Second Impressions of the Campeur

VO 10

I have ridden the Velo Orange Campeur in ways that it was designed and ways it wasn’t, forcing it out of its comfort zone since November 2012. Along the way, I have learned a lot about the bike and about my needs as a rider. I have (re)learned to appreciate a fast, natural ride on pavement. Although I’ve been on the road much of the last five years, this is the most road oriented bike I’ve ridden since 2009.

VO 26

First glancing the Campeur at Interbike, comparing geometry charts, and assembling the frame with new parts served to create a feeling about the new Velo Orange frame. Those were first impressions– pure speculation.  They were important because they framed my expectations of experiences to come. Disregard them. These are second impressions. These are based upon experience.

The Campeur has all the standard features of a proper touring bike to mount water and racks and fenders; long chainstays and stout tubing ensure stability; and a sensible headtube extension allows the handlebars near saddle height. Beneath the French aesthetic, the bike is actually a classic American touring bike. No, the Campeur does not compete directly with the venerable Trek 720 or Miyata 1000, which could or would cost much more to duplicate. Rather, the Campeur is much more like the Trek 620 or the Miyata 610, affordable versions of their top-of-the-line brethren. These models were known for similar features to their celebrated siblings, but they boasted a more rugged construction and were suited to carry more. Most of all, they were more affordable. The Campeur continues the tradition.

Ride quality

The Campeur is not a lightweight event bike, but it rides nicely unloaded with the right wheels, tires and tire pressure (see Mike Ross’ “1500 Mile Review”). Unlike many touring bikes, it features lively steering that is inspiring to ride unloaded. Its stout tubing does not provide the supple ride of an Italian lightweight and it may not plane when sprinting uphill unloaded, but it will handle daily life, transitioning from city to country and back. It could be ridden on a 200km brevet, to work all week, and onto dirt roads in the hills the following weekend. As with many touring bikes, the ride is enlivened with a load, feeling more grounded and assured and compliant. I have not ridden the Campeur in the traditional “fully-loaded” format with racks and panniers, but given the ride quality with moderate loads on fast descents I have no doubt that the load limit is still far off.  It is certainly capable of the kinds of trips where tires are dipped into the ocean.

Steering

I don’t think much about steering while riding the Campeur, which is a great compliment to a bike. I used to spend hours obsessing over low-trail geometry before realizing that trail is a necessary feature of bike design, best understood when the extremes (too high and too low) have been experienced. From some test rides, I know that extremely low-trail steering is not to my liking, especially unloaded (VO Polyvalent, 37mm trail). I’ve toured and commuted on a bike with notably high mechanical trail and gigantic tires with massive rotational weight at low pressures, and I know that high trail and heavy steering can force the bike wide around a corner, or off the trail altogether (Surly Pugsley, 88mm trail). I’ve toured on a very normal bike with many positive attributes, which became cumbersome with a heavy handlebar bag and too-narrow handlebars (1985 Schwinn High Sierra, est. 65+mm trail). First, I developed my touring chops for almost two years on a Made in the USA bread-and-butter touring bike with aluminum racks and panniers (1995 Trek 520, est. 65+mm trail). These are my reference points.

The Campeur provides the most natural steering I have experienced. I always ride with some kind of load. While never excessive, my load varies from a day’s supply of electronics, clothing, snacks and tools to a camping load for a couple of days or a load of groceries.  The steering geometry of the Campeur is best quantified as medium-trail, measuring 57mm of mechanical trail. For reference, the Surly LHT and Atlantis are both in the high 60’s (all on 38mm tires). Conventional wisdom suggests that high-trail geometry benefits the touring style, providing stability when riding straight all day, every day. But as front loads increase in mass and in height above the wheel– as with a basket or handlebar bag– high-trail bikes become cumbersome, especially when steering at low speed. The phenomena of heavy, slow speed steering is called wheel flop. It can be tiring and unnerving.

