Gitane, part 1
I sold my last "beater" fixed-gear back around 2003 or so, when I got a nice indoor parking space, ending my need for a bike I could leave locked up outside in a rack in all weather. Suddenly there was no compelling reason to own a beater anymore. I decided to reduce my holdings a little, and the first to go was Lazarus, a c.1970 Raleigh Gran Sport I plucked from a trash heap. Lazarus had gone through several incarnations before arriving at perfection as a 42x16 fixed-gear whose looks were improved when I casually sprayed all visible frame surfaces with flat black barbecue grill paint. Times had changed, and it made sense to send him on to someone else, so I did.
And regretted it not too much later. But that was okay - I soon acquired a battered Mercian Colorado racing bike to be my mad-scientist lab, little knowing that one day it would become my lone multi-geared bike. Then I was given a vintage PX-10E frameset, which I built up with roughly period parts and rode some - but it was never quite right, never quite just exactly right. And it was an unusual transitional model, which kept me from joyfully breaking out the Krylon and shooting it flat black.
So, off went the Peugeot. In the last year or so, I've parted with the hanger queens of my fleet - the dinosaur-like Dawes Realmrider 4-speed, the beautiful but no longer ridden Rivendell Road Custom - and now I am down to my nice, daily driver fixed-gear Mercian, the afore-mentioned Colorado, and a battered Trek 950 mountain bike set up as a single-speed.
All well and good, but I found myself still lacking something. I needed a beater. I needed a bike with relatively little dollar or collector value, but still one that would be fun for me to ride. I could find a bargain on one of the zillion or so TIG-welded "fixies" on the market, but I knew that I would never be happy without some lugs.
Then I remembered an email conversation a while back about some pedals I had sold on eBay, which led to a proffered deal on a green Gitane Tour de France that had been hanging in a basement for more than a decade. One of the very few bikes I regret selling was another green TdF that I briefly owned c.1998. I pondered. I made enquiries. The project sat on the back burner. But eventually things came together, the owner was ready to move it, and here it is, now, in all its faded Gallic glory.
It's from somewhere around 1971, as it still has the pronged left rear dropout and the long-point Prugnat lugs and the seat stay bridge for the centerpull brake cable housing stop, but was fitted with the cheaper swaged seat stay cap instead of the nice willow-leaf brazed unit. It still has the nice brake bridge reinforcements, too, which is a nice touch.
In the harsh light of the sun it shows signs of a long life that has not always involved care. The paint has innumerable scrapes and scratches (though in truth, they tended to come out of the box that way!). The chrome is tired and spotted and missing in a few spots. The decals are trashed and peeling, which is also typical of these bikes. There are minor brazing holidays on a head lug and a seat stay cap. The lugs clearly came right out of the box and were brazed up without a moment's filing. In other words, it's a product of the great bike boom, and it shows it.
On the other hand, it appears to be arrow-straight. The seat and top tubes are EXACTLY the right size for me. It is metric gauge Reynolds 531, which is somehow subtly different from all other frame tubing - then again, it's a French bike, so there ya go. It has those long, long Simplex horizontal dropouts which are just ideal for single-speed and fixed-gear use. There is exactly one braze-on, an easily-ignored doodad to keep downtube shifters from slipping. Nice, stage-race-y geometry, room enough for 28mm tires without there being too much room. And I remember one of the great truths of French bike makers - they never devoted much energy to how a bike looked, but they were all about how it rode. In short, the Gitane was an ideal candidate for conversion.
Right now, I'm thinking flat black barbecue grill spray paint. We'll see.