Passing the Test

Passing the Test

When we designed the new René Herse cranks, our goal was to create a crank that was as reliable and safe as any on the market. After all, we ride these cranks ourselves. We are especially proud that these cranks pass the stringent EN standards for racing bikes (EN 14781) with respect to fatigue resistance. We had our cranks tested by the Taiwanese subsidiary of the prestigious Swiss SGS testing lab. (Some other labs are reputed to be “easier,” but we wanted honest results, not a rubber stamping of our product.)
During the design process, we researched how other crank makers tested their cranks. We found that of the “boutique” and “classic” cranks on the market, none had passed the “Racing Bike” standard for fatigue resistance.
A number of makers (TA, Electra) had tested their cranks to the “City and Trekking Bike” standard. One company (White Industries) had done “some internal testing,” but didn’t recall the protocol. A budget maker of cyclotouring components did not provide any information. We later learned from an internal source that they had not tested their cranks at all.
The “Racing Bike” standard is especially demanding because it loads the cranks with 1800 N during 100,000 cycles (above). By comparison, the “City and Trekking Bike” standard uses a load of only 1300 N.
I am lucky to know people in the bike industry from my days as a translator for several high-end bike companies. These engineers were very helpful when we designed our cranks, but they all doubted that a slender, classic crank could pass the “Racing Bike” standard. This demanding test is one of the reasons why cranks have become so bulky in recent years.
How does the René Herse crank manage to pass a test that other cranks fail, without adding the bulk that you see on many modern cranks? It’s a combination of factors:
Proven design. The René Herse cranks have been around for more than 70 years (above during the mid-1950s), so we knew we had a sound design before we even did the first test.
The best materials and suppliers. We did not look for the least expensive forging company, but for the best one. We also selected the alloy of the arms for strength and corrosion resistance.
Net-shape forging. The raw forging already has the final shape of the crank, so the grain structure of the aluminum is not interrupted by machining. As a down side, this means that we can offer only a single crank length. We feel that the improved strength is more important than enabling customers to choose cranks that are 2% shorter or 2% longer than the 171 mm we offer.

A few other, proprietary manufacturing techniques maximize the strength of our cranks. None of these are rocket-science, but we were surprised that they are not commonly used during the production of bicycle cranks.
Of course, other cranks have been used without a rash of failures. Perhaps we are overly cautious, but I sleep better at night knowing that our cranks meet the most stringent standards. Crank breakages are rare, but they can have very unpleasant consequences.

Our cranks should last as long and be as safe as the best racing cranks you can buy, no matter how hard you ride. Because for all their beauty, René Herse’s bikes were intended to be ridden hard, as shown by Lucien Détée and Gilbert Bulté. In the photo below, they are on the way to setting a new tandem record at the Journée Vélocio hillclimb.


Share this post

Comments (16)

  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    I received my Rene Herse crankset this week. The crankset should be mounted, matted, framed and hung in an art gallery. Even the packaging is tastefully done and reflects the elegance and thought that went into producing this component.
    Lenora and I first saw these cranksets at the 2012 Philly Bike Expo. We acknowledged the beauty and genius “the magician of Levallois” * had put into the design but I thought they were too expensive. Lenora insisted I purchase a set for my Boulder Bicycle rando bike, which is on order. “Your new bike needs a little bit of Rene Herse on it.” I did not argue and have no regrets about spending the money. The crankset is well worth the price. Besides beautiful, the crankset is strong, as shown by the EN test. We are now discussing a Rene Herse crankset for our Co-Motion tandem.
    * Rene Herse was also known as “the magician of Levallois.”

    January 18, 2013 at 6:15 am
  • Ben Van Orsdol

    Will the RH crankset fit on the wide Atlantis BB and chainstays? My TA aluminum crank is 177 mm but I want to go smaller even though I’m very tall. My other question is why the riders race a tandem with racks and fenders for a hill climb event. Are they part of the rules? It would seem advantageous to remove them for the climb. If its part of the rules I dig it. Real world results.

    January 18, 2013 at 7:18 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The chainline is the same with all road cranks, so the René Herse cranks fit the same way as any other “road” crank. On some bikes, the chainline is moved outward by a few millimeters – so you need a longer BB spindle. I believe the Atlantis is among those bikes.
      Regarding the tandem’s equipment: Cyclotouring competitions during the 1950s required fenders, lights and a rack. Earlier, they even required carrying a spare tube, small toolkit and pump. It’s sort of like GT racing, where the cars must be equipped for the “real world”, unlike Formula 1 and Indy racing, where stripped-down machines compete.

      January 18, 2013 at 7:26 am
  • Theo Roffe

    In the René Herse book, you note that Roger Baumann’s bike had steel Stronglight cranks* in place of the Herse cranks because he was known to break the latter. It is known in what way they failed for him, or why he was able to consistently break them?
    *Those cranks are visible in the first photo from your blog post about Baumann from March 29th, 2012:

    January 18, 2013 at 9:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      In the interview with Roger Baumann (Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 2), he explained how he broke all aluminum cranks – TA, Herse, Stronglight and later Campagnolo. He is known in France for that – nobody knew why. Lysiane Breuil of TA (the daughter of Georges Navet) said: “There was something in his pedal stroke that wasn’t translated onto the road, but remained in the crank.” So he rode steel Stronglights.
      Beyond this special case, the history of René Herse is not littered with broken cranks. In fact, there were remarkably few failures of any René Herse parts, considering how hard they were ridden.

      January 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm
      • theoelliot

        Thank you, Jan. I was quite curious about this when I read it in the book. I don’t have some of the earlier BQ issues, so I’ll have to get my hands on Vol. 1, No. 2 and read that interview.
        I recently purchased a set of the René Herse cranks (through Kenton Cycle Repair in Portland, OR) and am not worried about failure. Even if you didn’t hold your cranks to such a high standard (though I am very glad that you do), I do not have a very powerful pedal stroke and am much less likely than Grand Roger to break cranks.

        January 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          It is interesting that the riders who stress their components the most are not always the strongest riders. In my case, I am very light on drivetrain components and frames, but since I ride at speed over rough roads, I’ve had a fair share of failures of poorly designed racks, light mounts, fenders and other “accessories” over the years.

          January 19, 2013 at 8:04 am
  • Sisyphus

    I hope that you continue to successfully sell your cranks so that you can tool up for a 180mm version! I know, I know, you’ve heard this before, but I’d settle for a 177mm at least. Please?
    6’4” and can’t wrap my head around 171’s

    January 18, 2013 at 10:24 am
  • Garth

    Quality is remembered long after price.

    January 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    What does “EN” mean and what country setup this standard.

    January 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      EN is the European Union standard. They are the the most stringent standards for fatigue resistance in the bicycle world. (The U.S. does not require any fatigue testing of bicycle parts.)

      January 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm
  • Bill Pustow

    Congratulations on the SGS testing lab results. My 650b Rene Herse, that’s being built by Waterford, will definitely have the RH crankset. On my first Nobilette built 700c Herse I chose to go with Campy cranks. It was a agonizing decision. The Rene Herse bike deserved a RH crankset because it was beautiful but I never buy a first run of anything – wether car, washing machine, crankset, or whatever…….
    Guess now I’ll have to upgrade 700c Herse.

    January 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm
    • marmotte27

      An Herse built by Waterford, I must have missed a chapter along the way…

      January 24, 2013 at 8:01 am
  • Peter

    Congratulations Jan! Any chance of a 38t large (single speed) chainring becoming available in the near future?

    January 19, 2013 at 5:15 am
  • Mike Arciero

    Regarding the crank length- I have used 175 for years but have been commuting on a single speed with 170 and have come to really like them. They are easier to spin and I feel like they may be likely less fatigue-inducing on long rides, though I have yet to confirm that in my case.
    If this is generally the case then 171 would seem to be a sweet spot for a large portion of the market for distance cycling, at least for male riders.

    January 19, 2013 at 7:47 am
  • Stevy

    Hi Jan,
    Congratulations on your first Rene Herse product exceeding the highest industry standard. You can be justifiable proud of this.
    This is the first time I have seen details of this test. 1800N seems like an impressive force, probably more than us mere mortals could achieve or sustain for very long at all (I haven’t done any research, so please forgive my ignorance). 100,000 cycles even with a 9.5 metre development is “only” 950km.
    A moving bicycle is a very dynamic test jig, with a lot of flex (tyres, wheels, frame, bottom bracket and other components) cushioning any shock loading. Whatever the differences in real world dynamics versus the test, I’m heartened by the fact some manufacturers fail or avoid the test, whilst others are able to exceed it.
    With regard to M. Baumann. I’ve met a few cyclists who seem to break things with surprising regularity. One who springs to mind is very accomplished rider who is not excessively heavy, and whilst strong, not the strongest around. He has broken things such as frames, saddle rails, stems etc. He once said that he thought his sponsors only gave him stuff “to see what he could wreck”.
    Another rider, a RAAM veteran I met during a PBP looked at my new Look carbon bike and said: “I’d crush that in 2 weeks”. He was on a Cannondale and weighed perhaps 7 or 8kg more than me.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:26 am

Comments are closed.

Are you on our list?

Every week, we bring you stories of great rides, new products, and fascinating tech. Sign up and enjoy the ride!

* indicates required