Bicycle Quarterly Past Editions: 15th Anniversary

Readers have been asking about our four-pack with the 15th anniversary Bicycle Quarterlies. When we streamlined out back edition catalogue, we had removed it. By popular demand, it’s back.

To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we put together a year of very special BQs. We started with an incredible adventure of traversing Kurakake Pass in Japan. It appears that we were the first people to travel here in 20 years, and what used to be a road turned into adventure we won’t forget.

What better way to celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly than to take everything we’ve learned about bikes and turn it into metal? J. P. Weigle built this amazing bike and, we entered it together in the French Concours de Machines, the competition for the best ‘light randonneuse.’ Marvel at this amazing 20.0 lb bike (fully equipped, including the pump) and read Peter’s story of how he built the bike and finished it in Paris the night before the event.

Would you take a 1947 Rene Herse tandem on a mountainous week-long trip across the French Alps? Of course you would! When the opportunity presented itself, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. It was Natsuko’s first tandem ride, but there couldn’t have been a better introduction to riding as a team.

We celebrate the life of Lyli Herse, who left us half-way through our anniversary year. Despite eight French championships and hillclimb records that stand to this day, Lyli always remained a cyclotourist at heart. Her life has been an inspiration to many of us.

Natsuko has been a member of Tokyo’s Yama Sai Ken (Mountain Cycling Club) for many years. To celebrate this illustrious club’s 35th anniversary, she dug into the members’ archives to bring you its fascinating story. Here are riders who built their own bikes for conquering the mountains, years before mountain bikes became a thing. Their story is as inspirational as their photos are beautiful.

Imagine gravel roads that descend 6000 ft (1800 m) in one stretch – and then climb just as high. Visiting Mexico’s Copper Canyons was our biggest adventure yet. The combination of breathtaking landscapes, incredible roads, and the friendly atmosphere of small-town Mexico, made for a truly unique trip.

Those are just a few of the highlights of BQ’s anniversary year. There were bike tests like the Surly Midnight Special, the stories of builders like Jo Routens in France, Harry Havnoonian in Pennsylvania, and Seattle’s Bill Davidson…

… Pellos’ great sketches from the heroic age of the Tour de France and much, much more.

You don’t want to miss these anniversary editions! The past editions of Bicycle Quarterly are going fast, and they won’t be reprinted – with 70 editions out, we simply don’t have enough space to store them all. Get them while they last!

Our convenient four-packs of past editions are sorted by subjects – select one or several based on your interests, or create your own four-pack from all the BQs that are still available. Click here for more information.

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My PBP Bike: The Frame

When I asked readers which part of my bike for last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris they wanted to hear more about, the answer was: “Everything.” So we’ll make a series of short posts about the parts of the bike. I’ve already talked about the centerpull brakes here. Today, let’s look at the frame.

It’s no secret that I love my titanium Firefly. I’ve also enjoyed some great rides on carbon bikes. I wanted a very lightweight bike, and I seriously thought about getting a titanium frame or adapting a carbon U.P.P.E.R. to create a randonneur bike. In the end, I opted for steel because it’s easier to fabricate a frame that accepts all the things I need for adventures like Paris-Brest-Paris: fenders, lights, a rack, a pump… Continuer →

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A Winter Ride

When the forecast predicted a rare break in Seattle’s relentless rain, Ryan Hamilton and I quickly decided: “Let’s head to Index!” It’s a favorite winter ride that spears deep into the Cascade Mountains, but stays in the valleys (mostly), so it remains rideable while the high passes are covered with snow.

This time, we added a challenge: “Let’s try to get back before dark!” We knew this was ambitious for a 150-mile (240 km) ride with more than 6,000 ft (1,830 m) of elevation gain. Winter days in the Pacific Northwest aren’t exactly long, and we didn’t want to leave too early in case there was ice on the roads. We met at 7, just before dawn, and rode out of Seattle at a good clip. Continuer →

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12-Speed Rene Herse Cranks

We’re excited to announce that our ramped-and-pinned chainrings are 12-speed compatible. We knew that 12-speed was coming when we developed our 11-speed rings, so we tried to anticipate the requirements, so that our chainrings would be compatible with 12-speed as well.

Now we’ve completed our testing, and we’re happy to report that all our ’11-speed’ chainrings also work well with 12-speed chains. Continuer →

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Lael Wilcox: The Mount Lemmon Challenge

I love the scenes in movies and the chapters in books when the hero is training and developing and working to become great; when you see that drive and ambition to face sacrifices and to improve. You see cold early mornings and sweat and pain become results. I want to live that story. I want to climb that mountain.

The beauty of climbing is that you won’t just have one experience. There will be fierce moments of riding into a driving wind, of your lungs flaming and your quads disintegrating to cinders, and then there will be absolute calm. The longer you stay out there, the more you’ll experience. Continuer →

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Ryan’s Bike for Paris-Brest-Paris

Ryan Francesconi rode his steel-framed Smeltzer ‘Thee Gifford’ adventure bike in last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris. Ryan’s tires were wider than almost anybody else’s, and yet his 650B x 48 mm Switchback Hill Extralights didn’t slow him down as he surfed the fast pacelines during the early hours of the event. Continuer →

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David’s Bike for Paris-Brest-Paris

When David Wilcox signed up to ride in last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km (750-mile) brevet, he wondered about which of his bikes – he has quite a stable! – would be best for this long ride. Comfort is paramount if you’re going to spend 45+ hours in the saddle, but so is speed: The faster you go, the more you can rest without having to worry about time limit of 80 hours.* Continuer →

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James Bay Descent – The Movie

When Ted King, Ryan Atkins, Eric Batty and Buck Miller rode more than 600 km in northern Ontario last winter, it was a real adventure – and they raised money for a local charity. We were happy to be involved in a small way – we supplied the entire team with Berthoud saddles, so they’d be comfortable during their long days on the road.

Now Eric has made a short movie about their incredible ride. Enjoy!

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UD Racks for (almost) every bike

Handlebar bags are one of the best places to carry luggage on your bike. Right in front of you, the contents are easy to reach. A handlebar bag doesn’t increase your frontal area, so it’s aero, and it doesn’t get caught on obstacles when you ride through tight spaces. Handlebar bags have more capacity than most other bikepacking bags, and there’s none of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ effect you get with rear bags, especially when climbing out of the saddle.

Handlebar bags work best when they are supported by a rack. That way, the bag sits as low as possible and doesn’t swing from side to side – both important for good handling. Ideally, your bike’s front-end geometry is designed to accommodate the extra load, but many riders enjoy their handlebar bags on a wide variety of bikes. Continuer →

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Myth 19: 700C Wheels Are Faster

When we started this series to celebrate Bicycle Quarterly’s 15th anniversary, we thought we’d eventually run out of myths. But it seems that new ones are created as fast as we can debunk old ones. The latest is “700C wheels roll faster than 650B.”

This is stated with the same certitude as the old “narrow tires are faster” – and it’s just as wrong. Simply put, there is no evidence that 700C wheels roll faster than 650B (or 26″), and much data to show that they all roll at essentially the same speed. Continuer →

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Predictions for the 2020s

Happy New Year and welcome to a new decade, the 2020s!

Ten years ago (above), Bicycle Quarterly predicted that wide tires would become commonplace, that all-road bikes would replace racing bikes as the most popular genre, and that riders would soon venture off the beaten path and onto gravel. All that seemed unlikely in 2010, and we had to wait more than half-way through the decade for these predictions to become reality.

Now we’re heading into the 2020s, and I’m thinking about what the next 10 years will bring. As in 2010, I don’t claim to be able to see into the future; it’s just what makes sense… Continuer →

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Bicycle Quarterly Past Editions

The most common comment we get from Bicycle Quarterly readers is “I wish the magazine came out more often.” Publishing more often would be nice, but it’s not possible: It takes three months to create each edition. With more than 100 pages of stories – all original contents and hardly any ads – each Bicycle Quarterly is a small book. Four books a year is all our small team can publish. Continuer →

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Rethinking Packaging

Since we’ve started Rene Herse Cycles in 2011, we’ve been working on reducing our environmental impact. We were among the first to use custom-designed cardboard boxes with inserts that hold our cranks securely. That has been part of our commitment to reduce our impact – while making sure that our parts reach our customers all over the world in perfect condition. Continuer →

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Jikkoku Pass in Autumn: Day 2

In the last post, I talked about riding on the old road across Jikkoku Pass.

Where to go on the second day? We haven’t quite decided yet. The typhoon is getting closer, and we don’t know what the weather will be like. If it’s just raining, it’s OK, but this time, a huge typhoon is forecast, which may make riding in the mountains dangerous because of landslides. We will adjust our plans as the day develops. Continuer →

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Jikkoku Pass in Autumn

Usually, October in Japan is a month of good weather, with an occasional typhoon that needs to be considered when planning a cyclotouring trip. But when I visited Japan this autumn, October saw so many typhoons and rain. It’s very unusual.

We did not want to miss the short window of good weather as we planned a cyclotouring trip. Mr. Yo had time off and could join us. We decided to go on a two-day trip together. Where to go? Continuer →

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Frank Berto: We will miss you!

Word has just reached us that Frank Berto passed away last Sunday, aged 90. Berto was one of the most inquisitive technical minds in the cycling world and a long-time contributor first to Bicycling magazine and then to Bicycle Quarterly.

An avid cyclist since his childhood in the 1940s, Frank obtained a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1958. He worked in the oil industry as an instrumentation and oil measurement consultant. On the side, he authored more than 100 technical articles. His book The Dancing Chain traces the history of derailleurs in all its twists and turns.

Frank was one of the first to (re)discover that derailleurs shifted well if the chain gap (distance between cassette cog and upper derailleur pulley) was constant in all gears. He also measured the tire drop of dozens of tires and summarized the results in his famous tire pressure chart that remains the best guidance for inflating your tires to this day. Frank had little time for hero worship, but he appreciated companies like SunTour and the mid-century French derailleur makers who made innovative derailleurs that shifted well.

When I started Bicycle Quarterly 17 years ago, Frank sent his check for a subscription with a note. With typical frankness, he wrote: “I give you two years max. I’ve seen them all come and go, On the Wheel, the Bicycle Trader… In the mean time, I’ll help you as much as I can.” That help included xeroxing articles from his extensive library and reviewing the technical articles we wrote. He was excited when we built on his research and took it to the next step. When BQ published Aldo Ross’ article on the fiendishly complicated Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix derailleur, Frank, the expert on derailleurs, called me and exclaimed: “Finally, I understand how that thing works!”

During our frequent phone conversations, Frank was gruff, yet warm and charming. He was not just a fount of knowledge, but also fun. We owe him a lot! Our condolences go out to Frank’s wife Connie and his family.

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Back in Stock: Maware Bar Tape, Monkey Bananas, Chainstays and more

At Rene Herse Cycles, we know that our customers rely on their bikes – for transportation, for sport and for fun. So we try to keep all our products in stock at all times. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a new tire or part for a big ride and having to hunt around for left-over stocks, because the maker or distributor is out of stock. And yet, it can happen: Demand suddenly increases, or there are delays in manufacturing. And then an item is out of stock. We just received a big shipment from Japan, and our local production right here in Seattle also has caught up, so we’ve got a lot of parts back in stock.

