During a recent trip to Japan, we saw a beautiful book about steel road bikes, published by our friends at Bicycle Club magazine. The cover bike may look familiar to Bicycle Quarterly readers – it’s part of a famous Japanese collection that we featured a few years back. Many consider this bike, built by Toshio Kajiwara, the zenith of Japanese framebuilding – simple and understated, but beautifully crafted.
After a remarkable run over 15 years, our first book, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, is now out of print. Published in 2005, The Golden Age was at the start of our fascination with the French constructeurs. It made Rene Herse and Alex Singer household names. If cyclists today admire beautiful fender lines and fully integrated bicycles, it’s in part because of this book.
The Golden Age became a best-seller almost overnight, and our first edition sold out quickly. We published a second edition with Rizzoli, which ensured even wider distribution.
In the history of derailleurs, Huret is an often-overlooked. The French company cannot lay claim to big innovations like Campagnolo (first parallelogram racing derailleur), Simplex (first spring-loaded upper pivot to compensate for front shifts) or SunTour (slant parallelogram). And yet Huret’s derailleurs were innovative in their own ways.
Hideki Sasaki has added a new books on Huret to his “Derailleurs of the World” series. These books are the most complete catalogues of classic derailleurs. Every derailleur is shown in photos, with dates and a few specs.
On 107 pages, the book describes every derailleur Huret made from 1930 until the company, by then owned by the German component maker Sachs, was taken over by SRAM in 1997, and derailleur manufacture in Europe ceased.
Huret’s first racing derailleurs were unremarkable ‘plunger-type’ items, but when the company branched out into cyclotouring derailleurs, it showed that it was capable of lateral thinking (above): The ultra-light Route Touriste Leger was made from aluminum and used spring wire for the derailleur mounts and cages. How light was it? 173 g – lighter than any long-cage derailleur available today.
The innovation continued with the 1958 Allvit, which was the first drop-out mounted derailleur that featured a constant chain gap – achieved by suspending the parallelogram from the bottom of a steel arm that mounted to the dropout. A few years later, the Allvit directly inspired SunTour’s slant parallelogram derailleurs.
During this time, Huret’s derailleurs were considered the best-shifting and most durable derailleurs for the wide gear ranges. Both René Herse and Alex Singer equipped most of their bikes with the Allvit, Luxe and superlight Jubilee derailleurs that remained in the program for 35 years.
All of Huret’s later derailleurs were very light – even unassuming models like the Challenger weighed a scant 170 g. And then there were the titanium versions…
My favorite is the Duopar – a tour de force with a secondary parallelogram that moved automatically, pulled by the chain tension, to keep the jockey pulley at the perfect distance from the freewheel cog, no matter what size freewheel you used. It was pure genius, and the story goes that Shimano formed an entire team of engineers whose job it was to equal the Duopar. Little did they know that the idea had been pioneered by Schulz’s Funiculo in the 1930s, and Huret’s patent probably could have been challenged. Unfortunately, the Japanese text in Sasaki’s book covers only the details of the derailleurs, not the story behind them, so even Japanese speakers never learn whether Huret’s engineers were aware of the Funiculo, or whether they independently came up with the same idea.
As with all of Sasaki’s books, Huret is very detailed: Every iteration of each derailleur is listed. What struck me was that compared to Sasaki’s books on Campagnolo, Simplex and SunTour, there were relatively few iterations for each Huret model. It appears that Huret only introduced derailleurs after thorough testing, and avoiding the need for immediate changes to improve their function and/or reliability.
The book includes front derailleurs and shift levers, including the fascinating ‘Louison Bobet’ models with a secondary lever for adjusting the chain tension.
These books are a labor of love. They are printed on heavy coated stock. The photos may not have the sparkle of the best professional studio images, but they are clear and informative. The descriptions are brief, and unfortunately for most of us, they are in Japanese. Yet the important details are easy to figure out: model number, weight, production dates, and price in Yen.
These books are printed in very small quantities and are difficult to find outside Japan. We are placing a one-time order with Hideo Sasaki. In addition to the new Huret book, he has a few of the earlier volumes.
If you would like a copy, pre-order it by April 29. We won’t stock these books, so please order now if you would like one. The books will be shipped in late May/early June.
Click on the links to order:
- Huret, 108 pages, $ 68
- Campagnolo (above), 100 pages, $ 68
- Simplex, 117 pages, $ 68
- SunTour, 2 volumes, 208 pages, $ 95
Lyli Herse would have turned 90 years old today (January 6) – and this post was written to celebrate her life that has inspired so many of us. But alas, I have to report instead that Lyli died on Thursday after a very short illness. Despite the great sadness of losing her, let’s celebrate her anyway, because that is what she would have wanted.
Until just a few days ago, she remained healthy and happy, living with her dog in the house built by her father, the famous constructeur René Herse, near the finish line of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race. These two elements – her father’s bikes and cycling competition – were the defining elements of Lyli’s life.
Lyli first entered top-tier competition at the tender age of 16 years, when she raced in the 1944 Poly hillclimb race, which had categories for professional racers, randonneurs and mixed tandems. She told me: “Some people said that I was too young to compete… The famous Docteur Ruffier gave me a medical exam before and after the Poly.” Her heart rate actually was lower after the race, because she had been so nervous before the event! Partnering with Simon Feuillie, she placed fourth against many strong teams.
It was in the Poly where Lyli made her mark. For nine years, from 1948 until 1956, she was unbeatable in this tough event. Except when the team crashed in the sharp turn at the bottom of the ultra-fast descent… Lyli broke her collarbone, but that didn’t prevent them from finishing the race – only to be disqualified because their rear fender had broken in the crash. Lyli recalled: “My father then designed his fender reinforcement. He didn’t want that problem to happen again!”
She had many memories from that event: “My best captain was Prestat. He worked as a porteur de presse [newspaper courier]. One year, we set the fastest lap of the day, ahead of the professional racers.” The photo above shows her and Prestat during that record-setting ride, climbing the 14% grade smoothly with a single 46-tooth chainring on the front. And they never even used their largest (22-tooth) cog on the rear!
In 1955, Jean Lheuillot was organizing the first Tour de France Féminin, and he wanted Lyli to be part of the international field. It took some persuading, but he didn’t regret the effort: Lyli won two stages and wore the leader’s jersey for much of the race, before finally finishing fourth overall against accomplished riders like the British stars Beryl French and Millie Robinson. Despite her success, Lyli longed for her days as a cyclotourist: “I always felt more at home with the cyclos. The cutthroat competition of racing wasn’t to my liking.”
The best way to stay out of the fray was to ride off the front, which she did with much success, winning no fewer than eight French championships. She wanted to retire in 1966, but she placed third in that year’s championships. She recalled: “I didn’t want to stop racing after a defeat. […] So I said: ‘Papa, I’d like to give it another try.’ Papa had to make some sacrifices to give me more free time for training and such. That year, I won.”
Just before Lyli retired from racing, a few young women asked her if she could coach them. Lyli formed a team that was sponsored by her father. One of the racers, Geneviève Gambillon, told me, “Lyli was a tough master.” Lyli confirmed: “I told them, ‘Training for me starts at 5 o’clock in the morning, because I have to go to the shop afterward.'”
When Gambillon complained about the hard workouts, Lyli told her, “I am 18 years older than you, and I am riding with you, not following in a car behind. If I can do it, so can you!” Lyli’s methods were questioned by the French Cycling Federation, but they brought results: Gambillon won two world championships and more than 20 French championships on road and track.
All her adult life, Lyli worked in her father’s shop, shown above in 1962 with Lyli’s first five French championship victories proudly listed on the window. As a teenager, she rode across Paris to pick up parts from distributors. Then she learned to build wheels, and from then on, she was responsible for this important part of the magical bikes her father created. She also ran the shop and distributed Velosolex mopeds on the side to augment the meagre bike sales during the difficult years of the 1960s, when most French dreamed of a car, and not a custom bicycle.
When her father died in 1976, followed a few years later by her mother, she took over. She married Herse’s master framebuilder, Jean Desbois, and together they kept the shop running until 1986. When the word spread that Cycles René Herse was closing, many customers placed orders for one more bike. Lyli and her husband worked for two more years out of the garage of their house until all the orders were filled, and they finally could retire.
I first met Lyli after riding a 1946 René Herse tandem in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris. She was delighted that we had continued the legacy she had worked so hard to build. As I visited her many times during the research for my book on her father and his bikes, we became friends, and she asked me to carry the René Herse name forward. I learned a lot from her and her late husband about the machines her father built. We organized annual reunions with the old riders of her father’s team, who also had much information to share.
Five years ago, to celebrate her 85th birthday, Lyli asked to ride one more lap of the Poly. We found a René Herse tandem, and I had the honor to pilot her around the course together with a number of riders from her father’s team. I was apprehensive about climbing the famous 14% hill on a tandem with an 85-year-old lady, but Lyli had trained by riding thousands of kilometers on her stationary bike.
On the climb, we dropped all the others, except my friend Christophe, who had been an strong amateur racer. And even he had to work hard to keep up. The slack upper connecting chain in the photo above says it all: Lyli was contributing more than her share of the power. 14% climbs have rarely felt so easy, and I suddenly could almost imagine how, 55 years earlier, she had ridden eight laps of this difficult course at an average speed of 35 km/h (22 mph).
Lyli continued to train every day, and she kept a log of every ride. When I called her on the phone, she often was out of breath: “Excuse me – I was training,” she explained. Always the champion, she wasn’t slowing down even as she approached the age of 90.
I had hoped to go for another tandem ride with her during my next visit – above a ride we took on our René Herse tandem two summers ago. Now Lyli is gone, but she’ll continue to inspire us!
At Compass Cycles, we have taken much of our inspiration from René Herse and his legendary bikes. In the past, we’ve talked about the great performance and incredible reliability of Herse’s bikes, but what is even more striking is their beauty. You notice it immediately when you look at one of his bikes, or even a photo… but it took much study to unlock the secrets of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ (Levallois was the suburb of Paris where Herse made his bikes.)
Herse’s bikes don’t derive their beauty from complex lug shapes, but from their simplicity. It was Hiroshi Hagiwara, the maker of the Japanese Alps bicycles, who said in a recent Bicycle Quarterly interview: “A bicycle is a frame with two wheels. Everything else is a distraction.” When I thought about this while looking at a René Herse bike, I realized that Herse’s genius was to turn these distractions into assets that make the bike more beautiful.
The most obvious one are the fenders (above): They follow the outline of the wheel so gracefully that they enhance the bike to the point where the same bike without fenders would look naked.
Herse masterfully joined the frame and wheels: Herse’s custom-made dropouts place the wheel centers in the prolongation of the stays and fork blades. That way, the wheels are centered in the end points of the frame, which ties the whole bike together. As an added benefit, this allows the dropouts to be smaller, stiffer and lighter.
Other things are harder to notice: The two arms of the custom-made hanger for the Cyclo derailleur line up perfectly behind each other. This is very difficult to do, since the chainstays are angled upward and outward, and the two arms have to be bent very precisely to very different curves. It adds to the beauty of the bike, even if it’s not immediately apparent.
The brake cables are truly parallel to the head tube and seatstays. That way, they don’t distract from the frame, but underline the straightness of the tubes.
Herse considered the proportions of the frame beyond the simple question of frame fit. The tandem we rode in France last summer has twin lateral stays, but they don’t just line up whichever way. Herse subtly adjusted the frame’s dimensions so that the lateral stays are parallel, and the balanced sizes of triangles they form further adds to the attractiveness of the frame.
Herse’s genius was to achieve this with bikes that also fit their riders perfectly. Because all this magic wouldn’t mean much if it detracted from the ride.
The opposite is the case. For René Herse bikes, the old adage that “What looks right usually is right” really holds true. His bikes and tandems ride wonderfully.
The beauty of Herse’s bikes makes it easy to forget that they were not intended as showpieces – they were designed to be ridden hard. Herse’s background reveals much about his thinking: He worked on prototype aircraft before he started making bicycle components and then bicycles. His aircraft experience shows in details like the custom screws: During the early 20th century, there were no universal specifications for bolts. Airplane makers made their own bolts, and to make sure that only correct bolts were used, each maker gave their bolt heads a distinctive shape. That way, a mechanic could immediately see if a bolt had been replaced with an incorrect one of suspicious quality. René Herse’s distinctive bolts for stems and seatpost binder have triangular heads that trace their origins to this practice.
