Friday, December 2, 2016

Old Is Good: Mavic Monthlery Rims

I'm gearing up to begin another wheelbuilding project, and that means locating more classic components. I recently wrote about a nice set of hubs I'll be using: a pair of Campagnolo Record hubs with the HiLo rear hub -- 32  front, 36  rear. Now I have my rims picked out: a set of vintage new-old-stock Mavic Monthlery Legere tubular rims. I should state right from the beginning that these are not intended to be wheels for everyday use, and certainly not for commuting, or anything other than special wheels for a special bike to be ridden on nice roads on the best of days. Nothing to do with necessity, and nothing "practical," other than the desire to build something really unique and something that I would have drooled over in my youth.

I've always had good experiences building with Mavic rims, so that was a prime consideration as I was making a selection. And since I had decided I want to use NOS vintage instead of current production, I had made the job of locating suitable rims a bit more difficult. The fact that I needed to find a 32 and a 36-hole rim didn't help either.

In the '70s and early '80s, Mavic's Monthlery rims were among the company's best tubular rims -- with a polished aluminum finish, and made with double eyelets at each spoke hole for extra durability. They came in a few different variations for different applications, and the prices varied accordingly.

At the lower end of the Monthlery line was the Monthlery Route. These were about 22 mm wide and advertised at 420 grams. According to the Mavic catalog from the mid-80s, the Route was meant for OEMs (original equipment), training, cyclocross, or for "difficult" road conditions. That weight puts them into clincher rim territory, but they were probably bomb-proof when built into a wheel by a competent builder.

From the 1980 Mavic catalog. (scan from Velo-Pages)
The Monthlery Pro was next, at 20 mm wide, and advertised as 395 grams (I believe 400 grams was probably typical in reality). These were a real mainstay rim for aftermarket wheels. Their weight was a little on the higher side for top-line racing wheels, but they were strong, reliable, and a good choice for a wide range of applications. If someone couldn't afford separate wheels for training and racing, the Monthlery Pros were a really good way to go.

The Monthlery Legere ("legere" means "light") was the same width as the Pro, but because of a slightly thinner-walled extrusion, they were advertised as being only 310 grams. Numerous sources claim the reality was somewhere between 330-340 grams. Mavic catalogs described them as "interesting for road racing. Excellent weight/resistance ratio." Obviously translated from French by someone with only a part-time experience with English. No doubt they meant something like "well-suited" for road racing. But they did represent a good balance of strength and low weight.

The Legere was not the lightest thing going, however. There was another rim called the Extra Legere (advertised in a 1974 flyer as the Golden Monthlery) which was listed as weighing only 260 grams! I've seen sources that listed actual weight as somewhere between 270-280 grams. The Mavic Extra Legere, or Extra Light, would have competed directly with a couple of other rims of the day, the Super Champion Medaille d'Or (advertised 260 g), and the Fiamme Ergal Gold Label rims (advertised 280 g). I've never used the Fiamme Ergal rims, but there are numerous stories of them cracking or breaking at the spoke holes. In the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly, Jan Heine actually describes them as having a tendency to shatter! I don't know if that was hyperbole or not, but the cracking spoke holes was a common story. I have used the Super Champion Medaille d'Or - they were the first set of wheels I ever built, and despite my diminutive weight at the time (I was only 125 lbs at age 18) they needed constant truing. Was that because of my beginner-status as a wheelbuilder? Or because the rims were just too ridiculously light (probably a combination of the two) I don't know, but at my age and current weight, I'm no longer so willing to sacrifice durability in order to shave a few extra grams.

Anyhow, I decided to go with the Legere for the reason that I wanted something light, but not stupid-light. I think they represent a good balance.

Now, looking for NOS vintage rims makes things a bit complicated. Searching eBay as well as online sellers who specialize in vintage bike parts, I found that availability seemed to be exactly in proportion to the weight of the rims. The OEM-level Monthlery Route is definitely the easiest to find. NOS examples seem to abound, with prices ranging from $80 - 130 per pair. The mid-level Pro is slightly less plentiful, but still available, and the going rate seems to be around $100 - 150 per pair for NOS. The Legere is pretty scarce. I had found a single 36-hole rim some time back for about $50, including shipping. It took a while before I could find a matching 32-hole for the front. Just out of curiosity, I've been searching for months for the 260 - 280 g. Extra Legere, and they simply don't come up for sale. I'm not sure I've ever seen one.

