Am I Retro?

Am I Retro?

Many people see my bike and think “Retro!” In some cases, this is seen as cool. Others are dismissive, like the famous builder who once compared riders like me to civil war re-enactors, who dress up and play civil war in their spare time.
It is true that I enjoy riding classic bikes. Best-known is probably my ride with Jaye Haworth in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem (below). I also rode a 1952 René Herse 650B bike in a number of brevets. While there was an element of re-enactment in those rides – I wanted to understand these bikes and their riders better – the results were really surprising.
The 1946 René Herse tandem performed better than any modern tandem, and we were the fastest mixed tandem that year. In the entire history of PBP, only 7 mixed tandem teams have been faster, and six of them have been on classic tandems. The old Herse’s effortless speed, but even more its effortless handling, really was an eye-opener that led into research of why modern tandems did not perform as well. Since then, quite a few tandems have been built along similar lines, to the great enjoyment of their owners.

My rides on the 1952 Herse 650B bike had even more far-reaching consequences. Not only does that bike hold the record for the “3 Volcano 300 km” brevet to this day, but its surprising performance led to our research into bicycle performance. A trickle-down effect of that research is that now even racers run wider tires at lower pressures than they did before. And the old Herse served as a blueprint for a new generation of 650B randonneur bikes made in the United States, including my current bike.
Designed for performance more than style, these new bikes take some elements from the old: fast, wide 650B tires, lightweight aluminum fenders with excellent coverage, and handlebars that offer room to roam during long rides. Other details are decidedly modern: clipless pedals and generator-powered lights with the latest LED technology.
Some riders equip their new randonneur bikes with modern brake-shift levers, while others prefer the simplicity and light weight of downtube shift levers. There are good reasons to use either system that have nothing to do with being modern or retro.
Retro is painting your bike orange because Eddy Merckx was sponsored by an Italian sausage maker. Or putting horizontal dropouts on a bike with derailleurs because that is how it used to be done in the old days. Riding a bike with each part chosen for performance is not retro. Even if the result looks somewhat like a bike from 1952.

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Comments (48)

  • mr. palomar

    Great post!

    February 1, 2013 at 2:18 am
  • Gert

    Good Point I have been thinking along the same lines recently. In regards to a new frame, which will be an ovesize steel frame. Sholud I go for a retro look as well. But that is not really what I am interested in. In this respect Your story cleared up that point for me.
    In regards to tire width and frame design. I can not help but think about, what NAM Rodger writes in “Command of the Ocean ” about the differences in British and French ship design in the 18th century. Where french the french designers were university educated “Ingenieurs” who paid much attention to aquadynamics, the british designers were shipbuilders who then advanced to “Master Shipwright”
    They took a practical approach and new that on Sailingships of that age aquadynamics was almost unimportant.
    Maybe this is the same with bicycleframes and components. The old designers and constructors built on years of experience. And new designers build on theoretical models.

    February 1, 2013 at 3:30 am
  • Mike J.

    I remember the re-enactor comment. At first, I was insulted. But now, that’s how I describe myself.
    I rode the same bike from 1972 for almost thirty years. When it broke, I was dismayed at what I saw in the cycle shops. Everything I rode was so stiff, it felt dead. Handling was imprecise and sluggish.
    A chance visit to Il Vecchios led me to you and Mathew Grimm. Replacing the fork on a poor handling bike to match the geometry of a retro Reyhand solved the stability problem. Going back to standard tubing returned the lively feel that I missed so much. Your quantification of the parameters that control the desirable features of a bicycle has allowed myself and others to finally replace what was lost. Thank you for that.

    February 1, 2013 at 5:15 am
    • Matthew J

      I believe the re-enactor comment was tongue in cheek. The builder in question only builds steel frames set up for cantilever brakes of all things. In addition, the only other builder’s flickr I have ever seen his comments is Peter Weigle’s.
      Probably a blessing in any event. It is fairly easy to spot a hollow critique when all the commentator can do is use an oft repeated dismissive term.

      February 1, 2013 at 5:46 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Whether tongue-in-cheek or not, the comment made me assess what I was doing… Not that there is anything wrong with “retro,” but I realized that retro is not what motivates me.

