Madnes Bicycles is the new kid on handmade steel frame market. The small bike brand - with a staff of two - launched (or relaunched) in 2021 with the 27.5-wheeled Stellar, an industrial-looking, steel, full suspension bike that offers between 160mm and 170mm of rear travel and is handmade in France.
Founder Sylvain Fusillier worked in the aerospace industry for a decade as a design engineer, and that experience is what allowed him to understand and develop his bike kinematics, he said. Partnered with co-founder Jordan Colin, who is a graphic designer, photographer, and videographer, the two essentially have all their bike design and building needs covered in-house, and for anything else, they use suppliers and subcontractors from within the Herault department of France. What's the bike industry equivalent of farm-to-table? Tubes-to-trail?
You might recognize the Madnes name from 2013 and 2014, when the two riders first brought one of their bike concepts to life as the Stardust. While the Stardust design looks nostalgic now with its 26-inch wheels and short footprint, the aesthetics have clearly informed these modernized Madnes designs which, unlike the Stardust, have made it to market.
Jordan, with his background in design, can readily make both standardized and custom paint jobs happen.
Pro: clean, internal routing. Con: no space for a water bottle (but they're working on that).
From tubes and plates to a bike frame.
Madnes initially began building with steel because it's the best material for building a small series of frames, with relatively little tooling investment, Sylvain said. The brand also aims to create enduring, sustainable products, and steel's high fatigue strength lends itself well to that type of longevity, especially as it consumes less energy to produce than some other materials and is recyclable.
The only problem with steel, Sylvain said, is that the weight-to-stiffness ratio isn't great. Madnes addresses this by using as many straight lines as possible to build with maximum strength for the amount of material (and therefore weight) added.
It's all about planning and precision (and purpose, Sylvain says).
Bike design begins with an idea of the bike's purpose, Sylvain said. Form follows function, and he designs the geometry and suspension around his idea of what the bike should do, keeping the design as simple as possible for aesthetic, cost, and weight purposes. It can be tough, he added, to find tubes and other standard parts that fit exactly with the vision of the bike.
The Stellar 27.5 uses a combination of hand-machined parts that are made in-house and tubes and laser-cut plates that are purchased from suppliers. Madnes bends and cuts the parts to shape, TIG welds the frames together using handmade jigs, and powder-coats everything in the Madnes workshop. While there are several standard colors that Jordan created, Madnes also offers custom powder-coating for anyone who wants something a bit different.
There are polymer bushings in there for "durability without maintenance," Madnes says.
180mm post-mount. Madnes says brake adaptors are a thing of the past.
Beyond the Stellar 27.5, Madnes has also created the Atlas 29, which will become available soon and sports 29" wheels, 170mm to 180mm rear suspension, and the same virtual pivot point layout as its smaller-wheeled sibling. Next, expanding into uncharted territory for the brand that has thus far focused on enduro bikes, Madnes plans to release a 120mm - 130mm travel trail bike that, worth noting, will have space for that arguably-essential water bottle. At the moment, Madnes only sells frames and shocks.
Sylvain said the two are already proud of what they've done and have heard good feedback from riders on the performance and design of the Madnes bikes so far, but of course, the brand is just starting. They'll keep those straight tubes coming.