Reconnecting Old Friends

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Last week, I called Lyli Herse to wish her a happy 87th birthday. You can see her 62 years earlier in the photo above (third from the left). I love this photo – a great group of young (and some not-so-young) people. They congregate around a beautiful bicycle, yet their bond is not with the machine, but with each other. You sense that the smiles aren’t just for the camera: More than one rider has told me how much fun they had in those days.

When I called, Lyli was in a buoyant mood because she just had received two visits from long-lost friends and relatives. They had found her through the miracles of the Internet, and more specifically, via our René Herse book.

She told me excitedly how a few distant cousins from Normandy had visited her. They had searched for “René Herse” and found the web page for our book. They contacted me, asking for information about how to find Lyli. I put them in touch…

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Lyli was just as excited about the second visit, from two riders who used to be on her father’s team. One of them was Jean Hoffman, holding the bike’s stem in the top photo. Nobody had heard much of him since he became a professional racer in the mid-1950s. We weren’t even sure whether he was still alive.

It was a huge surprise for Lyli to have him show up in the company of Roger Demilly, another rider on the Herse team. (Demilly is leading the charge in the photo above, taken during the 1966 Paris-Brest-Paris.) I can only imagine all the memories that were rekindled during their afternoon together. And I hope to meet these riders myself the next time I am in France.

Cycling creates life-long bonds. There is something about sharing the experiences of the open road together that makes friendships deeper and longer-lasting. I am glad that Lyli has reconnected with so many of her old friends. Even though the photos above were taken more so many decades ago, she is in touch again with five of the riders, plus many others who rode on her father’s team during the 1960s, as well as a few of the women who raced for her during the 1970s.

I hope that when I am too old to ride, I’ll be able to visit with old-time cycling companions. I envision us digging out old photos and reminiscing of the incredible Cyclos Montagnards challenge, of exploring gravel roads, of night-time mountain rides, of cresting passes in the snow… of the joys that come with cycling in the company of friends. In fact, we probably shouldn’t wait until old age, but plan a get-together now!

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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21 Responses to Reconnecting Old Friends

  1. As soon as I finish my time travel machine, I am traveling back to this period. Our bicycle club has groups rides according to the ride calendar. When the ride starts, everyone takes off at their own pace and the ride leader sweeps the end of the ride. As soon at the riders finish, they immediately pickup and go home. No one hangs around to talk about the ride or bikes. If you show up with a bike fitted with fenders, you are not a cyclist. The world changes and people change to meet the demands of our ever faster paced world. It’s life.

    • I’ll join you in the time machine – the 1940s and 1950s cyclotouring scene in Paris was marvelous. Cycling was a way of life, not just a mere pastime. People’s lives revolved around their cycling. However, I see more and more of that happening today, so perhaps we are returning to the Golden Age…

      I am sorry to hear that your club isn’t more social. We are lucky, the Seattle International Randonneurs are a jovial group, and there is no shortage of opportunities to socialize. And perhaps even more lucky, I’ve got a great group of friends with whom I love riding. Perhaps you should check out the randonneurs in your area? Don’t be scared off by the distances, many (if not most) rides are 200 km, which may seem like a lot at first, but is very doable, especially at a moderate pace. You do the socializing on the bike, rather than after the ride.

  2. Alban Brindle says:

    Too old to ride??? I envisage pedalling into my grave, probably with a set of stabilisers!!

    • B. Carfree says:

      Hear, hear. My wife and I may each need a younger captain to haul around a couple of blind stokers, but ride we shall. Conveniently, we already have a pair of tandems that either of us can ride stoker on.

  3. M E Cheshier says:

    Great pic and story!

  4. Gunther says:

    I wonder if the photo is really from PBP, the riders do not carry any baggage. (Btw., in the book it is marked PBP 1966.)

    • The photo really is from the 1966 PBP. The car behind is driven by one of the organizers, Lucien Détée. (He worked for General Motors and borrowed a press car of the new Opel Kadett B.) The 1966 PBP was the first that allowed support, so the lead riders carried only a minimum of luggage, and ditched even that on the last stage back to Paris.

