I’ve been reading and have almost finished Jan Heine’s latest book, a big fat one, on Rene Herse.

 

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It’s 9.5 x 12 x 1.75 x 424 pages and six-and-a-quarter pounds.

These days, to some who are familiar but not super familiar with Herse, his bikes seem frou-frou, more show-less go, but the book makes it clear how wrong that is. Herse bikes are proof that beauty doesn’t have to mean stupid. In fact, that it can’t. His bikes were smart first, pretty next, a perfect mix. It’s a book of bikes, and lots more. A respectful and useful way to show off the beautiful bikes is in perfect studio photos, and the book has plenty of those. It would be a weird book without them. But most of the photos are gorgeous black-and-whites of the bikes and riders in action, and these photos—to my way of thinking— show the bike at their best, in use. As good as the photos are, the best part, remarkably, is the text. What Jan does, probably what he intended to do, is teach you about the designer, builders, and assemblers behind the bikes, and then some of the riders.

Another thing remakable is Jan’s role in the book and his writing style. A book like this could easily have come off as heavy on the hero-worship and shame on anybody who’s out of the loop, or even look at me for knowing so much. Instead, Jan is respectful of the reader and if anything under-represents Herse’s contributions, so in the end you figure it out yourself. It is clearly a labor of admiration and love, and has countless fantastic photos and fascinating insights and interviews with those who were there at the time. Rene Herse is an educational, attitude-changing, enlightening, fascinating, detailed testament to the man who contributed more useful beauty to bicycles than anybody else. If Jan hadn’t written it, nobody would have, because nobody could have. and if nobody had, then we just wouldn’t know.

Way to go, Jan.

It costs $86, a bargain. We’ll have some by March 4, but I want to make it clear that our selling it has nothing to do with me liking it…except of course I wouldn’t sell it if I didn’t. What I’m saying is that the possibility of selling came way after the liking. You can buy from Jan or us or anybody else. Here’s Jan’s site:

http://www.compasscycle.com/

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Bike Show Bikes

There are bikes I think of as “doily” bikes that bring out the worst in me and lead to thoughts of self-criticism for feeling that way, because it’s just a bike, which is true, but the accolades heaped on crazily designed and nearly dysfunctional bikes at bike shows bum me out anyway. Not all show bikes are like this; only most.  When you see city bikes with skinny tires that skim the frame and fork and the same bike has a long, low stem and handlebars, and it all costs so much for what?, it’s hard to be mellow. Maybe it comes down to the question of whether bikes are metal-art, shock-art, or functional art or some other kind of art or avenues of personal expression, and when you say they can be all of those things, then there’s really no foundation for scoffing.

Some bike designs seem to be driven by a need to be different and to get votes for originality, rather than to be good. Originality isn’t inherently good, and when it’s the result of intentionally avoiding existing designs that a lot of thought went into originally and a lot of refinement went into subsequently, then “original” can be construed as disrespectful, ego-driven, or just foolish. Whatever the case, “original” usually means “hidden influences,” or “never combined just that way before.” Every seemingly original or at least exclusive design here comes from somewhere. The Noodle handlebar was inspired by a Modolo with a slight retrieve and flattish ramp. Ours is better because I have better taste, but it’s basically a copy. The Moustache H’bar came from Japanese schoolkids bikes, and those bars were first seen as early as 1907, or at least a variation of them. I got my affinity for lowish bottom brackets from Richard Sachs and Marc Muller. I learned to like steel from Ritchey, who still likes it,  no doubt, but the segment of the market his company operates in dictates other materials. I learned to like lugs from seeing Bridgestone’s tests, and then (again) Richard Sachs was influential. Fattish tires I came to from riding, and I think anybody would do the same. The list could continue but I’ve made the point, at least in RIV’s case/my case.

When industrial design students go about designing bikes—and they seem to do it every year in some part of the world, usually northern Europe—they go after the city bikes, since they’re more accessible in some ways than are racing or mountain bikes. The presumed buyer —- it seems to me—-must be a harried executive parent shopper multi-tasker with a tiny apartment, and yet rich and avant guard, who wants the kind of bike nobody has ever exactly seen before, and ideally it will be the only one in town. That is my impression, anyway.