Daily, my experience riding the Campeur is casual and the steering is intuitive– it is neither twitchy nor heavy. I only notice the steering because of the smooth arcs that I carve on pavement. Broad curves at speed are managed with body english and almost no perceptible handlebar input. In the city, I lay the bike through tight corners with some input at the bars, and I always come out of the turn exactly when I want– never too soon– without losing much speed. The bike is unencumbered by a moderate front load, such as a full day’s supply in my Ostrich handlebar bag. The steering does not become heavy until I load a gallon of milk, avocados, apples, and a camera up front. At some point, a loaded bike is expected to feel heavy. This is when a balanced load becomes important.

For an in-depth discussion of my packing style, revisit my post “Packing the Campeur: Bikepacking Style” on the VO Blog.

Just as an overloaded handlebar bag can be cumbersome, a full saddlebag without a front load feels a little strange. When both bags are used in conjunction, even when full, the bike feels right– it is once again grounded and natural. For bulky items and camping loads I look to my Carradice Camper saddlebag and its 25L capacity. It swallows laundry for two, or camping gear and food for a few days. Even at high speeds with a full load, the Campeur is unwavering. The bike does not shimmy (speed wobble) when loaded, even when attempting to instigate or propogate a wave. Riding with one hand on the bars, or with no hands, is possible.

Low BB

Another notable feature of the Campeur design is a low bottom bracket, which is a common on the touring bike checklist. However, a low BB is not a feature for the kind of riding I like to do. Dirt roads may include erosional features and embedded rocks, and the Campeur is challenged by limited pedal clearance in some situations (45mm, tires; 175mm cranks; VO Sabot pedals). As such, I have switched from the large platform of the Grand Cru Sabot pedals to narrower VO Urban pedals for increased clearance. I have gained the confidence to corner without fear of pedal strike in the city.  Regarding vertical pedal clearance, I have learned to time my pedal stroke to avoid contact in the rough. Such riding is not the exact intention of this bike, although it is my passion and the tire clearance allows it. This is a personal caveat. For normal gravel road riding and unpaved rail trails there is little concern of pedal strike and a low bottom bracket does benefit stability, minimally.

Quill stem

The Campeur also uses a standard 1” threaded headset and quill stem. For my build, I have chosen a VO quill adaptor with a threadless-type stem. Both are finished nicely in polished silver. This system provides the best of both worlds– simple vertical adjustments and easily replaceable stems with removable faceplates if I choose to adjust the reach or swap handlebars. The claimed benefit of a 1 1/8” threadless system is a stiffer interface, which one can easily believe. However, I count a benefit of 1” quill systems to be the damping of road vibrations. Surely, the system also allows some lateral motion and torsion without ill effect, but the dampening is notable when riding fast on rough dirt roads or on broken pavement. For proper trail riding or sprinting, stiffness may be a feature. For riding along on real roads, compliance and comfort have a place.

Finish

I’ve seen all of the VO production frame models first hand, mostly in the brief time that I worked in the VO warehouse. The Campeur is the most refined of all previous models, both in design and finish. Tire clearances are exactly the same all around the bike. Rack, fender, and water bottle mounting points are all well-placed. The fork has a pleasing curve. The dropouts are utilitarian, yet proportional and elegant.  Cable routing is modern and sensible. The paint and decals are very nice. And, it has a headbadge.  I like the new Campeur decal and typeface.  It has a bold, modern feel and the illustration by Dan Price is playful and appropriate.

The Campeur is a touring, commuting, camping, utility bike– executed with subtle flair and an attention to detail. Mostly, it does not do anything that your beloved road touring bike cannot do. But in such a narrow category with close competitors, (in)significant details can make all the difference. The Campeur is fun to ride. The Campeur is a capable road bike for a path that is not always smooth or straight.

VO 3

These photos are from a three-day camping trip in the Jemez Mountains northwest of Santa Fe, NM.  We started and ended on pavement and connected about 70 miles of dirt roads at the heart of the route, including a section of the Great Divide Route (section Abiqui to Cuba).  Jeremy was riding his Rivendell Hunqapillar with a basket and a saddlebag.  He was rolling on 29×2.35″ Schwalbe Super Moto tires, which are a lightweight version of the Big Apple.  I had a Schwalbe Mondial up front (actual, 43mm) and a Dureme in the rear (45mm).  This kind of riding is a little out of range for the Campeur, but is possible with a medium-light load and larger tires.  

