Phrases James Spender Images and videography George Marshall
Video of Argon 18: Breaking the mould
‘Ultimately, it’s a recipe, like making a cake. The cake can have an excessive amount of sugar, it may be too heavy, too crumbly. If you happen to don’t have the fitting recipe, the fitting elements and the fitting cooks, it gained’t work.’
As expositions on manufacturing composite bikes go, it’s a well-worn analogy. But there’s one thing in the best way the proprietor of Argon 18 says it that makes it sound unique.
The thick French accent actually helps, and certainly the identify: Gervais Rioux, the surname pronounced just like the Michelin-starred father and son.
However past that, it simply is smart.
You may’t decide the recipe or elements of a cake from consuming it any greater than you may decide the exact carbon fibre layup in a motorbike simply from driving it.
It’s why Rioux challenges anybody to trip an Argon 18 and really feel the distinction.
Nevertheless it’s additionally why we’ve been invited right here, to seek out out precisely what’s occurring beneath the paint.
Argon 18 is predicated in Montreal, Quebec, a province colonised within the 17th century by the French.
That explains Rioux’s accent, and that of his 40-plus employees.
It additionally goes some strategy to explaining how Argon 18 managed to determine itself as a drop-bar bike firm within the midst of the mountain bike craze sweeping North America within the 1990s.
‘The French love street biking,’ says Rioux. ‘I’ve all the time liked it too.
‘I began racing bikes at 12, I obtained my first job in a motorbike store by 14, working all summer season so I may afford to purchase higher bike components.
‘At 16 I noticed the factor that may change my life. It was 1976 and the Olympics have been being held in Montreal.
‘I went to see the bike racing and that’s after I determined I’d go to the Olympics in the future.’
The start of that journey – which might see Rioux signify Canada on the 1988 Olympics in Seoul – began with a motorbike made by Montreal’s most revered framebuilder on the time, Giuseppe Marinoni.
‘I went to see him for a brand new bike. He was a humorous man.
‘He tried to discourage me from racing, saying, “This sport is extraordinarily arduous. You must do different issues.”
‘However I obtained my first customized bike, and likewise in a way my final, as a result of the final crew I raced for – Evian-Miko – rode bikes made by Marinoni for our store sponsor, “Argon 18”.
‘I retired in 1990 and within the fall that yr the chance got here as much as purchase the Argon 18 store.
‘It was in monetary issue, however inside 48 hours of the homeowners coming to me, I had determined to purchase it.’
Rioux nonetheless has his final race bike, which sits alongside Argon 18’s crop of present race machines within the showroom.
Incongruously steel in a sea of carbon fibre, it encapsulates the custom and expertise Rioux sees as integral to his bike firm.
‘The identify Argon 18 comes from the periodic desk.
‘Argon is the fuel they used to make use of to weld frames and 18 is its atomic quantity. So mainly if you happen to didn’t have argon 18, you had no bike.
‘After all we don’t use argon fuel in carbon bike body development, however I nonetheless like this bike.
‘It reminds us that we mustn’t get misplaced sooner or later and neglect what we’ve discovered previously.’
Very similar to the 16-year-old boy on the Olympics, Rioux set his sights on a seemingly not possible dream – to make Argon 18 a world bike model with a Tour de France crew. And though progress may not have been meteoric, it was however regular.
By 2002 Argon 18 had gone from promoting 150 rebranded metal bikes a yr to debuting its first Rioux-designed carbon street bike.
By 2008 its E114 triathlon bike had taken second within the girls’s and third within the males’s races at Ironman Hawaii.
By 2015 the corporate had taken over NetApp-Endura to kind Bora-Argon 18, claiming its first Tour de France podium that yr when German rider Emanuel Buchmann took third on Stage 11.
In 2017, Argon 18 switched to supplying bikes for WorldTour crew Astana.
‘Our proudest second was seeing Fabio Aru driving in yellow final yr,’ says Rioux, who has additionally managed to applicable Aru’s Gallium Professional to adorn the showroom.
