There is no shortage of big French names in cycling: Mavic, Bos, Look, Time, Sunn, Lapierre, Origine, Simplex, not to mention the likes. If France is full of quality products (even if some know-how is lost), you buy a Chinese product… or it’s still hard to know French really. But first, what is a “French” bike?
Like a car, a bike is a puzzle, an assembly of parts from different manufacturers/suppliers. Therefore a 100% French bike does not exist because we no longer produce transmissions (especially since the end of Simplex). We also do not manufacture some important peripheral components. In short, a fully French bicycle does not currently exist because it requires a French-made frame, wheels, tires, saddle, stem, drivetrain or motors/batteries, all of which are assembled on our floor.
But there are bikes that can still be described as French, like the Toyota Yaris with the “Origine France Garantie” label. Especially the companies Caminade, Cyfac or even Victoire that manufacture frames in France. It is this very specific feature that makes it possible to display “Made in France” in the brochure. But avoid confusing names.
Assemble is not French
If you see a brand “assembling” its bikes in France, then it doesn’t manufacture them. It’s usually that simple. Most of the entry-level consumer bikes you can buy commercially come from China or Taiwan, who are masters of frame making. Areas of China such as Xiamen are full of factories that specialize in the industrial production of composite material frames.
If a brand like Origine is French, they don’t manufacture their frames. But in a more “exclusive” approach, everything is the same: they are received in the North, on site and painted in Origin’s premises, thus offering its customers a configurator similar to a car configurator. choose the color, logos and some parts.
But make no mistake: manufacturers’ claims are often misleading. Not manufactured assembled! In most cases, the frames of the major bike brands are manufactured in Asia and the other parts are sourced from the same location (especially Shimano in Japan), then assembled in France after purchase. Very high-end carbon models are hardly made in the country of their birth, USA, Italy, France.
Assembled, designed, crafted… all these terms therefore do not apply to a French bike. Often the process is as follows: A French-based design bureau designs the bike in CAD (design software), then negotiates production with an Asian partner, often confidentially.. The big bike brands keep the secret of the subcontractors who make the bikes: a very opaque world that is very complicated to know behind the scenes and especially the famous polished edges. This is a big difference with the automotive industry, where it is easier to get information about operating margins (revealed in financial results) or subcontractors involved…
The Chinese or Taiwanese customer then manufactures the frame to specifications and specifications. The big difference in the finished product is actually quality control: European or American brands that do things right have special teams in the factories to check that the local partner is producing correctly cast, machined or welded frames. Others make only occasional trips to Asia for quality control, the dangers this entails. (higher percentage of defective executives…).
Is buying French expensive?
As you can imagine, buying a French bike (with a frame made here) costs more for obvious reasons of labor costs. Also because we have not invested in an industrial tool for composite materials. We have real carbon know-how in aeronautics, but not (anymore) in cycling. Look, carbon frames are made in Tunisia and Time in Slovakia! The country where the Peugeot 208 and e-208 series are produced.
To have French, you have to go to smaller brands that work with steel, titanium and even aluminum. Bikes that are often very durable, highly customizable (and even custom made for size selection) require a large investment. But in the end, not so much for a high-end model from a big brand that manufactures in Asia. This is the price to pay to keep French workers and continue the handicrafts that have become a Chinese specialty.