Internal Detours
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Peugeot PX-10s aren't for everyone. Those who love them point out they were the least expensive all-out racing bike on the market during their heyday. With a frame built of metric gauge Reynolds 531 throughout joined with fancy curlicue Nervex Professional lugs, combined with a very light parts mix, Peugeot's top offering was a springy machine that handled well on rough roads. A lot of riders won a lot of races on PX-10s, including (probably) Tom Simpson's Milan-San Remo victory and his one day in the yellow jersey.

Those who don't love them point out that the craftsmanship was indifferent at best; the Nervex lugs came right out of the box and were slapped into place and brazed up without a single pass of a file to smooth them up; and the components were defiantly French to the bitter end. Arguably, the PX-10s of 1978 were the pinnacle of mid-50s racing design.

I know about all of the flaws, but I used to collect PX-10s. When I first fell in love with dropped-handlebar road bikes in the mid-70s, I used to admire the white Peugeots with the black head lugs at Dixon's in Roanoke. I never had one until 1997 or so, when I returned to cycling and bought a '74 PX-10LE sight unseen from a guy in a cycling newsgroup.

From there I picked up a couple of other vintage Peugeots. I bought a bunch of assorted documents and old catalogs. I helped gather data for a website about the various Peugeots based on the information we could find in the U.S. at the time.

In 2000, I sold of all the vintage stuff to help pay for the Rivendell. It was part of divesting myself from assorted collections - I sold the vintage guitars off at the same time. I would occasionally chime in with whatever information I could add to discussions online about the various PX-10 variants. I no longer had to keep up with the various odd French dimensions - which make perfect sense if you think metric.

When Charlie Young gave me an incredibly battered old PX-10 frameset at the Cirque this year, he unleashed a monster. I came home with visions of a beater fixed-gear, and was thinking its next finish would be basic rattle-can flat black.

No. Oh, no. Because it's a relatively unusual bike, you see. I poked around and looked at the inside of the BB shell and saw mitered frame tubes where everything came together. The frame angles appeared to be the classical 72 degrees parallel. The fork had the perfect old-style low-trail rake. The wheelbase was my ideal, a near-perfect 40 inches or so.

Contrary to received wisdom, overall it showed much nicer construction than the '73-75 era bikes I was used to. Though the chrome was thin and worn in places, it was much better than most French chrome. In addition to the little touches that indicated someone cared about building a good bike, there was the headbadge. It had rivets like the ones normally holding old-style shield-shaped escutcheons, but the badge itself was the later squared shape. It even had the hardwood plug hammered down into the top of the fork crown as a last-ditch guard against a steerer tube failure.

An exchange of emails with Eric Elman later, I had learned I had what was probably a transitional bike structurally identical to the 1967-1969 PX-10Es, but with the decals and graphics package that was to run from 1970 through 1974. Interesting. No real collector value, especially in this condition, but it was one of the very last of the classical, canonical frames that built the model's reputation.

I poked around my parts bin and stumbled onto a set of wheels I had bought cheaply years ago - fancy tubular racing rims laced up to early Phil Wood sealed-bearing hubs. The front even had tied and soldered spokes, and how cool is that? Days later, I bought a set of Stronglight cranks cheaply on eBay, followed by a French-thread BB to match. Digging through my boxes of parts turned up assorted Mafac brake parts.

Another eBay purchase netted me a Simplex Super LJ rear derailleur, essential if I wanted to be able to change gears - Peugeot used Simplex dropouts that required Simplex derailleurs until the very late 1970s. French, don't you know. Anyway, the seller sent me a huge stash of assorted oddments appropriate for this build, including more Simplex goodies.

There are still some issues. Someone had cinched down the seatpost binder bolt too hard, compressing the seat tube beyond the 26.4 mm of catalog specification. I managed to open it back up some, but I think it's gonna need to be honed, and possibly reamed. I still haven't decided if I'm going to set it up with my current handlebar preferences (Nitto of Japan) or somewhat risky period stuff (narrow Philippe bars and the infamous Ava death stem). I still need to buy some tubulars and some French threaded pedals.

It looks like a long term process. It also looks like a lot of fun.
My supervisor at work has an old metalic green frame with the same decals. He got it in Germany when he was 13 or so. It might have some usable parts.
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Location: Greenwood, South Carolina, United States
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