A Bike for the Solstice Ride

During the summer solstice, Ryan Francesconi led a group of 14 friends on a truly amazing adventure: We took the train to Klamath Falls on the border between Oregon and California and then rode back to Portland on forest roads and trails traversing the Oregon Cascades. It was a 2-day, 640 km (400-mile) ride that challenged riders and bikes to the max. Not only was our route 90% gravel and single track, it also was anything but flat.

A highlight was climbing on deserted gravel roads to the top of Crater Lake (above), but even more memorable were the countless gravel climbs and descents. On a ride like this, you live entirely in the moment – just you, the bike and the other riders. I’m grateful to have friends – and a bike – that enable me to do rides like this.

What bike to ride for an event like this? We were heading into the country of the Oregon Outback – where my Rene Herse’s 42 mm tires already had proven a bit marginal in the past. The Herse’s ‘road’ gearing also wasn’t quite low enough for the steep gravel climbs that Ryan had scouted for his route.

So it was natural to take my Firefly. Equipped with ultra-wide 54 mm tires, it seemed an ideal choice for this ride. It’a bike that is completely dialed for riding fast and long on rough surfaces.

On a ride this long and challenging, small things make a big difference. Having handlebars that offer multiple comfortable positions is key for me to enjoy a ride this long. The Firefly is equipped with our Rene Herse Maes Parallel bars, which were perfect for this ride.

A low Q factor helps my spin and allows me to put out power, hour after hour. The Firefly has perfect clearances for its 54 mm-wide tires, and its beefy chainstays appear to be one reason why it climbs so well. Combining these features with a Q factor of just 148 mm is something I didn’t want to miss on this ride.

I reinstalled my 42×26 chainrings, so I could ride most of the time in the 42-tooth ‘big’ ring, but still had the option of dropping into the 26-tooth when the trails got really steep. This allowed me to run a tight 12-27 cassette with small steps between gears.

Having a favorite saddle is important, too. This Berthoud Aspin has been on many adventures, and it fits me like the proverbial glove. It works perfectly with the Berthoud saddlebag, but for this challenging two-day ride, I knew I’d need more capacity.

The Firefly’s fork is equipped with mid-fork eyelets intended for low-rider racks. The low-riders don’t work well on singletrack, as the panniers get caught on obstacles that are close to the trail. So I decided to use a handlebar bag instead. I installed a Rene Herse UD-1 rack to support the bag. Mounting the rack took all of five minutes.

The Berthoud GB-28 handlebar bag sits on the rack. Its soft bottom conforms to the shape of the rack, locking it in place.

At the top, I added a Rene Herse bag stiffener to make sure the bag didn’t move on the rough trails of the Oregon Cascades. The bag’s cavernous interior had more than enough space for the clothes, tools and food I needed for this ride (plus water filter, emergency blanket, backup power supply for the GPS, camera, and a few other things). Everything is easy to access, which is another big plus. I placed some heavy items that I didn’t plan to use (tubes, tools, rain jacket) in the saddlebag.

There aren’t any decaleurs for the Firefly’s four-bolt stem that have proven themselves on really rough terrain. So I used the bag’s leather straps to attach it to the handlebars. Together with the bag stiffener, this creates a very firm and reliable connection: The last thing you want in the middle of nowhere is your bag flying off. (This happened to one rider in our group, when the straps of his brand-new bikepacking bag broke.) Strapping my bag directly to the bars did not leave any space for my hands between bag and bars. On the road, I found that I could still use the on-the-tops handlebar position by sliding my hands underneath the top flap of the bag.

Three water bottles are useful on a ride where resupplies can be many hours apart. The Firefly is equipped with two lightweight Nitto 80 cages. For this ride, I mounted a Nitto T cage under the down tube – the only cage that has never dropped a bottle from that position during all my rides.

The first night, we arrived at our destination – Oakridge – just before sunset, but we knew that our second stage – more than 200 miles to Portland – would require riding at night. I needed lights. It would have been nice to build a wheel with a generator hub for the Firefly, but I didn’t have a spare 26″ rim. A battery-powered light would have to suffice. Fortunately, the nights during the solstice are short.

