Concours de Machines: Results

The 2017 Concours de Machines in Ambert (France) was a great success for everybody involved. The bikes were amazing – and much-improved over last year’s machines – the routes were truly challenging, and most of all, the spirit among all participants was wonderful.

The goal was to find the best “light randonneur bike”, with 24 builders bringing their interpretations of this theme. Most participants were French builders, but others came all the way from Sweden, Slovakia, Great Britain, the USA and even Japan. Builders from Germany and Spain had entered the Concours, too, but weren’t able to finish their bikes before the start of the event.

After two days of challenging rides, 18 bikes made it to the finish. The course was very hard: The first day, we covered 230 km (140 miles) on backroads and mountain bike trails with more than 4600 m (15,000 ft) of climbing and many sections that exceeded 15%.

The second day’s roads were smoother, but the route went over four mountain passes. It was a perfect test for the bikes: Some riders chose to go slow to reduce the risk that their bikes broke (above), but they were penalized for their low average speed. Others went faster, but their bikes suffered mechanical problems. To place well, you had to go fast and your bike had to hold together – just as it should be in a Technical Trial.

First place went to Pechtregon. The details of the results are not yet available, but it’s clear that the Pechtregon’s combination of relatively light weight (around 10.5 kg / 23.2 lb), flawless performance, high-enough speed and remarkable innovation put it in first place.

Apart from the girder fork which doubles as a rack, the Pechtregon featured a pump inside the steerer tube and a rear triangle that folds forward to transport the bike, Rinko-style. Builder Matthieu Chollet had even made a Rinko headset nut to facilitate disassembly. It was another amazing machine from this builder and a worthy winner.

Second place went to J. P. Weigle’s randonneur bike. At 9.7 kg (21.4 lb) fully equipped –including the handlebar bag, spare tubes and tools – it also received the prize for the lightest bike. (The bike alone weighs just 9.1 kg / 20.0 lb.)

I am proud to have been involved in this machine, both as a supplier of components and as the rider. The bike gained points for its light weight and many custom features. It completed the challenging course without any problems – I didn’t carry any tools except spare tubes, since everything counted in the weight. The Weigle also was among the first finishers each day, so it avoided penalties on both counts. What it lacked compared to the winner was “innovation” – most of its features, whether the ability to be disassembled for Rinko, the SON SL generator hub without wires, or the switch on the stem that operated the headlight, had been seen before.

The amazing Cyfac took third place. Ridden by a strong racer, it finished each stage with the fastest speed, yet there were no technical problems. Constructed mostly from carbon fiber (with some stainless steel), this machine also received the prize for the most innovative machine, as well as the vote of the public. The bike sported fenders that could be removed without tools, as well as indicators in the bar plugs that were operated by the left-hand shift lever. (The 1×11 drivetrain does not have a front derailleur.) Pushing the lever for a longer time turned the lights on (or off). It was a technical tour de force that showed what the dedicated team at Cyfac – the biggest maker of custom bikes in France – can do. The only thing that kept it from first place was its relatively heavy weight of 12 kg (26.5 lb).

When asked why their all-carbon bike was 33% heavier than the steel-and-aluminum Weigle, Cyfac’s design engineer explained: “Take our carbon rack, for example. A steel rack can flex, but with carbon, flexing leads to failure. So we overbuilt it, and it weighs 400 g. [The Weigle’s rack weighs 137 g.] And we used a relatively heavy Ortlieb bag.” It was a brave decision to bring a carbon bike that weighs more than steel, but it allowed Cyfac to showcase their specialty: custom-made carbon bikes.

The special prize of the jury went to the Vagabonde, an elegantly simple randonneur bike that was ridden well throughout the event.

The prize for the best presentation went to Grand Bois. At the start of the event, their bike was the lightest by a small margin, with many parts sporting cut-outs that left only a skeleton of material. While everybody appreciated the work that went into this bike, many questioned whether the parts would be strong enough to hold up on the road. On the first day, the rear derailleur developed a fatigue crack and broke, putting the Grand Bois out of the event.

