Ted King: Gravel Racing on Rene Herse Tires

They call Ted King the ‘King of Gravel’: Winner of both the Dirty Kanza and Grinduro in 2018, he’s the man to beat. With ‘gravel’ being the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle market, even professional teams are lining up to challenge Ted. So what does a champion do when others come after him? Ride hard and work on his equipment to ensure he has the speediest bike in the peloton. He’s also made the move to Vermont to have some of North American’s finest gravel at his doorstep.

That is how the Ted King-Rene Herse relationship came about. Ted had ridden Rene Herse/Compass tires in the past on his own road bikes, including a 700-mile self-supported trip down the California coast, and he was curious how they’d work on gravel. We sent him a few sets of tires for testing and after riding both our dual-purpose knobbies and our all-road tires in Vermont’s tough winter, he was impressed.

He loved the Steilacoom knobbies:

“On pavement, they’re incredibly smooth. There is no noticeable chatter; no abrupt transitions from mid-turn to righting the bike and pedaling straight. Segue offroad, I had all the confidence in the world when ripping gravel. The tread pattern is awesome  it’s really cool how deceptively simple the Steilacoom tread is, yet how well the tires work.”

Ted told me about the incredible James Bay Descent he and three friends were planning: A 700 km ride in northern Ontario on fatbikes in the middle of winter. It’s wonderful that even at his level, gravel riding is still about having fun on the bike first and foremost.

For a trip this remote, where even a simple saddle sore can cause real problems, I suggested he try a Gilles Berthoud saddle. His response was typical of a racer: “Changing saddles (much like changing tubeless tires) is not my favorite activity, so I will do it ASAP and report back.”

In the event, he liked the saddle so much that he got the same saddles for the entire team. During the return from their incredible ride (above), Ted wrote: “I wanted to send a note on behalf of the entire team saying that our butts are far more sore in these plush car seats than on the 40+ hours of riding. The Berthoud saddles were incredible and the entire team loved them.” And Ted asked to keep the saddle for his gravel racing rig.

Fast forward to last weekend and the first big gravel race of the season. Ted finished a close second – above he’s crossing the finish line one second behind winner Payson McElveen after they set a new course record.

Ted chose to race on our 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass tires. He texted afterward: “Everyone said that you’d need knobby tires, but the tires were perfect, because it was so dry. The Snoqualmies were amazing!” He also was very happy with the Gilles Berthoud saddle – he’s planning to keep it on his bike.

We are excited to work with a racer of Ted’s caliber. His input into tire development is extremely valuable to us. It’s great that our tires have been working so well for him, and we’ll see where our collaboration will lead us in the future.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 1), Ted King (Photos 2, 3, 4, 6), Land Run 100 (Photo 5).

Posted in Tires | 10 Comments

Back in Stock and New: Framebuilding Parts

Good news: The long-awaited Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades are back in stock. Even better news: We worked with Kaisei to maximize their length, so there is a little extra for bikes with ultra-wide tires, or to cut off the bottom part that is hard to bend smoothly. The new blades are 430 mm long instead of 405 mm in the past.

Why do we love these fork blades? The fork is an integral part of the bike’s suspension: It absorbs hits that are too big for the tires to handle alone. The difference in comfort is really remarkable when you ride two bikes with the same tires, but different fork blades, back to back. As since the improved shock absorption reduces the suspension losses, a fork with a little give also makes you faster on all surfaces.

The ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades work perfectly with our ultra-strong and ultra-light Rene Herse fork crown.

We’ve added a third chainstay to our Kaisei tubing program: In addition to stays with 0.7 and 0.8 mm wall thicknesses, we now offer 1.0 mm stays. These are ideal for bikes that carry a heavy load, and for riders who prefer a stiffer feel to the drivetrain. We offer them both straight and custom-bend to clear wide tires (above).

 

The Rene Herse bottom bracket shells are designed to fit the curved stays, with a socket angle that is a bit wider than standard. Available both for standard and OS down tubes.

Another addition to our framebuilding program: Hahn Rossman has redesigned our taillight mount. It’s now much easier to braze, and your builder can shorten it if you prefer the taillight to be closer to the seat tube. (The new braze-on does require a larger hole in the seat tube, but we’ve found that this doesn’t cause any problems.)

We’ve sourced and designed our framebuilding program for bikes that traverse entire mountain ranges in one go – because your bike should not limit the adventures that you can imagine.

Click here for more information about the Rene Herse framebuilding program.

Photo credit: Nicola Joly (Photo 1).

