Of the many French marques with historic significance, De Dion Bouton was the most influential. By 1882 the company had already produced a self-propelling steam car and in 1890 patented a single cylinder petrol engine. Most of the early car manufacturers started out as bicycle manufacturers. No doubt because of their early innovations with steam and petrol engines, De Dion Bouton’s cycle production started only in 1909, and these photos of the De Dion Bouton factory (1905 above and 1908 below) were taken before the company made bicycles themselves.
1911 Velo De Dion Bouton ‘Modele Luxe Demi-course’
Sloping top tube with 1″ drop
No 1 Handlebar
Eadie coaster brake (under French licence – the rear wheel has 36 spoke holes)
21.5″ Frame (55cm)
Frame No 61397
There is not much information about the first few years of de Dion Bouton cycle production. I’ve not found a catalogue illustration that exactly matches this example. But with a dropped top tube it is similar to the ‘Modele Luxe Demi-course’ illustrated below. This style would be described as a road racer in Britain. It has the ‘Number 1’ handlebar …without brake levers because of its Eadie coaster brake.
It’s a stylish fast tourer with minimal extras to give it a clean and uncluttered appearance. The paintwork is the unrestored original, retaining much of its box lining and the de Dion Bouton name in script (a bit faded but still readable) on the down tube. I’ve recently serviced the coaster brake (an Eadie made under licence in France, with a 36 spoke hole wheel) and fitted new tyres. So it’s ready to ride and propel you around the town or countryside in the style of 110 years ago.
DE DION BOUTON BICYCLES
Though undoubtedly one of the world’s most important motoring pioneers, De Dion Bouton is not so well-known as a bicycle manufacturer. Of course, their bicycles were made with as much attention to quality as their tricycles and automobiles, with most of their cycle components made in-house.
The company had already been manufacturing tricycles for some time before adding bicycles to their sales line; they often sold trikes unbadged to allow other companies to mount the engines and market them under their individual names. I’ve never seen any catalogues from the first year of cycle production, apart from the 1910 details above.
The article below, published on 25th February 1911, states that the company decided to make bicycles around eight months previously. It illustrates two styles of handlebar, with and without rod brakes. The 1910 illustration above shows no brakes – the same as the bicycles featured here – so I assume the model with rod brakes was introduced in the second year of production.
De Dion Bouton displayed bicycles on their stand at at the 1911 Expo Locomotion Grand Palais, which evolved into the renowned airshow. The French were pioneers of flight, and of course flying’s early years involved bicycles.
1914 DE DION BOUTON CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
HISTORY of DE DION BOUTON
Marquis Albert De Dion was an industrialist and automotive genius. He pioneered many ‘firsts’ for the automotive industry and recognized the power and potential of the gasoline engine. He teamed with Georges Bouton, an engineer, and together they produced a self-propelled steam vehicle in 1882.
To improve the ride of the vehicle a light rear axle was invented and later patented under the name ‘de Dion’. In 1890 they patented a gasoline single cylinder engine and in 1895 they were producing vehicles. The single cylinder engine was also used to power sporting tricycles until 1901.
On 12th November, 1895 the Automobile Club de France – ACF – was formed by Baron de Zuylen, Comte de Dion and Paul Meyan. This was the world’s first automobile club. The Paris Motor Show followed three years later. The illustration below is of the 1903 Salon de l’Automobile at the Grand Palais.
Over 150 motorcycle and car manufacturers purchased licenses to build the De Dion Bouton engine. By 1900 De Dion Bouton was the world’s largest car manufacturer, with an annual production of 400 cars and 3,200 engines. By 1904 De Dion had supplied over 40,000 engines produced by their Puteaux facility.
THE END: With national tragedies such as World War I and the onset of the Great Depression, the company struggled financially. During 1927 it ceased production temporarily and when it resumed it had a new 2.5-liter straight eight-cylinder and a 2-liter four-cylinder engine. Sales were sluggish so the decision was made to increase the displacement to 3-liters in 1930. The final car produced by the De Dion Company was in 1932. The company continued to make trucks through the 194os and, at the end, serviced cars, trucks, and motorcycles.
DE DION LE BLANC: Company names have always been a marketable commodity, and reputable car, motorcycle or bicycle manufacturer marques were often purchased after the company itself ceased trading. The De Dion Bouton name was bought by Dilecta in 1935 and, after WW2, Dilecta badged some of their bicycles and cyclemotors as De Dion Bouton le Blanc.