How Fast are Rene Herse Tires?

How fast are our tires? We know that the casing, and not the width, determines a tire’s speed. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris on 42 mm-wide tires (above), I knew that I wasn’t giving up any speed over narrower rubber. But in absolute terms, how fast are our Rene Herse tires?

Manufacturers’ claims always are taken with a grain of salt… So let’s look at two independent tests of our tires. They still list the old ‘Compass’ name, but the tires tested were the same as the current Rene Herse models.

The respected German magazine TOUR found our Bon Jon Pass as one of the five fastest tires they’ve ever tested. TOUR tested the Standard model. The much more supple and speedy Extralight would have fared even better.

TOUR’s test rig is a pendulum that rolls the tires back and forth. The longer the pendulum swings, the lower the rolling resistance.

Like all tests that don’t include a rider, this test measures only losses due to deformation of the tire (hysteretic losses). In the real world, there are also suspension losses as vibrations are absorbed by the bike and the rider. Wide tires vibrate less than narrow ones, so they tend to roll even faster than these tests suggest.

In any case, the result is clear: In TOUR’s test, the Bon Jon Pass is one of the fastest tires in the world, closely matching the best racing tires. Being 9-12 mm wider than the racing tires doesn’t make the Bon Jon Pass any slower.

What’s the best gravel tire? – 10 models in comparison

How about comparing our tires to other wide tires? Gran Fondo magazine recently tested ten popular gravel tires. Rolling resistance (and puncture resistance) were tested by Schwalbe’s engineers in the company’s test lab.

Our Barlow Pass Extralight had the lowest rolling resistance (red bar) of all tires in the test. (100% is the best in the test.)

The engineers at TOUR and Schwalbe are among the most respected in the cycling world. Their tests show that our casings are among the most supple, and roll as fast or faster than the best tires in the world.

On real roads, the advantage of supple tires is even greater: Not only do they absorb less energy as they flex, they also vibrate less. And that reduces the suspension losses. Both effects work in tandem: Supple tires have less tire deformation and less vibration. As a result, the greater speed of supple, wide tires becomes very noticeable when you ride on real roads. When you try different tires back-to-back, you realize that tires are the biggest performance upgrade you can make to your bike.

A little more about the Gran Fondo test: The testers were impressed by the “superb levels of comfort” of the Barlow Pass and called it “almost as nice as flying.” They also were surprised how much grip the supple tires offered on gravel and dry dirt roads. Of course, reading that makes us happy, even if it just confirms what we’ve found in our own testing.

Further reading:

Posted in Tires | 18 Comments

Autumn Bicycle Quarterly

If Bicycle Quarterly was a ‘normal’ magazine, the Autumn edition would look quite different. Which ‘normal’ publisher would add 25% more pages just because there are so many great stories? We simply felt that we had no choice…

When OPEN told us that they had a new bike for ultra-wide tires coming, we took all our courage and asked them: How about sending us not only one of their much-in-demand test bikes, but two? We wanted to ride the brand-new WI.DE., but we also wanted to try the superlight U.P.P.E.R., so we could compare the two. And we’d like to ride them for more than 1000 miles, so we could really take them to the limit and beyond. We figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask…

To our surprise, two of these amazing machines arrived in the BQ office before the new bike even had been launched! We enjoyed them on a incredible ride in the Oregon Cascades, plus we performance-tested them in a controlled setting to find out what you give up when you go really wide…

When we looked through the photos and stories, we had so much fascinating material that we decided to expand the article to 26 pages. It’s not your average bike test, but an adventure that you’ll enjoy even if you aren’t looking to buy a bike.

The Trek Checkpoint really got us excited: Here is a mainstream production bike with a high-performance carbon frame that can run really wide tires (up to 55 mm). It even has eyelets for fenders and racks. We take this on the paved and gravel roads of Marin County – and we don’t just ride one, but three Checkpoints: Natsuko reports on the Checkpoint’s smallest models and compares the women’s version with the men’s. How are they different, and which works best for a smaller female rider?

The report from last month’s epic 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée also expanded far beyond our plan. We had allotted space for a story about this amazing ride, but so many people asked about our small team’s bikes that we decided to add a second article that shows them in beautiful studio photos.