Posted in Framebuilding supplies | 2 Comments

Video: All-Road Cycling in Japan

Beautiful bikes, great roads, traditional Japanese inns: BQ editor Natsuko Hirose’s short clip takes you to the Izu Peninsula. It’s the first trip on her new all-road bike – a great opportunity to enjoy cyclotouring with friends.

Enjoy this preview, then read the full story in the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Make sure to watch in ‘Full Screen’ mode!

Click here to subscribe.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Rene Herse / Compass tires are safe with carbon rims

Recently, Enve put out a Consumer Safety Bulletin about their carbon wheels and tires made with natural fibers. The conclusion: “Tires using natural sidewall materials with an open tubular type construction are not fit for use with ENVE carbon rims.” Natural fibers are inconsistent in their strength, and the hard edges of carbon rims can cut the weakest ones, causing the tire to split and blow out.

This had some customers worried: Are Rene Herse / Compass tires safe to use with carbon rims. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” 

Our tires, including the Extralight models, are made from polyester. In fact, we investigated cotton casings when we first started making tires, but we found the same thing: Cotton – a natural material – is somewhat inconsistent. Some fibers are very strong, others much less so. Polyester has the advantage of being very uniform – ideal for making thin and supple tire casings.

In the past, polyester casings were relatively coarse and not very supple, hence cotton and silk was preferred for high-performance tires. Today, modern manufacturing allows to make extremely fine polyester threads that equal or surpass the suppleness of the natural fibers.

In addition to the stronger material, our tires include a thin strip that goes around the bead. This reinforces the joint between rim and tire, and avoids problems like those reported by Enve. So whether you use carbon or aluminum rims, rest assured: Rene Herse and Compass tires equal the performance of the best ‘open tubulars,’ but they are strong enough to be used on all rims.

Our on-the-road experience confirms this: We’ve ridden our tires on Enve rims with a variety of bikes, without any problems.

The service bulletin also notes a second issue: Some (but not all) cotton tires can have inconsistent diameters and stretchy beads. As a result, they can blow off the rim. Again, this does not apply to Rene Herse / Compass tires: They are made to the tightest tolerances by one of the best makers in the world: Panaracer. In fact, Panaracer tires are specifically mentioned by Enve as a brand recommended for use with their rims.

Oh, and the much-anticipated 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge tires you see in some of the photos? They are on their way to Seattle. We should have them within a month.

Further information:

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Longer cranks should be stronger

Our Rene Herse cranks are available in three length: 165, 171 and 177 mm. We chose 3.5% increments, because that is the smallest difference you’ll notice as you ride. That part is just common sense. What makes our cranks unique among small-production cranks is that we use different forging dies for each crank length.

Let’s first talk about why we forge our cranks: Forging strengthens the metal because it aligns the grain structure (above). By contrast, CNC machining just carves the part out of a big block of aluminum. You’ll still have the grain structure of the original block, which is now interrupted where the block has been cut away. On a complex shape like a crank, this creates a lot of weak spots. (Aluminum behaves a lot like wood in this respect, where you always want to work with the grain, not cut across it.)

To make up for the lack of strength, CNC-machined parts use more material, making them bigger and bulkier. If you want slender, lightweight parts that still are strong enough for hard riding, you’ll want to forge them.

3_lengths

To obtain the full advantages of forging, the forging die must be close to the final shape of the crank. Otherwise, you start cutting into the grain structure again, and you lose the strength advantages of forging. That is why Rene Herse cranks use different forging dies for each crank length. Above you see the raw forgings. To turn them into cranks, holes are drilled and threaded and the arms are polished. The grain structure of the cranks remains uninterrupted.

Forging dies are expensive, and that is why small makers either CNC machine their cranks or, if they forge them, often use a single forging for all their crank lengths (above, the final forging is at the bottom). The area where the pedal eye will be is elongated, so that the crank can be machined to the final length as needed. This saves money, but it means that the forging’s grain structure is interrupted in the highly-stressed area at the transition to the pedal eye, where many cranks break. Does it matter?

Years ago, the then-owner of TA told me that in the past, they had two forging dies for their cranks. Back then, most riders used 170 mm cranks, so they made a net-shape forging for that length, similar to the Rene Herse forgings above. This made sense, because it eliminated the machining, which was expensive in those pre-CNC days. But there was an added benefit: Very few of these cranks broke.

For the other arm lengths – and TA used to offer many – demand was not enough to warrant a net-shape forging die for each length, so they made the forging with the oblong pedal eye that you see above. This was then machined to the final shape. According to the owner of TA, those cranks were less reliable.