Keeping the things that I really enjoy about the Campeur, I would increase tire clearance and increase bottom bracket height (decreased BB drop) for an optimized dirt road tourer and a more versatile exploration machine.  These thoughts are parts of a longstanding mental thread regarding my ideal dirt touring bike.  In all, the Campeur is a very nice riding bike. 

A full geometry chart can be seen here.

VO 001 3

VO 2

VO 6

VO 5

VO 12

VO 13

VO 14

VO 15

VO 17

VO 20

VO 16

VO 21

VO 23

VO 24

VO 25

VO 28

VO 29

VO 30

VO 31

VO 34

VO 35

VO 001

VO 37

About these ads

24 thoughts on “Second Impressions of the Campeur

  1. Another great post! The second to the last photo must be where the Mac was stolen?

    I agree on more tire clearance for our type riding and I might be OK with the BB height since I use clipless. I would prefer discs, but that isn’t a deal breaker. I wouldn’t, personally, buy a new frame that used a 1″ threaded fork though. I’d guess I’m not alone in that feeling.

    • Actually, that photo was taken while planning the route at Jeremy’s house in SF.

      I know exactly what the Campeur is supposed to be– a normal road touring bike– and I don’t have any illusions that it is a dedicated dirt road tourer, although it does have good tire clearance without fenders. Most riders will be installing fenders, so a 38-40mm tire will be the max clearance. As well, most riders will carry a bigger load, so almost strictly a pavement bike for them, including some rail trails and groomed dirt.

      I don’t dislike the 1″ system as vehemently as some people do (it works fine for me, nearly a non-issue), but I do not agree with the Riv values about how a quill makes it much easier to adjust bar height. Simply, ride the right size bike, don’t cut the steerer too short and leave a stack of spacers. Of course, most quill stems make it challenging to swap bars or adjust stem length. I still stand by the perception that quill stems have some positive compliance, which could be valuable for riding fast and straight on dirt roads. I do not think this is exclusive to quill stems, but is is present in many designs. In actuality, an appropriately sized tire will take the bulk of the shock from the road, but the fork and the steerer/stem/handlebar are the next most important features of comfort and control on rough stuff. Surely, a 1 1/8″ stem and handlebar can be designed to absorb vibrations (Ti, carbon, wide lightweight aluminum, lightweight cromoly).

      I had both feet in the cantilever brake camp previously, although I’ve got my toes over the line to the disc camp considering rim and pad wear, and rim weight. If I were manufacturing such a bike, I would build a lightweight rim brake model explicitly for lightweight touring and fast dirt road riding, and a slightly more robust disc-brake model for the same, but with some more trail-oriented considerations.

  2. I own a Miyata 610, but wouldn’t dream of taking it on those rugged trails. The more I think about it though, with the right tires, it could easily handle dirt roads. The comfort of the Miyata remains my favorite for touring. Good to see the Campeur ranks right up there, and more importanlty, that touring frames are still being made. Thanks for an informative post.

    • Most older touring frames are designed around the largest tires commonly available at the time (27×1 1/4″), and a fender. If the bike has been modernized with 700c wheels and tires, this translates to a about a 40mm tire without a fender. Modern touring frames take into account the broad spectrum of 700c tires, from standard 28/32mm touring tires to 38/40/42mm+ sizes available from all the major tire manufacturers. The LHT and the Rivendell Atlantis may the the two most significant touring bikes of the present, and they both fit very large tires. Specifically, the LHT with a 26″ wheel will take a 2.1″ tire and a fender!

      Your Miyata frame is most likely up to the task, but your tires may be a little undersized for riding comfortably off pavement. The Campeur reminds me of several bikes I’ve owned– the ride is like the Centurion Elite GT and the aesthetic is like my 82/83 Miyata 1000. Incidentally, the Miyata cracked at the drive-side dropout weeks before my first bike trip back in 2008. A 1995 Trek 520 took its place.

      Hey, I love your Ross Mt. St, Helens. That stem is super cool!

