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by Matt Wikstrom
January 27, 2016
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
Jaegher may not be widely known for its frame building, but the Belgian company has been creating steel bikes since 1934. Four generations of the Vaneenooghe family have devoted themselves to the business, which takes its name from the Flemish word for hunter.
The story of Jaegher begins with Odiel Vaneenooghe, a champion cyclist who competed in Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo and won a stage of the Tour of Belgium in 1932. He was passionate about the sport and went so far as to bury his disassembled bike during WWII so the Germans couldn’t confiscate it. According to family history, he hid the spoke nipples in a matchbox until he was able to re-assemble the bike after the war.
Odiel’s son, Etienne, wasn’t allowed to race (his mother considered it too dangerous), so he indulged his interest in the sport by opening a café/bike shop during the ‘50s and building his own frames. Pouring pints and brazing frames, Etienne was soon counting Eddy Merckx as one of his loyal customers. Other famous names included Sean Kelly, Walter and Eddy Planckaert, Michel Pollentier, Claude Criquielion, Rudy Dhaenens, and Jan Jansen.
Etienne’s son, Luc (born 1958), grew up amongst steel tubing and champion bike riders in the family’s workshop in Ruiselede, so it was inevitable that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. Diel (born 1983), Luc’s son, was also fated to join the family business and now the two men are responsible for all of Jaegher’s frame production.
While there has been some evolution in design and materials, Jaegher’s approach has remained largely traditional, hence their unwavering dedication to steel. Luc brazes all of Jaegher’s lugged frames, while Diel is in charge of TIG-welding. Jaegher values steel for its ride quality, resilience, and most importantly, for how it can be crafted with millimetre-perfect accuracy to fit every customer.
There are three road frames in Jaegher’s current catalogue: the TS-38 Interceptor is a TIG-welded frame made from oversized steel tubes; the LS-31.7 Phantom is a traditional lugged steel frame; and the TX-38 Ascender is another TIG-welded frame built from oversized stainless steel tubing.
All three frames adhere to Jaegher’s traditional styling—there are no sloping top tubes—yet take advantage of the latest tubesets to keep pace with contemporary trends. Jaegher classifies the Interceptor as the “ultimate choice for a custom competition or top-of-the-line frame”. In contrast, the Phantom “is all about classic lines and details” while the Ascender is “designed to deliver a magic ride quality while offering extreme durability and fatigue resistance.”
For this review, I spent several weeks riding an Interceptor equipped with a Campagnolo Chorus groupset, courtesy of Jaegher.
Jaegher uses Columbus Spirit steel tubing to build the Interceptor. Spirit is a lightweight tubeset made from a high strength formulation of iron, manganese, chromium, nickel, molybdenum and niobium. The novel alloy is drawn into ultra-thin tubes (the thinnest walls are 0.38mm) to offer considerable weight savings when compared to conventional steel tubing.
Although I didn’t see the point in stripping down the frame completely, Jaegher reports that it weighs around 1,500g, so the frame/fork combo would be close to 2kg.
The main tubes of the frame are triple-butted, while the chainstays are double-butted. Columbus heat-treats the Spirit tubeset to maximise its strength and other physical properties, while TIG-welding keeps the weight of the final frame to a minimum.
There is always a risk that thin tubing will flex too much under load, hence the oversized top and down tubes. Jaegher adds a little more to the stiffness of the down tube by shaping the lower half into a subtle square.
The final specification for the Interceptor comprises traditional standards with a few contemporary touches. Thus, the frame has a BSA-threaded bottom bracket with external cable routing and a seat tube with a shimmed internal diameter of 27.2mm. At 38mm in diameter, the oversized head tube is clearly a modern touch, as is the Columbus carbon fork with a threadless 1.125inch steerer, along with the vertical dropouts that feature a replaceable alloy hanger.
Jaegher offers its customers a choice of stock or custom geometry for all of its frames. There are 14 stock frame sizes, as shown in the table below:
Jaegher does not charge extra to build the Interceptor with custom geometry. Buyers can visit Jaegher’s workshop in Ruiselede, Belgium for a fitting, or, they can supply their frame or body measurements via email.
The Interceptor is finished with a clean paintjob that perfectly suits the classic lines of the bike. Rather than overwhelm the eye with multiple logos, Jaegher adopts an understated approach with distinctive touches, such as the contrasting band (in orange or black) on the left seatstay and the nameplate on the top tube. Buyers are able to personalise the latter with one of ten quotes, such as: “The best routes are the ones you haven’t ridden”; “Pain is weakness leaving the body”; and, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here”.
The Interceptor sent for review was built with a Campagnolo Chorus 11-speed groupset and finished with 3T Ergosum bars and ARX II stem, a Fizik Cyrano R3 seat post, Selle San Marco Regalé saddle, King bottle cages, and Bora Ultra 35 wheels with Vittoria Corsa CX tubular tyres. Final weight for the build was 7.73kg sans pedals.
Pricing for the Interceptor frame with a Columbus carbon fork (excluding headset) starts at €2,545 (~AU$3,935/US$3,010) with a choice of three colours (Blood Red, High Sun Yellow, and Mediterranean Blue) for the frame and forks. There are another nine frame colours and ten fork colours to choose from but there is a small upcharge for each (frame, €95 (~AU$150/US$115); forks, €45 (~AU$70/US$55)).
As a custom framebuilder, Jaegher is able to cater to the individual needs of its customers. Thus there are options for steel forks, painting the stem to match the frame, custom paintwork, and complete builds.
Jaegher likes to keep its production lead-time as short as possible, aiming to fulfil every order in eight weeks. Every frame is supplied with a lifetime warranty for the original owner and they can deliver to any part of the world (though shipping charges, duties and taxes will add to the cost of the frameset). For more information, visit Jaegher.
