Daniel Rebour

Even though Daniel Rebour retired almost 40 years ago, his drawings remain recognizable to many cyclists today. Rebour’s drawings distilled the essence of components and bicycles better than photographs ever can. He managed to make even the most mundane bicycle appealing, and his drawings greatly added to the allure of the wonderful machines made by the great constructeurs.

Rebour visited bike shows all over Europe and even in North America when he worked for the trade magazine Le Cycle. Over the years, he chronicled technological progress. Historians today turn to his articles and drawings to figure out, for example, the history of Campagnolo’s first derailleurs, the Gran Sport, through its convoluted gestation. Rebour was there, and recorded what he saw in his drawings.

Rebour was influenced by the French constructeurs’ emphasis on the “line of the bike,” and in return, his drawings influenced how the French saw bikes. Rebour did not dwell on intricate lug cutouts, but focused on the proportions and outline of the bike. His drawings look especially exceptional when they depict bicycles with good fender lines and nicely proportioned frames.

Rebour’s work reflects a true love of cycling and of bicycles. Bicycle Quarterly photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères visited Simone Rebour many years ago. He interviewed Simone and obtained access to Rebour’s archives. In Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4, Jean-Pierre related their fascinating story.

Daniel and Simone Rebour were active cyclotourists. For their honeymoon, the Rebours rode a René Herse tandem to a new mixed-tandem record in the 1948 Paris-Brest-Paris (above). They went touring by bike, but also entered competitions like the Poly de Chanteloup and the Brevet Randonneur des Vosges. In 1949, Simone Rebour set the women’s record for the 200 km brevet, with a time of 6:57 hours – faster than most randonneurs ride today.

Daniel Rebour also wrote an introduction to cycling (above) where he explained what to look for in a bicycle. The book was reprinted in several editions for almost 30 years.  Rebour’s second love was motorcycling, and he published many articles and drawings in Moto Revue under the pseudonym “Paul Boyenval.” He also wrote an introduction to motorcycling that is similar to his book on cycling.

It is thanks to Rebour’s many drawings, often titled “Nouveautés au Salon du Cycle” (“New Products at the Paris Bike Show) that we can piece together the history of bicycle components, both from the large manufacturers and from the small constructeurs. Above is part of an article from the 1960 Salon du Cycle, which saw the introduction of the Mafac “Kathy” cantilevers and the “Tiger” centerpulls.

Imagine this larger-than-life figure, working on his detailed drawings in his country house in Normandy, and then, at the end of a full day, getting on his Herse to go for a ride… what a way of life!

The full story of Daniel Rebour, with many photos and drawings, was published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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13 Responses to Daniel Rebour

  1. joel says:

    very nice Jan,
    if it is ok to link, on my blog I have some actual drawings of Daniel Rebour that I have collected over the years. It is interesting to see them in the context between art and function(graphic art) and to see it mocked up for printing.
    http://bikeville.blogspot.com/search/label/daniel%20rebour

  2. eric.br says:

    As a paper subscriber, this is still the second time this month I wish BQ published its backlist in an online format available for download… looks like a great article, though. Thanks, Jan.

  3. Ron Lau says:

    “Simone Rebour set the women’s record for the 200 km brevet, with a time of 6:57 hours – faster than most randonneurs ride today.”

    Wow, that is impressive.

  4. RosyRambler says:

    A long shot I know, but is there a possibility of Daniel Rebour’s book being published anew, in English this time? Possibly through Compass Bicycles? My, what a jewel that would be!

    • The book is very much geared toward beginners. Typical content is: “You can equip your bike with two chainrings. When you get to the top of a hill, you switch to the big ring to be able to ride faster.” or “Bicycle lights consist of four components: a generator, a headlight, a taillight and a rear reflector.”

      Obviously, the drawings are nice, but they all had been published before. Many have been reprinted in Bicycle Quarterly.

      If you are looking for the secrets of the French constructeurs, you will be disappointed. To unlock those, you need to reverse-engineer their bicycles – which is what we’ve done at Bicycle Quarterly.

      • GuitarSlinger says:

        OK so then any chance of a retrospective book on the drawing career ( both bicycle and M/C ) of Daniel Rebour ….. in English hopefully ? I’d buy a copy .

        A short …. but absolutely brilliant post Jan !

      • The retrospective was published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4. If you are looking for a collection of drawings, that would be a neat project. The Japanese have published four volumes of Daniel Rebour drawings – his output was incredible!

      • RosyRambler says:

        Thank you for your reply Jan. In my comment, I wasn’t thinking of “secrets of the French constructeurs.” I even thought it a bit odd because I have every issue of BQ, from #1 to the present, and you have done an exceptional job of explaining the wonderful art and craft of the French Consructeurs.

        I love just about ANY book about bicycling, especially early 20h Century points of view, and especially foreign countries (I’m US), since having been reading BQ these past few years. My thoughts when I saw the pages from Rebour’s book is that it might sort of be like Paul Fournel’s book, “Need For The Bike” (which you did review in BQ), in that it would be an ‘easy’ book that could be picked up and browsed through many times over as a relaxing pastime. And yes, I do have the “Data Book” of his drawings.

        Jan, this is a bit off topic, but I’ve been itching to ask you this for quite a while.

        Bicycle Quarterly from the beginning has focused largely on early French Constructeurs and French cycling culture. Your bike reviews cover the whole gamut, past and present, and you have branched out on occasions. I especially liked the interview with the Taylor brothers in Britain. But after reading so much great info about what was going on in France, I’m constantly wondering, ‘What was happening in Italy, or Belgium, or other countries that have a cycling culture, while the French were doing such incredible work?”

        So, my question is, do you have any future plans for Bicycle Quarterly to include other countries with as much, or near as much, depth as you have France?

      • We are working on some articles on British topics. For Italy, it’s harder – outside racing, there wasn’t much documentation of cycling culture. For the history of the great racers like Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, etc., others are doing that better than we can.

  5. GuitarSlinger says:

    @ Jan H – Italy not having much of a cycling culture outside of racing ? I beg ( being part Italian and still having family there ; not to mention having been introduced to the joys of cycling by my very Italian grand father back in 61 ) to disagree . Cycling had and still has very deep roots in the daily lives of most Italians . Oh its a little different from the French . But its there and there’s a ton of it . Road bikes , commuters , work bikes etc etc . They’re all there for the finding . The main difference from the French being Racing was and is so predominant in the overall Italian mindset that the day to day cycling takes a bit of a back seat in the press/print etc .

    Add to the above that Italian cultural mindset that * ” If its not professional or leading to becoming professional it doesn’t count ” and you’ll understand just why you’ll be digging a little harder to find the info you’re looking for . Just as much ( if not more ) to find mind you .. but more difficult to track down .

    ( * that same mindset pervades growing up Italian American as well . If anything it may be worse here )

    • You are right – there are many wonderful ways Italians use their bikes. I am working on an article on the working bikes of Florence… As you point out, there isn’t much documentation on that part of the non-racing cycling culture.

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