Archive | Components

How durable are leather saddles?

How durable are leather saddles? It’s a question we often get with respect to the Berthoud saddles we distribute in North America. Especially now that it’s winter here, and often raining. Will a leather saddle be ruined if it’s ridden in the rain?

The answer is a reassuring ‘No.’ There is only one thing to consider: The underside of the saddle should be protected. If the leather gets completely soaked, the saddle top will lose its shape. Continue Reading →

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Endurance Casings for 700C x 38 and 700C x 55

You asked for it… Many customers requested our Barlow Pass with the Endurance casing. It makes sense – 700C x 38 is a versatile size. If your rides are littered with glass, steel wires or goatheads, the Endurance casing is going to be your friend. You get a tire with much of the speed and comfort of our other Rene Herse tires, yet it’s considerably tougher than the Standard or Extralight casings.

The Antelope Hill is another prime candidate for the Endurance casing. Call it 700C x 55 or 29″ x 2.3″ as you wish – it’s a tire for monstercross and mountain bikes that are ridden on gravel roads (and paved ones, too).

Most of the time, the sheer volume of this tire (and associated low pressure) will ward off sidewall cuts and punctures. Yet by their nature, the Antelopes invite you to take them places you wouldn’t go otherwise. And then the extra protection of the Endurance casing can be great reassurance…

These Rene Herse tires are available with Endurance casings:

  • 650B x 48 Juniper Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 38 Barlow Pass
  • 700C x 38 Steilacoom (knobby)
  • 700C x 42 Hurricane Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 44 Snoqualmie Pass
  • 700C x 55 Antelope Hill

Quantities of the new models are limited for now, until production catches up with demand. Click here for more information.

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Road.cc Reviews the Juniper Ridge 650B x 48

We like Road.cc, the British web site, because they really ride the products they test. They’ve got a number of testers, and their opinions are refreshingly unbiased and honest. At the end of each test, they ask their reviewers “Would you buy this product?” and “Would you recommend this product to a friend?”

Recently, they reviewed our Juniper Ridge dual-purpose knobbies, and tester Stu Kerton replied “Yes” to both questions. His summary explains why:“The Juniper Ridge has been designed to work just as well on the road as it does off the beaten track. I was sceptical, but to be honest they are pretty good, giving a boost to your average speed on those tarmac sections between the tracks and trails.”

Grip on gravel and in mud impressed him, too: “Cornering on hard-packed gravel, the Junipers had just the right level of grip for the knobbles to dig into the gravel so you could blast round at speed. […] They grip well on soft mud and the tread doesn’t seem to hang onto any dirt either, shedding it before it can become compacted between the knobbles. The only place they did suffer a bit was on wet, sticky chalk, which could clog up the tread.” But then, I suspect that any tire will clog up in that type of sticky mud…

It’s exciting when testers enjoy our tires as much as we do. Rather than tell you more about the test, why not read the full review for yourself at road.cc?

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Why I Choose Centerpull Brakes

When I spec’d my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (and for our adventures in the Cascade Mountains), I opted for centerpull brakes. I didn’t choose centerpulls out of nostalgia. For the riding I do, they are the best choice.

Why not dics brakes?

It’s undeniable that the best hydraulic disc brakes offer amazing braking power. Isn’t more braking power always better? There is a limit to how much braking power you can use. Once your rear wheel lifts even with your weight all the way back, you can’t use any extra braking power. A good centerpull brake has just enough power to lift the rear wheel.

If the ultimate braking power is similar, then the choice of brakes comes down to other factors. For me, it’s about the fork rather than the brake itself: Disc brakes feed the braking forces into the left fork blade and flex it backward. If the fork isn’t stiff enough, the bike will self-steer when you brake hard. I once rode a test bike with a Wound Up disc fork that required a quick flick of the handlebars every time I braked hard, to compensate for the fork twist. It became second nature, but many riders might not like this.

Modern disc forks are much stiffer and no longer self-steer. The down side is that this stiffness transmits road shocks that are too big for the tires to absorb. Well-designed steel forks with thin blades flex up to 15 mm (0.6″), just enough to take the edge off these bumps. That’s not just more comfortable, but also faster.

There other reasons why I don’t like disc brakes, but they are relatively minor. One is weight – rotors, calipers and long brake lines all add up (although that can be mitigated somewhat if you use carbon rims.) Discs tend to bite quicker in the rain, but most discs I’ve ridden howled terribly when wet. Discs require more maintenance and care – the hydraulic houses are prone to kinking, and the pads often rub noisily on the rotors, requiring frequent adjustments of the calipers to recenter them. (Thru-axles have helped with that.)

Disc brakes have their place: They are an excellent choice for bikes with very wide tires. They don’t have to reach around the tire, so the brake’s weight and power are independent of tire width. That is why mountain bikes use them. With front suspension, the stiffness of the fork blades is a non-issue. On modern production bikes with wide tires, disc brakes make sense: They are what is available, and they work well. Simply choose the widest tires you can run, and you’ll get plenty of shock absorption.

For custom bikes with moderately wide tires, I think the main reason riders are tempted by discs is simply this: Most rim brakes for wide tires weren’t very good. But those problems can be overcome.

Why not cantilevers?

Our Rene Herse cantilevers are among the lightest brakes in the world. At 75 g per wheel, they weigh far less than most racing brakes. We used them on the J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines Technical Trials in France. They brake very well, too – as I could confirm when descending from the mountains in pouring rain during the Concours.

We’re very proud of our Rene Herse cantis, but I still prefer our centerpulls. The inherent drawback of all cantis is the location of the pivots on unsupported section of the (relatively thin) seatstays and fork blades. When you brake, the brake cable pulls upward, which tends to splay the brake posts outward. In addition, the pads are dragged along by the rim, which also tends to twist the brake. On the front, these two factors reinforce each other.

The fork blades twist, and this changes the angle at which the brake pads hit the rim. That is why you toe in the pads, which reduces the effect. But there is still a non-linearity as the pad surface increases as you brake harder.

For most rides, it’s not a huge deal, but when you brake deep into turns during twisty mountain descents, a brake that responds linearly to your input gives more confidence. And in the Cascade Mountains, we have plenty of twisty descents. When curve follows upon curve, when your instincts take over and your bike feels hardwired into your brain, then you want a brake that responds with linear force to your inputs. A brake where each increment of lever pull results in the same incremental increase of braking force.

That is where centerpulls come in. They eliminate the twisting problem by locating the pivots above the rim, where the stays (rear) and fork blades are well-braced. The result: There is no twist, the pad angle doesn’t change, and the brake action is linear and easy to modulate.

Modern racing brakes use the same pivot location – only the upper arms are more complex to eliminate the need for a straddle cable. Many of the best bikes now have direct-mount brakes, where the pivots are part of the frame, which further reduces flex (and weight). When we reintroduced direct-mount centerpull brakes, they were seen as oddballs. Today, they have become the norm.

Straddle cables have fallen from favor because they can cause lost motion. A thick straddle cable, as in the photo above, tends to curve over the straddle cable yoke. When you pull on the brake lever, the first part of the lever travel only pulls the straddle cable straight, without actually slowing you down.

Lever travel limits the power of all brakes: In theory, you could make the brake more powerful by increasing its mechanical advantage, but then the pads travel less for each increment of lever travel. And you can only pull the lever so far until it hits the handlebars. If you are wasting some of the lever travel to pull the straddle cable straight, you have less left over for the actual braking. You have to design your brake with less mechanical advantage – less braking power. And/or you need to set the pads closer to the rim, which increases the chance that they’ll rub if your wheel goes slightly out of true or if your brake goes slightly out of adjustment. (That is why discs tend to rub: They have a lot of mechanical advantage, so the gap between disc and rotor has to be tiny.)

There is a solution:  Use a thinner straddle cable that doesn’t bow. The straddle cable transmits less force than the brake cable, so a thinner cable works fine. (We use a derailleur cable, so replacements are easy to find.) The thinner cable bends smoothly around the straddle cable yoke (above). There is no lost motion when you apply the brake. Without the risk of bottoming out the brake lever, we had the freedom to design the Rene Herse brakes with more mechanical advantage. That way, we get as much brake power as a very good mechanical disc brake.

All the mechanical advantage in the world doesn’t do much if the brake flexes instead of squeezing the pads. Brake flex means less power for slowing the wheel. Most of the flex occurs between the pivots and the pads. This part of the brake twists when the pads are dragged along by the rim. The upper arms can be thin: They are stressed mostly in one plane (up/down). That is why centerpull brakes can be superlight: Their pads are much closer to the pivots than those of old-fashioned sidepull and dual-pivot brakes.

Not all centerpull brakes are created equal. The arms of our Rene Herse centerpulls have been optimized using Finite Element Analysis. We forge the brake arms for optimum strength, so we can make them thinner and lighter than CNC-machined arms. In fact, Rene Herse centerpulls are among the lightest brakes out there.

All our brakes are now available with titanium eyebolts for the pads. The centerpulls weigh just 137 g (per wheel, with pad holders, but without pads*). That is the same as a direct-mount Dura-Ace brake, even though the Rene Herse has room for 42 mm tires and fenders, while the Dura-Ace clears just 28 mm tires (without fenders).

For the titanium version of our brakes, we’re also using a titanium lower bolt for our Straddle Cable Yoke to save further weight. (The upper bolt is always made from super-strong CrMo steel, since it secures the brake cable.) The steel-bolt version of the brake remains available as a more affordable option.

The new custom-made titanium bolts are available separately, too. They are great for attaching bottle cages and fenders. (Please don’t use them on racks, where the full strength of steel bolts is needed!)

Light weight, excellent power, great modulation, low maintenance, and the ability to use flexible fork blades for comfort and speed – those are the reasons why I chose Rene Herse centerpull brakes for my new bike.

Further reading:

* Rather than get into a competition for the lightest (meaning: thinnest) brake pads, we weigh our brakes without pads. That way, we can use thick brake pads that last three times as long as the thin pads of most modern brakes. If you want ultralight pads, you can cut them down (or run well-used pads).

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Why Only Black Tread?

Autumn means colder temperatures and rainy weather, here in the Cascade Mountains and in many parts of the world. More than ever, the grip of our tires is on our minds. Why do all Rene Herse tires have black tread? Colorful treads can look nice, but black rubber offers the best grip.

That is one reason why all car tires today are black. In the early days of motoring, tires were made from natural rubber, which is white or gray. (That is why the famous Michelin man is white…) By the 1910s, it was becoming apparent that white rubber didn’t last well, and tire makers discovered that adding carbon black to the rubber made it last much longer. As a positive side effect, it increased the tire’s grip, too – and it made the tires black. Even today, you can get car tires in many colors, but they are considered a novelty and not intended for daily use, much less for performance driving.

It may come as a surprise that the color of rubber and plastic affects many other properties, too. For example, gray resins are stronger than black or colored varieties. That is why the frames of Berthoud saddles are gray. With rubber, blue appears to be the least durable – which is why the blue hoods for old Mafac brake levers are almost unfindable today. And red backpacks fade far more quickly than other colors…

The reason is simple: Colors are additives, and often, surprisingly large amounts of the colorants are needed to create the color. This often changes the physical properties of the raw material. The black color of tires works the opposite way: Carbon black is an additive chosen for its performance-enhancing properties, and it just happened to change the color to black.

Before we made our Rene Herse tires, we rode tires from many makers. When I was racing in the 1990s, Vittoria introduced their ‘Professional All Weather’ model with softer green rubber on the shoulders. This was supposed to be grippier when leaning the bike into wet corners. It seemed like the perfect tire for Seattle’s infamous rainy season.

We tried the ‘All Weathers,’ and immediately scared ourselves: They seemed to grip fine at first, while we were still riding on the black center tread. Leaning further, grip was lost very suddenly as we transitioned to the green rubber. Then TOUR magazine did one of their famous tire tests. They measured tire grip on wet roads and confirmed that the ‘All Weather’ was less grippy than Vittoria’s standard, all-black tires! We never found out what the Italians were thinking when they developed these tires. I recall a big marketing push with all kinds of colors around that time, but it didn’t last long. Today, all Vittoria tires have black tread again.

Later, we imported the first supple, wide 650B tires from Japan. Made to resemble classic French rubber, the first model was available only in red and white. We loved the supple casings, but we found that in the wet, the white version was noticeably lacking in traction. Riding the red model, we also felt the grip bleed away earlier than we expected. We requested a special run of tires with black tread, and those gripped much better.

Of course, black tread alone isn’t a guarantee for excellent traction. I recall one tire from a small company that would spin when accelerating from a stop on cold, wet (but clean) pavement. Clearly, not all rubber is made equal.

When we first talked to the engineers at the tire factory in Japan about the tires we wanted to make, they showed us many beautiful colors. There was a very attractive tea green… When we asked about the performance, the engineers left no doubt: “Black has the best grip.” What about the colored treads? “It’s all about fashion. It allows small companies to offer tires that are different from the mainstream.”

There is nothing wrong with fashion, but for us, performance is more important. On the steep, twisty descents of the Cascade Mountains, we need tires that grip. And fortunately, Panaracer’s top-level tread rubber is among the grippiest you’ll find anywhere.

Of course, there is much more to making a tire grip than just the tread compound. Our herringbone tread pattern has many ribs that interlock with the road surface. When we tested the herringbone tread back-to-back with slick tires, the difference was very noticeable. A supple casing also grips better because it keeps its tread in contact with the road surface. A stiffer tire will bounce more and have less traction. For our Rene Herse tires, we’ve optimized all these parameters to offer you tires with more grip than just about any other tire – on dry and wet roads.

Even with the best tires, riding in Autumn and Winter requires extra caution. There are many factors that decrease traction when it’s wet and/or cold:

  • Cold rubber is less grippy – your traction is reduced when the temperature drops. This is quite significant, especially once the temperature drops below 10°C (50°F).
  • On wet roads, tread patterns that interlock with the road surface offer the greatest benefits. With the right tires, you can lean quite far into corners (top photo) – if the asphalt is clean.
  • After the first rain, the water mixes with dust, oil and other airborne pollution to form a very slippery surface layer. Use extreme caution when it hasn’t rained in a long time.
  • Your tires stay wet for a while after you ride through water. Remember this when you cross a wet patch on the road: Your tires may still be wet in the next corner, even if the road surface there is dry.
  • Painted traffic markings on the asphalt can be very slippery in the wet. Metal surfaces – grates, manhole covers, railroad tracks, plates covering trenches at construction sites – are even worse. Avoid them if you can. If you must ride over them, straighten your bike before you reach them, so you aren’t leaning while you are on the slippery surface.
  • Scan the road for shiny oil that has dripped from cars with leaky crankcases.
  • Tire sealants that use latex – which means most brands – won’t seal when it’s cold. (Latex doesn’t cure well when it’s colder than 10°C/50°F.)
  • Snow and ice require special considerations.

We enjoy riding our bikes year-round, so we’ve developed components that perform well in wet and cold conditions, not just when it’s dry and warm. With the right equipment and skills, riding in all weather can be safe and enjoyable.

Further reading:

P.S.: I apologize for re-using the same opening photo. There aren’t many that show us cornering hard in the rain – when it’s wet and cold, we prefer keep going to stay warm, rather than stop for photos!

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Rene Herse Fenders in Black

In the northern hemisphere, we are moving into the season where we need good fenders: They can make the difference between enjoying the ride and enduring it. The Pacific Northwest, where we live and ride, is known for its long rainy season. We cycle year-round, so it’s natural that we obsess about fenders.

We’re excited to offer our all our Rene Herse fenders in black: smooth, fluted and hammered, in 700C, 650B and 26″ sizes. In the past, black fenders were prone to scratching. The silver aluminum showed through the paint, making the fenders unsightly. Now Honjo, who makes our Rene Herse fenders, has improved the manufacturing process: The black coating is much more durable. We had been waiting for this, and now we offer all our fenders models in black as well as the classic polished aluminum.

The photos show prototypes on the bikes of our Paris-Brest-Paris team. They still were equipped with silver stays, but now we have black stays in stock to match the fenders.

