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Page 375. 1933 Retro-Directe MIMO 2-Vitesses

1933 Manufrance Retro-Directe ’MIMO’

Model 151BR BALLON


‘Mimo’ Retro Directe bicycles were a separate Manufrance Hirondelle range, featuring balloon tyres (650 x 50B). In 1932, Schwinn revolutionized the American bicycle industry with the introduction of 26″ wheel-size balloon tyre bicycles, to replace the previous 28″ wheel-size bicycles that had not been updated since the 1800s. I think Manufrance aimed to capitalize on Schwinn’s publicity.

The normal Hirondelle had balloon tyres as an option. As you can see in the catalogue picture below, the main difference on the Mimo is the chainwheel.



This Retro-Directe has been restored. It’s in good mechanical condition, has been repainted, and is fitted with new period-style balloon tyres. It’s ready to ride.








The Retro-Direct was developed by French inventor Paul de Martin de Viviés (1833–1911). An early two-chain version was patented in 1869 by Barberon and Meunier, and the single-chain version (seen here) was patented in 1903 by Manufrance.

In the single-chain system, the chain runs from the top of a chainring attached to the cranks to the top of a sprocket attached to the rear wheel hub with a freewheel, as with most bicycle chain drives. The chain then, however, wraps around the rear sprocket to an idler sprocket between the rear wheel and the cranks, then runs back to a second sprocket attached to the rear wheel with a second freewheel, and finally returns to the bottom of the chain ring. Only one freewheel is engaged at a time, while the other spins backward freely. Since the chain wraps around the second sprocket in the opposite direction to the first sprocket, the cyclist needs only to pedal backwards to engage it.

Usually the second sprocket is larger, which provides the cyclist a lower gear for climbing steep inclines simply by pedaling backwards. While most historical examples of retro-direct bicycles used the reverse gear for climbing, several modern retro-direct riders prefer climbing while pedaling forward and engaging the higher, cruising gear while pedaling backwards.

Manufrance sold the Retro-Direct through their annual catalogues. The Retro-Direct was current from 1903 until 1939.

As the sign above declares, ‘La marque des Connaisseurs’ – Hirondelle bicycles were never cheap, particularly the top-of-the-range Retro-Direct models, but they were indeed the marque of connoisseurs.
















The normal Hirondelle Retro-Directe (above) has a different chainwheel to the Mimo, below.

















The company was established at Villebouef, Saint-Etienne, on 10th November 1885, by directors Mimard and Blachon for the manufacture of sporting guns and bicycles under the Hirondelle trade mark. Initially it handled the sale and repair of mainly British bicycles and tricycles. Own production of bicycles did not begin, and then only on a small scale, until March 1888.

Against the growing trend for diamond frames the first catalogue in 1889 favoured the cross frame in the form of the Superbe. The frame was curved to absorb vibrations.

In 1892 four models were offered: the 125 for artisans and workmen, etc and selling at Fr185, the 130 for postmen, bailiffs, road inspectors and messengers at Fr235, the 135 roadster for doctors and commercial travellers at Fr275, and the Superbe at Fr360. All of these were bought-in from the Gautheir Brothers* contrary to the claim in the catalogue to have been manufactured on the premises, and sold at a profit.

A new factory was built in 1894 that was equipped with the latest machine tools. In 1895 bearings were introduced that could be stripped, cleaned and adjusted by hand. The range of bicycles and parts was simplified. The number of brazing operations was reduced, and the number of different bolts were reduced and standardized. The company emphasised the interchangeability of components. The Mimosa model was produced. The retro-direct gear was introduced in 1903. Two gears were obtained by means of two chains with a change of gear being obtained by pedalling in the opposite direction. However, these were never popular. Continual simplification and quality control saw sales increase to 12,000 a year by 1911. The company failed in 1940 as a result of the Second World War.

* Gauthier Brothers: Pierre and Claudius Gauthier were mechanics who started to build their own bicycles from about 1886, having copied a Rudge. They were based in Blois, France. In 1887 they produced a model called La Militaire for army dispatch riders. In 1889 they exhibited a model which could be converted from bicycle to tricycle and to tandem tricycle. They were asked in 1891 to design three bicycles for Manufacture d’Armes et Cycles de Saint-Etienne.








1914 Postcard of Manufrance Factory


This view illustrates the manufacture of Hirondelle bicycles




1943 Postcard of Manufrance Factory

Another view of the Hirondelle plant, with wheel centering machines in the foreground, and the frame assembly area behind.




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