The Follis bicycle business was established in 1903 in the suburbs of Turin, Italy, by Joseph Follis, an Italian locksmith.
In 1922, Follis established Cycles Follis in Lyon, France, where he moved after Mussolini took power in Italy. Their “hallmark” was exceptional finish, quality and reliability, gaining the company a good reputation and word-of-mouth advertisng.
In 1933, the reins of the company passed from Joseph Follis to his son François. In 1938 François opened their first store in the Rue du Dauphiné in Lyon for the sale and distribution of bicycles produced in the workshop in the Rue Danton. By this time a number of riders were riding “re-branded” bicycles built by Follis (this was comonplace in the European pro peleton for decades, where riders preferred bikes made by their choice of builder and finished to look like their sponsor’s product)
In 1946, Follis employed 50 people and was expanding fast. At this time they ventured into the manufacture of motorcycles – on one of which Joseph Follis was killed in 1947.
The brand started to gain international recognition when they got contracts to export to India and the United States. In 1948, the magazine “The Touring Bicycle” contained a report of the Cycle Show saying “The great success of the show was definitely the manufacturer Francis Follis of Lyon ….”. Similarly, the well-known English magazine “The Bicycle” contained an article full of praise and illustrated with photographs of the Follis stand.
In 1950, with the success of the company, François Follis purchased land in Craponne to build a plant for his new ambition: to become a real motorcycle manufacturer on an industrial rather than craft scale. From 1951, its heyday, the company, with 200 employees, produced 600 bikes and 1000 motorcycles of various engine capacities per month, distributed by 200 branches and 2,000 outlets. The bikes were built in the city, while the Craponne plant, running flat out, only produced the motorized vehicles ranging from mopeds to motorcycles.
In 1955, during the 53rd “Paris-Roubaix,” the company cemented its reputation with Forestier’s victory in the “Hell of the North” ahead of Coppi, Bobet and Gauthier.
Moreover, the victory of a 175cc. Follis motorbike in the large “Lyon-Charbonnières” rally of the same year, completed the list of conquests. But with the war in Algeria, the market dries up and the production of motorcycles is permanently discontinued in 1959 and the plant sold to Teppaz, a maker of record players.
Also, with the increasing availability of lower cost cars, there were not so many customers for bicycles – young people did not want to ride a bike when they could drive a car. Follis managed by producing low-end bicycles until the 1970s U.S.A. bike boom, which opened new opportunities, that were subsequently limited by the rise of South-East Asian production.
In 1973, François Follis’ daughter Myriam and her husband, Jean-Claude Chollet, went back to the company’s roots – they realized that there was a future in the modest production of bicycles and tandems made to the highest standards of quality and reliability, and that they would always be appreciated by enthusiasts who love beautiful and relatively conventional machines. Many were exported to the United States of America.
The company finally closed in 2006 or 2007
Follis sponsored cycle racing teams in the years 1947 – 1950 and 1953 – 1960 and were a co-sponsor in 1963.