The 2016 Technical Trials

The 2016 Technical Trials

This summer saw the first Technical Trials in France since 1949. Then as now, the goal was to find the best “light randonneur” bike. Organized by Christophe Courbou, the magazine 200, and Victoire Cycles, this year’s event was a great success.
The original Technical Trials of the 1930s and 1940s brought incredible progress to bicycles. They proved that bicycles could be lightweight and reliable. Aluminum cranks, front derailleurs, cartridge bearings in hubs and bottom brackets and even low-rider racks all were pioneered and proven in the Technical Trials. The Trials allowed small constructeurs like René Herse, Alex Singer and Jo Routens to show that their bikes were better than those of the big mass producers. Unfortunately, the original Trials ended in 1949, when cars became popular, and interest in improving bicycles waned. Who knows what advances we’d have seen if the Trials had continued?
Now the Technical Trials (Concours de Machines in French) have been revived. This year’s event saw 19 makers compete for the prize of the “best bike”. The focus was not just on impeccable function, but also on innovation. Each maker brought their interpretation of the future of randonneur bikes. There was the Pechtregon (above) with its amazing truss fork. One of the Cyfac bikes had a carbon fiber and titanium frame with integrated carbon fiber fenders. The Milc/Goblin had front and rear suspension.
The bikes had to prove their worth on a challenging course. The first stage went over an extremely hilly 235 km (146 miles) with two mountain passes. The following day had bikes (and riders) compete in a timed climb up the Col du Béal. The event finished with a 73 km (45 miles) stage over rough gravel roads. After each stage, the bikes were carefully checked, and points were deducted for anything that no longer worked.
As a member of the jury, I rode the entire event, observing the bikes on the road. It was a fun weekend, and we learned a lot about what works in a bike and what doesn’t. That part was relatively easy – although it’s always surprising how many things no longer work after a weekend of hard riding – but the hard part was awarding points for the merits of each design. There were many discussions, but in the end, we all felt that the winners were worthy.
The winning bike from Victoire Cycles was a well-designed machine, ridden by an excellent pilote. (Average speed counted in the results to make sure the bikes were ridden hard.) For Compass Bicycles, it was nice to see that 9 of the 19 builders chose Compass tires, including the winner, 2nd place, and best rookie. And the best team – the Julie Racing Design tandem – even featured three Compass tires (one on their custom-built trailer).
A full report of this amazing event, with a presentation of the bikes and a test of the amazing Pechtregon that took third place (second photo from top) will be appear in Bicycle Quarterly soon.
Further reading:

Photo credits: Cycles Victoire (winning bike).

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Comments (28)

  • Lohe Chang

    Very cool read. Were all the bikes low trail in design?

    July 12, 2016 at 2:58 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There were a variety of bikes with different philosophies. Front load, rear load, low and high trail… just like you’d see at such an event in the U.S.

      July 12, 2016 at 5:08 am
      • Lohe Chang

        Thanks Jan. This leads me to wonder what qualifies as a randonneur exactly? My understand that a randonneur bike is essentially any bike that participates in an randonneur event. If there is no guideline on specific wheel size, trail figure, nor how load is carried, then can any handmade bike enter the Technical Trials?

        July 12, 2016 at 8:33 pm
  • Xavier

    It was a great event to attend and ride. Thank you so much for having made the trip from Seattle to be part of the Jury. It was great to meet you and all constructeurs. And to think that just three years ago it was hard to find many constructeurs in France interested in fast comfortable bikes able to accommodate small loads, rain & darkness. I hope the event will be perpetuated and that we will be able to see some interesting ideas move forward. And that it will serve as a meeting hub for randonneuring enthusiasts. That’s how I met Anders & Rob 🙂

    July 12, 2016 at 3:16 am
  • Michael

    Sounds fascinating!
    I wonder what new innovations there are for Rando bikes these days.
    I wonder how and if the results would change with an evaluation at the 5,000 mile mark of hard riding.
    Might be more constructive feedback after those distances?
    I’d be pretty disappointed if my new bike broke the first weekend I rode it.
    Do they think a few stages is enough feedback?

    July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Perhaps that was the real lesson from those superlight bikes of the 1940s. A builder who can make a complete bike weighing 8 kg that survives hundreds of kilometers on rough roads clearly understands the stresses that occur in a bike. Their standard bikes are likely to survive decades of hard riding.

      July 12, 2016 at 6:10 am
  • Wilfried531

    I missed this meeting, that’s too bad…
    I hope there will be a second edition!
    I only have one thing to do to comfort me : I’ll watch ” Les Copains” from Yves Robert…
    A great movie wich stay place in Ambert and talk about friendship and bike touring

    July 12, 2016 at 6:00 am
  • Curly moran

    Any word on a similar event listed for NAHBS 2016?

    July 12, 2016 at 6:35 am
  • John

    I like that trailer with the tandem. Is there any more info on it?

    July 12, 2016 at 6:47 am
  • Harry Harrison

    I was riding along a disused railway line in Normandie yesterday when I spied a rider coming towards me wearing the same woollen Cyclists’ Touring Club jersey as me. Naturally we stopped for a chat. It was Sebastien Klein riding his eponymous bicycle. He was an entrant in the above mentioned technical trials, and his bike looks great. It’s a small world.

    July 12, 2016 at 7:40 am
  • David Lewis

    The truss fork looks very similar to that on the Jones bikes, at least from the picture. Is it?

    July 12, 2016 at 1:53 pm
    • Dustin

      There’s several folks making truss forks. Jones, Black Cat, and Oddity all come to mind.

