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Calling for some real innovation!

This is the time of year when we look at areas where real progress is possible in bicycle design. Forget marginal gains – we’re looking for some revolutionary stuff.

The industry likes to crow about disc brakes and carbon frames, but when you really think about it, bikes have not evolved much at all since the 1890s. The very first Paris-Brest-Paris was won on a bike similar to the Humber above, and yet most of the Humber’s features have been carried over almost unchanged to the latest so-called ‘high-tech wonders’!

Looking at a current top-of-the-line bike, you’d be forgiven to think time has stood still for more than a century. Just consider:

The wheels are still round! How boring. In the past, with rim brakes, you needed round rims to keep the brake pads on track, but those days are long behind us. While octagonal wheels may be a bit bumpy, why not elliptical ones that smooth out your pedal strokes?

The tires are still filled with air! For more than a century, flat tires have been the bane of cyclists’ existence. And still no relief? More than 100 years ago, Germans already invented an airless wheel. Why not update this with carbon fiber?

The diamond frame still reigns supreme! The 1890s Humber has the same frame configuration as the modern carbon bike: Top tube, down tube, seat tube in a triangle, and the rear stays in a second triangle.

Why so little imagination? Already during the 1990s, Trek’s Y-foil showed the way forward: more aero (maybe), much cooler (maybe) and just a bit heavier – what is not to like? The UCI outlawed the Y-foil, but it’s not like we adhere to the UCI tire limit of 33 mm on our gravel bikes…

Spokes are still made from steel! Come on – when will we finally give up the little pieces of wire that tie together our wheels? Spinergy showed the way during the early ’90s, and even ultra-retrogrouch Grant Petersen predicted back then that spoked wheels were going to be passé in just a decade. What happened?

Retro rules again: In recent years, bike makers have dusted off ancient technology, rather than move forward with true innovation. Here are some examples:

Sloping top tubes:  They fell out of fashion 100 years ago, but some builders just can’t get with the program.

Bikepacking: Strapping bags to the frame was just a first attempt to carrying a load, before racks were invented. Now we’re back to the roots, I guess.

One-by drivetrains: The old Humber had a single front chainring, because that’s all they could imagine back then. By the 1930s, we had doubles and triples, later came quads and even the occasional quintuple crankset (above), but now we’re back to single rings. Less complicated maybe, but what about progress?

Chains: In fact, the whole idea of derailleurs that bend the chain to get a different gear ratio is positively archaic. More than a century ago, inventors already had developed bikes with shaft drive and separate gearboxes. A decade later, even cars adopted that technology. At the same time, bikes reverted to the old chain drive. When will we finally catch up again?

Seriously, bike industry folks, is this the best you can do? You’d think that with modern innovations like 3D printing and crowd sourcing, we could come up with some truly new ideas!

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Keeping our employees safe

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Yesterday, Washington State finally issued an order for everybody to stay at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s something most of us wanted to see much sooner, and we’ve been acting for several weeks as if it had been in place already.

Bicycle repair facilities and companies who supply them – which includes Rene Herse Cycles – are exempt from the shut-down, so we’ll continue to operate. However, that does not mean we’ll act irresponsibly. There is too much at stake here, both for our employees and the community at large.

To keep everybody safe, we have adjusted our work schedules so that no two employees work at the same time in our office or warehouse. None of our equipment and tools are shared any longer. We’ve even split up our bathrooms. Basically, this means that our employees are as safe at work as they would be at home.

All these changes mean that our operations have become more complicated and time-consuming. Some things are barely affected. We are still shipping orders and producing Bicycle Quarterly as before. We’re still offering warranty support and processing returns as long as we can receive mail. Even in these difficult times, we continue to stand 100% behind everything we sell.

Other things are becoming more difficult. Product development has slowed. Shipments from suppliers are held up, so some things may be out of stock soon. And we cannot offer individual tech support any longer, because this requires in-person communication at the office to find accurate and useful answers.

This means that we’re no longer able to respond to customer service emails – except those submitted via our Returns and Warranty forms. And please don’t try to send us your questions via Instagram, Facebook or the Letters-to-the-Editor page on the Bicycle Quarterly web site. It’s simply not possible to respond and maintain a safe working environment.

That doesn’t mean you are left out in the cold when it comes to tech support for our products. We’ve expanded the support pages on our web site, so that they cover most common – and many uncommon – questions. You’ll find illustrated step-by-step instructions, frequently asked questions, tips and links to blog posts. Use the ‘Support’ tab in our main menu (above) to get started.

We hope you’ll find these resources useful. And we appreciate your understanding while we continue to adjust to this extraordinary situation. Thank you, and please be careful and safe!

Top photo: Technical inspection at the 1947 Concours de Machines technical trials (Rene Herse Archives).

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Rene Herse Sample Sale

Let’s face it: Life isn’t the same as it was just two weeks ago. We’re all in this together, and we’ve been encouraged how everybody has been pulling together to face this challenge.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve thought about what we could do to help. Most of us still ride our bikes – solo – for transportation, exercise, and to keep our bodies and spirits healthy. Most of us still need bike parts…

We have a sizable stash of parts that haven’t been used, but that we don’t want to sell as brand-new, either. These are parts that we’ve used for photo shoots or for testing tire fit on rims. Some are prototypes that don’t have the right stickers – we commission the molds first and make a small run of tires for testing, long before the new stickers are finalized. We always make more prototypes than we need for the actual testing, just in case.

Usually, we keep these components for our own bikes, but we’re now offering them to everybody in our Sample Sale.

Update 3/25: The Sample Sale has ended. Thank you. Continuer →

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We’re open and staying safe

Many customers and readers have asked and worried about us. This post is to reassure everybody that we’re doing fine at Rene Herse Cycles. For the time being, Seattle is relying on everybody’s best efforts of social distancing and staying home, and there is no mandatory lockdown. Fortunately, people are taking it seriously. I went for a walk today and saw a couple talk to the owner of a classic car – while keeping a distance of 8 feet.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve instated policies to ensure the safety of our employees and others in our community. Where possible, our team is telecommuting. The other employees have staggered their shifts, so there is minimal contact. It’s a bit lonely to be working alone in the office and warehouse, but it’s the best way right now.

We appreciate your support in these difficult times. Thank you! 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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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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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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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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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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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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"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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