        February 1, 2013 at 5:49 am
  • Florent Carrière

    In France we said “C’est dans les vieux pots qu’on fait la meilleure soupe” (It’s in old pots we made the tastiest soup)

    February 1, 2013 at 5:26 am
  • R.White

    I ride a Salsa Vaya with 700×40 tires, fenders, bar end shifters and a Brooks Flyer seat. Steel. But with disc brakes and 29er wheels. A mix of new and old technologies that I find to be the perfect combination for me. Most fully-modern bikes are far from comfortable and designed like race bikes, which 99% of us have no business being on. 🙂

    February 1, 2013 at 5:54 am
    • Rod Bruckdorfer

      Indeed, Indeed.

      February 1, 2013 at 11:40 am
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    Hum, Retro, No. My introduction to steel adult bikes was in 1972 and I have ridden steel ever since that first ride. Today, I ride a 1987 Miyata 1000 LT touring frame and fork I purchased new in 1989. It’s a beautiful bike with CrMo splined triple butted tubing and a set of Phil hubs laced to Wolber Super Champion Rims. Several years after we moved to Baltimore, Maryland I started riding with the Baltimore Bike Club. They were civil but wanted nothing to do with my bike or riding with an older cyclist on a 5-speed steel bike fitted with hammered aluminum fenders. I felt the pressure to conform and started thinking “carbon fiber.” Because I help assemble new bikes in the Spring at our LBS, I have an opportunity to ride lightweight aluminum bikes with carbon forks and full carbon fiber bikes. The Trek Madone and Domane are very exciting to ride and do every thing the manufacturer claims. They climb like a witch flying out of hell and accelerate at the slightest increase in pedal pressure. After much pondering I finally ordered a new bike.
    Mike Kone of Boulder Bicycles is currently designing the bike. The lugged steel frame is scheduled to be built by Waterford. Yep, the new bike is a rando style bike and will be shod with 650B 42 mm Hetre tires. Why? you may ask.
    Carbon fiber is not me. I am a romantic and love the classics but more importantly, I want to ride a comfortable bike without sacrificing performance. Granted it may not be as fast climbing as a Domane but the engine is 67 years old. I call my style of riding cyclotouring in the French tradition. Perhaps I am a little retro but I enjoy cycling in the country and not through the country with only a view of the handlebars and front wheel in my vision field.
    As a side note, the book, “Rene Herse, The Bikes, The Builder, The Riders” by Jan Heine is a wonderful read.

    February 1, 2013 at 6:43 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      One of the most interesting results of our back-to-back and side-by-side testing is that while the modern racing bikes may feel faster, we haven’t found one that actually is faster for us than a carefully optimized steel randonneur bike.

      February 1, 2013 at 7:03 am
      • Rod Bruckdorfer

        I read your article in BQ, Vol. 11 No. 2 Winter 2013 and believe Mark and you can make any well designed bike go fast. My experience is, I can match a good rider on a carbon fiber bike with lightweight wheels but they win on two counts. The rider on the “racing bike” can accelerate faster than I can on my my touring bike with it’s heavier wheel set and they can climb faster. We also must factor in the heart rate limit for my age. Even when I test rode the lightweight bikes at my LBS, I could climb faster than I could on my touring bike. Perhaps it’s perception why “racing bikes” seem faster to me but I don’t believe this is the case. The Madone and Domane climbed “like the wind” compared to my Miyata 1000 LT on a the same test course.
        One means to prove this point is to fit a power meter to a steel rando bike with 650B 42 mm tires and one to a carbon fiber bike with lightweight wheels then do round robin acceleration and climbing tests with several mortal riders, i.e. not the gods that inhabit the Seattle International Randonneur club. A plot of power output vs. time to accelerate over a given distance (level and hill) for each rider would show which bike is easier to accelerate.

        February 1, 2013 at 8:22 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          There is no question that a lighter bike will take less power to get up the hill. However, what we’ve found (in tests with Power Meters during our double-blind tests of frame stiffness) was that our power output varied with different frames.
          Your Miyata 1000 LT is a nice bike, but I am not surprised that it doesn’t go as fast as a Trek Madone. I’ve ridden those bikes (my parents have them), and they don’t compare to a hand-made steel frame made from superlight tubing… I think you will be pleasantly surprised when you get your new bike.

          February 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm
      • msrw

        On the question of “feel faster” vs “is faster,” I was thinking recently about the comparison you completed between the Ti crit bike and the rando, along with the method you used. I was wondering why you don’t do back to back comparisons via time trials. Would not a time trial, particularly a medium length time trial, be a more meaningful comparison than a short ascent and descent?