But he isn’t about to relaxation on the corporate laurels, and says the longer term is about controlling the method.
Whereas Argon 18 designs its personal bikes in Montreal, these designs are, like so many within the trade, produced by a contract manufacturing unit within the Far East.
However as Rioux explains on our strategy to the testing lab, Argon 18 could be very completely different to its rivals.
Rioux arms us over to Argon 18’s composite supplies specialist, Joffrey Renaud, who elaborates.
‘Most manufacturers simply ship a design to the manufacturing unit and it makes the body,’ says Renaud, who beforehand labored within the aerospace sector.
‘The model designs the geometry and requests the stiffness, weight and luxury.
‘The manufacturing unit has its personal layup schedule, and primarily the model hopes it will get again the body that it needs.’
By ‘layup schedule’, Renaud means the method by which items of carbon fibre are reduce into shapes and layered up within the moulds that comprise varied components of a motorbike body.
The layup is the ‘recipe’ Rioux described, and it dictates features comparable to stiffness and weight.
It’s also, says Renaud, a intently guarded secret by the factories, so not one thing a motorbike model sometimes will get concerned in.
‘We nonetheless have this method with our entry-level frames. If you happen to work with a very good manufacturing unit there’s nothing incorrect with this mannequin,’ says Renaud.
‘However after we’re speaking high-end frames, the place you are attempting to avoid wasting each gram and push each boundary, we realised we would have liked extra management of the processes.
‘In any other case it doesn’t matter how good your concepts are.
‘You’re on the mercy of the manufacturing unit as as to whether or not it is going to execute them, and to what normal.’
Redefining the method
Argon 18 has a twin technique for navigating the murky waters of manufacture.
First, it checks its frames in a method it believes factories in Asia don’t, can’t or gained’t. Second, it creates and checks new layups with the assistance of the Composite Growth Centre of Quebec, an impartial R&D establishment.
Armed with these bits of data, Argon 18 can see how a body is performing and take steps to revamp it in areas it sees as missing.
It could actually then go to a manufacturing unit to make its case.
It’s this knowledge that enables the corporate to affect and management the manufacturing course of in a method many manufacturers can’t.
As an example this, Renaud reveals us a motorbike lined in pressure gauges that has clearly been ridden outdoor, after which factors in the direction of a second bike loaded with weights on the handlebars and saddle and sitting on what would possibly finest be described as a vibrating desk.
‘We used to make use of a rolling street however we discovered it wasn’t fairly proper, so we constructed this desk utilizing the identical gear utilized in 4D cinemas to make the seats vibrate,’ says Renaud.
‘The thought is that we are able to use the primary bike to report the stresses and strains on a motorbike beneath actual driving circumstances and might then use that knowledge to simulate these circumstances within the lab.
‘We then measure the acceleration on the saddle and stem utilizing accelerometers, and the deformation of components of the bike such because the handlebars and seatpost.
‘Much less energy recorded at these contact factors means much less vibration – so extra consolation for the rider.
‘Whenever you examine this to the ability that’s getting in from the vibration of the wheels, you may see what a body is doing when it comes to consolation.
‘Merely observing a seat tube flexing greater than final yr’s mannequin doesn’t translate into your bike being extra comfy. Vertical compliance is linked to consolation, however it’s under no circumstances instantly proportional.’
It’s by placing frames by way of such checks that Argon 18 is ready to construct up an in depth, scientific image of how a carbon fibre body performs past fundamental fatigue checks – flexing a body tens of 1000’s of occasions earlier than it fails or exceeds check requirements.
‘Proper now the restrict, for instance absolutely the lightest body you can also make, is outlined by the factories in Asia,’ says Renaud.
‘However this doesn’t imply that what they will make is absolutely the lightest doable, and the reason being merely that though they’ve an enormous quantity of data of body fabrication, a number of it’s from expertise, not science, and a number of that’s pushed by what a manufacturing unit sees as doable for mass producing frames.
‘We are actually difficult these limitations, and our manufacturing unit is listening.’
