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What to know when getting into a French bike?

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What to know when getting into a French bike?

Old 03-19-17, 09:10 AM
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What to know when getting into a French bike?

I was at my local community bicycle shop yesterday. And I saw a vintage blue Gitane, from what I believe to be the late 60's early 70's. I'm not 100% sure but I think it was a Grand Sport Deluxe.

Someone has already changed the derailleur to a Suntour. But my question is would I have great difficulty changing the crank to a modern one? The crank on it is cottered and doesn't look like it's in good shape.

Also would I have a problem changing the wheels to modern Alloy?

What really impressed me about the bike is that despite having racks, fenders, dynamo light, and a mile counter. The bike felt very light to me, maybe under 30 pounds.
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Old 03-19-17, 09:33 AM
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The biggest issue relating to the cranks is the French thread bottom bracket. There's a slim chance that it's not French thread, but don't bet on it. There are French thread bottom brackets for cotterless cranks, but I don't know if there's anything more modern than square taper.

The wheels present much less of an issue. There are plenty to choose from, though you might want to spread the frame to accept more modern choices.

You didn't ask, but odds are the fork and headset are also French limiting choices of headsets and stems.

Lastly, the frame tubing may be metric, which is slightly smaller than standard, but this is minor and easily dealt with, except that the seat post diameter isn't common.
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Old 03-19-17, 09:41 AM
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They have outrrrrraaaageous accents!
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Old 03-19-17, 09:41 AM
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Everything can be dealt with and there is the expertise in this forum to help you out.

Here is a thread on the topic you might enjoy,

http://www.bikeforums.net/classic-vi...nch-bikes.html
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Old 03-19-17, 10:34 AM
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To answer the subject question, you should be able to say:
"WHAT ELSE COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG!"
in three European languages
and make the whole phase sound like a poisoned curse.

edit: And if a bigger person, Do i really want to go thru this for a bike with the '?lively?' feel of a metric tubeset???
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Old 03-19-17, 10:37 AM
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French Bicycles
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Old 03-19-17, 12:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Grand Bois View Post
Thanks for the link, from the sound of things it might be a huge headache. I never thought about the headset, pedals or the stem.

One of the reasons I liked the bike was it is a little larger then normal. Approx 60mm seat tube.
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Old 03-19-17, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Someone has already changed the derailleur to a Suntour. But my question is would I have great difficulty changing the crank to a modern one? The crank on it is cottered and doesn't look like it's in good shape.

Also would I have a problem changing the wheels to modern Alloy?
There's lots of love for French C&Vs here.

It's possible to service a cottered crank, not always necessary to replace it.

If you want to ditch the original BB/crank, Velo Orange makes a good threadless bottom bracket that will fit regardless of the threading of your BB shell. With a little math/measuring to help find the right spindle length for your application, you can open up options for replacement cranks.

Grand Cru Threadless Bottom Bracket-107mm - Bottom Brackets - Components

I have several French bikes, and they get ridden as much as any others.
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Old 03-19-17, 12:22 PM
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Originally Posted by billytwosheds View Post
There's lots of love for French C&Vs here.

It's possible to service a cottered crank, not always necessary to replace it.

If you want to ditch the original BB/crank, Velo Orange makes a good threadless bottom bracket that will fit regardless of the threading of your BB shell. With a little math/measuring to help find the right spindle length for your application, you can open up options for replacement cranks.

Grand Cru Threadless Bottom Bracket-107mm - Bottom Brackets - Components

I have several French bikes, and they get ridden as much as any others.
+1 on what BTS has said.....also expect the unexpected.
I like my french bikes....no two bikes are ever the same!
Best, Ben
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Old 03-19-17, 12:30 PM
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I just finished working on a French threaded bike and ran into everything FB mentioned.
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Old 03-19-17, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Thanks for the link, from the sound of things it might be a huge headache. I never thought about the headset, pedals or the stem.

One of the reasons I liked the bike was it is a little larger then normal. Approx 60mm seat tube.
Come on; working on a French bicycle builds character, makes you think and improvise, and gives a sense of satisfaction (or relief) when you finish. Go for it.
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Old 03-19-17, 12:33 PM
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I've got three French bikes, all of them Peugeot's, from low-end to high-end, and I've had no desire to modernize any of them. What makes them desirable to me is their uniqueness. There's plenty of spare parts for them out there, and chances are that you can find the replacement OEM parts for less than what you'd pay for modern components. Sounds like you're liking this bike because it's French, maybe keep it that way?
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Old 03-19-17, 12:38 PM
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For future reference.

