Panorama Cycles Interview: Climate Neutral Bikes From Quebec
Panorama Cycles is a Montreal-based adventure bike manufacturer that specializes in fat, gravel, and mountain bikes. We spoke with Simon Bergeron, the owner and operator of Panorama Cycles, about being the first carbon-neutral bike manufacturer certified by Climate Neutral, remaining independent in a corporate world, and cycling in Quebec.
It's rare to see a bike brand position itself as more than 'cool', 'fast', 'rugged', etc. As conglomerates gobble up indy companies, values and mission statements get pushed to the side in favor of mass manufacturing and making zillions of bucks.
Often, many of us pride ourselves on leaving a small footprint as cyclists. Because well, the bike is often touted and positioned as the champion of green, alternative transportation. But how much do we really know about our favorite brands and the impact of bicycle manufacturing in the world? Similar to the auto industry, the cycling industry is pretty tight-lipped on its environmental impact, manufacturing techniques, and delivering bikes to customers.
The thought of a bike being 100% carbon-neutral is an intriguing one and something we had never really heard of until we met Simon of Panorama Cycles.
How did Panorama Cycles start?
We launched Panorama Cycles in 2016 with a single carbon fatbike. We wanted to create a company that wasn't defined by competition, racing, or performance. Our goal was to help build a new culture around cycling, focused on lifestyle and adventure. We are pretty excited that our vision is becoming a reality.
How do you describe the bikes you build?
Since 2016, we have grown the lineup into a full range of carbon and steel adventure bikes. We offer a range of fat, mountain, gravel, and touring bikes—all designed to be as versatile as possible, for any adventure possible.
We have worked hard to understand the needs of bikepackers and long-distance touring cyclists. All of our geometries offer a good level of comfort for long periods on the bike and provide stability when loaded with bags and accessories.
We try to keep things simple by offering one groupset per bike and aim to balance performance, durability, and price.
Panorama Cycles' DNA is about the journey rather than the podiums.
What materials do you think make the best adventure bicycles?
Both carbon and steel make great adventure bikes, each with its own unique feel and characteristics. One is not superior to the other, they are just different.
Steel is a classic material for making adventure bikes. Generally, we make a steel frame that has a certain degree of flexibility and compliance, which makes the bike very comfortable. We only use steel tubes from the UK-based company Reynolds—they are superbly crafted, and the steel is thinned where possible. The result is a surprisingly light frame.
My professional background is actually in composite materials engineering. The design of the laminates as well as the control of the manufacturing process became very important during the development of our 2 composite bikes. With carbon fiber, we can create a frame that is lighter and more rigid than the steel one. This may suit a rider that puts more value on performance and efficiency. However, we do not design our carbon fiber bikes to strive for the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio.
You mention not being a fan of the "N+1" idea? Why not?
Good question! At Panorama Cycles we are closely connected to nature and the outdoors— maybe more so than cycling. People in rock climbing have a pair of shoes, a harness, rope, and that's it. Climbers are really defined by their accomplishments, similar to trekking, kayaking, fly fishing… In cycling, "gear addiction syndrome" is common, and the upgrades to a bike can be literally endless (👋 to some of my dear friends). We feel that no rider should limit themselves due to the bike they own. You simply need to change your mindset—not so much your bike.
Gear talk encourages overconsumption. We strive to create products that are durable, multi-functional, and beautiful, that you will want to keep for decades to come.
We fully agree with Simon on this point. I have often alluded to not participating in the N+1 joke for similar reasons. However, we do acknowledge the irony in our position as a website that may appear to promote "gear addiction syndrome" -Barry
Panorama Cycles is the first Carbon Neutral cycling company. How many cycling companies consider their footprint? How much of an impact does the cycling industry have on our environment?
Not a lot of companies talk about this in the cycling industry. Recently, Chris King became BCorp certified, which was a huge inspiration for us. Chris King manufactures everything locally, which really makes BCorp certification attainable. Companies that outsource manufacturing from overseas have a much harder time.
In 2020, we made the decision to offset our emissions as it was the right thing to do. Today we understand climate change better than ever, and manufacturing companies should be doing as much as they can to mitigate their own waste and bi-products.
During the certification process with Climate Neutral, we assessed our different sources of emissions. Starting from extraction and processing of raw materials all the way to the manufacture of the bicycle frame. Surprisingly, shipping occupied a relatively small part of our total emissions.
The Climate Neutral calculation looks at every step in the bicycle frame production. Take for example our steel frames: the tubes are made in England, where the main sources of energy are natural gas and oil. Then the tubes are welded in Taiwan, where energy is produced mainly from natural gas and coal. Based on the energy sources (and operations) used in each of those countries, we can determine our ecological footprint.
