Raymond Henry, 1944-2020

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: People who inspired us

Raymond Henry, 1944-2020

With great sadness, we say Goodbye to Raymond Henry, cycling historian extraordinaire, grand randonneur, and wonderful friend. He passed away today from the complications of a surgery that was to allow him resume his active life of cycling, woodworking and gardening.

Raymond experienced the glory days of French cyclotouring first-hand. As a teenager, he saved all his money and rode his bike to Grenoble to order a custom randonneuse from the great Jo Routens. He rode that bike (and a similar one that he bought used, shown above) all his life.

And ride he did: He completed Paris-Brest-Paris, the Tour de France Randonneur, and all nine Diagonales of France – the famous randonnées that connect the corners of hexagon-shaped France. He rode the Raid Pyrénéen – twice – and completed the Brevet des Provinces Françaises, which had him visit 6 important sites in every one of the 90 départements of France. This last project took Raymond 20 summers. He rode 27,000 km (16,800 miles) in the process – and he enjoyed almost every single one of them! Living at the foot of Mont Ventoux, he climbed the ‘Giant of Provence’ several times a year.

Raymond became enthralled with the life of Vélocio, the founder of the cyclotouring movement, who had explored the same roads in Provence around the turn of the century. Raymond Henry sought out the friends of the ‘apostle of cyclotourism’ and assembled an incredible library of historic photos, letters and documents. He published more than half a dozen books – treasure troves of stories, anecdotes and information about cyclotouring, randonneuring, but also the battles between cyclotourists (who loved mountains and had bikes with gears) and racers (who hated hills and rode single-speeds).

I first met Raymond 20 years ago, when I rode my bike from the house of my childhood friend in Montpellier to visit him in Avignon. I marveled at Raymond’s amazing collection of bikes. I pored with him over the incredible documents in his library. And I enjoyed the hospitality he and his wife Rachel (who was featured here less than two weeks ago) extended so generously to the young cyclist who wanted to learn everything about the cyclotouring movement. Many more visits followed, and I have lost count of how many times I’ve retraced that route across Provence since then. Once I started Bicycle Quarterly, we collaborated on many articles.

One year, our team returned with a van full of lighting, backdrops and camera equipment to set up a photo studio in his garage to photograph a small fraction of his collection for The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle. Without him, these books would have been difficult to put together – both his bikes and his knowledge feature heavily.

Raymond knew everybody and had researched everything in the world of French cyclotouring. When I asked him about the first technical trials, the 1934 Concours de Machines, he showed me the original, never-published result sheets. When I mentioned Lionel Brans, who in the late 1940s had cycled from Paris to Saigon, Raymond took me to the cottage he’d built for his bike collection and pulled out Brans’ machine with all its special features for the long trip.

Raymond was one of the judges at the reborn Concours de Machines, where I rode J. P. Weigle’s superlight bike. He was clearly impressed by Peter’s craftsmanship and details like the Rinko style of disassembling the bike for travel. And when we climbed the Col du Béal as part of the field tests, he joined us on the road (above). Many younger riders struggled to stay on the wheel of the 73-year-old Raymond. Later he confided that he had ridden to the top of Mont Ventoux several times that year. His knowledge and expertise are irreplaceable, but he’ll be missed even more for his smile and good humor.

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