This line of rims from Mavic did evolve over time. By the end of the '70s, there were anodized versions available. The silver-anodized versions were labeled "Argent" (which means silver) while gold-anodized were "Or" (umm. . . gold) and the anodizing treatment was said to "improve the finished appearance and facilitate upkeep." In these anodized versions, the Legere model was re-named the Argent 10, and the Extra Legere was the Argent 7 (later Argent 8).

from VeloBase
In the early '80s, dark gray hard-anodizing became all the rage, and the 400 gram Monthlery Pro formed the basis for the GP4, a popular all-round racing and training tubular rim. I can't find confirmation of it, but I'm pretty sure that the "G" stood for "Gris" (gray) in reference to the dark gray hard anodized finish, and "P" was probably "Pro." My second-ever wheelbuilding project used GP4 rims, and while they were probably overkill for my still-flyweight physique (at the time), I literally used to ride those wheels down stairs and bunny-hop uneven railroad tracks on a regular basis. I replaced a few headsets, but never had to re-true the wheels. Not even once. The Legere became the GL330 (Gris Legere 330 grams?) and the Extra Legere would have become the GEL280 (Gris Extra Legere 280 grams?). The '84 Mavic catalog claimed that the hard anodizing increased the surface hardness by a factor of 10, and that it increased the rigidity of the rim. I am not aware that the supposed increase in rigidity was in any way noticeable or if it made the rims last any longer, but in the '80s it definitely became the must-have fashion. What I decided I didn't like, however, was that after only a few rides, the gray finish would start to wear off the sidewalls - and it never wears off evenly. For that reason more than any other, I still have a preference for standard non-anodized aluminum for rims. If it gets scratched or dull over time, you can always bring back the lustre with a little bit of aluminum polish on a soft rag.

By the way, there was an older Mavic rim with a similar name, but was not part of the same lineup. Some readers may recall a model called the Montlery (note the lack of the "h" in the spelling) Championnat du Monde which was a pretty common OEM rim in the early '70s. Several sources state that they were original equipment on early '70s Schwinn Paramounts, for example. These were a single-eyelet rim that had knurled sidewalls (remember those?) that were supposed to improve braking, but generally just made the rims howl like banshees when stopping.

My pair of NOS Monthlery Legere rims ended up setting me back about $115. Without a doubt, that's a lot higher than what these rims sold for when new, but current model Mavic Open Pro tubular rims generally sell for between $70 - 80 each, so that puts it into some perspective. And at about 330 grams (or so) each, the weight is lower than most aluminum rims made today - and even on par with a lot of carbon fiber rims costing much, much more.

When built up, these should be just the right thing for a vintage bike restoration, and another example of Old Is Good.

18 comments:

  1. pretty cool. Watch your spoke tensions. Modern spokes like DT seem to hold tension better than the old Robergels for example which were quite stretchy. The lighter rims had very thin extrusions and you can get cracking around the ferrules on the drive side.

    I have a set of SSC Blues in 28R / 24F and they are really cool.

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    1. Thanks mpetry -- I will probably use either modern DT or Sapim butted spokes. And yes, these older rims are light, but thin.

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  2. Mavic ferruled rims gets my vote , but I was recently given a pair of Weinmann concave mud catcher rims, old is good !

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  3. Ma 2 modified by Bontrager, another vote for Mavic !

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  4. Most of the wheels I've owned and ridden over the past 35 years or so have had Mavic rims on them. My first set of tubulars were the baseline Monthlerys on Normandy Competition hubs. Later, I got the lighter Monthlerys and GL 330s. No problems with any of them.

    By the way, you're right about what the letters in Mavic's model numbers denote. Tres bien, monsieur! Did you know that MAVIC is an acronym: Manufactures des Accessories Velocipediques Idoux et Chanel, or the Idoux and Chanel (the company's founders) bike accessory manufacturer. Believe it or not, the company's first product was fenders--"garde a boue" or "mudguards", as the Brits call them.

    I also had a pair of Fiamme Ergals, though not for very long. Mine cracked at the spoke holes: something I didn't notice until one day when my rear wheel spontaneously taco'ed when spokes pulled out of the rim!

