As many of you know, I'm a big fan of Cyfac and I am fortunate enough to own a few of their frames. Cyfac is a very small company in France that makes cutting-edge frames but in the old fashioned way: everything is done by hand.
Work brings me to France every once in a while, so in December 2009 I asked Eric Sakalowsky a co-owner of Cyfac if it would be possible for me to visit their workshop near Tours, France. He was YES affirmatively and arrange for the guys at Cyfac to even get me a loaner Cyfac to use during my visit.
Tours is easily accessed from Paris via the TGV, and in about 2 hours I made my way to Tours, and to Langeais which is where I was recommended to stay. My hotel of choice was Hotel Errard, shown in the center of the first pic.
Monsieur and Madame Errard were very accommodating. Monsieur Errard loves to cook, and goes shopping for fresh ingredients every day. They offered a prix fixe meal plan that includes a multi-course meal, and I accepted wholeheartedly!
The Cyfac Workshop
The Cyfac workshop is located in the village of La Fuye, minutes away from Langeais and about 40 mins from Tours. La Fuye is really a small village, like a cowboy town almost. There are a few houses, small basic convenience stores, one bar, the Cyfac workshop, and not much else. The area is quite nice however, with small castles dotting the landscape and the occasional winery and wine cave.
Here's a picture of the workshop from the outside.
I thought I'd post pictures from my visit to show how their frames are made, step-by-step.
The Cyfac staff were extremely friendly and accommodating, and it was a real treat to be able to meet the people who made my frames.
Tubes and frames
One starting point in the making of a frame is its set of tubes. They have their proprietary blend of tubes, in alu, steel and carbon. You can see the different shapes, thicknesses, etc. in the following pictures.
When you custom-order a frame, the correct tubes are collected and sorted according to your order.
After the tubes are collected, a Cyfac geometry expert then cuts them and puts them together on a jig. A laser measuring device is then used to make sure that the geometry and alignments are all correct. This is the first of three times that such a careful measurement is made during the making of each and every frame.
Shown in this picture is Bernard, the first ever Cyfac employee! Always first to work and often last to leave, he takes his work very seriously.
For carbon frames, the next step is the lay-up, either tube-to-tube or lugged. As shown here, they use different combinations of various carbon materials and kevlar to suit each order. With custom orders, they can make any part of the frame as stiff or as compliant in different directions as the rider wishes.
It was really great to see the naked frames before they are finished, when one can still appreciate how clean and meticulous each job is.
After the layups are all applied, it's time to "finish" the frames before they are sent to the paint station. These guys are very careful in watching for any possible defects.
After this stage, each frame is laser-measured again for geometry and alignment.
With Cyfac, you can customize your frame as much as you want. One frame they showed me during the visit is a top-of-the-line Cyfac Absolu, originally a road frame, but this version is for cyclocross instead of for road.
Cyfac use a combination of spray-painting and stencils, no stickers. Yes, it takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort but the results are really stunning.
For those of you who are Cyfac fans, you may recognize that the silver frame is painted following an older paint scheme from about 10 years ago. These guys love special, one-off paint jobs!
After painting, the BB is cleaned and faced, and the final laser measurement is taken.
Cyfac has a small workshop where they can assemble some complete bikes, for example for the Paris-Peking event that they provided bikes for.
The workshop has a small office area up front with a display room where visitors can go ooh-aah over some of their frames. They had just released a retro-style lugged steel frame model. I had never seen so many finished Cyfacs in one place!
Special customers can also pick up their frames here ;-). Unfortunately, that wasn't my case when I was visiting :-(. Someday, someday.
My visit happened to coincide with a special celebration of Bernard's 30-year anniversary as an employee of Cyfac. As mentioned, he was the first Cyfac employee. It also happened to be Friday afternoon. So the employees had a little celebration in the afternoon, with family members visiting the workshop.
Beyond the Workshop
The Tours area is beautiful to visit and very easy for cycling. The region has set up bike routes with clear marks and maps available in tourist offices. This area is famous for its many small and large castles. Cyfac was extremely kind and made available an Infini Carbon for me to ride for the few days I was visiting. I had never ridden one before so I was quite stoked!
The ride was amazingly supple and refined, it was surprising that it was an alu/carbon mix.
If seeing a real artisan bike maker is of interest to you, and you enjoy travels that include great food and wine, tourism, and a lot of history, I highly recommend a visit to the Cyfac workshop in the Loire Valley region. There are plenty of things to see and do: cycling by the riverways, seeing the many castles, great food and wine caves, even Leonardo da Vinci's workshop when he was employed by France's Francis I. A great option if your significant other is less into cycling than you are ;-).