When we visited Cherubim, one of the most respected framebuilders in Japan, we expected to show photos of how they file lugs and braze their iconic frames. We got those (above), but we also spent hours with Cherubim’s Shinichi Konno discussing frame stiffness and how it’s optimized for Japan’s professional Keirin racers. His insights were so interesting that this article, too, expanded far beyond what we’d planned.

Before Ted King became the ‘King of Gravel,’ he raced as a professional in Europe. We asked him what it was like to lead the Tour de France on the road and help Peter Sagan win the Tour‘s green jersey. Ted talks about what it’s really like to race in the world’s biggest races, about the differences between racing for a North American and an Italian team, and how he decided to race gravel upon ‘retiring.’ It’s a fascinating conversation that – you guessed it! – required much more space than we had allocated for it.

As a counterpoint to all this talk about steel bikes and wide tires, we feature Christopher Shand’s trip across Europe and the Balkans on carbon racing bikes and 25 mm tires. As you can imagine, theirs was a real adventure, and they brought back so many great photos that we expanded this article, too.

Those are just six of the fascinating stories in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly. The result is our biggest edition yet, with 128 pages (plus cover). It’s really more of a book than just a magazine, not just in size, but also in production values. But then, cycling is our passion…

Subscribe today to be among the first to get the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly when the magazine/book comes off the press in a few days.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 7 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting Routes

The 2019 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting is less than a week away. We’re really excited to meet many of you near Portland next weekend!

The Un-Meeting ‘un-officially’ starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at Stub Stewart State Park in Buxton, OR. We’ll meet at the Visitor Center (see this map).

On Friday, many of us will ride from Portland on Friday and camp at the park. The rides are on Saturday, and on Sunday, we’ll ride back to Portland.

This year’s routes are curated by our friends at OMTM, the Oregon route-finding group. There are four routes:

  • 47 mile (76 km) paved backroads
  • 61 mile (99 km) paved backroads
  • 66 mile (106 km) paved and gravel roads
  • 86 mile (139 km) ‘Adventure’ route includes pavement, gravel and singletrack

All routes ride together to Vernonia for breakfast and coffee at the Black Iron Cafe with outdoor seating and bike parking. After that, the routes continue together on the paved Timber road until nearing the town of Timber where they diverge.

After the rides, we’ll have a campfire on Saturday night at Stub Stewart State Park’s Brooke Creek Camp. We’ve reserved HIKE Sites 10, 11, 13, and 14 for both Friday and Saturday nights. These are walk-in only – there is no parking (except for bikes and tandems).

Click here for cue sheets and GPS tracks of the routes on RideWithGPS. Included are routes to Stub Stewart State Park from the Hillsboro MAX station (23 miles/36 km) and from Portland Union Station (42 miles/68 km).

A last word about logistics: Everyone is welcome to the Un-Meeting. There are no registration, no fees, no services and no sag wagon; you’ll carry your own gear. Simply show up on Saturday and ride with us. You don’t need a special bike, but there are no bike shops along the route, so make sure your bike is in perfect condition for this ride. And with many sharp corners on both the paved and gravel routes, please use caution and ride within your and your bike’s capabilities.

For me, the Un-Meeting is a highlight of the year. I hope to see you there!

Posted in Rides | 4 Comments

Contact Points Matter: Saddles

When I built my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris, I was reminded of professional racers in the old days, who brought their favorite saddle and handlebars to the builder of their new bike. I’ve talked about handlebars here; today, I’ll cover saddles as the second contact point between us and our bikes.

For my new bike, I did what the pros used to do: I installed my favorite saddle, which has moved from one Bicycle Quarterly test bike to the next. It’s well-worn, which is why it is so comfortable: I had no saddle issues during the 56:35 hours of Paris-Brest-Paris.

Leather saddles change their shape over time: They conform to your anatomy as you ride. In my case, two dimples form where my sitbones go (above). Plastic saddles don’t have these indentations (or whatever your anatomy requires), so they use foam that temporarily conforms to your body’s shape. But the foam always pushes back, which creates pressure points that can cause pain, abrasions and saddle sores.

If you ride super-fast and only for relatively short periods, you barely touch your saddle, and most saddles will work fine. Once distances get longer, even the fastest racers care about their saddles. Ted King has been riding a Berthoud saddle in events like the 200-mile Dirty Kanza (above). He called it the “most comfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden.”

