point all the bikes I worked on were either for myself or my partner in paint, Sean O’Brien. I admit I wasn’t yet used to putting all the sweat and tears in for someone else’s benefit. Both Sean and I were young and though neither were rich, we were nominally funded enough to restore and keep anything we worked on. It took over a year, but in the end the Phantom was finished. It was thus was a bittersweet moment when it rolled out the front door.
After that, I’d occasionally go into Gary’s shop. I’d see the Phantom hanging on the wall and I’d start to pine for it, partly because I’d put all the time into it and partly because, well, a collector is always collecting. I knew Gary prized the bike and that it would have been futile to make an offer, however ridiculous. I had to be content visiting it on the rare occasion I needed something from the Schwinn shop. I think I might have even made up an excuse to go see it once or twice, purchasing a couple extra Bendix two-speed springs just so I could look it over.
Gary’s son Randy took over the business in the 2000’s, the shop moved and eventually they even dropped the Schwinn line. …And still the bike hung on the wall. Imagine my surprise when Randy called recently, asking me if I might be interested in purchasing the bike. He seemed shocked that I was interested, and I must have sounded shocked that he thought I might not have been. I guess a possession can mean different things to different people. To Randy the bike might have been merely a dust collector. To me, well, you probably know what it means to me by now.
So now there’s another full circle ownership story to tell. It took a little over two decades to complete, but nevertheless, it feels like the bike is home.
This Witcomb was purchased from its original owner in Colorado and shipped here a couple weeks ago. The bike had a mix of components on it, everything from Campagnolo to Suntour to early Dura-Ace. I’m guessing the combination was largely done to extend the gear ratio, probably not a bad idea since Colorado is known to be a bit hilly. The eventual goal for the bike, beyond overhauling and giving it a good detailing, is to remove any non-Campagnolo bits and get it flying under one component flag.
When it arrived I admit I didn’t know much about Witcombs. I knew the U.S. versions were built in Connecticut, but that was only because it said so on the head decal. I had no idea there were American and English Witcombs, nor did I know that the frames themselves had a storied past. To me it was just a nicely made road bike that was still in great condition.
Roland was the one who eventually clued me in. It seems that more than a few reknowned framebuilders cut their teeth at Witcomb USA; Richard Sachs, J.P. Weigle, Chris Chance and Ben Serotta all put in time there. Each has subsequently gone on to carve out a name for himself. Like, a really big name for himself. I admit I was a bit star-struck when I found that out.
I have no idea which person actually built this Witcomb, or if was any of the builders listed. I don’t even know who was and wasn’t working for the company in 1976, the year the owner claimed to have ordered the bike. Maybe more information will come down the road. For now, it’s enough to know that it’s part of a bigger story.