Imagining the Campeur


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

34 thoughts on “Imagining the Campeur

  1. A wonderful writeup, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I bought a 51cm Campeur as a complete bike and have been loving it on pavement and off. I frequently pull a kid in a trailer so the triple was important to me but I expect your double will work for your needs. I have not, however, fully warmed up to the VO saddle. For whatever reason, I am comfortable on a B17 out of the box but this one feels a little hard after about an hour of riding. Hoping that will change. I have greatly enjoyed the well-planned mounting points; I also put a passhunter rack on the front, and the fenders fit well. I’m eager for the Campeur rack to be released so I can put that on, and call it done (for now… haha)!

    • Surely, you can’t beat the range of the triple. Most wide-range doubles compromise by losing some range on the top end, which usually makes sense. The one I’ve got coming actually compromises my low end. I suspect it will feel right for almost every situation I encounter. The last bike had a 22-32 combination, but it was quite heavy when loaded, and was asked to climb some steep, steep grades.

      Glad you are still enjoying the bike. I can’t seem to find the Kidhauler blog anymore.

      • The Kidhauler blog is, itself, being re-imagined! It started off as a place for me to stash some of my own building notes and share with a couple friends, and now I have some other purposes in mind.

        As a tangent, I have also discovered your writing over at dovetail, and hope you keep that kind of thing up. You have some real skill when it comes to covering sensible cycling.

      • I appreciate the support. I enjoy sharing my ideas and helping others enjoy their time on a bike. I’ve managed to attract kind, open-minded people to this blog which motivates me to write and ride.

        Look for my first post on the Adventure Cycling blog this Thursday. It is expected to be a monthly feature. I’ve also got some other writing projects planned.

  2. “More eyelets, a chai rest for wheel changes, and long chainstays.”

    I prefer a cup of coffee made from my Esbit Kaffeemaschine while I change a wheel. Do you think VO will have a coffee rest as an option next year?

  3. In more seriousness, love your definitions/delineations between refurbish, restore, and reimagine. I’ve reimagined my LHT a few times, and am currently reimagining the Crested Butte.

    Am eagerly awaiting the build and tests. One question: What’s your reasoning behind using a wide-range double rather than a triple? I’ve seen this idea popping up more and more, and want to see the thinking behind it.

    • There are various reasons, considering that it is happening in slightly different ways in road, mountain, cross, and touring/commuting bikes.

      In some cases, is improves upon a standard road double by providing lower gears, such as the popular 50/34T systems. When it replaces a triple it means fewer shifts up front, less redundancy, better chainline and a (slightly) lighter system. In the era of five speed freewheels, a triple chainset not only provided a broad range, but it helped to lessen the steps between gears. Now, an 8,9, or 10sp system provides small increments, and with a triple this means a lot of useless gears. As well, 36T cogs have come available in 9-10 speed cassettes to extend the range from the back. SRAMs new 1×11 mountain system will use a 42T cog.

      For me, this will be a road type bike, without the capacity to carry huge loads. I expect 30-32 will be fine for most situations. Considering that the Polyvalent crank is a standard 110/74 configuration, I can change things later. If I had bought a standard triple, I would have changed the middle ring to a 40 or 42T ring anyway. Oh, and it was the cheapest crank of the bunch.

      • From Sheldon Brown’s Gear Calculator:

        All calculations for 175mm crank and 700x38mm tire.

        Old way:
        26x36x46 Triple Crank with 12-32 cassette
        Range:22.2 to 104.7 gear inches

        New Way:
        27×39 modern mountain double with 11-36 cassette
        Range: 20.5 to 96.9 gear inches

        My setup:
        30/46 wide range double with 11-32 cassette
        Range: 25.6 to 114.2

        So, my gearing is biased toward the high end. If I wanted, I could use a 28×44 or 26×42 to optimize my range and even use a slightly shorter chain. A wider range cassette could also serve to extend the range. Of course, one could pair a full triple such as a 22x32x44 or 26x36x46, with an 11-36 cassette. Then, you could pull stumps and come close to winning races. Ultimately, the double might be a small luxury of lightweight touring. This is part of the domino effect.

