Ateliers de la Rive started making its Vitus cycling tubing in 1931, becoming the French rival of Britain's Reynolds and Italy's Columbus in lightweight cycle tubing development, design and production. Its Super Vitus 980 tubing was comparable to Reynolds 753 representing the last word in steel tubing in terms of lightness and strength. The desire to achieve further weight reduction had, by the late 'seventies, turned to other materials, specifically alloy, which French had been pioneers in adapting to cycle use since the 1930s. Towards this end, Ateliers de la Rive joined forces with another French cycle firm, Angenieux-CLB, founded in 1946 and well-known for its brakesets, including ultra lightweight alloy ones.
On 31 July 1978 Paule Defour and Antoine Dumas of Vitus were awarded a French patent for a new method of dry heat activated epoxy bonding 5086 aluminium-magnesium alloy tubing, Vitus 979, to slip-fit cast alloy lugs, drop-outs, bottom bracket and brake bridge made by CLB. This would give a much stiffer and more durable frame than the earlier "screwed and glued" construction of the pioneering Italian Alan dural frames. Vitus brochures outlined some of the other benefits of the concept:
- jointing by adhesives is a technique widely used in aerospace and
- aeronautics for the following reasons :
- it has no influence or effect on the properties of the alloys forming the joint, contrary to jointing by welding or brazing,
- it affords an even distribution of stress.
- joints are sealed and protected,
- there is a degree of elasticity which reduces shock,
- mechanical properties are excellent,
- there is a high degree of resistance to corrosion and to ageing.
- Bonded constructions give excellent results provided that the surface to be joined are scrupulously prepared before the adhesive is applied recommended procedure is carefully followed and time is allowed for hardening, weight bearing suaces and jointing surfaces are adequate and so designed that the amount of adhesive within the lugs can be precisely controlled.
TIES THAT BIND: CONSTRUCTION & COMPANIES
French frame builder Robert Roche who had a well-established and well-regarded workshop producing bespoke racing frames of the highest quality and who had already collaborated with Vitus and the French aluminum producer Pechiney on experimental concepts, was engaged to design the frame and the dural castings. It was Roche who turned the unique concept and materials into one of the most attractive and best handling racing bicycles of the era, a perfect combination of traditional frame design and artisan craftsmanship and modern methods and materials.
Bador produced a standardised range of frames which, otherwise identical, were "badged" and "decalled" for most of the principal French cycle firms including Motobecane, Gitane, Liberia, Bertin, Mercier and Peugeot as well as under the Vitus name as framesets or complete machines, in the later case the final assembly was done at the cycle firms own premises. Thus cycle firms could offer the latest word in racing bicycles without incurring the risks and costs of independent design and development and the entire Vitus concept was tremendous boast for the entire French cycle industry in production, market presence both at home and abroad and re-established it tète de la course in the pro peloton.
This was the lightest competitive cycle frame of its day, weighing about 30% less than a top-end Reynold or Columbus steel one. A 57 cm Vitus 979 frame and fork tipped the scales at just 1.8 kg. Designed to true racing standards, it featured a very aggressive geometry with steep angles (74° head/74° seat), a very resilient short rake (1 9/16") fork, short 16" chainstays and vertical drop-outs giving a wheelbase of just 38.5" and making for an exceptionally nible, light handling machine. Provision was made for Allen recessed bolt short reach (38-47) brakes.A pair of bottle cage bosses was and twin gear lever bosses provided on the down tube and a special nylon cable gude affixed underneath the bottom bracket shell while the rear driveside chainstay had a rear derailleur cable stop. Provision was made for English, French or Italian bb and headset threading.
The Vitus 979 frameset was one of most pleasing and attractive ever made, refreshingly new and distinctive yet not freakish or modish. The retention of conventionally sized tubes gave it a traditional appearance offset by the quietly contemporary shaping of the cast alloy stays and fork, all rendered in a pleasing polish natural satin finish and contrasting with the vivid anodised coloured main tubes. The fork was possibly the most pleasing feature with its oversized ovalised (33x`8) blades designed specifically to blend harmously with the head tube as well as providing an exceptionally reslient ride and quick handling. This was available separately for installation on conventional frames.
On a practical note, the complete lack of painted finishes made the frame both cheaper to manufacture and maintain as well as more durable. Here was a cycle frame where function dominated but the inherent asthetics were sublime and very effective. The cast head tube, forks, bottom bracket and rear triangle were satin finished duralinox, the three main tubes were, in addition to natural satin finished duralinox, available in a range of anodised colours: light blue, dark blue, red, pink, violet, gold and unique to Peugeot, a copper bronze colour. Cycle brand decals and headbadges were added.