        February 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The biggest difference between the titanium racing bike and the randonneur bike was weight. That is best tested during climbing. The descent also allowed us to assess aerodynamics and handling. The only thing a flat time trial would have added is comfort/suspension losses, but we already know the randonneur bike is superior in that respect due to its wider tires.
          Riding both bikes side-by-side, we could eliminate factors like wind, temperature and rider fatigue, as they affected both riders the same way. This is very important, because it eliminates the noise that otherwise would affect your data.
          One important issue with all testing is repeatablity. A medium-length time trial at full effort causes significant fatigue, so you cannot repeat it until a few days later. Doing multiple hillclimbs provides a repeatable setup. Cumulatively, these climbs add up to the effort of a good road race.

          February 2, 2013 at 7:25 am
  • Phil Miller

    I enjoy obtaining and using gear that utilizes the best practices of all time. That’s what makes them classic. Lost technology is a fact of the human condition, and those who seek out the best by mining best practices over a wide range of time, are only seeking the best.
    And by the way, I’ve found similar lost tech in skiing, climbing, and all kind of adventure activities, not to mention software development, and writing!

    February 1, 2013 at 10:11 am
    • Rod Bruckdorfer

      Indeed, well said.

      February 2, 2013 at 5:12 am
  • Bubba

    Some people call you retro if you run gear that looks old. The implication being that you chose that old stuff purely because it was old.
    You do run gear that looks old. Some of it is old. But the distinction is that your choices have been driven by your opinions on performance. That old stuff you’ve chosen to use is the best performance you could get, in your opinion. The fact that it is old is incidental. You chose it in spite of its age, not because of it. If there were new Maxi Car hubs made today, to exactly the same quality standards of the old ones (or better), you’d not only buy them, you’d very likely sell them at Compass.

    February 1, 2013 at 11:42 am
  • ben

    Nice post. Rode my bilenky tandem to work today. I’d say it’s 90’s tri-color fade paint job is distinctly retro, but not it’s classic geometry (like that of old jack taylors and thus old french designs).

    February 1, 2013 at 1:00 pm
  • tom schibler

    Hell Yeah !

    February 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm
  • Greg

    I’m ‘sort of retro,’ and proud of it!
    (Not that there is anything wrong with that, as the Seinfeld Show folks would say…).
    If ‘retro’ means understanding the great designs and artifacts of the past, but updating and adapting them to the modern World, I’d say it’s a pretty good philosophy!

    February 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  • Heather

    Great! My mom is involved with United Empire Loyalists and they get up to all kinds of silly civil war nonsense. I can tell you riding an older bike has nothing in common with re-enactors. Given your history, you’ve ridden modern bikes and components. You aren’t an older fellow reliving the past, you’ve simply discovered some of these older bikes and components are superior. As with anything, the ‘old ways’ often turn out to be the best ways. For example the type of small fishing boats used for eons turn out to be more efficient and productive than the massive fish factory boats of today. Or the basic reality that most things from irons, blenders, power drills, clothes to cars are made very cheaply and meant to last only a short time.
    I see photos of bikes from the 50’s or older and they look amazing. My husband has a mystery bottechia from the 60’s that is incredible and all attempts at modern production frames have resulted in the belief that older bikes were better designed, built etc.. I rode one bike for a few years and when it was destroyed the only options available new were aluminium and I hated it. So I was reaching back a bit into memory lane, plus fed up that the mountain bike had ruled for so long and was the only thing available since my late teens and that is what I bought too because bike shops only carried mountain bikes anymore. I didn’t think about bikes enough at the time to consider looking for a used bike, but could have found a columbus EL bike for all I know as nobody wanted the ‘old things’. Modern steel production bikes have wide tubing and are generally not super light or responsive. My surly lht was a nightmare. Also, like many without much money ‘vintage’ bikes are all that you can afford and often a high quality older bike is superior to a new production steel bike. So, there are plenty of ‘retro’ riders out there not necessarily trying to be hip or cool.
    Mind you, if I take anything to the local bike shop they immediately roll eyes and sneer about ‘old s–t’, retro or refuse to even touch it. So, I do not give them much business.

