198? VITUS 979 - INTRO









The Vitus was an impressive bicycle, right from the word go.  I could not wait to get it all the way back to Thunder Bay and test ride this wonderful old French bicycle.  However, and even though it was against my better judgment, I could not wait to try the Vitus out.

At my friend's house in Duluth, I gave the bicycle the best inspection possible without my full compliment of bike tools.  Everything seemed to be in good order.  With only a minor bit of trepidation, the 979 and I set out for a short ride.  Wow!  What a nice bicycle.  I was hooked.  This one was a keeper!  And, judging from the feel when lifted, the lightest bicycle in my collection.

Once I had returned to Canada, I immediately started a full overhaul of the bicycle.  The Vitus was stripped completely, cleaned and waxed carefully and then assembled, in preparation for tuning.  During the build, I decided to spend a dollar or two.  I purchased a nice set of blue Michelin tires, to compliment the anodized blue frame set.  The tire color was a near perfect match for the lovely blue bicycle, almost as if these tires were made with my Vitus in mind. 

Blue handlebar tape was also chosen, maintaining the all blue theme.  The visual result was nothing short of stunning in my opinion, of course.  However, look good or not, I would later discover that the tape selected lacked the cushion that my well used hands and Carpal Tunnel ridden wrists need to protect against hand stress.  Incidentally, the tape is usually readily available on Ebay.  Look for the word Benotto and go for it.  That said, it does lack any cushion qualities and does not really improve grip.  But it did look very nice and I left it as it was.

I cannot remember exactly what kind of saddle was mounted on the 979 when I bought it.  However, I did have access to a near perfect butt perch.  A nice old blue leather Turbo saddle was a lucky acquisition.  In a moment of weakness, I had bid on and purchased a pretty ratty and partial Campagnolo Nouvo Record grouppo on Ebay.  A lovely old Turbo leather covered saddle was included in the auction.  A saddle which I had given away in a moment of weakness to a good friend.

I had given him the saddle for his Kuwahara Titan but he never got around to installing it.  Since he no longer owned the "Titan", he had no need for the lovely blue leather saddle.  The Vitus did and he offered to return the saddle, suggesting that it would be perfect for my new French bike.  And he was right!  The old saddle so suited the Vitus that it was mounted in a moment.  Not only did the saddle look like it belonged, but it proved to be remarkably comfortable.  It did take a few tries to get it in the right spot and tilted the proper amount, but that is no different than any other saddle I have set up.  Once positioned, all saddle thoughts vanished, leaving only the ride.

I have since mounted identical Turbo saddles on other bicycles and found them to be equally comfortable.  I even did this old style of saddle the ultimate honour, mounting one on one of my "Junk Bikes".  "Junk Bikes" are my main rides, each season.  "Junk Bikes" must work really well, be very comfortable to ride and look awful.  Since I like the feel of the Turbo saddle so much, I selected a ratty old white example for my early eighties Peugeot PS28.

Nothing else was changed on the Vitus at the time of the main rebuild.  Only the saddle, bar tape and blue tires were non original items.  The rest of the bicycle remained much as it was the day I bought it from Dr. Dave.

The Vitus 979 aluminum frame was in wonderful shape and is a glued up or bonded affair.  Though I do wonder about the strength such an assembly might have, I did like the way the frame set felt.  The lugs were left in the natural aluminum silver, but the tubes themselves were fully anodized.  The result is both beautiful and durable.  Very few scratches presented themselves on this lovely old frame set, even though the Vitus was raced hard for a few years.

And the beauty of this bicycle hardly ended with the frame set.  The Mavic SSC grouppo presented its own kind of mechanical eye candy for a guy like me.  The components are very well made and nicely finished.  I did, however, get the feeling that they were a bit fragile, probably because of the cracked crank issue.  An issue which was compounded, when I tried to install the original SSC rings on the newly acquired crank set.  One of the SSC ring bolts snapped right off when I attempted to tighten it up.  Once that happened, I lost all confidence in the SSC crank and ring set. I replaced the entire assembly with a lesser model, but one that I felt was considerably stronger.

The Mavic SSC rear derailleur was a bit of a treat to tune.  I wasn't really sure of myself when I first started into the tuning process, but quickly learned how to set the rear derailleur up.  Once tuned, the SSC rear derailleur worked flawlessly.  The front derailleur was every bit as appealing as the rear and worked just as well.  The gorgeous curved shifters felt good to grip and functioned in perfect accord with both derailleurs.  To say that I liked the Mavic SSC transmission would be an understatement.

And if the Mavic tranny was a treat, so too were the brakes.  The levers seemed to fit my hands and riding stance perfectly.  Brake levers and their placement are a big deal to me.  At sixty years of age, and suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in both hands, brake lever feel is important.  It is hard to find levers that feel just right and can be positioned to meet my needs.  Most New School systems are pretty good.  Most Old School are not.  I say most, because only one Old School system has proved to be an all but perfect fit.  The first generation Shimano Dura Ace stoppers, levers and callipers both, are just right.  And the Mavic system seemed to be mine, right from the start.

The Mavic brake levers seemed to be in the right place, whether riding the hoods or drops.  Little pressure was required to activate the callipers, making a two finger over the hoods stop a comfortable reality.  Many brake sets that I have tried are difficult for me to brake over the hoods.  Some are difficult for me to reach, when I am in the drops.  Some are both.  The Mavic levers never felt out of place and the system was a pleasure to use.

I know what many of you will think about the out of place issue.  Why not just try moving the lever position?  I do, and on every single bicycle that I build.

My lever positioning procedure is simple but it is mine and works well for me.  I start with the levers parallel to the bicycle's centerline.  The tips of the levers are slightly below the bottom line of each drop.  With this initial set-up, I give each built up bicycle its first test ride.  I then enter into the exasperating task of finding the best position for the bicycle and handle bars in question.  It is not often that the resulting set-up will be identical to a previous one, or the next one, either.  Every set-up is a bit different and must be fussed with to achieve the best possible fit.  But when tuning a bicycle to fit, incredibly small changes, here and there, with this and that, will eventually make all the difference in the world.  Take the time to fit the bicycle to you once riding begins!

Since the feel and, in my opinion, function of brakes is directly linked to the handlebars, the control center becomes a critical item when tuning a bicycle for personal fit.  I like a medium width handlebar, with a moderate drop.  I do not always go with this combination, but it is the one that feels the best for long rides.  The Mavic handlebar and stem set is full Cinelli and perhaps that is one of the reasons I like this set-up so much.  The only other bicycle I have with Cinelli bars is my Marinoni Quebec and those bars are designed for the track.  At first, I did not like the feel of the Cinelli track bars but they seem to have grown on me.  I rarely notice any handlebar related distractions when using them these days.

Hardly the least impressive aspect of this great old bicycle, was the wheel set.  Mavic hubs are laced with butted stainless steel spokes to Mavic MA40 rims and a joy to ride on.  I have to admit that the wheel set needed absolutely no adjustment "as found" though I did take the time to check things over carefully just in case.  My hat is off to Dr. Dave.  He did a great job of keeping his bicycle in tune.

With the full rebuild complete, the next task was to be the most pleasant of all.  Riding the Vitus 979