This matches my experience. Recently, I encountered a broken crank (above). Checking the length, I wasn’t surprised that it was a 177.5 mm crank. When I traced the shape of the raw forging on a piece of paper, I could see that the crank broke exactly where the oblong pedal eye started on the original forging, and where the material was removed. It makes sense – this is the most stressed area, because the pedal has the most leverage here.

This doesn’t mean that all cranks that don’t use net-shape forgings will break. Note the oxidation on the broken crank – it’s seen a lot of miles, and it was used on a commuting bike, where lots of starts and stops put great strain on the crank. Still, I sleep better at night knowing that Rene Herse cranks don’t have that weak spot.

When we developed our Rene Herse cranks, we decided that they had to be as strong and as reliable as the best cranks in the world: Our cranks had to pass the EN ‘Racing Bike’ standard, not the less-demanding ‘Trekking/City Bike’ standard that most other small-production cranks meet. The only way to pass that rigorous test is by using net-shape forgings, which require dedicated forging dies for each crank length.

new_dies

Using separate forging dies for each crank length has one added advantage: We can make the longer cranks stronger. If you look carefully, you can see that the arm on the left has a larger cross-section. This compensates for the longer lever of the 177 mm cranks and also for the higher power output and greater weight of taller riders. It’s logical, yet I haven’t seen any other cranks that are beefed up for the longer versions.

This also means that all our cranks – and not just the shortest ones – pass the test. In fact, we’ve tested each length several times to be sure. (A single test might just capture a lucky outlier.)

Making separate forging dies for each crank length triples our tooling costs, but it’s the only way to make high-performance cranks that match the performance and reliability of the best cranks from the big makers, while still offering unlimited chainring choices and an understated classic aesthetic. You don’t make the world’s best components by cutting corners!

Further reading:

 

Posted in Cranks | 27 Comments

The Drawbacks of Supple Tires

At Rene Herse Cycles, we love supple tires. More than anything else, they have come to define what we do: Bring you the highest performance and greatest joy as you ride your bike. Supple casings makes tires faster and more comfortable – what is not to like?

This post’s headline already hints that, like all great things, supple tires have some drawbacks. They are high-performance parts. We make our Rene Herse / Compass tires as user-friendly as possible – for example, we add a little rubber to the center of the tread to increase their lifespan considerably. But we don’t want to reinforce our tires to the point where it compromises their performance. This means that – like all high-performance components – supple tires require a little extra care.

Tire Mounting

Supple tires are more flexible, which can make them harder to mount, especially with tubeless-compatible rims. The ‘well’ in the center of the rim is there to allow mounting and removing the tire. It reduces the diameter of the rim, and provides slack to lift the bead over the rim wall. To mount the tire, the bead must be in the well all around the rim (left bead in the drawing above).

With stiff tires, the bead is either inside the well or not. With supple tires, the bead can flex and snake in and out of the well. When that happens, the bead rests partially on the ‘shelf’ next to the well. Then the bead doesn’t have enough slack to be lifted over the rim sidewall. The tire seems incredibly hard to mount. The secret is to go around the tire several times and push the bead into the well in the center of the rim. Then, a supple tire becomes as easy to mount as a stiff one.

Pro Tip: Tubeless rim tape is thinner and slipperier than standard tape and should always be used with tubeless-compatible rims, even when you install tubes. Otherwise, the tire bead will not slide over the edge between the well and the shelf as it seats against the rim wall. Tubeless tape can be a good choice with non-tubeless rims, too, if the tire fits too tightly.

Tubeless Installation

Tubeless tires eliminate the risk of pinch flats, which can be a game changer for riding in really rough terrain. We feel this is important, so we’ve worked hard to make our wider tire models tubeless-compatible.

Tubeless installations work great for 99% of our customers, but the remaining 1% can have trouble. In rare cases, the casing can leak sealant through the sidewall. To keep the casing supple, we keep the rubber coating to a minimum. Sometimes, this can leave the casing a little porous. No problem if you are running tubes, but tubeless sealant can leak through these pores: Make sure to shake the sealant for at least 60 seconds before you inject it into the tire. For the first installation, we recommend Orange Seal, which seals the casing better than other brands. Also make sure you add enough sealant – wide tires have a large surface area and will absorb a surprising amount of sealant.

