Tour de France 2020

An inside look at a Tour de France racing bike from 1955

A detailed look at Antonin Rolland's racing bicycle from the 1955 Tour de France.

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I look at the photos of Antonin Rolland’s Louison Bobet bike from the 1955 Tour de France. Its form and function are the same as my racing bike. A frame, saddle, handlebars, pedals, chain, derailleurs. You pedal, it goes. I look closer – That fork rake! A 5-speed freewheel, no drop from the saddle to stem height, and 24 pounds!

How did they do it? They raced 250-kilometer stages and changed their own punctures. They had such limited gearing while grinding up the Alps.

I squint my eyes at the photo of the yellow bike. It is again the same as my “modern” bicycle. I go to the garage and look at my bike. Electric shifting, carbon frame and components, aero tubes, aggressive racing position. I squint my eyes, it is the same as Rolland’s vintage Tour de France machine. I squint my eyes more.

In the mid-1970s, when I was 11 years old, my parents gave me a Gitane Jr. racing bike. It was a green frame with silver foil decals, 24-inch wheels, drop bars, Huret components, toe clips, and down-tube shifters. I marveled at how the chain moved from cog to cog and the center-pull brakes squeezed the aluminum rims. I rode my green French bike every day and learned how to work on it. It was magic, I was in love.

I open my eyes wide and look at my current bike. Last week I stopped three times on a ride because my power meter kept disconnecting. Why was I so frustrated? I squint my eyes. I see Antonin Rolland’s yellow Bobet, I squint harder and see an 11-year-old boy on a green Gitane. They are all the same. It is magic, I am still in love.

John Gatch is one of the Johns on the Two Johns Podcast and guides cycling trips in France for VéloSport Vacations.

French cycling great Antonin Rolland–who wore the yellow jersey for 12 days in 1955– has kept his Tour de France bike from that year in pristine condition…a veritable time machine. Photo: James Startt
As was often the tradition, the team leader had his own bike brand. Rolland raced for Louison Bobet, the undisputed leader of the French national team. And while the national jersey may have been blue, white, and red, the team bike was yellow, like the leader’s jersey. Photo: James Startt
Even the downtube had Bobet’s likeness on it. Photo: James Startt
As was often the case, Rolland’s Tour bike had an additional water bottle cage attached to the handlebars. Photo: James Startt
Campagnolo shifters and the original number plate–but of course. Photo: James Startt
Disc brakes were not yet the order of the day, but Mafac center pull brakes sure were. Photo: James Startt
Rolland’s well-worn leather saddle. Photo: James Startt
Five cogs on the rear hub…a true 10-speed. Photo: James Startt
Thin steel tubes…elegant lines. Photo: James Startt