    February 1, 2013 at 7:10 pm
    • Greg

      I generally agree with what you are saying, except for the car example. Modern automobiles last far longer than ones from twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. It used to be that you were lucky to get a muffler to last one full year, here in the Midwest, and lucky to get the car body to go three years without rusting completely through. At 60,000 miles the car was basically worn out. Now, any new car should last at least fifteen years and 150,000 miles, even where the roads are salted in the winter, and have its original muffler, etc. Big improvement….

      February 3, 2013 at 10:57 pm
  • Paul Ahart

    I think the bike industry is much like the auto industry: If they built products that were reliable, long-lived, and somewhat “timeless” in design (think Porsches, Mercedes) people would buy one bike and keep it for 20 years. Marketing wants people to be enthralled with the new, if only long enough to purchase it, then as soon as something comes out to replace it, be “dissatisfied” with what they just bought, and feel they must trash it and plunk out money for the newest (think Apple products). With bikes it’s gone from 5 speed to 11 speed (which wear out 3X faster and costs 4X as much to replace), and the obsession with ultra-stiff frames. Even many excellent bike manufacturers are stuck in this “stiffer is better” rut. What is important today is to appear new and up-to-date. Jan’s Herse bike does like like it came out of the 1950s. Of course most manufacturers don’t want the general cycling public to know that these bikes were really as good as it gets.
    What is most important is that a bike fit your body, that it ride comfortably for its intended purpose, and that its components are as simple and reliable as possible. To me, having to spend $500 for a new pair of STI shift/brake levers every couple of years is crazy. Having to spend $200 for an 11spd Campy cassette every 5000 miles is nuts. I work on old bikes with power ratchet shifters that work as well now as in 1985. With reasonable maintenance, older stuff is totally reliable and can last for decades. Alas, that’s not a property the industry wants to promote.

    February 1, 2013 at 10:29 pm
    • Greg

      The average car in America is now 11.3 years old, As I mentioned above, they last far, far longer than they used to. With reasonable care, twenty years is not at all uncommon…..

      February 3, 2013 at 11:00 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Without wanting to turn this into a car blog, the fact that the average car now is 11.3 years old only shows that the cars from 15-20 years ago were well-built. Or perhaps that people have less money than they used to. (The average age of cars in Cuba used to be 50+ years, because people couldn’t buy new ones…)
        With the modern car’s predominance of electronic systems, it remains to be seen how long they last before malfunctioning systems (rather than rusty frames) render them uneconomical or even impossible to fix. (Think average lifespan of cell phones or Kindles.)

        February 4, 2013 at 7:07 am
  • djconnel

    If I define retro: “providing a positive value to something being of older design”, you’re clearly retro. Wing nuts? Bar-actuated front shifter? Personally, I think it’s really cool. You evaluate the performance of everything. You don’t accept old as superior strictly on the basis of it being old, or from the bias that cycling was perfect when you came of age and therefore every development since only tarnishes perfection: it still needs to work without substantial compromise. But you clearly show an affinity for tapping into a rich history of cycling. That, to me, is by definition retro.

