[CR] Rene Herse Ligtweight Record Bike

(Example: Racing:Roger de Vlaeminck)

Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2009 08:18:05 -0800
From: Jerome & Elizabeth Moos <jerrymoos@sbcglobal.net>
To: classicrendezvous <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>
In-Reply-To: <BAY141-W6DF904CE80941DDF9809E8CBE0@phx.gbl>
Subject: [CR] Rene Herse Ligtweight Record Bike

I read again this week Vol. 1 No. 4 and Vol. 2 No. 1 of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly (Jan had not yet then dropped the "Vintage"), which chronicle the history of the Technical Trials. Or perhaps I read them thoroughly for the first time. These trials were an amazing chapter in the history of the bicycle.

In the account of the 1946 Grand Prix Duralumin, it is stated that Rene Herse won the prototype category with a bike that weighed 6.875 kg (15.16 lbs), a record never to be broken in the two years of Technical Trials that remained. In the Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, there is on a page devoted to a different customer bike, a photo of Rene with this record holding bike, but it is small, taken from probably 20 feet or more, and the details of the bike are obscured both by Rene and by the bags that have already been mounted. There seem no other photos of this bike in the book, although there are several excellent color photos of the 7 kg bike with which Herse won the 1947 event.

Does the 1946 winning bike still exist? Are there better photos of it, or perhaps Rebour drawings in existance?

For those who tout the modern wonderbikes, these accounts should be sobering. These feats were achieved over 60 years ago, almost a lifetime, and the record breaking bikes had steel frames, although aluminum bikes were often entered in the Technical Trials. Furthermore, the bikes were required to have lights, racks and mudguards, and perhaps a bell, which were included in the weight, although tires and tubes were excluded in the post-WWII events due to the continuing scarcity of good tires. Today's carbon fibre, thin-walled aluminum and Ti bikes would still be hard pressed to meet 7 kg, even with no lights, racks, mudguards or bell. And although these recod bike weren't practical for dialy use, they were not completely fragile either as they typically had to endure several days in excess of 100 km per day of often terrible mountain roads, and points were deducted for even the slightest mechanical problem including a loose BB or a wheel out of true.

One has to wonder if in fact bicycles as practical vehicles have advanced much at all in the last half century. Those Trails bikes demonstrate that it was possible to make a steel frame as light as today's highend carbon, Ti and aluminum, from a material that can be repaired, repainted and refitted to last several generations, while many of today's bikes are essentially throwaway items. And there were already bikes in the Technical Trials with 18 gears, arguable more than enough, while today's 11 speed cassettes mostly just duplicate ratios at the expense of adding ever more wheel dish and requiring ever heavier rims. Had the trials continued, it would be interesting to see what the bikes would look like today. Quite possibly we would see modern Ti, Carbon and oversize thin wall Al frames, since the Trials rules did not require the frames to last many years or be repairable. But at least we would see frames from these materials which would more easily accomodate lights, racks, mudguards and wider tires. I also suspect indexed shifting might be incorporated, and almost certainly the modern derailleur design which merges the Simplex spring loaded upper pivot with the Suntour slant parallelogram. Whether today's gratuitous carbon fibre would be seen is debatable. Many carbon components give very little weight advantage for a much higher cost, so if cost were no object, they might be included. But some of the last Technical Trails already introduced rules requiring bikes in some divisions to be commercially available, and even imposed price limits. So if this trend had continued, one might see very little carbon in Trials today.

I believe at the end of the account of the last Technical Trials Jan proposes that sometime similar should be reestablised. I think that would be desirable as the original trials clearly improved bicycles, and new ones would do the same. Not sure the big manufacturers, focused on making bikes cheaply with cheap labor and selling them at high prices driven by marketing, would be very supportive, but then the large manufactuers weren't very supportive back then either. I think such trials today would probably be supported by and won by the builders who we here call KOF and who now exhibit their products at such events as the NAHMBS.

Thanks again to Jan for telling stories many of us would otherwise not have heard, which illuminate a side of the sport in many ways more interesting and more relevant than the doings of the pro peleton.


Jerry Moos
Big Spring, Texas, USA