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A Visit to Victoire Cycles: Steel Nirvana

From the heart of France, Victoire Cycles redefines craftsmanship, blending tradition with ingenuity. Discover how their passion for steel and bespoke design creates unparalleled bikes, capturing the spirit of adventure. Join us on this exquisite journey.

A Visit to Victoire Cycles: Steel Nirvana

While Victoire Cycles is only in its 12th year, it has already had several lives. Victoire was born from a pair of track hubs at the peak of the fixie era, then transitioned to bespoke steel fixed and road frames and finally juggled through the gravel thing, the ultra-distance thing and the renaissance of French randonneuse. Following a moving target didn’t prevent Victoire from leaving a durable mark in the firmament of bespoke bikes—clearly creating something unique in the steel universe, and now really maturing to another level with its current production of bikepacking and gravel machines.

Truth In Steel

From the beginning, riding and rebuilding old track frames convinced Julien Leyreloup, the founder of Victoire, of the value of steel. One could argue about comfort, about flex, about tolerance, about style or about mechanical properties but more than anything, Julien was fascinated by the creative process of steel crafting and its sustainability. Early Victoire’s were recognizable by their sleek silhouettes, logo-less finish, and perfectly tailored proportions. Nowadays, Victoire bikes are mostly ultra-sophisticated dirt-machines, with many options informed by the growth of bikepacking. However, the bikes always kept their unique elegance which now feature incredible paint jobs.

Julien is a man of many hats and has successfully turned a small basement brand into one of the most successful modern French frame-builders. The Victoire workshop is located in Clermont-Ferrand, Central France, in an old automotive garage with a vaulted ceiling. Every time I enter the workshop, it makes me think of a cathedral dedicated to the art of brazing, embraced by a stunning light and a studious quietness. This building seems to have been waiting for Julian and Victoire.

Nowadays, Victoire employs four welders, each responsible for completing a bike end to end. Each welder receives a box of tubes on Monday morning, and will hand back a completed raw frame to the in-house painter by Friday. They will cut, align, weld and file the joints to let just the necessary amount of material to achieve the perfect balance of flex and sturdiness. Easier said than done. However, getting to this moment is another story. The process of getting in the queue, discussing the project with Julien, its goals, options, components and colors takes months. All part of the bespoke game.

A Passion For Dirt & Racks

What is not mentioned in the Victoire manifesto is its genuine passion for dirt. Of course, recent Victoire bikes mostly feature big tires, multiple cage inserts, and custom racks but the truth is that it's a happy conjunction of current trends and Victoire's DNA. Indeed, the essence of dirt, epitomized by a steel hardtail, has been there from the very beginning. Julien has always been (and still is) the type of rider who seems to spend as much time in the air as on the trail.

Over the years, Victoire has experimented with a spectrum of designs, from long-travel hardtails to full-suspension enduro models, and a vast array of gravel bikes. These creations have been put to the test in the rugged terrain of Auvergne, which unfolds right behind their workshop. Whether setting off for a midday ride or embarking on a week-long journey through the Massif Central—France's vast and untamed mountainous heartland (notably, not its tallest)—the workshop serves as the perfect starting point.

By 2023, the landscape of Victoire's production had dramatically shifted: dirt bikes, in their myriad forms, made up 90% of their output, signaling a clear trend toward the rugged and the versatile. This journey has not only broadened Victoire's horizons but has also deepened its mastery in crafting dirt bike geometries that are fine-tuned to each rider. This customization considers everything from the rider's physique to the nuances of the terrain and the specifics of the gear they carry.

For many, the draw of a custom bike often hinges on the integration of bikepacking bags and racks—solid, sleek and convenient integration is an artform. Victoire has been a pioneer in the randonneuse revival, a sector long neglected by mainstream manufacturers but rejuvenated over the last decade. In this vein, Victoire has produced numerous bikes tailored for high-profile events such as the Concours de Machines, the 2019 and 2023 Paris-Brest-Paris, and the Transcontinental race. These bikes featured seamlessly integrated racks designed to support bikepacking bags, offering critical insights and innovations for managing larger loads, whether in lieu of or alongside traditional or custom bags.

Wrapping Up

As bikepacking enthusiasts we have a unique perspective on cycling and we find the allure of Victoire easy to grasp. In a field where options seem limited, the rush towards gravel-race optimized designs leaves a noticeable gap. You might convince yourself that a steel frame from China, bristling with mounts, could suffice as a reliable travel partner... but a glance through Victoire's offerings might quickly dispel that notion. The magnetic charm of a bespoke frame-builder's work transcends logic, a quality unattainable by any mass-produced counterpart.

Choosing Victoire (or any premium custom bike builder) isn't akin to a quick click through Amazon Prime; it's a journey in its own right. Speaking from personal experience, the process and anticipation enrich the journey towards bike ownership. Whether you view this period as a pilgrimage to steel nirvana or a necessary phase of technical development, it's an opportunity to refine your desires thoroughly.

Reflecting on the breadth of Victoire's portfolio—the projects completed, the possibilities unexplored, the spectrum of finishes—I advocate for taking your time. The journey to crafting your bespoke bicycle should be thoughtful, deliberate, and a touch extravagant. The more thought and time you invest, the more remarkable your creation will be. Embrace this journey, merging rational thought with the intoxicating thrill of the bespoke experience, and the outcome will undoubtedly be extraordinary.

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