With the right fenders, riding in the rain can be fun. Once you eliminate the spray from the road, you realize: There isn’t that much water falling from the sky. It’s the deluge spraying up from the road onto your feet, legs and backside that can make cycling in the rain so miserable. Your backside is easy to protect – even the most basic clip-on fenders do that. However, most fenders do little to protect your feet and legs.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYiHMPNtJyU&feature=youtu.be?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

Aluminum fenders work much better than plastic ones: They wrap further around the tire, and the rolled edges keep the water inside, rather than having it drip onto your feet. Both fender blades and stays are stiffer, so the fenders are quiet even when you ride over rough roads. Mounted correctly, they last for decades of hard use. (We provide detailed, illustrated installation instructions with our Rene Herse fenders.)

Honjo in Japan make the best fenders in the world. We’ve worked with them to spec our Rene Herse fenders for the ultimate performance. Our front and rear fenders are longer than usual to provide better coverage. This greatly reduces the spray that goes onto your feet, your legs, and your drivetrain.

We use our own hardware to attach the fender stays. Our 7 mm bolts are only as long as necessary, so they don’t stick into the fender, where they can catch debris. The nuts with their built-in serrated washer make sure your stays remain tight. Small details like this add up to create fenders that you can install and forget – until you are hit by a rainstorm, and you realize that being cold and miserable isn’t a necessity.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’re all about performance. Our fenders are already among the lightest in the world – much lighter than most plastic fenders (which use heavy steel stays). If you really care about weight, we offer tubular aluminum stays that save another 35 g without any loss in strength. The tubular stays are now available in black, too.

To mount your front fender noise-free and safely, we strongly recommend a third attachment point in front of the fork crown. Rene Herse racks have an integrated fender mount. For rack-less bikes, we offer individual stays and hardware so you can install your fenders properly without having to buy multiple fender sets to get all the hardware you need.

Honjo recently introduced a fender reinforcement. It goes under the seatstay bridge, where it distributes the stress. It’s patterned after the reinforcement that Rene Herse used on many of his bikes.

Even without the reinforcement, well-made and properly mounted aluminum fenders last as long as the bikes they are mounted to. Most Rene Herses made in the 1940s and 1950s still wear their original fenders – and many of them have been ridden hard.

Further reading:

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How Fast are Rene Herse Tires?

How fast are our tires? We know that the casing, and not the width, determines a tire’s speed. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris on 42 mm-wide tires (above), I knew that I wasn’t giving up any speed over narrower rubber. But in absolute terms, how fast are our Rene Herse tires?

Manufacturers’ claims always are taken with a grain of salt… So let’s look at two independent tests of our tires. They still list the old ‘Compass’ name, but the tires tested were the same as the current Rene Herse models.

The respected German magazine TOUR found our Bon Jon Pass as one of the five fastest tires they’ve ever tested. TOUR tested the Standard model. The much more supple and speedy Extralight would have fared even better.

TOUR’s test rig is a pendulum that rolls the tires back and forth. The longer the pendulum swings, the lower the rolling resistance.

Like all tests that don’t include a rider, this test measures only losses due to deformation of the tire (hysteretic losses). In the real world, there are also suspension losses as vibrations are absorbed by the bike and the rider. Wide tires vibrate less than narrow ones, so they tend to roll even faster than these tests suggest.

In any case, the result is clear: In TOUR’s test, the Bon Jon Pass is one of the fastest tires in the world, closely matching the best racing tires. Being 9-12 mm wider than the racing tires doesn’t make the Bon Jon Pass any slower.

What’s the best gravel tire? – 10 models in comparison

How about comparing our tires to other wide tires? Gran Fondo magazine recently tested ten popular gravel tires. Rolling resistance (and puncture resistance) were tested by Schwalbe’s engineers in the company’s test lab.

Our Barlow Pass Extralight had the lowest rolling resistance (red bar) of all tires in the test. (100% is the best in the test.)

The engineers at TOUR and Schwalbe are among the most respected in the cycling world. Their tests show that our casings are among the most supple, and roll as fast or faster than the best tires in the world.

On real roads, the advantage of supple tires is even greater: Not only do they absorb less energy as they flex, they also vibrate less. And that reduces the suspension losses. Both effects work in tandem: Supple tires have less tire deformation and less vibration. As a result, the greater speed of supple, wide tires becomes very noticeable when you ride on real roads. When you try different tires back-to-back, you realize that tires are the biggest performance upgrade you can make to your bike.

A little more about the Gran Fondo test: The testers were impressed by the “superb levels of comfort” of the Barlow Pass and called it “almost as nice as flying.” They also were surprised how much grip the supple tires offered on gravel and dry dirt roads. Of course, reading that makes us happy, even if it just confirms what we’ve found in our own testing.

Further reading:

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Contact Points Matter: Saddles

When I built my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris, I was reminded of professional racers in the old days, who brought their favorite saddle and handlebars to the builder of their new bike. I’ve talked about handlebars here; today, I’ll cover saddles as the second contact point between us and our bikes.

For my new bike, I did what the pros used to do: I installed my favorite saddle, which has moved from one Bicycle Quarterly test bike to the next. It’s well-worn, which is why it is so comfortable: I had no saddle issues during the 56:35 hours of Paris-Brest-Paris.

Leather saddles change their shape over time: They conform to your anatomy as you ride. In my case, two dimples form where my sitbones go (above). Plastic saddles don’t have these indentations (or whatever your anatomy requires), so they use foam that temporarily conforms to your body’s shape. But the foam always pushes back, which creates pressure points that can cause pain, abrasions and saddle sores.

If you ride super-fast and only for relatively short periods, you barely touch your saddle, and most saddles will work fine. Once distances get longer, even the fastest racers care about their saddles. Ted King has been riding a Berthoud saddle in events like the 200-mile Dirty Kanza (above). He called it the “most comfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden.”

We started importing Berthoud saddles because we agree with Ted: Even among leather saddles, the Berthouds stand out for their comfort and quality. Not only is the leather absolutely top-notch, but the composite frame flexes a little, which improves the comfort further. (The metal frames of traditional leather saddles are unyielding and stiff.)

Berthoud saddles are available with a choice of stainless steel or titanium rails. The ti rails don’t just save weight: They are more flexible, making the saddles even more comfortable. Choosing your saddle is only partially about your body shape. More important is your riding style: When you pedal hard and your back is inclined at a low angle, you hardly touch the saddle, and you need a narrow saddle that fits between your legs. If you are riding longer distances and sit more upright, you put more weight on your sitbones, and you need a (slightly) wider saddle.

New in the Rene Herse program is the Soulor (above), which combines the minimalist, narrow shape of the superlight Galibier with more affordable stainless steel rails. Both the Soulor and the Galibier are a great choice for spirited riding. I’ve used the Galibier on a number of BQ test bikes, as well as the Concours de Machines J. P. Weigle.

For long rides, I prefer the Aravis (titanium rails) and Aspin (stainless), which have a slightly wider back and taller flanks that hold their shape a little better. That is the saddle I use on my new bike: Being comfortable is key for putting out power and riding fast.

The Agnel (titanium) and Marie-Blanque (stainless) are women’s saddles with shorter noses. However, some women prefer the standard Aravis/Aspin, since their longer rails offer better shock absorption. (The shorter nose of women’s saddles apparently was introduced to allow riding in skirts…)

Berthoud’s ‘Open’ models have a cutout that relieves pressure. For riders who suffer from saddle problems in this area, the ‘Open’ saddles are a great choice. (For me, both styles work equally well.)

Many customers ask how long it takes to break in a Berthoud saddle. This depends mostly on how old the leather is. If the saddle was made years ago and has been lying in a warehouse ever since, the leather will have dried out, and the break-in period will be much longer. When you hear stories of leather saddles taking forever to break in, they usually came from such old stocks.

We order our Berthoud saddles in small batches, so you are certain to get a fresh saddle. In my experience, it takes 150-200 miles (240-320 km) for a standard Berthoud saddle to become comfortable. The saddle will continue to improve over the following 500 or so miles (800 km). At that point, its condition will stabilize, and it will last many years. The ‘Open’ saddles are more flexible and break in more quickly.

Don’t try to speed the break-in period by applying neatsfoot oil or other products that soften the leather by breaking down its fibers.

If you want to soften the leather a bit, you can apply Obenauf’s leather preservative (above), which uses beeswax and natural propolis to soften the leather without damaging its fibers. Obenauf’s also great for keeping your leather saddle in perfect shape for many years.

How long does a Berthoud saddle last? I am still riding one of the prototype saddles that Berthoud made in 2007. It’s on my Urban Bike (above) that sees year-round use in rainy Seattle. The saddle on my new Herse has been through many adventures, too, yet it was supremely comfortable during the 1200 km (765 miles) of last month’s Paris-Brest-Paris.

And if your saddle does wear out eventually, it’s easy to replace the leather top. We have all replacement tops in stock, and you just need a Torx wrench to take off the old top and install a new one. All other spare parts are available as well, so your Berthoud saddle is fully rebuildable.

But really, you have to ride a Berthoud saddle to understand why we like them so much!

Click here for more information about Berthoud saddles.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 2), Nicholas Joly (Photos 8, 13).

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New Sealant for Rene Herse Tires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information:

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Rene Herse 700C x 44 with Endurance Casing

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

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

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

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

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

Others had similar experiences. One customer wrote:

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

Another racer commented:

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more information about our Rene Herse tires.

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

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Back in Stock: SON Generator Hubs and Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1).

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Why Square Taper Bottom Brackets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tune Your Tires!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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Oregon Outback: the event that changed all-road bikes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Wetmore had a 26″ bike that fit tires this wide, his Travel Gifford. We borrowed it and installed the new tires. If you look carefully, you can still see where the knobs were on the prototype tire above. It’s hard to describe our excitement: We were about to try something completely new.
enduro_allroad_cobbles
Then we started testing the new tires. On gravel, the 54 mm-wide tires were amazing. The bike just cruised over stuff that would have meant serious ‘underbiking’ on 42 mm tires. It was fun!
enduro_allroad_web1
What surprised us even more was the new tires’ performance on pavement. The grip was just incredible, both because there was so much rubber on the road and because the soft, supple tires no longer skipped over bumps. On this difficult descent in Leschi, you usually have to be cautious and brake for the bumpy turns. With the new tires, we pedaled as hard as we could, yet we weren’t able to reach the limits of grip. Did I say the testing was fun?

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

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

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

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

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New Tires: Hurricane Ridge and Endurance Casings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What makes a tire corner well?


Like many cyclists, we love climbs, but we live for twisty downhills. The feeling of the bike leaning deep into a turn is something that is hard to explain, yet easy to enjoy.
[youtube https://youtu.be/mvGv9IEiDzY?rel=0&w=640&h=360]
This video clip was taken on a short descent toward Lake Washington. We know this road well, and even though we aren’t taking any risks, it’s always fun.
Obviously, one key component in making descents fun and safe are good tires. What makes a tire corner well? Here are some factors that determine cornering grip on pavement.

Most important is a round profile. That way, the tire’s behavior is always the same, no matter how far you lean the bike.
Some older tires were taller in the center – I believe the idea was that you’d roll on a narrower portion of the tire, which was thought to be faster. This caused strange transitions as the effective radius of the tire changed as you leaned the bike. Some tires have a squared-off profile. That is even worse, as amount of rubber on the road decreases dramatically as you lean the bike into the corner. Fortunately, most ‘road’ tires today are round.

Next in the order of importance is the rubber compound. A grippy rubber compound will make the tire stick better to the road surface.
In the past, we had to choose between grippy rubber that wore out quickly, or durable tires that provided heart-stopping moments when they suddenly lost traction and skipped sideways.
Today, the best rubber compounds combine excellent grip with long life, giving us the best of both worlds.

The width of the tire is also very important. More rubber on the road provides more grip – that is why racing motorbikes use wide tires.
On bicycles, there are two reasons why wider tires grip better. They run at lower pressures. This allows them to stay in contact with the road surface better. When a narrow tire skips over a bump, it loses traction. The suppleness of the casing plays a role, too: A tire that absorbs bumps better also has more traction.
Reason 2 why wide tires have more grip: The tread rubber interlocks with the irregularities of the road surface. A wider tires can interlock with more surface irregularities, so it has more grip. (No. 2 appears to be the main reason why racing motorbikes have wide tires.)

Tread patterns also contribute to the grip of a tire, or reduce it. Micro-knobs that squirm under cornering loads should be avoided. The most grippy treads are designed to provide as many interlocking edges as possible. This is especially important on wet roads, where the pure friction between rubber and asphalt is much reduced. But you’ll notice the effect even in dry corners.
Why do racing motorbikes use slick tires? Motorbikes are too heavy and too powerful to use fine ribs – they’d wear off immediately. Instead, they use very soft rubber compounds. The heavy weight and high speed of the motorbike pushes the tire into the road, thus creating the interlock with the road surface. The downside is that racing motorbike tires wear out very quickly.

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

Temperature is important, too. Rubber becomes more sticky when it’s warm. On a cold day, the grip from your tires will be much reduced – even if you don’t run into ice.
Racing motorbikes warm up their tires for optimum grip, but cyclists are too light to generate significant heat when cornering.

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

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

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The long road to dual-purpose knobbies


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson (Photo 1).

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Berthoud Bags in Black-on-Black


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UD Racks: a modular system for canti and disc bikes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Safety Advice: Non-Standard Rims and Rene Herse Tires


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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48/33 Rings for Rene Herse Cranks


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Juniper Ridge 650B x 48 is here!

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

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Ted King: Gravel Racing on Rene Herse Tires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back in Stock and New: Framebuilding Parts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Longer cranks should be stronger


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tubeless tires have eliminated the risk of pinch flats. For riding in really rough terrain, they are a game changer. But like all new technologies, it’s taken some trial-and-error until we figured out how to run bicycle tires tubeless.
Of course, tubeless tires are nothing new. Car tires have been tubeless for decades, but translating that technology to much more flexible and lighter bicycle tires has not been easy. (We don’t want to ride on rubber that’s as stiff and heavy as car tires!) Modern bicycle tires fall into two groups:

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

Key to mounting tubeless tires is the right technique. This is especially important with supple tires. Stiff tires mount easily – just like car tires – because their casing is so stiff that it either touches the rim walls and seals, or it doesn’t.
Supple casings make tires fast and comfortable because they flex easily. This means that they may contact the rim in a few places, and have air gaps in others – making them harder to mount and seal tubeless. They follow the general rule of high-performance components: The tolerances need to be a bit tighter, and working with them requires a little more skill.
It’s not hard to install supple tires tubeless, if you work methodically. Here is how I installed my Rene Herse Extralights tubeless while traveling in Japan, with no access to a workshop and just a few tools.

To mount a tire tubeless, here is what you need: a tubeless valve; a valve core tool; a syringe for injecting the tubeless sealant; sealant; a tire lever; an inner tube; a tubeless-compatible tire. Your rims also must be tubeless-compatible, and covered with tubeless rim tape. It’s good to have extra rim tape on hand.
You also need a pump to inflate the tire. A floor pump suffices, and in a pinch, you can get away with a frame pump. You do not need an air compressor. In fact, if you use an air compressor to make up for problems in tire/rim fit, your tire may blow off the rim later without warning.
For safe tubeless installation, a good fit between tire and rim is extremely important. Unfortunately, many OEM rims are slightly undersize, because that makes it easier to install tires in the bike assembly plants. (Imagine a rim that is slightly oversize. For a factory that needs to mount 10,000 tires a month, spending five extra minutes per tire would be a total disaster. That is why OEM rims tend to run small, and never should be larger than spec. OEM tires are installed with tubes, where a slightly undersize rim doesn’t pose a problem.)