      July 13, 2016 at 8:01 am
  • Hidgolf

    Very cool! I hope it leads to more “complete” rando bikes available outside custom circles.

    July 12, 2016 at 2:50 pm
  • Jona

    I bet that was some beautiful but hilly riding since it was in the Auvergne. Did you check out any Chamina guides to find some good “off the beaten path” riding through the beautiful natural scenery? Here is their website: I believe the guides are only in French.

    July 13, 2016 at 1:46 pm
  • Michael

    What is your response to this quote?:
    “In 2016 it’s impossible to make a safe, strong, durable, useful, all-weather, and good for riding on rough roads with loads bicycle that weighs less than 27lbs.”

    July 13, 2016 at 7:33 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My response is a chuckle! At the Technical Trials, my Mule was weighed at 11.3 kg (24.9 lb) with three bottle cages, pump, pedals, fenders, lights, full Rinko (but not the low-rider racks installed). It’s been over some very rough roads. And it doesn’t use any special lightweight parts (for example, the Brooks saddle has a steel undercarriage)…

      July 14, 2016 at 1:20 am
      • Xavier

        Michael quotation is a bit disingenuous 😉 It is excerpted from Grant Petersen last post ( The important part is not the 27lbs number. But the fact that if you want a bike you can enjoy with fenders, rack, basket and lights it tends to be a bit heavier than a minimalist carbon singlespeed 😉 Grant also likes tubes and tires that are a bit tougher than what is often discussed here. The important part is that by not being focused only on weight you can have a more useful bike you enjoy more often. I think we all agree on that here. Technical trials and Jan’s work also show that it can be accomplished with a lower weight penalty than usually thought.

        July 14, 2016 at 1:54 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          If Grant is talking about the weight with fenders, rack, lights and even the pump, then I almost agree. I think a reasonable minimum is about 24 lb. Below that, you start to compromise function, for example, by using lighter cantilever brakes instead of better-performing centerpulls.
          I do think that performance is especially important for non-racers. If your power output is limited, a well-performing bike entices you to go on beautiful rides in the mointains that might be out of reach on a lesser machine. Of course, weight isn’t always a good measure of performance, but that is a different topic…

          July 14, 2016 at 4:46 am
  • canamsteve

    Part deux 🙂
    I’m currently running a set of Panaracer 700×40 GravelKing SK tires in a tubeless setup with a Rohloff-equipped bike. They are working very well, but as with other Panaracer tires, I find the tread picks up small stones (of the size often used for surfacing towpaths, etc.) and flings them against the inside of my metal fenders.

    July 15, 2016 at 9:42 am
  • Michael

    Not so much, since the techtrials , if I jndeestand correctly, are a reach for lightest possible weight at max function.
    I do wonder when obese people fly past me on their featherweight carbon bikes, though.
    I mean, I know they say losing weight on the engine is more important than a light bike but obese carbon riders pass me on flats like I am in reverse on my steel.

    July 15, 2016 at 2:20 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You cannot generalize steel bikes. The performance of a frame made from thinwall steel tubing with the frame stiff balanced for optimum performance will be in a totally different league from a budget steel bike that was designed with no regard to performance. The former allows most riders to achieve a much higher power output (we call it planing) than the latter. Then you have the riding position (which affects power output and aerodynamics) and finally the resistance of your tires. So a Surly Long-Haul Trucker with Schwalbe Marathons will be much slower (for the rider) than a mid-range Giant carbon bike. (I’ve tested both extensively for Bicycle Quarterly, so this is based on actual experience.) Finally, even big guys can have a lot of power.
      If more evidence is needed that not all steel bikes are slow: Consider that the bikes in the Technical Trials were ridden over the course of an amateur race. One of them was the fastest of all on the gravel stage, another set the fastest women’s time of the day on an 8 mile-long hillclimb.

      July 17, 2016 at 11:12 pm
      • canamsteve

        And although suggested obliquely, as all BQ readers and riders will be aware, the match between tires and riding surface is very important. Many “light” bikes are engineered to accept only very narrow tires and become almost unrideable on loose surfaces, or transmit punishing vibrations on irregular surfaces. So it is nice to have a bike that allows swapping the tire/wheel combo depending on needs. Disk brakes make this quite easy now, although as we know, not preferred by all 🙂

        July 18, 2016 at 1:26 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          It’s possible to make a very lightweight bike for wide tires… As to the idea of changing tire sizes for different surfaces, our testing has shown that there is little, if any, penalty for running wide tires on smooth surfaces. I can’t imagine any ride I’d do where I’d rather have tires narrower than 42 mm, and on the other hand, there aren’t many rides where I need wider tires. So rather than swap tires for different surfaces, I’d just get a really nice wheelset with really good tires and ride them everywhere.

          July 19, 2016 at 3:26 pm
  • Michael

    What percentage would you say counts as far as performance goes? Rider power vs. bike design? Would a Lon Haldeman with all that leg power type rider notice the difference between a Trucker bike and 7/4/7 type bike?
    Or, I guess I could ask if you think that retiring my mid trail OS butted tubing steel (8/5/8?) bike for a 7/4/7 low trail type bike with same tires and components will make my average speeds 3 mph faster or more?

    July 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s hard to say, and it depends on the rider. For me and Mark, it was pretty significant. I don’t recall the numbers, but on the “better for us” bike, I recall that we put out about 10% more power, just because of differences in frame flex (all other factors being equal). Riding position also can make a big difference – too upright, and you won’t be able to put out your maximum power, either. And then you have tires, which can make a difference of 15% or more in your speed. Take all those factors together, and 3 mph are not out of the question.

      July 19, 2016 at 3:30 pm

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