I’ll tell you what a good city bike is, but my description won’t be revelatory.

A good city bike has these qualities

• High  handlebars for an upright position, because guess what? The busy streets are not your raceway, and you need to be comfortable and to see what’s up ahead. No high bars, not comfy, and you can’t see.

• Wide tires, at least 38mm wide—-minimum. So you can inflate them hard or soft, as you like and as the street surface warrants. Even if you ride 38s, it should fit 40s at least, and with a fender.

• Tough tires that are hard to puncture and stand up to no to low maintenance and inspection. Of course we always recommend daily pre-and-post ride tire inspections. Right.

• A city bike without fenders works only if you ride only on dry streets and dry weather.

• Ways to carry stuff front and back. Might as well have carrying capabilities in front and behind you, because city riding means shopping or carrying stuff to and from someplace, and the room is good. If you fill up a bag or basket in back and you have an empty bag and basket up front, no harm done—but at least you’re riding within the cushion, should something else come up. It’s better than being maxed out.

• Easy mounting and dismounting. This doesn’t mean it must be a mixte, because that depends on how your hips and flexibility are. Boys bikes do well for boys and girls; girls bikes do well for girls and boys. Bikes are gender-neutral, but everybody carries some imagery baggage with them, and that’s something I can’t address.

• Kickstandable. These trackbikelike city bikes with no kickstands…ohmy. Here’s a kickstand tip: When your option is a pole or air, use the kickstand. When you have a wall to lean the bike against, wall trumps kickstand. Anyway, city bikes that are made for the city and not for the auditorium will have kickstands.

• Here’s a last-minute thought, a city bike requirement for me, but not one I’d foist on anybody else. Have you ever pedaled with a grocery bag full in one arm? A little planning and bags and baskets or even a sack on your back can prevent that, but let’s say you have no pack and while your bike was U-locked outside of Trader Joe’s a thief took your bag and basket, and there you are with a bag of groceries (not two). Whenever you’re arm-toting, it is good to be able to sit straight up and brake and shift.

Bike categories are so weird, anyway. I’ve told the story before so will make it short: When Bstone introduced the XO-1 in the Fall of 1990, it didn’t have a category, and eighty percent of the bike dealers who saw it wanted to know what KIND of bike it was. Mountain? No. Road? No. City? Not exactly. You could point out the inherent versatility and even the expandability with the help of racks or different tires, but what they wanted was a category, and it had none. Everything in the world has categories, but you use a thing, not the category it falls in.

The Betty and Sam versus Prize-Winning City Bikes

We don’t call them city bikes, but when you outfit them with racks, fenders, baskets and bags and higher handlebars and reflectors and lights, there you go.

The most underutilized upfix for any bike and any city bike is reflective tape wherever it’ll go. First, at least, on the spokes. You can be visible without it, but semi-permanent visibility things have an edge over lights you may not have with you or on, or even my favorite, the big Triangle, that you may forget to wear.  The silver 3M Scotchlite tape we have shines so bright. If your pedals don’t have reflectors, put some on the back of your crankarm.

Anyway, here’s an over-the-top (show bikey?) version of a Sam Hillborn.

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It is pretty enough, but is stuffed with smart function. This is a bike that’s nearly too intentionally decked out for my taste—a basket on the front would help—but all that means is it’ll look better when it’s got some wear on it. Purely from a looks perspective, as horribly superficial as that is, does the fact that there are a hundred or two of these bikes out there make them seem less pretty or less special than a no touch one-off?

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This doesn’t look bad no matter where or when you are.

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Same with this.

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These are some beautiful little beetles. The colors are so good.

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They aren’t as colorful as these:

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You can’t really pit one against the other. Both good, I’d say! The bicycle connection is that one of our customers showed these to me. He works in the American Museum of Natural History.