Few bicycle companies have as storied a history as Mavic. Founded in 1889 by brothers Léon and Laurent Vielle, the French wheel and rim giant has long been a leader in the category while still maintaining enviable standards for quality and durability. Follow along as we take a walk through the aluminum rim factory in Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans, France, and the heralded service course at the company headquarters in nearby Annecy.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
Although Mavic does have facilities in both Romania and Asia, most of its high-end alloy rims are still made in a nondescript building in Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans, tucked quietly in the French countryside about 180km from the company's main R&D facility. It's here where raw extrusions are cut, rolled, joined and finished on their way to becoming what are still some of most highly respected wheels in the industry.
All of the rims start out the same way – as straight, raw aluminum extrusions packed tightly into giant cardboard boxes and stacked on a massive array of steel shelving.
From here, the extrusions are cut to length and then rolled to the proper diameter depending on the specific model. Giant presses and dedicated dies are used to ensure the correct dimensions.
Lower-cost rims used sleeved construction, where tightly fitting small aluminum plugs (or pins) are inserted into the ends to keep them in alignment. Once they're butted together, the outer wall of the rim is then peened to hold the plug in place.
Welded rims, on the other hand, are just that. Instead of being mechanically joined with a plug – which adds weight and potentially a source of creaking – Mavic's higher-end rims are TIG-welded around the entire periphery of the mating surfaces. After heat treatment, the resultant joint is then supposedly just as structurally sound as anywhere else on the extrusion.
To ensure smooth braking, the sidewalls on both rim styles are then machined to produce perfectly parallel surfaces – which also aids in the wheel building process later on.
Spoke holes on aftermarket rims are drilled in a rather straightforward manner, using a dedicated machine that holds each rim, rotates it into position, and then bores the holes at alternating angles to lend a straighter shot as the spoke travels from rim to hub flange. Rims destined for Mavic's integrated pre-built wheels are subjected to a more complex drilling process, however, as each hole isn't just alternatingly angled left-to-right but also fore-aft depending on exactly where the spoke is going.
In either case, most of those rims then receive stainless steel reinforcing eyelets that distribute the spoke tension between both the inner and outer rim walls. This is strictly a mechanical process: the rim is held in a fixture, the eyelet is fed in from a hopper above, and then it's basically squashed into place for a permanent hold.
Mavic's top-end wheels, however, are built with either proprietary aluminum or carbon spokes with nipples that thread directly into the rim – and require an entirely different manufacturing process that we unfortunately were not permitted to photograph.
Dubbed 'FORE', a superheated bit first melts a hole into the inner wall of the rim (without piercing the outer wall). This effectively creates a small cylinder in contrast to a drill bit, which would actually remove material. That cylinder is then threaded with a second bit.
As FORE requires an extra-thick inner rim wall to provide enough material, excess is then machined off in between the spoke holes to decrease the weight.
Depending on the wheel, those rims are then sent off for anodizing either before or after machining, decals are applied, and then it's off to another facility where the wheels are actually built.
Cradle to grave care
We also paid a visit to another aspect of Mavic's business: the legendary neutral support service course, located in a segregated area at the company headquarters in Annecy. For the most part, it's what you would expect: a cluster of well organized workbenches stocked with tools, all surrounded by a massive stockpile of race wheels and spare bikes, all of which is meticulously catalogued and traced – and some of which is only produced for sponsored athletes and teams.
What we found far more interesting, however, was the treasure trove of race memorabilia littered throughout the humble facility: old race leaders' and team jerseys, trophies, historic race bikes.
Take a look through the gallery (above right) for the complete picture.