If your tire goes on easily, the rim is undersized. Don’t try to install the tire. It may work fine at first, but it can blow off the rim without warning. If this happens in your workshop, it’s just a nuisance. If it happens on the road, the consequences can be far worse.
If your rim is undersize, it’s not the end of the world – there is a solution. Build up the rim bed with additional layers of rim tape. Some mechanics use Gorilla Tape for the extra layers – it’s a little thicker than standard tubeless tape. (Always use tubeless tape as the first layer on the rim to seal the spoke holes.) The tire should be a slightly tight fit. This makes sure that it seats correctly and doesn’t blow off the rim later.

When installing tires, make sure that the bead is in the rim well (above) all around before you lift the last part of the bead over the rim edge. The well is there to provide slack for the bead – the rim’s diameter is smaller in the center than toward the rim walls. With supple tires and tubeless rims, parts of the bead can end up on the shelf when you mount the tire. Push the bead into the rim well all around the tire – then the last bit of the bead will slip easily over the sidewall.
If you use a floor pump to seat the tire, install a tube first. This seats the beads and gives the tire its shape. Make sure both beads pop into place. Then unseat one bead (the one that popped into place first) by pushing it into the rim well, and remove the tube.

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the tire as it seats. On the left, the line molded into the tire sidewall is still hidden by the rim wall. The bead hasn’t emerged from the rim’s well yet. Keep pumping until you hear a loud ‘pop’ as the tire seats.
On the right, you can see all of the line that is molded into the sidewall. Make sure it’s parallel to the rim edge all around the tire. Check this on both sides. If it’s OK, then the tire is seated on the rim.
If the tire doesn’t seat, take it off, and add more rim tape to create a tighter fit and smaller air gaps. If you use an air compressor, the tire should seat easily. If you need huge blasts of air to seat the tire, then the rim is too small. Build up the rim with extra tape, rather than risk a blow-out in the future.

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

Turn the wheel so the valve is neither at the top nor at the bottom of the tire, where sealant would spray back out of the valve. Shake the sealant vigorously for a minute, so the solids are in suspension. Don’t skimp on this step! Otherwise, you’ll just inject colored water into the tire, and it won’t seal.
For our Rene Herse tires, we recommend Panaracer’s Seal Smart. It seems to seal the supple sidewalls better than other brands. When mounting the tires in the photos, I was in Japan, and Panaracer’s sealant had not yet been released. I couldn’t find our second choice, Orange Seal. So I used Stan’s. It worked fine.
Make sure to use enough sealant. Wide tires have a lot of surface area. To seal properly, you need about 90 ml (3 oz) – one to one-and-a-half of the bottles shown in the photo.

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

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

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

There are different techniques for distributing the sealant. I’ve found this one to work best, because it methodically works the sealant into every part of the tire and rim interface. Make sure you have enough room. Don’t hit the ceiling, furniture, or your head. (Don’t ask how I know!)
Hold the wheel steady (left), so the sealant collects at the bottom. Quickly move the wheel upward (center). Centrifugal force will keep the sealant right under the tire tread. Hold the wheel over your head (right), still slightly tilted away from you. Now the sealant runs downward, covers the sidewall, and seeps into the gap between tire and rim.
Rotate the wheel a few degrees and repeat. (Start with the valve at the bottom, so you have a reference point.) Once you’ve worked all the way around the tire, turn the wheel around, and repeat on the other side. Now your tire is ready to ride. Riding it immediately will help distribute the sealant further.
If your tire loses air overnight, check it like a leaky inner tube. Often, you can hear and feel the air escape. Hold the tire so that gravity pulls the sealant into the leak. If it doesn’t seal, there may not be enough sealant in the tire.

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

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

Click here for more information about Rene Herse tires.

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All-Road Bikes are the Road Bikes of the Future


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Pre-orders will close on January 15 at midnight, Pacific Time.
  • Bag includes aluminum stiffener.
  • Available in three sizes: GB22, GB25 and GB28, with gray fabric
  • Bags will be delivered in March.
  • Click here to pre-order ultra-light bag.
  • Peter Weigle’s ultralight bike for the Concours de Machines
  • Click here for more information about all Gilles Berthoud bags.
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Myth 16: Higher Tire Pressure is Faster


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

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

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What Makes a Good Winter Tire?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tire Fit Gauge


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

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

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

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

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

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Back in Stock: Knickers and Handlebars


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 Rene Herse® is a registered trademark.

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Why Supple Tires Run at Higher Pressures


One of the benefits of wide tires is that they run at lower pressures. Yet the supple casings of our Rene Herse tires require higher pressure to corner well and not bottom out on big bumps. Doesn’t the higher pressure negate the benefits of wider tires?

Think of the tire casing and the air inside as two separate springs. Let’s call them the rubber spring and the air spring. Both work together to support the weight of the rider. How you distribute the load between the two springs changes with a supple tire: Less rubber requires more air. And vice versa.

When you inflate your tire, you are aiming for a tire drop of about 15-20%. (Tire drop is how much the tire deforms under the rider’s weight.) Whether you use rubber or air as the spring doesn’t change how much the tire deflects. What changes is how the tire behaves as it flexes.


On tires with stiff casings, you use rubber as your suspension, and you need little air. The extreme are airless tires like those found on dock-less bikeshares. They use only rubber and foam to support the bike and rider. However, rubber has a lot of hysteresis, so it consumes a lot of energy as it flexes. That is why stiff tires are slow.

A tire with a supple casing (above) relies mostly on air to support the weight of bike and rider. Air has almost no hysteresis: Little energy is lost as the tire flexes. That is part of the secret behind the speed of supple tires.


A supple tire is more comfortable, too. The thinner casing has less inertia and requires less energy to flex, so it can react more quickly to surface irregularities. A supple tire absorbs the vibrations, while a stiff tire transmits them to the bike and rider. And since vibrations slow you down, that makes the supple tire faster, too.

So you gain speed twice: the thinner casing absorbs less energy (smaller hysteretic losses) and it transmits fewer vibrations (smaller suspension losses). Talk about a win-win situation!


It’s important to remember that supple tires need more air to hold up your bike. After all, you’ve reduced the spring rate (stiffness) of the rubber spring, and you need to make up for this by increasing the spring rate of the air spring. If you run your supple tires at the same pressure as stiffer ones, you risk having the sidewalls collapse during hard cornering. And that can be dangerous.

Put in a little more air, and you’ll find that supple tires offer more grip than stiff ones: The supple casing reacts better to surface irregularities and thus keeps the tire in better contact with the road.


There is no need to go back to the days when we inflated our tires to the maximum indicated on the sidewall. Use Bicycle Quarterly’s tire pressure chart (above) as a starting point, and experiment from there.

Remember that the chart lists the weight per wheel, not for the entire bike. I apologize that the chart stops at 37 mm – when Frank Berto measured the tire drop of dozens of tires, 37 mm was the widest road tire he could find!


On gravel and in mud, there is less traction, and thus the forces on the tire are lower. The tires won’t collapse even if you run very low pressures. On soft surfaces, you get more traction, more comfort and more speed at those low pressures.

Generally, I run about 10-20% less air in my tires on gravel than I do on pavement. You don’t want to run a pressure that is too low – it flexes the tire sidewalls excessively, which robs power and ultimately breaks the fine threads that make up the casing. And of course, you don’t want to bottom out except on rare occasions, even when running tubeless tires.

Finding the right tire pressure takes some experimenting. If the tire feels too stiff, let out some air. If you feel the tire folding under the rim as you corner, add some pressure. Also remember that the gauges on bicycle floor pumps are notoriously inaccurate, so if you pump up your tires to the pressures from the chart and your bike doesn’t feel right, trust your feel rather than your gauge.

Conclusion: Even though supple tires run at higher pressures, they are faster, more comfortable and grip better than tires with stiff casings. The ‘correct’ tire pressure should have some margin of safety above the point where the tire collapses during hard cornering.

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New from Gilles Berthoud: Universal and Tool Bags, Mirrors


We are excited to add a few great products from Gilles Berthoud to the Compass program. The Small Universal Bag (above) is really neat: It holds a lightweight rain jacket, wallet, inner tube and a few other things. It’s incredibly versatile: Use it as a saddlebag (above) or hang it from your handlebars. Tandem stokers love this bag, because it fits neatly on a tandem’s rear handlebars, too.

Or attach the Small Universal Bag to a front or rear rack. You can put it on the racktop, or hang it on the side like a mini-pannier. There is even a leather piece on one end that slips over the backstop of a front rack. The Small Universal Bag fits perfectly on the Compass UD-1 rack. It needs a platform that is at least 17 cm long, and the backstop should be no wider than 50 mm. (It can be used without attaching to the backstop, too.)

Under the flap is a zipper, so it’s safe to carry keys and a wallet – nothing will fall out. The Small Universal Bag is a great bag for which you’ll find many uses.

A slightly smaller, superlight option is the Bottle Cage/Saddle Tool Bag. It’s a great way to carry inner tubes and other necessities in a bottle cage – much nicer and more secure than the cut-off water bottle I’ve used for this purpose in the past. It fits perfectly into Nitto’s T Cage (above)…

… but it also can be attached to most other cages with a toestrap. Or carry the bag under your saddle. Made from the same ultra-strong cotton canvas and leather edging as the other Gilles Berthoud luggage, these bags last (almost) forever. The canvas swells when it gets wet on the outside, making the bags mostly waterproof. Made from natural materials, they acquire a beautiful patina as you use them.
Still speaking of bags, we’ve noticed that the leather straps on the large Berthoud panniers were a little thin. They work fine, but after 10 years of hard use, I had to replace mine on one set of panniers. So we asked Berthoud to make extra-strong straps from thicker leather for us.

Gilles Berthoud’s mirrors are beautifully made from aluminum. We’ve had the first version for a while, but it didn’t adjust quite far enough for long-reach handlebars that are tilted upward a bit. The new Mk II version adjusts over a wide range and fits all road handlebars (inner diameter ~20 mm).

The mirrors are available in silver and black…

… and with a leather insert to match Berthoud’s saddles and handlebar tape. The leather mirrors come with a second, matching bar plug.
All these products are in stock now. Click on the links below for more information:

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Why We Don't Do OEM


Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a complete bike that is already equipped with Compass tires? Take a bike like the Masi Speciale Randonneur (above), roll out of the bike shop and into the hills, your tires gently humming as they roll over the rough pavement. When the road turns to gravel, the feel of the bike changes on the loose surface, but its speed and comfort remain the same.
We get a fair number of requests from bike manufacturers who want to install Compass tires as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts. It seems like an opportunity for Compass: Once riders have experienced the joys of riding on supple tires, they won’t return to stiffer, harsher, slower tires. So why don’t we do OEM sales?

The answer is simple: Cost. Compass tires use the highest-grade materials, from the fabric for the casing to the rubber for the tread. They are made by hand, which requires skilled, experienced labor. Compass tires are made in Japan, a country with high wages. All these factors increase our production costs.
At the consumer level, we (and other small makers of bicycle components) can compensate for the high cost with our low overhead. Big companies need a lot of money for administration, marketing, shareholder profits, etc. We eliminate most of those, and the final consumer price of a Compass tire isn’t much higher than that of a mass-produced tire.

OEM prices are low because the orders are large, and even big companies can significantly reduce their overhead. For small companies like Compass, there isn’t much overhead, and to compete at the OEM level, we’d have to reduce our production costs. We’d have to downgrade our specifications and move production to a low-wage country. That direction isn’t really where we want to take Compass Cycles.

Others have taken our ideas and made them ‘OEM-comptabile.’ At Compass Cycles, we welcome that bike makers now can spec affordable bikes with wide allroad tires. Bikes like the Surly Midnight Special (above) simply wouldn’t exist if there were no affordable OEM tires to ship them with from the factory. Similarly, Masi’s Kellen LeBlanc explained that their Speciale Randonneur was delayed for years until a lower-priced, wide 650B tire became available.
Now more and more cyclists experience the joys of all-road riding on wide rubber. In the past, we never saw another bike on our favorite routes in the Cascade foothills. Now we meet cyclists on almost every ride. Their smiles tell it all.
And in the future, our Compass tires (and other components) provide great upgrades that will make them fall in love with their bikes all over again.
More information:

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New Parts from SON


SON has introduced a few useful products that have us quite excited. First, there is the 12 mm Thru-Axle Adapter.

You may know the dilemma: As the days get shorter, you really want to equip your bike with generator lights, but you don’t want to invest in a hub that soon may be obsolete. Your current fork has quick release dropouts – with or without a disc brake – but your next bike probably will have a thru-axle.

Enter the adapter: Simply slide it into your thru-axle hub, and you’ve effectively converted it to a quick release. You can use it even on a rim-brake bike. And when the time comes, simply remove the adapter and install the hub in a new fork with a 12 mm thru-axle. This ingenious widget works not only with generator hubs, but with all thru-axle front hubs.
Traditionally, SON lights have connected to their generator hubs with two simple flat spade connectors. These connectors have been trouble-free, and if they ever loosen, they can be fixed by the roadside.
However, some cyclists remove their wheels frequently and prefer a simpler, more elegant connection. SON’s new coaxial adapter (above) has been engineered to provide reliable service for decades of hard use under the toughest conditions. That means that we finally don’t have to worry about electrical connectors any more – in the past, they were the most failure-prone parts of a randonneur bike. The adapter (top) plugs onto the spade terminals of the hub, and then you connect the light with the neat coaxial connector (bottom).

SON’s Edelux lights are available with the coaxial connectors pre-installed. The adapter for the hubs is included, too, so it’s a plug-and-play solution. (And if you ever feel you’ll want the spade connectors instead, they are easy to install.)

The new coaxial connectors are such a breakthrough that you’ll want to use them wherever you need to make removable electrical connections on your bike. That is why we offer them separately, as males, females and complete sets.

The last new product is for everybody who wants to charge cell phones, GPS and other devices while riding. It’s a simple splitter box that you wire into the lighting circuit, anywhere between the generator hub and the headlight. Plug in the included coaxial connector, and you are ready to charge. You can use whichever charger you prefer (not included). After you solder your connections, the box gets covered with heat-shrink tubing. Just make sure that you wire the splitter box so the socket points downward. Otherwise, water can run down the wire and into the connector, which won’t be so good in the long run.
All these new products are available now. Click here for more information.

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Rene Herse 11-speed Chainrings in New Sizes


Chainrings choice. It’s one of the main attractions of our Rene Herse cranks – together with light weight, supreme reliability and, dare we say it, good looks. So when we presented our first 11-speed chainrings, it was only a matter of time until the program was expanded. Now we are introducing our 42/26 and 44/28 chainrings, which complement the 46/30 rings already available in our program.
More than two years ago, we asked our chainring suppliers about 11-speed chainrings with shifting aids. Their answer was: “No problem. We can machine generic ramps into your rings and rivet in a few pins, too. We do that for many companies.”
But that was not what we had in mind: We didn’t want ramps and pins that are more cosmetic than functional, and don’t really help with shifting. As with all our parts, we wanted our 11-speed chainrings to equal the performance of the best in the business.
That was the start of our most ambitious R&D project to date. Since that first conversation, it has taken more than 2 years, hundreds of engineering hours, dozens of computer models, and thousands of testing miles.
As always, our first step was to research what others had done. It soon became obvious that only the very largest component makers have developed well-shifting ramps and pins. Understanding their thinking allowed us to come up with improvements and modifications that would make our rings work at least as well as theirs, while preserving the shape and interchangeability of our Rene Herse rings.
After we had developed our new chainrings in concept, we printed models on our 3D printer. These rings weren’t strong enough for riding, but they allowed us to visualize how our ideas work in practice.

