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Archive | Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues

Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly

Adventures in all their forms are the theme of the Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Lael Wilcox and Rugile Kaladyte tour Kyrgystan in preparation of the Silk Road Mountain Race. Three friends attempting a new route on the border between France and Italy. Two riders enter The Japanese Odyssey, a ride so challenging that few participants actually finish it. Even our bike test of the new Crust Canti Lightning Bolt turns into an adventure when a storm moves in as we traverse the Cascade Mountains.

The new Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer – below are the first proofs. Tomorrow we’ll finalize the mailing list. Please subscribe or renew today to be among the first to get your BQ. Thank you!

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The Biggest Bicycle Quarterly Ever

When we started putting together the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, we realized that, for each article, we had more material than planned – longer stories, more photos, and new angles.

Usually, we test two bikes, but for this edition, we had the chance to ride five: two OPEN all-road bikes, plus the Trek Checkpoint in three different versions. We figured our readers would be interesting in Natsuko’s comparison between the men’s and women’s Checkpoints – especially since she preferred the men’s bike!

The two OPENs push the idea of the gravel bike to its outer limits: The U.P.P.E.R. is as light as most carbon racing bikes, while the WI.DE. rolls on tires as big as most mountain bikes. They made for a fascinating comparison, inviting us to look at it from different angles – and have three riders give their opinion on the bikes. The result is a whopping 26-page article. When I presented the story to Natsuko, BQ’s editor, I pointed out that this was just 13 pages per bike…

We had planned a story on this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris that focused on the ride itself. When the first photos of the Rene Herse team’s bikes leaked out on social media, people asked so many questions that we decided to do a bike feature, too. We quickly scheduled a studio photoshoot with Nicolas Joly that shows all three bikes in great detail.

Then Natsuko, who had followed PBP from Paris, shared her observations with us. “Did you know that all riders slow down after 30 hours?” she asked. We realized that by following more than 30 friends on the PBP tracking app, she got a unique insight into the ride. What she found surprised even those of us who had ridden PBP several times, so we persuaded her to write an article, too.

I’d been looking forward to interviewing Ted King. Casually talking to him, I appreciated his insights on what it’s like to race as a professional in Europe – and his ultra-positive, yet honest, attitude about the experience. Just as fascinating was how he got involved in gravel racing. Ansel Dickey contributed his stunning photos of gravel races in Kansas and Iceland. Squeezing all this wonderful content into the four pages allocated for this article would have been a shame.

The same thing happened when we visited Cherubim, the iconic Japanese framebuilder.  We got to see so many cool fixtures and tools… even a pantographing machine for engraving logos on components, lugs and other parts. We talked with Shin-ichi Konno, the owner of Cherubim, on what makes a great bike. He told us about matching the frame stiffness to the rider. He explained that this is especially important for Keirin racers, whose livelihoods depend on the performance of their bikes, and he finished the interview by stating: “A lifetime is not enough to learn everything there is about making bicycle frames.”

As a bonus, we got to photograph a frame Cherubim made for the most-winning racer in Keirin history. It pushes the art of framebuilding (and painting and chrome-plating) to rarely seen heights. Of course, we had to include all that content!

Where could we find space for all this content? We didn’t want to shorten Christopher Shand’s wonderful story of riding from France to Istanbul…

…nor take out our Project, Skill and Icon features, nor our technical article about how hookless rim and tubeless tire installation affect the safe pressure of your tires. At this point, it became clear: This would be our biggest edition ever – with no fewer than 128 pages.

Usually, when a magazine publishes a ‘biggest-ever,’ it’s to drive up newsstand sales. Additional advertisers are recruited to pay for the extra content (and benefit from the increased sales), an extra-splashy cover is designed, and an ad campaign runs just ahead of the release date.

Here at Bicycle Quarterly, newsstand sales and ads are not a big source of revenue. BQ is financed by our subscribers. When we decided to increase the page count, the most important question was: “Will the bigger magazine fit in the envelopes we use for our mailings?” A quick check confirmed that it would (barely), so we decided to go ahead. The extra cost of printing and mailing will be offset if more readers are tempted by all this great content. If you are a reader who has enjoyed this edition, please tell your friends! And if you’ve been thinking about subscribing to BQ, now is a great time to give it a try!

Click here to start your Bicycle Quarterly subscription with our biggest-ever edition.

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Video: Open WI.DE. vs U.P.P.E.R.

For the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, we tested two amazing OPEN all-road bikes. The brand-new WI.DE. can run 60 mm-wide tires – wider than many mountain bikes. The ultralight U.P.P.E.R. is a true racing machine – and yet it handles even rough trails with confidence.

Which would you prefer? Enjoy the video of these bikes in action, then read the full story in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly.

Subscribe today to get your copy of the 128-page Autumn BQ!

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Autumn Bicycle Quarterly

If Bicycle Quarterly was a ‘normal’ magazine, the Autumn edition would look quite different. Which ‘normal’ publisher would add 25% more pages just because there are so many great stories? We simply felt that we had no choice…

When OPEN told us that they had a new bike for ultra-wide tires coming, we took all our courage and asked them: How about sending us not only one of their much-in-demand test bikes, but two? We wanted to ride the brand-new WI.DE., but we also wanted to try the superlight U.P.P.E.R., so we could compare the two. And we’d like to ride them for more than 1000 miles, so we could really take them to the limit and beyond. We figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask…

To our surprise, two of these amazing machines arrived in the BQ office before the new bike even had been launched! We enjoyed them on a incredible ride in the Oregon Cascades, plus we performance-tested them in a controlled setting to find out what you give up when you go really wide…

When we looked through the photos and stories, we had so much fascinating material that we decided to expand the article to 26 pages. It’s not your average bike test, but an adventure that you’ll enjoy even if you aren’t looking to buy a bike.

The Trek Checkpoint really got us excited: Here is a mainstream production bike with a high-performance carbon frame that can run really wide tires (up to 55 mm). It even has eyelets for fenders and racks. We take this on the paved and gravel roads of Marin County – and we don’t just ride one, but three Checkpoints: Natsuko reports on the Checkpoint’s smallest models and compares the women’s version with the men’s. How are they different, and which works best for a smaller female rider?

The report from last month’s epic 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée also expanded far beyond our plan. We had allotted space for a story about this amazing ride, but so many people asked about our small team’s bikes that we decided to add a second article that shows them in beautiful studio photos.

When we visited Cherubim, one of the most respected framebuilders in Japan, we expected to show photos of how they file lugs and braze their iconic frames. We got those (above), but we also spent hours with Cherubim’s Shinichi Konno discussing frame stiffness and how it’s optimized for Japan’s professional Keirin racers. His insights were so interesting that this article, too, expanded far beyond what we’d planned.

Before Ted King became the ‘King of Gravel,’ he raced as a professional in Europe. We asked him what it was like to lead the Tour de France on the road and help Peter Sagan win the Tour‘s green jersey. Ted talks about what it’s really like to race in the world’s biggest races, about the differences between racing for a North American and an Italian team, and how he decided to race gravel upon ‘retiring.’ It’s a fascinating conversation that – you guessed it! – required much more space than we had allocated for it.

As a counterpoint to all this talk about steel bikes and wide tires, we feature Christopher Shand’s trip across Europe and the Balkans on carbon racing bikes and 25 mm tires. As you can imagine, theirs was a real adventure, and they brought back so many great photos that we expanded this article, too.

Those are just six of the fascinating stories in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly. The result is our biggest edition yet, with 128 pages (plus cover). It’s really more of a book than just a magazine, not just in size, but also in production values. But then, cycling is our passion…

Subscribe today to be among the first to get the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly when the magazine/book comes off the press in a few days.

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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.

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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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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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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.
Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.

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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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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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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!”

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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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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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Bicycle Quarterly Movie: A 30-Hour Ride

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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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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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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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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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Summer 2018 Bicycle Quarterly


The Summer 2018 Bicycle Quarterly is off the press and will be mailed to subscribers soon. To cap our 15th anniversary year, we’ve put together a 112-page edition filled with truly remarkable stories.

In our biggest adventure yet, we traversed the breathtaking Copper Canyons of northern Mexico. It was an amazing ride in every way – if you haven’t seen our video yet, click here to get right into the action.

It’s impossible not to be amazed by the incredible rides of Tokyo’s Yama Sai Ken (Mountain Cycling Club). These pioneering Passhunters explored every mountain pass in Japan, whether it was accessible by road or not. They built their own bikes years before mountain bikes became a thing. Their story is as inspirational as their photos are beautiful.

More than a decade ago, we coined the term Allroad Bike for a new breed of bikes we envisioned: racing bikes with ultra-wide tires, for more grip on pavement and more speed on gravel. Now these bikes are becoming ever-more popular, and we’ve tested two of the most exciting ones. The 3T Exploro (above) is an all-carbon, superlight, aero gravel bike. How does all that technology hold up in the unforgiving terrain of the Copper Canyons? We pushed the bike to the limit to find out.

Bringing the same bike genre down to earth, we rode Surly’s brand-new Midnight Special. Can it offer similar performance and fun as the 3T, at a fraction of the price?

Few bikes have seen as much success in national and international competitions as Harry Havnoonian’s iconic machines. Marvel at this amazing builder’s first and latest bikes in beautiful studio photos, and learn why Havnoonian always mounts the rear brake in front of the seatstays. Mark Hallinger’s article is a beautiful tribute to this American legend.

Going back further into cycling history, we feature the French cartoonist Pellos, who brought the ‘Heroic Age’ of the Tour de France to life. Travel to a time when stages were long, roads were rough, and human drama matched sporting achievements in this incredible race.
For readers with a more technical bent, Aldo Ross explores why dozens of racers switched to bar-end shifters during the 1949 Tour. Why did they use bar-ends only for their front derailleurs, but operated the rears with downtube shifters?

In our ‘Project’ series, we show you how to mount a front rack, with clear instructions and useful hints that will help you with your next bike project.
These are just a few of the many features in this exciting 112-page edition. Subscribe today to receive your own copy!

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Handlebars: Wide vs. Narrow


One of the hardest parts of bike fit is the width of the handlebars. There are many recommendations, but not all make sense. For decades, racers have been told that handlebars should match the width of their shoulders – but nobody seems to agree how to measure shoulder width! Let’s look at what we know about handlebar width.
Historically, handlebar width has matched the handling of racing bikes. When bikes had slack head angles and much wheel flop (1920s), bars were very wide: 46–48 cm was common to provide the leverage required to keep the bike going straight. When low-trail geometries were popular (1940s), bars shrank to 38 cm – that was enough to guide the bikes with a light touch. Narrow tires made the bikes less stable again (1970s), and bars grew to 42 cm. I wrote about that in detail here, but even that is not the full story.

Bike Radar recently had a feature about one of the tallest riders in the professional peloton, Jan-Willem van Schip, who uses ultra-narrow Nitto handlebars – measuring just 38 cm. (Bike Radar‘s sensationalist number of 32 cm is measured at the top of the hoods.) Regardless of how we measure van Schip’s bars, they are very narrow. That raises the question: Why does such a tall rider use such narrow bars?
The answer is simple: aerodynamics. Being so tall, van Schip needs every advantage he can get. Other pros also use relatively narrow bars: 40 and 42 cm are the norm. That got me thinking about the advantages of narrow handlebars. Here are a few:

  • More aerodynamic: Bicycle Quarterly‘s wind tunnel tests found that lowering the stem by 2 cm reduced the rider’s wind resistance by 5%. Using handlebars that are 2 cm narrower probably has a similar effect – about twice the benefit of aero wheels (2-3%)!
  • Easier to thread through narrow spaces: That is why track racers use narrow handlebars, and why I prefer them when riding through forests and in crowded cyclocross races.
  • More comfortable for riders who bend their elbows: Your elbows can articulate inward, not outward, so (relatively) narrow handlebars work great for riders who bend their elbows to absorb shocks and guide their bikes with a light touch. Bars that are too wide can cause shoulder pains for these riders. Few riders need bars as narrow as Jan-Willem van Schip’s 38s, but 40–42 cm seems to work well for many riders. For me, 44 cm-wide bars are too wide for comfort on long rides.
  • Weight: It’s not just the 2 cm of extra aluminum tubing: A wider bar exerts extra leverage, so it needs to be stronger. Nitto makes Compass handlebars to our exclusive ‘Superlight’ specification from thinwall, heat-treated tubing. However, this tubing can only be used for handlebars up to 42 cm wide – it doesn’t pass fatigue tests if the bars are wider. So our wider handlebars are made to Nitto’s ‘Lightweight’ specification, which, while still lightweight, is a bit heavier.

How narrow can you go? At some point, you will no longer have enough leverage over the steering. Guiding the bike becomes less intuitive, and countering crosswinds and bumps will require too much force. The bike becomes less fun to ride. But as Jan-Willem van Schip shows, you can go quite narrow. In fact, I’d love to send him a set of Compass bars, which are much lighter than the Nittos he took off an old touring bike, but we don’t offer our bars that narrow!

Wide handlebars also have their place, and some riders and bikes are better with them. Here are their main advantages:

  • More leverage is good on high-trail bikes: Wide handlebars are almost a requirement on bikes with high-trail geometries, because there is so much wheel flop. With the extra leverage of wide handlebars, these bikes are easier to keep going straight. The wide bars also provide leverage in tight spaces off-road, when you want to turn the handlebars immediately, without first setting up the bike with subtle weight shifts.
  • More comfortable for riders who lock their elbows: Our upper arms connect to our shoulders at an angle, and if you lock your elbows, your entire arms splay outward slightly. If your handlebars are too narrow, your shoulders feel strained when riding in this position. Bars that are wider than your shoulders feel more natural if you ride with your elbows locked.


There is another consideration: If you use a handlebar bag, it needs to fit with room for your hands to hold onto the bars. Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag bags are designed to provide a perfect fit with 42 cm-wide Compass handlebars (above).

Most of all, the width of your handlebars is based on personal preference, and that’s why we offer our Compass handlebars in widths from 40 to 46 cm. This covers the range for most cyclists – except that we apparently need a 38 cm version made specially for ultra-tall professional racers!
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Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly


The Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly celebrates how past, present and future have come together to enrich our cycling enjoyment. As we venture off the beaten path into amazing landscapes and toward memorable adventures, we take inspiration from the past, benefit from current technical developments, and shape the future of cycling.

Take the Torino-Nice Rally, which straddles the crest of the Alps all the way from Northern Italy to the Mediterranean Sea: Thomas Hassler describes the landscapes and emotions of this incredible ride. His stunning photos will make you dream of putting some wide tires on your bike, packing a lightweight bag or two, and heading into the mountains yourself!

It was for this terrain that Jo Routens designed his bikes. We bring you the full story of this inspirational randonneur and builder, whose skill with the torch was matched by his riding prowess. Studio photos of three wonderful classics complement evocative images from the Routens family archives.

With Lyli Herse we have lost one of the greats of French cycling. To celebrate her life, we take a very personal look at Lyli beyond her role as eight-time French champion and daughter of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ Discover the real Lyli through stories and anecdotes, many told in her own words.

Perhaps you’ve already seen the video of our passhunting adventure in the Japanese Alps. It was the perfect ride that played to the strengths of our test bike, a beautiful titanium Caletti Monstercross.

We didn’t just hunt passes in Japan, we also took the Caletti on some of our favorite rides in the Cascades, where we compared it to my Firefly allroad bike. Both bikes are equipped with titanium frames, wide tires and drop handlebars, and yet they couldn’t be more different. Where does the Caletti’s high-trail geometry shine, and where does the Firefly’s low-trail setup bring advantages? We took both bikes to the limit to find out. The result surprised us, and it adds to our growing understanding of bicycle geometry and handling.

It was on the roads and trails of the Cascades that the idea of the ‘allroad’ bike was first conceived more than a decade ago. When we realized that wide tires could roll as fast as narrow ones, our riding was liberated: No longer did we need to seek out smooth pavement to enjoy the sensation of effortless gliding. Looking back over 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly (and beyond), we chronicle the development of wide high-performance tires, including anecdotes like Peter Weigle (above) shaving the tread off prototype tires for our testing. This is the story behind the trend that is now sweeping the bike industry.

We take you inside Davidson & Kullaway, one of the oldest custom frame shops in the country, and just around the corner from us here in Seattle. Bill Davidson reminisces about the days when the shop made 750 frames a year, and when he traveled to Japan to have the very best lugs custom-made, which allowed Davidson to make bikes efficiently without cutting corners. He tells us why he prefers brass over silver brazing, and why it’s so hard to make the current generation of allroad bikes. Davidson’s partner Max Kullaway provides insights into the origins of titanium bikes and discusses the intricacies of welding frames.

Tubeless tires are useful to avoid pinch flats when riding in rough terrain. Our illustrated step-by-step guide shows you how to set up your tires tubeless with just a floor pump. A few tricks will go a long way toward making your first tubeless installation a success.

It’s exciting to see a BQ-inspired bike at an affordable price point. For $ 1420, the Masi Speciale Randonneur features wide tires, a low-trail geometry, and even metal fenders. How does it ride on the road? We tested it to find out.

Mountain bikes have dropped a bit out of the limelight lately, but they still have their place. Natsuko Hirose talks about her ride on a beautiful custom-made Steve Rex mountain bike, and how it feels different from riding the passhunter she uses to explore the Japanese Alps.
Subscribers will get the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly within the next few weeks. Don’t miss it – subscribe today!

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Preview of BQ 63: Passhunting in Japan

[youtube https://youtu.be/R37xixiGsX0?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
To put our Caletti Monstercross test bike through its paces, we took it passhunting in the middle of winter. Watch the video for a sneak preview, and enjoy the full adventure and bike test in the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly. Make sure to view in ‘full-screen’ mode!
Subscribe today to get your copy of the Spring Bicycle Quarterly without delay!

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Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues Back in Stock


Bicycle Quarterly back issues always are popular, and a number of magazines have run out in recent months. Recently, we found a box of magazines that we had put aside in case we needed to replace copies that were lost in shipping. This means that all but two Bicycle Quarterlies (BQ 15 and BQ 18) are available again, but some editions are limited to a handful of magazines.
As you can imagine, 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly have produced some fascinating content. Below are some of my favorites:

BQ 27 has my favorite cover: It shows the winning team in the 1943 tandem taxi race: During the World War II, there was no gasoline in France (except for ‘important’ functions like the press motorcycle in the background that is covering the race), so bike racers earned a living pulling trailers as taxis.
Tandem taxis were faster, but also cost twice as much. Once a year, there was a race of the tandem taxis, where the teams used lightweight cargo trailers instead of their usual ‘taxicabs.’ When I found this photo in the René Herse archives, I knew it would make a great cover: The two racers are going all-out across the cobbles of Paris’ boulevards, while the ‘passenger’ crouches as aero as possible in the trailer, the brevet card between his teeth as he holds on during the wild ride.
The rest of the issue is just as fascinating, as it explores the roots of long-distance cycling through period documents and reports.

Another favorite is BQ 28, dedicated to the Taylor brothers (of Jack Taylor fame). Mark Lawrence spent months talking to them. He discovered a fascinating story of three ‘lads’ (and a woman) who started making bikes, went to the Paris Salon du Cycle to discover the best bike parts, raced in ‘outlaw’ races that culminated in the Tour of Britain, and saw their bikes being ridden all over the world. It’s the definitive history of this famous maker, and it shows that true stories can be as gripping as the best novels.

BQ 26 is dedicated entirely to bicycle brakes. I find brakes even more fascinating than derailleurs, and in this Bicycle Quarterly, we explore how bicycles have stopped and slowed down over time, with photos and drawings from the pen of Daniel Rebour (below). You’ll see early hydraulic brakes and disc brakes from the 1970s, which already grappled with the challenge of translating the linear pull of a brake cable into a clamping force on a disc rotor.

The sheer variety of brakes boggles the mind: Above are eight different cantilever brakes, all completely different from each other and from the standard models we know today. To date, we haven’t been able to figure out how No. 7 actually works! If you are at all interested in bicycle technology, this issue is an absolute must-read.

There have been too many fascinating stories to list more than a fraction. I enjoyed meeting the porteurs de presse, the newspaper couriers of Paris, whose annual race had them carry heavy bundles of newspapers around Paris at incredible speeds (above, from BQ 19). Or the story of Cycles Alex Singer in our very first issue. Each of these histories provide insight into an incredibly rich cycling culture, where the boundaries between racing, touring and working by bike were much more fluid than they are today.

My all-time favorite is BQ 9 with the story of ‘the Aunt,’ Paulette Porthault – nick-named, because she was the aunt of one of the young riders on the Herse team. I met her when she was in her 90s, but her memory was as sharp as ever. She told of touring all across Europe in the 1930s (above), when currency restrictions required hiding your cash in your bike’s tires before crossing from one country to another. She was an incredibly strong rider, setting times in brevets that are unbelievable today: Riding a hilly 200 km (125 miles) on a tandem in 5 1/2 hours seems almost incomprehensible.
‘The Aunt’ won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race during the war. She rode in the famous post-war Concours de Machines for René Herse, where she kept an eye on young Lyli Herse, who was just a teenager, and who told me how her incredible cycling exploits were inspired by ‘the Aunt.’ Madame Porthault recounted all these adventures with incredible wit and humor. I’ll never forget my encounters with her, and I am glad that Bicycle Quarterly readers can share them. (And I am glad to report that she is still doing well, now aged almost 105.)

Paging through Bicycle Quaterly‘s back issues makes me a bit melancholic, because we’ve seen a changing of the guard over the last 15 years. Many of these inspirational people (above, Ernest Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer) no longer are with us. I am glad we’ve documented their stories so they can inspire future generations, but once these magazines are sold out, you’ll have to hunt for them in used bookstores (or online). Fortunately, Bicycle Quarterly back issues are treasured (and printed on durable, archival-quality paper), so these stories won’t be lost.

In recent years, we’ve taken this inspiration to plot our own adventures, like a trip to Japan with renowned constructeur J. P. Weigle. Seeing the experience of riding the incredible roads of the Japanese Alps through his eyes was a special treat, as was his report from last year’s Concours de Machines in France.

We now take our test bikes on real adventures, because our technical research has brought us bikes that can cover distance and terrain in a way that would have seemed impossible in the past. If you’ve missed our ride across Odarumi Pass in Japan or the search for an elusive passage across the Sawtooth Range in the Cascades (above), you’ll enjoy reading BQ‘s more recent back issues.

Most of all, the amazing stories we’ve documented will inspire your own cycling adventures. Browse the illustrated table of contents of all Bicycle Quarterlies online, or simply buy the full collection of the ‘First 50 Bicycle Quarterlies at our special price – I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Building on this great content, we can promise you many more exciting Bicycle Quarterlies in the future: We’ve unearthed some great stories that will surprise and amaze you. Subscribe today and be among the first to get the Spring 2018 Bicycle Quarterly that includes the story of Lyli Herse, a gravel adventure across the Alps from Torino to Nice, and a bike test over a snow-covered pass in Japan. Our journey continues, and we look forward to every discovery along the way!
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Myth 3: Fenders Slow You Down


To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are looking at ‘12 Myths in Cycling’ – things that aren’t quite what we (and most other cyclists) used to believe. Part 3 of the series is about fenders.

Many cyclists here in Seattle install fenders when the rainy season starts, and remove them for the dry summer months. British time trialists even had quick-release fenders that they used on the ride to the start; then they took off the fenders for the actual competition. Our research indicates that this isn’t necessary – fenders don’t slow you down. Here is why: Continue Reading →

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Past Year of Bicycle Quarterly


“What? I have to wait three months for another Bicycle Quarterly?” In various forms, we hear this comment quite often. New subscribers enjoy their first issue, and they want more. Yet as a quarterly publication, BQ appears only every three months. That is how long it takes to put together another issue – with a more frequent schedule, it would simply be impossible to maintain the high quality with our small staff.
However, there is a solution to the problem: One of our most popular products is the ‘Past Year of Bicycle Quarterly,’ which consists of the last four issues before the current one. The articles in BQ are timeless, and this is an excellent way to catch up on the great adventures, technical articles, and historical features that preceded your first issue. The BQ’s of the last year have been an especially good ‘crop.’ Read on for some of the highlights.

My own favorite is the incredible ride across Kurakake Pass in Japan. Imagine a spectacular road up a perfect mountain pass, abandoned many years ago. We were told that it had been rideable 20 years ago, but would we still be able to get through? We knew it would be an adventure, but we got a little more than we bargained for.

For years, I’ve searched for an elusive passage across the Sawtooth Ridge in the Cascade Range of Washington. My most recent attempt came as the first winter snow began to make the high roads impassable. I had checked maps and satellite images, and the forest road I wanted to take seemed rideable. But things don’t always turn out as planned!

Join us as we take a Moots Routt to Bon Jon Pass. What seems like an easy ride on the longest day of the year turns into a race against the fading daylight. The Moots performs great, but will it be enough to beat the setting sun?

We ride the Open U.P. up (and down) the highest paved pass in Japan. We came here to test how a modern race bike with ultra-wide tires handles some of the most challenging paved and gravel roads on the planet. In addition to pushing the bike to its limits, we discover a magical landscape and a wonderful mountaintop hut where we spend the night.

Matt Bryant takes you on a ‘packbiking’ adventure around Mount Baker – combining road riding with portaging bikes on unmaintained mountain trails for a true adventure that pushes the limits of what we could even imagine.

Renowned constructeur Peter Weigle tells the story of building a superlight bike for the Concours de Machines

…and riding on small mountain roads in Japan. He provides a unique perspective about taking part in these ‘BQ adventures.’

Bicycle Quarterly brings you stories you won’t find anywhere else. Daniel and Madeleine Provot’s life revolved around cyclotouring in mid-century France, and their story has inspired us and many of our readers as we enjoy our cycling.

We take you right into the action as we visit the makers of the bikes and components we enjoy: Panaracer’s tire factory (above);…

…Gilles Berthoud in France, who make beautiful bags and leather saddles (above); Paul Components in Chico, CA;…

…and Schmidt Maschinenbau in Germany, makers of the SON generator hubs and Edelux headlights (above, one of Schmidt’s testing tools).

We continue our famous technical research that has shaken up the bike industry: How wide can tires get before their performance drops off? We test tires from 32 to 54 mm under closely controlled conditions to bring you the answer.

Stunning studio photos of modern and classic bikes round off each issue, but of course, there is much, much more.

Like the ride through the mountains near Cuernavaca in Mexico, and… There is really no way to do a whole year of Bicycle Quarterly justice in a single blog post – with close to 100 pages of content, each issue is more like a book than just a magazine.
If you already have some of these back issues, you can customize your own 4-Pack and select the Bicycle Quarterlies you want to read – check our full table of contents that also includes photos from every Bicycle Quarterly.
Order your ‘Past Year of BQ’ today and enjoy many hours of reading as you dream up your own adventures.
Photo credits: Isabel Uriarte (Photo 3), Matt Bryant (Photo 6), Rob van Driel (Photo 7), Duncan Smith (Photo 14), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 5, 8, 11).

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Winter 2017 Bicycle Quarterly


The new Bicycle Quarterly is shipping now – subscribers should have their copies in a few weeks. Many of our readers already have enjoyed the video of our tandem trip to the French Alps. Taking an unrestored 70-year-old bike on a challenging tour was full of adventure. Natsuko writes about her first tandem ride, and a companion article explains why this old tandem performed so well.

Even further off the beaten path, Gerolf Meyer and three friends ride their bikes across the Balkans. They encounter grandiose landscapes, plenty of gravel, and fascinating cultures. Reading their story will make you want to pack up your bike and head to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece.

Adventure bikes are one of the biggest trends in bicycles. What happens when you increase the tire size beyond what fits into a road frame? To find out, we ride the Rawland Ulv, a randonneur bike designed for 80 mm tires.

Seattle’s 333fab offers the hand-built AirLandSea as ‘one bike to do it all.’ We ride it high into the Cascade Mountains on a quest to re-discover Jack Pass, which was cut off when a river jumped its banks and washed out the road. How does this bike designed for ultra-wide tires handle the different conditions encountered during this adventure?

Shimano has grown from humble beginnings to dominate the bicycle component market. How did Shimano achieve its current status? We visit the company’s headquarters for an inside look at the company. Our journey takes us not only to the beginning of Japan’s cycling industry, but to the roots of Japanese metalworking when we visit a maker of traditional knives, who works not far from Shimano’s global headquarters.

 
Shimano’s famous ‘7400’ Dura-Ace group represents a pivotal point in Shimano’s history. For the first time, Japanese components were as good as, or better than, anything else in the world in every aspect: function, quality, finish, and even marketing. And yet to me, the ‘7400’ always has looked like the group that Campagnolo should have made to replace its famous Super Record – especially the cranks bear an uncanny resemblance. During our research, we talk to those involved in the development and learn that this is closer to the truth than we imagined.

We report on the Firefly after two years and use the opportunity to test different wheel sizes – above with a 650B front and 26″ rear wheel. Does the handling of a bike remain the same, as long as you keep the outer diameter of the wheels (and thus the front-end geometry) the same? Or are there other factors to consider?

Our report on the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting takes you right into the action of this fun-filled weekend, with many photos of the different riders and bikes that came together to enjoy a weekend of riding with old and new friends.

For my last big ride of the year, I take the superlight J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines across the Southern Alps of Japan. My plan was simple: Take the first train from Tokyo to one side of the mountain range, then catch the last train on the other side. In between are four big mountain passes that reach high into the clouds. Failure means sleeping on a bench outside the station in the cold night. Will the performance of the bike and the form of my legs be enough to make it?

Adventures are rides that have unknown outcomes. There is plenty of adventure in the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Searching the limits of 80 mm-wide tires resulted in a big splash…

…but we also discovered that how great the rewards of heading into the unknown can be.
Subscribe today to get the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Or if your relatives or friends are looking for the perfect present, suggest a gift subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.
Click here for a full table of contents of this issue.

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Watch the Video: Ride into the Unknown

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The Winter Bicycle Quarterly features the story of a remarkable adventure: Touring unknown mountain roads in the French Alps on an unrestored, 70-year-old René Herse. To bring you right into the action, we made a little video about the ride. Click on the image above to watch, before reading the full story in BQ 62 (available soon). Subscribe today to get your issue in time for the holidays.
Make sure to watch in full-screen mode. If the video does not display above, click here to watch it on YouTube.
Camera: Nicolas Joly.

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We Aren't Models!

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We aren’t models! Anybody who has looked at our photos will have noticed this… but what I really want to say is that every photo you see in Bicycle Quarterly, on this blog and on the Compass web site is totally authentic. It’s not a posed shot with – yes – a model gazing wistfully over a mountain landscape, where you instinctively feel that they’ve come up here in a van and there is a second truck parked nearby with equipment and perhaps a third one for the catering.
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The riders in our photos actually rode their bikes to the location. The camera was carried in a handlebar bag. We may ride back and forth a few times to get the shot “just right”, but that is it. Our photos record actual rides.
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In the photos that accompany BQ’s bike tests, you see the actual testers on the actual test rides. To us, that authenticity is important. We want to give you as much of the experience of being there as possible.
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Even our famous “To us, it’s just another road” tire ad (above) was shot during a bicycle tour. The lighting was just right, the road looked great and we seized the opportunity.
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Shooting photos during our rides keeps our marketing budget small. Those vans, equipment trucks and catering cost a lot of money. Professional photo shoots result in beautiful images, but another way to get great shots is to go out again and again, until everything turns out just right. Since we ride a lot, we get plenty of opportunities… and great rides make for much better stories than great photo shoots!

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Reader Feedback on the Autumn Issue


The Autumn Bicycle Quarterly marks the 15th anniversary of the magazine. To celebrate, we assembled a very special selection of articles into our largest issue yet. Many readers have written to voice their excitement about the latest edition. Here are a few examples:

“Issue no. 61 is absolutely the greatest I have seen: so packed with well-written and interesting feature articles, pictures and data, that I doubt if I will have absorbed it by the next issue. The coverage of the Concours de Machines is superb; but at the same time, the balance between the technical and the spiritual–which, after all, is the essence of randonneur cycling–is pitch-perfect.”

“I just received my Autumn issue of BQ and am floored! I opened it and just flipped through the magazine and was blown away by the photos of the Concours de Machines. The one thing that filled my mind was what an absolutely amazing film documentary this would make. I’m just blown away!”

“The grandiose solitude of Kurakake Pass, the latest Concours de Machines and its history, and, perhaps even more moving, J.P. Weigle and Olivier Csuka assembling the bike at Cycles Alex Singer. It brings together past and present in the most beautiful images. Magnificent!”

It wasn’t just these two features that got our readers excited. One wrote: “Great review of the Brian Chapman!” The reader above was even more succinct: “Woof!” We take it as a compliment.

Readers enjoyed touring the factory of Paul Component Engineering. One reader even suggested: “I hope you keep this issue in print and continue to offer it as a stand-alone in your catalog.” Unfortunately, that isn’t feasible.
Subscribe now to enjoy the 15th Anniversay Bicycle Quarterly, as well as future magazines that will be equally rich and varied in content. If you already have the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, which was your favorite feature?
Photo credits: Natsuko Hirose (Photo 1), Nicolas Joly (Photo 2), Rob van Driel (Photo 3), Brian Chapman (Photo 5).

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15-Year Anniversary BQ: Largest Issue Ever!


With the Autumn issue, we celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly! Fifteen years is a long time, and much has changed in the bike world since 2003. Most of those changes – wider tires, compact cranks, Allroad bikes – have been for the better, and BQ has played at least a small part in that. So we decided to celebrate not just 15 years of the magazine, but also the industry’s shift toward bikes that are more fun to ride in the real world.

What better way to celebrate than to team up with Peter Weigle, one of today’s best constructeurs, and enter a bike in this year’s Concours de Machines technical trials? The idea was to take everything we’ve learned in those 15 years and test it against the best bicycles on the toughest roads.

The Concours was a great adventure, with more than enough stories and images to fill an entire issue. Peter Weigle talks about how he built the lightest bike to finish the Concours, an amazing machine that weighs just 20 pounds (9.1 kg) fully equipped with wide tires, fenders, lights, rack, bottle cages, pump and even a bell. Making a bike this light is difficult enough, but the real challenge was doing so without compromising performance or reliability.

You’ll read the exciting story about how the bike completed the challenging rides of the Concours without penalties and won the vote of the jury, as well as the silver medal.

No fewer than 24 bikes were entered in the Concours. Builders came from France, Sweden, the UK, the U.S., Slovakia and even Japan. The variety and ingenuity of the bikes were truly amazing. We feature them all  in Nicolas Joly’s beautiful studio photos – above, the winning PechTregon – and we tell you how they performed on the road.

To put the Concours in perspective, we bring you the history of these amazing events. Discover how the “Technical Trials” pioneered aluminum cranks, cantilever brakes, low-rider racks and cartridge bearings – things we now take for granted. Above, Lyli Herse signs in at a secret control during the 1947 Concours. You’ll be amazed at the light weight of the bikes 70 years ago (Lyli’s bike weighed less than 8 kg/17.6 lb) and the speeds at which they were ridden.

You don’t have to be a fan of classic bikes to be mesmerized by the amazing Pitard bike that competed in the 1949 Concours. More than half a century ago, it already featured an aluminum frame and many interesting details.

Another way to celebrate our anniversary was to make this the biggest Bicycle Quarterly yet, with 25% more pages. That way, we could also bring you the story of Paul Component Engineering. We take you right into the factory in California where the famous brakes, stems and other parts are made…

… and we talk with Paul himself to discover the story behind his company and what makes it special.

BQ would not be complete without bike tests. For our “First Ride”, we took a Steve Rex monstercross bike to the limit. Is it a ‘cross bike with bigger tires, or a mountain bike with drop bars?

We also rode a Chapman “light tourer” with generator-powered electronic shifting. How did this amazing machine fare on a challenging 300 km randonneur ride that included everything from smooth asphalt to gravel roads?

To top off this action-packed issue, we take you across one of the most awesome mountain passes anywhere. Kurakake Pass in Japan is a mountain road like I had envisioned in many daydreams. Imagine my surprise when I found that this imaginary road actually exists! Traversing the pass was an true adventure: When you venture this far off the beaten path, you never know what you will encounter!
These are just a few of the features in the Autumn 2017 Bicycle Quarterly. When we started BQ, our dream was a quarterly book, rather than just a magazine. This 124-page issue comes closer than ever: It’ll provide many hours of reading enjoyment.
The magazine is at the printer and will be mailed in early September. Subscribe or renew today to get your copy without delay.
More information:

Photo credits: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1, 3, 4, 6), Rob van Driel (Photo 2), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 8. 9. 11), Duncan Smith (Photo 10).

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Compass 700C x 35 mm and 38 mm Back in Stock


The long days of summer see us heading far into the mountains. Often, our ambitious plans push the limits of even the longest days… Above, Natsuko descends the incredible chain of passes in the Cevennes mountains of France. This amazing tour is featured in the latest Bicycle Quarterly.
Just in time for the adventures of the summer, our latest shipment of Compass Barlow Pass 700C x 38 and Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires has arrived. We appreciate your patience while demand outpaced supply during the last few weeks. All of us at Compass Cycles work hard to keep all our products in stock at all times. Because for us, excellent tires are essential supplies for great rides.
Click on the links below for more information about:

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Summer 2017 Bicycle Quarterly


The new Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It’s our biggest issue yet – well over 100 pages filled with exciting adventures. Here are a few of them:

Renowned framebuilder and constructeur Peter Weigle joins us on a trip to Japan. Read his experiences with Rinko-ing his bike, riding the incredible Japanese mountain roads, and visiting the great constructeurs Toei and C.S. Hirose. Peter sees Japan with new eyes, and his impressions make a fascinating read. As a bonus, we test the amazing bike that Peter built for his trip to Japan.

Cyclotouring and the Tour de France share a common history – cyclotourists inspired the great race to head into the mountains for the first time. We retrace that history during a tour in the Cevennes mountains of southern France, while the Tour races in the valley below.

While in France, we visited Gilles Berthoud to see how modern technology and traditional craftsmanship are combined to make some of the finest saddles and bags in the world.

Our test bike is a bit unusual: a gravel bike made from Bamboo. We took the Boo on an adventurous ride into the unknown. How does it perform on the most challenging roads the Cascade Mountains can offer?

We’ve had our Specialized Diverge long-term test bike for two years now. What is it like to live with a modern, high-end, production bike on a daily basis? Did the lure of the “carbon race bike for the real world” endure? How did the superlight parts perform in the long run?
These are just a few of the features you’ll read in the Summer 2017 Bicycle Quarterly. Subscribe today to get your copy without delay.

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Spring 2017 Bicycle Quarterly

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We are always excited when the final files for Bicycle Quarterly go to the printer. We think that our readers will especially enjoy the Spring 2017 issue.
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We tested no fewer than three really amazing bikes. The Open U.P. (above) promises the performance and feel of a modern carbon racing bike and the go-anywhere ability of wide tires. Does it deliver?
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To find out, we took it to one of the highest mountain passes in Japan. The first day, we climbed more than 2000 m (6500 ft) on pavement. The next day, we descended via a vertiginous gravel road. This wasn’t just a bike test – it was an adventure.
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The Specialized Sequoia is an affordable Allroad bike intended for bikepacking. Initially planned as a one-day “First Ride”, we ended up riding the Sequoia more than 300 km (190 miles) over a variety of terrain. How do the Sequoia and and its bikepacking bags (right) compare to a more traditional randonneur bikes like the one framebuilder Corey Thompson (left) brought on one of our test rides?
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The third test bike was made by BQ contributor Hahn Rossman, whose main job is building custom bikes. I suddenly realized that even though I had ridden with Hahn for thousands of miles, I’d never really been on one of his bikes. We took one of his custom machines to San Francisco. How did it perform on the steep hills and challenging descents of this beautiful city?
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Natsuko Hirose tells the story of a tour in the Mexican cordillera during Easter week. Read about meeting a group of pilgrims who traversed the mountains on old racing bikes. It was one of those encounters you could only have when riding a bike.
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In Germany, we visited Schmidt Maschinenbau, makers of the best bicycle lighting anywhere. During our factory tour, we saw many innovative ideas that make Schmidt’s components so exceptional. In the process, we discovered a company that cares about more than just making outstanding products.
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When BQ reader Brian Sampson told me that he was going to restore a 1946 René Herse – which included making replicas of the original Speedy brakes – I had some doubts whether he’d succeed. He proved me wrong and tells the story of this heroic rebuild.
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We are always excited when a company introduces new “Allroad” tires, and we were eager to test Specialized’s new Sawtooth tires. We also tried a Revelate saddlebag, and we reviewed Brooks’ new book, the Compendium of Cycling Culture.
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How do you carry a bike with full fenders on a car-top roof rack? We show you how to make a detachable fender section from simple parts.
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One of my favorite features is our “Icon”, where we tell the story behind a famous cycling component. In this issue, we look at the helmet that won the Tour de France. Or did it?
This and many other features make up the Spring 2017 Bicycle Quarterly. Subscribe today to make sure you get this exciting issue without delay.

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Bicycle Quarterly Instagram

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During our Bicycle Quarterly adventures and travels, we generate hundreds – sometimes thousands – of photos. Only a fraction of them make it into the magazine, and there are many great shots that linger in the archives forever. Now Bicycle Quarterly has its own Instagram account (@bikequarterly) to share more of these inspirational photos with our readers. It’s a collaborative project of the BQ editors and contributors, who’ll also give you a behind-the-scenes look at your favorite magazine. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Click on the link below to follow Bicycle Quarterly on Instagram.
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The Lure of Titanium Bikes

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Over the last few years, Bicycle Quarterly has tested quite a few titanium bikes. There is a simple reason for this: Titanium is a great material for an up-to-date, thoroughly modern bike.
In recent years, the pace of innovation, especially with respect to tires, has been incredibly rapid. Just a few years ago, “gravel grinders” were riding 28 mm-wide tires. Today, many riders use 32 mm tires on the road, and much wider ones on gravel…
Carbon bikes require expensive molds, which take time to engineer and manufacture. That is why most carbon bikes available today were designed 3 or 4 years ago. Metal, on the other hand, is more easily shaped, so new bikes can be introduced as the technology evolves. And titanium builders have been especially keen to make bikes that perform equally well on gravel as they do on pavement.
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Since Bicycle Quarterly has provided much of the inspiration behind the current “Allroad” bike trend (together with visionaries like the organizers of D2R2 and a few others), it’s only natural that we’ve been testing these exciting machines.
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All the titanium bikes we’ve tested have been great machines. That has allowed us to take them on some amazing rides. Not only are these adventures great tests of the bikes, but they also make for a great read, even if you aren’t in the market for a new bike.
The Firefly impressed me so much during our ride over the 4000 m-high Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above) that I bought the test bike! It’s designed as a racing bike with ultra-wide (54 mm) 26″ tires. Riding the bike all over the place, I found that it really has delivered on the promise of combining the best of a racing bike with the go-anywhere ability of wide tires.
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The Litespeed T5g was great fun during our search for the “Lost Pass” in the Cascades. Built up with 650B wheels, the bike’s nimble handling was impressive, and the smaller wheels allowed fitting wider tires than with 700C wheels. A win-win scenario made easy with modern disc brakes.
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The Moots Routt was another machine that offered amazing performance. Intended as a classic “gravel grinder” (if there is such a thing), it was equipped with 700C x 35 mm tires. Our ride to Bon Jon Pass seemed like a perfect mid-summer adventure, until the heavens opened and drenched us with a deluge. But the rain was warm, and the Moots was fun until the end.
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Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Jones 29er, which looks like a mountain bike, yet was able to climb with the fastest bikes we’ve tested. Most of all, riding the Jones to a deserted cabin in the wilds of the snow-covered Olympic Peninsula was a great adventure. (Thanks to Fred for designing a perfect test for this bike!)
These four bikes cover the spectrum of modern titanium Allroad bikes, with 700C, 650B and 26″ wheels and a variety of frame configurations. If you are in the market for a modern Allroad bike, you’ll learn much about these bikes, and about what to look for in a modern bike in general, by reading these four issues.
We now offer these tests in a convenient Bicycle Quarterly 4-Pack at a special price. Click here to find out more or to order your set.
Photo credits: Fred Blasdel (Photos 1, 6), Duncan Smith (Photo 2), Hahn Rossman (Photos 3, 4).

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Get Them While You Can!

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We recently decided not to reprint Bicycle Quarterly back issues any longer. In the past, we’ve reprinted issues as they sold out, because we wanted to keep the great content available: amazing bike builders like Alex Singer, Charlie Cunningham, Jack Taylor, Reyhand, Hetchins, Charrel; the incredible French technical trials; original technical research that has revolutionized our understanding of bicycle tires.
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The historic photos, but also the great adventures and bike tests, have inspired many cyclists. It’s been rewarding to see readers on social media who’ve ridden to Babyshoe Pass, Bon Jon Pass, Naches Pass (above) and even Rat Trap Pass.
With more than 3600 pages, the back issues of Bicycle Quarterly contain a huge amount of information, of stories, of photos… To make it easy to find your way around, we’ve put the complete table of contents of all issues on the Compass Cycles web site. It’s easy to search and find that article you are looking for. It also helps you to select the issues you want to order. Or simply buy them all, by taking advantage of the special price for issues 1-50.
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With 58 issues published so far, it’s simply too much to keep every single magazine in stock at all times. For most issues, we still have good supplies – it’s not like all this content will go away overnight. But some issues are running low (that is why we had to make a decision), and when they are gone, you’ll have to hunt for them in Used Book stores and on eBay…
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Another publication that will be sold out soon is the Limited Edition of our René Herse book. The René Herse book (also available in a “standard” edition) has been exceedingly popular, with more than 1300 copies sold. This isn’t a book for collectors, but a fascinating story of a time when cycling was a way of life. The bikes, as beautiful as they are, provide only the backdrop for the adventures and friendships that they made possible.
The 150 copies of the Limited Edition come in a beautiful slipcase with four otherwise unpublished, ready-to-frame art quality prints of amazing photos from the René Herse archives. You see Lyli Herse with Robert Prestat in full flight as they dominated the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race, a young Yves Cohen shifting the lever-operated front derailleur of his René Herse, riders on the Herse team during the 1950s, and Lyli with friends posing during the 1940s.
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If you love beautiful books (or are a fan of René Herse), the Limited Edition is the final touch on what many consider the most amazing cycling book ever published. (It’s amazing because of the incredible photo collection of the Herse family that made this book possible.) The standard version (without the slip case and special photos) is a wonderful book in its own right – the contents are the same, of course.
So if you’ve been thinking about getting the book or some Bicycle Quarterly back issues…
Click on the links below for more information:

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Remembering Naches Pass

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Recently, I cleaned out old files on our computers, and came across this treasure trove of unpublished photos from Bicycle Quarterly‘s “Secret Pass” adventure. It took me back three years, when Hahn and I headed into the Cascade Mountains to test the MAP 650B Randonneur.
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Like all of Mitch’s bikes, his latest machine was stunningly beautiful – and its ride matched its appearance. We left in the middle of the night, and by the time the sun came up, we already were on old logging roads that parallel Highway 410 on the way to Mount Rainier. It was time to let out some air and adjust the tires to gravel pressure.
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After a good breakfast in Greenwater, we left civilization behind as we climbed toward Naches Pass. Hahn was riding his first 650B randonneur bike, and we both carried our camping gear in low-rider panniers. It was the first time we tried the now-common idea of a high-performance bike with front low-riders, rather than full touring bikes with stiff frames that feel “dead” and don’t “plane” for us.
Even though we were only heading out for two days, we were giddy with a sense of adventure. Back then, nobody we knew had cycled across Naches Pass. We could see roads on the map, but we had no idea what they’d look like…
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We were surprised to find a boardwalk as we approached the pass. With our wide, supple tires, riding on the wooden planks was easy. Patches of snow lined the trail – remnants of the first autumn snowfall at this high elevation.
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The boardwalk gave way to a bumpy, muddy trail, and Hahn learned the hard way about the importance of generous fender clearances. Where the MAP had passed without problems, his fenders clogged up with mud, and his wheels no longer turned. Several times, he removed the wheels and scraped out the mud.
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Naches Pass is on a beautiful highland. The sandier gravel no longer clung to the tires, and the riding was smooth. The dense forest opened into meadows, and the sparser tree coverage that was prescient of what we’d find east of the Cascades. We were elated: We had found Naches Pass!
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As we started descending, we entered a maze of logging roads. Only educated guesswork (and luck!) kept us from getting completely lost. We were relieved when we reached the valley. The sun had already set as we approached Cliffdell, but even in the twilight, the autumn leaves were stunning.
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We slept well despite our rudimentary camping gear. In the morning, our sleeping bags were covered in frost. This enticed us to pack up quickly and head into the next leg of our adventure: the search for the “secret passes” that separate the valleys of the Naches and Yakima Rivers. We felt like explorers on an important mission: A good route across these mountains would be as useful to cycling in the Cascades as the “inside passage” was to commerce during the 19th century.
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Our search started well. Based on a tip from a local at the campground where we had spent the night, we found the road out of the Naches River Valley. The climb  was spectacular.
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The dark basalt cliffs provided a beautiful backdrop for the green pine and yellow aspen trees. We warmed up quickly as we rode up the steep, long gravel road.
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A few hours later, our prospects looked less good: Our road simply petered out. We rode across boulder fields and roadless grasslands as we searched for roads. The beautiful scenery kept us happy even when it wasn’t clear whether we’d find our way or not.
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We finally found something that resembled a road. In the mud, we saw the tracks of deer, but no human footprints or vehicle tracks. It was fun to make the first tire tracks here. Most importantly, the “road” seemed to lead in the right direction.
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We were lucky, as the road brought us to the tiny hamlet of Wenas. Our hope to find food there – we had run out of supplies – was futile. Wenas consists of four or five houses, and there wasn’t a person to be seen, much less a store.
From Wenas, we climbed Ellensburg Pass. Even on this “main road” (above), we encountered almost no traffic and wonderful riding. After cresting the pass and a screaming descent, we made it to Ellensburg in time for an early dinner. More gravel riding returned us to Seattle late that night.
The passage across the “secret passes” had proved elusive, but what a grand adventure it had been! And perhaps, somewhere in those mountains, there still may be a passable gravel road. And so the search for the “lost pass” continues…
Further reading:

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Winter 2016 Bicycle Quarterly


The Winter 2016 Bicycle Quarterly will be mailed soon. Winter is when many cyclists review the year’s riding season and think about a new bike. If we were to order (or even build) a new bike, what we would do differently?
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In the Winter BQ, we look at this question from many angles. We test a titanium Allroad bike from Moots that is designed for pure performance. Not only do we ride it as intended, but we also explore its limits. How much adventure can a production bike handle?
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At the other end of the spectrum is the “Mule”, the steel Rinko bike I built for travel in Japan. The Mule is a full custom bike equipped with the very best components, yet it costs less than many stock Allroad bikes. The Mule has surprised me with its performance and versatility – there is hardly a ride where it doesn’t offer excellent performance. To celebrate its second anniversary, I took it on an epic ride across the rain-soaked Cascades to the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting.
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For those on a more limited budget, Steve Frey explains how he made a competent 650B randonneur bike out of an old Trek with few tools, learning the skills as he went.
The promise of the Allroad bike is alluring: It’s the one bike you’ll need for almost all your riding needs. Where does a road bike with wide tires reach its limits? We found out by entering an Enduro Allroad bike in the toughest mountain bike race in Japan (cover photo of this issue).
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All these bikes have one thing in common: wide tires. Wide, supple tires really have revolutionized cycling, and we are still figuring out the limits of this exciting trend. We test how fast wide tires roll on smooth roads. Do you give up anything when joining a fast group ride on 42 or even 52 mm tires?
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We are especially proud of the next feature: For the first time, Panaracer has allowed a photographer into their factory. See how some of the best tires in the world are made largely by hand.
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Many of us are inspired by cycling’s golden age, when riding bikes was a way of life rather than a pastime. Our photo feature takes you right to that wonderful time when life revolved around rides, brevets and other cycling activities.
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Some of the best rides aren’t about performance at all. A tour of the Tango Peninsula in Japan takes us to a breathtakingly beautiful and remote region that is within easy reach of the big cities of Kyoto and Osaka.
Other articles report from the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, explain why a bike can be ridden no-hands and much more. We hope this issue will give you plenty of ideas and inspiration as you plan how and where to ride next year.
Subscribe or renew today to receive this exciting issue without delay! (We are submitting our mailing list to the printer tomorrow.)

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Bicycle Quarterly Charity Drive

A Hatian MSF nurse treats a patient at a mobile clinic in the village of Nan Sevre, in the mountains north of Port-à-Piment. The village is now accessible only by helicopter. (Photo by Joffrey Monnier/MSF)
With a tumultuous election season in the United States, we sometimes lose sight of the bigger worries that exist in many parts of the world, even as the news highlight armed conflicts and refugee crisis.
One of the ways Compass Bicycles has chosen to make a difference is with a special 24-hour charity drive to raise funds for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières).
In many places experiencing conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and other crises, Doctors Without Borders is working to save lives. Doctors Without Borders bring not only medical and humanitarian assistance to those who need it most, they bring hope.
For every new subscription or gift subscription purchased in the next 24 hours, we will donate 50% of the subscription price.*
While renewals are not included in the charity drive, we will also donate 50% of the price of back issues of Bicycle Quarterly.
Orders must be received by November 1 at 9:00 a.m. (Pacific Time).
If you have been thinking about subscribing to Bicycle Quarterly or buying back issues, please do so now, and do a good deed at the same time. Click the links above to subscribe, give a gift subscription, or shop the back issues.

Your first issue will be the Winter 2016 Bicycle Quarterly, with many inspirational and useful articles that you don’t want to miss:

  • How much slower are extra-wide tires? In a return of BQ‘s ground-breaking tire tests, we compare the performance of tires from 32 to 52 mm under carefully controlled conditions. What do you give up when you switch to extra-wide tires?
  • How does a road cyclist on a drop bar bike fare when facing 100 km of rough trails? We take an Enduro Allroad Bike on Japan’s most epic mountain bike race (see cover image).
  • Join us on a tour of the hauntingly beautiful Tango Peninsula of Japan, learn how to build an inexpensive Randonneur bike from an old Trek, and visit the Panaracer tire factory to see how tires are made.


Your subscription will run more than just the next issue, and there is much to come. Future bike tests include the iconic Moots Routt (titanium), the ground-breaking Open U.P. (carbon), a modern-classic J. P. Weigle (steel), and even a bike made from bamboo.
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Visit our new web site to read more about Bicycle Quarterly and to see a sample magazine online.
*Note: For international subscriptions, $ 18 per year of subscription will be donated to Doctors Without Borders; the same amount as a U.S. subscription. The additional amount paid covers the cost of postage.
Photo credit (top): Joffrey Monnier/MSF

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Autumn 2016 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Autumn Bicycle Quarterly went to the printer today. It’s always a great sense of satisfaction to complete another issue.
A lot goes into each BQ: organizing trips and scheduling test bikes; photography on the road and in the studio; writing, editing, copy-editing and proofreading; photo selection and layout; color corrections to make the images jump off the page; and finally, checking and re-checking multiple sets of proofs. The last check will occur as the magazine comes off the printing presses.
It takes a hard-working team to do it. We are fortunate that almost everybody involved in Bicycle Quarterly is passionate about cycling…
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Bicycle Quarterly continues to bring you the news you really want to read about: In France this summer, the famous Technical Trials were organized for the first time since 1949! It was exciting to be part of the jury at this event, where bicycles (and not riders) competed for the prize of the best “light randonneur bike”. Some of the bikes used tried-and-true solutions (above), but others featured suspension, disc brakes, and even a carbon frame with integrated fenders.
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We bring you a full report from this great event, including on-the-road observations of the bikes as they were ridden over a very challenging course. We present two of the most amazing bikes – including the winning machine – in beautiful studio photos.
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To complete our in-depth coverage of the Technical Trials, we tested one of the most surprising machines: The PechTregon combines its rack and fork into one lightweight unit.
The whole event was a truly great experience, because it was all about bike performance and reliability for real-world riding. Best of all, the Technical Trials will be organized in regular intervals, so builders can improve their bikes with each iteration.
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The original Technical Trials were part of the mid-century cycling culture of France, when cyclotourists who used every opportunity to take the train to the mountains and go riding. Today, that lifestyle still exists in Japan. We join the cyclotourists of Tokyo and take you on three amazing autumn tours, each to a completely different destination.
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Bicycle Quarterly is famous for its in-depth bike tests. The Autumn issue features the Litespeed T5g “gravel” bike. We’ve asked for bikes like this since the early days of Bicycle Quarterly: full-on racing bikes with extra clearance for wide tires. This leads to two questions: How good is the Litespeed on the rough? But also: How much of the “racing bike” remains – how fast is this “gravel bike” on smooth pavement?
To answer the first question, we took the Litespeed on the search for the “Lost Pass” in Cascade Mountains. You’ll read how the bike coped with a truly challenging ride. As so often during our adventures, the road started out smooth (photo), but it didn’t remain that way…
We also tested the Litespeed on pavement, because we know that many cyclists are wondering: If we go to wide tires, what are we giving up on smooth rides? Will we be able to keep up with our friends on fast Sunday morning rides that never stray from pavement?
For this issue, we tested whether wide and ultra-wide tires slow you down on steep climbs. By pitting the wide-tire machines against the fastest bike we’ve ever tested on our “reference” hillclimb, we find out!
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Can you imagine importing high-end French Uragos to Detroit in the late 1930s? That was John Fletcher’s plan. Yet his friends remember him not for his business endeavors, but because he was a truly inspirational gentleman. His story, as well as that of his 1937 Urago, are told in a beautiful article. Evocative photos immerse you into a cycling culture that has almost been forgotten.
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Back to the current day: Tom Moran takes you on a ride along the “Southern Tier” across the United States – in mid-winter. Tom is from Alaska, so he thought that the southern border of the U.S. would be warm and dry in winter. Not so – but that and other adventures led him to encounter strangers, whose kindness made his trip all the more memorable.
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If you get caught in the rain unexpectedly, you need mudflaps for your fenders. In our “Project” article, we show you how to make them from materials you can find virtually anywhere.
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Our “Skill” article shows you how to corner with confidence. How do you guide the bike in a smooth arc? And what do you do if you find yourself going too fast in mid-corner?
There is a lot more in the Autumn issue… We hope this short overview is enough to whet your appetite!
Be sure to get your Bicycle Quarterly without delay: Click here to renew or subscribe.
 

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The Inspiration: Bicycle Quarterly

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Bicycle Quarterly is the inspiration for everything we do. It’s the basis for our research and development: The all-road performance of Compass tires was developed through Bicycle Quarterly’s testing of tires. The supreme comfort of Compass’ Randonneur handlebars became apparent as we rode many bikes across varied terrain for BQ features. But more than that, Bicycle Quarterly has been the inspiration for the riding we do. All the wonderful parts in the world really serve only one purpose: to make your and our rides more memorable and fun.
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The latest BQ is a good example: We test a Firefly Enduro Allroad bike on the amazing road over the Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above). Rides like these inspire us to search for improvements, not just in our own components, but also in the way things are done across the bike industry. The recent move toward wider tires is a good example.
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Who would have thought that 54 mm-wide high-performance tires offer so much cornering grip that the low-rider panniers scraped on the road when we leaned deep into corners?
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Studying the past can be an inspiration for the future, too. Takayuki Nishiyama’s big article about Suntour in the current Bicycle Quarterly has us thinking about derailleur design. Should we look at slant parallelograms not just for rear derailleurs, but also for fronts?
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The most important inspiration is to go and ride. Natsuko Hirose’s article about touring Hokkaido with a group of students shows that any bike can be used for memorable trips – just go, and figure it out as you go along. These are just three of the articles in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
The best part of my job as editor of Bicycle Quarterly is when readers write to us how much they enjoy the magazine. The last issue received more mail than any before – here are a few samples:

  • “Why can’t this amazing quarterly come out six times a year?”
  • “The magazine is the only one, on any subject, I always read cover to cover, and it just keeps getting better. The current mix of travel stories, reviews, historical information, and technical stories is, for me, ideal.”
  • “The ride across the Paso de Cortés was a great read.”

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We are already working on the Autumn BQ, but you don’t want to miss the Summer issue. Subscribe today, and you’ll get the Summer issue automatically as the first of your subscription. If you enjoy what we do, you’ll enjoy the magazine – guaranteed. (We actually refund the unused portion of your subscription if you cancel, yet that happens only once or twice a year.)
Which was your favorite article in a recent Bicycle Quarterly?

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Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly

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When our readers receive the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly, they’ll have a hard time putting it down. We embarked on our most ambitious adventure to date: A ride from Cholula to Mexico City via the 4000 m (13,100 ft)-high Paso de Cortés. We rode on rough gravel roads, past the majestic volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Iztacchihuatl, before testing our bikes’ handling on a super-steep and twisty paved descent. Then we took the old road to Mexico City, riding on century-old cobblestones.
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A ride like that isn’t possible on ordinary bikes… We brought our latest test bike, a Firefly titanium Enduro Allroad bike that promises the performance of a modern racing bike with the wide tires we needed for the loose gravel on the actual pass. For comparison, we brought an old Bontrager Race Lite that Hahn had converted into an Enduro Allroad bike. In the best Bicycle Quarterly tradition, this ride was part adventure and part bike test. Both bikes are featured in this issue.
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The ride took us deep into the history of Mexico: We retraced the steps of Hernan Cortés, who marched on the capital of the Aztec empire. But instead of bloody conquest, we came to celebrate how bicycles have played a major part in the rejuvenation of Mexico City. In a second story from this trip, join us as we explore this fascinating metropolis by bike.
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Suntour: No other defunct component maker is missed as much as this iconic Japanese brand. Takayuki Nishiyama has researched Suntour’s history, with access to original archives and interviews with key players, including long-time Suntour president Junzo Kawai. Learn how Kawai’s dream of better sports bicycles led to the slant parallelogram derailleur and many other innovations.
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There are many framebuilding classes all over the world, but the Tokyo College of Cycle Design is the only place we know that offers a 3-year degree in bicycle building. We visit this remarkable school and show you the students’ work.
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Bike rides don’t have to push the limits to be memorable. Natsuko Hirose takes you on two rides to Hokkaido. She first went there as a student with a group of friends. With no experience and little money, every day was an adventure. More than a decade later, she returned for a more leisurely trip of onsen hot springs, good food, and riding up mountain passes.
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Many of the latest trends are not as new as we think. We explore the origins of wide, supple tires with photos of a 1920s survivor. Now that suitable tires are available once more, this machine has been returned to the road. How does it ride?
Chainline5spd3XOur technical feature looks at chainline. Chainlines have changed in recent years, with cranks moving further outward, and rear cassettes extending further inward. Why does it matter, and how does it affect your riding experience? We’ve measured and tested to bring you answers. This knowledge will help you set up your bike for optimum performance.
As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: Our Skill column talks about how to brake on all kinds of surfaces. Our Icon article features a superlight bell, and there is much, much more…
Subscribe today to receive your copy of the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly without delay.

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The Paso de Cortés

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Where is the best place to test an Enduro Allroad bike? That is what we asked ourselves as we planned the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly. It had to be a ride that went beyond the capabilities of the Allroad bikes we usually ride, with their 42 mm-wide tires. And yet we couldn’t just take it to a mountain trail, because the Enduro Allroad bike still is a road bike…
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We found the perfect road in Mexico. The Paso de Cortés is one of the highest passes in North America. The uphill is made from very soft gravel, perfect to test whether 54 mm tires are wide enough to float over loose surfaces rather than sink into them.
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After climbing to an elevation of 4000 m (13,100 ft), we launched into a paved downhill with dozens of challenging turns. It was one of the best descents I’ve ridden anywhere in the world, and that includes the incredible Shirabiso Pass in Japan…
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This rollercoaster ride would challenge any bike’s handling. How does a 54 mm tire feel on pavement? There is only one way to find out!
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It was a ride that pushed the limits of our endurance. After 12 hours on the bike, you notice whether your bike performs well or not!
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Our ride took us deep into Mexico, with its beautiful mountains and fascinating history. We explored a country that isn’t known as a cycling destination, yet we found wonderful riding and amazing landscapes. Riding over the Paso de Cortés was our greatest adventure yet! The full story and bike tests will be published in the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly, which is going to print today.
Subscribe to receive the Summer issue without delay.

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New Bicycle Quarterly 4-Packs

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The popularity of our 4-packs of Bicycle Quarterly back issues has surprised us.  They provide a neat way of reading up on a topic that interests you, whether it’s tire performance, American framebuilders, or tandems.
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Especially popular has been “Our best interviews”, which includes Grant Petersen; the legendary builders at TOEI; a double feature with Jacquie Phelan/Charlie Cunningham; and Paulette Porthault.
You may not know Madame Porthault, but you’ve probably seen her: On the Bicycle Quarterly web site, she is climbing the Galibier in 1936. You’ll want to read her story: She toured all over Europe during the 1930s. During the war, she won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race (above). Then she rode for René Herse in the Technical Trials. She was incredibly strong, yet she really enjoyed leisurely touring, too. Her stories have been an inspiration for all of us at Bicycle Quarterly.
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We put together two new 4-packs:

  • Our best bike tests. Of course these are not just cut-and-dry bike tests. We take our test bikes on adventures that you’ll enjoy whether you are in the market for a new bike or not: Descending gravel-road mountain passes at night on a Calfee carbon bike during the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée. Riding a MAP in search of the secret passes of the Cascades (above). Taking a J. P. Weigle to the original Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. And going bikepacking in the snow on a Jeff Jones titanium 29er.

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  • Classic Bike Technology. Read what it’s like to ride a Bi-Chain, Retro-Directe and the early racing derailleurs like the Super Champion. Learn to shift Campagnolo’s Cambio Corsa, which requires opening the rear quick release and backpedaling. We’ve ridden them all! How do they compare to Campagnolo’s ground-breaking Gran Sport or its predecessor, the Nivex? What about Simplex and Huret Jubilee? Or the marvellous Spirax with its automatic chain tension adjustment? Discover the 1930s ancestor of the Huret Duopar with its two separate parallelograms. Fascinating stuff! This 4-pack also includes Bicycle Quarterly‘s “Brake Special” (imagine a Dancing Chain about brakes). You’ll be amazed how many different brake designs there have been over the last century (above). And we explain how Retrofriction and PowerRatchet shift levers work, with specially commissioned drawings by George Retseck.

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Of course, each back issue contains many other articles that you’ll find enjoyable. In fact, many readers have been ordering our complete set of BQ 1 – 50, which give you 2844 pages of reading enjoyment at a special price.
Click for further information about Bicycle Quarterly:

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Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed in a few weeks. In this issue, we focus on the sense of exploration and discovery, from a trip across the world to a trip to get groceries. Mark Eastman explored a sense of history with his classic bike at Eroica California. The rustic roads, fine local food and wonderful camaraderie in sunny California beautifully evoke the Tuscan gravel roads of the mother event, the Italian L’Eroica.
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Join me on a ride in the Cevennes of southern France (above), and on the roads where I became a cyclist when I was a teenager. I revisited places that seemed unchanged over these decades. My bike and skills are different now, but the sense of discovery and the wind rushing through my hair feel as exciting now as they did then.
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We discover the camaraderie of young cyclotourists on a 1957 tour around Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, in our exclusive photo feature. All who were there agree that it was a fun trip!
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We test MAP’s take on the ultimate urban bike. Is it possible to combine the speed and comfort of a randonneur bike with the versatility and ease-of-use of a city bike? Mitch Pryor of MAP Bicycles thinks so, and we test the prototype for his 650B Urban Randonneur Project to find out.
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How good are modern carbon-fiber production race bikes? We climb the highest peak in Taiwan on a Giant to assess how it climbs and descends.
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Our Specialized Diverge test bike is back for a long-term test. Has Specialized fixed the issues that marred our initial experience with this bike? What better excuse than to take the “BQ Team” on a fast-paced ride into the Cascade foothills?
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A Flèche 24-hour ride in Japan evoked the travel route of a famous 17th century Haiku poet. Today’s challenges may be different from those he faced, but what we took away from the voyage was similar in the end.
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While in Japan, we visited a few amazing bicycle collections. We saw super-rare (and beautiful) components and bicycles, including a René Herse that is the star of a comic book! Enjoy our exclusive studio photos of components that you didn’t even know existed, and read how these collectors became fascinated by bicycles and components.
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Bicycle Quarterly always has a strong technical focus. In this issue, we look at the relationships between tire and rim width. Do wider tires need wider rims? The answer, as so often, is: “It depends.”
Of course, there is much more: a ride across the highest roads in the Cascades at cyclotouring pace, our “Skill” column about developing a good spin, the story of Bianchi’s celeste color…
Click here to subscribe or renew, so that you will be among the first to receive the Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly.
 

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10 Favorite Photos from Bicycle Quarterly

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We want to celebrate a great year with our 10 favorite photos from Bicycle Quarterly.
Tom Moran’s article about fatbiking to the “Magic Bus” in Alaska was not only a great story, but it also was accompanied by great photos (above).
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Paris-Brest-Paris is full of captivating images, with riders from all over the world riding through villages of old stone buildings.
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Long before “gravel riding” became a buzzword, we already explored the Cascade Mountains off the beaten path. Above are Hahn and Theo on the road to the ghost town of Monte Cristo.
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The fun of the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting is captured in this photo, even if it shows only a small part of the group.
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Framebuilders’ shops have a different character than bikes and landscapes, here C. S. Hirose in Tokyo.
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Sometimes, the most exciting parts of a ride aren’t on the bike: portaging across the North Fork of the Sauk River.
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“Underbiking” means riding terrain that pushes the limits of what your bike can do: Natsuko Hirose on the old road to Jikkoku Pass.
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Bike tests often take us to spectacular scenery, like the aptly named “Best Road” with Mount Baker in the background…
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… or to lonesome mountain passes in the Japanese Alps.
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Riding doesn’t need to stop when the sun goes down: Shirabiso Pass at midnight during the Nihon Alps Super Randonnée.
What were your favorite photos or stories from this year’s Bicycle Quarterly?
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly or here to subscribe.

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Bicycle Quarterly Flip Book

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To give you a better impression of Bicycle Quarterly, we have created an 33-page flip book online with a sampler of articles from recent issues.
Click here or on the images to get a virtual look at Bicycle Quarterly. In the flip book, you can read samples of a bike test, a technical article about tire performance, a historical article on women in randonneuring, a product test, and our “Skill” and “Icon” columns. The flip book provides an overview over the range of articles and the quality of presentation you can expect from Bicycle Quarterly.
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We often hear from new readers how surprised they are about the superb quality of photography, writing and printing in Bicycle Quarterly. We wish we could show the magazine to more potential readers…
One of the challenges for small magazines is that our newsstand presence is very limited. Newsstand sales typically make a loss, but they bump up circulation numbers, so magazines can charge their advertisers a higher ad rate. We are financed more than 90% by subscribers and less than 10% by advertisers, so we don’t benefit from artificially high circulation numbers. Of course, being financed by subscribers, rather than advertisers, is part of what makes Bicycle Quarterly unique…
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The flip book gives you an impression of Bicycle Quarterly, even if it cannot show the heavy archival paper and beautiful print quality. Enjoy the paging through the articles, and forward the link to your friends who may be interested in Bicycle Quarterly:
http://www.bikequarterly.com/about_BQ.html
And if you like what you see, please subscribe. The risk is small – we offer a “Money Back” guarantee for the unused portion of your subscription, if you decide to change your mind.

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Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed in a few weeks. It’s another fun-filled, action-packed issue. The Winter issue’s theme is “Riding with Friends”.
We test the Elephant National Forest Explorer, a bike made for gravel roads (above) by riding it to the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. How does it perform when riding with friends on gravel roads and trails? And how did it and its extra-wide tires handle the (mostly paved) ride to the event?
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Tom Moran reports on a ride to the “Magic Bus” (of Into the Wild fame) with an Alaskan friend that is much more than just a winter fatbiking adventure.
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My own ride in this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris turned from a quest for speed into a ride with friends, both old and new, over the backroads of France. And it was all the better for it.
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Riding through a typhoon doesn’t sound like fun? Unless it’s a great ride with friends that ends at one of the most beautiful Onsen hot springs in Japan.
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We visit Jean Hoffmann, a randonneur who turned professional racer and rode in the Tour de France before returning to randonneuring. After looking at the photos from his archives (above: cyclocross in the late 1950s), we join him for a ride up a small mountain pass in central France. I only hope that I’ll be riding like this gentleman when I am 81 years old!
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Our “First Ride” looks at the Islabikes Beinn 26. Is it a near-perfect allround children’s bike?
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We have a studio photo feature that shows the details needed to make a randonneur bike Rinko-compatible, with full fenders, generator-powered lighting and even low-rider racks. A related feature talks about optimizing the design of those low-rider racks – not just for Rinko.
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How to mount fenders on a bike that isn’t quite designed for them? We show you a few neat tricks that solve common problems.
We also test the Gevenalle brake/shift levers, which present an alternative to the systems from the “Big 3”. We try out a Swift Industries handlebar bag and the Haulin’ Colin Porteur rack.
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Our “Skills” column talks about maintaining traction on wintry roads, whether it’s in rain or snow. Our “Icons” feature looks at the old Clement silk tubular tires (above). We have a lively discussion about last issues Specialized Diverge test bike in the “Letters” and much more.
Make sure your subscription is up to date, so you receive the Winter Bicycle Quarterly without delay. Click here to subscribe or renew.

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BQ Back Issue 4-Packs

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All Bicycle Quarterly back issues continue to be popular, because their content is timeless. Our historic articles are well-researched, with interviews of the people who were there, plus detailed research in the contemporary literature. If you want to know the story of Alex Singer or Jack Taylor, or how the first Campagnolo parallelogram derailleur was developed, there simply is no better resource than the BQ back issues.
Our technical articles also have stood the test of time. What we wrote ten years ago about front-end geometry revolutionized the understanding of bike handling (think low-trail geometries). Our first tire tests have now been confirmed by many others (wider tires roll as fast as narrow ones). Other subjects, such as frame flex and “planing”, still remain ahead of the mainstream press. You won’t find more definite articles on these subjects anywhere else.
Our rides continue to inspire riders to explore roads off the beaten path, whether it’s riding a 1946 tandem in Paris-Brest-Paris, the incredible Raid Pyrénéen with its 18 mountain passes, or finding “secret passes” in the Cascade Mountains.
All back issues continue to be available. (Ordering several also provides savings on shipping.) For readers who just want all, we do offer BQ 1 – 50 at a special price. You get 2844 pages of reading enjoyment…
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We now offer 4-packs of BQ back issues as well: These are “mix and match” – you get to choose your selection of back issues. We also offer pre-selected “packages” on individual subjects, to make it easier for readers who want to read up on one of the following topics:

  • Tire PerformanceOur famous tire tests that started the revolution toward wider tires.
  • Bike HandlingDetailed explanations of how to design bikes to handle well with various loads, tire sizes and other factors, plus a look at bicycle geometry and how each factor affects a bike’s handling.
  • Frame Stiffness and PlaningOur double-blind tests of frame stiffness and how it affects performance, plus tests of fork blade flex and more.
  • General Bike PerformanceWind tunnel tests of fenders, bags, clothing and tires of different widths. Quantifying suspension losses as the bike goes over bumps. Measuring the drag of generator hubs. A survey of PBP equipment, correlated to finishing times and problems riders experienced.
  • Our Best InterviewsGrant Petersen, Charlie Cunningham/Jacquie Phelan, the builders at Toei, Paulette Porthault.
  • Classic Builders 1Alex Singer, Jack Taylor, Goëland, Reyhand.
  • Classic Builders 2Charrel, Barra, Hetchins, TA.
  • American Builders SpeakPeter Weigle, Mark Nobilette, Bruce Gordon and Jamie Swan on filing and making lugs, a carbon-titanium bike and frame alignment.
  • TandemsClassic tandems, geometries, amazing tandem rides past and present, and the restoration of the 1956 PBP-winning René Herse.

We put together the packages with as little overlap as possible. You can order all “technical” 4-packs and not get a single issue twice. The same applies to the “history” 4-packs. (Where overlap does occur, it is noted in the descriptions.)
Click here for more information about BQ back issues or to order.

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How Far We've Come

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A few weeks ago, I was working on the third-ever issue of Bicycle Quarterly: Vol. 1 No. 3, a slim volume of 24 pages. We are reprinting this issue as part of our commitment to keep all this timeless content available. And many of the articles are indeed timeless, but I had to laugh when I read the editorial.
Twelve years ago, I lamented that fully integrated randonneur bikes were not available. I wrote: “I hope some ‘framebuilders’ will make the transition to ‘constructers’ and start offering complete, integrated randonneur bikes. […] It is up to us customers to demand better, to ask difficult questions, and finally to order the bikes.”
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Back then, making a randonneur bike was exceedingly difficult. There were no wide high-performance tires. No fork crowns to fit wide tires. No flexible fork blades. No good brakes that could reach around wide tires and fenders. Few good fenders. No compact cranks. And there were few builders who could and wanted to build such a machine. And even those builders lamented that they could not get the parts they needed to make the bikes that we had in mind.
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How much things have changed. Today, wide tires are commonplace. Not only Compass, but numerous other companies offer supple high-performance tires that are wider than the traditional racing sizes of 20-25 mm. Flexible fork blades and fork crowns for wide tires are no problem. Centerpull brakes are offered by several companies. The same applies to fenders. Compact cranks are commonplace. Beautifully made racks are available either custom-made or as ready-to-go solutions.
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Perhaps the biggest change is that “accessories” like racks, fenders and lights no longer are treated as afterthoughts, but integrated into the bike from the beginning. That is the only way you can create a bike with the performance of a racing bike, but the added versatility of fenders and lights to take you on any adventure you can imagine. Small builders have been the first to make these fully integrated bikes, and now we are seeing the first production bikes that are truly equipped for rides off the beaten path. The Specialized Diverge we tested for the Autumn issue of Bicycle Quarterly came with fenders and lights that were integrated into the bike, rather than added later with poorly fitting clamps and brackets.
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As our bikes have evolved, our riding has changed as well. No longer do we need to stay on smooth main roads. First, we explored the paved backroads of the Pacific Northwest, then we discovered a vast network of beautiful gravel roads. Places like Babyshoe Pass, Naches Pass (above) and Bon Jon Pass may not yet be household names among cyclists, but they now see a good number of riders pass every year. And that to me is the most exciting: Not just better bikes, but a new style of riding that is more fun!
We at Bicycle Quarterly are proud to have been at the front of this positive trend. Our job is far from done – we’ll continue to push the development of “Allroad” bikes further, and test the ones available to make sure they perform as well as they should.
For more information about Bicycle Quarterly, click here.

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Autumn Bicycle Quarterly

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We seem to be at the apex of Summer: Jan and Theo and other randonneurs experienced Paris-Brest-Paris, and we see many of you on great cycling outings. Yet, we all notice how the sun sets a bit earlier, and Labor Day is not too far away if we look at our calendars…
… which means the Autumn issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printers’ and will be mailed soon.
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We tested the Specialized Diverge Carbon Di2. It’s an exciting machine: A top of the line carbon bike with room for wide tires, optional fenders and lights, and you even can mount a low-rider rack!
We took this bike on a multitude of adventures, from a midnight climb of Mount Constitution in the San Juan Islands to a fast overnight camping trip up the Carbon River on Mount Rainier (above). Is it possible to combine the feel of a modern carbon road bike with the versatility of wide tires, fenders and even a touring load? And is this really the fastest bike we’ve tested? We rode the bike over 1000 km (650 miles) to find out!
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The Diverge was equipped with Shimano’s latest hydraulic “road” disc brakes. We tested these brakes and assessed the state of “road” disc brakes in general. Are they mature technology?
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From the latest technology to a more classic approach: We visit the legendary constructeur C. S. Hirose in Tokyo and take you on a tour of his workshop. Marvel at the incredible variety of bikes he builds, and learn why he makes his own front and rear derailleurs with desmodromic actuation.
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Not only did we visit C. S. Hirose, but we rode one of his very special machines on a wonderful day trip in the Japanese mountains. Fall colors, great camaraderie and an amazing bike combined to one of our best “First Ride” features.
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We also bring you a portrait of a more conventional Hirose bike, except that it’s made for a small rider. Natsuko Hirose (no relation to the builder) explains how she chose her bike and what makes it special.
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Jobst Brandt inspired several generations of cyclists, and his technical insights changed how bicycle wheels are built. We look back on a full life dedicated to the enjoyment of cycling off the beaten path.
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With cyclocross season around the corner, we discovered a “New Old Stock” Alan cyclocross bike in its original packaging. Join us as we unwrap this treasure. In our “Skills” column, we explain how to remount your bike cyclocross-style while running, and why this technique, executed in slow-motion, is useful for all riders. (Hint: It allows you to get moving quickly and without wobbling.)
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After the U.S. and Japan, we take you to France. Daniel and Madeleine Provot were cyclotourists and randonneurs during the Golden Age of French cycling in the 1950s. In the first part of a series, they share images from their photo albums that take us back to a time when cycling was more than a simple pastime – it was a way of life.
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As always, there is much more – product tests like this Rivet saddle, letters, our “Icon” column…
Click here to start or renew your subscription, so you get your Autumn issue of Bicycle Quarterly without delay. Our website now provides customer accounts that you can access to check your subscription, renew, and also give gift subscriptions.

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Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed next week. This summer’s theme is a “Journey of Discoveries”.
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We test the Breadwinner B-Road that won last year’s Oregon Outback. We take it on a journey to the ghost town of Monte Cristo. Join us as we discover the fascinating history of this region.
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A “Sub-24 Hour Overnight” adventure took us to Mount Rainier, where we searched for mountain goats. We discover the beauty of a place we don’t visit often enough.
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BQ contributor Gerolf Meyer rediscovered his roots when he looked at Communist era racing in East Germany. To obtain race-worthy bicycles, racers had to barter or even make their own components. For example, some racers made bike parts “on the side” and after hours at a medical device factory. His story is a fascinating glimpse behind the Iron Curtain.
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We take you to TOEI, the legendary Japanese constructeur, who make some of the most sophisticated and best-constructed frames in the world. We were allowed unprecedented access to document how these craftsmen make some of the most beautiful bikes in the world.
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After reading about how these bikes are made, join us on a visit to one of the most amazing bike shops in Tokyo, and marvel at the amazing machines on display there.
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Rounding off the feature on TOEI is a report on our editor’s Urban Bike. How does this TOEI-built machine hold up after seven years of hard work – commuting and hauling magazines, books and components. Which features have proven themselves, and what would he do differently if he were to order another bike tomorrow?
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For our “First Ride”, we evaluate another bike intended for the urban jungle. How does the Lynskey Urbanskey with its titanium frame and 650B wheels perform on the (urban) roads?
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We also tested MKS’ new Rinko pedals, both in a platform and a clipless version. You even can switch from one type to the other, without tools!
As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: our Skill and Icon columns, Readers’ Forum, News and more product reviews.
To enjoy the Summer issue without delay, click here to subscribe or renew.
 
 

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Spring 2015 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Spring 2015 Bicycle Quarterly picks up where the 50th issue left off: After reviewing the progress of “real-world” bicycle over the last decade, we are looking into the future. How can we improve our riding experience further?
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Could we fine-tune the tubing configuration of our 650B bikes to supercharge their performance and perhaps reduce their tendency to shimmy? We built a prototype and put it through its paces…
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Can a titanium mountain bike equal the performance of a good Allroad bike? Jeff Jones thinks so, and he sent us a test bike to prove it. To find out, we headed out into the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula for a mid-winter bikepacking trip. We saw wolf tracks… and realized that we had to rethink some of our assumptions about how bicycles work.
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How wide can you make supple tires and still end up with a high-performance bike? Asking that question, we came up with the idea of the Enduro Allroad Bike: a road bike with 26″ x 54 mm tires. How do tires this wide perform on gravel? And perhaps even more importantly, how do they perform on the road? During our testing, we were charting new territory, and inevitably, there were a few surprises.
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We’ve been fascinated with Rinko, the Japanese system of packing bikes for train travel. We like that a Rinko bike has no significant modifications like couplers or wire splitters that affect its performance or cost. Yet a complete randonneur bike – with fenders, rack and lights – disassembles in less than 15 minutes and fits into a relatively small bag, making it easy to carry. To find out more, we built our own Rinko bikes and headed to Japan to put them to the test.
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Of course, we didn’t just go to Japan to carry our bikes on its excellent trains. We went on a bicycle tour of Hokkaido, exploring Japan far from the hustle of the big cities. We followed this by an attempt at the Nihon Alps Super Randonnée 600 km ride. Never before have I descended passes like these, with over 150 turns on Shirabisu Pass (above). That ride was even more memorable because it happened during a full-moon night.
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Bicycle Quarterly‘s adventures can be leisurely, too. Tim Bird takes you on a wonderful midsummer ramble across the Yorkshire Dales, exploring the landscape and its history from the saddle of his bike.
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We also tested the Soma Wolverine for our “First Rides” (above), as well as Soma’s Cazadero multi-surface tires, and the revolutionary Velogical rim dynamo from Germany. We celebrate Jack Taylor’s life, show you how to do a track stand, and much, much more.
Click here for a full table of contents.
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly or to subscribe.
 
 

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Spring BQ Press Check

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“Stop the Presses!” is a term you really only understand once you have seen these gigantic machines churn out sheet after sheet in rapid succession. They do seem almost unstoppable. Yet here they fell silent again, after just a few sheets had been printed. It was time for the press check. We were at our printer, meeting with the press manager to make sure the printed sheets match the vibrancy of our proofs. This is where our vision for Bicycle Quarterly becomes reality.
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The press manager pulls a few sheets off the press. We compare those sheets to the proofs and tell the manager what we envision. The scanner (shown above) determines the amount of pigment actually put down by the press. The press manager adjusts the color balances and intensities to obtain the most vibrant, life-like image quality. Then the gigantic press starts up again and spits out a few pages with the new settings.
As I see the photos come off the press, I think back to when we were out riding and scouting for photo locations. Back then, I was trying to envision how the shot would look on the printed page. And now that printed page is coming off the press! It’s been a long process to get to this final, vital step in making it all come together.
This time, it seemed to us that the printed sheets looked even better than before. When asked, the press manager told us they started using a new ink with a higher pigment load, which allowed them to push their press settings a little further. He was visibly proud of this change. Once you’ll hold the Spring issue in your hands, I think you’ll agree with him – the new issue looks even better than the previous ones.

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4,000+ Subscribers!

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We just signed up our 4000th current subscriber to Bicycle Quarterly. The response to our 50th issue has been overwhelming – both from long-time readers who considered it our “best one yet” and from new subscribers. We received even more feedback than usual, with comments like: “The publication really has come into its own.” and “So finely presented, and I look forward to soaking up all the info and images. Thanks for the high quality of work!”
Thank you to all who have made this possible, by subscribing and by spreading the word about Bicycle Quarterly: telling friends and riding partners, lending copies to someone who is interested, talking about BQ in online forums, and showing BQ to your favorite bike shop and asking them to carry it.
Our printing is paid by subscribers (instead of advertising), so passing the 4,000 mark means we can more print more content in all future issues – maybe not quite as much as our “biggest-ever” 50th issue, but the upcoming Spring 2015 Bicycle Quarterly is getting close!
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Bicycle Quarterly provides inspiration and information, and it’s a good read, too. The magazine always has been about new ideas, and the Spring issue goes one step further in that direction: We’ve tested a number of bikes that are quite different from our usual fare. Some are developments of the Allroad bikes we’ve been riding for the last few years, while others provide very intriguing alternatives. (The photos show these bikes, hopefully without giving away too much!)
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We researched new ideas that may influence what your next bike looks like. (I know they’ve influenced the bike I just ordered!) And of course, Bicycle Quarterly‘s research always involves amazing rides, wonderful scenery and great adventures.
The Spring issue will be out in March. In the meantime, there still is time to get our “biggest-ever” 50th issue, with one last mailing later this week. So don’t wait to subscribe or renew… And once you’ve finished reading the 108 action-packed pages of the 50th Bicycle Quarterly, the Spring issue one will be on its way!
Click here for more information on the 50th issue, or click here to subscribe.
 

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Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues

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From its beginning more than a decade ago, Bicycle Quarterly was intended as a timeless resource, rather than a magazine you read once and then recycle. Most of our content is still relevant and interesting, and our back issues continue to be popular. We are glad that new readers enjoy timeless articles like these:
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  • The interview with Ernest Csuka, long-time owner of Cycles Alex Singer, who took us back to cycling in France during the 1940s and 1950s. (Vol. 1, No. 1)

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  • Our testing of the influence of wheel size on bicycle handling. We rode three identical bicycles, except one was made for 700C, the second for 650B and the third for 26″ wheels. Do they feel different? And which one is best? (Vol. 8, No. 3)

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  • The wonderful interview with mountain bike pioneers Jacquie Phelan and Charlie Cunningham. Jacquie was the first NORBA champion (three years in a row), and she rode one of Cunningham’s revolutionary aluminum mountain bikes (photo above). (Vol. 8, No. 1)

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  • The Volcano-High Pass-Super Randonnée on a Calfee 650B carbon bike. A ride over 600 km and 8 mountain passes, much of it on gravel: That was probably the most challenging bike test any magazine ever has done! (Vol. 12, No. 1)

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  • The insightful article about female riders during the golden age of randonneuring. (Vol. 12, No. 3)

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  • The amazing story of the porteurs, the newspaper couriers in Paris. Not only did they earn more than the directors of the papers they delivered, but they also had a suspenseful race every year (above). (Vol. 6, No. 3)

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  • Our Randonneuring Basics series with advice ranging from “what to bring on a long ride” to “how to ride most efficiently over hilly terrain”.

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With 50 issues published so far, there have been many great articles: tire tests, the Jack Taylor story (above), touring in India, the Raid Pyrénéen…
Instead, I’ll ask our readers: Which is your favorite Bicycle Quarterly back issue or article?
Special Offer: We’ve made it easier to read up on past Bicycle Quarterlies: If you order all back issues from Vol. 1 through 12, you get two volumes free (so you pay for 10 instead of 12). We additionally reduced the price of complete sets to reflect that the combined shipping is less expensive than 12 individual parcels. Bicycle Quarterly back issues are now more affordable than ever. The discount is applied automatically when you select “order by volumes” and then “Vol. 1 – 12” in shopping basket.
Click here for more information on Bicycle Quarterly back issues.

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Delivering Bicycle Quarterly

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Most of the 5800 copies of Bicycle Quarterly are mailed directly from the printer. Then there are those that go to local newsstands and bike shops, and I greatly enjoy delivering them by bike. It’s also an excuse for a ride on my Urban Bike. A box of magazines neatly fits on the front rack. The bike is great fun to ride even when loaded.
Bulldog News (above) is my favorite newsstand. They have an eclectic selection of newspapers and magazines, and they support small, local publications.
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Seattle has a great variety of bike shops. The shops that carry the magazine cater to the various alternatives to the mainstream cycling culture. You won’t find Bicycle Quarterly in the local Performance outlet.
There is Free Range Cycles (above), specializing in “real-world” bicycles. Some of the bikes for our “First Ride” test reports were loaned by Free Range Cycles. When I dropped off the magazines, I heard that half a dozen customers had stopped by during the previous week, to check whether the magazine had arrived. It’s nice to see that Bicycle Quarterly generates so much excitement!
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Recycled Cycles started in the basement of their current location as a place to buy and sell used bikes and components. I’ve found some treasures there in the past… They still have a selection of used bikes and components, but they now also serve the student population from the nearby University of Washington with affordable new bikes of all types.
Again, it’s nice to hear that the magazine has been selling well. “It’s the only bike magazine that actually sells”, one employee told me: “We sold out of the Autumn issue more than a month ago.” And then he took a copy from the stack, to read during his lunch break. Recycled Cycles has almost as many employees as the number of magazines I delivered (15). I hope that isn’t where they all are going!
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The oldest of these shops is Wright Bros Cycle Works. It’s a small shop. At this time of the year, just Charles, the owner, is there. He doesn’t even sell bikes; he specializes in repairs instead. If you prefer to work on your own bike, you can become a member for a one-time fee, and then use the customer shop for the rest of your life. I used to go there frequently before I had my own workshop and tools. Over the years, Charles helped me with many tricky jobs and taught me a lot of what I know today.
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It’s fun to see the fruit of our labor on the shelf, but more than a mere delivery, my rounds allow me to connect with acquaintances and friends. There was only one problem this time: The 50th anniversary issue is so big that I had to make two trips, since I couldn’t fit all the magazines on the rack of my bike! Or was that just an excuse to go for two bike rides instead of one?
 

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What is Planing?

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Can a 650B randonneur bike climb as well as the best titanium racing bikes? It did climb as well in a Bicycle Quarterly test, and that raised a few eyebrows. After all, the randonneur bike weighed 10 pounds more…
Theoretically, assuming equal power output on each bike, the lighter bike will be faster up the hill. So how could the heavier randonneur bike keep up?
The assumption of “equal power output” lies at the root of many misunderstandings about bicycle performance. A rider’s power output varies with many factors, like fatigue and comfort. One factor often has been overlooked: How well the bike’s frame gets in sync with the rider’s pedal strokes also affects how much power the rider can put out.
On different bikes, the same rider will have different power outputs. Optimize the bike’s flex characteristics, and your rider will be able to put out more power.
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First, let’s look at how much that weight difference really amounts to. For a rider who weighs 165 pounds and a bike that weighs 15 pounds, adding 10 pounds increases the weight of rider-and-bike by 5%. To keep up with the titanium racing bike, the rider on the randonneur bike has to put out about 4% more power. Is that feasible?
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The answer is yes.
A few years ago, we did a double-blind test. Jeff Lyon built four frames for us. They were identical, except for minor variations in frame tubing (and hence frame stiffness). The differences were small – just 0.2 mm difference in the wall thicknesses of top and down tubes (Bike 2), or 1/8″ in the diameter (Bike 3). Bike 4 was a duplicate of Bike 1, as an additional check of our results. Apart from those two frame tubes, all four bikes were absolutely identical – same tubes, same geometry, same paint, same components. Even the same weight: The lighter frames had weights inside to equalize the weight.
The goal of this experiment was simple: We wanted to see whether small differences in frame tubing are discernible to the riders, and whether they make a measurable difference in performance. Would our riders prefer the stiffest bike? Or the most flexible? Or would it make no difference at all?
The test was a true double-blind test. Neither test riders nor test administrator knew which frame was made from which tubing. To hide the tubing diameter (one frame used oversized tubing), the bikes were wrapped in foam insulation. In every way, the test met the most rigorous scientific standards.
We rode the bikes in a variety of tests. One of them was an uphill sprint for 340 m (1100 ft), with two testers racing each other. Both bikes were equipped with calibrated power meters. We repeated the sprints five times, with the riders switching bikes after each run. After the fifth run, the riders were exhausted, so we stopped the experiment. It’s one of half a dozen experiments that all showed the same: Small differences in frame tubing can lead to a significantly different feel and performance.
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The results for one rider were especially clear (above). Despite starting the experiment on Bike 1, the rider consistently put out more power on Bike 2 than on Bike 1. The rider was also consistently faster on Bike 2. The inferior performance of Bike 1 wasn’t for a lack of trying – nobody likes to get dropped! In fact, the rider’s “effort” and “perceived exertion” were greater on Bike 1. In other words, the rider was working harder, yet putting out less power. (The low power output for Run 5 simply shows that the rider is exhausted…)
The difference in power output was about 12%. That is huge, and it shows that the frame’s tubing, and how it interacts with the rider’s pedal strokes, affects how fast a bike climbs – more than almost anything else (except the rider’s fitness).
To give this phenomenon a name, we called it “planing” – like a boat that rises out of the water and requires less energy to go at higher speed than it did fully submerged at lower speeds.
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Back to the comparison between the randonneur bike and the titanium racing bike: Yes, it does weigh 10 pounds more, but we now know that a difference in power output of about 4% is well within the range of possibilities. And that extra power can compensate the heavier weight of the randonneur bike, making both bikes climb at the same speed.
How does it all work? Read about it in the next post about the biomechanics of “planing.”
Further reading:

Thank you to all who made the original research possible: Jeff Lyon built the test frames; Hahn Rossman assembled them and administered the test; Mark Vande Kamp and Alex Wetmore volunteered as testers.

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50th Issue of Bicycle Quarterly!

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I love my work. A few years ago, I was concerned that editing Bicycle Quarterly might eventually become a “job” rather than a passion. As it turns out, I am still excited about every issue of Bicycle Quarterly, especially this 50th one! To celebrate the occasion, we added 50% more pages, so we could cover several topics in-depth without having to worry about page counts. So there are no promotional tie-ins or water bottle give-aways to celebrate – we just give you more of what really mattters at BQ.
The 50th issue presents an opportunity to take stock and look back over 12.5 years. Perhaps Bicycle Quarterly’s greatest contribution has been to redefine what a performance bike can be. No longer do we have to choose between comfort and speed, between spirited performance and the ability to go on adventures off the beaten path.
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To examine the state of the art in “real-world bicycles”, we tested one of Peter Weigle’s nearly mythical 650B bikes. We took it to the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, where it had to carry a light camping load, traverse a mountain pass on gravel roads, and chase a personal best on a long, paved road climb. I don’t think I give away too much when I say that it performed admirably at all those tasks, and we had great fun with it, too.
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To put the Weigle into perspective, we selected 11 milestones among the 60+ bikes we have tested. Each of these bikes was special when we tested it. Together, they chronicle how our understanding of performance bicycles has evolved over the last decade.
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Three years ago, I got my own “ultimate custom bicycle”. Now with 18,000 km under its wheels, I take stock: How is it to ride a bike with 1930s derailleurs, 1950s brakes and 21st century lights every day? What would I do differently next time around, and which features have proven their worth?
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I’ve long been a fan of Bernard Déon’s classic book Paris-Brest et Retour. In this issue, we bring you the story of the very first Paris-Brest-Paris from his book. Conceived in 1891 as a “utilitarian race”, the first PBP was an extreme adventure and a gripping race. We combine Déon’s classic text (translated into English) with unique images from the Jacques Seray collection to take you right into the action.
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World traveler Damian Antonio takes you on an amazing adventure in the Himalayas. What is it like to cycle above 5000 m (16,400 ft) elevation?
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We also went to the Big Island of Hawaii, and bring you the experience of climbing the volcanoes there. At the same time, we evaluate the compromises inherent in a bike designed to fit into a suitcase. It made us realize that some features of our favorite bikes are not essential, but others we would not want to live without.
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We take you on a factory tour of Nitto, the famous makers of handlebars, stems, racks and other metal components. Among other things, you will learn how the bulge in the center of high-end handlebars is formed.
Of course, that is far from all. We show you how to replace a rim without completely rebuilding the wheel. We feature book reviews, product tests, news, as well as our popular “Skill” and “Icon” columns. We hope you enjoy this issue and join our celebration.
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly or here to subscribe.
 
 
 

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Autumn 2014 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Autumn 2014 issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It will be mailed soon. We are excited to share a variety of topics with our readers.
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The Oregon Outback was an exciting gravel event, and we bring you right into the action with two features. One brings you the atmosphere of the ride, while the other examines what makes a perfect gravel bike.
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Speaking of bikes, we test the Ritchey Swiss Cross. Can a cyclocross bike keep up with a good road bike on smooth pavement, yet also tackle gravel roads off the beaten path?
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The Toussaint Velo Routier is an affordable 650B frame. We take it on a ride to find out how it performs.
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Junzo Kawai, long-time chairman of the board of Suntour, died recently. We look at his life and how he led Suntour toward remarkable innovations that we continue to use today.
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We visited Tokyo and here report on the cycling culture of this amazing metropolis. Among many surprises, we found double-decker bike racks and juvenile wanna-be outlaws on bicycles with neon lights and batman wings.
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Tokyo also is home to Honjo, makers of the world’s most beautiful fenders. We take you on a tour and show you how metal fenders are made.
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Fenders are great to keep you and your bike dry and clean, but they also can cause accidents. We look at how to make your fender-equipped bike as safe as possible, so you don’t have to worry about your fender folding up and throwing you over the bars.
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Product tests in this issue include SRAM’s revolutionary 1×11 drivetrain (above) and a minipump with a neat pressure gauge (below).
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A Reappraisal of Tullio Campagnolo

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When Bicycle Quarterly did an article on Tullio Campagnolo, you knew it wasn’t going to be another fluff piece re-hashing the same old stories and myths. We did some real research, and we were surprised by what we uncovered.
Cyclists who know their history have heard how in 1927, Campagnolo raced in the Gran Premio della Vittoria, got stuck in the snow when he could not open the wingnuts on his rear wheel, and lost the race. He then invented the quick release, which became the foundation of the company that bears his name.
That is the legend, but what is the real story of Campagnolo? Working with well-known cycling historian David Herlihy and other experts, we’ve pieced together the history of Campagnolo. Based on research in European archives, patent searches and contemporary accounts, the conclusions were published in a 19-page article in the Summer 2014 Bicycle Quarterly. The true story is different from the myth, but it’s no less fascinating.
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Campagnolo was less of an inventor of ground-breaking innovations, and more of a visionary who foresaw trends and even shaped them. He adopted other manufacturer’s promising, but overlooked, ideas. He showed great ingenuity in improving those ideas to give racers exactly what they wanted.
Back to the quick release: It appears that Campagnolo did not invent it at all. The story of the race in the snow is a myth. There was a snowy Coppa della Vittoria, but in a different year (1925), and Campagnolo isn’t mentioned in the race reports as a favorite in any of the Coppas della Vittoria of the 1920s.
The original patent for the quick release, said to date from 1930, does not exist. Later patents by Campagnolo are written very narrowly for improvements or special features of the quick release, indicating that he could not patent the cam-actuated quick release itself.
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Campagnolo’s next major innovation was a parallelogram derailleur, which introduced the general shape and operating principle for all rear derailleurs to this day. Campagnolo got this idea from a French cyclotouring derailleur, the Nivex (left). He was not the first to adapt the parallelogram derailleur for racing bikes, either: That honor goes to the JIC derailleur (middle). As so often, Campagnolo integrated these ideas into a product that was more elegant and better finished (right). His derailleur was successful where the other parallelogram derailleurs were not.
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Campagnolo’s true strike of genius was the idea of the “gruppo” – a group of matching components. Before, customers of high-end bikes had to choose each component individually: brakes from Mafac, derailleurs from Simplex or Huret, hubs from FB, cranks from Stronglight or Gnutti, etc. Tullio Campagnolo made the customer’s choice easy by offering a full group of components. “Full Campy” became the hallmark of a top-of-the-line bike during the 1970s bike boom.
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Campagnolo focused on the complete customer experience long before Apple popularized the concept. Campagnolo’s packaging was beautiful. The components showed balanced proportions and a beautiful finish. The quality was without reproach. The parts were easy to install and pleasant to use. Campagnolo backed their components with an unconditional lifetime warranty. And the company sponsored so many professional racers that more than 90% of professionals rode on Campagnolo (below). As a result, Campagnolo dominated the high-end component market for decades.
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This is a major re-assessment of Campagnolo’s legacy. It reminds me of the re-evaluation of car maker Ettore Bugatti’s contribution in recent decades, from undisputed genius to a more human entrepreneur, who nonetheless imbued his products with a quality and mystique all of their own. I feel that understanding Tullio Campagnolo’s true contributions, as a visionary more than as an inventor, will only increase the appreciation of him and his company.
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The Bicycle Quarterly article delves into many other questions. Why did Campagnolo patent and introduce his quick release not as a wheel retention mechanism (as we know it today), but only as a shifting aid? Why did he introduce a Nivex-style chainrest in the 1970s? Why did a French inventor who developed bar-end shifters and a novel front derailleur become the distributor for Campagnolo in Paris? And why did Campagnolo not continue to develop his components during the 1970s, which left an opening for Shimano’s rise in the 1980s? It’s a fascinating story – it probably would make a great movie!
Click here for more information on the Summer 2014 Bicycle Quarterly.
 

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Summer 2014 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Summer 2014 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. We spent most of April in Japan, where we found cycling, culture, and bicycle manufacturing that were even more amazing than we ever imagined. This issue features our first reports.
For our tour of the Shinshu Mountains (cover), we set out with a rudimentary map and no Japanese language skills. We discovered empty roads, met monkeys and climbed mythical mountain passes. Join us in this splendid adventure!
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We got to look over the shoulders of two Keirin framebuilders. Learn about the mythical “NJS-approved” bicycles used for this unique sport. Join us as we visit Panaracer to find out how tires are made, and discuss tire technology with Panaracer’s engineers.
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We witnessed an impressive demonstration of “Rinko”, which transformed a full randonneur bike into a travel-ready package – in just 12 minutes.
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From today’s Japan, we take you to mid-century Italy: After more than a decade of research on Tullio Campagnolo, the time has come to reassess a few of the legends that surround the most revered of all bicycle companies. Did Campagnolo really invent the quick release? Where did the inspiration for the parallelogram derailleur come from? More importantly, we explore how Campagnolo’s concept of a component group, with all parts designed to work together seamlessly, revolutionized bicycles. We look at many of Campagnolo’s large and small innovations that continue to be used today.
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Closer to home, we rode two wide-tire titanium bikes. Can Lynskey’s 650B machine combine the joyous performance of their racing model with the comfort and handling of wide tires?
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Bilenky’s tandem has it all: titanium frame, couplers, full touring racks, wide 650B tires, low-trail geometry… How does this impressive feat of fabrication perform on the road?
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Who doesn’t want to go faster with less energy? Learn about the aero tuck in our Skills column. We show you how to increase your downhill speed. Stop pedaling and tuck instead!
Those are just a few of the articles in the Summer 2014 Bicycle Quarterly. Subscribe today to receive the new issue without delay.

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Setting Our Own Trends

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“You don’t want to give people what they want. Give them something they didn’t know that they wanted.”
Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet.

This quote really resonated with me. When I pick up other cycling magazines, I am often disappointed. They talk about the trends of the moment. Right now I’m pleased that they seem to be wider tires, gravel racing, 650B wheels, and city bikes with porteur racks. I should be happy, and yet there isn’t anything inspirational or new. It’s like reading yesterday’s newspaper…
During a recent solitary ride, I finally realized why this is so. Most magazines live off their advertising revenue. The magazines rely on the bike industry to bring them ideas and content, and so they report on what the industry is pushing at any given time.
As a result, the magazines are unlikely to present new ideas. Why would a bike magazine clamor for a way of riding for which the bikes do not yet exist? Why would they suggest products that their advertisers do not yet sell? Why would they do testing that refutes commonly-held beliefs (and the advertising claims that are based on them)?
Bicycle Quarterly has a different business model from most magazines: We are financed by our readers – by cyclists. This results in a fundamentally different point of view, which has led us to think about what we – the cyclists – need, not what the industry wants to sell.
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We are pleased to have been trend-setters in many instances. Looking back over 12 years of publication, here are some things we suggested long before they became commonplace:

  • Compact double cranks: In our very first issue, we rode an Alex Singer with 46-32 chainrings. We found this gearing ideal for most riding. At the time, the big makers only offered 53-39 racing cranks or triples.
  • Gravel riding: Nine years ago, we wrote about the beauty of riding on gravel roads in the mountains.
  • Tire performance: At a time when the industry still was fawning over ceramic bearings, we looked at tires and found that they make the biggest difference in your bike’s performance. Through careful testing, we identified what makes a tire fast.
  • Front loads: Our testing showed that front loads are easier to balance and much better when riding out of the saddle – as long as your bike has the appropriate frame geometry.
  • Metal fenders: We pointed out that the uninterrupted interior and better coverage of a longer front fender kept you drier. We also weighed aluminum fenders and found that they were lighter than plastic ones.

It has been nice to see these trends adopted by the industry and – finally – by the magazines. But it’s also sad to see that many great things still don’t get exposure in mainstream magazines:
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Fully integrated performance bikes: We are starting to see a few city bikes that come with racks, fenders and lights, but if you like spirited riding, you are still told to buy a racing bike that is not much fun in the rain or at night. Bicycle Quarterly has featured and tested many bikes that combine performance with the utility of fenders, lights and a bag. What we want is the Porsche 911 of bicycles – a great performance machine that can be used every day, even when you are running errands.
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Truly wide high-performance tires: I am encouraged when I read about “wider tires” being “hot.” Then I realize that the magazines are talking about 25 mm tires. Why not ask for bikes with 38 mm tires and the performance of a racing bike?
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Well-designed lights: Most current lights use simple beam patterns that would be illegal in cars. Not only do they blind oncoming traffic, but they also put too much light in the near field and not enough into the middle distance. This makes riding at night tiring and difficult. Better optics put a well-distributed beam of light on the road, and only on the road. These lights are available, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the big bike magazines.
These are just a few examples of products that the industry doesn’t push and that the magazines don’t ask for. These products tend to be hard to make or expensive, so the bike industry isn’t too keen to offer them.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we are proud to write from the perspective of riders. Our concern never has been “What does the industry want?” but “What do we need to take our cycling to the next level?”
As a result, we have nudged and pushed the industry toward better, more versatile bikes that are also more fun to ride. And when some of these trends finally make it into the mainstream, we are happy to have contributed to making cycling more fun for more people.
Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly.

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Bicycle Quarterly Spring 2014

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The Spring 2014 Bicycle Quarterly came off the press earlier this week. It’s another exciting issue, full of inspiring stories, useful technical articles and beautiful bikes.
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We tested a new semi-production bike from Mitch Pryor (MAP). This was a perfect excuse for us to embark on a “fast camping trip” to explore two “secret” passes in the Cascade Mountains. We encountered everything from fast pavement to terrain that is more suitable for mountain bikes. How does a lightweight 650B randonneur bike fare in such a diverse endeavor?
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The randonneurs of the mid-20th century have been a wonderful inspiration for us. In the Spring issue, Raymond Henry protrays six female randonneuses and takes us on their amazing rides. Whether it’s a Diagonal in the 1930s or the Raid Pyrénéen during the 1960s, these women knew how to ride and how to have fun!
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We feature a Camille Daudon that was ridden by one of the women on René Herse’s team. She rode this lovely machine to many records in time trials and other events. The bike has survived exactly as she rode it, displaying a lovely patina.
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What makes a tire fast? How important is the width of your tires? The thickness of the tread? The tpi of the casing? The rubber compound of the tread?
We quantify each variable, so you can choose the best tires for your upcoming season. A second article looks at how tire tread works, while a third explains why tire pressure does not matter when it comes to optimizing the performance of your bike.
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A new feature are our “First Rides,” which bring you a first impression of a new bike before we have the opportunity to do a full test. We rode the affordable Soma Grand Randonneur 650B bike for a few days and tell you how it performs.
As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: book reviews, news, articles about skills and icons of classic cycling design, letters…
Click here for a full table of contents.
Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.

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Gravel Riding

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Gravel Grinding is the new “hot” trend in cycling. I am very excited about this. Riding on gravel is great fun. A friend who was a telemark skier had a T-shirt: “Free your heel and your mind will follow.” I get a similar feeling when my tires are freed to slip a little on gravel.
Gravel roads usually see only little traffic, and they often traverse very scenic landscapes. This makes for a relaxing and beautiful cycling experience. And the bikes that are suitable for gravel also make wonderfully versatile road bikes, since they have clearances for wider tires (and fenders).
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Riding on gravel isn’t new, of course. Until the 1950s, cycling in the mountains usually meant riding on gravel. At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been exploring gravel roads for more than a decade. Back then, we rode a 1952 Jo Routens on gravel roads in the Cascades (above). It’s fun to think back on it: That year we even organized an “off-pavement brevet”. About a dozen people showed up, and we had a great time. Most of the riders were cyclocross racers, probably because most randonneurs didn’t have bikes yet that could be ridden long distances on gravel.
Maybe the bikes were the limiting factor and the reason why “off-pavement brevets” didn’t really catch on then. The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée (D2R2) in Massachusetts was an exception (although it’s not an official brevet), and it contributed a lot toward popularizing riding on unpaved roads. Now that gravel riding is becoming more popular, there is talk about organizing more official off-pavement brevets.
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In the decade since that first article, we’ve taken more and more trips and rides on unpaved roads. Many of our bike tests now include rides on gravel, if the bikes are suitable for it. Of course, the bulk of our test riding is on pavement, but we simply enjoy riding on those remote roads so much that we take every opportunity to get a little gravel under our wheels. Even on shorter rides, we often include an unpaved section along the way.
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One of the most exciting things we have found is that the same bikes that work so well on pavement also are ideally suited to unpaved roads. My René Herse has excelled on the paved roads of Paris-Brest-Paris, yet the same bike has performed wonderfully on many gravel rides (above). The wide tires that offer such great cornering on pavement also float over hardpack and gravel with amazing grace and pace.
If there is one thing that I don’t like about “gravel grinding,” it’s that particular name. “Grinding” seems to imply that it’s hard and slow, yet with the right bike, riding on gravel comes with the same effortless speed as riding on pavement. For me, it’s about experiencing the ride more than about the road surface: the breeze, the fleeting light on the trees, the feedback from the bike underneath me, and the “taste of the effort,” as the French called it. It just happens that gravel roads have expanded our universe where we can experience these joyous feelings.

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Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues

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When we started Bicycle Quarterly almost 12 years ago, I got a phone call from Frank Berto: “I give you two years max. I’ve seen all the others fail. In the mean time, I’ll give you all the help I can.” 
Similar enthusiasm from numerous people enabled us to assemble a great team of contributors, but really, our loyal and engaged readership has been key to our success. We are glad that so many of you have shared our passion. Looking back over almost 12 volumes of Bicycle Quarterly (almost 3000 pages!), we’ve published a lot of neat and timeless material.
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Our very first issue was dedicated to Cycles Alex Singer. We interviewed Ernest Csuka, who started working for his uncle, Alex Singer, in 1944. He talked about the days when a beautiful bike was a status symbol. He reminisced about the cyclotouring rides of the post-war era, before cars began to push bicycles off the roads of France.
In addition to photos from the Singer family, this issue included beautiful Daniel Rebour drawings from a classic Alex Singer catalogue (above). Most readers probably wonder how such an Alex Singer actually rides. To find out, we took a 1962 Alex Singer on a 300 km brevet. We reported how its Nivex derailleur shifted and how its Alex Singer cam-actuated cantilever brakes performed. To date, our first issue remains the most complete look at this famous constructeur.
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Magazine features of inspirational stories of classic builders has remained an important part of Bicycle Quarterly. Paul Charrel (above) set himself the challenge to ride from his home town Lyon to the top of Mont Ventoux and back, a distance of 530 kilometers, in 24 hours. He attempted this half a dozen times, but never succeeded. He did enjoy many other amazing rides, and he built supremely elegant and innovative bikes, as Raymond Henry recounted in Vol. 8, No. 2.
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Our technical research has changed the world of bicycles. Whether it’s tandem geometries, rolling resistance of tires, or the aerodynamics of real-world bicycles (above), much of what we learned has had pronounced influences on mainstream bicycles. The wind tunnel tests showed that wider tires weren’t significantly less aerodynamic than narrow ones, and our tire tests showed that they rolled as fast. When you see racers adopting wider tires today, it’s at least in part due to this research.
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Our research on front-end geometry has been as influential. We challenged the widely held belief that more trail made bikes more stable. Our findings contributed to a more nuanced understanding of steering geometries based on load, tire size and speed. And if you see more and more bikes adopting front racks, it’s because of our research showing that a front load is easier to balance than a rear one, provided the bike’s geometry is designed for it.
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We may have Ph.D.’s and conduct peer-reviewed scientific research, but we are avid cyclists first and foremost. This means that ride stories are our favorite parts of the magazine. An epic race in Arizona in 1894. Riding a 1946 tandem in a recent Paris-Brest-Paris. Exploring gravel roads in the Cascade Mountains. Each ride provides a fresh perspective on how bikes can be enjoyed.
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Better bikes make riding more fun. We’ve tested more than 60 bicycles from a variety of makers. Whether you are in a market for a new bike or just curious, learning about how these bikes ride is bound to be interesting. It’s amazing how much better real-world bicycles have become in the last 12 years!
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We shared our experience in our Randonneuring Basics series: How to train for a long ride? How to pack all you need without overloading your bike? How to make your bike faster? When to pedal and when to coast?
We keep all back issues available, so all our readers can enjoy this timeless content. A few online resources help you find your way around this extensive catalog of back issues:

Order your back issues today – or subscribe – so you can enjoy the wonderful articles that you don’t want to miss!
Which is your favorite Bicycle Quarterly article?

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Winter 2013 Bicycle Quarterly

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Looking at proofs of a new Bicycle Quarterly always is exciting. It’s the first time we see the results of months of testing, riding, writing, photographing, and editing on actual paper. The Winter issue is at the printer, and this afternoon, I rode my bike over to approve the final proofs.
The Winter Bicycle Quarterly is about pushing beyond what we usually do. We are not talking about taking crazy risks, but about going a bit outside your normal comfort zone.
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Going outside your comfort zone can mean riding unknown roads, like Gerolf Meyer did when he explored the unpaved backroads of the Western U.S. What is it like for a European to embark on 50 miles of gravel without a house or even a water source?
Going one step further, Jeremy Scott gave up everything to cycle from London to Saigon, and then on to Australia. BQ contributor Alycia Kiley reports on his trip and what made it special and worthwhile.
Our editor (that’s me!) took another stab at the Raid Pyrénéen, only to find that the best-laid plans can go awry.
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You don’t need to travel half-way around the world for adventure. Together with my son, I returned to cyclocross this autumn. He tested an affordable children’s bike both on the road and in ‘cross (see cover).
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I dusted off my 1980s Alan to see whether both bike and rider still could make it through the mud and across the barriers. The result was a lot of fun and a wonderful bonding experience with my son.
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Bicycle Quarterly’s product tests are renowned for their thoroughness. In the Winter issue, we test the latest LED headlights. Are they so awesome that we should consider replacing our existing great lights?
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We also test tires from Challenge and FMB, new 650B rims that hopefully eliminate the tire seating woes that have plagued this wheel size, as well as clothing from Ibex and Rapha.
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Our Icon feature brings you the story of Reynolds 531 tubing. For almost half a century, 531 was the material of choice for top-of-the-line frames all over the world. It was also used in Jaguar E-Types and even for land speed record cars!
Those are just some of the highlights of the Winter 2013 Bicycle Quarterly. Click here for more information, or here to subscribe.

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The Challenges of Color Printing

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Color print and media is so common nowadays that most of us take it for granted, but it is much more complex than Black & White. When we decided to go to a full-color publication, we knew we had to get the color right; bad color looks a lot worse than black & white. We wanted Bicycle Quarterly’s presentation to match the quality of its contents.
Many readers’ loved the understated quality of the magazine. Over the years, we got many letters and e-mails: “Please keep it black & white forever!” I appreciated that sentiment, but I also knew how stunning the photos of our test bikes and rides looked before I converted them to black & white. The brown leather of a well-worn saddle, the blue sky above a mountain ridge covered with dark green evergreen trees, the tan color of a dirt road – they all lost some of their beauty in black & white.
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To make this possible, we first had to think about our cameras and photography. How large a camera can we carry on our rides, and how small a camera still will take top-quality photos? Many of our locations are very remote. We don’t want to do photo shoots where bikes and riders are driven into the backcountry for a “make-believe” re-enactment of what a real cycling adventure looks like.
Once the photos are taken, they are processed by The Color Group here in Seattle. These wizards adjust the many aspects of color and value in the photos, so they “pop off the page” without looking unnatural. We give them good photos, and they make them great. The last step in the process of creating the color is Consolidated Press, a local printer specializing in quality magazines.
These two companies are nearby, so when proofs are ready, I can just cycle over to review them. (And there are multiple sets of proofs until everything is signed off and ready for printing.) Sometimes I wish I lived where I could go straight from my back door onto a forest road to ride up a mountain. But in this case, having this “industry” nearby saves time and money, facilitates discussion and improvement, and also reduces the pollution of couriering proofs across the country or the world. It’s neat to work with local outdoorsy people who know what the terrain looks like where we ride, and thus can make our photos look even more realistic.
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Color printing even improves the B&W photos of our historic articles, as the added browns and sepias give the photos a richness that pure B&W cannot match. In fact, the photos now have the same evocative quality as the originals from our archives.
We have really enjoyed the positive comments about the magazine’s change to color. We hope the new images bring you more delight and inspiration. Most of all, Bicycle Quarterly now looks like I had envisioned it when we started 12 years ago!

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Autumn 2013 Bicycle Quarterly

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Whew! The Autumn 2013 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. The team hears me complain about how much work it can take to publish a magazine, but they seem to cheer up when I have my moment of “This really is going to be the best issue ever!” Indeed, it really is an outstanding issue filled with the passion for the sport we love.
It will also be a surprise for many of our subscribers and readers, as you may have discerned from the cover image above. Our books (and this blog) will no longer be the only places you see our work in full color…
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We tested two exciting, brand-new products. At this year’s Interbike, Calfee will present a new 650B Adventure model, fully equipped for randonneuring with lights, a front rack and wide tires. And SRAM introduces their new Red 22 with the long-awaited hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes. Before these new products headed to Interbike, we got to test them.
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Bicycle Quarterly tests are much more demanding (and we think more fun) than the average magazine review. We took the Calfee on the most challenging ride we can think of, the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée: Almost 400 miles, more than 35,000 feet of elevation gain (below), and almost 1/4 of it is on gravel roads, ridden non-stop!
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This “test ride” was a true adventure that pushed both rider and bike to their limits. It was an amazing experience in every way. We bring you the full report, plus an in-depth evaluation of the bike and the new SRAM disc brakes.
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Challenging and fun at the same time also applies to the French cyclotourists, who have inspired us in many ways. The Poly de Chanteloup (above) started as a test of gear changers, to determine which system worked best on a very hilly course. In later years, it became one of the most important professional races and randonneur events in France, as well as a great festival of cycling. Read the full history of this fascinating event.
During my research on the Poly de Chanteloup, I talked to many of the riders who had competed there. Lyli Herse was fastest in the tandem category no fewer than 10 times. She told me that she wanted a ride around the course to celebrate her 85th birthday. So we took a René Herse Chanteloup tandem and did a lap of this challenging course. It was a moving experience for all involved, and it gave me a new appreciation of that event, as well as of Lyli as a rider. Even at 85 years of age, her contribution toward moving the tandem over this challenging course was far from negligible.
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Even the greatest photos cannot match the clarity of a great hand-drawn illustration. We commissioned noted artist George Retseck to draw the Simplex Retrofriction and Suntour Power Shift levers. We use his detailed drawings to explain how these shift levers compensate for the pull of the derailleur’s return spring, so that the shifting effort is the same during up- and downshifts. As so often, the real beauty of these components lies in parts you cannot see, but feel on every ride.
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Bicycle Quarterly’s product tests are renowned in the industry for their thoroughness. In the Autumn issue, we test TRP’s HY/RD hydraulic disc brakes. Their hydraulics are in the brake calipers, so you can operate them with standard brake levers. Are these a good upgrade from the rather weak mechanical disc brakes that equip many recent road bikes?
Those are just some of the highlights. This issue also starts two new regular columns. In the “Skill” column, we explain how to look behind without wobbling. “Icon” brings a close look at the classic Cinelli fork crown. We also show you how to equip your bike with a more effective mudflap. All this and more is in the Autumn 2013 Bicycle Quarterly.
Click here for a complete table of contents or here to subscribe.

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How to Brake on a Bicycle

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Whether you ride fast or slow, being able to stop quickly is an important skill. Your ability to stop also depends on how well your brakes perform. In Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, we tested brake performance to determine:

  • How do you brake most effectively?
  • Do brakes with different stopping power affect braking distances?
  • Do brake shoes and pads make a big difference?

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For this test, we coasted from a set point down a steep hill (always using the same riding position), and then braked at a predetermined point. Two testers performed the tests, to differentiate the “rider” factor in brake performance.
Why test on a downhill? The stopping distance on a hill is longer, and thus the differences between brakes and techniques are more pronounced. Afterward, we performed a statistical analysis to evaluate whether we were measuring real differences in braking performance and not just seeing noise in the data.
This test confirmed quite a few things about effective braking technique:
Front vs. Rear Brake
On dry pavement, the front brake alone halts the bike over the shortest distance.
Many riders think they need both brakes to stop effectively, if only because most bikes are outfitted with 2 brakes and that implies that one should use both. Here’s the way to think about it: the momentum of your body continues to move forward as your bike is slowing down, so your weight shifts forward. That’s why your rear wheel can come off the ground when braking hard. When your weight comes forward during hard braking, your rear wheel has close to zero traction. If you apply the rear brake under these conditions, the rear wheel will lock up without contributing significantly to the braking effort.
If you can apply the rear brake without locking up the rear wheel, then your weight isn’t shifting forward – a clear sign that you aren’t braking as hard as you should!
We tried braking with both brakes and with the front brake alone, and consistently found that if we focused all our attention on the front brake, we achieved much shorter stopping distances.
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When we braked with the rear brake only, the stopping distance was more than three times as long. In fact, Hahn overshot the stop sign and went into the road at the bottom of the hill (above). This was despite Hahn modulating his rear brake carefully to keep it below the lockup point as much as possible. Skidding the wheel would have increased the stopping distance further.
While we couldn’t test this on dry pavement, the rear brake comes in handy when it is so slippery that even moderate braking will lock up your wheels – when you encounter ice, wet leaves, loose gravel, or other very slippery pavement during the first rain after a long dry spell.
Under these conditions, you cannot brake hard, and the forward weight transfer is much less pronounced. In that case, the rear brake provides added friction that will slow you more quickly. Rear brakes also are useful on tandems, where much more weight is on the rear wheel.
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How Hard Can You Brake?
Very, very hard. We found that to get the shortest stopping distance, we had to pull the front brake lever with all our might. Witness the tester’s bulging muscles on his right arm – which controlled the front brake on this bike!
This is despite using very powerful short-reach Dual-Pivot rim brakes. Some hydraulic disc brakes require less force at the lever, but with rim brakes, you really need to pull very hard on the lever.
When we came to a stop, the smell of burnt brake pads wafted through the air. After 21 full-on emergency braking maneuvers, the Aheadset of the test bike had developed play, because the stem had slipped on the fork steerer. Even the quick release of the front hub had loosened. Braking hard is a very violent affair. Not once did our front wheel lock up.
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Going Over the Bars
Many riders are afraid of “going over the handlebars” when braking hard with the front brake. They fear that the braking force will cause the bike to rotate around the front wheel. In practice, we found that even on a steep hill, the rear wheel stayed planted for most of our braking. Wind resistance helps you here: It pushes the rider backward.
Once we had slowed to less than 6 mph, the rear wheel tended to rise. In the photo above, you can see how the front wheel has stopped, while the (unbraked) rear still is spinning. The wheel came up very slowly. This was far from dangerous: The rider simply opened the front brake slightly to make it come back down.
The shortest braking distances were obtained when we slightly decreased our braking power just before we came to a stop, so the rear wheel stayed on the ground.
Since few riders ever brake this hard, how come they still go over the bars? Here is what appears to happen to most riders who go over the bars: If riders don’t brace themselves against the handlebars, their momentum will push them forward over the handlebars as the bike slows. (Imagine being a passenger in a car without a seatbelt as the driver brakes hard.)
To avoid this, Hahn in the photo above braces himself against the handlebars and locks his elbows. He has shifted his weight as far back as possible. You can see his bicycle’s saddle underneath his belly. With this technique, he did not “go over the bars.” And if your bike’s rear wheel does lift, it happens slowly enough that you can counter it by slightly releasing the front brake lever.
Conclusion
We found that we could brake much harder than we thought.
Car companies have found the same thing: Drivers tend to be too timid when braking in emergencies. Many modern cars are equipped with “brake assists” that apply the brakes with full force during emergency stops. (ABS makes sure the wheels don’t lock up.)
On bicycles, the “brake assist” and “ABS” are quite literally in our hands. Fortunately, instead of having to manage four brakes during an emergency stop, we can focus on the front brake alone.
Without electronics to assist us, we can benefit from practicing braking hard. (In fact, the same applies to your car, where practicing braking will make you a safer driver.) Practice on an empty road, preferably on a downhill where you can reach higher speeds. It takes a lot of confidence to pull on the brake levers with all your might, but it can make the difference between stopping safely and running into something in an emergency.
For the other parts of this research (differences between the two tested brakes and between brake pads), check out Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1.
Further reading:

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Tour de France: The Unsung Influence of Cyclotourists

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The 100th Tour de France started today. Wherever you look, there are retrospectives: in magazines and newspapers, on TV and the radio. Winners get to write history, and so the role of cyclotourists in the development of the most famous bicycle race in the world remains almost unknown.
The Tour de France was shaped at least in part by the animosity between Henri Desgrange and Vélocio. Desgrange was the editor of the sports paper L’Auto that created the Tour. Vélocio’s magazine Le Cycliste that was read by cyclotourists. For years, their respective papers were filled with heated exchanges about the perfect bicycle: the spare, lean single-speed racing bike or the complex, but efficient, cyclotouring bike with multiple gears. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 2 looked at this fascinating history.
Desgrange was financed by the bike industry, who liked the profits from the simple, easy-to-manufacture single-speed bikes. Vélocio was the advocate of cyclotourists, who wanted to explore the countryside and mountains by bike, and thus needed more substantial bikes with multiple gears and reliable brakes.
Many cyclotourists suspected that the first Tour de France was created to counter the effect of the first technical trials, which had found the mass-produced bicycles lacking in many ways. By focusing on the heroic effort of the riders, the public was supposed to overlook the deficiencies of the bicycles…
The first Tours de France didn’t really go around the perimeter of France, but instead stayed away from the mountain ranges that form the borders with Spain, Italy and Switzerland. The flat course was tailor-made for the single-speed bicycles that the bicycle industry wanted to promote.
Vélocio and his cyclotourists left out no opportunity to point out that on their bikes, even riders of average athletic merit could climb the mountain passes that the Tour de France avoided so assiduously.
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Finally, Desgrange could not take it any longer, and the 1910 Tour de France was the first to include a real mountain stage, over the Col d’Aubisque in the Pyrenees. It led to the famous quote of Octave Lapize (above) as he walked up the steep road: “Assassins!”
Cyclotourists could only laugh, since they had ridden the Aubisque many times, without getting off their bikes. Not only did they have bikes with multiple gears, but they also had trained to ride in the mountains. Desgrange responded by adding more mountain stages to the Tour.
There is little doubt that the cyclotourists pushed Desgrange to develop the Tour de France from a boring slog across the flatlands to the gripping spectacle that it became. Desgrange realized that the mountains could turn the Tour into an odyssey that would entrance his readers. He adopted many other ideas of Vélocios, and even recommended that his racers abstained from meat and alcohol during the race (as Vélocio recommended). (The overplayed images of racers smoking and drinking while riding don’t show that professional racers always have taken their job seriously.)
Yet as far as derailleurs were concerned, Desgrange was not willing to compromise. Racers were allowed to use derailleurs only in 1937, after Desgrange retired as the race director. Given a choice, not a single racer rode a single-speed that year…
The details of that fascinating story were illuminated in a fascinating article by Raymond Henry, the French cyling historian, in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 2 You can order your copy here.

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Summer 2013 Bicycle Quarterly

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The Summer issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed next week. This issue features:

  • Cycling in Mexico, at the intersection of tradition and fashion. A fascinating variety of bicycles and tricycles carries anything from construction materials to mobile food stands. In Mexico City, these utilitarian cyclists mingle with young urbanites who have taken up cycling as Mexico City reinvents itself as a livable metropolis for the 21st century.

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André Marcadier started his career making innovative, superlight bicycles. When bicycles fell from favor in France, he used the techniques he had developed to make amazingly lightweight sports and race cars. Later in life, he returned to bicycles. We visited this remarkable man in Lyon and bring you the full story.
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To complement the feature on Marcadier, we show you a 1950s aluminum bike in a full studio protrait, with many beautiful and innovative details.
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How do rims work? Why do some tires wobble on some rims? And how to you install tires on “tubeless-ready” rims? Find the answers in this well-illustrated article. We also show you an innovative rim from the 1940s, which guaranteed that tires were easy to mount, yet ran true without wobbles.
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Volagi is a new bicycle brand geared toward long-distance riders. They offer models in carbon (above) and steel (below).
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We test both to find out how they perform on the road. We also bring you a test of the new Shimano CX75 “Road” disc brakes.
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We look at alternative shifting systems: Hub gears appeal because they are almost maintenance-free, but are they a good choice for a performance bike? And what are the pros and cons for bar-end and downtube shifters? Find out how they perform on the road, and which system is more appropriate for which rider.
To round it out, we also have product tests, book reviews, My Favorite Bike, and an update on tire performance. Click here for a full table of contents.
Click here to find out more about Bicycle Quarterly or here to subscribe.

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The Porteurs of Paris

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The cycling cultures of Paris in the 1940s and early 1950s were varied and interesting. A few years ago, Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 3 used this culture as a starting point to explore cycling for transportation. The porteurs were a particularly fascinating mix of transportation and sport. They were newspaper couriers who delivered newspapers from the presses to the newsstands all over Paris.
What might have been a menial, minimum-wage job in other places evolved into a unique and even competitive facet of Paris’ cycling culture. For this issue of Bicycle Quarterly, I interviewed two porteurs de presse, Pierre Vitupier and Jacques Greiffenberg. Back then, newspapers published multiple editions every day, and delivery had to be swift. Couriers got paid per paper delivered, so the faster they rode, the more money they made. The best runs were those where the newsstands were just short distances apart. They were assigned by seniority… The two old porteurs explained how a good porteur could make more money than the directors of the newspaper where he worked.
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Many porteurs were amateur or semi-professional racers who used their jobs for training, so it was natural to organize a race of the porteurs every year. The course started in the newspaper quarter of Paris, went around the Boulevards Extérieurs before climbing the hill of Montmartre. Riders had to carry 15 kg (33 lb) of newspapers. At the half-way point, they had to exchange their load for another pack of newspapers. Much of the course went over cobblestones, and not all were as smooth as the ones in the photo above.
Pierre Vitupier explained: “I figured I came from a strong amateur racing team, and thought I could win against the porteurs while pedaling with only one legI came 6th or 7th. [The following year] I trained for the Championnat des Porteurs like I would for a road racing championship, 8000 km training on the road… I won the race.”  The race was a big deal, with the main roads of Paris closed off for the event. The newspapers reported in great detail, as they would of a Tour de France stage.
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Many of the best-paid porteurs had custom bikes built: one for the daily job with wide 650B tires and large fenders, and one for the annual race, much lighter and basically a racing bike with fenders and a big front rack. A replica of one of the racing bikes, built up from a genuine frame and rack (above), is featured in our book The Competition Bicycle.
In addition to the interview with the two porteurs, Joel Metz summarized the history of the Championnat des Porteurs in the same issue of Bicycle Quarterly.
Moving on to cycling as transportation, we tested different ways to carry a heavy load, and compared different geometries to determine which is best-suited to different load carrying configurations.
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We do not say that you should ride your bike no-hands with 28 pounds of bricks in the front bags, but a good bike should make it possible to do so. That means that the bike will be stable in traffic, which increases your safety and enjoyment. We also found out why the old porteurs carried their heavy newspaper loads on a front, and not a rear, rack. It simply makes the bike more maneuverable, especially when riding out of the saddle in heavy traffic.
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We did a comprehensive study of bicycle geometry under the title “How to Design a Well-Handling Bicycle.” We looked at historic examples of well-handling racing bikes, city bikes (above), randonneur bikes, touring bikes, even tandems and track bikes. We measured their geometries. We explained the factors that determine how a bike handles, and why some geometries work better than others.
Every issue of Bicycle Quarterly includes in-depth bike tests. For this issue, we tested three transportation bicycles:
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A custom-built Ant “Basket Bike” designed to carry heavy loads.
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Breezer’s Uptown 8, fully equipped for riding every day.
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And the Jamis Commuter with a very affordable price tag.
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To provide some perspective, we featured a classic Alex Singer city bike (above).
Then there were more tests of tires, why tucking on downhills is faster than pedaling, as well as the columns My Favorite Bike, Builders Speak and much more.
Click here to order your copy of this exciting back issue (BQ 19) or to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.
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The Jack Taylor Story

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Some stories are too big for a regular magazine article. They could just about fill a book! In those cases, we dedicate almost an entire edition of Bicycle Quarterly magazine to a single topic.
The Jack Taylor story in Vol. 7, No. 4 is a good example. My friend Mark Lawrence became friends with the Taylor Brothers during his university years. The brothers had achieved world-wide fame for building touring bikes and tandems that rode wonderfully, yet were relatively affordable.
We decided that their story had to be documented, and Mark was the person to do the job. He spent many hours interviewing the surviving Taylor brothers, Ken and Jack, as well as Jack’s wife Peggy. The brothers gave him full access to their photo archives with wonderfully evocative shots of racing in post-war Britain, of the “works” (their shop), and of the bikes they built.
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What emerged was a fascinating insight into the world of three “working lads” who started making bicycles in 1936. Their whole lives revolved around cycling: its social events, rides and races. The brothers were fascinated by European-style racing, and were suspended for life from their local club when they entered a renegade massed-start race. Back then, Britain’s official cycling bodies only sanctioned time trials. Undeterred, they rode in the first Tour of Britain (above). Ken Taylor is the third from the right, with the white cap.
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I was most fascinated by their stories of going to the Paris Bicycle Show. They were blown away by the components and bicycles on offer in France. They came home loaded down with bike parts, and from then on, their machines were inspired by the French constructeurs. They started making custom racks, stems, tandems with oversize tubing, and even a copy of the Goëland trailer (above, Jack Taylor is chatting up a model during a photo shoot.)
When the Taylor brothers visited the Goëland shop, Louis Moire, the owner, asked them whether they could make trailers for him, too. He found trailers too labor-intensive to make a profit!
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Later, the Taylors were discovered by American cyclists, and suddenly found themselves with dozens of visitors camping on the lawn near the works, wanting to visit and order bikes!
In the interviews, the Taylors talked about bicycle geometry and tubing, and many other aspects of what made their bikes special. Ken Taylor also related the secret of how Daniel Rebour made his famous drawings; the two had met many times at the various bike shows and bonded over their common interest in Leica cameras.
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That issue of Bicycle Quarterly also included a photo feature of a Jack Taylor tandem in their typical “flamboyant” paint, and a ride report on that machine in an eventful 300 km brevet. From the Taylors, we learned that the “Mondrian” decals were designed by one of their first American customers, Audrey Radmore, who visited the works during a round-the-world tour.
Even after much editing, it was still impossible to fit all the great photos and stories into a standard issue of Bicycle Quarterly. So we extended the issue by four pages, making it our largest to date.
Click here to order the Jack Taylor issue.

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Bicycle Quarterly: Spring Issue

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Our readers eagerly anticipate each issue of Bicycle Quarterly. The wait is almost over: The Spring 2013 issue will be mailed this week.
Many of us want to know: What makes your bike significantly faster? Perhaps the most influential research in over ten years of Bicycle Quarterly has been on tire performance. Six years after that ground-breaking research, we focus once again on the performance of tires. We use a new methodology to test tires on a smooth track surface. We answer (almost) every question you may have about tires.
Which tire rolls fastest, which rolls slowest? How does tire pressure influence tire performance on smooth and rough roads?
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Are tubular tires faster than clinchers? What is the optimum inflation pressure for your tires? How does the tread pattern of your tire influence its cornering traction? We also provide a large table that compares every tire model we have tested.
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Professional racing bikes have changed a lot in recent decades: Virtually no part of a 2013 racer remains interchangeable with a machine from 1963, with one exception: Then as now, most professionals ride on hand-made tubular tires. We visited FMB to learn why the pros still prefer tires that are made the traditional way. We also bring you a photo feature that shows step-by-step how FMB makes tires entirely by hand.
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Bicycle Quarterly is as much about inspiration as it is about research and technology. In the Spring issue, Tim Bird takes us on another wonderful adventure in Yorkshire.
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We test a custom-built randonneur bike from Johnny Coast with beautiful “bi-laminate” half-lugs.
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In our Builders Speak series, Mike Kone of Boulder Bicycles examines when superlight frame tubing is appropriate, and which riders should select stiffer frame tubing. He discusses shimmy, riding no-hands (photo above) and other important considerations.
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We test a number of products, including leather handlebar tape, a CNC-machined taillight and Tire Savers (above).
As always, there is the Readers’ Forum and My Favorite Bike. Click here for a full table of contents.
To get your issue without delay, subscribe today.

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Laws of Physics

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In the last issue of Bicycle Quarterly, we compared the performance of a 17-pound titanium racing bike and of a 26-pound steel randonneur bike. We were surprised when both bikes climbed at the same speed in a set of controlled experiments. Others shared our surprise, but added: “That cannot be true. Physics require that the heavier bike climbs slower.”
Having ridden the bikes myself, I know that their performance was evenly matched. And as a scientist, I also know that this result does not contradict the laws of physics.
Our critics assume a constant power output. If we always put out 600 Watts during these climbs, then any added weight will slow us down, all other things being equal. And an extra 9 pounds is significant enough that it should be measurable. There is little disagreement on this.
And yet the two bikes did climb at the same speed, despite their different weights. It’s clear then that our power output was not constant. On one bike, we were able to put out slightly more power than on the other – just enough extra power to equalize the weight handicap.
It should not come as a surprise that one frame performed better than another. We documented the same effect in Bicycle Quarterly’s double-blind test of frame stiffness. There, we sprinted up a hill five times, side-by-side, on two bikes. The frames had different frame tubes, but otherwise, the bikes were identical. They even weighed the same.
We switched bikes after each run. We used a PowerTap to measure power output without the rider being able to see the numbers. We found that one frame consistently was faster than the other – no matter who rode it. It wasn’t for lack of trying – as most racers know, nothing makes you ride harder than another rider pulling away.
When we downloaded the numbers from the power meter, we found that our power output was higher on the faster frame – not just a little bit, but about 5% for Mark, and 2% for me. And these were relatively similar frames, both made from lightweight, standard-diameter steel tubing.
Why did we put out more power on some frames than on others? In the above-mentioned double-blind test, we found that frame stiffness and how the frame works with our pedal strokes influences our power output. Here is how we think this works: There are different factors that limit our power output on a bike. Our hearts beat at their maximum, we are gasping for air, our legs start burning…
Our absolute maximum probably is determined by our maximum heart rate. As anybody who has trained with a heart rate monitor knows, it often is impossible to reach one’s maximum heart rate. (I used to reach ultra-high heart rates during runs that I could not achieve on my bike.)
Why can’t we always reach our maximum heart rate? The limiting factor is our muscles. If the muscles aren’t able to use the oxygen our heart pumps to them, then there is no use for our hearts to beat faster. And if one bike frame leads to more rapid muscle fatigue than the other, then our power output will be lower on that frame. (In running, I may use more muscle groups, so the cumulative oxygen use is higher, hence the higher heart rate.)
This straightforward explanation does not require invalidating the laws of physics. The simple fact is that the human body is a complex machine, and doesn’t have a constant power output.
Most cyclists have experienced inexpensive bikes that simply were “dogs” and did not perform well. We often try to explain that lack of performance with extra weight or other factors, but these bikes don’t perform well even on the flats, so one has to look for other reasons. And most of these inexpensive bikes have heavy, stiff frames that may fatigue our muscles prematurely.
Now none of the titanium bikes we tested for the Winter 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly were “dogs.”  They all offered awesome performance and were great fun to ride, but even near the absolute top, there were some slight, but noticeable differences in how these bikes performed for us.
Further reading:

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Bicycle Quarterly Charity Drive


We are grateful that we can ride beautiful bicycles, both for enjoyment and for transportation. We discuss things like performance, handing and the advantages of aluminum fenders.
Much of the world is much less fortunate. Even in the United States, there are many people whose most basic needs aren’t met. And even though bicycles are part of the solution to many problems, there is much that needs to be done to make this world a better place.
One of the ways Compass Bicycles has chosen to make a difference is our charity drive. Last year, we used our yard sale to raise almost $ 4000 for charity.

This year, we decided to donate half of all Bicycle Quarterly subscriptions to charity for two days, from now until the end of the day on January 31, 2013. This includes renewals, unlike previous charity drives, we will even donate 50% of all receipts for back issues.*
If you have been thinking about subscribing to Bicycle Quarterly, now is a great opportunity to get the magazine and help us make the world a better place. You will enjoy the mix of inspirational articles, technical reports and bike tests.
If you already enjoy the magazine, consider adding back issues to your collection. There is a lot of timeless content in the older issues, like our ground-breaking technical articles about bicycle handling, rolling resistance and frame flex. Or our interviews with Ernest Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer and our portraits of constructeurs like Reyhand and Charrel. And of course many neat bike tests
For this charity drive, Compass Bicycles sells Bicycle Quarterly subscriptions and back issues below cost, because we want to help make a difference.
We have chosen two charities, Doctors without Borders and Save the Children, who help alleviate the most urgent needs all over the world. We also support the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that works toward making the world a better place. The proceeds of charity drive will be split evenly between the three charities.
Click here to subscribe online or order back issues online. Or send a check (postmark by January 31). We take care of the rest; you do not need a special code or coupon. Once we have tallied the proceeds, we will post an update on how much money we have raised together.
In addition to this charity drive, we encourage you to work within your local communities by contributing your time and/or your money. Thank you so much!
* For international subscriptions and orders, we will donate the same amount ($ 16) per subscription and volume of back issues as for domestic orders. The postage costs are too high to donate the full 50%.

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Bicycle Quarterly Winter 2012

 

The Winter 2012 edition of Bicycle Quarterly magazine has returned from the printer and will be in the mail shortly. In this issue, we focus on titanium racing bikes and modern shifting systems. A titanium bike shoot-out in Bicycle Quarterly? We look at the best modern bicycles to establish benchmarks of what performance we can expect from a bicycle – any bicycle. So we test two top-of-the-line titanium racing bikes, a Seven Axiom SL and a Lynskey Helix.

The two test bikes are equipped with the latest in electronic shifting: Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS. How are these systems different, and how do they compare to mechanical systems? In addition, we give you an overview of the strong and weak points of the three most popular shifting systems: Shimano STI, SRAM DoubleTap and Campagnolo Ergopower. If you are looking for a modern shifting system, our evaluations will help you choose the system that will work best for you, based on your riding style and preferences!

We were really impressed with the performance of these titanium racers, and we wondered: How much speed are we giving up by insisting on fully equipped bikes? So we pitted the best of the Ti bikes against Mark’s 650B randonneur bike on a hillclimb. How much faster is the Ti bike on the uphill? And what about the twisty downhill?

Surprisingly, the lightest bike in this issue is not one of the modern titanium bikes, but a 1975 machine. To round off our “Titanium Shootout,” we feature a Speedwell with superlight components, and explore the history of the first commercially successful titanium bike. A Speedwell also appears to have been the first bike ridden to a Tour de France victory that was not made from steel.

For many readers, a favorite part of Bicycle Quarterly our inspirational ride stories. This time, I take you along to explore unpaved gravel passes in the Cascade Mountains late in the year. With unknown roads and snow falling, the scene was set for a truly epic adventure.

We take you on a trip to Philadelphia, where we visit two very different makers of custom bicycles: Bilenky Cycle Works and Engin Cycles. Enjoy the photographs of their shops and learn about the builders’ philosophies.
As always, there is much more, including a technical article that explains how chainring ramps work, book reviews, new products, tests and My Favorite Bicycle. Click here for more information about the current issue of Bicycle Quarterly, or here to subscribe.

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Autumn 2012 Bicycle Quarterly


The Autumn 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly will be mailed next week. This issue celebrates 10 years of the magazine. That’s right: Ten years ago, the first issue of what was then Vintage Bicycle Quarterly was mailed. It’s been a long journey from a magazine that focused mostly on vintage bikes to a general “magazine about the sport we love.” The anniversary provides a great opportunity for a retrospective of a decade of research, of great stories, and of wonderful rides.

We also present you the bikes that the Bicycle Quarterly team rides today. You will find that we share some preferences, but we disagree on others. Who rides a racing bike and who prefers a randonneur bike? Who rides 700C and who is on 650B? Want to know why one of us loves internally-geared hubs, while another doesn’t like them at all?

Bicycle Quarterly always been about the future of cycling as well as its past, and in this issue, we bring you independent tests of the latest generator hubs. How much does a generator hub really slow you down? We used a model based on the new tests and Bicycle Quarterly’s wind tunnel and tire resistance data to provide realistic answers for the various popular models of generator hubs.

Inspiration is a great part of every issue of Bicycle Quarterly. This issue takes you on an (almost) non-stop 1200 km ride in the Cascade 1200. Enjoy the small and large adventures as our editor (that’s me) trains, prepares and rides this amazing event.

No issue of Bicycle Quarterly would be complete without a bike test. We put a classic randonneur bikes from a young builder through its paces. Does the J. Bryant Randonneuse ride as well as it looks?

What kind of bike would you ride if you were going from Paris to Saigon in 1949? We bring you the story of the builder Lionel Brans, who set out to do just that, and feature the bike he designed to handle the rough roads of the Balkans and the roadless deserts of Afghanistan, while carrying 88 pounds of luggage. His mission also was to showcase the latest of French bicycle technology, so his machine was equipped with many interesting features, including what may be the first aero brake levers.
This is only a small snapshot of the latest issue, and as always, there is much more. To start or renew your subscription, click here.

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Suspension Losses


Suspension losses often are overlooked, but they are an important factor in tire performance. When we first tested the performance of tires in a roll-down test, we found that very high pressures offer almost no improvements of performance. This contradicted the testing done in laboratory settings on steel drums, so we looked for an explanation. We realized that suspension losses did not occur on the smooth steel drum. The steel drum tests left out one important factor, and therefore underestimated the resistance of the tires.
What are suspension losses? When the rider’s body vibrates, there is friction between the tissues. This friction creates heat, and the energy no longer is available to move the bike forward. Suspension losses were a well-known factor around the turn of the 20th century, when riders still remembered what it was like to ride on airless tires. Not only were they uncomfortable, but also very slow.
How could we prove our hypothesis that suspension losses are an important factor? It’s  simple in principle: You need a bike with a power meter, and two surfaces side-by-side: one with smooth pavement, the other really rough. You ride on both surfaces, taking turns during your repeat runs. If the rough surface requires more power, then you have quantified the extra suspension losses on the rough surface. (Everything else, whether aerodynamics or bike weight, remains the same during these side-by-side tests.)
Finding the two surfaces was the tricky part. At first, we thought of the chipseal overlay that is found in some places around the Olympic Peninsula. There, the road originally was very smooth, but then the main road surface was repaved with rather rough asphalt. The original smooth pavement remains exposed on the shoulder. The problem was that these roads are more than 100 miles from Seattle, and since we needed perfect conditions with no wind, we might have to camp out there for days or weeks until we could do our testing.
After thinking about this for a while, I thought of a very rough surface closer to home: rumble strips (photo below). For those not familiar with them, rumble strips are deep transverse groves cut into the pavement at the edge of the road. When sleepy drivers drift off the road, their cars hit the grooves and vibrate so much that the drivers are supposed to wake up. (The things we do to keep drivers on the road who shouldn’t be there in the first place…)

So we found a flat section of new highway with very smooth pavement, and rumble strips, and went out on a calm day to test. First, we went to some “standard” rumble strips and found that the additional power required to maintain 16 mph was 290 Watt. On the smooth pavement, the rider put out 183 Watt, on the rumble strips, they needed almost three times as much power (473 Watt). In fact, it was almost impossible to keep the bike going at that speed over the rumble strips! This showed that under extreme conditions, suspension losses can be huge.

Then we moved to shallower rumble strips and measured the suspension losses with different bike setups. We tested tires at different widths and different pressures. Stiff forks vs. flexible fork blades vs. suspension forks. Padded handlebar tape.
(We tested very early on weekend mornings, and on an off-ramp. That way, there were few cars on the road that could affect the results with their wake. A few times, trucks passed, and we redid the test run.)
We found that wide tires at low pressures were most effective in reducing suspension losses. On the rumble strips, wide tires at lower pressures required only 2/3 the power of narrower tires at higher pressures.

Suspension forks and flexible steel fork blades both had the same effect: They also reduced suspension losses compared to a stiff fork taken from a hybrid bike (shown above). The flexible forks were less effective than wide tires, because they had to deal with the front wheel moving up and down many times per second. Getting rid of vibrations at the source (the road surface) is the best strategy.
Interestingly, the RockShox fork was more comfortable, but no more efficient, than the flexible steel fork of my Alex Singer. Some energy gets lost in the RockShox’s elastomer damping, whereas the undamped Singer fork has next to no internal losses.
Padded handlebar tape did not reduce suspension losses. Once the entire bike is vibrating, the forces are too great to be absorbed even by a thick layer of foam.
Interestingly, the rider’s subjective evaluation of comfort mostly matched the test results (with the exception of the suspension forks). The more comfortable the rider was, the smaller were the suspension losses.
Most surprising part were the results on the smooth pavement: The stiff forks required significantly more power. This means that suspension losses are an important factor even on the smoothest pavement. Yes, putting a RockShox fork on your bike can make you faster even on smooth pavement! You also can use flexible fork blades (the Singer forks were just as fast), and supple tires are even more effective. (Most effective would be a combination of both flexible fork and supple tires.)

This photo shows an odd juxtaposition: my classic Alex Singer equipped with a RockShox suspension fork!
As an interesting side effect, the comparison runs on the smooth pavement once again showed large performance differences between different tires. This confirmed the results of our roll-down tests of tire performance.
We reported the results in the Autumn 2009 issue of Bicycle Quarterly (Vol. 8, No. 1). Keeping with the “rough road” theme, we also looked at the technology of bicycles for the Paris-Roubaix race, and we interviewed mountain bike pioneers Charlie Cunningham and Jacquie Phelan in that issue.
Update 8/15/12:
Several readers asked how the energy stored in the tire as it deforms when going over the bump is returned as the bike moves beyond the bump. The drawing below from the Bicycle Quarterly article illustrates the concept:

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Summer 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly magazine


If there is one single topic that summarizes Bicycle Quarterly, it is the search for the best solutions. The Summer 2012 issue focuses on the “ultimate” bicycles. Note the plural form: There seem to be as many “ultimate” bikes as there are individual riders, so we examined a few different ideas.

What would happen if one made a racing bike, but with truly wide tires to improve the handling and comfort? Jeff Lyon built such a machine based on our suggestions. Is it really the “ultimate” racing bike? We tested the bike and rode it for hundreds of miles to find out.

In 1929, the British cyclist and inventor Vernon Blake assembled his own “ultimate” bike. Learn more about this fascinating man, and find out what he considered essential for traveling long distances at great speed!

Creating your “ultimate” bicycle can be a slippery slope, as I found out when I worked on my new bike. When specifying the bike, I decided to use the best components, no matter whether they were easily available or not. In the end, almost every component was modified or custom-made to create a bicycle that is coherent, aesthetically and functionally, rather than a collection of dissimilar parts. This last part of a three-part series examines the components of this bike – why they were chosen, how they were made or modified, and how they work on the road.

Creating your “ultimate” bicycle requires knowing what you want, so this issue includes a “How To” section. We trust that our readers know how to fix a flat and how to close a quick release correctly, so we examined topics that often are overlooked, including:

  • Riding position and power output: Both low and upright positions can be very comfortable. Which one works best for you depends on your power output, riding style and other factors. Get comfortable on your bike by learning which position is best for you!
  • How to select your chainrings: Your gearing should match your riding style and terrain. We look at different gearing options and explain for whom they work best. How does  your “base gear” affect your gearing choices? How does your gearing affect your rhythm in hilly terrain? Why are two chainrings a great choice for some riders, while others benefit from three?
  • What makes a bike fast? How much slower is a fully equipped bike with fenders, racks and lights than a stripped-down racer? What about wide tires? We look at the physics involved and test several bikes against the clock on a local hillclimb.


No issue of Bicycle Quarterly would be complete without an inspirational story about cycling culture. In this issue, we report on the working bikes of Florence, Italy, where riders and small shops have created novel solutions for carrying loads on bikes that are ridden daily in this beautiful city.
The Summer issue will be mailed next week. To get your copy without delay, subscribe today!
For more information about the Summer 2012 Bicycle Quarterly, including a full table of contents, visit the Bicycle Quarterly web site.

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Daniel Rebour


Even though Daniel Rebour retired almost 40 years ago, his drawings remain recognizable to many cyclists today. Rebour’s drawings distilled the essence of components and bicycles better than photographs ever can. He managed to make even the most mundane bicycle appealing, and his drawings greatly added to the allure of the wonderful machines made by the great constructeurs.
Rebour visited bike shows all over Europe and even in North America when he worked for the trade magazine Le Cycle. Over the years, he chronicled technological progress. Historians today turn to his articles and drawings to figure out, for example, the history of Campagnolo’s first derailleurs, the Gran Sport, through its convoluted gestation. Rebour was there, and recorded what he saw in his drawings.

Rebour was influenced by the French constructeurs’ emphasis on the “line of the bike,” and in return, his drawings influenced how the French saw bikes. Rebour did not dwell on intricate lug cutouts, but focused on the proportions and outline of the bike. His drawings look especially exceptional when they depict bicycles with good fender lines and nicely proportioned frames.

Rebour’s work reflects a true love of cycling and of bicycles. Bicycle Quarterly photographer Jean-Pierre Pradères visited Simone Rebour many years ago. He interviewed Simone and obtained access to Rebour’s archives. In Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4, Jean-Pierre related their fascinating story.

Daniel and Simone Rebour were active cyclotourists. For their honeymoon, the Rebours rode a René Herse tandem to a new mixed-tandem record in the 1948 Paris-Brest-Paris (above). They went touring by bike, but also entered competitions like the Poly de Chanteloup and the Brevet Randonneur des Vosges. In 1949, Simone Rebour set the women’s record for the 200 km brevet, with a time of 6:57 hours – faster than most randonneurs ride today.

Daniel Rebour also wrote an introduction to cycling (above) where he explained what to look for in a bicycle. The book was reprinted in several editions for almost 30 years.  Rebour’s second love was motorcycling, and he published many articles and drawings in Moto Revue under the pseudonym “Paul Boyenval.” He also wrote an introduction to motorcycling that is similar to his book on cycling.

It is thanks to Rebour’s many drawings, often titled “Nouveautés au Salon du Cycle” (“New Products at the Paris Bike Show) that we can piece together the history of bicycle components, both from the large manufacturers and from the small constructeurs. Above is part of an article from the 1960 Salon du Cycle, which saw the introduction of the Mafac “Kathy” cantilevers and the “Tiger” centerpulls.
Imagine this larger-than-life figure, working on his detailed drawings in his country house in Normandy, and then, at the end of a full day, getting on his Herse to go for a ride… what a way of life!

The full story of Daniel Rebour, with many photos and drawings, was published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 4.

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Aerodynamics of Real-World Bicycles


Wind resistance is one of the most important resistances a cyclist has to overcome (together with the rolling resistance of the tires). Most wind tunnel testing has been done for time trial equipment, but aerodynamics are important for real-world riders as well.
Without any data, many people assumed that fenders and handlebar bags would increase the wind resistance, whereas saddle bags were shielded behind the rider, and thus would not affect the resistance. Others maintained that fenders could act as fairings (racing motorbikes have them!) and make the bike more aerodynamic. Similarly, it is easy to envision wider tires having higher wind resistance, but how important is this effect? And how does it compare to the rider wearing a jacket?
To look into all these factors, we spent 2.5 days in the wind tunnel of the University of Washington a few years ago. A top-tier wind tunnel is an impressive facility. Usually, wind tunnel time costs $500/hour, but the Department of Aeronautics allows students free wind tunnel time for their projects, and two students were keen on studying bicycle aerodynamics, so we collaborated on this study.

As a result, I got to ride a trainer for two days at 111 rpm and 20 mph, while keeping my riding position constant as we changed various parts on the bike to test how each affected the aerodynamics. The trainer originally had been built for Lance Armstrong, who had tested his time trial position in the wind tunnel a year earlier. The setup could be rotated by remote control to test the effects of crosswinds. A camera projected my image in front of me, so I could check my position against outlines traced onto the floor.
Some people do wind tunnel testing without the rider, because a pedaling rider introduces noise into the measurements. However, testing only the bicycle makes the results almost meaningless, because the rider obviously affects the aerodynamics of the bike. Fortunately, when we repeated one particular set-up at the beginning, middle and end of each test session, our results were very consistent showing that the noise introduced by the rider was very small. (We found the same when we tested tires on real roads with a rider on board. An experienced rider can assume the same riding position time and again.)

What about the results? The most important finding probably does not come as a surprise: What you wear and how you position yourself on the bike has the largest impact on the aerodynamics. For example, simply raising your stem by 20 mm (3/4 in) increases the drag by 5%. (For comparison, other studies indicate that aero wheels bring an advantage of only 3%.) The difference between a close-fitting jacket and a looser cycling jacket is a full 8% increase in the overall wind resistance of your bike!
Perhaps more surprising to many, front bags were more aerodynamic than rear ones. A handlebar bag was more aerodynamic than a Carradice saddlebag that extended just slightly beyond the hips of the rider (see photo at the top of this post). Front panniers (on low-rider racks) were more aerodynamic than rear panniers.

Fairings actually increased the wind resistance in most positions. We tested many different fairings, and the photo above shows the “best” setup, and even that decreased the wind resistance only if the rider assumed a full aero tuck. It’s obvious that fairings only work if they form one body with the rider. Otherwise, you are just pushing one extra object through the air.
Speaking of the aero tuck, that was perhaps the most eye-opening result: A full aero tuck reduces the rider’s air resistance by 38% compared to riding “on the hoods.” There is nothing you can do to your bike that makes even nearly as much of a difference at high speed!
Well-mounted metal fenders do not affect the bike’s aerodynamics. The front section of each fender shields the tire and reduces the wind resistance, while the rear fender increases the aerodynamic drag. The two effects cancel each other.

We also tested how the effect of drafting. Everybody knows that riding behind another cyclist decreases your wind resistance, but we also found that the front rider benefits from the draft, receiving a push from the rear rider.
And what about those wide tires? The data showed a very slight increase in air resistance when going from 25 to 32 mm tires, but the difference was too small to be statistically significant. It may be real, or it may just be in the noise of the data collection. In any case, it’s smaller than many other factors, such as your stem height or the clothes you wear.

There were many other things we tested during those 2.5 days in the wind tunnel. It was very interesting, and it has influenced how we set up our bikes. The full results were published in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 6, No. 1 and Vol. 6, No. 3.

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People who have inspired us: Roger Baumann


I learned about the history of Paris-Brest-Paris from the late Bernard Déon’s excellent book Paris-Brest et Retour (unfortunately out of print). Déon was a great storyteller, and I found his report from the epic 1956 particularly gripping. The main protagonist of that dramatic edition of PBP was a young Roger Baumann. He rode the René Herse shown above through wind and rain, fought off a challenge from a late-charging Jean Lheuillier, and arrived back in Paris as the first of the single bikes. What a story!
When my friend Hervé mentioned that Roger Baumann was alive and well, I was excited. Maybe I could meet my hero? Bernard Déon put us in touch, and the next time I was in Paris, I met the “Grand Roger” for an interview and lunch. I discovered a man who was not only passionate about sport and performance, but also a true cyclotourist. His cycling exploits show the broad interests of cyclotourists at the time: He set a 24-hour record on the track “because I loved long distances, and this was as long as they came.” He was one of the first randonneurs to complete the Raid Pyrénéen, “an event harder than Paris-Brest-Paris.” He was part of a number of record-setting Flèche teams. As a cyclotourist, he enjoyed traveling all the way to Norway by bike. On all his rides, he took a keen interest in the landscape and culture he was visiting. He was a “grand randonneur.”
When I asked about his beautiful bike, Roger Baumann told me how he had dreamed of a René Herse bicycle for years: “During my lunch break, I took the Métro to Levallois-Perret, and looked at Herse’s shop window. I didn’t dare go inside.” He told me how in 1952, he bought his Herse with all his savings. He related his excitement when Herse told him later that year: “You are riding well. From now on, we will equip you.” Below he is part of the winning team at the 1955 Coupe Herse, a 100 km 5-man team time trial (left to right): Boris Brumat, Colliot, Jean-Marie Comte, Gilbert Bulté, R. Baumann.

Meeting Roger Baumann inspired me in many ways. I wanted to record and share his wonderful stories, so I started Bicycle Quarterly to publish them as well as other first-hand accounts from the “golden age of randonneuring.”
The “Grand Roger” (he got his nickname because he is 6 feet tall) also inspired my riding.  I had been discouraged from riding at night by a rainy, miserable Flèche 24-hour ride on a fender-less racing bike. Then Roger Baumann’s told me of cresting the Tourmalet in the middle of the night during the Raid Pyrénéen. He talked of riding long distances non-stop and of carefully planning one’s schedule. This made me realize that I had been missing out on some of what makes randonneuring so special. A few months later, I rode my first 600 km brevet non-stop, and I enjoyed it. From then on, I aspired to become a “grand randonneur,” too.
Since then, I have remained in touch with Roger Baumann. We meet for dinner when I am in Paris, and we often talk on the phone. When I rode the 2003 PBP with Jaye Haworth on a 1946 René Herse tandem, he asked me: “When do you think you will be at the control of Fougères?” I told him that our schedule had us there around 5:30 a.m. Partly by chance, it was 5:30 on the dot when we pulled up to the school in Villaines-la-Juel. Despite the early hour, Roger Baumann was waiting outside. He checked his watch and said: “You are on schedule. Very good. Would you like to join me for a cup of tea?” When we told him that we did not plan to stop, he replied: “Even better. I will see you in Paris.”

When we arrived back in Paris almost two days later, it was 2:45 a.m. The volunteer checking us in asked, “Are you Monsieur AINe?” Then he yelled, “Somebody get Roger Baumann!” It turned out the “Grand Roger” had asked to be awoken when we arrived. A few minutes later, he arrived and congratulated us (photo above), which made our finish even more special. Two days later, he stood up for us when our trophy for the fastest mixed tandem was claimed by two impostors at the awards ceremony, who ran off with it. In a rush, another trophy was found and presented at the end of the ceremony.
Four years later, I was thinking of the 1956 Paris-Brest-Paris again as I rode toward Paris. Not only was this 2007 PBP as rainy and windy as the one 51 years earlier, but I was facing a situation similar to Baumann’s. Even though I was not racing for first place against somebody else, I knew I had to ride all-out if I wanted to achieve the magic sub-50-hour goal. After several hours of all-out effort, I arrived at the final control at the Human Rights Gymnasium in Saint-Quentin totally exhausted. Roger Baumann was there to greet me.
Last year, after my wonderful ride in the Raid Pyrénéen, I told Roger Baumann how I had been unable to find a hotel at the finish, and camped out in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. He replied: “If you had told me, I could have given you the address of a very nice bench near the train station, where I slept after my Raid in 1952.”
I have known Roger Baumann for 12 years now. Lately we have been talking several times a week, as he has helped me tremendously with research for another book. His excellent memory, his passion and his sense of humor make each of those conversations memorable. I look forward to seeing him again in Paris, when we’ll discuss cycling and the world over an excellent dinner.
Further reading:

  • Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 2 includes both the story of the 1956 PBP (translated from B. Déon’s book) and the interview with Roger Baumann.
  • The Raid Pyrénéen (Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 2, available online)
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The Technical Trials


The Technical Trials are best known for the incredibly light bicycles that constructeurs built in the 1940s. (The 1946 Alex Singer above weighs a little over 17 pounds fully equipped.) More importantly, the Trials advanced bicycle technology by serving as a test bed for new bikes and components.
Low-trail geometries, braze-ons for all components, front derailleurs, low-rider racks, aluminum fenders, wide and supple 650B tires, aluminum cranks, cantilever brakes, sealed-bearing hub and bottom brackets, even aluminum frames: Almost everything we like in bicycles today proved its worth during the Technical Trials of the 1930s and 1940s.* These innovations did not come from racing, but were used first on cyclotouring bikes.
The laboratory for French cyclotouring bikes were the Technical Trials. What were the Trials? Simply put, they were competitions for the best bicycle, rather than the best rider. The Trials were started by a group of riders from Paris, who were loosely organized in the Groupe Montagnard Parisien.
These riders were dissatisfied with the bicycles available in the early 1930s. The heavy mass-produced machines of the time had many features, but were lacking in performance and handling. The riders from the Groupe Montagnard Parisien (GMP) envisioned lightweight bicycles with precise handling, excellent performance and utmost reliability.
In 1934, the GMP organized their first Concours de Machines (Technical Trials): an event where bicycles were judged based on features such as light weight, number of gears, etc. The rules required certain geometries (<50 mm trail, relatively short chainstays), wide tires (>35 mm) and braze-ons for all accessories. To stand a chance at winning, the bikes had to be much lighter than was the norm. “It can’t be done, superlight bikes would never hold up in everyday use,” said the many detractors.

