Cyclodonia on the J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines

Jan’s comment: It’s always interesting to read others’ impressions of our work. Cyclodonia discussed several bikes from the Concours de Machines in detail. Translated and reposted with permission. The French original is available here. The views expressed are those of the original, not mine. Enjoy!

J. P. Weigle (Lyme – USA)

  • 2nd place,  Concours de Machines
  • Prix de la Légèreté [Prize for the lightest bike]

Looking at this bike, the unsuspecting public (and ‘unsuspecting’ includes a good part of the rider in the Cyclosportive Les Copains held the same weekend as the Concours de Machines) might think this is an old bike, built 60 or 70 years ago and restored carefully. And yet, the bike presented by J. P. Weigle did not use any old parts that had been pulled from the drawers of a collector.

weigle concours de machines entier.JPG

The timeless machine of the team  J. P. Weigle / J. Heine.

But why redo what already had been done 70 years ago, especially in a competition where originality was the best way to distinguish your bike? The conviction of Jan Heine, rider and future owner of this bike, a conviction which he has defended for several decades in his magazine Bicycle Quarterly, and which is supported by tests that are of a rigor which we would love to see in the French cycling press, is as follows: During  the 1940s and 1950s, the French randonneur bike, thanks in part due to the influence of the Concours de Machines, had achieved a perfect balance of performance, light weight, reliability, comfort and elegance.

Evidently, this is evidently a counterintuitive opinion when the cycling industry has introduced multitudes of standards and innovations. And it was difficult to show the potential of the products and standards of the randonneur bike of the “grande époque”, when they had mostly disappeared. Hence Jan Heine has re-issued a selection of components that no longer were available, under the Compass brand, notably tires, brakes and cranks. The J. P. Weigle presented an opportunity to showcase Compass products in the Concours de Machines.

The absence of any technical mishaps on the difficult roads of the bike test, the speed of its pilot, and the award for the lightest bike, which the Weigle obtained in addition to the silver medal overall, all show that this was undoubtedly one of the best-performing bikes in the event.

A lightweight bike

The light weight of the bike is first and foremost the result of J. P. Weigle skill. He chose a selection of lightweight tubes, and then he chased every gram while building the frame. The tubes are a “Special Mix” according to the sticker. One can assume that the builder used Kaisei fork blades, but that is all we’ll know: J. P. Weigle keeps his secrets to himself.

But it is also a careful selection of the components that brought this fully equipped randonneur bike very close to 9 kg (9.1 kg with pump and bottle cages, but without bag).

The Herse cranks, one of the most important Compass products, showed the intent: Drilled chainrings brought only marginal weight savings, and they also spoiled the beautiful lines a little, but they drew attention to the fact that this was a bike for the Concours de Machines. (Last year, it was Andouart who gave in to the same temptation.)

weigle pedalier herse.JPG

Three bikes were equipped with the Compass René Herse cranks (Weigle, Berthoud and Brevet). Here, the chainring bolts are aluminum, and the crank bolt (also Herse) has been relieved to eliminate every superfluous gram.

This crank is far from a relic. It is interesting for two reasons: It is one of the lightest on the market, and it offers an unrivaled choice of chainrings with the same bolt-circle diameter: single, double or triple. In each configuration, it can be equipped with chainrings from 24 to 52 teeth. Here it was assembled with 46 and 30 teeth, particularly well-suited to hilly terrain, and yet practically impossible to obtain on a classic double crank with a five-arm spider.

The use of titanium was another means of saving a few grams. There were, for example, the bolts for the brake pads, difficult to see:

weigle canti arriere b.JPG

Other components were drilled and machined to remove material. One of the most noticeable pieces of work were the quick release levers:

weigle patte arriere.JPG

Quick release lever with cutout and drilled dropouts on the frame: the secret to success lies in the addition of marginal gains.

The choice of brakes and cables provided another significant weigh reduction. One notes that the three lightest bikes at the Concours (Weigle, Grand Bois and Tegner) all featured downtube shift levers and centerpull brakes – while the vast majority had chosen the obvious solution of disc brakes and shift levers on the handlebars.

weigle canti

Cantilever brakes (here Compass prototypes): the best compromise between weight and performance. Especially when the pad holders and brake pivots are drilled…

Downtube shift levers (together with non-aero brake levers) are among the distinctive features of vintage bikes. For many cyclists, it’s unimaginable to return to such a shifter. And yet the great speed of the rider during the two bike tests of the Concours shows that this type of shifting system remains perfectly fine for cyclotouring, even at a very intense pace.

