Velosolex Sighting Recalls a Treasured Test-Ride

While leaving the Montclair, N.J., restaurant Uncle Momo on Saturday evening I spotted a two-wheeler that is rare in the U.S. but a perfect fit with the eatery’s French-Lebanese theme.

The machine also stirred memories of a long-ago test ride that confirmed mopeds can be cool.

The Velosolex is a French motorized bicycle that was among¬†several minimal, low-priced, vehicles that helped keep Europeans mobile following World War II’s destruction. Such bikes used little fuel, required little maintenance and could maneuver better than cars on rubble-strewn, bomb-pocked roads.

A vintage Velosolex motorized bicycle.

The latest versions use a 49cc single-cylinder engine that applies power to the front wheel through a roller that is specially shaped to engage the tire. A lever moves the entire engine on a pivot so it can be moved in and out of “gear,” although there really are no gears. This is a primitive but utterly functional system.

In 2009 I wrote about the Velosolex in The Wall Street Journal and made a video about the test-ride. The bike was a joy to use and was ideal for getting around New York. Of course you get more exercise and arguably get wherever you are going faster on a standard bicycle.

But the Velosolex has an appeal that other bikes, mopeds and scooters lack. Perhaps it is the oh-so French design or the fact that its drive train is unsophisticated but elegantly simple. And it works beautifully.¬†For people familiar with “Three Days of the Condor,” it could be the Robert Redford effect.

Robert Redford rode a Velosolex in “Three Days of the Condor.”




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