Paris-Brest-Paris: 1200 Epic Kilometers

This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris lived up to its reputation as an epic event. Organized without interruption since 1891, PBP is the oldest bike ride in the world. It takes riders back to the ‘Heroic Age’ when races featured stages that began before dawn and ran late into the night, and beyond.

Riding 1200 km (750 miles) in 90 hours or less is never going to be easy. This year, the difficulty of the relentlessly hilly course was augmented by strong head- and crosswinds right from the start. This meant working harder, much harder, because the advantage of the big pelotons that start in each wave was diminished by the crosswinds.

Multiple echelons formed, with groups of 6-8 riders working together. Riders who didn’t know how to ride in echelons strung out behind the last rider’s rear wheel, where they got no protection and wasted precious energy. For once, there was no hiding in the pack.

Another plus this year: I found that the riding skills in the groups around me were far better than they’d been in the past. And there also were fewer bags, bottles and other bike parts falling off. In fact, I didn’t witness a single crash during those early hours.

More than 6000 riders started in this year’s PBP from the historic chateau of Rambouillet. Each rider had a different experience. PBP was fun, stimulating, challenging, even painful for some. It required mental and physical stamina and strength. Every rider emerged from the experience having learned something about themselves.

In the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly, we featured three riders who talked about their experiences in past PBP and their plans for this year’s ride. I’m excited that they all finished strong.

Sina Witte (left) completed the ride in 67:23 hours, as always with a smile and looking fresh at the finish. She rode with her partner Victor Decouard (right), who had hoped to ‘do a time’ until a tubeless failure cost valuable time and sapped his morale. When Sina caught him, they decided to ride together.

Lesli Larson also rode strongly in her second PBP after a eight-year hiatus. She looked good as she finished after 88:50 hours on the road.

Richard Léon is a PBP veteran, having ridden in every edition since 1975. (That makes this year’s event the 12th PBP he’s started!) Two months before this year’s event, he broke his shoulder. He was not sure whether he’d be able to ride at all, but he did line up on the start line in Rambouillet. On the road, he looked good on his ultralight Dejouannet, and he finished in 66:34 hours. His only mistake: “I took my favorite saddle from another bike, but it wasn’t good for the slightly different position of the Dejouannet. My bottom suffered as a result.”

A number of BQ contributors were also at the start this year.

Hahn Rossman pulled out all the stops. He made a superlight bike that he entered in the Concours de Machines technical trials, which were held in conjunction with PBP this year. His wife Jana (center) met him with a rented camper van at the controls to provide food, encouragement and a convenient place to rest. All this effort paid off: His time of 66:36 hours was the best one yet of his three PBP rides.

Not far behind, Ryan Hamilton rode unsupported. He also had broken his collarbone – too many accidents in the lead-up to the ride this year among my friends! – and was unable to train for five weeks in the run-up to PBP. And yet his time of 67:41 hours was his second-best yet. No wonder he was smiling at the finish!

David Wilcox (above) and Ryan Francesconi (top photo) finished in 71:52 hours in their first crack at Paris-Brest-Paris. They were impressed by the graciousness of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the locals, who cheered on all riders regardless of how fast they went.

My own plan for this year’s PBP was to avoid mistakes: not to overextend myself on the way to Brest, to eat well, and to stay focused. My cautious approach paid off, and I finished after 56:36 hours, just within Charly Miller time. I met many wonderful people on the road, including a great number of readers and customers who introduced themselves as we traversed the hills of Normandy and Brittany. Most of all, I enjoyed 95% of those hours on the road. I slept for 38 minutes at the control in Tinténiac – and even got a private room!

As the 6000 PBP stories emerge, I enjoy hearing and reading them. And I’m already excited about PBP 2023!

Photo credits: Maindru (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 6, 7, 10).

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Ted King Wins SBT GRVL on Rene Herse Tires

The inaugural SBT GRVL (Steamboat Gravel) race saw more than 1,500 riders at the start in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The field include the Who-Is-Who of gravel racing: Ted King (two-times Dirty Kanza winner), Colin Strickland (this year’s DK winner) and Payson McElveen (winner of this year’s Landrun 150).

It turned out to be an exciting race over the beautiful high-country gravel roads. Attacks whittled the field first to 15, then five, then two: King and McElveen. And then Ted King crossed the finish line alone for a well-deserved win.

Ted King’s bike was a replacement, put together at the last minute after his own rig was damaged during the flight to Colorado. Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires provided speed and comfort on the smooth high-country gravel.

Head over to VeloNews for a gallery of photos from the race!

Photo credits: Photowil (SBT GRVL).

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Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting in Portland, OR

We’re looking forward to this year’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting – our annual get-together to share the 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.

The photos here are from last year’s Un-Meeting, when we spent a great two days along the Hood Canal and in the Tahuya Hills. This year, we’ll meet near Portland for another weekend of riding. Here are the details:

  • When: Sept. 14, 2019, 9 a.m.
  • Where: Stub Stewart State Park, Buxton, OR 97109
  • What: Rides from 40 to 70 miles (65 – 110 km)

Stub Stewart State Park is 15 miles (24 km) from the end of Hillsboro MAX rail line, so it’s easy to reach from Portland. (And Portland is at the intersection of several Amtrak lines, so it’s easy to reach by train, plus there is an airport, too.)

On Saturday, we’ll start the day by riding together to the Black Iron Coffee House in Vernonia for breakfast. From there, we’ll have several route options that include pavement, gravel and dirt. We’ll publish details about the routes in the coming weeks.

On Friday and Saturday nights, we’ve reserved four walk-in camp sites at the Brooke Creek Hike-In Camp. If you have a small tent, you are welcome to share our sites. You also can book your own accommodations.

Join us either just on Saturday for a fun day of riding, or camp with us for a great weekend with new and old friends.

For me, the Un-Meeting is a highlight of the year. Riders come from all over the world, from all backgrounds, on all kinds of bikes, yet we all share a love of riding and discovering new roads.

A little bit about the logistics: The rides of the Un-Meeting are within reach of most cyclists, but please remember that we provide 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 some of the terrain being challenging, please use caution and ride within your and your bike’s capabilities.

See you in Portland on September 14 and 15!

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Climbing into the Clouds

A recent hiking trip to Mount Rainier also provided an opportunity to revisit a favorite climb – and work on my form for the upcoming 1200 km (750 miles) of Paris-Brest-Paris.

This time, we headed to Mount Rainier by car, loaded with four people, backpacks and associated gear. Fortunately, the J.P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines is a Rinko bike, which packs quite small. The extralight bag protected our other luggage from the chain and sharp parts. The package took up little space in the car. It also was easy to store for the night in our room at the historic Paradise Inn.

I awoke at dawn, carried my bag downstairs and put together the bike. In less than ten minutes, I was ready to roll. It still amazes me how quickly a Rinko bike assembles.

The forecast predicted a sunny day, and for a moment, I got a peek of Rainier’s summit, before I started the long descent toward the Nisqually River valley. Within seconds, I dove into the clouds. I was glad to have fenders. The road was wet in places, dry in others. Without spray from the wheels, even descending in the clouds at this high altitude wasn’t as cold as I had feared. I carefully explored the grip of my tires on the wet pavement as I scythed around the many twists and turns. Warm weather improves the rubber’s coefficient of friction, and there was traction to spare. This meant I could relax and enjoy the descent on this beautiful road.

It did not take long until I traversed the bridge that, when it was built a century ago, was right at the mouth of the Nisqually Glacier. Today, the glacier has retreated out of sight. I passed Longmire, the second lodge in the park, still fast asleep. I continued toward the park boundary. Deep in the valley, the trees became bigger, and the road weaved its way between them. There was little traffic, all going the other way: Workers commuting to the park’s two lodges. Soon, that ebbed, and I had the road to myself.

Then it was time to turn around. I had come here not for the descent, but for the climb back up to Paradise.

The road climbs almost 900 m (3,000 ft) during the 18 km (11 miles) from Longmire to Paradise. It has a beautiful rhythm. With a maximum gradient of about 8%, it’s never really steep. The slope provides just enough resistance, so I can work hard without having to fight the constant ebb and flow of wind resistance that you get at high speeds on flat roads. It makes for a meditative, beautiful workout.

On this day, I wanted to test my form for PBP, and my plan was to climb in the ‘big’ ring of the Weigle. Of course, my big ring isn’t exactly huge (46 teeth), and the Weigle has a 27-tooth cog on the rear…

Having a superlight bike doesn’t hurt on a climb like this: The Weigle weighs a scant 20 pounds (9.1 kg) with lights, fenders, rack and even its pump. Even more important is a frame that flexes in unison with my pedal strokes and allows me to put out more power. The Weigle, with its super-thinwall, standard-diameter tubing, ‘planes’ extremely well. Would my 46×27 be enough for this hour-long climb?

I wound the bike up to speed on the relatively flat part in the lower reaches of the park. Once I passed Longmire, all I had to do was keep my momentum. That’s often easier said than done when the uphill stretches for an hour, but this morning, the bike performed beautifully as I climbed into the clouds.

The sunny forecast proved elusive, but the effort of spinning my gears kept me warm. When I reached Ricksecker Point at roughly the half-way point, I stopped briefly to remove my leg warmers and long-sleeve jersey. Sweat was beading on my forehead.

My memories of this climb are so varied, it’s hard to believe that it’s always been the same road. I recalled how, as a young racer, I gunned up this climb in just under 50 minutes during my preparation for the Race Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). At other times, it’s taken me 50% longer, yet it was hard work. Today’s time was somewhere in between, but most of all, the climb was smooth. I could feel my body working hard, but it didn’t feel labored. Just how it should be!

The top appeared sooner than I remembered it, and then I pulled up to the historic lodge. It had been a short ride, well inside two hours, yet it had been thoroughly enjoyable and gratifying. (And I did make it all the way in the 46-tooth ring!)

As I rolled my bike inside, I got a last peek at Mount Rainier’s summit. Clouds were moving back in, and it soon started to drizzle. By pure luck, I had timed my ride perfectly.

Breakfast tasted twice as good after the effort of my ride. Then I packed my bike in its bag again. It vanished into the trunk of our car as we headed out on our hike. I was glad to have brought my bike on this trip – Rinko bikes are useful even if you aren’t traveling on Japanese trains!

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New Sealant for Rene Herse Tires

Tubeless tires have changed what we can do on a bike. When the terrain is really rough, not having to worry about pinch flats allows us to run lower tire pressure for more comfort, more traction and more speed. (The speed comes from the lower pressure on rough surfaces, not from the tubeless setup itself.)

Setting up tires tubeless can be a hassle – and high-performance tires require more diligence yet. Everything that makes supple tires so fast and comfortable also makes them harder to set up tubeless: The ultra-thin sidewalls aren’t air-tight, and the tires are so floppy that the bead can be hard to seal against the rim. Supple tires need sealant to close those microscopic pores in the casing and to constantly seal the tire against the rim.

There are many tricks to setting up tires tubeless, and the right choice of sealant is one of them. Many sealants are intended for mountain bike tires with stiff casings that are covered with a thick layer of rubber, making them airtight on their own. The sealant is only intended to close small punctures, not to make the tire itself airtight and seal it against the rim. Those sealants can work OK with supple high-performance tires, but we wanted a better solution.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked with Panaracer in Japan to develop a sealant that is specifically formulated for the supple sidewalls of Rene Herse tires. (The sealant works equally well with Panaracer tires and other brands.)

The Seal Smart sealant uses natural latex and walnut shells to make the tire airtight and seal it against the rim. Thanks to these ingredients, it’s non-toxic and low in allergens. Clean-up is easy, too.

Most of all, it works really well. With every tire we’ve set up so far, the tire sealed almost instantly and held its air for weeks without re-inflating. We’ve tried it on tires that were returned under warranty because the sidewall didn’t seal. (This happens very rarely when the rubber coating is a bit too thin.) Bubbles appeared on the casing, and the tires continued to lose air. With the new Seal Smart, two tiny bubbles appeared at first, but the tires sealed fine. We wiped off the bubbles, and they didn’t reappear – the tires were ready to ride.

Of course, every installation is different, and we cannot guarantee a successful tubeless installation. Especially with supple tires, it pays to be extra-diligent when distributing the sealant inside the tire to make sure it goes into every crack. And make sure to shake the sealant vigorously for a minute or more to distribute the solids really well: If you’re just injecting white water into the tire, it won’t seal…

The new Panaracer Seal Smart comes in 500 ml (17 oz) bottles – enough to set up 4-6 tires and replenish your sealant frequently. It is in stock now.

Further information:

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15% Off Tires for Paris-Brest-Paris Riders

Paris-Brest-Paris, the epic 1200 km randonnée in France, is coming up fast. More than 6000 riders are busy with their final training, setting up their bike, preparing their trip… To help PBP riders out a bit, we are offering a 15% discount on a set of tires for the big event. (Details at the end of the post.)

Many randonneurs choose Rene Herse tires for their comfort and speed. We want to encourage everybody to start the long ride on a new set of tires. Ride your tires for 50-100 miles to make sure that everything is fine, but don’t start such an important ride on old rubber.

In 2007 – before we developed our Compass / Rene Herse tires –  I rode on partially-worn tires, hoping to gain a little speed from the thinner rubber. It was a rainy year, and I had two flat tires. Not a big deal, and perhaps the thin tread saved more time than it took to fix those flats. (Despite – or perhaps because of – the inclement weather, that was my fastest PBP yet.)

When we developed our Rene Herse tires, we added a little rubber in the center of the tread to increase the tires’ lifespan. To make the tires more supple, we kept the tread on the shoulders thin, since that part doesn’t wear. Our testing has shown that Rene Herse tires don’t get significantly faster as they wear. That is why I’ll be starting this year’s ride on almost-new tires.

Here is what I’ll ride in PBP:

  • Size: 650B x 42 mm. I prefer wide tires for comfort on the often surprisingly rough asphalt of the French backroads.
  • Casing: Rene Herse Extralight. The Extralight is significantly faster than the Standard, while the puncture resistance is the same. If you really are afraid of flats, the new Endurance casing is a good choice, too.
  • Tubes roll faster than tubeless (no liquid sloshing around inside the tires), so I’ll be on tubes. In my experience, French backroads aren’t littered with steel wires and glass, so the added puncture protection of tubeless isn’t worth the hassle for me. (In 5 PBP so far, the two aforementioned flats are the only ones I’ve experienced.)
  • Pressure: 35 psi. Tire pressure obviously depends on your weight and the width of your tires. With supple tires, higher pressures doesn’t make you faster: The added vibrations cancel out any gains from the reduced tire deformation. I run low pressures for comfort. How low is too low? If your tires squish a lot when you ride out of the saddle – add some air until your tires feel the way you like them.

For PBP riders, we offer a 15% discount on a set of tires. Here is how it works:

  1. The offer is open to riders from all over the world who are registered for the 2019 Paris-Brest-Paris. The offer is available only for direct orders from the Rene Herse Cycles web site.
  2. Place your order by 8/2/2019 and pay as usual when you check out.
  3. In the comments field, put “PBP Discount” and enter your PBP number.
  4. We’ll refund 15% of the 2 highest-value tires you order. Please allow up to a week for the refund to appear on your account.
  5. You can order as many tires and other components as you like, but the discount applies only to 2 tires, and only once per PBP rider.
  6. We usually ship the same day or the following day, so you can figure out which shipping method will get you the tires in time for your trip to France.

Click here to order your tires. We wish all randonneurs a successful, safe and enjoyable PBP!

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Rene Herse 700C x 44 with Endurance Casing

We developed the Endurance casings for our Rene Herse tires based on requests from gravel racers like Ted King (above), who need tires for truly harsh conditions. A race like Dirty Kanza traverses 200 miles of sharp stones in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The lead racers travel at high speeds in densely packed pelotons, unable to see the road ahead – and thus unable to avoid hitting big and sharp rocks. The event becomes a race of attrition. If you flat and are lucky, your plug holds, your CO2 cartridge inflates the tire, and you can chase back on. More likely, you see the peloton vanish into the distance.

It’s for this type of event that we’ve introduced our Endurance casing. It’s a beefed-up version of our renowned Extralight casing: We use the same ultra-thin and ultra-supple threads, but push them closer together to obtain a denser weave. Then we add a puncture protection layer from bead to bead that reinforces not only the tread area against punctures, but also the sidewalls against cuts.

For even tougher conditions, we offer the Endurance Plus casing with thicker threads for even more cut resistance, plus the same puncture protection layer as the Endurance casing. It’s probably overkill for most rides and races, but there are times where you gladly give up a little speed for the peace of mind of not having to think about your tires at all.

We shipped a small quantity of Rene Herse tires with Endurance casings as soon as possible, so racers could use them in Dirty Kanza and other races. This also allowed us to get valuable feedback from the field.

Ted King (leading the pack in the photo above) rode the Hurricane Ridge Endurance Plus to a formidable 8th place in this year’s Dirty Kanza against international competition of professional riders. In the past, the ‘King of Gravel’ had suffered from flats in every edition of this epic race – but not this year.

Others had similar experiences. One customer wrote:

“I used the Steilacoom Endurance tires and had no problems or flats on the DK200 course this year. I did not feel that I had to brake and descend with extra caution, but felt confident to just let them roll. I will now continue to ride these tires, dropping the pressure for added comfort and better rolling resistance, and see where the limits are.”

Another racer commented:

“I would like to let you know on how amazed I was in yesterday’s Dirty Kanza riding your Steilacoom tires with the Endurance casing. Hassle free. No flats, no nothing, all good, and supple riding!”

And:

“Thank you for the expedited shipping so I got the tires in time for the race. You guys are as awesome as your tires…”

The first shipment of Rene Herse tires with Endurance casings sold out almost immediately. We’ve now received another shipment, and all models are back in stock.

We are also introducing two new models, the 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass Endurance and Endurance Plus with our smooth all-road tread. For dry rides and races where you won’t encounter mud, these tires are a great choice. They complement the knobby 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge to offer a quiver of tires that will handle all conditions. They are ideal not just for racing, but also for adventures where you don’t know what you will encounter.

In addition to our Standard and Extralight tires, we now offer the following tires with Endurance and Endurance Plus casings:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom knobby (Endurance)
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge knobby (Endurance; Endurance +)
  • 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass all-road (Endurance; Endurance +)
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge knobby (Endurance)

Click here for more information about our Rene Herse tires.

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson/Gravelguru (Photo 1).

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Back in Stock: SON Generator Hubs and Lights

With the 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris coming up, demand for generator hubs and lights has been high. We’ve just received another shipment, and now all products are back in stock, plus there are some new items as well.

By far our most popular generator hub is the SONdelux Wide-Body. In addition to all the standard SON features of extremely low resistance and superior reliability, it features a wider body to create a stronger wheel. This is especially useful for wheels with low spoke counts. Even with 32 spokes, you can feel the difference when you climb out of the saddle: No matter how hard you pedal, the rim won’t touch the brake pads.

The SONdelux is also available in a disc model, both for thru-axles (shown) and quick releases. We now offer the thru-axle version with 24 spokes, in addition to the 28- and 32-spoke models. Running lights on your disc brake bike has never been easier.

SON hubs are available with the ingenious connector-less SL system: The current is transmitted from the hub to a contact plate on the fork, so there are no wires and no connectors.

Not only is it easier to remove the wheel – you also get rid of the wires that can break and cause problems. You do need a custom fork for this – currently, no production forks are available with the contact plates – to get the most elegant way of powering your lights.

Speaking of contacts, there is also the SON coaxial adapter that plugs onto your SON hub. It makes for a clean and reliable connection for riders who don’t like the spade connectors (which have the advantage of being 100% field serviceable).

To build your generator hubs into wheels, we carry rims that provide excellent seating for the tires, whether you run your tires with tubes or tubeless. We offer spoke kits to make it easy to source all the parts you need to convert your bike to generator lighting.

I’ve recently written about why I love the Edelux II headlights: With their carefully designed beam, they illuminate the road evenly without bright spots that can make night riding so fatiguing. All car headlights are required to work that way – why settle for less on your bike’s headlight?

Plus, the beam is cut off at the top, so you aren’t blinding oncoming traffic. It’s not just considerate, but also safer: Drivers who are blinded will be afraid to get off the road and steer toward the center of the road  – and toward you.

To mount the lights to your rack, we offer our custom-designed Rene Herse light mounts in different configurations. They allow adjusting the angle of your headlight without tools (lower in the city, higher on mountain roads). And yet, thanks to the clever design, the bolts won’t ever come loose.

The easiest way to mount your light is to attach it to the handlebars. The B&M light mount is perfect for that. If you don’t use a front bag, you can mount the light below the bars, where it’s out of the way. Then you just need to run a wire down to the hub, and you are done. (On the rear, you can use a battery-powered light. Taillights use less power than headlights, and the batteries will last a long time.)

If you are planning a new custom bike, the Rene Herse taillight mounts in a well-protected location on the back of the seat tube. The light uses an ultra-reliable LED circuit with a standlight that keeps you visible even when you are stopped. The lens acts as a reflector. This not only adds safety in the unlikely event that your taillight (or the wiring) develops a problem. It also creates a more diffuse light source that is easier on the eyes of riders following you – and yet it is as visible from a distance.

It’s hard to appreciate how much of a difference a great lighting system makes for night-time riding until you’ve experienced it. When my friend Ryan Francesconi mounted an Edelux II headlight for our recent 600 km brevet, he was blown away. Our all-night adventures wouldn’t be half as much fun without these lights.

More information:

Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1).

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Bamboo in the Cascades – the Movie

For the Summer Bicycle Quarterly, we test the incredible Calfee Bamboo show bike from the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Not only does this bike feature Calfee’s new bamboo tubes – lined with carbon for lighter weight and greater strength – it’s also equipped with Rotor’s brand-new hydraulic shifting.

When I admire bikes at shows, I always wonder how they ride. Fortunately, Craig Calfee was happy to send us the bike for a real test.

[youtube https://youtu.be/2WwVi84e-f4?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

How do you test a bike like this? For us, there is only one way: We take it on an adventure into the unknown! Enjoy the video – make sure to watch it in full-screen mode! Then check out the current Bicycle Quarterly to read all about this amazing bike:

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A Bike for the Solstice Ride

During the summer solstice, Ryan Francesconi led a group of 14 friends on a truly amazing adventure: We took the train to Klamath Falls on the border between Oregon and California and then rode back to Portland on forest roads and trails traversing the Oregon Cascades. It was a 2-day, 640 km (400-mile) ride that challenged riders and bikes to the max. Not only was our route 90% gravel and single track, it also was anything but flat.

A highlight was climbing on deserted gravel roads to the top of Crater Lake (above), but even more memorable were the countless gravel climbs and descents. On a ride like this, you live entirely in the moment – just you, the bike and the other riders. I’m grateful to have friends – and a bike – that enable me to do rides like this.

What bike to ride for an event like this? We were heading into the country of the Oregon Outback – where my Rene Herse’s 42 mm tires already had proven a bit marginal in the past. The Herse’s ‘road’ gearing also wasn’t quite low enough for the steep gravel climbs that Ryan had scouted for his route.

So it was natural to take my Firefly. Equipped with ultra-wide 54 mm tires, it seemed an ideal choice for this ride. It’a bike that is completely dialed for riding fast and long on rough surfaces.

On a ride this long and challenging, small things make a big difference. Having handlebars that offer multiple comfortable positions is key for me to enjoy a ride this long. The Firefly is equipped with our Rene Herse Maes Parallel bars, which were perfect for this ride.

A low Q factor helps my spin and allows me to put out power, hour after hour. The Firefly has perfect clearances for its 54 mm-wide tires, and its beefy chainstays appear to be one reason why it climbs so well. Combining these features with a Q factor of just 148 mm is something I didn’t want to miss on this ride.

I reinstalled my 42×26 chainrings, so I could ride most of the time in the 42-tooth ‘big’ ring, but still had the option of dropping into the 26-tooth when the trails got really steep. This allowed me to run a tight 12-27 cassette with small steps between gears.

Having a favorite saddle is important, too. This Berthoud Aspin has been on many adventures, and it fits me like the proverbial glove. It works perfectly with the Berthoud saddlebag, but for this challenging two-day ride, I knew I’d need more capacity.

The Firefly’s fork is equipped with mid-fork eyelets intended for low-rider racks. The low-riders don’t work well on singletrack, as the panniers get caught on obstacles that are close to the trail. So I decided to use a handlebar bag instead. I installed a Rene Herse UD-1 rack to support the bag. Mounting the rack took all of five minutes.

The Berthoud GB-28 handlebar bag sits on the rack. Its soft bottom conforms to the shape of the rack, locking it in place.

