Welcome to Rene Herse Cycles!

It’s official: Compass has become Rene Herse Cycles. It’s a big change, with a new name and new logo for a line of products that has a very strong following. Rest assured, our philosophy won’t change, and neither will our products.

We’ll continue to make the high-performance components that we need for rides that mix gravel and pavement with plenty of adventure. This is the same style of riding that René Herse (pronounced reNAY AIRS, above) enjoyed in the 1930s and 40s, when he pushed the envelope of what we’d call all-road bikes today. His bikes have inspired us as we developed our own. As Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains, we’ll continue to challenge the accepted limitations of what bicycles can do.

Our first Rene Herse tire, the Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 mm, combines the speed and cornering of a good ‘racing’ tire with excellent performance in mud and snow. Impossible? That’s what they said when we introduced wide tires with the performance of narrow racing rubber, too…

As with our other tires, you’ll have to ride the Juniper Ridge and see for yourself.

You’ll find that they expand what we thought possible on a bike. Suddenly, we can combine fast-paced road rides with…

… rough gravel passes in the mountains…

… and even snow. As with all our products, you know that they’ve proven themselves before they are released. Prototypes of the Juniper Ridge have covered many hundreds of miles under the most demanding conditions. The Juniper Ridge tires are in production right now, and they’ll be available in March.

There are other exciting projects in the works as Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains. Join us as we continue our exciting journey.

Our new web site is at www.renehersecycles.com.

Our Instagram is @reneherse with the hashtag #renehersetires joining #renehersecranks,  #renehersehandlebars, #reneherserack, #renehersetaillight, etc.

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Back in Stock: SON Hubs and Parts

SON generator hubs and other parts have been flying off the shelves lately. Some of it can be attributed to cyclists preparing their bikes for the upcoming Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km brevet. More cyclists also realize that generator hubs provide peace of mind on long rides and commutes alike. As a result, some of the most popular hubs – especially the Wide-Body that makes for stronger wheels (above) – have been out of stock recently.

The new SON coaxial adapters also have been popular. Slide one onto the tabs of any SON hubs to convert it to the latest coaxial connectors. Then the wires are easy to plug in and out with one hand whenever you have to remove the wheel.

The Edelux II headlights, with their optimized beam pattern, also are available with ‘coax’ connectors now, making the system a plug-and-play setup that is super-easy to install on your bike.

The Splitter Box allows you to wire a USB charger or other device into the circuit from your light to your generator hub. It’s a great way to get the superior beam pattern of the Edelux II and still charge your devices on the go.

Production of all these parts now has caught up with demand, and all SON components in the Compass program are back in stock. We appreciate your patience while supplies were running short.

More information:

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

A Winter Ride

The first rides of the new year are very special to me. Getting out of the city, breathing the cold mountain air, and feeling my body get in unison with the bike again – those are sensations that I’ve been missing during my annual early-winter rest.

So I left just after 6 in the morning for an all-day ride. It was nice to just ride – no photoshoot for Bicycle Quarterly, no prototype components to test, no errands to run, just a day out on my bike.

By 8:30, the suburbs of Seattle were far behind me, and I made my first brief stop at the bakery in Snohomish. The hot chocolate and croissant tasted especially good on this cold, foggy day.

As I headed into the hills northeast of Snohomish, I thought about how much I love riding this bike. I enjoy testing a variety of bikes for Bicycle Quarterly, but I’m always happy to return to my Rene Herse. It really does feels like an extension of my body. Everything works exactly as I want, nothing requires attention, and I can completely immerse myself in the ride.

I don’t think about the bike when I ride. In fact, I rarely think about it at all. This morning, I just put a little food and some spare clothes in the handlebar bag, turned on the lights, and rode off. I didn’t need to think about charging batteries, how to carry my gear, or whether the fog would make the roads wet. I feel that a bike should be as easy to use as a car, and this one really does.

Looking at the photo above, I remember that the Herse will need its first overhaul soon. I have to be grateful for the eight years and 10,000s of thousands of miles the bike has covered without incident – including 2 Paris-Brest-Paris, 2 Raids Pyrénéen, the original Oregon Outback, and countless other adventures.

As I climbed and descended Reiter Road – one of my favorites – it was nice not to think about the bike, and just enjoy the road with its curves that flow in quick succession. There is no risk of getting bored here!

As I headed further into the Cascades, I remembered how much I enjoy riding solo. Don’t get me wrong – I love riding with friends: The day passes quickly as we chat and play like a flock of birds on the sinuous roads. Riding alone is different: I just become immersed in the ride. Nothing detracts from this meditative experience.

