If Rene Herse built all his bikes by himself, without assistants, or with exactly the same assistants his entire life, then the argument that the Kone and Robilette built Herse's will be inauthentic might hold up. Is that the case? If not, and I doubt that it is, then it is silly romanticism say that these Kone/Robilette Herse's will be fakes.
Were Jack Taylors phonies all along, because they came with Jack's name and not Norman's on the tubes that Norman welded?
And haven't I heard there was such a thing as a good Bob Jackson and a bad one, depending on who exactly made it?
Is a Porsche not a Porsche now that old Dr. Porsche is long dead?
Of course not.
Many reknowned bicycle builders have used many different assistants to help build the bikes with their names on them...and those assistants rarely stayed the same over a long career...and the quality of even the best marques fluctuated over time and reputedly from bike to bike, as assistants came and went and as the dedication of the owner waxed and waned.
Here's the bottom line: Mike and Mark ARE going to be building Rene Herse bicycles, whether persons like it or not. The family has given them the legal right to do it. And any bikes they build will be true Rene Herse bicycles. The only question is whether they are going to be giving riders a bicycling experience equal or better than what Rene Herse managed to give his customers. The Herse experience was largely an upper class experience. It was to a considerable degree an experience of going to Paris on vacation, having a bike built for you, and then touring France. Mike and Mark are going to have one hell of a difficult time duplicating that experience, unless they move to Paris and reopen a Rene Herse shop there; that to me is the real business problem they face. Building bikes as good as Rene Herse built them is not that hard. There are many master builders today capable of doing that. The best custom bikes in the world are probably built in America today. But that is not the same experience as sailing across the pond on a Cunnard liner, training to Paris, staying at the Ritz, being sized for a tandem with the wife, and then touring the quaint burgs of France on a more sophisticated and beautiful bike than any you had seen back in the states. It was this experience that built the mystique of Rene Herse bicycles probably almost as much as his bicycles, which were themselves exceptional. Will Mike and Mark be as saavy at selling bikes as Rene was? Rene understood there was a hell of a lot more to selling to the rich than just building a good bike. It had to have style. It had to be unique in many ways. It had to have substance. And most of all it had to be beautiful in a way that sometimes the French are simply best at. It did not have to be the lightest, fastest bike around, nor have the most perfect welds, or have the latest, trickest, highest tech components. It had to have exquisite balance in all respects. Can two Americans possibly carry the legacy on? Who knows? But that is the job that faces them. The beauty of balance and the balance of beauty in a durable bike of superior quality.
Part of me wishes the family hadn't let the name loose, but another part of me is delighted that at last someone is going to get serious about resuming Rene Herse bicycles. And I think Kone and Robilette are going to be about as fanatical about resuming the spirit of Rene Herse bicycles as anyone could be...if they understand that old Rene was not just selling bicycles, or even accessories, but an experience in Paris as well. Maybe they should build them in Aspen rather than Denver. Or maybe they should move to Paris. I will volunteer to come over and help run the store.
Whether people like it or not, the Herse family has made Mike and Mark be Rene Herse's latest assistants. They have put the old man's legacy in Mike's and Mark's hands.
Putting a dead man's legacy in new hands to see if it can be extended is not unusual. Often it is done opportunistically, but sometimes it is done out of genuine caring on the part of the heirs.
What is unusual is when the latest assistant's make the product as well and with the same cachet as the dead man managed to do.
It doesn't happen often, but it happens.
Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches are still Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches despite the sire of the brand being long dead andthe family in some cases having lost all determining influence. I would argue Astin Martin, which has bankrupted many times and been sold more times than a Bankok whore, is more Astin Martin now than ever and with Ulrich Bez as CEO, and Ford pedalling it to David Richards, no less.
Have great bike brands been resuscitated to previous greatness? Not yet I suppose, but that does not mean it cannot happen.
Often, of course, the experience is like that of Jaguar, or Rover, or you fill in the blank.
Regardless, the name on the tube is nothing but a legal right with some brand value, whether Rene Herse is building Rene Herse bicycles, or whether Mike Kone and Mark Nobilette are. The bike the tube is on and the way in which it is sold and experienced by customers is the litmus test.
Rene Herse bicycles are a strong legacy. Attempting to resume that legacy is just as honorable and feasible as starting from scratch to build another legacy. Ferdinand Piech has nothing to be ashamed of about nabbing the resuscitated Bugatti name from some wannabees and imposing his own particular brand of idiosyncratic genius to create one of the most amazing cars ever made and one with styling that Ettore Bugatti, himself, would probably be reasonably approving of.
If Kone and Nobilette want to stand on the shoulders of a master to begin their business and take the risk of failing to fulfill inflated expectations in order to extend that legacy, and if the Herse family wants to give them a shot at it, then I bid them good luck.
Rome has been rebuilt on top of itself so many times no one can count, and no one doubts that today's Rome is as much Rome as it ever was. Why? Because today's Rome is probably actually better than some of its earlier versions.
Only romantics believe persons do not start out standing on the shoulders of those who came before them. No one will be fooled into thinking that the Rene Herse's of Mike's and Mark's were built by Rene Herse and his assistants. The bikes will stand or fall on their quality and the consumer experience. They will either be good Herses, or bad Herses, sold seductively, or not, but they will most definitely be Herses.
Don Wilson Los Olivos, CA
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