I usually strap my light underneath the handlebars, where it’s neatly tucked out of the way. However, that position was obscured by the bag now. The Maes Parallel bars are long, so I mounted the light on the end of the drops. I still could use all hand positions, but there was a problem: The bars angle slightly upward, and I want the light to illuminate the road, not the sky. A sliver of wood formed a wedge that allowed me to align the light by sliding it into the clamp as far as needed.

On the rear, I strapped a small rechargeable light to the seat tube, in the same position where our Rene Herse taillight mounts. With the lights’ run time somewhat limited, I turned off my lights when they weren’t needed, for example, when I was riding in the middle of a paceline.

The photos show the bike after I returned from the big ride. As expected, the Firefly performed flawlessly. Inflated to just 18 psi (1.25 bar), the big Rat Trap Pass Extralight tires soaked up the bumps and vibrations – even washboard – without fail. They floated over the loose surface where the narrower tires of the Herse had sunk deep into the gravel.

The low-trail geometry and handlebar bag worked great on the fast gravel descents. I used every single gear on the bike, from the 42×12 to the 26×27. I drank all my water during one particularly hot stretch. And when we returned to Portland at 4 a.m. after two days on the road, I had no aches or pains thanks to the comfortable saddle and ergonomic handlebars. The Dromarti leather shoes did their part, too – since wearing them, I no longer suffer from hot feet no matter how hard the ride and how hot the temperature.

The Firefly is one of my favorite bikes, and I was glad I could transform it from a stripped-down racer to a touring rig. Having the right bike made this challenging ride even more fun!

Click here to find out more about Rene Herse components.

 

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 30 Comments

Why Square Taper Bottom Brackets?

Square taper bottom brackets may seem like anachronisms dating from the last century, and yet they remain the best option for metal cranks. Here is why our Rene Herse cranks use square tapers and will continue to do so in the future.

Modern bottom brackets have larger spindles, so they can use thinner walls. The result is a lighter bottom bracket – but the larger spindle requires more material on the crank.

No problem on a carbon crank (above), which needs to be large anyhow, because carbon is very light, but also bulky. Just don’t try to replicate the massive shape of a carbon crank in aluminum: It will get very heavy.

Our Rene Herse cranks are so incredibly light – just 490 grams for the 42/24 shown above – because they use only as much material as necessary. We’ve optimized the shape using Finite Element Analysis to remove all material that isn’t needed, but keeping aluminum where it’s needed for strength. The photo above shows that there is just enough material to fit a slender square taper spindle. Imagine how much material we’d have to add to make room for a massive spindle!

The light weight doesn’t come at the expense of durability or safety: Our cranks pass the most stringent EN ‘Racing Bike’ test for fatigue resistance. Few other aluminum cranks are as light and as strong.

There is another benefit of square tapers: The taper reforms itself every time you install the crank. You can remove and install the cranks dozens (or hundreds) of times, yet the square tapers will not develop play. And even if a crank comes loose by accident because the crank bolt wasn’t tightened enough, you can usually reform the taper: Tighten the crank bolt as much as you can, then ride the bike for 5 miles, retighten the bolt, etc. Do this five times, and the taper will usually be fine, unless it’s really been damaged beyond repair.

The smaller spindle of a square taper has another advantage: It leaves more room for the bearings. Above is an SKF bottom bracket that I cut open after years of use. The large ball in the center shows the size of the balls used in the SKF bottom bracket. On the right is a typical, much smaller, ball from a modern bottom bracket.

Bike makers now work around that problem with new standards that use bigger bottom bracket shells. For carbon frames, this works fine, since you have a lot of material in the BB region anyhow. A steel frame built to a ‘modern’ BB standard will be quite heavy, as the oversize bottom bracket shell adds a lot of material. Bottom bracket shells are the heaviest part of a metal frame, so keeping them as small as possible is useful for keeping the frame weight down.

And then there is the issue of the ever-changing standards, because none work as well as the old square taper. It didn’t come as a surprise when Allied, the US-based maker of high-end carbon frames, decided to return to the BSC/BSA bottom bracket standard. Their web site explains: “After more than a decade of changing bottom bracket standards, we are happily back to BSA. No more creaking, easy to service and just as light as any other bottom bracket standard. Your mechanic will thank you.”