My first three road bikes were all steel, and as I replaced each one, I paid more for less weight and higher quality components. The third bike in this series was custom built from Columbus EL-OS tubing and finished with Campagnolo’s 8-speed Record groupset from 1996.
I didn’t give much thought to this bike while I was unboxing the Interceptor, but once I started riding it, I made the connection. It was as if my old bike had been born again—not as it was, but re-invigorated with many of the industry’s modern touches.
Twenty years may be a relatively brief period for biological evolution, but for the bike industry, it’s a significant span of time. My old EL-OS bike had a quill stem, threaded 1inch headset, square-taper cranks, 32-spoke wheels and true box section rims: all antiquities compared to the current state-of-the-art.
While there is room for some nostalgia where those antiquities are concerned, in terms of performance, they have all been soundly superseded. There’s no point in mourning the demise of the quill stem or threaded headsets because an oversized headtube and threadless forks improves the sturdiness of the front end of the bike. Ten years may have passed since I last rode my classic EL-OS, but the extra sturdiness was the first thing that I noticed about the Interceptor.
The Interceptor was more agile and responsive than I could have ever imagined a road bike twenty years ago, thanks to its reasonably low weight. The TIG-welded Spirit tubeset, carbon forks, low spoke count carbon wheelset, and modern groupset all combine to great effect. Swapping the Bora Ultra 35 wheelset for a low profile alloy wheelset slowed down the bike a little but it was still a better performer than a steel bike from the ’90s.
My old EL-OS was very smooth and quiet, yet conveyed a fine sense of the road without ever overwhelming me. The Interceptor manages the same trick, but the ride was a little firmer, which I presume has a lot to do with the large diameter main tubes. Nevertheless, the behaviour of steel is quite distinct from carbon in the way that road buzz and shock is softened—but never eliminated—as it travels through the frame.
Some have described the feel of steel as “lively”, and I agree with the term in the most literal sense: carbon bikes that eliminate feedback from the road behave like corpses to the touch, while steel has a pulse that never subsides. The Interceptor was as lively as any steel bike I’ve experienced and it reported on the condition of every road with clear and impartial honesty. Indeed, I found it much easier to discern the difference between wheelsets than any other bike I’ve ridden in my time as CTech editor.
I found the steering of the Interceptor was neutral with a mild tendency towards slow. I didn’t have any trouble negotiating technical turns on the bike, but it was difficult to alter my line through a corner. At high speed, the Interceptor was incredibly stable and trustworthy, if not confidence-inspiring. When coupled with Interceptor’s frank yet soothing ride quality, I found that my ability to handle the bike was elevated to super-sensory.
Overall, I couldn’t identify any weaknesses in the performance of the Interceptor until I started comparing it with some of the carbon bikes I’ve reviewed recently, like Giant’s TCR Advanced Pro 0, Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX, and Ritte’s Ace. Next to these bikes, the Interceptor suffers a little in terms of agility and responsiveness.
I’m reluctant to generalise, but in my experience steel simply lacks the same kind of snap as carbon, and so it goes for the Interceptor. There was always a lag in the response time of the bike whenever I stamped on the pedals. Thus, I wouldn’t recommend the Interceptor for sprinters or aggressive racers, but it’s a great bike for any rider that’s able to maintain a long and steady effort.
Campagnolo’s 2015 Chorus groupset was a good match for the Interceptor, because it’s a modestly priced groupset that favours function over form. By using a lot of the same hardware as Record, Chorus is able to match the shifting performance of the more expensive groupset, while saving money by using less carbon fibre. Nevertheless, carbon fibre is used for Chorus brake levers, crank arms, and parts of the rear derailleur.
The Chorus groupset was overhauled for 2015 as part of Campagnolo’s general re-design for all of its racing groupsets (ie Super Record, Record and Chorus). A new four-bolt crankset was introduced along with improvements to the quality of chainring shifting and changes to the geometry of the rear derailleur.
I found that front shifting was quick, smooth and virtually infallible (the only time I noticed a hesitation was under very heavy loads), providing a small but definite improvement over the Super Record RS groupset that I reviewed in 2014. Also improved is the geometry of the front derailleur, such that there is no need for trimming while using the big ring.
I couldn’t identify any changes in the quality of rear shifting though; braking too, was unchanged, though both continue to uphold Campagnolo’s high standards. I did notice that Chorus calipers have stopped using the same barrel adjusters as Record, replacing them with a design from Campagnolo’s lower priced groupsets. The difference? Adjusting brake cable tension now requires two hands instead of one.
Steel has a reputation as a robust frame material but thin-walled tubesets (like Spirit) are prone to denting. I didn’t have any problems with the Interceptor in this regard, but my old EL-OS (also thin-walled tubing) suffered a huge dent in the top tube after the handlebars smacked into it during a crash. Some framebuilders eschew the Spirit tubeset because of this risk, but their frames are heavier as a consequence.
Jaegher’s Interceptor is a fine bike that pays homage to road cycling’s traditional aesthetic while offering buyers the benefits of contemporary design. Thus, there are no outdated standards that can make it difficult to fit modern parts, yet the classic feel of steel remains intact.
The ride quality of the Interceptor has to be its shining trait, offering a perfect measure of feedback and comfort, so that the rider can understand the terrain without ever being overwhelmed by it. The performance of the bike was equally well measured: light enough, stiff enough, and fast enough to reward any rider’s effort without ever inspiring false confidence.
This last point is most relevant to those carbon race bikes that offer exceptional agility, responsiveness and overall speed. They are a thrill to ride, but too often I’ve put myself in the hurt bucket while trying to live up to the performance of the bike. I found the Interceptor was refreshing in this regard: a bike that helped me understand my limits without it ever feeling like a compromise.