Greg LeMond’s 1989 TVT Carbon

Greg LeMond’s 1989 TVT Carbon

For most of the Tour de France’s 100+ years of existence the overall winner has ridden a bike equipped with Campagnolo components. In fact, for many years Campy used to take out ads showing all the Tour victories that had come with riders using their components. Prior to Lance Armstrong in 1999, though, non-Campy wins were as rare as a clean cyclist.

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Of those exceptions, some of the more interesting victories were Mavic’s, and none of them were more memorable than the group that Greg LeMond rode on his TVT carbon on his way to victory in the 1989 Tour de France. Like nearly all carbon fiber bikes of that era, the TVT used standard-diameter tubes bonded to  aluminum lugs. The design was virtually identical to the aluminum bikes being produced by Vitus, Alan and Guerciotti, except for the fact that the tubes were made from carbon fiber, not aluminum.

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Mavic is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and has been commemorating that event with special product and some looks back at its history and heritage. I recently attended a new event at the SoCal Service Course and walked in to spy this little surprise. On loan from the man himself for the weekend, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this bike in-person, and I can argue that there’s not another bike I’ve studied in photos more than this one.

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The group was light for its day. Reports at the time were that LeMond’s bike weighed 20 lbs., which was amazing for 1989, and still respectable ten years later.

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One of the hallmarks of Mavic components back then was that everything they made was serviceable. When a buddy at the shop I worked at ordered a Mavic group, the very first thing we did when it arrived was to disassemble that rear derailleur and reassemble it, just because we could. We told ourselves it was easy, too. It’s hard to say, from this distance, if it was really that easy or if we were just so enthusiastic that nothing would deter us. We got it reassembled in fairly short order and moved on to the hubs, which, based on our experience with other bearings, spun like a gyroscope.

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The aesthetic of the Mavic group was Bauhaus-minimal. There were no beautiful flourishes, no stylistic flair. It was all business, which is why LeMond’s bike was, at minimum, two pounds lighter than C-Record-equipped bikes. We unsuccessfully tried to sway our shop’s clients into purchasing Mavic groups, explaining to them that Campy was focused on beauty while Mavic was focused on speed. History records very few sales thanks to that tactic. Doesn’t make it less true.

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Of course, while the lightweight, minimal design found in the shift levers served that speedy aesthetic, it wasn’t as successful in the brakes. If by speedy we want to assert that the bike had a tendency not to slow unless one pulled on the brake levers very hard, then yes, these brakes were fast. The combination of a single pivot (the first dual-pivot calipers wouldn’t be introduced for two more years), and the flex calipers meant that these brakes influenced speed more than arrested it.

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One detail I’ll always admire about these brakes was how Mavic positioned the release on the upper arm of the caliper, rather than on the lower arm, along with the fixing bolt. While the look may have been a bit odd for all of us accustomed to Shimano and older Campagnolo brakes that positioned the release down low, the advantage of positioning it higher was that should you need to open the brake on the fly, you didn’t have to reach as far and you were a good deal less likely to put a finger in the spokes.

IMG_8956If memory serves, this freewheel wasn’t a Mavic product. But who made these and what these freewheels were named, I no longer recall. That’s because at the shop I worked, we called them the shark-tooth freewheels. You’ll noticed that on the trailing side of the teeth, below the pointy bit, there’s a second contour. The idea here was that the pointy part of the tooth would pick up the chain as you executed a shift, helping to pull the chain over, and then it would settle into that lower contour for secure, accidental-shift-free pedaling. The idea may seem arcane now, but Shimano had yet to introduce Hyperglide in their road product line, which made this one of the best-shifting freewheels on the market.

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Some of the best rims I ever built into wheels were Mavic. And while these predate the welded seam and machined brake track—arguably my favorite Mavic innovation—the S.S.C. rims were among the easiest to build in that era.

For as long as I’ve worked on bikes, Mavic has been making durable, serviceable products. I wish they would start offering groups again.

 

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17 comments

  1. Weylandsmith

    Thanks for sharing! I never rode on any of the Mavic components groups, but those single pivot brakes remind me of what a Campy aficionado that I used to work with would say about the Delta brakes “don’t think of them as brakes, these are speed modulators.”

    Unfortunately, Mavic has had something of a mixed record with component groups – like Mektronic for instance. Yes, they’ve been innovators in the past, but they’ve had better results when they stuck with their core competencies ie making wheels.

  2. OlyOop

    Guerciotti aluminum frames were simply rebadged Alans. For that matter, Mavic brakes were rebadged Modolos, and those shifters are by Simplex. I believe that bike is currently wearing a Sachs crank and freewheel, but Mavic did offer their own (and very pretty) crank at the time.

