Riding a Tandem with Lyli Herse


No visit to France would be complete without seeing Lyli Herse. I first visited her after riding the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem. I wanted to learn more about her father, the famous constructeur, and about Lyli’s own sporting exploits, which include eight French championships.


Over the years, we became friends. We rummaged around her garage and found suitcases of historic photos (above) that were published in our book on René Herse. It was a great honor when she asked me whether I wanted to become the custodian of the René Herse name and brand. That is how René Herse’s ground-breaking components are available once more, updated with the latest technologies.


Whenever we visit, we organize a reunion of the “pilotes de Herse”, the riders on Herse’s team. This year, it was just a small group (left to right): Jean-Marie Compte, Pierre Nédéllec, myself, Natsuko, Lyli and Robert Demilly. All of these gentlemen still ride their bikes, and their form remains inspirational. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, considering their past achievements in rides like Paris-Brest-Paris, where they came first (1965, Demilly) and second (1961, Nédéllec)…


Three years ago, we celebrated Lyli Herse’s 85th birthday by riding a lap around the course of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race. It was a great honor to pilot Lyli on a tandem built by her father for this race. She has lost little of her competitive spirit – we dropped all but one young rider on the 14% climb from Chanteloup!

But then, Lyli won the tandem race of almost every Poly from 1945 until she became a racer in the mid-1950s.


Even at age 88, Lyli rides her trainer every day. Behind her, you can glimpse her training log, which shows almost 7000 km for this year! This year, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the old course of the Poly, but sadly, there wasn’t a ride planned. One of the riders had crashed into a newly installed barrier on his familiar route, another was recovering from a hospital visit, and Lyli didn’t feel up to riding, either.


But you never know, and that is why my friend Ivan Souverain had dropped off his lovely 1945 René Herse tandem at Lyli’s house. It’s sized perfectly for Lyli and I. We were keen to try it, and so Natsuko and I took a spin around the neighborhood. And then I asked Lyli whether she wanted to have a go. Her smile grew big. I was surprised how quickly she climbed on the back of the tandem, and then we were off.

We did one lap of the neighborhood, then another, then explored further. Lyli’s pedal stroke remains as fluid and strong as ever – it must have been a great experience to ride the Poly de Chanteloup with her. One year, she and Jacques Primout actually lapped the hilly course faster than the professional racers – and back then, the Poly drew the greatest stars from France and beyond. (To the pros defense, their race was almost three times as long, but still…)


I hope I’ll be able to do many more tandem rides with Lyli Herse.


When we said “Au revoir”, Lyli gave us a bouquet with roses from her garden. It survived the trip back to Paris, and graced our hotel room for the rest of our stay. What a charming lady!

Further reading:

Posted in Rides | 14 Comments

The Missing Piece: Suspension Losses


How does it work that wide tires are as fast as narrow ones? It is really simple:

Comfort = Speed

When your bike vibrates, energy is dissipated as friction. That energy must come from somewhere – it no longer is available to propel the bike forward, so your bike slows down. That is why your bike rolls faster on smooth pavement than on rough chipseal.

At Bicycle Quarterly, we started testing tires on real roads, with a real rider, in 2006. We found that higher tire pressures don’t make your bike faster. Back then, that was pretty revolutionary. Previous tests on smooth drums had shown that the harder you pumped up your tires, the faster you went. But smooth steel drums aren’t a good model for what happens on real roads, and the results were misleading.

Over the last couple of years, our findings have become generally accepted. Most tech writers now talk about vibrations that slow down your bike. The missing piece is: How do vibrations slow you down? The most common explanation is that your bike goes up and down as it vibrates. All that climbing adds up and costs a lot of energy.

It’s true that vibrations slow you down, but it’s a bit more complicated. Energy cannot disappear. The only way to “lose” energy is to convert it to heat through friction. When you climb a mountain pass, you put in energy as you gain elevation. As you descend on the other side, you get some of it back – you can coast downhill without pedaling – but most of it is converted to heat by your wind resistance. During the descent, your bike accelerates until you reach “terminal velocity”, where the energy input from the elevation loss equals the energy consumed by wind resistance.

