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Athanaël Guitard’s sister, Aliciane, carefully twirled her blank white canvas in its stand, making sure not to smudge the acrylic marker that took half an hour to dry. Her brother had given her few instructions: Include the frame maker’s logo, Caminade, and the logo of his own web agency, Irisio. He told her to sign her own name, and to base her designs in nature. Other than that, her marker was free to roam. It took more than forty hours before she was finished.
There’s a house floating away on blue and red and white balloons. A cactus rises out of the downtube. A starfish hides behind the crank spider. ‘All you need is velo’ written across the top of the top tube and ‘Made in France’ sits on its underside, a few inches from Aliciane’s name.
The bike she painted stood out like a wildflower in a prairie, hung by its saddle amongst a dozen earth and metal-tone Caminade gravel bikes. We were in Perpignan, on the far eastern edge of the Pyrenées, at the launch event for Mavic’s Allroad line. There were more expensive bikes hanging there, titanium frames and springy Lauf forks and high-end builds. But none quite like Athanaël’s.
Aliciane is an artist. A designer, to be specific. “It was enjoyable for her,” Athanaël says. “To spend some good time, to relax, I sent her the frame and she spent some… not some, many, many hours drawing and redrawing the graphics of the frame.”
“I gave her a few leads, natural things. Just some little touches of colors. She was free to do whatever she liked.”
The result is an intricate, deeply personal design, unlike anything I’ve seen outside of a handmade show like NAHBS. Nothing else about the bike is fancy. It’s built with a SRAM Rival group, Mavic Allroad wheels and tires, aluminum Ritchey bars. “It’s built to ride, and also to look at,” Athanaël says with a smile.
Underneath Aliciane’s paint job is a Caminade Gravel Steel frame. It takes 650b or 700c tires, up to 48mm for the former and 38mm for the latter, but is mostly run with 650b. They’re a better match for the Athanaël’s riding.
Caminade is a custom builder based in Ille-sur-Têt, France. It makes Ti frames and steel frames with a heavy focus on gravel riding, which is blooming in the region. “Our roads aren’t very good at all,” says Athanaël, who lives 10km away from Caminade’s headquarters. “So this kind of bike, it’s the one.”
The company was founded by a French duo, Silvain and Brice, intent on bringing manufacturing back to this small corner of France. It builds bikes one-by-one, with custom geometry, built and painted to order. They sell direct to consumers, and source as much as they can from French providers. The TIG welded frames are reasonably priced — just 1,500 euros for Athanaël’s steel model. The titanium version, which uses the same visually intriguing sloping top tube, is just under 3,000 euros.
The company’s new AllRoad titanium frame, which was ridden by about half the group at the Mavic launch, uses titanium tubes and a unique carbon fiber lug design. It allows Caminade to offer custom geometry at prices that are frankly astounding. An AllRoad built with Apex is under 2,800 euros, complete. Yes, under 3k for a custom titanium gravel bike.
Athanaël lives nearby Caminade headquarters, down the valley to the west. The paved roads in this region are often full of cars and are rarely well maintained, so cyclists here have taken to gravel. The network of dirt feels never-ending.
“Gravel is everything, the whatever-you-want-to-do bike,” he says. “You want to ride road? Okay, it works. You want to ride gravel? You can do it. You can even do singletrack, but you have to be extra careful of course.”
He ordered his Gravel with standard medium/large geometry and didn’t make any tweaks from what Caminade recommended. While he was waiting for parts, he passed the frame off to his sister.
The painting process started with a white base coat. Then it was brushed with another paint that left open pores and allowed the pen to stick. “She used a special brand of marker with acrylic paint,” Athanaël says. “She could have used a brush, but a bit easier with a marker. She had to be very careful because the ink paint takes many minutes, even hours, to dry. She couldn’t touch it. She definitely smudged it a couple times and had to do a part again.”
Dozens of hours later, the work was done. Caminade applied a clearcoat and Athanaël built it up with a sensible, functional build.
“The bike is everything,” Athanaël says, pointing at the ‘All you need is velo’ script on the top tube. “It’s even better when your sister made it for you.”
Frame: Caminade Gravel steel
Fork: Columbus Mud Disc
Groupset: SRAM Rival
Wheels: Mavic Allroad
Tires: WTB Byway 47mm 650b
Seatpost: Deda Elementi
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR
Handlebars: Ritchey Venture Max
Stem:ShockStop suspension stem