One of the greatest influences that led to Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Bicycles has been Mike Kone (center above, discussing a historic photo with Robert Limouzi (right), who rode on the René Herse team in the 1960s, and the author (left)). I have known Mike for almost 20 years now. Here is how it started:
When I was introduced to high-end racing bicycles in the late 1980s, I was enthralled by Campagnolo’s Super Record group. The form of each component was based on its function, but with added Italian flourishes like knurled surfaces and black accents. The rear derailleur, with its titanium bolts and elegant Campagnolo signature, was the ultimate bicycle component to me.
When this classic group was replaced by C-Record, I did not like the smooth, streamlined shapes of the new parts. To me, they lacked the aesthetic purity of their predecessors.
It was only a matter of time until I started looking for a classic bike, but my interest was met with disbelief. Bike shops in Austin, TX, said: “Yes, we see some older bikes come through once in a while, but why would you want one of those?” This was in the days before Craigslist and eBay, but I eventually found my childhood dream bike, a black 1978 Peugeot PX-10.
At the same time, a mail order shipment included a copy of the Bicycle Trader, where I found an ad from a new company called Bicycle Classics. I needed a longer 26.6 mm seatpost for my Peugeot and called the phone number. That is how I became one of Mike Kone’s first customers. When I received his flyer, I was amazed that you still could buy my dream components, new in the box.
Mike and I hit it off immediately, and he became a big influence. When he heard that I was racing on inexpensive tubulars, he sent me a pair of Clement Criteriums: “Try them and report back.” That is how I discovered supple high-performance tires.
Then Mike started the Vintage Racing Bicycle Newsletter and wrote about a strange bike that he had found, called a “René Herse.” As his passion for the French cyclotouring bikes developed, I lapped up every word. Here were machines that combined my love for long-distance cycling with the performance and the hand-made quality that I appreciated in classic racing bikes.
As a young student in Germany, I had dreamed of visiting Cinelli in Italy. I wanted them to make the ultimate touring bike for me. I wanted the very best bike (which in Germany meant a Cinelli), but I wanted it for the riding I loved (fast touring). Of course, that was a silly dream, because Cinelli did not make touring bikes… I was excited to discover that the bikes of my dreams existed: They were made by René Herse and Alex Singer, and they were even better than the bikes of my dreams.
Mike and I spent hours on the phone every week, but it took years until we finally met. When I visited Boston for a geology conference, I rode my Bike Friday to Needham and visited Bicycle Classics. During our lunch together, Mike’s wife joked that if we didn’t get along in person, one of us could go to a payphone, and we could resume our normal way of interaction…
Later, I visited Mike in Colorado after his family moved there. We rode bikes in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and worked on making custom racks. The following year, we shared rooms at the Cirque du Cyclisme. Late one night, sitting on our beds, surrounded by a René Herse tandem and a wonderful Camping bike, as well as Mike’s Reyhand, Mike mentioned: “It is almost inevitable that we’ll have to make these bikes again.”
Almost a decade later, Mike’s company, Boulder Bicycles, makes modern René Herse Bicycles, like the one shown above. And I am making components under the Compass and René Herse brands. We still talk on the phone several times a week. Even more than my appreciation of the bikes, I value our friendships that have grown around them.