We sort of do our own thing. When we started in 2011, there was almost nobody in France who could make a custom bike. We couldn't learn the old skills; that's something we had to teach ourselves.
I have a friend who ran a restaurant for a while. He once told me how, on busy nights, as plate-bearing waiters fanned hurriedly out of the kitchen, it seemed to matter little what was actually on the menu. To his complete surprise, the most popular item was always a dish spotted by the other customers as it was carried across the restaurant to the table of a waiting diner. One night, a particularly tantalising dessert prevailed, another, a rather pedestrian soup became a best seller. What, you may ask, did this somewhat alarming lesson in psychology teach our fledgeling restaurateur? That he might never understand the fickle restaurant business, and that appearances matter, a lot.
They may have never run a restaurant, but French bicycle manufacturer Victoire Cycles appreciate the positive impact of beautiful design. Despite rolling only since 2011, with their bold letter-spaced logo, clean lines and complementary colours, Victoire Cycles have not only reinvigorated French bicycle manufacturing but created a brand that speaks of craft, experience and authenticity.
We sat down with Matthieu from Victoire Cycles one morning in early February to chat brand, bikes & the search for savoir-faire.
With a 12-month wait list for builds, it looks like business is good?
Yeah, it's not the worst problem to have. But because each bike is unique and tailor-made for the customer, we have to start from scratch every time, with the frame builder taking the project and creating the bike from start to finish. So to do the job well, making a unique, custom bicycle always takes a certain amount of time.
Getting to the point of having a waiting list must have been quite a journey.
When we started Victoire, it was very tough. But as time passed, people in France, like other places in the world, started taking more care of what they were buying. They began to look at where things came from and how they were made, and so the idea of buying a bike that would last a lifetime became ever more popular. Nowadays, with the push to end reliance on plastic, we see riders beginning to realise that carbon fibre is as much as a problem, maybe even more so, because it can't currently be recycled or reused in any form.
Where did the name Victoire come from?
We wanted a name that sounded French, but that also translated well globally. In our city of Clermont-Ferrand, there is a square called Victoire next to the cathedral, so it was also something symbolic for us. But Victoire (victory) is also a significant name in the cycling world, of course.
How did the team come together?
Julien founded the company in 2011. He handles design, and in those early years, he was lucky enough to find a frame builder to work with to bring his ideas to life. Now we have three in-house frame builders fabricating the bikes, and Julien is free to handle the design aspects.
From the details on your site, it seems that you go pretty deep into finding the right fit and size for the rider?
I think we probably go into the fit more than others in France. We take about half a day for the fitting in our workshop. Usually, we'll go riding with the customer during our lunch break, which is a great way to see their position and how they ride. After some discussion over lunch, we can then proceed with the fitting on our jig. That involves taking static measurements, before running some calculations. We'll then make some changes to the jig, which allows us to place the three different contact points of the cyclist - pedals, handlebar and saddle - to create the foundation for the geometry. But bike fitting is not just about taking measurements; it's also about taking into account the experience of the cyclist and their riding style. So you could say that the fitting process is a combination of measurement and discussion with the customer.
The bicycles in your build gallery seem to both reflect the signature Victoire style and convey individual identities.
The image and visual identity of the brand was always something vital for us. One of our founders is a graphic artist, practised in graffiti and tattoo styles. Our logo came from those worlds, so it's an amalgamation of different influences and a certain depth and history to evoke the French bicycle tradition. Early on we found that a distinct image and identity helped us to stand apart from other builders. When a customer comes to us to create their own Victoire, they already have an awareness and expectation of how it should look, and what we might be able to do to set their build apart.
If you make an especially beautiful bike though, it must be a little tricky to convince the customer to create something unique, and not a slavish copy of one they have seen in your gallery?
That's true. Sometimes we do have customers who want a bicycle just like one we have made before. But its always possible to work with a client to create something new and different. In the end, their build always turns out to be individual. So while we might start with a particular reference bike or look, it quickly becomes its own thing.
Finding creativity in the details?
Exactly. Components, colours, geometry - there are a lot of options and opportunities to take things in a new direction.
How much does the history and influence of bicycle manufacturing in France inform your work?
We sort of do our own thing. When we started in 2011, there was almost nobody in France who could make a custom bike. We couldn't learn the old skills; that's something we had to teach ourselves. From studying English and American builders, where the scene is much more developed, to finding passionate craftspeople to join us, we gradually developed our processes. But we were aware and inspired by the Concours de Machines - the French Technical Trials from the 30s and 40s - which pushed the development of the lightweight bicycle. The Concours were competitions for the best bike, started by riders, builders and the French Cycle-Touring Federation. At that time, road bikes were single speed, and touring bikes were heavy, so it was focused on innovation and saving weight. I think there were around 10 or 15 editions between the 30s and 50s, which accelerated the growth of the bicycle industry in France. In 2016 we restarted the Trials, bringing the Concours de Machines into a new era.
One of our founders is a graphic artist, practised in graffiti and tattoo styles. Our logo came from those worlds, so it's an amalgamation of different influences and a certain depth and history to evoke the French bicycle tradition.
It sounds very collaborative.
Yes, it was. Each rider was cycling on very demanding terrain, and because at that time there were no asphalt roads, they were mostly cycling on gravel, which of course we are doing again today!
So the Concours de Machines runs again?
Indeed. You could say that we revived it, bringing together other French builders in 2016, and then last year for the second edition, builders from outside of France, like J. P. Weigle from the US, so it was much more international in outlook. You can find out more over at http://www.concoursdemachines.fr/.
Are there any other brands that you particularly admire in the bike world?
Yes, we're big fans of the work of Firefly in Boston. They are a reference to us for their builds, certainly.
What does 'savoir-faire' mean to Victoire Cycles?
Savoir-faire is an accumulation of the knowledge and skills we have acquired after bringing almost 350 unique bikes to life. Because each bicycle has a different client with different needs, the Victoire process allows us to amass a considerable amount of savoir-faire. But savoir-faire is also a philosophy of continual improvement and experience; it's a journey that lasts a lifetime.
To browse or begin your own Victoire adventure, visit: