We are glad that the HED Belgium+ rims are available again – they are the best modern rims we have found. They build up straight, they remain true, and tire mounting is a snap, even tubeless.
They come in disc brake (top) and rim brake (above) versions, in 650B and 700C (disc brake only). With a width of 25 mm (ouside), they are a perfect complement for our wide all-road tires. They have a properly-sized hook that interlocks with the tire’s bead – a useful safeguard against blowing off a tubeless tire. Of course, you can run the Belgium+ with tubes, too.
The Pacenti Brevet rims look very different, but they perform equally well. Designed for rim brakes, these are the rims we use on most of our bikes. We got Pacenti to make the rims not just with 36 and 32 holes, but also 28. With wide tires cushioning the shocks, 28 spokes are plenty for most riders, especially on the front wheel.
We also offer spoke kits to build wheels with the generator hubs we sell. With so many spoke lengths available, few shops stock all, and finding the correct spokes for your wheel build can turn into a treasure hunt. (Spokes for the 700C Belgium+ will be in stock soon.)
Remember to always use tubeless rim tape with modern tubeless-compatible rims, even if you install inner tubes. Tubeless rim tape is thin and slippery, allowing the tires to slide onto the shelf that forms the bead seat. Cloth and other traditional tapes are too thick and have too much friction, so the tire beads get hung up on the ridge that separates the well from the shelf on these rims.
When installing your tires tubeless, make sure the tire fits properly. If you need huge blasts of air from a compressor to seat the tire, the fit is too loose. Build up the rim bed with tape until the fit is tight enough that you can seat the tire with a floor pump. That greatly reduces the risk of the tire blowing off the rim.
With good rims and properly mounted tires, you can venture off the beaten path with confidence. Enjoy the ride!
All the rims and tape are now in stock. Click here for more information.
To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly’s 15th anniversary last year, we increased the size of the magazine and put together a number of truly outstanding editions. We now offer them in a special 4-pack.
We kicked off our anniversary year with our biggest edition ever. More book than magazine, this hefty volume counts 124 pages. Inside, Peter Weigle takes you through the building of his superlight entry for the Concours de Machines. Read how he designed and built this special bike. Watch as the last touches were put on the bike only the night before the event at Cycles Alex Singer in Paris.
A full report of the trials themselves rounds off the coverage of this incredible event. Find out how each of these special bikes performed on the road, and enjoy all 24 participants in beautiful studio photographs.
I’ve often dreamt of a perfect mountain pass, with a beautiful rhythm of switchbacks that tighten until the road almost loops over itself, supported by ancient stone walls. Then the road will break through the pass, where an expansive view opens to the other side. Kurakake was exactly that pass…
But Holy Grails aren’t attained easily, and traversing this pass turned into a much greater adventure than we had planned. You are sure to enjoy the stunning photos that tell the story of this ride.
BQ 62 saw a different type of adventure when we took a 1947 René Herse tandem on a tour of the Vercors mountains in France. It was a trip of beautiful roads, small villages and a tandem that surprised us with its performance.
We also visited Shimano’s headquarters in Osaka and discovered the secrets behind the Japanese giant’s rise to market dominance.
A visit to Shimano’s museum let us discover the dream bikes of generations of Japanese cyclists.
In BQ 63, we said Good-Bye to Lyli Herse. Not only was she an incredible rider who won eight French championships, but she also was a great friend. With photos from her personal archives, we brought you a very personal story of her life.
Jo Routens is best known for the amazing bikes he built, but he was an amazing rider, too. Not only did he place first in three Paris-Brest-Paris… he also was one of the first to explore the trails of his native French Alps. Studio images of his machines and historic photos from the Routens family archives bring the story to life. BQ 63 will be remembered as the definite publication on this famous constructeur.
BQ 64 took us on our most ambitious adventure yet: Nobody had ever traversed Mexico’s incredible Copper Canyons entirely by bike. A team of gravel racers rose to the challenge. The result was a great ride, and an excellent test for the superlight and aero 3T Exploro gravel bike.
The Japanese Passhunters pushed the limits of what is possible on a bike. Our editor Natsuko Hirose has been a member of the famous Yama Sai Ken (Mountain Cycling Club) for more than a decade. She researched their amazing adventures, as well as the bikes they developed in the days before mountain bikes even existed. Enter a fascinating world and be inspired by their spirit of adventure and friendship.
We also lined up a great selection of test bikes (left to right, top to bottom): Brian Chapman’s custom-built Di2 Randonneur, Caletti Monstercross, 333fab AirLandSea, 3T Exploro LTD, Rawland Ulv, Surly Midnight Special and (not shown) a Steve Rex Monstercross bike.
With almost 500 pages, there are many other articles in the anniversary editions. One reader wrote: “I hope you keep these issues in print and continue to offer them as stand-alones in your catalog.”
That isn’t possible – color print is only affordable in large quantities – but we are offering the complete set as long as supplies last. Get yours now and enjoy many hours of reading and browsing!
Click here to order your set or other past editions of Bicycle Quarterly.
One of the benefits of wide tires is that they run at lower pressures. Yet the supple casings of our Rene Herse tires require higher pressure to corner well and not bottom out on big bumps. Doesn’t the higher pressure negate the benefits of wider tires?
Think of the tire casing and the air inside as two separate springs. Let’s call them the rubber spring and the air spring. Both work together to support the weight of the rider. How you distribute the load between the two springs changes with a supple tire: Less rubber requires more air. And vice versa.
When you inflate your tire, you are aiming for a tire drop of about 15-20%. (Tire drop is how much the tire deforms under the rider’s weight.) Whether you use rubber or air as the spring doesn’t change how much the tire deflects. What changes is how the tire behaves as it flexes.
On tires with stiff casings, you use rubber as your suspension, and you need little air. The extreme are airless tires like those found on dock-less bikeshares. They use only rubber and foam to support the bike and rider. However, rubber has a lot of hysteresis, so it consumes a lot of energy as it flexes. That is why stiff tires are slow.
A tire with a supple casing (above) relies mostly on air to support the weight of bike and rider. Air has almost no hysteresis: Little energy is lost as the tire flexes. That is part of the secret behind the speed of supple tires.
A supple tire is more comfortable, too. The thinner casing has less inertia and requires less energy to flex, so it can react more quickly to surface irregularities. A supple tire absorbs the vibrations, while a stiff tire transmits them to the bike and rider. And since vibrations slow you down, that makes the supple tire faster, too.
So you gain speed twice: the thinner casing absorbs less energy (smaller hysteretic losses) and it transmits fewer vibrations (smaller suspension losses). Talk about a win-win situation!
It’s important to remember that supple tires need more air to hold up your bike. After all, you’ve reduced the spring rate (stiffness) of the rubber spring, and you need to make up for this by increasing the spring rate of the air spring. If you run your supple tires at the same pressure as stiffer ones, you risk having the sidewalls collapse during hard cornering. And that can be dangerous.
Put in a little more air, and you’ll find that supple tires offer more grip than stiff ones: The supple casing reacts better to surface irregularities and thus keeps the tire in better contact with the road.
There is no need to go back to the days when we inflated our tires to the maximum indicated on the sidewall. Use Bicycle Quarterly’s tire pressure chart (above) as a starting point, and experiment from there.
Remember that the chart lists the weight per wheel, not for the entire bike. I apologize that the chart stops at 37 mm – when Frank Berto measured the tire drop of dozens of tires, 37 mm was the widest road tire he could find!
On gravel and in mud, there is less traction, and thus the forces on the tire are lower. The tires won’t collapse even if you run very low pressures. On soft surfaces, you get more traction, more comfort and more speed at those low pressures.
Generally, I run about 10-20% less air in my tires on gravel than I do on pavement. You don’t want to run a pressure that is too low – it flexes the tire sidewalls excessively, which robs power and ultimately breaks the fine threads that make up the casing. And of course, you don’t want to bottom out except on rare occasions, even when running tubeless tires.
Finding the right tire pressure takes some experimenting. If the tire feels too stiff, let out some air. If you feel the tire folding under the rim as you corner, add some pressure. Also remember that the gauges on bicycle floor pumps are notoriously inaccurate, so if you pump up your tires to the pressures from the chart and your bike doesn’t feel right, trust your feel rather than your gauge.
Conclusion: Even though supple tires run at higher pressures, they are faster, more comfortable and grip better than tires with stiff casings. The ‘correct’ tire pressure should have some margin of safety above the point where the tire collapses during hard cornering.
We are excited to add a few great products from Gilles Berthoud to the Compass program. The Small Universal Bag (above) is really neat: It holds a lightweight rain jacket, wallet, inner tube and a few other things. It’s incredibly versatile: Use it as a saddlebag (above) or hang it from your handlebars. Tandem stokers love this bag, because it fits neatly on a tandem’s rear handlebars, too.
Or attach the Small Universal Bag to a front or rear rack. You can put it on the racktop, or hang it on the side like a mini-pannier. There is even a leather piece on one end that slips over the backstop of a front rack. The Small Universal Bag fits perfectly on the Compass UD-1 rack. It needs a platform that is at least 17 cm long, and the backstop should be no wider than 50 mm. (It can be used without attaching to the backstop, too.)
Under the flap is a zipper, so it’s safe to carry keys and a wallet – nothing will fall out. The Small Universal Bag is a great bag for which you’ll find many uses.
A slightly smaller, superlight option is the Bottle Cage/Saddle Tool Bag. It’s a great way to carry inner tubes and other necessities in a bottle cage – much nicer and more secure than the cut-off water bottle I’ve used for this purpose in the past. It fits perfectly into Nitto’s T Cage (above)…
… but it also can be attached to most other cages with a toestrap. Or carry the bag under your saddle. Made from the same ultra-strong cotton canvas and leather edging as the other Gilles Berthoud luggage, these bags last (almost) forever. The canvas swells when it gets wet on the outside, making the bags mostly waterproof. Made from natural materials, they acquire a beautiful patina as you use them.
Still speaking of bags, we’ve noticed that the leather straps on the large Berthoud panniers were a little thin. They work fine, but after 10 years of hard use, I had to replace mine on one set of panniers. So we asked Berthoud to make extra-strong straps from thicker leather for us.
Gilles Berthoud’s mirrors are beautifully made from aluminum. We’ve had the first version for a while, but it didn’t adjust quite far enough for long-reach handlebars that are tilted upward a bit. The new Mk II version adjusts over a wide range and fits all road handlebars (inner diameter ~20 mm).
The mirrors are available in silver and black…
… and with a leather insert to match Berthoud’s saddles and handlebar tape. The leather mirrors come with a second, matching bar plug.
All these products are in stock now. Click on the links below for more information:
Happy Thanksgiving to all readers, customers and cyclists! We’re grateful for the joys and friendships that cycling have brought us.
We just received another shipment of our Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm dual-purpose knobbies. We appreciate your patience while these popular tires were out of stock.
Originally designed for cyclocross, the Steilacoom has become a popular dual-purpose tire: As you’d expect from a tire with widely-spaced knobs, it excels in mud and snow. What surprises most riders is that it rolls and corners better than most road tires.
Leaning into a turn on knobbies isn’t something most riders expect to do. (Please excuse the blurry photo: The overcast winter skies and high cornering speed overwhelmed the camera’s auto-focus.)
The Steilacoom’s knobs are big enough that they don’t squirm. And we’ve distributed them in our unique pattern that ensures that you always have the same amount of rubber on the road. So the grip is constant and the feedback is totally transparent – unlike many knobbies that suddenly lose grip as you lean over.
What about the rolling resistance on pavement? Well, the knobs don’t squirm, so there isn’t much extra resistance. Thanks to our supple casings, the Steilacooms offer similar performance to our ultra-fast road tires. One reviewer even set Strava records on his Steilacooms…
That makes the Steilacoom not just the perfect ‘cross tire, but also ideal for those rides where you spend much of your time on pavement, but might encounter mud or snow on the unpaved sections. Best of all, the same tread pattern is available in our 650B x 42 mm Pumpkin Ridge, too.
Click here for more information or to order a set for your bike.
We’re always excited to get feedback on our tires, and when it comes from someone like Jordan Rapp, it’s especially valuable. The names of semi-professional gravel racers aren’t yet household names – Jordan used to be a pro triathlete before becoming a gravel racer. This year, he came 6th in the grueling Dirty Kanza 200-mile gravel race (above). So he knows how to ride, and he isn’t babying his equipment.
We sent him a set of 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass Extralights, and here is what he had to say:
“On dirt fire roads, the tire has admirable grip and is just screaming fast. Plus, at 35 psi, it just rolls over everything, on road and off.”
The tire made him explore great roads that he was avoiding before:
“Yerba Buena is one of the nicest climbs in the Santa Monica Mountains, but I find it generally unrideable because the pavement is so bad. But with the Snoqualmie, I rode it regularly and loved it, especially because that same bad pavement keeps cars and motorcycles off of it. If you can steer clear of pointy and sharp objects, it’s pretty close to the perfect tire.”
He confirmed what we’ve discovered:
“Riding the Compass Snoqualmie, I was shocked at the fundamental impact of contact patch. These are totally slick tires. The tread is no different, really, than what you’d find on any standard road race tire. The tires are just massive. And that massiveness – and the accompanying ability to run extremely low pressures – just gives you a ton of grip on most terrain. Loose sand is pretty sketchy, but it’s always sketchy. Overall, I was astounded at how well a tire that rolled fast on the roads performed off-road over very technical terrain.”
He pushed his Snoqualmies to the limit, and he was surprised:
“I took a fully-rigid bike with drop-bars on trails that I would previously have only considered riding on a full-suspension MTB. And I never felt that my tires were holding me back.”
I guess we should add: “Don’t do this at home!” But really, that’s just the kind of stuff you tend to do with these tires. It’s remarkable how your riding changes when places that used to be ‘barely doable’ become fun to ride. Thank you, Jordan, for the feedback!
Click here to read Jordan’s entire review on Slowtwitch.com, or head to www.compasscycle.com to learn more about our tires.
Alistair Spence and Mitch Pryor have been my friends for a long time. They both live in Paradise, CA, which was devastated by fire last week. Both are OK; they got out just in time. Their homes literally were burnt to the ground, but what counts right now is that they are OK. I’ve spoken with them, and while shaken, they are moving forward to rebuild their lives.
Mitch Pryor doesn’t need an introduction to readers of Bicycle Quarterly and this blog: He is one of the best-known constructeurs of randonneur bikes in North America. I saw Mitch not long ago, because he dropped off BQ‘s latest test bike. We had to coordinate a tight schedule: Just one week after traversing the crest of the Cascade Range twice in a single night (above), the latest MAP was due to be shown at the Philly Bike Expo. (That bike safely was delivered to its customer just before the fire.)
I’ve known Alistair even longer than Mitch. He’s been part of our Seattle crowd forever. He’s helped me with many projects. In recent years, he’s assembled our Compass taillights. He moved to Paradise a few months ago. He just had set up his workshop again and sent us a batch of taillights.
To help Alistair and Mitch while they figure out the next steps, friends have set up GoFundMe campaigns. Mitch and Alistair have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and they asked to cap the campaigns. Many in the cycling community want to do more to help, and both Mitch and Alistair now have reopened the campaigns to help other victims. All donations beyond the (already attained) limits will go to fire relief causes. Being on the ground, Mitch and Alistair know where the donations will make the greatest positive impact.
At Compass, we’ll do what we can to help both Alistair and Mitch while they rebuild their lives and their workshops. We’re grateful that they are OK, and the rest will work out. And we’re glad that we’ll continue to enjoy the work of these great craftsmen in the future!
In the mean time, please donate to Mitch and Alistair’s campaigns to help other fire victims. Thank you!
Fitting wide tires and/or fenders between road cranks can be a challenge. René Herse was a master of frame design, who curved his chainstays ‘just so’ to create the room he needed. On the tandem above, not a single millimeter is wasted, and the result are perfect clearances for 42 mm-wide tires, fenders and cranks with a narrow Q-factor.
The first step toward replicating Herse’s mastery in modern bikes was to make a bottom bracket shell with the correct angle for curved chainstays. We already offer this shell for standard-diameter tubes. Brand-new is the same shell for oversized down tubes. These parts eliminates the need to ‘blacksmith’ the chainstay sockets of BB shells designed for straight chainstays.
There are many ways to bend the chainstays. To obtain easily replicable results, Hahn Rossman machined dies that fit perfectly over the chainstays. They create a beautiful curve without kinks or bulges. We’ve developed the exact shape through CAD design and the experience of building numerous bikes with curved stays.
Curving stays is a labor-intensive process, to say nothing of the time and effort to make the dies, but it’s almost a necessity for modern all-road bikes.
We now offer the curved chainstays ready to go. They also are indented slightly on the inside to increase the clearance further, without creasing them as you often see on older bikes. The curved chainstays are a perfect match for the Compass bottom bracket shells. They are available separately or as part of the complete tubesets that we’ve developed in collaboration with Kaisei, the Japanese maker of top-quality steel tubes
Also new in program are lighter-gauge chainstays, which balance the stiffness of our ‘Superlight’ tubeset.
As a final part of the puzzle, Hahn also made a gauge that visualizes the required clearances for a Rene Herse crank (177 mm length) with a 48×32 chainring combination. If the gauge fits, then your cranks will work with the recommended 110 mm bottom bracket. And since Rene Herse cranks have one of the narrowest Q-factors and a standard road chainline, other cranks will fit as well.
If the gauge fits, then smaller chainrings and shorter crankarms will fit, too. If you need more room, space out the cranks with a longer bottom bracket spindle. This gauge takes the guesswork out of the parts you need to order.
The photo above shows a fillet-brazed frame, because the new bottom bracket shell for OS tubing wasn’t available yet. With the new BB shells and curved stays, standard road cranks, even those with a narrow Q-factor, will fit, unless your rear spacing is much greater than 130 mm.
When I built my Mule (above), it was intended as a prototype for a modern all-road bike that can travel with speed and comfort over any distance, on any road and in any weather. Over the last few years, we’ve productionized most of the parts used in this build. Creating a custom all-road bike has never been easier!
- A series of blog posts about our Kaisei tubesets
- Information about framebuilding parts in the Compass program
In this guest post, Bicycle Quarterly editor Natsuko Hirose takes you to Rishiri Island, off Hokkaido’s coast in northern Japan. Translated from Natsuko’s blog Touge to Onsen:
From the northernmost town in Hokkaido, Wakkanai, there is a ferry that goes to Rishiri and Rebun Islands. These small islands are the northernmost inhabited parts of Japan, and many cyclists dream of cycling there once in their lifetime. So did I!
Cycling around the islands is not difficult, but finding the right time is! During the brief summer season, the Rishiri Island is popular with hikers. It’s also famous for its great seafood, amd the few hotels are usually booked.
At the end of September, it starts snowing in the mountains, and storms often cancel the ferry. By October, most hotels and pensions close. It’s difficult to find a time when cycling is possible, but there are no crowds.
With the uncertain schedule of the ferry, my friends cannot join me on this trip, so I travel alone. It is a different kind of fun.
The ferry takes two hours to reach the island. The first thing I look forward to is seeing the sun set into the Sea of Japan. It is cold on the boat, but I am excited to head to the island.
There are bike paths on the island, and a road goes around the perimeter. The distance is 55 km (35 miles), and the map doesn’t show much up-and-down, so it seems quite doable in a day – unless it is very windy. I pray that the wind won’t be too strong.
This bike path was built specifically for cycling, rather than being a converted railway. It has some nice ups and downs, and there are great views. It is fun. I imagine that during summer, the flowers will be beautiful, too.
This bike path even has viewpoints. Cycling along the sea, you often travel only at low levels, so it feels special to get to such a great view.
The path is deserted. I feel a bit lonely, but it is nice to have the place to myself. It’s one of the advantages of visiting during the off-season.
The bike path ends, so I take the road. There aren’t many cars, and the wind isn’t very strong. It makes for nice cycling. Except it is very cold. The sun is shining, but it is too low in the sky to provide much warmth.
Tonight, I will stay on the island, so I don’t need to worry about ferry or bus schedules. When I see something interesting, I can just stop and enjoy it. It feels very special.
When I ride with my friends, I often focus on cycling. When I go alone, I try to visit local museums whenever possible. I want to feel the history of the places I visit. It adds another dimension to exploring the landscape on my bike.
The Rishiri Island Museum is housed in the old village hall that was built in 1913. It’s well-known in Japan that Rishiri Island does not have brown bears. That makes hiking here easier and safer. At the museum, I see an old newspaper article: Many years ago, a bear swam 20 km (13 miles) from the mainland to the island!
The sky is so big here, and the air so cold. It really feels like an island far, far in the north.
I stop at Lake Outatomari, which means “inlet with sand” in Ainu, the language of the native inhabitants of the north. I am glad to see Mount Rishiri free of clouds, so I take a photo.
When touring alone, I don’t cover much ground. There are so many places to visit, so many photos to take. This morning, 55 km didn’t seem like a lot, but now the sun is low, and I am nowhere near my destination.
I am back on the bike path when the sun sets. I wanted to return to the hotel before sunset… Even so, I stop, because the sunset is beautiful.
Soon dinner will be served. And it’s getting cold and windy. I shiver.
I really want to get to the hotel as quickly as possible. But I can’t resist to climb up to the viewpoint to enjoy the sunset. It is very beautiful… and cold.
When I get to the hotel, dinner is already served. Traditional Japanese hotels serve dinner and breakfast as part of the accommodation. It is nice not having to worry about finding a warm meal. The meal consists of local specialties: fish, scallops, vegetables, prawns. It tastes great!
My friends ask me whether I feel lonely when I go on solo bike trips. The answer is yes – it can get lonely. This creates an opportunity to talk with local people or others I meet. We talk about local things, the weather, where we come from. It’s fun. Meeting people is an essential part of cyclotouring for me.
All night, it rains hard. When I wake up, I worry that I may not want to go cyclotouring today.
Looking outside, I see the first snow of the year on top of Mount Rishiri. Now I know why it feels so cold here!
I was tempted to climb to the top of Mount Rishiri, but with the snow, it is impossible. I don’t have enough equipment.
Instead, I decide to hike up Mount Pon. It’s only 441 m (1446 ft) high, so there is no snow. In my handlebar bag, I carry my backpack, hiking map, rain gear, headlamp, emergency food, compass… everything I need to hike up the mountain.
The hiking trail is steep, and I get warm from the effort.
When I reach the top, it’s so windy that it almost blows me away. In the background is Mount Rishiri. Later, I meet a hiker who reached the top. He said that it was very cold, and that hail stones covered the ground.
Even here, it’s too cold to stay and eat lunch. I drink hot tea from my thermos, then hike back down.
When I return to the foot of the mountain, the blue sky and red autumn foilage look so different from up there. I’m only 400 m (1300 ft) lower, but it’s a different world. I also realize that I was lucky to see Mt. Rishiri yesterday.
Afterward, I decide to explore other roads on the island. I want to eat lunch at a Ramen shop recommended by a friend. The lady at the visitor center told me that the Ramen shop is only open until 2 o’clock now, so I have to hurry.
When I reach the Ramen shop, it starts raining. The forecast was for sunshine, but on the island, the weather is unpredictable. The Ramen, with its soy sauce base and strong flavor, warms me on this cold day.
After I eat, I wait for the rain to stop. I meet a German tourist who rented a bike and is riding around the island, too. He asks me how to find the entrance to the bike path.
Today, I have much time, so I decide to ride with him. I’m no longer a solo cyclotourist – it’s a nice change!
I wonder why he could not find the bike path. There are many signs! For me, it is clear – I read the Japanese Kanji symbols, but it should be fine for him, too: There is an English translation on each sign. Then I realize that the English text says ‘Jitenshado’ – the Japanese word for ‘cycling road’ has been transcribed into the Roman alphabet, but not translated into English. Now I understand why the German cyclist could not find the bike path!
I am happy I could help the German tourist.
He tells me that he likes Japan very much and describes the places he has visited. Unexpected encounters also are part of the fun of cyclotouring.
He will leave the island on the last ferry. I suggest that he visit the public bath before taking the ferry… With some time before dinner at my hotel, I decide to explore the island a little more. I enjoy the view of the harbor with Mt. Rishiri in the background.
The following day, I take the ferry to the next island. It’s alway been my dream to go from island to island by ferry. It seems very romantic to me.
Rishiri Island recedes in the distance. I’ll come back some day to climb Mt. Rishiri1 But now I am heading to Rebun Island.
Read Natsuko’s previous post, about her cyclotouring reunion in Hokkaido.
The MKS Allways pedals are back in stock. The video above shows how the super-smooth cartridge bearings make these spin almost forever. The slightly concave platform allows optimum pedaling efficiency without the need for foot retention. Made in Japan, these may be the best platform pedals ever made. Click here for more info or to order.
We also offer the MKS Rinko Adapters separately, so you can use the same pedals on multiple bikes, or run different pedals on the same bike. Changing the pedals takes just a few seconds – no tools required. Simply turn the ring and push it inward; then you can remove the pedal.
Most Rinko pedals in the Compass program use the “EZY-Superior” Rinko system (above), but the US-S (spd-compatible) pedals use the “EZY-Standard” couplers. We now offer both as separate parts. (Unfortunately, they aren’t interchangeable.)
Also back in stock: Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades – as used on most of our bikes. To read how these fork blades improve the comfort and speed of your bike, click here.
The fork blades in this shipment are a bit shorter than we’d like – 405 mm as used by Japanese builders, rather than the 420 mm we usually specify. They work fine for 650B bikes, but the 420 mm blades give builders more leeway in trimming them to length. We will get the full-length blades again in January or February. For more information on fork blades and our other Kaisei tubing, click here.
We appreciate your patience while production caught up with demand on these popular items.
Many years ago, a big magazine published a note about Honjo fenders, which were just starting to trickle into the United States, and noted: “We are charmed by the idea that there actually are fender snobs.”
Those days are long over: Today fenders are recognized as an integral part of many performance bikes. Those of us who ride year-round need fenders that not only keep us and our bikes dry and clean, but also don’t rattle, resonate or break prematurely. We also want them to offer as much performance as possible.
Tens of thousands of miles of riding with fenders have shown us what works and what doesn’t. Honjo’s aluminum fenders keep us drier and are lighter and more aerodynamic than any plastic fenders we’ve tested.
The fenders Compass sells are made by Honjo to our own specifications. The most noticeable detail is the added coverage: 165° on the front and 200° on the rear. On the front, that means no spray on your feet and bottom bracket/chain (further helped by a short mudflap). On the rear, the fender can extend beyond the bottom bracket to keep the chain dry and clean even in crosswinds. These are small details, but they make a large difference.
One reason why we’ve found Honjo’s fenders so superior is their stays. They run all the way around the fender, rather than connecting to flimsy flat brackets. This makes them stiff and strong. The fenders we sell at Compass come with our own Rene Herse eyebolts (above). Not only is their rounded shape more elegant, but the threads are 7 mm long – exactly the right length, so the bolt doesn’t stick into the fender any further than needed. And the special ‘Tensiloc’ nuts we use prevent the fender bolts from loosening.
That hardware adds a little to the cost, but it means that you can install these fenders and forget about them. I’ve yet to re-tighten a fender bolt on my current bikes, even though my Urban Bike has seen more than a decade of hard use in the city, and my Rene Herse that has done 2 Paris-Brest-Paris, 2 Raids Pyreneens, the original Oregon Outback and countless other challenging rides.
To save weight on my Herse, I used tubular fender stays. I found the raw material among the stocks we got from Lyli Herse when we bought Cycles René Herse. They were left over from the 1940s Concours de Machines technical trials! My tubular stays have been 100% reliable, and they save 35 g, so we’ve asked Honjo to make tubular stays for our fenders (above).
Starting today, the tubular stays are available as an option on all fenders we sell. We also offer them separately as a retrofit.
We’ve got more fender news: The Gilles Berthoud fender stays are modeled on a style found on many Jo Routens bikes. It’s an elegant design that is also useful if you are fighting toe overlap on your bike.
The flat section on the rear of the stay attaches directly to the fender. That eliminates the eyebolts that stick out a few millimeters. It can make the difference between catching your toe or not.
Berthoud fender stays come with a matching bolt kit (not shown). You can also rivet these stays directly to the fender to save a little weight.
We also stock plastic R-Clamps from Gilles Berthoud to attach the fender stays to the frame or fork. These are useful if you want a safety release on your fender stays: The stay will pull out of the plastic clamp if a foreign object gets caught between fender and tire. This is useful if your fenders are mounted with less-than-optimal clearances, as it reduces the risk of the fender collapsing and jamming into the fork crown.
Why not use the plastic R-Clamps on all bikes? When you ride on rough roads, the stays can work loose over time. Check them periodically to make sure.