Equipment of science
Our tour concludes with a go to to the Composite Growth Centre of Quebec – or CDCQ – on the outskirts of Montreal.
We’re led right into a clear room, into which is wheeled a familiar-looking block of metal on a trolley.
‘This is without doubt one of the moulds we known as again from our Asian manufacturing unit to experiment with,’ says Renaud.
‘It’s from a body we made in 2008. Again when this mould was in manufacturing it was making frames that have been 1,200g.
‘We satisfied the manufacturing unit to share its unique layup with us, and thru our analysis have been capable of optimise their layup to supply a body with higher traits however that weighs 760g.’
The gear on present right here is considerably completely different to what a manufacturing unit would use – the entrance triangle mould, for instance, is simply too giant for the warmth presses on the CDCQ, so Renaud and his crew have devised a method of making use of warmth by way of dozens of cylindrical heating components inserted into holes within the mould.
For causes comparable to this, making a body in Montreal takes Argon 18 round every week, in comparison with in the future in its Asian manufacturing unit.
Nonetheless, the processes are comparable sufficient that if Renaud can do it right here, it provides Argon 18 sturdy sufficient floor on which to start out controlling – if not dictating – supplies, strategies and layups beforehand determined upon by its manufacturing unit.
Renaud is tight-lipped as to exactly how he’s shaved greater than 400g from a body simply by tweaking supplies and layup, though he does level out that ‘a pre-preg carbon fibre ply is round 0.075mm and the thinnest tube wall on this body is 0.4mm, so a entrance triangle like this has round 300 particular person items of pre-preg to play with.’
Nonetheless, he’s extra open in regards to the system wherein Argon 18 is working – and making an attempt to work smarter in.
‘What it actually comes right down to is that this: we’re preventing the previous mannequin, the place we’d go to a manufacturing unit and say, “Hey, this restrict right here, you may skip that and go larger,” they usually reply, “It isn’t doable,” and we simply have to simply accept it.
‘As a substitute we are actually able the place we are able to display – and show – what is feasible.
‘It means we are able to persuade the manufacturing unit to push the bounds, and which means we are able to make higher bikes.’
Again at firm headquarters, Rioux has yet another factor to point out us.
It’s a monitor bike for the Danish Olympic squad as ridden on the Olympics in Rio two years in the past, and it was designed from the bottom up by Argon 18.
Since then, different nations’ Olympic biking groups have approached Argon 18 for bikes, with Rioux looking on ‘4 or 5’ partnerships within the offing.
‘Monitor bikes are an incredible type of commercial. The digicam follows them spherical and spherical, the logos are large. However nonetheless it’s a bit unhappy for us,’ Rioux says wistfully.
‘You can’t see inside our frames. As a substitute folks simply see the form, the paint, the parts, and the manufacturers that stand out – they’ve the brilliant colors, the gimmicks.
‘However I didn’t got down to be a advertising and marketing firm that sells bikes. I got down to make one of the best bikes for bike riders.
‘We didn’t invent the bike, however we are able to provide one of the best options.’
Three of Argon 18’s best creations
The Darkish Matter advantages from Argon 18’s new design method.
An elevated understanding of tube shapes and layups helped produce a motorbike the corporate claims is without delay aggressive and exceptionally sturdy and cozy, thanks partially to a extremely raked fork and seatstays designed to flex and dissipate shocks.
‘It’s vital for me that Argon 18 has a presence in monitor and triathlon, not simply street,’ says Gervais Rioux.
‘The Electron was designed for the Danish monitor crew, which rode it within the 2016 Rio Olympics [where it garnered two bronze medals]. For the subsequent Olympics possibly 5 groups will probably be on our monitor bikes.’
Argon 18’s stripped-down flagship racer weighs simply 759g (body, claimed) and encompasses a proprietary 3D match system that affords three head tube heights per measurement with out the necessity for spacers.
The underside bracket is decrease than most (75mm drop vs 68mm), which Rioux says makes this bike exceptionally steady.