Bernard Carré Confessions

My expectations were that this might turn out to be a fun and interesting curiosity. I mean after all, I was done – finished – with French frames. I’d sold off most of my French components, bars, stems, and pedals. A small voice in the back of my head whispered, “Hey dummy. You’ve got just enough French stuff left to build up a bike.”

Turned out, as a matter of fact, that the voice was wrong. I had unloaded more individual items than I remembered. Where, oh where is that perfect Simplex seat pin that would fit this frame perfectly? I really don’t remember selling or trading it, but I must have done. It’s nowhere to be found. (Surprisingly to those who know me well, my parts are moderately organized.)

So here I find myself – once again – with another fun and interesting curiosity. It’s a ‘cross bike. Heck, what I know about cyclocross is pretty much limited to the correct spelling. After my initial attempt to build up an all French roadie stalled, I started to poke around to find out more about how a cyclocross bike from the 70’s might have been built up. Did you know that there’s plenty of information available about contemporary ‘cross, but that there’s a dearth of anything resembling detail prior to the last twenty years?

I blame America, in part. We figure the world revolves around us. So despite the fact that ‘cross has flourished in parts of Europe for a very long time, it really didn’t existed at all until Americans “discovered” it a few years back. At least that might be the conclusion one could reach from researching the internet. I’ve tried to located images of cyclocross bikes that date to the 1970’s without much success. Sure, there are photos of events and riders, but most are those ubiquitous images you see of herculean guys covered in mud and carrying their bikes up a steep hill. Hard to tell what the heck components they’re using when everything is bathed in three inches of dripping goo.

After a brief fling with a kit of Zeus Criterium parts, I settled on something I definitely hadn’t anticipated putting to use: Suntour Superbe. After muddling around, I’ve managed to get it to shift my 13-26 five speed cluster very smoothly. The 52/42 road crank that was paired with these derailleurs in the early 80’s also functions very well. I began to compare popular contemporary ‘cross gearing to the recollections of a few people who were involved in the sport prior to 1990. 46/36 is often cited as a starting point for a crankset today; 39t singles are also popular. Comparatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot different than the 40t and 42t kits I’ve been told were used back in the day.

Obviously the rear cluster has changed a lot since the mid 70’s. This bike is spaced at 122, so a five or ultra-6 fits comfortably and easily. (I may see if a 7 or 8 will pop in without much fuss.) Today’s cross bikes have a much wider range of gearing, in 10 and 11 speeds. A lot of discussion focuses on using singles up front as opposed to compact double, and apparently it’s not a new conversation. I’m told that singles were popular in the past as well, their simplicity an attractive feature.

There’s also a fair bit of dialogue regarding single speed drive trains. I imagine it’s a lot easier to avoid huge clots of mud if you don’t have derailleurs hanging down and dragging through all that muck, so I kind of get the idea. I even considered that approach myself for the briefest of minutes. But we’ve got hills in these parts, so I’m not excited about the prospect of a bike that has such limitations…especially one that I’ve viewed from the start as a curiosity.

I was interested to read that bar end shifters were popular in the ‘cross crowd. I’ve got quite a few sets of these myself, my favorite of the bunch being the Suntour friction shifters. So the current version of this bike has a pair installed now.

So back to the confession. Despite having acquired this frame on a whim, and despite “knowing” all along that it would be an odd little curiosity that might get ridden occasionally, something odder still occurred to me this past week. Turns out I really like how this bike rides and how it fits me. I confess that I really enjoy taking it down the road. And now that I’ve (finally) got the MAFAC Competition brakes dialed in, I feel confident bombing down hills or turning onto one of our boulder and ravine strewn gravel paths that we use for country roads in Missouri.

I confess that I’m happily surprised to discover this isn’t anything at all like an odd curiosity after all.

Happy/Unhappy

I’m happy that the Bernard Carre frame is now built up and ready for a test ride. I’m not happy to discover the rear brake is so stiff as to be nearly unusable.

I’m happy to have remembered I have been storing four brand new KoolStop “four dot” brake pads. I’m not happy realizing there’s no way to “toe in” these particular brakes and that I have to listen to the high pitched squeal until these new pads are properly seated.