Then came the big step: Commissioning prototype chainrings – easily recognizable by their unpolished surface. The complex shape of the teeth requires a 5-axis CNC machine, so we can’t make them in-house. As one-offs, they are very expensive, so we had to be sure of our design before we ordered them. Fortunately, they worked as well as we had predicted. I rode them for a few thousand kilometers last year, including in the Volcano High Pass Challenge and at the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. I’m happy to report that they really do perform as well as the best rings you can get from the big makers.
After we introduced the 46/30 rings, we continued developing the other sizes. Each ring is a separate project, and each ring is designed to work only with a single inner ring: The teeth of both rings must line up in a particular way to get a good shift. The pin must hit the chain in the middle of a link and not at the pivot, otherwise, it doesn’t really do much to lift the chain. And then the chain must mesh seamlessly with the teeth of the big ring. That part is actually the hardest. Most makers look at the problem from a static point of view, but to optimize the shifting, you need to consider that the chainring is spinning at 90-120 rpm. The downshifts require other parts of the chainrings to be relieved, so the chain can pass to the inside without having to climb over the teeth first. There is a lot to it, and much of it is a trade secret.
What happens if you use the new rings with different inner rings? Nothing bad, it’s just that the upshifts aren’t much better than without ramps and pins. During downshifts, you’ll still benefit from the optimized tooth profiles that allow the chain to move smoothly off the big ring. (With downshifts, the chain always lands on the small ring, so it’s not important to have a matched pair of chainrings.)
I’ve been testing the new sizes over the summer on some epic rides. I’ve really appreciated the smallest combo, the 42/26 during a solstice ride around Mount Hood in Oregon. I ride it like a 1×11 most of the time, but with smaller steps between the gears. And when I need a really small gear, I shift to the small ring.

Natsuko really likes the 44/28 combination, and she can’t wait to try the new rings on her C. S. Hirose. The 46/30 is perfect for fast road riding. I use that combination on my randonneur bike. We are excited to offer all these sizes with 11-speed compatible, smooth-shifting chainrings.

The new chainrings work equally well with 10- and 9-speed. They are designed to work with all shifting systems – STI, Ergopower, DualTap, but also bar-end and downtube shifters. There is only one thing to keep in mind: They are designed to work with Shimano’s Ultegra chain. The pins have to be designed with a specific chain in mind, and we found that the Shimano Ultegra chain works best. Use the Ultegra chain that is appropriate for the number of cogs you run, and you’ll enjoy the fastest, smoothest shifting you’ve ever experienced on a bike – while running chainring combinations that perfectly match your riding style. Coincidentally, the Ultegra chain shifts better on the rear, too, no matter which cassette and derailleur you use. (On my Firefly, rear shifts became a lot crisper with the Ultegra chain, even though the bike uses Campagnolo derailleurs and cassette.)

Many of you will like that we’ve made the chainrings backwards-compatible. If you have a set of Rene Herse cranks, you can just swap the large chainring for an 11-speed one. The rest of the crank is unchanged. It’s part of our commitment to sell you only what you need, rather than forcing you to buy a complete new crankset just because you want to upgrade to 11-speed.
The new chainrings are in stock now. And as with all René Herse cranks, we offer free world-wide shipping (on Rene Herse cranks and brakes only).
Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.

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Disc Brakes in the Tour de France


This year’s Tour de France has had its share of drama, and the winner won’t be the one most observers predicted. Among the sporting achievements, the technological innovation was easy to overlook: Finally, the UCI approved disc brakes, and the Tour is the first big stage race where they’ve been used.
Reading the previews of Tour bikes, it sounded like all racers would make the switch. Just in time for the big race, several big bike manufacturers rolled out new race bikes with disc brakes that approach the UCI-required minimum weight. With no weight penalty to speak of, adopting disc brakes seemed like a no-brainer.

After all, brakes are maybe the most important components of a racing bike. When Mafac introduced their first centerpull brakes in 1952 (above), it didn’t take long until almost all racers adopted them, so superior was their performance. It didn’t matter whether they rode for French, Italian or even the ‘International’ teams – braking hard before the corners was more important than allegiance to national sponsors. And when Campagnolo rolled out their sub-optimal ‘Delta’ brakes, racers refused to use them. Campy backpedaled and resurrected their old sidepulls in a hurry. With disc brakes being heralded as the most important innovation in decades, most expected shiny metal circles to appear on the hubs of the entire peloton.

And indeed, during the first stages, most teams rolled out on bikes with disc brakes (above the finish of Stage 5). Ironically, most of the disc brakes were on aero bikes used for flat stages, where brakes make no difference in the bike’s performance.

As the race continued, most racers quietly switched back to rim brakes. The yellow jersey contenders had used rim brakes from the beginning. Why?
The racers were concerned about flats. Through axles require extra time during wheel changes. Worse, the inevitable manufacturing tolerances change the alignment of the disc rotors on different wheels, even if the same model of hub is used. Unless the disc calipers are adjusted, the new wheel’s rotor will rub. (We realized this during our most recent tire tests, where we thought we could speed up the changes between different wheel sizes, but had to adjust the disc brake calipers after every run.)
BMC Racing found a work-around solution to the problem: When a rider flats, they don’t change wheels, but the entire bike. However, this also means they no longer can use neutral support. Most other teams weren’t willing to run that risk.

When the Tour entered the mountains, many observers expected the racers to switch back to disc brakes.

If disc brakes have an advantage, it’s on the vertiginous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees. Since racers have moved to wider tires with more grip, descents have become much more exciting, with higher speeds and more attacks than in the past. Braking is more important than ever. And yet, there was hardly a disc brake in sight.

What happened? I asked a former mechanic of the French national team. He indicated that the introduction of disc brakes was due to sponsors’ demands. With the big component and bike makers pushing discs, it was useful if pro racers used the new technology.
So why did the racers use rim brakes when their sponsors wanted them to use discs? If discs were superior, racers would have used them, especially in the mountains. After all, a real advantage on the many descents of this year’s Tour would have outweighed the relatively small risk of losing time due to a wheel change.
The answer is simple: Really good rim brakes stop just as well as even the best disc brakes. And many riders find that rim brakes offer superior feel: The brake lever is directly connected to the rim via a cable, rather than having the feedback dulled by the wind-up of the spokes and by hydraulic fluid. It’s refreshing that even today, where bike racing has become big business, winning races still is more important than pleasing sponsors.

In the future, I expect that the problems with wheel changes will be overcome by standardizing the disc location. A friend has already done this, using thin washers to make sure all his wheels fit all his bikes without adjusting the brakes. It’s a lot of work, and team mechanics will not be happy…
Rotors will also have to be standardized – currently, teams use both 140 and 160 mm on the front – to simplify neutral support. And then, the sponsors finally will be able to showcase bikes with disc brakes in the Tour. For now, it’s clear that disc brakes don’t offer a big advantage over the best rim brakes.

Back in 1952, it was different: Centerpull brakes swept through the pro peloton. With their pivots placed next to the rim, they offered greatly superior stopping power and modulation to previous brakes. In fact, the rim brakes that dominated the 2018 Tour de France use the same principle – only the actuation is different to eliminate the need for straddle cables and cable hangers.
Further reading:

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

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New Products and Back in Stock


We are excited about a number of new products. MKS has reworked their popular Sylvan pedals with silky smooth cartridge bearings. Now called the Sylvan Next, we’ve carried the Touring version for a while. New in the program is the Track pedal (above).
The new Track pedals are a great choice not just for track riders, but for all riding with cycling shoes and toeclips. The cut-away pedal body provides better cornering clearance and reduces the weight, while still offering full support for the shoe. Eddy Merckx used to race on track pedals because of these advantages.

What is the difference to the Touring version (above)? The platform of the Touring pedal is wider, so giving you the option of riding comfortably in street shoes, too. And since it’s double-sided, you can use it with or without toeclips. The Track pedal is easier to use with toeclips, since the flip tab at the bottom helps with rotating the pedal to insert your foot into the toeclip.

Both pedals are available in ‘EZY Superior’ Rinko versions, which allow removing the pedals in seconds without tools – great for travel bikes and for cyclists who ride one bike with multiple pedal systems. Removing the pedal couldn’t be simpler: Turn the ring on the adapter, push it inward, and the pedal releases.

Our Compass Switchback Hill 650B x 48 mm tires have been very popular, but until now, there were no fenders to go with them. We asked Honjo to custom-make their smooth 62 mm-wide fenders in a new XL version for us. With a larger radius, these fit perfectly over ultra-wide 650B tires (up to 50 mm wide).
To provide clearance for the chain with road cranks, fenders cannot get wider than this, so this fender does not wrap quite as far around the tire as our fenders for narrower tires. It still provides better spray protection and more tire clearance than any other fender we’ve tried.

Pacenti’s Brevet has become our most popular rim: strong, reasonably light and without the cracking problems that bedeviled many recent rims, it’s proven reliable and easy to build. It’s also tubeless compatible. We are excited to offer this excellent rim in new 700C versions, as well as the well-known 650B.

The HED Belgium Plus is one of the best modern 650B rims out there. It builds straight and the diameter is spot-on, making tubeless installations a snap. We’ve persuaded HED to keep it in production, and the rim-brake version now is back in stock. Disc brake rims will arrive soon.

Gilles Berthoud’s underseat bag is a great way to add carrying capacity to a bike that doesn’t have provisions for luggage. It holds a rain jacket, arm warmers, a wallet and some food in addition to spare tubes and tire levers. It’s made from the same waterproof cotton with leather edging as Berthoud’s famous handlebar bags that last (almost) forever.
We now carry these bags with a more secure leather buckle closure. The previous elastic has worked great for me, but since you won’t access a saddlebag while riding, the two-handed operation is no problem, and you no longer run the (admittedly small) risk that the elastic breaks, spilling the contents of the bag onto the road.

The Berthoud saddle bag attaches either with straps to the rails of your saddle, or with a KlickFix adapter directly to most Gilles Berthoud saddles (above).

Our handlebars combine modern materials with classic ergonomics. Their generous shapes provide room to roam during long days in the saddle. Now all sizes are back in stock.

The Compass taillight has been very popular. It combines a beautiful shape with modern electronics: a powerful LED and a standlight circuit so you remain visible when you stop. It incorporates a reflector. Mounted between the seatstays, it’s visible from where it matters, yet it’s well protected. Our taillights are made by a good friend right here in the U.S., and we’ve had a hard time making enough to keep up with demand. Now they’re back in stock.
Click on the images above for more information, or click here to check out the complete Compass Cycles program.

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How Wide is Right for Me?

open_corner
Our ideas of what is a performance bike have changed a lot in recent years! One of the most exciting bikes of the moment is the Open U.P. – a carbon race bike that accepts 50 mm-wide tires!
Not too long ago, every performance road bike had 700C x 23 mm tires. Now you have to choose not just how wide you want your tires to be, but – thanks to disc brakes – even which wheel size you want to use! For the Bicycle Quarterly test, we rode the Open with 650B x 48 mm tires, but our second tester, Nate King, raced his Open with 700C x 44 mm tires. Which is better? Or should you get several wheelsets for different courses? Is there a reason to switch tires and wheels on the same bike?
tire_test
Let’s first talk about some fundamentals: Wider tires don’t roll slower than narrow ones. Bicycle Quarterly‘s latest tire tests, published in the Winter 2016 issue (BQ 58), have shown this once again: In a real-road scenario, even 54 mm tires don’t roll slower than 32 mm – or any size in between. Before this, we already tested tires between 20 and 32 mm tires and found that the 20 mm and 23 mm were slowest, and all the others offered the same performance.
By the way, we tested at 22 mph, so this factors in the greater air resistance of the wider tires. It appears that wider tires have slightly lower rolling resistance, which cancels out the small increase in wind resistance. This means that at lower speeds, wider tires probably are faster than narrower ones. We tested on very smooth asphalt. On rougher roads, wider tires also are faster.
Yes, I know it’s not what we used to believe – we were quite surprised when we saw the results of our testing, but we’ve confirmed this time and again. And so have others in recent years.
To summarize all this research: Narrow tires (<25 mm) are slow. Above 25 mm, the width of your tires are won’t change your speed (at least up to 54 mm wide tires).

That doesn’t mean you can just slap any wide tires on your bike and expect it to go fast. What will change your speed is how supple your tires are: Tires with high-performance casings are faster, more comfortable and offer better traction, regardless of their width. If you choose heavy, reinforced ‘touring’ models when you switch to wider tires, you’ll likely to be disappointed – they’ll roll slower than racing tires because of their sturdy casings, not because of the extra width.
So we know that supple casings are key, and that width doesn’t matter. What size tires should we run then? Is wider always better? And what about wheel size?
open_paved_corner
Wider tires offer more cornering grip. This is true for racing cars and motorbikes as well as bicycles. On bicycles, there are two reasons for this: More rubber on the road gives you more traction. And wider tires are inflated to lower pressures, which means that they stay in contact with the road. If your tires don’t bounce over small irregularities in the pavement, they have even more traction than their width alone would suggest.
If you like to corner fast, you want the widest tires possible. Even on smooth pavement, the difference between 38 mm and 48 mm-wide tires is noticeable, and on rough surfaces or even gravel, it’s no contest.
WheelTest
Wheel size is another important consideration. The photo above shows three Bicycle Quarterly test bikes with identical geometries (head angle, trail, BB height, etc.), but different wheel sizes. What we found in that test: Wheel size greatly influence the handling of your bike. Larger wheels make the bike more stable, and so do heavier wheels – it’s the rotational inertia that matters, not the outer diameter.
Since wider tires are (slightly) heavier, you’ll want to decrease the wheel size to keep the rotational inertia – and thus the handling – the same. That means that your wheel size should be chosen based on your tire width and tire weight. That way, you can enjoy the nimble handling of a great racing bike even with wide tires.
Let’s a look at a few tire sizes that I enjoy riding, with their pluses and minuses:
ritchey_swissx
38 mm wide

  • To me, tires narrower than 38 mm don’t really make sense any longer. 38 mm tires still give you the “connected to the pavement” sensation that makes a racing bike feel so fast. Below 38 mm, all you gain is harshness. The bike doesn’t feel any better, just more jiggly.
  • 38 mm tires are great for pavement and occasional gravel riding.
  • To go with 38 mm tires, you have a choice of wheel sizes:
  • If you like the nimble handling of a racing bike, then choose 650B wheels for 38 mm tires.
  • If you prefer a bike that locks onto a cornering radius and won’t be deflected even if tense up in mid-corner, then use 700C wheels for 38 mm-wide tires.

hahn_shiretoko
42 – 44 mm wide

  • Adding 4 mm to the width of your tires gives you some added plushness – compared to 38 mm, you’ve increased the air volume by 22%.
  • In exchange for that added cush, you lose a little bit of connection to the road. To me, that isn’t a big loss, and I enjoy the greater traction and go-almost-anywhere capabilities of the wider tires.
  • For tires this wide, 650B is the optimal wheel size.
  • 42-44 mm tires are fine for most gravel riding. They have the advantage that good rim brakes (like our Compass centerpulls) fit over them – even with fenders. In fact, fender mounting becomes a compromise with tires wider than 44 mm (see below).

gravel_hairpin
48 – 54 mm wide

  • Now we are getting into some seriously wide tires for a road bike! A 54 mm tire holds twice as much air as a 38 mm tire.
  • Tires this wide change their feel depending on the pressure you run:
    • With the tires inflated to 38 psi (2.6 bar), our Open U.P. test bike felt like a road bike. The tires made more noise as they rolled over the pavement, but otherwise, the feel wasn’t all that different from narrower tires.
    • Letting out some air and reducing the pressure to 26 psi (1.8 bar) changed the bike completely. Now it was super-plush. The tires still had enough air so they wouldn’t collapse under hard cornering, but I could feel the ‘suspension’ when riding out of the saddle. At this pressure, the tires were ideal for rough gravel.
  • For tires this wide, I definitely recommend 650B wheels. With 700C rims, your bike will just plow straight ahead like a 29er mountain bike, and you’ll need suspension to absorb the bumps that you cannot steer around. On my Firefly (above), I went with 26″ wheels for a more agile handling. As a result, the bike feels remarkably similar to a good racing bike.
  • Fender mounting is an issue with tires this wide and road cranks: Ideally, a fender should be about 20 mm wider than the tire, but the chain will hit a fender that is wider than 62 mm when riding in the smallest gear! The solution is using a 62 mm fender that doesn’t wrap around the wheel very much and mount it a bit higher above the tire. It works, and we now offer a 650B fender specifically for 47-48 mm wide tires.

otaki_07
How about tires wider than 54 mm? That might be interesting, but you can’t really fit them between road cranks with narrow Q factor. 54 mm tires already are quite wide: They have the same air volume as 2.3″ mountain bike tires – it’s just that they don’t have knobs on the shoulders, so they measure out a bit narrower. Below is a comparison of the air volume of my three favorite tire sizes (to scale).
38-54-mm-tires
To summarize, if you want your bike to feel connected to the pavement like a good road bike, I recommend 650B x 38 mm tires. Compared to narrower tires, you get added comfort and speed on rough pavement, and more cornering traction, too.
I prefer a little extra rough-road performance and even better cornering traction, so for paved rides, my choice is 650B x 42 mm. You lose a little of the connection to the road, but during hard cornering, you actually get more, not less, feedback of how much traction you have in reserve, because the tires can really key into the pavement.
If my ride includes a lot of gravel, I’ll pick 650B x 48 mm or even 26″ x 54 mm. On pavement, the downside is that you get some tire roar – how much depends on the diameter of your bike’s frame tubes that provide the resonance chamber for the noise – and the tires’ feel is more sensitive to tire pressure. On the plus side, the traction in paved corners will blow your mind.

If you are using lightweight carbon rims and superlight tires, like our Compass Extralights, then it makes sense to go up one wheel size to compensate for the lighter weight. So for 38 – 43 mm tires, I’d recommend 700C wheels, and 44+ mm tires, I’d use 650B. Otherwise, your bike gets that ‘small-wheeled’ feel: The bike doesn’t hold its line on its own, but requires active input from the rider to go straight. It’s not a big deal, but we are talking about optimizing your bike here.

It seems that more and more riders are converging on these tire sizes: BQ‘s second tester for the Open U.P. recently received the latest model from his sponsors (above), and he spec’d it with 650B x 48 mm tires – like our test bike. And he tells us that he loves it!
With these suggestions as a starting point, I recommend test-riding a few bikes with different wheels and choosing the ones you like best.
Resources:

Photo credits: Toru Kanazaki (Photo 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 1, 3), Nate King (10).

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Road.cc Reviews the Compass Switchback Hill


Road.cc tested another Compass tire. After the Barlow Pass and the Steilacoom dual-purpose knobbies, they had a go with the Switchback Hill 650B x 48 Extralights. This time, they used a different tester, Dave Atkinson. He liked the tires just as much…
His conclusion echoes ours: “At a time when people are doing roll-down tests to see if it’s worth switching to 28mm tyres from 25s, my advice would be to skip a few sizes and fit a pair of these, if you can. They’re great.”
I smiled when I read that in group rides, he had “to remember to point out holes and other imperfections that you can glide over on 48s but might easily pinch-flat a 25.” I remember that from the days before my friends switched to wider tires, too…
His conclusion: “There really is no downside to a big tyre like this.” But rather than retell his story, just read his review for yourself!

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Myth 12: Disc Brakes Work Better Than Rim Brakes


To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found not to be true.

Disc brakes have become popular on allroad bikes for a variety of reasons. One of them is that they are perceived as offering superior braking. It seems to make sense – after all, disc brakes on cars and motorbikes revolutionized braking performance. Why wouldn’t they do the same on bicycles?

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Supple Trumps Wide

hahn_popocatepetlHigh-performance bicycles have changed tremendously in recent years. As one manufacturer said at last year’s Interbike: “In the past, everybody asked how much your bike weighed. Now all they want to know is how wide a tire it fits.”
Wide tires have revolutionized how we view performance bikes. In the past, you knew a rider was serious about going fast if his or her tires were narrow. Now it’s almost the opposite: The latest performance bikes have wider tires than many utility bikes (below).
utility_vs_enduro_allroad
This change has happened so quickly that the bike industry can hardly keep up. Just a few years ago, ‘gravel’ bikes had clearance for 32 mm tires. Now 48 mm tires are becoming the standard for ‘allroad’ bikes that are intended as much for pavement as for gravel.
As a result of this rapid change, many cyclists are on the fence when it comes to buying a new bike: Bicycle technology seems so much in flux right now that it seems prudent to wait and see how it all shakes out. Why not postpone a new bike purchase for a few years? By then, we should know exactly what a 21st century high-performance bike looks like.
jan_herse_gravel
Or should you just take the plunge and buy the bike of your dreams? After all, there is so much fun to be had. Will a 2018 bike be obsolete in just a few year’s time?
It’s difficult to predict the future, but what I can say is this: The bikes we enjoy most haven’t changed in the last decade. My René Herse (above) is seven years old, and yet, the only thing I’d do differently today is add low-rider racks and make it Rinko-compatible. The basic idea of what makes a great bike for paved and gravel roads hasn’t changed – it’s just that the mainstream bike industry has taken some time to catch up.

 
In practical terms, for normal road riding, 38-42 mm tires will serve you well. If you intend to ride mostly on gravel, look for clearances that allow 48-54 mm tires. It’s unlikely that these recommendations will change much in the future. Wider tires are almost impossible to fit without giving up the character and feel of a road bike: narrow Q factor, nimble handling, and light weight.

 
What if you aren’t ready to take the plunge? Fortunately, you don’t need a new bike to transform your riding. The science is undisputed: The benefits of the ‘wide tire revolution’ lie mostly in the supple casings. The extra width is just an added benefit.

In other words: A supple 28 mm tire will be faster and more comfortable than a 48 mm-wide ‘touring’ tire with a stiff casing. Especially if you ride mostly on pavement, you can experience 80% of the benefits simply by switching to supple high-performance tires in a size that fits your current bike.
diverge_blog
You’ll be amazed by the transformation. Our Specialized Diverge long-term test bike could handle only 32 mm-wide tires (with fenders). That didn’t lessen the fun when I took it on wonderful adventures, like the ride up the abandoned road to Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier (above).

I also enjoyed its speed and grip on smoother roads. Simply switching your tires buys you time while you decide what you want in your next bike. Only caveat: After riding supple high-performance tires, there is no going back. Once you’ve tried them, you’ll choose great tires for your next bike, too, no matter their width.
More information:

  • Compass tires in widths between 26 and 55 mm (26″, 650B, 700C)
  • Bicycle Quarterly 58 with our latest tire tests, which compare the performance of tires between 32 and 55 mm wide.
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A knobby faster than most road tires?


At Compass, we see little point in replicating what you already can buy from others. When we made our first knobby tires, we wanted true dual-purpose tires. Could the new knobbies match the on-pavement of good road tires, yet grip as well in mud as true cyclocross tires. Impossible? You’ll never find out unless you try…

After a few seasons of cyclocross, there is no doubt that the Compass Steilacoom (700C x 38 mm) and Pumpkin Ridge (650B x 42 mm) offer plenty of grip and shed mud well – as you’d expect from their widely spaced knobs.
How about their on-pavement performance? I’ll let others speak on that. Matt Surch, the well-known Canadian gravel racer, wrote: “I don’t understand how the tread rolls so fast and quiet… these are wild!”

When BQ tester Mark tried them, he wrote: “Once the wind drowned out the tire roar at high speed, I was thinking about how unremarkable the Steilacoom tires had rolled on the paved descent. I had pretty much forgotten that I was riding on knobbies.” Yet he was glad to have them when a road closure detoured us via a muddy trail (above).

And now Mike Stead tested a set of Steilacooms for www.road.cc. Among other adventures, he set two Strava records on these tires. One was for a gravel descent. His comment: “I wasn’t even pushing that hard. […] The Steilacooms make you a better, faster descender than you deserve to be.”
The second KOM surprised not just him, but us as well: He set a new record for a flat-out 60-second sprint – on pavement. He wrote: “Averaging 45 kph, the Steilacooms made an awesome high-pitched noise as I fanged along the straight. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I went back the next week and recorded exactly the same time to the second.”
Mike’s time on the Steilacooms was two seconds faster than the previous KOM record, which he had set on our Barlow Pass tires. Does that mean our knobbies are faster than our road tires? Not necessarily – there are too many variables – but it shows that they certainly aren’t much slower. And that is remarkable, considering that our road tires are among the fastest in the world.

In a future post, I’ll explain how we created a knobby that doesn’t ride like a knobby… until you hit mud or snow, when it behaves exactly like a knobby. But don’t take our word for it – read Mike Stead’s review.

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Compass Antelope Hill 700C x 55 mm Tires


We are proud to introduce our biggest tire yet, the much-anticipated 700C x 55 mm Antelope Hill. The new tires have arrived with the latest shipment and are now in stock.
Antelope Hill is the unofficial name of the last great climb of the iconic Oregon Outback, the 360-mile gravel race that traversed Oregon from the south to the north. Like many gravel rides, almost a third of the Outback route is on pavement, including Switchback Hill itself (above). The ideal tire for this and similar rides combines excellent speed on pavement with enough width to float on top of the gravel, rather than sink into the loose aggregate.

The new 700C Antelope Hill completes the trilogy of ultra-wide Compass allroad tires, which also includes the 650B Switchback Hill – named after the first big climb of the Oregon Outback – and the 26″ Rat Trap Pass.
Like most Compass tires, the Antelope Hill is available with our Standard casing and tan sidewalls (above). This is the more economical choice. Also, the sidewall is stronger to resist cuts better.
For the ultimate in performance, we recommend our Extralight casing, available in tan or black. This is the same ultra-supple casing found on top-level tubular tires. The Extralight isn’t just incredibly light for such a big tire (465 g) – the supple casing also improves its speed and comfort further. And thanks to the extra width and hence lower pressure, the Antelope Hill Extralights are strong enough even in rough terrain.
Experienced riders can use these tires on rough trails, but they are not intended as true mountain bike tires. The supple sidewalls aren’t stiff enough to climb out of ruts, and the casing can suffer cuts if it’s forced into sharp rocks. We mostly intend them for riders who enjoy their 29er mountain bikes on gravel and paved roads. Under those conditions, Compass allroad tires will transform your bike’s performance. You’ll want to ride it everywhere… We can’t wait to see where people are taking their Antelope Hills!
The Antelope Hills are available now. For more information or to order a set, click here.

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Myth 10: Stiffer Forks Steer Better


To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. This week, we have a ‘double feature’ that looks at fork blades. In the first post, we looked at whether they flex enough to improve comfort. Here we examine the belief that stiffer fork blades make the bike steer better. Continue Reading →

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How to Test Tire Performance


In the 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, one of our discoveries has been that testing bicycle performance isn’t easy, and that taking shortcuts often has led to erroneous conclusions.
Carefully designed tests that replicate what happens when real cyclists ride on real roads have allowed Bicycle Quarterly to debunk several myths. Certainly, the biggest change in our understanding of bicycles has been about tires.
Tires, more than anything else, change the performance, feel and comfort of your bike. We now know that fast tires can increase your on-the-road speed by 10% or more. But how do we know which tires are fast?
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Lab testing is the most common way to test tire performance, usually on a steel drum (above). In the past, these steel drums were smooth. Now the testers have added some texture to simulate the roughness of the road surface. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address the fundamental flaws of drum testing:
1. The curved drum pushes deep into the tire

Since the drum is convex, it pushes deep into the tire, unlike a real road, which is flat. The more supple the tire, the deeper the drum pushes. This makes the tire flex more, which absorbs more energy. That is why a stiff tire performs well on the drum, and a supple tire does not. We know that the opposite is the case on real roads.
rolling_resistance_pressure
Increasing the tire pressure also makes the tire harder, and so the drum won’t push as far into the tire. That is one reason why drum tests show higher pressures rolling much faster (above). According to this data, increasing your tire pressure from 60 to 120 psi (4.1 to 8.3 bar) reduces the resistance by 30%!

Bicycle Quarterly‘s real-road testing (above) has shown that the opposite is true, especially for supple tires: They roll slower at 100-120 psi than at lower pressures. (Higher power = slower.)

This problem with drum tests has been recognized for a long time. There is a way around this problem, but it’s very expensive: Make the drum so large that it’s barely convex. One of the best drum testing rigs is in Japan, and from what I’ve heard, it measures about 7 feet in diameter. That means it’ll push into the tire much less, and thus it won’t make stiff tires seem faster than they really are.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have efforts to measure tire performance on small-diameter rollers,  like those used for training. That will always be futile: Anybody who has ridden on rollers knows how high the resistance is, because the rollers push so deep into the tires. And if you want to increase the resistance further, you just let some air out of the tires…
Not surprisingly, tests on small-diameter rollers show the ultra-supple Compass ‘Extralight’ casing rolling not much faster than the ‘Standard’ version. On real roads, the performance difference between the two is quite noticeable.

TOUR magazine in Germany has designed a test rig that eliminates the problems associated with the convex drums: Two wheels carry weights that are off-center, so they rock the wheels like a pendulum. This test rig rolls back and forth on a flat surface. You could even use it to test on real roads. The longer the test rig rocks from side to side, the lower the tires’ rolling resistance.

This test showed the Compass Bon Jon Pass as the fourth-fastest tire they’ve ever tested. (‘Rollwiderstand’ means ‘rolling resistance;’ the dark bars are for ‘rough asphalt;’ the light ones for ‘smooth asphalt;’ to convert the pressure from bar to psi, multiply by 14.5)
It’s interesting to compare the same tires – Compass Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires (standard casing) vs. Continental 4000 S II in two tests:

  • www.bicyclerollingresistance.com tested on a steel drum:
    • Compass (6 bar / 90 psi): 15.8 W
    • Continental (7 bar / 100 psi): 12.9 W
    • Conti has 18% lower rolling resistance.
  • TOUR magazine used their rocking test rig:
    • Compass: 17 W
    • Continental: 17.5 W
    • Conti has 3% higher rolling resistance.
    • Compass is fourth-fastest of all tires TOUR tested (graphic above).

It’s clear that the drum test disadvantages a supple tire – the stiffer Conti performs much better. Adding to the confusion, www.bicyclerollingresistance.com gets lower resistance values than TOUR – it should be the other way around with the drum pushing into the tire.
There is another odd thing: TOUR shows the wider Compass tire in 4th place on the smooth road surface, but in 5th place on the rough surface, where it gets beaten by the narrower Conti rolling at higher pressure. That isn’t how it works in the real world, where the advantages of wider tires and lower pressures are greatest on rougher roads. That brings us to the second problem of these lab tests:
2. No rider on the bike
rumble_smooth
Without a rider, you have no significant suspension losses. Suspension losses are the energy that is absorbed when vibrations cause friction between the tissues of the rider’s body. Without a rider, there is nowhere to absorb the energy – steel weights don’t behave like human tissue.
Without suspension losses:

  • vibrations wouldn’t slow you down.
  • wider tires would be slower than narrow ones.
  • higher tire pressure would make your bike faster.

On the road, with a rider on board, all these statements are false – because suspension losses absorb energy, and reducing suspension losses is key to making a bike go faster. Understanding suspension losses has revolutionized our understanding of tire performance. It’s the underpinning of the ‘wide tire revolution.’

The lab tests described above are like a return to the last century, when we all ‘knew’ that narrow tires rolled faster because they could run at higher pressures. So we ran 19 mm tires (above) and inflated them rock-hard for optimum performance. That was long ago – when did you last see a short-reach racing brake with so much tire clearance?
Today, even professional racers run 25 mm tire at 80 psi. They have found that this is faster, no matter what the steel drum tests say. Racers have concluded: When tests don’t replicate the real world, they aren’t of much use.
At least TOUR‘s test rig gives us some indication about the energy absorption in the casing. It neglects one half of the equation – the suspension losses – but it’s useful if we understand its limitations. On the other hand, tests on small-diameter drums are just misleading – because if you design a tire to perform well in these drum tests, it’ll have a stiff casing and ultra-high pressures. And that means it won’t perform well on real roads.
A better lab test?

