The Velo Orange Polyvalent, built up as a porteur bike.
By Marie Autrey
Those of us past a certain age have a love-hate relationship with French bicycles. The rider part of us loves their relaxed handling and all day comfort. Even pure race bikes invite you to sit up and stretch, or pull that extra jersey off over your head. But the mechanic part of us despises their oddball seatposts, and stems a silly fifth of a millimeter too small. If you’ve never ruined a set of cranks screwing English-threaded pedals into French arms (or visa-versa), you’re either under forty or lucky.
Velo-Orange strives to recreate the qualities that led French bicycles to market domination in the ’60s, while leaving the incompatibility issues and erratic quality in the bad old days.
Chris Kulczyck, the big orange at Velo-Orange, has a knack for niches. A civil engineer by training, he moonlighted selling his own kayak design. The business expanded into boat kits and a full time job. After a few years, with the choice of cash out or burn out, Chris took the cash and reconnected to his cycling past. “I grew up cycling,” he remembers. “My first race bike was a Motobecane.” After a summer pedaling around France, he came back bitten again with the entrepreneurial bug. “Some of this neat stuff we saw in Europe, some of this stuff from my youth, was no longer available. I thought we’d have one or two employees, and a little part time business.”
It hasn’t worked out quite like that. From its first product—a headset spacer with a bell mount—interest exceeded Chris and company’s expectations. Stocks of NOS French parts flew off the shelves at V-O, as more riders discovered the pleasures of resurrecting and riding the Gallic classics. Eventually the old stuff petered out, and V-O started a new chapter.
“We develop a lot of products,” says Chris. “ We’ll see a hub shell, for example, and we’ll say, the bearings are all wrong and it needs a better cassette body. And we end up with a V-O hub. The shell is used by other manufacturers, but the internals are to our spec.”
Most of the manufacturing happens in Taiwan. “We do business with a couple of small US manufacturers. It’s sad, but once you get beyond the custom level, we deal with Taiwan not because stuff is cheaper than US producers, but it’s often better."
“A lot these guys I’ve been dealing with for years. I go to lunch with them, I hang out at the factory. Taiwan is a very family oriented. These are little factories, most of them have less than fifty employees. You get to know the secretary, the QC guys, and if they know you, they don’t let quality slide.”
Testing stays in-house. “The people who work for us are really amazing; they’ll ride a double century to get ice cream. We’ll design a new saddle, and a year later the prototype’s got 8 or 10 thousand miles on it. I started out designing all our stuff myself. But I know a lot of people in Japan and Taiwan and we’ll see something cool and ask why isn’t it available in the US.” Parts often receive incremental upgrades as feedback trickles in. Chris maintains a V-O blog, (Velo-Orange.blogspot.com) where news and products are presented. The discussion is unusually well-mannered.
Not content as a mere mail order house, V-O has recently partnered with distributor Quality Bicycle Products. About 70 V-O parts appear in the QBP catalog that shops order from, and Chris promises the number will rise next year. Through V-O Imports, all that orange-tinted goodness goes to shops outside the US. “Some people think that dealing with a shop in Japan or the UK is a terrible hassle. We don’t limit out overseas market.”
Velo-Orange products include almost every bicycle part, from frames and wheels to kickstands. The next step seems inevitable. “I’d like to do finished bikes. We’ve looked at assembly in Taiwan, but I think we’re going to do it in-house.” The line will likely include urban bikes and randonneurs.
Oh, and the name? It’s got nothing to do with citrus. “This shows how casual we were. A couple of us were sitting around talking about this company we were going to start, and my orange Ebisu [road bike] was leaning against the table. I said, let’s call it The Orange Bike. She said we should make it sound French. So I said let’s call it Velo-Orange.”
Velo-Orange sells most of what you need for city bikes, randoneurring and light touring.