The fog dissipated and the sun came out. My legs were feeling the distance and the hills, but the bike continued to roll smoothly. I worked on my spin by keeping my cadence up, using one cog larger (=smaller gear) than I usually would. Winter rides are a good time to work on my pedal stroke.

I reached my destination, Index, just before noon. There isn’t much in terms of food here – although the Bush House hotel has just reopened and looks inviting. Today, my schedule was a bit tight, so I bought a few things at the small store for a quick picnic outside.

The scenery more than made up for my spartan meal: It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular place than Index, with its rushing river, towering mountains and quaint little town. It’s amazing that a place like this is within easy reach from Seattle, accessible on small roads even in winter.

My stop was brief, and yet, as I headed back, the clouds started moving back in. I had timed my visit to Index perfectly…

I didn’t stop on the way back, as I wanted to be home for dinner. Still, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one of my favorite roads. It’s roads like these that inspire the bikes we ride…

Then I dropped down to Lake Washington and pedaled back into Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail. I returned home just after darkness fell. It was a day well-spent.

Many have asked for the routes of these rides. Here is a link to the main loop Seattle – Snohomish – Sultan – Monroe – Seattle. It’s a great ride by itself.

The out-and-back leg to Index adds 50 km, but they include some of my favorite roads. Some of the roads are shown as ‘unavailable’ on some online maps, but they are all rideable right now. Combined, this is one of the best all-paved rides in the Seattle area. (There is a 100 ft/30 m stretch of gravel just before Gold Bar as you turn off the highway.)

I hope that many of you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this ride some day, or some variation that takes in these great roads – or similarly great rides! Where are your favorite Winter rides?

And if you’re curious about my Rene Herse, this post talks about the bike in more detail.

Posted in Rides | 19 Comments

Our Readers’ Favorite BQ

BQ readers care about their magazine, and we get feedback each time a new edition comes out. And yet we were surprised by the sheer volume of comments, and by the enthusiasm they expressed. There is no doubt: The latest BQ is our readers’ favorite edition yet.

Many readers love the cover art, showing Natsuko peering through the window of the almost-mythical Alps shop in Tokyo as she contemplates her first cyclotouring bike. One reader wrote:

“Almost nothing compares to building up or buying a new bike. That experience was captured so perfectly in Natsuko’s piece. The insight into life in Japan and Miyoshi’s art were the frosting on the cake! What an enjoyable read!”

Readers appreciate our behind-the-scenes visit to Firefly, the masters of titanium in Boston. In the video clip above, you see how titanium is anodized to create Firefly’s unique finishes. Watch how the metal changes color in front of your eyes!

“It was a great article. Love to learn about shops working on streamlined processes!”

For the magazine, we document how Firefly’s artisans butt their titanium tubes and how they weld the ‘lugs’ for a titanium-carbon frame. We ask them about their philosophy and how they custom-design every aspect of each bike specifically for its rider.

Many readers are amazed by the studio feature of an ultra-rare 1940s Barralumin with beautiful patina. No wonder: Nicola Barra was the mad scientist among the mid-century French constructeurs of cyclotouring bikes.

Barra was a pioneer of welded aluminum frames, but his genius didn’t stop there. Who else would have thought of using a Super Champion racing derailleur with a wide-range double crankset? And how about replacing the straddle cables of the cantilever brakes with spokes, to allow fine-tuning the position of the brake arms by turning the spoke nipples? To say nothing of the front derailleur that goes through the seat tube!

Even more remarkable: The entire bike weighs just 10.1 kg (22.3 lb), with fenders, wide tires, lights and rack. Clearly, there was a method behind Barra’s madness!

Madness isn’t how you’d describe the All-City Gorilla Monsoon: It’s an affordable all-road bike with everything you’d expect: disc brakes, thru-axles, 1×11 drivetrain – unless you count that orange fade paintjob as madness.

As with all our bike tests, we don’t talk about the paint, but tell you how it rides. And how it compares to its distant sister, the Surly Midnight Special. The two bikes are far more different than we thought, and readers appreciate learning which of the two would fit their riding style best.

“Amazing build on the MAP!”

Dream bikes don’t get more exciting than the latest MAP All-Road. A lightweight steel frame. Custom rack and stem. Those are nods to tradition, but disc brakes and the carbon fork are decidedly modern. Add 11-speed Ergopower and a Rene Herse crankset with gearing for the real world, and you have a bike designed for long rides in the mountains.