Aren’t there performance advantages with bigger spindles? In theory, the bigger spindles are stiffer. In practice, all spindles are stiff enough. Your frame flexes far more than your bottom bracket spindle. The reason we haven’t done a double-blind test of crank stiffness is simple: It’s so pointless that it isn’t worth the effort. Eddy Merckx used square tapers, and so do the Japanese Keirin track sprinters. If they can’t flex them, neither can you and I! In fact, I’ve raced our square taper cranks in Japan’s toughest gravel race (above) – without any issues.

It’s only for mountain biking with its huge jumps – especially downhill – where the higher impact strength of larger spindles is useful. That is why we don’t recommend Rene Herse cranks for mountain bikes. On the road, cranks don’t fail due to impact, but they fatigue after many miles of use. To resist those forces, we forge our cranks. This aligns the grain structure to make them more resistant to fatigue.

We give a 10-year warranty on our Rene Herse cranks as well as on our SKF bottom brackets. Few makers are prepared to stand behind their products for that long. This illustrates how much confidence we have in our square tapers (and the rest of our cranks and bottom brackets). We’ve spared no expense to make them as good as they could possibly be.

Click on the links below more information:

Posted in Bottom brackets, Cranks | 57 Comments

Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener

Small things can make a big difference, especially on long rides. With handlebar bags, it’s important that they don’t flop around as you ride. That is why they are supported by a rack at the bottom. At the top, keeping the bag from moving from side to side is helpful as well.

Berthoud bags come with a sturdy (and quite heavy) cardboard stiffener. This makes sure they hold their shape, but it also turn the bag into a rigid box: The bag no longer conforms to the contour of the rack – it slides and rattles when you go over bumps. Most riders discard the cardboard stiffener. The bag by itself is stiff enough to hold its shape OK, but a little more stiffness at the top would be nice.

Enter the Rene Herse bag stiffener. Originally designed for the ultralight handlebar bag for the Concours de Machines (which didn’t have enough leather to be stiff on its own), we’re now offering it as a separate part. It’s superlight – just 47 g – and it fits snugly inside the popular Berthoud handlebar bags (GB 22, 25, 28).

With stiffeners like these, it’s important that they are not too stiff: They need to flex a bit, rather than transmit all vibrations and shocks to the decaleur.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener is equipped with Velcro that connects to the small internal flaps of the Berthoud bags, holding the stiffener securely in place. You can drill the aluminum material to attach a decaleur. You can also use the stiffener with a bag that is attached directly to the handlebars with leather straps. That is what I did during this year’s Solstice Ride, and it worked great for 400 miles (640 km) on rough gravel roads and singletrack. Now that it has proven itself under the harshest conditions, we are offering it in the Rene Herse program.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffeners are made right here in Seattle, and they are in stock. Click here for more information.

In other news, we also received a new shipment of our fenders, including the 650B XL fenders designed to fit on 650B x 48 mm tires. Click here for more information on our fender program.

Posted in Racks/Bags | 16 Comments

Myth 18: Wide Tires Need Wide Rims

Our series of ‘Myths in Cycling’ continues with a look at rim width. It seems to make sense that wider tires should run on wider rims.

The idea is this: A wider rim makes a tire more U-shaped (left), rather than O-shaped (right) on a narrower rim. The sidewalls are more vertical, so they can better support the weight of the rider. This is said to make the tire flex less, so it corners more predictably.

When we first started experimenting with wider tires more than a decade ago, I was concerned: There weren’t any really wide rims available back then. I mentioned this to framebuilder Peter Weigle (above, in the center). His response surprised me: “I don’t think rim width matters. We used to race mountain bikes on narrow Mavic MA-2 road racing rims. I actually preferred how the bike handled with the narrow rims.” This came from the guy who won the cyclocross national championships on a mountain bike!

When I thought about what Peter said in the context of all-road bikes we were developing, it started to make sense. The extreme case of an O-shaped tire is a tubular: It’s perfectly round, and it touches the rim only at its very bottom.

And yet tubular tires are known for descending very well. Almost all pro racers in the Tour de France (above) ride on tubulars. If vertical tire sidewalls were essential for good handling, tubulars would have fallen out of favor long ago.

I realized that with supple tires, the sidewalls don’t really hold up the weight of bike and rider. It’s the air that supports the weight. And thus rim width doesn’t really matter. On my Firefly, I run 54 mm-wide Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass tires on 20 mm-wide (internal) rims without any problems (above). And the Firefly corners even better than a racing bike, because it has so much more rubber on the road. Like the pros, I never notice any squirm caused by the O-shaped tires.

