Lapierre in Dijon
This is a beautiful bike. It has the same frame design and aesthetic of Vitus Dural frames which were highly admired in the early 1990’s, and which were exported to the US and sold as premium aluminium framesets. Sean Kelly rode a Dural 979 frame for the Spanish KAS team in the late 1980’s, winning the Tour of Spain, his only Grand Tour victory, on a similar Vitus build. This must have been a big scoop for the Vitus brand, and his KAS bike has become something of an icon of 1980’s bikes.
979 or 797?
What’s the difference between the two tubing sets, the Vitus 977 and 979? I don’t know much about the 797, except that it was introduced later than the 979, which wowed everyone in 1979. I believe too, that the 797 had anodised rear stays, unlike the plain stays of the 979. Both frames were built with aluminium, glued, not welded, into aluminium lugs; the amazing glossy finish is a result of the tubes being anodised, not painted. Felix’s frame, as far as I can tell, is a 979 duralinox, with a polished fork and in classic Vitus blue.
My Experiences with 979 Frames
I’ve owned two 979 frames, both branded as Vitus and both anodised in the same blue as Felix’s bike. My two frames were size 52cm and 56cm, the former weighing just 18lbs with a full Dura Ace groupset and Mavic anodised clincher rims. Much has been made of the dangers of heavier people riding on these frames, due to the inherent fragility of the thin aluminium tubing bonded together with glue. I never had a problem with my 56cm Vitus, and loved riding it, even on the potholed road of Seattle.
Why it’s a Classic
Vitus exported its frames all over the world through the 1980’s, so they’re not exactly rare. Indeed, Peugeot, Motobecane and other large brands, including Lapierre, built on these superb aluminium frames. Therefore, they are not too expensive to buy and that can only be a good thing. In my opinion, they are the best looking aluminium bike ever made. Yes, I concede that Alan also made beautiful anodised frames in this era, so I extend my superlatives to them too. Super-light, beautifully finished, they deserve the tributes and admiration they still court today.
One thing I always notice about Vitus Dural bikes is how good their condition is, as if the owners of these bikes tend to look after them. Perhaps it’s because one is compelled to take extra care of these shiny and polished aluminium frames. Felix’s bike is in absolutely superb condition, the finish looks near perfect and the components are as clean as a whistle. Indeed, it looks almost brand new, and it must be the best looking bike in Dijon.
As these frames were often built to custom order or rebranded and built by other marques, they are often a mixed bag and can often have varied components. In this case, Felix’s bike is all Campagnolo, it looks 9 speed to me, with a triple Record crank with Record front and rear derailleur. I assume the Record shifters complete the gear set, and the rest of the bike has the same late 1990’s top-end parts. I’m not sure about the hubs though; I always thought Record hubs have the injector ports and covers. To top it off, the bike has cool Mavic handlebars and stem, preserving some of the Frenchness of the bike.
As the frame has a “56” stamp on its downtube, I presume this is its size, and it does look like a 56cm frame. With this excellent Campagnolo Titanium build, I imagine it must weigh only around 19 or 20lbs, even with its triple crankset. Some will say that the 979 is a whippy ride, due to the flexing of the rear triangle and the thinness of the aluminium tubes. I say that unless you are riding it really hard and have very high demands, the ride it will provide will be comfortable and responsive, most of all it will be lighter than many modern aluminium bikes made in Taiwan.