The French brand Peugeot is also a figure in the cycling world. Founded in 1882, the subsidiary Cycles Peugeot offered three models: the Grand-Bi was rather unwieldy penny-farthing, with the crankset fixed directly to the axle of a wide-diameter front wheel; the tricycle allowed for a reassuringly smooth ride thanks to the stability of its two back wheels, and the modern model offered a central crankset and a chain drive attached to the rear wheel. The latter quickly became the most popular model, and the brand name Peugeot was soon used as a synonym for bicycle.
The production of Peugeot bicycles got back on its feet just after the end of the Second World War. But it was not until the Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975) that the bicycle really came back into fashion, alongside the checked cycling jerseys that appeared in 1963 and were worn by the Peugeot peloton for the Tour de France. Its bold pattern was designed to stand out on television, and Peugeot used it as a brand signature, even displaying it on its bicycles’ frames.
1975: the golden age for Peugeot bicycles
Peugeot gradually positioned itself in the luxury and sports bicycle segment, buoyed by the image of its professional team whose impressive track record saw them ranked as one of the best. Bernard Thévenet won the Tour de France in 1975, and again in 1977, pushing Peugeot’s reputation onto the international stage. The bicycles flew off the shelves in the United States, despite the luxury price tag. Consumers had to pay between $400 and $500, which was a considerable amount of money at the time.
The factories in Beaulieu, in the Franche-Comté region, worked around the clock to meet the American demand and produce the catalogue’s 50 models. With 17 assembly lines and 6 painting stations the company manufactured 150,000 bicycles in 1971, 430,000 in 1974 and 865,000 in 1980. The availability of Peugeot bicycles in the United States varied over the years. The enormous influx in the 1970’s during the bicycle boom petered out during the 1980’s when Peugeot stopped its exports to America, and sold its name and North American distribution rights to ProCycle in Canada (also known as CCM).
The return of Peugeot
Peugeot bicycles stepped back into the limelight in 2010, as vintage fixed-gear models originally used by American couriers came back into fashion. The brand’s designers followed the trend and produced the Collector range. The new Peugeot model included a Brooks saddle, a black-and-white checked frame and leather handlebar tape. Bicycle dealers in Brooklyn now import containers of French models and resell them for a fortune. Don’t be surprised if you see a local hipster pedaling around on a checked Peugeot bike!
As part of its new status as a luxury item, the Peugeot bicycle has recently been on the front covers of French lifestyle magazines with its Pibal model. This new addition is a combination of a bicycle and a scooter, and was specially created by designer Philippe Starck for the city of Bordeaux last summer. The yellow bikes are loaned to the city’s inhabitants for free, and will gradually replace the fleet of 4,000 bicycles currently available for free from the Bordeaux bike center. The model will soon be on sale for 420 euros.
The latest Franco-American action film 3 Days to Kill, co-written by Luc Besson, showcased a purple Peugeot bicycle in several scenes. Francophile actor Kevin Costner played the lead role of a seasoned secret agent who returns to Paris to live with his family, and was quoted saying he only wanted to travel by Peugeot bicycle after finishing the film. The production team later revealed the actor had taken the film’s two-wheeled star back to California with him. In the same way as Jacques Tati’s Peugeot bicycle in Jour de Fête (1949), the latest model has become part of the image of France.
Article published in the March 2016 issue of France-Amérique