Honing Skills in Cyclocross

When winter snow makes the high roads in the Cascade Mountains impassable, we turn to cyclocross. It’s our preferred winter sport – challenging, fun and a great way to hone our skills for the big summer gravel adventures. The skills of ‘cross are less about jumping across barriers – although that is fun, too – and more about learning the feedback from your tires. Being able to feel how much grip you can lean on is a useful skill for gravel riding. When you push your bike to the limit and beyond, you learn what it feels like when the tire is just before the point where it’ll slip. You’ll also learn how to recover when your bike slides. And if you don’t recover, speeds are slow and the mud is soft…

Last weekend was our big  ‘cross race here in Seattle’s Woodland Park. The ‘cross course winds through tall trees, and it often feels like you’re right in the Cascade Mountains. Riding here is fun in itself, but racing in these surroundings is special.

Lining up in a pack of racers isn’t something I do often these days, but these aren’t the pro and elite racers. We’re here for fun.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t racing hard. I’ve never been a great sprinter, but at least I’ve honed my clip-into-the-pedal skills during many years of urban commutes.

Everybody races for the ‘holeshot’ – the first corner where the pack fits only two abreast. If you make it in the top ten, you can enter the corner with minimal braking. Somehow, I managed…

The barriers are another great place to make up positions. Time your steps just right, lift the bike just high enough, jump across the barriers, and vault back on the bike with almost no loss in speed: It’s a lot of fun.

I love that ‘cross is such an inclusive the sport. Right after our field, the Clydesdales started. Which other cycling event has a category specifically for riders weighing more than 200 lb (91 kg)? Make no mistake – these guys are strong. So strong, in fact, that their bikes seem almost weightless: They lift them like toys as they rush across the barriers.

In ‘cross, you ride multiple laps of the same course, so you can try different things each time. Which line is fastest through this corner? Can I carry a little more speed here? Can I stay off the brakes during this descent? It’s a great way to hone your skills.

You also learn to read the surface. The soil of Woodland Park has areas with sandy loam, where grip is excellent even in the wet…

… and others with clay that can be very slippery.

The last lap was the most fun. Traffic had cleared – I was behind the truly fast guys – and with the finish approaching, there was no need to keep anything in reserve. Now I could let the bike fly. My old Alan is a well-known fixture of the peloton by now, and I don’t get many questions about it any longer. It still works as well as it did when it was new, and when Alans won every ‘cross championship title in sight. Everybody knows that the tires determine a ‘cross bike’s performance, anyhow.

At speed, the spinning tires clear the mud out of their tread – provided there is enough open space between the knobs. ‘Cross tires grip better the faster you go. Some of that mud flies in your face, but that is all part of the fun.

When the finish line came, I knew that I was in the top-10, but had no idea about my exact placing. It really didn’t matter – now was the time to chat with friends and acquaintances, then head to a bakery nearby… If you’ve been thinking about ‘cross, give it a try – chances are you’ll like it!

Posted in Rides | 3 Comments

Endurance Casings for 700C x 38 and 700C x 55

You asked for it… Many customers requested our Barlow Pass with the Endurance casing. It makes sense – 700C x 38 is a versatile size. If your rides are littered with glass, steel wires or goatheads, the Endurance casing is going to be your friend. You get a tire with much of the speed and comfort of our other Rene Herse tires, yet it’s considerably tougher than the Standard or Extralight casings.

The Antelope Hill is another prime candidate for the Endurance casing. Call it 700C x 55 or 29″ x 2.3″ as you wish – it’s a tire for monstercross and mountain bikes that are ridden on gravel roads (and paved ones, too).

Most of the time, the sheer volume of this tire (and associated low pressure) will ward off sidewall cuts and punctures. Yet by their nature, the Antelopes invite you to take them places you wouldn’t go otherwise. And then the extra protection of the Endurance casing can be great reassurance…

These Rene Herse tires are available with Endurance casings:

  • 650B x 48 Juniper Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 38 Barlow Pass
  • 700C x 38 Steilacoom (knobby)
  • 700C x 42 Hurricane Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 44 Snoqualmie Pass
  • 700C x 55 Antelope Hill

Quantities of the new models are limited for now, until production catches up with demand. Click here for more information.

Posted in Tires | 17 Comments

Rene Herse Tires – Which Casing is Right for Me?

Rene Herse tires are available in many widths, with two tread patterns and four casings. All this so you can find tires that are ideally suited to how and where you ride. Today, let’s look at the different casings. Which is best for you?