There were other innovative machines. The Perrin (in back) not only featured a double-decker rack (a tent is intended to go on the bottom “shelf”), but more interestingly, its fenders were attached with strong magnets. I had doubts whether the magnets would stay in place on the rough course, but it appears that they did. Imagine a Rinko bike where the rear fender just snaps in place!

Others, like the Brevet Cycles of Sebastien Klein, were excellent machines that completed the challenging course without problems – not even a flat tire in his case – but didn’t have the light weight or innovation to place high in the final standings. These bikes are great machines even if they don’t figure in the results of the Concours.

This year, there were no “crazy-light” parts on the bikes, perhaps because the organizers had made it clear that the course would be more challenging. And yet overall, the bikes were lighter than before.

Whereas last year, hardly any bikes completed the course without mechanical problems (including the winner!), this year, failures were rare. Tires were wider than last year, ranging from 700C x 32 mm (Vagabonde) to 650B x 48 mm (Pechtregon). I was surprised that of the 24 starters, no fewer than 16 rode on Compass tires (including the first three places), even though there was no sponsorship, and builders had to pay for their tires. It appears that when high speeds on rough roads are required, French builders choose Compass tires.

The Concours de Machine 2017 was a rousing success. As intended, it has improved the real-world capabilities of the bikes riders can buy. It has shown interesting ideas for future innovation. And most of all, the participants (as well as the spectators) had a great time!

A full report will follow in Bicycle Quarterly.

Photo credit: Victor Découard (Photo 2), Natsuko Hirose (all other photos).

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in Rides, Testing and Tech. Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to Concours de Machines: Results

  1. Peter says:

    Congratulations on placing 2nd!

    Looking at these bikes I wonder, did any use a “bikepacking” setup (framebag, saddlebag) instead of a traditional randonneur setup? And did any run their tyres tubeless (and if someone did, how did they fare)?

    • Bikepacking bags are too heavy for an event like this. We had to carry an unspecified load of 3 kg – which turned out to be a choice of a brick or two large pieces of firewood. Almost all the builders who placed well carried the load in a handlebar bag.

      I’d say that about half the builders, including J. P. Weigle, chose to run their tires tubeless.

      • Peter says:

        Any recommendations on the sealant to use? I have been running the Bon Jon Pass tyres with Schwalbe Doc Blue for the past six months and have had two punctures that would not stay sealed when the tyre was inflated over 2 bar (30psi).

      • We used Orange Seal. It seals well, but dries out a bit faster than I’d like. We now recommend using Orange Seal for the initial installation, but then Stan’s for keeping the tire sealed.

      • Doug M says:

        Orange Seal Endurance seems to last much longer than the regular OS and the two can be mixed. I recently had two punctures- one on each wheel – on a set of wheels with OS endurance sealant which was about 13 to 15 weeks old. Both tires sealed up easily. I’m also putting a full 4 ounces (50:50 endurance/ regular) in 650 b x 40 mm tires used on long events.

      • Jeff says:

        A generic medium sized (12 litre) mass produced frame bag from Apidura weighs 330 grams Jan. And it has no frame. Pretty sure your bag needs a frame? An 187 gram frame plus the 266 gram bag you mentioned is still way heavier than an off the shelf purchase. There are tons of people out there making really exciting custom frame bags. People have been putting water bottles outside of frames for years now too. It might be the next level of innovation for next year, now that discs and 1x are old hat !

      • There were plenty of frame bags at the Concours de Machines, but not on the lightest bikes. I don’t know whether it was the bags that made these bikes heavier or other things.

      • msrw says:

        Jan, congratulations. In the innovation category, it would be interesting to see the Brompton system for carrying weight on the front of the bike (a quick release block mounted on the bike’s head tube which can carry about 22 lbs, with a variety of different bag types and sizes that snap on to the quick release block) adapted to brevet bikes. What’s interesting about this system for carrying a front bag is that since it’s not mounted on the fork or handlebars but on the head tube, there is almost no effect on the bike’s handling. The system is lightweight and convenient. Adaptation to bikes with larger wheels would require some changes, but there would be no reason that a similar system couldn’t be innovated for long distance bikes.