I got many questions about my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris. One of the most asked was about the handlebar tape. Maware leather tape is by far my favorite. Made from pigskin, it’s thin, and it wraps smoothly. It’s soft to the touch and has just the right amount of grippiness. Whenever I moved my hands during the long 56-hour ride and felt the luxurious tape, I smiled. It’s one of the little things that make the miles pass quickly. Continuer →

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Riding the Un-Ride with Ted King

Today’s Un-Ride, as Ted named it, was a blast. It was wet, it was tough, and it was great. We just rode hard and enjoyed the company of the group. There was no posing for the cameras – and it was too dark for good photos anyhow – but the few pics I managed to snap while keeping my heart rate close to the max probably tell the story just fine.

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How durable are leather saddles?

How durable are leather saddles? It’s a question we often get with respect to the Berthoud saddles we distribute in North America. Especially now that it’s winter here, and often raining. Will a leather saddle be ruined if it’s ridden in the rain?

The answer is a reassuring ‘No.’ There is only one thing to consider: The underside of the saddle should be protected. If the leather gets completely soaked, the saddle top will lose its shape. Continuer →

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This Sunday: Ride Tahuya with Ted King

Just a quick reminder that our Un-Meeting-style ride with the ‘King of Gravel’ is this Sunday. The weather forecast is unseasonably good for Seattle – just a slight chance of rain in the morning. Here are the details:

  • When: Sunday, December 8, 2019
  • Where: Seattle Ferry Terminal, 7:35 a.m. ferry to Bremerton
  • What: 80 miles (130 km), paved and gravel (all-paved option)
  • How: Un-Meeting style (everybody is welcome, but it’s not a group ride)

Route sheet, GPS track and more info are in last week’s post. I look forward to riding with many of you on Sunday!

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Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly

Adventures in all their forms are the theme of the Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Lael Wilcox and Rugile Kaladyte tour Kyrgystan in preparation of the Silk Road Mountain Race. Three friends attempting a new route on the border between France and Italy. Two riders enter The Japanese Odyssey, a ride so challenging that few participants actually finish it. Even our bike test of the new Crust Canti Lightning Bolt turns into an adventure when a storm moves in as we traverse the Cascade Mountains.

The new Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer – below are the first proofs. Tomorrow we’ll finalize the mailing list. Please subscribe or renew today to be among the first to get your BQ. Thank you!

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Are gravel bikes slower than road bikes?

The euphoria about gravel bikes is hitting a snag: Many riders feel that their gravel bikes are slower than their road bikes. For example, James Huang, the technical expert from CyclingTips.com, posted:

“I’ve been spending too much time on gravel and mountain bikes lately. Good to be reminded what real speed actually feels like.” Continuer →

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Blog Transition is Complete

Thank you for your patience last week while we’ve transitioned the blog to the Rene Herse web site. We’ve moved all the old contents – blog posts and comments – to the new site, so everything continues to be available.

If you’ve bookmarked a blog post, the link no longer works. Replace the old web address and date with ‘www.renehersecycles.com,’ and you’ll be able to find your bookmarked posts. Below are the new links to six of our most popular posts:

Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to get updated when new posts are published. Use the box on the right side. We won’t use your information for anything else, and it’s easy to unsuscribe if you’re no longer interested.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy this blog!

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Steel Road Bike Book (Japan)

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.

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Golden Age and Competition Bikes out of print

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.

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Ride Tahuya with Ted King

Join us on a ride with Ted King, the ‘King of Gravel’! We’ll head to the Tahuya Hills on some beautiful (and hilly) roads. There’ll be plenty of gravel, as well as an all-paved option.

  • When: Sunday, December 8, 2019
  • Where: Seattle Ferry Terminal, 7:35 a.m. ferry to Bremerton
  • What: 80 miles (130 km), paved and gravel (all-paved option)
  • How: Un-Meeting style (everybody is welcome, but it’s not a group ride)

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Our Blog Has Moved

We are excited to move our blog and integrate it seamlessly with our Rene Herse Cycles web site. This will allow us to create even more exciting content. And now we can link directly between blog posts and support pages. This and other changes will improve your experience as you use this resource. If you subscribed to the old blog, your subscription will automatically move here. (You will get a message from WordPress about this.)

Please bookmark the new site. Better yet, click on the ‘Follow Our Blog’ button to receive a short e-mail when a new post goes up. (It’s easy to unsubscribe by clicking the button again.) Thank you!

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How Fast are Rene Herse Tires?

How fast are our tires? We know that the casing, and not the width, determines a tire’s speed. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris on 42 mm-wide tires (above), I knew that I wasn’t giving up any speed over narrower rubber. But in absolute terms, how fast are our Rene Herse tires?

Manufacturers’ claims always are taken with a grain of salt… So let’s look at two independent tests of our tires. They still list the old ‘Compass’ name, but the tires tested were the same as the current Rene Herse models.

The respected German magazine TOUR found our Bon Jon Pass as one of the five fastest tires they’ve ever tested. TOUR tested the Standard model. The much more supple and speedy Extralight would have fared even better.

TOUR’s test rig is a pendulum that rolls the tires back and forth. The longer the pendulum swings, the lower the rolling resistance.

Like all tests that don’t include a rider, this test measures only losses due to deformation of the tire (hysteretic losses). In the real world, there are also suspension losses as vibrations are absorbed by the bike and the rider. Wide tires vibrate less than narrow ones, so they tend to roll even faster than these tests suggest.

In any case, the result is clear: In TOUR’s test, the Bon Jon Pass is one of the fastest tires in the world, closely matching the best racing tires. Being 9-12 mm wider than the racing tires doesn’t make the Bon Jon Pass any slower.

What’s the best gravel tire? – 10 models in comparison

How about comparing our tires to other wide tires? Gran Fondo magazine recently tested ten popular gravel tires. Rolling resistance (and puncture resistance) were tested by Schwalbe’s engineers in the company’s test lab.

Our Barlow Pass Extralight had the lowest rolling resistance (red bar) of all tires in the test. (100% is the best in the test.)

The engineers at TOUR and Schwalbe are among the most respected in the cycling world. Their tests show that our casings are among the most supple, and roll as fast or faster than the best tires in the world.

On real roads, the advantage of supple tires is even greater: Not only do they absorb less energy as they flex, they also vibrate less. And that reduces the suspension losses. Both effects work in tandem: Supple tires have less tire deformation and less vibration. As a result, the greater speed of supple, wide tires becomes very noticeable when you ride on real roads. When you try different tires back-to-back, you realize that tires are the biggest performance upgrade you can make to your bike.

A little more about the Gran Fondo test: The testers were impressed by the “superb levels of comfort” of the Barlow Pass and called it “almost as nice as flying.” They also were surprised how much grip the supple tires offered on gravel and dry dirt roads. Of course, reading that makes us happy, even if it just confirms what we’ve found in our own testing.

Further reading:

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"Why I love Dirty Kanza" – Interview with Ted King


Last weekend was the 14th running of the Dirty Kanza, the famous 200-mile gravel race in Kansas. After the race, I was chatted with Ted King (TK), winner in 2016 and 2018, about what makes Dirty Kanza so special.

JH: Congratulations to another great finish in Dirty Kanza!
TK: This was my 4th go at DK, and it was the hardest edition that I’ve experienced.

JH: Tell us about the race!
TK: After the initial easy ride down Commercial Street, it ended up being a relatively slow roll-out where nobody really wanted to show their cards for the first 25 miles. At that point, with enormous faith in my equipment and tire choice, I gave it a good hard pull at the front of the group to break up the field. That dwindled the lead group from about 500 down to 50. The hours ticked by, and DK took its toll as riders dropped back from the typical places over such a tough slog: exhaustion, cramping, flat tires, or any number of other issues. 50 riders in the lead group became 25, then 10, then 8.
Colin (Strickland) rolled off the front on a hilly section and our group kept on the gas to keep him in sight. His advantage grew and grew, and it was clear that he meant business. Our pace picked up, Josh Berry went backwards from the group, and, a handful of miles later, so did I. I reunited and rode with Josh for a bit, then we separated and, with 4 miles to go, he and Kiel Reijnen caught me. We’re all buddies from our previous lives racing on the road together and amicably finished as a group.

JH: It sounds like a long, tough day. Tell us about the appeal of Dirty Kanza!
TK: For me, it’s the community and who shows up. Emporia is a pretty isolated location, smack in the middle of the country, and yet it’s such a fun, friendly, welcoming community. It starts right with the founders, Jim Cummins, Kristi Mohn, and Lelan Danes. They’re doing an amazing job celebrating everyone at the race, from first place to last, whether you finish or just line up. Emporia is not a quintessential cycling town, so it’s really palpable how they’ve persuaded a lot of people to get into cycling. For example, right there on Commercial Street in downtown, there are three bike shops, just four blocks apart! Every coffee shop, ice cream shop, and pub in town has some bicycle-related aspect to it. The whole community has embraced the sport so that it really is ‘Gravel Central.’ Then, at the finish, as the party engulfes the main street, it becomes a circus. It’s hilarious and really fun to be part of. It’s a wonderful critical mass, all backed by the community.

There is also a lot of history to the race. 2006 was the first year with just 34 riders. Back then, it was such an abominably long ride, before DK was DK. It grew a bit over the years until it suddenly became the event for a long single day of racing. Now 3400 or so people are racing it, with another thousand or more who haven’t won ‘the lottery.’ What I enjoy most is this community of friendly faces. It’s coming back year after year, seeing friends and folks I haven’t seen in a year, ready for another edition of an amazing race.

I think the distance is a huge part of the appeal. I do a lot of other long races, but 200 is such an interesting distance. You couldn’t do a 200-mile race in Vermont, for example, because it’s too hilly.

It’s such an iconic event too. Not much has changed since 2006. It’s still largely self-supported. If you started an event now, you’d need to put an aid station every few hours, have sag support, provide signage, and a bunch of other things. But they’ve kept DK pure over the years, really strongly tied to its roots. I love that it’s self-navigated. Sign pollution or sign sabotage can be a big issue in events, but being self-reliant makes for a really amazing day.

JH: What is it like to ride gravel in Kansas?
TK: The whole landscape is very wide-open and exposed. You start in downtown Emporia and roll out in a mass group. This is over relatively flat terrain. Then, the further out you get, the more gargantuan the hills get. You are on top of a crest and see the next one, and you think: “Geez, that’s a big hill. Who knew Kansas had climbs like these.”

And then you get into the deep gullies, where you drop down to a creek and then back up on steep climbs. It’s 12, 15, or 18%, and it takes quite some bike handling skills to get up, with the super sharp rocks and loose surfaces. Especially with all the precipitation they had this year.

Add to that, the wind always picks up in the afternoon. And since the course doesn’t go in one direction, the wind always changes. So you are blessed with a tailwind at times, and demoralized by cross- and headwinds at others.

Cows. Barns. Farms. You see lots of those things. It cattle country. You see farmers in huge pickup trucks, but unlike in many places, they are friendly folks who just drive by and wave.


JH: What is your equipment advice for Dirty Kanza?
TK: What I tell everybody who shows up at DK is to be confident about their equipment. It’s too late to arrive and start second-guessing, which inevitably everybody does. They come and say “My tire is too much”or My tire is too little,” “My gearing is too much” or “too little,” and so on. Focus on the ride and don’t worry about the bike.

JH: Tell us about your equipment choices.
TK: I’d say the biggest thing at DK is tires. You need tires that are tough enough not to flat on the incredibly sharp stones they have there in the Flint Hills. They’re truly unlike anything else I’ve ever ridden; it’s like riding on knives. I knew I was going to be on Rene Herse Endurance Plus casings, which gave me a huge confidence boost, and they performed flawlessly.

The weather was predicted to be wet, so I went with the Hurricane Ridge knobbies for the race. Then, on race day, it got really hot, and the course dried out completely. I was still happy with having knobs – there are so many corners that we took at high speed, and having extra tread gave me the confidence to stay off the brakes.

JH: This year, you use a double crank after a few years on a 1x. How do they compare?
TK: I’m a long-time SRAM athlete, and 1x has been their simple gravel setup in the past. Meanwhile, on the road, I’ve been racing eTap for half a dozen years or so, and I became a convert long ago. When the two combined, with confidence of eTap and the huge gear range with AXS, honestly, I find shifting fun with eTap. Certainly, I notice much smaller jumps between gears. Now I have 24 gears instead of 11. It’s truly fun to use, and it performed flawless out on the gravel.
JH: Why did you choose a Berthoud saddle?
TK: Mostly because I’ve used it for the entire year. It’s amazing in terms of comfort. It’s equally amazing how much attention it gets. My social media has become a forum where people ask me all the time what saddle am I using.

JH: Tell us about your new gravel ride/race, Rooted Vermont. What inspired you and Laura to organize the event?
TK: It’s a mix of a few things. After moving back east, we were immediately welcomed by the neighbors, who came and gave home-warming gifts and helped us move furniture into the house. Arriving in Richmond was truly special. On top of that, the riding is equally special: Right out of our house, we have mountain bike trails, gravel, paved roads. There’s an alpine ski area two miles away and nordic skiing maybe five miles from home. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, and we wanted to showcase this friendly local community to the greater cycling community. Laura and I have been lucky to have experienced so many events, and we want to take the best from each of them and bring it to our home roads.
JH: I understand that this year filled up quickly…
TK: We’re excited with the popularity in our inaugural event, but come back in 2020!

Photos by Ansel Dickey (except Photo 9).

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The long road to dual-purpose knobbies


When Ted King recently won the Epic 150 gravel race in Missouri on our Rene Herse Steilacoom tires, many were surprised that he ran knobbies on a fast course. But there were a few muddy corners where the knobs would provide valuable grip, and Ted knew that on the smooth portions of the course, he wouldn’t give up performance, thanks to our innovative tread pattern.

When we developed our ‘dual-purpose’ knobbies, I wanted tires that roll and corner as well on pavement as they grip in mud. I can see you shaking your head: “Impossible!” For grip in mud, you need knobs. On pavement, knobs flex as the tire rolls, consuming energy and slowing the bike. And when leaning the bike into a paved turn, knobs squirm, which reduces grip and makes cornering unpredictable.


That is why for most of the history of cycling, there were knobby tires for cyclocross, and smooth tires for the road. Nobody thought of riding knobbies on the road…


When mountain bikes became popular in the 1980s, knobby tires were part of their rugged appeal, but most entry-level mtbs were ridden around town. Tire makers started to think about making knobbies that perform better on pavement. The solution was obvious: Make them less ‘knobby’ by spacing the knobs more closely. In the center of the tire, the knobs often were linked to form a continuous ‘center ridge.’ This distributed the rider’s weight over more knobs and reduced the squirm. On pavement, this worked to a degree – these tires squirmed less, but they were still no high-performance tires.

There was a drawback: When you really need knobs to dig into soft soil, mud or snow, the closely spaced knobs clog up. You spin as you would on a slick tire. These days, you don’t find many tires with center ridges and densely spaced knobs any longer, because they are worse than road tires on pavement, and just as bad in mud.


The next idea was to remove the knobs in the center of the tread. That way, you roll mostly on smooth rubber when going straight, which reduces the tire’s resistance. As long as you go straight, this works OK. When you corner on pavement, the tire grips fine at first. Then you climb onto the knobs and suddenly lose traction. It’s not exactly what you want from a high-performance tire…

If these tires had excellent performance in mud, it might be worth the trade-off. But when grip is reduced,  you can’t lean the bike far enough to use the corner knobs. Even if the tire sinks deep into the mud, there are too few knobs to really make a difference – you don’t get much extra traction. Once more, you end up with a tire that corners like a knobby on pavement, but slides like a slick tire in mud.


How can you get around this problem? On the face of it, the answer is simple: Make the knobs large enough that they don’t squirm, yet space them far enough that the mud clears from in between. The knob shape itself doesn’t make much of a difference – the engineers of several tire makers have acknowledged privately that the different knob shapes are “mostly for style.”

Coming up with the idea was easy, but the devil is always in the details. Can a knob be large enough not to squirm, yet small enough to dig into the mud? Our testing indicated that this was possible. How much open space do you need to clear mud? Fortunately, decades of racing cyclocross on various tires had given us a good idea of where to start with our testing.

How to make a knobby tire that corners predictably? You arrange the knobs so that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, no matter how hard you lean the bike. That way, the traction is always the same, rather than suddenly breaking away as you lean and get on the edge of a line of knobs. It’s logical, and yet I haven’t seen any other knobby tire that follows that principle.


The hardest part was combining all these parameters into a single tread pattern. It took a lot of experimentation, but the result has surprised everybody. On a fast paved group ride, these tires perform as well as many racing tires. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but riders who’ve tried these tires agree. Gravel racer Ted King wrote to us: “On pavement, they’re incredibly smooth. The tread pattern is awesome  it’s really cool how deceptively simple the Steilacoom tread is, yet how well the tires work.” One independent reviewer even set Strava KOMs on his Steilacooms.


The cornering is easier to show. I can’t think of any other knobby tire that I’d dare to lean over that far on pavement. And I wasn’t even pushing the limits…


How about the performance in mud? After three seasons of cyclocross on Steilacooms, everybody agrees: They grip as well as the best cyclocross tires developed specifically for muddy courses.

Surely, there must be some drawbacks – otherwise, we should all be riding these knobbies all the time!

On the straights, the knobs have less ‘pneumatic trail,’ because there isn’t a continuous surface of rubber on the road. That means they don’t have quite the same straight-line stability as smooth-treaded tires in the same width. You may not even notice this, because the effect is small.

The knobs add a little weight, too, but once again, the effect is small, because the tread between the knobs is thinner – that part of the tire doesn’t wear, so we don’t need extra rubber there. Our knobbies weigh between 45 and 60 g more than their smooth-treaded cousins in the Rene Herse tire program. Thanks to our lightweight casings, they’re still lighter than almost any other tire with the same width.

As to the rolling resistance, the difference is so small that you won’t notice on the road even on a spirited ride with a group of well-matched friends. The biggest disadvantage may be that, like Ted King at the Epic 150, you’ll have people wonder why you ride “so much tire” on rides that include significant pavement…


I’m excited about the Rene Herse dual-purpose knobbies, because they make rides possible that were difficult to imagine before: rides that combine paved roads with muddy trails and even snow. We no longer have to choose between on-road performance and off-pavement grip. Once again, we’re pushing the limits of what our all-road bikes can do.
Our dual-purpose knobbies are available in three models:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge
  • 650B x 42 mm Pumpkin Ridge
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson (Photo 1).

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Safety Advice: Non-Standard Rims and Rene Herse Tires


Safety advice: Rene Herse tires are designed for rims that meet the ETRTO standard, specifically:

  • G height: 5.2 – 6.5 mm
  • Sidewalls with hooks.

Rims that do not meet the current standards – especially hookless rims and rims with sidewalls that have G heights of less than 5.0 mm – are not recommended for use with Rene Herse tires. This is especially important when installing your tires tubeless. Our testing has found that tires mounted tubeless on hookless rims or on rims with lower-than-standard G heights have a less-than-adequate margin of safety against blow-offs. All warranties are void when Rene Herse tires are installed on rims that do not meet the current ETRTO standards.

The ETRTO (European Tire and Rim Technical Organization) sets most standards for car and bicycle tires and wheels, not just for Europe, but for the entire world. Currently, the ETRTO standards are the only standards that exist for tubeless bicycle wheels. They specify the G height of the sidewall at 5.2 mm (for tubeless) and 5.5 – 6.5 mm (for tubes, depending on the rim width). The sidewall must have a hook.

Like most tire makers, we design our tires to meet the ETRTO standards. Why don’t all rim makers follow these standards, too?

In the past, there were some poorly designed rims with overly deep wells and G heights larger than 6.5 mm. Fortunately, these rims have long been discontinued, and cyclists who still have them usually know how to deal with the problems that occur when trying to mount tires on them (as much as this is possible).

These days, we see some rims with G heights that are smaller than the ETRTO standard and no hooks. Even though these rims do not meet the current standards, this makes sense for mountain bikes with carbon rims: A tall sidewall makes the rim vulnerable if the tire bottoms out while the bike is leaning over. The tall G height provides a long lever that can crack the rim. Why hookless? Mostly because the hook is difficult to make with carbon fiber: It requires a complex 3-piece mold for the rim bed.

A ‘hookless’ rim (above) with a shorter G height is stronger and less expensive to make. Stiff mountain bike tires are inflated to ultra-low pressures. They won’t blow off their rims even if there isn’t much sidewall to hold them on. So the non-standard rims have worked fine for mountain bikes. These mountain bike rims usually come with low maximum pressure ratings.

Recently, some rim makers have introduced ‘gravel’ or ‘all-road’ rims that are made to mountain bike standards: without hooks and with low G heights. Unfortunately, these rims don’t work well for high-performance all-road tires.


We can’t say it often enough: The bikes we ride aren’t mountain bikes. They are road bikes with really wide tires. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the industry still misunderstands what gravel and all-road riding is all about: The sport has grown from the bottom up, when riders like us headed into the mountains, found new roads and designed new equipment to ride on them. Some of the established manufacturers are getting it, but many still think inside their traditional boxes of ‘Road’ and ‘Mountain’ bikes. More often than not, they’ve put our bikes into the ‘Mountain’ category.

Here at Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve always thought of them as ‘road’ bikes – that is why we coined the term ‘all-road bike’ for them. Even though my Firefly (above) has 26″ wheels, it’s not a drop-bar mountain bike. It’s a road bike with wide tires. We ride on road tires, and we need road rims for them.

That is why hookless mountain bike rims don’t work well for all-road wheels. All-road tires are supple, and they run at higher pressures than mountain bike tires. This requires an additional margin of safety.

We tested a 650B x 48 mm Switchback Hill tire on a carbon mountain bike wheel with a hookless rim and a G height 0f 5.0 mm. We mounted the tire tubeless, but without sealant (for obvious reasons). The rim is rated to 40 psi, and the tire was fine at that pressure. 40 psi isn’t a lot, even for a 48 mm-wide tire. The tire is rated to 55 psi, so we kept inflating to see what would happen. At 58 psi, the tire blew off. We then repeated the experiment with a second tire, and it blew off at 65 psi. This problem is not limited to Rene Herse tires: Other riders have reported similar blow-offs with tires from other makers.

58 psi is a lot of pressure for a 48 mm tire, but when the tolerances stack up in a bad way (slightly oversize tire and slightly undersize rim) or when the tire isn’t installed perfectly, the blow-off pressure will be lower. Then the margin of safety won’t be adequate. This is neither the tire nor the rim’s fault. It’s simply using the wrong rim for a supple all-road tire.


How much of a difference does the hook make? We put one of the tires on a HED Belgium Plus rim. The G height is the same as on the carbon rim we tested (5.0 mm), but the HED rim has a hook. Even though this is the same tire that already had blown off the rim once, it stayed on at 75 psi. The is no doubt: The hook has a crucial function in keeping the tire on the rim. Other rim and tire makers have tested and found the same: The hook significantly increases the pressure at which the tire safely stays on the rim.

Fortunately, there is another way to increase the margin of safety: Use inner tubes. We put the tire back on the hookless mountain bike wheel, this time with a tube. We inflated it to 75 psi and left it overnight. Nothing happened. We were surprised that even the violent explosion had not stretched the tire, but these beads are strong. (However, we don’t recommend re-using a tire that has blown off the rim.) That is good news: Hookless rims tend to work better when used with tubes – even though we cannot officially recommend them, since they don’t meet the ETRTO standards to which our tires are designed

Conclusion: All-road bikes are road bikes, and all-road tires are road tires: They should be mounted on road wheels. When you buy new wheels, make sure the rims are designed to the ETRTO standards, and not to mountain bike standards: You want a hook and a G height of 5.2 – 6.5 mm. If your wheels already are equipped with hookless rims, using tubes can increase your margin of safety. And check the maximum pressure ratings, not just of the tire, but also the rim: Don’t exceed them!


Tubeless is great technology – had I used inner tubes on the ride across Odarumi Pass in Japan (above), I probably would have pinch-flatted several times. But tubeless is also an emerging technology. We’ve had to learn how to mount tires (huge blasts with compressors are a sign that the rim is undersize) and how much sealant we need (more than we usually think). Now we are discovering that hookless mtb-style rims don’t work well with all-road tires.

Why do tubeless tires blow off so much more easily? Without a tube reinforcing the joint between rim and tire, it’s much easier for air pressure to force its way out. It’s still extremely rare for tires to blow off, but, with tubeless tires becoming more popular, there have been more incidents than before. They affect all brands of tires – a little while ago, a wheel maker told me of two different tires from a big German tire maker that had blown off his hookless rims that day.

Also remember that tubeless-compatible tires always need liquid sealant inside. If the sealant dries out completely, the tire can break loose from the rim sidewall and deflate suddenly. This can cause the tire to come off the rim, even if rim and tire are sized correctly.


Safety is our biggest concern, not just for our customers, but also for ourselves, because we ride our bikes hard. We’ll continue to test, and we’ll continue to work with rim makers, to drive tubeless technology forward in a safe and responsible way. The last thing we want to worry about during our adventures is whether our tires will stay on their rims! Fortunately, in almost 100,000 km (60,000 miles) on Rene Herse tires and their predecessors, I’ve not experienced a blowout. We’ll work hard to make it remain that way!

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How to set up tubeless tires


Tubeless tires have eliminated the risk of pinch flats. For riding in really rough terrain, they are a game changer. But like all new technologies, it’s taken some trial-and-error until we figured out how to run bicycle tires tubeless.

Of course, tubeless tires are nothing new. Car tires have been tubeless for decades, but translating that technology to much more flexible and lighter bicycle tires has not been easy. (We don’t want to ride on rubber that’s as stiff and heavy as car tires!) Modern bicycle tires fall into two groups:

  • ‘Tubeless’ tires are covered with a rubber membrane – basically an inner tube is permanently vulcanized into the tire. These tires are airtight. You can just install them, and run them without inner tubes. However, the extra rubber makes them relatively stiff and slow.
  • ‘Tubeless-compatible’ tires are not airtight, and they roll as fast as conventional tires. Their bead has been designed for tubeless installation, so you can run them tubeless – but they require sealant to make the casing air-tight and to seal the tire against the rim. The sealant also will seal small punctures that otherwise would cause a flat. Most Rene Herse tires are ‘tubeless-compatible.’

Key to mounting tubeless tires is the right technique. This is especially important with supple tires. Stiff tires mount easily – just like car tires – because their casing is so stiff that it either touches the rim walls and seals, or it doesn’t.

Supple casings make tires fast and comfortable because they flex easily. This means that they may contact the rim in a few places, and have air gaps in others – making them harder to mount and seal tubeless. They follow the general rule of high-performance components: The tolerances need to be a bit tighter, and working with them requires a little more skill.

It’s not hard to install supple tires tubeless, if you work methodically. Here is how I installed my Rene Herse Extralights tubeless while traveling in Japan, with no access to a workshop and just a few tools.


To mount a tire tubeless, here is what you need: a tubeless valve; a valve core tool; a syringe for injecting the tubeless sealant; sealant; a tire lever; an inner tube; a tubeless-compatible tire. Your rims also must be tubeless-compatible, and covered with tubeless rim tape. It’s good to have extra rim tape on hand.

I only could find Stan’s sealant in Japan. It worked fine, but we recommend Panaracer’s SealSmart because it does a better job sealing the slightly porous sidewalls of supple tires.

You also need a pump to inflate the tire. A floor pump suffices, and in a pinch, you can get away with a frame pump. You do not need an air compressor. In fact, if you use an air compressor to make up for problems in tire/rim fit, your tire may blow off the rim later without warning.

For safe tubeless installation, a good fit between tire and rim is extremely important. Unfortunately, many OEM rims are slightly undersize, because that makes it easier to install tires in the bike assembly plants. (Imagine a rim that is slightly oversize. For a factory that needs to mount 10,000 tires a month, spending five extra minutes per tire would be a total disaster. That is why OEM rims tend to run small, and never should be larger than spec. OEM tires are installed with tubes, where a slightly undersize rim doesn’t pose a problem.)


If your tire goes on easily, the rim is undersized. Don’t try to install the tire. It may work fine at first, but it can blow off the rim without warning. If this happens in your workshop, it’s just a nuisance (and a big mess). If it happens on the road, the consequences can be far worse.

If your rim is undersize, it’s not the end of the world – there is a solution. Build up the rim bed with additional layers of rim tape. Some mechanics use Gorilla Tape for the extra layers – it’s a little thicker than standard tubeless tape. (Always use tubeless tape as the first layer on the rim to seal the spoke holes.) The tire should be a slightly tight fit. This makes sure that it seats correctly and doesn’t blow off the rim later.

When installing tires, make sure that the bead is in the rim well (above) all around before you lift the last part of the bead over the rim edge. The well is there to provide slack for the bead – the rim’s diameter is smaller in the center than toward the rim walls. With supple tires and tubeless rims, parts of the bead can end up on the shelf when you mount the tire. Push the bead into the rim well all around the tire – then the last bit of the bead will slip easily over the sidewall.

If you use a floor pump to seat the tire, install a tube first. This seats the beads and gives the tire its shape. Make sure both beads pop into place. Then unseat one bead (the one that popped into place first) by pushing it into the rim well, and remove the tube.


Install the tubeless valve. Don’t forget the valve nut that holds the valve in place. It pulls the valve’s rubber cone into the rim’s hole to create a tight seal. Don’t overtighten the nut: If the valve gets clogged with sealant or the tubeless setup fails, you’ll need to be able to remove the valve on the road to install a tube.


Before you inflate the tire, seat the bead as far around the rim as possible, starting at the valve.


Pull the tire upward and move the bead outward, until it sits on the shelf next to the rim wall.


Continue until the tire is too tight to pull upward. The remaining air gap is small and furthest from the valve. It will seal as the pressure pushes the tire outward.


Inflate the tire ‘dry’ without sealant at first. That way, if you need to remove the tire to add more rim tape, there won’t be messy sealant inside. Pump quickly to build up pressure faster than the air escapes.


Watch the tire as it seats. On the left, the line molded into the tire sidewall is still hidden by the rim wall. The bead hasn’t emerged from the rim’s well yet. Keep pumping until you hear a loud ‘pop’ as the tire seats.

On the right, you can see all of the line that is molded into the sidewall. Make sure it’s parallel to the rim edge all around the tire. Check this on both sides. If it’s OK, then the tire is seated on the rim.

If the tire doesn’t seat, take it off, and add more rim tape to create a tighter fit and smaller air gaps. If you use an air compressor, the tire should seat easily. If you need huge blasts of air to seat the tire, then the rim is too small. Build up the rim with extra tape, rather than risk a blow-out in the future.


Now the tire is inflated and looks great, but air will escape through small cracks and microscopic holes. To seal the tire, add sealant. Let out the air and unscrew the valve core. The beads will remain seated. (If a bead comes unseated now, it wasn’t properly seated in the first place.)


Turn the wheel so the valve is neither at the top nor at the bottom of the tire, where sealant would spray back out of the valve. Shake the sealant vigorously for a minute, so the solids are in suspension. Don’t skimp on this step! Otherwise, you’ll just inject colored water into the tire, and it won’t seal.

For our Rene Herse tires, we recommend Panaracer’s Seal Smart. It seems to seal the supple sidewalls better than other brands. When mounting the tires in the photos, I was in Japan, and Panaracer’s sealant had not yet been released. I couldn’t find our second choice, Orange Seal. So I used Stan’s. It worked fine.

Make sure to use enough sealant. Wide tires have a lot of surface area. To seal properly, you need about 90 ml (3 oz) – one to one-and-a-half of the bottles shown in the photo.


Replace the valve core. When I installed the tires tubeless in Tokyo, I didn’t have a valve core tool. A small adjustable wrench will do the job in a pinch.


Inflate the tire again. Since it’s already seated, this will be easy.


Close the valve. Now the tire looks ready to roll, but the sealant must still be distributed to seal all the microscopic gaps. Just riding the tire isn’t enough to stop all the tiny leaks.


There are different techniques for distributing the sealant. I’ve found this one to work best, because it methodically works the sealant into every part of the tire and rim interface. Make sure you have enough room. Don’t hit the ceiling, furniture, or your head. (Don’t ask how I know!)

Hold the wheel steady (left), so the sealant collects at the bottom. Quickly move the wheel upward (center). Centrifugal force will keep the sealant right under the tire tread. Hold the wheel over your head (right), still slightly tilted away from you. Now the sealant runs downward, covers the sidewall, and seeps into the gap between tire and rim.

Rotate the wheel a few degrees and repeat. (Start with the valve at the bottom, so you have a reference point.) Once you’ve worked all the way around the tire, turn the wheel around, and repeat on the other side. Now your tire is ready to ride. Riding it immediately will help distribute the sealant further.

If your tire loses air overnight, check it like a leaky inner tube. Often, you can hear and feel the air escape. Hold the tire so that gravity pulls the sealant into the leak. If it doesn’t seal, there may not be enough sealant in the tire.


Now your tubeless tire is ready to roll. Enjoy the ride!

Tubeless tips:

  • Panaracer Smart Seal works best to seal the supple casings of our Rene Herse tires.
  • Use enough sealant. When the mechanics at Paul Camp prepped bikes for their press fleet, they put 3 oz. (90 ml) in each tire, because they didn’t want trouble. More sealant makes your tires slower, but if your tire runs out of sealant, it’ll start losing air. If you want to go fast and don’t need to worry about pinch flats, use inner tubes. (Click here to read more about why tubeless tires are slower.)
  • Sealant needs to be topped up at least once a month. Supple tires push and pull slightly against the rim sidewall as the wheel rotates. If the sealant dries out, air will start leaking. Then the tire can suddenly break loose from the rim wall and lose all its air. Don’t ride your tires when there is no liquid sealant left inside – the sealant not only acts as flat protection, but it constantly seals the tire against the rim.
  • Use only new tires for tubeless installation. As a tire is ridden, the sidewalls flex and become more porous, making them harder to seal.
  • If you want the flat protection offered by the sealant without the hassle of tubeless installation, you can put sealant in your inner tubes. This also works best with new tires, and you obviously need tubes with removable valve cores. (The tubes we sell have removable cores.) Simply put some sealant inside the tube, and it’ll seal many punctures.
  • Most Rene Herse tires are tubeless-compatible. They are marked ‘TC’ on the tire label. The label on the package also says ‘Tubeless-Compatible.’

Click here for more information about Rene Herse tires.

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Myth 16: Higher Tire Pressure is Faster


This used to be one of the first things you learned as a cyclist: If you want to go fast, make sure your tires are pumped up to the maximum pressure. The harder your tires are inflated, the faster they roll.

We now know that this isn’t true. The realization that tire pressure does not affect performance is the key to the revolution that has swept through the cycling world in recent years. Without this new-found knowledge, all-road bikes and their supple, wide tires would make no sense at all. Here is how it works.

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Myth 15: Marginal Gains


‘Marginal gains’ are the latest buzzword in cycling. The idea is that many tiny improvements can add up to make a meaningful difference. Make 10 changes that each save 3 Watts, and you’ll have gained 30 Watts…

Think of Greg LeMond winning the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds… If the second-placed rider, Laurent Fignon, had used ceramic bearings, he might have won that year.

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A knobby faster than most road tires?


At Compass, we see little point in replicating what you already can buy from others. When we made our first knobby tires, we wanted true dual-purpose tires. Could the new knobbies match the on-pavement of good road tires, yet grip as well in mud as true cyclocross tires. Impossible? You’ll never find out unless you try…

After a few seasons of cyclocross, there is no doubt that the Compass Steilacoom (700C x 38 mm) and Pumpkin Ridge (650B x 42 mm) offer plenty of grip and shed mud well – as you’d expect from their widely spaced knobs.
How about their on-pavement performance? I’ll let others speak on that. Matt Surch, the well-known Canadian gravel racer, wrote: “I don’t understand how the tread rolls so fast and quiet… these are wild!”

When BQ tester Mark tried them, he wrote: “Once the wind drowned out the tire roar at high speed, I was thinking about how unremarkable the Steilacoom tires had rolled on the paved descent. I had pretty much forgotten that I was riding on knobbies.” Yet he was glad to have them when a road closure detoured us via a muddy trail (above).

And now Mike Stead tested a set of Steilacooms for www.road.cc. Among other adventures, he set two Strava records on these tires. One was for a gravel descent. His comment: “I wasn’t even pushing that hard. […] The Steilacooms make you a better, faster descender than you deserve to be.”
The second KOM surprised not just him, but us as well: He set a new record for a flat-out 60-second sprint – on pavement. He wrote: “Averaging 45 kph, the Steilacooms made an awesome high-pitched noise as I fanged along the straight. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I went back the next week and recorded exactly the same time to the second.”
Mike’s time on the Steilacooms was two seconds faster than the previous KOM record, which he had set on our Barlow Pass tires. Does that mean our knobbies are faster than our road tires? Not necessarily – there are too many variables – but it shows that they certainly aren’t much slower. And that is remarkable, considering that our road tires are among the fastest in the world.

In a future post, I’ll explain how we created a knobby that doesn’t ride like a knobby… until you hit mud or snow, when it behaves exactly like a knobby. But don’t take our word for it – read Mike Stead’s review.

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Myth 9: Fork Blades Don’t Flex


When we first started talking about shock absorption and fork blades, it was commonly believed that fork blades didn’t flex significantly. Experts told us: “All the flex in a fork is in the steerer tube, where the lever arm is longest.” And yet, when we rode bikes with flexible fork blades, they clearly took the edge of bumps. Was this another myth in need of debunking? Continuer →

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Which Gilles Berthoud Saddle is Best for Me?

Rene Herse Cycles is the exclusive North American distributor for Gilles Berthoud. We are especially excited about their saddles, which combine amazing comfort with modern design and superior durability.


All Berthoud saddle tops are cut in the grain direction of the leather, which means that they won’t sag or become lopsided. Unfortunately, most other saddle makers try instead to get as may saddles as possible out of each cowhide. That often turns into a false economy when the saddles wear out prematurely.


Berthoud forms their saddle tops in CNC-machined molds to create a very consistent quality. With consistent leather grain and shape, it’s not the luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a bad one – they all are excellent.


The undercarriages are made from composite, which is more durable than steel and better at absorbing shocks. It’s one of the key reasons why these saddles are so comfortable.


The saddles are assembled with custom bolts rather than rivets, so they are easy to rebuild. Each saddle’s serial number is engraved on the nose bolt. Berthoud saddles come in three shapes for different riding styles:

The Galibier is Berthoud’s lightest saddle, weighing just 346 g thanks to its minimalist shape and titanium rails. It’s a great saddle for riders with a low, performance-oriented position, who prefer a relatively narrow saddle. That said, the Galibier is still a bit wider than modern ‘racing’ saddles for long-distance comfort. The same shape is available with more economical steel rails as the Soulor model.

The Aspin and Aravis have slightly wider rears, making them perfect for a more relaxed riding position. The Aspin has steel rails, while the Aravis’s titanium rails save 50 grams. The ti rails also add comfort, because titanium is more flexible than steel.

The Marie-Blanque (steel) and Agnel (ti) are women’s saddles with shorter noses than the other models. The names of Berthoud saddles are taken from mountain passes: Saddles with steel rails are named after cols in the Pyrenees, while titanium-railed saddles carry the names of passes in the Alps.

All Berthoud saddles – except the superlight Galibier – are also available in ‘Open’ versions with a cutout to relieve pressure. I usually don’t like saddles with cutouts, because the edges tend to chafe. I was surprised when I tried the Berthoud Open saddle: The shape of this cutout disappeared completely, and the saddle was comfortable from the first ride. If you are concerned about pressure, this is probably the most comfortable saddle you’ll ever find.

Why isn’t the Galibier available with a cutout? Its minimalist shape simply doesn’t have enough leather to remove material from the center without losing its strength.

All Berthoud saddles – except, once again, the Galibier – can be equipped with a KlickFix attachment to easily mount saddlebags, whether Berthoud’s or those from other manufacturers. Two screws attach the KlickFix attaches to the saddle frame, and the bag just klicks into it. This provides a stable connection – the bag won’t sway or come off, even on the roughest terrain. Alternatively, for riders who prefer to carry a traditional British saddlebag, two saddlebag loops are integrated into the frame.

Berthoud saddles are totally serviceable. This means that you can change a worn-out top, or even change your saddle top from a ‘Standard’ to an ‘Open’ (or vice versa). If you want to save weight, you can replace steel rails with titanium. We keep all spare parts in stock.


With all these choices, plus four different colors (tan, brown, black and the cool ‘cork’), most riders will find their perfect saddle in the Berthoud program. Having ridden them all, it’s hard to pick a favorite, because they all work so well. Berthoud saddles really are a cut above the rest.

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Myth 8: Modern Components are Lighter


To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling – things we all used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. During these 15 years we’ve learned a lot, and perhaps the most intriguing discovery is that modern parts aren’t as light as some classics. In some cases, there are functional reasons why modern parts are heavier. At other times, modern parts really could be lighter. Continuer →

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Tubesets for Our Bikes: Oversized

In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three complete tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. The Superlight set is the lightest steel tubeset available today, great for riders who prefer a flexible frame. The ‘Mule’ set uses an oversized down tube for a little firmer feel. It’s also better for carrying a front camping load.

The Oversize tubeset is made from thinwall oversized tubing to offer the ultimate performance for those who prefer a somewhat stiffer frame. Riders with a heavier build often have a higher power output, and they can benefit from a stiffer frame.

The oversize top tube with ultra-thin 0.7-0.4-0.7 mm walls adds stiffness to the frame without detracting from its lively feel. Kaisei keeps the ‘belly’ of the down tube to a slightly more conservative 0.5 mm, instead of the ultra-thin 0.4 mm, because the large-diameter tubes dent too easily when they are too thin. (Down tubes are larger than top tubes, making them less convex and easier to dent.) Since our tubes are available with longer ‘bellies,’ they are still lighter than other tubes with thinner-wall, but shorter, bellies.

How does a bike made with the Oversize tubeset ride? I’ve ridden a few bikes built around this tubeset, and they feel subtly different from mine. They still ‘plane’ – by most standards, this tubeset is very light and still has flex in the right places – but they do have a more planted feel. For me, they work best with a higher power output and a slightly lower cadence.

Interestingly, descending feels the same on all our bikes, regardless of the tubes used in the frame. We’ve found that frame stiffness makes little difference in how a bike handles – which makes sense when you consider that there are no significant side loads on a frame when you aren’t pedaling.

The Oversize tubeset is a great choice if you want or need a little more stiffness in your frame than our other Kaisei tubesets offer. That makes it perfect for tall, heavy and/or strong riders. This is also the tubeset I’d chose for a camping bike that carries rear panniers in addition to a front load. Above you see both my ‘Mule’ and Hahn’s Oversize bike on top of Shirabiso Pass in Japan during the Nihon Alps 600 km Super Randonnée – each bike perfect for its rider during this challenging ride.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.

Further reading:

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Myth 7: Tubeless Tires Roll Faster


When tubeless tires first became available, they were designed for mountain bikes and it was their resistance to pinch flats (above) that made them popular. Off-road, there are few nails or broken bottles that can cause punctures (and even those usually will be pushed into the soft ground rather than puncture the tire), but rims can bottom out on sharp rocks and other obstacles. So much so, in fact, that top mountain bike racers used to race on tubular tires – because tubular rims make pinch flats less likely. Eliminating tubes did the same, and while you still could ‘burp’ the tire, in general, tubeless allowed running lower pressures with fewer problems. Continuer →

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One of the 5 Fastest Tires in the World


Recently, the German magazine TOUR published a table showing the ‘five fastest tires in the world.’ We are excited to see our Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires (back then still under the Compass label) on this list, in the company of the fastest racing tires. A 35 mm-wide tire on a list that otherwise includes only tires between 23 and 26 mm wide! That by itself is already cause for celebration. It means that our casings really are among the very fastest in the world.
And since all our tires use the same casings and construction, TOUR’s results apply not just to the Bon Jon Pass, but to all Rene Herse tires. I was surprised that they tested the Standard casing. I would love for them to test the Extralight, which we know from our own experience to be even faster.

What is interesting is that the Rene Herse tire scored superbly on smooth asphalt (light gray bars), but a little less well on rough asphalt (dark bars). This doesn’t match our experience, where wider tires provide advantages especially on rough roads. The reason is simple: TOUR tested without a rider on the bike. This measures the hysteretic losses in the tire, but it neglects the (much more important) suspension losses that occur as the rider’s body and bike vibrate. (Click here to learn more about suspension losses.)
This means that TOUR’s testing overlooks one of the main advantages of wide tires: their superior comfort, which also makes them faster. In other words, with a rider on the bike, especially on rough asphalt, the Rene Herse tire probably is even faster than it appears in TOUR’s testing.
We are proud that the Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass scored so well, especially since it is intended as an all-round tire, not an all-out racing tire. The Bon Jon Pass is suitable for gravel racing and has 3 mm-thick tread for many miles on the road. Compare that to the Vittoria with its 0.8 mm-thick tread, which is intended only for time trials, and even then, it’ll wear out quickly.

The excellent performance of the Rene Herse tire shows once again why wide tires have revolutionized cycling: You wouldn’t want to ride the other tires on TOUR’s list on anything but the smoothest, cleanest roads for fear of flats and premature wear. And yet with wider tires, we can ride some of the world’s fastest tires on the backroads where cycling is at its most beautiful.
Further reading:

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Myth 3: Fenders Slow You Down


To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are looking at ‘12 Myths in Cycling’ – things that aren’t quite what we (and most other cyclists) used to believe. Part 3 of the series is about fenders.

Many cyclists here in Seattle install fenders when the rainy season starts, and remove them for the dry summer months. British time trialists even had quick-release fenders that they used on the ride to the start; then they took off the fenders for the actual competition. Our research indicates that this isn’t necessary – fenders don’t slow you down. Here is why: Continuer →

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Myth 2: Titanium is Lighter than Steel


In part 2 of our series ’12 Myths in Cycling,’ we’ll look at why titanium isn’t always lighter than steel. I can hear you saying, “What? Everybody knows that titanium has half the density of steel.”

That much is true: The same part made from titanium will weigh half as much as the equivalent from steel. But titanium has only half the stiffness, so the part will be half as stiff. To make the parts of the same stiffness, you need to use twice as much material with titanium, and the weight will be equal. The same applies to aluminum, which is one-third as heavy and one-third as stiff. (These numbers are for the high-strength alloys; raw aluminum, titanium and iron are not strong enough to be used for cycling applications.) Continuer →

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Lyli Herse, 1928 – 2018


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!

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Myths in Cycling (1): Wider Tires Are Slower


When we started to publish Bicycle Quarterly 15 years ago, it seemed that most of the technical aspects of bicycles were well-established. And yet, as we tested many different bikes, we started to question many of the things we had accepted as ‘facts.’ To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we’ll look at some of these myths. We’ll explain why we (and everybody else) used to believe them, and how things really work. Let’s start this series with the biggest one:

Myth 1: Wider Tires Are Slower Continuer →

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Tubesets for our Bikes: Mule


In addition to individual Kaisei tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. Today we’ll look at the Mule. Named after my most versatile bike, it features an unusual configuration: an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter) for added stiffness, and a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm) for the flex characteristics that give our favorite bikes their lively feel.

Originally, I built the Mule for a trip to Japan as a Rinko bike that could handle both fast randonneur rides and loaded tours. The bike was intended as a test-bed for components and parts, and it was built in a rush, so we nicknamed it ‘The Mule,’ a name used by Italian race car builders for the bare chassis that they road-tested with rudimentary bodies to finalize suspension and engines, before the car went to the carrozzeria to have its real body added.


What makes the Mule different from most bikes is that it uses an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter), but a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm). While unusual, this configuration is not without precedent: René Herse built some camping bikes, as well as some tall frames, with similar configurations. Japanese Keirin builders also build bikes with this combination of tubing diameters. And when you look at modern high-performance carbon bikes, they usually have very slender top tubes and relatively massive down tubes.

This is very different from some bikes that use an oversized top tube and a standard down tube, making both tubes the same diameter (28.6 mm). With their stiffer top tubes, these bikes don’t perform well for the BQ Team and many other riders. They also tend to shimmy, probably because both tubes have very similar resonant frequencies.


Going with a smaller top tube and larger down tube was an experiment. Would tweaking the balance of frame stiffness supercharge the Mule’s performance beyond anything we’d experienced thus far? The Mule has performed very well on many rides, but it isn’t a magic bullet: Careful back-to-back testing has shown that, for me, the Superlight tubeset gives the bike slightly better performance.


The Mule’s oversized down tube adds stiffness, yet the standard-diameter top tube keeps the flex characteristics that make for a lively feel. That makes the Mule perfect for carrying heavy front panniers. (I avoid loading up the rear, as that requires a much stiffer frame and also makes it difficult to rise out of the saddle.)


The Mule isn’t just for loaded touring. Some riders who’ve ridden the Mule really like the stiffer, more planted feel compared to the Superlight spec. The Mule doesn’t shimmy as easily – even with a Chris King headset, which is prone to shimmy, the Mule is well-behaved under most conditions.


My Mule is built with a down tube that has just 0.35 mm-thick walls. With the large diameter and super-thin walls, I have found that this tube is very easy to dent. So for the Kaisei tubes, we chose 0.5 mm walls for the unbutted center sections. We offer the tubes with longer thinwall ‘bellies,’ so the overall flex characteristics are very similar.

Even though I prefer the Superlight tubing for all-out performance, I’ve ridden the Mule in a Japanese 600 km Super Randonnée with 11,000 m (36,000 ft) of climbing, and the bike felt great throughout the ride. It was only during the back-to-back testing that I realized its (slight) performance deficit. Would I do the 765-mile Paris-Brest-Paris on the Mule, if my Superlight bike wasn’t available for some reason? Absolutely!


If I could have only one bike, I probably would choose the tubing spec of the Mule. How about you? Obviously, if you plan to go touring, the oversized down tube is a great choice. If you are concerned that the Superlight tubeset may make your frame feel too flexible, especially if you are a heavier or stronger rider, I would recommend the Mule’s tubeset as well. And if you are concerned about shimmy, the very different resonant frequencies of the top and down tubes apparently keep it from developing in most cases. Compared to the more specialized bikes in my stable, the Mule is a great all-rounder.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.
Further Reading:

Continuer

Tubesets for Our Bikes: Superlight


In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three tubesets. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. These bikes have distinct characters that I’ll describe in a series of blog posts.

The Superlight tubeset is just that – the lightest, thinnest-wall tubeset you can buy today. In the unbutted center sections (“bellies”), the tube walls measure just 0.4 mm. At the butted ends, they go up to 0.7 mm for strength at the joints. We offer the Kaisei tubes in two lengths, with “bellies” optimized for short and tall frames.

What does a bike built from the Superlight tubeset feel like on the road?


My René Herse (above) is made from tubes with these dimensions. It’s my favorite bike for spirited rides. It’s the bike that exemplifies ‘planing’ for me – a bike that gets in sync with my pedal strokes, and always seems to entice me to go faster. It’s the bike that I’ve ridden on some of my memorable rides, whether it’s ‘Charly Miller’ times in Paris-Brest-Paris (top photo) and in the Cascade 1200 brevet, or in the Raid Pyrénéen that goes non-stop from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via 18 mountain passes (above).


In all these performances, the bike deserves a lot of credit. On long rides, it really helps to have a bike with just the right flex characteristics to synch with my pedal strokes. Pedaling becomes a subconscious routine. When we say that steel bikes can offer the same performance as modern racing bikes, it’s these bikes we are talking about.

The same characteristics make me pick the Herse for fast Saturday morning spins with the BQ Team. When we race each other up the Cascade foothills, this is the bike that I find easiest to pedal hard. It’s the fastest in these impromptu sprints because it lets me put out the most power. Compared to my other bikes, I am breathing harder at the top of the climbs, and I am more tired when I get home. And my smile is bigger, too.

The tubeset not only defines this bike’s performance, but also its feel. It always feels light, like a racehorse. Whether you like that or not depends on your taste in bikes. A very strong rider probably would find the superlight tubeset too flexible, but remember that Andy Hampsten won the 1988 Giro d’Italia on a bike made from tubes with the same dimensions. I was lucky enough to ride Hampsten’s bike once, so I can report that it feels very similar to my Herse.

While my Herse is equipped with some classic components, you could use ‘modern’ brake levers and derailleurs without changing the feel of the bike. With a different fork, you even could use disc brakes…


How about descending on a bike this ‘flexible’? Despite rumors to the contrary, it feels the same as other bikes. When you look at the physics, you realize that the bike is always balanced, no matter how hard you corner. Otherwise, it would fall over. There are no significant side loads that could flex the bike when you are coasting.

Our on-the-road experience has confirmed this: During our ground-breaking double-blind test of frame stiffness, none of us felt any differences between the bikes on the downhills – whereas on the uphills, both Mark and I were measurably faster on the two bikes with superlight tubesets.


What about the durability? You often hear the description ‘paper-thin’ for tubes this light, but when you pick up a raw tube, you realize that it’s actually quite sturdy. Most of all, the walls at the ends measure 0.7 mm – not much thinner than those of other tubes (0.8-0.9 mm). And since frames rarely break in their unbutted center sections, I am not worried about the longevity, either.

I’ve ridden my Herse for 6 years now, including the 360-mile Oregon Outback gravel race. After that ride (above), my rims had developed cracks (I use better ones now!), and my spare spokes had worn through the cloth tape I used to attach them to the fender stays, but the rest of the bike was no worse for wear.


Why not build all bikes from this tubing? First, there is the lightweight feel that some riders don’t enjoy. It really depends on your power, your riding style – these bikes work best with a light touch on the handlebars – and your preferences. Furthermore, with a tubeset this light, these bikes are more prone to shimmy. It hasn’t been an issue on my Herse, but that bike uses a needle bearing headset that dampens the steering slightly. Also, I wouldn’t recommend this tubeset on a bike that commonly carries a heavy load. The Herse is fine with a heavily loaded handlebar bag, but if I were to ride a lot with loaded front low-riders, I’d pick a stiffer down tube.


One last datapoint is that I am 181 cm tall (5’11”) and weigh 70 kg (154 lb). I ride a relatively large frame (58 cm seat tube, 57 cm top tube, c-c). Shorter tubes are inherently stiffer, so I feel that this tubeset makes even more sense for smaller frames. On the other hand, taller or significantly heavier riders may need a stiffer tubeset. Fortunately, we offer those as well.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Compass exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.
Further Reading:

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Why Handlebar Shapes Are Important

diverge_20
Riders are realizing the importance of handlebar shapes again. In recent decades, makers tried to make ergonomic shapes by flattening the bars where the most useful hand positions are located. But human anatomies vary a lot, and locking riders into a few ‘anatomic’ hand position rarely results in the promised comfort. In fact, rather than locking you into a prescribed position, the most ergonomic bars allow you to find the position that matches your very unique anatomy.

 

The sweeping curves of classic handlebars allow you to do just that. Depending on the angle at which your wrists are most comfortable, you can move your hands to find exactly that angle. It’s something that was evident to riders and racers during the days when stages were longer and roads were rougher, but it has been somewhat forgotten in recent decades.

Riding classic handlebars, I was surprised how much more comfortable they were than the modern handlebars on my daily riders. That led us to explore classic shapes more and offer handlebars that are quite different from what you see on most bikes today.

Rene Herse Cycles offers two handlebars, the Maes Parallel and the Randonneur. I like them both, as they feel quite different on the road.

cobbles_firefly

The Maes Parallel is great if you change hand positions a lot. The ramps are long and flat, giving you plenty of room to roam. I prefer these bars for fast-paced group riding, where speeds change constantly, and I am moving around to use the most efficient position for the power output required by the group’s speed. The drops are relatively shallow, which suits modern racing bikes with relatively low handlebars.

I use the Maes Parallel handlebars on my Firefly (above) and on our Specialized Diverge long-term test bike.

rando_bar_touring

The Randonneur is great for longer efforts, where you find a good position and stay in it. It’s also great when you aren’t pedaling super-hard, and a little more weight rests on your arms and hands. This doesn’t mean you cannot use these bars to go fast: When it’s time to hammer, you use the hoods or drops for a lower, more powerful riding position. The drop is a bit deeper, to give you a more pronounced difference between riding positions: upright for lower efforts on the ramps, or low for higher speeds in the drops. In between, you have the hoods, and for sliding back on the saddle during climbs, I use the tops.

The upsweep next to the stem isn’t there to raise your bars – it creates a three-dimensional shape that fits perfectly into the palm of your cupped hands. With Randonneur handlebars, it’s extremely important to get the shape “just right”. Otherwise, your bars are less comfortable than handlebars without the upsweep. We tested numerous designs before settling on the shape of the Rene Herse Randonneur handlebars.  The differences are subtle, but you’ll notice them soon after you start riding. And the longer you ride, the bigger the differences become. We now offer the Rene Herse Randonneur handlebars in a 460 mm version for those who prefer wide handlebars.

I use the Randonneur bars on my Mule (above) and on the René Herse that I ride in brevets.

Two different handlebars for different riding styles – each optimized for its purpose. Available in a variety of widths and with 25.4 mm and 31.8 mm clamp diameters. We think you’ll enjoy them as much as we do.

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Minimum Tire Pressure

Hahn_Paso

Over the last few years, the idea that higher pressures don’t make your bike faster finally has become accepted. Many cyclists now run lower pressures to improve comfort and traction, without giving up anything in speed.

On gravel, lower pressures actually make you faster, since the bike bounces less. On soft gravel, like we encountered during our ride across the Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above), lower pressures (and wider tires) allow you to float on top of the surface, rather than sink in. Again, that makes you faster and more secure.

So lower pressure is better in many cases, but how low can you go?

contact_patch

Here is a detail from the photo of Hahn on the Paso de Cortés. You can see how long that contact patch is – there is a lot of tire on the ground, which spreads the rider’s weight over a larger surface area.

Yet the pressure is not too low. The tire still holds its shape: Seen from the side, the tire sidewalls form a nice circle. That is the reason why it still rolls as fast as it did at higher pressures: The flex in the tire is limited to a relatively small area.

Only when viewed from above, can you see the contact patch bulge outward – but even that should not be excessive.

paso_cortes_descent

What happens if your tire pressure is too low?

  1. The tire can collapse when cornering. During our Mexican adventure, we pumped up our tires when we reached pavement, so we could tackle the fast and twisty descent with confidence (above). Even on gravel, a tire can collapse under the forces of cornering, if it’s not inflated high enough.
  2. You can pinch-flat, if the tire bottoms out, and the tube gets crushed between rim and road surface.

BJPASS_result-750x481

3. The tire can get damaged. When the tire gets kneaded too much with each revolution, it’s not only slower. (Yes, lower pressures do get slower at some point.) It also puts very high stresses on individual threads of the casing, which then can break. The tire needs a certain pressure to hold its shape and distribute the stresses uniformly over all the threads in the casing.

In the photo above, you can see a cross-hatched pattern where the casing threads have broken. This tire was tested by a magazine, and they rode these 35 mm tires at extremly low presssures of just 35 psi (2.4 bar).

The tire probably is still fine to ride, but if you try to run it tubeless, air (and sealant) will seep out of the tiny holes caused by the broken threads. (The sealant colored the sidewall where it leaked.) If you see a single zigzagging line in the tire sidewall where one thread has broken, increase your air pressure slightly to prevent further damage.

What is the minimum pressure that is OK to ride?
This depends on many factors, including:

  • Rider weight. Obviously, heavier riders need to run higher pressures to prevent the tires from collapsing.
  • Surface grip: The more grip you have, the higher are the forces generated during cornering. To withstand those forces, your tire needs to be inflated harder.
  • Tire construction: A stiff tire is held up by its sidewalls as much as by the air pressure inside. A supple tire’s sidewalls do little to support the bike’s weight, so you need higher pressure. Thanks to the supple sidewalls, this tire still is more comfortable and faster, even at the higher pressure.
  • Riding style: A rider who has a round spin can run lower pressures. If your bike starts to bob up and down with each pedal stroke, your tire pressure is too low. Fast riders need to run slightly higher pressures, since they hit obstacles with more force. And riders who corner on the limit need higher pressures to prevent the tire sidewalls from collapsing.

I polled the riders on the Bicycle Quarterly team about the tire pressures they ride. I was surprised how consistent they are. Some riders are a bit heavier and use a bit more air, so we equalized the values for weight of 82 kg / 180 lb.
tire_pressure_chart_psi

Or if you prefer metric values:

tire_pressure_chart_bar
Of course, we’ll adjust these values if needed, for example, on rough gravel, we increase the pressure to prevent pinch flats… And remember that different pressure gauges can vary by up to 15%, so your 45 psi may be quite different from our 45 psi! Still, this provides a starting point for thinking about the right tire pressure.
For the majority of riders today, the advice “When in doubt, let out some air!” still holds true, but as we lower our tire pressures, we need to be aware that too little air also can cause problems.
Further reading:

Photo credit: Cyclocross magazine (damaged casing)

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The Missing Piece: Suspension Losses

old_road_to_mexico

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

Comfort = Speed

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

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

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

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

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

RumbleStrip

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

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

basketball

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

tire_push_off_2

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

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

rough_road

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

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

rumble_smooth

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

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

Comfort = Speed

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

diverge_skagit

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

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

Wide tires also transmit fewer vibrations, which makes them faster than narrower ones.
Our testing shows that supple casings are more important than width. A supple 26 mm tire is much faster (and more comfortable) than a stiff 38 mm “touring” tire. Of course, ideally, you’ll get it all – a wide and supple tire.

This research led us to develop our Rene Herse tires. While quite a few makers offered supple racing tires in widths up to 25 mm, there weren’t (and still aren’t) many great high-performance tires in wider widths.

For our Extralight series, we use a casing that usually is reserved for high-end, hand-made racing tubulars. On top goes a layer of extra-grippy, yet long-wearing, rubber with our trademark tread pattern that interlocks with the road surface for extra grip. The result are our Rene Herse tires – available in widths from 26 mm to 55 mm.

tekne_gravel

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

Further reading:

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

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Tire Pressure Take-Home

un-meeting_uphill

What is the ‘correct’ tire pressure for your bike? The simple answer is: Whatever feels right to you. Confused? Here is how it works:
In the past, many riders inflated their tires to the maximum pressure rating. Now most cyclists now recognize that the optimum pressure often is much lower.

But what is the right tire pressure? At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve done a lot of research into the rolling resistance of tires at various pressures, and on various road surfaces.

Frank Berto’s tire pressure chart (above), first published in Bicycle Quarterly many years ago, has received much attention. (Note that the weights are per wheel, not for the entire bike.)

Berto made the chart in the 1990s, when tires were much narrower. Hardly anybody today still rides on 20 mm tires, and even 23 mm are on their way out! At the other end, 37 mm no longer is huge, as many of us ride 42 mm tires on pavement, and even wider ones on gravel. How does it all translate into the modern world?
tire_drop
Much of it depends on the tires you run. Berto measured the tire drop (above; how much the tire deflects for a given load and pressure) for dozens of tires. He then averaged the values, and drew his chart for a tire drop of 15%.

The 15% as desirable tire drop was based on the recommendations of several tire manufacturers, but not on actual testing. So the chart shows how much you need to inflate an average 1990s tire to achieve a tire drop of 15% – nothing less and nothing more.

A few years ago, Berto sent me all his original data. Looking over his measurements, it’s clear that supple tires – back then pretty much only the Michelin Hi-Lite – deflect much more than stiff ones, at the same pressure. This means that specific tires can vary quite a bit from the averages shown in the chart.

golden_gardens

To get the same tire drop with supple tires, you would need to run them at higher pressures. But is 15% tire drop really what you want with supple tires?

The answer is “No.” The 15% tire drop is an arbitrary value. However, even if it’s only by coincidence, the values in Berto’s chart actually work quite well for Rene Herse tires. They’ll result in more than 15% tire drop, but that is OK: Comfort and speed are optimized. And that is what really matters.

track_tire_test

The biggest surprise of all our testing (above) was this: For supple tires, pressure makes little difference in performance. We tested three Vittoria tires (Rubino, CX clincher, CX tubular; all 25 mm wide) and found that the supple CX models roll as fast at 70 psi as they do at 130 psi. (For the rest of the world, that is 5 bar and 9 bar.)

The reason is simple: Higher pressure decreases the energy required to flex the tire. Less energy is lost due to internal deformation (hysteresis). But higher pressure increases the losses due to the vibrations of bike and rider. More energy goes to suspension losses. The two effects cancel each other. Whether you pump up your supple tires super-hard or ride them squishy-soft, they have the same resistance.

On the other hand, truly stiff tires feel sluggish at 15% tire drop. The stiff tire is much harder to flex, so it’s useful to minimize that flex by increasing the pressure. For stiff tires, the suspension losses do not vary as much with pressure – they’re always high – since the stiff casing transmits a lot of vibration at any pressure.

Recently, Velo-News confirmed our results: The performance of a hand-made tire with cotton casing did not change at different tire pressures. And a stiffer tire rolled slower at lower pressures than at higher ones. (It’s nice to see that our results, after having been highly controversial for years, now are becoming generally accepted.)

It can be hard to believe this, because higher pressure feels faster. Here is why: When you go faster, your bike hits more road irregularities per second: The road buzz increases in frequency. Most cyclists know: higher speed = higher frequency.

Higher tire pressure cheats you into thinking that you are going faster, because it also increases the frequency of the vibrations: higher pressure = higher frequency.

It’s natural to assume that this means: higher pressure = higher frequency = higher speed, but that is incorrect. Instead, you are looking at two different mechanisms that both increase the frequency of the road buzz.

Even after years of riding supple, wide tires, this ‘placebo’ effect sometimes plays tricks on me. A supple tire absorbs vibrations better, so it can feel slower – until you look at your speedometer.

hahn_un-meeting

What does it all mean? Here is the take-home summary:

  • Stiff casings always will be slow. They are even slower at lower pressures.
  • Supple casings are fast, and pressure doesn’t matter.
  • On smooth roads, tire pressure is a matter of personal preference (at least with supple tires). High and low pressures offer the same performance.
  • On rough roads, lower pressures are faster. So if you want to optimize your speed on all roads, including rough ones, go with a relatively low, but safe, pressure.
  • Your tire pressure needs to be high enough to avoid pinch flats. If you get pinch flats, increase your tire pressure, or better, choose wider tires. Pinch flats are rare with wide tires.
  • On pavement, your pressure needs to be high enough that the tire does not collapse during hard cornering.
  • The minimum safe pressure is higher for more supple casings. Stiff casings hold up the bike more, and thus require less air pressure.
  • On gravel, you can run lower pressures than on pavement. On loose surfaces, the tires don’t collapse as easily, because the cornering forces are much lower.
  • Don’t run your tires so low that the casing cords start to break. That happens only at very low pressures, but if you start seeing multiple lines across the casing where cords have broken, inflate the tires a bit more.
  • Berto’s chart still is a good starting point. Inflate your tires to the pressures it recommends, then experiment by adding or letting out some air.
  • See what feels best to you. That is the optimum tire pressure for you. Don’t worry about tire pressure any further! At least on paved roads, you won’t go faster or slower if you change your tire pressure.

Even simpler, here is a summary in two sentences:

  • Ride the tire pressure that feels good to you.
  • When in doubt, let out some air.