Sold as framesets and also as complete machines, most came with all French components, either the Spidel group (Simplex/Stronglight/Mafac) or the new Mavic SSC group which came on the market at the same time as the Vitus framesets. Thus ushered in a new and, as it proved, last great era of wholly French racing machines truly tete du course when it came to technical achievement, performance and efficiency. A Mavic SSC-equipped Vitus frame remains one of the great icons of professional cycle racing kit to this day.
The Vitus 979 was introduced at the Salon du Cycle in November 1979 with machines badged as Bertin (left) and Liberia (right). credit: http://veloretrocourse.proboards.com
The one great disadvantage of the Vitus frame was the inherent flex of the duralinox tubing which was conventional metric size and less laterally strong than steel tubing. The was especially apparent in the bottom bracket and of course more noticable in larger frame sizes so much so that athough offered in as large as a 64 cm (to the British and US markets), it is generally not found in anything larger than a 59 cm and was not recommended for riders over 180lbs. Such was the bottom bracket flex for strong riders that longer crank spindles were often used to prevent the inevitable chainring rub on the stays when riding out of the saddle. This was certainly not a machine for "mashers" and it was little wonder that the French coined the term "souplesse" for the ideal pedal stroke for the rider of any machine and especially beneficial for the rider of a Vitus 979 frameset!
Yet, all this also gave the Vitus 979 superb road dampening qualites on the worst road surfaces and conditions making it popular on gruelling day events like the Paris-Roubaix and the spring classics as well as proving the great inherent strength of the frame. What proved remarkably effective, even over decades now, is the glue bonding of the essential joints in normal use although in hard competive cycling, most teams replaced the frames each season. And it was said that powerful sprinters like Sean Kelly swapped out his Vitus frames every month or so before they "got soft". It was even said that Kelly deliberately rode a slightly undersized frame to obtain a stiffer ride. In this, the Vitus was the opposite of the custom-crafted "bespoke" steel frame, one that became an old friend and used for years by riders who trusted nothing else. It was the beginning of a new era of the racing cycle as what is really always was: a piece of superbly engineered sports equipment no different from a golf club or tennis racket in its essentials and perception.
Even so, the "wet noodle" or whippiness of the frame proved its greatest deficiency and led to the adaptation of much stiffer carbon fibre tubes in the main triangle, the Vitus Plus Carbone or as it was also known Vitus Carbone 3, in 1983 and, as covered in a separate article, the even stiffer larger diameter carbon tubing used in the famous Peugeot PY-10FC (Fibre du Carbone) 1983-86 (see separate article on this). The standard Vitus 979 frames, though were a huge success, and sold into the early 90s (and indeed later than that when the large US mail order firm Nashbar) sold a large lot of leftover stock as late as 2003. They were indeed the last French built frames to really have a market impact as well as presence in the pro peloton and coupled with the hugely popular Mavic SSC group, were a final French pro cycling icon.
The initial production run of Vitus 979 frames had conventional top tube brake cable guides bonded to the alloy but this soon gave way to a more sophisticated internal cable routing through the top tube. Early examples also have "Vitus 979" engraved on the fork blades rather than have a decal.
One weakness of the design, the cracking of the alloy "ears" for the seat post binder bolt, led to redesign of the seatpost lug to incorporate an internal grub screw to hold the 23 mm Rubis pattern style seat pillar. This was original designed for the Vitus Plus Carbone frames. Models incorporating this, as well as a second pair of water bottle cage bosses, appeared in 1985. In addition, Vitus also joined the aero craze with a new "lozenge" shaped shaped tubing in 1983 which was available in all the standard sizes but in a single colour, royal blue.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRO PELOTON
Developed throughout 1978, the Vitus 979 racing bike was introduced to the public in September 1979 at the Salon du Cycle, Paris winning the Prix du President de la Republique. It was first used in professional racing by the SEM/France-Loire Team and achieved its first victory on 18 May1980 on the Bordeaux-Paris race by Van Springel. On 20 December 1980 the 10,000th Vitus frame was completed and 20 per cent of the production was exported. By the end of 1981, 20,000 frames had been built and export was up to 25%. Two teams (SEM/France-Loire and Peugeot) used the frame in competion by then with another victory by Van Springel in that year's Bordeaux-Paris race. For 1982, four teams were riding Vitus 979 frames with two victories by SEM/France-Loire: Bordeaux-Paris (Tinazzi) and the Champion of France (Beucherie) that year. Export figures rose to 34%. 1983 was the break-out year for the type in competition with six professional teams riding 979s and chalking up 46 victories including numerous stages of the Dauphine Libere and the Tour de France as well as 250 amateur victories. With new markets penetrated, specifically the USA, Japan and Italy, exports rose to 45%. By 1984, 10 teams were using the frames tallying 30 victories including Paris-Roubaix (Sean Kelly) and the Tour of Spain (Caritoux). By then, half the frame production (which peaked at 80 per day or 17,000 that year) was exported overseas.
