The Final Throw of the Dice
Things looked bad for the French bike parts industry. The year was 1984, and the market was rapidly changing; the reign of French components, once so dominant in the bike boom, was now being eroded by competition from Europe and Japan. The remarkable rise in popularity of BMX and mountain bikes had also taken them by surprise, leaving them lagging behind the innovations of Shimano and the powerhouse of the German conglomerate Sachs. Creating Spidel in 1977 was the last throw of the dice for four of the most famous parts companies that were based in France and had long traditions of making components.
The Four Firms
The four famous and well-established companies who created Spidel were: Simplex, Mafac, Stronglight and Maillard. Simplex would supply derailleurs, while Mafac would provide the brakes; Stronglight would supply the cranksets and Maillard would manufacture the hubs and freewheels. These four firms had been in competition with each other for many decades, reaping the rewards from the massive exports in the 1970’s of French bikes across the world, especially to the USA. They had produced those stylish, high quality components that we all search for now to enhance our vintage bike projects. However, as the demand for bikes dropped off and competition increased from the Far East, they had all been guilty of creating cheaper quality products and had lost a large share of the market.
The Times they are a Changin’
The four manufacturers came together to assess their losses, and to try and forge a new era of high quality French components that could compete against Sachs, Campagnolo, and of course, the biggest threat of all, Shimano. Sachs had bought Huret, Sedis and Modolo, and were a big player in the European market. Campagnolo, meanwhile, were producing high quality groupsets which were becoming increasing popular, just as Shimano were establishing their own high end 600 and Dura Ace groupsets, and Suntour impressed with their Superbe. The French firms were not producing any groupsets to compete in this highly competitive market. The Spidel brand, therefore, was marketed as a high quality groupset that although not being aesthetically homogenous ( being created by four firms ), could offer the best of these established French companies.
The End of Spidel
There were two groupsets available, the 600 and the 700, which was slightly better. Maillard supplied the pedals in these two sets, as well as the hubs and freewheel, while the derailleurs were the highly attractive Simplex SLJ models. Even though this was a very nice group of parts, and the four companies tried to market the Spidel brand as a sure success in both European and the US markets, the Spidel brand couldn’t compete with the innovation and financial clout of its other rivals. These famous French brands would not survive the impact of the Shimano SIS, and the incredible innovative changes to bikes through the 1980’s.
A New Era of Bike Technology
Spidel makes the end of an era for French parts manufacturing, when even last ditch attempts to rebrand and re-market their best quality parts could not stem the surge of new technologies and performances from their rivals. One just has to take a look at the two big emerging bike firms in the USA at that time, Trek and Specialised, as barometers of this change; they were both building most of their bikes with Japanese parts in 1984, as were many brands across the world. It marked the end of France’s domination of the bike component industry.