Is there a way to design a realistic lab test for tire performance? After all, Bicycle Quarterly‘s test procedures – testing only on totally calm days; when temperatures are constant; with a rider who has trained to keep the same position for lap after lap – are fine if you are doing scientific research. But they are not feasible for commercial applications, where you need to be able to just mount a tire on a wheel, take it to the lab, and get an immediate reading of its performance – without having to wait until the weather is right, the wind has died down, and the temperature is constant.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been thinking about this. Current drum tests load the tire with metal weights that don’t absorb much energy as they vibrate. Is there another material that behaves similar to a human body? ‘Ballistic gelatin’ is used to simulate gunshot wounds in human tissue. It closely simulates the density and viscosity of human tissue. Using a material like that to weigh down the wheel might simulate the suspension losses.
Suspension losses vary with speed (higher/lower vibration frequency), so TOUR‘s rocking rig probably would not work – it simply moves too slowly to replicate suspension losses at normal cycling speeds.
That brings us back to the steel drums. You’d have to make the drum huge to reduce the problems with the convex surface. The drum surface itself would have to be a true replica of actual pavement, not just a diamond tread. You’d probably want to map a bunch of road surfaces with a laser and then use EDM (electrical discharge machining) to engrave an ‘average’ road surface into the steel drum surface. You could make interchangeable plates covering the drum with several road surfaces that feature different roughnesses. And why not a gravel road, too?
Validation

To validate your test rig, you’d take a fast, a middling and a slow tire, and test them on the road, just like Bicycle Quarterly has done. If your drum test results match those on the real road, then you can be confident that they replicate real-world conditions.
Back to Real-Road Testing
tire_test
As you can see, making a useful test rig is a huge undertaking, which is probably why nobody has done it yet. For now, tire companies continue to develop their tires with the help of simple steel drum tests. That may be the reason why they don’t offer their supple high-performance models in truly wide versions: The steel drum tests indicate that you lose performance quickly as you run tires at lower pressures. And since supple, wide tires cannot support high pressures, steel drum tests suggest that wider tires should strong and not supple.
At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ll continue to test tires on real roads. To get good results, we can’t just put a power meter on a bike and go for a ride, then change the tires and repeat. We must keep the conditions the same for all tests. First, this means testing in a controlled setting, like a track. Second, we must control the variables tightly: test only on days with no wind and constant temperature, test each tire multiple times, and do a rigorous statistical analysis of the results.
The statistics are important, because there always will be some ‘noise’ – even in a lab test, because the tire warms up the longer you run it on the machines. The statistical analysis shows where you are recording real differences between tires and where you just see ‘noise.’
After more than a decade of testing tires under real-world conditions, we can say with certainty:

  • Supple casings, more than anything else, determine the performance of your tires.
  • Wider tires roll as fast as narrow ones on smooth surfaces, and faster on rough ones.
  • Higher tire pressures don’t make the bike faster.

There is little doubt about these findings any longer – they’ve become widely accepted, even though the lab tests still haven’t caught up to the new science. But for us as riders, what matters is how well our tires perform on real roads, not on a steel drum.
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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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Which Gilles Berthoud Saddle is Best for Me?

Rene Herse Cycles is the exclusive North American distributor for Gilles Berthoud. We are especially excited about their saddles, which combine amazing comfort with modern design and superior durability.


All Berthoud saddle tops are cut in the grain direction of the leather, which means that they won’t sag or become lopsided. Unfortunately, most other saddle makers try instead to get as may saddles as possible out of each cowhide. That often turns into a false economy when the saddles wear out prematurely.


Berthoud forms their saddle tops in CNC-machined molds to create a very consistent quality. With consistent leather grain and shape, it’s not the luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a bad one – they all are excellent.


The undercarriages are made from composite, which is more durable than steel and better at absorbing shocks. It’s one of the key reasons why these saddles are so comfortable.


The saddles are assembled with custom bolts rather than rivets, so they are easy to rebuild. Each saddle’s serial number is engraved on the nose bolt. Berthoud saddles come in three shapes for different riding styles:

The Galibier is Berthoud’s lightest saddle, weighing just 346 g thanks to its minimalist shape and titanium rails. It’s a great saddle for riders with a low, performance-oriented position, who prefer a relatively narrow saddle. That said, the Galibier is still a bit wider than modern ‘racing’ saddles for long-distance comfort. The same shape is available with more economical steel rails as the Soulor model.

The Aspin and Aravis have slightly wider rears, making them perfect for a more relaxed riding position. The Aspin has steel rails, while the Aravis’s titanium rails save 50 grams. The ti rails also add comfort, because titanium is more flexible than steel.

The Marie-Blanque (steel) and Agnel (ti) are women’s saddles with shorter noses than the other models. The names of Berthoud saddles are taken from mountain passes: Saddles with steel rails are named after cols in the Pyrenees, while titanium-railed saddles carry the names of passes in the Alps.

All Berthoud saddles – except the superlight Galibier – are also available in ‘Open’ versions with a cutout to relieve pressure. I usually don’t like saddles with cutouts, because the edges tend to chafe. I was surprised when I tried the Berthoud Open saddle: The shape of this cutout disappeared completely, and the saddle was comfortable from the first ride. If you are concerned about pressure, this is probably the most comfortable saddle you’ll ever find.

Why isn’t the Galibier available with a cutout? Its minimalist shape simply doesn’t have enough leather to remove material from the center without losing its strength.

All Berthoud saddles – except, once again, the Galibier – can be equipped with a KlickFix attachment to easily mount saddlebags, whether Berthoud’s or those from other manufacturers. Two screws attach the KlickFix attaches to the saddle frame, and the bag just klicks into it. This provides a stable connection – the bag won’t sway or come off, even on the roughest terrain. Alternatively, for riders who prefer to carry a traditional British saddlebag, two saddlebag loops are integrated into the frame.

Berthoud saddles are totally serviceable. This means that you can change a worn-out top, or even change your saddle top from a ‘Standard’ to an ‘Open’ (or vice versa). If you want to save weight, you can replace steel rails with titanium. We keep all spare parts in stock.


With all these choices, plus four different colors (tan, brown, black and the cool ‘cork’), most riders will find their perfect saddle in the Berthoud program. Having ridden them all, it’s hard to pick a favorite, because they all work so well. Berthoud saddles really are a cut above the rest.

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Tubesets for Our Bikes: Oversized

In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three complete tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. The Superlight set is the lightest steel tubeset available today, great for riders who prefer a flexible frame. The ‘Mule’ set uses an oversized down tube for a little firmer feel. It’s also better for carrying a front camping load.

The Oversize tubeset is made from thinwall oversized tubing to offer the ultimate performance for those who prefer a somewhat stiffer frame. Riders with a heavier build often have a higher power output, and they can benefit from a stiffer frame.

The oversize top tube with ultra-thin 0.7-0.4-0.7 mm walls adds stiffness to the frame without detracting from its lively feel. Kaisei keeps the ‘belly’ of the down tube to a slightly more conservative 0.5 mm, instead of the ultra-thin 0.4 mm, because the large-diameter tubes dent too easily when they are too thin. (Down tubes are larger than top tubes, making them less convex and easier to dent.) Since our tubes are available with longer ‘bellies,’ they are still lighter than other tubes with thinner-wall, but shorter, bellies.

How does a bike made with the Oversize tubeset ride? I’ve ridden a few bikes built around this tubeset, and they feel subtly different from mine. They still ‘plane’ – by most standards, this tubeset is very light and still has flex in the right places – but they do have a more planted feel. For me, they work best with a higher power output and a slightly lower cadence.

Interestingly, descending feels the same on all our bikes, regardless of the tubes used in the frame. We’ve found that frame stiffness makes little difference in how a bike handles – which makes sense when you consider that there are no significant side loads on a frame when you aren’t pedaling.

The Oversize tubeset is a great choice if you want or need a little more stiffness in your frame than our other Kaisei tubesets offer. That makes it perfect for tall, heavy and/or strong riders. This is also the tubeset I’d chose for a camping bike that carries rear panniers in addition to a front load. Above you see both my ‘Mule’ and Hahn’s Oversize bike on top of Shirabiso Pass in Japan during the Nihon Alps 600 km Super Randonnée – each bike perfect for its rider during this challenging ride.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.

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Myth 7: Tubeless Tires Roll Faster


When tubeless tires first became available, they were designed for mountain bikes and it was their resistance to pinch flats (above) that made them popular. Off-road, there are few nails or broken bottles that can cause punctures (and even those usually will be pushed into the soft ground rather than puncture the tire), but rims can bottom out on sharp rocks and other obstacles. So much so, in fact, that top mountain bike racers used to race on tubular tires – because tubular rims make pinch flats less likely. Eliminating tubes did the same, and while you still could ‘burp’ the tire, in general, tubeless allowed running lower pressures with fewer problems. Continue Reading →

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How are Compass Tires Different from Panaracers?


From time to time, a customer will ask us: “How are Rene Herse and Compass tires different from Panaracers?” It’s no secret that Panaracer makes our tires – we benefit from the research and technology of one of the best tire makers in the world. Panaracer’s engineers know more about casings and tread rubber than almost anybody, and they translate our ideas into tires that outperform all others in their intended environments.
That also means that it may not be immediately obvious how our tires are different from Panaracer’s own tires, like the Gravelking – or even Panaracer’s budget model, the Pasela. At first sight, with tan sidewalls and black tread rubber, they can look very similar. They are even made in the same factory!

Recently, we had the opportunity to spend some time with Mark Okada from Panaracer Japan (right) and Jeff Zell from Panaracer USA (left). When I mentioned the Pasela, Mark just laughed: “They are completely different tires that have almost nothing in common.” 
I guess it’s the same as asking whether a Bugatti Veyron supercar has the same engine as a base-model Volkswagen Golf, since both engines are made in the same German factory…
What about the Gravelkings, which are available with a tread pattern similar to that of Compass road tires – evidence that the technology transfer between Compass and Panaracer goes in both directions. Jeff said that Panaracer gets the same question, and this is their reply:
“The Gravelkings and the Compass tires are two different types of tires. The reason that Compass tires are so successful is that Jan and Compass have a clear vision for what they want in a tire, and Panaracer has the technology to deliver that. The materials and the construction of the Compass tires vary from the Panaracer line, because of the performance that Compass wants to deliver to the customer. The components that go into the Compass tires, and the processes to make them, cost more, hence the price difference. Both are high-quality tires, but the ride and performance are different. If you’re looking for the most supple tire that incorporates all cutting-edge tire technology, you’ll choose Compass. If you’re willing to sacrifice the ultimate ride quality Compass is known for, to get a little more puncture and sidewall protection, then Panaracer has you covered there.”

Which tire is best for you really depends on your riding style and terrain. Natsuko rides her 30 mm-wide Compass Elk Pass Extralights on really rough gravel with little trouble (above), but if you are somebody who tends to get a lot of flats or destroys tires with rock cuts, we’d recommend the Gravelkings. As the name implies, they are designed for riding on rough gravel, which also means that they can be a bit overbuilt for riding on the road.
The Compass tires (above) are designed for riding on the road, but they also work well – and offer superior performance – on gravel, provided the rider lets the bike move around and doesn’t force it into rocks that could cut the sidewalls. It helps if you ride wide tires. Not only are they faster on rough surfaces, but their lower pressures also make the sidewalls less susceptible to cuts: the tire just deforms when hitting a rock.
Around here, we ride Compass tires – even on our Urban Bikes – because they offer world-class performance while being strong and durable enough for everyday use.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.

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SKF Bottom Brackets Back in Stock


Bottom brackets are almost invisible, and you only notice them when something goes wrong. When the bottom bracket in my Firefly started to bind after just a few hundred miles, I put in an SKF, and that was the last I thought about it. When the bike was overhauled, the BB was spinning as smoothly as ever. That is how it should be!

How does the SKF last so much longer than other bottom brackets? SKF is a world leader in bearings, and they’ve applied all their technology to these bottom brackets. The two biggest advantages are larger bearings and better seals.
Let’s look at the bearing size first. SKF runs the bearings directly on the spindle and on the shell of the cartridge (above). That way, there is enough room for large ball bearings that can handle the high torque and low rpm of a rider’s pedaling, which is really tough on bearings. On the driveside (left side above), the SKF bottom bracket uses even stronger roller bearings to handle the extra force of the chain.

Most other bottom brackets use premade bearings (also called ‘cartridge bearings’ or ‘sealed bearings’), usually the 6903 size shown above. Using a premade bearing is much easier, as you don’t have to grind and polish the bearing seats. Instead, you simply press the bearing’s inner race onto the spindle and the outer race into the shell. The problem is that the extra bearing races waste space, and then you no longer have room for properly-sized ball bearings.

Bottom bracket shells were originally designed for cup-and-cone BBs that run the bearings straight on the spindle and the cups. They started with 1/4″ balls (6.35 mm) and sized everything up from there, without wasting a single millimeter. Most bottom bracket shells still are that size, even though cup-and-cone BBs now are rare.
When you use premade bearings, you lose about 1.5 mm on each side, plus a little bit more because the sleeve needs some room inside the BB shell. As a result, the largest balls you can fit are 2.8 mm in diameter, less than half the ‘normal’ size. These small balls have a much lower load rating, and they’ll also wear out faster.
The other big issue is that the premade bearings don’t have good seals. They are sometimes called ‘sealed bearings,’ but those black or red rubber seals are intended only as dust shields for indoor applications. They aren’t waterproof at all. You’ll never see a bearing like that exposed on a car, and yet even high-end bottom brackets put nothing but a rubber shield between your bearings and the gritty outside world.

The SKF bottom brackets have labyrinth seals that really do keep moisture out. Once, I cut open an SKF cartridge that I had used on my Urban Bike for a full year of rainy Seattle commutes, and the grease inside was fresh and clean. These seals are truly high tech, and SKF even patented them, because they were designed specifically for this application.

As a result of all this quality, we can offer these bottom brackets with a 10-year warranty that includes the bearings. (Actually, we limit the warranty to 10 years or 100,000 km, whichever comes first.) For most riders, one of these SKFs will be the last bottom bracket they install in their bike, and it’s certainly been that way for me.

SKF had stopped making these bottom brackets, and for a while they were unavailable. We are glad that we now can offer them again in all sizes, with British, Italian and even French threading, as well as in an ISIS version, as a world-wide exclusive from Compass Cycles. Click here for more information about SKF bottom brackets.

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Myth 6: Tread Patterns Don’t Matter on the Road


To celebrate 15 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we are examining 12 myths in cycling – things that we (and most others) used to believe, but which we have found to be not true. Today, let’s look at tire tread.

“Bicycles don’t hydroplane,” declared some experts many years ago. “Hence, tire tread patterns don’t matter on the road.” The first part is true – even wide bicycle tires are too narrow to lose traction due to hydroplaning – but the conclusion assumes that tread pattern only serves to evacuate water from the tire/road interface. Continue Reading →

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One of the 5 Fastest Tires in the World


Recently, the German magazine TOUR published a table showing the ‘five fastest tires in the world.’ We are excited to see our Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires (back then still under the Compass label) on this list, in the company of the fastest racing tires. A 35 mm-wide tire on a list that otherwise includes only tires between 23 and 26 mm wide! That by itself is already cause for celebration. It means that our casings really are among the very fastest in the world.
And since all our tires use the same casings and construction, TOUR’s results apply not just to the Bon Jon Pass, but to all Rene Herse tires. I was surprised that they tested the Standard casing. I would love for them to test the Extralight, which we know from our own experience to be even faster.

What is interesting is that the Rene Herse tire scored superbly on smooth asphalt (light gray bars), but a little less well on rough asphalt (dark bars). This doesn’t match our experience, where wider tires provide advantages especially on rough roads. The reason is simple: TOUR tested without a rider on the bike. This measures the hysteretic losses in the tire, but it neglects the (much more important) suspension losses that occur as the rider’s body and bike vibrate. (Click here to learn more about suspension losses.)
This means that TOUR’s testing overlooks one of the main advantages of wide tires: their superior comfort, which also makes them faster. In other words, with a rider on the bike, especially on rough asphalt, the Rene Herse tire probably is even faster than it appears in TOUR’s testing.
We are proud that the Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass scored so well, especially since it is intended as an all-round tire, not an all-out racing tire. The Bon Jon Pass is suitable for gravel racing and has 3 mm-thick tread for many miles on the road. Compare that to the Vittoria with its 0.8 mm-thick tread, which is intended only for time trials, and even then, it’ll wear out quickly.