    Although I have no complaints about Open Pros, I wish Mavic would make something with more of a vintage look--or even revive the E2 (the second-generation Elan rim), which was practically bombproof and reasonably light, and had a beautiful polish. The MA2 was essentially the E2 with a boxier shape, and looked like "retro" rims.

    Ofoab--That Bontrager could modify the MA2 as he did shows how strong it was. The Weinmann concaves were heavier than just about any other alloy rim. But if you want to build a set of wheels that will survive the apocalypse, that's the rim to use!

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    1. I almost included the Mavic acronym, but didn't - so thanks for that. But I did not know they started out making fenders. I still kind of like their early derailleurs, that looked like Campy but with erector set styling.

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  5. I just bought a Pass Hunter and want to build a set of wheels for it with a SONDelux dynamo and a Dura-ace 7900 rear hub. I'm only 64kg and will ride Brevets with this bike. Do you have any recommendation for lightweight rims? Nowadays everything seems to be overbuilt or *sigh* carbon...

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    1. Did you check out Velo-Orange rims? They have a classic, traditional look, and come in a couple of styles. The Raid and the PBP might fit the bill - of the two, the Raid is a bit wider and heavier than the PBP. The Sun M13 is another traditional-looking rim, and may actually be a little lighter than either of the VO ones - and they're not too expensive. Also, it's really hard to go wrong with the Mavic Open Pro - it is a little more modern-looking than the others I've mentioned, but not so much that it looks out of place on a traditional bike, particularly if you get it in silver (it's anodized silver, not polished). The Open Pro is quite strong for its relatively low weight. At 19 mm wide, though, you probably wouldn't want to go with tires much wider than 28 mm (maybe 30 at the most).

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    2. i'd also look into Sun rims. i have a set of CR18's i'm partial to. A bit heavy, but definitely bombproof. They also make a variety of narrower rims. i've also had good luck with Velocity rims.

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    3. I agree - the Sun CR18 is a good rim, particularly if you want to use wider tires. I've got a couple sets of wheels using them. The M13 is a bit narrower and lighter for sportier use.

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  6. My 2 cents: box section rims are poorly suited to modern high dish rear wheels. The drive side spokes pull exactly perpendicular to the rim bed and a box section doesn't resist that force very well. You need 200kg force on the drive side for the wheel to "stand" but over 220kg f and you are risking cracking the rim. My favorite for a rear wheel is the asymmetric Velocity A23. V shape rims can withstand those forces much better. My gripe with the A23 is that the tubeless bed is a pain to mount normal tube/clinchers on. Unfortunately, no asymmetric V shape rim with a normal bed exists, that I am aware of.

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    1. If someone is building a high-dish (non-retrogrouchy) wheel - that advice might be worth more than 2 cents. Thanks.

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    2. Thanks. While we are at it, let's repeat some retro grouch mantra: if you can't find the gear your legs need on a 6 speed cluster,you are not going to find it with a 10 or 11 speed one. All you get is a weaker wheel!

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  7. I've built a mess of the VO rims, better overall quality than the CR18's if you need a vintage rim and don't like to hunt. Also, the CR18's are pretty soft. They don't appreciate a high tension build, I'd blame myself, except I've been building wheels for close to 30 years and I don't see the issues with other rims that I do with the Suns.

    That said, full MSRP on them is around $35, so hard to beat as a budget minded offering!

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  8. I've built several Mavic rims both clincher and tubular. I've had good success with Mavric. I've also built a few Ambrosio rims that worked out well. I wouldn't hesitate to use Ambrosio again. As far as ease of building I would rate the Ambrosio at least equal to Mavic.

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    1. I built one set of wheels with Ambrosio clincher rims that I thought came out quite well. Nice, straight rims.

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  9. Regarding Yellow Label rims: In 83 I built up a Colnago Super as a college graduation present for myself, had a pro shop build up a set of 36 hole yellow labels laced to Nuovo Record low flange hubs, with db DT spokes. On my first ride, I was going down a small hill, hit a divot/small indentation in the road, and the front rim shattered. A section covering four spokes just broke out, I landed on my face, rolled, and stood up only to feel my jaw sticking out of my skin. My friend turned around on his bike to get to me, and got sick really fast! I only dented the top tube on my new bike. I used to have the piece as a paperweight, not sure what happened to it!

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