      • I picked the VO Polyvalent crank for my partner’s city/light touring bike. Even with the 12-25 cassette in my spare parts bin (we’ll go bigger & lower next time), the range has worked really well for her on mostly paved roads. Good post, btw. Have fun with the build!

      • That makes sense. I’m of the philosophy of “if you’ve got a front derailleur, might as well have a triple, or just go with a single”, and was worrying that more talk of touring bikes with doubles was just becoming “the thing to do”. I’m not as concerned about having really high gears, it’s the low range that I like. Getting a low in the low 20 gear-inches is good.

      • Doug, Sounds like a nice range with small increments for city riding. I should be riding the new bike by the middle of the week. I’ve got some other projects right now and hate to look a such a nice frame leaning against the wall. I found time to build a wheel last night, so it’s coming along.

        Shawn, I am also of the opinion that if a front derailleur and shifter is in place, then a triple is not much more cumbersome than a double. However, I sometimes see riders who are poorly served by a triple as the middle ring is too low and they wear out the small cogs. If they used the big ring more, they would encounter poor chain lines and more frequent front shifting.

        Really, for some city riding or flatland mountain biking, I could imagine using a 1x. For hilly terrain, a 2x. And for mountainous terrain and heavy loads, a 3x is best. It’s not so much about mechanical efficiency or usability, as the necessary range. What is changing this approach are some of the off-the-shelf cranks and cassettes that make it possible to have your cake with a 2x– a wide range and close steps is now easy to accomplish. The compromises are minimal.

        A personal approach to a 2x system would be to keep the little ring, and to split the difference of the other two. Thus, I would land on a 22-26 little ring, with a 40-44 big ring. For practical cycling, you never “need” high gears but you do need the low ones. I would do this on an existing 110/74 or a 104/64.

  4. Great post. Really interesting to have a comparison of trail measurement for those frames. I had a cross check that was a little small that I re-imagined for my wife, and imagined a Polyvalent with nearly all parts from VO, which is my do it all bike. Interesting to compare thier trail and ride characteristics. Look forward to seeing the developments of your new bike, sure it will be a lovely ride.

    • I’ve heard of some people who don’t like the handling on the Polyvalent, at least under touring conditions, because it seems to require a front load. Do you find this to be the case? The few moments I have spent riding one it felt fairly normal, although I was carrying a large package on a porteur rack to the post office.

      • I haven’t had it for that long yet, and not used it with a heavy load. Only had the pass hunter front rack with with the VO handlebar bag and the croissant saddle bag (transferred from the cross check) for (minimal) storage so far. Planning to get the campeur front rack when it come out for panniers, so will keep the weight at the front.

        I’ve been enjoying a wide range double (30/46) with a 12-30 cassette, which has done me well so far in hilly North Wales, although need to test it out some more on some of the mountain passes. The cross check has a 28/46 front and 11-34 rear which helped when I was feeling less fit (-:

  5. I did a lot of back and forth on a similar build and ended up with a mountain triple with a bigger middle ring (22-36-44) and a close range 9-speed 12-27: 22.3 to 100.2. I really wanted small steps and low gearing without a lot of shifting up front. So far I’ve been really happy with the result. I spend 90% of my time in the 36, but have the 44 there when I’ve got a strong tailwind or for big downhills. 36-27 actually gets me up most hills if I’m not too loaded, but in the 22 I don’t ever feel at a loss for more low end.

    • That’s about the same as my approach to a triple. I select the middle ring as if it will be my only ring, to reduce shifting and improve chainline in most situations. The other rings simply provide the range when needed.

  6. I switched to a double on my cross-check this summer, mainly because I hated how finicky front shifting was with STI’s. Limited by my 110 crank, I’ve got a 34 little ring and a 48 big ring and with the 12-30 out back, it pretty well suits my needs. The improved chainline is a pretty big benefit as far as I’m concerned. I can shift into all my cassette gears in both front rings (with the exception of the big/big combo), and as such I shift the front much less. There are times when I do wish for lower gearing, especially in hilly New England, and especially offroad. I’m limited by my front ring, but I’ve been thinking of a wider range cassette, probably an 11-34. I think your 30/46 11-32 will do pretty well, looking forward to seeing the rest of the build and your reports on the Campeur.

