The story of the restoration of a 1950s classic bicycle for a Land's End – John O'Groats charity ride in aid of Alzheimer's Society
Paul de Vivie, who used the splendid nom de plume Vélocio, was born in 1853 in the Vaucluse department of south-east France. He was the great pioneer of French club cycling, inventing the term cyclotourisme, and did more than anyone to introduce derailleur gears. I’m grateful to him every time I change gear to start a climb.
He fell in love with cycle touring and gave up a successful career in the silk business to produce his own bikes and start the periodical Le Cycliste. The story goes that he was riding up the approach to the Col de la Republique (near St Etienne) in 1889 when one of his readers overtook him – smoking a pipe. This started his search for effective gears (much needed in the country around St Etienne). He didn’t invent the derailleur, but adopted the idea from England, adding to his own bike a version of the “Protean” derailleur, which was patented in England at the end of the 19th century and marketed as “the Whippet”. For a while, derailleur gears were know in France as whippets.
Vélocio went on to promote the further development of derailleur gears over a long period, against a great deal of opposition – variable gears were banned in the Tour de France for a long period, and were widely held by racing cyclists to be suitable only for women and the elderly. Vélocio’s associate, Albert Raimond, founded the Cyclo gear company, some of whose products (like the wide-range freewheel gear cluster) I’ll be using on my ride.
Vélocio’s legacy is apparent all over south-central France. In 2009, I came across this plaque at the col de Pavezin (near Pélussin in the department of la Loire), commemorating Vélocio’s meetings there.
Much of his code for the long-distance cyclist is still widely cited today (I have trouble with no. 5, myself…):
Vélocio continued riding impressive distances in the steep hills of southern France into his late 70s. He died in 1930 aged 77 – ironically while pushing, rather than riding, his bike. He stepped away from an oncoming car into the path of a tram. His memorial stands at the Col de la Republique – in 1903, the first col to feature in the Tour de France. So raise a glass of Vallée du Rhône wine to his memory – once your tour is finished, of course!