That explains where the energy goes when you cross a mountain pass. It cannot explain what happens when your bike vibrates on flat roads.


We tested various equipment on rumble strips to get a maximum value for the energy that is lost to vibrations. We found that riding on this “very rough” road can take up to 290 Watt more power than riding on smooth pavement at the same speed. So it’s true, vibrations can absorb a huge amount of energy. It was almost impossible to keep the bike moving at our testing speed on the “very rough” road. (Of course, in real life, you don’t ride on rumble strips, but the point was to see how much energy could be lost just by changing the surface roughness, and keeping everything else the same.)

Since we were going at the same speed as on the smooth pavement, the our wind resistance was the same, and yet we had to push the pedals with 290 Watts more. So where did all the energy go?


A little bit went into heating the tire as it flexes, but pneumatic tires don’t absorb much energy even when they bounce. Think of a basketball. When you drop it, it bounces back almost as high as before. Very little energy is lost, even though it deflects as it hits the ground. As the basketball hits the ground, it compresses and becomes an air spring. Then it stops, before it starts accelerating upward again. The “spring” in the ball returns most of the energy, and the ball bounces almost as high as it did with the last bounce.


Tires work the same way. When a tire hits a bump (left), it deforms (arrow). Energy is stored – the tire becomes a compressed spring. On the other side of the bump (right), the energy is released, pushing the tire off the bump. The net loss of energy is small.

If the energy isn’t lost in the tire, then where does it go?


The answer is simple: As the rider’s body vibrates, the tissues (muscles, tendons, skin, etc.) rub against each other. This can convert an enormous amount of energy into heat. How much? In a study of vibrating tank seats, the U.S. Army found that up to 2000 Watt were absorbed by a human body before the vibrations became too painful to endure. The discomfort was directly proportional to the energy loss.

2000 Watt! That is more than the power output of a pro racer. Clearly, a lot of energy can be lost due to these vibrations. The technical term for this is “suspension loss”. It also occurs in shock absorbers of cars – rally cars’ shock absorbers absorb so much energy that they get hot – so hot that they need dedicated cooling.


We also tested different types of equipment on the new, super-smooth pavement next to the rumble strips. We were surprised that even on very smooth pavement, reducing vibrations through supple tires – and even, to a lesser degree, a suspension fork – resulted in significant performance gains.

What this means for cyclists is simple: If your bike’s vibrations are uncomfortable, it’s because energy is converted into heat, inside your body. This energy is lost from the forward motion of the bike. As far as vibrations are concerned, being uncomfortable slows you down. Or seen the other way around, the more comfortable your bike is, the less power goes to suspension losses, and the more power is available to drive it forward:

Comfort = Speed

It really is that simple. And it’s revolutionized how we think about bikes: Wide, supple tires are faster because they vibrate less. Fork blades that absorb road shocks – even suspension forks – are faster, not just on rough roads, but even on relatively smooth roads, because they reduce vibrations. On real roads and at the speeds most of us ride (<25 mph), the best “gravel” and “Allroad” bikes actually are faster than their racing bike cousins.


This means that the biggest improvement in your bike’s performance comes from a set of wide, supple tires. “Supple” means that the casing is thin and easy to flex. This has two benefits:

  1. Supple tires are easy to flex, so they transmit fewer vibrations (lower suspension losses). That is Reason 1 why they are faster.
  2. Supple tires are easy to flex, so it takes less energy as they deform them as they rotate (lower hysteretic losses in the tire casing itself). Reason 2 why they are faster.

Wide tires also transmit fewer vibrations, which makes them faster than narrower ones.

Our testing shows that supple casings are more important than width. A supple 26 mm tire is much faster (and more comfortable) than a stiff 38 mm “touring” tire. Of course, ideally, you’ll get it all – a wide and supple tire.

This research led us to develop our Compass tires. While quite a few makers offered supple racing tires in widths up to 25 mm, there weren’t (and still aren’t) many great high-performance tires in wider widths. So we worked with one of the best and most experienced makers of bicycle tires – Panaracer in Japan – to create the fastest, most supple tires possible.