      • I removed the little ring and replaced the BB with a narrower one to improve chainline. It’s the venerable Sugino XD2 crank, double-ized.

      • Interesting. I might have thought you would use the middle position for the larger ring, and then leave use the inside space for a lower gear, or at least the option of a lower gear. 74bcd rings are commonly available in 24-32t, with some boutique offerings in larger sizes. You would have had the same effective chainline as you’ve got now, without the need for a new BB. This is how the Polyvalent crank is set up.

  7. I appreciated your listing of trail numbers – I made me do a geometry comparison btwn my cross-check and the campeur. What really caught my attention – (and maybe I’m just misreading or comparing apples to oranges in measurement style) is that the campeur has 82 mm of BB drop (!) compared to the surly’s, fairly typical, 66. That’s a huge deal and will have a huge influence on the ride quality, I don’t know of another production bike with a BB that low (the rando is close). That might be the biggest deal about the geometry of this bike if I read it right. I would love to hear your feedback down the road about that aspect of the frameset.

    I love the versatility of my surly – but they run very long (I’m tall but short of torso) and I’m secretly looking for a replacement where I could run a normal stem.

    I lived in Santa Fe for three years (now in New England) and your blog has captured my heart lately. I could use a few weeks on the bike in the mountains…

    • Thom, The Surly LHT lists 78mm of BB drop, much like the Campeur and other touring bikes. I would appreciate a higher BB such as on the Cross-Check for my purposes, as I expect some light trail riding and other experimentation. For riding roads of any kind, I’ve had few complaints with low BBs, long-chainstays, and relaxed angles on the touring bikes I’ve ridden. While BB drop remains the same, I will gain BB clearance (and crank and pedal clearance) by the larger tires I expect to run.

      We could all use a few weeks on a bike in the mountains. Thanks for stopping by.


  8. Some drool worthy shots there Gypsy look forward to your build coming into being. I just ordered one few remaining Rando’s and many parts from VO including those lovely looking ENE shifters. Looking forward to collecting the mail in the coming weeks 😉

  9. You were either spokeless or showing great restraint. With that collection of parts it would have been impossible for me to sit down and blog out while i could be lacing wheels and getting that thing on the road. I’m digging the double by the way.

    • Spokeless, rear hubless, brake lever-less, chain and cassette-less and with a few too many writing projects. Front wheel is laced, although I am still missing a rear hub. I’ve got a lead on a NOS black LX to match the derailleurs. Should be riding by Wednesday. Planning a multi-day trip this Thursday.

  10. VO Brake pads do, as you mention, stop very well. However, they also wear out incredibly quickly and leave a big mess of brake dust on everything. I returned to Kool-Stop dual compound, which are still better overall than anything else I’ve tried.

    • I found the pads to last almost 6000 miles, which is about what most Kool-Stop pads have done for me in the past. In some cases, Kool-Stop pads have lasted longer as I used the straight post pads for canti brakes with the thick non-cartridge pads. I left Maryland last spring on fresh VO pads, and replaced the front pads near Del Norte, CO after riding to Banff and then south on the Divide to CO. I don’t remember if I replaced the rear at all that trip.

      I still prefer the VO pads for their performance. They are better in challenging conditions, and are thus more consistent.overall. They are also cheaper than replacement KS cartridges. I can appreciate that the KS pads feel a little less “gritty”, and may wear a little less on rims. Brake dust is not an issue for me. I seem to find all kinds of other mud and dust to cover it up.

  11. I’m debating between the Grand Cru Sabot Pedals and the VP-001 pedals. Do you have any opinion on how they compare? Is one smoother than the other?

    • On a bike like the Campeur with a super-low BB (82mm drop), I prefer a narrower pedal profile for cornering and riding over obstacles. I am now using the VO Urban pedals on the Campeur, which are much narrower. The VO Urban have the best clearance of all three, with good bearing and nylon bushing. The VP-001 have a thin body and medium outside width. The Sabot pedals have very big platforms, fine if you do not corner agressively, or if you ride a bike with a normal to high BB height.

      Both the VP and VO pedals have very nice bearings. The grip pins in the VP pedals are a little more aggressive, while the Sabot pins are rounded on top for thin soled shoes and dress shoes– both types of pins are good, both are replaceable.

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