Tom Simpson

It is unusual for this site to feature a post on a topic or person not directly related to Andre Bertin or the bikes and companies related to Cycles Andre Bertin. Nonetheless, this newly released biography of the 1960s British cyclist Tom Simpson is too important to be overlooked. The book is written by Chris Sidewells, a nephew of Tom Simpson, who has had unparalleled access to family resources in the preparation of this biography. The book was published and copyrighted in late 2018 and is the first of a projected biographical series under the title of Cycling Legends.

Formally, the book is called Cycling Legends 01 Tom Simpson and its ISBN is 978-1-9164170-0-7. It is a high quality, perfect bound paperback 21 cm (8.25″) wide, 26 cm (10.25″) long and measures 1 cm (7/8″) thick. The book is available directly from the site Cycling Legends . There are 147 pages of text with 2 more of photos at the end of the book. The cost is UKP 25, C$ 42, US$ 32 with the AUS $ and the NZ $ amounts being close to Canada’s pricing. Shipping will vary depending on the location it is dispatched to from the UK. My copy cost  UKP 12.50 , C$ 21 or US$ 16 to ship to my location near Niagara Falls, Canada. My review copy was purchased directly through the Cycling Legends UK website. The book was sent promptly after ordering and arrived in a bubble padded shipping envelope in excellent condition. The covers were undamaged and the spine and corners showed no evidence of crushing or bending. An author signature is an option, should the purchaser wish to pay for one. The photographic reproduction and paper quality is excellent as can be seen from the cover image inserted below.

Photo Credit: Cycling Legends

The book has a basic chronological sequence as is to be expected in a biography, but makes effective use of asides throughout the book. Most readers are familiar with the use of sidebars in mixed text and illustrated books being used to elaborate upon or to explain a point in the narration. The author here uses asides to similar ends but they are much longer than a sidebar, sometimes being several pages in length. They are easily identified as being outside of the main narrative because they are printed on pale grey paper in contrast to the main story pages. Two very interesting ones are the interviews with Helen Simpson Hoban and Barry Hoban (Helen’s second husband) with the second being with Tom and Helen’s daughters, Jane and Joanne. Both the main text and the asides are heavily illustrated with well captioned photographs.

Photo Credit: Cycling Legends

Organization of the book is into 10 chapters with 9 of the grey paged asides being distributed in the first 6 of them. The asides act to expand upon the social, personal and professional contexts of what is being discussed in the associated chapter. The final 4 chapters do not include asides and move forward with the narrative quickly gaining momentum as it proceeds towards the final chapter and the details of Tom Simpson’s death during the Tour de France stage on Mont Ventoux on July 13th, 1967. The chapters themselves are arranged chronologically as descriptions of the significant races done, lost and won by Simpson in his career. Each chapter and aside is supported with associated black and white and coloured photographs such as the one above of Tom Simpson in the 1963 Bordeaux-Paris race.

In the final chapter, the author examines the details of Tom Simpson’s death from heat exhaustion and stimulant use and the effects it had on the 1967 Tour and on the riders who had been Tom’s friends as well as rivals.

Cycling Legends 01 Tom Simpson is an outstandingly well written, superbly illustrated and informative book about one of the most significant English speaking riders of the 20th Century. Yes, there were people like Major Taylor, Sir Hubert Opperman, and Torchy Peden before him but in the mid-century, there was Tommy Simpson who paved the way in professional cycling for a further influx of English speakers like Greg Lemond, Phil Anderson, Stephen Roche, Steve Bauer and Sean Kelly. I highly recommend this book for its sensitive writing, useful insights about the pro scene of the time and its remarkable selection of period photographs. Some of the most poignant are to be found on the book’s last two pages and are taken of the memorial cards and floral tributes given just after Tom Simpson’s death. This book is well worthy of your attention.



Carre Bertin C 37 Restoration Update

As you already know, a bicycle , typically, does not remain static unless it is a wall hanger used only for display. As cyclists, we tinker with our bikes, adjusting, substituting, modifying to adjust to changed circumstances, uses and needs. When I completed my Carre/Bertin C 37 restoration in 2014, I didn’t know it was a Carre built frameset but I was reasonably sure it would remain fairly static in its presentation. The just completed bike is seen in the photo below:

Carre/Bertin C 37 Oct. 2014

Since then, small changes have been made. I added toe strap buttons to facilitate tightening the toe straps, replaced the now, worn, dirty and faded red bar tape with more of the same colour from Tressostar, fiddled with saddle placement height and added the usual tool kit necessary for road riding. The result is this photo from a few days ago:

Carre/Bertin C 37 Dec. 2018

As well, there has been some curiousity regarding the drivetrain gearing. As mentioned in the original restoration series, the rear hub is a Maillard Helicomatic, a conventional style freewheel with an unconventional helical attachment screw thread. It is not a cassette as the hub bearings are

Rear Helicomatic Hub and Freewheel

discreet from the freewheel’s bearings which are in a separate body and not integrated with the hub. Details of this uniquely French system can be found at the Helicomatic Museum. This hub has a 120 mm over locknut width dimension which is the size of the now obsolete 5 speed conventional freewheel dimension for rear wheel dropout spacing. One other unusual aspect of this freewheel is that it is not a 5 speed as one would expect in a 120 mm spaced hub but is actually an Ultra/Compact narrow spaced freewheel instead with 6 cogs where 5 normally reside. Tooth configuration is standard period Maillard


and it uses a Sedisport black chain. And it shifts very well over its medium range cogs. The freewheel itself is 14-15-17-19-21-24T in sequence and since my area is relatively flat, it works just fine. The Helico is paired with a Stronglight 93 double crankset with 52/40T rings which is a big improvement over the original 45T inner ring the crankset came with. The 12 tooth difference is easily handled by the Simplex SLJ A522 front derailleur.

Likely the next change will be to replace the Mafac LS2 brake pads but as further changes occur, I will update the blog with an appropriate post.



LED Light Conversion continued

Back at the end of November in 2017, I wrote a post on my conversion of a Soubitez headlight/taillight combination from halogen incandescent bulbs to modern LEDs. LEDs have revolutionized bicycle lighting and I was looking for some of that improvement for the lighting system on my Bertin C 37 randonneuse conversion. Many modern lights built for LEDs have superior optical properties and light dispersion compared to the old incandescent or halogen setups from the 1970s or 1980s. See the Peter White article here for photographs of beam patterns. Unfortunately, many of these lights are

Credit: Peter White Cycles

functionally excellent but ugly in appearance. That was part of the initial motivation for converting my old Soubitez. Another concern was that the older setups came as a single wired format. Current flows from the bottle generator, through a single wire to the headlight and through another single wire to the tail light and is grounded through the steel frame to complete the circuit. The newer headlights all look wired for a current and a ground wire which, I assumed meant re-plumbing the the bike’s internal wiring routing and lashing up a return wire in the rear fender. This is not viable due to the small diameter of the frame drillings for the current carrying wire and the small diameter of the fender edge roll where the tail light wire is tucked to avoid the tire’s tread. Ultimately, I was looking for a plug and play solution in which I simply replaced the original halogen bulbs with much higher performing LED  equivalents.

Thankfully, that was easier than anticipated and the headlight bulb was replaced with a 120 lumens 1W white LED  from Bike Co. in the UK. The rear worked out just as well as Compass Bicycles in the U.S. sells a red .35W LED with a built-in standlight. As seen in the previous article, installation was straight forward and the results were promising when tested indoors. However, on the road, the results were disappointing. At the time, I wrote, “The light intensity is sufficient around town and gives sufficient light to the front if one travels slowly. It would be readily possible to out ride the light.” While the rear with the stand light was excellent, the front under performed for my expectations. When I first test rode the lights, I re-aimed the headlight several times to get a passable pattern of light but there was no real throw to the light and it fell away quickly at the edges leaving a real possibility of out riding the light at little more than walking pace or in a turn.

The poor performance of the headlight conversion continued to bother me after last year’s article and I continued to tinker with the headlight alignment over the summer and fall of 2018. On one occasion, I took a different route for the headlight test which took me onto a multiuse path with trees at the sides. The trees were well in leaf and as I rode by I could clearly make out details on the upper trunks and lower leaf canopy illuminated by my headlight beam. Obviously, the lens design on the OEM Soubitez headlight was deficient and the bright white light from my LED was going to a lot of places other than the road. Equally obvious, I needed to change the headlight. (The photo to the left shows the Soubitez with the original halogen bulb.) The light was mounted on a custom cro-mo chromed bracket made by Mariposa/Bicycle Specialties of Toronto. Any replacement would need to conform to the tab arrangement as shown in the photo to the right. So, the headlight search was on and a great deal of time was spent going through sales sites on-line looking for a period correct but effective light. Union, Soubitez and Sanyo all had possibilities but very little was available in the way of tests or anecdotal reports of the ones available since they pre-dated or barely overlapped the existence of the Internet. I was complaining about this to my brother who is a professional bike mechanic and he suggested I use his discarded stock of headlights from when he used to commute by bicycle. I agreed and he presented me with a shoe box full of headlights which included a Sanyo from a bottom bracket generator set, a couple of Union headlights and a couple of Soubitezs, one of which had been soldered up to a battery pack. Having salvaged three potential headlights, I sat down and cleaned all the bodies with citrus based solvent and then polished the bodies with Simichrome polish. I cleaned the three lens with Simichrome as well and the fine abrasive removed fine surface scratches and any road dirt or discolouration.