The excellent performance of the Rene Herse tire shows once again why wide tires have revolutionized cycling: You wouldn’t want to ride the other tires on TOUR’s list on anything but the smoothest, cleanest roads for fear of flats and premature wear. And yet with wider tires, we can ride some of the world’s fastest tires on the backroads where cycling is at its most beautiful.
Further reading:

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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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Myth 2: Titanium is Lighter than Steel


In part 2 of our series ’12 Myths in Cycling,’ we’ll look at why titanium isn’t always lighter than steel. I can hear you saying, “What? Everybody knows that titanium has half the density of steel.”

That much is true: The same part made from titanium will weigh half as much as the equivalent from steel. But titanium has only half the stiffness, so the part will be half as stiff. To make the parts of the same stiffness, you need to use twice as much material with titanium, and the weight will be equal. The same applies to aluminum, which is one-third as heavy and one-third as stiff. (These numbers are for the high-strength alloys; raw aluminum, titanium and iron are not strong enough to be used for cycling applications.) Continue Reading →

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Myths in Cycling (1): Wider Tires Are Slower


When we started to publish Bicycle Quarterly 15 years ago, it seemed that most of the technical aspects of bicycles were well-established. And yet, as we tested many different bikes, we started to question many of the things we had accepted as ‘facts.’ To celebrate our 15th anniversary, we’ll look at some of these myths. We’ll explain why we (and everybody else) used to believe them, and how things really work. Let’s start this series with the biggest one:

Myth 1: Wider Tires Are Slower Continue Reading →

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René Herse: The Beauty of Function


At Compass Cycles, we have taken much of our inspiration from René Herse and his legendary bikes. In the past, we’ve talked about the great performance and incredible reliability of Herse’s bikes, but what is even more striking is their beauty. You notice it immediately when you look at one of his bikes, or even a photo… but it took much study to unlock the secrets of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ (Levallois was the suburb of Paris where Herse made his bikes.)
Herse’s bikes don’t derive their beauty from complex lug shapes, but from their simplicity. It was Hiroshi Hagiwara, the maker of the Japanese Alps bicycles, who said in a recent Bicycle Quarterly interview: “A bicycle is a frame with two wheels. Everything else is a distraction.” When I thought about this while looking at a René Herse bike, I realized that Herse’s genius was to turn these distractions into assets that make the bike more beautiful.
The most obvious one are the fenders (above): They follow the outline of the wheel so gracefully that they enhance the bike to the point where the same bike without fenders would look naked.

Herse masterfully joined the frame and wheels: Herse’s custom-made dropouts place the wheel centers in the prolongation of the stays and fork blades. That way, the wheels are centered in the end points of the frame, which ties the whole bike together. As an added benefit, this allows the dropouts to be smaller, stiffer and lighter.
Other things are harder to notice: The two arms of the custom-made hanger for the Cyclo derailleur line up perfectly behind each other. This is very difficult to do, since the chainstays are angled upward and outward, and the two arms have to be bent very precisely to very different curves. It adds to the beauty of the bike, even if it’s not immediately apparent.

The brake cables are truly parallel to the head tube and seatstays. That way, they don’t distract from the frame, but underline the straightness of the tubes.

Herse considered the proportions of the frame beyond the simple question of frame fit. The tandem we rode in France last summer has twin lateral stays, but they don’t just line up whichever way. Herse subtly adjusted the frame’s dimensions so that the lateral stays are parallel, and the balanced sizes of triangles they form further adds to the attractiveness of the frame.
Herse’s genius was to achieve this with bikes that also fit their riders perfectly. Because all this magic wouldn’t mean much if it detracted from the ride.

The opposite is the case. For René Herse bikes, the old adage that “What looks right usually is right” really holds true. His bikes and tandems ride wonderfully.

The beauty of Herse’s bikes makes it easy to forget that they were not intended as showpieces – they were designed to be ridden hard. Herse’s background reveals much about his thinking: He worked on prototype aircraft before he started making bicycle components and then bicycles. His aircraft experience shows in details like the custom screws: During the early 20th century, there were no universal specifications for bolts. Airplane makers made their own bolts, and to make sure that only correct bolts were used, each maker gave their bolt heads a distinctive shape. That way, a mechanic could immediately see if a bolt had been replaced with an incorrect one of suspicious quality. René Herse’s distinctive bolts for stems and seatpost binder have triangular heads that trace their origins to this practice.

Elegance and function also are combined in his lighting systems. The most important part of the photo above is what you don’t see: lighting wires. They run inside the rack, inside the fenders, and inside the frame tubes. Even where the current needs to be transmitted from the fork to the frame, there is no external wire: An insulated carbon brush on the steerer tube mates with an insulated brass ring inside the head tube, transmitting the current while allowing the fork to turn freely. Eliminating exposed wires not only is more elegant, but it also reduces the risk of wires getting snagged or breaking from being moved time and again.

The beauty of René Herse goes beyond the frames. After all, Herse started as a maker of components, and only began making complete bikes during World War II, perhaps because it was difficult to sell components without bikes onto which to put them. Herse’s components, whether his brakes (above), cranks or stems, combined superlight weight with superb performance.
Often overlooked are small details, like his double-ended bolts for attaching the rack to the brake pivots. Many builder simply use the brake bolt to hold the rack tab as well, but this brings the risk that the bolt works loose. Herse’s solution is more elegant: His brake bolt has a forward extension onto which the rack mounts with a nut. It will never work loose. You’d expect no less from an airplane builder: If a bolt loosens in mid-air, you can’t just stop and tighten it!

Despite all their elegance, René Herse’s bikes have a certain handmade quality. It’s obvious that the lugs and stem were shaped by hand. A lot of modern builders make bikes that look more crisp and uniform. At first, I thought that this was because René Herse bikes were made in significant numbers – up to 350 left the workshop during the best years – and corners had to be cut. But René Herse’s hand-lettered logo indicates that the handmade aesthetic was intentional. Herse could easily have ordered decals, but instead, every frame was hand-lettered by a sign painter. Like great pottery, Herse’s bikes look handmade without appearing crude or unfinished. In my opinion, that makes them works of art.

For the complete story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders, read our 424-page book on the ‘magician of Levallois,’ lavishly illustrated with studio photos of his bikes and historic photos from the Herse family archives. We still have a few copies of the Limited Edition (with a slipcase and art prints of four unpublished photographs from the René Herse Archives), or the ‘standard’ edition at a more affordable price (also available in French). Click here for more information.

Two of my favorite images from the book are available as large-format, ready-to-frame Limited Edition posters. Hang them on your wall and be inspired every time you look at them. Click here to order our set.
And if you haven’t seen our video of a René Herse tandem in action, click here.

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New SON Generator Hubs!


We are excited to announce the latest SON generator hubs. The biggest news is the connector-less SL system for thru-axle hubs: Now you can remove your front wheel and its generator hub without having to disconnect any wires, even with a thru axle.

The system consists of three parts: The heart is the SONdelux 12 generator hub. The SONdelux is the lightest generator hub in Schmidt’s program, and it has the least resistance, so it was a natural choice for this application.  The flanges are spaced as far apart as possible while still leaving room for the disc rotor and caliper.
This hub has proven itself for many thousands of miles. What’s new is the lack of external connectors for the lighting wires. The current is transmitted via the axle (positive) and an insulated ring that is pressed onto the axle (negative). Like its counterpart with external connectors, the connector-less SL hub is available in black or silver.

The hub mates to a special dropout. By the way, the machining traces that form the funky pattern in the photos can be removed by your framebuilder. Above you see the outside, which looks like a standard stainless steel dropout for 12 mm thru-axles (12 x 1.5 mm thread).

It gets more interesting on the inside, where one dropout has a recess…

… into which an insulated contact plate fits. As you install the hub, the axle connects to the dropout for the positive contact, while the insulated ring on the hub mates to the dropout’s contact plate, which is insulated as well. A wire goes inside the fork leg from the contact plate through to the lights. That way, you provide a path for the current to flow from the hub to the light without any exposed wires that can get snagged or break from repeated flexing during installation and removal of the front wheel.
We have a small number of contact plates and dropouts in stock, with more to come once production catches up with demand. And of course, the connector-less SL system has been available for non-disc hubs all along, and we have those components in stock, too.

That isn’t all the generator hub news! Many modern rear hubs are black, and we are now offering SON hubs and lights in black to match. We’ve worked with Schmidt Maschinenbau to make our favorite hub, the SONdelux Wide-Body, in black, too. The black hub is available in the standard and connector-less SL versions, with 32 holes. This is a one-time production run, so quantities are limited. If there is sufficient demand, Schmidt will make more for us, and in other spoke counts, too.

We also have the SONdelux Centerlock Disc for quick release forks in black…

… and the Edelux II headlight for hanging mounting. (We’ve been stocking the ‘standing’ Edelux II in black all along.) Now you can choose between silver and black components when equipping your bike with the best and most reliable generator lighting.
All these products are in stock now. For more information or to order, click here for hubs and here for lights.

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BikeRadar Reviews the Compass Handlebars


At Compass, we design our components over thousands of miles on the (often rough) roads we ride, so we have full confidence that others will enjoy them as much as we do. Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the world’s biggest cycling web site, BikeRadar, tested our handlebars and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 stars.

That puts our bars somewhere between “one of the best you can buy” and “a genuine class leader.” BikeRadar’s tester Jack Luke was impressed by the “supremely comfortable position.” He noted that the shape works well with modern shifters, unlike other ‘classic’ bars that create an “awkward scoop before the hoods.”
The only downside he noted was that some lights may be difficult to clamp on because the 31.8 mm center bulge is relatively short. He also noted (playfully) that you cannot use them with aerobars, for the same reason.

He concluded: “From gravel nonsense to fast-ish centuries, the Compass Randonneur handlebars have proven to be an exceptionally comfortable option, and I expect I’ll be swapping these between bikes for many years to come.” 
Thank you, Jack, we’re glad you enjoyed the bars so much!
For Jack’s full review on the BikeRadar site click here.
Click here for more information about our handlebars.

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New Water Bottles and Others 'Back in Stock'


Our new water bottles celebrate the Compass and René Herse logos with a bold new design. The bottles are based on Specialized’s popular 26 oz. Purist design, with our custom graphics.

In addition to the iconic logos, the bottles feature a quote that describes our approach to bicycles. The new design is limited to 500 bottles, and we expect them to sell out fast. Get yours while you can!
Click here to order.
A few other Compass products also have been popular, and we’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand. We’ve just received new stock of the following:

Our Cyclotouring Knickers look great on and off the bike. Their slightly roomy fit is comfortable, yet they do not billow like many ‘casual’ cycling shorts. Whether on or off the bike, they simply disappear. Hand-sewn in Seattle, WA, from a synthetic woven fabric with a little stretch, the Compass knickers don’t constrict your pedaling, no matter how fast (or slow) you are riding. Click here for more information about Compass clothing.

 
MKS Allways pedals (left) combine a large platform with superlight weight. The US-B Nuevo clipless pedals (right) are compatible with Time’s ATAC cleats. Both feature the smooth-spinning bearings for which high-end MKS pedals are famous. The Ezy Superior Rinko version of each model (shown above) allows removing the pedals without tools – ideal for travel or for storing the bike in a narrow spot. Click here for more information about MKS pedals.
We hope you’ll enjoy these products as much as we do!

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Introducing René Herse Cantilever Brakes


The new René Herse cantilever brakes are here! Prototypes of these brakes were one of the secrets that made Peter Weigle’s bike at this year’s Concours de Machines so light. They weigh just 75 g per wheel including bolts, springs and pad holders (without pads).
How can the René Herse cantilever brakes be that light? After all, even carbon cantilevers like the TRP RevoX are 50% heavier at 113 g. The TRP shows what happens when you take a standard brake and try to make it lighter – there is only so much you can do.

The secret of our new cantilevers is simple: They are different in many ways from most current brakes. The credit goes to René Herse, who designed these brakes for the 1940s Concours de Machines technical trials, where his bikes were among the lightest ever made. And yet his brakes weren’t just for weight weenies – they even equipped his tandems. I’ve ridden Herse tandems in the mountains, and the stopping power of the brakes was definitely sufficient.

How do you make a superlight brake? You start with an absolutely minimalist arm. Ours is forged from aluminum for ultimate strength.

Just as important is the shape – we used Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to model the stress distribution in the arms (above). Blue and green means low stresses. As you can see, Herse’s original design showed no stress concentrations. (The small spot of red is caused by a lack of reference points near the edge, not because the arm is likely to break there.) The FEA model confirms the genius of the ‘magician of Levallois,’ who didn’t need computers to make parts that were light and strong.

The arms are so minimalist that there is nowhere to attach the springs. Drilling holes would weaken the arms, so the springs wrap around them instead. You’ll also notice that there are no screws to dial in the spring tension. They aren’t necessary, because our springs are carefully equalized. You only need to adjust the tension if one spring is stronger than the other – which unfortunately is the case on many cantilevers. Making springs to such close tolerances is more expensive, but it also makes setup easier.

René Herse used post-style pads. (In fact, he may have invented them – earlier cantilever brakes used the same pads as sidepulls, which attach directly with screws.) The advantages of post-style pads are many. First, it makes it easy to adjust for pad wear – you just slide the pads inward. This means that the brakes fit on bikes with a wide range of canti post spacing. The posts also allow adjusting for minor variations in canti post height (as you slide the pads inward, the arm rotates outward, which lowers the contact of the pad on the rim.)
Post-style pads make it possible to make the arms lighter, because they don’t need flat spots with slots where the pads attach. Herse used large eyebolts to attach the pads to the arms. This is one place where our new brakes are even lighter than the originals: Optional titanium eyebolts for the pad holders save weight without sacrificing strength – these bolts are large to fit over the pad holder posts, not because they have to withstand big stresses.

To adjust the toe-in of the brake pads, René Herse simply bent the arms. That worked for him, because his brakes were used only on custom bikes, which were set up in his shop by experienced mechanics. The advantage of this method is that you only bend the arms once, and the toe-in is set forever. Later, you can replace the brake pads without having to set the toe-in again.

For our new brakes, we offer the option of angled washers that let you set the toe-in (part 28/28T, shown above in blue). This is super-simple and permanent, too, so pad replacement is easy. Since the washers take up extra space, we replace the large aluminum nut on the eyebolt with a shorter steel one. The weight goes up a fraction (4 g), but it’s a great solution for customers who aren’t comfortable bending their brake arms, or for brakes that may be used on many different bikes. (Bending the arms too often can weaken them.)

Like our centerpull brakes, the new René Herse cantilevers use an extra-thin straddle cable. This is made possible with swiveling attachments to the arms, which eliminate stresses to the cable that occur with standard clamp bolts. The thinner straddle cable isn’t just lighter, it also bends more easily around the straddle cable holder. This eliminates the flex you get with thicker straddle cables, which have to straighten first when you apply the brakes, before they can transmit brake power. The thinner straddle cable makes the René Herse brakes more powerful, yet the minimal ‘lost motion’ allows you to set the pads with plenty of clearance to the rim – without the risk of bottoming out the levers. This also means that the René Herse cantilever brakes work equally well with modern ‘aero’ and with classic ‘non-aero’ brake levers.

We’ve tested the new René Herse cantilevers on a variety of bikes over hundreds of miles. They fit over 42 mm-wide tires with 62 mm-wide fenders, or 54 mm-wide tires without fenders. They are designed to work with cantilever posts that are spaced between 62 and 84 mm wide. To work with the ultralight design of these brakes, the height of your frame’s cantilever posts must be within standard tolerances. (Your current brake’s pads should be roughly in the middle of the slots.) If the pads of your current brakes are at the top or bottom of the slots, the René Herse brakes may not fit on your frame.
We are excited that we now can use these amazing brakes on many of our own bikes. For more information about the René Herse brakes or to order a set, click here. And if you’re curious about René Herse himself, we recommend our book on the ‘magician of Levallois.’

