Flanders is the talk of the town these days.
So we decided for this episode of Heart of Metal to introduce you our conversation with Jaegher people: Christophe Ghewy, Kurt Stallaert, Emanuel Ramoudt. Building bikes for champions since 1934 in Belgium.
Did you have a look at my questions about Jaegher’s history and your relationship with Columbus?
C. Yes we did, and we did some researches.
You asked when did we start using Columbus tubing and, like you know, the company started 80 years ago, from 1944, so we needed some research but we know we started using Columbus in the 70ies.
And do you also know which was the tube set (maybe this is something we might investigate here in Columbus)?
We don’t know. But it was absolutely in the Seventies, Italy was really sexy and big in cycling, the riders, Campagnolo groupsets… Therefore the steel welders absolutely wanted to use Italian steel tubes, the best on earth!
Then we can jump to this century to appreciate what Jaegher is doing nowadays with contemporary steel and Columbus, especially with XCr, our stainless steel tube set.
Of course we continue with steel but we believe we can make a big difference creating and producing stainless steel bikes: it is a great material and many people still do not know it and how great and special this material is to ride. We want to stay focused on this and show how fantastic a stainless steel made to measure – made in Belgium – bicycle can be! With Columbus XCr tubing of course.
Which model did you choose for our conversation?
As we look at the market how it’s evolving, I think that stainless steel and gravel is an interesting spot while gravel is growing bigger and bigger. A lot of riders now choose to travel in bike packing, on the road and off the road, so if we think about a bike we would highlight, the HURRICANE in stainless steel is our natural choice. Also, Tom (Boonen, who is now partner of Jaegher, ed), he was always a road rider and he’s getting more and more fascinated by the idea of gravel, the taste, the experience. And especially Jaegher’s bicycles 🙂 And I have the impression that a lot of famous riders are going to start again with competitions but more in gravel. The scenario is kind of morphing from road, and also from MTB and cyclocross, to gravel, it’s converging on the gravel scene..
How do you think it’s possible to make your potential customer appreciate the superior quality of stainless steel in gravel? I mean, technically speaking, how can you point out that difference?
Obviously the benefits of stainless steel are well known to you, Columbus people, on the manufacturing of the tubeset side. For a customer the idea of a bike being more durable, more resistant, is very interesting. You see, while some people tend towards the gravel as a more relaxed way of riding on and off the road, a lot of people are looking to gravel more as gravel racers, sporty, they still want to ride aggressively: they want to compete but they want to do it off road, on the gravel. And in this scenario, stainless steel is an unparalleled material: you have the feeling of steel, you have the durability of the stainless steel and you have the power of transfer: the tubing we are using, oversized, ovalized, custom tubes by Columbus can make a bike with a greater power of transfer. We design every frame bespoke, so every geometry is adapted to the riding style of the customer. Which means that if the customer wants more comfort, or more stability, or a very aggressive bike, we design this with the customer. I believe with stainless steel (XCr) we can provide the perfect gravel frame for the gravel racer but also for the enthusiast who wants a performing bike while he is not interested in racing, therefore we make the geometry a little bit more comfortable. Here, stainless steel is an interesting and unique material.
C. Also, talking about stainless steel and gravel, the paintjob is another strong point. With stainless steel there is no damage, or less damage from the little stones and the grit.
E. To complement what Christophe just said, about two years ago we launched a ceramic paint of a superior quality and by doing that we can offer a lot of options of finishing the bikes: we can leave the stainless steel pure, raw; but we can also add colours, elements and details. This ceramic paint results being as durable as the stainless steel, resistant, so the elements – rocks, dust, grit – won’t scratch the frame immediately. This is very time consuming and requires dedication and technique but makes a perfect combo with XCr…
Let’s say that a person wants a Jaegher bicycle, how does it work, which is the process? There are many details on your website, about the bikes, material, lead time and all, but then? Which is the relation you create with the customer…
The 1st meeting is very very important, it’s where we try to understand the needs of the customer, mostly in a 90 minutes meeting; then the idea of the project is discussed. Of course, next to that there is a bike fitting appointment, that can be performed with us or with a bike fitter where the customer lives, and after that we start a process by designing the frame, thinking about the colours and components, depending on how special the customer wants to go, how bespoke he wants to go and we have plenty of options: some people want a regular groupset and parts, while some others want to have for instance a handlebar created for them, with the exact shape they need; then we discuss the colours and sometimes make a dedicated appointment with the designer to create something unique for them.
So, what comes after the 90’ appointment and what happens depends on the expectations of the customer. This can be performed in a couple of further meetings or, as in the last three years people got more used to digital meetings and they work, a video call can be quite effective. So it’s crucial that during these first weeks we understand perfectly what the customer wants and his/her needs so we can propose the right solutions. From the moment the geometry is decided, the drawing is approved, the frame builder can start, then we paint the frame and can assemble the bike. In perfect circumstances, this whole can be made in a minimum time range of 8 weeks but we are always a little bit careful, 12 to 13 weeks (we call it safety time). Of course, if they choose a unique handlebar made for them, they are ready to wait the needed time for the supplier to produce it.
And which is your main market?
Benelux is the biggest but we sell worldwide. People find us…
The identikit of Jaegher’s customer?
Mostly are people who are already into cycling. Mostly they already have very good bike already from a good brand but now they are ready for something special.
C. We see that there is a lot of former pro who used to ride with the most expensive bikes on the stage races, and fall in love with the bike and with the special feeling of the bike. It’s something made here, with Italian tubes, and riders in monument classics love them. We say Jaegher is the final choice for those in the know. For le coureur connaisseur.
Quoting from your website, where you define A Timeless masterpiece: “Innovation in steel tubing hasn’t stopped. Stainless steel inherent stiffness lets you build with small, graceful, tubing and its tensile strength allows for the tubing to be butted almost paper-thin. It’s these material attributes, combined with steel’s natural fatigue resistance that produces a frame that feels famously alive underneath you. For aficionados of that feeling we present the answer: a perfect 21th century steel racing bike, manufactured with an exclusively made for Jaegher Columbus tubeset.”
So, how do you create a masterpiece?
E. Having this opportunity to work with Tom or other famous riders give us also that feedback that we need to create even better bikes. The experience that these world champions have transfers us such important information in terms of feeling, efficiency, geometry and little fine tuning to bring the bikes and frames even to a higher level. So you understand why it was so important and interesting to us to have Tom become our partner… Note, it was Tom himself who chose us – and Emanuel smiles pretty satisfied. It’s Flanders and Italy. That passion for cycling, our common heritage is combined with the feeling for beauty.
E. There is just one more thing we did not really highlight in our conversation but I consider very important: we are creating something together, Columbus and Jaegher. Our common goal is to create the best bicycles ever. The reason why we are doing this and succeeding in doing this is of course partly because we have the best materials, the insights and feedbacks from the pro riders, the heritage… all the things we have just been talking about. But also what differentiates us from other brands is what we do with steel, and that starts already at the Columbus factory. All our models, they have minor to small changes to the Columbus standard range, that we discussed with the engineers at your side to have the tubing in a way which makes them just a little bit with an extra characteristic we need to create the bike. This is very important because Zona or Spirit or XCr tubes are tubeset everybody can order. While having this small extra customization of the tubes is exactly the very start of the process where we want to create and deliver the best bike possible. Columbus tubes and the experience added by our frame builders and by the know how of the company make the real difference to be able to create a ‘more perfect’ bike, if we could say it.
I am sure we both knew this but I needed to underline this aspect. It’s crucially important and what makes a true difference.
It is. And thanks for focusing on this.