      • Carrying weight on the frame rather than the fork makes for unstable handling at high speeds. The inertia of the load on the fork stabilizes the steering. That is why postal carrier bikes (many stops, low speeds) use frame-mounted racks. The newspaper couriers of Paris (few stops, high speeds) used fork-mounted racks because they worked better at speed.

      • Dr J says:

        If I was given a 3kg brick for cargo, I would remove the rack and the bag and simply duct-taped it to the frame. More weight saved + “innovation” points! 😉

      • Nobody knew what the load would be. Some bikes didn’t have bags, and bungeed the load to the rack. I was hoping that the load would be marbles or something that was impossible to carry without a bag…

      • Jeff says:

        What speed do I need to be travelling at to experience instability with frame bags? It’s not been a problem for me and many of the others who use them bikepacking? 50kmh downhill on gravel for extended periods has not found my set up unstable at all.

      • The question was not about frame bags, but about racks or loads projecting forward from the head tube. Frame bags shouldn’t affect the handling of the bike much at all, since they are close to the center of gravity of rider and bike.

      • Jeff says:

        Oops. My apologies.

      • No worries, misunderstandings are easy online…

    • Jeff says:

      I am sure people can make bike-packing styled frame-bags light enough to work for a 2 day event, if they show they same level of weight-weenerism and innovation that is applied to the other areas of this this event. It’s just a material-usage different skill-set. Frame bags have to be more aero in my view, and I know I would rather have a 3 kg brick sitting directly above my BB than hanging off my bars. I guess if you didn’t know what format the added weight (bricks/wood) was coming in, a rack might be a better gamble.

      • It’s a simple question of geometry. The lightest bag will be a ball – smallest surface area for a given volume. A square is not far behind, and easier to make and easier to integrate into the bike.

        The more surface area you have, the heavier the bag will be. A frame bag is long and thin, so it has a huge surface area for its volume. That means it always will be heavier than a boxy handlebar bag. The bag on the Weigle held 12 liters, yet weighed just 266 g. And it was made from the same canvas and leather as all other Gilles Berthoud bags. As with all other parts on the bike, we avoided the temptation to use “crazy light” materials or components. The bike is intended to last at least 100,000 km, with 20,000 km without major overhaul (except tires, chain, brake pads).

  2. Richard says:

    Congratulations to you both. What a ride! 15,000 ft. of climbing over 140 miles on the first day. Extraordinary effort Jan, and Peter built you a superb bike. Thanks for sharing the event with us.

  3. marmotte27 says:

    Congratulations to everyone invovlved!

    Any squealing form your new brakes? I just can’t get my Tektro cantilevers to shut up…
    If yours are quiet and since they are Rinko-able, I’ll replace mine with them and make my bike Rinko,too. Today it’s just impossible to travel anywhere in France with a bike on a fast train.

    • No squealing on the new brakes. I was surprised, but I also know that every setup is different.

    • Nick Bull says:

      What are Jan’s new brakes? I also have Tektro cantilevers that I can’t get to shut up!

      • René Herse cantilevers, adapted for today’s standard posts. They work great – even better with modern levers than with classic ones.

      • Nick Bull says:

        Are the Rene Herse cantilevers going to be a Compass product? Or did you adapt some old ones?

      • They are brand-new, and we wouldn’t make forging dies for just one event: They will be available once we have completed additional testing.

      • Peter Chesworth says:

        I guess there won’t be some beautiful levers with the correct mechanical advantage to complement the new brakes?

      • Most modern aero levers will work great, but classic levers also work well. So there are plenty of choices out there!

      • Frank B. says:

        Regarding arm length of the new Herse brakes: I seem to remember, that Natsuko wasn’t too happy with her Campagnolo brakes in that they require strong hand forces which she lacks. I, too, had this problem with my short-arm brakes (rare Kore cantilevers) so I replaced them with longer ones (old Shimano medium profile cantilevers) recently. Maybe Natsuko could test, how the Herse brakes work for her? Maybe they are better suited to people like us with not so strong hands? Or maybe we are better of with $15 old school MTB cantis …

  4. Gary Bunn says:

    Dear Jan,
    Thank you very much for sharing the images of these great bicycles and the results of their trials. Congratulations on your own performance!
    Best regards,
    Gary.