And that is where we took it, on a 36-hour, 500 km epic that zig-zagged across the Cascade Range just before the high passes were covered by snow. Readers enjoy this adventure, even though most aren’t in the market for a custom bike. But then, our adventures never were intended as mere buyers’ guides…

“I loved the Transcontinental Race story! Agonizing in places, wondrous in others.”

Jonah Jones’ story from the Transcontinental is not a guide on how to ride: You probably shouldn’t start a 2500-mile race across the mountains of central Europe with a fractured pelvis. But little can stand between a cyclist and his dream! Many readers were inspired that Jonah not only completed the race, but found so much joy in it. And when you see his photos, you’ll want to ride those roads, too! (Although perhaps at a more leisurely pace.)

These are just a few of the features in this 112-page edition. Click here for a full table of contents. Or start your subscription today, and we’ll send your copy with the next mailing that goes out this week. That way, you can find out for yourself why our readers are so excited.

Thank you to all our readers who wrote and commented. Now our challenge is to make the next BQ even better!

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 4 Comments

All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future

All-road bikes with wide tires are the hottest trend in cycling. There is a level of excitement that we haven’t seen since the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s: These new bikes bring new people into the sport, who are enticed by the idea of cycling on small roads, away from traffic. The new bikes combine what people love about road bikes – effortless speed – and mountain bikes – go-anywhere ability – without the drawbacks. These bikes have the potential to transform the bike industry.

Like most trends, this one didn’t start within the industry. Bike manufacturers only reluctantly adopted wide tires on performance bikes. Even then, they called them ‘gravel bikes,’ in the hopes of selling one to every cyclist, in addition to the ‘road,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘cyclocross’ bikes they already owned. But ‘gravel’ was too limiting a term for something that is much more than just a bike for the special condition of riding on gravel.

Recently, bike companies have adopted the name ‘all-road bikes,’ a term we coined way back in 2006, when we realized the potential of wide tires on performance bikes. It’s great to see cycling luminaries like Richard Bryne (founder of Speedplay) say: “The potential of this bike category cannot be underestimated.” He predicts that all-road bikes will “dwarf the previous road and MTB categories in scale and relegate them to the two margins of the market spectrum.” 

In other words: All-road bikes will becomes the go-to bike for most cyclists. Racing and mountain bikes will move to the fringes of the market, used for very specialized applications where all-road bikes reach their limits.

Bryne is not the only one to feel that way. Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, sold his company – famous for its narrow-tire racers – to start two all-road bike ventures. Together with Andy Kessler, he started a new company, Open, and introduced the iconic U.P. (for ‘Unbeaten Path’). And he bought the former handlebar maker 3T and introduced the company’s first bike, the all-road Exploro. These bikes take the performance of modern carbon racers and add the ability to run ultra-wide tires. And both have had more influence on the bike industry than any other bike of the last decade. Vroomen’s characteristic dropped chainstay – to create room for wide tires between narrow road cranks, he moved the chainstay out of the way – has been cropping up on bikes from many mainstream manufacturers. The Open web site exclaims: “Go anywhere fast!”

We said similar things back in 2006. Our tire tests had shown that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones – provided they used a supple, high-performance casing. At the time, a road bike with wide tires seemed like a ludicrous idea to most. The very definition of a road bike was that it had narrow tires!

And yet, we became convinced that road cycling’s future rolled on wide tires. We coined the name ‘allroad bike’ (at first without a hyphen) to explain our vision: a new type of bike that was a road bike, but designed to go on all roads, not just smooth, paved ones.

The problem back then: There were no high-performance bikes designed for wide tires. Not even the tires themselves existed: The only wide tires on the market were heavy, stiff touring models – a far cry from the supple high-performance tires we envisioned. Our first task was to make the tires available. Then we asked the industry to build all-road bikes around the new tires.

Road Bike of the Future?

That was the title of our test of the Tournesol (above) in Bicycle Quarterly. We wrote: “Our test bike this month may well be one of the first of a new breed of ‘Allroad’ bikes: road bikes with wide tires that ride as fast as racing bikes on paved roads, and faster than cyclocross or mountain bikes on unpaved roads.”

That was in Autumn 2006. The first ‘allroad’ bike had a titanium frame, 650B wheels, and its disc brakes presaged the future. The brand itself was a short-lived collaboration between BQ reader Douglas Brooks and Seattle’s Steve Hampsten. With updated colorways and components, this 13-year-old bike could pass for a current all-road bike. Put some modern rubber on it, and its performance would be very much up-to-date, too.