    February 2, 2013 at 5:29 am
  • Rolly

    Amen to all of the above.
    I find the re-enactor comparison to be a stretch, funny as it is. I used to work at a national historic site as a Victorian era military re-enactor; it was just something I did for a pay cheque when I was younger. While the history was interesting I never understood the appeal of hobby re-enacting, though I get that they want to ‘feel’ history. To each their own. As for retro bikes I have a similar attitude – the history is interesting but has little to do with why I ride vintage bikes.
    I got into vintage bikes for practical and financial reasons. As a messenger long ago I found older frames reliable, comfortable and affordable. Thieves didn’t want to steal them. Trusted mechanics talked me out of buying expensive, modern parts and would give me (way before vintage was as trendy as it is now) old Shimano 600, XT, various Suntour, etc parts that would last through many salty Winters.
    Whenever I tried a newer aluminum or aluminum/carbon frame I’d end up selling it after a few months because it have the feel of steel that I like. I’m not against newer stuff but for my purposes – leisure and distance riding for fitness and fun – I see no need to spend big money on stuff I know won’t last and endure abuse like the older stuff. That being said though I’m currently building up an aluminum/carbon ‘cross bike; this bike will be purely for racing so it makes sense to me for this bike to be modern. Also I have tried a Trek Madone – wow! – but why would I spend that money on a race-rocket that I’ll never race?
    As more info became available on the net I started to get swept by the trend and I now appreciate the retro stuff more for fascination reasons. I enjoy hunting for and learning about vintage stuff. Like thousands of like minds I too like to build bikes with vintage and modern parts that blend together, and I find inspiration from the nuvo rando bike builders, the millions of online photos and the blogs and lists. My 67 Hetchins has mostly vintage, near-period stuff but also modern (somewhat vintage looking) wheels – a SON hub and a Phil hub with Mavic rims. My 80s Moser is all Superbe Pro with a modern ti Phil bb and modern Panaracer racing tires and lightweight innertubes. If a vintage part doesn’t work well I don’t use it. (replacing the Superbe shifters with Simplex Retrofriction for this reason).
    The Hetchins frame and build was less expensive than the Boulder Brevet that I still want and only a pound heavier probably. The Moser lets me keep up with my friends on modern bikes just fine, and downtube shifting adds a fun challenge and teaches me to spin more smoothly instead of shifting all the time with STIs just because I can. Instead of just buying frames and parts I got to enjoy hunting and trading for parts. The Moser was rescued from the scrap heep and repaired by a vintage aficionado framebuilder who helped me find parts – fun and gratifying! These bikes are hot rods to me… a 70s muscle car and a 60 s Cadillac maybe?
    — Rolly

    February 2, 2013 at 7:17 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Many old bikes are lovely and ride great, but some of the new bikes are truly awesome as well. Whether it was the Calfee carbon bike, or the Seven and Lynskey titanium bikes, I was sorely tempted to make an offer and keep one of those test bikes.

      February 2, 2013 at 8:44 am
  • Rolly

    Also, I’m also into vintage scooters, Lambrettas mostly (just like Wiggo!), and it isn’t abnormal at all for Lambretta enthusiasts to kit out their retro scooters with modern performance parts. They then become hot rods, similar to hot rod car restorations. I don’t get why anyone would be down on someone doing the same with a bicycle. I really don’t get why some bike shop employees find vintage gear something to scorn. Imagine if vintage musical instruments were scorned.
    — Rolly

    February 2, 2013 at 7:24 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t think it’s scorn, but more the belief that modern equipment performs so much better. Certainly, that is the case for cars – any decent modern sports car will post a better lap time than a vintage Ferrari.
      However, I like the musical instrument analogy, because it shows what happens when you look at “tools” where the rider/player is the major part in the equation, and the goal is to work in unison with the human. Bikes are somewhere between cars and violins. Modern technology can improve the performance, but the human factor always will remain the most important (and mysterious) part.

      February 2, 2013 at 8:47 am
  • John Duval

    Contemporary builders working with steel (with an arguably retro look, but not really) are raising the bar of bike design every year, far above purely vintage. But of all the bikes I have ever owned, the most workman like ones pleased me most, while it was the dream bikes that always wound up hanging in the garage.
    My own ride is contemporary (ultra stiff Al, CF forks, brifters, LEDs, etc) with a touch of vintage (rando bars, leather saddle, Cypres tires, Al fenders, handlebar bag). I often find myself keeping pace with carbon wonder bikes, with their riders baffled that I can hang with them on such a bike: “I have never seen a bike like that before”.
    Of course they feel obliged to instruct me on getting a proper bike, to use small high pressure tires etc. so it will be “easier”. I see no point in trying to correct them, or point out I have heard it, done it, rejected it, longer than they have been on the earth. In LA, vintage means hip, carbon and logos mean “cyclist”, leaving me in no mans land. Consequently I mostly ride alone.

    February 2, 2013 at 10:13 am
    • Matthew J

      Leather saddles are one item for me at least that are better in all respects (at least for male riders) than whatever the latest and greatest might be.
      I am vegetarian and do not even wear leather shoes or belts. But I have Berthoud saddles on all my bikes because the only viable alternative for me would be to walk.
      Even wearing padded shorts I have found no synthetic saddle that does not become a torture device after a few miles. On the other hand, I rode a four day tour last summer on a brand spanking new Berthoud with no pads and no discomfort.