At the top, I added a Rene Herse bag stiffener to make sure the bag didn’t move on the rough trails of the Oregon Cascades. The bag’s cavernous interior had more than enough space for the clothes, tools and food I needed for this ride (plus water filter, emergency blanket, backup power supply for the GPS, camera, and a few other things). Everything is easy to access, which is another big plus. I placed some heavy items that I didn’t plan to use (tubes, tools, rain jacket) in the saddlebag.

There aren’t any decaleurs for the Firefly’s four-bolt stem that have proven themselves on really rough terrain. So I used the bag’s leather straps to attach it to the handlebars. Together with the bag stiffener, this creates a very firm and reliable connection: The last thing you want in the middle of nowhere is your bag flying off. (This happened to one rider in our group, when the straps of his brand-new bikepacking bag broke.) Strapping my bag directly to the bars did not leave any space for my hands between bag and bars. On the road, I found that I could still use the on-the-tops handlebar position by sliding my hands underneath the top flap of the bag.

Three water bottles are useful on a ride where resupplies can be many hours apart. The Firefly is equipped with two lightweight Nitto 80 cages. For this ride, I mounted a Nitto T cage under the down tube – the only cage that has never dropped a bottle from that position during all my rides.

The first night, we arrived at our destination – Oakridge – just before sunset, but we knew that our second stage – more than 200 miles to Portland – would require riding at night. I needed lights. It would have been nice to build a wheel with a generator hub for the Firefly, but I didn’t have a spare 26″ rim. A battery-powered light would have to suffice. Fortunately, the nights during the solstice are short.

I usually strap my light underneath the handlebars, where it’s neatly tucked out of the way. However, that position was obscured by the bag now. The Maes Parallel bars are long, so I mounted the light on the end of the drops. I still could use all hand positions, but there was a problem: The bars angle slightly upward, and I want the light to illuminate the road, not the sky. A sliver of wood formed a wedge that allowed me to align the light by sliding it into the clamp as far as needed.

On the rear, I strapped a small rechargeable light to the seat tube, in the same position where our Rene Herse taillight mounts. With the lights’ run time somewhat limited, I turned off my lights when they weren’t needed, for example, when I was riding in the middle of a paceline.

The photos show the bike after I returned from the big ride. As expected, the Firefly performed flawlessly. Inflated to just 18 psi (1.25 bar), the big Rat Trap Pass Extralight tires soaked up the bumps and vibrations – even washboard – without fail. They floated over the loose surface where the narrower tires of the Herse had sunk deep into the gravel.

The low-trail geometry and handlebar bag worked great on the fast gravel descents. I used every single gear on the bike, from the 42×12 to the 26×27. I drank all my water during one particularly hot stretch. And when we returned to Portland at 4 a.m. after two days on the road, I had no aches or pains thanks to the comfortable saddle and ergonomic handlebars. The Dromarti leather shoes did their part, too – since wearing them, I no longer suffer from hot feet no matter how hard the ride and how hot the temperature.

The Firefly is one of my favorite bikes, and I was glad I could transform it from a stripped-down racer to a touring rig. Having the right bike made this challenging ride even more fun!

Click here to find out more about Rene Herse components.

 

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Why Square Taper Bottom Brackets?

Square taper bottom brackets may seem like anachronisms dating from the last century, and yet they remain the best option for metal cranks. Here is why our Rene Herse cranks use square tapers and will continue to do so in the future.

Modern bottom brackets have larger spindles, so they can use thinner walls. The result is a lighter bottom bracket – but the larger spindle requires more material on the crank.

No problem on a carbon crank (above), which needs to be large anyhow, because carbon is very light, but also bulky. Just don’t try to replicate the massive shape of a carbon crank in aluminum: It will get very heavy.

Our Rene Herse cranks are so incredibly light – just 490 grams for the 42/24 shown above – because they use only as much material as necessary. We’ve optimized the shape using Finite Element Analysis to remove all material that isn’t needed, but keeping aluminum where it’s needed for strength. The photo above shows that there is just enough material to fit a slender square taper spindle. Imagine how much material we’d have to add to make room for a massive spindle!

The light weight doesn’t come at the expense of durability or safety: Our cranks pass the most stringent EN ‘Racing Bike’ test for fatigue resistance. Few other aluminum cranks are as light and as strong.

There is another benefit of square tapers: The taper reforms itself every time you install the crank. You can remove and install the cranks dozens (or hundreds) of times, yet the square tapers will not develop play. And even if a crank comes loose by accident because the crank bolt wasn’t tightened enough, you can usually reform the taper: Tighten the crank bolt as much as you can, then ride the bike for 5 miles, retighten the bolt, etc. Do this five times, and the taper will usually be fine, unless it’s really been damaged beyond repair.

The smaller spindle of a square taper has another advantage: It leaves more room for the bearings. Above is an SKF bottom bracket that I cut open after years of use. The large ball in the center shows the size of the balls used in the SKF bottom bracket. On the right is a typical, much smaller, ball from a modern bottom bracket.

Bike makers now work around that problem with new standards that use bigger bottom bracket shells. For carbon frames, this works fine, since you have a lot of material in the BB region anyhow. A steel frame built to a ‘modern’ BB standard will be quite heavy, as the oversize bottom bracket shell adds a lot of material. Bottom bracket shells are the heaviest part of a metal frame, so keeping them as small as possible is useful for keeping the frame weight down.

And then there is the issue of the ever-changing standards, because none work as well as the old square taper. It didn’t come as a surprise when Allied, the US-based maker of high-end carbon frames, decided to return to the BSC/BSA bottom bracket standard. Their web site explains: “After more than a decade of changing bottom bracket standards, we are happily back to BSA. No more creaking, easy to service and just as light as any other bottom bracket standard. Your mechanic will thank you.”

Aren’t there performance advantages with bigger spindles? In theory, the bigger spindles are stiffer. In practice, all spindles are stiff enough. Your frame flexes far more than your bottom bracket spindle. The reason why we haven’t done a double-blind test of crank stiffness is simple: It’s so pointless that it isn’t worth the effort. Eddy Merckx used square tapers, and so do the Japanese Keirin track sprinters. If they can’t flex them, neither can you and I! In fact, I’ve raced our square taper cranks in Japan’s toughest gravel race (above) – without any issues.

It’s only for mountain biking with huge jumps – especially downhill – where the higher impact strength of larger spindles is useful. That is why we don’t recommend Rene Herse cranks for mountain bikes. On the road, cranks don’t fail due to impact, but they fatigue after many miles of use. To resist those forces, we forge our cranks. This aligns the grain structure to make them more resistant to fatigue.

We give a 10-year warranty on our Rene Herse cranks as well as on our SKF bottom brackets. Few makers are prepared to stand behind their products for that long. This illustrates how much confidence we have in our square tapers (and the rest of our cranks and bottom brackets). We’ve spared no expense to make them as good as they could possibly be.

Click on the links below more information:

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Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener

Small things can make a big difference, especially on long rides. With handlebar bags, it’s important that they don’t flop around as you ride. That is why they are supported by a rack at the bottom. At the top, keeping the bag from moving from side to side is helpful as well.

Berthoud bags come with a sturdy (and quite heavy) cardboard stiffener. This makes sure they hold their shape, but it also turn the bag into a rigid box: The bag no longer conforms to the contour of the rack – it slides and rattles when you go over bumps. Most riders discard the cardboard stiffener. The bag by itself is stiff enough to hold its shape OK, but a little more stiffness at the top would be nice.

Enter the Rene Herse bag stiffener. Originally designed for the ultralight handlebar bag for the Concours de Machines (which didn’t have enough leather to be stiff on its own), we’re now offering it as a separate part. It’s superlight – just 47 g – and it fits snugly inside the popular Berthoud handlebar bags (GB 22, 25, 28).

With stiffeners like these, it’s important that they are not too stiff: They need to flex a bit, rather than transmit all vibrations and shocks to the decaleur.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener is equipped with Velcro that connects to the small internal flaps of the Berthoud bags, holding the stiffener securely in place. You can drill the aluminum material to attach a decaleur. You can also use the stiffener with a bag that is attached directly to the handlebars with leather straps. That is what I did during this year’s Solstice Ride, and it worked great for 400 miles (640 km) on rough gravel roads and singletrack. Now that it has proven itself under the harshest conditions, we are offering it in the Rene Herse program.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffeners are made right here in Seattle, and they are in stock. Click here for more information.

In other news, we also received a new shipment of our fenders, including the 650B XL fenders designed to fit on 650B x 48 mm tires. Click here for more information on our fender program.

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Tune Your Tires!


With wide tires, you can tune the ride of your bike to the terrain and to your personal preferences. This gives you options that simply did not exist in the past.
Gone are the days when we inflated our narrow tires to the maximum pressure and rode on rock-hard rubber. Even with narrow tires, you can lower the pressure a bit to get a (slightly) more comfortable ride. Of course, there is only so much you can do – the feel of the bike won’t really change. There is simply too little air, and you’ll get pinch flats if you reduce the pressure enough to make a real difference. The only way to transform the feel of a racing bike is to get different tires – that’s why professional racers have always run hand-made tubulars with supple casings (well, at least since the 1930s).
With wide tires, supple casings also make a huge difference. In addition, you can choose your tire pressure over a wide range: The 54 mm-wide Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass tires that Hahn is running in the photo above work great at pressures between 20 and 55 psi. That means you can cut the pressure to almost a third of the maximum, if you want. (For comparison, this is like running narrow 120 psi racing tires at 45 psi. Don’t try this with 25 mm tires!)

With wide tires, you can tune the feel of your bike by adjusting the tire pressure. The same tire will feel completely different depending on how hard you inflate it. This is something that you really start to notice with tires that are wider than 40 mm.

At 55 psi, my Firefly with its Rat Trap Pass tires feels firm and buzzy like a road bike on narrow tires. There is no noticeable flex in the tires, no matter how hard you corner, or how fast you sprint. You’ll feel every detail of the road surface almost unfiltered. The extra air does take off some of the harshness, and the extra rubber gives you more grip, but the feel is similar to a bike with narrow, high-pressure tires.

Why doesn’t the 54 mm Rat Trap Pass feel wallowy like a 25 mm tire at 55 psi? If you think of the tire as an air spring – a piston in a cylinder – then pressure is only one factor. The other is the diameter of the air cylinder. To compress a 54 mm tire takes more force than to compress a 25 mm tire, even if both are inflated to the same pressure.
Even with wide tires, you can get the feel of narrow tires, if you inflate them to (relatively) high pressure. But you also have options to tune your bike by letting out some air.

At first, not much is happening – 55 psi is far more than most riders will ever want to use in these tires. At 30 psi, you still get the firm feel of a ‘road bike,’ but more shock absorption and even better traction. This is the pressure I ride on very smooth roads.

At 25 psi, the tire has a lot more compliance. Now it really feels like an ultra-wide tire. It still corners great, but you can go over bumpy roads and really feel the suspension. This is the pressure I use on most paved roads.

On rough gravel, I let out even more air. At 20 psi, the tire really floats over the gravel. This is how I imagine a rally car with ultra-expensive shock absorbers feels: ‘breathing with the surface,’ gently going up and down over bigger undulations, but insulating you from the smaller bumps and vibrations. It’s an amazing feeling, and, without the bike bucking under you, you can put down power at all times. It’s fun to ride at ‘road’ speeds on rough gravel.
And even at this low pressure, there is enough air to prevent the tires from bottoming out. Even with tubes, I don’t get pinch flats – unless the terrain is really rough and rocky and speeds are ultra-fast.

When you’re descending at very high speeds on very rough terrain, you’ll have to increase the tire pressure a bit to avoid bottoming out too often. Even if you run your tires tubeless, you risk cutting your tires and damaging your rims if you bottom out too often and too hard.

When you return to pavement, 20 psi isn’t enough. The tire starts to squirm and run wide in corners. When you rise out of the saddle, it feels wallowy as it compresses under the thrust of your pedal strokes. And if you really push the limit, the tire can collapse in mid-corner.
Back on pavement, I inflate the tires back to 25-30 psi. If my ride includes both pavement and gravel sectors in quick succession, I often just keep the pressure around 25 psi, so I don’t have to mess with it.

Tire pressure is not just about shock absorption – it also affects the power transfer of your bike. A frame that is too stiff for the rider’s power output and pedaling style is harder to pedal – a little compliance smoothes out the power strokes and allows the rider to put out more power. We call this ‘planing,’ but it’s hardly a revolutionary idea.
Usually, that compliance comes from the frame. That is why high-end, superlight bikes perform so well, even on flat roads where the weight doesn’t matter. The lighter frames use less material, which makes them more flexible. Conversely, ultra-stiff bikes can feel ‘dead’ and hard to pedal to many riders.
With wide tires, that compliance can come from the tires, too. When we tested the Jones (above), we found it to perform wonderfully with its tires at ‘gravel pressure.’ When we aired up the tires for a fast road ride, the bike suddenly felt sluggish. This is the opposite of what conventional wisdom might tell you, but when we lowered the tire pressure again, the wonderful performance of the Jones was back. This has nothing to do with rolling resistance – it’s all about how much power we could put out thanks to the added compliance in the system. The Jones ‘planed’ best with its tires at relatively low pressure. This means that you can use tire pressure to adjust how much ‘give’ you have in your bike’s power transmission. I’ve found this a useful tool to get the most out of many Bicycle Quarterly test bikes.
Speaking of rolling resistance – don’t tires roll slower when you let out air? At least with supple tires, tire pressure makes no discernible difference, not even on smooth roads. As long as you have enough pressure that the bike is rideable, your tires roll as fast as they do at higher pressures. And on rough roads, lower pressures will be faster, both because the suspension losses are reduced and because you can put out more power.

Tuning your tires is fun. It optimizes your bike for your preferences and for the terrain you ride. Of course, tire pressure first and foremost depends on your weight – the numbers in this post assume a bike-and-rider weight of about 80 kg (175 lb).

Tire pressure also depends greatly on the casing of your tires. The values in this post are for Rene Herse Extralight tires. With Standard or Endurance casings, you can run about 10% less pressure. With a stiffer casing, you run even less air, all the way to airless tires that run at zero pressure. As your tires get stiffer, you lose the ability to tune your ride, because air pressure plays a smaller role in supporting the bike-and-rider’s weight. The beauty of supple tires is that air pressure is the main component that holds up the weight of bike and rider. This makes it easy to tune your tires.
Rather than inflate your tires to a set number, experiment with tire pressures to see how this changes the feel of your bike. Also remember that the gauges on pumps aren’t always accurate – use them only to replicate a setting that you’ve found useful in the past, rather than try to inflate your tires to an exact pressure. Once you’ve found values that work, you can quickly change the feel of your bike based on where you’ll ride and how you want your bike to feel. This makes cycling even more fun!
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Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly


The Summer Bicycle Quarterly is back from the printer! In this edition, we test two bikes that wowed visitors at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. How do they ride?

The Calfee’s latest bike uses carbon-lined bamboo tubes for an even lighter and stronger frame. The show bike is equipped with Rotor’s long-awaited hydraulic shifting. How does it perform at the limit, exploring long-abandoned gravel trails high in the Cascade Mountains?

The Frances All-Road bike combines ultra-wide tires with a small frame. Natsuko took it to the trails and fire roads of Marin County. She visited the pioneers of mountain biking, Jacquie Phelan, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Breeze, and she reflected on how the unique Californian landscape gave birth to the mountain bike.

Adventures don’t get much more adventurous than cycling in Eritrea. Long closed to the outside world, this fascinating northern African country finally is open to visitors again. Gregor Mahringer and his friends may have been the first foreign cyclists to explore Eritrea’s beautiful landscapes. Their report of empty roads and friendly people will make you want to go to Eritrea, too!

Brian Chapman has become well-known for his meticulously crafted bikes. He even makes his own brakes, cranks and other components. We visit his shop in Rhode Island to find out how he makes his bikes and components. He explains why he likes taking the idea of the custom bike further than almost any builder today.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Cycles Alex Singer, the famous French constructeur, we look at how Alex Singer bikes changed over time. An early 650B bike (above) reflects the unpaved mountain roads that were common in the 1940s, while a mid-1950s machines was built for fast randonneur rides on smooth roads. The styles of the bikes are quite different, too. Do they also reflect a change in philosophy between Alex Singer and his successor, Ernest Csuka?

To round off this 20-page feature, we take you into the workshop where Olivier Csuka, Ernest’s son, continues to build beautiful bikes that respect the tradition of Cycle Alex Singer, but are made for today’s riding styles.

In Tokyo, a small two-person shop crafts beautiful custom bags from leather and canvas. We take you to Guu-Watanabe and follow the bags from the first sketch to the finished product.

Each BQ combines inspiration with useful information: There are many small tricks for adjusting cantilever brakes – not just to get the brake pads to hit the rim at the correct angle, but also to obtain a perfect fit of the brake arms on your cantilever posts.

These are just a few of the exciting stories you’ll read in the Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Click here for a full table of contents. Or even better, subscribe and enjoy the entire 108-page edition.

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Why Contact Points Matter: Handlebars


Riding long distances – especially on rough roads – puts different demands on your body and your bike than short and fast-paced races. The contact points with the bike become more important the longer you ride. These days, you don’t hear much about them, especially the saddle and handlebars.


If you compete in relatively short races, this makes sense: When you pedal at maximum effort, your hands barely touch the bars, and your saddle only serves to stabilize you on the bike, but not to support you. All your weight is borne by your feet as you push the pedals with great force. And indeed, racers are more likely to complain about foot pain than other problems.


It’s a totally different matter when you are riding long distances, whether it’s touring, randonneuring or racing gravel events like Dirty Kanza: Inevitably, your power output over ten or more hours on the bike is lower than it would be in a three- or four-hour race. And so you’ll put more weight on your handlebars and saddle than the average racer.


Gravel racing and long-distance cycling aren’t new ideas – until World War II, most mountain roads weren’t paved, and the racers of the ‘Heroic Age’ were used to riding on gravel. Stages were much longer, and thus speeds were a little lower.

Back then, each racer had their personal saddle and handlebars, which they moved from bike to bike as they had new frames made. The handlebars were custom-bent to the racers’ specifications.
In the photo above, you see Nicolas Frantz, winner of the 1928 Tour de France, climb the Aubisque. The stage that traversed the Pyrenees was 387 km (240 mi) long! Racing on roads and distances like that is closer to modern gravel races or randonneur brevets than to it is to today’s Tour de France. Frantz took 16 hours and 20 minutes to complete this monster stage. And when you look closely, you see that his handlebars are what we’d call ‘Randonneur’ bars today.


Classic handlebars are characterized by their generous reach and subtle curves. They give your hands room to roam and support them in many positions.

Most modern bars are short and square. You usually hold onto the brake hoods, sometimes use the tops, and very rarely ride in the drops. There is a reason why drop handlebars have become so short: For many riders, the low handlebars of racing bikes were difficult to reach, because the ‘aggressive’ riding position did not match their strength. To accommodate recreational riders, handlebars (and top tubes) became shorter, allowing an upright position while maintaining the ‘racy’ look of low handlebars.

Fortunately, modern all-road and adventure bikes don’t have ultra-low bars, and there is no need for ultra-short reach handlebars any longer.


Handlebars with a longer reach give you choices between multiple riding positions, from relatively upright ‘on the tops’ to low and fast ‘in the drops’ – and many positions in between. This means that you can change the angle of your back as you ride, which greatly helps reduce fatigue.


The best handlebars are carefully designed to support your hands in multiple positions, eliminating pressure points that can lead to numbness and even nerve damage during long rides.

We have developed two different handlebar shapes, based on classic designs that have proven themselves over millions of miles – literally. The Maes Parallel (above) is a generous shape that provides much room for your hands to roam. I love it for fast-paced rides where my position changes frequently.

The Randonneur bars echo the shape that Nicolas Frantz used to win the Tour de France. Their upward curve is designed to support your hands as they rest ‘on the tops,’ behind the brake levers.


This is a very comfortable position – above I’m using it during the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris – but it’s important that the curves are ‘just right.’ Before we found this shape, I’ve used many ‘Randonneur’ bars that actually were less comfortable than their standard counterparts.

What about padded handlebar tape? It can help a little with relieving pressure points, but it cannot make up for a poor handlebar shape.

New in the Rene Herse program are the Nitto ‘Monkey Banana’ bar pads (above) for the corners of your handlebars. They go under the bar tape to help support your hands in the ‘on the tops’ position, plus they offer a little extra shock absorption. They are designed to fit our Rene Herse Maes Parallel and Randonneur handlebars, but they are flexible and can be adapted to many other bar shapes.


Whether you are racing long gravel events, preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris, or planning a long tour, well-designed handlebars can make all the difference in enjoying the long hours on your bike. And even if you aren’t riding for ten hours or more, having comfortable bars makes cycling more fun.

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Riding 600 km (Almost) Non-Stop


As part of preparing this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), riders qualify by riding 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets. More than just preparation for the long ride in France, these rides are fun challenges in their own right.

The last of the Seattle qualifiers started at 6 a.m. just south of downtown. It was easy to find the spot – a coffee shop surrounded by bikes leaning against walls, street signs, trees – any available surface. Cyclists were milling around, greeting friends, folding route sheets and placing them in their map holders, taking off layers in anticipation of warming temperatures…

Our course would describe a big loop, first heading south to Mount Rainier, then west almost to the Pacific Ocean. We’d ride north to the foot of the Olympic Mountains and glide along the shores of the Hood Canal. After 300 miles (480 km) on the road, we’d traverse the steep and relentless Tahuya Hills, before ending the ride on Bainbridge Island and returning to Seattle by ferry.
The course offers variety that keeps the riding interesting, from the deep valleys of the Cascades to the sparkling inland waters that make Washington State so special. It’s not a truly mountainous route, but over the course of 600 km, the climbs add up to almost 4800 m (15,700 ft) – about the same ratio of climbing per mile (or kilometer) as Paris-Brest-Paris.
The map above also shows the controls, the checkpoints where we’ll have our brevet cards signed as proof that we’ve completed the course. There is a time limit of 40 hours to finish the ride – and as in all randonneur rides, it’s overall time, not riding time, that counts.

On this Saturday morning, the sky was overcast. By the time we crested the first ridge and headed toward Lake Washington, the sun already made its first attempts to pierce the clouds.

Riding with friends is a great way to cover long distances efficiently – and the conversations make the time pass quickly. We joined other groups from time to time, then split up again. We know each other well after riding together for so many years, and our paceline was smooth, relaxed and safe.

We enjoyed some of our favorite roads that skirt the flanks of Mount Rainier. With no traffic to speak of and a beautiful rhythm, it was fun to push our pace a bit, while being mindful of the long way we still had to go: almost 500 km (300 miles) remained ahead of us.
If I thought about the distance that lay ahead, it might have been a bit daunting, but instead, I focus on the moment during these long rides. Feel my bike, spin the pedals smoothly, time my effort perfectly for the little ups and downs, and enjoy the ride. Listen to my body and keep the pace at a sustainable level. I didn’t think about what was behind or what lay ahead, but instead focused on becoming one with the bike. Shifts happened automatically without me thinking about them. The bike followed the road as I looked in the direction where I wanted to go, without any conscious input. The tires hummed on the pavement, and these early stages of the ride felt effortless.

The long climb to Bear Prairie at 2600 ft (800 m) elevation was punctuated by views of Mount Rainier (top photo). The reward for the climb was the wonderful descent on Skate Creek Road. Undulating, with little dips and rises, and sunlight filtering through the trees, this is one of the most wonderful roads. It’s just enough of a descent to go fast while spinning effortlessly. Skate Creek Road is the highlight of any ride, and it didn’t disappoint on this day.

Then we headed west again. There is always a headwind in the Cowlitz River valley: Warm air rises from the lowlands up the slopes of the Cascade Mountains and of Mount Rainier. On this day, the wind was blowing even stronger than usual, and we formed a larger group to work together.
Riding into a headwind for hours can be hard for me. Unlike climbs, headwinds don’t offer rewards. There is no downhill on the other side – the best you can hope for is that the wind will stop. It was nice to be in a group here – the others not only provided shelter, but also encouragement. Plus, it was fun to catch up with others on this ride.

Hahn has entered the Concours de Machines, held in conjunction with PBP this year, and so he’s experimenting with new ideas – including this ultralight, see-through handlebar bag.

At the next control, we split up again. Now it was just Ryan Francesconi and me, forging ahead. We reached the ‘overnight control’ at sunset: Our club rents some rooms in a hotel for those wanting to sleep a few hours. We stopped only briefly, ate bowls of soup, then headed into the night. Our plan was to ride ‘straight through.’ Another control – another gas station – provided an opportunity to refill bottles, stock up on food and stretch briefly, before heading into the night again.

The Hood Canal in moonlight was a beautiful experience. The roads were almost deserted. The lights of the small communities reflected in the water. Night riding really is a lot of fun. There was another control with volunteers in Tahuya – more soup and encouragement – and then it was just us and the night: Now we entered the almost mythical Tahuya Hills.

Climbing the remotest parts of the Puget Sound region at night is a surreal experience. The few houses that dot the landscape are invisible in the dark. The hills seem longer, and yet time passes more quickly. This part of the course has a beautiful rhythm, and I enjoyed it very much.
You’d expect to get sleepy in the middle of the night, but working hard on the uphills is the best way of staying awake, followed closely by the excitement of descending curving roads in the dark. A good headlight with an even beam is a big plus – almost a requirement – for this type of riding. We both welcomed the first signs of dawn with that special feeling of having ridden through the night.
The sun rose just as we descended into Seabeck. The little town was deserted and the quaint store on the water was still closed. Instead of getting a signature at this control, we answered a question on the control card. With the finish approaching – less than 100 km/62 miles away – we didn’t linger, but pressed on.

The hardest part of the ride was yet to come: Anderson Hill Road is feared by most cyclists who’ve experienced it. It’s a triple climb that rises like a stairstep, with a vertiginous 18% descent between the first and second step. We crouched in the full aero tuck, hit almost 90 km/h (56 mph) on the descent, and made it up most of the second climb, but there was no momentum to carry us up the third climb: It was just hard work.
It was over quickly: The overall elevation gain is modest, and while harsh, Anderson Hill Road climbs for just a mile. From there, we rode on (hilly) backroads to the finish on Bainbridge Island.

No records were beaten on this windy weekend – we took 26:15 hours to complete the course. The next ferry left just 15 minutes after we arrived, so after the briefest of rests, we rolled down to the harbor – tired, but happy.

On this Sunday morning, the ferry was full of bikes. Most were heading out for their Sunday rides, while we had just finished ours. We parked our bikes, tied them to the railing, and for the first time in more than a day, the clock no longer was ticking for us. It was as if the world had suddenly switched to slow motion.

As the ferry headed back to Seattle, we climbed upstairs, stretched out on a bench, and enjoyed a restful crossing. Despite – or perhaps because of – the challenge, brevets are fun: They are (mostly) fun on the road; you’re glad when you arrive; and you feel a great sense of accomplishment afterward.
Paris-Brest-Paris is just two months away. Now is a good time to look back over the experience gained from the brevets. Where are our strengths and weaknesses? Do we need to condition our bodies to riding long distances, or do we need to work on our speed? Shall we train on hills, or improve our speed on the flats? Now is also the time to deal with aches and pains that are caused by a lack of flexibility or by muscle imbalances.
This is also the last opportunity to use the experience gained in the brevets and make changes to our bikes. Apart from general maintenance – new tires, gear cables, chain and other wear-and-tear parts – are there parts that could be improved? Like a different handlebar shape to alleviate hand problems? Or a more comfortable saddle? A headlight with a better beam pattern to make night riding less fatiguing? A handlebar bag that makes food and clothes easily accessible while riding? We don’t want to make changes shortly before the big ride – now there still is time to dial in new components and make sure they work flawlessly by the time we line up on the start line just outside of Paris. In the next post, I’ll talk about some of these equipment choices and what has worked well for us.

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"Why I love Dirty Kanza" – Interview with Ted King


Last weekend was the 14th running of the Dirty Kanza, the famous 200-mile gravel race in Kansas. After the race, I was chatted with Ted King (TK), winner in 2016 and 2018, about what makes Dirty Kanza so special.

JH: Congratulations to another great finish in Dirty Kanza!
TK: This was my 4th go at DK, and it was the hardest edition that I’ve experienced.

JH: Tell us about the race!
TK: After the initial easy ride down Commercial Street, it ended up being a relatively slow roll-out where nobody really wanted to show their cards for the first 25 miles. At that point, with enormous faith in my equipment and tire choice, I gave it a good hard pull at the front of the group to break up the field. That dwindled the lead group from about 500 down to 50. The hours ticked by, and DK took its toll as riders dropped back from the typical places over such a tough slog: exhaustion, cramping, flat tires, or any number of other issues. 50 riders in the lead group became 25, then 10, then 8.
Colin (Strickland) rolled off the front on a hilly section and our group kept on the gas to keep him in sight. His advantage grew and grew, and it was clear that he meant business. Our pace picked up, Josh Berry went backwards from the group, and, a handful of miles later, so did I. I reunited and rode with Josh for a bit, then we separated and, with 4 miles to go, he and Kiel Reijnen caught me. We’re all buddies from our previous lives racing on the road together and amicably finished as a group.

JH: It sounds like a long, tough day. Tell us about the appeal of Dirty Kanza!
TK: For me, it’s the community and who shows up. Emporia is a pretty isolated location, smack in the middle of the country, and yet it’s such a fun, friendly, welcoming community. It starts right with the founders, Jim Cummins, Kristi Mohn, and Lelan Danes. They’re doing an amazing job celebrating everyone at the race, from first place to last, whether you finish or just line up. Emporia is not a quintessential cycling town, so it’s really palpable how they’ve persuaded a lot of people to get into cycling. For example, right there on Commercial Street in downtown, there are three bike shops, just four blocks apart! Every coffee shop, ice cream shop, and pub in town has some bicycle-related aspect to it. The whole community has embraced the sport so that it really is ‘Gravel Central.’ Then, at the finish, as the party engulfes the main street, it becomes a circus. It’s hilarious and really fun to be part of. It’s a wonderful critical mass, all backed by the community.

There is also a lot of history to the race. 2006 was the first year with just 34 riders. Back then, it was such an abominably long ride, before DK was DK. It grew a bit over the years until it suddenly became the event for a long single day of racing. Now 3400 or so people are racing it, with another thousand or more who haven’t won ‘the lottery.’ What I enjoy most is this community of friendly faces. It’s coming back year after year, seeing friends and folks I haven’t seen in a year, ready for another edition of an amazing race.

I think the distance is a huge part of the appeal. I do a lot of other long races, but 200 is such an interesting distance. You couldn’t do a 200-mile race in Vermont, for example, because it’s too hilly.

It’s such an iconic event too. Not much has changed since 2006. It’s still largely self-supported. If you started an event now, you’d need to put an aid station every few hours, have sag support, provide signage, and a bunch of other things. But they’ve kept DK pure over the years, really strongly tied to its roots. I love that it’s self-navigated. Sign pollution or sign sabotage can be a big issue in events, but being self-reliant makes for a really amazing day.

JH: What is it like to ride gravel in Kansas?
TK: The whole landscape is very wide-open and exposed. You start in downtown Emporia and roll out in a mass group. This is over relatively flat terrain. Then, the further out you get, the more gargantuan the hills get. You are on top of a crest and see the next one, and you think: “Geez, that’s a big hill. Who knew Kansas had climbs like these.”

And then you get into the deep gullies, where you drop down to a creek and then back up on steep climbs. It’s 12, 15, or 18%, and it takes quite some bike handling skills to get up, with the super sharp rocks and loose surfaces. Especially with all the precipitation they had this year.

Add to that, the wind always picks up in the afternoon. And since the course doesn’t go in one direction, the wind always changes. So you are blessed with a tailwind at times, and demoralized by cross- and headwinds at others.

Cows. Barns. Farms. You see lots of those things. It cattle country. You see farmers in huge pickup trucks, but unlike in many places, they are friendly folks who just drive by and wave.


JH: What is your equipment advice for Dirty Kanza?
TK: What I tell everybody who shows up at DK is to be confident about their equipment. It’s too late to arrive and start second-guessing, which inevitably everybody does. They come and say “My tire is too much”or My tire is too little,” “My gearing is too much” or “too little,” and so on. Focus on the ride and don’t worry about the bike.

JH: Tell us about your equipment choices.
TK: I’d say the biggest thing at DK is tires. You need tires that are tough enough not to flat on the incredibly sharp stones they have there in the Flint Hills. They’re truly unlike anything else I’ve ever ridden; it’s like riding on knives. I knew I was going to be on Rene Herse Endurance Plus casings, which gave me a huge confidence boost, and they performed flawlessly.

The weather was predicted to be wet, so I went with the Hurricane Ridge knobbies for the race. Then, on race day, it got really hot, and the course dried out completely. I was still happy with having knobs – there are so many corners that we took at high speed, and having extra tread gave me the confidence to stay off the brakes.

JH: This year, you use a double crank after a few years on a 1x. How do they compare?
TK: I’m a long-time SRAM athlete, and 1x has been their simple gravel setup in the past. Meanwhile, on the road, I’ve been racing eTap for half a dozen years or so, and I became a convert long ago. When the two combined, with confidence of eTap and the huge gear range with AXS, honestly, I find shifting fun with eTap. Certainly, I notice much smaller jumps between gears. Now I have 24 gears instead of 11. It’s truly fun to use, and it performed flawless out on the gravel.
JH: Why did you choose a Berthoud saddle?
TK: Mostly because I’ve used it for the entire year. It’s amazing in terms of comfort. It’s equally amazing how much attention it gets. My social media has become a forum where people ask me all the time what saddle am I using.

JH: Tell us about your new gravel ride/race, Rooted Vermont. What inspired you and Laura to organize the event?
TK: It’s a mix of a few things. After moving back east, we were immediately welcomed by the neighbors, who came and gave home-warming gifts and helped us move furniture into the house. Arriving in Richmond was truly special. On top of that, the riding is equally special: Right out of our house, we have mountain bike trails, gravel, paved roads. There’s an alpine ski area two miles away and nordic skiing maybe five miles from home. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, and we wanted to showcase this friendly local community to the greater cycling community. Laura and I have been lucky to have experienced so many events, and we want to take the best from each of them and bring it to our home roads.
JH: I understand that this year filled up quickly…
TK: We’re excited with the popularity in our inaugural event, but come back in 2020!

Photos by Ansel Dickey (except Photo 9).

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Bicycle Quarterly Summer 2019 Preview

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The Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It’s an another exciting edition, full of bike tests, adventures and great stories. As a preview, we made the little video clip above of Natsuko riding the Frances All-Road. Perhaps you admired this beautiful bike at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show – now you’ll find out how it rides! Natsuko took the Frances to Marin County, where she visited mountain bike pioneers Jacquie Phelan, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Breeze. And she rode the bike on the trails where mountain bikes were born.
It’s just one of many great stories in the Spring 2019 BQ. We are finalizing our mailing list tomorrow: If you’ve been thinking about subscribing, sign up today to be among the first to get your copy when it’s mailed next week. Thank you!
Click here to subscribe.

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Riding the new Open WIDE


Every BQ test bike that arrives at our office is greeted with enthusiasm. When OPEN hinted that they had a revolutionary, top secret, new bike they wanted us to try, we were even more excited than usual. Until now, we’ve had to keep the new bike under tight wraps, but it’s just been launched, so we can tell you about it.

So what makes the new OPEN WI.DE. special? Officially, WI.DE. stands for ‘Winding Detours,’ but it really means that the new OPEN fits really, really wide tires. And yet you can run road cranks with a narrow Q factor. Almost as exciting are the fender mounts that you can see lurking in shadows – OPEN’s new fender system will debut later this year.

How wide are the tires on the WI.DE.? Our test bike’s 650B boots measure a whopping 61 mm, and they are about as wide as will fit.

OPEN pioneered the dropped chainstay. The stay no longer sits between the tire and the chainring, but underneath. That means that the tire can be wider without pushing the chainring outward: You can run road cranks with a narrow Q factor, rather than mountain bike cranks. For most cyclists, a narrow Q factor means a more natural spin, more power and less fatigue. And yet you can run 61 mm tires. That is amazing.

New for the WI.DE. is the left chainstay: It also drops downward. This isn’t just to provide more clearance, but to create a box section that stiffens both chainstays. It’s often said that stiffer chainstays make a bike perform better. Does the WI.DE. deliver?
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We’re only in the early stages of our test, but first impressions are… well, the WI.DE. is really amazing. I never thought that I’d want tires wider than 54 mm, but now I am riding with 24% more air. And I could feel it during my first rides in the city. Rough streets are smoothed out, and riding in traffic, I can pick the best line regardless of the road surface. And best of all, the WI.DE. really likes to go fast. It’s a bike that entices me to push myself harder, to squeeze out that little bit of extra speed and fun. When I return home, I am tired, but elated.

Now I’m dreading the day when OPEN asks for their bike back. That will be very soon, because many magazines are lining up to test the new bike. We’re glad to be the first to ride it, and I’m determined to enjoy it as much as possible. We’ve already planned a great adventure for it, and the full test report will be in Bicycle Quarterly soon.
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Oregon Outback: the event that changed all-road bikes


It’s hard to believe that the first Oregon Outback, that incredible 363-mile gravel race, was just five years ago. It’s almost like we live in a different world now, so much has changed…

Back then, the idea of running a race that traversed the entire state of Oregon from south to north – on gravel roads! – seemed completely outrageous. So seemed the idea of riding the entire distance non-stop. And the idea of riding a road bike on these gravel roads. More than one rider told me at the start that they were astonished to see me on my Rene Herse for this grueling event. I am sure Ira Ryan, on his Breadwinner B-Road, heard similar comments.

A joyful crew rolled out of Klamath Falls on Memorial Day weekend in 2014. Most were on mountain bikes equipped with bikepacking gear. Nobody knew what to expect. Would it take two days or a whole week to reach the Columbia River at the other end of the state? There were few options for bailout; there was no support – this was a real adventure.

It did not take long for the race positions to shake out. By the time we reached Switchback Hill (above), there were three riders at the front. Ira Ryan was the favorite, having won the Trans Iowa race in his home state. He was riding on 35 mm tires – which was considered wide! Another strong racer was on a mountain bike. He had opted for narrower 700C tires. I was on the widest rubber, with our just-released 650B x 42 Babyshoe Pass Extralights.

I couldn’t match the speed of the other two, not helped by a broken hand that was still in a brace… With almost 300 miles to go, I settled into my own pace.

As the day wore on and the ground got softer, I could see Ira’s tracks swerving wildly from side to side. There was only one set of recent tracks, so I knew that the second rider had abandoned by now… Even on my 42 mm tires, I was struggling. And yet, on the (even softer) edge of the road, I could see the tracks of two mountain bikers who had come through here a few days earlier. Their wide tires had enabled them to ride in a straight line…
A few hours later, I reached one of the three towns on the route, where I met Ira Ryan’s camera crew. I learned that he was just 15 minutes ahead. Even though I had struggled on the loose surface, I had made up a lot of time – probably because my tires were wider.

The solitude of the long day on the road gave me time to think. I remembered how the Paris-Dakar Rally had fascinated me as a teenager. I could see parallels to the Oregon Outback: In the early Dakars, competitors used 4×4 trucks, which seemed the best vehicles to traverse the deserts of northern Africa. Then Porsche developed a four-wheel-drive version of their 911 sports car and won the Dakar in their first attempt (above).
Here in the Oregon Outback, it was obvious that the wide tires of mountain bikes provided an advantage on very loose gravel. Yet it was also clear that the mountain bikes themselves were holding back their riders on what really were roads after all. For the Dakar, Porsche had allied four-wheel drive with sports-car performance. Could we do the same and combine the wide tires of a mountain bike with the performance of a road bike?

By the time I climbed Antelope Hill, I had a plan: We’d take our all-road bikes beyond the 42 mm-wide tires that we’d been riding until then. I was certain that ultra-wide road tires would transform our bikes’ performance on gravel and other loose surfaces.

The last miles of the race went by in a blur. When I saw that Ira had written “Go Jan!” into the gravel, I knew I was on the home stretch. (Thank you, Ira, for encouraging me!)

After losing much time in the middle of the night – I back-tracked for more than an hour to make sure that I was on course – there was no hope of catching Ira. (He was faster anyhow!) My goal now was to finish in 30 hours. I redoubled my efforts and let the bike fly on the descent to the Columbia River.

I made my goal – and took the photo above after realizing that there was nobody at the finish. But I also wondered how much faster (and more fun) the ride would have been on wider tires.

Back in Seattle, I went to work on making road bikes with ultra-wide tires. My only concern was that nobody had ever ridden supple road tires that wide. Would they even be rideable? Or would the wheels bounce down the road like basketballs? Before we invested in tire molds, we needed to test this. So I asked the engineers at Panaracer in Japan (who makes our tires) to make prototype tires with our Extralight casing, using a mountain bike tire mold. A few weeks later, eight completely hand-made tires arrived. Now we had super-supple knobbies, but we wanted road tires.
The next step was to send the prototype tires to Peter Weigle, the famous framebuilder and constructeur. Years ago, he built a machine to shave the tread off tires, before we offered wide high-performance tires with just the right amount of tread. Peter shaved off the knobs to turn our prototype tires into slicks (above). The result were probably the most expensive bicycle tires ever made, but now we finally had 54 mm-wide, supple, slick tires that we could test.

Alex Wetmore had a 26″ bike that fit tires this wide, his Travel Gifford. We borrowed it and installed the new tires. If you look carefully, you can still see where the knobs were on the prototype tire above. It’s hard to describe our excitement: We were about to try something completely new.
enduro_allroad_cobbles
Then we started testing the new tires. On gravel, the 54 mm-wide tires were amazing. The bike just cruised over stuff that would have meant serious ‘underbiking’ on 42 mm tires. It was fun!
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What surprised us even more was the new tires’ performance on pavement. The grip was just incredible, both because there was so much rubber on the road and because the soft, supple tires no longer skipped over bumps. On this difficult descent in Leschi, you usually have to be cautious and brake for the bumpy turns. With the new tires, we pedaled as hard as we could, yet we weren’t able to reach the limits of grip. Did I say the testing was fun?

Knowing that the ultra-wide road tires worked as well as we had hoped, we ordered molds for two new tires: the Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ and the Switchback Hill 650B x 48 (above). Both were revolutionary at the time, by far the widest high-performance road tires anybody had made in more than half a century. (Some very early pneumatic tires had been quite wide, too.)

There were no road bikes yet for such wide tires, so we worked with Firefly to make us a custom titanium road bike designed around the 26″ Rat Trap Pass tires. We took it to 13,000 ft (4000 m) on the Paso de Cortes in Mexico (above), where it performed even better than we had hoped. (Testing the new tires was definitely fun!)

26″ wheels make sense for tires this wide, but the 650B wheel size had more traction at this point – that is why we introduced tires for both wheel sizes. The next step was obvious: Bike makers needed an inexpensive OEM tire before they could commit to making bikes for tires this wide. As a small company specializing in high-performance components, this wasn’t something we were equipped to do.
Fortunately, others were taking note of our pioneering work. In 2016, WTB launched its Byway tires. Now there were ultra-wide 650B road tires at OEM price points. Bike manufacturers were quick to act, and before long, almost every bike maker designed bikes around this tire size. Today, the size introduced with our Switchback Hill tires has become a new industry standard.

It’s hard to believe that all this started just 5 years ago, with the first Oregon Outback, that incredible 363-mile gravel race.

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Ted King – Gentleman Gravel Racer


2019 will be remembered as the year when gravel racing started to be on equal terms with the great races of Europe. When Pro Tour riders appear at the Belgian Waffle Ride, you know that it’s not just a local event any longer. And yet, the fun part of the sport – above the leaders at Landrun 100 – and the ability for all riders to enter, remain undiminished.
Gravel racing forms a great counterpart to the increasingly sterile, big-money world of professional road racing. Where else can you line up alongside the big names, and even have them cheer you on at the finish?

Few riders embrace this ethos better than Ted King. Even though he’s a retired pro racer himself, he now stands out in the field, in his unbranded jersey, as the quintessential gentleman racer. It’s all the more exciting when he takes podium finishes in almost every event he enters. Recently, he was interviewed on Gravel Cyclist about how he discovered gravel racing, what he is looking for in a gravel bike and tire, and where the sport is heading.

In addition, Ted’s own series, ‘G-Road to Kanza,’ has a new video report from the Belgian Waffle Ride. See Ted duke it out with riders who came straight off the Spring Classics. Click on the images above to enjoy the podcast and video!

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New Tires: Hurricane Ridge and Endurance Casings


Working with Ted King, winner of last year’s Dirty Kanza gravel race, has added a new perspective to our R&D. We’ve got a lot of experience riding gravel, even racing it, but today’s mass-start races aren’t the same as exploring the Cascade Mountains on forest roads, or even racing the 363-mile cross-state Oregon Outback during the early days of gravel racing.

Like all racers, Ted wants the fastest bike he can get, and supple tires make a greater difference than almost any other component choice. Depending on the surface, Ted has been racing our 42 mm Snoqualmie Pass (Landrun 100, 2nd place), 35 mm Bon Jon Pass (Belgian Waffle Ride, 3rd place) and 38 mm Steilacoom knobbies (Epic 150, 1st place).

For Dirty Kanza and similar big events, Ted asked for a tougher tire. When you race in a peloton, you don’t see where you are going. It’s inevitable that you’ll hit some rocks and holes that you’d go around if you were riding by yourself or in a small group. And unlike the smooth gravel often found in New England (above), some of the rocks in Kansas are awfully rough and sharp.

How do you make a sturdier tire without giving up the speed and wonderful ride of our Rene Herse tires? For our new Endurance tires, we started with our Extralight casing, but pushed the threads closer together to make a denser weave for improved cut resistance. Then we added a thin protection layer all around the tire that further enhances cut-resistance and puncture protection. The darker tan color distinguishes this casing from our other offerings.

By using the same ultra-fine threads as our Extralight casing, the new Endurance tires give up only a little speed. In return, you get significantly improved resistance to rock cuts and flats. And since we start with the Extralight casing, the Endurance tires don’t weigh a ton either – no more than our already very light Standard casings. As part of our testing, Ted King has been riding prototypes with the new Endurance casing. In fact, he used them to win the Epic 150 gravel race a few weeks ago.
The Endurance casing is also a great choice for adventures where you don’t know what to expect. It’s a perfect complement to our dual-purpose knobbies that offer great performance on pavement, gravel, mud and even snow. Combine the two, and there is little your bike won’t be able to handle.

For the punishing conditions of the world’s toughest gravel races, we’ve developed the Endurance Plus casing. This uses much stronger, thicker threads, plus the same protection layer as the Endurance casing. This is a tire you might choose when the race will be a game of attrition… (Did I hear someone say Dirty Kanza?)

Gravel racers also tell us that they need wider tires, but most modern cyclocross and many gravel bikes only fit 44 mm tires (if they are smooth) or 42 mm knobbies. We already have our 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass, and now they are joined by the 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge dual-purpose knobbies.

Hurricane Ridge is a great climb in the Olympic Mountains of Washington that offers two options: paved or muddy gravel. With the new dual-purpose knobbies, you’ll feel equally at home on both routes.

All this adds up to a lot of new tire models in the Rene Herse Cycles program:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom Endurance
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Standard
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Extralight
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Endurance
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Endurance Plus
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge Endurance

With Dirty Kanza approaching, we’ve airshipped the first of the new tires from Japan to give riders and racers additional options as they prepare for this epic (and other) events. Quantities are very limited for now. If you need your tires for Dirty Kanza, select an expedited shipping method and add “Tires for Kanza” in the note field, and we’ll send out your order as quickly as possible – usually the same day. (In fact, most orders are shipped the same day.)

All our other models are in stock, too. Together with the new tires, they provide a full quiver to suit most riders and most events. Click here for more information or to order.
Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photos 1, 3, 10), Landrun 100 (Photo 2), Dustin Michelson (Photo 5), Ted King (Photo 8).

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What makes a tire corner well?


Like many cyclists, we love climbs, but we live for twisty downhills. The feeling of the bike leaning deep into a turn is something that is hard to explain, yet easy to enjoy.

This video clip was taken on a short descent toward Lake Washington. We know this road well, and even though we aren’t taking any risks, it’s always fun.

Obviously, one key component in making descents fun and safe are good tires. What makes a tire corner well? Here are some factors that determine cornering grip on pavement.


Most important is a round profile. That way, the tire’s behavior is always the same, no matter how far you lean the bike.

Some older tires were taller in the center – I believe the idea was that you’d roll on a narrower portion of the tire, which was thought to be faster. This caused strange transitions as the effective radius of the tire changed as you leaned the bike. Some tires have a squared-off profile. That is even worse, as amount of rubber on the road decreases dramatically as you lean the bike into the corner. Fortunately, most ‘road’ tires today are round.


Next in the order of importance is the rubber compound. A grippy rubber compound will make the tire stick better to the road surface.

In the past, we had to choose between grippy rubber that wore out quickly, or durable tires that provided heart-stopping moments when they suddenly lost traction and skipped sideways.
Today, the best rubber compounds combine excellent grip with long life, giving us the best of both worlds.


The width of the tire is also very important. More rubber on the road provides more grip – that is why racing motorbikes use wide tires.

On bicycles, there are two reasons why wider tires grip better. They run at lower pressures. This allows them to stay in contact with the road surface better. When a narrow tire skips over a bump, it loses traction. The suppleness of the casing plays a role, too: A tire that absorbs bumps better also has more traction.

Reason 2 why wide tires have more grip: The tread rubber interlocks with the irregularities of the road surface. A wider tires can interlock with more surface irregularities, so it has more grip. (No. 2 appears to be the main reason why racing motorbikes have wide tires.)


Tread patterns also contribute to the grip of a tire, or reduce it. Micro-knobs that squirm under cornering loads should be avoided. The most grippy treads are designed to provide as many interlocking edges as possible. This is especially important on wet roads, where the pure friction between rubber and asphalt is much reduced. But you’ll notice the effect even in dry corners.

Why do racing motorbikes use slick tires? Motorbikes are too heavy and too powerful to use fine ribs – they’d wear off immediately. Instead, they use very soft rubber compounds. The heavy weight and high speed of the motorbike pushes the tire into the road, thus creating the interlock with the road surface. The downside is that racing motorbike tires wear out very quickly.


Tire pressure is important, too. It’s a compromise: Pump up your tires too hard, and they’ll skip over bumps and lose traction. Run the pressure too low, and the tire can collapse during hard cornering. If your pressure is just a bit too low, you’ll just notice that the bike is running wide. If it’s much too low, the sidewall can suddenly collapse, which isn’t a good feeling at all. Fortunately, there is a wide range of ‘OK’ pressures between these extremes.


Temperature is important, too. Rubber becomes more sticky when it’s warm. On a cold day, the grip from your tires will be much reduced – even if you don’t run into ice.

Racing motorbikes warm up their tires for optimum grip, but cyclists are too light to generate significant heat when cornering.


At least as important as the outright grip of your tires is the feedback they provide as you corner. Narrow tires provide very little, but wide tires with good tread patterns give you feedback of how much grip you have in reserve. It’s subtle, but once you know what it feels like, you can sense whether you have a lot of grip in reserve, or whether you are approaching the limit. The best way to learn what this feels like is to ride on slippery surfaces – mud or snow – where you can slide at low speeds and (usually) recover from the slide. But that is a topic for another post…

In summary, to corner with confidence, you want a tire that is round, wide, supple, with a tread pattern that interlocks with the road surface, a rubber compound that grips well – and ideally, you’ll ride on a warm or hot day.


At Rene Herse Cycles, we love descending, so we’ve optimized our tires for all these factors – except the weather. You’ll have to provide that yourself.

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Supporting the Classics: Rene Herse Brakes and Chainrings


At Rene Herse Cycles, we support the classics, in addition to pushing the envelope as we develop our modern parts. René Herse’s bikes were prized for their beauty and performance, and today, they continue to be treasured like few other classics.

I’ve enjoyed many great rides on classic Rene Herse bikes and tandems – above in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris – but I also know about the challenges of keeping bikes rolling decades after they’ve been made. That is why we support the restoration and use of these wonderful machines with spare parts.

Rene Herse cantilever brakes were revolutionary when they first appeared: incredibly light and powerful. Even today, they are still the lightest brakes you can buy. Over the years, many Herse bikes were equipped with newer brakes when parts became hard to find.
We now offer the original brakes for restorations. They differ from the modern version: They are designed for Rene Herse’s proprietary posts, whereas our modern brakes fit on standard posts. Also, the straddle cable and the springs are different.

The springs and straddle cables are available separately as spare parts, too. For the straddle cable, the ends are silver-brazed onto the wire, so the length of the cable can be adjusted as needed.

We also offer the classic Rene Herse brake pivots to help restorers who want to return classics to the condition in which they left the workshop of ‘the Magician of Levallois.’ (René Herse’s nickname alluded to the part of Paris where his workshop was located.) The L-shaped braze-ons were guards to prevent the brake from rotating into the spokes in the (unlikely) case the brake cable failed.

To go with the brakes, we offer the superlight Rene Herse cable hanger, which is a great choice not just for classic restorations, but also for modern bikes like my Mule.

Many Herse bikes have been ridden huge miles, and their chainrings tend to be worn, especially since the classic rings were made from relatively soft 6000-series aluminum. (Our modern rings use harder 7000-series that resists wear.) The first Herse crankarms used smaller chainring bolts and a different interface between spider and ring. We now offer our chainrings as blanks without holes, so they can be adapted to fit all Herse cranks made since 1938. Unlike the brakes, these are not exact replicas of the originals – they use our modern tooth profile and are made from 7000-series aluminum. They are a great choice to keep a cherished bike on the road. Right now, we’re offering the small rings, which are more likely to be worn. In the future, we plan to add other sizes as well.

In our program, you’ll also find many of the custom bolts that Herse used on his bikes, plus overhaul kits for Mafac brakes and other parts.

We plan to expand these offerings in the future. It’s all part of our commitment to the 80-year history of Rene Herse Cycles.
Click here for the full range of restoration parts in the Rene Herse Cycles program.
Photo credits: Maindru (Photo 2), Nicolas Joly (Photo 8).

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The long road to dual-purpose knobbies


When Ted King recently won the Epic 150 gravel race in Missouri on our Rene Herse Steilacoom tires, many were surprised that he ran knobbies on a fast course. But there were a few muddy corners where the knobs would provide valuable grip, and Ted knew that on the smooth portions of the course, he wouldn’t give up performance, thanks to our innovative tread pattern.

When we developed our ‘dual-purpose’ knobbies, I wanted tires that roll and corner as well on pavement as they grip in mud. I can see you shaking your head: “Impossible!” For grip in mud, you need knobs. On pavement, knobs flex as the tire rolls, consuming energy and slowing the bike. And when leaning the bike into a paved turn, knobs squirm, which reduces grip and makes cornering unpredictable.


That is why for most of the history of cycling, there were knobby tires for cyclocross, and smooth tires for the road. Nobody thought of riding knobbies on the road…


When mountain bikes became popular in the 1980s, knobby tires were part of their rugged appeal, but most entry-level mtbs were ridden around town. Tire makers started to think about making knobbies that perform better on pavement. The solution was obvious: Make them less ‘knobby’ by spacing the knobs more closely. In the center of the tire, the knobs often were linked to form a continuous ‘center ridge.’ This distributed the rider’s weight over more knobs and reduced the squirm. On pavement, this worked to a degree – these tires squirmed less, but they were still no high-performance tires.

There was a drawback: When you really need knobs to dig into soft soil, mud or snow, the closely spaced knobs clog up. You spin as you would on a slick tire. These days, you don’t find many tires with center ridges and densely spaced knobs any longer, because they are worse than road tires on pavement, and just as bad in mud.


The next idea was to remove the knobs in the center of the tread. That way, you roll mostly on smooth rubber when going straight, which reduces the tire’s resistance. As long as you go straight, this works OK. When you corner on pavement, the tire grips fine at first. Then you climb onto the knobs and suddenly lose traction. It’s not exactly what you want from a high-performance tire…

If these tires had excellent performance in mud, it might be worth the trade-off. But when grip is reduced,  you can’t lean the bike far enough to use the corner knobs. Even if the tire sinks deep into the mud, there are too few knobs to really make a difference – you don’t get much extra traction. Once more, you end up with a tire that corners like a knobby on pavement, but slides like a slick tire in mud.


How can you get around this problem? On the face of it, the answer is simple: Make the knobs large enough that they don’t squirm, yet space them far enough that the mud clears from in between. The knob shape itself doesn’t make much of a difference – the engineers of several tire makers have acknowledged privately that the different knob shapes are “mostly for style.”

Coming up with the idea was easy, but the devil is always in the details. Can a knob be large enough not to squirm, yet small enough to dig into the mud? Our testing indicated that this was possible. How much open space do you need to clear mud? Fortunately, decades of racing cyclocross on various tires had given us a good idea of where to start with our testing.

How to make a knobby tire that corners predictably? You arrange the knobs so that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, no matter how hard you lean the bike. That way, the traction is always the same, rather than suddenly breaking away as you lean and get on the edge of a line of knobs. It’s logical, and yet I haven’t seen any other knobby tire that follows that principle.


The hardest part was combining all these parameters into a single tread pattern. It took a lot of experimentation, but the result has surprised everybody. On a fast paved group ride, these tires perform as well as many racing tires. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but riders who’ve tried these tires agree. Gravel racer Ted King wrote to us: “On pavement, they’re incredibly smooth. The tread pattern is awesome  it’s really cool how deceptively simple the Steilacoom tread is, yet how well the tires work.” One independent reviewer even set Strava KOMs on his Steilacooms.


The cornering is easier to show. I can’t think of any other knobby tire that I’d dare to lean over that far on pavement. And I wasn’t even pushing the limits…


How about the performance in mud? After three seasons of cyclocross on Steilacooms, everybody agrees: They grip as well as the best cyclocross tires developed specifically for muddy courses.

Surely, there must be some drawbacks – otherwise, we should all be riding these knobbies all the time!

On the straights, the knobs have less ‘pneumatic trail,’ because there isn’t a continuous surface of rubber on the road. That means they don’t have quite the same straight-line stability as smooth-treaded tires in the same width. You may not even notice this, because the effect is small.

The knobs add a little weight, too, but once again, the effect is small, because the tread between the knobs is thinner – that part of the tire doesn’t wear, so we don’t need extra rubber there. Our knobbies weigh between 45 and 60 g more than their smooth-treaded cousins in the Rene Herse tire program. Thanks to our lightweight casings, they’re still lighter than almost any other tire with the same width.

As to the rolling resistance, the difference is so small that you won’t notice on the road even on a spirited ride with a group of well-matched friends. The biggest disadvantage may be that, like Ted King at the Epic 150, you’ll have people wonder why you ride “so much tire” on rides that include significant pavement…


I’m excited about the Rene Herse dual-purpose knobbies, because they make rides possible that were difficult to imagine before: rides that combine paved roads with muddy trails and even snow. We no longer have to choose between on-road performance and off-pavement grip. Once again, we’re pushing the limits of what our all-road bikes can do.
Our dual-purpose knobbies are available in three models:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge
  • 650B x 42 mm Pumpkin Ridge
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson (Photo 1).

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BQ 4-Packs

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Each edition of Bicycle Quarterly is more than just a magazine: It’s a small book with more than 100 pages of timeless contents. The most common complaint we get is: “It doesn’t come out often enough!”
We can’t produce more than four editions a year, but we do offer past editions in convenient four-packs. Choose among classics like Peter Weigle’s adventures in the Japanese mountains (above) or the incredible Copper Canyon traverse in Mexico. Marvel at Lyli Herse’s eight championships or the exploits of the passhunters. Read up on technical research about wide tires, geometry, frame stiffness that has changed the cycling world.

Each four-pack will bring many hours of reading enjoyment. Click here to see the BQ four-packs on a variety of exciting topics.

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Add the Spring Bicycle Quarterly to your order


If you’ve been curious about Bicycle Quarterly, we offer an easy way to have a look at the current edition: Simply add it to your Rene Herse Cycles order. You’ll see a prompt when you check out. For just $ 7, we put the current edition in the box with your order. It’s that simple.

When you open the box, it’ll be a hard choice: Will you mount your new parts on your bike or will you dive into the latest Bicycle Quarterly? With so many riveting stories, like our mid-winter adventure on the Salsa Warbird…

…or Donalrey’s story of taking his brand-new all-road bike to the Maritime Alps in southern France, you’ll spend many enjoyable hours reading.
Click here to see a full table of contents of the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly.

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Celebrating Earth Day


Today is Earth Day – a day to celebrate our planet and think about what each of us, in our daily lives, can do to protect it. As cyclists, we get to enjoy nature in immediate ways: As we pedal over hill and dale, we feel the landscape, we smell it, and we become part of it. We also can make a great contribution to preserving it.
Cycling as a commuter can replace car trips and make a significant impact on the biggest threat facing our planet: climate change. It can also do the opposite, if I ride in distant places and drive (or even fly) to the start of my rides. Few of us can live car- and plane-free lives, so I think of myself as having a ‘carbon allowance.’ If I travel overseas, I try to combine trips that meet suppliers, visit family and ride my bike. Still, flying uses much of that ‘carbon allowance.’ In daily life, I ride from my doorstep – or take the train – when it’s possible.
The things we buy have a large impact, too: Manufacturing and distributing goods takes a large portion of the resources we consume. Buying quality things that I enjoy for a long time reduces the impact considerably. Do I need five bikes? Perhaps I would enjoy one truly great bike more? This wouldn’t just reduce the manufacturing by 80%, but the great bike will last longer, too.

When we shop, do we really need same day delivery? Do we want drivers to head out from distribution centers with just our package in their cars? Or is standard ground shipping, transported together with thousands of other parcels in a fuel-efficient truck, going to be just fine?
This blog is read by many in the bike industry, and it’s important to remember that, as manufacturers, our actions have a big impact. Let’s try to make products that can be enjoyed for a long time. Let’s support them in the long run. Can we prolong the lifespan of our parts by making them easy to upgrade? Sometimes, we can: Our new Rene Herse 11-speed cranks use a chainring that can be installed on all cranks we’ve made since 2011, bringing them up to the newest spec.

An aspect that we hear little about is reducing waste in production. This starts with selecting manufacturing processes that don’t waste material. For example, forging cranks (above) isn’t just stronger, it also uses just the right amount of metal. It continues with designing our parts carefully – recalls aren’t just dangerous for customers, they also waste a lot of parts. And it finishes with supervising production to make sure all our parts meet quality control from the onset. The latter is a bigger problem than I thought: When I visited the component plants in Taiwan, I was shocked by the size of the junk bins full of parts that were rejected before they even left the factory.

Looking back at the history of Earth Day, we’ve come a long way: No longer do we suggest that selecting a paper bag instead of plastic at the grocery store has a meaningful impact. Yet in many other ways, our consumption of resources has spiraled out of control. Each of us can make a difference. This doesn’t just reduce our own impact, but also can inspire others to do the same. Because living consciously creates great joy, and that is contagious.
So let’s celebrate our beautiful Earth by going for a ride today!

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Berthoud Bags in Black-on-Black


Our entire line of Berthoud bags is now available in black-on-black, for a contemporary aesthetic that matches modern bikes. Unchanged is the outstanding performance, light weight and durability of these bags.

Leather and canvas may seem like unlikely materials for a high-performance bag, but Berthoud bags aren’t just lighter than most ‘modern’ bags, they also retain their waterproofness in the long run. There is no coating that wears off, nor a liner that adds weight and may leak in the future: The cotton fabric itself swells when it gets moist, making it inherently waterproof.
The black-on-black bags have one difference to the traditional models: The edging of the black-on-black bags is made from Nylon, not leather like the other colors. The edging tends to get some abuse, and if it was made from leather that had been dyed black, the natural tan color would show through after a while. The Nylon is strong and doesn’t change color as it wears.
The design of these bags has been refined over more than half a century, which shows in small details like the elastic closures that are easy to operate with one hand, even while riding.

Berthoud bags are made by hand in France from the best materials, so they aren’t cheap, but they last far longer than other bags we’ve tried. How long? As long as you occasionally treat the leather, they’ll continue to look great after a decade or more of daily use. In fact, I still use the very first Berthoud bag I bought in 1999, twenty years ago.
The Berthoud program includes more than just the iconic handlebar bags:

The small universal bag attaches to the saddle, to a rack, or even to your handlebars – it’s a great way to add carrying capacity and style to your bike.

For more space, the banana-shaped saddle bags are hard to beat. They attach to the saddle rails with a strap…
… or if you have a Berthoud saddle (except the superlight Galibier), you can bolt a small KlickFix attachment to the saddle and mount the bag that way.

I love the small roll-closure bag. Carry it under your saddle or in a bottle cage to carry tools, a tube, and perhaps a lightweight rain jacket. It’s so much nicer and more secure than a cut-off water bottle!

 
The best-kept secret in Berthoud’s range are their panniers. With the ingenious laces, the volume of the panniers is easy to adjust – expand them when you need to carry extra food for a stretch of empty country, or contract them when you wear all your clothes on a cool day. The leather straps compress the bag when you close it – nothing wiggles or rattles.

Our Berthoud panniers attach with simple leather straps and a metal spring that hooks onto the rack. This tensions the bag and prevents it from rattling on rough roads. After touring with these, I miss the features when touring with other bags!

If there is one small drawback to Berthoud bags, it’s that the leather requires a little upkeep. When new, I treat my bags with Obenauf’s Leather Preservative, and if the leather appears to get dry, I repeat – maybe once a year if the bags are used in the rain a lot.
Berthoud also offers their Leather Cleaner & Conditioner (above). It’s less strong and doesn’t penetrate the leather’s surface as much. Mostly, it’s useful for leather saddles that are have softened with age – it doesn’t soften the saddle leather further. We have it in stock, too.
At Rene Herse Cycles, we don’t just offer proven products, but also the spares you need to keep them on the road. The metal springs of the Berthoud panniers don’t wear out, but if you fall or hook a pannier on an obstacle, they can get overstretched. It’s not serious – you can always continue your ride, whereas plastic hooks that snap may well end your trip. We now offer the springs – as well as the leather straps – as spares. Usually, you don’t need the rivets that come with them: Just bend open the hook on the bag and insert the new spring.

With our recent Berthoud shipment also came a restock of the popular saddled: All models and colors are in stock again…

… and so are Berthoud’s popular bar-end mirrors.
Click on the links below for the full program:

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Ted King's Bike for Land Run 100

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In his latest video, Ted King takes us around his bike for Land Run 100 and explains why he chose the Rene Herse Snoqualmie Pass 44 mm all-road tires, rather than knobbies, for the race across the red dirt of Oklahoma.
Click on full screen mode and enjoy!

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UD Racks: a modular system for canti and disc bikes


After 2 years of R&D, we’re excited to introduce the UD-2 rack in a version for cantilever brakes. All you need to fit this rack on your bike is a hole in the fork crown and cantilever brakes.

Handlebar bags are popular for touring, randonneuring and bikepacking, because they offer a lot of capacity in an easy-to-access location. They don’t extend beyond the outline of the bike, making it easy to pass through tight spots. Handlebar bags work best when they are supported by a rack.
The Rene Herse UD racks are part of a modular system that uses the same platform, with different struts, to fit bikes with disc and cantilever brakes. Attach it to the canti posts (canti model), to mid-fork eyelets or even to the dropouts (disc model)! And best of all, the struts are available separately, so you can move the rack from one bike to the next.

The new canti-specific UD-2 rack comes with 150 mm struts that fit on bikes with a post-to-crown (PTC) distance of 70 – 98 mm. That specification includes most touring bikes and a lot of mountain bikes. Later this year, we’ll offer longer stays that fit bikes with very generous tire clearances.
Why did it take 2 years to develop the UD-2 rack? When we introduced the UD-1 for disc brakes, we figured it would be easy to modify the stays so they fit on cantilever posts… But a bend in the struts where they connect to the canti posts weakened the tabs, and they kept cracking in our testing. We went from an aluminum to a stainless steel strut, and finally to CrMo steel and a different design that eliminates the bend. Now the UD-2 is strong enough for heavy loads on rough roads. It’s been tested on Nitto’s fatigue testing machines for 10,000s of miles without problems. (Nitto makes Rene Herse racks to our own superlight specifications.)

The new rack joins the UD-1 Disc rack, which attaches to eyelets on the fork or to the dropouts. Both use the same platform…

… and the struts are available separately. This allows you to move the rack from one bike to the next.

Both UD racks are compatible with our innovative light mount: It uses the weight of the light to keep the attachment bolt tight – no matter how much your bike vibrates, the light mount will never come loose. And out on the open road, you’ll appreciate that the angle of the headlight is adjustable by hand.

In other rack news, our ultralight CP-1 rack for centerpull brakes is now available with an elegant light mount for ‘hanging’ SON Edelux lights. The location of the light has been optimized to be close to the rack for optimum protection and elegance, yet it does not cast a shadow on your trajectory during right turns.
At just 168 g, the CP-1 is one of the lightest racks ever made, yet it’s strong enough to carry a heavy handlebar bag on rough roads. (You need a fork with centerpull brake pivots for this rack.)
The CP-1 rack is also available with a ‘standing’ light mount that allows you to run most headlights, or with simple eyelets in case you don’t always want to use a light.

To complement the popular Berthoud saddles, we now offer two Nitto seatposts. The S-65 is a lightweight single-bolt seatpost made to Nitto’s famous quality standards.

The S-83, better known as ‘Frog,’ has two bolts to clamp the saddle ultra-securely. Both are available in 250 and 300 mm lengths.

The Berthoud mirrors, both in the standard aluminum version and with leather inserts (above), have been so popular that it’s been hard to keep up with demand. Now all models are back in stock.
Click on the links above to learn more about these products, or click here to head to the Rene Herse Cycles web site and browse the entire program.

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The Road to Paris-Brest-Paris


Paris-Brest-Paris, one of the world’s oldest long-distance events, is held every four years. 2019 is a ‘PBP Year,’ and thousands of cyclists all over the world are preparing to ride 1200 km (750 miles) from France’s capital to its westernmost city and back.

PBP is not just an epic ride – it’s an amazing event with a long history. Started as a ‘utilitarian race’ in 1891 to promote cycling as a means of travel, it became a professional race for half a century (above, the 1931 winner, the Australian Hubert Opperman). Back then, it was considered so hard that it was run only every 10 years. As PBP morphed into a randonneur event during the 1930s and 1940s, it was run every five, then every four years.

Before we can take the start on the outskirts of Paris in August, we have to prepare. Riding 1200 km in 90 hours (or less) isn’t something that most of us can do without training and planning. The preparation is part of the fun.

The prospect of climbing the bucolic, but relentless, hills of Brittany in August has us head into the mountains with more vigor than usual. The season starts with the new year…

What we lack in form during these early rides, we make up with fun. We aren’t in a big rush, so we stop at stores along the way. We have plenty of time to talk and rekindle our friendships after not seeing much of each other over the winter.

We rediscover favorite roads in the lower parts of the Cascade Mountains, and we breathe fresh mountain air.
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We take backroads whenever we can.

We check on what is new since we last came out here. When will the Bush House in Index finally reopen? A nice option for lunch at the half-way point of our customary early-season ride would be nice!

With the coming of spring, the brevet season starts. Now we’re also working on our speed. In a ‘PBP Year,’ we have to ride the brevets, rain or shine: They are required to qualify for the big event. It’s actually the harder rides that create the greatest memories.

Last weekend’s 300 km brevet started with torrential rain. This was followed by ferocious winds as we rode up the coast. We drafted each other in silence, turning the pedals with smooth regularity. The landscape passed almost like a movie as we pedaled on flat roads, buffeted by the gusts.
Wind creates a strange disconnect between the effort and the landscape. Hills make it easy to predict how hard you need to work: You see them coming, you climb them, and then you are usually rewarded with a descent. In the wind, the effort changes with every gust. It makes it difficult to judge how much effort you can maintain.

And yet, we had a good time.

And then, after hours of hard effort, our ride came to a stop when the longest train I’ve ever seen crossed the road at a leisurely pace.

It was a good opportunity to rest and chat with our friends after battling the winds all day.

We headed out again the following day for a 200 km brevet. The course was beautiful, and we were excited to discover new roads…

… and new places.

And toward the end of the weekend, the roads even turned dry!
PBP is still four months away – there is plenty of time to prepare. From now on, the preparation will include our usual adventures as the snow melts in the Cascade Mountains. Fortunately, preparing for PBP requires doing what we like most: riding our bikes.

In the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly, we feature four PBP Anciens (riders who’ve completed the long ride). Each has a different approach to the long ride, each has different goals, and each came away with different impressions. Yet they all agree that PBP changed their lives. And their advice for riders planning the big ride is remarkably similar: Take it one section at a time, and never give up! Click here for more information about this BQ edition.
Photo credits: Evelyne Champaux (Photo 3), Ryan Hamilton (Photo 6), Ryan Francesconi (Photos 9, 10), Tim Wainwright (Photo 16).

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Safety Advice: Non-Standard Rims and Rene Herse Tires


Safety advice: Rene Herse tires are designed for rims that meet the ETRTO standard, specifically:

  • G height: 5.2 – 6.5 mm
  • Sidewalls with hooks.

Rims that do not meet the current standards – especially hookless rims and rims with sidewalls that have G heights of less than 5.0 mm – are not recommended for use with Rene Herse tires. This is especially important when installing your tires tubeless. Our testing has found that tires mounted tubeless on hookless rims or on rims with lower-than-standard G heights have a less-than-adequate margin of safety against blow-offs. All warranties are void when Rene Herse tires are installed on rims that do not meet the current ETRTO standards.

The ETRTO (European Tire and Rim Technical Organization) sets most standards for car and bicycle tires and wheels, not just for Europe, but for the entire world. Currently, the ETRTO standards are the only standards that exist for tubeless bicycle wheels. They specify the G height of the sidewall at 5.2 mm (for tubeless) and 5.5 – 6.5 mm (for tubes, depending on the rim width). The sidewall must have a hook.

Like most tire makers, we design our tires to meet the ETRTO standards. Why don’t all rim makers follow these standards, too?

In the past, there were some poorly designed rims with overly deep wells and G heights larger than 6.5 mm. Fortunately, these rims have long been discontinued, and cyclists who still have them usually know how to deal with the problems that occur when trying to mount tires on them (as much as this is possible).

These days, we see some rims with G heights that are smaller than the ETRTO standard and no hooks. Even though these rims do not meet the current standards, this makes sense for mountain bikes with carbon rims: A tall sidewall makes the rim vulnerable if the tire bottoms out while the bike is leaning over. The tall G height provides a long lever that can crack the rim. Why hookless? Mostly because the hook is difficult to make with carbon fiber: It requires a complex 3-piece mold for the rim bed.

A ‘hookless’ rim (above) with a shorter G height is stronger and less expensive to make. Stiff mountain bike tires are inflated to ultra-low pressures. They won’t blow off their rims even if there isn’t much sidewall to hold them on. So the non-standard rims have worked fine for mountain bikes. These mountain bike rims usually come with low maximum pressure ratings.

Recently, some rim makers have introduced ‘gravel’ or ‘all-road’ rims that are made to mountain bike standards: without hooks and with low G heights. Unfortunately, these rims don’t work well for high-performance all-road tires.


We can’t say it often enough: The bikes we ride aren’t mountain bikes. They are road bikes with really wide tires. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the industry still misunderstands what gravel and all-road riding is all about: The sport has grown from the bottom up, when riders like us headed into the mountains, found new roads and designed new equipment to ride on them. Some of the established manufacturers are getting it, but many still think inside their traditional boxes of ‘Road’ and ‘Mountain’ bikes. More often than not, they’ve put our bikes into the ‘Mountain’ category.

Here at Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve always thought of them as ‘road’ bikes – that is why we coined the term ‘all-road bike’ for them. Even though my Firefly (above) has 26″ wheels, it’s not a drop-bar mountain bike. It’s a road bike with wide tires. We ride on road tires, and we need road rims for them.

That is why hookless mountain bike rims don’t work well for all-road wheels. All-road tires are supple, and they run at higher pressures than mountain bike tires. This requires an additional margin of safety.

We tested a 650B x 48 mm Switchback Hill tire on a carbon mountain bike wheel with a hookless rim and a G height 0f 5.0 mm. We mounted the tire tubeless, but without sealant (for obvious reasons). The rim is rated to 40 psi, and the tire was fine at that pressure. 40 psi isn’t a lot, even for a 48 mm-wide tire. The tire is rated to 55 psi, so we kept inflating to see what would happen. At 58 psi, the tire blew off. We then repeated the experiment with a second tire, and it blew off at 65 psi. This problem is not limited to Rene Herse tires: Other riders have reported similar blow-offs with tires from other makers.

58 psi is a lot of pressure for a 48 mm tire, but when the tolerances stack up in a bad way (slightly oversize tire and slightly undersize rim) or when the tire isn’t installed perfectly, the blow-off pressure will be lower. Then the margin of safety won’t be adequate. This is neither the tire nor the rim’s fault. It’s simply using the wrong rim for a supple all-road tire.


How much of a difference does the hook make? We put one of the tires on a HED Belgium Plus rim. The G height is the same as on the carbon rim we tested (5.0 mm), but the HED rim has a hook. Even though this is the same tire that already had blown off the rim once, it stayed on at 75 psi. The is no doubt: The hook has a crucial function in keeping the tire on the rim. Other rim and tire makers have tested and found the same: The hook significantly increases the pressure at which the tire safely stays on the rim.

Fortunately, there is another way to increase the margin of safety: Use inner tubes. We put the tire back on the hookless mountain bike wheel, this time with a tube. We inflated it to 75 psi and left it overnight. Nothing happened. We were surprised that even the violent explosion had not stretched the tire, but these beads are strong. (However, we don’t recommend re-using a tire that has blown off the rim.) That is good news: Hookless rims tend to work better when used with tubes – even though we cannot officially recommend them, since they don’t meet the ETRTO standards to which our tires are designed

Conclusion: All-road bikes are road bikes, and all-road tires are road tires: They should be mounted on road wheels. When you buy new wheels, make sure the rims are designed to the ETRTO standards, and not to mountain bike standards: You want a hook and a G height of 5.2 – 6.5 mm. If your wheels already are equipped with hookless rims, using tubes can increase your margin of safety. And check the maximum pressure ratings, not just of the tire, but also the rim: Don’t exceed them!


Tubeless is great technology – had I used inner tubes on the ride across Odarumi Pass in Japan (above), I probably would have pinch-flatted several times. But tubeless is also an emerging technology. We’ve had to learn how to mount tires (huge blasts with compressors are a sign that the rim is undersize) and how much sealant we need (more than we usually think). Now we are discovering that hookless mtb-style rims don’t work well with all-road tires.

Why do tubeless tires blow off so much more easily? Without a tube reinforcing the joint between rim and tire, it’s much easier for air pressure to force its way out. It’s still extremely rare for tires to blow off, but, with tubeless tires becoming more popular, there have been more incidents than before. They affect all brands of tires – a little while ago, a wheel maker told me of two different tires from a big German tire maker that had blown off his hookless rims that day.

Also remember that tubeless-compatible tires always need liquid sealant inside. If the sealant dries out completely, the tire can break loose from the rim sidewall and deflate suddenly. This can cause the tire to come off the rim, even if rim and tire are sized correctly.


Safety is our biggest concern, not just for our customers, but also for ourselves, because we ride our bikes hard. We’ll continue to test, and we’ll continue to work with rim makers, to drive tubeless technology forward in a safe and responsible way. The last thing we want to worry about during our adventures is whether our tires will stay on their rims! Fortunately, in almost 100,000 km (60,000 miles) on Rene Herse tires and their predecessors, I’ve not experienced a blowout. We’ll work hard to make it remain that way!

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Land Run 100: The Movie

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Gravel racing is one of the most exciting developments of cycling as a sport in recent years. It combines full-on racing with adventure and drama. Gravel races are a modern take on the roots of cycling, when racers were battling it out on the unpaved mountain passes of the Alps and Pyrenees, when bikes had to survive the entire race, and when racers were independents who had to read the race and rely solely on their own strength…
A few weeks ago, Ted King placed second at Land Run 100 mile gravel race. We were excited that he chose our Snoqualmie Pass tires (and a Gilles Berthoud saddle) for this challenging course. Now Ansel Dickey has made a movie of Ted’s trip to the red clay of Oklahoma. Switch to full screen mode and enjoy!

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48/33 Rings for Rene Herse Cranks


We’re offering a new chainring combination for our 11-speed compatible Rene Herse cranks. The 48/33 is a perfect size for fast-paced group rides – you won’t get dropped even on downhills with a tailwind, yet the 48 is a bit smaller than the more common 50, allowing you to stay in the big ring on most hills. And if it gets really steep, the 33 extends your range down to a 1:1 gear with most cassettes – or beyond.

This is the combination that I ride in Paris-Brest-Paris, where strong tailwinds and fast groups can require slightly bigger gears than we use during our adventures in the Cascade Mountains.
Why the 15-tooth step between chainrings rather than the more common 16-tooth? To understand why a 48/32 doesn’t work well, let’s look at how ramped-and-pinned chainrings work.

The pins pick up the chain and lift it onto the big ring. The ramps only make room for the chain, so it can smoothly climb onto the big ring; they don’t actually lift the chain.
Chains are made of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ links. The pins on the large chainring work only if they mesh with an ‘outer’ chain link, right in the middle of the link (above). Inner links are recessed and won’t touch the pin.
The problem with a 48/32 is that both tooth counts are divisible by 16. This means that there are 16 possible positions for the pins. The bad news is that those 16 positions always hit the same chain link – either an inner or an outer – depending on how the chain is placed on the chainring. If the pins always hit inner links, they won’t help with the shifting at all.
In other words, the 16 possible pin positions on a 48/32 ring are duplicates. What you need are (at least) two distinct positions, so there’s always a pin that hits an outer link – no matter how the chain goes on the ring.

That is why we make a 48/33, where the pins always line up with outer (and inner) chainlinks, no matter how the chain is placed on the ring. That is how all ramped-and-pinned chainrings work: Half the pins don’t do anything, but the other half pick up the chain reliably. It doesn’t matter how the chain is positioned on the chainring – half the pins line up correctly.
Now you can see why ramped-and-pinned chainrings only work in pairs. That is why the big ring is marked not just with its own tooth number, but also with the small ring size for which it is designed.
Some makers offer rings that just have a few ramps and pins, without a clearly designed path for the chain. Usually, they are marked only with their own size. Those rings still shift OK – the same as classic chainrings. It’s just that those ramps and pins don’t really do much… and with narrow 11-speed chains, it gets harder to lift the chain to the big ring without the help of a pin.

With the new chainrings, Rene Herse cranks are the only 11-speed compatible cranks with a full range of customized gearing: 48/33; 46/30; 44/28; 42/26. It’s great to have those gearing options, whether you want the new 48/33 for fast group rides or the 42/26 (above) for mountain adventures. We have you covered. And you’ll get shifting that rivals the very best from the big makers, plus superlight, forged arms that pass the most stringent EN ‘Racing Bike’ fatigue test.

If you bought a Rene Herse crankset in the past, you’ll like that all our cranks (since we introduced them in 2011) are easy to convert to 11-speed. All you need is a new 11-speed large chainring. We designed the new rings so they work with our existing small rings and crankarms. Because we don’t believe in planned obsolescence, and we are committed to supporting our products in the long run.
Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.

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Technology Transfer from Motorbikes and Cars


In recent years, there has been a lot of technology transfer from motorcycles and cars to bicycles. Modern bikes finally have tubeless tires and disc brakes, both introduced in cars as early as the 1950s!
Cyclists tend to be a conservative bunch, but it’s only a matter of time until we’ll see bicycles follow the lead of cars and motorcycles in other ways:

Spoked wheels are a total anachronism. When did you last see a race car with ‘wire wheels’? Cars made the switch to cast aluminum wheels more than 50 years ago. Motorcycles soon followed suit, and yet we’re still riding around on wheels held together by tensioned steel wires! Interestingly, carbon wheels were tried by Citroën (of course!) during the 1970s, but they never caught on. On bicycles, the switch to cast aluminum wheels is long overdue.

Another no-brainer are fenders for performance bikes. The aerodynamic benefits have been confirmed in Bicycle Quarterly’s wind tunnel tests. We’re not the only ones who figured this out: Moto GP bikes (above) have fenders to shield the tires from the onrushing air. And yet bicycles still expose their wheels to the wind like 1920s race cars!
The UCI ban on fairings may outlaw fenders for pro racers, but for the rest of us – and especially for gravel racing – well-designed fenders will increase a bike’s speed as much as a set of aero wheels.

 
Radial tires have improved traction and fuel efficiency of cars and motorbikes for decades, yet today’s bicycles still roll on old-fashioned bias-ply tires. Panaracer in Japan actually made radial bicycle tires decades ago, but a lack of interest stopped that experiment before the tires could be perfected. Improved traction and better efficiency – what is not to like?

Modern bicycles finally have electrically activated derailleurs, but the shifts are still operated manually – in fact, most racing bikes have four shift levers/paddles! How archaic!
High-performance cars these days have automatic gearboxes that learn the driver’s style and shift gears at just the right moment. Why not on bikes?

Anti-lock brakes and anti-wheelie protection are long overdue. Powerful motorbikes have it, and bicycles need it, too. With hydraulic disc brakes, it’s actually possible to flip the bike around the front wheel when braking hard (top photo). And modern bikes have so much performance that it can be hard to keep the wheel on the ground during full acceleration.

The chain is perhaps the most anachronistic part of a modern bicycle. Early cars had chains driving the rear wheels, but they were replaced by clean and silent shafts a century ago. Shaft-drive bicycles briefly were popular in the late 1800s, but conservative cyclists still resist the obvious move toward modern technology. It’s only a matter of time until dirty chains will be as obsolete as mechanical brakes.

Suspension is another obvious necessity: Cars or motorcycles without suspension are unthinkable. It’s not just about comfort, but also about traction: A tire that skips over bumps loses traction. Suspension is needed to keep the tire on the ground at all times. And yet racing bicycles still skitter over bumps on skinny 25 mm tires in a rigid frame! Suspension will change the way races are won – racers no longer will attack on the climbs, but outcorner each other on the flats and descents.

We’ve actually made some gains with regards to traction: Cyclists finally have adopted lower tire pressures. This was long overdue: Even racing motorcycles rarely run more than 40 psi, and yet racing bicycle used to roll on tires that were inflated rock-hard. We still have some ways to go: Few bike racers run pressures as low as 40 psi – the myth is this will negatively affect the handling and cornering. Somehow, it works for Moto GP bikes…
With disc brakes, tubeless tires, and lower pressures, we’ve made a start to overcome a century of stagnation in bicycle technology. Cast wheels, aero fenders, radial tires, automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, shaft drive and suspension are just around the corner. What other innovations will trickle down from cars and motorcycles to bicycles soon? And how will that shape future bicycles?
Last edited: April 1, 2019

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Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 is here!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmt02COlmb4?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
The Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 mm dual-purpose knobbies have arrived. Unlike any other all-road tire, they combine excellent speed and cornering grip on pavement with unrivaled traction in mud and snow. At 450 g (Extralight) and 510 g (Standard), they are among the lightest tires in this popular size.
We had a lot of fun testing the new tires in the Cascade Mountains, and you’ll have a lot of fun riding them on your own adventures. We made this little video during our testing, showing the new tires in their native habitat.
The new Juniper Ridge tires are now in stock, but supplies are limited. More are on the way.
Click here for more information or to order.

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80 Years of Rene Herse Cycles


When Compass Cycles became Rene Herse Cycles earlier this year, many cyclists wondered: Who was René Herse, and why is his work relevant today? Here is the story of how René Herse and his bikes have inspired modern all-road bikes:

Eighty years ago, René Herse entered the cycling world with a splash when he entered the lightest bike in the 1938 Concours de Machines technical trials (above). Fully equipped with wide tires, fenders, rack, lights and even a pump, this amazing machine weighed just 7.94 kg (17.50 lb). Not only was Herse’s bike incredibly light, it also was strong: The Concours included 680 km (425 miles) of hard riding on rough mountain roads, with penalties for any parts of the bike that broke or stopped working.
Gravel roads in the mountains, spirited riding, carrying the supplies for your adventures: This sounds exactly like modern all-road riding and bike-packing! René Herse loved this style of riding, and he designed his bikes and components specifically for it.

Who was René Herse? During the previous decade, he had worked at Breguet, France’s leading aircraft builder. He made parts for prototype aircraft, including the famous ‘Question Mark,’ the first plane to fly from Paris to New York, in 1930.
We all know about Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight in the other direction, just three years earlier. Lindbergh was aided by powerful tailwinds. Going the other way was much, much harder.

The ‘Question Mark’ had three times the horsepower of Lindbergh’s ‘Spirit of St. Louis,’ yet it took seven hours longer to make the trip. The two pilots landed in New York after more than 37 hours of non-stop flight (above). It was a monumental achievement, and all his life, René Herse treasured the medal he received for his part in this success.
Applying the knowledge gained from working on planes, Herse designed and made lighter, stronger bicycle components. The Concours de Machines was the best place to perfect them.

During his premiere in 1938, René Herse’s bottom bracket – one of the few unmodified parts of his bike – developed play, costing him first place. He wasted no time to develop a better bottom bracket, with pressed-in bearings that lasted for decades. At the 1947 Concours, his bike (above) won, with zero technical problems after hundreds of high-speed miles on gravel roads in the French Alps.

Based on the experience of the Concours de Machines, Herse developed bikes that stood heads and shoulders among the machines that had come before. They were superlight, extremely reliable, and beautiful. He equipped them with his own components and with supple, handmade tires that he sourced from specialist makers.

Herse’s specialty were randonneur bikes, but the quality of his frames wasn’t lost on the biggest names in racing. More than a few came to the workshop in Levallois-Perret, just outside of Paris, to order frames. Lyli, René Herse’s daughter, told me how world champion Briek Schotte waited for the final assembly of his bike the day before a big race, eating a sandwich “as long as my arm.”

Herse supported his own team of randonneurs, who dominated the cyclotouring competitions of the 1950s and 1960s. The photo above shows Robert Demilly (front) and Maurice Macaudière on the way to setting a new record in the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris in 1966. Their time of 44:21 hours for this incredible distance (which translates to 750 miles) remains competitive even today.

Lyli Herse was an incredibly strong rider herself: She won no fewer than 8 French championships. When she wasn’t racing, she worked in her father’s shop, building wheels and managing the component supply.

After Lyli retired from racing, a few young women asked her for training advice. Lyli formed a team that continued her successes – including two world championship titles by Geneviève Gambillon (above).

Herse also continued to build bikes for adventures that spanned entire continents: Paris to Istanbul, a trip across Northern Africa, the West Coast of the U.S. by tandem…

After her father’s death, Lyli took over Rene Herse Cycles. She was married to Jean Desbois, who had been Herse’s best framebuilder in the 1940s and 1950s, and again in the 1970s. Together, they continued to build amazing bikes until Jean’s health problems forced them to close the shop. When the word spread that this might be the last chance to get a Rene Herse, Lyli received so many orders that Jean had to work out of their house for two years to complete the bikes.

I met Lyli through my research into the bikes her father had built. When we started to explore the gravel roads of the Cascade Mountains in the early 2000s, we realized that Herse’s amazing machines provided a perfect blueprint for the bikes we needed. So I contacted Lyli Herse…
At first, Lyli wasn’t sure what to make of the young American who wanted to talk about her father, but when Jaye Haworth and I rode a 1946 Rene Herse tandem in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris, she warmed up and agreed to meet me.
Over the next 15 years, I visited Lyli and Jean many times. I learned everything I could about René Herse and what made his bikes so special. Jean explained how to make the iconic stems and how to bend the tubes for the racks and for the amazing Chanteloup tandem frames. Others who had worked at the shop shared additional information, and interviews with suppliers shed more light onto the production processes.

Rummaging through Lyli’s garage in search of parts and tools, we came upon two suitcases of photos: the Herse family archives, compiled by her mother. Seeing the bikes, the workshop and the riders in these amazing images was the last piece in the puzzle of researching Rene Herse Cycles. Our acclaimed book René Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders was the result.
During one of my visits, Lyli told me that she worried about the future of the Rene Herse name. She had no children, and she was afraid that after her passing, the name might be used in ways that her father might not have approved of. She now wished that she had sold the brand and passed it on to a successor. As she looked at me intently, I realized that she was asking me to continue Rene Herse Cycles.

I was not yet ready to take on that responsibility, so I brokered a deal between Lyli and my friend Mike Kone to take over the name, while I bought the remaining tools, documents and other physical assets of the company. Mike made a few Rene Herse bikes in Colorado, before the brand reverted to me.

That is how Rene Herse Cycles was reborn in the Cascade Mountains. Inspired by Herse’s famous originals, we’ve introduced cranks, brakes and other components that are ultralight and offer excellent performance. We’ve developed wide, supple high performance tires that allow us to traverse entire mountain ranges.

When the Concours de Machines was revived in France, we joined forces with J.P. Weigle to enter a bike in the spirit of the great constructeurs. Combining Peter’s mastery with Herse’s designs, the bike was the lightest to finish the difficult event, and one of the few that didn’t have any technical problems. Lyli was proud when we visited her after the event.

Sadly, Lyli died last year, on the day that would have been her father’s 110th birthday. We lost a dear friend, who surprised us during every visit – such as when she gave Natsuko and me a rose from her garden in 2016.

As Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains, it’s our goal to keep the brand as relevant in the future as it has been for the last 80 years. Like Herse, we enjoy spirited rides far off the beaten path. Our riding experience has defined our philosophy: Only the very best is good enough. Performance is more important than fashion. And when our bikes are beautiful, we want to ride them more. These are the principles that guided René Herse. They continue to guide us today and into the future.
Further reading:

Photos are from the Rene Herse book, except: Natsuko Hirose (Photos 1, 12, 13, 20), Maindru (Photos 14, 16), Nicolas Joly (Photo 19), Duncan Smith (Photo 21).

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Ted King: Gravel Racing on Rene Herse Tires

They call Ted King the ‘King of Gravel’: Winner of both the Dirty Kanza and Grinduro in 2018, he’s the man to beat. With ‘gravel’ being the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle market, even professional teams are lining up to challenge Ted. So what does a champion do when others come after him? Ride hard and work on his equipment to ensure he has the speediest bike in the peloton. He’s also made the move to Vermont to have some of North American’s finest gravel at his doorstep.

That is how the Ted King-Rene Herse relationship came about. Ted had ridden Rene Herse/Compass tires in the past on his own road bikes, including a 700-mile self-supported trip down the California coast, and he was curious how they’d work on gravel. We sent him a few sets of tires for testing and after riding both our dual-purpose knobbies and our all-road tires in Vermont’s tough winter, he was impressed.

He loved the Steilacoom knobbies:
“On pavement, they’re incredibly smooth. There is no noticeable chatter; no abrupt transitions from mid-turn to righting the bike and pedaling straight. Segue offroad, I had all the confidence in the world when ripping gravel. The tread pattern is awesome  it’s really cool how deceptively simple the Steilacoom tread is, yet how well the tires work.”

Ted told me about the incredible James Bay Descent he and three friends were planning: A 700 km ride in northern Ontario on fatbikes in the middle of winter. It’s wonderful that even at his level, gravel riding is still about having fun on the bike first and foremost.
For a trip this remote, where even a simple saddle sore can cause real problems, I suggested he try a Gilles Berthoud saddle. His response was typical of a racer: “Changing saddles (much like changing tubeless tires) is not my favorite activity, so I will do it ASAP and report back.”
In the event, he liked the saddle so much that he got the same saddles for the entire team. During the return from their incredible ride (above), Ted wrote: “I wanted to send a note on behalf of the entire team saying that our butts are far more sore in these plush car seats than on the 40+ hours of riding. The Berthoud saddles were incredible and the entire team loved them.” And Ted asked to keep the saddle for his gravel racing rig.

Fast forward to last weekend and the first big gravel race of the season. Ted finished a close second – above he’s crossing the finish line one second behind winner Payson McElveen after they set a new course record.

Ted chose to race on our 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass tires. He texted afterward: “Everyone said that you’d need knobby tires, but the tires were perfect, because it was so dry. The Snoqualmies were amazing!” He also was very happy with the Gilles Berthoud saddle – he’s planning to keep it on his bike.
We are excited to work with a racer of Ted’s caliber. His input into tire development is extremely valuable to us. It’s great that our tires have been working so well for him, and we’ll see where our collaboration will lead us in the future.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 1), Ted King (Photos 2, 3, 4, 6), Land Run 100 (Photo 5).

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Back in Stock and New: Framebuilding Parts


Good news: The long-awaited Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades are back in stock. Even better news: We worked with Kaisei to maximize their length, so there is a little extra for bikes with ultra-wide tires, or to cut off the bottom part that is hard to bend smoothly. The new blades are 430 mm long instead of 405 mm in the past.
Why do we love these fork blades? The fork is an integral part of the bike’s suspension: It absorbs hits that are too big for the tires to handle alone. The difference in comfort is really remarkable when you ride two bikes with the same tires, but different fork blades, back to back. As since the improved shock absorption reduces the suspension losses, a fork with a little give also makes you faster on all surfaces.

The ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades work perfectly with our ultra-strong and ultra-light Rene Herse fork crown.

We’ve added a third chainstay to our Kaisei tubing program: In addition to stays with 0.7 and 0.8 mm wall thicknesses, we now offer 1.0 mm stays. These are ideal for bikes that carry a heavy load, and for riders who prefer a stiffer feel to the drivetrain. We offer them both straight and custom-bend to clear wide tires (above).

 
The Rene Herse bottom bracket shells are designed to fit the curved stays, with a socket angle that is a bit wider than standard. Available both for standard and OS down tubes.

Another addition to our framebuilding program: Hahn Rossman has redesigned our taillight mount. It’s now much easier to braze, and your builder can shorten it if you prefer the taillight to be closer to the seat tube. (The new braze-on does require a larger hole in the seat tube, but we’ve found that this doesn’t cause any problems.)

We’ve sourced and designed our framebuilding program for bikes that traverse entire mountain ranges in one go – because your bike should not limit the adventures that you can imagine.
Click here for more information about the Rene Herse framebuilding program.
Photo credit: Nicola Joly (Photo 1).