Our standard casing is the workhorse of the Rene Herse tire program. It features the supple casing that has made our tires famous. That means it’s comfortable and fast, yet it’s also strong to withstand considerable abuse. It’s the tire most of our customers choose, and it’s also our most economical one. You can’t really go wrong with the Standard casing.

The Extralight casing is our ultimate: Ultimate in speed. Ultimate in comfort. Ultimate in light weight. It’s an extremely fine and supple casing that you’ll otherwise find only on hand-made tubulars. Riding the Extralight will make you fall in love, and riding your bike will never be the same.

All that supple performance makes the Extralight’s sidewalls a bit more fragile. If you scrape along rocks (or curbs), the sidewalls will abrade or cut more easily than other tires. Is that a problem? Not if you’re running tires that are wide enough for your terrain, and if you ‘ride light’ on your bike. Descending Japan’s highest pass road (above), I took the bike to the limit, yet my Extralights were none the worse for wear. If your daydreams revolve around supple tires, then these are the tires for you.

We’ve developed the Endurance casing for gravel racing. When you are riding in a peloton at 30 mph, you can’t see where you are going, and you’ll hit big rocks at high speed. In that situation, you’ll give up a little speed for extra sidewall protection. Because gravel racing is first and foremost a race of attrition: To win, you need to be in the lead group when you approach the finish!

The Endurance casing uses the same extra-fine thread of our Extralight, but pushes them closer together for a denser weave. It also adds a protection layer on the sidewalls and under the tread. Both greatly increase the resistance against punctures and abrasion. It makes the tires easier to set up tubeless and works better with hookless rims, too. If you’re heading into the Flint Hills of Kansas to get dirty in the front pack, you’ll want your rims shod with Endurance rubber.

The Endurance Plus casing is a totally different animal from our other tires. It uses thicker threads for even more strength and resistance against cuts and abrasions. It has an even stronger protection layer on the sidewalls and under the tread. If the Superlight casing is the sportcar among our tires, the Endurance Plus is the off-road racing truck. It’s as tough as it gets, yet still as fast as possible.

This is your tire when you are heading into the unknown. If you’ll plunge into deep rivers during the Rift Iceland (above) or traverse the mountain ranges of Kyrgystan, the Endurance Plus is designed for you.

Which tire is right if you mostly ride pavement? Both the Standard and Extralight casings work great on the road. They entice you to seek out scenic lanes with little traffic. They filter out the rough pavement that hasn’t been replaced in decades. The Standard casing will make you smile with every mile. Riding the Extralight, you will make you understand why generations of pro racers have used handmade supple tires, even if they have to buy them with their own money.

If you have to ride on the shoulders of busy highways or in the gutter of city streets, glass and little steel wires will be your enemies. If you get too many flats, the Endurance casing is your friend.

Whichever casing you pick, you’ll enjoy the speed, comfort and grip for which Rene Herse tires have become famous. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference a great set of tires makes. You’ll fall in love with your bike all over again!

Click here for more information on Rene Herse tires.

Photo credits: Natsuko Hirose (Photo 3), SBTGRVL (Photo 4), Ansel Dickey (Photo 5), Donalrey Nieva (Photo 7).

Posted in Tires | 32 Comments

Cost Increases = Price Increases

Unlike most posts, this isn’t one that I enjoy writing… Over the past decade, we’ve seen a period of remarkably stable prices. In fact, it’s been more than five years since our prices have changed across the board – and back then, they went down, because the exchange rate to the Japanese Yen had become more favorable.

Things have changed over the last few years. The trade wars have caught the headlines, but they haven’t affected us directly. Our high-quality products are made in Japan, Germany, France, Taiwan and, of course, the United States – not the countries that have had big tariffs levied on them. However, the trade wars have rippled throughout the world, and they affect us as well: The dollar has lost in value, which increases the cost of the parts we make overseas.

Why not make them in the U.S.? We make many parts locally or in the U.S., but for others, there simply is no domestic manufacturer who can make bicycle tires, forged bike parts, and other high-end components.

The cost of raw materials has also increased due to tariffs and other disruptions. This affects everything from aluminum (used on most of our components) and copper (generator hubs) to rubber (tires), and it’s been substantial.

Our components are made in batches, and our suppliers buy their materials in large quantities, so these cost increases haven’t hit us all at once, but as a steady trickle. For a while, we’ve been able to absorb them. At some point, we have to pass them on to our customers. This means that over the next few months, our prices will increase. It won’t be a huge increase, and it won’t affect all our parts. And for the time being, we’re of course still taking orders at the old prices. We want to give our loyal customers a heads up, so it doesn’t come as a surprise. We hope you’ll understand.

Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Designing the Rene Herse Taillight

If you’ve been to the Philly Bike Expo last weekend (or looked at the photo feeds), you’ve seen many custom bikes with our Rene Herse taillights. (Above is Brian Chapman’s.) The taillight has been one of our more popular products.


As with so many projects, it all started when I needed a part for my bike and couldn’t find what I wanted: An elegant taillight mounted directly to the bike without clamps and brackets. Generator-powered – the last thing I want during a long ride is run out of batteries (or worry about it). And with the latest technology and safety: a bright and long-lasting LED that doesn’t burn out, and a standlight, too.

My taillight had to incorporate a reflector. Not only is it safer – in the unlikely event that the taillight stops working – but it’s actually required by law in many countries. My friend Hahn suggested using the reflector as the taillight lens. Not only does this eliminate the need for a clumsy separate reflector, it also gives a diffuse light that is easier on the eyes for cyclists drafting closely behind my bike. From a distance, it’s just as visible: The light output in lumens is the same, just spread over a larger area.

There was no taillight that met these requirements. So I decided to make my own.

Where to mount the taillight? That was easy, since René Herse figured it out long ago: I don’t carry huge saddlebags, so the rear of the seat tube is the perfect place for the taillight. Nestled between the seatstays, the light is well-protected, yet easy to see from behind. Routing the wire is easy, too, since it can go through the frame.

Finding a good circuit for the electronics was no problem, either: The B&M Seculite Plus has a bright LED and a standlight circuit. Its LED mounts in the center of the round capacitor that powers the standlight. The Seculite Plus represents the state of the art in taillights. It has proven ultra-reliable. And it has the right shape for my taillight.

Finding a good reflector was more difficult. It turns out that many reflectors don’t reflect well at all. I wanted mine to reflect at least as well as a car’s reflector.

Most reflectors are made in Asia these days, so I asked our engineer in Taiwan to round up every reflector he could get his hands on. At night, I put each batch on the rear bumper of a car, shone a light at them, and compared. It took a while, but we finally found a reflector that worked extremely well – and also was round and the right diameter.

I didn’t take photos during that initial test, so I recreated it using my bike with its taillight. The reflector works so well that one might think the LED inside is illuminated, but it’s just the reflector in the beam of a flashlight.

Then it came to designing the shape of the taillight. There are many beautiful taillights, but none have a flat lens. Reflectors are flat, so I needed something different: I quickly realized that all the shapes designed for domed lenses would not work.

Looking for inspiration, I finally came upon this JOS reflector. It’s prized by collectors, for not only is it ultra-rare, but it’s also very beautiful. I realized that the wide ‘ring’ is key to making the shape work with the flat surface of the reflector.

With the JOS reflector as a starting point, I drew a variety of shapes. It would have been easy to draw a simple ball, cut in half, but that isn’t really aesthetically pleasing.

The shape of the taillight was constrained by several factors. In addition to the flat rear surface, I needed enough space inside for the electronics, especially the big capacitor that powers the standlight. I finally came up with a shape that transitioned nicely from the lens to the taillight mount on the seat tube.

For a moment, I thought about the German requirement that taillights must be visible from all sides. Shouldn’t my taillight at least be visible from the sides for safety? Actually, your bike is moving forward – to avoid getting hit from the side, you need to be visible from a 3/4 front view. When you are right in front of the car, you’re no longer in danger: By the time the car reaches the spot where you are, you will be gone. It’s the same with wheel reflectors: They look very impressive when they light up in a car’s headlight beam, but they don’t do anything to make the rider safer.

So why do German taillights need to be seen from all sides? Andreas Oehler from SON explained: “It’s so that riders can look back and see whether their taillights still work.” Now I understand! That was useful in the days of filament bulbs, which burned out frequently. Not only do LEDs rarely fail, but it’s a non-issue on bikes with polished fenders: The reflection of the taillight is visible from the saddle even if the lens itself is not. You can see the taillight’s reflection in the top photo of Brian Chapman’s bike. I was glad to have resolved this issue!

The next step was to make the actual light housing. Machinists will laugh: I machined it free-hand, just shaving away material, ‘etch-a-sketch’ style, until I had the shape I wanted.

Now that I had all the parts, I sent them to our engineer, so he could make the production drawings. A few days later, the phone rang: “What is that shape? I’ve measured it, but I can’t find a curve that describes it.” I explained that there wasn’t a curve since the light’s body had been drawn and machined free-hand.

At that point, we both realized why the old lights are so graceful: They were drawn by hand, and the tooling was made from wooden masters that were also carved by hand. These days, parts are CNC-machined, so they tend to be composed of simple curves and straight lines.