It’s really that simple!

Further reading:

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How to Brake on a Bicycle

lift_rear

Whether you ride fast or slow, being able to stop quickly is an important skill. Your ability to stop also depends on how well your brakes perform. In Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, we tested brake performance to determine:

  • How do you brake most effectively?
  • Do brakes with different stopping power affect braking distances?
  • Do brake shoes and pads make a big difference?

brake_test

For this test, we coasted from a set point down a steep hill (always using the same riding position), and then braked at a predetermined point. Two testers performed the tests, to differentiate the “rider” factor in brake performance.

Why test on a downhill? The stopping distance on a hill is longer, and thus the differences between brakes and techniques are more pronounced. Afterward, we performed a statistical analysis to evaluate whether we were measuring real differences in braking performance and not just seeing noise in the data.

This test confirmed quite a few things about effective braking technique:

Front vs. Rear Brake

On dry pavement, the front brake alone halts the bike over the shortest distance.
Many riders think they need both brakes to stop effectively, if only because most bikes are outfitted with 2 brakes and that implies that one should use both. Here’s the way to think about it: the momentum of your body continues to move forward as your bike is slowing down, so your weight shifts forward. That’s why your rear wheel can come off the ground when braking hard. When your weight comes forward during hard braking, your rear wheel has close to zero traction. If you apply the rear brake under these conditions, the rear wheel will lock up without contributing significantly to the braking effort.

If you can apply the rear brake without locking up the rear wheel, then your weight isn’t shifting forward – a clear sign that you aren’t braking as hard as you should!

We tried braking with both brakes and with the front brake alone, and consistently found that if we focused all our attention on the front brake, we achieved much shorter stopping distances.

rear_brake

When we braked with the rear brake only, the stopping distance was more than three times as long. In fact, Hahn overshot the stop sign and went into the road at the bottom of the hill (above). This was despite Hahn modulating his rear brake carefully to keep it below the lockup point as much as possible. Skidding the wheel would have increased the stopping distance further.

While we couldn’t test this on dry pavement, the rear brake comes in handy when it is so slippery that even moderate braking will lock up your wheels – when you encounter ice, wet leaves, loose gravel, or other very slippery pavement during the first rain after a long dry spell.

Under these conditions, you cannot brake hard, and the forward weight transfer is much less pronounced. In that case, the rear brake provides added friction that will slow you more quickly. Rear brakes also are useful on tandems, where much more weight is on the rear wheel.

brake_line

How Hard Can You Brake?

Very, very hard. We found that to get the shortest stopping distance, we had to pull the front brake lever with all our might. Witness the tester’s bulging muscles on his right arm – which controlled the front brake on this bike!

This is despite using very powerful short-reach Dual-Pivot rim brakes. Some hydraulic disc brakes require less force at the lever, but with rim brakes, you really need to pull very hard on the lever.
When we came to a stop, the smell of burnt brake pads wafted through the air. After 21 full-on emergency braking maneuvers, the Aheadset of the test bike had developed play, because the stem had slipped on the fork steerer. Even the quick release of the front hub had loosened. Braking hard is a very violent affair. Not once did our front wheel lock up.

lift_rear

Going Over the Bars

Many riders are afraid of “going over the handlebars” when braking hard with the front brake. They fear that the braking force will cause the bike to rotate around the front wheel. In practice, we found that even on a steep hill, the rear wheel stayed planted for most of our braking. Wind resistance helps you here: It pushes the rider backward.

Once we had slowed to less than 6 mph, the rear wheel tended to rise. In the photo above, you can see how the front wheel has stopped, while the (unbraked) rear still is spinning. The wheel came up very slowly. This was far from dangerous: The rider simply opened the front brake slightly to make it come back down.

The shortest braking distances were obtained when we slightly decreased our braking power just before we came to a stop, so the rear wheel stayed on the ground.

Since few riders ever brake this hard, how come they still go over the bars? Here is what appears to happen to most riders who go over the bars: If riders don’t brace themselves against the handlebars, their momentum will push them forward over the handlebars as the bike slows. (Imagine being a passenger in a car without a seatbelt as the driver brakes hard.)

To avoid this, Hahn in the photo above braces himself against the handlebars and locks his elbows. He has shifted his weight as far back as possible. You can see his bicycle’s saddle underneath his belly. With this technique, he did not “go over the bars.” And if your bike’s rear wheel does lift, it happens slowly enough that you can counter it by slightly releasing the front brake lever.

Conclusion

We found that we could brake much harder than we thought. Car companies have found the same thing: Drivers tend to be too timid when braking in emergencies. Many modern cars are equipped with “brake assists” that apply the brakes with full force during emergency stops. (ABS makes sure the wheels don’t lock up.)

On bicycles, the “brake assist” and “ABS” are quite literally in our hands. Fortunately, instead of having to manage four brakes during an emergency stop, we can focus on the front brake alone.
Without electronics to assist us, we can benefit from practicing braking hard. (In fact, the same applies to your car, where practicing braking will make you a safer driver.) Practice on an empty road, preferably on a downhill where you can reach higher speeds. It takes a lot of confidence to pull on the brake levers with all your might, but it can make the difference between stopping safely and running into something in an emergency.

For the other parts of this research (differences between the two tested brakes and between brake pads), check out Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1.
Further reading:

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How Wide a Tire Can I Run?

Fork_clearance

Many cyclists want to ride on wider tires, but are limited by the clearances of their bikes. So they want to use the widest tires their bike can fit. How do you determine your bike’s maximum tire width?

You need a set of calipers (below). If you don’t have any, bike shops have them. Please leave a generous tip if you ask a shop mechanic to help you with this!

calipers

Measure the width of your current tires. Be careful not to pinch the tire. Instead, increase the opening of the calipers by 0.5 mm increments, and check whether the opening has play when it is slipped over the tire. (The calipers “rattle” when you move them.) When this happens, the calipers are set just a tad larger than the actual width of your tires. Use this measurement as your current tire width.

If you pinch the tire with the calipers, you may get a measurement that is up to 2 mm narrower. Also don’t use the width that is printed on the side of the tire. More likely than not, it’s inaccurate.

chainstay_clearance

Then check all around how much clearance you have. Most important are:

  • fork crown
  • brake calipers (front and rear): squeeze your brakes to get the clearance when braking
  • chainstays
  • seatstays can limit the clearances on some bikes.
  • fenders: often, you can adjust the fenders to eliminate a tight spot.

I recommend a minimum of 3 mm clearance between your tires and the closest part of your bike. Any less, and you run the risk of having your tire rub, under hard acceleration or if the wheel develops a slight wobble.

To calculate your maximum tire width, start with the smallest clearance between your existing tire and bike. Then deduct the minimum clearance, 3 mm, to get the existing available clearance for your wider tire. Multiply this by 2 (you have that much room on both sides of the tire), add the current tire width, and you get the maximum tire width.

Example: Your current tires are 29 mm wide. You have 5 mm clearance at the tightest spot. That leaves 2 mm available clearance. You can run 4 mm wider tires than your current ones. You maximum tire width is 33 mm.

This assumes that your new tires have a similar height-to-width ratio as your existing ones. Some inexpensive tires can be much taller than they are wide, but high-end tires usually are relatively round, and this formula works well.

If you find yourself between two available tire sizes, I suggest you use the narrower tire. High-end tires tend to expand over time as the casing “relaxes,” and you don’t want your tire to rub every time you rise out of the saddle and flex your wheel. If you find that you still have extra clearance, you can go up one more size when the new tires wear out.

By the way, the bike in the photos does not appear to have extra clearance, so if your bike looks like that, you probably should stick with the tire width you have. You still can improve the ride and performance of your bike by using more supple tires with higher-quality casings.

Photo credit: Ernie Fong.

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Why We Don’t Need Rain Bikes Any Longer

I moved from Texas to Seattle 20 years ago and continued to ride and train year-round. At first, I refused to use fenders. I did not want to spoil the beautiful lines of my racing bike. After one miserably wet winter, I gave in. Like most of my teammates, I got a rain bike.

For those from drier climates, a rain bike is a racing bike equipped with fenders. It usually is a less-valuable bike intended to take the wear and tear of riding in the rain, while your “good” bike remains pristine and ready for rides and events in better weather.

My rain bike was built with an old Celo Europa Columbus SL frame and parts sourced at various swap meets. The only brand-new parts were German SKS fenders (back then made by Esge), the best available in Seattle at the time.

As I wrote above, the “rain bike is intended to take the wear and tear of riding in the rain.” And wear and tear it took indeed, my poor rain bike. The drivetrain always felt gritty from the spray of the front wheel that went straight onto the chain. Lubricating the chain was a ritual after every long ride in the rain, because it squeaked terribly and turned a rusty orange as soon as it dried out. After each ride in the rain, my bike was covered in filth, and so was I. I overhauled my bottom bracket at least twice a year to remove the grit that had found its way into the bearings. I was glad to spare my “good” bike this ordeal. It always was a relief when the forecast had no rain, and I could take out my good bike, with its smooth drivetrain that seemed to run like clockwork.

Today, I don’t have a rain bike any longer. Neither do the people with whom I ride. We ride our “good” bikes all year round. It’s not that it rains less in Seattle than it did in previous decades. Nor have we resigned ourselves to riding ugly bikes with gritty drivetrains. It’s just that our good bikes now have aluminum fenders that don’t spoil the lines of the bike, and more importantly, keep the grit and spray off our bikes. We no longer oil our chains after a rainy ride, nor do we overhaul bottom brackets every year. How are our fenders today different from the SKS plastic fenders?

My rain bike never got photographed, so this bike will serve as a stand-in. The “spray zone” of the front wheel is shown, as well as the drip from the fender stays. Here are the characteristics of plastic fenders:

  • Front fender covers just 90°: Spray from the front wheel goes directly onto feet and drivetrain.
  • Fenders attach to stays with brackets that form dams on the inside of the fender: Water gets diverted and drips off the stays – onto your feet and chain.
  • Fenders are flexible: They resonate annoyingly on rough roads.
  • Fenders have to be pulled into shape for mounting: Inbuilt stresses cause them to break after 2-3 seasons.
  • Bike frame not designed for fenders means: Clearances are tight.  Fenders tend to rub on tires. Fenderlines aren’t perfect, so the bike’s appearance is compromised.

The spray zone of my current bikes’ front wheel is much reduced, and no longer reaches the pedals or the chain. Here are the characteristics of our aluminum fenders:

  • Front fender and mudflap reach within 5 cm (2 in) of the ground: No spray reaches feet or drivetrain.
  • Fenders have uninterrupted interior and rolled edges: All water stays inside. Most water exits at the bottom, where it drips off the mudflap straight back onto the road.
  • Stiff aluminum fenders bolts directly to the stays: Silent even on the roughest roads.
  • Metal fenders can be shaped to the desired profile: No inbuilt stresses, so fenders last for decades.
  • Bike frame designed for fenders: Perfect clearances everywhere and no rubbing ever. Fenders no longer detract from the appearance of the bike.

We never would have thought that better fenders would make such a difference. I discovered aluminum fenders almost by accident, attracted to the classic appearance of a set of hammered Honjo fenders that I put on my touring bike. It came as a surprise that my feet stayed so much drier.

Now we pity the riders we see riding in the rain with short plastic fenders. We have been there. Like most riders, we used to think that fenders were fenders, and spray and grit were an inevitable byproduct of riding in the rain. Now we know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

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