A good indicator of the environmental footprint of a bicycle is its country of origin and main source of energy
We were amazed at how impactful choosing the right location and operation could be. Cr-Mo tubes are made and welded in countries like China and Vietnam that produce energy with coal. Vietnam is unfortunately among the most popular places nowadays for mid to high-end bicycle frame production.
What measures do Panorama Cycles take exactly?
Again, we were supported in the certification process by Climate Neutral in order to assess our annual CO2 equivalent emissions. Once everything had been confirmed by Climate Neutral, we purchased certified carbon credits. A carbon credit is actually a unit of measurement to measure a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. One credit is equivalent to 1T CO2.
For 2020, we offset all of our greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits, a little less than the equivalent of 400 metric tonnes of CO2. The projects that we support with our carbon credits focus on reforestation and soil conservation. Critical issues of our era that also connect with the purpose of our company.
Panorama Cycles is an independent company. What challenges and benefits does this present for you as a brand?
We are proud of the brand that we have managed to build over the past few years. Being independent in this industry means being free to prioritize what matters to us. Yes, we still have to pay the bills and ideally want to make some profit. But that's not what drives us to work and grow this business. We are dedicated to the adventure biking scene and feel our authenticity is demonstrated by our actions. In the end, being a small independent bike company is a fun venture. We want to keep things simple and have plenty of time to go out to test and ride our own products.
The graphic designs on your bikes are fantastic. What can you tell us about the graphics?
I have been skiing my whole life, and I used to build skis about a decade ago. Personally, I have never been a fan of heavily branded products which you see very often in the sports industry. Many small ski brands use their skis as a blank canvas for an artist. Those brands are adding a lot of value to their products by making the product beautiful. We know this is not for everyone—colour and graphic opinions are very personal and often polarizing.
We collaborate a lot with Pellvetica, from Kitchener, Canada. Pellvetica's illustrations are in sync with our core values. They are very talented and approachable. They are also bikepackers, so we have a lot in common!
It feels like cycling is part of Quebec's DNA. Why is cycling so important to Quebec?
Like in most of the world, cycling in Quebec has experienced phenomenal growth due to the conditions imposed by the pandemic. There has also been tremendous growth in mountain biking and fatbiking trail networks in recent years.
Quebec is an exceptional playground for adventure biking. We have a huge amount of public land, national and provincial parks, nature reserves, logging roads, and ATV roads. We are doing our part to promote bikepacking by publishing itineraries on our website. We know that for the less initiated, developing a route can be difficult. These pre-validated routes are helping the growth of bikepacking in our backyard.
Can you tell us more about the adventure biking scene there?
The bikepacking community in Quebec is huge. Many enthusiasts spend massive amounts of time organizing outings and developing itineraries to share. We love this aspect of bikepacking so much.
An important contributor to the bikepacking scene is Marie-Pierre Savard. Marie-Pierre has traveled around the world by bike, and organizes gravel/adventure rides for women. She also offers lectures on her past experiences and does introductory bikepacking outings.
Étienne Théroux has published a solid off-road route that crosses Quebec from west to east called the Quebec Bikepacking Traverse. A large section of the route is very remote. This was a colossal route planning project, which many of us now benefit from.
Jérémie Bourdages-Duclot and a few friends set up a website called Vélo d'aventure des Cantons which promotes bikepacking circuits in the Quebec eastern townships. It is a region known for epic gravel paths, and its microbreweries.
Samuel Lalande-Markon and Jonathan B. Roy are also very well-known in the community for their incredible bike adventures, stories, and books they have published about these. Check out their work here and here!
Are there any special considerations for planning an adventure ride in Quebec?
The best place to ask for advice on bikepacking in Quebec is the bikepacking.qc Facebook group. For any of you not accustomed to Canadian winter, consider Mid-June to Mid-September for your trip. Fall foliage season can be a beautiful time of year, however, be aware that it is also hunting season. Plan accordingly!
How do we get our hands on a Panorama bike?
The best place to buy a Panorama bike is from us directly on our website. However, we also sell through a network of approximately 20 retailers throughout Canada. We assemble all of our bikes here in Quebec, per order. You can reach us directly via email and we'll help you get the bike of your dreams!
What can we expect from Panorama in the future?
Well, you can expect us to remain authentic to our DNA—creating bikes for backcountry cycling and continuing to be involved with the bikepacking community. This is an exciting time for Panorama Cycles. We have a good pipeline of product development and things are moving nicely.
Starting next year, we hope to offer more frame/fork combinations, which also means interesting custom builds. And you know what? We are exploring some ideas with local manufacturing at the moment. Who knows where this will take us! To be continued!