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Rene Herse bookThanks to Jan Heine, author of René Herse The Bikes, The Builder, The Riders (photo, left), I can tell you that the neatly stamped "42 75" on the frame and fork of this 57cm René Herse randonneuse painted in Bleu Fonce means that it was the 42nd frameset built in 1975.

Correspondence still with the bike tells that it was ordered in the summer or fall of 1974 and delivered to its original owner, my friend Richard Payne, in Tunisia on or about August 7, 1976 ("Dick" also lived in Santa Cruz, California, where I knew him).

According to Jan's book, René Herse was in poor health during these years and died on May 12, 1976. So, it's likely that this bicycle was one of the last built during Herse's life. From its details, Jan believes it was built by Jean Desbois, who Jan said, Herse hired as an apprentice when Jean was 17 years old and just out of high school.

Click to zoomI spent almost two years refurbishing this René Herse (he's standing on the left in black) using the original parts on it and only new-old-stock or good-condition replacement parts of the same era, or modern ones for those items no longer available.

I made the Herse-style decaleur (handlebar bag holder) and had it brazed by Paul Sadoff who builds Rock Lobster framesets/bicycles. The front bag is a modern version of what would have been on the bike, made by Gilles Berthoud, I used a Crane bell to make a facsimile of the missing one, and the fenders are by Honjo, with a Kimura Billet reflector from Jitensha Studio, who also supplied the Champion rubber chainstay protector. The tires are by Grand Bois.

The photos are by my friend and fellow bicycle aficionado, Anthony Alsberg. They are much larger than shown, so be sure to click to zoom them (and click again on the photo when the zoom opens in your browser because many browsers open a smaller version sized to fit first). Read the notes below the photos to learn more about this exquisite machine.

Everyone who sees this bike asks, so I'll answer... yes, it rides magnificently. If you ever get a chance to pedal a René Herse, do not pass it up.

Jim Langley

Geometry chart on original order form

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Click to enlargeDick rode his Herse a lot in Europe and America. When I took possession it had significant corrosion on all the chrome parts, including the lovely Herse front rack, which was pitted pretty badly. The original aluminum fenders had been replaced by 1980s steel ones (the installer didn't bother removing the brake-mount tab on the front (photo).

The leather saddle had been swapped for a modern anatomic vinyl model. The seatpost was original and quite tarnished. The headlight remained, however the generator and taillight were missing. The wiring was still inside the frame but cut at the ends. Modern vinyl handlebar tape had been installed on the original handlebars with the original Weinmann brake levers. The Herse stem was still there in nice shape. The integral bell was long gone.

Click to enlargeThe original pedals had been replaced by a bike shop in Tunisia with Look clipless. Unfortunately, they had threaded them into the wrong crankarms (left on the right and right on the left), damaging the threads in the crankarms.

Dick brought the bike to me to fix this problem when it happened in the 1980s and I was able to remove the pedals, chase the threads and install them as close to correctly as possible. However, the pedals went in slightly crooked. Luckily Dick was able to ride without issues anyway. Repairing the crankarms was the first big challenge in bringing the bike back (photo).

The list of new old stock parts includes (front to back): Stronglight headset (thanks Peter Weigle!), Weinmann brake levers (thank you Dale Brown at ClassicRendezvous!), Weinmann brake pads front and rear, Huret Jubliee shift levers (including the 3rd one for operating the generator), TA cage and bottle, Ideale saddle, Lyotard pedals with Christophe clips and Lapize straps, Bluemel pump with Campagnolo head, Huret Jubilee front derailleur, Ejac shift cables, Sedis chain and replacement rear Maxi-car axle.

Inside the Berthoud handlebar bag are French maps of Paris and tools and spares from the 1970s.

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Click to zoom. Beautiful bottom bracket with Herse crankset and BB

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Click to zoom. Lovely head lugs and crown, pin striping and Herse rack and cable hanger
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Click to zoom. Herse-style decaleur I made, Herse stem, 5 coats of shellac on original bars
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Click to zoom. Repos de chaine, rubber chainstay strap, internal shift cable routing, fine dropout-to-stays construction
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Click to zoom. Internal cable port and painted name, no decals here
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Click to zoom. Internal cabling passes through tubes inside the frame, meaning threading new cables is as easy as pushing them through!
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Click to zoom. Dynamo lever, sweet seat lug, internal cable port, pump peg on lug point, cable hanger integrated into seatpost binder, cable guide braze-on beneath seatstay and Herse-style fender triangle reinforcement I made
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Click to zoom. Masterful dropout work and fork rake, lovely Maxi-car sealed-bearing hub
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Click to zoom. Entire dynamo setup, Ideale saddle, Herse cable hanger
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Click to zoom. TA cage and insulated TA bottle
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Click to zoom. Look closely to follow clever cable routing and see custom piece on Soubitez dymano required to let the lever turn it on/off
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Click to zoom. Herse stem like new
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Click to zoom. Owner's name written in Herse knurled stem cap
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Click to zoom. Loop on Herse rack mirrors decaleur's: 2-wheel artistry; headlight wire runs interally through hollow rack tubing, into fender and into fork steerer
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Click to zoom. Herse crankset

René Herse's ingenious generator lighting system explained
The René Herse generator (dynamo) lighting system was challenging to figure out because only the headlight remained and traces of the wires still inside the frame. It was a mystery to me exactly how the wires were routed from the generator on the seatstay through the frame, fork and front rack to the headlight.

The generator and lever
Since it wasn't with the bike, I also had no idea how the generator attached to the brazed-on threaded post for it on the inside of the seatstay, or how the lever above's cable was routed to move the generator against and away from the wheel to turn the lights on and off. (The lever only pulls the cable up, which is not how the generator moves [it only moves in and out].)

Click to zoomI purchased multiple generators before I finally found the correct Soubitez "N" model, which hangs beneath the seatstay (most USA-issue generators stand above the seatstay). So that I could attach the cable to the generator, I then made a small aluminum plate with a cable anchor bolt on it to attach to the bottom of the generator (the generator seems made for this modification).

Finally, through trial and error, I discovered the only possible way to route the cable to turn the generator on/off correctly. You can see all of this in this photo if you click to enlarge it. Look closely to see the cable anchor plate I made and the elegantly simple way the cable routes to change its direction of pull to move the generator in and out.

The wiring
For the wiring, there are two wires attached to the generator that runs against the rear wheel creating the electricity. One wire leaves the generator and attaches to the taillight, which is mounted right next to the generator on this bike. The headlight, however, is attached to the front rack.

Getting power to the headlight
To power the headlight, there are second and third wires. These two wires are almost entirely hidden inside the frame, fork steerer and components to protect them from damage and ensure you never lose your lighting due to a cut wire or electrical short. How René Herse routed and connected the electricity from these wires is ingenious.

The second wire leaves the generator and goes into a hole in the seatstay. It only runs a short way before exiting the stay and entering the rear fender's rolled over edge. It travels inside the fender to the bottom of the fender, where it turns left and enters the chainstay. From there it goes forward into the bottom bracket shell and continues all the way up the down tube, ending at the head tube.

Click to zoomClick on the illustration on the left to open a full-size diagram, my version of a René Herse illustration of how the internal wiring works. It will help in understanding the following written explanation:

The second wire can't continue from the top of the down tube because the fork is in the way, and the fork has to be able to turn from side to side for steering. So, René Herse made a contact between where the wire stops at the head tube and the fork.

Click to zoomA copper ring inside the head tube
To keep constant contact so electricity always makes it to the headlight, René Herse attached a copper ring around the inside of the head tube (photo).

The small square hole you see in the copper ring and the cylindrically shaped piece in the hole is the end of the second wire, the one traveling from the generator all the way to this point at the top end of the down tube.

Click to zoomA carbon brush inside the fork steerer
In this photo you can see the carbon brush that makes the electrical connection between the copper ring and the third and final wire, which is attached to the headlight. The electrical connection between the stationary copper ring and the fork is made via this small sprung carbon brush that protrudes from the fork steerer. A spring keeps the carbon brush in contact with the ring in the head tube transfering the electricity from the rear end of the bike to the front end.

Both the copper ring and carbon brush assembly are insulated from the frame and fork (or else an electrical short would occur). In this photo of the carbon brush protruding from the fork steerer, you can just see a black shadow around part of the brush. It's some type of nylon or rubber that's insulating the brush assembly from the steerer. I can't see what insulates the copper ring from the head tube and/or exactly how the copper ring is held in place. The ring seems permanently attached, so perhaps it was bonded to the head tube with epoxy?

All that's needed to get the electricity from the connection inside the fork, is the third wire that travels from the copper brush spring inside the fork, down into the front fender, then into the front rack's hollow tubing and all the way to the headlight! A fun detail is that the headlight is attached to its support arm on the rack with a chainring bolt.

Maybe most amazing, once I attached the parts and connected what new electrical wire was needed to the old ones protruding from the frame, the 40 year old lights came to life; a testament to René Herse's brilliant design (pun intended).


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