The Vitus frame proved its toughness on the famed Spring Classics, not only by Sean Kelly who, quite rightly, is said to have "made" Vitus a household name in cycling but by the last generation of great Flemish riders, Peugeot's "Foreign Legion" of English speaking riders and the new cadre of Colombians like Luis Herrera. As a result, it achieved international success and reputation well beyond the land of its origin. It was, with the Peugeot PX-10, the biggest selling French racing machine of the post-war era.
TEAM PEUGEOT-ESSO/PEUGEOT-SHELL PX10-DU
For Peugeot, France's largest and most famous cycle company, adoption of a non proprietary frameset not made and design "in house" marked a big departure both in terms of offering to the commercial market as a "badge branded" machine but also to the Peugeot professional cycling team. But in large measure, the future of French racing cycle manufacture lay with the Vitus concept and the cooperative necessities lessened the old rivalries. More than anything else, the presence and success of the Vitus concept in the pro peloton would deterimine its wider commercial market penetration and a reason Peuegot had its own team in the first place, to promote and sell bicycles.
With the type already well-proved in international competition, Peugeot-Esso introduced the Vitus 979 frame to the team's stable in 1981 as well to the its associated ACBB team in France. Designated PX-10 DU (for dural), the basic Vitus 979 frame was outfitted for team use by the Prestige Peugeot division. For the 1981 season, the natural anodised dural finish of the stock frameset was used with the decals (in this case actually "stickers") for Peugeot applied and otherwise identical to those used on the main team machine, the Peugeot Pro-10 made of Reynolds 531SL. The Vitus, too, shared the same componentry and fitted with the specialised Spidel/Simplex team issue front and rear derailleurs which featured extensive custom drilling and Cinelli 1R stem and 'bars. Unique to the new PX-10DUs were black anodised Mafac/Spidel LS2 brakes. In 1982, the team became Peugeot-Shell and different decals were featured with a red/white/blue Peugeot lion on the head and "go faster" blue and red stripes on the top tube and upper peak head. The dural was also mirror polished and looks in many photos almost chrome-like. The brakes calipers were polished alloy LS2s.
The PX-10DU was generally used on individual and team time trials. Its first appearance with Peugeot-Esso was in the Tour de France was on 26 June 1981, the team time trial between Nice and Antibes. But it was truly showcased on 7 July Stage 7 of Tour de France, the individual time trial between Nay-Pau ridden by Phil Anderson wearing the Yellow Jersey, the first time ever an Australian had done so. Anderson used the PX-10DU in this and '82 Tour alternating, as did the rest of the team, with Reynolds 531SL Peugeot Pro-10. The amateur ACBB Team, long affiliated with Peugeot, also rode the type and Australian Alllan Peiper won the 1982 Grand Prix des Nations indivudual on one. The PX-10DU lasted but two seasons with the Peugeot Team and replaced by the PY-10FC for the '83 season.
In its commercial form, the PX-10 DU was with the PY-10FC and Vitus 979 Mavic SSC-fitted machines, the last bastions of the all-French racing bike. Indeed, unlike the British Reynolds framed Peugeot Pro-10s, it was entirely French save for the Weinmann brake set (Switzerland) and the Selle Italia saddle (Italy) with the cream of French component manufacturers represented: Stronglight, Atax-Philippe, Mavic, Maillard and Simplex and back under their individual identities with the demise of the Spidel combined branding.
One main difference from the team models was the colour and instead of the all-silver, the three main tubes were anodised "Polished Bronze", a shade that was only used on Peugeots and not a stock Vitus option. However, early brochure depictions (French and UK market 1982) shows the all-silver version although it is believed it was never actually sold as such to the public. Possibly as it was not a Peugeot designed or built frame, the look was decidedly understated without the standard Peugeot decals and indeed "Peugeot" only appeared on a small plastic plaque affixed to the rear driveside top tube with the Peugeot rampant lion in a plastic bas relief form affxed to the driveside seat tube and rivetted to the head tube.
Although with slight variations over the years, the stock specifications for the European market PX-10DU were (using a 59cm as an example):
Material: Duralinox Vitus 979
Lugs/bottom bracket/fork crown/drop-outs and rear brake bridge: CLB cast alloy
Colour: Peugeot Polished Bronze Racing Team livery three main tubes, polished and lacquered natural alloy rear triangle, head and fork
Size: seat tube 59 cm (c to c), 61 cm (c to t), top tube 57 cm (c to c)
Angles: 74 (head) 74 (seat)
Rear spacing: 130 mm
Chainstay length: 16"
Bottom bracket height: 10.5"
Fork rake: 1 9/16th"
Weight: 19.73 lbs complete machine
Rear derailleur: Peugeot (Simplex) SX610
Front derailleur: Peugeot (Simplex) SLA10
Gear levers: Simplex SLJ5057 retrofriction levers braze-on mount
Chainset: Spidel (Stronglight) 106 42t x 52t, 170 mm cranks, French pedal threads 14mm x 1.25mm
Bottom bracket: Stronglight 701, French thread 35x100
Headset: Bador Competition French thread 25mm x 1mm (25.4 tpi)
Stem: Atax SFC 120mm
Handlebars: Philippe 42 cm with white Ambrosio bike ribbon and plugs
Brakes: Weinmann Carrera 400 with recessed allen bolts
Brake levers: Weinmann drilled 501
Seatpost: Simplex SLJ6164 25.0 mm
Saddle: Selle Italia CX black
Toeclips and straps: Christophe chrome plated steel clips and white Christophe straps
Rims: Mavic anodised silver Montlhery Route 700x20mm 420g. 36-hole sew-ups
Tyres: Tufo Jet-Pro
Hubs: Maillard 700 Professional front and Spidel (Maillaird) Helicomatic rear low-flange 36-hole with Simplex skewers
Freewheel: Maillard SH700 Helicomatic 6-speed 13-14-15-17-19-21 t
Chain: Sedisport Sedicolor 4DC silver
Accessories: T/A alloy bottle cage and T/A Peugeot bottle
It should be noted that the components were not as high end as those fitted to the Pro-10 and PZ-10s.
1982 (Fr): Pro-10, PY-10S, PX-10DU
1982 (UK): Pro-10, PX-10DU
1982 (Ger): Pro-10, PZ-10D, PY-10LSD, PX-10DU
1983 (Fr): Pro-10, PY-10FC, PY-10S, PZ-10, PX-10DU
1983 (Ger): Pro-10, PZ-10, PX-10DU
1983 (Neth): PY-10FC, PX-10DU
1984 (UK): PY-10FC, PX-10S, PX-10DU
1985 (Fr): PY-10FC, Pro-10, PY-10M, PX-10DU
1985 (UK): PY-10FC, Pro Sprint (753r), PX-10DU (all offered as framesets only)
|Typical of the later PX-10DUs with stickers instead of the glued on name plate and rivetted headbadge, this 57cm frameset as offered for sale by Hilary Stone in February 2014 shows the build details.|
Nowhere did the PX-10DU find a more receptive market (along with the rest of the Peugeot racing line) than in Great Britain at a time when the Peugeot cycling team's "Foreign Legion" of Sean Yates (England), Robert Millar (Scotland), Stephen Roche (Ireland), Allan Peiper (Australia) and Phil Anderson (Australia) represented the creame of a newly dominant core of English-speaking riders in continental professional road cycling. Sean Kelly of Ireland furthered the popularity of the type in the UK and Ireland.
|The PX-10DU in the 1983 French catalogue showing the most common version of the model with Polished Bronze main tubes, Peugeot/Simplex 610 derailleur and Ofmega platform pedals. The largest frame size is now 61 cm.|
|The PX-10DU as featured in the 1983 German market brochure. That year it was third best in the line-up behind the Pro-10 and PZ-10.|
|The PX-10DU in the 1984 French brochure.|
JAPANESE MARKET PX-10DUs
The PX-10DU assumed special prominence in the Japanese market for which it was the flagship of the Peugeot range under a new important agreement finalised in December 1981. The model, along with the other Peugeot models for the Japanese market, was announced on 11 March 1982. For this, it was fitted with the better Simplex SLJ5500 rear derailleur and SLJA 522 front derailleur, Maillard 700 pedals as well as the new Cobra Aero Profile water bottle and cage. Only 52 and 54 cm frame sizes were offered in Japan
|The PX-10DU assumed pride of place in the elaborate 1982 Peugeot Japanese market brochure.|