Since our bikes wear their fenders year-round, and we ride on gravel and in the forest, we take fender safety seriously. We’ve researched this, and here is what we’ve found: If you have the recommended 20+ mm clearance between tire and fender, objects that are small enough to be picked up with great force will go through the fender without causing any harm. Large objects have too much inertia to accelerate to a speed that allows them to do much damage. The fact that aluminum fenders is far stiffer than plastic ones helps in this respect. Wider fenders are stiffer than narrower ones, making them even safer.
During our research into fender safety, I asked all the old randonneurs I know in France about fender-related accidents. Nobody remembered any, even though these guys and women rode tens of thousands of kilometers a year – fast. I heard about all kinds of crashes, but everybody agreed that their aluminum fenders were completely safe.
If you have sufficient clearance between tire and fender, we recommend the metal Honjo R-Clamps. (Our fenders come standard with them.) They are more elegant as well as more secure. They will never come loose. You can use either clamps with all fender stays we sell.
Often overlooked, yet very important: a third attachment point for the front fender. Every fender needs three attachments to stabilize it in three dimensions, so it’s silent and doesn’t resonate on rough roads. With just two attachments, the fender can twist and flex, which can bring the fender’s trailing end in contact with the tire. Then, the tire pulls along the fender, which risks collapsing and jamming into the fork crown.
Many randonneur bikes have racks that incorporate the third attachment point for the fenders. (All Compass racks do.) If you don’t plan to use a rack with a fender attachment, we sell single Honjo fender stays to stabilize the front of the fender. The single stay comes with two R-Clamps and a single eyebolt to attach it to your fender and fork. The most elegant solution is to mount the stay to mid-fork eyelets (above), but you can also run it stay all the way down to the dropout eyelets as well.
We have to say that we are quite excited about the fender news here at Compass. Does that make us ‘fender snobs’? Ask us when we hit a rainshower on a long ride that crosses multiple mountain ranges and continue without undue suffering!
Click here for more information about Compass fenders.
One of the less-noticed results of the ‘Wide Tire Revolution’: Our tires last a lot longer these days. When I rode 20 mm-wide tires, I rarely got more than 1300 km (800 miles) out of a set of performance tires. For long-distance races, I put on new tires for every event.
Now it’s rare that my tires need replacing. Even for challenging events like the 360-mile Oregon Outback (above), I only put on a new tire (on the rear, above) because the old one had seen a lot of hard use. There are three reasons for this huge difference:
- Wider tires spread the wear over a much-larger area, so they wear much slower.
- Modern rubber compounds wear much better. In the past, we had to choose between grip or wear resistance. Today, the best tires combine both.
- Compass tires have a little extra rubber right in the center of the tread to increase the wear resistance. This adds only a few grams and doesn’t measurably change the rolling resistance, but it doubles the tire’s tread life. The shoulders of the tire don’t wear, so we keep them thin and supple.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your tires? We’ve designed our Compass tires so the center tread (longitudinal ribs) serves as a wear indicator. (The chevron tread on the shoulders gives you extra grip in corners.)
On the tire above, you can see how the longitudinal ribs are starting to show some wear. This tire has been ridden, but it still has many miles (or kilometers) left to go.
This tire is ready for replacement. The center tread is completely worn off. When the rubber gets much thinner, the risk of flats increases. And if you wear all the way through the tread, your tire can suddenly blow out. That’s a risk not worth taking to get a few more miles out of a worn tire.
The tread also allows you to check whether you have been running a good tire pressure: All the longitudinal lines should disappear – as on the tire above. If you get wear only in the very center, your pressure is too high. The footprint of your tire is smaller than ideal, and you get more wear, less traction and less comfort. (And no additional speed.)
If the wear goes far into the chevron tread on the shoulders of the tire, your pressure is too low. You’re stressing the casing more than is ideal (in extreme cases, you’ll see individual broken threads in the sidewall), your tire can collapse under hard cornering, and you may even give up a little bit in speed.
How long does a Compass tire last? This depends on several factors:
- Tire width: Wider tires spread the wear over more rubber, so they last longer. The 38 mm Barlow Pass (above) has 11 ribs in the center; the 55 mm Antelope Hill (below) has 23. With twice as much rubber touching the road, the Antelope Hill will last roughly twice as long.
- Weight: Tire wear is directly proportional to the weight of rider/bike/luggage.
- Power: High power outputs increase the wear on the rear tire.
- Both power and weight are the reason why the rear tire wears faster than the front one. If your rear tire wears significantly faster, you can rotate your tires from front to rear roughly half-way through their lifespan to even out the tire wear. I sometimes do that on bikes I use for hill intervals.
- There is no difference in the tread between the Standard and Extralight versions, so both last equally long. (The Extralight’s casing is more supple, which further improves the tire’s performance and comfort.)
Other tips for increasing the lifespan of your tires:
- UV light makes rubber deteriorate and crack. High-end tires contain more natural rubber, which is especially susceptible to UV damage. If possible, don’t store your bike in direct sunlight.
- Ozone damages rubber. Electric motors emit ozone, so don’t keep your bike near refrigerators, freezers, heater furnaces, etc.
- The shelf life of tires is very long, if they are stored in the dark with moderate humidity. I recently found an old set of tires that was ten years old, and they were as good as new.
- In the past, there was much talk about aging tires to increase their puncture resistance. It’s true that rubber should cure for optimum performance, but at least with our Compass tires, that takes only about a month. By the time Compass tires arrive from Japan in our Seattle warehouse, they are fully cured.
What does all this mean in practical terms? I expect about 5000-6500 km (3000-4000 miles) out of a 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass. For high-performance tires, that is quite remarkable, and it’s dramatically lowered the cost-per-mile of high-end tires. There is no longer a need to reserve them for special events – I enjoy them even on my Urban Bike.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.
Most of us remember when we learned to ride a bike. The incredible feel of balancing on two wheels – it felt like flying. Over the following days, months and years, our skills improved. First we learned to ride without wobbling. Then – in my case – to start without anybody holding onto my saddle…
And yet there is always more to learn. Some skills are useful, like being able to stop without putting a foot down, others merely amusing, like being able to do a cyclocross mount. They all make you a better cyclist, as you control your bike more fully.
We learn new skills through visualization and practice. To help with the former, every Bicycle Quarterly includes the ‘Skill’ column, which describes an everyday skill and how it works. In the current edition: ‘Ghost Riding’ – riding with two bicycles at once. It’s useful when you need to transfer a bike over a short distance, for example, to drop it off at a bike shop. The video above shows it in action.
Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly to read how ‘Ghost Riding’ works, how to learn it and how to do it safely. Interested in the other ‘Skill’ articles? Check out our back issues!
Warning! Use appropriate caution when attempting new skills, including Ghost Riding.
‘Marginal gains’ are the latest buzzword in cycling. The idea is that many tiny improvements can add up to make a meaningful difference. Make 10 changes that each save 3 Watts, and you’ll have gained 30 Watts…
Think of Greg LeMond winning the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds… If the second-placed rider, Laurent Fignon, had used ceramic bearings, he might have won that year.
The Autumn 2018 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed soon. It’s another action-packed edition that will bring many hours of reading enjoyment.
What better way to test the Masi Speciale Randonneur and the Frances Farfarer trailer than to take them on a real adventure? For our third attempt to cross the Sawtooth Range, will a new route bring success? Is the affordable Masi bike enough for such epic ride? And how does the trailer carry its load? You’ve probably seen our movie about this adventure – read the full story in the magazine.
We’ve tested many great bikes, but their performance often carries a price tag to match. Can the joy of pedaling a responsive frame be translated to an affordable price point? That is the promise of the Alter Bikes Reflex 300. It costs just $ 998, yet its frame is engineered to flex with the rider’s pedal strokes. Does it deliver?
Fun on a bike doesn’t get much better than a solstice gravel ride skirting the flanks of Mount Hood, one of the volcanos of the Cascade Range. Join a group of friends as they explore some of the most amazing and challenging roads of the Pacific Northwest.
We take you on a tandem tour along a forgotten part of the Mediterranean Coast. Join us as we explore quaint fishing villages connected by miniature mountain passes.
Raymond Henry has been riding bikes for 60 years, and he’s researched the history of cyclotouring for almost as long. He takes us on a fascinating tour of his incredible collection of documents and historic bikes, and he tells us of the incredible rides he’s done. His most ambitious project took 20 years and 27,000 km to complete!
The early 1980s saw the pinnacle of the classic racing bike. We feature a René Herse with a frame made from Reynolds’ mythical 753 tubeset. Campagnolo Super Record components with plenty of titanium bits complement the beautifully crafted frame. Classic racing bikes don’t get much better than this!
Of course, there is much more to this exciting edition: Join more than 60 cyclists for a weekend of fun in a forgotten corner of the Puget Sound during the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. Visit Ostrich, the Japanese maker of cycling bags. Learn how to ride with two bikes at once. Find out why the features of modern carbon bikes don’t always translate well to steel bikes. And much, much more…
Subscribe today to get your copy without delay!
Our Rene Herse cranks are available with chainrings from 24 to 52 teeth, in single, double and triple configurations, including 11-speed compatible versions. We even offer tandem cranks. That way, riders can benefit from customized gearing, but it also means that we stock a lot of chainrings. We try to keep all ring sizes in stock, but sometimes, demand outpaces supply. We’ve just received a new shipment, and all chainrings are back in stock.
It’s easy to see why the big makers limit their chainrings to a few combinations, but the downside is that most riders find themselves with gearing that doesn’t work well for their riding styles. It’s not just that the gears are usually to large, but also that you need to make far too many front shifts.
Why are front shifts so disruptive? With a 50 x 34, the small ring is 32% smaller than the big one. That is a huge step. You probably need a gear that is 5-10% smaller, not 32%, so you shift 3-4 cogs on the rear to compensate until you finally arrive in the gear you need. Multiple shifts take time: Your speed drops, and your rhythm is gone.
To solve this problem, you could make the step between the chainrings smaller, like the 46 x 36 found on some cyclocross cranks in the past. Front shifts now are 22%, and you only need a single shift on the rear to get back to your optimum cadence. The drawback is the limited gear range: A 36-tooth small ring is fine for ‘cross, but most riders need smaller gears when climbing mountain passes.
However, the smaller ‘big’ ring of the cyclocross setup provides the answer to the original problem. If we select our big chainring so that we ride in the middle of the rear cassette during normal riding, we can respond to small changes with just a few shifts on the rear. Pick up a tailwind? Click and we have a bigger gear. A small rise in the road? Click-click-click – a few seamless downshifts as our speed drops, and we are over the crest. No front shift required!
With a 46-tooth big ring, I can surge across gentle hills with just a few shifts on the rear. That means I can select my ‘small’ ring so that I can climb even the steepest mountain passes. For me, that is a 30-tooth. Now the large step between chainrings is OK, because I don’t shift on the front unless I get to a really steep hill. A hill that steep breaks my rhythm no matter what.
Your ideal gearing depends on a number of factors: your cadence, your strength and speed, and the terrain where you ride. From your current setup, you know which gears you use when riding on flat roads. Select your big chainring so that these gears are in the middle of the cassette, and your riding will be much smoother. That is the secret behind custom gearing. The small chainring can be up to 16 teeth smaller, because that is the maximum that modern derailleurs can handle reliably.
We offer our Rene Herse cranks with so many chainrings because we recognize the need for custom gearing. Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.
Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 4).
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a complete bike that is already equipped with Compass tires? Take a bike like the Masi Speciale Randonneur (above), roll out of the bike shop and into the hills, your tires gently humming as they roll over the rough pavement. When the road turns to gravel, the feel of the bike changes on the loose surface, but its speed and comfort remain the same.
We get a fair number of requests from bike manufacturers who want to install Compass tires as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts. It seems like an opportunity for Compass: Once riders have experienced the joys of riding on supple tires, they won’t return to stiffer, harsher, slower tires. So why don’t we do OEM sales?
The answer is simple: Cost. Compass tires use the highest-grade materials, from the fabric for the casing to the rubber for the tread. They are made by hand, which requires skilled, experienced labor. Compass tires are made in Japan, a country with high wages. All these factors increase our production costs.
At the consumer level, we (and other small makers of bicycle components) can compensate for the high cost with our low overhead. Big companies need a lot of money for administration, marketing, shareholder profits, etc. We eliminate most of those, and the final consumer price of a Compass tire isn’t much higher than that of a mass-produced tire.
OEM prices are low because the orders are large, and even big companies can significantly reduce their overhead. For small companies like Compass, there isn’t much overhead, and to compete at the OEM level, we’d have to reduce our production costs. We’d have to downgrade our specifications and move production to a low-wage country. That direction isn’t really where we want to take Compass Cycles.
Others have taken our ideas and made them ‘OEM-comptabile.’ At Compass Cycles, we welcome that bike makers now can spec affordable bikes with wide allroad tires. Bikes like the Surly Midnight Special (above) simply wouldn’t exist if there were no affordable OEM tires to ship them with from the factory. Similarly, Masi’s Kellen LeBlanc explained that their Speciale Randonneur was delayed for years until a lower-priced, wide 650B tire became available.
Now more and more cyclists experience the joys of all-road riding on wide rubber. In the past, we never saw another bike on our favorite routes in the Cascade foothills. Now we meet cyclists on almost every ride. Their smiles tell it all.
And in the future, our Compass tires (and other components) provide great upgrades that will make them fall in love with their bikes all over again.
As the days get shorter, many cyclists are thinking about lights. How do you measure the quality of a headlight? It’s tempting to look at how many lumens the light puts out. After all, brighter is better, isn’t it?
On the road, what matters is not lumens, but lux. What is the difference?
The Autumn Bicycle Quarterly take you on a trip across the Sawtooth Range. Long-term BQ readers know that it’s been a bit of a holy grail for us to find a passage across this mountain range, with our first attempts ending in washouts and snow. This time we take the affordable Masi Speciale Randonneur and the Frances Farfarer trailer on the search for a route that crosses these beautiful mountains. Will we make it this time?
The full story (and tests of bike and trailer) are in the Bicycle Quarterly 65. We are finalizing the mailing lists tomorrow, so subscribe today to be among the first to get this exciting edition! Click here to sign up online – it’s easy and takes just a minute or two.
The history of cycling has brought us many useful things. If old randonneurs hadn’t talked so fondly about the supple, wide, handmade clinchers of the 1940s, we might never have developed our Compass tires along the same lines. Without photos of mid-century riders scaling unpaved passes in the Alps, we might never have been inspired to seek out remote gravel roads ourselves. These are important reasons why we study cycling’s history.
But sometimes, cycling history just provides wonderful mysteries. In the current Bicycle Quarterly, Aldo Ross examines why, during the 1949 Tour de France, dozens of riders converted their bikes to bar-end shifters – like Louis Caput (right rider) in the photo below. Neither Aldo nor I can think of another component that suddenly was adopted by so many riders, not before or after, but during a big race.
The mystery deepened when we discovered that these riders used a downtube shifter for their rear derailleur and controlled only the front with the bar-end. Say what?
Aldo documented this amazing story with photos from his incredible collection of sepia-tone cycling magazines. I dug into Bicycle Quarterly‘s archives and found that Daniel Rebour – who else? – provided the explanation: Front derailleurs used to be controlled by a direct lever. At the start of a sprint, racers had to spread their legs and reach down to shift to the big ring. A bar-end shifter allowed them to shift without interrupting their pedal stroke. Why not a second downtube shifter? Racers always used their right hand to shift, and they probably didn’t want to learn a new move in mid-race. So they put both shifters on the right side of the bike – one on the down tube and the other on the handlebars.
The BQ archives also showed that Tullio Campagnolo adopted the bar-ends when he introduced his first derailleurs the following year. Campagnolo didn’t even offer downtube levers at first. And Jacques Souhart, the inventor of the bar-ends, turns up again as Campagnolo’s Paris distributor. Talk about an international mystery!
In the same BQ, we look at the history of shifting. Many readers will be surprised that the first derailleurs were indexed. And why did racers use chainrings that were just 4 teeth apart? This article illuminates quite a few mysteries in the history of derailleurs.
To set the scene for these mysteries, we relive the early Tours de France through the evocative drawings of Pellos, a cartoon artists who accompanied the Tour for decades. Pellos’ pen turned the race into a human drama of Homeric proportions. You don’t need to be a fan of racing to be drawn into these stories.
Expanding on the racing theme, we feature Harry Havnoonian, the builder of racing bikes from Pennsylvania, whose iconic machines have been ridden to more than 100 national and international championships. We discover why HH mounts the rear brake on the inside of the stays and other mysteries.
To round off our racing theme, our editor Natsuko Hirose talks about her Di2-equipped, custom-built, steel-framed racing bike. She reflects in how it makes her ride differently than when she is on her cyclotouring bikes.
This year’s racing season is almost over, but there is still time to get the Summer Bicycle Quarterly with these exciting articles – click here to subscribe today, and your subscription will start with the Summer edition!*
*U.S. subscribers only. The last international mailing of the Summer BQ has already left Seattle. Please order the BQ 64 as a back issue instead.
The 2018 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting brought together a great crew of old and new friends. We want to thank all for making this a great weekend!
On Saturday morning, about 60 riders met at the Seattle Ferry Terminal to catch the boat to Bremerton. As always, the crowd was varied – all kinds of riders on all types of bikes. Some were BQ readers, some follow this blog, and others had heard about the Un-Meeting from friends. More than a quarter were women – Natsuko was especially happy to meet so many other female cyclotourists who share an interest in cycling off the beaten path.
As we rolled into the countryside, we fell into small groups. Most of the participants had only met this morning, but already felt like friends.
There were riders from all over the U.S., even Canada. Jennifer and Lance had come all the way from the Mississippi River. They were smiling all weekend, and then they extended the Un-Meeting into a five-day tour of the islands and peninsulas that make up the central Puget Sound.
The Tahuya Hills offered three routes. No matter which option riders chose, they raved about the great roads and beautiful surroundings. The clouds lifted, and the sun came out, making this a perfect day on the bike.
As we reached our campsite, everybody shared their day’s experiences, full of enthusiasm. “Wasn’t the stretch along the inlet beautiful?” – “Did you also suffer on Old Holly Hill Road?” – “Isn’t it amazing that there is such great riding just an hour’s ferry ride from Seattle?” There was much to talk about as we pitched our tents, bivvys and hammocks.
Reed had brought his ultrasonic metal thickness measuring device. “Want to know the wall thicknesses of your bike’s tubes?” In fact, I did. We found that 1940s Vitus tandem tubing has a lot more going on than we’d have thought. Inevitably, this led to much discussion about bike frames, but also many other topics, as we found that we shared many interests beyond bikes.
Conversations continued deep into the night.
On Sunday morning, most riders headed to nearby Seabeck for breakfast. We enjoyed comparing the different approaches to the same question: How to carry the gear for a weekend camping trip on a bike without detracting from its fun ride?
The large deck of the espresso stand turned into an impromptu bike show as everybody leaned their mount against the railing.
At this point, some opted for a leisurely breakfast, some headed back to the ferry, and others extended their trip to Bainbridge Island and beyond.
We’ll have a full report in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, including a look at many of the unique bikes at this year’s Un-Meeting.
SON has introduced a few useful products that have us quite excited. First, there is the 12 mm Thru-Axle Adapter.
You may know the dilemma: As the days get shorter, you really want to equip your bike with generator lights, but you don’t want to invest in a hub that soon may be obsolete. Your current fork has quick release dropouts – with or without a disc brake – but your next bike probably will have a thru-axle.
Enter the adapter: Simply slide it into your thru-axle hub, and you’ve effectively converted it to a quick release. You can use it even on a rim-brake bike. And when the time comes, simply remove the adapter and install the hub in a new fork with a 12 mm thru-axle. This ingenious widget works not only with generator hubs, but with all thru-axle front hubs.
Traditionally, SON lights have connected to their generator hubs with two simple flat spade connectors. These connectors have been trouble-free, and if they ever loosen, they can be fixed by the roadside.
However, some cyclists remove their wheels frequently and prefer a simpler, more elegant connection. SON’s new coaxial adapter (above) has been engineered to provide reliable service for decades of hard use under the toughest conditions. That means that we finally don’t have to worry about electrical connectors any more – in the past, they were the most failure-prone parts of a randonneur bike. The adapter (top) plugs onto the spade terminals of the hub, and then you connect the light with the neat coaxial connector (bottom).
SON’s Edelux lights are available with the coaxial connectors pre-installed. The adapter for the hubs is included, too, so it’s a plug-and-play solution. (And if you ever feel you’ll want the spade connectors instead, they are easy to install.)
The new coaxial connectors are such a breakthrough that you’ll want to use them wherever you need to make removable electrical connections on your bike. That is why we offer them separately, as males, females and complete sets.
The last new product is for everybody who wants to charge cell phones, GPS and other devices while riding. It’s a simple splitter box that you wire into the lighting circuit, anywhere between the generator hub and the headlight. Plug in the included coaxial connector, and you are ready to charge. You can use whichever charger you prefer (not included). After you solder your connections, the box gets covered with heat-shrink tubing. Just make sure that you wire the splitter box so the socket points downward. Otherwise, water can run down the wire and into the connector, which won’t be so good in the long run.
All these new products are available now. Click here for more information.
After last weekend’s ‘pre-ride,’ we’ve finalized the routes for the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. What is the Un-Meeting?
It’s simply a great weekend of riding off the beaten path: Everybody is welcome to join us. We publish a time and a destination. Beyond that, there are no services provided. No registration, no entry fee, no sag wagon, no rest stops. Just a ride with old and new friends. Click here for more about the 2018 BQ Un-Meeting.
We’ll meet in Bremerton, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington. Most of us will take the 7:35 ferry from Seattle. Make sure you board the boat to Bremerton; not the ferry to Bainbridge that leaves from the same terminal.
When: Sept. 8-9, 2018 (Sat. & Sun.)
Meeting point: Bremerton, Washington, Ferry Terminal exit (Starbucks Coffee shop)
Meeting time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride distance: Day 1: 100 km (62 miles), Day 2: 35 km (22 miles) with options to go further.
From Bremerton, we’ll ride around the Hood Canal to Seabeck, where most of us will camp at Scenic Beach State Park. We have campsites reserved for about 24 people, but if you prefer, you can use other accommodations. Above is the suggested course. Click on the image to get the RideWithGPS page, where you can zoom in and check the course in detail. (A route sheet is at the bottom of this post.)
It’s a beautiful route with quiet roads along the waters of the Hood Canal, a fjord carved by the glaciers of the last ice age. We’ll enjoy great views of the Olympic Mountains. It’s a truly magic place.
Then we reach the Tahuya Hills, where we have three alternative routes. To put them all on the same map, I pretended to go back and forth across the Tahuya Hills three times. That is why the distances seem odd… All three routes gain a similar amount of elevation, and yet they feel very different.
The easternmost route (right red line on the map) is the paved ‘River Route.’ It’s a great choice if you prefer to get into a rhythm on longer climbs.
The ‘Hill Route’ is in the center. The total elevation gain is similar, but it’s a different riding experience. The first climb is very steep, but from there, you have a wonderful rollercoaster. If you like to carry speed across rolling terrain, choose this route. The two routes converge at Mile 3.6, so you’ll enjoy the same ride back to the coast.
The western ‘Gravel Route’ is very different in feel. It’s longer, so in theory, it has less climbing per mile. In reality, it’s the hardest of the three. The climbs are short and steep, and there are many of them.
And most of it is on gravel. At the end of the summer, the gravel tends to be hard-packed, with loose aggregate on top. Even if you are a good bike handler, use caution, because the surface is tricky. And there is one steep descent where you need to watch your speed to make the turn at the bottom.
Which one to pick? They are all nice – you can’t go wrong!
After camping in Seabeck, there are many options on Sunday. The route on the main route sheet (top photo) is the shortest way back to Bremerton, and you could be in Seattle by lunchtime.
Many of us will extend the ride and go to Poulsbo and then take backroads to Bainbridge Island, and take the ferry back to Seattle from there. The above route is just a rough draft – I haven’t ridden all of it, and we may have to alter it as we go.
Some riders probably will use the Un-Meeting as a jumping-off point to explore further. There is great riding toward Port Townsend on the Quimper Peninsula. And the vast Olympic Peninsula invites exploring places like Bon Jon Pass…
We’re looking forward to riding with many of you in less than two weeks!
With the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting approaching – Sept. 8 and 9 – I wanted to double-check the course. I had never ridden the new route out of Bremerton that by-passes the busy highway. And in the Tahuya Hills, landslides and floods can wipe out roads entirely. Better to check that our routes are still rideable!
Most of all, I wanted to go for a long ride. Rather than head out for an all-day trip, I decided to ride at night. That is how I boarded the 10:30 p.m. ferry to Bremerton on Saturday night. My plan was ambitious: Ride two loops of the Un-Meeting course, exploring different route options, before taking the 11:10 a.m. ferry back the next morning.
250 km (155 miles) in 11.5 hours should be plenty of time – until you consider the terrain. The Tahuya Hills are famous around here. They are as remote as they are challenging. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, especially since I’d have to stop and update my route sheet at many intersections.
There is one bike in my stable that is ideal for a ride like this: my René Herse Randonneuse. It’s light and fast. Its wide tires handle all types of roads. Generator-powered lights make short work of long nights on the road. The large handlebar bag carries clothes and provisions. The Herse is ready to go any distance, at any time, and to do so swiftly.
The ferry docks in Bremerton at 11:20 p.m., right on schedule. But my ride out of town doesn’t go as planned: What had looked good on the map turns out to be a maze of one-way streets and extremely steep hills. I find a rideable alternative, but it zig-zags more than I like. I decide to continue my ride, and fine-tune the route during my second lap of the course.
It is with relief that I turn onto familiar roads. Belfair is fast asleep as I pass, and then I am riding along the Hood Canal. After weeks with smoke-filled air in Seattle, it is nice to see the hills on the other side of the water in the moonlight – the smoke already has cleared here!
I really enjoy riding at night. Apart from the moon and the lights across the water, the world is restricted to the beam of my headlight. With little to see, I become more attuned to sounds and smells. A small animals is rustling in the bushes. Then, a few miles later, I smell horses. I doubt the horses just moved here, yet I’ve never noticed them before. When I pass a little bay, the briny smell of the sea wafts up to the road.
In between, I am just riding. Cycling is always meditative, but doubly so at night. I don’t think about my bike. It runs straight without attention, yet tracks the sweeping turns without conscious input. My hand instinctively pushes the shift lever to change gears, without thought. With my 46-tooth large ring, my cruising gear is in the middle of my rear cluster. Shift one way to go faster on a slight downhill, the other way when the road turns uphill or the wind picks up a bit. Only a long-ish rise interrupts my meditation: Shift to the small ring or increase my effort? I have a long ride ahead, so I shift to the small ring, then go down two cogs in the rear to end up in the gear I need.
While I am spinning along, I really appreciate how evenly my SON Edelux headlight illuminates the road. It’s not too bright, but it puts the light in the right places. Thanks to its complex optics that put more light into the distance, where the beam hits the road at a shallower angle, I don’t have to strain my eyes to look through a bright spot right in front of the bike. It makes a huge difference during these long night rides.
Suddenly, a young deer appears in the beam of my headlight. It is standing on the road, as startled as I am. I hit the front brake hard, and just as I come to a stop, the deer bolts and disappears into the undergrowth.
Then come the hills. Climbing at night is a different experience, as I can only guess at where the hill crests. I haven’t ridden the ‘Hill Route’ across the Tahuyas before. It’s great fun, with fast descents that have my eyes out on stalks as my headlight scythes through the forest, and steep climbs that require multiple shifts. Meditation is replaced with full immersion into the experience of cycling. My bike feels like an extension of my body. The French call it “the taste for the effort,” and I feel it to the fullest tonight.
Checking the clock, I realize that I have to keep the pace up, if I want to complete two laps before my ferry leaves at 11:10. I return to Bremerton at 5:25 a.m., after 6 hours on the road. My second lap will have to be faster than the first!
The refinements to my new route out of Bremerton work out great, and I am excited that we now have a pleasant alternative to the unpleasant highway.
Dawn comes gradually on this overcast day. By the time I am rolling along the Hood Canal for the second time, I turn off my lights.
The big question is: Will I be able to complete the second lap of my ride? I’ve calculated that I have to reach the foot of the Tahuya Hills by 7:40, otherwise, I should head back to Bremerton. Coincidentally, 7:40 is also when I’d have to turn around to get back in time for the ferry.