Given that Sanyo/Panasonic is a renowned maker of electrical goods, I determined to try the Sanyo first. I removed the 1W LED from the original Soubitez lamp and screwed it into the E10 dimension socket in the Sanyo after wiring the bulb base to the power wire on the Bertin frameset. I reassembled the Sanyo, screwed down the attachment screw, attached the light to the Mariposa bracket and roughly angled the headlight. I tested it indoors and the light seemed significantly brighter than the original Soubitez but seemed to have shadows in the beam pattern. I took the bike outdoors and rode it on the same multiuse path that revealed the original light beam pattern problem. The result was improved but there was an arch of shadow in the center of the beam and I still got to see way too much of the leaves of the nearby trees. So, no to Sanyo.

I was reluctant to try another Soubitez so I determined to trial fit the Union headlight as my next example. In conversation with my brother, it turns out that this might not have been the best course of action. He informed me that his experience with the Union using a 6V, 2.4W halogen bulb was that the headlight beam was divided into alternating light and shadow bars from one side of the street to the other. This had the disadvantage that road hazards like pot holes and pavement cracks “hid” in the shadow bands and created potentially dangerous problems for the rider. As can be seen in the accompanying photo, the strong vertical fluting probably contributed to that effect. So scratch that idea and back to doing the Soubitez next.

The Soubitez was similar in its superficial appearance. It had a similar, large clear lens and a black plastic bulb holder located at the back of the chromed reflector. The bulb mount had a twist and pull release system of lugs and notches to hold it in place and a molded socket to accommodate the bulb and the connecting wire. The 1 W LED simply screwed into place in the plastic socket and held the connecting wire tightly in compression. The Soubitez had a plastic mounting bracket with a copper insert unlike the original which mounted with a serrated steel tab. To be sure of a ground contact, I added a steel washer to each side of the plastic body bracket and the used an M5 screw to mount it to the Mariposa light bracket. The chromed  plastic lens and reflector unit then just twisted into place.

If the Union and the test Soubitez are compared, the Union has an obviously tighter sequence of flutes which may contribute to its banded beam pattern. An indoor test of the Soubitez indicated a brighter beam distribution of light. The subsequent outdoor test revealed a much better light distribution horizontally than the Sanyo, with better forward throw of the beam. The Mariposa bracket is bent slightly off-center which has to be corrected to center the beam. Riding the multiuse path revealed very little of the tree trunks or the leaves of the nearby trees, which has to be a great improvement all by itself. However, it must still be said that the headlight is  not up to riding at normal road speeds and remains unsuitable for downhills as the headlight beam can easily be out ridden. As well, the beam does not throw significant amounts of light sideways making cornering a matter of trust rather than observation. An unexpected benefit of the headlight change is that my handlebar bag no longer press onto the top of the light housing. The rear light LED remains unaffected by the changes up front and continues to offer  a bright red stand light feature visible in the dark as well as in well-lit suburban streets.

Conclusion: The changed front reflector is a considerable improvement in beam shape but the 140 Lumen output of the LED output may simply be too low for serious use. The up side is that things are better and still look period correct.


A Bertin Tandem Revisited

Back on October 13, 2012, I published an account of a Bertin T2 tandem refurbishment and return to service by Adrien D. who lives in Northern France. He and a friend were looking for a tandem to tour on and a brief account and the story of the tandem’s rescue can be found here. Once the tandem had been reconditioned. it was put into service on a long tour of southern Great Britain. On the road, it looked like this:

The tour was extensive, for a first time effort, and Adrien and his friend Remi covered much of southern England including Stonehenge as well as parts of Wales with a stop in its capital city of Cardiff.

The next big tour was two years later in 2014 when the Bertin was ridden on a tour of northern France through historic Normandy.

Most recently, in 2017, Adrien and Remi took a long trip from Hamburg, through the Netherlands and Belgium and into Picardy in northern France. They had learned from their previous tours and modified the Bertin. The dropped bars were gone replaced by multi-position flat bars and a new front bag rack was added along with fork mounted low rider racks to lower and stabilize the front baggage load. The on-tour look is here:

I would like to express my appreciation to Adrien and Remi for sharing the details and the updates to what is still a remarkably effective bike more than 40 years after it was built. Thanks, guys.