Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

16 June 2011

If You Build Your Bike In Italy from Reynolds Tubing, Name It After A French Town

Today I saw a listing for a Frejus bicycle that was made in "Torino, France."

I wrote to whoever listed the bike to correct his/her geography:  Torino--known in the English-speaking world as Turin-- is, of course, in Italy.

One of the ironies of that listing is that the town of Frejus is actually located in France.  Granted, it's not far from Italy and was, at different times in history, ruled not only by Italy, but also by several Italian city-states as well as the King of Sardinia and the Dukes of Savoie (Savoy).  

And it was part of the Roman Empire.  That is evident in the ampitheatre in middle of the town.  In fact, when I was there, I recall reading something (a brochure?  a plaque? a book, maybe?) that said it is the oldest surviving Roman ampitheatre, not to mention one of the  oldest surviving structures, in France.  There are also the remains of an acqueduct as well as a number of other Roman structures.

Perhaps they built chariots back then.  However, nothing that I've read in French, English or Italian indicates that any bicycle, or even any part for one, was ever produced there, though--it being in the south of France, after all--quite a few people ride bikes for recreation as well as transportation. Well, at least they were when I was there.

Even if we never rode or owned one, Frejus bicycles are special to cyclists of my generation or the one immediately before us.  As Sheldon Brown points out on his page, they were often ridden by the few active racers in the US during the Dark Ages of the sport in this country.  And it was one of the bikes of choice for relatively well-heeled enthusiasts in the early days of the Bike Boom.

Accounts vary as to their ride qualities. And, as pretty as many of them were, the workmanship was actually pretty mediocre, even on their best Campagnolo-equipped models. But, for many of us, they defined what an Italian racing bike was.

They were imported and sold by Tom Avenia, who was also one of the first importers of Campagnolo equipment.  I met him when he was a very, very old man.  (He lived to be about 95, if I'm not mistaken.)  Frail as he was, he still rode and could tell stories about the Six Day Races in Madison Square Garden during the 1930's (which would be the last most Americans would hear of bicycle racing for about another half-century) as well as his own participation in such races as the Somerville Classic.  I could see how the man all but singlehandedly kept the torch burning, or at least flickering, on his zeal alone.

And he rode a Frejus track bike, equipped with a front brake, nearly to the end of his life.

And, yes, he reminded me that Frejus is actually a town in France, even though the bikes were made in Italy--of Reynolds 531 tubing.


  1. Eugene Sloane included Frejus amongst his short list of "best" bikes and that has always stuck with me, though I have never actually seen one.

  2. Steve, you're right about Sloane's recommendation. Isn't it amazing how much we were influenced by his book, even when he was biased or just plain wrong? Then again, there weren't many other cycling books available in the US at that time.

    You've never seen a Frejus? The reason may well be that not many got beyond the East Coast. Tom Avenia was based in New York, and most American racing (what existed of it, anyway) was in the Northeast, the Chicago and Detroit areas and California. Also, I suspect that the number of Frejus bikes that actually got imported to the US wasn't very high, at least in comparison to the numbers of some other bikes. Finally, it seems that Frejus merged with, or was bought by, Legnano at some point, and the Frejus brand disappeared, or at least was no longer imported to the US.

  3. I bought my Frejus in 1963 from Gene Portuesi in Detroit. Another one of the old mythical names.

  4. Al--Ah, yes, Gene Porteusi. I first heard of him when I read Sloane's "Complete Book of Bicycling" just as I was becoming serious about cycling.

    Naturally, I sent for Porteusi's catalogue, Cyclo-Pedia. I think I ordered a thing or two that the local shops didn't have. Even after everyone from Frank Berto to Consumer Reports was touting SunTour derailleurs, Gene's catalogue listed only European equipment. Like Tom Avenia, he was one of the few comprehensive Campagnolo dealers and also one of the few retailers who offered a good selection of racing and sport bikes. As I recall, both carried Bottechia, Legnano and Atala bikes, as well as Frejus, when they were still relatively rare in the US.