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

Commuteur

WP 41

The Campeur is more a commuter than a touring bike or a camping bike these days.  I added a VO Pass Hunter rack up front and my Ostrich handlebar bag, held in place by a decaleur.  The bike now has two Pass Hunter racks, front and rear.

The Carradice Camper saddlebag provide a capacious trunk for trips to the grocery or out of town.  The Oveja Negra top tube bag is the center console, for easy access to lights, locks and things.  The Ostrich bar bag is a huge glove compartment, for much more than gloves.  Finally, I’ve wrapped the bars in durable cotton tape and installed my favorite feature on any drop bar bike, modified Ergon grips.

I am really enjoying this bike for riding around town.  The bike glides through corners, which has me thinking about mechanical trail and bike design.  Distances in Albuquerque can be great– riding to a Christmas party last night, Lael and I pedaled over 8 miles each way in the dark.  Commuting is touring in the city.

WP 38

WP 39

WP 40

The leather badge on the front of the Ostrich handlebar bag reads “Excellent equipment of pack and carrying gear for all cyclists at heart.  Ostrich.  The Big Bicycling.”  The bag is Japanese.

Roots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A loop around the Valles Caldera on dirt roads is a suitable test for the new bike. Leaving Santa Fe, Jeremy and I ride north for an hour on pavement to Espanola. The feeling of being on a road bike again is exhilarating. Just west of town, the unpaved 31-Mile Road (FR 144) climbs 5000 ft over a ridge connecting Chicoma Mountain and Polvadera Peak, linking with the Great Divide Route for a bit. Chicoma is the second tallest peak in New Mexico at 11,561 ft– the road passes a thousand feet below the summit. We find cold nights and sunny t-shirt days as November becomes December, miles and miles of dirt roads and hardpacked snow in the shadows; deserts and pines from 5500 to 10,500 ft; and a back door entrance to the popular San Antonio Hot Springs.

Reverting to my roots, the VO Campeur is the most road oriented bike I have ridden since I sold my well-used 1995 Trek 520 three years ago. It is thrilling to be able to connect the dots on paved roads so easily, to transport myself well out of town in only a few hours. It is satisfying to “do more with less”, and to explore sandy, rocky, but mostly well-graded dirt roads. It is frustrating to not be able to go absolutely everywhere, as I have come to expect on the Pugsley. Compromises are the nature of any bicycle expected to serve varied functions. A more complete discussion of the Campeur will follow in the coming days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the last day of our trip, my workhorse MacBook Air was stolen from aside my bike. Jeremy and I are picnicked only a few feet away, deep in conversation, and as we begin packing to leave I sense an absence. Fuck. Dig deeper in the saddlebag, but of course it has nowhere to hide. My external hard drive is also missing, and as many as twenty thousand photos are gone. I select a direct route toward Albuquerque, and coast downhill in awe. The road flattens, pedaling eighteen, twenty miles an hour into the sun, knowing that lactic acid and tears serve some of the same function. The new bike rides; it really, really rides. I ride for fun, for transportation, and now for release. A missing hard drive is not the same as the loss of memory. It does not impede the future. Rolling into Albuquerque at sunset, barely, I am happy about our trip and committed to forward motion– these are the roots of my cycling life. Be happy, roll on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I still have a bike and a camera. The blog will be rolling again soon.

Lovely Bicycle considers the difference between a camping bike and a touring bike. I have an ideal camping bike in mind, capable of roads and trails and moderate loads. What is your ideal camping bike?

Campeur Tire Clearance

12841WP 2

Good news.  Schwalbe 47/50mm touring tires (622-47, 28 x 1.75; or 622/50, 28 x 2.0) fit the new Campeur frame nicely, with enough room that a fender could be installed with careful mounting.  Smaller frame sizes may have slightly tighter clearances, so this information speaks specifically to 59 and 61cm frames with tires mounted to 25mm rims.

To my eye, the larger tires suit the frame much better than the narrow cross tires I initially mounted.  I’m headed off for a few days of riding with Jeremy.  Our route will likely connect rural paved highways and dirt roads through the Santa Fe National Forest, including sections of the Great Divide Route from Abiqui to Cuba.

Schwalbe Marathon Dureme tires are now discontinued, although Cass has a lightly used pair that he has lent for a period.  The tire sidewall reads 622-50mm and the claimed weight is 645g.  I love Schwalbe touring tires for their durable construction, resistance to punctures and pinching, and reflective sidewalls.  Last year, I put over 12,000 miles on a pair of 26 x 1.75″ Marathons.

12848WP

12849WP

12838WP

The Marathon Mondial is the top-of-the-line long haul touring tire from Schwalbe, a inexact replacement of the venerable XR model.  Personally, I have always preferred the construction and the price of the standard Marathon, but the Mondial seems as if it will give a similar ride, with slightly better off-pavement traction.  The Mondial features a robust sidewall and a versatile tread pattern for paved roads and dirt tracks.  The raised portion of the tread is several millimeters thick and should run for many thousands of miles.  The sidewall reads 622-47 and the claimed weight is 760g.  A slightly larger model, 622-50, is also available.