To show that such bikes could hold up under the harshest “real-world” conditions imaginable, each bike was ridden over 460 km of rough gravel roads in the mountains of the Massif Central. This ride was done in three stages, and after each stage, the bikes were checked carefully for defects (below).

Penalties were assessed for any problem, whether a wheel was out of true, a bearing had developed play, or a derailleur no longer could shift every gear. After three days of hard riding, the winner was the bike which offered the best combination of:

  • most desirable features
  • lightest weight
  • fewest problems on the road

The result was truly amazing: At a time when most cyclotouring bikes weighed 20 kg (44 lb.) or more, the winning Barra weighed just 10.35 kg (22.8 lb.), fully equipped with fenders, lights, a rack and wide tires. Keep in mind that this was 1934. This is lighter than any of the current bikes that Bicycle Quarterly has tested.
Not only did the Trials prove that the GMP’s vision for lightweight, high-performance cyclotouring bikes was achievable, but the event also provided an opportunity for a new breed of builders to showcase their talents.
Builders like Reyhand, Barra and Uldry had tried to make racing bikes before, but with the big manufacturers sponsoring professional teams, they found it hard to sell their machines. The Technical Trials provided an opportunity to prove their worth without investing much money. A builder could make an excellent bike, have it ridden by a good rider, and their efforts would be noticed by a nation-wide audience of riders. (It’s a situation similar to today, where most young builders make cyclotouring bikes again, rather than trying to compete with the big names in the racing bike market.)

Progress was swift during the 1930s. Not only did the bikes become lighter, but they also suffered fewer problems on the road. The undisputed leader in the 1930s was Reyhand, who won the Trials three times in a row (above: the winning bike from 1936).
The bikes were ridden by the strongest randonneurs of the time: You got extra points for high speeds, because riding fast stresses the bike more. Among these pilotes were riders who soon would set up shop under their own names: Alex Singer, René Herse, Jo Routens, Lionel Brans, René André and others. Most of these builders then used the Trials to make their own names.
After World War II, little time was lost, and the next Technical Trials were held in 1946. Alex Singer won this event with the ligthest cyclotouring bike ever built. This machine weighed just 6.875 kg (15.16 lb) – without the tires. Quality tires were available only on the black market, so the bikes were weighed without tires. An Alex Singer bicycle from the 1946 Trials has been preserved, and is shown in the Japanese Alex Singer book (top of this post).

In 1947, it was René Herse’s turn to win the event. One of his bikes also still exists (above). It is featured in our book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.

Daniel Rebour documented the amazing features of these machines. Every part was modified to reduce the weight. Alex Singer even cut away the pedal bodies (No. 5 above), exposing the spindle.
The Technical Trials consisted of only nine major events (and a few smaller ones in the Paris area), spanning just 15 years. It was an amazing time, when every year saw huge progress. The high hopes of the constructeurs were either rewarded or dashed on the road. The list of the names who won the Technical Trials reads like a Who’s Who of the best constructeurs of the time: Barra, Reyhand (3x), Narcisse (2x), Alex Singer, René Herse, Jo Routens.

The technical innovations that proved their worth in these difficult events are still with us today: aluminum cranks, sealed cartridge bearings in hubs and bottom brackets, low-rider front racks, powerful cantilever brakes… The Concours de Machines were a resounding success, and their influence still is felt more than 60 years later.

The story of the Technical Trials was told in two consecutive issue of Bicycle Quarterly: Vol. 1, No. 4 and Vol. 2, No. 1, with details of each year’s Technical Trials. Photos bring you the atmosphere of these events. Result sheets allow you to find out who won and why. Translated reports from participants and spectators make a gripping read. More than 90 drawings by Daniel Rebour show the intricate details of the machines that competed for the title of “the best bicycle.” To find out how the bikes we enjoy so much today were developed, order your copies here.
* Some of these innovations were offered earlier, but had not become widespread, either because the technology did not yet exist (modern aluminum alloys) or because no one promoted these innovations.

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Product Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Brakes


I mostly talk about our projects in this blog, including products we develop at Compass Bicycles, but rarely discuss those of other manufacturers. This might lead to the impression that Bicycle Quarterly does the same. However, the magazine is independent from Compass Bicycles – as is explained here.
In every issue of Bicycle Quarterly, we publish tests of products from other companies. Our tests are totally independent of whether that company advertises in the magazine, or whether their products compete with the products that Compass Bicycles sells.
We simply call it as we see it, with little concern to who is making the product. We send a copy of the review to the manufacturer, so they can comment. We either integrate their comments into the review, or we publish them as a sidebar. (Quite often, the company agrees with our review, and has no comments.)
Following is an example of a Bicycle Quarterly product test from our current Autumn 2011 issue:

Test: Velo-Orange Grand Cru Brakes
Test bike: Calfee Adventure
Test distance: 795 km
Weight: 177 g (front brake with pads)
Price: $160/set (with pads)
Country of manufacture: Taiwan
Sample provided by: Calfee
Availability: www.velo-orange.com

Summary
The Grand Cru Long-Reach Brakes offer great braking power and excellent modulation. They are among the best long-reach brakes we have tested.
Introduction
Wider tires and fenders offer many advantages. However, sidepull and dual-pivot brakes that provide enough reach to clear 28 mm or wider tires often tend to flex so much that their ultimate braking power is insufficient.(1) While cantilever or centerpull brakes can avoid this problem, they require or at least work best with frame-mounted pivots. Many bikes are not equipped with these pivots, and thus must be equipped with sidepull or dual-pivot brakes.
Velo-Orange imports long-reach brakes and sells them under their “Grand Cru” brand. The brakes are machined from aluminum and polished, with an attractive appearance. Their weight of 177 grams is 13 grams lighter than Shimano’s BR-R600 (formerly called  “Ultegra Standard Reach”) brakes. Only classic centerpull brakes are lighter.(2)

Riding the Grand Cru Brakes
Near Golden Gardens in Seattle, there is a set of downhill switchbacks that is a great test for any brake. After a long run to gather speed, there is a bumpy right-hand turn that is slightly off-camber and has a sharply decreasing radius.
I braked gently to scrub off some speed, then continued to apply the brake slightly to increase traction on the front wheel and help the bike turn into the corner. Half-way through the turn, the radius suddenly tightens. I applied a little more brake, and was glad for the good modulation of the Grand Cru brakes. As the bike turned in sharper, I let go of the brake lever as I approached the limits of tire adhesion. I rounded the corner without drama, then righted the bike and moved my hands next to the stem. In the aero tuck, speed built quickly.
The 180° hairpin at the bottom of this stretch approached quickly. This curve also is off-camber and has to be taken very slowly. I braked hard, and the bike decelerated so much that I was pushed forward. If I had not braced myself against the handlebars before applying the brakes, I would have flown over the handlebars.
The front wheel unloaded as the bike went over a little bump, and the front tire emitted a little squeal. Instinctively, I had opened the brake as I felt the compression of the bump, and the front tire never lost traction. The brakes slowed so well that I released them sooner than planned, and turned into the corner under light braking. (Mental note: Next time, you can brake a little later with these brakes.)
As this short sequence showed, the Grand Cru brakes offer superb stopping power combined with excellent modulation. Compared to other dual pivot brakes, the Grand Cru brakes are light, yet they are very stiff. The brake action was linear, making the brakes easy to modulate. The brakes never squealed during this test. If there is a gripe about these brakes, it’s that the quick releases do not open wide enough to clear 31 mm-wide tires.
Our sample was equipped with blue brake pads, which provided much more friction than the brake pads Velo-Orange sells separately.(3)
Conclusion
Overall, the Grand Cru dual-pivot brakes are among the best long-reach brakes available today. They offer excellent stopping power and modulation together with reasonably light weight. They may cost more than Shimano’s long-reach brakes, but they are worth the money. Recommended! ­—JH
This article was sent to Velo-Orange for review.
Notes:
1 Limitations of Long-Reach Brakes. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 3, p. 32. Test: Medium-Reach Dual-Pivot Brakes from Cane Creek and IRD/Tektro. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 7, No. 2, p. 50.
2 A Mafac “Competition” brake weighs 160 grams including thick pads and all mounting hardware for frames without brazed-on pivots.
3 Bike Test: Ellis 700C Randonneur. Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 4, p. 22.

Click here to read more samples from Bicycle Quarterly, including a full bike test.

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Coming up on 10 years


Bicycle Quarterly is entering its 10th year! We recently mailed Vol. 10, No. 1, the Autumn 2011 issue.
It has been a remarkable journey, and it is nice to see how much the bike industry has changed over the last decade – for the better. Quite a few things that we recommended over the years – often with a sigh, “Well, these are great, but good luck finding them” – are common today. Here are a few examples:
Compact Cranks
Compact cranks were popular with 1950s randonneurs. After I rode a 1962 Alex Singer in a long brevet, the first issue of BQ had an article titled “Who needs a triple? Get rid of your big chainring!” Back in 2002, most component makers offered only limited crank choices:

  • “racing” cranks with 53-39 chainrings: gearing that was too big for most riders
  •  triples: wide tread/Q factor and inferior shifting



We wrote that using a smaller “big” ring with the small ring of a triple, like 46-32, was close to an ideal combination for most riders. Others were thinking along the same lines: two years later, Campagnolo introduced their “Compact” cranks, starting a trend. Today, most riders choose compact cranks over racing cranks and triples. Campagnolo does not even offer triple cranks any longer!

Fully Integrated Bikes
When we started publishing Bicycle Quarterly, the concept of a constructeur, who makes a fully integrated bike, was almost unknown in North America. (There were a few pioneers, like Mike Barry in Toronto and Jitensha Studio in Berkeley.)
Even if you bought a custom-made cyclotouring bike, you usually bought a frame from a framebuilder, and equipped it with “components” (shifters, brakes, wheels) and accessories (racks, fenders, lights). The “accessories” were attached almost as an afterthought.
When we experienced 1950s bikes that were designed and built as fully integrated units, we found that they performed better, were more reliable, and were lighter than the bikes that were common in 2002.
Today, there are many constructeurs who build complete bikes with custom racks, integrated fenders and even custom lights. Even the big makers offer city bikes with integrated racks and fenders.

Front Loads
Nine years ago, hauling something on a performance bike meant you put it on a rear rack. For touring, you might use front low-riders, but you always expected to carry the bulk of your weight on the rear. Our research found that front loads are easier to balance, as long as the bike’s front-end geometry is designed for a front load.
Today, front racks have become accepted again. Many city bikes, even from large makers, are equipped with porteur-style racks.

Geometries
For a long time, many cyclists and bicycle makers believed that more geometric trail made bicycles more stable. If you wanted a more stable bike, you added trail.
When some older French bikes turned out to have much less trail than was common nine years ago, some experts declared them “unstable.” We actually rode these bikes, and found them to handle very well. As a result, a more nuanced view of front-end geometry has evolved, which takes into account wheel flop, front loads, tire width and riding position to make bikes handle better even at non-racing speeds and with real loads.
Wider Tires, Lower Pressures
The trend away from ultra-narrow tires already had started long before the first issue of Bicycle Quarterly came off the press. (Do you remember the 18 mm-wide Continental tires that were the non-plus-ultra during the late 1980s?)
However, the idea that higher pressures made tires roll faster remained ingrained in bicycle wisdom, and only narrow tires can be run at very high pressures. Thus, many riders believe that narrower tires are faster than wider ones.
We showed that on real roads, lower pressures did not reduce a tire’s performance. Thus, wider tires at lower pressures can offer the same performance as narrow, high-pressure tires. Since then, many professional riders have experimented with wider tires and lower pressures. And today, even carbon bicycle makers are offering bikes for wider tires.

650B and Other Components
I recall stocking up on 650B tires, afraid that soon I would not be able to get them any longer. I feared that I’d never get my dream 650B bike built, unless I found an old fork crown, since new ones no longer were available.
Today, new components are available, whether classic fork crowns, cranks, or even centerpull brakes. Aluminum fenders have gone from “boutique” items to mainstream.  Constructeurs turn out new 650B bikes that rival the best of the old ones. I find it incredible that today, I can ride a brand-new René Herse bicycle with 650B wheels, and soon, I’ll even be able to put René Herse cranks on the bike.
Bikes are getting better
When we began testing bikes, we were excited if a bike came equipped with a front rack and lights, even if it was just a Nitto rack bolted to the fork. That was all we could hope for back then.
For years, some readers complained because we compared custom bikes to my 1974 Alex Singer, and not many measured up. It was almost normal for fenders to rattle loose, lights to fall off and other issues to creep up during our 200-mile tests. In recent years, the best bikes available in North America have become so good that a good number now have eclipsed my trusty Singer. The new bikes are so good that I recently replaced my Singer with a new, North American-made bike.
And where we have been wrong
Our understanding has evolved as we conducted our research, and sometimes, we have been wrong. Here are a few examples of things we wrote in Bicycle Quarterly, where we should have thought twice before publishing it:

  • “A lower bottom bracket will corner much better…” (Vol. 1, No. 1). We now know that it makes no appreciable difference on the center of gravity of bike-and-rider combined. (The center of gravity of bike-and-rider is about 800-1000 mm off the ground. Lowering the  bottom bracket by 10 mm lowers the center of gravity by only about 1%.)
  • We believed that any bike could be equipped with a handlebar bag, as long as the bag was mounted low and on a stiff rack (Vol. 1, No. 3). Later, we realized that the front-end geometry should be modified to take the weight of the bag into account.
  • We postulated that a tire’s casing weight was a good predictor of a its performance (Vol. 4, No. 1). Since then, we found that casing construction matters much more than weight.
  • We thought that high-trail bikes rode poorly in cross-winds because of their large amount of wheel flop. Tony Foale pointed out that the culprit is the lever-arm of the trail, which gives the side force of the wind more leverage over the steering. (Our observation – high trail does not work well in cross-winds – was correct, but our explanation was wrong.)

The Future is Bright
In 2002, there seemed to be little to look forward to. Classic components had been discontinued. Racing bikes and extreme mountain bikes ruled. Custom framebuilders complained about declining orders. There was little hope for progress among “real-world” bicycles.
Today, there is a vibrant culture for real-world bikes. Bicycle Quarterly is proud to have contributed to this positive growth so that we may all enjoy our bicycles more.

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The Aunt

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One of the best things of editing Bicycle Quarterly have been the wonderful people I have met all over the world. Even among these amazing people, Paulette Porthault stands out. Most of you have seen her many times: On the Bicycle Quarterly home page, you see her climbing the Galibier during the 1930s (see also above).
I heard about her from various French randonneurs. Did anybody know a rider who had participated in the Technical Trials? How was it to tour around Europe in the 1930s? What about cycling during the war? In every case, I was referred to “La Tante” (the aunt). The name was spoken with reverence, but also with a lot of fondness. La Tante was Lucien Détée’s aunt, who himself was one of the strongest randonneurs of the 1950s. (We featured the story of his tandem in Vol. 9, No. 4.) He introduced me to his then 90-year-old aunt, Madame Porthault, in 2004, and a wonderful friendship started.

In Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 1, we published an 11-page interview with La Tante. It’s still one of my favorites. As I wrote in the introduction: “A good many laughs were shared, and time passed all too quickly.” Madame Porthault told me how she went on her first cyclotouring ride in 1932 on a borrowed bike with indexing Le Chemineau derailleurs. To shift, you had to pull the lever outward and then move it to the next slot. This was so tricky that she swerved into her friends, and they all crashed to the ground!
Despite this inauspicious start, Madame Porthault rode with her friends whenever the opportunity arose. On holiday weekends, they took the night train on Friday evening to the Alps, then rode all weekend before returning by train on Sunday night. Arriving in Paris early on Monday morning, they rode straight from the train station to work, washed up in the bathroom, and were ready for work.

During the war, long tours were out of the question, so Madame Porthault became more involved in competition. With Jean Dejeans, one of the best riders from the Audax-Club Parisien, she won the tandem race of the Poly de Chanteloup (above). They also set a record in the 200 km brevet of 5:41 hours, which translates into an incredible 35.2 km/h (22.0 mph) average. And this on a course that was far from flat. Below, she is steadied by a young René Herse at the start of the 1943 Journée Vélocio hillclimb.

In 1942, she participated in the Criterium de Paris technical trials. She told me: “During the war, we did not get much vacation. When I asked my employers for time off so I could ride in a bicycle event, they were a bit surprised, but gave me the vacation anyhow.”
After the war, she continued to ride in events for René Herse, including the 1946 Technical Trials in Colmar: “We had saddles […] like pieces of wood. Sure, they were light. I don’t know what they used instead of leather, but they were abominable.” She was still smiling, though (below)!

She resumed touring abroad, all the way to Yugoslavia and beyond. Currency restrictions meant that money had to be smuggled across the borders. Madame Porthault recalled: “We rode across the border with the money in our tires. Then we looked for a secluded spot, where we took off our tires and recovered the money. But you had to be careful and wrap the bills in cotton. One of our friends, who wasn’t too mechanically inclined, simply stuffed them in there. They were completely shredded when he wanted to retrieve them…”
In 1947, she was part of the team that originated the Flèche Vélocio (below). She wrote a great report, which we translated and published alongside her interview in Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 1. She was planning to ride in the first post-war PBP when she became pregnant with her son. Her husband, Charles Porthault, was also one of the “grands randonneurs” of the time. He is shown in the center of the photo below, at the start of that inaugural Flèche in front of Notre Dame in Paris. (Jean Dejeans is on the left, Alfred Gadeceau on the right.) These are but a few of the many stories and photos she shared in the Bicycle Quarterly interview.

It was greatly concerned when I learned two years later that Madame Porthault had fallen and broken her hip. However, when I called her, she was in good spirits. “Later in life, I will look back on this time as a difficult period,” she told me. She was 92 at the time.
Her optimism was well-founded. Five years later, she is as healthy as always. I last saw her two years ago, when she picked me up from the train station. We had lunch at a restaurant, then went to her apartment. She walked the stairs with ease and even went into the basement to rummage for some old photos. Her memory is as sharp as ever, and I look forward to visiting her this summer after riding in Paris-Brest-Paris to celebrate her 98th birthday.
For more information or to order this classic back issue of Bicycle Quarterly (while supplies last), click here. I am sure that you’ll enjoy the adventures of La Tante as much as I did.

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The Beauty of Paper



Once in a while, we get a question about whether we will offer a digital edition of Bicycle Quarterly. For now, we are committed to paper. I love paging through magazines with my children. Many of those magazines I have kept since I was a teenager. And I love libraries and archives – the mystery of old volumes, which haven’t been touched in decades, yet are ready to yield their secrets as soon as you open the pages. It’s a different experience from sitting in front of a screen and scrolling down the page.


Even more important is paper’s durability. In my research, I often refer to magazines like Le Cycliste, Le Cycle, Cyclo-Magazine, La Pedale Touristique, CTC Gazette and others that are 70+ years old. I have access to other collections that date back more than a century. The magazines back then often were printed on low-quality paper, so the pages have yellowed, but they remain legible even a century later. We even can scan the wonderful drawings of Daniel Rebour and Frank Patterson and bring them to you in the pages of Bicycle Quarterly. (Below is Rebour’s drawing of Jacques Anquetil’s bike on which he won the 1962 Tour de France.)


If those old magazines had been in some archaic electronic format, they would be long gone now. Daniel Rebour’s wonderful drawings of bikes and components, Frank Patterson’s masterful evocations of landscapes and cyclists, the technical analyses, the reports of rides and races…

I can’t even open the digital files for my Ph.D. dissertation any longer, which was written just 13 years ago. The files were backed up on a format that I no longer can read. (Jazz disc – remember those?). Fortunately, I have a few hardcopies.


So much research goes into every issue of Bicycle Quarterly that I want the magazines to remain a resource for as long as people care about bicycles. That is why we list sources and references, and why we print on acid-free paper. If somebody, 50 years from now, wonders about the performance of tires at various pressures, about frame stiffness, the French technical trials, or the history of the first Campagnolo parallelogram rear derailleur, then paper copies of Bicycle Quarterly will provide a starting point for new research. Building on existing knowledge means that real progress can be made, rather than every generation having to start all over again.

We strive to reduce our environmental impact. Bicycle Quarterly‘s paper has the largest recycled content we can find. We run a paper-less office: We don’t even send you a paper packing slip when you order from us. We have been recognized as a “bicycle-friendly business” by the League of American Bicyclists. We even do most local deliveries by bike.

Of all the paper you get in the mail every year, the 288 pages of Bicycle Quarterly make only a small impact. And many years from now, we hope you will pass your copies along to a young, enthusiastic cyclist, who will treasure them as much as you have.

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The History of Bicycle Brakes


Bicycle Quarterly always has been intended as a timeless resource, rather than a magazine to be read once and then recycled. Over the last 8.5 years, we have published no fewer than 1711 pages! Many issues are dedicated to a topic and provide an incredible resource for very little money. From time to time, we’ll feature a back issue in the blog.
Vol. 7, No. 2 was about brakes. As a fan of The Dancing Chain, the illustrated history of bicycle derailleurs, I wanted to do something similar on brakes, and this issue of Bicycle Quarterly was the result.
With more than 80 drawings (most from the pen of Daniel Rebour) and dozens of studio photographs, this issue charts the development of bicycle brakes. It explains why sidepull, centerpull and cantilever brakes were developed and how they work. It looks at early hydraulic brakes and disc brakes, different brake lever designs and even examines whether it is better to operate the front brake with the left or the right hand. (There are good reasons for either way.)

You’ll find old favorites like Campagnolo’s classic sidepull brakes (above) and Mafac’s cantilevers and centerpulls alongside truly oddball designs. As cantilevers became popular in the 1940s, many designers tried to improve on the standard design. Here are just four interesting solutions.

Does anybody know how brake No. 7 in the drawing above works? It’s a CLB cantilever from 1948, with a linkage to push the brake pads straight toward the rim, rather than rotating them. (Standard cantilever brake shoes must be adjusted as they wear, otherwise, they don’t touch the rim squarely any longer.) On the CLB brake, it appears that the straddle wires push downward, rather than pull upward. If anybody has a photo of this brake, I’d love to see it.
No. 5 is a CPM cantilever brake that mounts to the posts of a Jeay roller-cam brake (see below). When I first saw one, I thought it was a clever retrofit for older frames, but in fact, it was intended as a quick release. Now 6 is a brazed-on version of the British Resilion cantilevers (which originally dates from the 1920s), while No. 8 uses a corkscrew mechanism similar to the old Cyclo derailleur. I doubt the latter worked very well!
Some brakes are almost forgotten today, but at the time set new standards for performance, like the 1920s Jeay (below), which later saw a re-incarnation as the Roller-Cam for mountain bikes.

Of course, no issue of Bicycle Quarterly would be complete without bike tests. We rode an innovative Frances Smallhaul cargo bike and a classic Lyonsport Randonneur, and tested modern long-reach dual-pivot brakes. We also examined handlebar shapes. To round off this issue, we took you on a trip along the Baltic coast of Germany just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, through a landscape suspended in a no-man’s land between old and new (below). Here are more details of this classic issue, and here you can order your copy.


I am sure somebody will ask about the cover illustration of the “Brake Special” (top): It is an old ad for Torpedo coaster-brake hubs. The lady in the flowing dress outruns all the exhausted racers on their fixies, as she has brakes that allow her to coast safely at high speed.

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