The allure of French steel.

This sick compulsion I have for French bicycles began innocently enough. I was driving through Midtown and noticed a sad derelict of a bike at the end of a long, sloping driveway. It was an awful burgundy color with tasteless 1980’s graphics; to be honest, I have no idea what impulse urged me to stop for a second glance. The name on the heavy tubing seemed magical and exotic, too… “Peugeot.”

Until that day, my bicycles had always been Japanese and American – the allure of a European bike had never gripped me as it had so many others. But on this morning, the Gallic presence could be felt – just barely – peeking around what appeared to be mostly scrap. An older fellow stopped raking leaves and walked down from the garage and asked if he could help me.

“Are you throwing this bike out,” I asked.

“Yeah. Used to belong to my son, but it’s been sitting in the shed unused for prob’ly twenty years. You want it? Go ahead and take it – trashman’ll be here in a while.”

So I loaded it into the back of my van and began to dream a little bit. What the heck was I going to do with this damn thing? It was ugly. It was heavy. And it looked as though the components were completely trashed.

To be honest, it hung on the bike stand in my garage for about a week. I’d wander out and take a look at it, spray a little Simple Green on a tube and wipe off some of the grudge every once in a while. And finally, with a big sigh, I began to take it apart, piece by piece.

I disassembled the bottom bracket and headset, removed the brakesets, cranks, and derailleurs, along with a few stray bits and pieces. I’d recently heard about a company – Groody Brothers – who specialized in powder coating bicycles. Although my thinking has gravitated more toward keeping the bike original, this particular two-wheeler – a Peugeot P8 – was in bad enough cosmetic condition that I convinced myself to let the past go. Plus, there was that God-awful graphics package to consider! I had Groody Brothers powder coat the frame in a wet black – of course, nothing like the original Peugeot whatsoever! – and went so far as to re-decal using a more modern version of the company logo in metallic silver lettering.

The most time consuming part was cleaning up the shiny bits and pieces. I experimented with a variety of cleaning and polishing agents, finally settling on a combination of Never Dull, WD-40 (to clean with, not to lube with!), steel wool, Colgate toothpaste, a coffee can full of toothbrushes, and a Dremel with a variety of polishing wheels.

I confess that despite its low pedigree, this bike is one of my favorite to ride. Defining “ride quality” is a fugitive – and highly speculative – task at best, but the bike fits me well, and is comfortable. And yes, it is relatively fast (but in all modesty I do attribute that to the engine.)

One of the high points on this bike was a morning last summer. I’d decided to bring this particular bike along to the lake one weekend. While everyone else was sleeping, I mounted up and headed south, across the Missouri Ozarks border and into Arkansas. About ten miles in, two highways met and I joined three fellows who were tooling along on their superlightweight modern carbon fiber bikes. After a few minutes, one guy glanced down at my bike and then asked me what it was made from. He was incredulous, “That thing’s made of steel? My God – how heavy is it?” The other two guys grinned in a knowing way when I told them it weighed around twenty-six pounds. (In point of fact, it actually weighs around twenty-eight pounds!) We rode together back towards the Missouri border, the four of us, and I know they must overdone it the day before because as we passed into Missouri I dropped them on my heavy steel bike. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so on another day in hillier conditions. But on this morning, I like to think that somewhere in France an elderly frame builder awoke with a strange smile on his face.

Specs

Frame
Tires
Continental Ultra Sport 27″ x 1 1/8″
Crank
Bottom Bracket
Front Derailleur
Rear Derailleur
Grips / Bartape
Stem
Brake Set
Brake Levers
Seat Post
Size

 

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12 thoughts on “The allure of French steel.

  1. Neal says:

    Greetings,
    I stumbled upon your website and found your fascination with French bicycles intriguing. I thought perhaps you might know where I might obtain decals for my Follis bike. It’s a late 70’s model with Reynolds 5-3-1 main tubes that I had custom painted in silver Dupont Imron (at that time, Imron was the best paint available) since the bike originally came in brown and gray (uggghh). Needless to say, the decals were removed at the time. I searched the web and found that Follis went out of business in the early 2000’s.
    I’ve been off the bike for years and became a runner. Due to foot issues, I’m returning to cycling and thought it would be neat to restore the Follis decals. I even emailed a guy who replicates bike decals and never received a response. Any help you might provide would be appreciated.