When you look at the ETRTO chart for tire and rim compatibility, you can see that 54 mm tires on 20 mm rims are no problem. I could even go as low as 19 mm. (The values are internal widths in millimeters, and the ‘C’ stands for ‘crotchet’ rims.)

The chart shows that the real concern is at the opposite end of the spectrum: If the rim is too wide, tire pressure no longer pushes the bead strongly against the hook of the rim. This can cause the tire to blow off the rim. The ETRTO chart is quite conservative in this respect and recommends rims that are significantly narrower than the tires.

Together with other tire and rim manufacturers, Rene Herse Cycles is working on expanding the chart to include wider rims. In our experience, it’s fine to use wider rims as long as the internal width is at least 20% narrower than the tire. For my 54 mm Rat Trap Pass tires, this means that I can run them on rims somewhere between 19 and 40 mm wide. On wider rims, the tires will get a little wider, but even that doesn’t make a huge difference – we are talking maybe 2-3 mm.

What if you run stiffer tires? Would you want a ‘better’ match of tire and rim widths to take advantage of the sidewall stiffness? When I was at Paul Camp a few years ago, I got to ride a wonderful Steve Rex monstercross bike, shod with mountain bike tires (above). When I first rode the bike, the tires felt very harsh. I let out air until the bike began to float over the rough gravel in Paul’s parking lot. I loved riding the Steve Rex, and I pushed it harder and harder.

When we reached some really technical terrain, the front tire’s sidewall collapsed as the tire hit some rocks. It was very sudden, and more extreme than I had experienced when running supple tires at too-low pressures.

When Paul’s mechanic saw this, he checked my tires and shook his head: “You need to run about 30 psi in those tires!” Now 30 psi (2 bar) is more than I run in my Rat Trap Pass Extralights. Perhaps the mechanic was overestimating my weight, or adding a factor of safety, but it appears that when you ride really hard, tires with stiff sidewalls may need almost as much air as supple tires.

Relying on the tire sidewall for support has a disadvantage: Once the tire starts to flex, it bows outward (right). It goes from U-shaped to O-shaped. The more it bows, the easier it becomes to flex. Once it starts to collapse, it becomes less and less stiff, and there is little to stop it. This is called a ‘regressive’ spring rate. It explains why the collapse of the tire was so extreme.

Using air to support the bike results in a ‘linear’ spring rate. No matter how hard you push on the tire, the air pressure doesn’t change: It continues to push back with the same force. (In theory, the pressure goes up slightly as the tire deforms, but the tire’s volume is so large that this isn’t significant.)

Mountain bikers have found that the best shocks have ‘linear rate’ coil springs. ‘Progressive rate’ air springs are a second option for those who want to save weight (air weighs less than a coil spring). Nobody would ever suggest a regressive spring rate, yet that is what you get when you use the tire’s sidewall as a spring.

This suggests that you might even want to run stiff tires on narrow rims: The O-shaped tire will be easier to flex and thus more comfortable. Without the tire ‘standing’ on its sidewall, you’ll have to run a little higher tire pressure, but then you don’t have to worry as much about the tire collapsing. When Peter Weigle mentioned that he preferred the ride of wide mountain bike tires on narrow rims, I believe he was talking about this.

With a supple tire, this effect is magnified: With mostly air holding up the bike, the spring rate is very linear, and you can run a lower total spring rate – less stiffness of tire and air combined. That means you get a tire that absorbs shocks better and is more comfortable. And because the supple casing absorbs less energy as it flexes, it’s faster, too.

What this means in the real world:

  • Rim width doesn’t matter for supple tires. You can run our widest Rene Herse tires on relatively narrow rims or on wide rims. There will be little or no discernible difference in how the tires feel and corner.
  • Don’t use a rim that is too wide for your tires. The tire should be at least 20% wider than the rim.
  • Using the tire sidewalls to hold up the rider results in a regressive spring rate. This can result in the tire collapsing suddenly.

Further reading:

Posted in Myths in Cycling, Testing and Tech, Tires | 58 Comments

Tune Your Tires!

With wide tires, you can tune the ride of your bike to the terrain and to your personal preferences. This gives you options that simply did not exist in the past.

Gone are the days when we inflated our narrow tires to the maximum pressure and rode on rock-hard rubber. Even with narrow tires, you can lower the pressure a bit to get a (slightly) more comfortable ride. Of course, there is only so much you can do – the feel of the bike won’t really change. There is simply too little air, and you’ll get pinch flats if you reduce the pressure enough to make a real difference. The only way to transform the feel of a racing bike is to get different tires – that’s why professional racers have always run hand-made tubulars with supple casings (well, at least since the 1930s).

With wide tires, supple casings also make a huge difference. In addition, you can choose your tire pressure over a wide range: The 54 mm-wide Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass tires that Hahn is running in the photo above work great at pressures between 20 and 55 psi. That means you can cut the pressure to almost a third of the maximum, if you want. (For comparison, this is like running narrow 120 psi racing tires at 45 psi. Don’t try this with 25 mm tires!)

With wide tires, you can tune the feel of your bike by adjusting the tire pressure. The same tire will feel completely different depending on how hard you inflate it. This is something that you really start to notice with tires that are wider than 40 mm.

At 55 psi, my Firefly with its Rat Trap Pass tires feels firm and buzzy like a road bike on narrow tires. There is no noticeable flex in the tires, no matter how hard you corner, or how fast you sprint. You’ll feel every detail of the road surface almost unfiltered. The extra air does take off some of the harshness, and the extra rubber gives you more grip, but the feel is similar to a bike with narrow, high-pressure tires.

Why doesn’t the 54 mm Rat Trap Pass feel wallowy like a 25 mm tire at 55 psi? If you think of the tire as an air spring – a piston in a cylinder – then pressure is only one factor. The other is the diameter of the air cylinder. To compress a 54 mm tire takes more force than to compress a 25 mm tire, even if both are inflated to the same pressure.

Even with wide tires, you can get the feel of narrow tires, if you inflate them to (relatively) high pressure. But you also have options to tune your bike by letting out some air.

At first, not much is happening – 55 psi is far more than most riders will ever want to use in these tires. At 30 psi, you still get the firm feel of a ‘road bike,’ but more shock absorption and even better traction. This is the pressure I ride on very smooth roads.

At 25 psi, the tire has a lot more compliance. Now it really feels like an ultra-wide tire. It still corners great, but you can go over bumpy roads and really feel the suspension. This is the pressure I use on most paved roads.

On rough gravel, I let out even more air. At 20 psi, the tire really floats over the gravel. This is how I imagine a rally car with ultra-expensive shock absorbers feels: ‘breathing with the surface,’ gently going up and down over bigger undulations, but insulating you from the smaller bumps and vibrations. It’s an amazing feeling, and, without the bike bucking under you, you can put down power at all times. It’s fun to ride at ‘road’ speeds on rough gravel.

And even at this low pressure, there is enough air to prevent the tires from bottoming out. Even with tubes, I don’t get pinch flats – unless the terrain is really rough and rocky and speeds are ultra-fast.

When you’re descending at very high speeds on very rough terrain, you’ll have to increase the tire pressure a bit to avoid bottoming out too often. Even if you run your tires tubeless, you risk cutting your tires and damaging your rims if you bottom out too often and too hard.

When you return to pavement, 20 psi isn’t enough. The tire starts to squirm and run wide in corners. When you rise out of the saddle, it feels wallowy as it compresses under the thrust of your pedal strokes. And if you really push the limit, the tire can collapse in mid-corner.

Back on pavement, I inflate the tires back to 25-30 psi. If my ride includes both pavement and gravel sectors in quick succession, I often just keep the pressure around 25 psi, so I don’t have to mess with it.

Tire pressure is not just about shock absorption – it also affects the power transfer of your bike. A frame that is too stiff for the rider’s power output and pedaling style is harder to pedal – a little compliance smoothes out the power strokes and allows the rider to put out more power. We call this ‘planing,’ but it’s hardly a revolutionary idea.

Usually, that compliance comes from the frame. That is why high-end, superlight bikes perform so well, even on flat roads where the weight doesn’t matter. The lighter frames use less material, which makes them more flexible. Conversely, ultra-stiff bikes can feel ‘dead’ and hard to pedal to many riders.

With wide tires, that compliance can come from the tires, too. When we tested the Jones (above), we found it to perform wonderfully with its tires at ‘gravel pressure.’ When we aired up the tires for a fast road ride, the bike suddenly felt sluggish. This is the opposite of what conventional wisdom might tell you, but when we lowered the tire pressure again, the wonderful performance of the Jones was back. This has nothing to do with rolling resistance – it’s all about how much power we could put out thanks to the added compliance in the system. The Jones ‘planed’ best with its tires at relatively low pressure. This means that you can use tire pressure to adjust how much ‘give’ you have in your bike’s power transmission. I’ve found this a useful tool to get the most out of many Bicycle Quarterly test bikes.

Speaking of rolling resistance – don’t tires roll slower when you let out air? At least with supple tires, tire pressure makes no discernible difference, not even on smooth roads. As long as you have enough pressure that the bike is rideable, your tires roll as fast as they do at higher pressures. And on rough roads, lower pressures will be faster, both because the suspension losses are reduced and because you can put out more power.

Tuning your tires is fun. It optimizes your bike for your preferences and for the terrain you ride. Of course, tire pressure first and foremost depends on your weight – the numbers in this post assume a bike-and-rider weight of about 80 kg (175 lb).

Tire pressure also depends greatly on the casing of your tires. The values in this post are for Rene Herse Extralight tires. With Standard or Endurance casings, you can run about 10% less pressure. With a stiffer casing, you run even less air, all the way to airless tires that run at zero pressure. As your tires get stiffer, you lose the ability to tune your ride, because air pressure plays a smaller role in supporting the bike-and-rider’s weight. The beauty of supple tires is that air pressure is the main component that holds up the weight of bike and rider. This makes it easy to tune your tires.

Rather than inflate your tires to a set number, experiment with tire pressures to see how this changes the feel of your bike. Also remember that the gauges on pumps aren’t always accurate – use them only to replicate a setting that you’ve found useful in the past, rather than try to inflate your tires to an exact pressure. Once you’ve found values that work, you can quickly change the feel of your bike based on where you’ll ride and how you want your bike to feel. This makes cycling even more fun!

Further information:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 29 Comments

Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly

The Summer Bicycle Quarterly is back from the printer! In this edition, we test two bikes that wowed visitors at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. How do they ride?

The Calfee’s latest bike uses carbon-lined bamboo tubes for an even lighter and stronger frame. The show bike is equipped with Rotor’s long-awaited hydraulic shifting. How does it perform at the limit, exploring long-abandoned gravel trails high in the Cascade Mountains?

The Frances All-Road bike combines ultra-wide tires with a small frame. Natsuko took it to the trails and fire roads of Marin County. She visited the pioneers of mountain biking, Jacquie Phelan, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Breeze, and she reflected on how the unique Californian landscape gave birth to the mountain bike.

Adventures don’t get much more adventurous than cycling in Eritrea. Long closed to the outside world, this fascinating northern African country finally is open to visitors again. Gregor Mahringer and his friends may have been the first foreign cyclists to explore Eritrea’s beautiful landscapes. Their report of empty roads and friendly people will make you want to go to Eritrea, too!

Brian Chapman has become well-known for his meticulously crafted bikes. He even makes his own brakes, cranks and other components. We visit his shop in Rhode Island to find out how he makes his bikes and components. He explains why he likes taking the idea of the custom bike further than almost any builder today.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Cycles Alex Singer, the famous French constructeur, we look at how Alex Singer bikes changed over time. An early 650B bike (above) reflects the unpaved mountain roads that were common in the 1940s, while a mid-1950s machines was built for fast randonneur rides on smooth roads. The styles of the bikes are quite different, too. Do they also reflect a change in philosophy between Alex Singer and his successor, Ernest Csuka?

To round off this 20-page feature, we take you into the workshop where Olivier Csuka, Ernest’s son, continues to build beautiful bikes that respect the tradition of Cycle Alex Singer, but are made for today’s riding styles.

In Tokyo, a small two-person shop crafts beautiful custom bags from leather and canvas. We take you to Guu-Watanabe and follow the bags from the first sketch to the finished product.

Each BQ combines inspiration with useful information: There are many small tricks for adjusting cantilever brakes – not just to get the brake pads to hit the rim at the correct angle, but also to obtain a perfect fit of the brake arms on your cantilever posts.

