Raphaël Géminiani’s father brought the family to France in 1920 to escape Italian fascism. As he had run a bicycle factory in Lugo, he started a cycle business in Clermont-Ferrand, and Raphaël started work at his father’s shop at the age of 12. He started racing at 16, in 1943, winning the first round of the Premier Pas Dunlop. He turned professional in 1946 and raced until 1958. He was Champion of France in 1953. He was leading in the Tour de France in 1958 before he had a bad day then lost to Charlie Gaul. He helped both Bobet and Coppi to great wins. After he retired he was the Director Sportif of the St Raphael Team and then later Eddy Merckx’s Fiat Team, and his efforts transformed pro road racing.
Géminiani followed other prominent riders in licensing his name for a range of bicycles, and became a sponsor of his teams. The frames were believed to have been made by Mercier and maybe also Cizeron of St Etienne.
1950s Velo Porteur Raphaël Géminiani
The usual ‘velo porteur’ was a roadster bicycle with two 26″ wheels, a half-chaincase and fittings for just a small front carrier rack.
Géminiani’s name and reputation was normally used to sell lightweight racing machines. But, for a short time in the 1950s, the French cycle industry responded to a demand for a dedicated ‘carrier bike’ with smaller front wheel and a large fitted front basket. Tradesmen’s bicycles were popular in England among small shopkeepers, particularly butchers and bakers, and the French design followed similar lines. So a bicycle of this style was added to the Géminiani range.
Only a few manufacturers made this heavy duty style. The extra frame tube from the headstock to the rear axle is common to this machine and a similar one made by Motoconfort. So it’s my opinion that this velo porter frame was supplied by Motoconfort – one of the country’s top manufacturers – and licensed to other companies.
In Great Britain there was a major network of suppliers and spare parts for such bikes, and many were supplied to local businesses on lease hire rather than outright sale. So, with a shortage of cars and motorcycles from the end of WW2 until the mid-fifties, they they were a very practical option for a British shopkeeper.
However, French cycle makers of the early fifties found small motorcycles and ‘mo-peds’ more profitable than bicycles. Laws in that country precluded the need for licensing small motorcycles, which greatly helped suppliers. It was also obviously much easier to load a motorcycle with goods for delivery, or to use a trailer, than to pedal an unmotorised one.
As commercial bikes had a heavier working life than other types of bicycle, and were rarely considered interesting enough to keep for posterity, very few survive in France nowadays.
It’s somewhat ironic that an iconic racer such as Raphaël Géminiani is associated with a heavy duty velo porteur, the most pedestrian of all bicycles. But, of course, sixty years down the line, such an idiosyncrasy is the essence of its charm.
The bicycle itself is complete, unrestored and, apart from damage to the front brake lever, an easy job to recommission.
LES VELO PORTEURS
The illustration above shows the more usual (lighter weight) multi-purpose velo porteur with equal size wheels and a conventional diamond frame. (Rene Herse catalogue). This style became very popular in France, and is what is normally associated with the name ‘velo porteur.’
Below, you can see a Motoconfort velo porter, with a distinctive centrally-fitted bracing tube similar to the Géminiani. I’ve only seen pictures of this particular bicycle as evidence of the model, not an actual example. The top tube is different (bent or ‘camel back’) to allow the saddle to be mounted lower to the ground; it either influenced the Géminiani or had the same frame builder.
The Verdeun, below, is another rare heavy duty velo porteur, but has a different frame style, with extra bracing tube from headstock to bottom bracket. Apart from that is is similar, with smaller front wheel, half chaincase and coaster brake.