  3. Steve

    Greg Lemond and just about everything about Greg Lemond remain an inspiration to me. He was ‘my first love’ in cycling, a model for all of us trying to break through, not just into cycling but to whatever we were pursuing. I met him many years after his tour victories and was impressed with his humility, humor and spirit. Thanks for sharing this story of Greg’s bike and bringing those memories back afresh.

  4. Tom in Albany

    What a cool chance for you to see LeMond’s bike! I’d love to take it for a spin but, I’M NOT WORTHY!!!!

  5. MCH

    I too marveled at the rear derailuer when it came out. The fact that it came apart by removing a couple of circlips was really cool. The fact that I’ve never had to disassemble a derailuer for servicing didn’t really matter. The shifters were significantly better than the Campy shifters of the time. The Campys seemed to slip no matter how much you tightened them down. The Mavics, on the other hand, had a really cool system that created more tension in one direction, much lighter in the other, and they never slipped. Finally, I seem to recall that the brakes were re-branded Modolos – but my memory could very well be failing me on this point.
    In any case, it was a brave move on Mavics part to challenge the Campy supremacy. I’m glad they did.

  6. jorgensen

    Mavic did indeed have some interesting innovations along the way. The bottom bracket fitment where the lock rings sat in a chamfer cut into the bottom bracket shell was one. The brakes though look very much like Modolos, no new territory. The retroflection shift levers worked well, but I think those were borrowed from Simplex. The machined brake track rims were done decades earlier by Martano, though they did not weld their rims. Mavic rims benefitted from eyelets that captured the inside and outside section of the rim and did have a deserved reputation for strength. Martano rims relied on washers.

    The headset that Mavic made with the annular bearings was very reliable, required a special set of tools to adjust and the stack height was not good for retrofitting as is needed more steerer length than Campagnolo.

  7. JohnK

    Thanks for this. So fun to see this bike. Love the freewheel. Think of the power that went into turning that thing. “Greg, we’re going to give you some gears, but don’t bother shifting too much because they’re all pretty much the same.”

  8. Hoshie99

    Mavic headsets were both a thing of beauty and easy to service.

    I love that bike by the way; so many things to look at with that one.

    j

  9. James Mosley, Jr

    Looking at those Mavic components brings back memories. I was fortunate enough to buy Mavic pedals, handelbars, hubs, a stem, and shift levers for $100.00 in the 80″s. I still use the pedals on my 1988 Cannondale. I also use the handlebar on an old Schwinn, which I converted to a cyclocross. I also built up a rear wheel with the Mavic hub, on my Cannondale. I still admire their design and style today.

  10. Les.B.

    Looking at the rear dropouts I thought I noticed something amiss, as the axle is not seated all the way in. Then I noticed what looks like an adjustment screw that keeps the axle at this distance from the seat. What’s the deal with that?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Les B: Frame alignment is a relatively recent innovation. Adjustment screws were used to center the wheel in the dropouts because the dropouts were not often in perfect alignment.

    2. jorgensen

      I saw the adjustable vertical dropouts too, and wondered a bit. As this frame is not welded but pressed together and bonded, it is not like there is much welding heat distortion going on. The full aluminum cousins of this frame used a non adjustable vertical dropouts. I don’t think poor frame alignment is the reason, but cannot come up with a better one.

  11. Lachlan

    Mmmmm.
    A bike I loved so much I copied its geometry for the first custom steel bike I had built up (yep, I know, dumb things you do when you are young!).

    Looks like a spare or maybe ‘light’ version of the ’89 TDF bike for the bigger mountain stages? Didn’t he mostly ride it on Mavic’s Mach 2CD rims, and even perhaps the great big sculpted Mavic crankset (like on the 89 time trial bike)? Or maybe my memory is starting to merge the two bike’s set up together!

    This also reminded me that I have a set of those Mavic Hubs, 28 hole, completely unused sitting around somewhere! Might have to build them up :)

  12. Darwin

    Mavic rims are not what they used to be. Probably because they are focused on the entire whilst products. You can get straighter rounder and better finished rims any day.

    1. Brooks

      The Mavic 631 “starfish” crank was used on some of the other bikes LeMond used in the ’89 TdF — notably the time trial bike. But other than the Bottechia decals being removed, the bike shown here seems to be equipped just as it was in the ’89 Tour. As Padraig notes above, the Mavic SSC crank shown here was probably a bit lighter — and this TVT carbon bike was the one LeMond used in the mountain stages. Lightness was the goal. I just posted a look at the different bikes used by LeMond and Fignon on The Retrogrouch Blog for the 25th anniversary of LeMond’s victory (July 23, 1989). http://bikeretrogrouch.blogspot.com/2014/07/tour-de-france-bikes-1989.html

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