As we spend more time indoors, here are some photos of an exciting winter project I'm starting: refurbishing a 1975 René Herse randonneur bicycle. It's in nice original shape with most of the parts it left Herse's Paris shop with. It was built for my friend, lifelong cyclist and bicycle lover, Richard Payne (as was required by French law at the time, Dick's name and address are engraved in the stem cap; photo 4).
|René Herse randonneur as photographed about 2004|
My goal is to bring it back as close as I can to how it was in 1975 when Dick purchased it. He kept the original order forms so I have a record of how it was equipped.
These randonneur or randonneuse bicycles were made for what we Americans sometimes call credit-card touring, where you carry lunch, a change of clothing and ride relatively long distances for the joy of it, continuing at night, in the rain, and only stopping at hotels to rest up for more pedaling adventures the next day.
|Gracefully raked blades, elegant dropouts and marvelous Maxi-Car hubs|
Route sheets and registration forms that Dick saved and are in the same file as the bike specifications, show that he toured in Tunisia on it, too, where he lived and worked as a teacher for decades before returning to his other home in Santa Cruz, California for his retirement.
I'm familiar with René Herse bicycles because I worked on a couple of his masterpieces over the years as a mechanic. But my appreciation for him and his work has piqued, and my knowledge grown immensely thanks to the writings of Jan Heine in his fine publication that covers randonneuring bicycles and builders old and new, Bicycle Quarterly. He covers new bicycles and technology, too, so there's something most cyclists will enjoy in every issue.
What's unique about these treasures is that the builder made the frameset and also crafted or designed many of the parts, such as the front rack, crankset, stem and small pieces. Before he became a master "constructeur," as these renowned bicycle builders were called, René Herse worked making airplane parts, so he brought expert machining skills and knowledge of engineering precision parts from ultralight materials to his bicycle building.
Also unique is that these bikes were made to be ridden long distances, carrying a small load in all conditions. And unlike the heavily laden long-distance tourists with front and rear panniers or even trailers crossing America or riding round the globe, these randonneuring bikes were made for performance riders who not only wanted to cover long distances, they enjoyed doing it in record time and there were even timed events and records to be had.
Dick's Herse has a magic ride. It's wonderfully smooth and stable and easily gets up to speed, and stays there. It looks heavy but it feels light and lively and you don't want to turn back once you're in the saddle; you want to keep riding.
|Herse rack with built-in light, wire runs through rack|
As an example of the painstaking effort put into designing and building this René Herse, it had a generator (dynamo) that attached to a precisely positioned threaded post brazed onto the left seatstay.
A dedicated Huret Jubilee down-tube style shift lever allowed you to turn on/off the generator moving it to rub against the rim or move away from it. (Without a photo to go by, it took me hours of experimentation with many different generators before I figured out how this worked - which will be the subject of a future post.)
There was probably a small seatstay light powered by this generator (it may have been on the fender instead). To power the front light, that you can see is integral to the front rack - the wire leaves the generator and goes into the hollow channel in the edge of the fender. It then exits the fender, goes into the left chainstay, through the bottom bracket, up the down tube where it makes contact with the head tube, I believe (I haven't taken the front end apart to investigate).
Meanwhile, the front light wire traveled through the hollow rack tube, exited the rack underneath the fender, traveled to the fork steerer and into it, where it attached to the contact brazed inside the steerer. To get the electricity to bridge from the steerer, which has to turn - to the stationary head tube, there is a carbon brush that always touches the steerer and causes no drag you can feel. Ingenious!
There are many other details to admire, such as the lovely lugs and bottom bracket, the arrow pump peg, the cable hanger built into the seat lug and the unique and stout dropouts. The right rear dropout actually includes a chain holder that acts as an extra freewheel cog so that you can shift onto it for wheel removal and your chain will remain in position as if a wheel was still in place. Herse thought of everything.
Enjoy the photos, and as I bring this incredible bicycle back, I'll post updates. Best of luck with your winter bicycle project, too!
|Pointed lug tips, Herse sealed bottom bracket|
|Herse custom stem, engraved stem cap, integrated bell (I made this copy)|
|Herse dropout, internal shift cable, peg holds rubber stay guard|
|Exceptional lugwork and crown|
|Stylish braze-on for internal cable routing|
|Another view of the cable port|
|Elegant pump peg, seat cluster and dedicated lever for generator|
|Look closely: that's a chain carrier on the inside of the dropout|