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.
We all take breaks from riding. And when we do our trusty steeds sit there patiently gathering dust. If it sits long enough the bike will start to collect grime. We humans tend to like oil in everything from lawn mowers to shrimp scampis and some of that invariably becomes airborne, eventually to alite on “Ol’ Paint”. It can takes years, or you can throw one good Bagna Cauda party and the deed will be done in one evening.
Once everything is good and tacky, simply add pet hair, your hair, lint, another helping of dust in the form of bunnies, etc. and you’ll have what is known in Buzz Bomb nomenclature as a “Fuzzy Kitten”.
As “Kittens” go, this Della Santa is about as good an example as one could hope to find. Note the uniform coating of oily felt on all bits, the wisps of fluff draped from the spokes. It’s nothing short of feline art. Part of me wants to hose it down with Simple Green, while another part wants to hide it away and let it continue on its current path. In another couple decades it could be the bike equivalent of a purple bottle, aged into unexpected beauty. Since the bike has to be prepped for sale it will almost certainly get the hosing treatment, but you get my point.
By the by, the stamping on the bottom of this DS is “GL”, but no, I don’t think Greg LeMond ever owned a Fuzzy Kitten, let alone a 61cm.
(Thanks to G. Lanstyak for allowing me to poke fun of his bike and my apologies if didn’t want me to.)
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.
The latest completed project is this 40 year old Gitane. It arrived a year ago, missing well over 50% of its parts and certainly in need of a redo (“before” photos of the frame at the bottom of the post). Unfortunately, the chrome was too far gone to save, but the bike overall was definitely worth the time and effort.
Thanks to Roland Della Santa, Jim Allen and Chad Kortan for all the help along the way. It sure is nice to have such a great group of friends to pitch in or bounce ideas off. Finally, thanks to Craig Miller for entrusting me with the project in the first place.
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.
This Mercian arrived over a year ago, but ended up hanging in the shop until this last July. It took me awhile to decide what to do with it. You see, the components weren’t bad, it’s just that they weren’t in keeping with the spirit of the bike. The frameset looked to have originally been built as a day-tourer with a longish wheelbase, cantilever studs and lots of dropout eyelets. The components were more in keeping with a racing bike with double chainrings, lightweight wheels and downtube shifters. I’d always wanted to build up an vintage bike with a Campagnolo touring setup so this looked like the perfect opportunity. I began hunting parts down; a Nuovo Record triple crankset here, a Rally rear derailleur there, until I had everything I needed to dive in.
…And that’s when the Mercian started fighting. For some reason the “correct” bottom bracket length ended up not being the right bottom bracket length, the Mafac cantilever brakes wouldn’t work with the pads I’d chosen, and I couldn’t for the life of me get the fenders spaced evenly around the wheels. I cleaned, overhauled and polished a set of Nuovo Record hubs, built them into wheels, only to find out that the rims were too small in diameter. The cantilever studs had been mounted for taller 27″ wheels. I overhauled a new set of Campy hubs, built them into the new rims, but forgot to space the rear hub correctly.
Along the way, I ended up installing the Campagnolo bar-end shifters multiple times, something you don’t want to do with these irascible pieces. First, I forgot to mount the Mafac brake levers so off the levers came off, then I had to remove them to switch the Mafac brake levers with Campagnolos when I discovered the Mafacs I’d chosen were an unmatched set. Then the shifters came off and on again when I found the matching single Mafac at the bottom of the parts box. What were three brake levers doing in the box to begin with?
Somewhere in the midst of this I started making mental mistakes, cutting cable housing and fender braces too short, for example. I also completely monkeyed up the first round of bar tape. I bet I hadn’t messed up a tape job that bad in 20+ years. It was becoming pretty clear the bike was possessed. Originally the job had been one that shouldn’t have taken more than a week. It had now been in the stand for well over a month.
For my part, I began second-guessing every step. I also questioned my supposed bike knowledge, fussed and worried to no end, and even went on the wagon for the better part of a week in hopes that I might be able to reach a higher level of mechanical consciousness.
About the time I was seriously considering involving the clergy the project finally started seeing headway. in the end the Mercian went together when it was damned good and ready. The final irony of the whole deal is that it is a real pleasure to ride. Any of the possessed qualities it showed in the workstand never showed up on the road. It rides like a champ and shifts surprisingly well given all the extra gears. The Mafac cantilever brakes have no devilish tendencies and grab the rims with aplomb. The frame feels light and efficient to the point where sometimes I forget it isn’t a true racer.
Currently the bike sits in the living room. Normally finished projects don’t stay in the house as long as the Mercian, but I like having it around if only to remind me that it isn’t downstairs, still in the workstand.
