Our SuppliersJan Heine
We’re glad to report that all our suppliers are doing well, considering the current circumstances. Production has slowed at some factories, there may be some shortages of products in the future, but the most important thing is that all the people we work with remain healthy. Our relationships with our suppliers are essential to what we do: You can’t make the world’s best parts without a network of the world’s best suppliers.
When I started to think about making bike parts more than a decade ago, the first step was figuring out who was best for making the parts I envisioned. Sometimes, this was easy. For example, Honjo in Japan already manufactures the world’s best fenders, so making them longer for better coverage and using our own hardware was the logical way to making the fenders we wanted for our own bikes. At other times, it took a lot of searching. Our engineer spent a year riding his motorcycle around Taiwan to visit every factory, before we had found the shops that make our cranks, brakes, and chainrings.
Many Rene Herse components are made by several suppliers, because each specializes in one aspect of the manufacture. Our cranks are forged by one shop, then machined by another. Each is the best in their field. During one visit to the forge where our cranks are made (above), I noticed suspension parts for high-end Italian motorbikes sitting in the big wire baskets next to our crank forgings. And when I visit the factory where our cranks are machined, I’m always surprised by the variety of high-end bike parts that I see in production there. The brands that are coming off the 5-axis milling machines and specialized lathes read like a ‘Who-is-Who’ of the bike industry. It shows that there aren’t many shops doing this type of work at the top end of their craft.
Sometimes, working with outside suppliers can be confused with rebranding other companies’ products. If you go to Taipei Bike Week, you’ll see many makers exhibiting ready-to-go products. You negotiate a contract, they apply your logo, and then you’ve got a product to sell. You usually get the exclusive rights for one market, so the same product may be sold under different brand names in Europe and North America.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the way we work. We make our parts because we can’t find what we need or want – not because we need more parts to fill our program. (In fact, I’ve never been to Taipei Bike Week, but our engineer goes to check out potential suppliers for future projects.)
Many bike companies work with agents who place the products with their network of suppliers. We feel that in-person meetings are essential to making our parts. What we want is usually something new and often untried. Our three-arm cranks with their ultra-small bolt circle give you a free choice of chainrings, but nobody had made anything like that in decades. We faced the same issue when we wanted to make supple high-performance tires in widths that had been the domain of stiff mountain bike and touring tires.
We take our ideas and our designs to the engineers at our suppliers and discuss how to turn them into rubber, aluminum and steel. Our suppliers have a lot of experience in their specialties. Even though we come to them with fully-designed parts, they have thoughts and ideas on how to improve them – or how to make them more suitable to manufacture. For example, tire tread patterns don’t just optimize grip – we also need to consider how the rubber flows in the mold as the tire is heated and vulcanized.
This is a two-way relationship. We benefit from their experience in manufacturing parts, and we share with them the results of Bicycle Quarterly’s testing and the real-road experiences of our network of riders. Our collaboration gets us the best parts and allows them to improve their products. It’s really a win-win relationship, and it’s the result of personal interactions that go far beyond sending drawings via e-mail.
We are asking for the best quality possible at a price we can afford, rather than for ‘good enough’ quality at the lowest possible price. This allows our suppliers to pull out all the stops and do things for us that they can’t do for their own product lines, which are usually designed and built with a few more compromises to meet a certain price point. Their parts are very good, but I sense that our parts are what the engineers and employees really would like to make, if they had no constraints.
For example, our racks and handlebars are made from lighter, higher-strength tubing than what our supplier uses for their own parts, and they are more carefully finished. That makes Rene Herse components a bit more expensive, but we ride our bikes so much that we don’t mind spending a little extra money for better parts.
These specifications are exclusive to us – even though our suppliers make parts for other companies, they’ll use the technology we’ve developed together only on our parts. For example, wide supple tires with the casings of our Rene Herse Extralights or our ground-breaking racks aren’t available from anybody else. That’s standard practice in all industries, since it’s common for a specialist maker to supply many companies.
Even though we’ve introduced many new components, we don’t innovate just for the sake of innovation. There are many existing products that work well and do exactly what we want them to do. In those cases, we sell them under their original brand names: Nitto stems, MKS pedals, Berthoud saddles and bags, SON generator hubs, Kaisei tubing (above), HED and Pacenti rims, Sapim spokes, Maware leather goods, Ostrich bags and other parts. We want to show our respect for these makers. We’re not a marketing company, and we don’t feel that our logo adds value to a product that is otherwise the same.
Keeping these brands separate also avoids confusion: If a component is called ‘Rene Herse,’ then it’s a product we’ve designed, that is made to our unique specifications. This means it’s only available as a Rene Herse part.
If a product in our program is identical to what you can get from other sources, we list it under its original brand name. Because our goal isn’t to build a brand or to obtain market share. Our goal is to source parts that make our riding more enjoyable. To us, it doesn’t matter whose name is on them.