Today, I won’t have time to ride the gravel option, but Steve and I rode that a few months ago, so there should not be any problems. Instead, I want to check the ‘River Route’ through the Tahuyas, since it’s the one most prone to interruptions due to floods and slides.
I reach the turn-off at 7:33, seven minutes before my calculated cut-off. Phew! But my calculation doesn’t include any extra time, so I’ll have to continue riding at maximum pace.
The Tahuya Hills consist of narrow valleys and steep climbs, punctuated by river valleys. I can’t resist taking a photo in this lovely spot, even if it costs me almost a minute.
As I lean my bike against the fence, I notice blackberry vines everywhere. The berries are almost ripe. I look forward to eating them in two weeks when we pass here during the Un-Meeting. We won’t be in a rush then!
As I penetrate further into the hills, the roads become smaller and more curving. It makes for wonderful riding. The two routes converge again, and even though I’ve ridden this section just a few hours earlier, it feels completely different during daytime.
A steep descent drops me back to sea level. This is one of my favorite parts of this ride.
Every once in a while, my favorite sign appears by the roadside. It seems superfluous: If drivers or cyclists don’t realize that this road is curving, they probably won’t make it this far! There was no traffic at all here during the night, and even on this Sunday morning, I meet only a single car on the entire traverse of the Tahuya Hills.
As I speed along the undulating, curving road, I reflect that a bicycle is pretty much the only vehicle you can enjoy to the limit of its performance on the road. Cars and motorcycles are just too fast, so you either have to stay far below their limits, or you have to take them to a racetrack.
Another long descent drops me into Seabeck, where we’ll spend the night during the Un-Meeting. It’s another lovely place.
By now, the two water bottles I’ve brought are empty, but I don’t have time to stop and get more fluids. I wanted to install the third bottle cage on the bike, but I ran out of time… But with less than two hours to go, I know I’ll be fine.
A light tailwind springs up, helping me along. Putting all the power I’ve left into the fearsome Anderson Hill with its three stairstep ascents, I climb stronger the second time than during my first loop.
And then I cross the bridge into Bremerton and reach the ferry terminal just as the boat pulls in. The time: 11:01. Nine minutes to spare! Without the tailwind, it would have been closer yet. I am glad my calculation has proven accurate. And perhaps best of all, the wind has cleared out the smoke here, too.
I park my bike in the belly of the big boat, and climb to the passenger deck on slightly wobbly legs. Finally, I can get a drink from the vending machine! Then I sleep for most of the ferry ride back to Seattle.
It’s been a fun ride, and I am glad that all the roads for the Un-Meeting are in good shape. Now I’m working on the updated route sheets. They will be posted tomorrow.
Chainrings choice. It’s one of the main attractions of our Rene Herse cranks – together with light weight, supreme reliability and, dare we say it, good looks. So when we presented our first 11-speed chainrings, it was only a matter of time until the program was expanded. Now we are introducing our 42/26 and 44/28 chainrings, which complement the 46/30 rings already available in our program.
More than two years ago, we asked our chainring suppliers about 11-speed chainrings with shifting aids. Their answer was: “No problem. We can machine generic ramps into your rings and rivet in a few pins, too. We do that for many companies.”
But that was not what we had in mind: We didn’t want ramps and pins that are more cosmetic than functional, and don’t really help with shifting. As with all our parts, we wanted our 11-speed chainrings to equal the performance of the best in the business.
That was the start of our most ambitious R&D project to date. Since that first conversation, it has taken more than 2 years, hundreds of engineering hours, dozens of computer models, and thousands of testing miles.
As always, our first step was to research what others had done. It soon became obvious that only the very largest component makers have developed well-shifting ramps and pins. Understanding their thinking allowed us to come up with improvements and modifications that would make our rings work at least as well as theirs, while preserving the shape and interchangeability of our Rene Herse rings.
After we had developed our new chainrings in concept, we printed models on our 3D printer. These rings weren’t strong enough for riding, but they allowed us to visualize how our ideas work in practice.
Then came the big step: Commissioning prototype chainrings – easily recognizable by their unpolished surface. The complex shape of the teeth requires a 5-axis CNC machine, so we can’t make them in-house. As one-offs, they are very expensive, so we had to be sure of our design before we ordered them. Fortunately, they worked as well as we had predicted. I rode them for a few thousand kilometers last year, including in the Volcano High Pass Challenge and at the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. I’m happy to report that they really do perform as well as the best rings you can get from the big makers.
After we introduced the 46/30 rings, we continued developing the other sizes. Each ring is a separate project, and each ring is designed to work only with a single inner ring: The teeth of both rings must line up in a particular way to get a good shift. The pin must hit the chain in the middle of a link and not at the pivot, otherwise, it doesn’t really do much to lift the chain. And then the chain must mesh seamlessly with the teeth of the big ring. That part is actually the hardest. Most makers look at the problem from a static point of view, but to optimize the shifting, you need to consider that the chainring is spinning at 90-120 rpm. The downshifts require other parts of the chainrings to be relieved, so the chain can pass to the inside without having to climb over the teeth first. There is a lot to it, and much of it is a trade secret.
What happens if you use the new rings with different inner rings? Nothing bad, it’s just that the upshifts aren’t much better than without ramps and pins. During downshifts, you’ll still benefit from the optimized tooth profiles that allow the chain to move smoothly off the big ring. (With downshifts, the chain always lands on the small ring, so it’s not important to have a matched pair of chainrings.)
I’ve been testing the new sizes over the summer on some epic rides. I’ve really appreciated the smallest combo, the 42/26 during a solstice ride around Mount Hood in Oregon. I ride it like a 1×11 most of the time, but with smaller steps between the gears. And when I need a really small gear, I shift to the small ring.
Natsuko really likes the 44/28 combination, and she can’t wait to try the new rings on her C. S. Hirose. The 46/30 is perfect for fast road riding. I use that combination on my randonneur bike. We are excited to offer all these sizes with 11-speed compatible, smooth-shifting chainrings.
The new chainrings work equally well with 10- and 9-speed. They are designed to work with all shifting systems – STI, Ergopower, DualTap, but also bar-end and downtube shifters. There is only one thing to keep in mind: They are designed to work with Shimano’s Ultegra chain. The pins have to be designed with a specific chain in mind, and we found that the Shimano Ultegra chain works best. Use the Ultegra chain that is appropriate for the number of cogs you run, and you’ll enjoy the fastest, smoothest shifting you’ve ever experienced on a bike – while running chainring combinations that perfectly match your riding style. Coincidentally, the Ultegra chain shifts better on the rear, too, no matter which cassette and derailleur you use. (On my Firefly, rear shifts became a lot crisper with the Ultegra chain, even though the bike uses Campagnolo derailleurs and cassette.)
Many of you will like that we’ve made the chainrings backwards-compatible. If you have a set of Rene Herse cranks, you can just swap the large chainring for an 11-speed one. The rest of the crank is unchanged. It’s part of our commitment to sell you only what you need, rather than forcing you to buy a complete new crankset just because you want to upgrade to 11-speed.
The new chainrings are in stock now. And as with all René Herse cranks, we offer free world-wide shipping (on Rene Herse cranks and brakes only).
Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.
Glancing at the photo above, you might think that I am turning right (seen from the rider’s view). Actually, I am beginning a left turn. What you see is countersteering – literally the only way we can lean a bike into a corner. Continue Reading →
The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting is just a month away! The Un-Meeting is our annual get-together with those who share our joy of riding off the beaten path. It’s not an organized event – we just publish a date and time, and everybody is welcome to join. There are no fees, no registrations, and no services are provided.
When: Sept. 8-9, 2018 (Sat. & Sun.)
Meeting point: Bremerton Ferry Terminal exit (Starbucks Coffee shop)
Meeting time: 9:30 a.m.
Ride distance (approx.): Day 1: 95 km (60 miles), Day 2: 35 km (22 miles)
There are two ride options: The unpaved ride (above) hugs the Hood Canal with beautiful views on a challenging route with many short, steep climbs. For those prefering to stay on pavement, there is an inland route that bypasses the gravel with longer, but less-steep, hills.
This year’s Un-Meeting is easy to access – the downtown Seattle ferry terminal is just minutes from the train station. We’ll take the 7:35 ferry to Bremerton. Make sure you board the right boat; the ferry to Bainbridge leaves from the same terminal.
We’ll meet at the exit of the Bremerton ferry terminal around 8:45 in front of the Starbucks coffee shop. (This has changed from the previously published time, as the ferry schedule for September is now available.) From here, we’ll start our ride. It’s not an organized group ride, but we usually fall into small groups that stay together.
Soon after leaving Bremerton, we’ll find ourselves on small roads. After a brief stop in Belfair – the last ‘services’ on the day’s ride – we’ll head along the Hood Canal. These are favorite roads that we’ve traveled during many rides. If the weather cooperates, we’ll enjoy sunshine and great views of the Olympic Mountains beyond the narrow fjord of the Hood Canal (above). (Despite its name, the Hood Canal a natural body of water.)
As we head into the Tahyua Hills, the gentle rollers make way to steep climbs, and the road turns to gravel. Riders who prefer to stay on pavement can use inland roads that climb higher, but are less steep. That route is equally spectacular.
Both routes converge again as we approach Seabeck. We ride along beautiful bays and finally reach the appropriately named Scenic Beach State Park. We’ve reserved three campsites that can sleep 24. If you have a small tent, you are welcome to share our sites. Otherwise, please book your own accommodations. There are also several hotels in the area for those who prefer to sleep under a roof.
Also make sure to bring food! Seabeck, the town near our overnight spot, doesn’t have much in the way of services. There is a lovely general store, but don’t expect a huge variety of food options. It’s best to bring your own and augment that with what you find at the store.
On Sunday, we’ll meet at the store at 9:30 a.m.
From Seabeck, we’ll return to Seattle on beautiful backroads – unless you want to use the Un-Meeting as a jumping-off point to further exploration of the Quimper Peninsula with historic Port Townsend to the North, or the Olympic Mountains with Bon Jon Pass to the West.
When we’ll board the ferry back to Seattle, many old friendships will have been rekindled, and new ones started.
A last word about logistics: The ride is within reach of most cyclists, but the first day’s stage is almost 100 km (65 miles) long; and the hills are steep. The Un-Meeting provides no services and no sag wagon; you’ll carry your own gear. You don’t need a special bike, but there are no bike shops along the route, so make sure your bike is in perfect condition for this ride. And with many sharp corners on both the paved and gravel routes, please use caution and ride within your and your bike’s capabilities.
For me, the Un-Meeting is a highlight of the year. I hope to see you there!
Click here for a preliminary link to the unpaved course. The paved course will be published later.
With Bicycle Quarterly celebrating its 15th year, it’s been fun to look back over the decade-and-a-half of publishing the magazine. A lot has changed, most of all the size:
The first issue was a slim 20 pages, the latest one is more than five times as large!
As BQ grew and resources became available to hire professionals, black & white photos that charitably might have been described as ‘adequate’ have been replaced by beautifully reproduced color photography. The layout has improved, too. The first issues were little more than newsletters; the most recent ones are almost books in their own right.
What hasn’t changed is the quality of the content. The very first issue featured the story of the great French constructeur Alex Singer in comprehensive detail. It started with a fascinating interview with Singer’s successor, the late Ernest Csuka. We published previously unseen historic photos. And there was our first bike test, a 300 km brevet on a 1962 Alex Singer with a Nivex rear derailleur. With a mix of historic sources, original interviews and first-hand experience, this issue remains the best documentation of Cycles Alex Singer to this day.
That first issue also set the tone in another way: Rather than merely reporting what exists, we examined how to improve bicycles. I tested a 1962 Alex Singer in a 300 km brevet and found it to perform extremely well. I especially liked its gearing with 46×30 chainrings. A second article titled “Who Needs a Triple? Get Rid of Your Big Chainring!” suggested that component makers should offer compact cranks. This was at a a time when road bikes still came with 53/39 chainrings, as if we were all gearing up for a downhill Tour de France sprint finish.
Over the following years, Bicycle Quarterly continued to discover the great French cyclotouring culture. Inspired by photos of gravel roads in the Alps, we marveled at bikes that had been perfected for adventures off the beaten path. We realized that our bikes needed wide, supple tires and fully integrated fenders, racks and lights.
This was followed by more research into why these bikes worked so great. First, we studied front-end geometries and discovered that the best-handling bikes had much less geometric trail than most ‘experts’ (ourselves included) considered necessary. Then came our famous tire tests, which showed that wider tires can roll as fast as narrower ones. Later we studied frame stiffness and found that tuning the stiffness to the rider’s pedal stroke (and vice versa) could make bikes perform better. All this revolutionized our understanding of how bikes work.
As this research came along, small custom builders were among the first to adopt our findings. Hence most of our test bikes were what you might call ‘classic’ bikes made from steel tubing. We loved those bikes, and we continue to love them.
For a while, we seemed to inhabit a small niche in the cycling world, where adventurous souls rode beautiful bikes over long distances on scenic gravel roads.
Then the mainstream cycling industry realized that ‘allroad’ cycling (a term we had coined in 2007) presented a real opportunity. There wasn’t just the marketing appeal of rugged adventure, but these road bikes with wide tires actually were a lot more fun to ride than their narrow-tired predecessors. It was a rare case of marketing is backed by substance.
As these new bikes became available, it was natural for us to test them. When carbon and titanium bikes began appearing in Bicycle Quarterly, some readers wondered whether Bicycle Quarterly had changed its focus, or perhaps even ‘sold out’? The reality is that the mainstream bike industry finally has caught up with us.
For a long time, we lamented that it was almost impossible to buy bikes suited for the rides we enjoy. Today, you can go into a bike shop and choose among a large number of bikes designed for spirited riding on all kinds of roads, from smooth pavement to rough gravel. Our readers want to know how good these bikes really are – so we test the most interesting ones. Bicycle Quarterly never was about being retro; it’s always been about having more fun on your bike.
Where does the future lead? There are more discoveries to make. Rinko allows disassembling a complete, fully equipped bike into a small package with minimal tools and almost no modifications to the bike. Perhaps the mainstream bike industry will adopt this idea in the future, making life easier when we travel with our bikes.
We are exploring new tire treads that roll as well on pavement as they grip in mud. And we’ll keep pushing for bikes that fit our adventures, which include riding in any weather, even at night, unsupported. We are looking forward to the next 15 years. If the past is any indication, it’s going to be a fun journey!
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly, including a sample issue you can browse online.
This year’s Tour de France has had its share of drama, and the winner won’t be the one most observers predicted. Among the sporting achievements, the technological innovation was easy to overlook: Finally, the UCI approved disc brakes, and the Tour is the first big stage race where they’ve been used.
Reading the previews of Tour bikes, it sounded like all racers would make the switch. Just in time for the big race, several big bike manufacturers rolled out new race bikes with disc brakes that approach the UCI-required minimum weight. With no weight penalty to speak of, adopting disc brakes seemed like a no-brainer.
After all, brakes are maybe the most important components of a racing bike. When Mafac introduced their first centerpull brakes in 1952 (above), it didn’t take long until almost all racers adopted them, so superior was their performance. It didn’t matter whether they rode for French, Italian or even the ‘International’ teams – braking hard before the corners was more important than allegiance to national sponsors. And when Campagnolo rolled out their sub-optimal ‘Delta’ brakes, racers refused to use them. Campy backpedaled and resurrected their old sidepulls in a hurry. With disc brakes being heralded as the most important innovation in decades, most expected shiny metal circles to appear on the hubs of the entire peloton.
And indeed, during the first stages, most teams rolled out on bikes with disc brakes (above the finish of Stage 5). Ironically, most of the disc brakes were on aero bikes used for flat stages, where brakes make no difference in the bike’s performance.
As the race continued, most racers quietly switched back to rim brakes. The yellow jersey contenders had used rim brakes from the beginning. Why?
The racers were concerned about flats. Through axles require extra time during wheel changes. Worse, the inevitable manufacturing tolerances change the alignment of the disc rotors on different wheels, even if the same model of hub is used. Unless the disc calipers are adjusted, the new wheel’s rotor will rub. (We realized this during our most recent tire tests, where we thought we could speed up the changes between different wheel sizes, but had to adjust the disc brake calipers after every run.)
BMC Racing found a work-around solution to the problem: When a rider flats, they don’t change wheels, but the entire bike. However, this also means they no longer can use neutral support. Most other teams weren’t willing to run that risk.
When the Tour entered the mountains, many observers expected the racers to switch back to disc brakes.
If disc brakes have an advantage, it’s on the vertiginous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees. Since racers have moved to wider tires with more grip, descents have become much more exciting, with higher speeds and more attacks than in the past. Braking is more important than ever. And yet, there was hardly a disc brake in sight.
What happened? I asked a former mechanic of the French national team. He indicated that the introduction of disc brakes was due to sponsors’ demands. With the big component and bike makers pushing discs, it was useful if pro racers used the new technology.
So why did the racers use rim brakes when their sponsors wanted them to use discs? If discs were superior, racers would have used them, especially in the mountains. After all, a real advantage on the many descents of this year’s Tour would have outweighed the relatively small risk of losing time due to a wheel change.
The answer is simple: Really good rim brakes stop just as well as even the best disc brakes. And many riders find that rim brakes offer superior feel: The brake lever is directly connected to the rim via a cable, rather than having the feedback dulled by the wind-up of the spokes and by hydraulic fluid. It’s refreshing that even today, where bike racing has become big business, winning races still is more important than pleasing sponsors.
In the future, I expect that the problems with wheel changes will be overcome by standardizing the disc location. A friend has already done this, using thin washers to make sure all his wheels fit all his bikes without adjusting the brakes. It’s a lot of work, and team mechanics will not be happy…
Rotors will also have to be standardized – currently, teams use both 140 and 160 mm on the front – to simplify neutral support. And then, the sponsors finally will be able to showcase bikes with disc brakes in the Tour. For now, it’s clear that disc brakes don’t offer a big advantage over the best rim brakes.
Back in 1952, it was different: Centerpull brakes swept through the pro peloton. With their pivots placed next to the rim, they offered greatly superior stopping power and modulation to previous brakes. In fact, the rim brakes that dominated the 2018 Tour de France use the same principle – only the actuation is different to eliminate the need for straddle cables and cable hangers.
Photo credits: A.S.O./Tour de France.
We are excited about a number of new products. MKS has reworked their popular Sylvan pedals with silky smooth cartridge bearings. Now called the Sylvan Next, we’ve carried the Touring version for a while. New in the program is the Track pedal (above).
The new Track pedals are a great choice not just for track riders, but for all riding with cycling shoes and toeclips. The cut-away pedal body provides better cornering clearance and reduces the weight, while still offering full support for the shoe. Eddy Merckx used to race on track pedals because of these advantages.
What is the difference to the Touring version (above)? The platform of the Touring pedal is wider, so giving you the option of riding comfortably in street shoes, too. And since it’s double-sided, you can use it with or without toeclips. The Track pedal is easier to use with toeclips, since the flip tab at the bottom helps with rotating the pedal to insert your foot into the toeclip.
Both pedals are available in ‘EZY Superior’ Rinko versions, which allow removing the pedals in seconds without tools – great for travel bikes and for cyclists who ride one bike with multiple pedal systems. Removing the pedal couldn’t be simpler: Turn the ring on the adapter, push it inward, and the pedal releases.
Our Compass Switchback Hill 650B x 48 mm tires have been very popular, but until now, there were no fenders to go with them. We asked Honjo to custom-make their smooth 62 mm-wide fenders in a new XL version for us. With a larger radius, these fit perfectly over ultra-wide 650B tires (up to 50 mm wide).
To provide clearance for the chain with road cranks, fenders cannot get wider than this, so this fender does not wrap quite as far around the tire as our fenders for narrower tires. It still provides better spray protection and more tire clearance than any other fender we’ve tried.
Pacenti’s Brevet has become our most popular rim: strong, reasonably light and without the cracking problems that bedeviled many recent rims, it’s proven reliable and easy to build. It’s also tubeless compatible. We are excited to offer this excellent rim in new 700C versions, as well as the well-known 650B.
The HED Belgium Plus is one of the best modern 650B rims out there. It builds straight and the diameter is spot-on, making tubeless installations a snap. We’ve persuaded HED to keep it in production, and the rim-brake version now is back in stock. Disc brake rims will arrive soon.
Gilles Berthoud’s underseat bag is a great way to add carrying capacity to a bike that doesn’t have provisions for luggage. It holds a rain jacket, arm warmers, a wallet and some food in addition to spare tubes and tire levers. It’s made from the same waterproof cotton with leather edging as Berthoud’s famous handlebar bags that last (almost) forever.
We now carry these bags with a more secure leather buckle closure. The previous elastic has worked great for me, but since you won’t access a saddlebag while riding, the two-handed operation is no problem, and you no longer run the (admittedly small) risk that the elastic breaks, spilling the contents of the bag onto the road.
The Berthoud saddle bag attaches either with straps to the rails of your saddle, or with a KlickFix adapter directly to most Gilles Berthoud saddles (above).
Our handlebars combine modern materials with classic ergonomics. Their generous shapes provide room to roam during long days in the saddle. Now all sizes are back in stock.
The Compass taillight has been very popular. It combines a beautiful shape with modern electronics: a powerful LED and a standlight circuit so you remain visible when you stop. It incorporates a reflector. Mounted between the seatstays, it’s visible from where it matters, yet it’s well protected. Our taillights are made by a good friend right here in the U.S., and we’ve had a hard time making enough to keep up with demand. Now they’re back in stock.
Click on the images above for more information, or click here to check out the complete Compass Cycles program.
Our ideas of what is a performance bike have changed a lot in recent years! One of the most exciting bikes of the moment is the Open U.P. – a carbon race bike that accepts 50 mm-wide tires!
Not too long ago, every performance road bike had 700C x 23 mm tires. Now you have to choose not just how wide you want your tires to be, but – thanks to disc brakes – even which wheel size you want to use! For the Bicycle Quarterly test, we rode the Open with 650B x 48 mm tires, but our second tester, Nate King, raced his Open with 700C x 44 mm tires. Which is better? Or should you get several wheelsets for different courses? Is there a reason to switch tires and wheels on the same bike?
Let’s first talk about some fundamentals: Wider tires don’t roll slower than narrow ones. Bicycle Quarterly‘s latest tire tests, published in the Winter 2016 issue (BQ 58), have shown this once again: In a real-road scenario, even 54 mm tires don’t roll slower than 32 mm – or any size in between. Before this, we already tested tires between 20 and 32 mm tires and found that the 20 mm and 23 mm were slowest, and all the others offered the same performance.
By the way, we tested at 22 mph, so this factors in the greater air resistance of the wider tires. It appears that wider tires have slightly lower rolling resistance, which cancels out the small increase in wind resistance. This means that at lower speeds, wider tires probably are faster than narrower ones. We tested on very smooth asphalt. On rougher roads, wider tires also are faster.
Yes, I know it’s not what we used to believe – we were quite surprised when we saw the results of our testing, but we’ve confirmed this time and again. And so have others in recent years.
To summarize all this research: Narrow tires (<25 mm) are slow. Above 25 mm, the width of your tires are won’t change your speed (at least up to 54 mm wide tires).
That doesn’t mean you can just slap any wide tires on your bike and expect it to go fast. What will change your speed is how supple your tires are: Tires with high-performance casings are faster, more comfortable and offer better traction, regardless of their width. If you choose heavy, reinforced ‘touring’ models when you switch to wider tires, you’ll likely to be disappointed – they’ll roll slower than racing tires because of their sturdy casings, not because of the extra width.
So we know that supple casings are key, and that width doesn’t matter. What size tires should we run then? Is wider always better? And what about wheel size?
Wider tires offer more cornering grip. This is true for racing cars and motorbikes as well as bicycles. On bicycles, there are two reasons for this: More rubber on the road gives you more traction. And wider tires are inflated to lower pressures, which means that they stay in contact with the road. If your tires don’t bounce over small irregularities in the pavement, they have even more traction than their width alone would suggest.
If you like to corner fast, you want the widest tires possible. Even on smooth pavement, the difference between 38 mm and 48 mm-wide tires is noticeable, and on rough surfaces or even gravel, it’s no contest.
Wheel size is another important consideration. The photo above shows three Bicycle Quarterly test bikes with identical geometries (head angle, trail, BB height, etc.), but different wheel sizes. What we found in that test: Wheel size greatly influence the handling of your bike. Larger wheels make the bike more stable, and so do heavier wheels – it’s the rotational inertia that matters, not the outer diameter.
Since wider tires are (slightly) heavier, you’ll want to decrease the wheel size to keep the rotational inertia – and thus the handling – the same. That means that your wheel size should be chosen based on your tire width and tire weight. That way, you can enjoy the nimble handling of a great racing bike even with wide tires.
Let’s a look at a few tire sizes that I enjoy riding, with their pluses and minuses:
38 mm wide
- To me, tires narrower than 38 mm don’t really make sense any longer. 38 mm tires still give you the “connected to the pavement” sensation that makes a racing bike feel so fast. Below 38 mm, all you gain is harshness. The bike doesn’t feel any better, just more jiggly.
- 38 mm tires are great for pavement and occasional gravel riding.
- To go with 38 mm tires, you have a choice of wheel sizes:
- If you like the nimble handling of a racing bike, then choose 650B wheels for 38 mm tires.
- If you prefer a bike that locks onto a cornering radius and won’t be deflected even if tense up in mid-corner, then use 700C wheels for 38 mm-wide tires.
42 – 44 mm wide
- Adding 4 mm to the width of your tires gives you some added plushness – compared to 38 mm, you’ve increased the air volume by 22%.
- In exchange for that added cush, you lose a little bit of connection to the road. To me, that isn’t a big loss, and I enjoy the greater traction and go-almost-anywhere capabilities of the wider tires.
- For tires this wide, 650B is the optimal wheel size.
- 42-44 mm tires are fine for most gravel riding. They have the advantage that good rim brakes (like our Compass centerpulls) fit over them – even with fenders. In fact, fender mounting becomes a compromise with tires wider than 44 mm (see below).
48 – 54 mm wide
- Now we are getting into some seriously wide tires for a road bike! A 54 mm tire holds twice as much air as a 38 mm tire.
- Tires this wide change their feel depending on the pressure you run:
- With the tires inflated to 38 psi (2.6 bar), our Open U.P. test bike felt like a road bike. The tires made more noise as they rolled over the pavement, but otherwise, the feel wasn’t all that different from narrower tires.
- Letting out some air and reducing the pressure to 26 psi (1.8 bar) changed the bike completely. Now it was super-plush. The tires still had enough air so they wouldn’t collapse under hard cornering, but I could feel the ‘suspension’ when riding out of the saddle. At this pressure, the tires were ideal for rough gravel.
- For tires this wide, I definitely recommend 650B wheels. With 700C rims, your bike will just plow straight ahead like a 29er mountain bike, and you’ll need suspension to absorb the bumps that you cannot steer around. On my Firefly (above), I went with 26″ wheels for a more agile handling. As a result, the bike feels remarkably similar to a good racing bike.
- Fender mounting is an issue with tires this wide and road cranks: Ideally, a fender should be about 20 mm wider than the tire, but the chain will hit a fender that is wider than 62 mm when riding in the smallest gear! The solution is using a 62 mm fender that doesn’t wrap around the wheel very much and mount it a bit higher above the tire. It works, and we now offer a 650B fender specifically for 47-48 mm wide tires.
How about tires wider than 54 mm? That might be interesting, but you can’t really fit them between road cranks with narrow Q factor. 54 mm tires already are quite wide: They have the same air volume as 2.3″ mountain bike tires – it’s just that they don’t have knobs on the shoulders, so they measure out a bit narrower. Below is a comparison of the air volume of my three favorite tire sizes (to scale).
To summarize, if you want your bike to feel connected to the pavement like a good road bike, I recommend 650B x 38 mm tires. Compared to narrower tires, you get added comfort and speed on rough pavement, and more cornering traction, too.
I prefer a little extra rough-road performance and even better cornering traction, so for paved rides, my choice is 650B x 42 mm. You lose a little of the connection to the road, but during hard cornering, you actually get more, not less, feedback of how much traction you have in reserve, because the tires can really key into the pavement.
If my ride includes a lot of gravel, I’ll pick 650B x 48 mm or even 26″ x 54 mm. On pavement, the downside is that you get some tire roar – how much depends on the diameter of your bike’s frame tubes that provide the resonance chamber for the noise – and the tires’ feel is more sensitive to tire pressure. On the plus side, the traction in paved corners will blow your mind.
