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Mavic : Factory Visit

Mavic bike
James Witts
23 Apr 2015

Secrets don't come easy but we've peaked behind the curtain to see the Service Course and how a Ksyrium rim is made.

History makers

In 1889 brothers Léon and Laurent Vielle created a nickel-plating business under the brand name AVA. Soon, colleagues at AVA, Charles Idoux and Lucien Chanel, ventured into the manufacture and sales of spare parts for the brave new mobile world of cycling. Both companies had the same president, Henry Gormand, and he helped to create this new brand, and it was named Manufactory of Articles for Velocipedes Idoux & Chanel – or Mavic.

Mavic open pro

Their business took off on discovery of the cycling benefits of duralumin, an aluminium and copper alloy that proved popular in the 1920s and 30s, especially for constructing rigid airship frames. Pieces of fire-ravaged duralumin littered the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey in 1937 when the Hindenburg met its fiery end. For Mavic, duralumin played a covert role in the Tour de France victory of Antonin Magne in 1934. Ever since Maurice Garin won the inaugural Tour in 1903, cyclists had used heavy wooden wheels to carry them into Tour folklore. In 1934, Mavic created the first duralumin rims but, wary of the competition stealing its ideas, it painted them to look like wood. Mavic called them the Dura rims and they weighed 750g against the 1.2kg wooden versions.

A year later the rims were brought to public knowledge in somewhat tragic circumstances. Spanish cyclist Francisco Cepeda was killed on a downhill stretch of the Galibier using the Dura rims. Many blamed Mavic but an enquiry ruled that it was the poor gluing of the tubulars that caused the accident. Still, newspapers ran the story as headline news and, in terms of PR, it couldn’t have been much worse.

ZAP & Mektronic

In fact, not all of Mavic’s innovations have met with widespread success. In 1992, 16 years before Shimano launched Di2, Mavic created the first electronic groupset, the wired Zap Mavic System (ZMS). Chris Boardman used it and was a fan.

Mavic hubs

‘The beauty of ZAP was that electricity wasn’t used to shift the gear,’ he told a US magazine. ‘The battery only had to send a signal to the rear mechanism where a solenoid engaged the jockey wheel and the rider’s pedalling action changed the gear. It meant the battery could be tiny.’

Unfortunately, you could only shift one sprocket at a time – not nearly enough for the sprinters – while reliability issues killed retailer and consumer confidence. Despite ONCE and RMO using it in the Tour, ZAP was taken off the market in 1994. Mavic tried again in 1999 with the wireless Mektronic, but again issues such as limited gear range meant it failed to gain a foothold in the wider cycling community and the product was once again dropped. ‘Maybe we were too early on the market,’ says Lethenet. ‘Mind you, electric shifting still isn’t super-popular. The road market is traditional. It’s hard to make people change their mind about technology.’

No one can accuse Mavic of not trying. It is constantly pushing the envelope and will continue to do so. Like many in the industry, Lethenet suggests greater integration between components is the future. ‘It makes sense that there’s greater connection between wheel and fork,’ he says. ‘We’ve studied it in the past and have come up with some solutions. As usual the difficulty in the bike industry is that we have so many players on one bike, it’s tough to organise everyone around the same table. We’re also looking at different materials.’

What are those materials, we hear you ask? ‘I can’t tell you,’ says Lethenet. ‘It must remain private.’ Or ‘non autorisé’ as they say at Mavic.

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