  3. I noticed some pedal strike on my Campeur as well. I’m planning on swapping the Grip Kings for the VP-001 Thin Gripsters to alleviate it slightly. Thanks for all the info you’ve posted about the Campeur by the way, it inspired me to build up my own :D

    • I haven’t measured those two models, but I’m not sure the VP-001 will be much better than the Grip King. The GK has a thicker platform and a narrower profile, while the VP has a broader platform with a very thin profile. For most riding, I think it’s a toss up. Technically, one pedal will give better clearance in vertical situations, and the other may be better while cornering.

      Actually, I’ve found the VO Urban pedal to give good clearance in both situations. As much as I like larger platforms, I have no complaints about foot comfort and traction with these smaller platforms. The bearings feel nice and smooth, although I believe a high-density nylon bushing is part of the assembly (which is part of the reason they are so light).

      Still, I think the VP-001 is a great pedal. Lael has used a pair this past year, and she recommends them highly.

  4. Hi Nic,

    Thanks for this and the previous review.

    I wanted to let you know that a Sabot-like pedal for off-road touring is planned. It’ll have higher cornering clearance, but this reduces the huge comfortable width, so it’ a tradeoff. We’ll send a pair for review.

    Also, the off road touring frame we spoke about is finally in the design stage. I hope to have prototypes in late spring.

    • Chris,

      I’ve been very happy riding the VO Urban platforms over the past month. Traction and foot comfort are both very good, and cornering clearance is much improved. I still count the Suntour XC-II and the VP-001 as some of my favorite pedals. The Suntour has a slightly concave shape that cradles the foot. The new pedal sounds interesting. I would be happy to try it.

      As for the dirt touring frame, I am excited to hear that the project is still alive. Late spring sounds like a great time of year for prototype testing. Perhaps Casey, Scott and Igor would like to take a week off to test prototypes on dirt roads in NM, perhaps along a section of the Great Divide Route? Flights from D.C. to ABQ are cheap, I just checked…

      I have alluded to these features in the above article, but clearance for a full 29×2.4 (29×2.0/2.1″ w/fender) would be ideal, in addition to a higher than average BB. The Hunqapillar that Jeremy was riding is well-designed for dirt roads, but we both agree that it could still benefit from these same improvements. As mentioned, the steering on the Campeur is spot on. Please keep me informed of developments on this project. Thanks for stopping by.

      nicholas

      • Jus to chime in, the newest iteration of the Rivendell Hunqapillar has enhanced clearances for tires up to 2.4″. Jeremy is riding the original version of the frame.

      • Thanks Brian. Good news on the improved tire clearance. Is suspect that when the bike was first designed the tire market favored 2.1-2.2″ tires, but tires have grown in size for most wheel sizes in the past few years.

    • Brian, I am not a disc brake evangelist, but for certain types of riding I think they present a sensible solution. Of course they provide high ultimate stopping power and I think they generally require less maintenance to remain safe and functional. However, when maintenance is required I can understand why discs are hard for some people to work with– all the parts and clearances are very small. Still, many people have a hard time with cantilever brakes (although I think modern cantis, such as the Tektro CR720 are as easy as it gets). Maybe V-brakes put all of these other brakes out of business. Shimano Acera models are still less than $20, pads included, and are easy to work with.

      What would have happened to the braking surface of rims in such conditions? It is easy to argue that a few extra pair of brake pads are easier to carry, source, or ship than an entire rim. And, even in muddy conditions disc brakes often remain free of mud as they are positioned near the center of the wheel. Certainly, the third-world (non-disc land) argument is always compelling. However, I rode all winter in AK then south to NM on the same set of pads, but with few muddy days.

      You may enjoy Geoff Apps’ thoughts on the matter of braking in muddy conditions, rim and pad wear, and price in the comments from this post: http://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/atom-2/#comments

      Oh, I enjoyed the new video Jay made. It was a nice glimpse into the Riv world.

      nicholas

      • Yeah, it could be a toss up, at least until disc brakes become more refined and simpler. Then the choice will likely be clear, though frame design (I’m thinking in terms of steel, here) will have to change a bit to keep up with the demands of disc braking. The beefier non-drive fork blades on some Thorn models are a good step. And forward facing drop outs, etc.

        Also, thanks for your vid praise. I think Jay Ritchey may have found his true calling!