If you are using lightweight carbon rims and superlight tires, like our Compass Extralights, then it makes sense to go up one wheel size to compensate for the lighter weight. So for 38 – 43 mm tires, I’d recommend 700C wheels, and 44+ mm tires, I’d use 650B. Otherwise, your bike gets that ‘small-wheeled’ feel: The bike doesn’t hold its line on its own, but requires active input from the rider to go straight. It’s not a big deal, but we are talking about optimizing your bike here.
It seems that more and more riders are converging on these tire sizes: BQ‘s second tester for the Open U.P. recently received the latest model from his sponsors (above), and he spec’d it with 650B x 48 mm tires – like our test bike. And he tells us that he loves it!
With these suggestions as a starting point, I recommend test-riding a few bikes with different wheels and choosing the ones you like best.
- Bicycle Quarterly 58 reported on our latest performance tests of tires between 32 and 54 mm wide.
- Bicycle Quarterly 59 featured the test of the Open U.P.
- Our research on wheel size and bike handling was published in BQ 31 and BQ 64.
- More information about Compass tires.
Photo credits: Toru Kanazaki (Photo 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 1, 3), Nate King (10).
The votes are in! Giovanni Calcagno’s photo on the Via del Sale won the Compass Swift Campout photo contest! The Via del Sale criss-crosses the Italian-French border as it connects Limone Piemonte with Ventimiglia via the Maritime Alps.
To me, the photo embodies everything I love about cyclotouring off the beaten path: beautiful scenery, interesting and challenging roads, and the romance of discovering new places beyond the horizon. I can’t wait to hear the full story of Giovanni’s adventure: He’s agreed to share it in a future edition of Bicycle Quarterly.
Congratulations, Giovanni! You won a $ 200 gift certificate to Compass Cycles. The nine finalists receive a one-year subscription of Bicycle Quarterly, and their adventures also will be featured in our magazine.
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly.
Road.cc tested another Compass tire. After the Barlow Pass and the Steilacoom dual-purpose knobbies, they had a go with the Switchback Hill 650B x 48 Extralights. This time, they used a different tester, Dave Atkinson. He liked the tires just as much…
His conclusion echoes ours: “At a time when people are doing roll-down tests to see if it’s worth switching to 28mm tyres from 25s, my advice would be to skip a few sizes and fit a pair of these, if you can. They’re great.”
I smiled when I read that in group rides, he had “to remember to point out holes and other imperfections that you can glide over on 48s but might easily pinch-flat a 25.” I remember that from the days before my friends switched to wider tires, too…
His conclusion: “There really is no downside to a big tyre like this.” But rather than retell his story, just read his review for yourself!
- More information about Compass tires.
To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found not to be true.
Disc brakes have become popular on allroad bikes for a variety of reasons. One of them is that they are perceived as offering superior braking. It seems to make sense – after all, disc brakes on cars and motorbikes revolutionized braking performance. Why wouldn’t they do the same on bicycles?
The Compass Swift Campout photo contest has been a huge success with almost 500 entries! With so many amazing photos, it was impossible to select just 8 finalists, so we finally settled on 10. We selected photos that show different aspects of the contest theme ‘Cyclotouring off the beaten path.’
Now it’s up to you, our readers, to select the winner among the finalists below. We present the images without context so you can enjoy them for their photographic qualities alone. Then please choose your favorite at the bottom of the post.
▲ Photo 1
▲ Photo 2
▲ Photo 3
▲ Photo 4
▲ Photo 5
▲ Photo 6
▲ Photo 7
▲ Photo 8
▲ Photo 9
▲ Photo 10
The winner will receive a $200 gift certificate from Compass Cycles, and all finalists will enjoy a one-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.
The polls close on Sunday, July 15, at midnight. Results will be published next week, and all finalists and their stories will be featured in a future issue of Bicycle Quarterly. Also check out the many other great entries in the #swiftcompasscontest.
High-performance bicycles have changed tremendously in recent years. As one manufacturer said at last year’s Interbike: “In the past, everybody asked how much your bike weighed. Now all they want to know is how wide a tire it fits.”
Wide tires have revolutionized how we view performance bikes. In the past, you knew a rider was serious about going fast if his or her tires were narrow. Now it’s almost the opposite: The latest performance bikes have wider tires than many utility bikes (below).
This change has happened so quickly that the bike industry can hardly keep up. Just a few years ago, ‘gravel’ bikes had clearance for 32 mm tires. Now 48 mm tires are becoming the standard for ‘allroad’ bikes that are intended as much for pavement as for gravel.
As a result of this rapid change, many cyclists are on the fence when it comes to buying a new bike: Bicycle technology seems so much in flux right now that it seems prudent to wait and see how it all shakes out. Why not postpone a new bike purchase for a few years? By then, we should know exactly what a 21st century high-performance bike looks like.
Or should you just take the plunge and buy the bike of your dreams? After all, there is so much fun to be had. Will a 2018 bike be obsolete in just a few year’s time?
It’s difficult to predict the future, but what I can say is this: The bikes we enjoy most haven’t changed in the last decade. My René Herse (above) is seven years old, and yet, the only thing I’d do differently today is add low-rider racks and make it Rinko-compatible. The basic idea of what makes a great bike for paved and gravel roads hasn’t changed – it’s just that the mainstream bike industry has taken some time to catch up.
In practical terms, for normal road riding, 38-42 mm tires will serve you well. If you intend to ride mostly on gravel, look for clearances that allow 48-54 mm tires. It’s unlikely that these recommendations will change much in the future. Wider tires are almost impossible to fit without giving up the character and feel of a road bike: narrow Q factor, nimble handling, and light weight.
What if you aren’t ready to take the plunge? Fortunately, you don’t need a new bike to transform your riding. The science is undisputed: The benefits of the ‘wide tire revolution’ lie mostly in the supple casings. The extra width is just an added benefit.
In other words: A supple 28 mm tire will be faster and more comfortable than a 48 mm-wide ‘touring’ tire with a stiff casing. Especially if you ride mostly on pavement, you can experience 80% of the benefits simply by switching to supple high-performance tires in a size that fits your current bike.
You’ll be amazed by the transformation. Our Specialized Diverge long-term test bike could handle only 32 mm-wide tires (with fenders). That didn’t lessen the fun when I took it on wonderful adventures, like the ride up the abandoned road to Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier (above).
I also enjoyed its speed and grip on smoother roads. Simply switching your tires buys you time while you decide what you want in your next bike. Only caveat: After riding supple high-performance tires, there is no going back. Once you’ve tried them, you’ll choose great tires for your next bike, too, no matter their width.
The Summer 2018 Bicycle Quarterly is off the press and will be mailed to subscribers soon. To cap our 15th anniversary year, we’ve put together a 112-page edition filled with truly remarkable stories.
In our biggest adventure yet, we traversed the breathtaking Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. It was an amazing ride in every way – if you haven’t seen our video yet, click here to get right into the action.
It’s impossible not to be amazed by the incredible rides of Tokyo’s Yama Sai Ken (Mountain Cycling Club). These pioneering Passhunters explored every mountain pass in Japan, whether it was accessible by road or not. They built their own bikes years before mountain bikes became a thing. Their story is as inspirational as their photos are beautiful.
More than a decade ago, we coined the term Allroad Bike for a new breed of bikes we envisioned: racing bikes with ultra-wide tires, for more grip on pavement and more speed on gravel. Now these bikes are becoming ever-more popular, and we’ve tested two of the most exciting ones. The 3T Exploro (above) is an all-carbon, superlight, aero gravel bike. How does all that technology hold up in the unforgiving terrain of the Copper Canyons? We pushed the bike to the limit to find out.
Bringing the same bike genre down to earth, we rode Surly’s brand-new Midnight Special. Can it offer similar performance and fun as the 3T, at a fraction of the price?
Few bikes have seen as much success in national and international competitions as Harry Havnoonian’s iconic machines. Marvel at this amazing builder’s first and latest bikes in beautiful studio photos, and learn why Havnoonian always mounts the rear brake in front of the seatstays. Mark Hallinger’s article is a beautiful tribute to this American legend.
Going back further into cycling history, we feature the French cartoonist Pellos, who brought the ‘Heroic Age’ of the Tour de France to life. Travel to a time when stages were long, roads were rough, and human drama matched sporting achievements in this incredible race.
For readers with a more technical bent, Aldo Ross explores why dozens of racers switched to bar-end shifters during the 1949 Tour. Why did they use bar-ends only for their front derailleurs, but operated the rears with downtube shifters?
In our ‘Project’ series, we show you how to mount a front rack, with clear instructions and useful hints that will help you with your next bike project.
These are just a few of the many features in this exciting 112-page edition. Subscribe today to receive your own copy!
At Compass, we see little point in replicating what you already can buy from others. When we made our first knobby tires, we wanted true dual-purpose tires. Could the new knobbies match the on-pavement of good road tires, yet grip as well in mud as true cyclocross tires. Impossible? You’ll never find out unless you try…
After a few seasons of cyclocross, there is no doubt that the Compass Steilacoom (700C x 38 mm) and Pumpkin Ridge (650B x 42 mm) offer plenty of grip and shed mud well – as you’d expect from their widely spaced knobs.
How about their on-pavement performance? I’ll let others speak on that. Matt Surch, the well-known Canadian gravel racer, wrote: “I don’t understand how the tread rolls so fast and quiet… these are wild!”
When BQ tester Mark tried them, he wrote: “Once the wind drowned out the tire roar at high speed, I was thinking about how unremarkable the Steilacoom tires had rolled on the paved descent. I had pretty much forgotten that I was riding on knobbies.” Yet he was glad to have them when a road closure detoured us via a muddy trail (above).
And now Mike Stead tested a set of Steilacooms for www.road.cc. Among other adventures, he set two Strava records on these tires. One was for a gravel descent. His comment: “I wasn’t even pushing that hard. […] The Steilacooms make you a better, faster descender than you deserve to be.”
The second KOM surprised not just him, but us as well: He set a new record for a flat-out 60-second sprint – on pavement. He wrote: “Averaging 45 kph, the Steilacooms made an awesome high-pitched noise as I fanged along the straight. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I went back the next week and recorded exactly the same time to the second.”
Mike’s time on the Steilacooms was two seconds faster than the previous KOM record, which he had set on our Barlow Pass tires. Does that mean our knobbies are faster than our road tires? Not necessarily – there are too many variables – but it shows that they certainly aren’t much slower. And that is remarkable, considering that our road tires are among the fastest in the world.
In a future post, I’ll explain how we created a knobby that doesn’t ride like a knobby… until you hit mud or snow, when it behaves exactly like a knobby. But don’t take our word for it – read Mike Stead’s review.
Entries for the photo contest keep pouring in – so far more than 250 photos have been submitted. Check them out on Instagram under #swiftcompasscontest!
It’s not too late to enter: Upload your best shots that show ‘cyclotouring off the beaten path’ to Instagram, add the hashtag, and you’re all set. On June 30, we’ll look at all the entries and select 8 finalists. They’ll appear here on the blog, and all of you get to vote for the winner, who receives a $ 200 gift certificate to Compass Cycles. All finalists also win a 1-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly, and their photos will be published in the magazine.
A reminder: The Swift Campout is this coming weekend. Head over to their web site to get details and register. Most of all, have fun on your very own adventure!
Click here for the full rules of the contest.
The Summer 2018 Bicycle Quarterly caps our 15th anniversary year, and so we’ve put together a very special issue. In our most epic adventure yet, we headed south to the incredible Copper Canyons of Mexico. The video above takes you right into the action. Make sure to enjoy it in full-screen mode!
Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly and read the full story of this adventure, plus the many other exciting articles of this 112-page edition.
Some new products are much more popular than we anticipate. Even though we try to keep everything in stock at all times, production can take a while to catch up to the increased demand. Recently, that has affected a few products.
The first batch of our 11-speed Rene Herse chainrings sold out quickly. They’ve received rave reviews from customers. These riders enjoy shifting on par with the very best rings, but with more useful 46×30 chainrings. Add the elegance and light weight of our Rene Herse cranks, and you can see why they’ve been popular.
The new chainrings work just as well with 9- and 10-speed drivetrains. During our testing, we’ve found Shimano’s Ultegra chains to offer the best shifting, so we designed our tooth profiles for this chain. (If you run 9- or 10-speed, use the appropriate Ultegra chain.)
The 11-speed cranks are in stock for single bikes and tandems. Click here for more information.
The MKS Allways pedals take this popular platform style to the next level. They feature the super-smooth cartridge bearings found only in top-of-the-line MKS pedals. Just as importantly, the platform is slightly concave to provide a better grip for your foot. The Allways pedals are available both with standard spindles and with the EZY Superior system that allows removing your pedals without tools in seconds (above). Click here for more information.
The Ostrich frame covers are back in stock, too. They protect the frame when you travel with your bike. Unlike thick foam tubes, these covers are small enough to easily fit in your handlebar or seat bag. That makes them ideal for trips where you’ll put your bike on a bus, on a train, or in a car for part of the trip. New is the ‘oversize’ version for the large-diameter tubes of carbon, titanium and aluminum frames. Click here to find out more.
Our handlebars are back in stock in all sizes. Their shapes were developed when stages were long and roads were rough. Now we offer them for standard-diameter and oversized stems, so you can enjoy their all-day comfort on modern bikes.
Why are classic handlebar shapes more ergonomic? Human bodies haven’t changed, it’s only that modern races are shorter and speeds are higher, so modern racers can get away with less-than-optimal shapes. For the rest of us, the classic shapes make a remarkable difference in the comfort of our bikes. Click here for more information.
And finally, we are excited to announce a new fender. We now offer Honjo’s fluted fenders in a 47 mm width for 700C wheels. This is ideal for tires between 32 and 36 mm wide.
Like all our Honjo fenders, the new model is custom-made to our specifications. Front and rear fenders are longer than standard to provide better coverage. We supply all fenders with our elegant Rene Herse eyebolts (above).
We also sell extra fender stays separately for bikes without a front rack, where the second fender stay stabilizes the front fender ahead of the fork crown. Not only does this guarantee that the fender is quiet, it also improves safety and longevity, as it reduces flex and the risk that the fender breaks. Click here for more information about our fenders.
To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. Today, we explain why your bike’s weight distribution does not directly translate into your tire pressures. Continue Reading →
We are proud to introduce our biggest tire yet, the much-anticipated 700C x 55 mm Antelope Hill. The new tires have arrived with the latest shipment and are now in stock.
Antelope Hill is the unofficial name of the last great climb of the iconic Oregon Outback, the 360-mile gravel race that traversed Oregon from the south to the north. Like many gravel rides, almost a third of the Outback route is on pavement, including Switchback Hill itself (above). The ideal tire for this and similar rides combines excellent speed on pavement with enough width to float on top of the gravel, rather than sink into the loose aggregate.
The new 700C Antelope Hill completes the trilogy of ultra-wide Compass allroad tires, which also includes the 650B Switchback Hill – named after the first big climb of the Oregon Outback – and the 26″ Rat Trap Pass.
Like most Compass tires, the Antelope Hill is available with our Standard casing and tan sidewalls (above). This is the more economical choice. Also, the sidewall is stronger to resist cuts better.
For the ultimate in performance, we recommend our Extralight casing, available in tan or black. This is the same ultra-supple casing found on top-level tubular tires. The Extralight isn’t just incredibly light for such a big tire (465 g) – the supple casing also improves its speed and comfort further. And thanks to the extra width and hence lower pressure, the Antelope Hill Extralights are strong enough even in rough terrain.
Experienced riders can use these tires on rough trails, but they are not intended as true mountain bike tires. The supple sidewalls aren’t stiff enough to climb out of ruts, and the casing can suffer cuts if it’s forced into sharp rocks. We mostly intend them for riders who enjoy their 29er mountain bikes on gravel and paved roads. Under those conditions, Compass allroad tires will transform your bike’s performance. You’ll want to ride it everywhere… We can’t wait to see where people are taking their Antelope Hills!
The Antelope Hills are available now. For more information or to order a set, click here.
Calling for the most evocative, inspirational, and just plain amazing photos that show ‘cyclotouring off the beaten path’! Share your adventures and win a $ 200 gift certificate and other prizes!
Simply post a photo – or several! – on Instagram by June 30 and add the hashtag #swiftcompasscontest. Anybody can enter – no need to register or become a customer. Just post your photos with the hashtag, and you are automatically entered. Of course, you can only enter photos you’ve taken yourself. The goal is to share the fun of cyclotouring, nothing more and nothing less. Enter your best photos!
We’ll chose 8 finalists, and put them here on the Compass blog for final vote by the public. The winner will be announced on July 11 and receive a $ 200 gift certificate toward Compass and Rene Herse components, Bicycle Quarterly magazines, or our books. All finalists will receive a one-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly, and their photos will be published in the magazine.
Entrants give permission to repost their photos on Compass blog, web site and in Bicycle Quarterly, only for the purposes of this contest. Employees of Compass Cycles, Swift Industries and their families may enter, but are not eligible to win.
- Post your photo(s) on Instagram
- Use hashtag #swiftcompasscontest
- Photos posted until 6/30/2018 are eligible to win
- More information about the Swift Campout.
Photo credits: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1); Natsuko Hirose (Photo 3).
During my recent trip to Japan, I found myself with a free day in Tokyo. With no time to plan, I decided to head to Yabitsu Pass.
Yabitsu Pass is popular with cyclists, because it’s close to the capital, and yet it traverses a mountain range that is far off the beaten path. You could ride there from central Tokyo, but I decided to take the train for the first leg of the ride. Not only does this save time, but it keeps navigation simple. The way I did it, the ride across Yabitsu Pass has only three or four turns where one could get lost.
An hour’s train ride from the center of Tokyo brings me to Takao at the foot of the mountains. The first thing I do is un-Rinko my bike – remove the carrying bag and assemble it.
Twelve minutes later, I am ready to roll. My ‘Mule’ currently lives in Japan. It’s nice to have a bike waiting for me when I arrive – a bike that can handle anything from a fast group ride to loaded touring.
Heading out of town, I stop at my favorite shrine for a moment of contemplation. As is the Japanese custom, I pray for safety on the road. It reminds me to be careful and not take undue risks as I head out for an adventure.
After riding through suburbs for a while, I enjoy the short, steep climb as I reach Lake Miagase. The lake is formed by a large dam, and I have to climb that elevation all at once, with a gradient that feels like 18%. My Japanese is making only slow progress, but I don’t need to read Kanji to understand what this sign says. Alas, no cute monkeys are visiting the park today.
My effort is rewarded by the view across Lake Miagase. Today the mountains are shrouded in mist. The weather forecast predicted a 20% chance of showers. Usually, Japanese forecasts are very accurate, since they rely on the latest technology. So I hope that the rain I see falling on the lake is just one of those ‘showers.’
From here, the ride is heading into the mountains. I follow the beautiful road that skirts the shore of the lake.
When I reach the rugged valley that leads to Yabitsu Pass, rain starts falling in earnest. It’s not typhoon season, but it doesn’t feel all that different, except the rain is colder. I am glad the ‘Mule’ has generous fenders and a good mudflap. I am getting wet from above, but there isn’t the constant barrage of spray that can chill legs and feet to the bone. I am carrying enough clothes in my handlebar bag to deal with any conditions, as long as I keep moving: wool tights, extra layers and a rain shell. For emergencies, I carry a space blanket. It’s not so much equipment that it’ll slow me down, but it’s enough to be prepared.
The road to Yabitsu Pass is an all-time favorite. The first part is almost level as it goes along the lower reaches of the river. Curve follows after curve, and on a well-handling bike, it’s great fun.
Despite my limited Japanese, I do know the Kanji for rain: 雨. This sign indicates in the third line that if more than 20 mm (0.8″) of rain fall in one hour, the road will close. (The second line says that if 100 mm/4″ fall without a dry spell, it’ll close as well.) In this steep terrain, the danger of mudslides is ever-present. Today, I hoped it won’t come to that!
Just before the real climb to Yabitsu Pass starts, there is a side road that I have been wondering about. I’ve been making good time today, so this seems like good an opportunity to explore it.
The road is closed to motorized traffic with a big gate, but it seems that bikes are allowed. At another fork in the road, I turn left and go up a beautiful valley.
Soon I discover why the road is closed: Rockfalls have made it impassable for cars. No problem on a bike, but wide tires are a plus to avoid pinch-flats.
A big tree has fallen across the road. It’s only a minor obstacle. On wet and slippery ground, it’s not advisable to jump, cyclocross-style, so I take it at a more cautious pace. Click on the arrow to watch the video clip!
I pass a sign for Mt. Tanzawa. A hiking trail scales the steep valley side. I continue on the road, until it ends where another rockfall has completely obliterated the road. Time to turn around and explore the other fork…
The second road is steeper as it climbs the ridge between two valleys. The climbs have a nice rhythm, and I am having a good day. The ‘Mule’ and I get in sync, and the gradient feels much less steep than it probably is.
When I chart the ride on RidewithGPS later, I am surprised how the two sidetrips each climb more than the actual pass! (The steep downhill after the first climb is an artifact of my drawing a straight line on the map – the software doesn’t follow the closed road.)
The road climbs higher and higher in switchback after switchback. It is fun!
The top comes almost unexpected. It’s another trailhead for Mt. Tanzawa. It feels like I’ve climbed the 1567 m (5,141′) mountain from both sides. For a moment, I think of a passhunting adventure. I could hike with my bike to the top, then down the other side. Maybe another day!
The downhill is wet. Very wet! On the steep slope, I drag my front brake continuously, so my rims stays warm enough to evaporate the water. That way, I can brake for the hairpin turns. In conditions like this, powerful brakes are important. If your brakes are marginal in the dry, they cannot cut through the film of water that builds up on the rims when you ride in the rain. No problem with the Mule’s centerpull brakes, though.
When I return to the main road, I am starting to get cold. Fortunately, the gradual uphill invites an all-out effort. That is why it’s so popular with racers. Pushing myself and my bike to their limits, the curving road is great fun. Where sightlines allow it, I don’t slow for the bends, but use the entire road. At other times, I have to brake for the curves, even through the road is heading uphill.
There is no traffic at all. I remember the sign at the bottom of the pass and wonder whether it has rained more than 20 mm in an hour, and the road has been closed. It doesn’t matter – it’s too late to turn around.
As I reach the last, steep kilometer before Yabitsu Pass, I can feel the effort in my legs. I give it everything I have and reach the pass without slowing. Getting here feels like a real achievement today. The pass is deserted on this rainy weekday.
Now all I have to do is coast down the other side to the train station at Hadano. No more photo stops – I need to get down the steepest part of the descent before my body has a chance to get chilled. Then I reach the station. I Rinko my bike and get on the train. I am back in Tokyo for dinner.
If you find yourself in Tokyo looking for a great ride, I recommend Yabitsu Pass. It’s scenic; it sees little traffic (albeit a bit more on sunny weekends); and navigation is easy. The two optional out-and-back side trips add to the challenge if you feel so inclined.
The ride across Yabitsu Pass in numbers:
- Distance: 66 km (42 miles)
- Elevation gain: 1300 m (4265 ft)
- Two extra climbs add about 30 km (19 miles) and 900 m (3000 ft)
- Link to map on RidewithGPS
To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. This week, we have a ‘double feature’ that looks at fork blades. In the first post, we looked at whether they flex enough to improve comfort. Here we examine the belief that stiffer fork blades make the bike steer better. Continue Reading →
When we first started talking about shock absorption and fork blades, it was commonly believed that fork blades didn’t flex significantly. Experts told us: “All the flex in a fork is in the steerer tube, where the lever arm is longest.” And yet, when we rode bikes with flexible fork blades, they clearly took the edge of bumps. Was this another myth in need of debunking? Continue Reading →
If you have visited the Compass Cycles web site in the last few days, you’ll have noticed that it has a new look. On the home page, you’ll see a slide show with the three parts of the Compass story.
The first slide links to the story of the ‘Wide Tire Revolution’ – how we realized that wide tires could be as fast as narrow ones, and how we developed our pioneering allroad tires.
The second slide talks about the philosophy behind our components: classic in appearance, but 100% up-to-date in their performance. And compatible with modern bikes.
Much of what we do at Compass Cycles draws on the experience of René Herse. Read how we became the successor of the great constructeur.
We’ve also updated our menu to make it easier to use. ‘Shop’ and ‘Support’ put all the information you need in one place. ‘About’ gives you direct links to the slides with our story. There are links to our Instagram and YouTube contents, and the flags give you access to the translations of our web site into French and Japanese. (The translations are works in progress…)
When you click on a product category (like ‘Bags’ above), you see an overview of the parts we offer. The pull-down ‘Read the Back Story’ explains why we use (and sell) these parts. For example, on the ‘Bags’ page, we explain why we prefer handlebar bags, and why we feel that leather and canvas outperform synthetic materials.
Go to www.compasscycle.com to start exploring the new site.
At Compass Cycles, we try to keep our entire program in stock all the time, but some items are so popular that it can be difficult to keep up. Our cyclotouring knickers continue to be one of our best-sellers, as riders appreciate their comfort and light weight. One reviewer wrote: “I am practically living in them.”
The knickers are sewn right here in Seattle. We just received a new batch, and all sizes are in stock again.
I wish we could say the same about our 11-speed cranks. They’ve been exceedingly popular, and the first run of chainrings sold out quickly. New ones are in production, and we hope to have them by early June.
The MKS Allways pedals are also popular, as they combine MKS premium bearings with a large platform. The platform is slightly concave, so your foot has better grip. They are available in standard and Rinko versions (above). A new shipment from MKS is on the way. We expect them in early June as well.
We appreciate your patience when popular items are temporarilyout of stock. Click on the images to find out more about these products.
Recently, The Pedaler interviewed me for the blog of Quoc Pham’s eponymous cycling shoe company. We chatted about the origins of allroad bikes, the inspiration of the mid-century randonneurs, and what makes Compass Cycles different from other companies.
Click here to enjoy the full story.
In the 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, one of our discoveries has been that testing bicycle performance isn’t easy, and that taking shortcuts often has led to erroneous conclusions.
Carefully designed tests that replicate what happens when real cyclists ride on real roads have allowed Bicycle Quarterly to debunk several myths. Certainly, the biggest change in our understanding of bicycles has been about tires.
Tires, more than anything else, change the performance, feel and comfort of your bike. We now know that fast tires can increase your on-the-road speed by 10% or more. But how do we know which tires are fast?
Lab testing is the most common way to test tire performance, usually on a steel drum (above). In the past, these steel drums were smooth. Now the testers have added some texture to simulate the roughness of the road surface. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the fundamental flaws of drum testing:
1. The curved drum pushes deep into the tire
Since the drum is convex, it pushes deep into the tire, unlike a real road, which is flat. The more supple the tire, the deeper the drum pushes. This makes the tire flex more, which absorbs more energy. That is why a stiff tire performs well on the drum, and a supple tire does not. We know that the opposite is the case on real roads.
Increasing the tire pressure also makes the tire harder, and so the drum won’t push as far into the tire. That is one reason why drum tests show higher pressures rolling much faster (above). According to this data, increasing your tire pressure from 60 to 120 psi (4.1 to 8.3 bar) reduces the resistance by 30%!
Bicycle Quarterly‘s real-road testing (above) has shown that the opposite is true, especially for supple tires: They roll slower at 100-120 psi than at lower pressures. (Higher power = slower.)
This problem with drum tests has been recognized for a long time. There is a way around this problem, but it’s very expensive: Make the drum so large that it’s barely convex. One of the best drum testing rigs is in Japan, and from what I’ve heard, it measures about 7 feet in diameter. That means it’ll push into the tire much less, and thus it won’t make stiff tires seem faster than they really are.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have efforts to measure tire performance on small-diameter rollers, like those used for training. That will always be futile: Anybody who has ridden on rollers knows how high the resistance is, because the rollers push so deep into the tires. And if you want to increase the resistance further, you just let some air out of the tires…
Not surprisingly, tests on small-diameter rollers show the ultra-supple Compass ‘Extralight’ casing rolling not much faster than the ‘Standard’ version. On real roads, the performance difference between the two is quite noticeable.
TOUR magazine in Germany has designed a test rig that eliminates the problems associated with the convex drums: Two wheels carry weights that are off-center, so they rock the wheels like a pendulum. This test rig rolls back and forth on a flat surface. You could even use it to test on real roads. The longer the test rig rocks from side to side, the lower the tires’ rolling resistance.
This test showed the Compass Bon Jon Pass as the fourth-fastest tire they’ve ever tested. (‘Rollwiderstand’ means ‘rolling resistance;’ the dark bars are for ‘rough asphalt;’ the light ones for ‘smooth asphalt;’ to convert the pressure from bar to psi, multiply by 14.5)
It’s interesting to compare the same tires – Compass Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires (standard casing) vs. Continental 4000 S II in two tests:
- www.bicyclerollingresistance.com tested on a steel drum:
- Compass (6 bar / 90 psi): 15.8 W
- Continental (7 bar / 100 psi): 12.9 W
- Conti has 18% lower rolling resistance.
- TOUR magazine used their rocking test rig:
- Compass: 17 W
- Continental: 17.5 W
- Conti has 3% higher rolling resistance.
- Compass is fourth-fastest of all tires TOUR tested (graphic above).
It’s clear that the drum test disadvantages a supple tire – the stiffer Conti performs much better. Adding to the confusion, www.bicyclerollingresistance.com gets lower resistance values than TOUR – it should be the other way around with the drum pushing into the tire.
There is another odd thing: TOUR shows the wider Compass tire in 4th place on the smooth road surface, but in 5th place on the rough surface, where it gets beaten by the narrower Conti rolling at higher pressure. That isn’t how it works in the real world, where the advantages of wider tires and lower pressures are greatest on rougher roads. That brings us to the second problem of these lab tests:
2. No rider on the bike
Without a rider, you have no significant suspension losses. Suspension losses are the energy that is absorbed when vibrations cause friction between the tissues of the rider’s body. Without a rider, there is nowhere to absorb the energy – steel weights don’t behave like human tissue.
Without suspension losses:
- vibrations wouldn’t slow you down.
- wider tires would be slower than narrow ones.
- higher tire pressure would make your bike faster.
On the road, with a rider on board, all these statements are false – because suspension losses absorb energy, and reducing suspension losses is key to making a bike go faster. Understanding suspension losses has revolutionized our understanding of tire performance. It’s the underpinning of the ‘wide tire revolution.’
The lab tests described above are like a return to the last century, when we all ‘knew’ that narrow tires rolled faster because they could run at higher pressures. So we ran 19 mm tires (above) and inflated them rock-hard for optimum performance. That was long ago – when did you last see a short-reach racing brake with so much tire clearance?
Today, even professional racers run 25 mm tire at 80 psi. They have found that this is faster, no matter what the steel drum tests say. Racers have concluded: When tests don’t replicate the real world, they aren’t of much use.
At least TOUR‘s test rig gives us some indication about the energy absorption in the casing. It neglects one half of the equation – the suspension losses – but it’s useful if we understand its limitations. On the other hand, tests on small-diameter drums are just misleading – because if you design a tire to perform well in these drum tests, it’ll have a stiff casing and ultra-high pressures. And that means it won’t perform well on real roads.
A better lab test?
Is there a way to design a realistic lab test for tire performance? After all, Bicycle Quarterly‘s test procedures – testing only on totally calm days; when temperatures are constant; with a rider who has trained to keep the same position for lap after lap – are fine if you are doing scientific research. But they are not feasible for commercial applications, where you need to be able to just mount a tire on a wheel, take it to the lab, and get an immediate reading of its performance – without having to wait until the weather is right, the wind has died down, and the temperature is constant.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been thinking about this. Current drum tests load the tire with metal weights that don’t absorb much energy as they vibrate. Is there another material that behaves similar to a human body? ‘Ballistic gelatin’ is used to simulate gunshot wounds in human tissue. It closely simulates the density and viscosity of human tissue. Using a material like that to weigh down the wheel might simulate the suspension losses.
Suspension losses vary with speed (higher/lower vibration frequency), so TOUR‘s rocking rig probably would not work – it simply moves too slowly to replicate suspension losses at normal cycling speeds.
That brings us back to the steel drums. You’d have to make the drum huge to reduce the problems with the convex surface. The drum surface itself would have to be a true replica of actual pavement, not just a diamond tread. You’d probably want to map a bunch of road surfaces with a laser and then use EDM (electrical discharge machining) to engrave an ‘average’ road surface into the steel drum surface. You could make interchangeable plates covering the drum with several road surfaces that feature different roughnesses. And why not a gravel road, too?
To validate your test rig, you’d take a fast, a middling and a slow tire, and test them on the road, just like Bicycle Quarterly has done. If your drum test results match those on the real road, then you can be confident that they replicate real-world conditions.
Back to Real-Road Testing
As you can see, making a useful test rig is a huge undertaking, which is probably why nobody has done it yet. For now, tire companies continue to develop their tires with the help of simple steel drum tests. That may be the reason why they don’t offer their supple high-performance models in truly wide versions: The steel drum tests indicate that you lose performance quickly as you run tires at lower pressures. And since supple, wide tires cannot support high pressures, steel drum tests suggest that wider tires should strong and not supple.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ll continue to test tires on real roads. To get good results, we can’t just put a power meter on a bike and go for a ride, then change the tires and repeat. We must keep the conditions the same for all tests. First, this means testing in a controlled setting, like a track. Second, we must control the variables tightly: test only on days with no wind and constant temperature, test each tire multiple times, and do a rigorous statistical analysis of the results.
The statistics are important, because there always will be some ‘noise’ – even in a lab test, because the tire warms up the longer you run it on the machines. The statistical analysis shows where you are recording real differences between tires and where you just see ‘noise.’
After more than a decade of testing tires under real-world conditions, we can say with certainty:
- Supple casings, more than anything else, determine the performance of your tires.
- Wider tires roll as fast as narrow ones on smooth surfaces, and faster on rough ones.
- Higher tire pressures don’t make the bike faster.
There is little doubt about these findings any longer – they’ve become widely accepted, even though the lab tests still haven’t caught up to the new science. But for us as riders, what matters is how well our tires perform on real roads, not on a steel drum.
During the last week, Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles have been mentioned in several news stories. The popular web site www.bikepacking.com featured an article about converting a 700C bike to 650B. They wrote: “The benefits are fairly obvious. Wider tires offer more floatation, a more supple ride, and are all around better suited to dirt and gravel surfaces. They can also be just as fast as road tires.”
They equipped their bike with Compass Switchback Hill 650B x 48 mm tires, and we talked about some of the things to consider in these conversions: clearances, bottom bracket height, gearing, etc. The article is a great introduction if you’ve looking into running 650B wheels on your disc-brake bike.
It’s not every day that you get a call from Matt Wiebe, the editor of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News: “We’re working on a cover story about big car tire brands like Pirelli and Goodyear entering the bicycle tire market. We’d like to talk to Compass as one of the established smaller brands in the high-end tire market.”
In the article, Wiebe explains how Goodyear is proud to offer 100 SKUs (Stock Keeping Units), while Pirelli plans to expand into gravel tires, quoting their head of sales: “Gravel is growing in Europe, and I think it will quickly be a big part of the road market.”
Matt Wiebe contrasts this with Compass, explaining how our program “grew out of the tires we needed to do the type of riding we liked — long rides in the mountains on road and dirt surfaces.” The article shows how the industry is trying to catch up with the trend toward high-performance tires – a trend that caught them by surprise because it originated with riders and not with the industry.
Global Cycling Network has brought the latest research about tires into the mainstream. In a recent segment, they looked at why you need lower pressures to make wider tires perform better. They talk about suspension losses – crediting Bicycle Quarterly (Thank you!) – and test different tire pressures on cobbles. No surprise: When the going gets really rough, the lowest pressures roll fastest.
Earlier, GCN took three bikes to the same cobbles: a racing, a cyclocross and a mountain bike (below).
Again, readers of BQ and of this blog will not be surprised: The bike with the widest tires was fastest. In GCN‘s test, it was the mountain bike, even though the data showed a lower power output when the riders were on the mountain bike. The explanation is simple: The lower suspension losses more than made up for the mtb’s wider Q factor, lack of ‘planing,’ etc., that limited the tester’s power output.
Now imagine if GCN had tested a true allroad bike instead of the mountain bike! A bike like my Firefly (above), which enables the rider to put out the same power as on their racing bike and which has tires as wide as their mountain bike, plus its more supple tires reduce rolling resistance and suspension losses even further. From our own on-the-road experiences, we know that it would easily outperform the mountain bike. Perhaps we’ll see that test in a future episode – for now, GCN already is pushing the limits of what a mainstream cycling audience finds believable…
With all this exposure, it’s nice to see that many of the ideas we’ve championed over the last 15 years are getting widely accepted. Click on the images above to read the full stories!
In the history of derailleurs, Huret is an often-overlooked. The French company cannot lay claim to big innovations like Campagnolo (first parallelogram racing derailleur), Simplex (first spring-loaded upper pivot to compensate for front shifts) or SunTour (slant parallelogram). And yet Huret’s derailleurs were innovative in their own ways.
Hideki Sasaki has added a new books on Huret to his “Derailleurs of the World” series. These books are the most complete catalogues of classic derailleurs. Every derailleur is shown in photos, with dates and a few specs.
On 107 pages, the book describes every derailleur Huret made from 1930 until the company, by then owned by the German component maker Sachs, was taken over by SRAM in 1997, and derailleur manufacture in Europe ceased.
Huret’s first racing derailleurs were unremarkable ‘plunger-type’ items, but when the company branched out into cyclotouring derailleurs, it showed that it was capable of lateral thinking (above): The ultra-light Route Touriste Leger was made from aluminum and used spring wire for the derailleur mounts and cages. How light was it? 173 g – lighter than any long-cage derailleur available today.
The innovation continued with the 1958 Allvit, which was the first drop-out mounted derailleur that featured a constant chain gap – achieved by suspending the parallelogram from the bottom of a steel arm that mounted to the dropout. A few years later, the Allvit directly inspired SunTour’s slant parallelogram derailleurs.
During this time, Huret’s derailleurs were considered the best-shifting and most durable derailleurs for the wide gear ranges. Both René Herse and Alex Singer equipped most of their bikes with the Allvit, Luxe and superlight Jubilee derailleurs that remained in the program for 35 years.
All of Huret’s later derailleurs were very light – even unassuming models like the Challenger weighed a scant 170 g. And then there were the titanium versions…
My favorite is the Duopar – a tour de force with a secondary parallelogram that moved automatically, pulled by the chain tension, to keep the jockey pulley at the perfect distance from the freewheel cog, no matter what size freewheel you used. It was pure genius, and the story goes that Shimano formed an entire team of engineers whose job it was to equal the Duopar. Little did they know that the idea had been pioneered by Schulz’s Funiculo in the 1930s, and Huret’s patent probably could have been challenged. Unfortunately, the Japanese text in Sasaki’s book covers only the details of the derailleurs, not the story behind them, so even Japanese speakers never learn whether Huret’s engineers were aware of the Funiculo, or whether they independently came up with the same idea.
As with all of Sasaki’s books, Huret is very detailed: Every iteration of each derailleur is listed. What struck me was that compared to Sasaki’s books on Campagnolo, Simplex and SunTour, there were relatively few iterations for each Huret model. It appears that Huret only introduced derailleurs after thorough testing, and avoiding the need for immediate changes to improve their function and/or reliability.
The book includes front derailleurs and shift levers, including the fascinating ‘Louison Bobet’ models with a secondary lever for adjusting the chain tension.
These books are a labor of love. They are printed on heavy coated stock. The photos may not have the sparkle of the best professional studio images, but they are clear and informative. The descriptions are brief, and unfortunately for most of us, they are in Japanese. Yet the important details are easy to figure out: model number, weight, production dates, and price in Yen.
These books are printed in very small quantities and are difficult to find outside Japan. We are placing a one-time order with Hideo Sasaki. In addition to the new Huret book, he has a few of the earlier volumes.
If you would like a copy, pre-order it by April 29. We won’t stock these books, so please order now if you would like one. The books will be shipped in late May/early June.
Click on the links to order:
- Huret, 108 pages, $ 68
- Campagnolo (above), 100 pages, $ 68
- Simplex, 117 pages, $ 68
- SunTour, 2 volumes, 208 pages, $ 95
Last weekend, we headed to Jikkoku Pass to work on the old road that has featured in several Bicycle Quarterly adventures. Tokyo’s Yama Sai Ken, or Mountain Cycling Club, has ‘adopted’ the road and goes there twice a year to maintain it.
For us, this was a remarkable trip into the Japan of tales and movies. The melancholy as we passed through vestiges of the past was balanced by the joyful promise of early summer.
Like most cyclotouring trips here in Japan, it started by subway, with our bikes in their Rinko bags.
When you buy an old-style cardboard ticket to board a small train, it feels a bit like traveling back in time.
After we un-Rinko’ed our bikes at the final station, the mountains beckoned with fresh green.
The roads became smaller and smaller, until they were just a single lane. I remarked to Natsuko that anywhere else, this amazing road would be famous, but here in Japan, it’s just another mountain road.
We had brought some food for a picnic lunch…
… because there are no stores along the way. The next town was a mining town, but nobody lives there any longer. The old post office is the only building still operating, albeit not on Saturdays.
We explored the abandoned buildings.
The schoolhouse still had a blackboard and the teacher’s desk.
It could have been spooky, but the cherry trees were in full bloom. On a day like this, the world seemed young, and it felt completely normal that people had left after the town had outlived its usefulness.
Upvalley from the mining town, the road was closed for cars, but on our bikes, we could continue. After an hour of climbing, we crested the tunnel at the top of the pass.
We let our bikes fly down the descent. As we rounded a corner, we found the road blocked by a rockslide. Good thing our brakes worked well! Now we knew why the road was closed for cars. For us, it was only a minor obstacle.
A fast, winding descent brought us to the valley, where we joined the other Yama Sai Ken members on the riverbank. We pitched our tent and joined the campfire.
The next morning, we rode up to the village of Ueno-mura. The new road climbs at 14%, but we took the old road that is even steeper, because it’s shorter and nicer.
Nobody seems to know how steep the old road is, but it certainly is steep. After a while, we surrendered to the grade. Even when walking, it felt like I was pushing my bike up a vertical wall!
We joined the other members and the villagers on the old road to Jikkoku Pass. If you watched the video of riding across the pass on New Year’s Day, you saw the sea of dry leaves covering the road.
For many years, the Yama Sai Ken members have worked on removing the leaves, clearing small slides, and generally rebuilding the road. The local villagers also worked on the road, and they wondered about the invisible elves who sometimes already had done some of the work. Only three years ago did the cyclists and villagers finally meet on the trail. They decided to join forces and work together from then on.
As we used hoes and rakes to clear leaves and debris, I recognized the spot where, three-and-a-half years ago, my front wheel lost its footing, and my ‘Mule’ plunged into the ravine. The bike somersaulted more than 30 m (100 ft) down the steep slope, flying higher and higher each time it bounced off the ground. I thought my brand-new ‘Mule’ would be destroyed, but the bike only suffered a few minor dents – even ultralight steel is incredibly strong! I was unharmed, too. Today, I worked doubly hard to make sure the trail was in good shape here, because it’s not something I want anybody to repeat.
After we finished working on the trail, we joined the villagers for a delicious lunch. They told us how previous generations used the old road to carry rice across the pass.
After lunch, one of the ladies took us around the village to show us the flowers and vegetables. She told us another story from the history of the village: When Christianity was outlawed in Japan (the missionaries were feared as the vanguard of colonialism), the villagers took in Christians who did not want to renounce their faith. When Christians died, their gravestones were marked with disguised crosses. We went to the cemetery, where we found the old gravestones. (I didn’t take photos, because in Japan, it’s not proper to photograph graves.)
Then it was time to go. We cycled down the valley…
…climbed another mountain pass on a backroad that turned into narrow gravel trail…
…before arriving at the train station for the long trip back to Tokyo. What a wonderful weekend it had been!
One of the hardest parts of bike fit is the width of the handlebars. There are many recommendations, but not all make sense. For decades, racers have been told that handlebars should match the width of their shoulders – but nobody seems to agree how to measure shoulder width! Let’s look at what we know about handlebar width.
Historically, handlebar width has matched the handling of racing bikes. When bikes had slack head angles and much wheel flop (1920s), bars were very wide: 46–48 cm was common to provide the leverage required to keep the bike going straight. When low-trail geometries were popular (1940s), bars shrank to 38 cm – that was enough to guide the bikes with a light touch. Narrow tires made the bikes less stable again (1970s), and bars grew to 42 cm. I wrote about that in detail here, but even that is not the full story.
Bike Radar recently had a feature about one of the tallest riders in the professional peloton, Jan-Willem van Schip, who uses ultra-narrow Nitto handlebars – measuring just 38 cm. (Bike Radar‘s sensationalist number of 32 cm is measured at the top of the hoods.) Regardless of how we measure van Schip’s bars, they are very narrow. That raises the question: Why does such a tall rider use such narrow bars?
The answer is simple: aerodynamics. Being so tall, van Schip needs every advantage he can get. Other pros also use relatively narrow bars: 40 and 42 cm are the norm. That got me thinking about the advantages of narrow handlebars. Here are a few:
- More aerodynamic: Bicycle Quarterly‘s wind tunnel tests found that lowering the stem by 2 cm reduced the rider’s wind resistance by 5%. Using handlebars that are 2 cm narrower probably has a similar effect – about twice the benefit of aero wheels (2-3%)!
- Easier to thread through narrow spaces: That is why track racers use narrow handlebars, and why I prefer them when riding through forests and in crowded cyclocross races.
- More comfortable for riders who bend their elbows: Your elbows can articulate inward, not outward, so (relatively) narrow handlebars work great for riders who bend their elbows to absorb shocks and guide their bikes with a light touch. Bars that are too wide can cause shoulder pains for these riders. Few riders need bars as narrow as Jan-Willem van Schip’s 38s, but 40–42 cm seems to work well for many riders. For me, 44 cm-wide bars are too wide for comfort on long rides.
- Weight: It’s not just the 2 cm of extra aluminum tubing: A wider bar exerts extra leverage, so it needs to be stronger. Nitto makes Compass handlebars to our exclusive ‘Superlight’ specification from thinwall, heat-treated tubing. However, this tubing can only be used for handlebars up to 42 cm wide – it doesn’t pass fatigue tests if the bars are wider. So our wider handlebars are made to Nitto’s ‘Lightweight’ specification, which, while still lightweight, is a bit heavier.
How narrow can you go? At some point, you will no longer have enough leverage over the steering. Guiding the bike becomes less intuitive, and countering crosswinds and bumps will require too much force. The bike becomes less fun to ride. But as Jan-Willem van Schip shows, you can go quite narrow. In fact, I’d love to send him a set of Compass bars, which are much lighter than the Nittos he took off an old touring bike, but we don’t offer our bars that narrow!
Wide handlebars also have their place, and some riders and bikes are better with them. Here are their main advantages:
- More leverage is good on high-trail bikes: Wide handlebars are almost a requirement on bikes with high-trail geometries, because there is so much wheel flop. With the extra leverage of wide handlebars, these bikes are easier to keep going straight. The wide bars also provide leverage in tight spaces off-road, when you want to turn the handlebars immediately, without first setting up the bike with subtle weight shifts.
- More comfortable for riders who lock their elbows: Our upper arms connect to our shoulders at an angle, and if you lock your elbows, your entire arms splay outward slightly. If your handlebars are too narrow, your shoulders feel strained when riding in this position. Bars that are wider than your shoulders feel more natural if you ride with your elbows locked.
There is another consideration: If you use a handlebar bag, it needs to fit with room for your hands to hold onto the bars. Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag bags are designed to provide a perfect fit with 42 cm-wide Compass handlebars (above).
Most of all, the width of your handlebars is based on personal preference, and that’s why we offer our Compass handlebars in widths from 40 to 46 cm. This covers the range for most cyclists – except that we apparently need a 38 cm version made specially for ultra-tall professional racers!
Rene Herse Cycles is the exclusive North American distributor for Gilles Berthoud. We are especially excited about their saddles, which combine amazing comfort with modern design and superior durability.
All Berthoud saddle tops are cut in the grain direction of the leather, which means that they won’t sag or become lopsided. Unfortunately, most other saddle makers try instead to get as may saddles as possible out of each cowhide. That often turns into a false economy when the saddles wear out prematurely.
Berthoud forms their saddle tops in CNC-machined molds to create a very consistent quality. With consistent leather grain and shape, it’s not the luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a bad one – they all are excellent.
The undercarriages are made from composite, which is more durable than steel and better at absorbing shocks. It’s one of the key reasons why these saddles are so comfortable.
The saddles are assembled with custom bolts rather than rivets, so they are easy to rebuild. Each saddle’s serial number is engraved on the nose bolt. Berthoud saddles come in three shapes for different riding styles:
The Galibier is Berthoud’s lightest saddle, weighing just 346 g thanks to its minimalist shape and titanium rails. It’s a great saddle for riders with a low, performance-oriented position, who prefer a relatively narrow saddle. That said, the Galibier is still a bit wider than modern ‘racing’ saddles for long-distance comfort. The same shape is available with more economical steel rails as the Soulor model.
The Aspin and Aravis have slightly wider rears, making them perfect for a more relaxed riding position. The Aspin has steel rails, while the Aravis’s titanium rails save 50 grams. The ti rails also add comfort, because titanium is more flexible than steel.
The Marie-Blanque (steel) and Agnel (ti) are women’s saddles with shorter noses than the other models. The names of Berthoud saddles are taken from mountain passes: Saddles with steel rails are named after cols in the Pyrenees, while titanium-railed saddles carry the names of passes in the Alps.
All Berthoud saddles – except the superlight Galibier – are also available in ‘Open’ versions with a cutout to relieve pressure. I usually don’t like saddles with cutouts, because the edges tend to chafe. I was surprised when I tried the Berthoud Open saddle: The shape of this cutout disappeared completely, and the saddle was comfortable from the first ride. If you are concerned about pressure, this is probably the most comfortable saddle you’ll ever find.
Why isn’t the Galibier available with a cutout? Its minimalist shape simply doesn’t have enough leather to remove material from the center without losing its strength.
All Berthoud saddles – except, once again, the Galibier – can be equipped with a KlickFix attachment to easily mount saddlebags, whether Berthoud’s or those from other manufacturers. Two screws attach the KlickFix attaches to the saddle frame, and the bag just klicks into it. This provides a stable connection – the bag won’t sway or come off, even on the roughest terrain. Alternatively, for riders who prefer to carry a traditional British saddlebag, two saddlebag loops are integrated into the frame.
Berthoud saddles are totally serviceable. This means that you can change a worn-out top, or even change your saddle top from a ‘Standard’ to an ‘Open’ (or vice versa). If you want to save weight, you can replace steel rails with titanium. We keep all spare parts in stock.
With all these choices, plus four different colors (tan, brown, black and the cool ‘cork’), most riders will find their perfect saddle in the Berthoud program. Having ridden them all, it’s hard to pick a favorite, because they all work so well. Berthoud saddles really are a cut above the rest.
To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling – things we all used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. During these 15 years we’ve learned a lot, and perhaps the most intriguing discovery is that modern parts aren’t as light as some classics. In some cases, there are functional reasons why modern parts are heavier. At other times, modern parts really could be lighter. Continue Reading →
At Compass Cycles, we are excited to sponsor the 2018 Swift Campout, a global call to go bike camping. On the weekend of the summer solstice (June 23 & 24), take your bike on an overnight trip – alone, with friends, or with one of the groups organized as part of the Campout. There are no rules and no fees; just go!
We love riding our bikes to the end of the road, pitching a tent and spending the night under the stars, then continuing to ride the next day. These overnighters are our most memorable rides, but they also can seem difficult to make happen. That is why we love the Campout – it inspires cyclists to make it happen and go on that bike camping trip they’ve only dreamed about!
As part of the Campout, Compass Cycles will sponsor a photo contest for the most evocative, inspirational, and just plain amazing photos that show cyclotouring off the beaten path. Details will be announced soon…
Now is the time to dream and make plans. Most of the BQ Team‘s rides start with a call or message: “I was looking at a map, and I noticed this road that we haven’t checked out yet…” From there, we brainstorm and string together new roads and old favorites, come up with plans, change them, and envision a great trip… The preparations are almost as much fun as the ride itself, and they heighten the anticipation. And then, when we finally are on the road, it always turns out even better than we thought. I can’t think of a single trip that we’ve regretted!
Why don’t you call or message your friends and start making plans, too? Click here for more information about the Swift Campout.
Need more inspiration? Here are some of my favorite trips from past issues of Bicycle Quarterly:
- ‘Volcano High Pass Super Randonnée’ was an epic 39-hour adventure of non-stop mountain riding on gravel roads (BQ 45).
- ‘Search for the Secret Passes’ took us on uncharted roads in the heart of the Cascades (BQ 47).
- ‘To the end of the road on Carbon Glacier’ saw us leave work on Friday night and camp under the stars of Mount Rainier just five hours later (BQ 53).
- ‘Cyclotouring the Volcano High Pass Route’ took in some of the most amazing roads of the Cascades at a leisurely pace (BQ 55).
To inspire you for your own Campout, we now offer these Bicycle Quarterlies as a convenient four-pack. Click here for more information.
Seattle, April 1, 2018: Compass Cycles is proud to introduce the new René Herse quadruple and quintuple cranks. We are one of the few manufacturers of triple cranks with a wide selection of chainrings, and we’ve received requests for even more choices.
There is a historic precedent for this: Alex Singer showed a bike with quadruple cranks at the 1973 Salon de Cycle in Paris (above). The idea never caught on – back then, cyclists were conservative and unwilling to try new things. Now, I feel that the time has come to go beyond three chainrings…
But why stop at four? In addition to quadruple Rene Herse cranks, we’ll offer quintuple configurations, too. (In the photo above, the chainring teeth reflect in the polished surfaces, making it look like there are even more chainrings!)
As always with our cranks, you can freely choose their chainrings between 52 and 24 teeth. Converting existing cranks is easy, too: All you need are extra spacers and longer chainring bolts. A bit more difficult is fitting the cranks on your bike: You’ll need a longer bottom bracket spindle and a front derailleur that moves further outward to span the four or five chainrings. Both these essential components are under development – the photos show prototypes.
We have tested the quintuple cranks for many thousands of miles on several bikes. How do they ride?
Obviously, the appeal isn’t to have 55 gears (if you use a modern 11-speed drivetrain), because nobody needs that many… The advantage of multiple chainrings is that you can always ride in the middle of the cassette. If your speed changes due to terrain or wind, simply shift a few cogs on the rear to keep your cadence in its optimal range. And if you do need to make a front shift, the steps between chainrings are small – no need to ‘compensate’ on the rear, just shift and keep going. And with the chainrings spanning a huge gear range, you can use a closely-spaced cassette with very small steps between gears. After riding them for a few months now, I have to say, quintuple cranks are a gearhead’s nirvana.
I set up my prototype with a 50-44-38-32-26 combination, because the evenly spaced chainrings really highlight the beauty of the Rene Herse cranks. On the road, the 50-tooth chainring is perfect for those jam sessions on a slight downhill with a tailwind. Instead of being at the bottom end of my cassette (with a 46-tooth ring), I now can accelerate at will, knowing I’ll always have a bigger gear if I need it. The 44-tooth is perfect for fast ‘normal’ riding at 18-22 mph. The 38T is for days when I feel a bit less sprightly. The 32T gets me up most hills, and the 26T is for those really steep ones that I encounter only rarely, but where I used to walk my bike.
Drawbacks? Apart from the need for a custom BB spindle and front derailleur, quintuple chainrings add a little weight. This isn’t the crank to use for the Concours de Machines! Fortunately, the basic design of the Rene Herse cranks is so light that even the quintuple configuration weighs only 603 g – not much more than most 1980s mountain bike cranks.
The Q factor is a bit wider, but at 177 mm, it’s no worse than many modern ‘gravel’ cranks. Chainline can be a concern, but realistically, you’ll use the bigger chainrings with the smaller cogs of the cassette, the middle with the middle, and so on. It helps to use a tandem-spec rear hub with 145 mm spacing, as that moves the chainline outward to match the crank.
When can you get one? Testing of the prototypes is complete, and the longer BB spindles and chainring bolts are in production. We are now working on 11-speed compatible chainrings with ramps and pins to make the shifts even smoother. Front derailleurs are in the works – in the mean time, you can ask your builder to make a custom one, or just move the chain by hand. If you want to use brifters, we are working with Wolf Tooth on an adapter that will get four and five clicks out of a standard STI, Ergopower or DoubleTap lever. If you prefer electronic shifting, it’s easy to reprogram the software to offer more steps.
Quadruple and quintuple chainrings are fun. Why don’t you try them on your bike? And if you don’t like them, you can always convert them to a triple or double – that’s the beauty of Rene Herse’s timeless design.
Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.
In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three complete tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. The Superlight set is the lightest steel tubeset available today, great for riders who prefer a flexible frame. The ‘Mule’ set uses an oversized down tube for a little firmer feel. It’s also better for carrying a front camping load.
The Oversize tubeset is made from thinwall oversized tubing to offer the ultimate performance for those who prefer a somewhat stiffer frame. Riders with a heavier build often have a higher power output, and they can benefit from a stiffer frame.
The oversize top tube with ultra-thin 0.7-0.4-0.7 mm walls adds stiffness to the frame without detracting from its lively feel. Kaisei keeps the ‘belly’ of the down tube to a slightly more conservative 0.5 mm, instead of the ultra-thin 0.4 mm, because the large-diameter tubes dent too easily when they are too thin. (Down tubes are larger than top tubes, making them less convex and easier to dent.) Since our tubes are available with longer ‘bellies,’ they are still lighter than other tubes with thinner-wall, but shorter, bellies.
How does a bike made with the Oversize tubeset ride? I’ve ridden a few bikes built around this tubeset, and they feel subtly different from mine. They still ‘plane’ – by most standards, this tubeset is very light and still has flex in the right places – but they do have a more planted feel. For me, they work best with a higher power output and a slightly lower cadence.
Interestingly, descending feels the same on all our bikes, regardless of the tubes used in the frame. We’ve found that frame stiffness makes little difference in how a bike handles – which makes sense when you consider that there are no significant side loads on a frame when you aren’t pedaling.
The Oversize tubeset is a great choice if you want or need a little more stiffness in your frame than our other Kaisei tubesets offer. That makes it perfect for tall, heavy and/or strong riders. This is also the tubeset I’d chose for a camping bike that carries rear panniers in addition to a front load. Above you see both my ‘Mule’ and Hahn’s Oversize bike on top of Shirabiso Pass in Japan during the Nihon Alps 600 km Super Randonnée – each bike perfect for its rider during this challenging ride.
The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.
- Superlight tubeset with standard-diameter, ultrathin tubes
- ‘Mule’ tubeset with a stiffer down tube and superlight top tube
- Rene Herse braze-ons and other framebuilding parts
In this guest post, Bicycle Quarterly editor Natsuko Hirose takes you on a cyclotouring reunion in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Translated from Natsuko’s blog Touge to Onsen:
I like bicycles and cyclotouring, but I especially like traveling. When I think about where I want to go next, my heart skips a beat with excitement. Passhunting, visiting Onsen hot springs, eating good meals… During my busy life, it’s easy to forget the small things that make this world so beautiful. When I go cyclotouring, I notice them all the more.
During the last few years, I’ve lived both in Seattle and Tokyo. As I spend more time away from Japan, I notice its beauty even more than I did in the past. This time, I visited the Soya area of Hokkaido, where Ms. K, a friend since college, now lives with her family. For a long time, I’ve wanted to visit her, but the opportunity didn’t present itself.
Last autumn, I went to lunch with my best friend, Mr. Y, and we talked about her. He immediately concurred: “Yes, let’s go!” We send a message to Ms. K, and she replied almost immediately: “Anytime! Please come and visit!” It felt like our university days – so easy to make plans.
Our plan quickly grew in scope. While we were in Hokkaido, we should go cyclotouring! So Mr. Y decided to bring his bike as well.
Our schedules didn’t allow traveling together, so we met in Wakkanai, Japan’s northernmost town. I flew from Tokyo. Japan’s baggage handlers are reasonably careful, so I just packed my bike in its lightweight Rinko bag. Mr. Y came by overnight bus.
Our plan was simple: “Let’s meet at 8 a.m. at a small intersection in Wakkanai.” When we were in college, we often met at city parks or railway stations to start our trips. In the early morning, I received a message: “My bus is getting close to the intersection now.” So I left my hotel and cycled over to the meeting point.
Mr. Y was already there. Even though Wakkanai is almost 1000 km (640 miles) north of Tokyo, it was as easy as meeting somewhere in Tokyo. It was a giddy feeling to see him so far from home. I thought how much I appreciate cyclotouring and good friends.
Mr. Y already had put together his custom-built Toyo. Every time I see it, I marvel at the clearcoated frame that shows the brass of the fillet-brazing. It’s neat!
After saying “Hello,” we mount our bikes and cycle on the famous Ororon Line road along the Sea of Japan. Later, we’ll turn inland to Toyotomi town in the interior of the Soya region. Toyotomi is famous for its Onsen hot springs with black water that smells of petroleum. When I cycled around Hokkaido as a student, I just rode through the town. Now I am looking forward to staying here and enjoying the hot springs.
As we ride along, it suddenly starts raining incredibly hard. There is no time to put on my jacket, my rain pants, my saddle cover, nor even take a photo… Within seconds, I am completely soaked.
Fortunately, we reach Bakkai station just in time to escape from the rain. This train station is famous as the setting of the 1983 movie Nankyoku Monogatari. The story of the movie and its Disney remake Eight Below is famous in Japan, but too long to tell here.
Bakkai station is also famous among railroad enthusiasts, because it’s the northernmost wooden railway station in Japan. After waiting out the rain for two hours, we restart our ride. Fortunately, we are not in a rush today!
We haven’t planned our route in detail – just go south, then turn inland. We cycle on small, empty farm roads that meander through the fields.
The Sea of Japan is famous for its beautiful sunsets, so we decide to stay on the coast and watch the sunset. The Sarobetsu Wetlands form one of the largest meadows in Japan. The large scale of Hokkaido’s landscape really sinks in here – so different from the steep mountains and deep valleys that make up the rest of Japan. It’s Japan’s ‘Big Sky Country.’
When we arrive, the sun is already setting. There are no tourists at this late hour, and we enjoy the wooden walkways that lead across the meadows. The quiet magnificence makes our visit an almost spiritual experience.
We recall our college antics and jump in the air. When we look at the photos, we laugh: We don’t jump as high as we used to!
The sun vanishes into the Sea of Japan and illuminates Rishiri Island, a 1700 m (5600 ft) volcano that seems to float on the sea. I decide that, some day, I’ll climb Mt. Rishiri!
The sunset is beautiful, but it also reminds us that we must hurry to our hotel. There are no streetlights in rural Hokkaido! We enjoy half an hour of night riding before arriving at our hotel in complete darkness. (We have good lights.) We head to the Onsen hot bath with its pungent, black water. Even though the reputation of this Onsen is well known, we are surprised how strong the smell and how dark the water really is. Even though I love Onsen, I cannot stay in the water very long. But it is fun!
The next morning, we continue our inland ride until we have crossed over to the Sea of Okhotsk.
Once again, we don’t have a set route. We check the map and pick small roads toward Sarufutsu village, where our friend Ms. K lives. How about trying some gravel roads? We don’t know how rough the gravel will be… If it’s no fun, we can return to the main road. Today, we have time for exploring.
We find a wide farm road that is remarkably smooth, and we follow it for 17 km (10 miles).
Another detour takes us to the North Okhotsk cyclepath. In some parts, this paved path is bumpier than the gravel road we rode on earlier! As a former railroad grade, this path is very flat. My mind wanders, and I imagine old B&W photos of steam trains chugging along this route. Even on this sunny and bright day, I feel nostalgic.
Adding to our collection of roads is the Esanuka Line, which is famous among cyclists and motorbike riders because it spears in a straight line across a totally flat landscape, with not even a power line interrupting its ‘horizontalness.’ For Japanese, riding in a straight line beyond the horizon is very remarkable. For 30 minutes, it feels almost like the famous Route 66 across the American West.
Moving closer to the sea, we find a narrow road paved with white gravel. We can smell the ocean as the stones crunch under our tires. Suddenly, we realize that the road is not paved with stones at all – we are riding on crushed seashells!
Small paths lead to the water. We look over the sea on one side and the landscape of Soya on the other, and we talk about how this region’s great variety and unique feel make it a perfect destination for cyclotourists.
Our cycling trip ends as we pull up at Ms. K’s house. It’s fun to arrive by bike, as if we just had ridden across Tokyo to visit a friend. But nobody is home!
We call Ms. K, and learn that she is waiting on the main road, wanting to surprise us and take our photo as we arrive. But we took a backroad and reached her house from the other side. We laugh about this ‘mishap’ – again, it feels just like our college days.
Sarufutsu is famous for its ‘free-range’ scallops. For dinner, Ms. K teaches us the different ways to cook the fresh mollusks that have been harvested only this morning. We make sashimi, we fry them, and we sautée them with butter. Accompanied by lively conversation, we enjoy our private reunion.
For our last day on Hokkaido, we’ve planned to go sightseeing with Ms. K and her family, but the hard rain keeps us in the car. We talk about our school days, our present lives and our plans for the future – just like we’ve always done when we meet.
I am very happy. Visiting Ms. K together has made the trip even more special. In the past, Mr. Y or I have visited her alone and sent photos, which made the other all the more envious. Now we can all share the fun.
That afternoon, we say goodbye at Wakkanai Airport. Mr. Y has to return to Tokyo, while I will cycle around Hokkaido for another week. This trip has been filled with small adventures and exciting discoveries, and I look forward to more…
This and other stories are available in Japanese on Natsuko’s blog, Touge to Onsen (From Mountain Pass to Hot Spring).
I love the unscripted spontaneity of live interviews, where neither side knows the questions and answers in advance. When I sat down down with Russ Roca of Path Less Pedaled, we talked about how Bicycle Quarterly got started, what inspires Compass products, and how the bikes we ride have changed dramatically in recent years. Click on the image above to watch the interview. Enjoy!
When tubeless tires first became available, they were designed for mountain bikes and it was their resistance to pinch flats (above) that made them popular. Off-road, there are few nails or broken bottles that can cause punctures (and even those usually will be pushed into the soft ground rather than puncture the tire), but rims can bottom out on sharp rocks and other obstacles. So much so, in fact, that top mountain bike racers used to race on tubular tires – because tubular rims make pinch flats less likely. Eliminating tubes did the same, and while you still could ‘burp’ the tire, in general, tubeless allowed running lower pressures with fewer problems. Continue Reading →
“A supremely grippy, comfortable, fast tubeless tyre with no downsides” is the verdict of the popular British web site www.road.cc. Tester Mike Stead goes on to explain how he used the Barlow Pass tires: “After months of trying, I smashed a 1km Strava sprint segment, knocking five seconds off my previous best and setting a KOM benchmark that the previous holder is going to be hurting to regain.”
Of course, Compass tires aren’t just known for their speed, and Mike enthuses about the “supreme comfort” and “prodigious amounts of grip for cornering and braking.” Reading this, you might think that he’s a friend or relative, or that we paid him to review these tires. But no, all our British distributor Sven Cycles did was send a set of tires.
When Mike went “properly off-road into rooted and rocky singletrack,” he found that “the super-supple casing deformed around and gripped to trail irregularities with amazing ease.” When I read this, I really wanted to join Mike Steed on his rides. It sounds like he was having a lot of fun on his Compass tyres! But instead of telling you more about the review, why don’t you read it yourself?
The Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly celebrates how past, present and future have come together to enrich our cycling enjoyment. As we venture off the beaten path into amazing landscapes and toward memorable adventures, we take inspiration from the past, benefit from current technical developments, and shape the future of cycling.
Take the Torino-Nice Rally, which straddles the crest of the Alps all the way from Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Sea: Thomas Hassler describes the landscapes and emotions of this incredible ride. His stunning photos will make you dream of putting some wide tires on your bike, packing a lightweight bag or two, and heading into the mountains yourself!
It was for this terrain that Jo Routens designed his bikes. We bring you the full story of this inspirational randonneur and builder, whose skill with the torch was matched by his riding prowess. Studio photos of three wonderful classics complement evocative images from the Routens family archives.
With Lyli Herse we have lost one of the greats of French cycling. To celebrate her life, we take a very personal look at Lyli beyond her role as eight-time French champion and daughter of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ Discover the real Lyli through stories and anecdotes, many told in her own words.
Perhaps you’ve already seen the video of our passhunting adventure in the Japanese Alps. It was the perfect ride that played to the strengths of our test bike, a beautiful titanium Caletti Monstercross.
We didn’t just hunt passes in Japan, we also took the Caletti on some of our favorite rides in the Cascades, where we compared it to my Firefly allroad bike. Both bikes are equipped with titanium frames, wide tires and drop handlebars, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Where does the Caletti’s high-trail geometry shine, and where does the Firefly’s low-trail setup bring advantages? We took both bikes to the limit to find out. The result surprised us, and it adds to our growing understanding of bicycle geometry and handling.
It was on the roads and trails of the Cascades that the idea of the ‘allroad’ bike was first conceived more than a decade ago. When we realized that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones, our riding was liberated: No longer did we need to seek out smooth pavement to enjoy the sensation of effortless gliding. Looking back over 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly (and beyond), we chronicle the development of wide high-performance tires, including anecdotes like Peter Weigle (above) shaving the tread off prototype tires for our testing. This is the story behind the trend that is now sweeping the bike industry.
We take you inside Davidson & Kullaway, one of the oldest custom frame shops in the country, and just around the corner from us here in Seattle. Bill Davidson reminisces about the days when the shop made 750 frames a year, and when he traveled to Japan to have the very best lugs custom-made, which allowed Davidson to make bikes efficiently without cutting corners. He tells us why he prefers brass over silver brazing, and why it’s so hard to make the current generation of allroad bikes. Davidson’s partner Max Kullaway provides insights into the origins of titanium bikes and discusses the intricacies of welding frames.
Tubeless tires are useful to avoid pinch flats when riding in rough terrain. Our illustrated step-by-step guide shows you how to set up your tires tubeless with just a floor pump. A few tricks will go a long way toward making your first tubeless installation a success.
It’s exciting to see a BQ-inspired bike at an affordable price point. For $ 1420, the Masi Speciale Randonneur features wide tires, a low-trail geometry, and even metal fenders. How does it ride on the road? We tested it to find out.
Mountain bikes have dropped a bit out of the limelight lately, but they still have their place. Natsuko Hirose talks about her ride on a beautiful custom-made Steve Rex mountain bike, and how it feels different from riding the passhunter she uses to explore the Japanese Alps.
Subscribers will get the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly within the next few weeks. Don’t miss it – subscribe today!
From time to time, a customer will ask us: “How are Rene Herse and Compass tires different from Panaracers?” It’s no secret that Panaracer makes our tires – we benefit from the research and technology of one of the best tire makers in the world. Panaracer’s engineers know more about casings and tread rubber than almost anybody, and they translate our ideas into tires that outperform all others in their intended environments.
That also means that it may not be immediately obvious how our tires are different from Panaracer’s own tires, like the Gravelking – or even Panaracer’s budget model, the Pasela. At first sight, with tan sidewalls and black tread rubber, they can look very similar. They are even made in the same factory!
Recently, we had the opportunity to spend some time with Mark Okada from Panaracer Japan (right) and Jeff Zell from Panaracer USA (left). When I mentioned the Pasela, Mark just laughed: “They are completely different tires that have almost nothing in common.”
I guess it’s the same as asking whether a Bugatti Veyron supercar has the same engine as a base-model Volkswagen Golf, since both engines are made in the same German factory…
What about the Gravelkings, which are available with a tread pattern similar to that of Compass road tires – evidence that the technology transfer between Compass and Panaracer goes in both directions. Jeff said that Panaracer gets the same question, and this is their reply:
“The Gravelkings and the Compass tires are two different types of tires. The reason that Compass tires are so successful is that Jan and Compass have a clear vision for what they want in a tire, and Panaracer has the technology to deliver that. The materials and the construction of the Compass tires vary from the Panaracer line, because of the performance that Compass wants to deliver to the customer. The components that go into the Compass tires, and the processes to make them, cost more, hence the price difference. Both are high-quality tires, but the ride and performance are different. If you’re looking for the most supple tire that incorporates all cutting-edge tire technology, you’ll choose Compass. If you’re willing to sacrifice the ultimate ride quality Compass is known for, to get a little more puncture and sidewall protection, then Panaracer has you covered there.”
Which tire is best for you really depends on your riding style and terrain. Natsuko rides her 30 mm-wide Compass Elk Pass Extralights on really rough gravel with little trouble (above), but if you are somebody who tends to get a lot of flats or destroys tires with rock cuts, we’d recommend the Gravelkings. As the name implies, they are designed for riding on rough gravel, which also means that they can be a bit overbuilt for riding on the road.
The Compass tires (above) are designed for riding on the road, but they also work well – and offer superior performance – on gravel, provided the rider lets the bike move around and doesn’t force it into rocks that could cut the sidewalls. It helps if you ride wide tires. Not only are they faster on rough surfaces, but their lower pressures also make the sidewalls less susceptible to cuts: the tire just deforms when hitting a rock.
Around here, we ride Compass tires – even on our Urban Bikes – because they offer world-class performance while being strong and durable enough for everyday use.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.
To put our Caletti Monstercross test bike through its paces, we took it passhunting in the middle of winter. Watch the video for a sneak preview, and enjoy the full adventure and bike test in the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly. Make sure to view in ‘full-screen’ mode!
Subscribe today to get your copy of the Spring Bicycle Quarterly without delay!
Bottom brackets are almost invisible, and you only notice them when something goes wrong. When the bottom bracket in my Firefly started to bind after just a few hundred miles, I put in an SKF, and that was the last I thought about it. When the bike was overhauled, the BB was spinning as smoothly as ever. That is how it should be!
How does the SKF last so much longer than other bottom brackets? SKF is a world leader in bearings, and they’ve applied all their technology to these bottom brackets. The two biggest advantages are larger bearings and better seals.
Let’s look at the bearing size first. SKF runs the bearings directly on the spindle and on the shell of the cartridge (above). That way, there is enough room for large ball bearings that can handle the high torque and low rpm of a rider’s pedaling, which is really tough on bearings. On the driveside (left side above), the SKF bottom bracket uses even stronger roller bearings to handle the extra force of the chain.
Most other bottom brackets use premade bearings (also called ‘cartridge bearings’ or ‘sealed bearings’), usually the 6903 size shown above. Using a premade bearing is much easier, as you don’t have to grind and polish the bearing seats. Instead, you simply press the bearing’s inner race onto the spindle and the outer race into the shell. The problem is that the extra bearing races waste space, and then you no longer have room for properly-sized ball bearings.
Bottom bracket shells were originally designed for cup-and-cone BBs that run the bearings straight on the spindle and the cups. They started with 1/4″ balls (6.35 mm) and sized everything up from there, without wasting a single millimeter. Most bottom bracket shells still are that size, even though cup-and-cone BBs now are rare.
When you use premade bearings, you lose about 1.5 mm on each side, plus a little bit more because the sleeve needs some room inside the BB shell. As a result, the largest balls you can fit are 2.8 mm in diameter, less than half the ‘normal’ size. These small balls have a much lower load rating, and they’ll also wear out faster.
The other big issue is that the premade bearings don’t have good seals. They are sometimes called ‘sealed bearings,’ but those black or red rubber seals are intended only as dust shields for indoor applications. They aren’t waterproof at all. You’ll never see a bearing like that exposed on a car, and yet even high-end bottom brackets put nothing but a rubber shield between your bearings and the gritty outside world.
The SKF bottom brackets have labyrinth seals that really do keep moisture out. Once, I cut open an SKF cartridge that I had used on my Urban Bike for a full year of rainy Seattle commutes, and the grease inside was fresh and clean. These seals are truly high tech, and SKF even patented them, because they were designed specifically for this application.
As a result of all this quality, we can offer these bottom brackets with a 10-year warranty that includes the bearings. (Actually, we limit the warranty to 10 years or 100,000 km, whichever comes first.) For most riders, one of these SKFs will be the last bottom bracket they install in their bike, and it’s certainly been that way for me.
SKF had stopped making these bottom brackets, and for a while they were unavailable. We are glad that we now can offer them again in all sizes, with British, Italian and even French threading, as well as in an ISIS version, as a world-wide exclusive from Compass Cycles. Click here for more information about SKF bottom brackets.
To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are examining 12 myths in cycling – things that we (and most others) used to believe, but which we have found to be not true. Today, let’s look at tire tread.
“Bicycles don’t hydroplane,” declared some experts many years ago. “Hence, tire tread patterns don’t matter on the road.” The first part is true – even wide bicycle tires are too narrow to lose traction due to hydroplaning – but the conclusion assumes that tread pattern only serves to evacuate water from the tire/road interface. Continue Reading →
Last weekend’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) was a great success by all accounts. I’ve especially enjoyed the beautiful photos of John Watson (aka The Radavist) from the show. With his permission, I am reposting a few of them here.
J. P. Weigle’s bike (above) for the 2017 Concours de Machines in France was never intended as a show bike, and yet it won ‘Best Road Bike,’ ‘Best Lugged Frame’ and was the runner-up for ‘Best of Show.’
I think Peter can’t build a bike that isn’t beautiful, and even after hundreds of hard miles on two continents – not to mention very rushed Rinko-style disassembly – the bike still looked good enough to impress the judges. Congratulations, Peter!
Speaking of Rinko, Peter showed his ‘backup’ bike from the Concours in disassembled Rinko form. He reports that many visitors couldn’t figure out how a bike without couplers could become so small. I wish Natsuko could have given demonstrations of how to disassemble (and reassemble) the bike in less than 12 minutes.
Next door in what became known as ‘Rando Alley’ was Brian Chapman with his amazing and very different take on the ultimate randonneur bike. Where Peter’s Concours bike was all about function and classic aesthetics, Brian created a unique combination of black components with 1970s racer-style ‘drillium.’ True to form, it appears that he even hand-crafted custom cranks for this bike. A stunning machine!
A showpiece of a different kind was this Mosaic titanium bike – built to showcase Jpaks, a new brand of bikepacking bags. Titanium allroad bikes can be great fun, and I’d love to have a go on this one! I’ll ask Mosaic whether a Bicycle Quarterly test is on the cards.
Another bike I’d love to try is Chris Bishop’s ‘Item 4,’ a more affordable model with TIG-welded main triangle and fillet-brazed rear. Equipped with 700C x 38 mm tires, it’s a thoroughly modern road bike with a beautiful steel frame, available with rim or disc brakes. (I’d like a centerpull brake option, but that is difficult to do with a stock carbon fork.)
These are just a few of the interesting, beautiful or just plain crazy machines that were on show at NAHBS this year. Head over to www.theradavist.com for the full gallery, and then tell us in the comments which one is your favorite.
Bicycle Quarterly back issues always are popular, and a number of magazines have run out in recent months. Recently, we found a box of magazines that we had put aside in case we needed to replace copies that were lost in shipping. This means that all but two Bicycle Quarterlies (BQ 15 and BQ 18) are available again, but some editions are limited to a handful of magazines.
As you can imagine, 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly have produced some fascinating content. Below are some of my favorites:
BQ 27 has my favorite cover: It shows the winning team in the 1943 tandem taxi race: During the World War II, there was no gasoline in France (except for ‘important’ functions like the press motorcycle in the background that is covering the race), so bike racers earned a living pulling trailers as taxis.
Tandem taxis were faster, but also cost twice as much. Once a year, there was a race of the tandem taxis, where the teams used lightweight cargo trailers instead of their usual ‘taxicabs.’ When I found this photo in the René Herse archives, I knew it would make a great cover: The two racers are going all-out across the cobbles of Paris’ boulevards, while the ‘passenger’ crouches as aero as possible in the trailer, the brevet card between his teeth as he holds on during the wild ride.
The rest of the issue is just as fascinating, as it explores the roots of long-distance cycling through period documents and reports.
Another favorite is BQ 28, dedicated to the Taylor brothers (of Jack Taylor fame). Mark Lawrence spent months talking to them. He discovered a fascinating story of three ‘lads’ (and a woman) who started making bikes, went to the Paris Salon du Cycle to discover the best bike parts, raced in ‘outlaw’ races that culminated in the Tour of Britain, and saw their bikes being ridden all over the world. It’s the definitive history of this famous maker, and it shows that true stories can be as gripping as the best novels.
BQ 26 is dedicated entirely to bicycle brakes. I find brakes even more fascinating than derailleurs, and in this Bicycle Quarterly, we explore how bicycles have stopped and slowed down over time, with photos and drawings from the pen of Daniel Rebour (below). You’ll see early hydraulic brakes and disc brakes from the 1970s, which already grappled with the challenge of translating the linear pull of a brake cable into a clamping force on a disc rotor.
The sheer variety of brakes boggles the mind: Above are eight different cantilever brakes, all completely different from each other and from the standard models we know today. To date, we haven’t been able to figure out how No. 7 actually works! If you are at all interested in bicycle technology, this issue is an absolute must-read.
There have been too many fascinating stories to list more than a fraction. I enjoyed meeting the porteurs de presse, the newspaper couriers of Paris, whose annual race had them carry heavy bundles of newspapers around Paris at incredible speeds (above, from BQ 19). Or the story of Cycles Alex Singer in our very first issue. Each of these histories provide insight into an incredibly rich cycling culture, where the boundaries between racing, touring and working by bike were much more fluid than they are today.
My all-time favorite is BQ 9 with the story of ‘the Aunt,’ Paulette Porthault – nick-named, because she was the aunt of one of the young riders on the Herse team. I met her when she was in her 90s, but her memory was as sharp as ever. She told of touring all across Europe in the 1930s (above), when currency restrictions required hiding your cash in your bike’s tires before crossing from one country to another. She was an incredibly strong rider, setting times in brevets that are unbelievable today: Riding a hilly 200 km (125 miles) on a tandem in 5 1/2 hours seems almost incomprehensible.
‘The Aunt’ won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race during the war. She rode in the famous post-war Concours de Machines for René Herse, where she kept an eye on young Lyli Herse, who was just a teenager, and who told me how her incredible cycling exploits were inspired by ‘the Aunt.’ Madame Porthault recounted all these adventures with incredible wit and humor. I’ll never forget my encounters with her, and I am glad that Bicycle Quarterly readers can share them. (And I am glad to report that she is still doing well, now aged almost 105.)
Paging through Bicycle Quaterly‘s back issues makes me a bit melancholic, because we’ve seen a changing of the guard over the last 15 years. Many of these inspirational people (above, Ernest Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer) no longer are with us. I am glad we’ve documented their stories so they can inspire future generations, but once these magazines are sold out, you’ll have to hunt for them in used bookstores (or online). Fortunately, Bicycle Quarterly back issues are treasured (and printed on durable, archival-quality paper), so these stories won’t be lost.
In recent years, we’ve taken this inspiration to plot our own adventures, like a trip to Japan with renowned constructeur J. P. Weigle. Seeing the experience of riding the incredible roads of the Japanese Alps through his eyes was a special treat, as was his report from last year’s Concours de Machines in France.
We now take our test bikes on real adventures, because our technical research has brought us bikes that can cover distance and terrain in a way that would have seemed impossible in the past. If you’ve missed our ride across Odarumi Pass in Japan or the search for an elusive passage across the Sawtooth Range in the Cascades (above), you’ll enjoy reading BQ‘s more recent back issues.
Most of all, the amazing stories we’ve documented will inspire your own cycling adventures. Browse the illustrated table of contents of all Bicycle Quarterlies online, or simply buy the full collection of the ‘First 50 Bicycle Quarterlies‘ at our special price – I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Building on this great content, we can promise you many more exciting Bicycle Quarterlies in the future: We’ve unearthed some great stories that will surprise and amaze you. Subscribe today and be among the first to get the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly that includes the story of Lyli Herse, a gravel adventure across the Alps from Torino to Nice, and a bike test over a snow-covered pass in Japan. Our journey continues, and we look forward to every discovery along the way!
- Illustrated table of contents of all Bicycle Quarterly back issues.
- Four-packs of back issues on particular topics, like ‘American builders,’ ‘tire performance,’ and ‘great interviews.’
- The full collection of the ‘First 50 Bicycle Quarterlies‘ is available at a special price. (This set includes the first 50 currently-available issues, since some of the early issues aren’t available any longer.)
- Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.
If you are in New England this weekend, I highly recommend a visit to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). From Friday until Sunday, dozens of builders from North America and beyond will show their best bikes in Hartford, CT.
This year, constructeur J. P. Weigle (above) will exhibit a number of bikes, including the superlight machine he built for last year’s Concours de Machines in France (top photo). See for yourself how he created a randonneur bike that weighs just 9.1 kg (20.0 lb) with fenders, rack, generator-powered lights and even the pump.
The Weigle is just one of the many beautiful bikes you’ll be able to see at the show. Another exhibitor is Brian Chapman, whose amazing Di2-equipped ‘Light Tourer’ (above) we tested recently. I am not sure whether he will bring the BQ test bike, but whichever creation he will bring, you can be assured it will be an amazing bike. NAHBS is definitely worth a visit!
“Raise your handlebars, and you’ll be more comfortable.” It’s one of those almost self-evident ‘truths’ of cycling. And yet the reality is not that simple… Continue Reading →
In Seattle, we are lucky: We can cycle year-round. Rarely is it so cold or so icy that cycling becomes difficult. Our cycling season usually starts with the new year. “What about the rain?” you may ask. It’s not a big deal if you have the right equipment.