      February 3, 2013 at 5:18 am
    • Robert

      The cyclists in my part of the world (southern Ontario) are also deeply traditional, so if you do the work, take your turns at the front, hold your line, keep up, and don’t whine, you’re ok pretty much whatever you ride. That said, most of my group rides CF and Alu, and for the first couple of years they looked quizzically at my 73 Follis, my 76 Motobecane Champion Team, my 74 Colnago Super, and 76 Kessels, among other exotica. Now that they know I can hang (and indeed lead), all is good. The real revelation came the first time I showed up on a rainy, miserable day with a full fendered bike, and they all were competing to ride behind me! This requires no explanation on this blog. Some have tiptoed in with zip tied mtb fenders attached to seat posts (LOL), but as Jan pointed out in his previous post, a racing bike with super tight clearances has no room for fenders. To me this is one of the great advantages of vintage steel. All the above mentioned bikes can handle fenders, though only the Follis has eyelets, and they are all just as fast as any modern bike. (Admittedly, we have no mountains here, so I won’t make any claims about climbing, except to say mountains are about fitness, not grams). I have my Colnago set up now as fixed gear winter bike, as it’s seen better days, and with p-clamps it works great with a narrow set of fenders. Classic, timeless, on-topic, whatever. It’s absolutely the right tool for the job, and of late my boys with their CF bikes have been asking me if I can score them a similar set up from among my contacts. Their brains are only slightly less thick than their bottom brackets after all!

      February 3, 2013 at 6:51 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        It never ceases to amaze me that many cyclists judge a rider by their bike, rather than by their form on the bike. After all, it’s pretty easy to see whether somebody rides their bike well, or whether they just spent money to “look pro.”

        February 3, 2013 at 7:28 am
      • Fred Blasdel

        They can always get a second judgement in after you ride away from them 🙂

        February 3, 2013 at 5:09 pm
  • lk

    Hi Jan,
    You enjoy downtube shifters for their lightweight and simplicity. What do you think of bar end shifters? They are classic, simple, and mechanically similar to downtube shifters. I would be interested to know your thoughts in comparing them.

    February 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We discussed modern shifters in the last issue of Bicycle Quarterly. A future installment of the series will look at downtube shifters, bar-ends and also internally-geared hubs. There are a lot of pros and cons for each system that would go beyond the scope of this forum.

      February 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm
  • twowheelrambling

    Am I retro?
    Unabashedly YES. But only because the type of riding I like to do demands a ‘retro’ bike. In my case, I ride brevets and populaires with the BC Randonneurs. So I want a bike that can carry a handle bar bag on a small front rack, that was designed to accommodate fenders and that can run fat tires for comfort. In my case I believe in the benefits of 650B wheels and a generator hub with lights.
    So – try putting the combination of my needs with a modern bicycle made by a major company. It does not exist. Even bikes made by smaller manufacturers don’t really meet all my needs.
    In the end I bought a 1950’s porteur bike, built in 2009, called a Velo Orange Polyvalent. Granted the price of $450 for a full steel frame was a large factor, but it is a great bike. Kitted out with a leather saddle, bar end shifters and canti brakes (as well as fenders etc) it makes for an interesting counterpoint to the latest and greatest CF at local club rides. Until I pull away from them on nearly every descent and out corner them at roundabouts and on rough roads.
    Retro? Yes, but like Jan, only because my bike was built for a purpose and in my opinion the performance of this bike suits my needs.

    February 3, 2013 at 10:03 am
  • Carl

    I think that any good “tech” works very well if you train to optimize its usage. The body adapts to the challenge (indeed, only up to a point, but adaptation does occur), and enables achievements that would not be easily expected.
    I made my actual bicycle from Spirit for lugs, steel, and I use it fixed gear for all my randonneuring. The funniest thing about it? All my brevets are done along multi-speed road bikes, and more often than not, I am usually at the head of the cohort, cuting through the winds and the multi-speeds are behind. Yet, I am not exceptional, not at all.
    That reminds me of Drew Buck, on last PBP, riding with a 100 year old bike that weighed about a ton.
    Retro? Sure. And it sure worked very well on top of that.

    February 3, 2013 at 1:42 pm
    • Greg

      Drew’s bike is awesome! (And it may not weigh a ton – bikes back then were rather expensive status symbols / vehicles, and were in some cases sub-twenty-pounds). 89 hours is not superfast, though. Jan’s best time is, what, about 49 hours? Quite impressive, in both cases, though!