  5. sisyphus says:

    Is it wrong to love a machine? Congratulations to Peter and Jan!

  6. Marco O. says:

    With regard to the carbon vs steel weight issue, how does this reconciles with the fact that not even a single high-end mountain bike, i.e. the sturdiest existing bike type, is made of steel (and I presume for weight reasons)?

    • There is no doubt that a carbon frame can be (a little) lighter than steel. However, it’s also a fact that nobody has ever made a fully equipped randonneur bike from carbon that is as light as the Weigle at this year’s Concours de Machines. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible… but we can only ride bikes that exist, not bikes that are theoretically possible.

    • Jim says:

      For mass-produced bikes, the forms and molds needed to optimize the frame for both strength and weight can be spread over many buyers. For custom frames, the cost would be prohibitive.

    • To paraphrase (steel) custom framebuilder Richard Sachs – the industry went down the non-ferrous route due to the ease of manufacturing (less skill required such as welding, brazing) and low labor cost overseas. It’s a case of the pictures getting smaller as the famous quote from Sunset Boulevard

      Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
      Norma Desmond: I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.

      Steel in particular never got *old*, the materials available at the time of this comment represent some pretty high tech metallurgy, same goes for aluminum and it is pretty obvious for an aerospace alloy like titanium. Custom builders offer steel hardtailers (ie Rock Lobster is one) and custom full suspension DH bikes are made in aluminum (Frank the Welder). While ‘metal bikes’ *might* carry a slight weight penalty a custom bike is so much more than weight alone – material choice is largely irrelevant. Of course let’s not forget PROs are paid to ride sponsored equipment, henace a big part of what is advertised out there.

      • fnardone says:

        Isn’t it also the case that custom manufacturer stayed with metal because of ease of manufacturing on smaller scale ?
        Speaking from ignorance, I don’t think frame material is as important for the final product as many make it out to be and choosing according to manufacturing conveninece may not be a terrible idea after all.

      • You make a good point. The Weigle at the Concours de Machines handled beautifully with wide tires and a front load thanks to its fork with about 67 mm offset. In steel, such a fork is relatively easy to build. In carbon, it’s not available, and creating one would require a mold that only makes sense if you plan to sell at least 5000 units. Choosing steel for his fork allowed Peter Weigle to get the best handling at a reasonable expense.

    • Conrad says:

      I always wonder about that. Mountain bikes live a hard life; all of my (steel) mountain bikes have dings from crashes, but are still trail worthy. I’m guessing there are a lot of shattered carbon fiber mountain bikes out there. One thing they have going for them, though, is that suspension forks are made out of metal.

  7. “Félicitations à tous les participants !”
    Favorite mention to our rider Sebastien Klein, a true gentleman whose talent and panache we salute 😉
    Looking forward to meeting you in Paris as elsewhere Jan.
    Cheers from France,
    Ben

  8. Jp Ferreira says:

    Hello Jan,

    The Cyfac bike is mostly Steel with a bit of carbon (fork, seat tube and seat stays)

    JP

  9. 47hasbegun says:

    Any idea what the rear derailleur on the Grand Bois bike was?

  10. Mark Schneider says:

    Congratulations to Peter and Jan, it’s great to see the traditional designs hold up so well against some fine competition and innovation! I loved reading this series of posts, very inspirational.

  11. Mark Petry says:

    oh what a treat to be there and be part of that cool historic event. Your bike is by far the most beautiful, however that red “Vagabond” reminds me of an RH Demontablein the same color that I passed on buying for 1200 bucks back in 1983.

    Really enjoyed reading about this event, thank you!

  12. Switchback Hill’s on the Pechtregon?

  13. Owen says:

    Any plans to eventually stock the custom Berthoud bag you had made? Congrats to you and Peter + thanks for your reporting on this event.

  14. Mark Bulgier says:

    You wuz robbed! The Pechtregon is definitely cool in some ways but I like the JPW much better.

    If I was on the jury I might have scored the winner lower for that dumb front rack. Carrying the weight on two tubes cantilevered out from a welded joint with no vertical triangulation is bad engineering. It survived the trial, and maybe that’s the only criterion, but a triangulated rack can be both lighter and stronger. It would have been so easy to do on this fork.