Elegance and function also are combined in his lighting systems. The most important part of the photo above is what you don’t see: lighting wires. They run inside the rack, inside the fenders, and inside the frame tubes. Even where the current needs to be transmitted from the fork to the frame, there is no external wire: An insulated carbon brush on the steerer tube mates with an insulated brass ring inside the head tube, transmitting the current while allowing the fork to turn freely. Eliminating exposed wires not only is more elegant, but it also reduces the risk of wires getting snagged or breaking from being moved time and again.
The beauty of René Herse goes beyond the frames. After all, Herse started as a maker of components, and only began making complete bikes during World War II, perhaps because it was difficult to sell components without bikes onto which to put them. Herse’s components, whether his brakes (above), cranks or stems, combined superlight weight with superb performance.
Often overlooked are small details, like his double-ended bolts for attaching the rack to the brake pivots. Many builder simply use the brake bolt to hold the rack tab as well, but this brings the risk that the bolt works loose. Herse’s solution is more elegant: His brake bolt has a forward extension onto which the rack mounts with a nut. It will never work loose. You’d expect no less from an airplane builder: If a bolt loosens in mid-air, you can’t just stop and tighten it!
Despite all their elegance, René Herse’s bikes have a certain handmade quality. It’s obvious that the lugs and stem were shaped by hand. A lot of modern builders make bikes that look more crisp and uniform. At first, I thought that this was because René Herse bikes were made in significant numbers – up to 350 left the workshop during the best years – and corners had to be cut. But René Herse’s hand-lettered logo indicates that the handmade aesthetic was intentional. Herse could easily have ordered decals, but instead, every frame was hand-lettered by a sign painter. Like great pottery, Herse’s bikes look handmade without appearing crude or unfinished. In my opinion, that makes them works of art.
For the complete story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders, read our 424-page book on the ‘magician of Levallois,’ lavishly illustrated with studio photos of his bikes and historic photos from the Herse family archives. We still have a few copies of the Limited Edition (with a slipcase and art prints of four unpublished photographs from the René Herse Archives), or the ‘standard’ edition at a more affordable price (also available in French). Click here for more information.
Two of my favorite images from the book are available as large-format, ready-to-frame Limited Edition posters. Hang them on your wall and be inspired every time you look at them. Click here to order our set.
And if you haven’t seen our video of a René Herse tandem in action, click here.
To make the wonderful story of René Herse available to a larger audience, we’ve decided to list our book René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders on Amazon.com. The story has inspired our readers. René Herse is fascinating not just because of the amazing bikes he built. At least as inspiring are the riders who rode them: impeccably turned-out cyclotourists, randonneurs in search of personal bests, racers who rode Herse frames to victories and championships…
Many were larger-than-life characters, and their first-hand accounts and photos in the book really bring the story to life. It’s been fascinating how every reader discovers their very personal connection. A friend’s wife commented how she loved the book for the clothing the riders wear. Another friend enjoyed studying the facial expressions of the riders, whether it’s a smile as they ride by the camera or the look of intense concentration as they battle for victory on the 14% hill of the Poly de Chanteloup. And of course, the bikes also are spectacular…
Since you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you’ve read the book already. So perhaps you’ll consider writing a review on the Amazon page, if you enjoy that kind of thing. Our biggest challenge has been to convince readers that they’ll enjoy the story. Too many think a book about René Herse must be intended for collectors, when it’s actually written for a much larger audience – anybody who enjoys an inspirational story.
Constance Winters wrote on the Lovely Bicycle blog:
“I am stunned by the Rene Herse book. I cannot put it down. This book is much more than I expected. The amount of work you must have done to do this research and put together this narrative, with all the photos and illustrations… Just amazing.”
If you don’t have the René Herse book yet, it’s a great thing to put on your holiday wish list!
Click on the links for
We recently decided not to reprint Bicycle Quarterly back issues any longer. In the past, we’ve reprinted issues as they sold out, because we wanted to keep the great content available: amazing bike builders like Alex Singer, Charlie Cunningham, Jack Taylor, Reyhand, Hetchins, Charrel; the incredible French technical trials; original technical research that has revolutionized our understanding of bicycle tires.
The historic photos, but also the great adventures and bike tests, have inspired many cyclists. It’s been rewarding to see readers on social media who’ve ridden to Babyshoe Pass, Bon Jon Pass, Naches Pass (above) and even Rat Trap Pass.
With more than 3600 pages, the back issues of Bicycle Quarterly contain a huge amount of information, of stories, of photos… To make it easy to find your way around, we’ve put the complete table of contents of all issues on the Compass Cycles web site. It’s easy to search and find that article you are looking for. It also helps you to select the issues you want to order. Or simply buy them all, by taking advantage of the special price for issues 1-50.
With 58 issues published so far, it’s simply too much to keep every single magazine in stock at all times. For most issues, we still have good supplies – it’s not like all this content will go away overnight. But some issues are running low (that is why we had to make a decision), and when they are gone, you’ll have to hunt for them in Used Book stores and on eBay…
Another publication that will be sold out soon is the Limited Edition of our René Herse book. The René Herse book (also available in a “standard” edition) has been exceedingly popular, with more than 1300 copies sold. This isn’t a book for collectors, but a fascinating story of a time when cycling was a way of life. The bikes, as beautiful as they are, provide only the backdrop for the adventures and friendships that they made possible.
The 150 copies of the Limited Edition come in a beautiful slipcase with four otherwise unpublished, ready-to-frame art quality prints of amazing photos from the René Herse archives. You see Lyli Herse with Robert Prestat in full flight as they dominated the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race, a young Yves Cohen shifting the lever-operated front derailleur of his René Herse, riders on the Herse team during the 1950s, and Lyli with friends posing during the 1940s.
If you love beautiful books (or are a fan of René Herse), the Limited Edition is the final touch on what many consider the most amazing cycling book ever published. (It’s amazing because of the incredible photo collection of the Herse family that made this book possible.) The standard version (without the slip case and special photos) is a wonderful book in its own right – the contents are the same, of course.
So if you’ve been thinking about getting the book or some Bicycle Quarterly back issues…
Click on the links below for more information:
- Bicycle Quarterly back issues.
- Our books, including the Standard and Limited Editions of the René Herse book.
- Complete table of contents of all Bicycle Quarterlies.
Many Bicycle Quarterly readers wrote to tell us how much they enjoyed Takayuki Nishiyama’s in-depth article about SunTour in the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly (above). SunTour was one of the world’s most innovative component makers, yet little has been written about this company. SunTour went out of business in the 1990s, but the company still is fondly remembered by many cyclists today.
Now Hideki Sasaki has added new books on SunTour to his “Derailleurs of the World” series. These books are the most complete catalogues of classic derailleurs. Every derailleur is shown in photos, with dates and a few specs. His latest work on SunTour is a real tour de force. SunTour was so prolific that their derailleurs require two volumes! Of course, front derailleurs and shift levers are included as well.
Paging through these volumes reminds me of SunTour’s genius and, sometimes, madness. Their first derailleurs were straight copies of the same Huret derailleurs that René Herse used on his bikes. Even though they were made from stamped steel, their quality was excellent. For the wider gear ranges of cyclotouring bikes, they worked better than most other derailleurs. Junzo Kawai, SunTour’s charismatic chairman, had decided that if he was to copy, he should copy the best.
The copying lasted only for a few years, before SunTour improved on the originals with its immortal slant parallelogram. This solved the problems of inconsistent chain gap that had bedeviled derailleur makers ever since they had started to attach parallelogram derailleurs to the dropout instead of the chainstay. Even today, all modern derailleurs for multiple chainrings use a slant parallelogram. The SunTour book shows a few fascinating prototypes, including one made from folded sheetmetal (above).
The slant parallelogram was pure genius, but what about the adjustable cage length of some models? Perhaps it was intended for riders who wanted to use a straight block one day, and mountain gearing the next? Swap your freewheel, adjust the cage length, add a few links to the chain, and off you go! Genius or madness?
Sasaki’s book are very detailed: The classic Cyclone derailleur that took the American market by storm during the bike boom is shown in no fewer than 18 variations. With its slant parallelogram, it handled wide-range gearing better than all other derailleurs of the time, yet it was inexpensive, simple and reliable.
SunTour was one of the first companies to offer mountain bike derailleurs. The Mountech GTL was SunTour’s answer to the Huret Duopar, with a third pivot that kept the chain gap constant on wide-range freewheels.
Paging through the book, I learned that the Superbe Pro rear derailleur on my bike (the Mule) is one of the last, made from 1986 until 1994. It sold for the equivalent of $ 120 in Japan – three times the price of the less expensive models.
I was amazed that the immortal Power Ratchet bar-end shifters remained unchanged from 1972 until 1985. I expected at least half a dozen iterations, but there is just one entry (above in the middle). Why change what works so well? If only SunTour had applied that lesson to their other products! Perhaps this much-missed component maker would still be with us.
The photos may not have the sparkle of the best professional studio images, but they are clear and informative.The descriptions are brief, and unfortunately for most of us, they are in Japanese. Yet the important details are easy to figure out: model number, weight, dates made, and price in Yen. We can marvel at the sheer variety of SunTour’s output, but without knowing what makes them so special, it can be hard to appreciate them. Fortunately, after having read Takayuki Nishiyama’s Bicycle Quarterly article, I recognized many derailleurs, and I was able to fit many of the derailleurs in the new book into their context. That way, SunTour’s fascinating story emerged in ever-more detail.
The “Derailleurs of the World” series now has three titles:
These books are printed in very small quantities and are difficult to find outside Japan. We are placing a one-time order for the SunTour book, as well as the earlier volumes on Simplex and Campagnolo. If you would like a copy, pre-order it by October 20. We won’t stock these books, so please order now if you want one. The books will be shipped in November.
- Compass Bookstore for ordering the Derailleurs of the World books.
- Bicycle Quarterly 56 features Takayuki Nishiyama’s article on the history of Suntour.
- Bicycle Quarterly 45 explains how SunTour PowerRatchet and Simplex Retrofriction work, with great drawings by George Retseck (above).
We recently received the French edition of our book The Competition Bicycle. It’s exciting to see our work translated into languages beyond English – after the German edition, there now is a French one.
Our French publisher, Éditions Vigot, did a great job with this book. It was printed by their favorite printer in France, and the quality of the photo reproduction is one of the best I have seen anywhere.
The bikes – like this one from the Paris newspaper courier races – really come to life. If you expected only racing bikes, you’ll be surprised, since we tried to cover the many different areas of competition on bicycles, including Paris-Brest-Paris, mountain biking and the Race Across America, in addition to better-known events like the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, world championships and hour records.
The bikes were selected not only for their competition history, but also for the technical innovations they brought to bicycles. For example, the 1930s Delangle track bike (above) also was one of the first machines made from Reynolds 531 tubing. Lightweight, thinwall frame tubing revolutionized how bikes ride and perform.
Editions Vigot spent a lot of time on the translation, and we double-checked it. That way, the history of how bicycles evolved from highwheelers with solid tires to modern machines with carbon-fiber disc wheels was rendered correctly and vividly.
In France, the books is available from all bookstores. At Compass Bicycles, we also have a small quantity in stock. Click here for more information or to order the French edition.
Click here for information about the English edition.
Books about bicycle history and classic bikes are easily misunderstood: Are they intended for bicycle collectors? Do you need to be an aficionado of René Herse to enjoy reading about him and his riders? Our books are written for readers who want to learn from and be inspired by cyclists passionate about our sport. It really is that simple, and it has little to do with the difference between first- and second-generation Huret Allvit derailleurs.
Of course, I am not opposed to collecting bicycles and bike parts. Without collectors, we’d have little information on how past bicycles were built and how they ride. Collectors have helped us make our books, because they saw a larger purpose in their collections. Old bikes can provide windows into a past that still has the power to inspire us. In other words, our books are less about the bikes than about the stories they tell:
Our first book, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, features 50 of the most amazing bicycles ever built. Of course, amazing bikes come with amazing stories. Stories of rides so far out of the ordinary that they required extraordinary bikes. Stories of builders whose passion for the open road made them perfect their machines to a point that no longer was commercially reasonable. And stories of riders who loved riding so much that their exploits matched the exceptional bikes they rode.
We take you alongside Vélocio on the mountain passes that early-1900s racers considered insurmountable. Vélocio rigged up dual drivetrains, so that he could use one for the up-, the other for the downhills. Peek into the world of André Reiss, the builder of the amazing Reyhand bikes, who almost single-handedly invented the modern constructeur bike in the 1930s. See Alex and Maria Singer, dressed oh-so-stylishly, during a spirited winter ride in post-war Paris. Witness Jean Dejeans and Paulette Porthault flying during the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race (above).
Collectors also enjoy The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, since we made sure that each of the 50 bikes shown is as close as possible to its original specification (and we list parts that aren’t in an appendix). But to me, the passion of these bikes is not about their rarity or their individual components. It’s about the rides and friendships they inspired.
For our second book, we turned our attention to Competition Bicycles, but again, it’s not a book intended only for fans of racing bikes. The bikes tell stories of human adventures, like the contrast between Gino Bartali’s bike for the 1949 Tour de France – still stuck in the 1930s with long-trail geometry and a derailleur that only touched the chain when he shifted (below) – and Fausto Coppi’s machine for the same race, a thoroughly modern Bianchi that used derailleurs as we know them today. The bikes reflected these racers’ world-views. Examining them in detail, I understood why Italy was split between the urbane, modern fans of Coppi and the traditionalists who were devoted to Bartali. Most of the bikes in the book tell equally fascinating stories, having been ridden by famous champions.
The Competition Bicycle shows how modern performance bikes developed, from racing high-wheelers to Tony Rominger’s lugged steel Colnago hour record bike (which bridged the gap to the modern age with its carbon-fiber disc wheels). Competition is not limited to racing bikes, and some of the most captivating machines were built for the races of the Paris newspaper couriers, for mountain biking (Jacquie Phelan’s Cunningham), for the first Race Across America (with the then-fashionable aero components), and for Paris-Brest-Paris (which was a competition during the 1950s). Assembling and curating the incredibly rare machines for The Competition Bicycle was one of the biggest projects I’ve ever undertaken, but I think it was worth the effort.
Our biggest tome so far has been been René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders. Again, some Herse aficionados were a bit disappointed, because we don’t dwell on when Herse went from pressed-in stem caps to screwed-in ones. Instead, the photos and text convey the passion that Herse and his riders felt not so much for their bikes, as exquisite as they were, but for the rides that these machines made possible.
Randonneuring, touring, or competitions like the Poly de Chanteloup (above) – for these riders, cycling was not just a pastime, it was a way of life.
Even the studio photos of the most amazing Herse bikes are not just for collectors. Anybody who enjoys beautiful bicycles will marvel at the elegant design and flawless execution of the machines made by the “magician of Levallois”.
It’s been especially gratifying that some of the most positive comments have come from readers who are anything but collectors. A friend’s wife enjoyed the book because of the stylish cycling clothes these riders wore. Others loved the tandeming couples shown in the historic photos.
Constance Winters summed it up in her blog, Lovely Bicycle:
“Although normally I am a fast reader, it took me weeks to get through René Herse. Not because it was hard-going (quite the opposite), but because it made me strangely excitable. In the process of reading it, I was given to sudden urges to jump up and pace the room at random. Other sections forced me to pause and mull over the information, even take notes. Far from a dry academic volume, it is a book that is thoroughly alive – bursting with stories, information and ideas.
“Nevertheless, if you are not the bookish type, be assured that it gives satisfaction also as a picture-book. The photos [are] as stunning in their variety as they are in their narrative qualities.”
You can read her full review here. “Bursting with stories, information and ideas” – I am happy that Constance was touched by the René Herse book in the same way as I was when I researched this amazing story.
Some day, I want to write a René Herse book for collectors. There is a wonderful story there, too, as Herse refined his bicycles in every detail until they were (almost) unimprovable. From Herse’s archives, we can trace which employee was building the frames during each period. We have good estimates of how many bikes Herse built each year. The different catalogues, order forms and other correspondence have an aesthetic quality that matches that of the bikes. It’ll be a neat book, but until then, we hope that all readers enjoy the passionate story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders. This story has little to do with bicycle collecting – it’s all about the beauty and joy that cycling brings to our lives. I hope it will inspire future generations as much as it has inspired me!
Click here for more information about our books.
This year’s PBP saw a significant number of riders on Compass tires. Of course, we (Jan, Theo, Hahn) rode them, too, but it’s always nice to hear from others how our products are doing.
J. O. from Vancouver, B.C., and his wife rode a tandem. We gave them our samples of the Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ tires, which were hand-delivered to the bike check the day before the start (above). Putting on new tires just before the big ride takes confidence, but these riders were not disappointed:
“The Compass Rat Trap Pass tires were an immediate upgrade in terms of comfort. Cobbles and chip seal went from being a jarring distraction and energy sink to a slightly noticeable background hum. My wife noticed and appreciated the extra comfort the Rat Trap Pass tires provided, and she doesn’t want to go back to other tires, either.”
It’s always fun to see old friends at PBP. I’ve known Melinda Lyon from Boston (above) for many years, and for this year’s PBP, she was on the new Elk Pass 26″ x 1.25″ tires. Her report:
“I loved the tires. They really feel smooth even on the chipseal roads of France. No flats, no problems. Incidentally I seemed to have less shoulder, back problems and less of a sore butt than previous years but there were some other variables to that. On downhills, I felt like I was flying and catching heavier riders just with the tires rolling so well.”
There were others who provided unsolicited feedback:
“I’ve been riding Barlow Pass tires all summer. No flats! Put on a new set for PBP. No flats, no hand numbness, no saddle sores. I credit the tires more than anything. Thanks for making my bike ride so nice!”
“I bought the Stampede Pass Extralight tires for P-B-P… Usually my hands hurt on brevets, and I have to shift hand position often. With these tires no pain at all, and only a little tingling in the little and ring fingers afterwards. It is probably the most noticeable performance-improving change I have ever made to my bicycles.”
Whether you were able to participate in this year’s PBP or not, you may want to learn more about this fascinating event. Jacques Seray has updated his book on PBP with information about the latest edition, including Björn Lenhard’s incredible 600+ km breakaway.
The text is in French, but the photos alone make this book a must-have. Seray has assembled a vast treasure trove from the 124-year history of PBP, going back to the very first “utilitarian race” of 1891. Hundreds of photos allow you tollow the early racers on their incredible rides, join the mid-century randonneurs as they battled with wind and rain unsupported, and relive recent editions of this great event. The new book just has been released, and we have it in stock now.
For more information about Compass tires, click here.
For more information about the PBP book, click here.
Rizzoli USA recently re-released The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles as part of their “Classics” series. This series offers their most popular books in a slightly smaller, handy format at a very attractive price.
Of course, I am excited that this book is considered a bestseller (at least among art and architecture books) and a classic. When I decided to write a book about what were then obscure French bikes and their riders, I never dreamed that names like “René Herse” and “Alex Singer” would become recognized by many cyclists, and that “decaleur” and “constructeur” would enter the lexicon of cycling terminology in the U.S.
The story of the constructeurs is truly fascinating, and once we had found the 50 bikes that are featured in the book and photographed them, the book almost wrote itself. During the research, I met many amazing people and forged lasting friendships with cyclists for whom cycling was not just a pastime, but a way of life. They have inspired me, and I was honored to be accepted as one of them. Sadly, some of them no longer are with us – we just published Gilbert Bulté’s obituary. (He is on the back of the tandem in the photo above.)
Making the book was a formidable adventure. First I traveled to France to scout the bicycles we were going to include. A few months later, photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères, his assistant Eric and I spent a month touring around France with a portable photo studio.
In one location, we photographed the bikes in the chapel of a medieval grange. In Avignon, we worked in a carport. There, we could only shoot at night, since strong sunlight of Provence would have messed up the white balance of the photos. I still wonder what the neighbors thought when ultra-bright flashbulbs were going off all night.
For me, the best part was to prepare each bike for photography. For an hour or two, I cleaned each of them, fixed minor problems, sometimes even replaced incorrect components that had been added or were missing. Getting so closely involved with the bikes made it easy to decide which details we were going to photograph. And one generous family of collectors even let me ride all the ones that were rideable, including the 1920s Retrodirecte (below). I learned a lot about these bikes during this process.
When Rizzoli came to us last year with the idea of a new edition, we used the opportunity to update the text based on information that has come to light in recent years. We’ve also re-edited the images, often starting with the original medium-format positives, to make these wonderful bikes even more brilliant and seductive.
The new book is a little smaller than the other editions. Above is my own well-used first edition underneath the new book. The significantly better image quality makes up for the slightly smaller page size. I think the latest edition is the best one yet!
The new edition is now in stock, for $ 35.
From time to time, we receive shipments of books that have been damaged. Usually they haven’t been packed well and got damaged in shipping. Sometimes, they have minor flaws that happened during the binding of the book.
Usually, we return these books to the publisher, but when they come from overseas, it’s not worth the hassle (and resources) to send them back. And with our own books, we can’t send them back. Instead, we sell these books at a discount.
If you are a book collector, you’ll probably want a pristine copy. If you are looking for a reading copy, here is your chance to get one at a substantial discount. Your reading experience will be the same – all the pages are there and legible. Here are the titles that are included in the sale:
We have a few 2015 calendars with bumped corners. Once they are on the wall, you will look at the beautiful studio photos of 13 classic bicycles and not notice the minor creases. These are 50% off.
We also have a few copies of the original The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles with bumped corners. The book is currently out of print, but will be re-issued in a smaller format soon. This is your last chance to get the original full-size edition. 20% off.
A few copies of The Competition Bicycle, our technical history of the bicycle seen through the bikes of great champions and amateurs, have suffered a little (creased dust covers, etc.). 20% off.
Some of the Japanese Alex Singer books also suffered in shipping. 15% off for bumped corners, 25% off for more serious damage like ripped dust jackets.
A few copies of Jacques Seray’s beautiful photo book of the history of PBP also have bumped corners. 15% off.
We also have a small number of René Herse books that don’t have their clear plastic wraps, and a few others that have slightly bumped corners… 15% off.
To order these books, go to the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore and follow the links to the checkout. In the shopping basket, you will see the damaged copies right below the pristine ones. Supplies are limited – fortunately, we don’t have a lot of damaged copies!
Last week, I called Lyli Herse to wish her a happy 87th birthday. You can see her 62 years earlier in the photo above (third from the left). I love this photo – a great group of young (and some not-so-young) people. They congregate around a beautiful bicycle, yet their bond is not with the machine, but with each other. You sense that the smiles aren’t just for the camera: More than one rider has told me how much fun they had in those days.
When I called, Lyli was in a buoyant mood because she just had received two visits from long-lost friends and relatives. They had found her through the miracles of the Internet, and more specifically, via our René Herse book.
She told me excitedly how a few distant cousins from Normandy had visited her. They had searched for “René Herse” and found the web page for our book. They contacted me, asking for information about how to find Lyli. I put them in touch…
Lyli was just as excited about the second visit, from two riders who used to be on her father’s team. One of them was Jean Hoffman, holding the bike’s stem in the top photo. Nobody had heard much of him since he became a professional racer in the mid-1950s. We weren’t even sure whether he was still alive.
It was a huge surprise for Lyli to have him show up in the company of Roger Demilly, another rider on the Herse team. (Demilly is leading the charge in the photo above, taken during the 1966 Paris-Brest-Paris.) I can only imagine all the memories that were rekindled during their afternoon together. And I hope to meet these riders myself the next time I am in France.
Cycling creates life-long bonds. There is something about sharing the experiences of the open road together that makes friendships deeper and longer-lasting. I am glad that Lyli has reconnected with so many of her old friends. Even though the photos above were taken more so many decades ago, she is in touch again with five of the riders, plus many others who rode on her father’s team during the 1960s, as well as a few of the women who raced for her during the 1970s.
I hope that when I am too old to ride, I’ll be able to visit with old-time cycling companions. I envision us digging out old photos and reminiscing of the incredible Cyclos Montagnards challenge, of exploring gravel roads, of night-time mountain rides, of cresting passes in the snow… of the joys that come with cycling in the company of friends. In fact, we probably shouldn’t wait until old age, but plan a get-together now!
To North Americans, it may seem odd that the most advanced classic bikes – the ones that have inspired our “real-world” randonneur bikes – came from France. When I was growing up, Italian bikes ruled. British bikes came second. A tier or two below these dream machines were French bikes.
If you wanted the best, you chose an Italian bike: Cinelli, Masi, Colnago, Bianchi were names that cyclist revered. You bought a Peugeot, Gitane and Motobecane if your budget was limited: You got a bike with a full Reynolds 531 frame for half the price of a Cinelli. So you put up with some gaps in the brazing, accepted black-painted instead of chrome-plated lugs, and lived with components that lacked the finish and finesse of Italy’s best.
In the car world, it was similar: You dreamed of an Italian Ferrari or Maserati, or at least an Alfa Romeo. French cars rarely were at the top of the list: Renaults had a dodgy reputation for rust. Citroëns were stricken with poor reliability (caused mostly by mechanics unfamiliar with their advanced technology). Peugeots appealed only to people who weren’t really into cars. Yet today, many of the most prized cars, the ones that win awards at Concours d’Elegance and are featured in magazines, were made in France.
With French cars and bikes, you need to look further back to understand why they are now considered among the very best. During the 1930s, many of the world’s best and most glamorous cars came from France. Bugattis traced their “pur sang” (pure blood) directly to the race cars that dominated during the 1920s. Delages (above) were the ultimate in sporting luxury. And the swoopy Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos (top of the post) were show-stoppers unlike any others. And even the mass-produced machines from Citroën were innovative: They introduced unibody construction and front-wheel drive on a large scale.
It’s easy to overlook that France has long been a leader in technology. The French built Europe’s first space rockets, the first supersonic passenger plane (the Concorde, together with the British), and Europe’s first high-speed trains. Some of the famous car makers are still in business, too. Hispano-Suiza makes jet engines. The original Bugatti company is the world’s largest producer of landing gear for airplanes. Their high-tech expertise made it easy for them to get out of the unprofitable luxury car market and into more lucrative aerospace work.
Speaking of aircraft, during my research for the René Herse book, I learned that both Ettore Bugatti and René Herse worked at the Breguet aircraft factory during the 1920s (Bugatti) and 1930s (Herse). Perhaps this explains why the custom screws on Bugatti’s cars share some design elements with those on Herse’s bikes?
The cross-pollination between the makers of aircraft, cars and bicycles was not limited to René Herse. Louis Delage was a customer of Camille Daudon’s, and he later wrote that his Daudon was the most marvellous piece of machinery he’d ever owned. This from a man whose company made some of the first V12 engines!
Key to understanding the French bicycle builders is their location. Herse, Alex Singer and Daudon all had their shops in or near Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris that specialized in high-end metalworking.
Levallois-Perret was an extraordinary place. The Citroën factory was just across the Seine. The factories of Hispano-Suiza and Delage were nearby. And when Ettore Bugatti designed aircraft engines during World War I, the government installed him here, too. The reason for this concentration was simple: There was a great network of machine shops, foundries, platers…
For the bicycle makers, this meant that they had incredible resources right at their doorsteps. Making stems, brakes, cranks and bottom brackets requires sub-contractors who can forge and machine the components required.
There also was a large pool of skilled labor. Jean Desbois, long-term framebuilder at René Herse, told me how he was hired by Herse when the machine shop where he worked closed during World War II. (His boss didn’t want to work for the Germans.) A number of similarly skilled workers found refuge with the constructeurs of bicycles. It appears that the Germans didn’t expect the bike makers to be of any use for armament production, so they just ignored them. Good thing they didn’t know that Herse was an expert machinist who had worked on prototype aircraft!
It’s much easier to make great bicycles when you are in a neighborhood full of people like Desbois, who was an expert metalworker. During the late 1940s, the lugs on Herse’s frames were filed by two workers from the Morane-Saulnier aircraft factory, who came by the Herse shop after hours. Desbois told me: “They were experts in filing metal.”
Not only did the constructeurs have all the resources needed to make highly advanced bicycles, but they also had a ready clientele. Engineers and other professionals appreciated fine bicycles, and the more technologically advanced the bikes were, the better. These customers not only appreciated every detail of the bikes, but they also were willing to pay for custom racks, lighting wires that ran inside the frames, and innovations like the carbon brushes inside the steerer tubes that transmitted the lighting current from frame to fork without external wires.
This confluence of factors did not exist in other countries, where cycling was very much a working-class sport. Neither Enzo Ferrari in Italy nor the Bentley Boys in Britain had any interest in bicycles. There was little market for ultra-high end cyclotouring bikes.
The great machines from builders like Herse, Singer, Daudon, Routens and Barra have little in common with the mass-produced French ten-speeds that became popular in North America during the Bike Boom. Just like the Bugattis and Delages of the 1930s came from a different world than the sad Renaults that were sold in the U.S. during the 1980s.
The glorious French cars of the streamline era are unaffordable and impractical today, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs remain as exciting to ride now as they were then. The cars may be distant dreams from a bygone era, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs have inspired a new generation of North American constructeurs. Their bikes are ridden every day, and they give their riders as much joy as the originals did more than half a century ago.
Further reading: René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders
Photo credits: David Cooper, Cooper Technica (Delage Aerosport), Peter Rich (Velo-Sport with Ferrari)
We are excited to add two new books to the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore. One is a lovely little book with photos of racers from the 1920s and 1930s. Whether you are interested in racing or historic photos, Goggles & Dust is a treasure trove of interesting images.
Take this image of Eugène Christophe in the 1925 Tour de France. Goggles protect his eyes from stones thrown up by other riders on the gravel road. A musette bag and two spare tubular tires are slung over his shoulders, one deflated and unused, the other with some air and perhaps ripped off the rim after a puncture. Another tubular is strapped under his seat. His randonneur-style handlebars are tilted upward and have a very shallow drop. His stem-mounted double bottle cages hold only one bottle. Christophe is outfitted like a warrior, yet his face expresses the confidence and serenity of a champion.
Goggles & Dust features 101 photos like this one, all from Brett Horton’s unique collection. At $ 17, this small-format book is very affordable. The perfect stocking stuffer for the cyclist in your life?
TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is a more weighty tome – the most beautiful book on TOEI we’ve ever seen. Many readers will have heard of TOEI, the legendary Japanese builders, but few know much about their history. This book tells the TOEI story with beautiful studio photos of 110 TOEI bicycles. This text is in Japanese, but I found I enjoyed the photos without needing to understand the text.
The book begins with a Randonneur made in 1957. The early bikes took their inspiration from French and British bikes of various makers, with fancy racks made from steel wire and lugs with curly cutouts. Toei then began to emulate the restrained style of René Herse. However, rather than simply copy the master, Toei often imbued the bikes with refinements of their own. For example, Toei’s rod-operated front derailleurs had limit screws to adjust the travel, unlike Herse’s.
Toei builds what the customer requests. The result is an incredible variety of bicycles, which makes this book so appealing. There are Herse-style Démontable take-apart bikes, but also bikes with S&S couplers. Some bikes feature ornate, British-style lugs. Others are fillet-brazed. There are racing bikes, tandems, camping bikes and even a track bike. Most of the stems are fillet-brazed like Alex Singer’s, but once in a while, a lugged stem catches the eye. It is fun to see each bike and think of the owner’s vision that led to him or her placing the order.
A few historic photos of Japanese cyclotourists provide a context for the bikes. Beautifully produced and 288 pages thick, TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is the ultimate book on this famous Japanese builder.
Bicycle Quarterly’s 2015 Calendar of Classic Bicycles still is available as well. If you like to look at beautiful bicycles, it’ll be a wonderful companion throughout the coming year.
These are just a few of the titles available in our bookstore. We only sell the books that we think are exceptional, and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we do. For more information or to order, visit the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore.
Our first and best-selling book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles is now available in a French edition. Published by Editions Vigot and printed by a quality printer in France, the new book turned out beautiful.
I am excited that the story of the constructeurs and their amazing bicycles is now available in its home country. As France re-discovers cycling, I hope the book has a similar influence as it has had in North America, where a new generation of young builders is crafting wonderful machines which are inspired by mid-century French craftsmen like René Herse, Alex Singer, Jo Routens, Camille Daudon, Paul Charrel and the many others featured in this book.
The book starts with some of the earliest cyclotouring bikes and their amazing gear changing mechanisms. Above is a Retro-Directe. There are two freewheels mounted side-by-side on the rear hub. The outer one works normally, when you pedal forward. The inner one is activated by pedaling backwards. See how pedaling backwards pulls on the lower chain run that goes over the larger freewheel?
This top-of-the-line Hirondelle has a front derailleur, too, so you get four speeds. I was able to ride this bike during our photo shoot – it rides very nicely, but my legs aren’t used to putting out power while pedaling backwards!
The bikes that we love today were developed during the classic age: 650B wheels with wide, supple tires; low-trail geometries; lightweight frames to offer a spirited ride… These bikes were perfected on the road, and that is one reason why they are so much fun to ride.
Even the porteur bikes of the newspaper couriers were designed for performance. Not only were the couriers paid for each run – the more newspapers they delivered to the newsstands, the more they earned – but they also had an annual race, where they fought for the title of the “Roi des Roule-Toujours” (King of the Always-Riding).
The constructeurs built many types of bikes. I am especially fascinated by their “camping” bikes: touring bikes designed to be ridden with a full camping load. There is so much to them – this 1985 Alex Singer has no fewer than five racks – and yet it’s all designed as a coherent whole to offer a wonderful ride.
The French edition is available through bookstores in France. We also have a few copies available in the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore. (Select the English version, and during checkout, you get a choice of language.)
After nine years and over 16,000 copies sold, the English edition of The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles is currently out of print. It will become available again next year. In the mean time, we have a few copies left – if you want it as a holiday gift, order your copy soon.
Bicycle Quarterly‘s Calendar of Classic Bicycles is now available, and we are thrilled to think of how many of you will use the calendar to plan great outings in the coming year. Let yourself be inspired by the great selection of bikes featured in the coming year: The focus is on road, track and randonneur bikes, but we also included a cyclocross bike and a touring tandem.
Highlights include a superlight René Herse built for the famous Technical Trials, an early 1900s Dursley Pedersen, and a twin-chain bicycle built by Vélocio, the founder of the cyclotouring movement. Fans of racing will delight in Gino Bartali’s bike from the 1948 Tour de France, Tony Rominger’s hour record bike, and the beautiful 1930s Delangle track bike on the cover.
Each bike is presented in beautiful studio photographs, with captions that provide a brief history of each bicycle. In some years, the calendar has sold out within days. Get your copy while they last, and put it to good use to make 2015 an outstanding year!
Click here for more information or to order.
I recently thought about my favorite books. There are many, and they span a wide range of topics, from Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince to The Art of the Motorcycle. Here are six of my favorite cycling books, in no particular order. This is not a “recommended reading” list; it’s a personal list of books that have inspired me. In any case, many of these books are difficult to find or written in French or Japanese.
From Repack to Rwanda was a gift from Jacquie Phelan. It’s a catalogue for an exhibit by the SFO Museum at the San Francisco International Airport. From Repack to Rwanda chronicles the development of the mountain bike and shows great studio photos of dozens of pioneering machines. It starts with the Schwinn Klunkers, then the first Breezers and Ritcheys, Cunninghams, the 1981 Specialized Stumpjumper, as well as wonderful machines like the Ibis Bow-Tie with its pivot-less Sweet Spot suspension. It’s by far the best book on the subject, and the fact that it was given to me by a mountain bike pioneer makes it all the more special. Thank you, Jacquie!
Bernard Déon’s Paris-Brest Et Retour really turned me on to the history of French randonneurs and their wonderful machines. I met Déon at the finish of my first PBP in 1999 and ordered the book shortly thereafter. The book’s reports from the early races and later randonneur events were fascinating, but I was equally impressed by the bikes. I realized that if riders like Roger Baumann had completed PBP in 50 hours through rain and wind in 1956 on René Herses, then the bikes must have been very good, and not mere show-pieces, as many assumed at the time.
I became determined to learn more about this event and these bikes. In a big way, this book was at the start of Bicycle Quarterly, Compass Bicycles and even my own randonneuring. Unfortunately, this book was printed only in a small run, so it’s almost impossible to find. And Déon’s style requires greater-than-average proficiency in French.
The Japanese have been excited about French cyclotouring bikes much longer than I have even been alive. They have published many wonderful books on the subject. My favorite is this gorgeous tome about Toei, the famous builders from Tokyo. Unfortunately, I cannot read the Japanese text, but the photos alone make this a favorite. It shows in great detail how Toei’s style developed over the years, until it reached close to perfection in recent decades. This book still is in print, and we may be able to import it and offer it in the Bicycle Quarterly Bookstore.
Simon Burney’s Cyclo-Cross is a great how-to guide for aspiring ‘cross racers. It was strongly recommended by a friend in the 1990s, who was the Master’s Women national champion. I tried to absorb every line of it, and if I had any success in cyclocross, it was thanks to Burney’s clear advice. Mine is the first edition, with Graham Watson’s action shots that add to the appeal of this excellent little book.
My copy of Paul Fournel’s Need for the Bike doesn’t have a jacket, so there is no photo here. Originally given to me by its English translator (and Bicycle Quarterly reader) Allan Stoekl, I greatly enjoyed this little book. Fournel is a philosopher, who writes about why we ride. On every page, I smiled and nodded my head. For example, Fournel writes about a spring on a descent. He’s never seen it, but he knows it’s there because he feels the cool air as he rides past it. This sustains him for miles afterward.
I lent my copy to a friend who was very ill and never got it back. I finally managed to track down a hardcover copy from a library sale. Need for the Bike is the only book on this list that is currently available in the U.S. (paperback).
Routes, Risques, Rencontres translates to “Roads, Risks, Encounters”. Its author, Lily Serguéiew, was an artist who decided to ride from Paris to Saigon in 1938, on her aluminum Caminargent bike. She took her time, learning the language in every country she traversed, drawing, and meeting the local people. Her adventures are both breathtaking and sweet.
In the former category is her trip through the desert of Turkey, despite being denied a visa, which led to her being chased by the police for several days. The sweet moments included being invited to participate in a wedding in Greece. Her trip ended prematurely when World War II started while she was in Aleppo (Syria). She returned to France, where her book was published in 1943. If you read French – the language is less complex than in Déon’s book above – I recommend trying to find a copy.
The final book here is Hilary Stone’s Ease with Elegance. This story of Thanet Cycles, the makers of the famous Silverlight machines, lives up to its name. Different from so much “cycling history”, it’s a well-researched yet engaging read. The “guv’nor” (Les Cassell) must have been quite a character! It’s a truly charming book that had me dream of a Thanet for years. I got my book directly from the author, Hilary Stone, and I believe he has some copies left.
What are your favorite cycling books?
Hideki Sasaki has released the second book in the “Derailleurs of the World” series. The new book covers Simplex, perhaps the most influential derailleur maker of all. From the earliest 1920s designs to the last slant parallelogram derailleurs of the 1990s, they are all documented in their many variations.
Simplex is a fascinating story. I loved seeing the early front derailleurs that were found on those wonderful 1930s Reyhands. The ubiquitous “Tour de France” model that equipped so many post-war racing bikes. The crazy Juy 543 that fetches such incredible prices on eBay. The first twin-pivot parallelogram derailleurs, which then led to the wonderfully light and jewel-like SLJs of the 1970s and 1980s. Mixed in with these gems are the abysmal plastic derailleurs that ruined Simplex’ reputation once and for all. Yet even those somehow look appealing when photographed in brand-new condition in the studio.
If you ever wondered how to distinguish an SLJ from the 1970s from a later 1980s one, or what the difference between the SX and the SLJ was, you’ll find the answers here. The text is in Japanese, but the photos – now in full color – are wonderful, and you don’t need to read Kanji to figure out model number, capacity, weight and manufacturing dates.
These books are hard to find outside Japan. We placed a one-time order of 15 copies. I am keeping one, and the others are available while supplies last. The Campagnolo book in the same series sold out within two hours, so if you want a copy, don’t delay.
The book has 117 pages, softcover, and costs $ 68. Since this is a special order, we won’t put up a page for it in the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore. Instead, go straight to our shopping basket to order.
Update 10/21/2016: Sorry, the order for these books is now closed.
I am cleaning out the Bicycle Quarterly Press library. I am keeping all the great books or those that we may need for reference later. This even includes two editions of Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling, which I bought mostly because they had some grainy images of René Herse and Alex Singer bikes – the only information I could find in those pre-Internet days.
But there are a lot of books that simply aren’t good enough to keep.
It’s amazing how much has being printed on bicycles in recent years that has not stood the test of time. Hastily produced efforts on “custom bicycles” with fuzzy photos pulled off the Internet. A history of Campagnolo that appears to have been written in two weeks by somebody only marginally familiar with the company. I’ll give these books to a local charity. Despite their obvious flaws, somebody will enjoy them…
One book though, has me stumped. It’s a lavishly produced book on Cycling Science, coming from an academic source, the University of Chicago Press. The problem with it is simple: Much of it is wrong.
I know that the science of cycling can be contentious. There still are people who believe that higher pressures will make a tire roll faster. Others insist that stiffer frames perform better. These can be considered gray areas where the science is evolving. However, in this book, the errors are unequivocal.
Take the illustration above, for example. It purports to show the influence of aerodynamics on the performance of a bike. It shows how fast Chris Boardman, who holds the absolute hour record on an upright bike, would have gone on various types of bicycles, with the same power output.
The chart is obviously wrong. Even I can go faster than 9.2 mph even when riding in an upright position. Do I really put out more power than Boardman during his hour record? Does this mean I just need a superbike, and I’ll break Boardman’s record?
Of course, the chart is wrong. Boardman himself rode a standard track bike to a record of 30.7 miles – way more than the 20.9 miles the book predicts for the “tucked down with hands on drops” position. This is just one of numerous errors…
When a book contains many glaring errors like this, I don’t even want to give it to charity. It seems wrong to spread information that is obviously incorrect, and to poison the minds of people who cannot afford to buy better books on the subject. Right now, the book is in the recycling pile. What would you do with it?
On September 1, 1930, two French pilots were the first to fly from Paris to New York. This was a huge achievement for them, but also their aircraft, since they flew against the prevailing winds.
Most people know about Charles Lindbergh, who had flown the other way just three years earlier. Lindbergh’s flight took great courage and a good portion of luck, and it was possible in part because he was aided by the strong westerly winds over the North Atlantic. Flying against the wind with 1920s aircraft technology was an entirely different matter.
Lindbergh’s Spirit of Saint Louis had a 223 horsepower engine and carried 425 gallons of fuel. The flight took Lindbergh 33.5 hours.
The plane that flew the other way, the Point d’Interrogation (Question Mark) was equipped with a 12-cylinder Hispano-Suiza engine, which put out 650 horsepower. The plane carried 1368 gallons of fuel. Both the power output and the fuel capacity were roughly three times as great as on Lindbergh’s plane. Even with this powerful plane, the two pilots took over 37 hours to complete the flight, four hours longer than Lindbergh.
Building a plane that could carry this much fuel was an engineering and manufacturing challenge, especially with the relatively heavy and feeble 1920s engines. The plane had to be light enough to take off and stay airborne for 37 hours, yet strong enough to withstand turbulences as it was buffeted by the strong winds over the North Atlantic.
The pilot, Dieudonné Costes (right), and his navigator, Maurice Bellonte, were veterans of many record attempts. They succeeded where 21 attempts had failed over the previous three years. Five teams had perished trying to fly from Paris to New York.
Despite these difficulties and risk, the success of Costes and Bellonte owed little to luck. As Costes told the press before his flight: “I have weighed everything, calculated everything. If we don’t succeed, then it is impossible.”
This careful approach extended to their airplane, which they had tested by flying almost 5000 miles from Paris to Manchuria in 1929. The trip from Paris to New York was “only” 4300 miles… The name, Question Mark, was coined by the workers who built it, at the Breguet aircraft factory. The ultimate purpose of the plane was secret even to them, so they referred to it as the Question Mark, and the name stuck. It was even painted on the side of the plane for the record attempt…
One of the workers who had built the Question Mark was René Herse (second from left). He learned his metalworking skills working on prototype aircraft. At the time, engineering drawings often were quite rudimentary, and it was up to the fabricators to interpret them and turn them into metal. This is how Herse developed his magic feel for materials and stresses.
When Herse began making bicycles in 1938, he transferred his skills from prototype aircraft to bicycles. It is not surprising that his bikes were built like aircraft: They were light, yet strong. Reliability was his foremost concern – a plane over the North Atlantic cannot simply pull over to the side of the road if something goes wrong. And like airplanes, René Herse’s bikes were elegant because of their purposeful design, not because he added ornamentation.
To me, René Herse’s bikes have been an incredible inspiration. He was innovative, but he also had a great respect for solutions that had proven themselves. He came from a humble background, yet he made the bikes for a veritable “Who’s Who” of racers, randonneurs and high society. Even today, his bikes are hard to surpass.
My own bike (above) really is built to the blueprint of a 1950s Herse – carefully updated in a few places where technology has advanced. Its performance brings a smile to my face and enables me to push beyond what I used to think possible. Most of that is due to the genius of René Herse, which was formed in the years he worked on prototype aircraft.
Further reading: The entire René Herse story is told in René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders
Our charity drive for the Museo del Ghisallo was a great success. We sold 80 calendars and have donated the entire proceeds – more than $ 1200 (900 Euros) – to the Museo. Not only will the donations help re-open the museum, but they also show the interest and passion for this unique place. Hopefully this will help secure the public funding that any museum needs.
Above is one of the amazing bikes I saw at the Museo when I visited: a beautiful Colnago with 650C wheels. It is said to have been built for Guiseppe Saronni in 1982, the year he won the World Championships.
Saronni, as a sprinter, should have benefited from smaller wheels, which weigh less and thus “spin up” faster. It doesn’t seem to have worked out that way, since race photos show him on a 700C bike in 1982. Why didn’t Saronni use the advantage of the smaller wheels?
If you have a flat on 650C wheels, you’d have to wait for your team car, since no “neutral support” would carry the correct wheels. As a secondary concern, the handling of a small-wheeled bike inherently is less stable. (Our 650B bikes are stable because they use much larger and heavier tires than a 21 mm-wide tubular.) Despite these disadvantages, if the smaller wheels provided a significant benefit in a sprint, then a strong sprinter like Saronni would gladly accept the disadvantages. He might have to be a bit more careful in corners, but then he’d win every race in which he doesn’t have a flat!
The fact that Saronni – and many others who experimented with smaller wheels – didn’t race them indicates that the rotational inertia does not make a big difference in how fast a bike accelerates. Physics tells us that even world-class sprinters don’t accelerate all that quickly – a sprint begins at 65 km/h and about 100 meters later, racers may reach 85 km/h.
While we are at it, did you notice something else that is unusual about the Colnago? The cranks have six arms to hold the chainring. Knowing that the three arms of a René Herse crank are plenty to transmit the torque of even a strong tandem team, I wonder why they came up with that idea.
Those who contributed to the charity drive will enjoy this Colnago on their wall come May next year. For those who missed out on the charity drive, you can still donate to the Museo here.
And if you still don’t have the 2014 calendar, limited quantities still are available here.
Recently, we came across three copies of the first edition of our very first book. We had kept them, years ago, in case we needed to replace a faulty book or one that got damaged in shipping. We didn’t have to use them for that purpose, so now we can offer an exclusive package of the first editions of all three books we’ve published. The entire proceeds will go to charity – we are donating them to Doctors without Borders.
Each first edition book is signed by the authors. The set includes:
- The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, our first and still enormously popular book about the French constructeurs. This is the book that started the current wave of metal fenders, front racks and 650B wheels. The gorgeous studio photos show 50 of the most beautiful bicycles ever made.
- The Competition Bicycle shows the actual bicycles ridden by professionals and amateurs. More than that, it charts the technical development of performance bicycles from high-wheelers to modern machines with carbon disc wheels. In addition to the bikes ridden by champions like Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten, you find a super-rare Dursley-Pedersen racer, a tandem that came first in Paris-Brest-Paris, and even a machine built for the races of the Paris newspaper couriers, the famous porteurs.
- René Herse tells the story of this amazing builder through the eyes of the riders of his bikes. These cyclists rode hard in competitions, but also explored new landscapes and cultures on their tours. Most of all, they forged lasting friendships and lived their lives fully doing what they liked best: cycling in the company of good friends. Hundreds of historic photos combine with studio photos of 20 original René Herse bicycles to an evocative portrait.
- Three 8″ x 10″ prints from The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.
- A print of René Herse brazing a frame.
- An oversize reproduction of the last René Herse frame decals (perfect for your tool box).
- $ 265 (proceeds go to charity)
Since we have only three of these packages, they won’t be on our web site, but you can order directly at this link.
Update: The three packages are sold. The current editions of these books, as well as the items below, remain available.
The René Herse book also is available in a Limited Edition. Each book is numbered and signed by the author. A beautiful slipcase protects the book. It comes with three 8.5″ x 11″ art prints of previously unpublished photos from the René Herse archives that are ready to frame. Limited to 150 copies. 424 pages. $ 185
Click here for more information or to order.
We also offer posters of two evocative images from the René Herse archives. They show Serge Félix on 650B bike during the 1955 Poly de Chanteloup, as well as the Baudins descending at speed on their tandem. The large-format posters (32.7″ x 23.6″) are printed on acid-free stock and varnished to protect the images. Each poster is limited to 300 copies and will not be reprinted. $ 20 (one poster); $ 35 (both).
Click here for more information or to order.
When I was researching our René Herse book, the most difficult part of the story were the war-time years. Herse started making bikes in 1940, while Paris was occupied by the Germans. Being conditioned by war movies and war-time memories from German relatives, I found it hard to imagine anybody making high-end bicycles during this time.
What I learned from the French cyclists who lived through those days is this: While everything changed with the German occupation, most things also remained the same. The German occupiers made the French pay for the costs of the occupation in foodstocks, so food was very scarce. Other things, like gasoline and rubber (bicycle tires), were almost impossible to obtain.
