“We design, we build, we ride,” says Pierre-Arnaud Le Magnan, founder of Chiru Bikes. “This is the DNA of the Chiru brand – the ultimate hi-tech, ultra-endurance machines.” If you’re planning an adventure cycling expedition, a Chiru will be near the top of your list, because Pierre-Arnaud has already ridden there himself, on a bike he designed and tested for you. “Every year I choose a bike-packing race,” he says, “and I design a bike to take part in it, to make sure it’s the best.”
This commitment demands constant refinement and innovation. Chiru bikes are made with the lightest and most sophisticated materials available: carbon fibre and titanium, with some use of Dyneema, an ultra-light, ultra-strong material used in bullet-proofing. “We innovate with the materials used, the geometry of the frame, and the combination of components,” explains Pierre-Arnaud. “These elements have to work together. One poor component – the wrong tyres, the wrong handlebar – can negate the advantage of a comfortable frame.”
Today, titanium is the frame material of choice for endurance cycling. “It dissipates vibration better than carbon,” explains Pierre-Arnaud. “It’s not vulnerable to abrasion, it’s more durable, and it doesn’t rust. It’s a lifetime frame. And reliability is perhaps the most important quality of all for a bicycle. I’ve just returned from a 1,720 km, nine-day, full autonomy race in Kyrgyzstan; riding 18 hours a day at high altitude (4,000 metres) combined with harsh weather conditions. You need to make sure you ride a reliable machine as the implications of bike failure can be fatal.” And expertise in comfort and reliability has its benefits, even for cyclists with no plans to tackle the Eurasian Steppe.
One of Chiru’s newest and most exciting projects is an e-bike that will be premiered at the Rolls-Royce Club event in 2019. This will not be the sort of e-bike most often seen on the streets – ugly and back-bustingly heavy – but a sleek, lightweight design using all of Chiru’s hi-tech expertise. “It’s the first titanium e-bike,” says Pierre-Arnaud, “and the first with an internal gearbox, which is much more durable than an external dérailleur. I call it a smile machine, as it’ll make you happy!”
Pierre-Arnaud was formerly in the French national sailing team. “Elite sport is about anticipation and mental preparation,” he explains. “Business is the same.” Advanced engineering is also in the blood. “My father is a pioneer in research engineering for Formula 1 Renault and Airbus,” he says. “My brother works with hi-tech aircraft. Dinner table conversation always tended towards complex technology.”
Ultimately, so much of what the company does is represented by its icon, the chiru, or Tibetan antelope. Until recently it was critically endangered by hunting: its fur is the finest in the world and is used for the highly prized (and now illegal) shahtoosh shawl. Thanks to Chinese campaigns and a film about the poaching (Kekexili or Mountain Patrol, by Lu Chuan, 2004) the chiru is now protected, and beginning to flourish again. “It’s ideally adapted to its harsh environment, and has incredible powers of endurance,” Pierre-Arnaud says. “It sums up our products perfectly.”