      February 3, 2013 at 11:08 pm
  • Ford Kanzler

    For those who are dismissive of prior cycling technology, I’d offer they’re ignorant of what has been lost in attempts at bike marketing to sell that which isn’t particularly needed but merely different. Perhaps you’re somewhat retro (or) you’re rediscovering and promoting a form of cycling and the associated equipment that has been ignored in the rush by bike marketers to make everything about racing, in the process “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

    February 4, 2013 at 3:10 pm
  • ascpgh

    I read this Sunday morning and there I sat in the cold kitchen, warming as the oven baked, wearing Munson-lasted leather boots and merino wool socks on my feet, lined 10 oz duck cloth work pants, a Smartwool crew under a sweatshirt and a wool cap. I identify that aside from my bicycle tendencies, I am retro. In a complex tally of pros and cons my picks are not weighted to newest or oldest.
    Long ago I sold bikes including Bridgestone, so I probably qualify since I picked them for what they were rather than what their market penetration represented, that was my job. My customers were more informed than average and took little guidance to appreciate those bikes. I bought one of Grant’s RBW bikes for myself in 2002 when I had a need and was out of the business. I found myself favoring things that work well, do so for an extended period without addition of detrimental scalars and offer plan B function. I remember holding the the Beryllium frame at Interbike and after informing myself about the metal and difficulty working with it, wondered how many Chinese fabricators would die early from working with this this material if it caught on. Not good technology, no matter how well it rode or how light it could be.
    Mostly I gained an appreciation of the vast body of knowledge that exists from the pioneers and giants of cycling such as Herse, Singer, and anyone else whose focus lead to improvements in the total understanding of the bicycle. As a distinct specialty goods market, bicycling is a pretty small volume industry, and at the high end where consumers and builders (BQ readership soundly implied) have a strong grasp on this information is a commensurately smaller slice from the total. This elite marketplace, unlike Tour de France racers, represents so small an economy that investment in technology to apply here has everything businesses should avoid: steep learning curve, small profit potential and a pretty strict intolerance of failure to perform.
    When technology from an outside industry is projected into cycling I am skeptical because it is usually an advancement for the purpose of opening another outlet for the material or technology, not because it has a natural place and benefit in the body of cycling knowledge. Whether or not it has any real benefit in its cycling application becomes something the market and early adopters have to beta test. So went that Beryllium frame idea.
    I sit here wondering if the monocoque CF frame paradigm took the lid off of such a great volume of design, material and fabrication variables that the potential marketplace could not return the cost of research and testing necessary to fully dimension all of the scalars, removing the accidental and uncontrollable attributes.
    I appreciate bicycle technology when advanced by bicyclists and bike builders. The body of cycling information is an onerous one to comprehend and many riders fade from participating in the activity before they have digested and understood much of it. When something works well it is going to take more than light, faster, cheaper to overcome its high water mark. Perhaps this sense of caution leaves me as “retro” to the shallow. That’s fine because the result is a more enjoyable ride for me.

    February 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm
  • ddsheehan2013

    Soon after I bought my steel Independent Fabrication Club Racer in 2007, I rode with a collegiate club. One of the racers looked at my IF and called it retro. I don’t think he every saw a new frame with such small tubing.

    February 6, 2013 at 3:22 am
    • Rod Bruckdorfer

      I got a good laugh from your comment about retro – thanks.

      February 6, 2013 at 6:10 am
  • tim lemon

    Hi Jan,
    Off topic, could you tell my what travel case you use for your Ren’e? Maybe even a column about what to look for in case. I’m planning a trip to Moscow Id for june to bike with a friend.

    February 6, 2013 at 7:42 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I have taken my Rene Herse on an airplane only once (PBP 2011). I used an old Pedal Pack case, and the Rene Herse fits perfectly with the fenders and rack attached – I just remove the entire fork. On the Herse, that is easy because there is no lighting wire running between frame and fork. Instead, the current to the taillight gets transmitted by a carbon brush inside the head tube. Disassembly and reassembly each take less than 30 minutes, and could be accomplished in half the time if I was in a rush.
      You’ll find details and photos the article in the Summer 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly (Vol. 10, No. 4). Unfortunately, the case no longer is available new, but you might find one used somewhere.

      February 6, 2013 at 8:09 am
    • Rod Bruckdorfer

      If you belong to a bike club, the club my have travel cases they rent to their members.

      February 6, 2013 at 8:54 am

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