Sometimes, the tiny pores in the tire’s casing are smaller than the solids in the sealant, allowing the liquid to escape without the solids plugging these microscopic holes. You’ll see bubbles on the sidewall. (Sorry, no photo – in more than 50 tubeless installations, it has yet to happen to me.) If this happens to you, we’ll replace the tire under warranty. The alternative would be to coat all our sidewalls with more rubber, which would make our tires heavier, slower and less comfortable.

Tubeless tires can blow off the rims – independent of which brand you use. This is rarely the fault of the tire, but usually a rim problem. We’ve found that quite a few rims are slightly undersize. When you use tubes, this makes sense – a slightly undersize rim poses no problem, because the tube reinforces the joint between rim and tire. An oversize rim would make the tire difficult or impossible to mount. That is why the tolerances of rims are usually negative (smaller is OK, bigger is not). Some OEM rims appear to be intentionally undersized, to facilitate tire mounting in the big assembly plants for production bikes.

When you mount your tires tubeless, there is nothing reinforcing the joint between rim and tire. Even a slightly undersize rim can cause a tire to blow off. This problem is greater with supple tires: A stiff tire will stay on a slightly undersized rim, because its bead has to lift over the rim edge for quite some distance before it blows off. A supple tire can lift across the rim edge in just one place, because its sidewall is more flexible. This can lead to consternation among customers: “This rim worked with my last tire, and now you say it’s undersize?” What happens here is simply that the tolerances for the fit between rim and tire are tighter for a supple tire: A rim that (barely) works with stiff tires may be too far out of tolerances for a supple tire.

Fortunately, you don’t have to replace your rim just because it’s a bit undersize. Build up the rim bed with extra rim tape – use thicker ‘Gorilla Tape’ if the fit is very loose – and the tire should seat fine. You want a slightly tight fit of the tire on the rim, so you can barely mount the tire by hand, or with some light tire lever action. The tire should seat when you inflate it with a standard floor pump. If you need huge blasts of air from a compressor to seat the tire, the fit is too loose.

Don’t try to seat a tire that doesn’t fit properly on the rim! You risk having it blow off while you ride. Improve the fit by building up the rim bed with tape, then seat the tire.

Pro Tip: For many riders, it makes sense to run inner tubes. First of all, it makes your bike faster: A thin, lightweight tube adds less resistance than liquid sealant sloshing around inside your tire. The tube reinforces the rim/tire joint, greatly reducing the risk of blow-offs. If you are concerned about flats, you can add sealant to your inner tube and obtain similar puncture protection with less hassle.

Puncture Resistance

There is no doubt about it: Supple tires are less resistant to punctures – they don’t have the ultra-thick tread and reinforcing belts that resist punctures, but also make tires stiff, heavy and slow. If you get a lot of flats with your current tires – and your tires aren’t worn paper-thin – you probably shouldn’t run supple tires.

If you ride on the shoulders of busy highways, which are strewn with debris ranging from broken beer bottles to steel wires from exploded truck tires, you’ll have flats with most tires, and supple high-performance tires are definitely not a good choice. The photo above was taken during a 600 km Flèche ride. Between three bikes and one tandem, we had one puncture during the entire ride – during the 5 kilometers we rode on a highway shoulder.

Fortunately, as more riders have adopted wider tires, punctures have become a relatively rare occurrence. A 42 mm tire inflated to 35 psi (2.4 bar) will just roll over most debris that would puncture a narrower tire inflated to higher pressures. And since wider tires encourage you to explore backroads with cleaner pavement, the actual frequency of flats is much less than in the past, even though our tire casings, by themselves, are less puncture-resistant.

 

Pro Tip: Racers used to wipe their tires after riding through debris. If the debris is removed before it gets hammered into the tire, most flats can be avoided. Rather than risk injury by putting your hands on your tires, you can use tire wipers – little wires that brush debris off your tires.

Sidewall Cuts

Supple sidewalls are thinner and easier to cut. When the tire scrapes along a rock, especially a sharp one, the sidewall can get cut. How does often this happen? It depends. In some regions, the rocks are sharper than in others. Some riders let the bike move around under them more, so the tires aren’t forced into the rocks, reducing the risk of sidewall cuts. And sometimes, it is just plain bad luck.

I’ve ridden our Extralight tires over 10,000s of miles on rough gravel, and I’ve had one sidewall cut – in the epic Otaki 100 km Mountain Bike Race in Japan. It didn’t destroy the tire, as it cut only through one of the three layers of the casing. I rode the tire for another week on a tour, then replaced it.

Pro Tip: Our Standard casings use slightly thicker threads, making them more cut-resistant than the ultra-supple Extralight models.

