Why René Herse Cranks Aren't Anodized

Sometimes, we get questions about why our René Herse cranks aren’t anodized. Some even wondered if this was a cost-saving measure. Rest assured, Compass never will choose a cheaper process over a better one. There is a reason why our cranks aren’t anodized:
When I was racing, I bought a beautiful used Campagnolo Croce d’Aune crankset (above). Named after the pass on which Tullio Campagnolo suffered from frozen fingers and no longer could open the wingnuts of his rear wheel to change gears, the Croce d’Aune group was second only to the C-Record in the Campagnolo lineup. They were a smart design and beautifully made.
The cranks had very few miles on them, as witnessed by the (then) almost-new chainrings. Even so, I paid very little for the cranks – because they had lost some of their beauty. The previous owner’s ankles had rubbed against the crankarms and worn through the anodizing. You can see it between the Campagnolo logo and the crank extractor bolt.

It wasn’t a functional problem, and since they went on a bike that I was racing hard, I didn’t care too much about the cosmetics. In fact, I soon added to that “polish” with my own ankles. The rough life of racing led to more scratches over the next few years.
And yet: if the cranks had just been polished, instead of anodized, the buffing from the rider’s ankles wouldn’t have disfigured the cranks. Even the scratches would have been easy to polish out. Polishing out scratches isn’t just about aesthetics: It allows checking whether a scratch really is a scratch, or whether it’s a crack that might cause the crankarm to break. Of course, you can polish out a scratch on an anodized crank, too, but doing so removes the anodizing, and then the crank doesn’t look good any longer.
So why do some component makers anodize their cranks? High-strength aluminum tends to corrode. Different from steel, where the corrosion flakes off until the part is gone, aluminum oxide forms a protective layer that prevents further oxidation. But it means that the aluminum turns gray. Anodizing forms a hard oxide layer that protects the alloy. Clear anodizing means that the aluminum won’t tarnish. But if the anodizing wears off in one place, the part looks worse than if it hadn’t been anodized in the first place. That is why it only makes sense to anodize components that won’t get scratched.

René Herse never anodized his cranks. The cranks on this 1952 bike still look nice after many thousands of miles. If you ride these cranks in the rain, use a high-quality car wax to protect them. That is what we do on the modern Compass René Herse cranks when we assemble them. Reapply the wax once or twice a year, and your cranks will look as nice as these, even after 65 years of hard use.

We don’t anodize our crankarms, but the chainrings are anodized. Why? They are made from 7075 aluminum for the ultimate in wear resistance. 7075 aluminum contains zinc as its main alloying agent. It oxidizes much more readily than other aluminum alloys. Without anodizing, the chainrings soon would develop ugly spots. And since your ankles (hopefully) won’t rub on the chainrings, there is little risk of wearing through the anodizing.
It would be easy to anodize our René Herse crankarms, and it would make them easier to sell, because anodizing still is taken as a sign of quality. But we prefer crankarms that we can polish and restore to “as good as new” condition, no matter how hard they have been used. Because we fully expect you to ride our cranks for many decades, just like René Herse’s riders did with their original cranks.
Click here for more information about Compass René Herse cranks.

21 Responses to Why René Herse Cranks Aren't Anodized

  1. alexanderluthier October 3, 2017 at 5:21 am #

    First to comment!!
    I do agree: anodizing only looks good when it’s spotless. Some time ago I bought a 1977 japanese bike and after careful hand polishing the aluminum parts were as good as new. Since then, I remove the anodizing in almost every part that shows wear marks. I mean, who decided the seat post, a part that will be moved and rubbed repeatedly until the rider finds its perfect place, could be black?
    Having an clear or black anodized finish only looks good in the showroom. After the first ride, scratches will appear and even a new bike will look battered.

