Thursday, September 20, 2007

Vive le Solex!

In a country that is famous for unusual motor vehicles (ask me about my '71 Renault 10 one day) the Solex is, I suppose, unexceptional. That doesn't stop it from being an object of wonder to those of us in the rest of the world. I saw my first Solex moped at a high school football game, where a friend arrived in this curious Gallic bicycle with a noisy, smoky motor perched on the handlebars. I've been fascinated by them ever since.

The Solex is one of the slowest mopeds out there in stock form, yet that doesn't stop people from trying to make them do more than what they were designed for- in fact, it probably makes the challenge all that more attractive. For instance, there was the curious Solex-riding fellow who lived in the apartment next door to mine back in my grad school days. He disappeared one summer- I thought he'd moved- only to reappear in the fall, with the story of how he'd ridden his Solex from Detroit to California, and back! That's a round trip distance of 4300 miles. His secret? A roll of duct tape. He used the tape to increase the diameter of the drive roller, increasing his cruising speed from a sedate 20 mph or so up to closer to 30mph. The tape wore out periodically, so he'd rewrap the drive roller every few evenings. He was but one of the adventurers who set out on epic journeys on this little bicycle-moped. For instance, how about these intrepid voyagers:

http://www.la-paix.org/paris_bagdad_en_solex.htm

Their quest? Paris to Baghdad on Solexes- "Un voyage humanitaire". (I'm betting that it wasn't all that humanitarian fo the riders.)

Quite an accomplishment for a vehicle designed as cheap workman's transport in post-WWII France. Solex didn't start by making moped; they were originally formed to make vehicle radiators in 1905. After WWI, they went into the carburetor business, supplying various automotive and motorcycle makers. They made about 8 million bikes, moped and scooters of various sorts up through 1988. Since then, production has been revived at various times in China, France, and Eastern Europe, and today sales continue via VeloSolex USA. Last I checked, the price was somewhere in the $1200-1400 range.

1 comment:

Birdhouse Design Consultants said...

Great article! I've got a 1973 Corsarino so there is one in the UK! I do need spares for it if anyone has any ideas! - martin@spacottage.com