Who knows, after the return of vinyl records and Polaroid photos, perhaps downtube shifters will be the next great revival of the early 21st century? Note that Weigle’s solution is far from outdated:

weigle levier vitesse.JPG

Indexed shifter with adjustment screw, allowing precise shifting on this 2 x 10-speed drivetrain.

Exposed cables are lighter, have less friction and are easier to remove (thanks to split cable stops) for maintenance or when disassembling the bike. We will see later that this choice of brakes and shifters also was chosen to facilitate packing of the bike for travel. And in the rare cases where cable housing was used, it was extralight and made from aluminum.

But even if the bike won the prize for the lightest bike, several of J. P. Weigle’s choices show that weight reduction was not the only concern. Without a doubt, aesthetics also played a role, starting with the frame’s lugs that must have added a few dozen grams compared to a fillet-brazed frame. The René Herse straddle cable holders also are more refined aesthetically than simple Mafacs, but also heavier. To make up for it, the screws that hold the brakes are drilled:

weigle canti 2.JPG

Herse straddle cable hanger and Compass brake (prototype) on Jan’s bike…

weigle perso canti mafac.JPG

… and “all Mafac” on Peter’s personal bike.

The stem isn’t made from aluminum, but custom-fabricated from steel. One can bet that J. P. Weigle has used all his skill to limit its weight to an absolute minimum:

weigle potence.JPG

Double bolts on the steerer and on the handlebars: screws with a conical head like Herse, but for Allen keys.

And as if to show that light doesn’t mean spare, J. P. Weigle even allowed himself the luxury of integrating a system to lock the decaleur, a good idea in view of Ambert’s rough roads:

weigle decaleur.JPG

And the comfort of a leather saddle clearly had priority over the light weight of a carbon saddle.

Proof that extra light does not mean poorly equipped, the mudflap – an accessory that is very dear to J. Heine – had not been forgotten:

weigle bavette

The mudflap is removable, with one hand and without tools.

The all-day ride in the rain and through mud was a perfect occasion to test, under real-life conditions, the efficiency of this accessory intended to protect the rider’s feet and the front of the drivetrain. The result is a bit mixed:

CM weigle BdP.JPG

To the defense of the Weigle team, the other bikes of the Concours were not in better condition as they crossed the finish line, and the Weigle remained quite clean after such a hard ride. [JH: I had to remove the mudflap on the rough trails during the first day, because it got caught on the long grass and huge rocks we had to traverse.]

CM Weigle arrivee

I had doubts about the positioning of the pump on seatstay, close to the rear wheel and thus in the path of spray. But the verdict was rather clearer, even on this rainy day. The pump remained as shiny as it had been before the morning start.

weigle pompe

The choice of the generator hub was another example where the search for the lightest weight was not the last word. The SON Delux hub is a descendant of a model intended for small wheels where the dropout spacing often is 75 mm. Used on a large wheel, the resistance is lower, but it also produces less current. The latter point has stopped being a real issue with the amelioration of LED headlights, and the Delux has become interesting for cyclotourists looking for performance. Its only fault stems from its origins: the flange spacing is narrower than ideal for a 100 mm axle. The Wide-Body version corrects this problem and offers a flange spacing optimized for standard forks. In fact, the greater the flange spacing, the stronger is the wheel when subjected to lateral loads. J. P. Weigle chose this version even though it weighs almost 30 grams more than the standard version. To make up for this, the dropouts have been custom-made and are smaller than the standard SON SL dropouts. They incorporate the insulated plate that allows connecting the hub electrically without any apparent wires. In addition to its elegance, the SL system simplifies the removal of the front wheel.

weigle leviers qr.JPG

The SON Wide-Body generator hub is a bit heavier… but the drilled dropouts and machined quick release levers show the focus on light weight. One – almost – makes up for the other.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the few places where Jan Heine agrees that current components are superior: Over the last 20 years, generator hubs, LED headlights and optics specifically designed to project an even beam onto the road have greatly improved night-time cycling.

