For decades Mavic was the wheel maker. Newsworthy in every development, its ubiquitous yellow support vehicles were second only to its products in terms of keeping the peloton rolling. Founded in 1889 it remained a brand strongly associated with its native France, thanks to a headquarters near Annecy and production facilities in Saint-Triviers.
However, in the last decade, its near-monopoly on the wheel market came undone. With slower production cycles, having pioneered tubeless systems, it seemed late to every development since.
Not that its wheels weren’t usually bombproof, just perhaps lacking that latest hook to enliven journalists or consumers. Behind the scenes, labyrinthine corporate buyouts also saw its ownership swapped between different groups, few of whom seemed interested or able to develop the brand.
After being placed into receivership last year, it looked as if Mavic might have sunk right up to the axles. Indeed, the question of who actually owned the brand at all became a pertinent one, and the staff representation body demanded the help of the courts to clear the muddy waters that surrounded its original sale from Amer Sports Group.
Now under new and more secure ownership, its 2021 range marked a turning point. Simplifying the brand’s offering and returning Mavic to its preeminent spot in the peloton, it also coincided with the production of its core products returning to Annecy.
Key to this is a shift away from accessory ranges to again focus back on what the brand is known for. Having formerly been left adrift, its remaining workforce embedded everything they knew about making wheels into its current range.
‘We don’t just make specifications,’ explains Quentin, one of Mavic’s composites developers. ‘We develop, we design, and we manufacture’.
This return of both production capacity means that Mavic’s new Cosmic Ultimate wheels are now entirely designed and manufactured in France.
‘What Mavic has to offer is all its history and experience in wheel development and production,’ says fellow composites developer Arnaud. ‘We control the design all the way to production’.
Beyond its halo models, other carbon products are now also created, prototyped, and receive their pre-production runs in the same facility. Concentrating the firm’s expertise, those wheels that are made elsewhere in Europe are created using tooling and production machines manufactured in the Annecy or Haute-Savoie regions, while raw materials are also sourced from within a 200km radius. This investment in 100% European manufacturing sets the firm apart from most other large scale bicycle manufacturers.
Mavic carbon road wheels
Unknown to most riders, Mavic began experimenting with composite wheels as early as 1973. Its first product was a glass-fibre lenticular wheel, proving the firm was quick to understand the benefits to be wrought from more aerodynamic wheels. Almsot fifty years later, we look at where the firm’s latest composite options fit into the market.
Ultimate UST Disc
Keen to regain its preminent position, Mavic claims this is the stiffest wheel system in its class thanks partly to its high tensile carbon spokes. Clocking in at 1,225g for the complete wheelset, its 45mm deep profile means it’s versatile across a range of racing scenarios.
The rim itself features a NACA-inspired profile and 27mm width. Undrilled, it doesn't require the use of rim tape to become airtight allowing for easy tubeless use and minimum weight.
Pushing Mavic’s carbon expertise to the limit, it’s not just the rim that benefits from being hand-constructed in Annecy. Each of the wheel’s 20 elliptical carbon fibre spokes are directly bonded to high profile hub flanges also made from carbon. Passing directly through, each is made from unidirectional fibres and spans the entire distance of the wheel creating one single spoke instead of two.
The first time the Ultimate range has featured a disc option, unusually, this £3,090 wheelset currently has no direct calliper equivalent.
The new Cosmic SLR range includes 65, 45, and 32mm deep disc brake wheelsets. Alongside these is a single 40mm deep Cosmic SLR 40 wheelset for calliper brake users.
All include Fore-technology carbon rims with a fully sealed inner rim bridge which does away with the need for tape and cuts rotating weight. At the same time, the load spreading design of the rim’s integrated spoke insert allows the spokes to be directly screwed into the rim, in a design Mavic claims is slightly lighter yet twice as strong. Decently wide, each rim is 19mm internally, except for the 32mm deep options which get a slightly increased width.
Linked to the hubs via elliptical stainless-steel spokes, Mavic’s new Instant Drive 360 Infinity hubs use a double ratchet freewheel and feature automatic bearing preload adjustment. Tweakers will also massively appreciate the removable sound damper which allows riders to dull the noise of the freewheel.
A tier down at SL level the range is repeated in terms of rim profiles. There are slightly cheaper 65, 45, and 32mm deep disc brake wheelsets along with a single 40mm deep rim brake version for rotor refusniks.
Despite paying significantly less, you still get the same Infinity hubs as found on the SLR wheels. While the rims remain similar in both their profile and tubeless-ready ability, the SL range spokes attach more conventionally. Somewhat increasing overall weight, the spokes themselves are also flat-bladed rather than the more aerodynamic elliptical ones found on the SLR models.
Mavic alloy road wheels
From the invention of eyelets to the first hooked rim, Mavic’s aluminium rims have been a mainstay for cyclists since 1934. Back when the material was at the forefront, its Helium and later Ksyrium lines dominated in the 1990s. Now offering a paractical alternative when the benefits of carbon are less critical, such as when training, the latest Ksyrium rims continue to represent the peak of aluminium engineering.
The Ksyrium name lives on with SL and S wheelsets available in both disc and rim-brake versions. Showing the brand is putting the same effort into its aluminium offering as its carbon wheels, both SL and S models include a version of Mavic’s Fore spoke technology, along with the latest Infinity hubs.
Further reducing weight the top-end SL models also feature Inter Spoke Milling which reduces excess material where it plays no structural role, plus elliptical spokes. Now all 19mm internally, the rims on the disc versions of both SL and S models sit a couple of millimetres taller than their calliper siblings at 23 and 25mm respectively. Prices are £590 for the SL and £360 for the S versions in either disc or calliper varieties.
Along with new models and technology Mavic now grants a lifetime warranty on its carbon wheels, with heavy discounts of up to 50% in the case of irreparable crash damage. With its house now seemingly back in order, it should prove a feature well worth having.
Elsewhere, despite simplification and excluding mountain bike wheels, Mavic’s range still sprawls to over 30 models. Perhaps befitting one of the most recognisable names in cycling, this includes options for everyone from track cyclists to gravel riders.
Still supporting racers via its fleet of neutral support vehicles, at the top-end of the market there are now more reasons to choose Mavic than simple neutral service expediency.
Having navigated more than a century of cycling history, if Mavic nearly became part of it, it was largely through machinations beyond the control of the brand itself. Well-established in that small huddle of companies riders tend to feel unprompted affection for, Mavic had earned the right to be considered part of cycling’s furniture.
Surviving with its expertise intact, it now seems to have produced a range capable of cementing its position for a few more decades yet.