We started importing Berthoud saddles because we agree with Ted: Even among leather saddles, the Berthouds stand out for their comfort and quality. Not only is the leather absolutely top-notch, but the composite frame flexes a little, which improves the comfort further. (The metal frames of traditional leather saddles are unyielding and stiff.)

Berthoud saddles are available with a choice of stainless steel or titanium rails. The ti rails don’t just save weight: They are more flexible, making the saddles even more comfortable. Choosing your saddle is only partially about your body shape. More important is your riding style: When you pedal hard and your back is inclined at a low angle, you hardly touch the saddle, and you need a narrow saddle that fits between your legs. If you are riding longer distances and sit more upright, you put more weight on your sitbones, and you need a (slightly) wider saddle.

New in the Rene Herse program is the Soulor (above), which combines the minimalist, narrow shape of the superlight Galibier with more affordable stainless steel rails. Both the Soulor and the Galibier are a great choice for spirited riding. I’ve used the Galibier on a number of BQ test bikes, as well as the Concours de Machines J. P. Weigle.

For long rides, I prefer the Aravis (titanium rails) and Aspin (stainless), which have a slightly wider back and taller flanks that hold their shape a little better. That is the saddle I use on my new bike: Being comfortable is key for putting out power and riding fast.

The Agnel (titanium) and Marie-Blanque (stainless) are women’s saddles with shorter noses. However, some women prefer the standard Aravis/Aspin, since their longer rails offer better shock absorption. (The shorter nose of women’s saddles apparently was introduced to allow riding in skirts…)

Berthoud’s ‘Open’ models have a cutout that relieves pressure. For riders who suffer from saddle problems in this area, the ‘Open’ saddles are a great choice. (For me, both styles work equally well.)

Many customers ask how long it takes to break in a Berthoud saddle. This depends mostly on how old the leather is. If the saddle was made years ago and has been lying in a warehouse ever since, the leather will have dried out, and the break-in period will be much longer. When you hear stories of leather saddles taking forever to break in, they usually came from such old stocks.

We order our Berthoud saddles in small batches, so you are certain to get a fresh saddle. In my experience, it takes 150-200 miles (240-320 km) for a standard Berthoud saddle to become comfortable. The saddle will continue to improve over the following 500 or so miles (800 km). At that point, its condition will stabilize, and it will last many years. The ‘Open’ saddles are more flexible and break in more quickly.

Don’t try to speed the break-in period by applying neatsfoot oil or other products that soften the leather by breaking down its fibers.

If you want to soften the leather a bit, you can apply Obenauf’s leather preservative (above), which uses beeswax and natural propolis to soften the leather without damaging its fibers. Obenauf’s also great for keeping your leather saddle in perfect shape for many years.

How long does a Berthoud saddle last? I am still riding one of the prototype saddles that Berthoud made in 2007. It’s on my Urban Bike (above) that sees year-round use in rainy Seattle. The saddle on my new Herse has been through many adventures, too, yet it was supremely comfortable during the 1200 km (765 miles) of last month’s Paris-Brest-Paris.

And if your saddle does wear out eventually, it’s easy to replace the leather top. We have all replacement tops in stock, and you just need a Torx wrench to take off the old top and install a new one. All other spare parts are available as well, so your Berthoud saddle is fully rebuildable.

But really, you have to ride a Berthoud saddle to understand why we like them so much!

Click here for more information about Berthoud saddles.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 2), Nicholas Joly (Photos 8, 13).

Posted in Saddles | 40 Comments

Ryan’s PBP Video

I’ve really enjoyed the stories that have come out of last week’s Paris-Brest-Paris. Above is my friend and training buddy Ryan Hamilton’s short video, seen entirely through the eyes of his bike-mounted camera. I was moved when seeing the great big bridge that leads into Brest. My eyes welled up when seeing the food stands in the middle of the night. I smiled when I saw our friend Bruno pedal so smoothly on his chrome-plated Concours de Machines Alex Singer (in the yellow jersey). It’s these experiences and emotions that make Paris-Brest-Paris so special.

Which is your favorite PBP story? Put a link in the comments, so we all can enjoy it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Paris-Brest-Paris: 1200 Epic Kilometers

This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris lived up to its reputation as an epic event. Organized without interruption since 1891, PBP is the oldest bike ride in the world. It takes riders back to the ‘Heroic Age’ when races featured stages that began before dawn and ran late into the night, and beyond.

