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Train + Vélo (III)

by Derek Rayner

In Les Amis du VéloSolex newsletter no2 (*) I recounted a brief story about a pair of VéloSoleXes which we saw being ridden through Biarritz whilst on holiday there in 1989.  Later the same evening we noted them at Bayonne railway station and then, coincidentally, travelled on the same overnight train to Lyon, where we saw them again on the station platform and determined them to have Swiss registration plates.  After noting the address attached to the machines, a letter was duly sent to Switzerland and eventually a reply in English was received.

Joy of joys, the owners, who lived near Zürich, were not only keen VéloSoleX owners but also cyclemotor enthusiasts as well.  Andreas and Silvia were not car owners but enjoyed touring and chose to do this by consigning their motorised transport in advance to their chosen area, following it by rail and then wandering around the highways and by-ways by VéloSoleX.  At the end of their holiday they would return in the reverse manner.  Unfortunately, a recent change in policy by the French railways (SNCF) has now put a stop to this since they no longer convey motorised cycles cheaply.  This has not stopped their holiday plans as other methods are now being tried.

An exchange of correspondence eventually resulted in a visit being paid to Zürich to meet our friends formally and to see their cyclemotor collection.  They have an apartment in a wonderful old house (about 400 years old) in a township just south of the city, overlooking the Zürichsee.  Other hobbies include sailing, hang-gliding and model aircraft and, in the house's storage area, could be found evidence aplenty of these as well as the cyclemotoring pastime.

Two of the machines there we had seen before: these being the 3800s of the late 1960s era.  As far as Andreas was concerned, these were just standard mopeds, day to day transport, and he was unable to understand why we should be so interested in them.  I explained their uncommon looks to we British and how relatively scarce the marque is in England and I think he understood.

In addition to this pair and many spares, he also had a 1700 of 1961 plus a spare engine for a 1400 as well as an immaculate version of the original large wheel type which pre-dated or was concurrent with the 330 and was built under licence in Switzerland by Hispano-Suiza of Genève in 1952.  We later saw a similar model in the Swiss Transport Museum in Luzern and its condition was by no means as good as the one owned by Andreas.

As well as the Solexes, there was a Cyclemaster of the early 1950s in grey and black with a removable front to the exhaust [Motosacoche was licensed to produce Cyclemasters in Switzerland - was this one of theirs? - Editor], together with a spare engine; a 1951 Rex (German made); a Lohmann of 1952 which Andreas said ran very sweetly; and a blue VéloVap, complete with spare engine.  Perhaps the most interesting machine however was a Velmo, Dutch built, which fits in the front wheel and takes its fuel from a horseshoe-shaped tank mounted pannier-fashion over the front wheel.  This was a brand new engine in mint condition and a make I had not seen before, despite my many excursions to the Netherlands in recent years.  This came from the legendary collection, split up a few years ago, of a Rotterdam enthusiast by the name of Bert - who was responsible for the Vehikle expositions of the early 1980's.  Silvia also owns a new era cyclemotor - a German Saxonette - which is only two or three years old, but this was not at home at the time of our visit, she having left it at her mother's a few miles away.

Andreas had also come across one or two interesting pedal cycles over the years and was very pleased to show us an extremely rare c1909 Opel "Sieger - Wien - Berlin", looking very much like a much later racing cycle with drop bars and cork grips; also a Swiss-built, almost standard, gent's cycle on which it was not immediately apparent that the three-speed mechanism was located within the bottom bracket rather than Sturmey-Archer fashion in the rear wheel.  Again, Luzern Transport Museum's collection revealed a similar model!

We were most delighted to be able to see such a splendid collection and very pleased that our chance sighting, one cold Easter time in the south of France, had led us eventually to an impressive cyclemotor collection, hundreds of miles away in another country.

Although we did not actually see a cyclemotor being ridden whilst we were in Switzerland, we did come across a VéloSoleX parked under a tree at the Bellevue tram interchange close by Zürich-Stadelhofen station.  This was one of the early loop-frame Hispano-Suiza built machines with the big wheels - the transfer was just about still visible - similar to Andreas's immaculate machine.  The original "pepper-pot" 45cc engine had been substituted by a much more modern 3800 to keep it on the road, but it had a flat tyre.  This was undoubtedly the reason why it had been temporarily abandoned there.  I would have enjoyed restoring it but unfortunately could see no way of folding it up small enough to fit in a suitcase to bring it back, especially since it was a large wheel version!

Our grateful thanks are extended to Andreas and Silvia for their hospitality and we left them with an invitation to come to Yorkshire in the fullness of time and see our beautiful country of the Broad Acres - from the saddles of our VéloSoleXes if they so wished.

First published - August 1991

(*) The Les Amis du VéSoleX newsletter referred to at the beginning of this article was a publication produces by Bob Cordon Champ from 1989 to 1991, thus pre-dating Dave Beare's Les Amis... articles that are included in this achive.  I hope it may be possible to reproduce some of the articles from the original newsletters in the archive at a future date.

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