For our Extralight series, we use a casing that usually is reserved for high-end, hand-made racing tubulars. On top goes a layer of extra-grippy, yet long-wearing, rubber with our trademark tread pattern that interlocks with the road surface for extra grip. The result are our Compass tires – available in widths from 26 mm to 54 mm.


Before releasing these tires in 2014, we tested them extensively on some of the roughest gravel roads to ensure they were durable enough for real-world riding. Since then, they’ve proven themselves in gravel races, but also on paved courses like Paris-Brest-Paris. They even took second place in the Washington State Road Racing Championships. The riders who use them are our best advertisers, recommending them to everybody who is willing to listen. We rarely advertise – instead, we focus on new research that will improve our products even further.

Further reading:

Photo credit (gravel racing): Chyla’s Race Photos.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 62 Comments

Choosing Your Crank Length


Our Compass René Herse cranks are available in three lengths to cover the needs of nearly all cyclists. The lengths we offer are a bit unusual, but there is a reason for this: Our cranks use dedicated forgings for each length. The “net shape forging” makes our cranks stronger than if we machined them to length. Our cranks are the only classic models that pass the most stringent EN “Racing Bike” standard for fatigue resistance.

However, this also means that we need a new forging die for each crank length. The investment is substantial. We thought hard about which lengths we need, so that nearly all cyclists would find the most biomechanically efficient cranks in our program. We selected 165, 171 and 177 mm.

Other makers may offer more lengths, but they either are huge companies (Shimano, Campagnolo) who amortize their forging dies over much larger numbers, or they machine their cranks to length (virtually all small makers). Machining the pedal eye weakens the area that is most likely to break, so that wasn’t an option for us: All Compass parts must meet or exceed the performance of the world’s best components.

We settled on three crank lengths (and three forging dies), because a millimeter or two really does not make a difference in how a cranks feel or perform. Here is how our crank lengths translate to the more common ones used by most cyclists:


For example, if you currently use a 175 mm crank, we recommend a 177 mm. It’s just 1.1% longer. (Consider that the tolerances of crank lengths are about 1 mm anyhow, so if you measured your 175 mm cranks carefully, they might actually turn out to be 176 mm long.)

It’s generally accepted that only differences of more than 5% are significant. The largest difference between the Compass René Herse cranks and the common lengths is just one-third of that threshold. Riders who’ve tried our cranks report that they cannot tell any difference compared to the lengths they used before. This means that 95% of cyclists can use Compass René Herse cranks and get the feel and performance they are used to. (Fewer than 5% of cyclists need cranks that are significantly shorter than 165 mm or significantly longer than 180 mm.)


Apart from the strength and beauty, the main thing we like about our René Herse cranks is the almost unlimited chainring choice. These days, even the big makers offer only a handful of chainring combinations. The Compass René Herse cranks allow you to get the gearing that works best for you. We offer chainrings from 52 to 24 teeth, in single, double and triple configurations, even for tandems.

For example, I use 48-32 rings for Paris-Brest-Paris, 46-30 rings for general randonneuring, and 44-28 rings for cyclotouring. They are easy to swap, if needed – you don’t even have to remove the cranks. This means that the Compass René Herse cranks can be tailored to your body and riding style more than any other crank on the market.

Further reading:

  • Blog post on how to choose your chainrings.
  • Click here to find out more about Compass René Herse cranks.
Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 31 Comments

Cyclotouring in the Ardèche


After the Technical Trials, we spent a few days with our friend Richard Léon in the Ardèche region. It was fun to explore this area at a cyclotouring pace.


The region is criss-crossed by tiny roads, and Richard knows them all. It’s hilly, which makes for beautiful climbs where we can appreciate the scenery…


… and fast downhills to enjoy the winding roads.


Most roads were paved, but some were on gravel. All day, we saw just a handful of cars.


The landscape is amazing, with tiny villages dotting the volcanic terrain.