The electrical circuit on this bike is especially well thought-out: SON SL connector-less hub, switch integrated into the stem cap, and a taillight that is brazed onto the seat tube and connected by internal wires:

weigle feu compass.JPG

The taillight, protected between the seatstays is also ready for Rinko.

weigle feu catadioptre.JPG

The taillight has an integrated reflector which also provides a more diffuse light that is less blinding to riders drafting behind.

Rinko

Several builders at the Concours showed ideas for folding or disassembling the frame, so the more discreet Rinko bike risks being overlooked: The idea of Rinko consists of choosing the components in such a way that a quick and simple disassembly is possible without any modification of the frame itself, thus avoiding extra weight or, worse, a chance in the ride characteristics of the frame. In fact, when pressed for time, the possibility to disassemble the bike in less than 15 minutes makes the Rinko method competitive with frame couplers, which are more costly and not always results in a package that is stable enough to stand on its own.

[JH: Cyclodonia did not have a photo of the bike in its Rinko’ed state, so I added this image of the free-standing package to illustrate how it works.]

When packing a bike Rinko-style, the wheels are placed on either side of the frame. The most compact method consists of removing the fork, while the front wheel remains installed. This requires removing the handlebars, which will be placed on one of the wheels. On the Weigle, the handlebars can be removed from the bike in a few instants: the slotted housing stops and the cantilever brakes allow removing the brake cables in just seconds:

weigle ferule

A chain hook is placed very high on the seat stay, and the rear fender can be split to facilitate the operation. The little wing nut allows to remove the upper part of the rear fender without tools:

weigle garde boue arriere scindable.JPG

The wing nut at the joint of the rear fender.

The chainstays and fork blades are nickel-plated: This lends the bike a timeless beauty, but most of all, it protects against the scratches: The rear dropouts are one of the three contact points with the ground of the Rinko package. [JH: The back of the saddle forms the third.]

weigle butee gaine

Chain- and seat stays, as well as fork blades, are nickel-plated.

Classic

What makes the Weigle so classic is that its aesthetic decisions always appear to be justified by practical function.

weigle porte paquet

Weigle chape herse avant.JPG

Twin-plate fork crown and minimalist rack: beauty in lightness.

Weigle fentes.JPG

Aluminum cable housing, pinstripe along the seatstay, René Herse cable hanger, end of the seat post binder bolt slotted to help extraction in case the bolt breaks… and the super thin lugs.

weigle garde boue

Aluminum for light weight, paint for a touch of elegance.

Finally, chance sometimes does a good job, too. The integration of the bell into the stem had been forgotten, so J. Heine placed it under the saddle. A position that is hard to reach in emergencies, but a beautiful reference to the bikes of the classic age:

weigle sonnette

The bell is attached to the titanium rails of the Berthoud saddle, which at 360 g is one of the lightest leather saddles on the market.

The Compass / Herse components have been featured in an earlier article of the blog.

More information about the J. P. Weigle bike:

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in Rides, Testing and Tech. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Cyclodonia on the J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines

  1. Bob C says:

    Love the article and love this peerless bike.

    I was interested in the author’s aesthetic objection to the drillium on the chainrings. I normally find drillium pretty charming, but I agree with the author in this case. The Herse chainrings are, to my eye, the most beautiful ever produced (TA Zepher comes in second). I’m so enamored of the pure elegance of the Herse chainrings, I prefer them unmolested by the drill. (Boy we are all bike nerds to talk about such things!)

    I’m curious about two things. I can’t identify the skewers/quick releases on this bike — what are they? Also, what is the cable housing you use?

  2. Steve says:

    Thanks for posting – great write up. What kind of skewers are they?

  3. Leo Tasker says:

    Hi Jan, nice to see more details of this beautiful bike! Just curious whether you leave the rear derailleur in situ when “Rinko”ing the bike? Looks vulnerable in the picture, I always unscrew mine and tape it inside the rear triangle to protect from oafish airport baggage handlers!

    • The rear derailleur remains on the bike, otherwise, the chain flops around. When traveling by train or car, I load the bike, so it’s fine. When traveling by airplane, I take off the rear derailleur and also install a dummy axle in the rear triangle to protect the frame.

  4. John Sweitzer says:

    I love down tube shifters. The truth is that by moving the shifters to the brakes is in my opinion is one of the most important safety features to come to bicycling in modern times. Speed has nothing to do with it.