Cost

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that supple tires are more expensive. They are made from more expensive materials. Their finer tolerances mean that they have to be made mostly by hand, by skilled labor. They are made in small batches. All that costs a little more.

Fortunately, wider tires last a lot longer, because they spread the wear over a greater rubber surface. Now that I am running 42 mm-wide tires, I find that my tires lasts about three times as long as the 28s I used to run. So even if my tires cost three times as much (and they don’t), the per-mile cost is the same.

Pro Tip: If you ride relatively few miles, your tires will deteriorate and crack before you wear them out. Keep your tires out of direct sunlight and away from refrigerators, freezers and heater blowers. Electric motors emit ozone, which destroys the rubber of your tires. Stored in a cool, dark and dry place, your tires will last (almost) forever.

In the past, supple tires were tubulars that only racers used, and only for races and special events. We all switched to our ‘training wheels’ for other rides, because the hassles and costs associated with tubulars were too great for everyday use.

Fortunately, supple tires are now available as clinchers. Wider tires have greatly improved the old problems of flat and wear resistance. We’ve made some additional tweaks to Compass / Rene Herse tires to make them more user-friendly without detracting from their performance. Our goal is to make you smile every time you go for a ride.

Further reading:

Posted in Tires | 29 Comments

Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly

The Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. We are finalizing our mailing lists – subscribe or renew today to get your copy with the first mailing. You don’t want to miss this edition!

One focus of the Spring BQ is women in cycling. More women enjoy cycling than ever before, but many still face a problem: Most bikes are designed for average men – and many women have a hard time finding bikes that fit them.

Our editor Natsuko is all-too-familiar with this problem. When she needed a new all-road bike for gravel adventures, she went to C. S. Hirose, the Japanese master builder. He created a bike with a 47 cm frame that doesn’t involve compromises in handling, performance or appearance.

Read Natsuko’s story about where she took her new bike for its first ride. Find out how it compares to her other bikes with narrower tires. Discover its many special features in beautiful studio photos.

Women have always participated as equals in randonneuring. Giving you a taste of this year’s incredible Paris-Brest-Paris adventure, we talk to two randonneuses (and two randonneurs) from three continents. Why do they ride 1200 km (750 miles) almost non-stop? What did they enjoy most about PBP? What was most challenging? What bikes do they ride? And what is their advice for riders contemplating the big ride? You’ll be inspired by these riders and their passion!

Adventures come in many guises. Finding a new route across the Dark Divide of the Cascade Mountains (yes, that is the official name!) in mid-winter certainly qualifies. What better test for the Salsa Warbird all-road bike? With its all-carbon frame, the latest Warbird is geared toward performance, yet it’s got all the mounts of a modern adventure bike. Is the Warbird tough enough for this challenging route?

When I saw Sanomagic’s beautiful wooden bikes at the Tokyo Handmade Bicycle Show, I thought they were charmingly different. When their builder insisted that they matched the light weight and performance of carbon bikes, I was intrigued. So we visited his shop, learned about the technology transfer from ultralight mahogany sailboats to bicycles, and even rode one of his rare creations. Rarely have I been so surprised by a bike!

Photographer and hardcore rider Donalrey Nieva ordered his new Firefly all-road ‘ultra-adventure’ bike with 26″ wheels and a low-trail geometry. As soon as it was ready, he took it to southern France to climb all the cols in the maritime Alps. How did it perform on such challenging terrain? How does it compare to his other, more conventional all-road bike? You’ll love his story and his stunning photos.

Steel, carbon, wood, titanium – the Spring BQ covers the spectrum of modern frame materials. For our Shop Visit, we take you into the surprisingly small factory in Japan where most of the steel tubes for the thousands of Keirin race bikes are crafted. Kaisei prides itself on making the tubes that professional racers rely on, week after week, in the toughest racing you’ll find anywhere.

See how steel tubes are butted and how fork blades are swaged. Discover why high-end steel frames remain so popular in Japan, and why Kaisei is the most important supplier of tubing for those bikes.

Cycling is full of remarkable characters, and few were more charismatic than Michael Barry Sr. Best known as the driving force behind Mariposa bicycles, Michael passed in December. We look back on a life lived to the fullest on two wheels.

These are just a few of the features in this exciting 112-page edition. Reading the stories and looking at the photos will take you on rides near and far, and it’ll inspire you to plan your own adventures.

Click here to subscribe today and be among the first to get the Spring Bicycle Quarterly.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 31 Comments