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Video: All-Road Cycling in Japan

[youtube https://youtu.be/Bqn2MZJw9-Q?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
Beautiful bikes, great roads, traditional Japanese inns: BQ editor Natsuko Hirose’s short clip takes you to the Izu Peninsula. It’s the first trip on her new all-road bike – a great opportunity to enjoy cyclotouring with friends.
Enjoy this preview, then read the full story in the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Make sure to watch in ‘Full Screen’ mode!
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Rene Herse / Compass tires are safe with carbon rims


Recently, Enve put out a Consumer Safety Bulletin about their carbon wheels and tires made with natural fibers. The conclusion: “Tires using natural sidewall materials with an open tubular type construction are not fit for use with ENVE carbon rims.” Natural fibers are inconsistent in their strength, and the hard edges of carbon rims can cut the weakest ones, causing the tire to split and blow out.

This had some customers worried: Are Rene Herse / Compass tires safe to use with carbon rims. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” 
Our tires, including the Extralight models, are made from polyester. In fact, we investigated cotton casings when we first started making tires, but we found the same thing: Cotton – a natural material – is somewhat inconsistent. Some fibers are very strong, others much less so. Polyester has the advantage of being very uniform – ideal for making thin and supple tire casings.
In the past, polyester casings were relatively coarse and not very supple, hence cotton and silk was preferred for high-performance tires. Today, modern manufacturing allows to make extremely fine polyester threads that equal or surpass the suppleness of the natural fibers.

In addition to the stronger material, our tires include a thin strip that goes around the bead. This reinforces the joint between rim and tire, and avoids problems like those reported by Enve. So whether you use carbon or aluminum rims, rest assured: Rene Herse and Compass tires equal the performance of the best ‘open tubulars,’ but they are strong enough to be used on all rims.

Our on-the-road experience confirms this: We’ve ridden our tires on Enve rims with a variety of bikes, without any problems.
The service bulletin also notes a second issue: Some (but not all) cotton tires can have inconsistent diameters and stretchy beads. As a result, they can blow off the rim. Again, this does not apply to Rene Herse / Compass tires: They are made to the tightest tolerances by one of the best makers in the world: Panaracer. In fact, Panaracer tires are specifically mentioned by Enve as a brand recommended for use with their rims.
Oh, and the much-anticipated 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge tires you see in some of the photos? They are on their way to Seattle. We should have them within a month.
Further information:

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Longer cranks should be stronger


Our Rene Herse cranks are available in three length: 165, 171 and 177 mm. We chose 3.5% increments, because that is the smallest difference you’ll notice as you ride. That part is just common sense. What makes our cranks unique among small-production cranks is that we use different forging dies for each crank length.

Let’s first talk about why we forge our cranks: Forging strengthens the metal because it aligns the grain structure (above). By contrast, CNC machining just carves the part out of a big block of aluminum. You’ll still have the grain structure of the original block, which is now interrupted where the block has been cut away. On a complex shape like a crank, this creates a lot of weak spots. (Aluminum behaves a lot like wood in this respect, where you always want to work with the grain, not cut across it.)
To make up for the lack of strength, CNC-machined parts use more material, making them bigger and bulkier. If you want slender, lightweight parts that still are strong enough for hard riding, you’ll want to forge them.
3_lengths
To obtain the full advantages of forging, the forging die must be close to the final shape of the crank. Otherwise, you start cutting into the grain structure again, and you lose the strength advantages of forging. That is why Rene Herse cranks use different forging dies for each crank length. Above you see the raw forgings. To turn them into cranks, holes are drilled and threaded and the arms are polished. The grain structure of the cranks remains uninterrupted.

Forging dies are expensive, and that is why small makers either CNC machine their cranks or, if they forge them, often use a single forging for all their crank lengths (above, the final forging is at the bottom). The area where the pedal eye will be is elongated, so that the crank can be machined to the final length as needed. This saves money, but it means that the forging’s grain structure is interrupted in the highly-stressed area at the transition to the pedal eye, where many cranks break. Does it matter?
Years ago, the then-owner of TA told me that in the past, they had two forging dies for their cranks. Back then, most riders used 170 mm cranks, so they made a net-shape forging for that length, similar to the Rene Herse forgings above. This made sense, because it eliminated the machining, which was expensive in those pre-CNC days. But there was an added benefit: Very few of these cranks broke.
For the other arm lengths – and TA used to offer many – demand was not enough to warrant a net-shape forging die for each length, so they made the forging with the oblong pedal eye that you see above. This was then machined to the final shape. According to the owner of TA, those cranks were less reliable.

This matches my experience. Recently, I encountered a broken crank (above). Checking the length, I wasn’t surprised that it was a 177.5 mm crank. When I traced the shape of the raw forging on a piece of paper, I could see that the crank broke exactly where the oblong pedal eye started on the original forging, and where the material was removed. It makes sense – this is the most stressed area, because the pedal has the most leverage here.
This doesn’t mean that all cranks that don’t use net-shape forgings will break. Note the oxidation on the broken crank – it’s seen a lot of miles, and it was used on a commuting bike, where lots of starts and stops put great strain on the crank. Still, I sleep better at night knowing that Rene Herse cranks don’t have that weak spot.

When we developed our Rene Herse cranks, we decided that they had to be as strong and as reliable as the best cranks in the world: Our cranks had to pass the EN ‘Racing Bike’ standard, not the less-demanding ‘Trekking/City Bike’ standard that most other small-production cranks meet. The only way to pass that rigorous test is by using net-shape forgings, which require dedicated forging dies for each crank length.
new_dies
Using separate forging dies for each crank length has one added advantage: We can make the longer cranks stronger. If you look carefully, you can see that the arm on the left has a larger cross-section. This compensates for the longer lever of the 177 mm cranks and also for the higher power output and greater weight of taller riders. It’s logical, yet I haven’t seen any other cranks that are beefed up for the longer versions.
This also means that all our cranks – and not just the shortest ones – pass the test. In fact, we’ve tested each length several times to be sure. (A single test might just capture a lucky outlier.)

Making separate forging dies for each crank length triples our tooling costs, but it’s the only way to make high-performance cranks that match the performance and reliability of the best cranks from the big makers, while still offering unlimited chainring choices and an understated classic aesthetic. You don’t make the world’s best components by cutting corners!
Further reading:

 

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The Drawbacks of Supple Tires


At Rene Herse Cycles, we love supple tires. More than anything else, they have come to define what we do: Bring you the highest performance and greatest joy as you ride your bike. Supple casings makes tires faster and more comfortable – what is not to like?
This post’s headline already hints that, like all great things, supple tires have some drawbacks. They are high-performance parts. We make our Rene Herse / Compass tires as user-friendly as possible – for example, we add a little rubber to the center of the tread to increase their lifespan considerably. But we don’t want to reinforce our tires to the point where it compromises their performance. This means that – like all high-performance components – supple tires require a little extra care.

Tire Mounting
Supple tires are more flexible, which can make them harder to mount, especially with tubeless-compatible rims. The ‘well’ in the center of the rim is there to allow mounting and removing the tire. It reduces the diameter of the rim, and provides slack to lift the bead over the rim wall. To mount the tire, the bead must be in the well all around the rim (left bead in the drawing above).
With stiff tires, the bead is either inside the well or not. With supple tires, the bead can flex and snake in and out of the well. When that happens, the bead rests partially on the ‘shelf’ next to the well. Then the bead doesn’t have enough slack to be lifted over the rim sidewall. The tire seems incredibly hard to mount. The secret is to go around the tire several times and push the bead into the well in the center of the rim. Then, a supple tire becomes as easy to mount as a stiff one.
Pro Tip: Tubeless rim tape is thinner and slipperier than standard tape and should always be used with tubeless-compatible rims, even when you install tubes. Otherwise, the tire bead will not slide over the edge between the well and the shelf as it seats against the rim wall. Tubeless tape can be a good choice with non-tubeless rims, too, if the tire fits too tightly.

Tubeless Installation
Tubeless tires eliminate the risk of pinch flats, which can be a game changer for riding in really rough terrain. We feel this is important, so we’ve worked hard to make our wider tire models tubeless-compatible.
Tubeless installations work great for 99% of our customers, but the remaining 1% can have trouble. In rare cases, the casing can leak sealant through the sidewall. To keep the casing supple, we keep the rubber coating to a minimum. Sometimes, this can leave the casing a little porous. No problem if you are running tubes, but tubeless sealant can leak through these pores: Make sure to shake the sealant for at least 60 seconds before you inject it into the tire. For the first installation, we recommend Orange Seal, which seals the casing better than other brands. Also make sure you add enough sealant – wide tires have a large surface area and will absorb a surprising amount of sealant.
Sometimes, the tiny pores in the tire’s casing are smaller than the solids in the sealant, allowing the liquid to escape without the solids plugging these microscopic holes. You’ll see bubbles on the sidewall. (Sorry, no photo – in more than 50 tubeless installations, it has yet to happen to me.) If this happens to you, we’ll replace the tire under warranty. The alternative would be to coat all our sidewalls with more rubber, which would make our tires heavier, slower and less comfortable.

Tubeless tires can blow off the rims – independent of which brand you use. This is rarely the fault of the tire, but usually a rim problem. We’ve found that quite a few rims are slightly undersize. When you use tubes, this makes sense – a slightly undersize rim poses no problem, because the tube reinforces the joint between rim and tire. An oversize rim would make the tire difficult or impossible to mount. That is why the tolerances of rims are usually negative (smaller is OK, bigger is not). Some OEM rims appear to be intentionally undersized, to facilitate tire mounting in the big assembly plants for production bikes.
When you mount your tires tubeless, there is nothing reinforcing the joint between rim and tire. Even a slightly undersize rim can cause a tire to blow off. This problem is greater with supple tires: A stiff tire will stay on a slightly undersized rim, because its bead has to lift over the rim edge for quite some distance before it blows off. A supple tire can lift across the rim edge in just one place, because its sidewall is more flexible. This can lead to consternation among customers: “This rim worked with my last tire, and now you say it’s undersize?” What happens here is simply that the tolerances for the fit between rim and tire are tighter for a supple tire: A rim that (barely) works with stiff tires may be too far out of tolerances for a supple tire.

Fortunately, you don’t have to replace your rim just because it’s a bit undersize. Build up the rim bed with extra rim tape – use thicker ‘Gorilla Tape’ if the fit is very loose – and the tire should seat fine. You want a slightly tight fit of the tire on the rim, so you can barely mount the tire by hand, or with some light tire lever action. The tire should seat when you inflate it with a standard floor pump. If you need huge blasts of air from a compressor to seat the tire, the fit is too loose.
Don’t try to seat a tire that doesn’t fit properly on the rim! You risk having it blow off while you ride. Improve the fit by building up the rim bed with tape, then seat the tire.
Pro Tip: For many riders, it makes sense to run inner tubes. First of all, it makes your bike faster: A thin, lightweight tube adds less resistance than liquid sealant sloshing around inside your tire. The tube reinforces the rim/tire joint, greatly reducing the risk of blow-offs. If you are concerned about flats, you can add sealant to your inner tube and obtain similar puncture protection with less hassle.

Puncture Resistance
There is no doubt about it: Supple tires are less resistant to punctures – they don’t have the ultra-thick tread and reinforcing belts that resist punctures, but also make tires stiff, heavy and slow. If you get a lot of flats with your current tires – and your tires aren’t worn paper-thin – you probably shouldn’t run supple tires.
If you ride on the shoulders of busy highways, which are strewn with debris ranging from broken beer bottles to steel wires from exploded truck tires, you’ll have flats with most tires, and supple high-performance tires are definitely not a good choice. The photo above was taken during a 600 km Flèche ride. Between three bikes and one tandem, we had one puncture during the entire ride – during the 5 kilometers we rode on a highway shoulder.
Fortunately, as more riders have adopted wider tires, punctures have become a relatively rare occurrence. A 42 mm tire inflated to 35 psi (2.4 bar) will just roll over most debris that would puncture a narrower tire inflated to higher pressures. And since wider tires encourage you to explore backroads with cleaner pavement, the actual frequency of flats is much less than in the past, even though our tire casings, by themselves, are less puncture-resistant.
 
Pro Tip: Racers used to wipe their tires after riding through debris. If the debris is removed before it gets hammered into the tire, most flats can be avoided. Rather than risk injury by putting your hands on your tires, you can use tire wipers – little wires that brush debris off your tires.

Sidewall Cuts
Supple sidewalls are thinner and easier to cut. When the tire scrapes along a rock, especially a sharp one, the sidewall can get cut. How does often this happen? It depends. In some regions, the rocks are sharper than in others. Some riders let the bike move around under them more, so the tires aren’t forced into the rocks, reducing the risk of sidewall cuts. And sometimes, it is just plain bad luck.
I’ve ridden our Extralight tires over 10,000s of miles on rough gravel, and I’ve had one sidewall cut – in the epic Otaki 100 km Mountain Bike Race in Japan. It didn’t destroy the tire, as it cut only through one of the three layers of the casing. I rode the tire for another week on a tour, then replaced it.
Pro Tip: Our Standard casings use slightly thicker threads, making them more cut-resistant than the ultra-supple Extralight models.

Cost
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that supple tires are more expensive. They are made from more expensive materials. Their finer tolerances mean that they have to be made mostly by hand, by skilled labor. They are made in small batches. All that costs a little more.
Fortunately, wider tires last a lot longer, because they spread the wear over a greater rubber surface. Now that I am running 42 mm-wide tires, I find that my tires lasts about three times as long as the 28s I used to run. So even if my tires cost three times as much (and they don’t), the per-mile cost is the same.
Pro Tip: If you ride relatively few miles, your tires will deteriorate and crack before you wear them out. Keep your tires out of direct sunlight and away from refrigerators, freezers and heater blowers. Electric motors emit ozone, which destroys the rubber of your tires. Stored in a cool, dark and dry place, your tires will last (almost) forever.

In the past, supple tires were tubulars that only racers used, and only for races and special events. We all switched to our ‘training wheels’ for other rides, because the hassles and costs associated with tubulars were too great for everyday use.
Fortunately, supple tires are now available as clinchers. Wider tires have greatly improved the old problems of flat and wear resistance. We’ve made some additional tweaks to Compass / Rene Herse tires to make them more user-friendly without detracting from their performance. Our goal is to make you smile every time you go for a ride.
Further reading:

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Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly


The Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. We are finalizing our mailing lists – subscribe or renew today to get your copy with the first mailing. You don’t want to miss this edition!
One focus of the Spring BQ is women in cycling. More women enjoy cycling than ever before, but many still face a problem: Most bikes are designed for average men – and many women have a hard time finding bikes that fit them.
Our editor Natsuko is all-too-familiar with this problem. When she needed a new all-road bike for gravel adventures, she went to C. S. Hirose, the Japanese master builder. He created a bike with a 47 cm frame that doesn’t involve compromises in handling, performance or appearance.

Read Natsuko’s story about where she took her new bike for its first ride. Find out how it compares to her other bikes with narrower tires. Discover its many special features in beautiful studio photos.

Women have always participated as equals in randonneuring. Giving you a taste of this year’s incredible Paris-Brest-Paris adventure, we talk to two randonneuses (and two randonneurs) from three continents. Why do they ride 1200 km (750 miles) almost non-stop? What did they enjoy most about PBP? What was most challenging? What bikes do they ride? And what is their advice for riders contemplating the big ride? You’ll be inspired by these riders and their passion!

Adventures come in many guises. Finding a new route across the Dark Divide of the Cascade Mountains (yes, that is the official name!) in mid-winter certainly qualifies. What better test for the Salsa Warbird all-road bike? With its all-carbon frame, the latest Warbird is geared toward performance, yet it’s got all the mounts of a modern adventure bike. Is the Warbird tough enough for this challenging route?

When I saw Sanomagic’s beautiful wooden bikes at the Tokyo Handmade Bicycle Show, I thought they were charmingly different. When their builder insisted that they matched the light weight and performance of carbon bikes, I was intrigued. So we visited his shop, learned about the technology transfer from ultralight mahogany sailboats to bicycles, and even rode one of his rare creations. Rarely have I been so surprised by a bike!

Photographer and hardcore rider Donalrey Nieva ordered his new Firefly all-road ‘ultra-adventure’ bike with 26″ wheels and a low-trail geometry. As soon as it was ready, he took it to southern France to climb all the cols in the maritime Alps. How did it perform on such challenging terrain? How does it compare to his other, more conventional all-road bike? You’ll love his story and his stunning photos.

Steel, carbon, wood, titanium – the Spring BQ covers the spectrum of modern frame materials. For our Shop Visit, we take you into the surprisingly small factory in Japan where most of the steel tubes for the thousands of Keirin race bikes are crafted. Kaisei prides itself on making the tubes that professional racers rely on, week after week, in the toughest racing you’ll find anywhere.
See how steel tubes are butted and how fork blades are swaged. Discover why high-end steel frames remain so popular in Japan, and why Kaisei is the most important supplier of tubing for those bikes.

Cycling is full of remarkable characters, and few were more charismatic than Michael Barry Sr. Best known as the driving force behind Mariposa bicycles, Michael passed in December. We look back on a life lived to the fullest on two wheels.

These are just a few of the features in this exciting 112-page edition. Reading the stories and looking at the photos will take you on rides near and far, and it’ll inspire you to plan your own adventures.
Click here to subscribe today and be among the first to get the Spring Bicycle Quarterly.

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New Rene Herse Waterbottles and Stickers


We’re excited to release our new Rene Herse waterbottles. The bottles are based on the popular Purist bottles and feature the new Rene Herse logo. The new design is limited to 500 bottles. Available now for $ 10. We’re not suggesting that these will become sought-after collectors’ pieces, but we do suggest that you order your bottles while they last!

We also have stickers with the new logo. They measure 1″ x 3.5″ – perfect for your bike, your tool box, your notebook,… We’ll include one with each order over $ 50, as long as supplies last. They also are available in packs of 10 small ones and one large one (2″ x 7″), for $ 10, world-wide shipping included. Enjoy!
Click here to order the new Rene Herse waterbottle.
Click here to order the sticker pack.

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How to set up tubeless tires


Tubeless tires have eliminated the risk of pinch flats. For riding in really rough terrain, they are a game changer. But like all new technologies, it’s taken some trial-and-error until we figured out how to run bicycle tires tubeless.

Of course, tubeless tires are nothing new. Car tires have been tubeless for decades, but translating that technology to much more flexible and lighter bicycle tires has not been easy. (We don’t want to ride on rubber that’s as stiff and heavy as car tires!) Modern bicycle tires fall into two groups:

  • ‘Tubeless’ tires are covered with a rubber membrane – basically an inner tube is permanently vulcanized into the tire. These tires are airtight. You can just install them, and run them without inner tubes. However, the extra rubber makes them relatively stiff and slow.
  • ‘Tubeless-compatible’ tires are not airtight, and they roll as fast as conventional tires. Their bead has been designed for tubeless installation, so you can run them tubeless – but they require sealant to make the casing air-tight and to seal the tire against the rim. The sealant also will seal small punctures that otherwise would cause a flat. Most Rene Herse tires are ‘tubeless-compatible.’

Key to mounting tubeless tires is the right technique. This is especially important with supple tires. Stiff tires mount easily – just like car tires – because their casing is so stiff that it either touches the rim walls and seals, or it doesn’t.

Supple casings make tires fast and comfortable because they flex easily. This means that they may contact the rim in a few places, and have air gaps in others – making them harder to mount and seal tubeless. They follow the general rule of high-performance components: The tolerances need to be a bit tighter, and working with them requires a little more skill.

It’s not hard to install supple tires tubeless, if you work methodically. Here is how I installed my Rene Herse Extralights tubeless while traveling in Japan, with no access to a workshop and just a few tools.


To mount a tire tubeless, here is what you need: a tubeless valve; a valve core tool; a syringe for injecting the tubeless sealant; sealant; a tire lever; an inner tube; a tubeless-compatible tire. Your rims also must be tubeless-compatible, and covered with tubeless rim tape. It’s good to have extra rim tape on hand.

I only could find Stan’s sealant in Japan. It worked fine, but we recommend Panaracer’s SealSmart because it does a better job sealing the slightly porous sidewalls of supple tires.

You also need a pump to inflate the tire. A floor pump suffices, and in a pinch, you can get away with a frame pump. You do not need an air compressor. In fact, if you use an air compressor to make up for problems in tire/rim fit, your tire may blow off the rim later without warning.

For safe tubeless installation, a good fit between tire and rim is extremely important. Unfortunately, many OEM rims are slightly undersize, because that makes it easier to install tires in the bike assembly plants. (Imagine a rim that is slightly oversize. For a factory that needs to mount 10,000 tires a month, spending five extra minutes per tire would be a total disaster. That is why OEM rims tend to run small, and never should be larger than spec. OEM tires are installed with tubes, where a slightly undersize rim doesn’t pose a problem.)


If your tire goes on easily, the rim is undersized. Don’t try to install the tire. It may work fine at first, but it can blow off the rim without warning. If this happens in your workshop, it’s just a nuisance (and a big mess). If it happens on the road, the consequences can be far worse.

If your rim is undersize, it’s not the end of the world – there is a solution. Build up the rim bed with additional layers of rim tape. Some mechanics use Gorilla Tape for the extra layers – it’s a little thicker than standard tubeless tape. (Always use tubeless tape as the first layer on the rim to seal the spoke holes.) The tire should be a slightly tight fit. This makes sure that it seats correctly and doesn’t blow off the rim later.

When installing tires, make sure that the bead is in the rim well (above) all around before you lift the last part of the bead over the rim edge. The well is there to provide slack for the bead – the rim’s diameter is smaller in the center than toward the rim walls. With supple tires and tubeless rims, parts of the bead can end up on the shelf when you mount the tire. Push the bead into the rim well all around the tire – then the last bit of the bead will slip easily over the sidewall.

If you use a floor pump to seat the tire, install a tube first. This seats the beads and gives the tire its shape. Make sure both beads pop into place. Then unseat one bead (the one that popped into place first) by pushing it into the rim well, and remove the tube.


Install the tubeless valve. Don’t forget the valve nut that holds the valve in place. It pulls the valve’s rubber cone into the rim’s hole to create a tight seal. Don’t overtighten the nut: If the valve gets clogged with sealant or the tubeless setup fails, you’ll need to be able to remove the valve on the road to install a tube.


Before you inflate the tire, seat the bead as far around the rim as possible, starting at the valve.


Pull the tire upward and move the bead outward, until it sits on the shelf next to the rim wall.


Continue until the tire is too tight to pull upward. The remaining air gap is small and furthest from the valve. It will seal as the pressure pushes the tire outward.


Inflate the tire ‘dry’ without sealant at first. That way, if you need to remove the tire to add more rim tape, there won’t be messy sealant inside. Pump quickly to build up pressure faster than the air escapes.


Watch the tire as it seats. On the left, the line molded into the tire sidewall is still hidden by the rim wall. The bead hasn’t emerged from the rim’s well yet. Keep pumping until you hear a loud ‘pop’ as the tire seats.

On the right, you can see all of the line that is molded into the sidewall. Make sure it’s parallel to the rim edge all around the tire. Check this on both sides. If it’s OK, then the tire is seated on the rim.

If the tire doesn’t seat, take it off, and add more rim tape to create a tighter fit and smaller air gaps. If you use an air compressor, the tire should seat easily. If you need huge blasts of air to seat the tire, then the rim is too small. Build up the rim with extra tape, rather than risk a blow-out in the future.


Now the tire is inflated and looks great, but air will escape through small cracks and microscopic holes. To seal the tire, add sealant. Let out the air and unscrew the valve core. The beads will remain seated. (If a bead comes unseated now, it wasn’t properly seated in the first place.)


Turn the wheel so the valve is neither at the top nor at the bottom of the tire, where sealant would spray back out of the valve. Shake the sealant vigorously for a minute, so the solids are in suspension. Don’t skimp on this step! Otherwise, you’ll just inject colored water into the tire, and it won’t seal.

For our Rene Herse tires, we recommend Panaracer’s Seal Smart. It seems to seal the supple sidewalls better than other brands. When mounting the tires in the photos, I was in Japan, and Panaracer’s sealant had not yet been released. I couldn’t find our second choice, Orange Seal. So I used Stan’s. It worked fine.

Make sure to use enough sealant. Wide tires have a lot of surface area. To seal properly, you need about 90 ml (3 oz) – one to one-and-a-half of the bottles shown in the photo.


Replace the valve core. When I installed the tires tubeless in Tokyo, I didn’t have a valve core tool. A small adjustable wrench will do the job in a pinch.


Inflate the tire again. Since it’s already seated, this will be easy.


Close the valve. Now the tire looks ready to roll, but the sealant must still be distributed to seal all the microscopic gaps. Just riding the tire isn’t enough to stop all the tiny leaks.


There are different techniques for distributing the sealant. I’ve found this one to work best, because it methodically works the sealant into every part of the tire and rim interface. Make sure you have enough room. Don’t hit the ceiling, furniture, or your head. (Don’t ask how I know!)

Hold the wheel steady (left), so the sealant collects at the bottom. Quickly move the wheel upward (center). Centrifugal force will keep the sealant right under the tire tread. Hold the wheel over your head (right), still slightly tilted away from you. Now the sealant runs downward, covers the sidewall, and seeps into the gap between tire and rim.

Rotate the wheel a few degrees and repeat. (Start with the valve at the bottom, so you have a reference point.) Once you’ve worked all the way around the tire, turn the wheel around, and repeat on the other side. Now your tire is ready to ride. Riding it immediately will help distribute the sealant further.

If your tire loses air overnight, check it like a leaky inner tube. Often, you can hear and feel the air escape. Hold the tire so that gravity pulls the sealant into the leak. If it doesn’t seal, there may not be enough sealant in the tire.


Now your tubeless tire is ready to roll. Enjoy the ride!

Tubeless tips:

  • Panaracer Smart Seal works best to seal the supple casings of our Rene Herse tires.
  • Use enough sealant. When the mechanics at Paul Camp prepped bikes for their press fleet, they put 3 oz. (90 ml) in each tire, because they didn’t want trouble. More sealant makes your tires slower, but if your tire runs out of sealant, it’ll start losing air. If you want to go fast and don’t need to worry about pinch flats, use inner tubes. (Click here to read more about why tubeless tires are slower.)
  • Sealant needs to be topped up at least once a month. Supple tires push and pull slightly against the rim sidewall as the wheel rotates. If the sealant dries out, air will start leaking. Then the tire can suddenly break loose from the rim wall and lose all its air. Don’t ride your tires when there is no liquid sealant left inside – the sealant not only acts as flat protection, but it constantly seals the tire against the rim.
  • Use only new tires for tubeless installation. As a tire is ridden, the sidewalls flex and become more porous, making them harder to seal.
  • If you want the flat protection offered by the sealant without the hassle of tubeless installation, you can put sealant in your inner tubes. This also works best with new tires, and you obviously need tubes with removable valve cores. (The tubes we sell have removable cores.) Simply put some sealant inside the tube, and it’ll seal many punctures.
  • Most Rene Herse tires are tubeless-compatible. They are marked ‘TC’ on the tire label. The label on the package also says ‘Tubeless-Compatible.’

Click here for more information about Rene Herse tires.

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Welcome to Rene Herse Cycles!


It’s official: Compass has become Rene Herse Cycles. It’s a big change, with a new name and new logo for a line of products that has a very strong following. Rest assured, our philosophy won’t change, and neither will our products.

We’ll continue to make the high-performance components that we need for rides that mix gravel and pavement with plenty of adventure. This is the same style of riding that René Herse (pronounced reNAY AIRS, above) enjoyed in the 1930s and 40s, when he pushed the envelope of what we’d call all-road bikes today. His bikes have inspired us as we developed our own. As Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains, we’ll continue to challenge the accepted limitations of what bicycles can do.

Our first Rene Herse tire, the Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 mm, combines the speed and cornering of a good ‘racing’ tire with excellent performance in mud and snow. Impossible? That’s what they said when we introduced wide tires with the performance of narrow racing rubber, too…
As with our other tires, you’ll have to ride the Juniper Ridge and see for yourself.

You’ll find that they expand what we thought possible on a bike. Suddenly, we can combine fast-paced road rides with…

… rough gravel passes in the mountains…

… and even snow. As with all our products, you know that they’ve proven themselves before they are released. Prototypes of the Juniper Ridge have covered many hundreds of miles under the most demanding conditions. The Juniper Ridge tires are in production right now, and they’ll be available in March.
There are other exciting projects in the works as Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains. Join us as we continue our exciting journey.
Our new web site is at www.renehersecycles.com.
Our Instagram is @reneherse with the hashtag #renehersetires joining #renehersecranks,  #renehersehandlebars, #reneherserack, #renehersetaillight, etc.

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Back in Stock: SON Hubs and Parts


SON generator hubs and other parts have been flying off the shelves lately. Some of it can be attributed to cyclists preparing their bikes for the upcoming Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km brevet. More cyclists also realize that generator hubs provide peace of mind on long rides and commutes alike. As a result, some of the most popular hubs – especially the Wide-Body that makes for stronger wheels (above) – have been out of stock recently.

The new SON coaxial adapters also have been popular. Slide one onto the tabs of any SON hubs to convert it to the latest coaxial connectors. Then the wires are easy to plug in and out with one hand whenever you have to remove the wheel.

The Edelux II headlights, with their optimized beam pattern, also are available with ‘coax’ connectors now, making the system a plug-and-play setup that is super-easy to install on your bike.

The Splitter Box allows you to wire a USB charger or other device into the circuit from your light to your generator hub. It’s a great way to get the superior beam pattern of the Edelux II and still charge your devices on the go.

Production of all these parts now has caught up with demand, and all SON components in the Compass program are back in stock. We appreciate your patience while supplies were running short.
More information:

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A Winter Ride


The first rides of the new year are very special to me. Getting out of the city, breathing the cold mountain air, and feeling my body get in unison with the bike again – those are sensations that I’ve been missing during my annual early-winter rest.

So I left just after 6 in the morning for an all-day ride. It was nice to just ride – no photoshoot for Bicycle Quarterly, no prototype components to test, no errands to run, just a day out on my bike.
By 8:30, the suburbs of Seattle were far behind me, and I made my first brief stop at the bakery in Snohomish. The hot chocolate and croissant tasted especially good on this cold, foggy day.

As I headed into the hills northeast of Snohomish, I thought about how much I love riding this bike. I enjoy testing a variety of bikes for Bicycle Quarterly, but I’m always happy to return to my Rene Herse. It really does feels like an extension of my body. Everything works exactly as I want, nothing requires attention, and I can completely immerse myself in the ride.
I don’t think about the bike when I ride. In fact, I rarely think about it at all. This morning, I just put a little food and some spare clothes in the handlebar bag, turned on the lights, and rode off. I didn’t need to think about charging batteries, how to carry my gear, or whether the fog would make the roads wet. I feel that a bike should be as easy to use as a car, and this one really does.
Looking at the photo above, I remember that the Herse will need its first overhaul soon. I have to be grateful for the eight years and 10,000s of thousands of miles the bike has covered without incident – including 2 Paris-Brest-Paris, 2 Raids Pyrénéen, the original Oregon Outback, and countless other adventures.

As I climbed and descended Reiter Road – one of my favorites – it was nice not to think about the bike, and just enjoy the road with its curves that flow in quick succession. There is no risk of getting bored here!

As I headed further into the Cascades, I remembered how much I enjoy riding solo. Don’t get me wrong – I love riding with friends: The day passes quickly as we chat and play like a flock of birds on the sinuous roads. Riding alone is different: I just become immersed in the ride. Nothing detracts from this meditative experience.

The fog dissipated and the sun came out. My legs were feeling the distance and the hills, but the bike continued to roll smoothly. I worked on my spin by keeping my cadence up, using one cog larger (=smaller gear) than I usually would. Winter rides are a good time to work on my pedal stroke.

I reached my destination, Index, just before noon. There isn’t much in terms of food here – although the Bush House hotel has just reopened and looks inviting. Today, my schedule was a bit tight, so I bought a few things at the small store for a quick picnic outside.

The scenery more than made up for my spartan meal: It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular place than Index, with its rushing river, towering mountains and quaint little town. It’s amazing that a place like this is within easy reach from Seattle, accessible on small roads even in winter.

My stop was brief, and yet, as I headed back, the clouds started moving back in. I had timed my visit to Index perfectly…

I didn’t stop on the way back, as I wanted to be home for dinner. Still, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of one of my favorite roads. It’s roads like these that inspire the bikes we ride…
Then I dropped down to Lake Washington and pedaled back into Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail. I returned home just after darkness fell. It was a day well-spent.

Many have asked for the routes of these rides. Here is a link to the main loop Seattle – Snohomish – Sultan – Monroe – Seattle. It’s a great ride by itself.

The out-and-back leg to Index adds 50 km, but they include some of my favorite roads. Some of the roads are shown as ‘unavailable’ on some online maps, but they are all rideable right now. Combined, this is one of the best all-paved rides in the Seattle area. (There is a 100 ft/30 m stretch of gravel just before Gold Bar as you turn off the highway.)

I hope that many of you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy this ride some day, or some variation that takes in these great roads – or similarly great rides! Where are your favorite Winter rides?
And if you’re curious about my Rene Herse, this post talks about the bike in more detail.

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Our Readers' Favorite BQ


BQ readers care about their magazine, and we get feedback each time a new edition comes out. And yet we were surprised by the sheer volume of comments, and by the enthusiasm they expressed. There is no doubt: The latest BQ is our readers’ favorite edition yet.
Many readers love the cover art, showing Natsuko peering through the window of the almost-mythical Alps shop in Tokyo as she contemplates her first cyclotouring bike. One reader wrote:

“Almost nothing compares to building up or buying a new bike. That experience was captured so perfectly in Natsuko’s piece. The insight into life in Japan and Miyoshi’s art were the frosting on the cake! What an enjoyable read!”

[youtube https://youtu.be/XPXaZv2NF8c?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
Readers appreciate our behind-the-scenes visit to Firefly, the masters of titanium in Boston. In the video clip above, you see how titanium is anodized to create Firefly’s unique finishes. Watch how the metal changes color in front of your eyes!
“It was a great article. Love to learn about shops working on streamlined processes!”
For the magazine, we document how Firefly’s artisans butt their titanium tubes and how they weld the ‘lugs’ for a titanium-carbon frame. We ask them about their philosophy and how they custom-design every aspect of each bike specifically for its rider.

Many readers are amazed by the studio feature of an ultra-rare 1940s Barralumin with beautiful patina. No wonder: Nicola Barra was the mad scientist among the mid-century French constructeurs of cyclotouring bikes.
Barra was a pioneer of welded aluminum frames, but his genius didn’t stop there. Who else would have thought of using a Super Champion racing derailleur with a wide-range double crankset? And how about replacing the straddle cables of the cantilever brakes with spokes, to allow fine-tuning the position of the brake arms by turning the spoke nipples? To say nothing of the front derailleur that goes through the seat tube!
Even more remarkable: The entire bike weighs just 10.1 kg (22.3 lb), with fenders, wide tires, lights and rack. Clearly, there was a method behind Barra’s madness!

Madness isn’t how you’d describe the All-City Gorilla Monsoon: It’s an affordable all-road bike with everything you’d expect: disc brakes, thru-axles, 1×11 drivetrain – unless you count that orange fade paintjob as madness.
As with all our bike tests, we don’t talk about the paint, but tell you how it rides. And how it compares to its distant sister, the Surly Midnight Special. The two bikes are far more different than we thought, and readers appreciate learning which of the two would fit their riding style best.

“Amazing build on the MAP!”
Dream bikes don’t get more exciting than the latest MAP All-Road. A lightweight steel frame. Custom rack and stem. Those are nods to tradition, but disc brakes and the carbon fork are decidedly modern. Add 11-speed Ergopower and a Rene Herse crankset with gearing for the real world, and you have a bike designed for long rides in the mountains.
And that is where we took it, on a 36-hour, 500 km epic that zig-zagged across the Cascade Range just before the high passes were covered by snow. Readers enjoy this adventure, even though most aren’t in the market for a custom bike. But then, our adventures never were intended as mere buyers’ guides…

“I loved the Transcontinental Race story! Agonizing in places, wondrous in others.”
Jonah Jones’ story from the Transcontinental is not a guide on how to ride: You probably shouldn’t start a 2500-mile race across the mountains of central Europe with a fractured pelvis. But little can stand between a cyclist and his dream! Many readers were inspired that Jonah not only completed the race, but found so much joy in it. And when you see his photos, you’ll want to ride those roads, too! (Although perhaps at a more leisurely pace.)
These are just a few of the features in this 112-page edition. Click here for a full table of contents. Or start your subscription today, and we’ll send your copy with the next mailing that goes out this week. That way, you can find out for yourself why our readers are so excited.
Thank you to all our readers who wrote and commented. Now our challenge is to make the next BQ even better!

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All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future


All-road bikes with wide tires are the hottest trend in cycling. There is a level of excitement that we haven’t seen since the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s: These new bikes bring new people into the sport, who are enticed by the idea of cycling on small roads, away from traffic. The new bikes combine what people love about road bikes – effortless speed – and mountain bikes – go-anywhere ability – without the drawbacks. These bikes have the potential to transform the bike industry.
Like most trends, this one didn’t start within the industry. Bike manufacturers only reluctantly adopted wide tires on performance bikes. Even then, they called them ‘gravel bikes,’ in the hopes of selling one to every cyclist, in addition to the ‘road,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘cyclocross’ bikes they already owned. But ‘gravel’ was too limiting a term for something that is much more than just a bike for the special condition of riding on gravel.
Recently, bike companies have adopted the name ‘all-road bikes,’ a term we coined way back in 2006, when we realized the potential of wide tires on performance bikes. It’s great to see cycling luminaries like Richard Bryne (founder of Speedplay) say: “The potential of this bike category cannot be underestimated.” He predicts that all-road bikes will “dwarf the previous road and MTB categories in scale and relegate them to the two margins of the market spectrum.” 
In other words: All-road bikes will becomes the go-to bike for most cyclists. Racing and mountain bikes will move to the fringes of the market, used for very specialized applications where all-road bikes reach their limits.

Bryne is not the only one to feel that way. Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, sold his company – famous for its narrow-tire racers – to start two all-road bike ventures. Together with Andy Kessler, he started a new company, Open, and introduced the iconic U.P. (for ‘Unbeaten Path’). And he bought the former handlebar maker 3T and introduced the company’s first bike, the all-road Exploro. These bikes take the performance of modern carbon racers and add the ability to run ultra-wide tires. And both have had more influence on the bike industry than any other bike of the last decade. Vroomen’s characteristic dropped chainstay – to create room for wide tires between narrow road cranks, he moved the chainstay out of the way – has been cropping up on bikes from many mainstream manufacturers. The Open web site exclaims: “Go anywhere fast!”
We said similar things back in 2006. Our tire tests had shown that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones – provided they used a supple, high-performance casing. At the time, a road bike with wide tires seemed like a ludicrous idea to most. The very definition of a road bike was that it had narrow tires!
And yet, we became convinced that road cycling’s future rolled on wide tires. We coined the name ‘allroad bike’ (at first without a hyphen) to explain our vision: a new type of bike that was a road bike, but designed to go on all roads, not just smooth, paved ones.
The problem back then: There were no high-performance bikes designed for wide tires. Not even the tires themselves existed: The only wide tires on the market were heavy, stiff touring models – a far cry from the supple high-performance tires we envisioned. Our first task was to make the tires available. Then we asked the industry to build all-road bikes around the new tires.

Road Bike of the Future?
That was the title of our test of the Tournesol (above) in Bicycle Quarterly. We wrote: “Our test bike this month may well be one of the first of a new breed of ‘Allroad’ bikes: road bikes with wide tires that ride as fast as racing bikes on paved roads, and faster than cyclocross or mountain bikes on unpaved roads.”
That was in Autumn 2006. The first ‘allroad’ bike had a titanium frame, 650B wheels, and its disc brakes presaged the future. The brand itself was a short-lived collaboration between BQ reader Douglas Brooks and Seattle’s Steve Hampsten. With updated colorways and components, this 13-year-old bike could pass for a current all-road bike. Put some modern rubber on it, and its performance would be very much up-to-date, too.

And yet it’s not like we came up with something that had never existed before: We may have coined the name ‘all-road bike,’ but high-performance bikes with wide tires weren’t a new idea, even in 2006. Our research was inspired by mid-century constructeurs like René Herse – above on his amazing 7.94 kg (17.50 lb) bike during the 1938 Concours de Machines. Wide, hand-made tires; bags strapped bikepacking-style to a superlight rack; flared drop handlebars – Herse’s bike wouldn’t look out of place on a gravel adventure today.

René Herse wasn’t the first to discover wide, supple tires, either. Way back in the 1890s, bicycles became popular once pneumatic tires revolutionized their speed and comfort. The change was so profound that old bikes with narrow solid rubber tires were henceforth called ‘Boneshakers’! The whole idea behind putting air in your tires was to run wider, more supple tires. The first pneumatic tires measured about 43 mm wide – not very different from the tires many of us run on our bikes today!
So fast were the pneumatics that you couldn’t win a race without them. During the first Paris-Brest-Paris – back then still a professional race – all of the first three riders were on pneumatics, even though the technology was still brand-new! Never since has a change swept through the cycling world with such speed.

Why did tires become narrower over time? Already in the 1920s, Vélocio, the editor of the magazine Le Cycliste, joked about the ‘pneu crayon’ that most racers used: narrow, made from stiff rubber, and pumped up to the highest pressure possible. Even on the rough roads of the Tour de France (above), racers used tires that measured little more than 28 mm.
Vélocio brought back wider tires for a while, but by the 1950s, most riders were on narrow rubber again. That trend continued until recently. Why was the joy of riding on a supple cushion of air forgotten time and again?
I think the answer lies in a powerful placebo effect: Pumping up your tires harder makes your bike feel faster, even if it isn’t. Here is how it works: Your bike vibrates as your tires hit road irregularities. The faster you go, the more bumps your tires hit per second – the frequency of the vibrations increases. This experience conditions us to equate higher frequencies with more speed.
When you pump up your tires harder, the frequency of the vibrations also increases. You get the same effect as you do by going faster, except your speed is the same – but you feel faster. Conversely, a wide tire at low pressures feels slower because the vibrations that we equate with speed disappear.

In a group with well-matched riders, you realize that even though wider tires may feel slower at first, they actually aren’t. In fact, racers were among the first to put Bicycle Quarterly‘s research into practice: Soon after we showed our test results to a technical advisor who worked for several North American pro teams, the (Canadian) Cervelo team started riding on 25 mm tires. Other North American teams followed suit, and a few years later, even the European teams started to race on 25s. Now many are moving to 28s…
For racers, it’s easy to check speed. If you can hang with the group, even though you’re riding wider tires, you know that the wider tires aren’t slowing you down.

For the rest of us, the placebo of ‘high pressure = high-frequency vibrations = high speed’ can be unlearned. I no longer feel any slower on my Firefly with its 54 mm tires (above) than I do on a racing bike with 28s.

That brings us back to the original question: Are all-road bikes just a trend? Will their time come and go, like so many other bike categories that were hot for a while before the next big thing dropped? Will the joys of riding on supple, wide, high-performance tires be forgotten again?
I don’t think so. Unlike in the past, this time, the ‘wide-tire revolution’ is backed up by solid data. We won’t be tricked by placebo effects any longer! Smart people like Bryne and Vroomen are putting their money and effort into all-road bikes, because all-road bikes are transforming cycling as we know it. At Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles, we are proud to have contributed at least a small part to make this happen.
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Bon Jon Pass Review: "An Exceptional Tyre"


“An exceptional tyre that will make you faster and happier.” That was the verdict when the British web site www.road.cc tested our Bon Jon Pass tires recently. When we hear positive feedback, whether it’s from a professional tester or a customer, it makes our day.
I smiled when I read the calculation of the weight savings. It appears that, on average, spending a British pound ($1.28) will make your bike 1.91 g lighter. Based on that metric, the tester explained that choosing “the Compass Bon Jon Pass Extralight over the Schwalbe G-One Speed was ‘worth’ £157 of savings elsewhere. Ergo, at £67 RRP, the Bon Jon Pass is a ridiculously cost-effective weight saver.” I’m not sure about the math, but it does show that lightweight tires are the easiest way to shed significant weight, especially with wide tires where the weight differences can be quite large.
More importantly, the tester liked the supple casing and the excellent grip and comfort in the real world of the Scottish Highlands: “I hardly noticed broken patches of chip seal, or small gaps and lips of manhole covers. I found myself thinking up tests for what I could and couldn’t feel through the bike’s contact points.”
Negatives? Tubeless setup with supple tires is inevitably a bit trickier – the fit between tire and rim must be ‘just right’ and the thin casing is more likely to leak air until it seals. And his riding partners apparently weren’t always happy: “I realised I wasn’t signalling road surface irregularities as much as I should be to my sub-30mm-shod brethren following behind.” Until they switch to supple, wide tires, too…
No bike test would be complete without commenting on performance – “These are fast tyres, period. World-beatingly fast.” – and price – “I believe they are worth every penny.” 
There isn’t much we can add. We developed our tires because we wanted faster and more comfortable tires for our own bikes. When others enjoy them as much as we do, it makes us happy, too.
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Ultralight Handlebar Bag Pre-Order


How do you make an ultralight bag? That was the first question when the Concours de Machines announced that the weight of the bikes included the bag.

Peter Weigle worked very hard to get his fully equipped bike down to just 20.0 lb (9.07 kg), and we wanted to make sure the bag was also as light as possible.

Gilles Berthoud bags already are among the lightest bags available today. Even so, we knew savings were possible without compromising its size or performance. The result is on the left in the photo above, with the standard bag on the right for comparison.
Together with our friends at Gilles Berthoud, we decided to use the same canvas fabric and leather as on the standard bags: Thinner materials wouldn’t last as long.
The first step was to remove the outside pockets. We gave up a little capacity and convenience, but gained significant weight savings. Next, our friends at Gilles Berthoud reduced the leather reinforcements to an absolute minimum.

They examined every part of the bag to see where weight could be saved. Above are studies for the attachment to the rack backstop. In the end, they replaced the strap with a short sleeve that slips over the rack backstop and also anchors the hook for the closure. It’s by far the lightest and simplest solution.
We thought about eliminating the map pocket, but I felt that it was essential. The goal with this project wasn’t to create the lightest bike at all cost, but a no-compromise machine that will be ridden hard for many years. How about reverting to the older style of map pocket that is open on the side, rather than using a Velcro closure? That is a small compromise, and it saves valuable grams. There are a few other weight-saving details, but we also added a little piece of leather with the Gilles Bethoud logo to the front of the bag. It may weigh 3 grams, but those who created this amazing bag deserve credit.
The result? The entire bag weighs just 266 g. That is less than half the weight of the standard bag (which is already very light). And this is the GB28 – the largest size – which holds a whopping 13 liters. I can’t think of any other adventure-sized handlebar bag that comes close to being this light.

The bag has lived up to its promise. I’ve used it quite a bit in all kinds of weather – that is why it no longer looks brand-new in the studio photos. Since the fabric and leather are the same as the standard bags, it should last as long. (My very first Berthoud bag, which I bought in 2000, is still going strong.)
And it’s as waterproof as the standard bags – the cotton fabric swells when it gets wet, and even after hours in the rain, there is no water inside. (I place my notebook and other moisture-sensitive items in a Ziploc bag as a precaution.)

There is one other modification we made compared to the standard bags: Since there is so little leather, the ultralight bag is less stiff than the standard model. So we made a very lightweight aluminum stiffener that attaches to the decaleur and to the small inner flaps with Velcro. (The large flaps keep the contents in the bag on really rough terrain, so we kept them, too. The flaps also allow you to overstuff the bag, which is useful during long events. Plus they keep out the rain.)

Does a superlight handlebar bag make sense when its contents will weigh more than the bag? Like the trunk of my car, my handlebar bag rarely is filled to the brim. It just gives me options. I can start a ride before sunrise, dressed for chilly temperatures, and then shed layers as it warms up. I can bring a camera and take photos when the mood strikes. I can even swing by the farmers’ market on the way home and pick up some fresh vegetables for lunch. A superlight bag makes sense in the context of a fully equipped bike that offers the performance of a racing bike with the versatility of fenders and lights.
In addition, I want a bag like this for long-distance events like Paris-Brest-Paris or the Raid Pyreneen, where I count every gram before the start. I plan my stops carefully, and I carry enough supplies to limit my off-the-bike time to the absolute minimum. A superlight bag is among the easier ways to save weight on my bike. (For cyclotouring where a few minutes make no difference, I definitely recommend the standard bags.)
We are now offering the ultralight Concours de Machines bag in a limited, one-time production run. It will be available in three sizes, and it will incorporate a few small changes based on what we’ve learned from the prototype. It will include the stiffener that is designed to attach to a decaleur. The rear sleeve fits on a rack with a backstop no wider than 48 mm – perfect for our Compass/Rene Herse racks.
If you would like one of these bags, please pre-order by January 15. The bags will be delivered in March, so you can use it in this year’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris.
More information:

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.
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Remembering Lyli Herse's Birthday


Today would have been Lyli Herse’s 91st birthday. And last Friday has been a year from her passing…

… and the 111th birthday of her father, René Herse. They continue to inspire us in so many ways. Today, we just want to remember their smiles and their passion for cycling in all its forms.

