Re: [CR] Berthoud

(Example: History)

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Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2009 15:25:33 -0800
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From: "Jan Heine" <>
Subject: Re: [CR] Berthoud

At 9:41 PM +0000 1/13/09, alex m wrote:
>Just check out the results of the different concours, races, Chanteloup, et
>c.. The best bikes nearly always won. And by a nice coincidence these bikes
> were also beautiful to the eye.

There is a saying "What looks right usually is right."

The races/competitions are an interesting point. In all my interviews, there have been many detractors of Herse, even within his own team. Monsieur Herse and especially Madame did not have many friends. But when you look at the riders' results, most had their best results with Herse.

One rider, Gilbert Bulté, rode PBP 1951 on a Remy tandem. They used a prototype derailleur, the cable broke, they lost much time and abandoned. With a different captain, Bulté returned in 1956 and came first on the Herse tandem that is shown in "The Competition Bicycle." The tandem was credited with part of the success, as it behaved itself perfectly for the arduous 750 miles.

A female racer had a string of good placings (2nd at Nationals, etc.) during the late 1960s on Herse, then fell out with the team and raced on a different bike. She told me a few years ago that despite her disagreements with the Herse family, her Herse was the best bike she ever has ridden.

Roger Baumann was the fastest single-bike rider in PBP 1956, on Herse. He left the team shortly thereafter, and never was able to repeat his performances.

There are more cases like this. Perhaps they are coincidences. Perhaps it was that Herse provided the support for his riders that allowed them to excel. Certainly, the women's team trained by Lyli, his daughter, was known for rigorous training methods, much to the consternation of the French Cycling Federation, who wanted all riders on the same program. Two world championships and at least a dozen national championships on road and track seem to prove Lyli right, especially when you consider that her team consisted of only 4 or 5 riders.

However it may be explained, these riders all had their best results on Herse, except one guy who was woed from the Herse team at the last minute before PBP 1961, and he went on to win that event for Routens. But then, Routens is another top-tier maker. Would he have got the same result on a Dujardin or a Royal Codrix? I don't know...

So yes, Herse did use his team to show the superiority of this bikes (marketing?), but it was an easy job, because his bikes were superior. Having ridden a few of his bikes, and having ridden them hard, I can say that the best bikes from Herse remain unsurpassed today.

And even today, it is difficult to fault Herse's engineering. Whether it's a tandem frame, a simple rack or the seatstay connection to the seat lug, he used the most rational solution, no matter its cost. Only his fiddly brake cable hangers with the roller may have been less than optimal... but even they worked, and they were lightweight, and pretty.

Jan Heine
Bicycle Quarterly
140 Lakeside Ave #C
Seattle WA 98122