Friday, May 02, 2008

The Paris Galibier Frame

In 1950 as a 14 year old, I attended Luton Technical School, some 30 miles north of London, England.

Adjacent to that school was a Technical College for older engineering students. Many of these students were racing cyclists and would leave their bikes in the bicycle rack in the school yard.

Lunch time would find me scrutinizing every fine detail of these bikes; it was the beginning of love affair with the bicycle that ultimately shaped my life, and lead to a career as a framebuilder.

One of the most unusual and eye-catching bikes was the Paris “Galibier” model.

Paris was the brand name of London framebuilder, Harry “Spanner” Rensch. His last name sounded like Wrench, hence the nickname “Spanner.” During WWII Rensch was an oxy-acetylene welder in London’s shipyards.

Paris Cycles started during the war in 1943. Harry probably chose the name Paris rather than use his own German sounding name, because of obvious wartime anti-German feeling, especially after the London Blitz.

He used a “Bi-laminated” construction for his frames, that is a sleeve brazed over the ends of the tubes, and the actual joint then filet brazed. Referred to as “Bronze Welding” in the Paris literature.

Beside the Galibier model, Harry Rensch also built conventionally designed frames. The most popular of which was the “Tour de France” model. (Click on picture above for a larger image.)

Paris frames often sported very flashy paint jobs, especially for that time. I remember red, white, and blue fade paint for example. There was a large Eiffel Tower decal on the seat tube, and the Paris name was stenciled on the down tube.

Ever since the introduction of the Galibier, and to this day, many a fierce argument has been held over this style guru’s dream machine. Is it just a style gimmick or is there real merit in this design?

I never rode a Galibier, but I will say this, a bicycle frame twists as it is being ridden, about a line from the head tube to the rear dropout. So placing a single large tube along this line, (Or there abouts.) does have merit. The seat tube is also split to form an interesting cantilever design.

One thing cannot be denied is the superb craftsmanship of Harry Rensch. Like many artists before and since, Rensch was not a good businessman. Paris Cycles was always plagued with financial problems, and lasted just 10 years, closing their doors in 1953. Harry Rensch never returned to the bicycle business and died in 1984. The Galibier is his legacy.

In recent years Condor Cycles in London bought the rights to the Paris name and are reproducing the Galibier model. (Picture above.)

Pictures from Classic Lightweights, UK


mark worden said...

I have never even seen a picture of a Galibier frame before. It is really interesting. Were any of these bikes sold in the USA? Could it be possible to find one sitting in someone's garage?

Anonymous said...

"An artist, metal smith yes."
Suggests a bicycle builder who created 'interesting' creations NOT intended for road use riggers.
Sadly, today's U.S.P.T.O. would likely grant this design trademark and/or patent protection.
Glad tradesman like you illustrate 'art v function' in bicycling.

Anonymous said...

Presumably the idea was to save weight, and shorten the wheelbase.

Just imagine the strain on the main tube joints as you pedal.

Flexing and metal fatigue would surely be its downfall?

As they say, "If it looks right, it'll be right".

You see economy kids bikes built using this thinking, but strap a pair of racing legs to it, and the twisting forces would reveal the weakness of the design.

Or perhaps Harry marketed it as "Fast and Disposable"?

"Win the TdF, and then bin it!"

Ron George said...

Just looking at the frame, I feel the role of the downtube in stabilizing lateral and torsional deflections is very minimized.

Due to that member acting as a cantilever and due to the horizontal torsional forces, there must be a lot of strain at the joint (seat-downtube junction) especially during a hard sprint or a hill climb/acceleration. Now imagine if that junction started rusting with time. Just my opinion :) but again, this material is steel so you could keep your fingers crossed.

I also wonder if there would be any added comfort vertically at the saddle because of the apparent 'disruption' in shock travel.

But its very interesting, I wish someone did an FEM analysis on this. Thanks for the post!

Tim Paton said...

Dave says:
"a bicycle frame twists as it is being ridden, about a line from the head tube to the rear dropout. So placing a single large tube along this line...does have merit."

Surely, if there's a tendency to twist about this line, then that's the worst possible place to locate your frame structure.

Assuming you're trying to minimise deflection, I would have thought that spreading frame tubes as wide as possible - maximising second moment of area - would be the way to increase stiffness.

I'd be interested to hear Dave's thoughts on this. After all, he's the one who has spent a lifetime designing frames...

Jake said...

I have one and it's a beautiful, powerful ride, speedy as you like despite wieghing a ton

Anonymous said...

The original Galibier frame was built as a hillclimb you can not turn a corner whilt riding as pedals hit the front wheel, I purchased mine 35 years ago second hand and restored it I also have a TOUR DE FRANCE bought by my father new in 1947/8 restored in the seventies with the GALIBIER but both now sitting in a shed rusting
I had a lot of pleasure with these bikes and they need restoring again to their former glory and I would like to see them restored again maybe with original running gear call 0208 281 0740 to chat about purchase. (TO ANSWER THE QUESTION OF STRENGTH OF FRAME MY FATHER PUSHED HIS ROAD RACING AND I PUSHED THEM 20 YEARS LATER) A GREAT FRAME TO EQUAL IF NOT PASS HETCHIN AND HOLDSWOTH WOULD CONDOR CYCLES BOTHER WITH THE MARK IF THIS WERE NOT THE CASE.