These are just a few of the exciting stories you’ll read in the Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Click here for a full table of contents. Or even better, subscribe and enjoy the entire 108-page edition.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 1 Comment

Why Contact Points Matter: Handlebars

Riding long distances – especially on rough roads – puts different demands on your body and your bike than short and fast-paced races. The contact points with the bike become more important the longer you ride. These days, you don’t hear much about them, especially the saddle and handlebars.

If you compete in relatively short races, this makes sense: When you pedal at maximum effort, your hands barely touch the bars, and your saddle only serves to stabilize you on the bike, but not to support you. All your weight is borne by your feet as you push the pedals with great force. And indeed, racers are more likely to complain about foot pain than other problems.

It’s a totally different matter when you are riding long distances, whether it’s touring, randonneuring or racing gravel events like Dirty Kanza: Inevitably, your power output over ten or more hours on the bike is lower than it would be in a three- or four-hour race. And so you’ll put more weight on your handlebars and saddle than the average racer.

Gravel racing and long-distance cycling aren’t new ideas – until World War II, most mountain roads weren’t paved, and the racers of the ‘Heroic Age’ were used to riding on gravel. Stages were much longer, and thus speeds were a little lower.

Back then, each racer had their personal saddle and handlebars, which they moved from bike to bike as they had new frames made. The handlebars were custom-bent to the racers’ specifications.

In the photo above, you see Nicolas Frantz, winner of the 1928 Tour de France, climb the Aubisque. The stage that traversed the Pyrenees was 387 km (240 mi) long! Racing on roads and distances like that is closer to modern gravel races or randonneur brevets than to it is to today’s Tour de France. Frantz took 16 hours and 20 minutes to complete this monster stage. And when you look closely, you see that his handlebars are what we’d call ‘Randonneur’ bars today.

Classic handlebars are characterized by their generous reach and subtle curves. They give your hands room to roam and support them in many positions.

Most modern bars are short and square. You usually hold onto the brake hoods, sometimes use the tops, and very rarely ride in the drops. There is a reason why drop handlebars have become so short: For many riders, the low handlebars of racing bikes were difficult to reach, because the ‘aggressive’ riding position did not match their strength. To accommodate recreational riders, handlebars (and top tubes) became shorter, allowing an upright position while maintaining the ‘racy’ look of low handlebars.

Fortunately, modern all-road and adventure bikes don’t have ultra-low bars, and there is no need for ultra-short reach handlebars any longer.

Handlebars with a longer reach give you choices between multiple riding positions, from relatively upright ‘on the tops’ to low and fast ‘in the drops’ – and many positions in between. This means that you can change the angle of your back as you ride, which greatly helps reduce fatigue.

The best handlebars are carefully designed to support your hands in multiple positions, eliminating pressure points that can lead to numbness and even nerve damage during long rides.

We have developed two different handlebar shapes, based on classic designs that have proven themselves over millions of miles – literally. The Maes Parallel (above) is a generous shape that provides much room for your hands to roam. I love it for fast-paced rides where my position changes frequently.

The Randonneur bars echo the shape that Nicolas Frantz used to win the Tour de France. Their upward curve is designed to support your hands as they rest ‘on the tops,’ behind the brake levers.

This is a very comfortable position – above I’m using it during the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris – but it’s important that the curves are ‘just right.’ Before we found this shape, I’ve used many ‘Randonneur’ bars that actually were less comfortable than their standard counterparts.

What about padded handlebar tape? It can help a little with relieving pressure points, but it cannot make up for a poor handlebar shape.

New in the Rene Herse program are the Nitto ‘Monkey Banana’ bar pads (above) for the corners of your handlebars. They go under the bar tape to help support your hands in the ‘on the tops’ position, plus they offer a little extra shock absorption. They are designed to fit our Rene Herse Maes Parallel and Randonneur handlebars, but they are flexible and can be adapted to many other bar shapes.

Whether you are racing long gravel events, preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris, or planning a long tour, well-designed handlebars can make all the difference in enjoying the long hours on your bike. And even if you aren’t riding for ten hours or more, having comfortable bars makes cycling more fun.

Click here for more information about Rene Herse handlebars.

 

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