Bicyclettes De Dion Bouton
May 11 2021
Many, indeed probably most, of the early manufacturers of automobiles started off as established bicycle makers, which is not surprising considering the explosion of interest in all things cycling as people discovered the freedom of the open road on (mostly) two wheels. The addition of motive power of various kinds for tricycles and motor cars was simply a natural progression, and many bicycle makers quickly took note of this change and leapt on the bandwagon.
De Dion Bouton were the great exception. They didn’t start making bicycles until 1909, and they devoted much their early bicycle literature to explaining their decision to embark on this seemingly backward move.
“Some people are perhaps astonished when first they hear the news that Maison De Dion Bouton have set themselves to making bicycles” proclaims the preface to the 1909 catalogue. It then goes on to make its case that “in every cyclist there is an automobilist in waiting”. Waiting that is, for the opportunity to replace his bicycle with a light car. Once he gets the money the cyclist is then presented with a huge range of marques from which to choose. After some entertaining passages of delightfully florid prose extolling the virtues of Maison De Dion Bouton, its experience in making pretty well all other forms of locomotion on the road, and the excellence of its engineers, materials, and facilities, the cunning plan was gradually unveiled. “Our bicycles being therefore of the same exceptional quality, of the same breed, which permits our cars, as well as being seen often, to travel more than 100,000 kilometres without returning a single time to our factories”. Once the cyclist has made the, surely inevitable, decision to ride one of the superlative De Dion Bouton bicycles, naturally he will chose Maison De Dion Bouton from which to purchase his first motor car… Ah! Now we understand.
The earliest major article I have seen so far accompanying the launch of the DDB bicycle range is a front page spread in the “De Dion Bouton Journal Industriel Hebdomdaire” (De Dion Bouton Weekly Trade Journal) of the 10th April 1909. Accompanying engravings of their new top of the range “Modele B – Touriste” and ladies’ “Modele E pour Dames” roadsters , is a wonderfully whimsical piece. While strolling along the Champs-Elysees the writer muses on the usefulness of seven-league-boots as described in a childhood book about Petit Poucet (a sort of French Tom Thumb), bemoaning the lack of these useful items from a bygone age. Thinking of other far flung parts of Paris to which he would like to bound, he realizes – you’ve got it – the modern equivalent is a bicycle, preferably one of a high degree of perfection: De Dion Bouton of course.
I can thoroughly recommend these simple broadsheet newspapers. They are filled with wonderful pictures and advertisements and should appeal to all De Dion Bouton enthusiasts even if one does not speak the lingo. Even more delights if school-French can be resuscitated to decipher the writing. In the same issue above we can read that the 1908 Olympic Games made a substantial profit. Those were the days.
The 1909 Catalogue lists only 5 models: Modele A – Routier Leger; Modele B – Touriste; Modele C – Course Sur Route; Modele D Pour Dame, and Modele E – Pour Dame (a higher spec. version). All models had a large number of options for gears, saddle, brakes etc. This range would be expanded considerably in the years to come. The catalogue ends with a picture of a De Dion Bouton single-cylinder Voiture Legere – bait for the cyclist once he has bought the bicycle one suspects.
Having parted with my De Dion Bouton powered Clement last year, I resolved to keep my foot in the De Dion Bouton world with the acquisition of a De Dion bicycle, purchased from our very own Chairman (offered for sale in the November Newsletter). As a long-term early bicycle enthusiast, this made a lot of sense: to me anyway. A dip into catalogues and other writings showed that there is a whole new DDB world waiting to be unearthed. De Dion Bouton made bicycles from 1909 until at least 1928, which is the date of the most recent catalogue I have come across. Our Chairman kindly accepted my suggestion that I might gather and co-ordinate information on De Dion Cycles for the benefit of our members. In order to do this I need your help, especially those who have De Dion Bicycles and/or catalogues and other relevant information. I would be hugely grateful to anyone who might forward details, photographs, frame numbers etc. of DDB bicycles they own or know about. I also need to gain copies / scans of DDB bicycle catalogues so that I may know more about the models available in each year and the little details which might aid dating. Everything I gather will be freely available to members. I have currently catalogues for 1909, 1914, 1921, 1925 and 1928, so there are many gaps in the set I would like to fill. Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.