Herse was born in Caen. He started working on prototype aircraft at the aircraft maker Breguet. In 1938, he introduced lightweight aluminum bicycle components: pedals, cranks, cantilever brakes and stems. In 1940, he began making complete bicycles. Herse was a "constructeur", meaning he built not just the frame but the entire bike.
His hand-built bicycles were described as "the pinnacle of Frenchcycling" from the 1940s until his death. Herse died in Paris.
Herse bikes won technical trials in wartime and post-war France. His riders and especially his daughter Lily Herse (see below) won numerous times in the Polymultipliée de Chanteloup hillclimb races. Herse's riders won the Challenge des Constructeurs for the builder with the three best-placed riders in the Paris-Brest-Parisrandonneur event every time from 1948 until 1971, and again in 1975. Six out of ten victories has never been equalled.
His frames were ridden to victory by racers including Louison Bobet. Geneviève Gambillon won the world championships (female) on René Herse in 1972 and 1974.