A Tale of Two Threads
Here is an email I received recently from Carles, with an interesting but difficult problem with his Vitus bike:
The 40 Year Old Problem
Carles’ issue is not so dissimilar to the one I had with a Jacotey fork steerer problem. In my case, I approached my local framebuilder who coud only recommend cutting the steerer and replacing it with one cut with a standard thread. It is a problem that really requires expert help, as very few people will have the 40 year old tools to retap or lengthen old French threads. A standard headset on a French steerer tube wont thread on properly, and an Italian headet will feel loose, even if not at first.
It’s really strange to find a bike with a French threaded steerer and an Italian threaded bottom bracket. Yet, these things do happen. One of the caveats of buying an old French bike is always being aware of the condition of the threads. But it’s unlikely you’ll find damaged threads until you need to swap something or upgrade a part, and it’s only then that you are faced with a major problem. Who can retap or replace your damaged French threads?
Bikes Shops No Help
Most bike shops should have the tools to retap your standard threaded steerer ( for example the Park tool FTS-1 ), cutting 1-1/8 and 1-1/4 threads with relative ease. However, very, very few will have the French equivalent, because the old French steerers were of a slightly different size and thread: 25mm instead of 25.4mm, and 24tpi threading instead of 25.4tpi. These French steerers went obselete after 1982, so good luck in finding the tool, and even worse, finding an obliging bike shop or even frame builder.
The VAR 40 B
The tool all vintage French bike owners need in their tool box is a Var 40 B, which was the proper tool for cutting French steerer threads. I have seen a couple on Ebay this week, one in Spain for a princely sum, and the other incomplete, with just the handle and not the die. I also found a NOS or custom built 25mm die for sale, which could perhaps fit into the Park Tool handle or just as well not. All three examples are costly, but it would be so good to own a Var 40 B. I even wrote to a few die makers, but a custom-made die, a one-off, looked costly.
Var to Do
I trawled through some French classifieds for a good while, and did actually find a VAR 40 B in good condition, complete and useable. If fact, the seller also offered me a VAR 34, a head race press tool. In French it is called un Presse Cuvette De Direction. He offered me them both for half the price of those examples I mentioned on Ebay, but with the condition that he sent them to a French address. Damn. I did have one, but not anymore.
I don’t know if there are some French bike shops or frame builders out there that can still do this job, but I’m sure there can’t be many anywhere in the world. If you don’t own the tool, then I can only imagine the solution would be to replace the forks for a pair of standard threaded ones. A new headset will be required, too, as the French headsets naturally won’t work and also have a keyway built in. It really could be worth investing in a VAR 40 B if you can find one, because without the tool, there’s no solution to the problem.
Carles wrote to me recently and informed me that he has found a workshop in Spain which can extend his threads and enable him, therefore, to keep his Vitus fork. He has sent his forks to BCIMAX, which is a shop that specialises in vintage bikes and is based in Barcelona. That’s a very satisfying ending to a problem that could have nobbled a great bike project. The workshop can be contacted here: https://www.facebook.com/Bcimax/
Here are a couple of pictured of Carle’s lovely bike: