Vintage Bicycle

René Herse 1953 Randonneuse


I bought this bicycle some years ago but it’s taken me a while to get round to getting it up and running. It dates from 1953, is constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing, and unusually it is fitted with the Simplex Juy 51 gear.

The worst thing about the machine was the state of the chrome, which was peeling badly. I don’t much like re-plating things, so I searched for a long time for the right people to do a very careful and sympathetic job, without losing any of the important details. I settled on Derby Plating, and they really made a great job, particularly to the racks and bottle cage, which are very difficult to polish. They apply quite a lot of copper, polish then apply more copper, polish again, before nickel and chrome plating. The result was outstanding, but of course cost a small fortune!

Here is an example of the care taken in working the front rack:



I hand polished all the alloy parts, rather than use a polishing machine…more time consuming and physical, but gives a finish that doesn’t look to too shiny, closer to the original look of the parts. The original paintwork took many hours to clean and preserve. A small amount of touching up was done, and finally the surface protected with several coats of Renaissance Wax.

This machine is fitted with many of Herse’s specialities: Second pattern brakes with alloy nuts and alloy rollers to the straddle wires, Herse chainset and front derailleur, front and rear racks and decaleur. The Herse stem has a special aluminium boss for the bell fitment. The front light has a custom alloy mount. The bolt securing the mount is drilled hollow, allowing the wire to pass through invisibly. The bottom bracket has annular bearings pressed in and Herse alloy dust caps.

Finally it has the system in the head tube to transmit current from the dynamo to the front lamp. This consists of a brass ring pressed into the head tube, and connected to the dynamo. The fork steerer tube is fitted with a carbon brush which relays the current to the front lamp wire. All of that work is to do away with the unsightly wire which is usually exposed around the base of the head tube!

Other parts include Philippe bars and end plugs, Mafac brake levers and Jos lighting. Maxicar hubs are laced to the wonderful Mephisto rims. These rims have a wooden block reinforcing every spoke hole, making for a very strong wheel. They are surprisingly light – I think the wood is something similar to Balsa. The original handlebar bag is a nice bonus. It was undoubtedly supplied by the Herse shop and is bolted to their decaleur fitting.

The Simplex gear takes a bit of setting up. Retaining enough chain tension is the difficult thing. Please note that the pictures were taken before I set up the gear properly! It helps to have the original instructions….This might be helpful for others:

This machine is a very fine example of the great products of the workshop of the ‘couturier of bicycles’ in the ‘Golden Age’.