Will I be able to get chainrings?

Will I be able to get chainrings?

Question from a potential customer: “If I purchase a Rene Herse crankset with its non-standard bolt-circle diameter, what guarantee do I have that Compass Bicycles will continue production of the chainrings for 5, 10 or 15 years?”
Compass Bicycles makes products that we expect to last for decades. We have taken every care in the design and manufacture to ensure that you can enjoy them for a long time. In this context, being able to get replacement parts is important.
Will you be able to get chainrings when your first set wears out?
The good news is that you won’t need new chainrings for a long time. Our chainrings are precision-machined from 7075 aluminum, which is very hard and long-wearing. Expect to get about 5-8 times as many miles out of these rings than you get out of less expensive rings that are made from 6000-series aluminum. (I used to get about 50,000 km / 30,000 miles out of a set of Campagnolo chainrings of similar quality.)
It may take a while, but eventually your chainrings will wear out. Anybody who has tried to replace or repair a 9-speed brake-shift lever just a decade after it was “state-of-the-art” knows how quickly big manufacturers declare a product obsolete. In fact, Campagnolo apparently is about to end their support for 10-speed components.
Compass Bicycles is different, because we are committed to our designs. We won’t change them for the sake of offering something “new.” René Herse cranks have been around since 1938. (The photo shows a tandem from 1947.) It’s hard to see how they could be improved. For you, this means that future chainrings will fit onto the cranks you buy today.
In fact, today’s René Herse chainrings fit on all Herse cranks made after 1960, and earlier cranks can be adapted to fit the current chainrings. So even riders who bought their René Herses more than 70 years ago can get chainrings for their bikes again! As long as Compass Bicycles is around, you should be able to get chainrings.
What if Compass Bicycles goes out of business? We promise that we will do our utmost to avoid this eventuality!

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Comments (22)

  • lawschoolissoover

    You may be overstating things with respect to 9-speed cassettes just a little. Granted, it’s not like I buy a dozen at a time, but I’ve had no problems. Nor with buying the 7-speed cassette that I use to modify the range of the 9-speed.

    December 18, 2012 at 7:18 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right, 9-speed cassettes are still available, if you know where to look. The hard part is getting high-end brake-shift levers (Shimano) or parts to overhaul them (Campagnolo). I changed the post to reflect this.

      December 18, 2012 at 7:28 am
      • Nick Skaggs

        Agreed. I have a set of 1998 Campagnolo Chorus Ergo levers. When they were new, they were “state-of-the-art.” They had the same internals as the Record levers of the year before. Their rebuildability was very appealing to me.
        Three years later, they changed the shift ratio of their derailleurs and shifters. New componets were manufactured to that standard. I could upgrade my old shifters if I wanted, but I didn’t feel the need to. Now, 15 years later, there are no small parts available for them, barring the springs that wear out regularly anyway. It sounds like those will be gone soon, too.
        Lesson learned. I’ll put my Simplex Super LJ downtube shifters back on the bike, and never look back.

        December 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm
  • Bubba

    Maybe you should set up a live webcam to this workbench so we can check in on chainring inventory 24/7. I see all 14 sizes in stock at the moment. 🙂
    OK, just kidding.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:49 am
  • Paul Ahart

    You forgot to mention the single most important factor in making sure chainring teeth don’t prematurely wear out: replace your chain BEFORE it is worn-out. You gave this bit of advise some time back, and it is certainly relevant. I use a Rohloff chain wear checker, and as soon as the tool drops onto the chain indicating wear…it’s new chain time. Generally about every 2000 miles with good maintenance and lube.

    December 18, 2012 at 10:38 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are right. Since I use inexpensive 8-speed chains and freewheels that are hard to replace, I actually replace my chains every 1200 miles (2000 km).

      December 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm
      • Tim Evans

        1200 miles on a chain seems like nothing. My bike also has a 6-speed freewheel and uses an 8-speed chain. However, it typically lasts for 1100~1400 miles on the original “packing” grease (Initially, I wipe off exterior grease with a damp solvent rag) before it starts to complain. Then, I start to oil it, and they are good for another 1000 or more miles. The chains are Wippermann 808, and cost about $30 – not cheap, but they are bright and shiny. Maybe I should forget about the nickel plating and just buy basic 8-speed KMC’s and never have to oil again!
        Too bad we don’t live closer to each other. We could split the cost of chains, and you could give me your used chains!

        December 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          You are right in that I replace my chains more often than necessary. However, with the supply of good 6-speed freewheels being limited, it’s an inexpensive precaution. I use the old Sedis black chains, which then became Sachs and now are SRAM. I don’t know the current price, but they cost less than half of the chains you use, so my per-mile chain cost still is lower.

          December 19, 2012 at 5:42 am
  • somervillebikes

    Nice blue work station there. Is the wood color stained? It contrasts nicely against the shimmering silver chainrings.

    December 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s a stain. I made the workbench decades ago when I was in college – it fit in the kitchen of our one-bedroom apartment.

      December 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm
  • ted kelly

    Previously you mentioned testing run out on assembled cranks to insure an unfortunate combination of in spec rings and crank didn’t produce an out of spec runout on the combination. I expect thats not a very common occurrence, but could it arise when replacing rings?

    December 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      In theory, it could arise when replacing rings. In practice, we’ve got the tolerances so tightly under control that it’s unlikely – there are very, very few “rejects” these days.

      December 18, 2012 at 8:37 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    There are three fewer chainrings and one crank set, and several other items fewer in inventory. I am the customer who posed the question about replacement chainrings should Compass Bike go out of business.
    After listening to Jan’s talk on Rene Herse at the Philly Bike Expo, 2012, my lovely wife Lenora thought I needed to support Compass Bike and I needed a little bit of Rene Herse on my new pre-ordered frame and fork. Of course, I protested but after 42 years of marriage I knew my protest would do no good. 🙂
    Baltimore, MD

    December 19, 2012 at 9:40 am
  • Stevy

    There are a number of companies offering custom machined chain rings. John Bosevski in Sydney springs to mind, but there are certainly others. I wouldn’t let speculation on future chain ring availability sway my decision if I were in the market for a new crank.
    It is a pity that high quality freewheels are no longer available. I have tried a number of the currently manufactured offerings and their quality and durability don’t match what was being produced 25 years ago.

    December 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      If we make these cranks for a few decades, there will be enough out there to warrant making chainrings. You still can get chainrings for 144 mm BCD Campagnolo cranks, albeit not from Campy themselves. TA makes them…

      December 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm
    • Rolly

      I haven’t had a problem with my IRD freewheel yet and it shifts really well with Simplex Retrofriction shifters. That said, I also have a big box of random NOS Suntour cogs and spacers, as well as six freewheel bodies. I spent a night building freewheel assemblies and, man, was it ever confusing and hard to get useful set ups because I’m missing certain cogs (as in I have ten 20 tooth cogs and twenty eighteen tooth cogs but only two 16s, one 17, etc) It would be great if someone made Suntour pattern cogs.
      It feels like the Suntour pawls and bearings are better quality to the IRD ones but I guess time will tell. I know IRD is onto the third marque of their freewheels… maybe they nailed it this time.
      Is there actually a decent market for freewheels? Would cogs be any harder or more costly to make than chainrings?
      — Rolly

      December 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Freewheels used to be pretty expensive. My last Dura-Ace freewheel cost $ 67 at REI in 1994. In today’s money, that is maybe $ 150-180. It’s hard to see how IRD’s budget freewheel can offer the same quality…

        December 19, 2012 at 7:45 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    A factor in availability of parts after time is the degree of interchangable compatibility. That used to be a nice aspect of bicycle design. Standards were not being constantly obsoleted as is done now. Indeed, that used to be a sales feature even for some motor vehicles. I owned a couple of 1950s English single cylinder motor bikes when they were over 20 years old, (my godson still has them). The owner’s manual advised what changes over the years were backwardly compatible with earlier machines for the rider who wished to upgrade an existing machine. It seemed like a generous policy, but in an age when that was a common consideration, failure to consider former buyers might have dampened sales of new machines. By offering replacements for a drivetrain that goes back over 70 years, you are maintaining that same high level of respectful concern for your customers.

    December 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm
  • Benjamin Van Orsdol

    Will a Rene Herse chainring be a good candidate for drillium? Perfect perforations always has an ad in BQ, and I’ve often dreamt of what they might look like. What are your thoughts on drilling a RH crank? I don’t mean aesthetically, I’m wondering about your opinion on the issues of strength and durability.

    December 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      On the one hand, I don’t think a few holes will hurt. René Herse rings are 4 mm thick, 1 mm more than most rings. On the other hand, I am reminded of the story Ernest Csuka told me, how they drilled more than 100 holes into a chainring, and when they weighed it, they realized that they had saved just 1 gram. And then they rode it, and it collapsed.
      Most of all, drilled rings are an aesthetic that comes from racing bikes. All show and no real gains. On a cyclotouring bike, that looks odd to me, since these bikes are all about function, and not about show.

      December 19, 2012 at 8:34 pm
  • Garth

    To be fair to the IRD freewheels, the available 7 and 8-speed cassettes are at the same price range and seem to be of similar quality.

    December 20, 2012 at 11:26 pm

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