Bicycles are unlike cars in that you don't get into them. You get onto them.
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Old 03-19-17, 01:45 PM
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...it didn't used to be such a big deal, because there were a lot of them around that you could scavenge for replacement parts. Sadly, that's no longer the case, so unless the bike you're thinking of buying is pretty well intact, all there, and working well mechanically, it can turn out to be problematic when you need to fix something.

BTW, the fact that the bike you're looking at has a new rear derailleur might be a good thing, if it was replaced by someone knowledgeable, or a bad thing if it was replaced and doesn't work all that well because they were not.


Generally, when people ask me this question I tend to say avoid them. It means there are too many surprises that might bite you later on in the process. I don't not like them, I grew up with them. But if you're just looking for a bike to ride, there's a tonne of pretty standard Japanese and Taiwanese stuff gathering dust in garage corners. It's easy to find one that is both lightweight and easier to source for repair parts.
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Old 03-19-17, 02:05 PM
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What they all said above, sort of. Once you understand the differences they are no more trouble than any other bike. Parts can be found though maybe not so readily, and you may not need them.

The BB, if French and it may not be, will have right-hand threads on both sides so you need to torque the drive side down really tight. The threads may seem like English but are not, and if you use the wrong cups will bind after a turn or two, so don't try English then think they're just a little tight then force them. Stems, handlebars, pedals can be found. I mean, come on, you only need one. Okay, two pedals but one of everything else. What kind of RD hanger does it have? If it's a claw you can use anything. Headsets can be found if you need one. Nice bikes. If you need a 60cm bike then don't let its Frenchness stop you from considering it.
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Old 03-19-17, 02:37 PM
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Learn to swear in French before you start. The end result is worth it.

Edit: Be on the lookout for shims that may fall out when you remove things from the bike or if you are building a frame, you may need shims under things that you put on the bike. (Swear in French)
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Old 03-19-17, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve Whitlatch View Post
Learn to swear in French before you start. The end result is worth it.

Edit: Be on the lookout for shims that may fall out when you remove things from the bike or if you are building a frame, you may need shims under things that you put on the bike. (Swear in French)
...if you need to order a special French standard shim from France, look for a "cale".
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Old 03-19-17, 07:23 PM
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I have 3 Gitane's, 2 Peugeot's and a Vitus 979 and they all get ridden alot. Love them. I actually used took the cottered cranks off the low Peugeot and re-used the cups with a 70mm (Italian) spindle - if I remember correctly - as detailed in the Sheldon Brown info Grand Bois linked to above. Using a Campagnolo crankset on it now and so far, everything works great. I just periodically check the cups to make sure they are tight.

If you want to go with a cartridge bb go with the Grand Cru French threaded unit from Velo Orange. I've used it on two bicycles and really like it. Easy to install and no worry of pulling it apart and re-greasing
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Old 03-19-17, 08:36 PM
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What everyone else said before me, plus additional questions:

Are you looking for a bike to ride right now, that needs no / very little tweaks to be reliably rideable?

If so, you probably want to avoid the Gitane.

Are you looking for a project bike, enjoy surprises and needing to improvise, and find tinkering/adjusting rewarding?

If so, then get the Gitane.


Another consideration to keep in mind is availability of replacement parts - if you take the bike on vacation and accidentally damage a derailleur or shift lever, most shops won't have the parts you'll need to get the bike up and running. Or they'll have some that kinda sorta work, as long as you don't shift to the smallest rear cog.

From my perspective, the 'French-ness' of the frame geometry and tubing is the allure. If you do get the bike and swap out everything in the interests of serviceability and function, I'm sure you'd find a willing victim.. i mean audience... here for your old gear.
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Old 03-19-17, 09:06 PM
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I'll have to get a picture of the bike...

But it looks a lot like this one, same color etc.



But the crank on it looks more like this one.



How hard would it to be to get the cooler looking crank that's on the first one?
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Old 03-19-17, 11:14 PM
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take the bash guard off?
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Old 03-20-17, 06:59 AM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
I'll have to get a picture of the bike...

But it looks a lot like this one, same color etc.



But the crank on it looks more like this one.



How hard would it to be to get the cooler looking crank that's on the first one?
I think those are Nervar cranks - those and the comparable cottered steel Stronglights turn up on the big auction site all day long, and are usually pretty cheap. OR, find an older LBS that hasn't thrown stuff out in a while. Many of those cranks languish because there has been an automatic "Eeek! It's a cottered crank!" reaction to them since the early 70s when cheap cotterless alloy cranks became available.

Verktyg hasn't chimed in yet, but a search for his posts would be helpful. Also, consider going to gitaneusa.com :: View Forum - Vintage Gitane and trawling for information there. There is a LOT of Gitane specific information available there.