      • Yes, frame designs would need to adapt to discs. This is largely why I prefer rim brakes for my ideal dirt road bike– the fork can be built with lighter tubing to be more compliant, especially for high-frequency, low-amplitude obstructions such as washboard. As well, dirt roads are still roads and most riding is sorta straight(-forward), with fewer surprises or challenging obstacles than on singletrack trails.

  5. Thanks for the reviews… I’m probably picking up one of these this weekend (thanks to the VO warehouse sale). I’ve been looking for a robust all’rounder to replace my Tenax ’86 SuperSport. There are some gravel camping trips in the future, so I need a daily commuter that can handle some gear.

    Cheers,

    • Exciting! I’ve heard great things about the Super Sport model with Tenax tubing. The Campeur will be a more stout for sure, and will accept a larger tire. I’m curious to know how you plan on building it up?

      • Thanks for asking…

        There’s not much of the old SuperSport left these days. Over the years I’ve built her up with the hopes of transitioning to something more suited for light gravel touring. Other than swapping out the calipers for cantilevers and some beefier tires, the build will stay the same:

        Nitto Noodle (46cm) Bars
        Nitto stem
        Chris King Threaded Headset
        Shimano 600 downtube shifters (the only original part left)
        Shimano 600 Crankset (double)
        Egg beater pedals
        Phil Wood BB
        Ultegra Front and Rear derailleurs
        Phil Wood touring wheelest 7 speed (36h/40h)

        I guess she’ll need some racks and fenders to complete the look. Give me a week or two and I’ll post some pictures.

      • That sounds like a really nice build. 7sp freehwheel, or is that a cassette hub on the Phil?

        What size frame do you intend to ride? I plan on ordering a custom framebag for my 59cm Campeur (most likely from Oveja Negra: http://www.ovejanegrathreadworks.com). If you or anyone else is interested, we may be able to get some good pricing on multiple bags. Just a thought.

        • Seven-speed freewheel… No complaints. The one time I had to replace it, I went for a DA racer set-up; I could use some more teeth back there for the hills, to be sure. I should start buying them up before they go extinct. Rivendell says, it’s worth upgrading to a cassette unless you have a pair of Phils… damn.

          I’m luke warm on frame bags… although they do look nice. My lady would be pretty upset if I spoiled the “look” she started with her Christmas present this year: Acorn Saddle Bag (Thanks, Doll!).

    • I think a saddlebag and a framebag is a nice “look” itself. That’s my plan at least, although for short trips the framebag may be enough space. Phil hubs are real nice, although Phil freehubs are real nice too. I built a wheel recently with a Phil cassette hub (to Surly Rabbit Hole rim, for the new Krampus), and was very impressed with the quality of the freehub mechanism and the included oil port.

      I like the look of Acorn bags, although I’ve been using Carradice bags for a while.

  6. Gypsy, I noticed that you didn’t mention the weight of the bike at all during your assessment of it. Is that a non-issue with you? I noticed that when mine is fully equipped with racks, fenders, and saddlebag it weighs about 33lbs.

    • Duran,

      When built of parts that serve a desired function(s), the bike’s weight is irrelevant to me. At that point, is it more important to lower the weight of the bike (only a number, really) or to reduce the functionality? Sometimes bikes carry unnecessary weight. The old rims on my Pugsley were heavy doublewall rims, now replaced by singlewall rims with weight-saving cutouts– each weigh almost a pound less and do the same job.

      Of significant importance is how much of a load will be carried in addition to the weight of the bike. It is often much easier and cheaper to leave an item of clothing at home than to build lighter wheels, or to buy lighter parts. Another thought is that my fitness can improve as easily as a bike can lose weight. My body easily adapted to the weight of the Pugsley last year. For short or long trips, I expect the bike to weigh about 60-65 lbs when loaded, including some food and water. I can easily pack much lighter, but I would also be content with much more weight if needed.

      I’ll weigh the bike at some point soon. Probably about 35 lbs with bags, racks, lights, leather saddle, Ergon grips and Schwalbe tires. Now you’ve got me curious about the weight.

      nicholas

      nicholas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s