James got in contact with me with quite a special bike that he has just restored, the identity of which remains a mystery. He’s done a great job of restoring it, part by part, rebuilding it with obvious care and precision, but there are no decals on the bike at all. What’s more, there is no serial number and only the bottom bracket has what looks like some hand-etched figures. It’s a really nice bike, and it would be great to solve the mystery of who made it.
One of the first things I noticed about this bike was the ornate headtube lugs, which I had never seen anywhere else but in old Nervex catalogues. They are not the more commonly found Nervex Professional lugs that were a feature on many higher end road bike of the past; rather, a good look online reveals these are indeed quite rare: in my view, they are Nervex Legere 110 lugs. I think they are quite beautiful.
Who Made it?
It’s very difficult to identify an older bike when it has no decals and serial numbers, epecially a French one. Not only did France have many large brands building a a great variety of models in this period, the country was also replete with professional frame bulders, boutique bike firms, ex-professionals and regional bike shops in the business of building good quality steel racing bikes. However, one can build up the clues and try and best guess, at least.
Firstly, James tells me that his uncle bought a place in the south of France and that the bike was stored away in the garage. I think knowing its location does provide some help, as often people bought well known local marques, like the common occurance of Bertin bikes in barns and garages in the north east. As for any markings on the bike, the only ones there seem to be are the hand-etched figures “11x”, the stamped “93” and the mysterious “s” in a diamond shape, found on the bottom bracket shell.
Sometimes the colour of a bike can help ascertain its origins, like the pink of a Mercier or the gaudy paintwork of a Mondia. The paint on this bike looks original, but is not distinctive or recognisable to me; indeed, it’s actually rather monotone and understated shade of grey. The rear dropouts feature eyelets but there is no hanger for direct derailleur clamping. There is no chrome and no decorative paintwork around the lugs, or anywhere else for that matter.
Two great components are immediately noticeable on this bike: the Ideale 43 Special leather saddle and the quite rare Stronglight 49A crankset. The latter which has 5 pin cranks in steel, rather than the dural of the later 49D. Personally I’ve never seen a bike featuring one of these cranksets, and this one looks like it has a larger inner chain ring. It’s an excellent detail on this build, and you’d be hard pressed to find one as a replacement. The Ideale saddle looks in good condition for its age, and compliments the bike’s quality build.
This is an interesting bike, and I believe it was a good mid-range racer built in the late 1960’s. The frame may have been built with Reynolds 531 or similar tubing, but there are no decals to prove it; the only way to know would be to weigh the frameset. As the paintwork is simple, the ornamentation is minimal ( except for the Nervex 110 lugs ) and there being no serial numbers on the bike, I’m now more inclined to guess at it being the work of a larger manufacturer, rather than by the hand of a boutique bike builder. I originally thought it could be a Follis, but their bikes often had ornate headtubes with the name ornately inscribed on them. Any thoughts?