[CR] Zeus...the word!


Example: History:Ted Ernst

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2011 17:22:34 -0800
From: Jerry Hirsch <jerry.hirsch@gmail.com>
To: classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
Subject: [CR] Zeus...the word!


First, thank you all for your help. I have a Zeus Suprema frame that is Reynolds 531 DB main tubes, Durifort forks and stays and is French threaded throughout... ugh. You know what they say about French bikes? "They will make you cry." It is from the 1972 to 1974 time period as best as I can tell from Zeus catalogs.

No on to Zeus. By way of background, I am professional business reporter. I on staff at the Los Angeles Times, where I cover the national auto industry and a bit of Southern California car culture. If you have read a story about the auto industry and it is not in the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times or USA Today, it is a good chance that it was my byline. Even the newspaper in Flint, Mich, runs my stuff. Just stick the name in Google and you will see.

I am doing some research on Zeus as part of this project, and since I ask question for a living, I don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call people who have some information.

All of you know what is left of Zeus by a different name: Orbea. The short version is this: Zeus started in 1926 near the town of Durango in the Basque region of Spain. During the 1960s it gained the reputation of being the top volume racing style bike producer and component maker in Spain, although there were others. I believe it was family owned, but am still doing research on that. Orbea was a bicycle manufacturing cooperative located about 20 miles away in a town called Mallabia. It was a volume producer of practical transportation bikes and for the most part left the racing scene to Zeus.

Zeus did engage in its own research and development and pioneered the use of titanium in bicycle components. It also invested time and effort into the aesthetic aspect of components characterized by the "Gigante" large flange hubs and the big "Z" on the Zeus 2000 rear derailleur and some of the crazy hole drilling. It also had some early advance freewheels that were sought after. It sold in the home market, Portugal, and some export markets including the U.S. A nicely equipped Zeus in the early to mid-1970s sold for about $360 at retail.

Zeus, like many of the component makes that are long gone now or are trademarks owned by Taiwanese companies, suffered from a lack of capitalization to keep pace with Campagnolo and then SunTour and Shimano that were big suppliers to bicycle brands during the boom years of the late 1970s and 1980s. It was left behind by the mountain bike boom, which killed road bike sales. Orbea want a stronger presence in road racing and road bikes and purchased Zeus and gave jobs to all of its employees in 1991. Orbea then produced racing bicycles under the Zeus name. After some years it started to put the Orbea name on the frames and leave Zeus to components such as seatpost, bars and stem. Orbea tossed the original Zeus tooling and forging equipment and just started purchasing drive trains from the big players. A couple of years ago, Orbea stopped using the Zeus name for any portion of its bicycles but still owns the trademark and rights.

Orbea has been approached to sell the name but has not.

My sources for this information is a variety of bicycle industry people and Orbea executives. I have just started my research so there might be an error or two here because I have not yet done my typical fact checking, but this is the general tale. There are a variety of tales, all of which may be myths, that I hope to track down and either verify or debunk, including the ripping off Campy patents, subcontracting for Campy, making munitions during the revolution and WW II, being a Franco project to completely produce a "Spanish" bike that could win the TdF. Stay tuned.

What we can say is that this is a company with a rich and colorful history that makes it stand out from some of the other second tier brands and early Campagnolo competitors, and that's why it is a fun project for me. By the way, all of my other bikes are Campy shifters, drive train and hubs only. And only one does not have Campy brakes.

If you have read all of this and you have a 22.0 110 mm stem for French threaded steerer tube and want to sell or trade, please contact me.

Cheers.

--
Jerry Hirsch
Rossmoor, Calif. USA