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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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.
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.