Riding 1200 km (750 miles) in 90 hours or less is never going to be easy. This year, the difficulty of the relentlessly hilly course was augmented by strong head- and crosswinds right from the start. This meant working harder, much harder, because the advantage of the big pelotons that start in each wave was diminished by the crosswinds.

Multiple echelons formed, with groups of 6-8 riders working together. Riders who didn’t know how to ride in echelons strung out behind the last rider’s rear wheel, where they got no protection and wasted precious energy. For once, there was no hiding in the pack.

Another plus this year: I found that the riding skills in the groups around me were far better than they’d been in the past. And there also were fewer bags, bottles and other bike parts falling off. In fact, I didn’t witness a single crash during those early hours.

More than 6000 riders started in this year’s PBP from the historic chateau of Rambouillet. Each rider had a different experience. PBP was fun, stimulating, challenging, even painful for some. It required mental and physical stamina and strength. Every rider emerged from the experience having learned something about themselves.

In the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly, we featured three riders who talked about their experiences in past PBP and their plans for this year’s ride. I’m excited that they all finished strong.

Sina Witte (left) completed the ride in 67:23 hours, as always with a smile and looking fresh at the finish. She rode with her partner Victor Decouard (right), who had hoped to ‘do a time’ until a tubeless failure cost valuable time and sapped his morale. When Sina caught him, they decided to ride together.

Lesli Larson also rode strongly in her second PBP after a eight-year hiatus. She looked good as she finished after 88:50 hours on the road.

Richard Léon is a PBP veteran, having ridden in every edition since 1975. (That makes this year’s event the 12th PBP he’s started!) Two months before this year’s event, he broke his shoulder. He was not sure whether he’d be able to ride at all, but he did line up on the start line in Rambouillet. On the road, he looked good on his ultralight Dejouannet, and he finished in 66:34 hours. His only mistake: “I took my favorite saddle from another bike, but it wasn’t good for the slightly different position of the Dejouannet. My bottom suffered as a result.”

A number of BQ contributors were also at the start this year.

Hahn Rossman pulled out all the stops. He made a superlight bike that he entered in the Concours de Machines technical trials, which were held in conjunction with PBP this year. His wife Jana (center) met him with a rented camper van at the controls to provide food, encouragement and a convenient place to rest. The effort paid off: His time of 66:36 hours was the best one yet of his three PBP rides. He also placed third in the Concours de Machines. Well done!

Not far behind, Ryan Hamilton rode unsupported. He also had broken his collarbone – too many accidents in the lead-up to the ride this year among my friends! – and was unable to train for five weeks in the run-up to PBP. And yet his time of 67:41 hours was his second-best yet. No wonder he was smiling at the finish!

David Wilcox (above) and Ryan Francesconi (top photo) finished in 71:52 hours in their first crack at Paris-Brest-Paris. They were impressed by the graciousness of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the locals, who cheered on all riders regardless of how fast they went.

My own plan for this year’s PBP was to avoid mistakes: not to overextend myself on the way to Brest, to eat well, and to stay focused. My cautious approach paid off, and I finished after 56:36 hours, just within Charly Miller time. I met many wonderful people on the road, including a great number of readers and customers who introduced themselves as we traversed the hills of Normandy and Brittany. Most of all, I enjoyed 95% of those hours on the road. I slept for 38 minutes at the control in Tinténiac – and even got a private room!

As the 6000 PBP stories emerge, I enjoy hearing and reading them. And I’m already excited about PBP 2023!

Photo credits: Maindru (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 6, 7, 10).

Posted in Rides | 41 Comments

Ted King Wins SBT GRVL on Rene Herse Tires

The inaugural SBT GRVL (Steamboat Gravel) race saw more than 1,500 riders at the start in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The field include the Who-Is-Who of gravel racing: Ted King (two-times Dirty Kanza winner), Colin Strickland (this year’s DK winner) and Payson McElveen (winner of this year’s Landrun 150).

It turned out to be an exciting race over the beautiful high-country gravel roads. Attacks whittled the field first to 15, then five, then two: King and McElveen. And then Ted King crossed the finish line alone for a well-deserved win.

Ted King’s bike was a replacement, put together at the last minute after his own rig was damaged during the flight to Colorado. Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires provided speed and comfort on the smooth high-country gravel.

Head over to VeloNews for a gallery of photos from the race!

Photo credits: Photowil (SBT GRVL).

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments