Five Minutes With... Chiru Bikes
24 August, 2020
Pierre Arnaud Le Magnan is the brains behind the Chiru Bikes. His passion for long-distance cycling inspired the creation of the brand and we wanted ask him what it takes to build some of the toughest off-road bikes and to put them through their paces.
What inspired you to start Chiru bikes?
I would say primarily my passion for innovation and the whole process of creating a bike which can answer one’s specific requirements in term of performance: build it, test it and compare with others to check if I did a good job in creating the ultimate machine delivering the best performance.
I started building windsurf boards when I was 13 years old and we had all sorts of machines at home to process steel, wood, etc. and I learned to use a lathe machine. I always had a project in building gear for my own fun, windsurf, snowboard, wakeboards. I guess the whole process has always been a "discover and learn" technical voyage, and running my own bike brand allows me to keep also a strong link with the outdoors while exploring new places by riding my bikes.
My process is pretty simple: I select an adventure/event that me or the ChiruBrigade riders would like to ride, I design an initial prototype, build it and it's then tested at this event. Afterwards, we de-brief and make modifications for production then introduce the bike to the market. So, I guess it’s the natural mix of my material science/industrial design engineering background and racing background that makes it a unique brand today in bikepacking.
Riders test the bikes on events like the Hunt 1000.
What does the ultimate off-road ultra-endurance race machine look like?
Well, there are as many different machines as there are ultra endurance events which is why our line-up is getting bigger! The guiding concept behind Chiru bikes is that comfort and power transfer are the 2 keys behind a bike helping you to perform in ultra-endurance.
Leg energy should not be wasted and we put a strong focus in making sure only a minimum amount of energy is wasted while pedalling. Pedalling efficiency relates to many features on the bike, but on the frame, we focus mostly on the rear triangle torsion (flex) characteristics. We have been using results from physiological studies mixed with extensive field experience showing that not only do vibrations decrease your muscle performance after several hours riding, but they also induce severe tiredness/body wear and tear. By using specific designs and materials along with other components, we focus on reducing vibration/increasing comfort hence helping riders to keep pedalling on the bike longer hours, therefore covering more daily distance.
You do not need necessarily to have the highest speed in ultra-endurance; the fastest riders to complete the course are often the ones pedalling for longer.
What is it about titanium that you feel makes it such a good material for bikes?
Titanium has a lot of advantages: the vibration dampening, the touch/feel is just very pleasant, no matter the surface you ride on! It’s a very durable material because it does not corrode. You can also machine it, cold form it, weld it, use butted tubes or 3D print it, so almost any shape is possible and you can really optimise the design of the frame without costly tools.
On the other hand, a good titanium frame is timeless, can last forever and can be recycled if need be, so I guess it minimises our impact on the environment compared to carbon for example.
Pierre during the 2018 SRMR
How have your bikes changed over this time to withstand the demands of ultra-racing?
I was mostly involved in adventure racing, 24hr MTB races or MTB multi day marathons and those sports require bikes with light weight, high performance and no or little capacity for carrying your gear. In ultra-endurance events, we looked at improving the capacity to carry your gear, and use bikes which are also reliable and maybe less prone to fatal damage in case of crash. In ultra endurance, you are primarily racing yourself, the main goal is to complete the course, and you never know what to expect. So bikes might also be more simple to fix and offer versatility to tackle any terrain.
Tell us a bit more about the Chiru Brigade. Do the riders have any input into the design of the bikes?
Chiru Brigade was the result of bikepacking encounters. I met Kim Raeymaekers during the 1st edition of the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018 where we shared some strong memories and finished 3rd together. I met Ben Steurbaut through discussing races and gear over internet.
We share the same passion for pushing our limits on a bike and we have have a strong need to keep riding new adventures. We share info on different events we have raced, plan some other ones or just meet and go riding together for few days for the pure pleasure of riding! They test some of the new components and give me their feedback as well as present new ideas to make the product to their liking.
The Chiru Amphibian prototype test?
You came second on the 2017 French Divide completing the 2170km route in 9D 12H 52M. What are some of your greatest memories from that race?
Ooh, that was already 3 years ago!! I was very surprised, even though I am French to see how remote this course could be, how deep we were deep into rural France...it felt like France was maze only of villages no more than 50 people! There was great scenary across Massif Central, some awesome single tracks and forest trails - riding full-on. We rode under a full-moon without lights on pure white gravel trails. So many moments of pure bliss, but I guess, what I would remember is the kindness of people offering you food, etc., those human interactions capture what it means to be human. It feels like a paradox as you picture bikepacking as a solo sport, but in fact it’s a balance of your own moments and sharing your emotions with others, that’s quite unique and what makes me love it!
What are some of your goals for both the Chiru brand and its riders?
The Brigade had some major goals again this year, with a focus on the Tour Divide 2020 for Ben - he wants to go back again and unfortunately the Covid situation made it impossible, so riding locally is more likely, shorter rides or riding the ACT5 as an ITT which Ben just completed.
Kim is aiming for the Rhino Run at the end of the season, hopefully it will be a go, but who knows at that stage - very difficult to project yourself few months ahead. For my side, I was aiming for the HT550 for which I designed a new bike, and also the Great British Divide but this is only gonna happen in 2021, so I'll probably now do some short or last-minute adventure towards the end of 2020.
For the Chiru Brand, I would like to consolidate our position as a provider of road and off-road high performance bikepacking rigs for the demanding cyclist. France would be our primary market, and we start to see some interest as well in other continents such as the USA which is a good surprise for us! While making the business sustainable through growing numbers, my appetite to add new bike to the line-up is alive, and we will introduce full-suspension Titanium all-mountain frames for even more radical mountain adventures, while also refining and adding more models to our full rigid line and offer customising finishes.