12850WP

12843WP

Without a laptop computer and a full-sized tent, my gear easily fits into a small drybag up front and the capacious Carradice Camper saddlebag, which is mostly empty without food.  I look forward to a large custom framebag which will reduce the need for the Carradice on short trips out of town.

12846WP

I’ll be back in a few days.  Until then, check out my post over on the Adventure Cycling Blog about touring and commuting on a fatbike.  I’ll be sharing stories and ideas over there on a regular, monthly basis.  Any thoughts for next month’s post?

It has been exactly a year since I bought the purple Pugsley in Seattle.  You might enjoy revisiting my first thoughts on the new Pugsley (from a year ago) after hopping ferries and riding around the Puget Sound.

Faire du camping

12792WP

Finally finished some lingering writing projects and work around the farm.  The bike is almost built.  Tomorrow, the train to Santa Fe and a three day camping ride.

The bag is from Oveja Negra threadworks in Leadville, CO.  The button is a gift from Shawn Granton, the artist behind the Urban Adventure League and Ten Foot Rule comic-zines.  The black headset spacer is carbon fiber, to save weight.  The Campeur frame is 59cm, square.

12787WP

NOS Specialized hub to VO Diagonale rim with straight gauge DT spokes.  The rear wheel is a NOS black Shimano LX hub to the same rim, with straight gauge Wheelsmith spokes from another shop.  Both wheels are 36 spokes with brass nipples.  Standard bearing grease was used to prep the threads and eyelets.

12795WP

The VO Pass Hunter rack makes a great saddlebag support on taller frames with cantilever brake mounts.  The underside of the seatstay bridge is threaded for a fender, so I drilled the bridge in the other direction to accept the rack.  The backstop keeps the bag away from the straddle wire, and will leave a little room for a small drybag under the saddle.

12784WP

12774WP

12802WP

Clearance with a borrowed 30mm Michelin Cyclocross Jet tire on 25mm rims.

12794WP

I am hoping to mount some borrowed 50mm Schwalbe Marathon Dureme tires tomorrow, although the fit may be too tight for practical use.  Some 40mm Clement X’plor MSO tires are in the mail, and will fit nicely.  A friend is sending a single 45mm Panaracer Fire Cross tire from Fairbanks, AK.

Also on my radar: the re-released 43mm Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tire, the discontinued 44mm WTB Mutano Raptor, the budget 42mm Michelin Transworld Sprint, several 42mm Continental cyclocross models, and several 1.75″ micro-knobbies from Vee Rubber.

12791WP

Imagining the Campeur

12723WP

When I speak of the older bikes that I have ridden, I refer to the process of rebuilding the bike as re-imagining.  An older bike made to function is refurbished.  A classic bike made to appear as it once did, is restored.  An old bike, reborn as something new, is re-imagined.  The High Sierra and the Pugsley have both been imagined and re-imagined multiple times.  My new Velo Orange Campeur frame arrived this week along with a bundle of parts, and I’ve begun imagining what the bike will become.  To do so, I must imagine what the bike will do.

The build will be fairly typical in many ways– wide range gearing, durable wheels, and drop bars– but in others, it will reflect my riding interests and landscape.  I intend to explore a range of tires between 40-45mm for commuting and short-range touring on mixed surfaces.  I will be using a wide-range double chainset with 46/30T rings.  In the near future, I hope to have a framebag made to efficiently store packable goods. With such a large main triangle, the framebag will swallow most of my gear on short, lightweight trips.  I expect to strap dry bags to the bars and saddle when traveling overnight.  In town, I will use a large handlebar bag with the VO Pass Hunter rack and VO decaleur.  A well used Ostrich bag is in the mail from my parent’s house in New York.  The Ostrich bag was a reliable companion for a full year of touring and commuting.

A fresh harvest on the farm.

12729WP

Most Velo Orange models feature low-trail geometry, purported to handle front loads while retaining a light feel at the handlebars and stable handling.  Trail, also referred to as the “caster effect” such as on a shopping cart, is influenced by head tube angle, fork offset, and tire size.  Fork offset is generally accomplished through the curvature of the fork, or rake.  On straight blade forks the blades make a slight angle at the fork crown.  Suspension forks and BMX-style forks often put the dropouts in front of the stanchions, and build some offset into the crown.

The VO Polyvalent measures 36mm of trail with a 38mm tire.  Trail on the VO Campeur measures 56mm, also with a 38mm tire.  Most touring bikes feature even greater trail; the Surly Long Haul Trucker and the Rivendell Atlantis measure 67mm of trail, as does the Black Mountain Cycles cross frame.  The Cross-Check has 68mm of trail.  The current Trek 520 has 61mm.  The Bruce Gordon BLT measures 62mm.  These numbers are all for 58-60cm frames with a 38mm tire, as I would ride.  Numbers may vary slightly through the size range, and with different tire sizes.

Deciphering these numbers: Notably, all but the Polyvalent feature similar trail measurements.  Although the Campeur is more similar than it is different, it is still designed with lower trail than traditional touring models.  A front load should play well on this frame, especially if you prefer a handlebar bag and front panniers, or a large handlebar mounted bikepacking load.  The low-trail numbers on the Polyvalent are influenced by French touring bikes, and more importantly, by French porteur bikes which were designed to carry bulky and heavy front loads in the city.  The Campeur should exhibit neutral handling in multiple loading configurations.  Neutral handling– steering that doesn’t draw your attention away from riding– is desirable.

Edit: The Pugsley measures 88mm of trail.  I input the 94mm nominal measurement of the tire, but the actual measurement may be slightly smaller when mounted and when under load at low pressure.  This explains some of the handling characteristics that I have experienced, in which monstrous rotational weight and traction are also in effect.

Check out this handy trail calculator.  Visit the manufacturer’s website to find your bike’s geometry.

12714WP

The Pass Hunter rack, at a mere 250g (claimed), offers a high strength to weight ratio.  It solidly mounts to the fork crown and brake posts, without any moving parts, brackets or hinges.  Also, Dia-Compe ENE bar-end shifters utilize the micro-ratchet mechanism borrowed from older Suntour designs, such as the venerable Sprint series.  The aesthetic is pure Campagnolo, and the mounting pod is borrowed from Shimano.  These VO brake pads offer better stopping power in every condition– even better than the Kool-Stop Salmon pads.  Sheldon would agree.  I used them exclusively on my High Sierra last year.

12702WP

Other VO parts include a 90mm stem with 17 deg rise and threadless stem adaptor, a brass bell, and 46 cm Rando bars.  The pronounced flare common to randonneur bars is invisible from this perspective.  The shape is much like the Nitto B135 Randonneur bar that I used on the High Sierra.  Prior to that, I used an SR rando bar on the Trek, borrowed from the Miyata 1000.  This summer I enjoyed the Salsa Cowbell bar which features a similar flare and a shallower drop.

12719WP

VO Model 3 touring saddle, shaped much like my beloved Brooks B-17.

12721WP

The Polyvalent cranks feature 46/30T aluminum rings and a chainguard on a standard 110/74 BCD.  I will explore this gearing for a bit, with the option to change rings in the future or to make a full triple.  The 30T can be replaced by a ring as small as 24T on the inner 74 BCD.  In building a triple configuration, a 34T is the smallest ring that will fit on the 110 BCD.  Hot off the press, the new Sabot pedals are a treat to handle.  Quality is on par with other modern sealed cartridge pedals I have seen, including Lael’s gold VP-001.  The bearings are exceptionally smooth, like high-end road and mountain pedals.

12724WP

VO Diagonale rims are 25mm wide, sized between the Sun CR18 (22.5) and the Rhyno Lite (27.5).  Matching Deore LX derailleurs front and rear were sourced in town, and are the same that were on my first touring bike,  a 1995 Trek 520.

12705WP

A built-in barrel adjustor with a rubberized lockring is a nice detail.

12707WP

More eyelets, a chainrest for wheel changes, and long chainstays.  Tire clearances are the same all the way around the bike.  Details like these are challenging to sort, either in production or on custom frames.

12709WP

Details of the fork: Robust socketed fork ends, like little lugs, are clean and strong.  They are also a labor saving measure and help keep costs down.  The pronounced boxy shape of the eyelets appeals to me, and reminds me of my 1983 Miyata 1000, which had an elegantly industrial aesthetic mated to military green paint.  The smoky grey color on the Campeur furthers the industrial aesthetic.

12732WP

12701WP

Mid-fork rack mounts are threaded all the way through the blades.  Modern cantilever posts are spaced 80mm apart, center to center.  Some older touring frames are narrower.

12743WP

The fork crown offers 50-51mm of tire clearance, perfect for a 38mm tire and a fender.  Living in New Mexico for the winter, I hope to fit a larger tire.  The construction of the frame is tidy, and the welds are clean.

12739WP

A recessed nut can be used on the back of the crown.  The underside of the crown is drilled and tapped for clean fender mounting, as was common on high-quality constructeur bikes.  Technically, the arrowhead tangs on the crown serve a purpose, but mostly they look nice.

12745WP

Of course, you can’t go anywhere without a bell.  In a city full of bike paths, this will get plenty of use.

12717WP

These mellow singletrack trails are within shouting distance from my house and will be perfect for tire tests and a quick escape from the urban landscape.

12643WP

Note: The frame and fork were supplied by VO for long-term review.  The parts to complete the bike were offered at cost, but are all of my own choosing.  In some cases, availability and finances dictate the use of locally sourced parts including used derailleurs and NOS hubs.  I worked for VO for two months in 2011, sandwiched between bike trips in Mexico and on the Great Divide.  One creative afternoon before this bike had a name, several amusing suggestions were offered.  The Velo Orange Cassoulet, a French dish containing white beans and meat, would have been a nice counter to the midwestern Salsa Casseroll.  Camionette, the French word for a small truck, was offered in reference to the popular Surly Long Haul Trucker.  The Campeur name is simple and apt.