I’m happy to have also remembered a Zeus Criterium “69” rear and front derailleur, and shifter. I’m not happy to discover my cool-as-shit Zeus Criterium “69” rear derailleur only wants to throw the four outbound gears, and won’t budge any further inboard regardless of how much I adjust the B limit screw.

I’m happy the frame arrived with a TA bottom bracket. I’m unhappy that the spindle is too short for my Stronglight crank.

I’m happy to discover the frame has a nice light and responsive ride quality. I’m happy to have another bike project to play around with. I’m happy to have a complete Campy gruppo to throw on in place of the Zeus kit if things don’t work out.

Hey, I’m just generally happy today.

Boulder vs. Carre

Every bike in the studio gets compared to my Boulder Brevet simply because it fits me so perfectly. It’s interesting comparing the Boulder with the Carre.

To make a fair evaluation of the geometry and size, the camera is set up on a tripod to ensure that the shooting angle and position is exactly the same between both bikes. The floor is also marked for positioning of the bikes. Because they are resting in a bike stand, some correction for “squareness” is necessary. The photos were slightly rotated in post processing so that the wheels are parallel to the picture frame. Furthermore, the Carre has been nudged so that the bottom brackets are aligned to the Boulder by superimposing the two photographs.

Here is the “control” shot of the Boulder for comparison of tube positioning, geometry, and length.

The green lines indicate a rough tracing of the Boulder tubes, which I’ve drawn on an overlay.

The overlay drawing of the Boulder tubing has been superimposed over the Carre frame. Although the wheel base is a little longer on the Boulder, and more importantly a greater difference between the lower trail Boulder fork and that of the Carre,  I was still a bit surprised to see that there’s not as much difference in bottom bracket height or drop as I’d anticipated.

With 700 x 25 tires, the standover is nearly the same as the Boulder. I anticipate running 700 x 28 so there will be some difference in the final build. It’s also worth noting that the top tube is one centimeter shorter on the Carre: 58cm as compared to 59cm on the Boulder.

This is not to say that I expect the rides to be similar. The two bikes are clearly designed for different purposes, but I’m a researcher and find it useful to compare against known factors, quantities, and considerations. My initial thinking has not changed, despite some similarities to the Boulder geometry: The Carre frame is more of a road bike design, and the available space for wider tires convinces me that it’s probably a CX model. Despite the eBay listing, I don’t see anything that screams “randonneur” to me at all.

Next up: the build.

Bernard Carré Has Arrived.

My Bernard Carré impulse purchase arrived last week while I was relaxing in Mexico for Spring Break. I sure wasn’t expecting a large parcel to travel by post from France and wind up in the Midwest over a week earlier than promised. Viva La Poste!

I dropped by our local post office over lunch today to liberate the bike box from their back room. I didn’t have a lot of time, but – of course! – I did take a moment to quickly unpack the frame to see what I had, and to make sure it was intact. (It is.) The wheels and crusty tires pictured above can be ignored – I grabbed a set of whichever 650b, 27 inch, and 700c wheel sets from ceiling hooks to determine which the bike was designed for. Trying 650b was a long shot – it was pretty clear just looking at it that the frame hadn’t been built around that size. 27 inch fits very well, and a little surprisingly so does 700c. “Surprisingly,” because cantilever brakes tend to be pretty unforgiving about sizing. The MAFAC cantis have a lot more adjustability than others I’ve used.

I’d like to go with 700c, quite frankly, to lower the bottom bracket. With a bottom bracket height of 275 mm, and a drop of 70mm, it’s more of a road bike design than touring. It gets appreciably higher with 27 x 1 1/4 tires, falling into something closer to the traditional bottom bracket height of  a cyclocross bike.

I have always liked the pink color of many Mercier frames and I kind of had my fingers crossed this would be a similar color. It’s not. Actually, it’s more of a plum color than pink. All in all, it’s still an unusual color that appeals to my tastes.

So where do I go from here? I acquired this frame impulsively and with no plan in mind. I could try to build it up as I imagine it might have originally been. Perhaps it might make an interesting upright bar bike. To be honest, I’m really not certain what direction I’d like to go. Time will tell.