Of course, we needed to CNC-machine our taillight housing, so it was up to our engineer to translate my prototype into a series of curves. It’s not impossible to describe a hand-drawn shape as a series of mathematical curves – it’s just a lot of work.

There was more to do. We also needed a braze-on. Since the seat tube is inclined, the braze-on has to be mitered just right. Plus, we wanted the braze-on to extend into the seat tube, so it acts as a stop for the seatpost and protects the wire. Otherwise, inserting the seatpost too far would damage the wire…

We designed a two-piece braze-on (this is the second version) that can easily be filed (at the square end) to move the light closer to the seat tube, giving the builder options for customizing the fit. There are also some parts inside the taillight to hold the circuit board securely and ground it against the light’s housing, so the frame can be used as a return for the current.

Then it came to producing the taillight. The housing is CNC-machined from aluminum, then polished. The internal parts are laser-cut from stainless steel. The braze-on is machined from steel. (This photo shows the first generation braze-on.) The wire is a special automotive wire, which is insulated with a cross-linked polymer that is extremely abrasion resistant: It won’t chafe through where the wire enters and exits the frame. We persuaded Busch & Müller in Germany to sell us separate circuit boards from their taillights.

The hardest part turned out to be the reflector. The lens was glued into the plastic housing. By pure chance, our first sample (for the prototype) had come apart easily, but when we bought a large quantity, we realized that most were glued in permanently. We had to saw off the housing and then break the reflectors loose. About half of the reflectors cracked during this operation. We talked to the sales representative for the reflector company about getting just the lenses, but that was not easy. It’s not a part the company usually sells, and we didn’t need a million of them, either. Finally, our sales guy took pity on us and simply picked up a box of reflectors when he visited the factory. We treated him to a nice dinner as thanks (and paid for the reflectors, of course).

All those parts are assembled right here in Seattle in small batches by our friend Alistair. The taillights have been very popular, and sometimes, he can’t keep up with demand. Recently, we’ve been out of stock, but Alistair has just completed another batch.

All this is a lot of effort for a ‘simple’ taillight, but we think it’s worth it – because there are no alternatives that work as well and look as nice.

We sometimes get questions for a fender-mounted taillight. It would make it easier to retrofit a bike with the taillight, and it can be an option for small frames where the rear wheel obscures the seat tube. We don’t offer a fender-mounted taillight yet, because we haven’t found a pleasant shape that is large enough to house the electronics. Simply sticking our taillight onto a fender wouldn’t look nice – the shape has to flow with the fender. Making an ugly taillight makes no sense – I’d rather mount a modern plastic light to my fender!

 

So for now, our taillight mounts on the seat tube. When you order a custom bike, it’s a great choice, or you can retrofit an old steel frame, as BQ team rider Steve Frey did with his Frek (a 1980s Trek converted into a randonneur bike, above).

Click here for more information on our lights.

Posted in Lighting | 23 Comments

Rene Herse Cycling Caps

We are really excited about our new cycling caps. They are great to wear under a helmet, or just by themselves.

The quality is superb – as you’d expect, since they are made by Walz, a company known for their high quality. They are made in the USA.

Best of all, the caps are available in two sizes: S/M and L/XL. Because, as you can see above, ‘One Size Fits All’ just isn’t true for many of us.

Click here for more information about our new caps.

Posted in Clothing | 8 Comments

Road.cc Reviews the Juniper Ridge 650B x 48

We like Road.cc, the British web site, because they really ride the products they test. They’ve got a number of testers, and their opinions are refreshingly unbiased and honest. At the end of each test, they ask their reviewers “Would you buy this product?” and “Would you recommend this product to a friend?”

Recently, they reviewed our Juniper Ridge dual-purpose knobbies, and tester Stu Kerton replied “Yes” to both questions. His summary explains why:“The Juniper Ridge has been designed to work just as well on the road as it does off the beaten track. I was sceptical, but to be honest they are pretty good, giving a boost to your average speed on those tarmac sections between the tracks and trails.”

Grip on gravel and in mud impressed him, too: “Cornering on hard-packed gravel, the Junipers had just the right level of grip for the knobbles to dig into the gravel so you could blast round at speed. […] They grip well on soft mud and the tread doesn’t seem to hang onto any dirt either, shedding it before it can become compacted between the knobbles. The only place they did suffer a bit was on wet, sticky chalk, which could clog up the tread.” But then, I suspect that any tire will clog up in that type of sticky mud…

It’s exciting when testers enjoy our tires as much as we do. Rather than tell you more about the test, why not read the full review for yourself at road.cc?

Posted in Tires | 6 Comments