    Failure to triangulate the rack makes me question the engineering wisdom of the rest of the bike too — all those little decisions the builder makes that you don’t get to see.

    I’ll bet the JPW, despite being lighter, would probably last longer, if both were ridden similarly hard.

    Congrats to all for your solid efforts and results. Thanks to the organizers, and to Jan for this interesting write-up.

    Mark Bulgier

    • Mark Bulgier says:

      Minor edit: My original had “just kidding” in angle-brackets right after “You wuz robbed”. I suspect the angle-brackets confused the WordPress comments engine — thought it was an html tag maybe?

      Maybe it was obvious that I was kidding, but I wanted to make that explicit so no one thinks I am disparaging the event or the jury or the results. For the record, I loved everything about it!

      -Mark

  15. Ted Durant says:

    Congratulations, Jan, on a great performance as rider, and on the amazing competitive success of Compass tires. It must be an amazing feeling to go to an event such as that as a participant and see all those Compass labels on the tires!

  16. thebvo says:

    Is the headlight switch of Hahn’s design?
    Seems like something Compass could offer…

  17. Phillip Cowan says:

    Congratulations to Peter and you. The Concours is about the only thing in cycling to catch my imagination this year. I find it curious that Cyfac would convict themselves out of their own mouths by admitting that they were unable to construct a truly durable rack as light as an equivalent steel version. Why not come to terms with reality and go with steel?

    • Cyfac’s audience are the cyclosportifs – amateur racers without a license. The Concours de Machines piggy-backed off a major cyclosportive with more than 2000 riders for reasons of insurance and permits from the government. Cyfac was a sponsor of the race, and they had the biggest booth at the start. So it made sense for them to show off their carbon capabilities. Spectators didn’t know the weight of the bikes, so they probably assumed the carbon bike was much lighter than the steel Weigle… And since the public vote affected the results just as much as light weight (each was 10% of the final score), this may have influenced the results, too.

      • huges84 says:

        The fact that the public didn’t know the weights of the bikes is interesting. On one hand you don’t want to double penalize someone for weight as functionality and performance are more important. On the other hand, one doesn’t know what criteria the voters are using. They may vote for a bike that’s carbon because it’s common perception that carbon is lighter and more difficult to make. And off course they don’t know how the bike rides.

  18. Fred "trefix" Pialeport says:

    Bonjour.
    Merci pour ce compte-rendu et bravo pour la performance avec ce vélo construit en collaboration avec l’artisan : les discussions ont du être passionnantes, à l’atelier, pour définir une randonneuse aussi aboutie !…

    “Thank you for this report and cheer for the performance with this bicycle, built in collaboration with the craftsman: the discussions have being enthralling, with the workshop, to define such a succeeded randonneuse! …” (systran)

  19. Erick says:

    The only thing I find missing on a randonneur bike is a speed and odometer that does not require batteries and is well integrated into the bike, always ready as in a car. I hope someday someone will surprise with a well executed solution

    • Cecil says:

      Huret used to make a nifty little silicone/rubber band driven odometer that fit on the drive side of the front wheel. It didn’t have a speedo, but using the second hand on your watch you could estimate your speed (a god distraction during less interesting or even challenging parts of a ride). For that matter, you could do calculations based on mile posts or cadence & gear. Personally, I can accept my Lezyne GPS, which will record & display about 800–1000 km before requiring a charge—which could be done from a dynamo connected charger.

      • DavidM says:

        Agreeing completely with Cecil: an integrated speedo & odometer, improving radically on the current bike computer offerings, would be a great innovation from my point of view. Perhaps a solar recharged device, registering rear wheel rotations, and wired through the frame to a top tube-mounted – or bar/stem mounted – bike computer. Could one signal through an existing cable, finding a way to isolate it from frame electrical ground maybe? Innovators, step forward please! To be fair to Compass, this may be an electronics issue and I wouldn’t expect electronic innovation from Compass, but maybe an old-tech adaptation is all that’s necessary, using existing sensors with some wiring adaptations…

Comments are closed.