Despite all that, France no longer was at war. Life, at least on the surface, appeared more normal than in places like London and Berlin. Men and women went to work, sat in cafés, went to the movies, and even watched or participated in bike races. This did not make them collaborateurs. After all, it would have served little if all Parisians had sat in a corner and sulked for years while the Germans were occupying the city. Even the resistance fighters kept up appearances and tried to live as normal a life as possible, so they did not arouse the suspicion of the Gestapo or their French counterparts.
Even though relatively few French joined the resistance full-time, I was surprised by the many small acts of resistance. For example, I learned that René Herse actually had two shops. The first was the boutique with the showroom. Next door was the workshop where the bikes were assembled. There, the shutters were drawn and the building looked empty. Many of Herse’s employees were young people in hiding, often riders on his team who could not find employment elsewhere. They were evading the Service du Travail Obligatoire, which sent young Frenchmen to Germany to work in the factories there. This also explains why I could not find some of Herse’s employees in the company’s pay records – they were undeclared. Herse was not alone, many French did things large and small to work against the occupiers, even if, on the surface, they appeared to continue their normal life.
The color photos in this blog were taken by André Zucca for the German propaganda magazine Signal, which intended to show that life in Paris was continuing as before the occupation. Of course, life did not continue exactly as before – as Madame Porthault told me during one of the interviews for the book: “Even if we had a smile on our faces, that did not mean that we weren’t afraid deep down.” Even though the photos were intended as propaganda, they show a glimpse of Paris during the occupation.
Gasoline was unavailable to private people in France during the war, so cars disappeared almost completely from circulation (above). Instead, bicycles became predominant in urban traffic. A nice bicycle not only was a means of transportation, but also a status symbol (below).
Zucca’s photos show numerous vélo-taxis. Since private cars and taxis no longer were available, cyclists pulling trailers provided convenient transportation for rich Parisians. Tandem taxis were faster, but cost twice as much.
Many Parisians decried the implication of humans serving as beasts-of-burden (photo at the top of the post), but some bike racers actually enjoyed the job, since it provided excellent training. Lyli Herse’s later tandem partner, Robert Prestat, said that this was how he got in shape to race as a professional during the war.
This image shows a tandem taxi waiting for passengers. The tandem is a quality machine with a nice bend of the fork blades. It is equipped with Jeay “roller-cam” brakes and a rear drum brake, but the single-sided drivetrain indicates that it was not a top-of-the-line machine from one of the great constructeurs.
Here a fashionable lady exits a rudimentary trailer pulled by a basic machine with a “dog-leg” fork bend, ill-fitting fenders and a single speed. It appears to have a battery-powered taillight. Were batteries available during the occupation?
Here we have two taxis waiting in front of the famous Maxim’s restaurant. The tandem has a strange frame configuration. It is equipped with a short-chain drivetrain and both drum and cantilever brakes. Slowing the heavy trailer with two passengers must have taken a lot of braking power! The dark lens of the headlight was mandatory. It was part of the “blackout,” which outlawed any lights shining outside to prevent allied bombers from finding their targets. The other trailer is enclosed, which was nice if it rained but must have been claustrophobic inside, to say nothing of the extra weight the cyclist had to haul.
Fancy place like Maxim’s even had a covered bicycle parking area, which you can see on the left. Movie theaters advertised that they offered guarded bicycle parking to attract visitors. I suspect that Maxim’s had a guard, too, who may have provided the equivalent of valet parking for the well-heeled customers.
In 1943, there was a race of the tandem taxis (above a photo of the winners from the René Herse archives). The trailers were lightweight cargo trailers rather than the usual taxis. This tandem appears to be a top-of-the-line Hurtu with a twin-plate fork crown. It is equipped with Herse’s Speedy brakes. The triangulation of the frame is interesting, with a single tube running to the middle of each seat tube, and two tubes continuing from there. Madame Porthault identified the front rider, Tixidre. Click here for fascinating newsreel footage of this race.
What Zucca’s photos do not show is the hardship that Parisians suffered during the occupation. The most difficult aspect was finding food. One way to augment the rations was bartering with farmers who engaged in black-market trade. However, within easy cycling distance of Paris, there were too few farmers and too many people looking for food. Randonneurs had an advantage, as they could ride further in a day, and thus reach farmers who had food to trade. Madame Porthault told me how it was a race to return to Paris before the curfew, while avoiding checkpoints along the way.
Every bike was pressed into service, even this pre-war Vélostable recumbent bicycle.
There are no photos of the tens of thousands of French Jews and others who perished in the concentration camps. These included many cyclotourists, and the list of the best-known dead in the first post-war issues of Le Cycliste was long. Most cyclotouring clubs collected money to send to the prisoners, or to support their families. During the occupation, the clubs became support networks, since they were people you knew well and could trust.
What was most striking to me, however, is the pronounced difference in the photos taken after the German occupation ended. The people are visibly more relaxed after the war, and the spontaneous smiles have returned to their faces. You often can tell whether a photo was taken during the occupation or afterward simply by looking at people’s facial expressions.
Life and cyclotouring in Paris may have continued during the occupation, but everybody was relieved when Paris was liberated. The photo above, from the René Herse book, was taken in 1945, just after the liberation. People’s clothes still are ill-fitting and speak of the privation of the occupation, but the smiles have returned. The tandem of Jean Feuillie and Lyli Herse no longer carries the license plate required by the German occupiers, which confirms the post-occupation date.
The mood is one of optimism and joy, which gave a huge boost to cyclotouring. People could travel again, and they could enjoy themselves without fear. Many were eager to take advantage of the re-found freedom, and the second half of the 1940s was a veritable golden age of cyclotouring. Understanding this history is key to understanding why the French constructeurs built such exceptional bicycles during the 1940s and 1950s.
Click here for more photos Paris taken by André Zucca during the German occupation.
Click here for more information about the René Herse book or to order your copy.
Our René Herse book is a big book: 424 pages! That is 2.5 times as thick as The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles. We didn’t plan it that way, but the René Herse story has so many fascinating parts, and the Herse family archives contained so many wonderful photos that we wanted to include. In fact, when I look through the left-over photos, I often think: “This is a great photo. Why didn’t we include it?” (Four of my favorites are included as ready-to-frame prints with the Limited Edition of the book.) I think we made the right choice, and in any case nobody has complained that the book is too big or contains too much text or too many photos.
The downside of the René Herse book being so big is that it is heavy: 6 pounds (2.7 kg). Heavy books easily get damaged in shipping (their corners are no stronger than those of lighter books, but there is much more mass to cause havoc). We designed special packaging to ensure the book will survive mailing. The weight also means that shipping the book to international readers is expensive. We are lucky that the U.S. Postal Service has a “Flat Rate” service, but even so, it costs $ 60 to ship one book to destinations outside North America. Ouch!
We found a temporary solution for customers in the United Kingdom and Germany. We’ve been airfreighting Bicycle Quarterly directly to Britain and Germany for a few years now. Friends of the magazine then re-posts the magazines, which has allowed us to keep our international subscription rates at a reasonable level. For the next shipment, we will include the orders for the René Herse book from UK and German customers. The shipping costs will reduced by half ($ 30). You can also order our other books to be included in the shipment, as well as back issues of Bicycle Quarterly.
To use this offer and have your book included in the shipment, we must receive your order by Friday (Nov. 29) at 5 p.m. (Greenwich time). The order must be shipped to a UK or German address. We’ve made a special order page for these orders of our books. Click here to place your order. The prices on that page include shipping already. (If you order multiple books and we find that shipping is even less expensive, we’ll refund the excess.)
You should receive your book in early December. Click here for more information about the René Herse book, or click here for reviews of the book.
Sorry, we cannot extend this offer to other international destinations, because the airfreight costs are so high that there wouldn’t be any savings in the end.
Cyclocross has been on my mind lately – I’ve returned to the sport after a 16-year hiatus – and so it was with special interest that I watched some old newsreel footage of ‘cross races in Paris during the 1940s.
Sports were among the few pleasant distractions that Parisians had during the German occupation, and cyclocross races were organized in the city to make it easy for spectators to attend. The biggest race was held on the steep hill of Montmartre. The 280 steps leading up to the basilica of Sacré Coeur were a great runup (or, during other years, run-down), and the dirt roads around the famous windmills provided a nice off-pavement challenge. Click on the image to go to the web site where you can watch the video.
As I watched the video, the newsreel announcer exclaimed that Robert Oubron (in striped jersey above) was taking the lead. I knew of Oubron: He had his frames built by René Herse.
In fact, in the René Herse book, there is a photo of him after a cyclocross race in 1943 (above). The video is too grainy to say with certainty, but Oubron’s bike looks like the one shown in the book.
The web site of the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA) has other newsreel footage from 1940s cyclocross (click here to view), but unfortunately not of the 1942 race, which was won by René André on one of the very first bikes René Herse made after opening his shop in 1940. The photo above shows André as he jumps a step in front of the windmill on his superlight bike.
I also would have loved to see footage of the Cross the Clamart with its tandem category, which was won by René André and Lyli Herse (above after the race). We are fortunate to have the historic photos in the book that take us back in time.
The videos provide wonderful context to the photos. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Please feel free to share other sources in the comments.
I was sad when I read the news that the Museo del Ghisallo is closing this winter, and that the prospects of it reopening next spring are uncertain. I fondly remember my visit in January 2007 to Magreglio, where the museum is located. We were on a month-long work road trip in southern Europe to photograph the bicycles for our book The Competition Bicycle. I had contacted collectors and museums, done research and finally selected the locations where we would shoot the bikes. It was an adventure, since we never knew what we would find.
As our rental van drove up the switchbacked roads from Lake Como, the landscape become more mountainous. Snow covered the peaks around us, and the roads got smaller and smaller. We finally reached the village, asked for directions, and found our bed & breakfast. The next morning, we headed to the ancient chapel dedicated to bicycle racing, and found the brand-new museum next door.
The sun had come out and flooded the modern building with light. Before we could even inspect the bikes, we were distracted by the breathtaking view down to Lake Como. The entire valley side of the museum consisted of glass, opening to a mountain panorama that could have been in a picture book.
Then there were the bikes, sparingly placed in the open spaces. About 30 of them, almost all historic machines that belonged to great champions. Fausto Coppi’s Bianchi from the 1949 Tour de France (which he won). Francesco Moser’s hour record machine. Eddy Merckx’ 1974 bike on which he won the Tour, the Giro and the World Championships. In a corner, we discovered Tony Rominger’s hour record bike. There was a bike that Alfonsina Strada, the woman who raced in the 1924 Giro d’Italia, rode during the 1930s. A beautiful Colnago that had been built for Guiseppe Saronni. And the list goes on.
Most of the bikes had been donated by the racers to the chapel at a time when they were not worth much. This direct provenance was especially important for our project of photographing the actual bikes on which racers had competed. Too many times, we had traveled far and set up our studio, only to find out upon closer inspection that the bikes were look-alikes or even forgeries. Even at the Museo and the chapel, a few bikes were mislabeled. For example, Gino Bartali’s bike (above) was exhibited as the one he used to win the 1948 Tour de France. Careful research showed that he actually rode it in the 1949 Tour, when he placed second.
Eowyn Ceruti, who managed the museum, led us downstairs, where we set up our photo studio in one of the spacious meeting rooms. Then she let us have a free reign of the museum. Any bike I wanted, I simply carried downstairs. Often, I had to adjust the saddle and other parts, so it looked like it did when it was raced by its famous rider. I spent hours in the library of the museum to research details like the saddle height and the original equipment of the bikes. Then we spent 2-3 hours photographing each bike.
Eowyn introduced me to the priest of the chapel, who lent us some of “his” bikes, including Gino Bartali’s machine from the 1949 Tour de France. Seeing the old priest climbing up a rickety ladder to retrieve the bike from under the ceiling of the chapel had both Eowyn and me hold our breaths.
We spent three days working at the Museo. One evening, Eowyn and her friends took us for dinner in a neighboring village. The restaurant was so small and half-hidden behind another building that we never would have found it on our own. We were the only guests. The meal went on from 9 p.m. until midnight, with one delicious course after another being served. As we started dessert, I mentioned that Eddy Merckx’ bike (above) was just my size. Eowyn laughed and said: “You should take it out and ride the climb to Ghisallo.” The thought of riding the famous climb that features in the Giro di Lombardia on the “Cannibal’s” bike was an exciting prospect. On this trip, I had been able to ride some exciting bikes from various collections, but this would be the ultimate. Only then did I realize that Eowyn was joking. I am sure the museum’s curator would have had a heart attack if that bike had raced down the switchbacks…
The Museo was the brainchild of the great racer Fiorenzo Magni, who also seems to have helped finance it with the profits from his chain of Opel car dealerships. Magni died a year ago, and in today’s Europe, funding for culture and arts is harder to find. That appears to be the reason why the museum’s future now is in doubt.