    Neal

    • Neal, do you by any chance have any photographs of the original decals? I’ve found that information and decals for Follis are both pretty hard to come by. The Follis builder only went out of business a few years ago and – apparently – would willingly send out decals. Those days, alas, are gone. I have artwork for my as-yet-unidentified-model Follis, but that is a ca. 1960’s model. You might also check on eBay with seller Cyclomondo, who specializes in hard to find bicycle decals and repops. Follis, saddly, seems to be a quickly fading memory.

      • Neal says:

        Thanks for the tips…I too find little in the way of information. I will check with Cyclomondo as you suggest. I did see one metal logo badge for sale on ebay for about $85 which is quite a bit more than I’m willing to spend but apparently is the going rate for this rare item..

      • I’m pretty certain that the 70s (and probably 60s also) Follis models used a metallic decal rather than the metal head badge. It would sure be easier – not to mention, period correct – to go that route. One other idea you may want to consider if you have your heart set on a metal badge would be to have a custom head badge created. One artisan that I’ve been considering to do this is Jones and Sons Headbadges (see them at https://www.facebook.com/JonesandSonHeadbadges) I haven’t used them, but the pictures they’ve posted of head badges are pretty impressive. I made an inquiry about pricing recently and I think a custom badge would set me back twenty-five clams. No reason why a “custom” badge couldn’t be the same graphics as the original!

    • My own wallet has often felt the pain… uh… if I could actually locate the part I was looking for at the time. My heart still goes out to nice French bikes and even though I’m not actively seeking to add anything new to the collection at this time, I’d probably leap without too much thought at a sweet deal on a vintage randonneur. It really IS a disease!

  2. Garry Evans says:

    I have recently restored my son’s Peugeot UO8 (circa 1978). He was never very kind to it and neither was his younger brother. I replaced the bent original bars with a cheep flat bar and added brake levers from an old mountain bike. The wheels too were shot and were replaced with alloy 27×1/4’s and Duro white walled tyres added. A new chain and cassete completed the transformation (an elementary one by your standards Mark) but the way she goes has made me a a devotee to the cause of the vintage bicycle no matter what their origins. I have read all your posts Mark and found them to be not only a mine of useful information but inspiring as well. Keep ’em coming, you not only advance the cause of the preservation of items of beauty and function, you restore this foreigner’s faith in things American.
    By the way I now have acquired a ’68 Carlton Corsa, a Raleigh Modial (A big mistake this one), a Peugeot Sport ’77-’78 and a ’70’s Ramondo. This is a ladies’ bicycle manufactured in Adelaide, South Australia. It now looks quite resplendent after the WD 40 and steel wool treatment you advocate so often in your essays. This bike will be at the disposal of our granddaughters when they stay with us for holidays.
    Thank you Mark for allowing the world to share your passions. This old Aussie certainly does and awaits with immeasurable anticipation your early morning bulletins.
    Garry Evans

  3. Matt says:

    My Peugeot story is eerily similar to this. It is also a P8 (and amazing the perfect size for me, 55cm ). And like yours it definitely belonged in the trash. The derailleur was a wreck, for some reason there was some god awful mtn stem with a rusty straight bar, center pull weinmann brakes that didn’t really work, missing a pedal, and a messed up paint job. I had to scour ebay for a 22.0 mm quill stem and dropped way more cash than I should have on various parts. I should have taken it somewhere to be painted but instead I sanded and stripped the paint myself and spent a lot of time and effort applying multiple coats of primer, paint and lacquer/enamel. I don’t really regret as it was a fun little project.

    (nearly finished product. a friend is sending me a vintage suntour derailleur and stem shifters)

    (paint job. just demonstrating that it’s not a flat black but has some subtle glitter/sparkle in it)

    I have one question though. Where did you get that decal? I would like to put a similar one on mine to flaunt the Peugeot but also to cover a scrape that happened when I reassembled without waiting long enough for the enamel to completely harden (it’s right where the decal should be on the top tube).

    • I found that particular decal on eBay. I’ve since begun to create my own and have them produced my a local printing firm that has the appropriate production capabilities. I’ve also produced my own water decs using a high quality archival ink jet printer.

      • Matt says:

        I can’t seem to find any good decals on ebay. Where is your printing firm based? Perhaps I could order some decals.

      • I use Printing Unlimited in Liberty, Missouri, http://www.Pittmanprinting.com

        If you can provide them digital artwork in Adobe Illustrator, they can fix you up. If you don’t have artwork, do a search in Google groups for “bicycle decals” and join my group there. I know that there are some Peugeot decal art files in the “files” section of our group site.

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