  2. Petar Breskovic October 3, 2017 at 6:27 am #

    Agree100%. I even consider complete removing off the anodisation on my C Record cranks. In fact, I did it on many items – flashlights, bike parts, various holders etcs

  3. jeffoyb October 3, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    Instead of using wax, what about this stuff? I used to sell aluminum canoe poles, for use in canoe poling, where you stand in the boat and pole around the shallows — a lot better than paddling when it’s shallow. The aluminum would corrode and blacken my hands. Never happened again after coating w this stuff. It was suggested to me by an engineer as a tough, re-doable alternative to anodizing. Seems to work. …Everbrite Protecta. https://www.everbritecoatings.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjw6szOBRAFEiwAwzixBVw36QR8a_RmLMO4bCpAQvrKBWHKLfaUR-UDtpvjGQksJx9c3WaA2BoCzw4QAvD_BwE

  4. Peter October 3, 2017 at 8:38 am #

    Just a point of clarification for me. If ankles can rub the anodizing off a crank arm, then I assume the chain must wear off the anodizing (rather quickly) on the chainring teeth. Therefore the purpose of anodizing the chainring is to protect the non-toothed part of the chain ring?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly October 3, 2017 at 8:57 am #

      Yes, the purpose of anodizing the chainring is to protect the non-toothed part so it won’t develop ugly spots from oxidation. The teeth themselves are continuously lubricated by the chain, so they won’t oxidize.

    • Remo October 5, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

      A couple of years ago I bought new chainrings for a circa 1990 Hard Mountain Bike. The new outer rings were black anodized 7075 and the Inner ring silver anodized 7075. At this time, I have 2-3000 miles on the new rings.
      Chain wear on the black outer ring is visible (the anodizing partially rub off of the teeth) but not too annoying. The wear on inner silver ring is not particularly visible, but on close inspection is occurring.

  5. Rick Thompson October 3, 2017 at 10:47 am #

    I’m sold on the cranks, but there’s no stock of the 42 outer rings for my (very) compact double. Will they be in by November? Several BB are out also. The business must be growing faster than you expected!

  6. mattotoole October 3, 2017 at 11:12 am #

    I’ve always liked silver gear because it didn’t show scrapes and scuffs, and the bare metal could be buffed out to maintain its appearance. But the last bikes I had that I could do this with were a Suntour equipped bike from the 80s, and a Deore DX MTB from the early 90s. Now it’s hard to find silver gear at all. Everything is black or gray, and looks worn and tired before too long.

    • Conrad October 5, 2017 at 10:13 am #

      I know! I am starting to hoard my old components. I don’t know if there are any silver derailleurs on the market right now. And precious few cranks and brakes.

  7. Bob C October 3, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

    Not a comment about anodizing, but a question about the RH chainrings.
    On the product page, they’re identified as working with 8-10 speeds (I run RH cranks with 9 speed on two bikes). I’m considering going to 11 speed on one bike — what is the problem using the chainrings with 11 speed?
    I assume it has to do with the front shifting, so for the record I use retrofriction downtube shifters for the front (and a microshift front derailleur) so I don’t rely on indexing there. I do plan to use indexing on the rear.
    Any insight you can provide would be great, thanks!

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly October 5, 2017 at 7:34 pm #

      The spacing of the rings needs to be a little closer for 11-speed. You could modify a ring or a crankset to achieve that. However, with the closer spacing, the chain needs to climb more steeply, which makes shifting harder. To solve this, we are working on completely new 11-speed chainrings.

      • Bob C October 5, 2017 at 11:02 pm #

        Fantastic. I’ll look forward to them!

      • B. Carfree October 6, 2017 at 10:15 pm #

        I know you usually like to wait until all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed before you break the good news on a product release, but since you’re letting us know that this is being worked on, do you have any estimate of when they might be available if there are no extraordinary snafus? (I know it’s tough to predict the future on things like this, so hopefully no one will get upset if the time frame stretches on longer than hoped for.)

        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly October 6, 2017 at 11:21 pm #

          I’ve been testing prototypes for months now, and production has been approved. They should be available later this autumn.

  8. J October 3, 2017 at 7:33 pm #

    “Now it’s hard to find silver gear at all. Everything is black or gray, and looks worn and tired before too long.” Might the use of black anodized components be a part of mass market bicycle manufacturers’ strategy of planned obsolescence? If component looks worn would it not be easier to convince a customer to “upgrade” to the new and slightly reworked replacement for this model year?

  9. alexei October 4, 2017 at 1:53 am #

    The most vital question – why SonDelux Wide hub is not anodized (black)?!

  10. Petar October 4, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    One more thing that I noticed about anodising – very often it serves to disguise iregularities and poor finish.

  11. John Duval October 5, 2017 at 12:10 am #

    I would guess that hub polishers, the little leather loops, were used because the hubs were not anodized, and they are difficult to polish without disassembling the wheel.

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly October 5, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

      I think those were intended for bikes with inexpensive steel hubs, which were chrome-plated without the nickel underneath that protects from rust…