    • I don’t find taking my hands off the handlebars unsafe at all. I only shift when there is no emergency looming. By the same reasoning, you’d probably say that Camelbaks are the second-most important safety feature on bikes, yet many riders continue to use frame-mounted bottles without any problems.

    • Conrad says:

      I would make the opposite argument. With brifters you become accustomed to having your hands glued to one spot the bars. Frequently reaching down for the shifters teaches you to stay loose and relaxed on the bike, which will improve your bike handling and therefore make you a safer rider. Not to mention vastly improve comfort on a long ride. In a cyclocross race or criterium, where you need to shift instantly and sprint, I prefer brifters but for any other riding I think downtube shifters are not only acceptable but offer the optimum performance. The only safety issue I can think of is if you are riding a non-fendered bike and overreach and brush the tire with your fingers.

  5. John Clay says:

    Jan,
    How much weight do you estimate was removed by component drilling and trimming?

    John Clay

  6. sisyphus says:

    I am swooning over this machine. Jan, you are a lucky man to have this machine in your possession. Peter, you are a lucky man to possess the skills to give this machine life.

  7. Mark Petry says:

    Very nice overview of the “little details” that went into this fabulous machine ! thanks Jan

  8. Dr J says:

    Maybe I’m missing something here but if you had a 1-1/8″ threadless fork steerer on this bike, packing it would be even faster – just 3 hex screws to unscrew (2 on stem, 1 on cap) and you can pull off the bars (with stem attached) and remove fork from the frame. With a 1″ threaded steerer you also have to deal with the large hex nut securing the fork.
    Even worse, when re-assembling you need two large hex wrenches to set bearing compression right. With aheadset system it’s just much easier to put it back together. So what’s the advantage of using a threaded steerer?

    • An oversize threadless steerer is a possibility (Hahn’s Rinko bike uses that system), but Peter chose a 1″ threaded steerer. It’s all about weight and elegance: a stem that can fit over a 1 1/8″ steerer is very large, and hence heavy and bulky. The stem on this bike fits on a tube that is brazed into the 1″ steerer, so it can be very small and light. Also, Peter had a threaded headset that was very light. And oversize headset adds significant weight.

      To adjust the headset, you don’t need two large hex wrenches, a single Rinko headset wrench totally suffices.

      • John Clay says:

        Brazing a smaller tube into the threaded steerer is fantastic idea that until now wasn’t really on my radar. I’m going to do that on my steerer tube slip-ring test mule, build a matching stem and install a light switch. For the sake of simplicity I had planned on using a conventional quill stem and foregoing a switch but now, not. I do wonder if I’ll ever finish this frame though. These sorts of details are extremely time consuming….but infectious, in a good way.

      • The small tube inside the threaded steerer is how all the old French constructeurs made their direct-clamp stems. Back then, only threaded headsets were available…

      • Jacob Musha says:

        If this setup is lighter than a quill stem, ok. But what is the advantage over a pure 1″ threadless setup? Threadless headsets may not have been available 70 years ago, but they are today…

      • I sent Peter a superlight threadless steerer tube, but he decided not to use it. For one, the stem would have been bigger and heavier. Second, we plan to put a brush in the steerer to get rid of the external wire connecting fork and frame. We weren’t comfortable drilling a superlight steerer for that. I think the bike’s weight speaks for itself – if any of the parts were excessively heavy, the bike wouldn’t weigh 9.1 kg (20.0 lb) with rack, lights, fenders, even the pump and bottle cages.

      • Frank B. says:

        When doing rinko, threaded headsets have an advantage because they need a bit less room with their shorter fork. This advantage is lost with the extension tube, though. And isn’t a tube brazed into another tube a bit heavier than a single tube of continous diameter – both tubes neet to have some overlap where they are connected, or not?
        That leaves the nicer look almost as the sole selling point – but I think, a 1 inch ahead stem could be made to look elegant and slim as well when built in steel. Unfortunatly it’s almost impossible to find 1 inch aheadset stems made from steel off the shelf, so most owners for example of the Rawland Stag with its 1-inch-threadles fork are using larger diameter stems with shims. But on a custom bike …

      • The stem isn’t 1″ diameter, but smaller, and hence lighter. But I am also certain that Peter Weigle did his magic on the steerer tube to lighten it. The threads themselves add almost zero weight. What is heavy is the unthreaded portion that is extra-thick so threads can be cut into it. Doesn’t need to be that way…

      • John B. says:

        1″ threadless headsets are still widely available and, per the comments from Dr. J above, would be lighter and simpler, both in construction and assembly/disassembly when travelling, than the hybrid system employed on the Weigle.

