Mavic World HQ Tour – Wheel R&D, Shoes, Soft Goods and More!
Mavic’s Annecy, France, HQ houses clothing & footwear design and wheels prototyping and testing. It also holds their accounting, administration and other desk jobs, for all their brands. About 150 of the 1,000 people in the building work for Mavic.
Their rim factory has been running since 1962 in Saint Trivier, about 150km away in central France. It (UPDATE) and their Romanian factory still makes most of their rims today, and all of their high end rims that use any sort of proprietary technology or materials. A few of the basic rims are made in Asia to speed up delivery for entry level OEM customers, but they keep the good IP close to home.
They also house all of their shoes and clothing development in house, borrowing from (and giving to) their sister companies for tech, materials and more. Roll past the break to see how they put it all together…
CLOTHING & SHOES
This building is home to the main office for all the AmerSports brands (Salomon, Arcteryx, Suunto, Wilson, Atomic, etc.) so they could cross pollinate technology, fabrics and ideas across brands. It also consolidates materials sourcing efforts.
With the helmet project they started with what they knew from Salomon’s ski helmets. The bike helmets ended up needing very different technology and materials, but it gave them a good start.
The shoes and soft goods development center lets them create “Point Zero” prototypes to prove the concept.
When testing on athletes, it also lets them mock up several iterations or make quick adjustments.
Behind the sewing room is a cutting room with a water jet CNC machine to cut shoe parts like pads, heel cups and uppers to be pieced together. Before the automated cutting machine was added, it could take a full day to hand cut all the parts to assemble a single pair.
Used more for ski products, there’s also a paint/silk screen room where they can mock up new products and disguise prototypes to look like current models so athletes can test them inconspicuously.
Jean Noel Thevenoud, apparel and shoe prototype product manager, says the catalyst for a new product could be athlete needs, growth into new categories/markets or wanting to use a new technology to make an existing product better. Along the way, sales and marketing folks swing into the lab to weigh in on sellabilty, color trends, etc. Having all of this in house speeds up the process tremendously.
The shoes are outsourced to Asia because there are no high end cycling shoe manufacturers in Europe capable of handling their volume. That said, compared to running shoes, the production volume is very low, so they combine also need someone that has the technical expertise specific to cycling shoes that’s also willing to run “small” volumes. For now, that’s Asia.
Clothing is made in Asia, Thailand, Tunisia and, closer to home, Romania. They are looking to bring more of that closer to France as opportunities arise.
They don’t want to go to suppliers and simply ask “what’s available and how can we put our name on it?” They want to bring their own ideas and design and then work with them to get it into production. Their in-house equipment can fabricate all the way to a near production-level sample, which lets them take something very close to a finished product to their manufacturing partners. Having something that closely resembles a production item reduces room for error and removes any doubt as to what the final spec should be.
So what is new? All I can say is there were some very lightweight and sweet looking road shoes tucked away under a desk. I was told simply that they were “not a production item yet.”
If they were secretive about their clothing and shoe development, the wheels department took it to a whole ‘nother level. Anything to do with the rims and carbon fiber were kept well out of camera range, and mostly out of sight, too.
What we did get to see was the expansive machine room. Alloy machining not only does hub prototypes but also produces molds for ski boots, bindings and other parts.
Hub shells are machined in house to test a design’s ability to be mass produced. The pieces are pre-series units used for field testing, but they need a lot. There are 650 field testers throughout the world. Road wheels are tested 10,000 km, MTB for 5,000km, so they need to be able to make a lot of iterations sometimes a year or more before a final version will ever be OK’d for production. It also lets them get new products under team riders before full production starts.
Besides the exorbitant cost of making a full carbon hub and/or spokes, tne reason they stick with mostly alloy hubs is that many of the designs are so detailed that it’s easier to make them out of metal than carbon, and they can make them smaller where it counts.
Some of the tighter sections would take too many layers of carbon to be feasible to do with composites. Plus, they really couldn’t (or shouldn’t) make the threaded parts shown here.
Multiple CNC machines turn the blocks of alloy visible in some of the pics above into shiny hub parts.
This was a prototype hub shell for the Beijing Olympics that used the Tracomp carbon fiber spokes. They ended up finding other ways to match the performance while improving the ride characteristics. With the wide carbon spokes and oversized shell, the wheels were a bit too stiff vertically, transmitting a too much bump force to the rider to be comfortable.
Mavic has offered complete wheels since 1994. They wanted to improve the system, and to do that they had to control how all of the parts interacted with each other rather than just pick the best available individual components. And in 2010 they developed tires, giving them a true complete system.
For example, when you put 80psi pressure in the tires, particularly a tubular, it’s putting about a ton per square centimeter of pressure on the rim. That can actually compress the rim’s diameter slightly, which can reduce spoke tension. Without taking that into consideration as part of a complete system, it’s impossible to know how a wheel will perform in the real world.
They have a sizable room dedicated to torturing wheels and tires. Across various machines, they’re tested for rolling resistance, grip, load, impact, lateral and vertical compliance, water intrusion, UV and vibration, among other things. They’ve spent more than a decade refining and testing their own tests to help them better find the right things to measure and how to measure them.
All of the carbon fiber production and development is kept behind closed doors. Why? Because if their competition saw photos of what they were doing, they could determine and reverse engineer some of Mavic’s technology. How do they know that? Because a while back another magazine featured photos of another brand’s production and development center and Mavic’s engineers could pick apart their processes just from the photos. And they keep it in house as much as possible because there’s little guarantee the tech and processes would remain a secret if production were sent to Asia.
PAST GLORY, PROTOTYPES & THINGS TO COME
These bikes are hiding the new wheels we’ll be seeing and riding over the next two days. (UPDATE: It’s the new CXR60’s!)
Olympics winning wheels from years past were painted gold and preserved. Absalon’s were from the rim brake era!
Prototype Service Course wheels (model M40) used in the 2011 Paris Roubaix.
These prototype full carbon R-SYS Ultimate road wheels were for climbing stages in 2009 TdF, Giro and others.
Total weight was under 1,000g per set. Unfortunately, they were pro only, not ever going into production. Ryder Hesjedal used them in the Giro last year. They’re not aero, but they’re light.
All carbon wheels are prototyped in Annecy. For now, the new CC40 clinchers and Cosmic Carbone Ultimate tubulars are actually being manufactured here, too. The CC40’s alloy rim beds are made at their Saint Trivier facility, then brought in and placed into the molds so the carbon rim can be built around it. Speaking of the Cosmic Carbone Ultimate, it’ll get the carbon braking surface they developed for the CC40 for 2014.
Boardman’s old bike still has Mavic’s Zap electronic shifting system.