Lyli was a friend for so long that it’s hard to believe she’s gone. Until the very end, she rode her home trainer, but she told us that she dreamt of cycling in the mountains.

We miss her! She passed on her family’s legacy to us, and she told us that her father would have been happy to see so many people passionate about rides and adventures again. Together, let’s keep their spirit alive!

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Myth 16: Higher Tire Pressure is Faster


This used to be one of the first things you learned as a cyclist: If you want to go fast, make sure your tires are pumped up to the maximum pressure. The harder your tires are inflated, the faster they roll.

We now know that this isn’t true. The realization that tire pressure does not affect performance is the key to the revolution that has swept through the cycling world in recent years. Without this new-found knowledge, all-road bikes and their supple, wide tires would make no sense at all. Here is how it works.

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Happy New Year


We are looking forward to another great year! We wish all our readers joy, happiness and many great rides in 2019. See you on the road!
—The BQ and Compass/Rene Herse team
Photo credit: Ryan Francesconi

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What Makes a Good Winter Tire?


Winter riding is fun. The crisp air, the clear skies and the beautiful views. Getting out and breathing fresh air. There are many reasons to enjoy it.
Winter riding requires preparation. The most obvious is clothing – which we’ll leave for another post. Today, let’s talk about what makes a good winter tire.

Cold temperatures make rubber less grippy. There is no way around this. In theory, it should be possible to formulate rubber compounds specially for optimum grip in cold conditions. In practice, many ‘Winter Compound’ bicycle tires offer less grip in cold conditions, rather than more.
With all tires, you need to consider the reduced grip when it’s cold. Especially on familiar routes, it can come as a surprise when the grip suddenly bleeds away, at speeds that are well within the limits when the temperatures are warmer.

Having ridden many tires in cold conditions, I can say with confidence that the rubber compound of our Compass tires is among the most grippy you’ll find anywhere, cold or warm, wet or dry.

The chevron tread of Compass road tires helps to improve traction by interlocking with the road surface – which works regardless of the temperature. Even so, take it easy during cold days!

What about snow? Snow is surprisingly grippy. How much tread you need depends on the temperature: Cold snow requires only a chevron tread, like that of our road tires, to hook up. (You’ll see an imprint of the tire tread on the snow surface.) But when the temperatures are around freezing, the slushy snow is slippery, and you really need knobs to get good grip. (The knobs don’t hurt when it’s colder, either.)
Should a snow tire be wide – to float over the snowpack? Or narrow – to cut through the snow and try to find grip on the ground underneath?

Rally cars use narrow tires in snow. They are heavy and powerful, which allows their tires to dig down to a firm surface underneath the snow.

Snow cats use the opposite approach: Their wide tracks allow them to travel on top of deep snow without sinking in.

For bicycles, wide tires seem to be a better choice. Compressing the snow takes energy, and the less you sink in, the easier you roll. And cyclists don’t have enough weight and power to dig through the snow into the firm ground below.
What about ice? Under most conditions, only studded tires grip on ice. They punch holes into the ice that allows them to interlock with the surface. However, studded tires aren’t much fun to ride on dry roads. I suspect that a supple tire with studs wouldn’t work well – you probably need a stiff tire to push the studs into the (hard) ice.
There is one other issue: When it snows, many communities spread fine aggregate on the roads for better traction. Often, that aggregate contains freshly crushed rocks that can be very sharp and cause flat tires. In our area, we’ve found that the crushed rock will puncture worn tires – probably both because they are thinner and because aged rubber is easier to cut. Running relatively new tires has eliminated that concern for us.

If you live in a place that sees snow, but also dry roads, our dual-purpose knobbies are hard to beat as all-round winter tires. They roll as fast on dry roads as most racing tires. They corner as well as most road tires (above). And yet on mud and snow, they offer the grip of the best knobbies. Available in 700C x 38 and 650B x 42 mm, they are a great choice for rides where you may encounter all kinds of conditions.
Click here for more information about our tires.

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Rides to Remember


As 2018 comes to a close, it’s fun to look back on the great rides we’ve done. For me, it’s been a wonderful year full of exciting adventures. It started with the annual New Year’s Cycling of Tokyo’s Yama Saiken (Mountain Cycling Club), the famous passhunters. Jikkoku Pass is a great destination at any time, but climbing it in the snow was doubly fun, especially with such a great crew. It was also a great test of the Caletti Monstercross bike and of our Pumpkin Ridge dual-purpose knobbies.

February saw a return to favorite roads with a chilly ride across the Tahuya Hills. Steve and I enjoyed the ride so much that we decided to make this the venue for the BQ Un-Meeting.

March was even colder that February, but Mark and I were on a mission: We wanted to compare a high-trail monstercross bike with a low-trail all-road bike. We thought that the trail to Jack Pass might provide new insights, and so we headed out during a rainy day on fender-less bikes, all in the name of science. The results proved even more instructive than we thought, as we finally figured out why mountain bikes should have high-trail geometries, but all-road bikes are best with low-trail ones. And despite being chilled to the bone when it started to snow, we honestly enjoyed that ride!

April saw another trip to Japan. With the Yama Saiken, we headed to Ueno village at the foot of Jikkoku Pass to help with maintaining the old road that we had cycled a few months earlier. A campfire by the river, but also the great lunch with the villagers were highlights of this trip.

In May, during a short break from my busy schedule, I headed to Yabitsu Pass near Tokyo. The forecast was occasional showers, but it turned out to be a day of torrential downpours. And yet I was having so much fun that I headed up two additional climbs on closed roads for a full day of exploring. (My bike had fenders this time!)

The summer solstice was a great excuse for an ambitious plan: Ride around Mount Hood in Oregon almost entirely on gravel roads. It was a great day of challening climbs, super-fast descents, and breathtaking views. Our ride was too big to fit even into the longest day, and we returned to Portland at 1 a.m. – giddy with the joy of spending a day on our bikes with great friends.

In July, Natsuko and I headed to the Sawtooth Range. Would a new route finally make it possible to traverse these beautiful mountains? Just in case we’d have to portage our bikes, we carried our gear in backpacks loaded into the Farfarer trailer. The roads started out smooth enough, but soon, we were deep into a real passhunting adventure.

In August, we were reunited with our favorite tandem. We took the 1947 Rene Herse on a ride along the Mediterranean Coast, traversing miniature mountain passes and discovering small fishing villages almost untouched by the passage of time. It was a short trip, but no less memorable for it.
The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting in September brought together a great crew of old and new friends. About 60 riders took the ferry from Seattle to enjoy two days of riding on backroads along the Hood Canal. A great camp at Scenic Beach State Park was filled with socializing and meeting like-minded cyclists. To be repeated…

October provided the last chance to enjoy the high passes of the Cascade Mountains. Ryan Francesconi and I charted a course around Mount Rainier on paved and gravel roads, riding through the (very cold) night to see the the giant volcano in the moonlight, before welcoming the warmth of the new day with a beautiful sunrise on the snow-covered peak. Our ambitious ride allowed for a comparison of two approaches to all-road bikes: Ryan’s Smeltzer set up as a backpacking rig, and ‘my’ MAP as a randonneur bike with a large handlebar bag.

November is cyclocross time. Riding around in circles is quite a change from our usual adventures that stretch beyond the horizon, but it’s great fun, too. With each lap, I get to hone my lines and technique until, by the end of the race, I feel I’ve learned the course and wish for more laps! I can’t wait for next year’s cyclocross season.

December brings us up to the present and another trip to Japan. Last weekend, the Alps Cycle Friends celebrated their 60th anniversary. It was an honor to join them for a weekend of riding in the mountains on beautiful bikes. The story and portraits of the innovative bikes from Alps and others will be in the next Bicycle Quarterly.
It’s been a fun year, and it’s been great to share these rides. Click on the images above for more about these rides.
As I plan next year’s adventures, I’m inspired by these rides and those of other cyclists. What has been your favorite ride this year? Post it in the comments. We all look forward to being inspired!
Photo credits: David Wilcox (Photo 6), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 7, 8, 11).

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Our Holiday Gift Guide


What to give a cyclist? And as a cyclist, what to answer when somebody asks you to make a wish? Here are a few gift ideas that are certain to bring a cyclist joy for a long time.

You can’t go wrong with Bicycle Quarterly. Each edition covers a variety of topics and perspective, with well-written articles that are illustrated with beautiful photos and original artwork. Give a gift subscription ($36), and we’ll send a postcard announcing the gift. And when each magazine arrives, it’ll provide hours of reading enjoyment.

Just as popular are our past editions, whether it’s the 15th anniversary year (above) or our 4-packs on specific topics ($34). They provide a great opportunity to read up on specific topics or simply enjoy more of Bicycle Quarterly without having to wait for the next edition.

Our books also make great gifts. The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles ($35) is one of the most influential cycling books of the last decade. In print for more than a decade, it’s a true classic that has been translated into four languages. Cyclists who haven’t read it and marveled at the studio photos of these amazing bikes are in for a treat!

René Herse ($86) tells the fascinating story of the builder whose legacy we continue today, illustrated with hundreds of historic photos from the Herse family archives. We’ve even a very small number (about 10) of the Limited Edition, which comes with a beautiful slip case and four ready-to-frame art prints of unpublished photos ($185; above).

Third in our trilogy is The Competition Bicycle ($50), which tells the technical evolution of performance bikes through the actual bikes of great champions and amateurs.  Marvel at the bikes that won the Tour and Giro, were ridden to world championships and hour records, but also to first places in Paris-Brest-Paris and in the races of the Paris newspaper couriers, and learn how bikes evolved from highwheelers to modern machines with carbon disc wheels.

Our small Gilles Berthoud bags also make nice gifts. The Bottle Cage/Saddle Tool Bag ($79) fits into most bottle cages or under the saddle. It’s a neat way to carry a spare tube, a few tools, an energy or chocolate bar and a small wallet.

The Small Universal Bag ($98) is even more versatile. It fits under the saddle or on a rack. Mount it on top or hang it from the platform like a mini-pannier. Under the flap is a zippered compartment to carry your essential.

Previously unannounced, we’re offering the ultralight handlebar bag from the Concours de Machines ($375) in a limited edition. By removing everything that isn’t absolutely needed, Gilles Berthoud has created what must be the world’s lightest handlebar bag – without giving up durability or functionality. We’re taking pre-orders until January 15, and the bags will be delivered in March 2019.
Every cyclist can use a nice bottle cage or two. Choose among three Nitto models, from the versatile T cage ($70) to the superlight R ($95) – all work really well.

Our water bottles ($10) make great gifts, too. Designed by a Japanese artist, they celebrate our two brands and add a quote that sums up our approach to bicycles. They are based on Specialized’s popular Purist design, so they function matches their appearance.

Gilles Berthoud leather saddle is a great addition to any bike. Most riders find them extremely comfortable, but saddles preferences are very personal – check before giving a saddle! Choose between different models, with stainless steel or titanium rails ($228 – 295).

The Nitto Bike Stand ($99) is a great way to display a favorite bike. Made like Nitto’s beautiful racks, it holds your bike securely.

Still undecided? How about one of our Rene Herse Posters ($20) with favorite images from our book?
Holiday Shipping: We usually ship your order the same day it’s received, from our Seattle, WA, base. Select an appropriate shipping method if you want your order to arrive in time for the holidays.
Click on the links above to see each product, or click here to browse our entire program.
Photo credit: Isabel Uriarte (Photo 1)

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Tire Fit Gauge


How wide a tire can I fit on my bike? It’s a common question, and yet it’s difficult to figure out, especially when you plan to change wheel sizes.

Hahn Rossman has developed a simple tire fit gauge that allows checking tire clearances on your bike. Put the disc for the tire width in the slot for the wheel size. Place the gauge on a dummy axle (any old hub axle will work). Rotate the gauge around the axle to check clearances between the chainstays, at the back of the seat tube and between the seatstays.

It’s such a simple tool that you wonder why nobody else has made one before. Above, you can see that if your frame has clearance for 700C x 23 mm tires…

… you may also be able to fit 650B x 38 mm tires…

… but you need a lot of extra clearance to fit 26″ x 54 mm tires.
The outer diameter of all wheels is the same, but it’s the clearance to the chainstays that is often too tight. The gauge makes it easy to visualize where the widest portion of the tire will be. It eliminates the guesswork that can make conversions to different tire sizes a hit-or-miss.
The Tire Fit Gauge is laser-cut from plexiglass. It’s in stock now. Click here for more information.

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Back in Stock: Knickers and Handlebars


Our knickers are back in stock. They are sewn right here in Seattle in small batches, which can make it difficult to keep them in stock. Now all sizes are back.
Inspired by the clothes worn by the stylish Japanese cyclotourists, and refined for even greater performance, the knickers all but disappear when you ride. When you get off the bike, you are dressed to look sporting without pushing the boundaries of good taste. Click here to read a review – by a mountain biker! – of the knickers.

Our handlebars also have been incredibly popular. Their carefully designed shapes provide comfort on long rides by supporting your hands properly. Rather than locking you into a prescribed position, they allow you to find the position that matches your very unique anatomy. Made by Nitto in Japan to our exclusive specifications, they are among the lightest and strongest handlebars you can buy. All models and all sizes are in stock again. Click here to read a comparison of our handlebar models.
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Compass becomes Rene Herse Cycles


Starting in early 2019, Rene Herse Cycles will be the sole brand for all tires and components made now by Compass Cycles. This streamlines our two brands and clarifies the philosophy that guides us.

Since Lyli Herse asked us to become custodians of the Rene Herse name more than a decade ago – above I’m riding with Lyli to celebrate her 85th birthday – we’ve introduced a number of products under the Rene Herse name, including low-Q factor cranks and superlight brakes. Our other components continued to be offered under the Compass brand.

 
Now we’ve decided to bring our entire program into Rene Herse Cycles to reflect our commitment to René Herse’s values: excellence in design and unwavering pursuit of quality. These values provide the inspiration as Rene Herse Cycles is reborn in the Cascade Mountains.

We discovered Herse’s genius as we developed our own bikes for a new style of riding long distances across varied terrain. The rough surfaces, harsh mountain environments and long distances placed new demands that then-current bikes could not meet. Racing bikes were unsuited for the rough surfaces, but mountain bikes were not ideal for our spirited rides, either. The all-road machines from René Herse provided the inspiration for the bikes we needed. Herse never followed the current trends, but created unique and extremely advanced designs that offer timeless performance.
This philosophy has guided us as we’ve developed a range of tires and components specifically for gravel riders, randonneurs and cyclotourists. Our components will continue to evolve as technology and riding styles change over time. To reflect this commitment to tradition and innovation, we are introducing a new set of logos that combine classic cues with a modern aesthetic.

The move to the Rene Herse Cycles will occur as a rolling change. Some products, like our cranks, are already manufactured under the Rene Herse name. Others will follow, until the entire product line is part of Rene Herse Cycles. The last decade has been an exciting journey, and we’re looking forward to where it will lead us in the future.
Further reading:

 Rene Herse® is a registered trademark.

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Winter 2018 Bicycle Quarterly


The cover of our Winter edition is one of my favorites. It illustrates the story of Natsuko buying her first bike, when she was a college student. Read how she struggled to figure out what it meant when bike magazines listed the price for “frame+fork only,” and how she finally decided to buy a custom-made Alps cyclotouring bike. To bring Natsuko’s story to life, MIYOSHI, who went to art school with her, contributed his iconic gouache paintings – no computer graphics here!

You’ve probably already seen the MAP All-Road in our latest movie. Now you’ll read how the bike fared during our 30-hour adventure. Mitch Pryor combined modern technology with classic features and added the versatility of racks, lights and fenders. Is this the future of randonneur bikes?

At a much more affordable price point, the All-City Gorilla Monsoon looks remarkably similar. Does it offer similar performance, too? And how does it compare to its cousin, the Surly Midnight Special we tested a few months ago?

Rides don’t come much more epic than the Transcontinental Race. Jonah Jones takes you on this incredible adventure. Somehow, he found time during the race to capture stunning photos. He takes you to places that you’ll want to visit some day.

Firefly makes some of the best titanium bikes in the world. We visit their workshop and document what makes their bikes so special.

In France, the iconic Idéale saddle are being made again. We traveled to Toulouse, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, to discover the secret behind this amazing revival. Plus, we bring you the full history of this innovative saddle maker.

Idéale saddles felt right at home during Peter Weigle’s French Fender Day. Join us as we enjoy a day among friends and their cyclotouring bikes deep in the woods of Connecticut.

Nicola Barra was the mad genius of cyclotouring bikes, and the one we feature in this issue is madder than most. Just consider: an aluminum frame with ovalized tubes, a 1930s racing derailleur converted to wide-range gearing, and a weight that would not have been out of place at the Concours de Machines technical trials. All with beautiful patina, presented in beautiful studio photos.

We celebrate the 80th anniversary of Cycles Rene Herse with an illustrated timeline. Above is Lyli Herse overlooking the Mississippi River during a 1960s trip to the U.S.

Natsuko takes you on a ride through New England during harvest time, a scientific study looks at how Q factor affects performance and the potential for injury, we test products and review books… Like every Bicycle Quarterly, this 112-page edition will give you many hours of reading enjoyment.
Click here to subscribe today, and you’ll get your copy in time for the holidays.*
*Holiday delivery guaranteed for U.S. addresses.

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Berthoud Mirrors Back in Stock


The popularity of Gilles Berthoud’s new mirrors surprised us. We expected them to be popular, but we didn’t expect to sell out within days.

It’s easy to understand why customers like them, though: They are beautifully made from the best materials, and they work well with all road handlebars. They are available as simple aluminum mirrors (top), or with a leather insert that matches Berthoud’s saddles and handlebar tape (above).
Everybody at Gilles Berthoud has been working hard to keep up with demand, but since these are largely handmade, they’ll remain in short supply for a while. We just received another shipment, and all models are back in stock for now.
Click here for more information or to order.

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Racing a 40-year-old bike


I’ve been racing my Alan cyclocross bike since I bought it second-hand, many years ago, when I was still in college. Back then, it was simply a used ‘cross bike. Now it may seem like a relic from another era.

And yet the Alan continues to hold its own in the Pacific Northwest’s cross races. I like the way it accelerates out of corners. Alan’s aren’t as flexible as legend has it – Bicycle Quarterly’s frame flex test found it to be about as stiff as a Columbus SL frame – but mine planes very well for me.

You’d think that modern carbon bikes perform better on the uphills, but that hasn’t been my experience.

Even the Alan’s weight – 10.0 kg (22 lb) – isn’t uncompetitive. Cyclocross is the one place where the weight of your bike actually matters, as you lift it up several times per lap.

The Alan has one other advantage over modern bikes: Its horizontal top tube makes it easier to portage. A sloping top tube makes the main triangle so small that many racers now push their bikes. Dragging your wheels through the mud and leaning over to reach the handlebars is not the most efficient way to move when it’s too steep to ride.
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How about the lack of disc brakes? You’d expect discs to offer a huge advantage in ‘cross, but the reality is that you can only brake so hard when your tires have limited grip, and good cantilevers are more than sufficient.
I find that rim brakes offer more feel when the lockup point is approaching. I suspect this is because the brake lever is directly connected to the rim, whereas with discs, the feedback from the tires has to be transmitted through the spokes. Does it matter? On the Alan, I often get to the point where one wheel locks up for a split second. Feeling that point approaching, I can start to release the brake slightly before the wheel skids, rather than react to the skidding itself.

Last year, I installed our Rene Herse brakes on several bikes as part of our pre-release testing. I didn’t expect a huge improvement over the Mafacs installed before, but I was surprised. Not only are the forged arms stiffer and more powerful, but the terrible fork judder the bike displayed before at low speeds has disappeared.
I also like that the roller on the cable hanger self-centers the brake arms if they get bumped during a clumsy dismount or – heaven forbid! – a fall. By the way, falls in ‘cross are rare, but they also don’t usually hurt. Mud is soft!

I like that the Alan is a true ‘cross bike – designed for cyclocross racing and nothing else. There are no bottle cage mounts. The top tube is flattened so it doesn’t dig into my shoulder when I portage the bike. The low-trail geometry makes the bike beautifully adjustable at high speeds on slippery surfaces.

There is no way to mount a front derailleur on the bike. Back when I bought it, that was considered a drawback, as riders were switching to STI. These days, ‘One-By’ gearing is becoming popular again. The old style, with two large chainguards, keeps the chain on even in the rough-and-tumble of ‘cross racing. And if it ever does come off, you don’t have to worry about lining up thick and thin teeth with their corresponding chain links – just drop the chain into the slot and go.
The Alan originally came to me with toeclips, but I’m not interested in retro for retro’s sake. I don’t like fishing for toeclips, so I installed clipless pedals from the get-go. I still like my old Look Moabs. Their platforms are huge, allowing me to pedal even when my foot doesn’t clip in easily because my cleats are clogged with mud.

The six-speed freewheel has plenty of gears for me – I rarely use the smallest and largest cogs. And with more space between the cogs, they don’t clog up with mud as easily. The popularity of singlespeeds in ‘cross racing shows that I am not the only one who feels that way.

The one place where cyclocross bikes have changed a lot are the tires. Back when I started racing, hand-made ‘cross tires existed, but they were almost unknown. Now I race on hand-made FMB Super Mud tubulars that roll amazingly well across bumpy terrain. The width of the tires has changed as well. Back when the Alan was built, 28 mm was considered wide. On dry days, many racers were on 24 mm tires that looked like road tires. I now run 33s, but they are a tight fit. Anything wider won’t have enough mud clearance.
I’d love to use our Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm clinchers. They provide the same ride quality as my tubulars with less hassle – the extra 10% in width makes up for the tire being surrounded by the rim, rather than sitting on top of it. And with the Steilacooms performing as well on pavement as in the mud, to be able to ride to the races – even when they are as far away as Steilacoom. The FMBs are great on mud, but the small knobs squirm terribly on pavement.

It’s been fun racing the Alan. If I ever replace it, it’ll be a with similar bike. A new ‘cross bike would probably be made from steel rather than aluminum, but with similar flex characteristics and similar components. I’ve ridden modern gravel and ‘cross bikes, and they are very nice, too. But for me, the Alan just works remarkably well.
Photo credits: Westside Bicycle (Photo 3), Natsuko Hirose (all other photos).

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Bicycle Quarterly Movie: A 30-Hour Ride

[youtube https://youtu.be/MBUSuXHhsBQ?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
How do you test a bike like Mitch Pryor’s latest MAP All-Road? With its 48 mm-wide tires, fenders, racks and full lights, this is a bike designed for epic rides. How about taking it on a 30-hour, non-stop ride that traverses four mountain passes and crosses the crest of the Cascade Mountains twice?
Enjoy our little movie about this adventure! (Make sure to click on the ‘full-screen’ icon.)
Read the full story in the Winter 2018 Bicycle Quarterly. Subscribe today, and you’ll get your copy before the holidays.
Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.

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HED Belgium+ Rims


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.

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BQ 4-Pack: 15th Anniversary Year


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.

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Why Supple Tires Run at Higher Pressures


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.

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New from Gilles Berthoud: Universal and Tool Bags, Mirrors


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:

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Steilacoom dual-purpose knobbies back in stock


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.

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Jordan Rapp tests the Compass Snoqualmie Pass 700C x 44 Extralights


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.

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Fire in Paradise – Update on Mitch and Alistair and Ways to Help


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!

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New Curved Stays and OS Bottom Bracket Shells


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!
Further reading:

 

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Guest Post: Natsuko's Trip to Rishiri Island

Mount Rishiri-Dake (1721 m) is a popular hiking destination.


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.

Leaving Wakkanai on the ferry to Rishiri Island


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.

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Back in Stock: MKS Allways Pedals and Kaisei Fork Blades

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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.

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Tubular Stays and Other Fender News


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.

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How Long Do Compass Tires Last?


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.

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BQ Skills: Ghost Riding

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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.

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Myth 15: Marginal Gains


‘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.

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Autumn 2018 Bicycle Quarterly


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!

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Why We Like Custom Gearing


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).

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Why We Don't Do OEM


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.
More information:

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BQ 65 Preview: Traversing the Sawtooth Range

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.

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International Mysteries of Cycling History


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.

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Great Times at the BQ Un-Meeting 2018


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.

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New Parts from SON


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.

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Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting Routes

road_forest
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.
ferry
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.)
clouds_hood_canal
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!
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Night Ride through the Tahuya Hills


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.
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Rene Herse 11-speed Chainrings in New Sizes


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.

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BQ Un-Meeting 2018

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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.
ferry
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.
clouds_hood_canal
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.)
fog
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.
bay
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.
seabeck
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.
small_road
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.
bainbridge
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.

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15 Years of BQ: Plus Ça Change


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.

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Disc Brakes in the Tour de France


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.
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Photo credits: A.S.O./Tour de France.

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