And yet it’s not like we came up with something that had never existed before: We may have coined the name ‘all-road bike,’ but high-performance bikes with wide tires weren’t a new idea, even in 2006. Our research was inspired by mid-century constructeurs like René Herse – above on his amazing 7.94 kg (17.50 lb) bike during the 1938 Concours de Machines. Wide, hand-made tires; bags strapped bikepacking-style to a superlight rack; flared drop handlebars – Herse’s bike wouldn’t look out of place on a gravel adventure today.

René Herse wasn’t the first to discover wide, supple tires, either. Way back in the 1890s, bicycles became popular once pneumatic tires revolutionized their speed and comfort. The change was so profound that old bikes with narrow solid rubber tires were henceforth called ‘Boneshakers’! The whole idea behind putting air in your tires was to run wider, more supple tires. The first pneumatic tires measured about 43 mm wide – not very different from the tires many of us run on our bikes today!

So fast were the pneumatics that you couldn’t win a race without them. During the first Paris-Brest-Paris – back then still a professional race – all of the first three riders were on pneumatics, even though the technology was still brand-new! Never since has a change swept through the cycling world with such speed.

Why did tires become narrower over time? Already in the 1920s, Vélocio, the editor of the magazine Le Cycliste, joked about the ‘pneu crayon’ that most racers used: narrow, made from stiff rubber, and pumped up to the highest pressure possible. Even on the rough roads of the Tour de France (above), racers used tires that measured little more than 28 mm.

Vélocio brought back wider tires for a while, but by the 1950s, most riders were on narrow rubber again. That trend continued until recently. Why was the joy of riding on a supple cushion of air forgotten time and again?

I think the answer lies in a powerful placebo effect: Pumping up your tires harder makes your bike feel faster, even if it isn’t. Here is how it works: Your bike vibrates as your tires hit road irregularities. The faster you go, the more bumps your tires hit per second – the frequency of the vibrations increases. This experience conditions us to equate higher frequencies with more speed.

When you pump up your tires harder, the frequency of the vibrations also increases. You get the same effect as you do by going faster, except your speed is the same – but you feel faster. Conversely, a wide tire at low pressures feels slower because the vibrations that we equate with speed disappear.

In a group with well-matched riders, you realize that even though wider tires may feel slower at first, they actually aren’t. In fact, racers were among the first to put Bicycle Quarterly‘s research into practice: Soon after we showed our test results to a technical advisor who worked for several North American pro teams, the (Canadian) Cervelo team started riding on 25 mm tires. Other North American teams followed suit, and a few years later, even the European teams started to race on 25s. Now many are moving to 28s…

For racers, it’s easy to check speed. If you can hang with the group, even though you’re riding wider tires, you know that the wider tires aren’t slowing you down.

For the rest of us, the placebo of ‘high pressure = high-frequency vibrations = high speed’ can be unlearned. I no longer feel any slower on my Firefly with its 54 mm tires (above) than I do on a racing bike with 28s.

That brings us back to the original question: Are all-road bikes just a trend? Will their time come and go, like so many other bike categories that were hot for a while before the next big thing dropped? Will the joys of riding on supple, wide, high-performance tires be forgotten again?

I don’t think so. Unlike in the past, this time, the ‘wide-tire revolution’ is backed up by solid data. We won’t be tricked by placebo effects any longer! Smart people like Bryne and Vroomen are putting their money and effort into all-road bikes, because all-road bikes are transforming cycling as we know it. At Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles, we are proud to have contributed at least a small part to make this happen.

More information:

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Tires | 60 Comments

Bon Jon Pass Review: “An Exceptional Tyre”

“An exceptional tyre that will make you faster and happier.” That was the verdict when the British web site http://www.road.cc tested our Bon Jon Pass tires recently. When we hear positive feedback, whether it’s from a professional tester or a customer, it makes our day.

I smiled when I read the calculation of the weight savings. It appears that, on average, spending a British pound ($1.28) will make your bike 1.91 g lighter. Based on that metric, the tester explained that choosing “the Compass Bon Jon Pass Extralight over the Schwalbe G-One Speed was ‘worth’ £157 of savings elsewhere. Ergo, at £67 RRP, the Bon Jon Pass is a ridiculously cost-effective weight saver.” I’m not sure about the math, but it does show that lightweight tires are the easiest way to shed significant weight, especially with wide tires where the weight differences can be quite large.

More importantly, the tester liked the supple casing and the excellent grip and comfort in the real world of the Scottish Highlands: “I hardly noticed broken patches of chip seal, or small gaps and lips of manhole covers. I found myself thinking up tests for what I could and couldn’t feel through the bike’s contact points.”