My visit to Magreglio was one of the highlights of this amazing, exhausting and stimulating project. I have fond memories of the wonderful museum and its helpful, friendly staff. Let’s hope that the Museo opens again next spring. It is definitely worth a visit.
In the mean time, I am looking through the pages of The Competition Bicycle and admiring the bikes. For me, each of them not only tells the story of its racer, but also brings back memories from a great trip.
Photo credits: Museo del Ghisallo, Jean-Pierre Pradères (bike photos)
The René Herse book has been in circulation for a few months, both in the English and the French editions. The best part of writing the book has been the great feedback from our readers. It’s nice to see that the book appeals to so many different cyclists.
The surviving riders who rode on the Herse team (above) are ecstatic – this is, after all, their story – but even so, it was gratifying to see their smiles as they paged through the book and remembered rides and adventures that happened long ago.
Even more enjoyable is the reaction of readers who did not know much about René Herse before picking up the book. Mike Deme is the editor of Adventure Cyclist:
“I just wanted to drop a note to say how impressed we are with this book. Really fantastic. The photos are terrific and the words are interesting. We’ve got it on the meeting table in our creative studio and people keep hovering around it. Great stuff!”
Constance Winters publishes the popular Lovely Bicycle blog. She had this to say:
“I am stunned by the Rene Herse book. I cannot put it down. This book is much more than I expected. The amount of work you must have done to do this research and put together this narrative, with all the photos and illustrations… Just amazing.”
I was anticipating Dale Brown’s reaction with suspense. As the editor of the Classic Rendezvous web site, his love is for all things Campagnolo, yet the René Herse book shows a totally different world of classic bikes. I guess I needn’t have worried:
“This book is HUGE. Amazing”
Grant Petersen, the founder of Rivendell Bicycle Works, wrote a whole blog entry about the book:
“Wow, what a book! René Herse is an educational, attitude-changing, enlightening, fascinating, detailed testament to the man who contributed more useful beauty to bicycles than anybody else.”
Click here to read Grant’s full review in his own engaging voice.
And then there is a friend’s wife – not a cyclist herself – who told me that she loved looking at the photos, especially of the neat clothes the cyclotourists wore.
When I started this project, I wanted to write a book that appeals to all cyclists, not just fans of René Herse or collectors of classic bikes. In the end, I cannot take much credit – the story and the photos are so amazing that it wasn’t hard to make a compelling book out of it. Even so, I am glad to have achieved my goal. The story of René Herse and his riders is full of joy, friendship, wonderful rides and great bikes. I hope it will inspire future generations of cyclists.
Click here to find out more about the book or order your copy.
René Herse also is available in a French edition.
Like in previous years, Bicycle Quarterly has teamed up with Rizzoli’s Universe Publishing to create a Classic Bicycles calendar for 2014. On the cover is a wonderful René Herse Randonneuse built in 1950. Inside are studio photos of twelve classic bicycles.
Fans of racing bikes will enjoy Greg LeMond’s Gitane, Guiseppe Saronni’s Colnago, and a 1930s Caminargent with an aluminum frame.
Cyclotouring bikes include machines from Alex Singer, René Herse and Jo Routens, as well as the incredible Faure (above), which was made by a French jeweler. Counterpoints are provided by a Hirondelle Retro-Directe with its figure-8 chain, a Labor with a single-leg fork, and a tandem that set the hour record in the 1930s.
In addition to photos that have been featured in books from Bicycle Quarterly Press, the calendar shows many previously unpublished detail photographs. I look forward to enjoying my favorite bikes on my wall through the coming year.
The calendar is priced at $ 15 and available from the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore, as well as bookstores and stores that carry calendars. Quantities are limited, and last year’s calendar sold out quickly.
For more information or to order your calendar, click here.
Today, it’s raining in Seattle, which makes me want to settle into a comfy chair with a book. The Bicycle Quarterly bookstore sells a small selection of excellent books. If we sell a book, it’s because we like it and think you will, too.
Take the Yehuda Moon comic books. Rick Smith created this popular cartoon about a small bike shop. Yehuda likes fully equipped bicycles and rides for transportation. His friend and co-owner of the shop, Joe, rides for fitness only, on a racing bike.
The tension between these characters can entertain for hours. You can read the cartoons online, but I very much prefer to have a book in hand, and maybe even share a few of the episodes with my children. 4 softcover books, 88-96 pages, $ 15 each.
Bicycling Science still is the reference book on the science involving bicycles. If you want to find out why front loads are easier to steer than rear ones, why riding two abreast may be more aerodynamic than riding alone, and also why a rail cycle (above) appears to be the way to go for setting a human-powered speed record, this book is for you. Softcover, 485 pages, $ 28.
This new book about Campagnolo’s derailleurs comes from Japan. Directed mostly at bicycle collectors, Hideki Sasaki catalogues Campagnolo’s derailleurs in great detail. It is written in Japanese, but the many photos illustrate the many iterations of Campagnolo’s famous derailleurs. Contributors include experts like Hiroshi Ichikawa, who explored the history and development of Campagnolo’s first parallelogram derailleur, the Gran Sport, for Bicycle Quarterly.
Here you find all of Campy’s derailleurs, from the famous Super Record (above) to the obscure ones (below).
Limited Edition, softcover, printed on heavy coated paper, 100 pages, $ 68. We are placing a one-time order for these books. You can order your copy here.
Our bookstore also carries Bicycle Quarterly Press’ own books, like the new René Herse and the much-acclaimed The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, and a number of other select titles. For more information or to order, go to the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore or click on the images for each book.
We have 2 excellent cycling books to share with you. We reviewed them in the Summer 2013 issue of Bicycle Quarterly and they are now are available through our web site.
Elly Blue’s Everyday Bicycling is one of the rare books that deserve to be called “perfect.” I finished reading it and thought everyone, absolutely everyone, should read a copy. She concisely and humorously tells you everything you need to know about cycling safely and efficiently in traffic. Far from being a dry manual, the tone is conversational and lively. The contents are well-researched. Even controversial topics are treated evenhandedly and with a fact-based approach. It costs just $10, so you can not only read it yourself but also get copies to give to your family and friends.
The second book is a treat for those of us who pore over bicycle details and history. Rebour: The Bicycle Illustrations of Daniel Rebour is the first comprehensive overview of Daniel Rebour’s illustration work in English. More than 2000 of his drawings are presented on 253 pages.
Daniel Rebour documented the development of bicycles and components during the post-war era when he was the editor of the French trade magazine Le Cycle. He also illustrated the catalogues of famous constructeurs like René Herse, Alex Singer and Goéland. By emphasizing the parts that were important and leaving out superfluous details, like the spokes, Rebour’s drawings have a clarity and elegance that photos cannot match.
Each drawing in this book is accompanied by a paragraph of text that explains what is shown, as well as when and where it was published. The caption text was based on observation and conjecture rather than a translation of the original French captions, so unfortunately this means that there are numerous errors. However, this book is too important to be dismissed: every copy we send out comes with a booklet of corrections and additions, based on the original French texts.
For more information, visit the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore.
The French edition of our René Herse book has arrived both in Seattle and Paris. The pre-ordered books have been mailed to our readers. With every new book, it’s exciting to see what our readers think. A reader from Luxembourg wrote: “It is absolutely fantastic.”
Most of all, I am looking forward to the reaction of the riders in France who feature in the book. Now they can read it in their native language, and relive their memories with their families and friends.
L’édition française de notre livre René Herse est arrivé à Seattle et à Paris. Les livres pré-commandés ont été envoyés. Avec chaque livre qu’on publie, on attend les commentaires avec impatience. Un lecteur luxembourgeois écrit : “C’est absolument fantastique.”
Avant tout, j’attends la réaction des anciens pilots qui figurent dans le livre. Ils pourront revisiter leur mémoires et les partager avec leurs familles et leurs amis.
Pour plus d’informations ou pour commander votre exemplaire du livre, cliquez ici, s.v.p.
In the René Herse book, there is a chapter on the 1945 Omnium des Cyclotouristes, which included a climb up the steep cobblestone hill at Neauphle-le-Château near Paris. One of the riders, Paulette Porthault, remembered: “Oh it was awful, all those rough cobblestones which dated from the time of Louis XIV.”
Recently, Ivan Souverain visited the hill on his 1938 “Sans Peur” (Without Fear) 650B camping bicycle. He reports that it’s still as steep and difficult as it was in 1945.
In 1945, René André and Joël Simon were riding toward another victory for the René Herse team (top). The cobbles, the houses and the ancient wall all are still there 68 years later (above).
In 1945, many of the riders took to the side of the road, where the gravel and grass were smoother than the cobbles themselves. Above is the tandem of the Le Chevalliers, followed by Raymond Valance and his wife.
The sidepath now has been paved and is used for parking.
Ivan made it to the top, but his comment was: “The cobblestone hill is just not made for average rider like me.”
At least there is a Café nearby to celebrate his success. I have to ask Mme. Porthault whether they went that same cafe after the ride in 1945!
Maybe if you are traveling abroad this summer, you’ll find our books in the local language! The world-wide response to our books has been very rewarding. Recently, a German acquaintance sent me this photo from his local bookstore in Göttingen. In the center of a display on cycling books were the German editions of The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle.
The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles also has been quite successful in Japan. To fit on Japanese bookshelves, the size had to be reduced a bit!
Last week, we received the first bound copies of the French edition of René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders. It is printed by the same printer as the English version, to guarantee the same high quality.
It’s especially moving for me to see the book translated into French, since many of the riders featured in the book are still alive. When they saw the English version, it was great to see them remember their formative years. Few of them speak English, and I am especially excited about them reading the French edition and finding details they had forgotten or never knew. I am also glad that with this edition, French cyclists and collectors can appreciate the wonderful cyclotouring culture that their country spawned, which has been an inspiration for us all.
Title photo credit: Reinhold Schoon.
When somebody says nice things about your work, it’s always a good feeling. When that person is a mentor who has been a great influence, it’s even more meaningful. So when Grant Petersen reviewed our new book so positively and insightfully, it really made my day. It is great that he liked the book, but I am even more honored that he understood the idea behind it, and that he thinks we have achieved what we set out to do. Thank you, Grant!
You’ll also want to read his blug to hear his unique voice and enjoy his sense of humor: Read the review here…
In the past few weeks, we have received many e-mails from readers of our new René Herse book. All messages were positive. Many readers wrote that the book greatly exceeded their expectations.
I appreciate the feedback, and I am delighted that our readers are so happy. After all, few people take the time to write about something they buy, so when you get dozens of e-mails with only a couple of hundred books sold, it’s a good sign.
Readers love the wonderful photos and stories. The René Herse archives are amazing – I was blown away as well when I first saw them. But something inside me still wonders why the book exceeded so many people’s expectations. What did they expect, if not an amazing book? Perhaps the answer lies in the price: $86 is a lot of money in absolute terms, but it’s very little for a book like this.
Book pricing is a tricky thing, because when the book gets printed, you pay mostly for the setup fee. After that, it costs less and less to keep the presses running longer to print a higher quantity, thus lowering the per-unit cost.
This gives publishers two choices: You can print a lot of books, so you are able to sell them at a low price. The downside is that you need to sell many books to break even on the project. For specialized titles, it’s safer to print very few and sell them at a much higher price. After all, you know that some readers will buy the book almost at any price, and that way, you will break even once you have sold only a few hundred books.
As an example, take a beautiful book on the early days of Porsche published last year (top of this post). Many books have been published about Porsche, but this isn’t your standard, casual overview. It is a carefully researched book by one of the best authors in the field. It includes specially commissioned studio photos. With 356 pages in a format of 10.5 inches square, it’s almost as big as our René Herse book. The publisher priced the book at $ 120. The first printing is already sold out, barely three months after it appeared. This indicates that the publisher underestimated the interest in this topic, but it also means that they already have recovered their investment.
I have more than a passing interest in car design and history, even if I rarely drive a car. I am tempted by this book, since the Porsche/Cisitalia/Dusio Bicycles connection has intrigued me for a long time. But $ 120 makes me hesitate. At 2/3 that price, I would have bought the book as soon as it came out.
Above is another “specialized” title about the Group B rally cars of the 1980s. It’s a lavish book, 1000 pages in two volumes, written and published by the expert on the subject, photographer Reinhard Klein. The price? 995 Euros. That’s a little over $1300. No wonder the book is limited to 500 copies. Perhaps more surprisingly, over 400 already have been sold. Good for Mr. Klein, but too bad for me, who cannot afford his book.
René Herse could be considered a “specialized” topic as well. The average cyclist doesn’t recognize the name, and our book never will become a blockbuster. On the other hand, there are quite a few fervent fans of the “Magician of Levallois.” For them, the book would be a “must-have” at almost any price. Unlike Porsche or rally cars, there isn’t anything else published on the subject. If there ever was a title that lent itself to a high price, this is it.
So why didn’t we price the book high? The reason for keeping our books affordable is simple: The story of René Herse and his riders is so wonderful that I want to share it with as many people as possible. The very reasonably price of René Herse allows the book to have an impact far beyond the collectors and connoisseurs. That way, it can inspire current and future generations of cyclists. That is my passion and true goal for writing these books.
For true aficionados, we offer the “Limited Edition” with a beautiful slipcase and four ready-to-frame art prints of unpublished photos from the René Herse archives.
Click here for more information about either edition of the René Herse book.
Our new book René Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders will be available with French text in addition to the English version. Therefore, this update is in French.
Notre nouveau livre René Herse • Les Vélos • Le Constructeur • Les Pilotes probablement sera disponible en édition française. La période des pré-commandes a été prolongué jusqu’au 10 février. Nous comptabilisons à ce jour 126 pré-commandes. Il nous faudra 150 pré-commandes pour pouvoir imprimer l’édition française.
Nous approchons donc l’objectif ! Plus que 24 commandes ! Je suis sûr que c’est faisable. Parlez-en à vos amis, aux collectionneurs des vélos anciens et à tous ceux qui aiment les belles machines. C’est un livre extraordinaire, et tous les lecteurs qui ont reçu l’édition anglaise sont ravis.
Pour moi, ce serait un très grand plaisir de voir ce livre, sur un sujet si français, disponible en français. De plus, j’en ai commandé une vingtaine pour moi-même, car je veux les offrir à Lyli Herse et aux autres pilotes qui nous ont aidé dans ce projet.
C’est dificile de d’imaginer la beauté et le grand format du livre. Pour le voir en personne (édition anglaise), visitez notre distributeur La Biciclette à Paris.
Pour pré-commander votre exemplaire, cliquez ici (www.reneherse.fr), s.v.p.
While I was in Paris and presented the first copy of the René Herse book to Lyli Herse, the container with the bulk of the books continued its voyage to Seattle. We finally received the shipment last Monday!
We immediately started packing and mailing books to readers who pre-ordered the book. You should receive your copy soon. We look forward to hearing how you like the book.
Mailing a 424-page book that weighs over 6 pounds is not a simple task. The weight of the book alone can cause badly bumped corners if the book slides around inside its box. We tested numerous packaging solutions (above), but none really worked. So we designed foam corners to protect the book and had them custom-made from recycled foam. The corners fit inside the box and prevent the book from moving around. They absorb the impact if the box falls onto a hard surface, and they make sure that a bumped corner of the box does not result in a damaged book. After all the work we put into this book, it would be a shame if it got damaged in shipping!
To give you a taste of the book, here are three of the bikes that are featured in the book. The photo at the top of the post is a never-ridden, completely original 1945 mixte, made just after the end of World War II. There are very few survivors from this early period in Herse’s work, and were were incredibly lucky to find one that remains exactly as it left Herse’s shop.
Above is a classic 1951 Sportif that displays the craftsmanship and design of Herse in his prime. Even though there is a lot going on with racks, lights and cantilever brakes, Herse made it all look elegant and coherent.
This is one of the last bikes built in the Herse shop, a 1980 Campeur that shows how the classic Herse features were updated during the late 1970s, with simpler lugs, a new stem design and ultra-long points on the fork crown. The craftsmanship on this bike is amazing, with every cable running inside the frame tubes – not just the rear brake, but also both derailleurs and even the remote control for the generator that powers the lights. These are just three of the twenty bikes that are featured in multiple studio photographs each, in addition to the hundreds of historic photographs of Herse’s bikes and their riders.
Click here for more information about the René Herse book or to order your copy.
Last Friday, we met at Lyli Herse’s house outside of Paris for cake and cider to celebrate two birthdays: René Herse was born on this day in 1908, and Gilbert Bulté, one of Herse’s riders, celebrated his 92nd birthday!
“Monsieur Gilbert” (on the right) remains in excellent health, and it was great to see him again. Three other “anciens pilotes” also joined the celebration. (Robert Limouzi is on the left, Jean-Marie Comte in the middle, and Pierre Nédéllec is not in the photo.)
There was another reason for the gathering: I presented the very first René Herse book to Lyli Herse. When posing for the photo above, everybody looked pretty serious, but as soon as they started leafing through the book, they were all smiles.
Again and again, they exclaimed: “Look, that is so-and-so, remember her/him?” and “Do you remember that event? We really did well there!” The surprise when they discovered themselves in full-page photographs was truly priceless. Lyli was almost in tears – it was nice to see how proud she is of her family’s accomplishments.
Christophe Courbou, who designed the book’s layout, also got his first look at the finished product. I was glad when he declared: “The printer did an excellent job.”
It was a memorable day. One doesn’t write and publish a book like this to make money. It takes years of full-time work, and the cost of photography and printing are very high. Writing this book is all about wanting to share a wonderful story. It’s also a way to reciprocate the generous friendship of the old randonneurs. Bringing such joy to people’s lives makes all the hard work worth while.
Our new book René Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders will be available with French text in addition to the English version. Therefore, this announcement is in French.
Notre nouveau livre René Herse • Les Vélos • Le Constructeur • Les Pilotes sera disponible avec texte français. Le livre a été traduit professionnellement sous la direction de Raymond Henry et Dominique Pacoud. Pour pouvoir l’imprimer dans une version française, il nous faut 150 pré-commandes. (Le montant de ces commandes sera loin d’atteindre le prix de l’impression, mais ce projet se fait surtout par amitié pour les anciens pilotes de Herse, et non dans un but lucratif.) Pour plus d’informations, cliquez ici, s.v.p.
(Les lecteurs français qui ont déjà précommandé l’édition anglaise du livre pourront choisir de recevoir l’édition française à sa place.)
Mise à jour: 10/2/2013
Le livre sera publié dans son édition française.
Cliquez ici pour plus d’informations.
The good news is that the René Herse books are on the way to Seattle. We received a few advance copies, including the Limited Edition with its beautiful slipcase (above). The book turned out even nicer than we expected.
The bad news is that the boat won’t reach Seattle before the holidays. Circumstances beyond our control have delayed the shipping. Airshipping hundreds of 6-pound books also seemed like an unnecessary waste of resources.
We have notified those with pre-orders that the books will be mailed out in early January. To compensate for the delay, we’ll send each customer a 5″ x 8″ ready-to-frame print of an unpublished photo from the Herse archives, if the pre-order for the book is received by December 15. The image will be printed by a professional photo lab on heavy cotton paper. We want to provide you with something special for the Holidays, and this photo will only be available through this offer. Below are a few photos that give you an idea of the Herse archives (a tiny fraction of the thousands of images).
We know that you will be in awe when you do get the book, and we appreciate your understanding in the meantime. If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy yet and would like to place your order and receive a copy of the special print, click here.
Printing a book is a long and exciting process. During the last few months, almost every week, we have received a courier package with yet another step in the process for approval. First the plotter printouts, then the digital color proofs, paper and cover samples, and finally, the actual pages of the printed book. And now the latest package included a hand-bound copy of the final book. The real thing! It’s a hefty tome, 424 pages weighing almost 3 kg (6.5 pounds). More importantly, it’s beautifully produced, and the photos really turned out great.
Our printer, C S Graphics, is one of the best in the business. They specialize in art books, which is why they are so meticulous. When you do a high-end book on Vincent Van Gogh or John Singer Sargent, the colors must be exactly right, not just approximate. While I am glad that the colors of the studio photos of the René Herse bikes are exactly like the originals, I am more excited about the depth and detail shown in the many black-and-white photos in the book.
C S Graphics is not the least expensive printer, but their quality is unsurpassed. And for me, that is worth the extra money. I know this book is going to be cherished for many years, and that is why we have put everything we have learned during a decade of publishing books into this volume.
The books are being bound now, and will soon be on their way to Seattle. We hope to have them before long. In the mean time, we are working out ways to mail the books so they don’t get damaged; such a big (and beautiful) book cannot simply be stuffed into a padded envelope. We want to make sure your copy arrives in pristine condition for you to enjoy.
For more information on Bicycle Quarterly Press’ René Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders or to pre-order your copy, click here.
Our new book! Instead of telling you about René Herse, I’d like to tell you how this book came about. While I was visiting René Herse’s daughter Lyli many years ago, we talked about restoring the tandem that placed first in the 1956 Paris-Brest-Paris. Lyli thought that she might have some parts in her garage that could be useful. So we headed out and began to rummage around. Among the lawn mower and gardening tools, there were indeed a few interesting supplies, like hollow aluminum fender stays apparently left over from the 1940s technical trials. (The valuable Herse components were sold to another builder many years ago when the shop closed.) Then we came upon two suitcases. “What is in there?” I asked Lyli. She replied: “I don’t know. Open them!”
The suitcases were full of photos. Not just hundreds, but thousands of photos. Not just snapshots; most were of excellent composition and quality, taken by professional photographers. As I looked through them, the whole history of Cycles René Herse began to unfold in front of my eyes. Here was a photo of René and Marcelle Herse as a young couple. There was the first René Herse component, a pedal, and his first crankset; I knew the pedals only from a drawing in Herse’s advertisement in pre-war issues of Le Cycliste.
Herse had introduced his components at the 1938 Technical Trials, where he rode a bike made by Narcisse, but equipped with Herse’s own components. Contemporary reports explained that the bike was lighter than any bike before, but nobody knew any longer what that Narcisse bike looked like. In the suitcase was a photo of Herse at the Trials with his Narcisse! It’s the photo shown above.
There were photos of war-time events that I had never heard about. I found many photos of Herse’s daughter Lyli with various captains winning the tandem category of almost a dozen Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb races. Dramatic night-time images showed riders in Paris-Brest-Paris. Others featured Herse with his team at the finish of competitive events. There was Lyli in the United States, visiting customers and friends during the 1960s, when American orders helped to keep the shop afloat.
The suitcases contained autographed photos from famous racers thanking René Herse for his assistance. Could they corroborate the stories that many champions had ridden on frames that had been made by Herse?
It was a treasure trove of previously unseen materials. Some of the photos were inscribed on the back in Marcelle Herse’s neat handwriting, but most lacked identification. During my research, I was fortunate to speak with many of the old “Pilotes de Herse” who are still alive. Those discussions and their rides have left indelible memories.
Gilbert Bulté took on the task of identifying many events and riders. Paulette Porthault, “the Aunt”, who had known Herse from the earliest days, told us about riders and events that we never had even had heard about, like the war-time technical trials. Women who raced on Lyli Herse’s team in the 1970s filled in other parts of the story. It took half a decade of detective work to piece together this entire history, and by the end, I could recognize some riders like Lyli Herse even if their faces were obscured, just by their way of sitting on the bike. Many company records of Cycles René Herse survive, which helped establish the history of the company, and allowed me to corroborate riders’ and employees’ reminiscences.
From the moment we opened those suitcases, I knew that these archives had to be shared with the world in a new book. The stories from the riders are even richer. As we did our research, one rider after another shared their photo albums to complete the story. For example, Daniel and Madeleine Provot provided the wonderful images of touring during the 1950s (above). As part of this research, we recorded many wonderful stories that otherwise would have been forgotten. Together with the photos, these memories tell a wonderful story of a time when cyclotouring was not just a hobby, but a way of life.
To illustrate the talent of René Herse, we set up photo studios in France, Japan and the U.S. to photograph 20 amazing, original René Herse bikes. The bikes span the entire history of Cycles René Herse, from early machines made during World War II to the last bikes made after Herse’s death in the 1980s. They include rarities like an unridden “New Old Stock” machine from 1945 and a track bike that was ridden to half a dozen French championships.
The result is our new book René Herse: the Bikes, the Builder, the Riders. Compressing a history as rich and varied as that of this prolific builder into a single book was a challenge. Rather than cut the book to a predetermined length and leave out wonderful images and anecdotes, we decided to give this story the space it needed. The book comprises 424 pages and includes more than 450 illustrations – it is the same size but more than twice as thick as The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.
By focusing on the riders who enjoyed cycling in the company of good friends, I hope this book will inspire future generations of cyclists. The book is being printed now, and will be available in November or early December 2012. For more information and additional photos, or to pre-order your copy, click here.