  5. Scott G. says:

    When i get old I’ll get a Crumpton carbon trike with 650b wheels and a basket.

    • GuitarSlinger says:

      You know . The more I’ve been thinking about this comment in light of the number of us ‘ Boomers’ coming up on … or already having become ‘ Of a certain Age ‘ and especially in light of the high level of activity most of us ‘ Boomers ‘ are trying to maintain/enjoy as we get older ….

      Perhaps it wouldn’t be the dumbest of ideas for a manufacture or three to come up with a series of high performance , light weight trikes for those of us that hit the wall when it comes to two wheels but would still be just fine with three .

      Fact is .. given the choice of not riding at all or riding on three wheels …. well …. much like when the wife placed the ban on M/C’s unless it was a sidecar or a trike [ I chose the sidecar route ] I’d take the three wheel option any day

      Make mine a mild ‘ Chopper ‘ look [ to maintain a small semblance of cool as I age ] with multiple gears for those CO hills and mountains 😉

      Jan ? Any opinions ? Any input you could offer to the manufactures ? An article perhaps ?

  6. Janet says:

    Your blog makes me wish I discovered the joys of cycling a lot earlier in life. But now I enjoy it via my son James and his cycling friends.

  7. Preston Grant says:

    In the spring of 1971 I was doing a ride from Paris to Brittany, and on the way out of Paris, I naturally stopped at the Rene Herse shop just to have a look since I was familiar with the Herse bikes owned by Dr. Clifford Graves. Even though I was not there as a customer, Mme. Lyli was very hospitable, even gracious, and made the visit pleasant and memorable. It is a pleasure to read about her in this blog and in BQ, and to know that she is doing well.

  8. Grant H. says:

    Neat post. I appreciate reading about riding camaraderie that doesn’t orient itself exclusively around race results (even when racing is an important aspect of many such friendships).

    I’m curious about the riding shorts. Are those purpose-made for cycling? When did it become the norm for performance-oriented riders in France (or elsewhere) to wear fitted bike shorts without a looser, outer layer when they weren’t racing? For all the interest in the bikes and jerseys of this period, I don’t recall seeing a discussion of his, save for the review of the Greenlites in BQ 12, no.3.

    • The rules for randonneuring and cyclotouring events prohibited wearing tight-fitting shorts “on the outside”. The shorts you see in the photos were custom-made. There was a tailor who also was a cyclotourist – there is a photo of him and his wife with their Herse tandem in the René Herse book. Most riders wore racing shorts underneath. The rules changed at some time (1960s?) and randonneurs were allowed to wear racing gear… although even today, randonneuring rules state: “Riders are expected to observe local customs of decorum at all times.” So I sometimes wonder about entering a shop in a rural town in modern cycling gear.

      • When I cycle toured across the Canadian Rockies in 1984, I had two pair of cycling short, similar to cargo shorts but shorter. The seat area and crotch were lined with a single layer of terry cloth. The saddle was an Ideale with aluminum flatbar for rails and the horn bolt had a spring. I rode that combination for years and never experienced any discomfort or chafing. That pre-softened Ideale was the best saddle I have ridden. It put Brooks saddle to shame.

  9. Erik says:

    It seems like there is a headlight, but no dynamo? So is there a dynohub (raleigh made them in the 50’s, so it seems plausible there were other versions of the same idea) or did they just remove the bottle dynamo to save weight? (there seems to be a holder on the rear fork)

    • Good eye! There is a headlight and a taillight (on the seat tube), and you can see where the “bottle” dynamo went on the seatstay, but the dynamo itself is missing. Why? Perhaps to save weight during a competition that was run only during daylight? Or more likely, a maintenance project that was not completed before the ride started? Usually, the bikes were fully equipped, and most events actually required full lighting equipment.

  10. GuitarSlinger says:

    Too old to ride ? May it never come to past . Rather … follow the wisdom of the seemingly immortal , late , great , Sir Alex Moulton ;

    ” I may ride shorter distances and peddle a little slower but I am still peddling ”

    Words he lived by right up until the end at age 92 .

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