      • There is a lot more to the Weigle than meets the eye. I am sure a threadless steerer would be simpler, but lighter only if you assume an un-modified standard threaded steerer. When you think about the weight of a “standard” Weigle with roughly the same parts, you realize that few parts of the bike for the Concours de Machines were left unmodified… Look up Ernest Csuka’s article about the Alex Singer from the 1946 Concours de Machines in Bicycle Quarterly 6 for ideas of how to lighten a threaded steerer tube!

  9. Stephen Bamford says:

    Impressive! Not only an engineering wonder, but truly a work of art and thing of beauty!

  10. Conrad says:

    Regarding the SON Delux hub: I think the narrow hub is still pretty darn reliable. After 6 years of daily use and frequently carrying a heavy load on the front, mine developed slight play. The warranty is pretty good and the hub was serviced at no charge. I’m not sure if the narrow body wears the bearings out faster or not. I think you would have to be a really heavy or crazy rider to damage the axle though. What a beautiful bike! This was a great review of the bike too. We are lucky there are still some people around that can build bikes like that.

    • I agree that the standard SON Delux hub is fine for most riding. It’s just when given a choice on a new bike, I prefer the Wide-Body version. The main issue off-pavement is that the front tire can slide into a rut while you have the handlebars turned. When it reaches the bottom of the rut, it suddenly stops. This puts a large lateral load on the wheel, and with narrow flange spacing, you have a greater chance that your wheel will collapse. (I had a wheel collapse in a cyclocross race that way once, when I tried to steer around a rider who had fallen in front of me.)

      With the Wide-Body hub, we also were comfortable using extra-thin (and thus more stretchy) spokes, which more than made up for the extra weight.

  11. Jimmy says:

    Was needing to remove the mudflap not counted against you?

    • Interesting question… It wasn’t a flaw in the bike that required removing the mudflap, but the roughness of the trails. They were mountain bike trails, not the type of terrain you’d usually ride on a “light randonneur bike”, but intended to stress the bike to the limit. We could have saved weight by cutting the fenders short, but that would make them less effective, so I am not sure what would be achieved if you penalize bikes that have fenders with generous coverage.

      In any case, none of the other bikes had mudflaps at all. The rules only gave a bonus for having “real” fenders… without being very specific about what they should look like.

  12. Jon Spangler says:

    Jan–Thank you for the translation. The French writer clearly liked and respected Pete Wiegle’s amazing bike, as would anyone with a small amount of knowledge about cycling and hand-crafted creations like this one.

  13. Peter Miller says:

    Amazed by this beautiful bike and all the information on it, as well as the competition.

  14. Ian Tang says:

    Thanks for sharing this translation, Jan. I’m interested in knowing how the mudflap was attached to the front fender on this bike. Strong magnets? Also, how do you typically attach the mudflaps to your fenders, nuts and bolts or rivets?

    • The mudflap was sized to fit exactly inside the fender, between the rolled edges. The material was stiff plastic, so the spring tension held it in place. Two holes fit over the nuts of the eyebolts for the stays, so the mudflap couldn’t slide downward. To attach the flap, I simply flex it until it fits into the fender. When I release it, it snaps into place.

  15. dokydoky says:

    The bell on the saddle reminds me of all the bizarre places fixed gear riders used to put brake levers in order to make their bikes technically legal. I can only assume it was similarly put there for purposes of thumbing ones nose at the rules of the competition.

    • I think that may have been one of the reasons why some builders mounted the bell there in the 1940s. However, it works reasonably well – unlike braking, you only use the bell before there is an emergency. Once you have to brake, there no longer is time to operate the bell, no matter where it is mounted.

  16. Brad says:

    Fabricating plastic filler plugs for gutted Campagnolo 11s Ergopower levers seems like the perfect application for a 3D printer…

  17. Justin Hughes says:

    Why was the choice made to secure the fenders with R clips and not draw bolts?

  18. Brad says:

    I’ll echo the first commenter’s question: who makes that aluminum brake cable housing?

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