Brilliant!

My latest find, a Brillant folding bicycle.

Well, at least that’s what I thought the head badge said.

Turns out that the name on this little folding bicycle is actually “Brillant,” without the extra “i.” And that might make a world of difference in trying to figure out who made it, where it was made, and when.

"Brillant" without a second "i."

I haven’t had a whole lot of interest in folding bikes – I’m mostly intrigued by road bikes and drop handlebars. In my mind, folders are somewhat akin to clown bikes. That is, I know, a patently unfair and very biased opinion. But a friend of mine rode a vintage folding bike on our spring Tweed Ride and so I was at least made aware of them as a legitimate rider. Since that time I’ve read about folding bikes in a recent magazine article and read a couple of posts on a blog about a fellow who actually tours on these things.

In this case, I’m really more interested in the mystery behind the bike. (There’s no way I will fit on this tiny little thing.) With matching brown vinyl mattress saddle and handlebar grips, the cottered cranks, and the patterned French rims, I figured the production date to be somewhere in the 60’s. But a fellow bikeforums member pointed out that the drops look more like those popular in the 40’s and 50’s. Someone else posted an example of a Cycles Brillant poster.

These are both tantalizing clues to the folding bicycle’s origins.

A Google search with the correct spelling led me to a Cycles Brillant poster design illustrated by one of my favorite artists of the early 20th Century, A.M. Cassandre.

Cycles Brillant by A.M. Cassandre, ca. 1923

Cassandre’s illustration dates to 1923, but there are other earlier examples, including one from 1899.

Cycles Brillant poster, ca. 1899

But while I’m locating some beautiful examples of the poster designer’s art, I’m not finding a whole lot of information about Cycles Brillant – or whether I am even correct in my presumption that this bicycle is a product of their making.

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5 thoughts on “Brilliant!

  1. A.J. Milano says:

    I just purchased a 26″ bike with a head badge that says BRILLANT on the top under that is CYCLE and in the center of the badge is a standing LION with a “B” chest high under the lion is the word APELDOORN and under that is HOLLAND on the rear fender is the same badge except under APELDOORN it says NEDERLAND. It is a 3 speed with a Sturmey Archer shifter and sprocket , green in color with a 10″ strip of white on the bottem of the rear fender. I believe it was sold by Gus Betat & Son in New Orleans but I don’t know what year. I don’t know the year of manufacture or import and I can’t get any information on the company at all. any and all help will be GREATLY appreciated.The # on the Frame 7955.

    • I’m not certain I can add anything substantive to what you already know, and in fact you have filled in a couple of gaps for me with this information. It seems that we can safely presume the bike is Dutch in manufacture. “Apeldoorn” is, in addition to being a specific variety of Tulip, is also a municipality in the province of Gelderland in The Netherlands. You might try contacting the Chamber of Commerce there to see if they have any information on the maker. Many European bike shops built their own, you know, and some re-branded bikes. If you are confident in the name of the seller, you may try the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce or a local historical group to see when Gus Betat & Son were in operation. This might help you to nail down a generalized date range – perhaps only moderately helpful. If we presume that the S-A hub is original (and there’s no reason to think otherwise, right?), then you can get much closer by reading the date code from the hub. You’ll be looking for a two digit number engraved onto the hub. For instance, the number “58” indicates a hub manufactured in 1958. Sturmey-Archer hubs are much less obtuse to de-cypher dates than nearly every other bicycle component! (Thank goodness!) This information should get you to within a year, one way or the other, of the frame date. Remember that a built wheel might have languished in storage for a while until a frame was prepared for sale. My Elswick for instance, has a frame code date of 1949 and a hub date of 1948. Regarding your serial number, these darned things are notoriously unhelpful and some enthusiasts have spent a great deal of time and effort building data bases in an attempt to puzzle out their meaning. In some cases it appears that the numbers are entirely random in nature, or specific to each individual frame builder. Pre-80’s Puegeot is a serial number nightmare!

  2. A.J says:

    If what you say of the Sturmey Archer is correct it was manufactured in 1955; but as far as I can find out about the BRILLANT frame, no date of import or sale can be found, but under the seat is a New Orleans LA. bicycle TAG #C98740 but all records were lost in Katrina.It also has a front and rear light operated by rear wheel powered generator but I think that was an add on. I did find out that Gus Betat & son was the oldest family owned bike shop in the U.S.A. but can’t get any sales or import records. this is becoming a full time job “getting information on this bike”
    BUT YOU ARE VERY HELPFUL——-THANK YOU VERY MUCH
    P.S. It does have a an AMF Roadmaster Odometer mounted on the front spokes with 5445 miles on it, someone rode this thing all over New Orleans.

    • So many of these marquees turn out to be mystery bikes! It’s a chore, but I’ve enjoyed the research and the internet does tend to make it a little easier sometimes. But just as often I’ll be left with an enigmatic thread of information which maddeningly leaves me wondering and wanting just a little bit more. Often enough, that thread is a dead end. I’ve run into this with my research into Freschi for instance, and most recently with the Elswick I’m currently working on. Apparently “record-keeping” was not top-of-mind for many folks pre-internet!

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