If you are not in a huge hurry, and the price is right, I would say grab it. I personally think Gitanes are some of the best riding bikes ever made, and after kicking myself for letting several of them go through the years, a '71 Tour de France is currently in my "keep forever" stable as a fixed-gear road bike. If I ran up on a Grand Sport Deluxe in my size (60 cm) at a good price at a time when I had disposable income, I would snap it up.

The issues you would encounter (potentially) are -

- The French threaded BB which should NOT be a problem, really. It just means your LBS will probably not be able to help you, but you've already seen other options. Or just service it yourself if you decide to stick with the stock cranks - there are directions out there for a homebrew cotter press, and take your time and re use the originals and you'll be fine.

- The derailleurs. Frankly, the stock Delrin Simplex Prestige was a neat idea that doesn't last well. A previous owner did you a favor by fitting a SunTour rear derailleur, and were it my bike I would quietly seek out a set of downtube SunTour ratcheting shift levers and maybe a SunTour front derailleur and call it a day. They will work so much better, and back when, LOTS of riders did just that. I rode all over the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid-70s on a bike with a Simplex front derailleur and SunTour rear. ANY derailleurs will work.

- The headset. Again, there are a zillion workarounds, but first just clean and relube the stock one. It is amazing how durable these things are, and in in all likelihood a good scrubbing and fresh ball bearings and grease will restore it to new. It is highly likely that this is a low-mileage bike anyway, and you're mostly cleaning and relubing something that saw little use.

- The wheels. In all likelihood, the hubs are stock Normandy Sports. The overwhelming majority of these will take a standard threaded freewheel, because Mel Pinto, who brought them into the country during those years, spec'ed them out that way. If it has stock steel rims, take your time and find some alloy rims and the appropriate stainless steel spokes and rebuild them - or just be on the lookout for a nicer set of vintage wheels and pop them on. If you indeed have Normandy hubs, clean them out and repack the bearings. I was amazed at how smooth the last set I worked with was, fitted to a similar Motobecane that spent most of the last 40 years in a muddy crawlspace in South Carolina.
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Old 03-20-17, 09:08 AM
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Originally Posted by rustystrings61 View Post
...- The wheels. In all likelihood, the hubs are stock Normandy Sports. The overwhelming majority of these will take a standard threaded freewheel, because Mel Pinto, who brought them into the country during those years, spec'ed them out that way.
Maybe Gitanes were spec'ed that way but FWIW the Normandy hubs on my UO-8 were definitely French-threaded. Still, it's not a big deal. Even if you want unusual gear combinations it can be done. All you need is one functional FW body with French threads, if they are French instead of English.
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Old 03-20-17, 09:51 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by billytwosheds View Post
There's lots of love for French C&Vs here.

It's possible to service a cottered crank, not always necessary to replace it.

If you want to ditch the original BB/crank, Velo Orange makes a good threadless bottom bracket that will fit regardless of the threading of your BB shell. With a little math/measuring to help find the right spindle length for your application, you can open up options for replacement cranks.

Grand Cru Threadless Bottom Bracket-107mm - Bottom Brackets - Components

I have several French bikes, and they get ridden as much as any others.
I was going to suggest the velo orange threadless BB as well. I bought one in a medium length(not really small but not really long) as an "emergency" BB incase I had a bike that absolutely needed one very quickly. I figured the medium size would fit most road bikes. It may increase the Q factor a tiny bit, but it'd still be usable. (Until I had time to buy the correct BB.) Plus, having one of these around allows you to buy frames with ruined BB threads (or french/other weird BB threading) so you may be able to score a deal that would scare other people away.

In my experience, the french bikes I've worked on clean up well (mostly old Peugeots). We just make sure to keep ALL of the parts with the bike and try not to replace anything. Often times they have loose ball BBs which, if not abused, last forever. Ditto for the headset. The only thing I don't like is cottered cranks. (But honestly if it's an open ball BB you may be able to find a replacement spindle to convert it to tapered. Check your local bike coop.) You have to measure from bearing race to bearing race to get a compatible one. (Then measure for length, of course.) Unfortunately I can't comment on how well these bikes ride as they've always been too small or too large for me to ride comfortably for any length of time.
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Old 03-20-17, 06:39 PM
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French Bikes are so awesome and ride so well. I have 6 frenchies and in my experience if they don't have over 75% original, in working order parts don't fall in love so fast. It's not that you won't be able to find parts. Modern ones you need to triple check for sizing and overall compatibility. For example, you get new brake levers complete with cables and the whole handy dandy kit. You go to install, and realize that the cables in brand new levers won't work for vintage racer centerpull brakes. Vintage parts can be crazy expensive. Depending where you live, great deals can still be found on vintage bikes, parts, and tools.
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