High-Performance Parts for Real-World Riding

(l to r) René Herse 1938, Lyli Herse 1960s, Paris-Brest-Paris 2015

At Compass Bicycles, we make high-performance components for real-world riding. We cover long distances at a spirited pace. We ride in any weather – even at night. We like the independence of going unsupported. And we make the components that we need for these rides.

Compass components are designed to perform under the most challenging conditions, so we can focus on enjoying the ride. Our components incorporate decades of experience, so we can rely on them when cresting remote mountain passes in the middle of the night. With our components, we can enjoy rides that otherwise would be impossible.

René Herse

Compass Bicycles continues René Herse’s proud tradition of excellence in design, aesthetics and performance. During the 1930s, Herse worked on prototype aircraft, including the first plane to fly from Paris to New York. Herse was an avid cyclist, and he knew that bicycle parts could be made lighter and stronger by using aircraft technology and aircraft precision.

In 1938, Herse began to make a series of innovative components in his small workshop. He was among the first to use aluminum for his cranks. His cantilever brakes combined ultralight weight with superior stopping power. René Herse’s bottom brackets used cartridge bearings that were pressed into custom-machined bottom bracket shells. They spun smoothly for decades. Every detail was considered: Herse even custom-made his own bolts when the commercially available ones were not up to his standards.

Herse soon also made complete bikes, which achieved near-mythical status for their performance and reliability. They came first in the epic 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnées. They won the incredible Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb races. And they were ridden to multiple national and world championships.

René Herse was as much an artist as he was an engineer. Beautifully proportioned and with every detail carefully considered, his bikes were as elegant as they were functional. He truly deserved his nickname: “The magician of Levallois”. (Levallois was the suburb of Paris where his workshop was located.)

In the late 1990s, our founder, Jan Heine, became interested in René Herse and his bikes. A successful racer and randonneur himself, Jan was seduced by the romance of mid-century French cycling culture, when cycling was not just a pastime, but a way of life. As a racer, Jan preferred epic stage races to office-park criteriums. As one of the first members of Randonneurs USA, he enjoyed exploring the Cascade Range with his friends, plotting new routes for challenging randonneur brevets.

Bicycle Quarterly

Having completed his Ph.D., Jan decided to follow his passion and start a magazine about the culture, history and technology of cycling: Bicycle Quarterly. Jan studied the bikes of René Herse and other French constructeurs. He interviewed surviving team riders and employees. He even rode a classic 1946 René Herse tandem in Paris-Brest-Paris with a Canadian randonneuse. (They were the fastest “mixed tandem”.) Jan became friends with René Herse’s daughter Lyli, herself 8-times French champion, and with Jean Desbois, Herse’s main framebuilder. One result of this passion is the lavish 424-page book René Herse: The Bikes The Builder The Riders.

Bicycle Quarterly’s research soon expanded into what makes a bicycle perform better. One of the results: Pro racers now use wider tires, which Bicycle Quarterly had found to roll faster than narrow ones. Bicycle Quarterly’s research showed that classic designs could offer superior performance and function even today, especially for “Allroad” bikes that handle gravel and pavement with equal speed and comfort.

Compass Bicycles

Components for this style of riding no longer existed, so Jan founded Compass Bicycles to make them available again, starting with a line of tires that offer the performance of high-end racing tubulars in widths for riding on backroads and gravel. Then Lyli Herse approached Jan: Would he be interested in buying the René Herse name, designs, remaining tools, and other assets? And so Compass Bicycles became the custodian of the René Herse brand.

Compass Bicycles is continuing René Herse’s tradition of excellent design, making it available to modern cyclists. All our components incorporate improvements made possible by the latest advances in technology. For example, the Compass René Herse cranks combine the light weight and exceptional chainring choice of the originals with modern 10-speed compatibility. Like Herse, we use the most appropriate materials for each component regardless of cost or fashion. Our cranks and brakes are “net-shape” forged, rather than CNC machined, to make them stronger and lighter. Our components are timeless, yet they are designed for today’s bikes. Many of our tires are tubeless compatible. Our handlebars and stems are available with oversize diameters, so that riders of modern bikes can enjoy the comfort needed for all-day stages.

All components that carry the Compass and René Herse names are designed in-house. Prototypes are tested in independent labs and over thousands of miles on the road. We supervise each step in the production. Our quality control is among the most rigorous in the industry. For you, this means that Compass components are cutting-edge in their performance and ultra-reliable in their function, while retaining the beautiful craftsmanship and aesthetics of the originals.

We continue to use many of René Herse’s original designs, which are available as part of our René Herse line. We manufacture other components in the same spirit under the Compass brand. Our program also includes components from other manufacturers that we have tested and found to be the best in the world. And we support classic René Herse bikes with spare parts.

Experience of the Road

Like Herse and his team, we are avid cyclists. Summer weekends find us on spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges and extend far beyond the horizon. During the winter, we enjoy racing cyclocross. Every four years, we line up at the start of the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée. Whether the road is gravel or paved, whether our bikes are loaded with just the essentials for the ride or carry full camping gear, we just love riding our bikes.

This experience of the road informs our components: Only the very best is good enough. Performance is more important than fashion. And when our bikes are beautiful, we want to ride them more. These are the principles that guided René Herse. They continue to guide us at Compass Bicycles today and into the future.

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Hillclimb Race, 1940s1940s Bike ShowGalibierPoly de Chanteloup, 1950Paris-Brest-Paris, 1956BQ Team, 2016