Meet Our Polisher

Eric Hayes is the craftsman who polishes our René Herse cranks, locally on the outskirts of Seattle. These days, most bike parts are black, and few in the bike industry still have the skills to polish metal without grinding off too much material, which looks ugly and affects the strength of lightweight parts. So we went outside the bike industry to find a polisher whose work is better than anything we’ve seen elsewhere.
Eric works with his partner Tracy in Edgewood. He polishes all types of metal. It’s hard and dirty work, but he takes great pride in his craftsmanship.
Here is a sample of his work, a hood ornament for a 1950s car. On the right, you see what it looked like when it arrived: terribly pitted. On the left is the condition after Eric finished his magic. His display includes hub caps that were dented and rusted, and now look like new. The sign with the labor rates is outdated. Eric’s rates have gone up: Skilled labor has a price.
Most of Eric’s work is for restorations of cars or motorcycles, but he does other things, too. The biggest job he’s had recently was to polish an entire private jet! Many of you have seen his work on a few bikes that have been featured in our book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.
Here is how Eric polishes our cranks. He starts with sandpaper to smooth out the inside of the grooves that are forged into the arms.
Then he uses a disc sander to remove the parting lines of the forging dies.
The main polishing comes next. There are many different polishing wheels. Each material has its own wheels. First, a rougher wheel is used (photo at the top of this post), which then is followed by a finer wheel (above).
From start to finish, polishing a crankset takes about an hour. Then the cranks go into an ultrasonic cleaner to remove the residue from the polishing. A final buffing by hand, and they are ready to be assembled as you order them, with any chainring combination from 24 to 52 teeth.
What you end up with is a crank that isn’t just shiny, but also has all the details of the wonderful shape intact. Polishing cranks to this standard is a lot of work, but we believe the final result is worth it. That way, the appearance of our cranks matches their functionality.
The cranks are in stock now. Click here for more information.

41 Responses to Meet Our Polisher

  1. TimJ August 17, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    What a terrific insight into the work of a true craftsman, thank you. Now I know my my attempts at polishing are so pathetic.
    Re: “The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles”, while reading through it (again) last night, I thought that there must be hundreds of photographs that were not included due to space limitations. Is there any chance these photos could be posted or published somewhere? I’d happily pay a few bucks for access to an online archive of photos not included in the book, especially those showing details of the featured bicycles.

  2. Max Sievers August 17, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    Make a Stages crank for 11-speed drivetrains and I will buy one (as a start).

  3. Jeff Potter August 17, 2014 at 6:19 am #

    Wow! That’s just amazing. And what a glorious result! Kudos for caring enough — both you and Eric — to bring such quality and value to your work and product. … Polishing also relates to sharpening. I used to think my sharpening was good: what’s better than finely honed razor sharpness? I used various stones. Then I learned to use compounds on a buffing wheel and discovered what sharp really was: much sharper than my old best. …Kind of like how Eric here knows what polishing really means. Inspiring!

  4. msrw August 17, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    Just wondering why you do the polishing in Seattle rather than Taipei, since the Herse cranks are already the most expensive aluminum cranks on the market, high quality aluminum polishing is available in Taiwan, Taiwanese labor rates are a lot lower and your supply chain would be streamlined.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 17, 2014 at 7:42 am #

      There is a reason most bike parts are black these days. Apart from the cost, good polishers are rare, and in Taiwan, they don’t seem to exist. That is the reason you see so many “boutique” cranks with the oval pedal eyes, since much of the shape has been ground away.
      Beyond that, we like to support local craftsmen as much as we can. Forging cranks is not a technology that exists in the U.S. (you need special tooling for the square taper), but polishing is something that can be done locally.

      • Cynthia August 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

        Thank you for supporting local US craftsmen and women. I would hope that you would still work with Eric Hayes even if you could get the cranks polished in Taiwan. Made In The USA used to mean something in the manufacturing world. When I cleaned out my 85 year old uncle’s cellar and garage, I found many tools and household items made in the USA before 1970. I was amazed at their quality and ‘repairability’, and the lack of plastic used, which meant the metals could be recycled, no plastic left to sit in a landfill for the next several generations.
        And thank you for the wonderful photos of Eric at work. How I would love to peer over his shoulders and watch him work his magic close up.

        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 18, 2014 at 6:51 am #

          Our first goal is to ensure that our suppliers earn decent wages. So we work only with countries where that is the case – Europe, U.S., Japan, Taiwan. And we make sure that our products are really made in those countries, rather than by companies who then sub-contract to China (which is common in Taiwan). This requires close control over the manufacturing, which also ensures our high quality standard.
          Our second goal is to keep manufacturing local, but that is much harder. There simply isn’t much of an infrastructure for making things in North America any longer, and we are much too small to rebuild one. Our first and foremost goal is top-notch quality – which means working with manufacturers who have tooling for and experience in making cycling components. Not every CNC shop can make chainrings that run perfectly round and have tight tolerances on the tooth thickness, which is crucial for compatibility with modern 10-speed chains. In the U.S., there never has been a significant industry to manufacture high-end bicycle component. Even during Schwinn’s heydays, all the high-end parts were imported from Europe.

  5. Dick Elmendorf August 17, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Very interesting and informative! But some before, during, and after pics would be great.

  6. zundel August 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Black and other color components present problems. They scratch. Mechanics refer to the anodizing pen. And, more importantly, I cannot dye check a colored component.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

      The “dye check” refers to a dye penetration test, which determines whether a scratch is just superficial, or whether it’s a crack that may cause the component to fail. You put dye on the scratch, then wipe it off, and then spray a developer onto the scratch. If there is dye left in a deeper crack, it now will come to the surface. If nothing shows up, then the scratch is superficial, and there is no deeper crack that contains additional dye…

      • William M. deRosset August 19, 2014 at 11:29 am #

        A high-polish finish also inhibits surface crack initiation for this high-stress part.
        Aluminum cranks (and probably rims), given their high-stress load conditions for their section and thickness, ought to be polished.
        William M. deRosset
        Fort Collins, CO

  7. Patrick Moore August 17, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    It’s very heartening and refreshing to hear about a craftsman who does (relatively) hard but skilled physical work and who takes pride in it. The cranks of course are beautiful. If I ever wear out my stash of Pro 5 Vis cranks, the RH is at the top of my list. And thanks for making such components available.
    As an aside to readers who might be interested, I heartily recommend “Shop Class As Soulcraft” a book that argues philosophically for this sort of skilled manual labor. The author, who has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is part of a think tank, earns his living by restoring vintage motorcycles and, mirabile dictu, writes clearly and entertainingly even though he has an academic background. His essential thesis is that such skilled manual work is more conducive to the intellectual and moral virtues than much “white collar” work.

    • Bruce Hodson August 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

      Just one of the reasons I counseled my son to study engineering. Intellectually challenging, but requires some learning of manual skills to also teach humility and the virtue of labor.

    • Jon August 18, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      Shop Class As Soulcraft is a great book but the author, Matthew Crawford, says in the book that he could not make his living as a motorcycle mechanic. That is why he also works at the University of Virginia and writes for magazines.

    • zundel August 21, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

      Thank you for the tip. Just requested the book from the library.
      Most of my working life and my formal training was as a software engineer. The same mind applies to fixing bicycles, with greater pleasure. But, yes, paying the bills is challenging. And the moral distinction has come up at work: I recently resigned.

  8. BL Lively August 17, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Having attempted polishing aluminum numerous times, I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who can do it well. Polishing really is a dirty job, and the hand work is very hard on your fingers and can be exhausting. And it’s nice to know that if I can ever afford a set of R.Herse cranks, I’ll know they were finely polished by a person who lives in my own state.

  9. Cynthia August 17, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    Some folks who are into ‘restoring’ (I use that term loosely) classic and vintage bikes apply a wax or some other type of finish after polishing aluminum parts, so they don’t tarnish, or oxidize. Is this a wise thing to do in your opinion, Jan?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 17, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

      A good car wax will protect the finish of the raw aluminum. This keeps the aluminum shiny longer, and it reduces the spots you get when sweat or salt water gets on the parts.

  10. Tom Howard August 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Thanks for the fascinating post. Eric is a true craftsman. I have done some hand polishing of vintage parts with Simichome, which works pretty well for making old parts look newer. Another great online source for polising:

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 17, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

      When you have deep scratches or a raw surface, using polishing wheels often results in a loss of the shape. It’s better to use sandpaper or even files, which allow you more control over where you remove material…

  11. Bob Zeidler August 18, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    went to the website but having only one size under serves the market in a big way

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 18, 2014 at 5:38 am #

      You are right – it is customary to offer cranks in multiple, yet very similar lengths. Beyond the question whether this makes sense, our cranks obtain their strength from the net-shape forging. This means that every crank length requires a new forging die. On the plus side, the René Herse cranks are the only classic cranks that meet the most stringent EN “Racing Bike” standard for fatigue resistance. You can read more about that here.

      • Andy Sutterfield August 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

        I understand your reasoning for making your cranks in one length only, but I am disappointed that I won’t be able to use them. I’m very tall and I use custom Zinn 200mm cranks with a standard Shimano triple, and I know nobody will ever make non-custom cranks near that length. I am on the hunt for a combination of parts that will allow me to use a custom crank length and a custom chainring combination. (Something like a 44/28 with 200mm cranks.) Do you know where I might find such a system?

      • Fred Blasdel August 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

        I have a set of High Sierra cranks (Zinn’s supplier) in 200mm with a 94BCD spider. I use mine with a single 32t ring, but you can get modern rings from TA and Stronglight for a 44/29 double.
        You can also get 200mm cranks as a 110/74 triple from several manufacturers and just use the inner two positions

    • Matthew J August 18, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Since Jan started posting blog articles about the RH crank three years ago, there have been at least one, often more comments about not having multiple crank arm lengths available.
      Three years on yet not one of the commentators have seen fit to spec and develop their own competing crank. One would think if the market is so clamoring for multiple lengths of this type of crank it would have happened by now.

      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

        The big question to me is how much difference is significant. There is little doubt that 1 or 1.5 mm (less than 1% of the crank length) makes no difference, so our cranks should work well for those used to 170 or 172.5 mm. Compared to a 175 mm crank, ours is 2.3% shorter. For me and our BQ testers, this length difference is not detectable… But what about a difference of, say, 5%? I suspect that will begin to make a difference… Or should we just go with Lennard Zinn and say that a person who is 10% longer should have a 10% longer crank. That would mean offering 190 mm cranks, as well as 150s. As you can see, the decision which length to offer is difficult, if it requires making a new forging die for each length.
        Other small makers get around that by making one die with a very oblong pedal eye, which then is machined to length. However, this interrupts the grain structure of the forging, and is one of the reasons why these cranks are not as strong as one would like.

  12. Mike Arciero August 18, 2014 at 4:25 am #

    I had no idea about polishing. Really interesting, and as Patrick says, “heartening and refreshing”. Knowing about the polishing process and knowing that this work was done by a skilled craftsman/woman who take pride in the work make these cranks all the more appealing.

  13. Wes Gadd August 18, 2014 at 6:34 am #

    That’s what I’ve done for a living for about 25 years, with a 10 year hiatus as a stone mason. I’ve done mostly turbine blades but have recently been working with surgical implants for prosthetic knees, hips etc. Not many people want to do this sort of work these days.

    • B. Carfree August 18, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

      I hear you. I do some polishing of stainless steel and it’s definitely laborious. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in a job well done and that satisfaction is well-earned.

  14. Papa Rando August 18, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    Hi Jan,
    What I liked about this article is that you featured some one who’s an integral part of the proccess in making this component into a piece of art. And, what I really liked, is that you cared enough to share how important this man is to you and the success of these cranks.
    Thank you

  15. TobinH August 18, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, although now I kind of feel bad about the abominable conditions in which I regularly ride my RH cranks…

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 18, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

      I ride mine in all weathers, too. Put some wax on them from time to time, and they’ll stay nice for a long time. You can always take them off and re-polish them. After the initial polish that removes all the roughness from the forging, re-polishing is comparatively easy.

  16. Charles Nighbor August 18, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Polishing! I worked with wood to bring it too a very smooth finish before adding finish. My task looks very simple compared to metal polishing which I have done but not to this level

  17. Paul Ahart August 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Thanks for the wonderful story about Eric, your polisher. I got a set of Herse cranks in my shop and must say, they are the most jewel-like bike component I or any of the customers to whom I show the cranks, have seen. He is indeed a superb craftsman, and we should all be proud that such quality is still available, albeit, at a price…but well worth it! Congratulations for bringing these wonderful cranks to the modern market, and Eric for his skill at bringing out their lustrous beauty.

  18. Michael August 18, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    I am very impressed by these cranks and all their great features.
    Especially being able to change rings without having to remove the arms.
    Very convenient. Also the availability of so many tooth counts.
    Everything sounds so well thought out. I am looking forward to putting a set on my bike one day. Double or Triple? hmmmmm…
    One question:
    Do larger bcds make it easier to turn over cranks or no?
    I am guessing no, but for some reason I feel like there might be more leverage.
    But since the whole crankset is operating as one thing, with the chain contacting at the teeth, I guess that’s where the leverage is, thus different tooth counts.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 19, 2014 at 7:43 am #

      You are right – where the chainrings are attached to the spider doesn’t make a difference in how the crank performs. A smaller bolt-circle diameter means you need more precision in the manufacture, since any error at the chainring interface (or in the rings themselves) will be magnified the further outward you get.

  19. Michael August 18, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    …even having the tooth counts etched uniformly on the outside of the rings is nice so you don’t have to hunt for it or decipher a code.

  20. David Pearce August 19, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Well, thank you, Eric Hayes & Tracy, of Edgewood. Long may you live. I appreciate your work!

  21. Jeff Loomis August 21, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you for highlighting the contributions of a true craftsman that touches every crank you sell.