Roland Della Santa is known for his racing bikes; always has been. As most folks already know, he was Greg LeMond’s first sponsor. He also built racing frames for many other prominent racers from the 1970’s forward. Roland’s frames are beautifully made and ride like nothing else; spirited climbers and demons on the decent. Short of a few bikes that have come equipped with eyelets or a slightly longer wheelbases, most everything he’s ever built has been racing oriented, however, and that’s very much on purpose. So even with an inside line, talking him into a touring bike wasn’t going to be easy.
I’ve been helping Roland thin down his collection of vintage bike gear for years. Rather than take a cut, I’ve traditionally taken frames in trade. I don’t race nor have I ever raced, but I do enjoy riding a good racing bike. Ok, so mainly I enjoy looking at them as they hang majestically from their hooks, but on rare occasions I will ride one.
To be fair, I don’t tour either, but when I go out for a ride of any distance I enjoy riding a comfortable bike that’s also functional and pretty. …And there isn’t much prettier than a well-outfitted tourer.
Which brings me to a winter day in 2012 when I was visiting Roland in the shop. Between stories (Roland has great stories) he mentioned that it was probably time for me to start thinking about my new frame. “What do you want this time?” he asked.
Picture Ralphie in the movie”A Christmas Story” when his mom asks him what he wants. Rather than blurting out “a Red Ryder BB gun!” I heard myself say, “I really want a touring bike!”
“Touring bikes aren’t any fun to ride and they’re a pain to build,” was his quick and dismissive response. “They’re also heavy and slow.”
“I guess I just want a custom-fitted bike that’s more all-encompassing… Something that has cantilever brakes and a triple crankset. I want a Della Santa that has triple water bottle mounts and eyelets for fenders.”
His bushy eyebrows raised a little. “Are you going to ride in the rain?”
“Uhh, no. I don’t think so,” I said sheepishly.
“Then why do you want fenders?” This wasn’t starting off very well.
Truth be told, I’ve talked Roland into other unique bikes in the past: One was a relatively new frameset built exactly like a DS of the mid-1980’s, complete with Reynolds 531 tubing and Prugnant lugs; another was a Columbus “Star” tubing Ossubuco chainstay nightmare that took twice the normal time to construct (it’s featured here in an earlier blog).
He’d always shake his head in wonderment, but in the end, he’d build it. I think that was because, at their essence, they were racing bikes. Strange iterations, perhaps, but racing bikes nonetheless.
I ran the idea of a touring bike up the flagpole on two subsequent occasions with roughly the same results as the first. At one point during one of my pitches he turned from filing a lug and asked, “Who’s name are you going to put on this thing?” I hadn’t thought about that. He was obviously apprehensive about building a touring bike with his name on it. The last thing he wanted was for folks to see it and come asking for one of their own.
I’d like to say that Roland eventually warmed to the idea of a Della Santa touring bike, but the most that can be said is that, in the end, he grudgingly agreed to give it a go. Beyond everything else, Roland really is a sweet guy. I know he didn’t enjoy building it, but he built it anyhow. …And I could be wrong, but I even think I saw a glimmer of pride when he first pulled it out of the box, fresh from the painter. “There’s your touring bike.” he said. “It sure is heavy.”
The French have always taken their cycling seriously, proved by the existence of this diminutive Gitane (if it doesn’t look small, see the last photo which, for reference, has a 700c wheel behind it). With a seat tube of 38cm it fits riders as early as 6 years old but still came outfitted with many of the same features its larger brethren had (drop bars, downtube shifting, narrow, high-pressure tires, etc.)
Ok, so it also has a chainguard, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a poser. Some of the younger Callahan brood gave it a spin around the block, only to come back looking rather wide-eyed and concerned. “Something’s wrong with it. It acted all crazy” was the overall review, which boiled down could be translated as “way more quick and efficient than anything else Dad has ever made us ride.”
Coot even took it for a spin himself and confirmed that it was indeed a snappy ride, perfect for young Tour de France trainees. Sadly, no photos of the test ride exist. Picture one of those circus bears riding a tricycle and you’ve got the gist, though.
(Thanks to Randy at College Cyclery for providing us with a pair of 500mm Hutchinson tires for the bike.)
Who doesn’t love finding a pristine 1970’s road bike? This 1974 Schwinn Paramount lived most of its life in San Francisco where it was loved and doted on, but hardly (if ever) ridden. Jeez, it still has its original reflectors intact. That doesn’t happen very often.
It goes up on the sales block soon, so look for it on your favorite online auction site.