Last weekend was the middle of winter – halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It was a good excuse to celebrate with a bike ride. The weather forecast was for ‘showers’ – as good as it gets around here this time of the year. At least we wouldn’t get snow like we did when we ventured into the mountains last week!
Busy schedules meant that only two of the BQ Team could make it. Steve and I met at 6 a.m. to take the ferry to Bremerton. We rolled on quiet backroads through the hills to Belfair.
There we had a second breakfast – knowing that this was the last opportunity to obtain food for a few hours.
From here, we headed into the Tahuya Hills. To me, even the name sounds romantic, and the hills always live up to our expectations.
North Shore Road goes along the water of the Hood Canal, a fjord carved by the glaciers of the last ice age. On the other side are the Olympic Mountains, but on this cloudy, rainy day, we only saw glimpses of the snow-covered peaks.
It’s an amazing gravel road that winds its way in and out of the many little ravines in the mountainside.
At the same time, the road is relentlessly hilly – it was built with minimal earthworks because it wasn’t worth making big improvements for a road that sees very little traffic. This combination of attributes – minimal ‘improvements’ and little traffic – made it perfect for our ride!
It’s a course that challenged our leg power as much as our bike handling skills. The road dives into each ravine, turns sharply, and immediately heads steeply uphill again. The more speed we carried through those gravel turns, the less we had to pedal on the next hill.
Back on pavement after a few hours, we climbed high above the water, only to drop back down and roll along the shore. It was great fun.
The clouds opened briefly to hint at the views we would have enjoyed on a sunny day. We smiled at each other as we got in the aero tuck to maximize our speed on the downhill, remembering at the last second that the turn at the bottom has a wickedly decreasing radius, which caught both of us out the first time we rode it. No problem today: The low-trail geometry of my bike allowed easy midcorner adjustments of my line.
After a few hours of riding on deserted roads, we reached Seabeck on the other side of the Tahuya Hills, where we enjoyed a sandwich at the store. It had been raining on and off, and the gravel was a bit muddy, but you’d never know it from looking at our bikes. Remembering the days when we rode with plastic fenders, it never ceases to amaze me how clean and dry both rider and bike remain with a set of really good fenders. There only was a little dirt on the fork blades where the brake pads had sprayed the water they had scraped off the rims. The chain didn’t squeak, and my feet remained dry even though I didn’t wear booties.
Steve was riding his Frek, the old Trek he converted into a randonneur bike, with similar features as my bike. Neither of us even bothered putting on rain jackets, because we would have overheated on the steep climbs. Keeping the road spray off our bodies was key; our layered wool jerseys took care of the comparatively little water that was falling from the sky.
The hardest part of the ride was yet to come: the incredible Anderson Hill Road with its 14% stairstep climb. We made it up that just fine, and then we upped the pace on the last few miles back to Bremerton.
We boarded the ferry, parked our bikes, and enjoyed the scenic boat ride through the islands back to Seattle.
The Tahuya Hills course makes a beautiful 80-mile ride that goes along the water for much of the way. It sees very little traffic apart from the first and last kilometers near Bremerton. Easily accessible from downtown Seattle via a direct ferry, it’s a ride I highly recommend!
Click here for a link to the RideWithGPS route with a detailed map of the course.
Global Cycling Networks just published a video in which they did an experiment that many of us have been talking about: Load up a frame with flex, and then release that energy. The rear wheel turns as the energy is returned to the drivetrain. It’s nice to see it in practice…
Also nice to hear: “I wonder whether frame flex is going to be the new tire pressure. Go back 10 years, and we all knew that harder tires rolled faster. And you could feel it as well. Except that now, we know that lower pressures can roll faster.”
Watch the video above, or click here to see it directly on YouTube. Enjoy!
To read our recent post about how frame flex actually can contribute to making you faster, scroll down or click here.
Recently, the German magazine TOUR published a table showing the ‘five fastest tires in the world.’ We are excited to see our Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires (back then still under the Compass label) on this list, in the company of the fastest racing tires. A 35 mm-wide tire on a list that otherwise includes only tires between 23 and 26 mm wide! That by itself is already cause for celebration. It means that our casings really are among the very fastest in the world.
And since all our tires use the same casings and construction, TOUR’s results apply not just to the Bon Jon Pass, but to all Rene Herse tires. I was surprised that they tested the Standard casing. I would love for them to test the Extralight, which we know from our own experience to be even faster.
What is interesting is that the Rene Herse tire scored superbly on smooth asphalt (light gray bars), but a little less well on rough asphalt (dark bars). This doesn’t match our experience, where wider tires provide advantages especially on rough roads. The reason is simple: TOUR tested without a rider on the bike. This measures the hysteretic losses in the tire, but it neglects the (much more important) suspension losses that occur as the rider’s body and bike vibrate. (Click here to learn more about suspension losses.)
This means that TOUR’s testing overlooks one of the main advantages of wide tires: their superior comfort, which also makes them faster. In other words, with a rider on the bike, especially on rough asphalt, the Rene Herse tire probably is even faster than it appears in TOUR’s testing.
We are proud that the Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass scored so well, especially since it is intended as an all-round tire, not an all-out racing tire. The Bon Jon Pass is suitable for gravel racing and has 3 mm-thick tread for many miles on the road. Compare that to the Vittoria with its 0.8 mm-thick tread, which is intended only for time trials, and even then, it’ll wear out quickly.
The excellent performance of the Rene Herse tire shows once again why wide tires have revolutionized cycling: You wouldn’t want to ride the other tires on TOUR’s list on anything but the smoothest, cleanest roads for fear of flats and premature wear. And yet with wider tires, we can ride some of the world’s fastest tires on the backroads where cycling is at its most beautiful.
- TOUR’s test report with the chart of the five fastest tires (German language)
To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are examining 12 myths in cycling – things we (and most others) used to believe, but which we have found to be not true. Today, we’ll look at frame stiffness. Continue Reading →
For us, cycling is part of our lives. Our bikes are the most important tools we own. We use them for transportation, and we use them for enjoyment, often combining the two. That means our bikes need to be ready at a moment’s notice. If we can’t get a part, it leaves us stranded. The same applies to most of our customers, who consider the components we sell essential.
That is why we work hard to keep our parts in stock. Usually we are successful, but sometimes an item runs out before a new shipment arrives. It might be that demand is greater than we anticipated. Or there could be a delay at the manufacturer – often because a supplier is running behind schedule. Or a shipment can be held up somewhere. We’ve encountered all these issues in recent months, but we are glad that 98% of Compass parts are back in stock as we prepare our bikes for the next cycling season. Here are a few things that just arrived:
As one of the key contact points, good handlebars are key to a comfortable ride. Many modern bars are very shallow and short, leaving your hands cramped and uncomfortable during long hours in the saddle. The classic handlebars we offer were designed for long days on rough roads, where comfort is paramount. The Maes Parallel (above) give you lots of room to roam, and the Randonneur provides a super-comfortable position on the ramps.
All Compass handlebars are available with 25.4 and 31.8 mm clamp diameters. If you have a 26.0 mm stem, we offer a shim to reduce the diameter to 25.4 mm. We have added wider models, so all our bars now come in widths between 400 and 460 mm.
Saddles are the other important contact point with your bike. We’ve found Berthoud saddles to offer superior comfort and quality. The composite frame is lightweight and flexes a bit to improve the comfort of a traditional leather saddle even further.
Berthoud’s leather quality is second to none. We carry the medium-width touring and the narrow racing saddle, plus a shorter women’s model (above). They are available in different colors, with titanium or steel rails, and also in an ‘open’ version to alleviate pressure. All models are in stock again.
Handlebar tape is a matter of personal taste. Riders with a light touch on the bars often prefer thin bar tape, but most modern tape is heavily padded and too thick for our liking. Maware’s beautiful leather tape is made in Japan from pigskin, so it’s thinner than the others we’ve tried. It’s also superlight, so we used it on the J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines technical trials last summer.
Compass now distributes Maware’s bar tape and their leather frame protectors in North America, but the small company was overwhelmed by the demand. Now they’ve caught up, and all products are in stock again.
And if you prefer thicker handlebar tape, we also stock Berthoud’s excellent cowhide tape.
Tires change the feel of your bike more than any other component, and tires are why we got into the component business in the first place: There were no wide tires that offered the ride and performance we wanted. We offer tires in many sizes and models, and a few of them have been in short supply lately. We always make sure that at least one or two models in every size are in stock, so your bike won’t be left immobilized for lack of tires. In time for the new season, all models are on hand again.
We developed the new René Herse cantilever brakes for the Concours de Machines, where the prototypes helped J. P. Weigle’s bike win the prize for the lightest bike. We began to offer the production version last autumn. These are made in small numbers, and sometimes, demand overwhelms supply. They are back in stock, but since they are assembled to order, allow a few extra days for delivery.
We appreciate your patience while some of these components were in short supply. Most parts are back in stock now, and we’ll work on keeping it that way, so you can enjoy your cycling season without worrying about spare parts. Click on the links above for more information, or click here to go directly to www.compasscycle.com.
To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are looking at ‘12 Myths in Cycling’ – things that aren’t quite what we (and most other cyclists) used to believe. Part 3 of the series is about fenders.
Many cyclists here in Seattle install fenders when the rainy season starts, and remove them for the dry summer months. British time trialists even had quick-release fenders that they used on the ride to the start; then they took off the fenders for the actual competition. Our research indicates that this isn’t necessary – fenders don’t slow you down. Here is why: Continue Reading →
Gilles Berthoud’s are my favorite under-seat bags: lightweight, beautiful and functional. Since using one on a tandem in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris, I’ve found them useful whenever my handlebar bag doesn’t have enough capacity, or as the only bag on bikes without a front rack. Berthoud now offers a version that attaches neatly to their saddles with the KlickFix system. We’ve added these bags to the Compass Cycles program.
Like the other Gilles Berthoud bags, the saddlebags are made from waterproof canvas and edged with leather. These traditional materials work well, keeping the contents dry even during my rainy 50-hour ride in the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris, a year that remains infamous for its wet conditions. The canvas is lighter than most ‘modern’ materials, too – the Berthoud saddlebag weighs just 242 g (254 g for the KlickFix model). And yet it has enough room for two spare tubes, a spare tire, a few tools, a wallet and a pair of arm warmers. The elastic loop closure is easy to open with one hand. I usually run both ends of the elastic loop through the hook for an ultra-secure closure.
The KlickFix attaches to Gilles Berthoud saddles (except the superlight Galibier) with two screws. The saddlebag then slides into the attachment and locks firmly into place. A strap around the seatpost further stabilizes it. To remove it, you open the strap, push the two red tabs inward, and then pull the bag upward. It’s an elegant solution that is simple to use. The second version attaches to the saddle rails of (almost) any saddle with a toestrap.
Like all products we sell, we’ve tested these bags for thousands of kilometers – including the Volcano High Pass Challenge – to make sure they work well even on the roughest roads. I’m sure you’ll find them as useful as I do.
Click here for more information about Berthoud bags.
In part 2 of our series ’12 Myths in Cycling,’ we’ll look at why titanium isn’t always lighter than steel. I can hear you saying, “What? Everybody knows that titanium has half the density of steel.”
That much is true: The same part made from titanium will weigh half as much as the equivalent from steel. But titanium has only half the stiffness, so the part will be half as stiff. To make the parts of the same stiffness, you need to use twice as much material with titanium, and the weight will be equal. The same applies to aluminum, which is one-third as heavy and one-third as stiff. (These numbers are for the high-strength alloys; raw aluminum, titanium and iron are not strong enough to be used for cycling applications.) Continue Reading →
Lyli Herse would have turned 90 years old today (January 6) – and this post was written to celebrate her life that has inspired so many of us. But alas, I have to report instead that Lyli died on Thursday after a very short illness. Despite the great sadness of losing her, let’s celebrate her anyway, because that is what she would have wanted.
Until just a few days ago, she remained healthy and happy, living with her dog in the house built by her father, the famous constructeur René Herse, near the finish line of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race. These two elements – her father’s bikes and cycling competition – were the defining elements of Lyli’s life.
Lyli first entered top-tier competition at the tender age of 16 years, when she raced in the 1944 Poly hillclimb race, which had categories for professional racers, randonneurs and mixed tandems. She told me: “Some people said that I was too young to compete… The famous Docteur Ruffier gave me a medical exam before and after the Poly.” Her heart rate actually was lower after the race, because she had been so nervous before the event! Partnering with Simon Feuillie, she placed fourth against many strong teams.
It was in the Poly where Lyli made her mark. For nine years, from 1948 until 1956, she was unbeatable in this tough event. Except when the team crashed in the sharp turn at the bottom of the ultra-fast descent… Lyli broke her collarbone, but that didn’t prevent them from finishing the race – only to be disqualified because their rear fender had broken in the crash. Lyli recalled: “My father then designed his fender reinforcement. He didn’t want that problem to happen again!”
She has many memories from that event: “My best captain was Prestat. He worked as a porteur de presse [newspaper courier]. One year, we set the fastest lap of the day, ahead of the professional racers.” The photo above shows her and Prestat during that record-setting ride, climbing the 14% grade smoothly with a single 46-tooth chainring on the front. And they never even used their largest (22-tooth) cog on the rear!
In 1955, Jean Lheuillot was organizing the first Tour de France Féminin, and he wanted Lyli to be part of the international field. It took some persuading, but he didn’t regret the effort: Lyli won two stages and wore the leader’s jersey for much of the race, before finally finishing fourth overall against accomplished riders like the British stars Beryl French and Millie Robinson. Despite her success, Lyli longed for her days as a cyclotourist: “I always felt more at home with the cyclos. The cutthroat competition of racing wasn’t to my liking.”
The best way to stay out of the fray was to ride off the front, which she did with much success, winning no fewer than eight French championships. She wanted to retire in 1966, but she placed third in that year’s championships. She recalled: “I didn’t want to stop racing after a defeat. […] So I said: ‘Papa, I’d like to give it another try.’ Papa had to make some sacrifices to give me more free time for training and such. That year, I won.”
Just before Lyli retired from racing, a few young women asked her if she could coach them. Lyli formed a team that was sponsored by her father. One of the racers, Geneviève Gambillon, told me, “Lyli was a tough master.” Lyli confirmed: “I told them, ‘Training for me starts at 5 o’clock in the morning, because I have to go to the shop afterward.'” When Gambillon complained about the hard workouts, Lyli told her, “I am 18 years older than you, and I am riding with you, not following in a car behind. If I can do it, so can you!” Lyli’s methods were questioned by some in the French Cycling Federation, but they brought results: Gambillon won two world championships and more than 20 French championships on road and track.
All her adult life, Lyli worked in her father’s shop, shown above in 1962 with Lyli’s first five French championship victories proudly listed on the window. As a teenager, she rode across Paris to pick up parts from distributors. Then she learned to build wheels, and from then on, she was responsible for this important part of the magical bikes her father created. She also ran the shop and distributed Velosolex mopeds on the side to augment the meagre bike sales during the difficult years of the 1960s, when most French dreamed of a car, and not a custom bicycle.
When her father died in 1976, followed a few years later by her mother, she took over. She married Herse’s master framebuilder, Jean Desbois, and together they kept the shop running until 1986. When the word spread that Cycles René Herse was closing, many customers placed orders for one more bike. Lyli and her husband worked for two more years out of the garage of their house until all the orders were filled, and they finally could retire.
I first met Lyli after riding a 1946 René Herse tandem in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris. She was delighted that we had continued the legacy she had worked so hard to build. As I visited her many times during the research for my book on her father and his bikes, we became friends, and she asked me to carry the René Herse name forward. I learned a lot from her and her late husband about the machines her father built. We organized annual reunions with the old riders of her father’s team, who also had much information to share.
Five years ago, to celebrate her 85th birthday, she asked to ride one more lap of the Poly. We found a René Herse tandem, and I had the honor to pilot her around the course together with a number of riders from her father’s team. I was apprehensive about climbing the famous 14% hill on a tandem with an 85-year-old lady, but Lyli had trained by riding thousands of kilometers on her stationary bike. On the climb, we dropped all the others, except my friend Christophe, who had been an strong amateur racer. And even he had to work hard to keep up. The slack upper connecting chain in the photo above says it all: Lyli was contributing more than her share of the power. 14% climbs have rarely felt so easy, and I suddenly could almost imagine how, 55 years earlier, she had ridden eight laps of this difficult course at an average speed of 35 km/h (22 mph).
Lyli continued to train every day, and she kept a log of every ride. When I called her on the phone, she often was out of breath: “Excuse me – I was training,” she explained. Always the champion, she wasn’t slowing down even as she approached the age of 90.
I had hoped to go for another tandem ride with her during my next visit – above a ride we took on our René Herse tandem two summers ago. Now Lyli is gone, but she’ll continue to inspire us!
When we started to publish Bicycle Quarterly 15 years ago, it seemed that most of the technical aspects of bicycles were well-established. And yet, as we tested many different bikes, we started to question many of the things we had accepted as ‘facts.’ To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we’ll look at some of these myths. We’ll explain why we (and everybody else) used to believe them, and how things really work. Let’s start this series with the biggest one:
Myth 1: Wider Tires Are Slower Continue Reading →
All of us at Compass Cycles and Bicycle Quarterly wish you a Happy New Year and many great rides for 2018.
“What? I have to wait three months for another Bicycle Quarterly?” In various forms, we hear this comment quite often. New subscribers enjoy their first issue, and they want more. Yet as a quarterly publication, BQ appears only every three months. That is how long it takes to put together another issue – with a more frequent schedule, it would simply be impossible to maintain the high quality with our small staff.
However, there is a solution to the problem: One of our most popular products is the ‘Past Year of Bicycle Quarterly,’ which consists of the last four issues before the current one. The articles in BQ are timeless, and this is an excellent way to catch up on the great adventures, technical articles, and historical features that preceded your first issue. The BQ’s of the last year have been an especially good ‘crop.’ Read on for some of the highlights.
My own favorite is the incredible ride across Kurakake Pass in Japan. Imagine a spectacular road up a perfect mountain pass, abandoned many years ago. We were told that it had been rideable 20 years ago, but would we still be able to get through? We knew it would be an adventure, but we got a little more than we bargained for.
For years, I’ve searched for an elusive passage across the Sawtooth Ridge in the Cascade Range of Washington. My most recent attempt came as the first winter snow began to make the high roads impassable. I had checked maps and satellite images, and the forest road I wanted to take seemed rideable. But things don’t always turn out as planned!
Join us as we take a Moots Routt to Bon Jon Pass. What seems like an easy ride on the longest day of the year turns into a race against the fading daylight. The Moots performs great, but will it be enough to beat the setting sun?
We ride the Open U.P. up (and down) the highest paved pass in Japan. We came here to test how a modern race bike with ultra-wide tires handles some of the most challenging paved and gravel roads on the planet. In addition to pushing the bike to its limits, we discover a magical landscape and a wonderful mountaintop hut where we spend the night.
Matt Bryant takes you on a ‘packbiking’ adventure around Mount Baker – combining road riding with portaging bikes on unmaintained mountain trails for a true adventure that pushes the limits of what we could even imagine.
Renowned constructeur Peter Weigle tells the story of building a superlight bike for the Concours de Machines…
…and riding on small mountain roads in Japan. He provides a unique perspective about taking part in these ‘BQ adventures.’
Bicycle Quarterly brings you stories you won’t find anywhere else. Daniel and Madeleine Provot’s life revolved around cyclotouring in mid-century France, and their story has inspired us and many of our readers as we enjoy our cycling.
We take you right into the action as we visit the makers of the bikes and components we enjoy: Panaracer’s tire factory (above);…
…Gilles Berthoud in France, who make beautiful bags and leather saddles (above); Paul Components in Chico, CA;…
…and Schmidt Maschinenbau in Germany, makers of the SON generator hubs and Edelux headlights (above, one of Schmidt’s testing tools).
We continue our famous technical research that has shaken up the bike industry: How wide can tires get before their performance drops off? We test tires from 32 to 54 mm under closely controlled conditions to bring you the answer.
Stunning studio photos of modern and classic bikes round off each issue, but of course, there is much, much more.
Like the ride through the mountains near Cuernavaca in Mexico, and… There is really no way to do a whole year of Bicycle Quarterly justice in a single blog post – with close to 100 pages of content, each issue is more like a book than just a magazine.
If you already have some of these back issues, you can customize your own 4-Pack and select the Bicycle Quarterlies you want to read – check our full table of contents that also includes photos from every Bicycle Quarterly.
Order your ‘Past Year of BQ’ today and enjoy many hours of reading as you dream up your own adventures.
Photo credits: Isabel Uriarte (Photo 3), Matt Bryant (Photo 6), Rob van Driel (Photo 7), Duncan Smith (Photo 14), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 5, 8, 11).
All of us at Compass Cycles and Bicycle Quarterly wish you Happy Holidays!
This autumn, Andrew Mathias rode around the entire coastline of Britain in one setting. Many of us followed his beautiful journey on Instagram. Now I had the opportunity to interview Andrew about his epic journey.
JH: Congratulations on riding around the coastline of Britain. It was fun to
follow you on Instagram. You rode 5000 miles (8000 km) in 64 days?
AM: Thanks very much, and I’m glad you enjoyed following the journey. I really enjoyed updating and creating a small mini log via Instagram. I rode 5,000 miles in 61 days. The original plan was to do the ride in 64 days, however, I finished ahead of schedule.
JH: How did you get the idea for this ride?
AM: For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore several areas of the UK coastline on two wheels, especially the west coast and the islands off the shore of Scotland. As I delved into planning and research, highlighting places I wanted to visit, it soon became clear that it was an option to do the whole coastline in one go. Once the idea entered my head it was always going to happen!
JH: Did you ride every day? No rest days?
AM: Yes, I rode for 61 consecutive days. I had multiple chances to have a day off, however, with no pain or injuries, and wanting to keep the momentum going, I just kept plodding on.
JH: And you did it self-supported! Where did you sleep?
AM: Yes, I rode solo for the entire tour and was self-supported. I camped using a tent I carried for most of the first month. A few areas were close to friends, so I stayed with them. I used hostels/bunkhouses and some bed & breakfasts. I also used Warm Showers, which is basically the bike-touring equivalent of couch surfing. I met many interesting, like-minded people this way.
JH: I really enjoyed your photos. I realize that riding along the coast, you
had plenty of great views, but I still was amazed by the beauty of your
AM: Thanks, I loved stopping to take photos! If I had stopped every time I wanted to take one, then I’d still be on the road! I knew there would be spectacular scenery in places, however, I was genuinely amazed almost daily at how underestimated the UK is in terms of beauty. I am massively lucky to have had the opportunity to undertake this journey.
JH: It seems that the weather was OK despite your riding in late autumn?
AM: October and November worked best for me in terms of taking time away from work. However, it’s very nearly the worst time of year to do this ride. I was incredibly lucky with the weather. It was a risk for sure, but I’m a big believer in the statement “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit.” Having only had around six days of constant rain, I can’t complain whatsoever!
JH: What did you carry on the bike?
AM: The main items were a few pairs of bib shorts, a few jerseys, rain jacket and wet-weather gear, tent, mattress, limited casual clothing, spares and tools. I tried to pack very minimally and include things only if they could be used for multiple purposes. Anything I needed en route I could buy, and anything surplus to requirements could be left behind.
JH: Did you get your bike and equipment for this ride, or did you just ride
a bike you had?
AM: I spec’d the bike specifically for long days in the saddle with lots of miles. It was built with touring in mind, however, the frame that Triton Bikes and Cloud9 Cycles built is super-versatile, meaning that, with small changes, I can use it for pretty much anything. I’m now making the change to ultra-endurance race events; the bike will also be perfect for this, too. I bought the Apidura bags specifically for the journey and was massively happy with the way they performed.
JH: Any equipment trouble?
AM: One of my tent poles snapped a few days in. Not ideal, but I was able to improvise. Apart from that, I was extremely lucky with how the bike and my setup performed.
JH: You rode Compass tires. How did they perform for you?
AM: This was the first time I used Compass tyres. In fact, it was the first time I ran anything larger than 28 mm tyres on the road. I went for the 35 mm Bon Jon Pass tyres and set them up tubeless. Within 20 miles I had already fallen in love with how comfortable I was. The low rolling resistance was a big asset: They were super quick once momentum had been gained. The grip was great in both dry and wet conditions. I ran around 4.5 bar (65 psi) front and rear, and I experienced only a minimal drop in pressure overnight. I covered around 2,500 miles (4000 km) before getting my first puncture! I was carrying a new spare which I changed over to shortly after this. I picked up a few more punctures before the end. However, I was massively happy with the way they performed, so much so that I will continue to use them for definite. I will find it very hard to go back to anything smaller than 35 mm tyres, especially with races next year totalling over 200 miles (320 km) a day… Comfort is key!
JH: Tell us about some highlights of your ride!
AM: There were many highs as well as many lows, all adding up to create an incredible journey. My biggest highlight was Bealach na Ba Pass. This is a renowned climb in the Scottish Highlands. It takes you through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula. A hurricane was forecast for the day I reached the pass. The wind was strengthening as I a approached Applecross, but the scenery was spectacular. I was lucky to get clear skies, so I could enjoy jaw-dropping views during the ascent. The climb itself is around 6% average for 3-4 miles, followed by four 20% switchbacks at the summit. I felt a massive sense of relief and achievement before enjoying a hugely fast descent.
JH: And what were the hardest parts?
AM: As well as being a highlight, Applecross was also the hardest physical day on the bike. The fact it was so difficult made it even more of a highlight. From a mental point of view, keeping morale and motivation high was difficult. Taking every day as it comes is all you can do. Enjoy your surroundings, and the freedom that your bike gives you, and the mind will look after itself.
JH: If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
AM: The obvious answer is to do it in the summer! However, doing it in the cold, wet and, at times, dark conditions added to the challenge. Seeing areas like west Scotland in its raw and rough state was something that I will never forget!
JH: I was glad to see that just after finishing your great ride, you already
were back on your bike. Any plans for another big adventure?
AM: For sure! I was out and about the day after finishing, and have been a fair bit since. I’m currently training for the TransAtlanticWay, which is an ultra-endurance race in Ireland next year. However, I want to explore Europe for six months or more by bike. That is also in the pipeline!
JH: Good luck on those endeavors. I look forward to hearing and them!
You can see all of Andrew’s photos from his trip on his Instagram feed at mathias0487.
At Compass Cycles, we have taken much of our inspiration from René Herse and his legendary bikes. In the past, we’ve talked about the great performance and incredible reliability of Herse’s bikes, but what is even more striking is their beauty. You notice it immediately when you look at one of his bikes, or even a photo… but it took much study to unlock the secrets of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ (Levallois was the suburb of Paris where Herse made his bikes.)
Herse’s bikes don’t derive their beauty from complex lug shapes, but from their simplicity. It was Hiroshi Hagiwara, the maker of the Japanese Alps bicycles, who said in a recent Bicycle Quarterly interview: “A bicycle is a frame with two wheels. Everything else is a distraction.” When I thought about this while looking at a René Herse bike, I realized that Herse’s genius was to turn these distractions into assets that make the bike more beautiful.
The most obvious one are the fenders (above): They follow the outline of the wheel so gracefully that they enhance the bike to the point where the same bike without fenders would look naked.
Herse masterfully joined the frame and wheels: Herse’s custom-made dropouts place the wheel centers in the prolongation of the stays and fork blades. That way, the wheels are centered in the end points of the frame, which ties the whole bike together. As an added benefit, this allows the dropouts to be smaller, stiffer and lighter.
Other things are harder to notice: The two arms of the custom-made hanger for the Cyclo derailleur line up perfectly behind each other. This is very difficult to do, since the chainstays are angled upward and outward, and the two arms have to be bent very precisely to very different curves. It adds to the beauty of the bike, even if it’s not immediately apparent.
The brake cables are truly parallel to the head tube and seatstays. That way, they don’t distract from the frame, but underline the straightness of the tubes.
Herse considered the proportions of the frame beyond the simple question of frame fit. The tandem we rode in France last summer has twin lateral stays, but they don’t just line up whichever way. Herse subtly adjusted the frame’s dimensions so that the lateral stays are parallel, and the balanced sizes of triangles they form further adds to the attractiveness of the frame.
Herse’s genius was to achieve this with bikes that also fit their riders perfectly. Because all this magic wouldn’t mean much if it detracted from the ride.
The opposite is the case. For René Herse bikes, the old adage that “What looks right usually is right” really holds true. His bikes and tandems ride wonderfully.