Negatives? Tubeless setup with supple tires is inevitably a bit trickier – the fit between tire and rim must be ‘just right’ and the thin casing is more likely to leak air until it seals. And his riding partners apparently weren’t always happy: “I realised I wasn’t signalling road surface irregularities as much as I should be to my sub-30mm-shod brethren following behind.” Until they switch to supple, wide tires, too…

No bike test would be complete without commenting on performance – “These are fast tyres, period. World-beatingly fast.” – and price – “I believe they are worth every penny.” 

There isn’t much we can add. We developed our tires because we wanted faster and more comfortable tires for our own bikes. When others enjoy them as much as we do, it makes us happy, too.

Further information:

Posted in Tires | 2 Comments

Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order

How do you make an ultralight bag? That was the first question when the Concours de Machines announced that the weight of the bikes included the bag.

Peter Weigle worked very hard to get his fully equipped bike down to just 20.0 lb (9.07 kg), and we wanted to make sure the bag was also as light as possible.

Gilles Berthoud bags already are among the lightest bags available today. Even so, we knew savings were possible without compromising its size or performance. The result is on the left in the photo above, with the standard bag on the right for comparison.

Together with our friends at Gilles Berthoud, we decided to use the same canvas fabric and leather as on the standard bags: Thinner materials wouldn’t last as long.

The first step was to remove the outside pockets. We gave up a little capacity and convenience, but gained significant weight savings. Next, our friends at Gilles Berthoud reduced the leather reinforcements to an absolute minimum.

They examined every part of the bag to see where weight could be saved. Above are studies for the attachment to the rack backstop. In the end, they replaced the strap with a short sleeve that slips over the rack backstop and also anchors the hook for the closure. It’s by far the lightest and simplest solution.

We thought about eliminating the map pocket, but I felt that it was essential. The goal with this project wasn’t to create the lightest bike at all cost, but a no-compromise machine that will be ridden hard for many years. How about reverting to the older style of map pocket that is open on the side, rather than using a Velcro closure? That is a small compromise, and it saves valuable grams. There are a few other weight-saving details, but we also added a little piece of leather with the Gilles Bethoud logo to the front of the bag. It may weigh 3 grams, but those who created this amazing bag deserve credit.

The result? The entire bag weighs just 266 g. That is less than half the weight of the standard bag (which is already very light). And this is the GB28 – the largest size – which holds a whopping 13 liters. I can’t think of any other adventure-sized handlebar bag that comes close to being this light.

The bag has lived up to its promise. I’ve used it quite a bit in all kinds of weather – that is why it no longer looks brand-new in the studio photos. Since the fabric and leather are the same as the standard bags, it should last as long. (My very first Berthoud bag, which I bought in 2000, is still going strong.)

And it’s as waterproof as the standard bags – the cotton fabric swells when it gets wet, and even after hours in the rain, there is no water inside. (I place my notebook and other moisture-sensitive items in a Ziploc bag as a precaution.)

There is one other modification we made compared to the standard bags: Since there is so little leather, the ultralight bag is less stiff than the standard model. So we made a very lightweight aluminum stiffener that attaches to the decaleur and to the small inner flaps with Velcro. (The large flaps keep the contents in the bag on really rough terrain, so we kept them, too. The flaps also allow you to overstuff the bag, which is useful during long events. Plus they keep out the rain.)

Does a superlight handlebar bag make sense when its contents will weigh more than the bag? Like the trunk of my car, my handlebar bag rarely is filled to the brim. It just gives me options. I can start a ride before sunrise, dressed for chilly temperatures, and then shed layers as it warms up. I can bring a camera and take photos when the mood strikes. I can even swing by the farmers’ market on the way home and pick up some fresh vegetables for lunch. A superlight bag makes sense in the context of a fully equipped bike that offers the performance of a racing bike with the versatility of fenders and lights.

In addition, I want a bag like this for long-distance events like Paris-Brest-Paris or the Raid Pyreneen, where I count every gram before the start. I plan my stops carefully, and I carry enough supplies to limit my off-the-bike time to the absolute minimum. A superlight bag is among the easier ways to save weight on my bike. (For cyclotouring where a few minutes make no difference, I definitely recommend the standard bags.)

We are now offering the ultralight Concours de Machines bag in a limited, one-time production run. It will be available in three sizes, and it will incorporate a few small changes based on what we’ve learned from the prototype. It will include the stiffener that is designed to attach to a decaleur. The rear sleeve fits on a rack with a backstop no wider than 48 mm – perfect for our Compass/Rene Herse racks.

If you would like one of these bags, please pre-order by January 15. The bags will be delivered in March, so you can use it in this year’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris.

More information:

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.
Posted in Racks/Bags | 17 Comments