Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 is here!

The Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 mm dual-purpose knobbies have arrived. Unlike any other all-road tire, they combine excellent speed and cornering grip on pavement with unrivaled traction in mud and snow. At 450 g (Extralight) and 510 g (Standard), they are among the lightest tires in this popular size.

We had a lot of fun testing the new tires in the Cascade Mountains, and you’ll have a lot of fun riding them on your own adventures. We made this little video during our testing, showing the new tires in their native habitat.

The new Juniper Ridge tires are now in stock, but supplies are limited. More are on the way.

Click here for more information or to order.

Posted in Tires | 16 Comments

80 Years of Rene Herse Cycles

When Compass Cycles became Rene Herse Cycles earlier this year, many cyclists wondered: Who was René Herse, and why is his work relevant today? Here is the story of how René Herse and his bikes have inspired modern all-road bikes:

Eighty years ago, René Herse entered the cycling world with a splash when he entered the lightest bike in the 1938 Concours de Machines technical trials (above). Fully equipped with wide tires, fenders, rack, lights and even a pump, this amazing machine weighed just 7.94 kg (17.50 lb). Not only was Herse’s bike incredibly light, it also was strong: The Concours included 680 km (425 miles) of hard riding on rough mountain roads, with penalties for any parts of the bike that broke or stopped working.

Gravel roads in the mountains, spirited riding, carrying the supplies for your adventures: This sounds exactly like modern all-road riding and bike-packing! René Herse loved this style of riding, and he designed his bikes and components specifically for it.

Who was René Herse? During the previous decade, he had worked at Breguet, France’s leading aircraft builder. He made parts for prototype aircraft, including the famous ‘Question Mark,’ the first plane to fly from Paris to New York, in 1930.

We all know about Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight in the other direction, just three years earlier. Lindbergh was aided by powerful tailwinds. Going the other way was much, much harder.

The ‘Question Mark’ had three times the horsepower of Lindbergh’s ‘Spirit of St. Louis,’ yet it took seven hours longer to make the trip. The two pilots landed in New York after more than 37 hours of non-stop flight (above). It was a monumental achievement, and all his life, René Herse treasured the medal he received for his part in this success.

Applying the knowledge gained from working on planes, Herse designed and made lighter, stronger bicycle components. The Concours de Machines was the best place to perfect them.

During his premiere in 1938, René Herse’s bottom bracket – one of the few unmodified parts of his bike – developed play, costing him first place. He wasted no time to develop a better bottom bracket, with pressed-in bearings that lasted for decades. At the 1947 Concours, his bike (above) won, with zero technical problems after hundreds of high-speed miles on gravel roads in the French Alps.

Based on the experience of the Concours de Machines, Herse developed bikes that stood heads and shoulders among the machines that had come before. They were superlight, extremely reliable, and beautiful. He equipped them with his own components and with supple, handmade tires that he sourced from specialist makers.

Herse’s specialty were randonneur bikes, but the quality of his frames wasn’t lost on the biggest names in racing. More than a few came to the workshop in Levallois-Perret, just outside of Paris, to order frames. Lyli, René Herse’s daughter, told me how world champion Briek Schotte waited for the final assembly of his bike the day before a big race, eating a sandwich “as long as my arm.”

Herse supported his own team of randonneurs, who dominated the cyclotouring competitions of the 1950s and 1960s. The photo above shows Robert Demilly (front) and Maurice Macaudière on the way to setting a new record in the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris in 1966. Their time of 44:21 hours for this incredible distance (which translates to 750 miles) remains competitive even today.

Lyli Herse was an incredibly strong rider herself: She won no fewer than 8 French championships. When she wasn’t racing, she worked in her father’s shop, building wheels and managing the component supply.

After Lyli retired from racing, a few young women asked her for training advice. Lyli formed a team that continued her successes – including two world championship titles by Geneviève Gambillon (above).

Herse also continued to build bikes for adventures that spanned entire continents: Paris to Istanbul, a trip across Northern Africa, the West Coast of the U.S. by tandem…

After her father’s death, Lyli took over Rene Herse Cycles. She was married to Jean Desbois, who had been Herse’s best framebuilder in the 1940s and 1950s, and again in the 1970s. Together, they continued to build amazing bikes until Jean’s health problems forced them to close the shop. When the word spread that this might be the last chance to get a Rene Herse, Lyli received so many orders that Jean had to work out of their house for two years to complete the bikes.

I met Lyli through my research into the bikes her father had built. When we started to explore the gravel roads of the Cascade Mountains in the early 2000s, we realized that Herse’s amazing machines provided a perfect blueprint for the bikes we needed. So I contacted Lyli Herse…

At first, Lyli wasn’t sure what to make of the young American who wanted to talk about her father, but when Jaye Haworth and I rode a 1946 Rene Herse tandem in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris, she warmed up and agreed to meet me.

Over the next 15 years, I visited Lyli and Jean many times. I learned everything I could about René Herse and what made his bikes so special. Jean explained how to make the iconic stems and how to bend the tubes for the racks and for the amazing Chanteloup tandem frames. Others who had worked at the shop shared additional information, and interviews with suppliers shed more light onto the production processes.

Rummaging through Lyli’s garage in search of parts and tools, we came upon two suitcases of photos: the Herse family archives, compiled by her mother. Seeing the bikes, the workshop and the riders in these amazing images was the last piece in the puzzle of researching Rene Herse Cycles. Our acclaimed book René Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders was the result.

During one of my visits, Lyli told me that she worried about the future of the Rene Herse name. She had no children, and she was afraid that after her passing, the name might be used in ways that her father might not have approved of. She now wished that she had sold the brand and passed it on to a successor. As she looked at me intently, I realized that she was asking me to continue Rene Herse Cycles.

I was not yet ready to take on that responsibility, so I brokered a deal between Lyli and my friend Mike Kone to take over the name, while I bought the remaining tools, documents and other physical assets of the company. Mike made a few Rene Herse bikes in Colorado, before the brand reverted to me.

That is how Rene Herse Cycles was reborn in the Cascade Mountains. Inspired by Herse’s famous originals, we’ve introduced cranks, brakes and other components that are ultralight and offer excellent performance. We’ve developed wide, supple high performance tires that allow us to traverse entire mountain ranges.

When the Concours de Machines was revived in France, we joined forces with J.P. Weigle to enter a bike in the spirit of the great constructeurs. Combining Peter’s mastery with Herse’s designs, the bike was the lightest to finish the difficult event, and one of the few that didn’t have any technical problems. Lyli was proud when we visited her after the event.

Sadly, Lyli died last year, on the day that would have been her father’s 110th birthday. We lost a dear friend, who surprised us during every visit – such as when she gave Natsuko and me a rose from her garden in 2016.

As Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains, it’s our goal to keep the brand as relevant in the future as it has been for the last 80 years. Like Herse, we enjoy spirited rides far off the beaten path. Our riding experience has defined our philosophy: Only the very best is good enough. Performance is more important than fashion. And when our bikes are beautiful, we want to ride them more. These are the principles that guided René Herse. They continue to guide us today and into the future.

Further reading:

Photos are from the Rene Herse book, except: Natsuko Hirose (Photos 1, 12, 13, 20), Maindru (Photos 14, 16), Nicolas Joly (Photo 19), Duncan Smith (Photo 21).

Posted in A Journey of Discovery | 5 Comments

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