16 November, 2012

Velo Orange Campeur Frame and Fork: 1500 mile Review Ride Report

This is a review sent in by VO customer, accomplished randonneur, and former racer. It's reprinted here unedited and in it's entirety. Thanks Mike!

by Michael Ross

"...she was a no-nonsense little donkey of a bike, but
rode easy and straight, not a drop of bad manners."

– Alec Burney, recently hit by a car in Philly, noted long-distance bicyclist, sage, and sooth-sayer...

Let me jump right to the conclusion: I have ridden the Velo Orange Campeur bike about 1500 miles at this point, and without hesitation I can say that I have never been on a better bike.

I am lucky enough to live in Washington, DC, and have access to Velo Orange World Headquarters whenever I can ride myself out to Annapolis, Maryland. Much to the horror of VO Staff, I make the pilgrimage often. I was at VO about a month ago when the Campeur showed up.

(Digression for bicyclists who care about democracy and quality of life in the USA: I can't bear driving out to VO, as driving, at its best, is so often a regrettable, forgettable exercise in brute utility, as it surely does not engage any great joy, or aesthetic pleasure...much less economic or ecological responsibility. I'm not anti-car, although I am anti-totalitarian transportation, and the car culture – including its many unjustified subsidies – counts as totalitarian despite recent advances made to improve transport options. To date, bicycle advocacy nationwide has only achieved the low-hanging fruit of infrastructure change. The real battles over sane transportation are just beginning...)

I didn't need a new bike; and I am not a consumer. I don't need a “new” anything to make up for excitement lacking in other areas of my life. I'm over that – I'll be 50 in December.

But I kept looking at the frame and fork closely, and couldn't help but think this bike was an improvement. And the price is unbeatable. Yes, I've ridden some great bikes, including many customs, race bikes and touring rigs, made from aluminum, titanium, plastic, and fancy steel with fancier stickers. But the Campeur stood out.

Having now spent some quality time on the Campeur, I can defend the claim that there is no better bike. It does everything well. And it's value – the dollars it takes to purchase against what it can do over its useful life – is currently unmatched. Go match it up to the newer Raleighs, Jamis, Gunnar, Soma, Surly, Novara, Fuji, Kona, Trek, Salsa, Pashley, etc. – none are better priced, better made or perform better.

Depending on configuration, on which handlebars, wheels, shifters, crankset, cogs and derailer...it can carry you fast and long; or slow and steady, carrying a heavy load, front or rear. I've had heavy loads on both ends, on just the front end, and in large, fully loaded panniers in the rear. Frame geometry is not a subject for beginners, nor is “low-trail” philosophy, but if you are interested and informed you can look at the frame specifications and realize that this is an excellent, well chosen, set of compromises. The good news is frame geometry is not relevant at all if the bicycle performs well when ridden. Good frame geometry can be *felt* when ridden; it puts the rider at ease. The Campeur has not a drop of bad manners. Under any conditions. I hit 54mph in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania...and no wobble, no problems, no worries. The Campeur rides great, load or no-load, hands-on, or hands-free (at 30 mph it was totally comfortable riding no-hands.)

(Digression #2: A few years ago at age 47, I rode a 40K time trial in a few seconds under an hour on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I did borrow top-of-the-line Rolf Wheels...other than than it was the same bike I ride when touring, sans bags! It is not the bike frame, if well designed, that is at issue for speed. Grant Peterson of Rivendell has long harped on how the bicycle is the only machine whose weight is considered without the engine (that would be you). He is right to do so: the Campeur will be super fast if you're super fit and have lightweight components and tires.)

Some key Campeur points, in no privileged order:

*It looks good!! The tubes are narrow and elegant, although the down-tube is oversized. The gray paint job glimmers with small specks of color in the sun. The gray color is neutral enough that your color choice of bar tape, fenders, etc., will not clash with the frame. The paint itself is much higher quality that that seen on comparable bikes. The fork tips, rear dropouts, and fork crown are lugged; the head-tube and seat-tube have nice reinforcements – little details that look great (and are strong). The flat-crown fork and curving lower legs are a lyrical delight to look at! We live in era where the sheer volume and intensity of quotidian ugliness can lead a sensitive person to depression. Can you say Anywhere, USA? We spend our lives unavoidably in, or avoiding, such spaces. If you are going to use your bike as much as you should, you have to like looking at it. And it has to reward your looking at it by being interesting and elegant. Depreciate the aesthetic in this life at your own risk. Of course, the biggest compliment I can give VO is that they think beautiful form and extremely useful, long-lasting function are not enemies. Just look at their component and accessory choices. The Campeur is no exception.

*Relatedly, the geometry is such that there is no front wheel overlap with the pedals when making sharp turns, slowly, with the wheel turned at an acute angle. This may be amoot point out i the country, but in an urban environment sharp turns are sometimes necessary and unexpected, and no front wheel/pedal overlap is *good.*

*All of the sizes on the frame (BB, headset, seat-post, etc.) are standard! Hooray. You use your old (good) stuff. Or buy good new stuff, easily found.

*Note the low rack placement due to the on the correctly placed mounting eyelets! This is a necessity, not a luxury! It keeps the rack low, the load low, and maximizes the top-shelf use of the rear rack. You will be able to nicely mount the fenders to a variety of racks out there, especially VO constructeur-type racks.

*The rear hub takes a 135mm wheel easily. I use the VO cassette hub (bellisimo!). Say hello to easywheel changes. Say a big hello to a super strong, no-dish rear wheel, if you use an off-center rear rim; or a near dish-less rear wheel if you don't.

*There is a kick-stand plate. Yes! And long chainstays, so even big feet don't hit big rear panniers fully loaded.

*Big tires are easily fitted. I found I could fit 45mm tires easily with full fenders. [Chris' note: I think Mike has 40mm tires; will check]

*Fender attachments are threaded under the appropriate bridges at the bottom bracket, fork crown, and rear brake bridge. Yes! It makes the fender stronger, wobble less, and easier to mount and adjust for height. (As well as easier to silicone a wire on the inside if you use generator lights and use a wired tail-light. And you know you should...).

*The head tube is extended and reinforced. This is crucial. It takes away from the ugly look of a too-tall stem. And allows for a higher handlebar height, which is extremely important for comfort and control. Most folks ride bikes at least a size too small...

*There is a one-inch, “traditional” head-tube, for a “traditional” threaded stem. This is good. And the fork is *not* cut too-short, a common failing! Since VO makes the beautiful stem adapter for “thread-less” stems for threaded headsets, it affords lots of good options for the bar/stem interface. And, of course, I use the excellent and super long lasting VO cartridge headset...with split fork crown race....awesome...the headset rolls on and on like butt'ah.

(Digression #3: Is pencil use primarily for marking -- or for later erasure? Is the essential nature of fire to destroy and sterilize -- or to make a house warm and cozy as it crackles in the fireplace? Is the true nature of the acorn to grow into an oak tree? What if the acorn is picked up by a squirrel and stored for winter food? Did the squirrel mess with the Universe's Grand Plan? At the atomic level a bullet is mainly empty space...but if it's shot at you from the barrel of a gun, I'd duck. Is the bullet essentially hard, or hollow? Atom bombs, computers, and nuclear power depend on the latter theorization, however counterintuitive.
Add to these questions: Which is better -- the 1-inch threaded headset, or the 1 and 1/8 inch threadless? See my point? Leave your arrogance at home. The answer, here, across the board on all substantive matters of concern, even beyond bicycles, is: it depends...)

*The front fork has through-bolts for a low-rider front rack. Both ends of the bike have multiple rack eyelets. And a beautiful bolt-hole through the crown that is the right size. Put your headlight there...or a front rack to hold a handlebar bag.

*All the included bolts on the bike are stainless steel.

*Multiple full-sized pump placement possibilities. Do not take this lightly... (There is the traditional pump peg on the head-tube.)

*No squeal braking! The front fork has a flat crown...and I mention this as it may render the fork strong enough, resistant enough to flex, to render brake-use squeal-free. Maybe. Anyhow, what I do know is that unlike many competing brands of similarly tasked bicycles, this bike simply does not have any brake squeal, regardless of the pads used. I used three different kinds on the canilever brakes: salmon Kool Stops, black Shimanos, and black Swiss-stops. VO has wonderful noise-free brake pads which are a blessing if you have howling brakes (they do wear rims slightly faster, but nothing outrageous – about 7500 miles before the rim needs replacing), to gain a squeal-free ride...I have reviewed them in the past on the VO Blog.) The Campeur rides quietly even under extreme braking, front and rear, with standard, off-the-shelf, anybody-makes-em pads. HOOO-RAY!

*Customer Service matters! The folks at VO are nice. They are rational. They answer questions quickly. “I don't know” is part of their repertoire of responses. This is a strength, not a weakness. How refreshing in these days of know-it-all business enterprises. If you need help or if something goes awry you can count on them to help, not hinder. Contemporary life has enough headaches. Bureaucracy, not democracy, is what we all spend so much time navigating. It matters where you buy your bike, and bike stuff.

So: What are you waiting for? The Campeur is great bike and rides like a dream. Not like a donkey.

Reviewer background; or, who I think I am:

I am a completely biased reviewer of all things bicycle, at least when I get the chance to do so. I don't like stupid crap, especially if it's made to last one season or is over-priced. I do like progressive technological innovation. But so little stuff is progressive or innovative. Jobst Brandt is a straight-talking hero. I've been on the road for more than 25 years at this point, always averaging at least 10,000 miles a year, in many locations in the USA. I've traveled around a fair bit, and usually by bicycle. I raced on the road when younger, and was in some Pro/I/II races with Lance Armstrong, as I'm about 9 nine years older than him. I didn't use to mention this, but now that LA is a doper I finally admire him. Anyone who's ever had a beer to take the edge off, or had an aspirin, should do likewise. Although I must admit LA's palmares pales compared to Amish women who bicycle through the winter in skirts carrying groceries on mixtes. I dragged my child to school for many years on a bike...which must not have been so bad as she now has a boyfriend who works in a bike shop (I'm undecided on whether that's good or bad...I dislike 99 percent of bike shops. I'm not undecided on how much more I love her every day.) I like thinking about learning, education (which is much more than learning), biology (especially noncognitive evolutionary adaptation), the built environment, transportation, economic justice (or the lack of it), and high-fructose-corn-syrup addiction. I try to be involved in bike advocacy in my hometown of Washington, DC. I like destination rides to food, and noodling around urban environs with friends Ed and Mary, and buddy Lane. I have a beautiful, hot, big-brained, fun wife who tolerates me, and allows me to ride her around on a Da Vinci tandem. She also rides a Soma Saga, but that's only because the Campeur wasn't available at the time...


Anonymous said...

Well done Mike. Yours is the kind of review I am looking for. Your digressions are more relevant that most of what is discussed in bike reviews, and I know you put in some miles.

Notice that in many bike reviews, it is simply stated that the brakes stop the bike and the gears allow one to ride up the hill. You have left me with an impression of your experience, and you have let us get to know you to appreciate where you are coming from. I ordered my Campeur yesterday.


Unknown said...

I will now be friendlier to Washington DC folks.


Doug said...

Now that you know LA is a doper you admire him? Is that what I just read?

I was enjoying the review up until then.

Anonymous said...

Mike you are a sage and soothsayer too!

pinkshirt said...

Mike, thanks very much for your comments and photos. And thanks to VO for publishing them.

I usually ride a 64/65 but your stem setup has me thinking about a 62cm campeur. A real comprise probably, but I'll think about it. Still hoping for a 64/65 Pass Hunter. :)

Anyway, a quick tangent from a fellow Washingtonian: what's your most favored route from Washington to Annapolis?

youcancallmeAl said...

i hope the folks at lovely bicycle read your bit about bike frames and performance

Anonymous said...

i sure hope lovely bicycle reads this bit!
"(Digression #2: A few years ago at age 47, I rode a 40K time trial in a few seconds under an hour on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I did borrow top-of-the-line Rolf Wheels...other than than it was the same bike I ride when touring, sans bags! It is not the bike frame, if well designed, that is at issue for speed.

Tim Joe Comstock said...

Nobody writes like that who doesn't write a lot. I wonder where else we can go to ride along with Michael Ross?

It was symphonic. I don't know anything about music, but I think that piece contained enough texture, content, arabesquios, artepeggios, flute solos, flourishing of kettle drums and bass violios to make Mozart weep with envy and cut off a body part.

Fifteen hundred miles? Probably since last Tuesday. What a stunning review. (Three sentence fragments for effect. Staccato strings)

While posting the review here on Velo ORANGE is a bit of singing to the choir (I can't seem to get clear of the musical analogizing) I gotta tell ya: SOLD.

Unfortunately since I took my involuntary vow of poverty five years ago even a reasonably priced $500 bicycle frame is out of my reach. Add the other $500 or so (bargain shopping)that it would take to get her up and running and alas! I fear I will have to continue to make do with my 30 year old Schwinn and a handful of hose clamps.

Be that as it may, I was a fan of Chris's when it was boats and I am a fan today. It is rather odd to me that when my devotions turned from water-borne vessels to bicycles, there Chris was waiting with still more How-It-Oughta-Be-Done product.

In review, all this seems rather smart-assed. Or maybe it seems dumb-assed. But I am sincere. (Three short complete sentences to mirror and counterpoint the previous pelagotto of the three sentence fragments. Rinse and repeat.)

To summarize: Where can I get more Michael Ross, that Campeur is gonna be a hit, I miss the boats, Jesus rode a donkey, and I am very, very, VERY anti-car.


Dana the Tall said...

The only thing that would make this review more useful for me is knowing it was on a bike with a 65cm frame, nudge nudge wink wink stomp stomp.

Anonymous said...

A very solid review, and a fun read.

I, too, wouldn't mind hearing of Mike's favorite routes in the Greater D.C. area.


upriver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

In my experience, the drive out to Velo Orange World HQ is easy and painless, as drives in the metro DC area go. If you avoid rush hour, the traffic's not bad, the route is quite straightforward and VO's driving directions are spot on.

peddalhead said...

Yes please, I would like to throw in as well for knowing any good routes between DC and Annapolis for trips on my Polyvalent.

Splendid review! Finally a reviewer who's not afraid to speak their mind.

Anonymous said...

Tire appears to be a 700x35 Panaracer T-Serv. They don't make them any larger.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the article! I just mentioned to a co-worker about how great VO's business model is. My old PX-10 is alive and happy thanks in a large part to VO! I am glad that you are enjoying a well made and highly functional bicycle. Riding makes me smile, always, rain or shine, warm or cold!! Ride on!


Ken said...

Excellent review! Sensible, as is the writer.

Doug said...

Mike Ross just sold me on this frame and it arrvived on Saturday.
Very well done Chris and I look forward to building it up. Pewter gray and spot on build quality it is much more than I expected. All in all a very attractive piece of art. I wll admire and use accordingly.

Souc said...

I purchased this bike in 1985, It was called a Specialized Expedition. Heck, the color is even the same. Good idea then, good idea now. But my lugged frame is way cooler:-)

Lonesome Twin said...

Great review. Random existentialism always adds a welcome diversion in any essay on the merits of a particular Thing. What struck me most were the silent brakes and the ease of hands-free riding. Both of these are important features on a bike. The silence reinforces the feeling of quality and reassures the inner accountant that the money was well spent. The confident tracking proves that it has been well made and well designed. Well done sir.

But I have to ask. Grey? Really?? The Pass Hunters in red do show it up a little I think.

Unknown said...

Michael: I'm still riding my 25" 1985 Maruishi Tourace 18. As expected, most (almost all!) of the components have been replaced and/or upgraded over the years, but now I'm looking at swapping out the frame for something with longer chainstays and no toe overlap. I'll replace those components that won't fit the new frame (e.g. seat post), but otherwise re-use the components I've upgraded.

A key consideration in the decision is the fact I'm 6'2" and my height comes mainly from long legs (34" inseam), not a long torso, so I need to be careful about top tube length - actual or effective. I also have long arms, but I certainly have a more upright riding posture than I did 20 years ago.

I'm interested in your thoughts comparing the Velo Orange Campeur to the Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Taylor said...

Loved your review... still waiting to afford my campeur.

I live in Petworth in DC, and I have seen a campeur with purple bar tape whizzing around the neighborhood a few times in the last week. The pilot wears a black cycling cap, and wonder if it could be the reviewer?

If so, I would love to connect offline. Cheers!

Unknown said...

Does anyone know what brand/model front fender is on this Campeur?

Doug said...

A few words on progress:It has been almost two years I am finally building up the frame from a box of parts collected over a few years. The fenders on Mike's bike are similar to those from Portland Design Works in case any one asks. Family obligations slow you down but do not give up. Build and use the machine you want.

Anonymous said...

54mph in Lancaster County PA? That's pretty flat country, isn't it? So that must have been some tail wind! The fastest I've ever been on my bike, going down a very steep hill, was around 44 mph. Very scary. (Of course, there were massive trees on each side, and the road was a little rough and twisty.) Never again.

Houckster said...

How stiff is the bottom bracket? One of my pet peeves is having to trim the front derailleur frequently.