index   Go to the Archive index

Buying in France

Bob Cordon Champ

It is the season of the year—writing in early September - where the Marque Specialist gets the 'phone call.  "I've just bought a Solex/Mobylette/Flandria.  I'd like you to date it for me and tell me where to get some spares."  Or words to that effect.  Sometimes bought from France, sometimes from Beaulieu.

And there's the rub.  In my experience - other Marque experts please prove me wrong - the bike is usually in need of an overhaul at least, quite often with major defects, rusty, incomplete or sometimes of doubtful originality, made by a French bodger, expert enough in le système D or bricolage to make an artisanale mongrel.  Bad times, expensive times lie ahead for the new owner.

Here then, are a few words of advice, from one who is a compulsive searcher for little machines but who has learned, by bitter experience, what to avoid.

Firstly, where to look.  If you want a Solex, ask at an old-looking cycle shop in a hill-free area like Dieppe (cheap) or Paris (expensive!)  You will not find Solexes anywhere where there are hills.  Gentle slopes, yes, but not hills.

For any other make, your sources are five in number: La Vie de la Moto or its clones, a vide-grenier or brocante boot-sale, a dépôt de vente where second-hand goods are sold on commission, a rally for similar vehicles like Sars Poteries or pure serendipity in the street or an Emmaus secondhand charity yard.

Of these, La Vie needs buying in advance since anything listed while you are there will, by the Law of Sod, be three hundred miles away.  Subscriptions are 295FF per year from BP19, 77302 Fontainbleau Cedex, France.

Vide-greniers, puces or brocante boot-sales are fun but contain very little in the two-wheeler field except, oddly, Solexes.  These are much cheaper than in England (as are new ones, 4400FF at ten to the pound, on the Boulevard St Michel in Paris) but boot-sale ones are usually in a condition uneconomic to rebuild.

A dépôt de vente will have a lot of white goods, bicycles, furniture and an off chance of a moped-even a 1949 grey Mobylette in excellent condition for 1000FF in Uzes.  But not often.

Emmaus, a religious charity corresponding to Oxfam, has yards all over France, open on Wednesdays and weekends.  Elderly mopeds like the 'Le Gitan' in the photo at Sasoges in Burgundy recently, £20, are often to be found along with a couple of Hondas and loadsa bicycles.  Of Sars Poteries and the rest I don't need to speak since they have been covered in Buzzing.

Le Gitan moped in Emmaus 
yard at Sasoges

That's how to find them.  Choosing is another matter.  Don't, don't, repeat loudly, DON'T, buy anything that you can't find spares for in England.  The 'Le Gitan' has a Lavalette engine, unknown in Britain, and tyres now unobtainable.  The Solex in the other photo, £10, has no engine.  Can you find a 45cc Solex unit or the Le Gitan bits without good friends in continental Europe?  Do you speak French or Flemish etc to buy on the phone?  Only the Mobylette has parts available via Aplins or a Raleigh in England.

VéloSoleX for sale 
in France

Above all, don't buy an incomplete or damaged Solex, or even one in poor condition. They made millions of them, they aren't rare and they cost more to rebuild than they will fetch.  Buy a good one instead and ride it.

All sound advice, of course, but we don't ride our machines because of logic.  I have Solexes but also Dernys which have no spares, precious little information and unobtainable tyres, and are as difficult to rebuild as any veteran motorcycle.  Serves me right

First published, December 2000

index   Go to the Archive index