Sunday, June 14, 2015

Velo Orange Camargue: One Year Review

I've had my Camargue almost exactly a year now--I remember it well when I bought it: we were on our summer shutdown vacation and I was awake before the rest of the family in our hotel room. As I was flipping through my iPhone in bed, I saw the Camargue was now available. I quickly made for the bathroom where I could turn on the light without disturbing anyone, and ordered it there off the tiny screen on my phone.

It's a lot bigger in real life:

I had the morning open for a big (for me) ride, 30 some miles up and down the Scioto River. I mostly use the VO for in town errands or camping trips, so it's a bit unusual to ride a big, pointless loop on it. But after my May purge, it's the only road bike in my stable, and I was looking forward to trying out the Albastache bars on a longer ride.

The Albastache are the latest step in a long line of bars for the Camargue. My initial build featured a pair of flipped over On One Marys:

The Marys felt great initially, but they were a bit too low for my aging back. Next up was a Soma Oxford Albatross knock off:

In all it silvery goodness, this was a great looking bar, but too narrow for me, and worse, the main grip position put me too upright, like I was riding an old English three speed. Someone once called that the "Mary Poppins position", and it really doesn't work for me, either.

Surly's Open Bar was wider and had less sweep than the Oxford, and it worked quite a bit better for me:

However, a long ride back from an S24O with Henry into a headwind showed me the weakness of this type of bar--with the main grip position too upright, I spent most of the ride with my hands wedged on the forward curves. Not ideal.

I tried a set of Titec H bars for a while, but they just looked kind of awkward:

I've had the Albastache on there for a few months now, and it's really checking all my boxes: comfortable, lots of hand positions, and it looks good, too. One setup tip if you use brake levers that flare outward to match a drop bar's curve, flip them left/right so the lever tip follows the curve of the bar better. I'll do this whenever I retape these bars. That won't be soon.

The bags on the VO are an important aspect of the bike for me. The Jandd frame pack carries the stuff I want all the time, but that I want out of the way: tools, spare tube, and a first aid kit (I used to never carry a first aid kit until one day when Kate badly scraped her knee at a splash park. As she stood there wet, crying, and bleeding, I could only offer her a hug until a nearby mother pulled a band aid our of her purse)

The Ironweed front bag is simply great. With the Camargue's mid trail front end geometry, it's not much affected by front loads, so I use this bag all the time for library books, snacks, a camera, binoculars, etc. It has quick, easy access, and a square, useful shape that is a lot easier to pack than the Carradice saddle bag.

The Carradice Super C mostly just carries my rear warning triangle (installed by Henry):

I also use the side pockets to put the kids' stuffed toys in when they ride the trail-a-bike. That's important.

I may have found the limits on front loading on the Camargue. On a trip home from Kroger, I had a gallon of milk, a dozen bottles of beer, and assorted fruits and vegetables spread between the front bag and a pair of front panniers. That caused my front end to sway somewhat alarmingly when I turned it quickly. I think that was mostly down to the flexiness of the front VO rack:

The thin tabs that hold the rack to the dropout eyelets and fork crown aren't optimized to provide lateral stiffness. With just the Ironweed bag, it's fine, but maybe I'll have to explore canned beer in the future... or just use my bike trailer for grocery runs.

For rear loads like that, the Camargue is also very capable. When I'm towing a heavy rear load (a kid on the trail-a-bike, for instance), I have to pay attention to the steering to keep the front end in line. I'll take that trade for the responsive handling when I'm not pulling a big load.

Since the VO is the only road bike in my stable these days, I set off for today's ride with all three bags and the tank of a rear rack (Burley Moose rack, all steel) attached. Since Central Ohio is pretty flat, the weight didn't bother me, much. I headed north along the Scioto, bypassing the Glick road bridge to cross at Home road:

Early on a Sunday morning, Dublin road is pretty quiet as I headed north to Klondike road, a route popular with bikes:

Further north on Warren road:

to cross back over the Scioto at the Warrensburg bridge

That was my turning around point, and I headed back south into several miles of a light headwind. Here, the Albastache bars proved pretty capable: I was able to put my hands forward on the hoods and keep my elbows in, a reasonably comfortable and aero position. Not as nice as riding in the drops on a drop bar (for instance, you can't stand in this position with the Albastache bar), but that's another trade I'm happy to make for the superior default riding position. Hands on the forward curve of these bars is a lot more comfortable for me than hanging off the hoods of a drop bar.

By now, I'd been riding for over two hours, so I stopped at the Home road bait store for some snacks. I threw them in my front bag (so easy to access!) and rode to a nearby park for my repast:

Coke and peanut butter crackers at 9:00 in the morning, a feast for kings. At least nothing was moldy this time.

I find some odd stuff on my bike rides. My previous record for oddness was a potted decorative grass (which I took home and planted), but I noticed something that may beat that:

Yes, it's your garden variety Shriner's fez cap. I left it there.

Recharged by sugar and caffeine, I continued on towards home. I'm running the Camargue as an eight speed these days, and that proved adequate for this ride:

"Adequate" sounds like faint praise, but I didn't need anything more, and I don't miss the front derailer at all.

One more bridge before home, this one across the creek that runs by our house:

After a big ride and a year of ownership, I'm happy with my Camargue. It's practical for running around town, comfortable enough for long rides, but not so stiff as a traditional touring bike that makes it no fun to ride unloaded. It actually feels something like my old Cross Check, but with better front end handling and more tire clearance. I also appreciate all of the useful braze-ons that Camargue has.

I only have a few nits to pick: I wish the top tube were a bit longer in this size, though I can compensate for that with a longer stem, and the head tube is simply too short. Ideally, the head tube would be 30~40mm taller, while sloping the top tube more to preserve standover height--I like that clearance when I'm starting and stopping running around town. Those are pretty minor complaints about a bike that cover a broad spectrum of uses.


  1. Great review. Thanks for posting your thoughts - I'm sure they will be very useful to anyone considering purchasing a Camargue. In fact, I've enjoyed reading all your latest round of blog posts.

    You have your Camargue set up very similar to how my Long Haul Trucker is set up, and I can attest to the utility of mustache bars. For me, they took a little getting used to, but now that I am - they're great. I imagine the Camargue rides somewhat more lively than an LHT. I'm still tempted by the Camargue, but I think if I ever replace my Trucker, it'll be with an Ogre.

    Have you had a chance to take it offroad yet? I might have asked you that way back when you first got it.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for the comment and feedback. No off road time on the Camargue yet, and I don't expect anything soon: with the fenders and relatively skinny tires, I don't think it would be an especially relaxing ride.

      I've been tempted by the Ogre in the past, but man, I hate track ends.

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts Eric...I've been thinking about a camargue frame for a gravel/tour build at some point.

    One debate I'm still having is whether to do drop bars and sti levers or mtb bars/shifters. Other than looks, what did you think of your titec h bar? Did you find you could tuck in effectively on those front extensions? Is that part of the bar comfortable for an extended period?


    1. Hi Ben,
      I wasn't overwhelmed by the H bars (actually, they're on my for sale page). The cross piece is too far rearward, which makes it awkward to place the shifters--they have to go in front of the cross piece, which puts them a long reach away.
      I recently installed a Jones H bar on my new/old/vintage Stumpjumper, and I think that's quite a bit better bar... it's rivaling the Albastache for handlebar affection. The forward positions are a lot more comfortable than the H bar, and the cross bar is repositioned to give more useful positions on the bar. I'm starting to think about a nicer frame to build the Loop bars around!


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