There’s little grander than watching multi-mile bicycle races on the telly, they’re the stuff legends are made of, those feats of endurance are what makes ours such a special sport. Fair enough then, that the riders utilise the latest carbon fibre, feather weight machines and have the luxury of professional soigneurs. For those of us that prefer a more leisurely pace, a more specialist technology is required to make it a pleasurable journey rather than a pain. A touring bicycle is also a work of art, created as much by artisans as technicians, steel fused with flame and equipped with luggage of canvas and leather. The father of modern randonneur bicycles was a man called René Herse.
Born in Levallois, France, in 1913, Herse began manufacturing bicycle frames and components after leaving the aircraft industry in the 1930’s. His design innovations and quality of manufacturing soon elevated him to a leader in the field and he’s now considered the figurehead of cycling’s ‘golden age’. Today, some René Herse bikes are as coveted as a vintage Bugatti or Brough Superior. Not surprisingly, either. Take this lovely sky blue model from 1964, for example. While exhibiting the wear and tear that’s expected for almost 40 years worth of touring, it will most definitely be still going strong for another 40 years. That’s probably more than what the owner could hope for.
Featuring details such as sealed bottom brackets, internal cable routing, handcrafted pannier racks and integrated lighting systems, Herse really was a master of bicycle design. His ‘Demontable’ model from 1968 even utilises a primitive form of S & S couplers.
Ingenious French bicycle design aside, riding a Herse bike through the countryside in britches with a handlebar pouch stocked with snacks and a wee dram of inspiration would be an incomparable experience. Lucky for our generation many modern frame builders are continuing to hold up the torch René lit so many years ago.
You can view more of his legacy on the (French) René Herse website.