FN's Bicycles: From the Chainless Acatene FN to the chain driven bicycle - history and restoration
1906 FN Chainless bicycle:
A rare 1906 or 1907 Fabrique Nationale / FN Chainless bicycle aka Acatene or shaft driven bicycle. This early model is original with wooden rims and wooden mudguards. In 1908 FN introduced steel rims and by 1910 both rims and mud guards were made out of steel. This mostly original Chianless bicycle still has the water transfer decals on the wooden rims and mudguards. The headlight was made by Vitaphare and sold by FN as a factory accesory. These lights were either nickel or brass plated. The pedals on this bicycle were replaced during its long life, original FN pedals were made out of steel and were rather uncomfortable. FN bicycles usually have early wooden or later rubber replacements. This museum quality shaft driven FN bicycle was in a private collection for over 50 years and was acquired by a collector after World War II.
The Chainless or shaft driven bicycles were more expensive than ordinary chain driven models, this and the limitation of introducing gears to the system brought on their demise.
The restoration of Captain Pierrard' s 1927 - 1929 FN standard men's bicycle:
FN Chainless bicycles were always expensive and complex to maintain. The shaft driven mechanism has always been regarded as interesting and quickly gained collectible status. Ordinary chained bicycles were more quickly discarded and scrapped once old or worn, these were considered utilitarian tools. Consequently chained bicycles were less appealing as collectibles and few survive today. This standard FN men's bicycle dates from the late 1920s and belonged to a Belgian military officer, Captain-Commander Sylvain Pierrard, which served in World War II. This FN bicycle was located by an auctioneer tasked to liquidate the estate of the officer after his passing. The auctioneer realized the historical importance of the officer's possessions and contacted several museums. The uniforms and historical mementos relating to the war were purchased by a museum, the bicycle was put up for auction when we acquired it and started learning more about its history. Information provided indicates that the bicycle had always been on the family farm in Mont sur Marchienne and that he had been the original owner. We are fortunate to have so much provenance documentation on this standard FN bicycle from the 1920s.
Above: The 1920s FN bicycle on the family estate in Belgium. It had not been used in decades, although rusted and corroded, the bicycle appeared to be a true time capsule with many original factory accessories.
FN motorcycle expert and historian, Jacques Maertens (see his site at http://users.telenet.be/FN.oldtimers/), volunteered to assist with the logistics of getting the bicycle to the United States. He picked up the bicycle and quickly confirmed the original accessories and condition of the bike. The spokes were rusted beyond use and had to be replaced. Mr. Maertens once again volunteered to get the wheels respoked, this was welcomed as metric and period looking parts are easier to locate in Europe. Mr. Maertens also has numerous contacts from his many years dealing with FN motorcycle aficionados.
Once the wheels were respoked, he totally dismantled the bicycle, and prepared the shipment. (Special thanks to Mr. Jacques Maertens for all his assistance!)
Right: Captain Sylvain Pierrard before World War II
Above: The captain's residence which is part of the family estate as photographed in 2015.
Left: Captain Sylvain Pierrard after World War II
(Special thanks to the auctioneer for providing the photographs and provenance information)
Above: The FN bicycle dismantled with parts tied together, seen here during the packing process.
Fed Ex Freight picked up the bicycle and it was shipped by air. It arrived a week later without damage due to the excellent packaging. Immediately, the rarity of the bicycle became apparent, especially the rare FN branded tool pouch with original tools, the original FN pedals, the rear light, etc.
Above: The FN bicycle finally arrives with no damage due to the excellent packaging. Note the "FN" shaped inner part of the chainring!
With winter time approaching and a heavy work schedule, the decision is made to tackle the restoration piece by piece. This will make it more manageable during the winter months and still give the ability to get some work done without getting overwhelmed by all that needs to be done.
Left: The sheet metal tax plate is seriously corroded and damaged. It is even difficult to read, it reveals a "1945" year date... most likely the last time the bicycle was registered and driven on open roads. Tax plates are common but this one will need to be salvaged as it is original to the FN. The green paint color is matched before the rust is removed. The corrosion is so extensive that it left numerous holes in the plate. The corners are leveled and the plate is given a new contour before being treated with zinc to fill some of the pitting and stop any leftover corrosion. The little bracket with screws is completely polished before coated with zinc.
Top: The Tudor light is reminiscent of the 1930s, this model runs off the dynamo or a large square Varta battery that fits in the lamp housing.
The pieces will need to be re-nickeled and the housing will need to be treated for corrosion before being repainted.
Left: The rare Fabrique Nationale branded tool pouch reveals a nice surprise when the original tools are located under an old rag. The leather is dry, the straps are dry rotted and there is some white paint on the front of the case.