The beauty of Herse’s bikes makes it easy to forget that they were not intended as showpieces – they were designed to be ridden hard. Herse’s background reveals much about his thinking: He worked on prototype aircraft before he started making bicycle components and then bicycles. His aircraft experience shows in details like the custom screws: During the early 20th century, there were no universal specifications for bolts. Airplane makers made their own bolts, and to make sure that only correct bolts were used, each maker gave their bolt heads a distinctive shape. That way, a mechanic could immediately see if a bolt had been replaced with an incorrect one of suspicious quality. René Herse’s distinctive bolts for stems and seatpost binder have triangular heads that trace their origins to this practice.
Elegance and function also are combined in his lighting systems. The most important part of the photo above is what you don’t see: lighting wires. They run inside the rack, inside the fenders, and inside the frame tubes. Even where the current needs to be transmitted from the fork to the frame, there is no external wire: An insulated carbon brush on the steerer tube mates with an insulated brass ring inside the head tube, transmitting the current while allowing the fork to turn freely. Eliminating exposed wires not only is more elegant, but it also reduces the risk of wires getting snagged or breaking from being moved time and again.
The beauty of René Herse goes beyond the frames. After all, Herse started as a maker of components, and only began making complete bikes during World War II, perhaps because it was difficult to sell components without bikes onto which to put them. Herse’s components, whether his brakes (above), cranks or stems, combined superlight weight with superb performance.
Often overlooked are small details, like his double-ended bolts for attaching the rack to the brake pivots. Many builder simply use the brake bolt to hold the rack tab as well, but this brings the risk that the bolt works loose. Herse’s solution is more elegant: His brake bolt has a forward extension onto which the rack mounts with a nut. It will never work loose. You’d expect no less from an airplane builder: If a bolt loosens in mid-air, you can’t just stop and tighten it!
Despite all their elegance, René Herse’s bikes have a certain handmade quality. It’s obvious that the lugs and stem were shaped by hand. A lot of modern builders make bikes that look more crisp and uniform. At first, I thought that this was because René Herse bikes were made in significant numbers – up to 350 left the workshop during the best years – and corners had to be cut. But René Herse’s hand-lettered logo indicates that the handmade aesthetic was intentional. Herse could easily have ordered decals, but instead, every frame was hand-lettered by a sign painter. Like great pottery, Herse’s bikes look handmade without appearing crude or unfinished. In my opinion, that makes them works of art.
For the complete story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders, read our 424-page book on the ‘magician of Levallois,’ lavishly illustrated with studio photos of his bikes and historic photos from the Herse family archives. We still have a few copies of the Limited Edition (with a slipcase and art prints of four unpublished photographs from the René Herse Archives), or the ‘standard’ edition at a more affordable price (also available in French). Click here for more information.
Two of my favorite images from the book are available as large-format, ready-to-frame Limited Edition posters. Hang them on your wall and be inspired every time you look at them. Click here to order our set.
And if you haven’t seen our video of a René Herse tandem in action, click here.
We are excited to announce the latest SON generator hubs. The biggest news is the connector-less SL system for thru-axle hubs: Now you can remove your front wheel and its generator hub without having to disconnect any wires, even with a thru axle.
The system consists of three parts: The heart is the SONdelux 12 generator hub. The SONdelux is the lightest generator hub in Schmidt’s program, and it has the least resistance, so it was a natural choice for this application. The flanges are spaced as far apart as possible while still leaving room for the disc rotor and caliper.
This hub has proven itself for many thousands of miles. What’s new is the lack of external connectors for the lighting wires. The current is transmitted via the axle (positive) and an insulated ring that is pressed onto the axle (negative). Like its counterpart with external connectors, the connector-less SL hub is available in black or silver.
The hub mates to a special dropout. By the way, the machining traces that form the funky pattern in the photos can be removed by your framebuilder. Above you see the outside, which looks like a standard stainless steel dropout for 12 mm thru-axles (12 x 1.5 mm thread).
It gets more interesting on the inside, where one dropout has a recess…
… into which an insulated contact plate fits. As you install the hub, the axle connects to the dropout for the positive contact, while the insulated ring on the hub mates to the dropout’s contact plate, which is insulated as well. A wire goes inside the fork leg from the contact plate through to the lights. That way, you provide a path for the current to flow from the hub to the light without any exposed wires that can get snagged or break from repeated flexing during installation and removal of the front wheel.
We have a small number of contact plates and dropouts in stock, with more to come once production catches up with demand. And of course, the connector-less SL system has been available for non-disc hubs all along, and we have those components in stock, too.
That isn’t all the generator hub news! Many modern rear hubs are black, and we are now offering SON hubs and lights in black to match. We’ve worked with Schmidt Maschinenbau to make our favorite hub, the SONdelux Wide-Body, in black, too. The black hub is available in the standard and connector-less SL versions, with 32 holes. This is a one-time production run, so quantities are limited. If there is sufficient demand, Schmidt will make more for us, and in other spoke counts, too.
We also have the SONdelux Centerlock Disc for quick release forks in black…
… and the Edelux II headlight for hanging mounting. (We’ve been stocking the ‘standing’ Edelux II in black all along.) Now you can choose between silver and black components when equipping your bike with the best and most reliable generator lighting.
All these products are in stock now. For more information or to order, click here for hubs and here for lights.
At Compass, we design our components over thousands of miles on the (often rough) roads we ride, so we have full confidence that others will enjoy them as much as we do. Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the world’s biggest cycling web site, BikeRadar, tested our handlebars and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 stars.
That puts our bars somewhere between “one of the best you can buy” and “a genuine class leader.” BikeRadar’s tester Jack Luke was impressed by the “supremely comfortable position.” He noted that the shape works well with modern shifters, unlike other ‘classic’ bars that create an “awkward scoop before the hoods.”
The only downside he noted was that some lights may be difficult to clamp on because the 31.8 mm center bulge is relatively short. He also noted (playfully) that you cannot use them with aerobars, for the same reason.
He concluded: “From gravel nonsense to fast-ish centuries, the Compass Randonneur handlebars have proven to be an exceptionally comfortable option, and I expect I’ll be swapping these between bikes for many years to come.”
Thank you, Jack, we’re glad you enjoyed the bars so much!
For Jack’s full review on the BikeRadar site click here.
Click here for more information about our handlebars.
The new Bicycle Quarterly is shipping now – subscribers should have their copies in a few weeks. Many of our readers already have enjoyed the video of our tandem trip to the French Alps. Taking an unrestored 70-year-old bike on a challenging tour was full of adventure. Natsuko writes about her first tandem ride, and a companion article explains why this old tandem performed so well.
Even further off the beaten path, Gerolf Meyer and three friends ride their bikes across the Balkans. They encounter grandiose landscapes, plenty of gravel, and fascinating cultures. Reading their story will make you want to pack up your bike and head to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece.
Adventure bikes are one of the biggest trends in bicycles. What happens when you increase the tire size beyond what fits into a road frame? To find out, we ride the Rawland Ulv, a randonneur bike designed for 80 mm tires.
Seattle’s 333fab offers the hand-built AirLandSea as ‘one bike to do it all.’ We ride it high into the Cascade Mountains on a quest to re-discover Jack Pass, which was cut off when a river jumped its banks and washed out the road. How does this bike designed for ultra-wide tires handle the different conditions encountered during this adventure?
Shimano has grown from humble beginnings to dominate the bicycle component market. How did Shimano achieve its current status? We visit the company’s headquarters for an inside look at the company. Our journey takes us not only to the beginning of Japan’s cycling industry, but to the roots of Japanese metalworking when we visit a maker of traditional knives, who works not far from Shimano’s global headquarters.
Shimano’s famous ‘7400’ Dura-Ace group represents a pivotal point in Shimano’s history. For the first time, Japanese components were as good as, or better than, anything else in the world in every aspect: function, quality, finish, and even marketing. And yet to me, the ‘7400’ always has looked like the group that Campagnolo should have made to replace its famous Super Record – especially the cranks bear an uncanny resemblance. During our research, we talk to those involved in the development and learn that this is closer to the truth than we imagined.
We report on the Firefly after two years and use the opportunity to test different wheel sizes – above with a 650B front and 26″ rear wheel. Does the handling of a bike remain the same, as long as you keep the outer diameter of the wheels (and thus the front-end geometry) the same? Or are there other factors to consider?
Our report on the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting takes you right into the action of this fun-filled weekend, with many photos of the different riders and bikes that came together to enjoy a weekend of riding with old and new friends.
For my last big ride of the year, I take the superlight J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines across the Southern Alps of Japan. My plan was simple: Take the first train from Tokyo to one side of the mountain range, then catch the last train on the other side. In between are four big mountain passes that reach high into the clouds. Failure means sleeping on a bench outside the station in the cold night. Will the performance of the bike and the form of my legs be enough to make it?
Adventures are rides that have unknown outcomes. There is plenty of adventure in the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Searching the limits of 80 mm-wide tires resulted in a big splash…
…but we also discovered that how great the rewards of heading into the unknown can be.
Subscribe today to get the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Or if your relatives or friends are looking for the perfect present, suggest a gift subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.
Click here for a full table of contents of this issue.
Our new water bottles celebrate the Compass and René Herse logos with a bold new design. The bottles are based on Specialized’s popular 26 oz. Purist design, with our custom graphics.
In addition to the iconic logos, the bottles feature a quote that describes our approach to bicycles. The new design is limited to 500 bottles, and we expect them to sell out fast. Get yours while you can!
Click here to order.
A few other Compass products also have been popular, and we’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand. We’ve just received new stock of the following:
Our Cyclotouring Knickers look great on and off the bike. Their slightly roomy fit is comfortable, yet they do not billow like many ‘casual’ cycling shorts. Whether on or off the bike, they simply disappear. Hand-sewn in Seattle, WA, from a synthetic woven fabric with a little stretch, the Compass knickers don’t constrict your pedaling, no matter how fast (or slow) you are riding. Click here for more information about Compass clothing.
MKS Allways pedals (left) combine a large platform with superlight weight. The US-B Nuevo clipless pedals (right) are compatible with Time’s ATAC cleats. Both feature the smooth-spinning bearings for which high-end MKS pedals are famous. The Ezy Superior Rinko version of each model (shown above) allows removing the pedals without tools – ideal for travel or for storing the bike in a narrow spot. Click here for more information about MKS pedals.
We hope you’ll enjoy these products as much as we do!
The Winter Bicycle Quarterly features the story of a remarkable adventure: Touring unknown mountain roads in the French Alps on an unrestored, 70-year-old René Herse. To bring you right into the action, we made a little video about the ride. Click on the image above to watch, before reading the full story in BQ 62 (available soon). Subscribe today to get your issue in time for the holidays.
Make sure to watch in full-screen mode. If the video does not display above, click here to watch it on YouTube.
Camera: Nicolas Joly.
The new René Herse cantilever brakes are here! Prototypes of these brakes were one of the secrets that made Peter Weigle’s bike at this year’s Concours de Machines so light. They weigh just 75 g per wheel including bolts, springs and pad holders (without pads).
How can the René Herse cantilever brakes be that light? After all, even carbon cantilevers like the TRP RevoX are 50% heavier at 113 g. The TRP shows what happens when you take a standard brake and try to make it lighter – there is only so much you can do.
The secret of our new cantilevers is simple: They are different in many ways from most current brakes. The credit goes to René Herse, who designed these brakes for the 1940s Concours de Machines technical trials, where his bikes were among the lightest ever made. And yet his brakes weren’t just for weight weenies – they even equipped his tandems. I’ve ridden Herse tandems in the mountains, and the stopping power of the brakes was definitely sufficient.
How do you make a superlight brake? You start with an absolutely minimalist arm. Ours is forged from aluminum for ultimate strength.
Just as important is the shape – we used Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to model the stress distribution in the arms (above). Blue and green means low stresses. As you can see, Herse’s original design showed no stress concentrations. (The small spot of red is caused by a lack of reference points near the edge, not because the arm is likely to break there.) The FEA model confirms the genius of the ‘magician of Levallois,’ who didn’t need computers to make parts that were light and strong.
The arms are so minimalist that there is nowhere to attach the springs. Drilling holes would weaken the arms, so the springs wrap around them instead. You’ll also notice that there are no screws to dial in the spring tension. They aren’t necessary, because our springs are carefully equalized. You only need to adjust the tension if one spring is stronger than the other – which unfortunately is the case on many cantilevers. Making springs to such close tolerances is more expensive, but it also makes setup easier.
René Herse used post-style pads. (In fact, he may have invented them – earlier cantilever brakes used the same pads as sidepulls, which attach directly with screws.) The advantages of post-style pads are many. First, it makes it easy to adjust for pad wear – you just slide the pads inward. This means that the brakes fit on bikes with a wide range of canti post spacing. The posts also allow adjusting for minor variations in canti post height (as you slide the pads inward, the arm rotates outward, which lowers the contact of the pad on the rim.)
Post-style pads make it possible to make the arms lighter, because they don’t need flat spots with slots where the pads attach. Herse used large eyebolts to attach the pads to the arms. This is one place where our new brakes are even lighter than the originals: Optional titanium eyebolts for the pad holders save weight without sacrificing strength – these bolts are large to fit over the pad holder posts, not because they have to withstand big stresses.
To adjust the toe-in of the brake pads, René Herse simply bent the arms. That worked for him, because his brakes were used only on custom bikes, which were set up in his shop by experienced mechanics. The advantage of this method is that you only bend the arms once, and the toe-in is set forever. Later, you can replace the brake pads without having to set the toe-in again.
For our new brakes, we offer the option of angled washers that let you set the toe-in (part 28/28T, shown above in blue). This is super-simple and permanent, too, so pad replacement is easy. Since the washers take up extra space, we replace the large aluminum nut on the eyebolt with a shorter steel one. The weight goes up a fraction (4 g), but it’s a great solution for customers who aren’t comfortable bending their brake arms, or for brakes that may be used on many different bikes. (Bending the arms too often can weaken them.)
Like our centerpull brakes, the new René Herse cantilevers use an extra-thin straddle cable. This is made possible with swiveling attachments to the arms, which eliminate stresses to the cable that occur with standard clamp bolts. The thinner straddle cable isn’t just lighter, it also bends more easily around the straddle cable holder. This eliminates the flex you get with thicker straddle cables, which have to straighten first when you apply the brakes, before they can transmit brake power. The thinner straddle cable makes the René Herse brakes more powerful, yet the minimal ‘lost motion’ allows you to set the pads with plenty of clearance to the rim – without the risk of bottoming out the levers. This also means that the René Herse cantilever brakes work equally well with modern ‘aero’ and with classic ‘non-aero’ brake levers.
We’ve tested the new René Herse cantilevers on a variety of bikes over hundreds of miles. They fit over 42 mm-wide tires with 62 mm-wide fenders, or 54 mm-wide tires without fenders. They are designed to work with cantilever posts that are spaced between 62 and 84 mm wide. To work with the ultralight design of these brakes, the height of your frame’s cantilever posts must be within standard tolerances. (Your current brake’s pads should be roughly in the middle of the slots.) If the pads of your current brakes are at the top or bottom of the slots, the René Herse brakes may not fit on your frame.
We are excited that we now can use these amazing brakes on many of our own bikes. For more information about the René Herse brakes or to order a set, click here. And if you’re curious about René Herse himself, we recommend our book on the ‘magician of Levallois.’
During the second day of our recent cyclotouring trip to the Aizu mountains in northern Japan, we embarked on a little adventure to discover the ‘Forgotten Pass.’
In the evening of the first day, we climbed a small mountain pass, but found to our surprise that a tunnel now traversed the ridge that we had intended to climb.
It was getting dark, so we went through the bore, eager to reach our ryokan (inn) with its hot bath and sumptuous dinner. “Let’s climb the old road tomorrow,” suggested Natsuko.
Over breakfast, we looked at the topographic maps of the area. I was delighted to notice that the maps categorize roads by their width. The narrowest category is ‘less than 1.5 m (5 feet) wide.’ Even the tiny Japanese minitrucks won’t fit there. That is great information when choosing routes for cyclotouring! But for this ride, we had little to go by – the map hadn’t been updated since the tunnel was built. It still showed a road that was wide enough for 1-2 cars all the way across the pass.
The tunnel was built 10 years ago – as evidenced by a plaque on the portal – and at first, the old road looked in good shape.
But the new pavement didn’t last long. The road to the pass soon turned into a narrow, overgrown gravel path, with just a little pavement poking through once in a while. I was surprised how quickly the road had been reclaimed by nature once maintenance had ceased. It was fun to explore this ‘Forgotten Pass,’ as we named it. The autumn colors provided a beautiful backdrop for our ride, and without pavement or even gravel, we felt truly immersed in the scenery.
Through the trees, we could see fresh snow on the mountains around us.
It was hard to believe that this was a ‘real’ road just a decade ago. The curves were still lined with mirrors to see around the corner and check whether other traffic was approaching. One is visible in the center of the photo. A decade of typhoon rains had turned the mirrors completely blind. Not that we needed mirrors – the ‘Forgotten Pass’ was deserted.
Road signs warning of falling rocks had fared better than the mirrors: They looked almost new. We had to laugh at this one: The entire road was covered with soil and rocks. There was no doubt that a lot of rocks had fallen during the last ten years.
The ‘road’ became narrower and rougher, until it was little more than a hiking trail. Judging from the tracks in the soft soil, it was frequented only by deer.
Then we reached the ‘Forgotten Pass.’ The slope was less steep here, and the road was in better shape. Once, there was a parking lot with a trailhead to hiking trails. A sign still reminded visitors that they were entering public forests here.
It was a little easier cycling on the downhill. Dry leaves rustled under our tires. In places we had to portage our bikes where big rocks had fallen onto the road.
And then we were on the new road again, which seemed deliciously smooth and fast after our off-pavement adventure. To think that in ten years’ time, this road would look like the mountain trail we just came down if it wasn’t maintained continuously!
The ‘Forgotten Pass’ was a poignant reminder that our presence in these mountains is ephemeral. We are only visitors, grateful that we can come here, but the mountains only belong to themselves.
At Compass Cycles, we’ve been excited to see interest in our components grow all over the world. We now work with more than 500 bike shops, as well as a number of international distributors. However, some components are difficult for shops to stock. Our cranks are a typical example: They are available in three lengths, as singles, doubles or triples, with dozens of chainring combinations. And then there are the tandem cranks… Every crank is custom-assembled to order here in Seattle. It makes for a great product, but it also means that it’s difficult for most bike shops to stock all the parts needed to build these cranks.
This means that ordering directly from Compass Cycles often is the most practical solution. To make this easier for our international customers, we now offer free shipping worldwide on René Herse components. This offer includes big components like cranks and, soon, the new cantilever brakes, but not small parts like bolts, chainrings and cable hangers.
For our less specialized components, like Compass tires and handlebars, as well as the parts we distribute from Gilles Berthoud (saddles, bags), Schmidt Maschinenbau (lights, generator hubs), Honjo (fenders) and MKS (pedals), we encourage you to buy from local shops that carry these products.
Click here to find out more about René Herse components.
During a recent trip to Japan, we went on a short trip to the Aizu mountains in northern Honshu (Japan’s main island). It was a beautiful day, and the famous kouyou (‘autumn red leaves’) were at their best.
Like most rides in Japan, we started by taking the train. A Shinkansen bullet train whisked us a few hundred kilometers northward, then we took a small train into the hills.
We assembled our bikes, ate a late breakfast, and headed into the mountains on a small road that meandered up the slopes. There was no traffic at all. The sunlight painted the road surface into a dappled pattern of light and shade. It was a wonderful day for a ride.
With plenty of time, we explored side paths like this one that forded a creek. We climbed higher and higher until we reached a small pass. When we checked the time, we realized that we had to speed up a little if we wanted to reach our destination before dark.
We started zooming down the descent, but after a few turns, the road ahead was blocked. A recent typhoon had caused numerous washouts on the roads of this area. We had been able to pass a few, but here workers were installing concrete shoring. We had to turn around and retrace our steps, all the way back to the train station!
It wasn’t a huge loss, because the main road was beautiful, too. The rice fields in the valley had been harvested, and the hillsides were covered in red colors. A chill in the air betrayed that it was autumn, but with the right clothing, cycling was very pleasant.
From time to time, dark tunnels swallowed us, until we emerged into snow galleries that created a beautiful light in the afternoon sun.
In one village, a huge Gingko tree had dropped its leaves, coloring the ground in vivid yellow.
Natsuko couldn’t understand why I took a photo of the nearby parking lot. For her, this is a normal scene. The pickup trucks of rural Japan are small minitrucks. They are less menacing on the road than their North American counterparts. I suspect the diminutive size of the vehicles is one reason why Japanese rural drivers are so friendly towards cyclists. This makes cycling in the Japanese mountains very pleasant.
Darkness had fallen when we reached our beautiful ryokan (inn). After a hot bath, we enjoyed a traditional meal. We were the only guests that night, so we talked to the owner about the challenges of living in these mountains where typhoons are common, winters are long, and jobs are scarce.
The next morning, we continued our ride on little roads.
We visited a beautiful old village…
…with a restored grist mill. Every twenty seconds, the bucket under the flume filled with water. The weight lowered the end of the beam, until its angle was so steep that the water spilled out of the bucket. Then the beam dropped back, pushing the round pestle into the hole that held the grain. The periodic sound of “poc … poc … poc” used to accompany life in the villages, and here it still does today.
Autumn in northern Japan is a melancholic time. The colors of the trees were incredibly vibrant, but snow poles already lined the road as a sign that winter is coming. On this day, the skies turned from sunny to cloudy, and as we approached the station, it began to rain.
We could feel that the rains soon would turn to snow. In the villages, we had seen snowplows, freshly overhauled and repainted, standing by to keep the main roads open. The small roads we enjoy so much won’t be plowed – they will be closed until late spring.
We reached the train station just as it got dark. We packed our bikes for the long trip back and then locked up our Rinko bags. We had intended to visit a public bath near the station, but today was the one day of the week when it was closed. So we went to a bakery instead.
An hour later, our train arrived, and we boarded for the first leg of the trip back to Tokyo. It was a short tour, but our memories will last a long time.
Compass Cycles is introducing the first-ever 11-speed-compatible René Herse cranks and chainrings. And the first-ever René Herse chainrings with ramps and pins. These are not just any ramps and pins: They’re carefully engineered to shift as well as the best cranks from the big manufacturers. We are proud to offer this performance with useful chainring sizes – plus the beauty and light weight of the classic René Herse cranks.
The shifting performance of our new cranks is a bigger deal than it may sound at first, because developing chainrings at this level is a major undertaking. Our engineering team has spent almost 18 months on this project. We tested prototypes for thousands of miles (above) before settling on a final design. (Many readers have wondered how the Firefly’s 11-speed drivetrain worked with the René Herse cranks, and why that simple question didn’t get a simple answer…)
There are plenty of ‘ramped-and-pinned’ chainrings out there, because it’s not hard to cut a few ramps into chainrings and rivet in some pins. But, the ramps and pins don’t do much unless they are carefully aligned with the chain path. To work well, the chain has to hit the pin just right, in the middle of an outer link. Then it gets transported seamlessly to the big ring, and the ramp only acts as a cut-out to provide an easier path for the chain.
Another key element is to treat this as a dynamic system, spinning at 50-130 rpm. When we looked at other chainrings, we quickly discovered that this was the biggest difference between the best-shifting chainrings and those that offer only so-so performance. It became clear that the three big makers understand this, but everybody else seems to design their chainrings as a static system. Here is what ‘static’ means: When you put a chain half on the small and half on the big ring (above), it fits beautifully. But when you shift while pedaling, the teeth don’t have time to snug in between the links of the chain (which is running at an angle during the shifts). As a result, the chain rides up on the chainring and the carefully-planned alignment of the chain path is compromised.
By comparison, the chain seems to fit a little less perfectly on the ‘dynamic’ chainrings from the big makers – until you are pedaling. Then you are surprised by the smooth shifts. We benchmarked Shimano’s Ultegra cranks – widely known as the best-shifting in the business – for the performance that our 11-speed René Herse cranks had to match. Now we feel that we have achieved that goal, and so we are introducing the first 11-speed-compatible René Herse chainrings in a 46-30 combination. And of course, the excellent shifting performance of these rings works with 10- and 9-speed derailleurs, too.
While the upshifts get a lot of attention, the downshifts are just as important with 11-speed, because the distance between the rings is so small that the chain no longer can just be ‘thrown’ to the inside and then land on the inner ring, as it was with older systems. The new René Herse 11-speed chainrings feature special tooth profiles to facilitate downshifts. The chainrings also are machined specifically to reduce the gap between the rings, so the ultra-narrow 11-speed chains cannot get caught between the rings.
Instead of requiring you to buy completely new cranks, only the outer chainring is new. What this means is that older Compass-made René Herse cranks can be retrofitted. However, the 46-30 ring should be used with a 30-tooth inner ring, otherwise, the chain path doesn’t work properly. The small chainrings remain unchanged, because they don’t do anything during shifts, except release the chain upward. Because only the outer ring is new, this also means that our 46-30 tandem cranks (below) are 11-speed-compatible, too.
The production chainrings have just arrived, so we don’t have photos yet, but rest assured that they match the beautiful finish of our other chainrings. (The photo of the ramped-and-pinned rings show unpolished prototypes.) In the future, we also plan to offer other popular chainring combinations with 11-speed compatibility.
Click here to order 11-speed cranksets or chainrings.
In addition to individual Kaisei tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. Today we’ll look at the Mule. Named after my most versatile bike, it features an unusual configuration: an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter) for added stiffness, and a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm) for the flex characteristics that give our favorite bikes their lively feel.
Originally, I built the Mule for a trip to Japan as a Rinko bike that could handle both fast randonneur rides and loaded tours. The bike was intended as a test-bed for components and parts, and it was built in a rush, so we nicknamed it ‘The Mule,’ a name used by Italian race car builders for the bare chassis that they road-tested with rudimentary bodies to finalize suspension and engines, before the car went to the carrozzeria to have its real body added.
What makes the Mule different from most bikes is that it uses an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter), but a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm). While unusual, this configuration is not without precedent: René Herse built some camping bikes, as well as some tall frames, with similar configurations. Japanese Keirin builders also build bikes with this combination of tubing diameters. And when you look at modern high-performance carbon bikes, they usually have very slender top tubes and relatively massive down tubes.
This is very different from some bikes that use an oversized top tube and a standard down tube, making both tubes the same diameter (28.6 mm). With their stiffer top tubes, these bikes don’t perform well for the BQ Team and many other riders. They also tend to shimmy, probably because both tubes have very similar resonant frequencies.
Going with a smaller top tube and larger down tube was an experiment. Would tweaking the balance of frame stiffness supercharge the Mule’s performance beyond anything we’d experienced thus far? The Mule has performed very well on many rides, but it isn’t a magic bullet: Careful back-to-back testing has shown that, for me, the Superlight tubeset gives the bike slightly better performance.
The Mule’s oversized down tube adds stiffness, yet the standard-diameter top tube keeps the flex characteristics that make for a lively feel. That makes the Mule perfect for carrying heavy front panniers. (I avoid loading up the rear, as that requires a much stiffer frame and also makes it difficult to rise out of the saddle.)
The Mule isn’t just for loaded touring. Some riders who’ve ridden the Mule really like the stiffer, more planted feel compared to the Superlight spec. The Mule doesn’t shimmy as easily – even with a Chris King headset, which is prone to shimmy, the Mule is well-behaved under most conditions.
My Mule is built with a down tube that has just 0.35 mm-thick walls. With the large diameter and super-thin walls, I have found that this tube is very easy to dent. So for the Kaisei tubes, we chose 0.5 mm walls for the unbutted center sections. We offer the tubes with longer thinwall ‘bellies,’ so the overall flex characteristics are very similar.
Even though I prefer the Superlight tubing for all-out performance, I’ve ridden the Mule in a Japanese 600 km Super Randonnée with 11,000 m (36,000 ft) of climbing, and the bike felt great throughout the ride. It was only during the back-to-back testing that I realized its (slight) performance deficit. Would I do the 765-mile Paris-Brest-Paris on the Mule, if my Superlight bike wasn’t available for some reason? Absolutely!
If I could have only one bike, I probably would choose the tubing spec of the Mule. How about you? Obviously, if you plan to go touring, the oversized down tube is a great choice. If you are concerned that the Superlight tubeset may make your frame feel too flexible, especially if you are a heavier or stronger rider, I would recommend the Mule’s tubeset as well. And if you are concerned about shimmy, the very different resonant frequencies of the top and down tubes apparently keep it from developing in most cases. Compared to the more specialized bikes in my stable, the Mule is a great all-rounder.
The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.