Men Of Steel

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 Photos - Nico Joly Photography & Harry Engels

 

You usually have to go to industrial Northern France, home of L’Enfer du Nord, to find the ‘Flahute’; the hardmen who shine in the testing conditions of the Spring Classics.  But there are also men of steel located in the heart of the country, in the capital of the Auvergne region, Clermont-Ferrand.  Our friends at Victoire Cycles are using ‘acier’ to almost single-handidly revive the French frame-building industry. They have been producing some of the most exquisite and varied frames you’ll ever set eyes on since their inception back in 2011, including a stunning collaboration with Berluti last year

We’ve been working with them for over a year now but you know that saying about ‘all work and no play’.  So when assembling our rental bike collection, Victoire was the first obvious choice and we thought it was a good excuse to take a moment with Julien Leyreloup, one of Victoire's founders, to learn what makes them tick and find out why steel is real.

CdC: You were ahead of or at least on the crest of the wave of the resurgence of steel as a preferred material for frame building. Why did you decide to go with steel?

JL: Because we are totally confident it is the best way to produce fast and comfy frames for every possible use. Steel gives us the flexibility to produce everything from a high end racing bike with electronic shifting mounts to a comfy city bike for woman or a MTB with a 100mm fork on the front. The strength is unbeatable and the diversity of the tubing available give us endless possibilities. It also means we can hand-build bikes to meet every kind of customer demand, which is not possible with aluminium or carbon.

VictoireWeld2CdC: Where is the first frame you ever built? Is it still being ridden?

JL: The first ever frame is still cruising the streets of Paris! Steel is perfect for the everyday abuse a city bike takes. A lot of the other first prototypes are now ridden by friends that live near us here in Clermont-Ferrand. We like to stay close to family and friends (CdC: You should open a shop on the Côte d’Azur then!)

CdC: You are the only bike manufacturer we know to offer a varnished finish rather than traditional paint. What led you to this special feature?

JL: Nearly by accident. It allows us to show the detail of the welding and the long hours of polishing we carry out after the covering process. It also more durable than paint so matches the properties of the steel also. It is part of the Victoire signature, but we also produce classic painted frames too.

VictoireFrameLayeredCdC: Is wheel-building and frame-building an art or a science?

JL: The perfect mix of the two. You need lot of knowledge, but also a lot of practice.

CdC: What is more important - size, shape and welding of tubes or the material that they are made from?

JL: Ideally, both. Fitting the frame is also a crucial part of the process. You can have the perfectly made frame with the highest quality tubing but if the frame is three mm too long for you, it will not ride good.

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CdC: Frame-builders covet their own specially manufactured and designed tools - do you have a favourite?

JL: Erwan, who takes care of the manufacturing of the frames, especially like his files. He collects them and is always on the lookout for new and old ones. Personally, I really like my spoke wrench from P&Klie, and my chain tools from Campagnolo and Shimano.

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CdC: Is it possible to define the French approach to cycling and why this is different to other countries? Is it just in the French DNA?

JL: France has produced some of the most beautiful bicycles during the last century, but unfortunately most of this spirit has disappeared. Our inspiration came from the best frame builders from the 40's to 70's, like Herse, Singer, Follis, Reyhand, Daudon, the list goes on and on. Frame builders back then were so sophisticated and reliable. We are trying to recapture some of this spirit and re-build the reputation of bespoke frame-building in France.

 CdC: Which do you prefer, road or off-road cycling?

JL: Both. My favorite bike is my cyclocross one. The fashion police try to call it "gravel", but for me it is just a cx bike used on a daily basis. It allows me to hit the roads, then find a perfect track on the forest. I even do some MTB events on it.

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CdC: You have worked with some big fashion houses over the past few years - what do you think of cycling becoming more fashionable?

VC: It is the best thing that can happen to the cycling world. Riding a bicycle is good for you, good for the planet and it makes you happy. The world would be so much better if only 5% of the popluation would cycle instead of driving their cars. Making the bicycle more fashionable will push people to ride it, which is a really good thing.

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CdC: The association with Café du Cycliste is an obvious French alliance but, from your perspective, what do you believe the two companies have in common?

JL: The aesthetic fits very well between the two companies and we also share the same way of thinking, it is just natural I think!

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CdC: Which is the better place to ride - the Auvergne or Cote d’Azur (answer carefully!)?

JL: Auvergne for sure. Less people on the road, less people on the dirt tracks, less pollution, we only miss bigger mountains! Just kidding, both are really good, but come and ride with us, so you can see for yourself!

You can now book your ride on a Cycles Victoire Veloce HSS here and experience modern French artisan frame-building in the Côte d'Azur cycling playground.

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