People seem to enjoy a lifestyle that combines the best of today with cherished traditions. There has been an effort to keep bakeries and cafés open in almost every town, and we even saw this lady in an old Citroën Mehari arrive for her shopping. “We bought it 32 years ago, and we really like it,” she told us. It’s nice to see that the France of my childhood still exists…


The lavender fields were in full bloom, adding amazing dots of color to the patchwork of small fields.


We leaned out bikes against ancient stone walls and ate lunch at small restaurants before continuing our rides. It was a most enjoyable visit.

Further viewing:

Posted in Rides | 14 Comments

The Inspiration: Bicycle Quarterly


Bicycle Quarterly is the inspiration for everything we do. It’s the basis for our research and development: The all-road performance of Compass tires was developed through Bicycle Quarterly’s testing of tires. The supreme comfort of Compass’ Randonneur handlebars became apparent as we rode many bikes across varied terrain for BQ features. But more than that, Bicycle Quarterly has been the inspiration for the riding we do. All the wonderful parts in the world really serve only one purpose: to make your and our rides more memorable and fun.


The latest BQ is a good example: We test a Firefly Enduro Allroad bike on the amazing road over the Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above). Rides like these inspire us to search for improvements, not just in our own components, but also in the way things are done across the bike industry. The recent move toward wider tires is a good example.


Who would have thought that 54 mm-wide high-performance tires offer so much cornering grip that the low-rider panniers scraped on the road when we leaned deep into corners?


Studying the past can be an inspiration for the future, too. Takayuki Nishiyama’s big article about Suntour in the current Bicycle Quarterly has us thinking about derailleur design. Should we look at slant parallelograms not just for rear derailleurs, but also for fronts?


The most important inspiration is to go and ride. Natsuko Hirose’s article about touring Hokkaido with a group of students shows that any bike can be used for memorable trips – just go, and figure it out as you go along. These are just three of the articles in the current Bicycle Quarterly.

The best part of my job as editor of Bicycle Quarterly is when readers write to us how much they enjoy the magazine. The last issue received more mail than any before – here are a few samples:

  • “Why can’t this amazing quarterly come out six times a year?”
  • “The magazine is the only one, on any subject, I always read cover to cover, and it just keeps getting better. The current mix of travel stories, reviews, historical information, and technical stories is, for me, ideal.”
  • “The ride across the Paso de Cortés was a great read.”


We are already working on the Autumn BQ, but you don’t want to miss the Summer issue. Subscribe today, and you’ll get the Summer issue automatically as the first of your subscription. If you enjoy what we do, you’ll enjoy the magazine – guaranteed. (We actually refund the unused portion of your subscription if you cancel, yet that happens only once or twice a year.)

Which was your favorite article in a recent Bicycle Quarterly?

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 10 Comments

The 2016 Technical Trials


This summer saw the first Technical Trials in France since 1949. Then as now, the goal was to find the best “light randonneur” bike. Organized by Christophe Courbou, the magazine 200, and Victoire Cycles, this year’s event was a great success.


The original Technical Trials of the 1930s and 1940s brought incredible progress to bicycles. They proved that bicycles could be lightweight and reliable. Aluminum cranks, front derailleurs, cartridge bearings in hubs and bottom brackets and even low-rider racks all were pioneered and proven in the Technical Trials. The Trials allowed small constructeurs like René Herse, Alex Singer and Jo Routens to show that their bikes were better than those of the big mass producers. Unfortunately, the original Trials ended in 1949, when cars became popular, and interest in improving bicycles waned. Who knows what advances we’d have seen if the Trials had continued?


Now the Technical Trials (Concours de Machines in French) have been revived. This year’s event saw 19 makers compete for the prize of the “best bike”. The focus was not just on impeccable function, but also on innovation. Each maker brought their interpretation of the future of randonneur bikes. There was the Pechtregon (above) with its amazing truss fork. One of the Cyfac bikes had a carbon fiber and titanium frame with integrated carbon fiber fenders. The Milc/Goblin had front and rear suspension.


The bikes had to prove their worth on a challenging course. The first stage went over an extremely hilly 235 km (146 miles) with two mountain passes. The following day had bikes (and riders) compete in a timed climb up the Col du Béal. The event finished with a 73 km (45 miles) stage over rough gravel roads. After each stage, the bikes were carefully checked, and points were deducted for anything that no longer worked.


As a member of the jury, I rode the entire event, observing the bikes on the road. It was a fun weekend, and we learned a lot about what works in a bike and what doesn’t. That part was relatively easy – although it’s always surprising how many things no longer work after a weekend of hard riding – but the hard part was awarding points for the merits of each design. There were many discussions, but in the end, we all felt that the winners were worthy.


The winning bike from Victoire Cycles was a well-designed machine, ridden by an excellent pilote. (Average speed counted in the results to make sure the bikes were ridden hard.) For Compass Bicycles, it was nice to see that 9 of the 19 builders chose Compass tires, including the winner, 2nd place, and best rookie. And the best team – the Julie Racing Design tandem – even featured three Compass tires (one on their custom-built trailer).

A full report of this amazing event, with a presentation of the bikes and a test of the amazing Pechtregon that took third place (second photo from top) will be appear in Bicycle Quarterly soon.

Further reading:

Photo credits: Cycles Victoire (winning bike).

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 28 Comments

How Small is a Rinko Bike?


When we introduced the idea of Rinko bikes to our readers and customers, there were some questions whether they could fit within the airline luggage requirements, or whether they’d have to pay oversize luggage fees. I’ve flown with Rinko bikes many times, and never paid a surcharge because the bag was too big.

The Ostrich OS-500 Airplane Bag in the photo looks big, because it is – it’s designed for all kinds of bikes, not just the Alps/Hirose system of Rinko that I use. It is far bigger than the Rinko bike inside, so I usually tape the excess to wrap around the bag. (The photo doesn’t show tape, because when the airline employees saw how much I could tape the bag, they simply said: “Don’t bother, it’s OK.”)

I did have to pay once, when Delta decided that because it was a bicycle, it had to pay the surcharge, no matter the size. But how big is a Rinko bike really?


To find out, I measured two Rinko bikes. One is very small, the other rather large. Here are the measurements:


  • My Mule (above) is a 650B randonneur bike with a 60 cm frame (c-t), full fenders, racks and lights. Packed into its Rinko bag, it measures 79 x 83 x 23 cm. The airline dimension comes to 186 cm, or 73 inches.


  • BQ contributor Natsuko Hirose’s C. S. Hirose has a 47 cm frame and 26″ wheels. It measures 77 x 81 x 22 cm, for a total of 180 cm, or 71 inches.

On the face of it, both bikes are larger than the airline size limit of 158 cm (62 inches). Yet both have flown multiple times without paying a surcharge. The reason is simple: The package is shaped like a parallelogram. If you place it between two vertical walls, you’ll get the measurements I took. But when you take a tape measure and measure along the top, it’s actually quite a bit shorter. The bottom also is shorter. Riders of Ritchey’s Breakaway system have reported the same: In theory, the bike is a bit larger than the luggage requirement, but in practice, it usually is fine.

That leads to the second question: How secure is your bike in the OS-500 Rinko bag? That depends on your airline. We’ve had good experiences with Japanese airlines, but other airlines aren’t as careful with your luggage.

Generally for flying, there are two approaches: Either make it very clear that the bag contains a bike that is fragile, so baggage handlers are careful. I once flew (on the airline’s advice) with another bike in a clear plastic bag, and it arrived just fine. The alternative is to protect the bike so much that it will survive almost any abuse – with a sturdy hardshell case. The in-between solutions, like cardboard boxes, are the worst – they hide the bike so that it’s not clear how fragile the package’s content really is, yet they offer next to no protection from it getting crushed. The OS-500 bag has some padding, but it says in multiple languages that a bicycle is inside.

Maybe we’ll offer a small hardshell case for Rinko bikes in the future. It would be relatively easy to carry, perhaps even as a backpack – especially when compared to the bulky hardshell cases that are available currently. If you are arriving and leaving at different airports, you could even ship it from the start point to the end point of your trip… But that is a future project. For now, we offer numerous parts that make building a travel bike much easier.

Click here for more information on our Rinko products.

Posted in Rinko | 23 Comments