Riding a Tandem with Lyli Herse

No visit to France would be complete without seeing Lyli Herse. I first visited her after riding the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem. I wanted to learn more about her father, the famous constructeur, and about Lyli’s own sporting exploits, which include eight French championships.
Over the years, we became friends. We rummaged around her garage and found suitcases of historic photos (above) that were published in our book on René Herse. It was a great honor when she asked me whether I wanted to become the custodian of the René Herse name and brand. That is how René Herse’s ground-breaking components are available once more, updated with the latest technologies.
Whenever we visit, we organize a reunion of the “pilotes de Herse”, the riders on Herse’s team. This year, it was just a small group (left to right): Jean-Marie Compte, Pierre Nédéllec, myself, Natsuko, Lyli and Robert Demilly. All of these gentlemen still ride their bikes, and their form remains inspirational. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, considering their past achievements in rides like Paris-Brest-Paris, where they came first (1965, Demilly) and second (1961, Nédéllec)…
Three years ago, we celebrated Lyli Herse’s 85th birthday by riding a lap around the course of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race. It was a great honor to pilot Lyli on a tandem built by her father for this race. She has lost little of her competitive spirit – we dropped all but one young rider on the 14% climb from Chanteloup!
But then, Lyli won the tandem race of almost every Poly from 1945 until she became a racer in the mid-1950s.
Even at age 88, Lyli rides her trainer every day. Behind her, you can glimpse her training log, which shows almost 7000 km for this year! This year, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the old course of the Poly, but sadly, there wasn’t a ride planned. One of the riders had crashed into a newly installed barrier on his familiar route, another was recovering from a hospital visit, and Lyli didn’t feel up to riding, either.
But you never know, and that is why my friend Ivan Souverain had dropped off his lovely 1945 René Herse tandem at Lyli’s house. It’s sized perfectly for Lyli and I. We were keen to try it, and so Natsuko and I took a spin around the neighborhood. And then I asked Lyli whether she wanted to have a go. Her smile grew big. I was surprised how quickly she climbed on the back of the tandem, and then we were off.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHU6bjSF9O8?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
We did one lap of the neighborhood, then another, then explored further. Lyli’s pedal stroke remains as fluid and strong as ever – it must have been a great experience to ride the Poly de Chanteloup with her. One year, she and Jacques Primout actually lapped the hilly course faster than the professional racers – and back then, the Poly drew the greatest stars from France and beyond. (To the pros defense, their race was almost three times as long, but still…)
I hope I’ll be able to do many more tandem rides with Lyli Herse.
When we said “Au revoir”, Lyli gave us a bouquet with roses from her garden. It survived the trip back to Paris, and graced our hotel room for the rest of our stay. What a charming lady!
Further reading:

14 Responses to Riding a Tandem with Lyli Herse

  1. Keith Andrews August 15, 2016 at 6:48 am #

    Congrats Jan … What a thrill to ride a tandem with a living legend and heroine of ours!!

  2. Monty Richardson August 15, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Truly inspirational!

  3. Preston Grant August 15, 2016 at 7:05 am #

    In 1971, my wife and I were riding our Jack Taylor tandem from Paris to Brittany, and of course, we included a visit to the Herse shop on the way out of the city. We were not there to buy anything, but Lyli was extremely gracious, and upon our departure brought out a bottle of water to replenish our supply. Her hospitality was a highlight of the trip. It is wonderful to see that she remains active, and I am grateful that you have posted these stories about her.

  4. Daniel Kehlenbach August 15, 2016 at 7:08 am #

    The world of cycling needs more stories like this. Thanks for sharing.

  5. David Feldman August 15, 2016 at 7:13 am #

    Very inspirational, and I’ll bet that Madame Herse knows every nut and bolt on that 1945 tandem!

  6. David Cain August 15, 2016 at 8:40 am #

    This story warms my heart!

  7. Ed August 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    Lyli inspires me. Wow. Great story. What an experience.
    I hope to log 7,000 km for what half the year when I’m 88 years old.
    I had set a goal off on the horizon of completing PBP at the age of 76 years but looking at her, I wonder if I’m sandbagging it.

  8. Stephen Bamford August 15, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    Ms. Herse rocks! No doubt about it!

  9. Alexander Fine August 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    Brilliant story!

  10. Tim Evans August 15, 2016 at 6:16 pm #


  11. Cynthia August 15, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    Jan, what a gift to know, let alone be friends with Lyli Herse as you do.
    I’ve been wanting to buy your Rene Herse book to be transported back to what truly was the Golden Age of Cycling, and am close to finally being able to. As most of the commenters said here, she truly is inspirational.
    A very Happy Birthday Madame Herse, and many more!!
    Very nice tandem by the way. But then it’s a Herse, it couldn’t be anything else.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly August 15, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

      The tandem was a lovely 1946 “Grand Routier” model. I put a few photos of the tandem on Instagram. Click on the images on the right to view them.

  12. calcagnolibero August 16, 2016 at 1:30 am #

    Thanks for sharing Jan and best wishes ro Madame Herse

  13. Tom Howard August 16, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

    Great post. Loved reading about this. and that tandem is super cool.