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Compass 11-speed Chainrings


Compass Cycles is introducing the first-ever 11-speed-compatible René Herse cranks and chainrings. And the first-ever René Herse chainrings with ramps and pins. These are not just any ramps and pins: They’re carefully engineered to shift as well as the best cranks from the big manufacturers. We are proud to offer this performance with useful chainring sizes – plus the beauty and light weight of the classic René Herse cranks.

The shifting performance of our new cranks is a bigger deal than it may sound at first, because developing chainrings at this level is a major undertaking. Our engineering team has spent almost 18 months on this project. We tested prototypes for thousands of miles (above) before settling on a final design. (Many readers have wondered how the Firefly’s 11-speed drivetrain worked with the René Herse cranks, and why that simple question didn’t get a simple answer…)
There are plenty of ‘ramped-and-pinned’ chainrings out there, because it’s not hard to cut a few ramps into chainrings and rivet in some pins. But, the ramps and pins don’t do much unless they are carefully aligned with the chain path. To work well, the chain has to hit the pin just right, in the middle of an outer link. Then it gets transported seamlessly to the big ring, and the ramp only acts as a cut-out to provide an easier path for the chain.

Another key element is to treat this as a dynamic system, spinning at 50-130 rpm. When we looked at other chainrings, we quickly discovered that this was the biggest difference between the best-shifting chainrings and those that offer only so-so performance. It became clear that the three big makers understand this, but everybody else seems to design their chainrings as a static system. Here is what ‘static’ means: When you put a chain half on the small and half on the big ring (above), it fits beautifully. But when you shift while pedaling, the teeth don’t have time to snug in between the links of the chain (which is running at an angle during the shifts). As a result, the chain rides up on the chainring and the carefully-planned alignment of the chain path is compromised.
By comparison, the chain seems to fit a little less perfectly on the ‘dynamic’ chainrings from the big makers – until you are pedaling. Then you are surprised by the smooth shifts. We benchmarked Shimano’s Ultegra cranks – widely known as the best-shifting in the business – for the performance that our 11-speed René Herse cranks had to match. Now we feel that we have achieved that goal, and so we are introducing the first 11-speed-compatible René Herse chainrings in a 46-30 combination. And of course, the excellent shifting performance of these rings works with 10- and 9-speed derailleurs, too.

While the upshifts get a lot of attention, the downshifts are just as important with 11-speed, because the distance between the rings is so small that the chain no longer can just be ‘thrown’ to the inside and then land on the inner ring, as it was with older systems. The new René Herse 11-speed chainrings feature special tooth profiles to facilitate downshifts. The chainrings also are machined specifically to reduce the gap between the rings, so the ultra-narrow 11-speed chains cannot get caught between the rings.
Instead of requiring you to buy completely new cranks, only the outer chainring is new. What this means is that older Compass-made René Herse cranks can be retrofitted. However, the 46-30 ring should be used with a 30-tooth inner ring, otherwise, the chain path doesn’t work properly. The small chainrings remain unchanged, because they don’t do anything during shifts, except release the chain upward. Because only the outer ring is new, this also means that our 46-30 tandem cranks (below) are 11-speed-compatible, too.

 
The production chainrings have just arrived, so we don’t have photos yet, but rest assured that they match the beautiful finish of our other chainrings. (The photo of the ramped-and-pinned rings show unpolished prototypes.) In the future, we also plan to offer other popular chainring combinations with 11-speed compatibility.
Click here to order 11-speed cranksets or chainrings.

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Tubesets for our Bikes: Mule


In addition to individual Kaisei tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three tubesets: Superlight, ‘Mule’ and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. Today we’ll look at the Mule. Named after my most versatile bike, it features an unusual configuration: an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter) for added stiffness, and a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm) for the flex characteristics that give our favorite bikes their lively feel.

Originally, I built the Mule for a trip to Japan as a Rinko bike that could handle both fast randonneur rides and loaded tours. The bike was intended as a test-bed for components and parts, and it was built in a rush, so we nicknamed it ‘The Mule,’ a name used by Italian race car builders for the bare chassis that they road-tested with rudimentary bodies to finalize suspension and engines, before the car went to the carrozzeria to have its real body added.


What makes the Mule different from most bikes is that it uses an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter), but a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm). While unusual, this configuration is not without precedent: René Herse built some camping bikes, as well as some tall frames, with similar configurations. Japanese Keirin builders also build bikes with this combination of tubing diameters. And when you look at modern high-performance carbon bikes, they usually have very slender top tubes and relatively massive down tubes.

This is very different from some bikes that use an oversized top tube and a standard down tube, making both tubes the same diameter (28.6 mm). With their stiffer top tubes, these bikes don’t perform well for the BQ Team and many other riders. They also tend to shimmy, probably because both tubes have very similar resonant frequencies.


Going with a smaller top tube and larger down tube was an experiment. Would tweaking the balance of frame stiffness supercharge the Mule’s performance beyond anything we’d experienced thus far? The Mule has performed very well on many rides, but it isn’t a magic bullet: Careful back-to-back testing has shown that, for me, the Superlight tubeset gives the bike slightly better performance.


The Mule’s oversized down tube adds stiffness, yet the standard-diameter top tube keeps the flex characteristics that make for a lively feel. That makes the Mule perfect for carrying heavy front panniers. (I avoid loading up the rear, as that requires a much stiffer frame and also makes it difficult to rise out of the saddle.)


The Mule isn’t just for loaded touring. Some riders who’ve ridden the Mule really like the stiffer, more planted feel compared to the Superlight spec. The Mule doesn’t shimmy as easily – even with a Chris King headset, which is prone to shimmy, the Mule is well-behaved under most conditions.


My Mule is built with a down tube that has just 0.35 mm-thick walls. With the large diameter and super-thin walls, I have found that this tube is very easy to dent. So for the Kaisei tubes, we chose 0.5 mm walls for the unbutted center sections. We offer the tubes with longer thinwall ‘bellies,’ so the overall flex characteristics are very similar.

Even though I prefer the Superlight tubing for all-out performance, I’ve ridden the Mule in a Japanese 600 km Super Randonnée with 11,000 m (36,000 ft) of climbing, and the bike felt great throughout the ride. It was only during the back-to-back testing that I realized its (slight) performance deficit. Would I do the 765-mile Paris-Brest-Paris on the Mule, if my Superlight bike wasn’t available for some reason? Absolutely!


If I could have only one bike, I probably would choose the tubing spec of the Mule. How about you? Obviously, if you plan to go touring, the oversized down tube is a great choice. If you are concerned that the Superlight tubeset may make your frame feel too flexible, especially if you are a heavier or stronger rider, I would recommend the Mule’s tubeset as well. And if you are concerned about shimmy, the very different resonant frequencies of the top and down tubes apparently keep it from developing in most cases. Compared to the more specialized bikes in my stable, the Mule is a great all-rounder.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Rene Herse exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.
Further Reading:

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Tubesets for Our Bikes: Superlight


In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Rene Herse Cycles offers three tubesets. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. These bikes have distinct characters that I’ll describe in a series of blog posts.

The Superlight tubeset is just that – the lightest, thinnest-wall tubeset you can buy today. In the unbutted center sections (“bellies”), the tube walls measure just 0.4 mm. At the butted ends, they go up to 0.7 mm for strength at the joints. We offer the Kaisei tubes in two lengths, with “bellies” optimized for short and tall frames.

What does a bike built from the Superlight tubeset feel like on the road?


My René Herse (above) is made from tubes with these dimensions. It’s my favorite bike for spirited rides. It’s the bike that exemplifies ‘planing’ for me – a bike that gets in sync with my pedal strokes, and always seems to entice me to go faster. It’s the bike that I’ve ridden on some of my memorable rides, whether it’s ‘Charly Miller’ times in Paris-Brest-Paris (top photo) and in the Cascade 1200 brevet, or in the Raid Pyrénéen that goes non-stop from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via 18 mountain passes (above).


In all these performances, the bike deserves a lot of credit. On long rides, it really helps to have a bike with just the right flex characteristics to synch with my pedal strokes. Pedaling becomes a subconscious routine. When we say that steel bikes can offer the same performance as modern racing bikes, it’s these bikes we are talking about.

The same characteristics make me pick the Herse for fast Saturday morning spins with the BQ Team. When we race each other up the Cascade foothills, this is the bike that I find easiest to pedal hard. It’s the fastest in these impromptu sprints because it lets me put out the most power. Compared to my other bikes, I am breathing harder at the top of the climbs, and I am more tired when I get home. And my smile is bigger, too.

The tubeset not only defines this bike’s performance, but also its feel. It always feels light, like a racehorse. Whether you like that or not depends on your taste in bikes. A very strong rider probably would find the superlight tubeset too flexible, but remember that Andy Hampsten won the 1988 Giro d’Italia on a bike made from tubes with the same dimensions. I was lucky enough to ride Hampsten’s bike once, so I can report that it feels very similar to my Herse.

While my Herse is equipped with some classic components, you could use ‘modern’ brake levers and derailleurs without changing the feel of the bike. With a different fork, you even could use disc brakes…


How about descending on a bike this ‘flexible’? Despite rumors to the contrary, it feels the same as other bikes. When you look at the physics, you realize that the bike is always balanced, no matter how hard you corner. Otherwise, it would fall over. There are no significant side loads that could flex the bike when you are coasting.

Our on-the-road experience has confirmed this: During our ground-breaking double-blind test of frame stiffness, none of us felt any differences between the bikes on the downhills – whereas on the uphills, both Mark and I were measurably faster on the two bikes with superlight tubesets.


What about the durability? You often hear the description ‘paper-thin’ for tubes this light, but when you pick up a raw tube, you realize that it’s actually quite sturdy. Most of all, the walls at the ends measure 0.7 mm – not much thinner than those of other tubes (0.8-0.9 mm). And since frames rarely break in their unbutted center sections, I am not worried about the longevity, either.

I’ve ridden my Herse for 6 years now, including the 360-mile Oregon Outback gravel race. After that ride (above), my rims had developed cracks (I use better ones now!), and my spare spokes had worn through the cloth tape I used to attach them to the fender stays, but the rest of the bike was no worse for wear.


Why not build all bikes from this tubing? First, there is the lightweight feel that some riders don’t enjoy. It really depends on your power, your riding style – these bikes work best with a light touch on the handlebars – and your preferences. Furthermore, with a tubeset this light, these bikes are more prone to shimmy. It hasn’t been an issue on my Herse, but that bike uses a needle bearing headset that dampens the steering slightly. Also, I wouldn’t recommend this tubeset on a bike that commonly carries a heavy load. The Herse is fine with a heavily loaded handlebar bag, but if I were to ride a lot with loaded front low-riders, I’d pick a stiffer down tube.


One last datapoint is that I am 181 cm tall (5’11”) and weigh 70 kg (154 lb). I ride a relatively large frame (58 cm seat tube, 57 cm top tube, c-c). Shorter tubes are inherently stiffer, so I feel that this tubeset makes even more sense for smaller frames. On the other hand, taller or significantly heavier riders may need a stiffer tubeset. Fortunately, we offer those as well.

The final tubing selection for your bike is something to discuss with your frame builder, who will design your frame based your build, riding style, preference, and intended use of the bike. All our Kaisei tubesets offer excellent performance that comes with a carefully designed balance of frame stiffness. As a Compass exclusive, we offer the Kaisei tubesets in two lengths, so you can get tubes optimized for your frame size. All tubes we sell feature Kaisei’s unmatched quality and experience that comes from supplying the tubes for the frames of thousands of professional Keirin racers. We import these tubes because we feel that there are no better tubes anywhere.
Further Reading:

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Why René Herse Cranks Aren't Anodized


Sometimes, we get questions about why our René Herse cranks aren’t anodized. Some even wondered if this was a cost-saving measure. Rest assured, Compass never will choose a cheaper process over a better one. There is a reason why our cranks aren’t anodized:
When I was racing, I bought a beautiful used Campagnolo Croce d’Aune crankset (above). Named after the pass on which Tullio Campagnolo suffered from frozen fingers and no longer could open the wingnuts of his rear wheel to change gears, the Croce d’Aune group was second only to the C-Record in the Campagnolo lineup. They were a smart design and beautifully made.
The cranks had very few miles on them, as witnessed by the (then) almost-new chainrings. Even so, I paid very little for the cranks – because they had lost some of their beauty. The previous owner’s ankles had rubbed against the crankarms and worn through the anodizing. You can see it between the Campagnolo logo and the crank extractor bolt.

It wasn’t a functional problem, and since they went on a bike that I was racing hard, I didn’t care too much about the cosmetics. In fact, I soon added to that “polish” with my own ankles. The rough life of racing led to more scratches over the next few years.
And yet: if the cranks had just been polished, instead of anodized, the buffing from the rider’s ankles wouldn’t have disfigured the cranks. Even the scratches would have been easy to polish out. Polishing out scratches isn’t just about aesthetics: It allows checking whether a scratch really is a scratch, or whether it’s a crack that might cause the crankarm to break. Of course, you can polish out a scratch on an anodized crank, too, but doing so removes the anodizing, and then the crank doesn’t look good any longer.
So why do some component makers anodize their cranks? High-strength aluminum tends to corrode. Different from steel, where the corrosion flakes off until the part is gone, aluminum oxide forms a protective layer that prevents further oxidation. But it means that the aluminum turns gray. Anodizing forms a hard oxide layer that protects the alloy. Clear anodizing means that the aluminum won’t tarnish. But if the anodizing wears off in one place, the part looks worse than if it hadn’t been anodized in the first place. That is why it only makes sense to anodize components that won’t get scratched.

René Herse never anodized his cranks. The cranks on this 1952 bike still look nice after many thousands of miles. If you ride these cranks in the rain, use a high-quality car wax to protect them. That is what we do on the modern Compass René Herse cranks when we assemble them. Reapply the wax once or twice a year, and your cranks will look as nice as these, even after 65 years of hard use.

We don’t anodize our crankarms, but the chainrings are anodized. Why? They are made from 7075 aluminum for the ultimate in wear resistance. 7075 aluminum contains zinc as its main alloying agent. It oxidizes much more readily than other aluminum alloys. Without anodizing, the chainrings soon would develop ugly spots. And since your ankles (hopefully) won’t rub on the chainrings, there is little risk of wearing through the anodizing.
It would be easy to anodize our René Herse crankarms, and it would make them easier to sell, because anodizing still is taken as a sign of quality. But we prefer crankarms that we can polish and restore to “as good as new” condition, no matter how hard they have been used. Because we fully expect you to ride our cranks for many decades, just like René Herse’s riders did with their original cranks.
Click here for more information about Compass René Herse cranks.
 

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Tubeless-Compatible 650B x 42 mm


The updated Compass Babyshoe Pass TC 650B x 42 mm tires are now in stock in all models. What’s new? We took our most popular 650B tire, and made it tubeless compatible. When you are riding fast on rough gravel, tubeless really makes sense – as I found out when I had dual pinch flats on a Bicycle Quarterly test bike on the original Babyshoe Pass tires (below).

You may wonder how I pinch-flatted on what looks like a smooth gravel road. It was smooth, and so we let the bikes fly on a fast downhill section. Right after a bend in the road, the gravel turned very rough. It was only a short section, but it was enough to pinch-flat both tubes. By the time I had stopped the wobbling bike from a speed of 65 km/h (40 mph), the road was smooth again, as if it all had been a bad dream. At least it was a scenic spot to change the tubes…

While we were making a new tire mold, we also increased the width of the new Babyshoe Pass by 1.5 mm. Now the tires measure a true 42 mm wide on most rims. That makes them the perfect tires not just for randonneur bikes, but also for a whole generation of gravel bikes like the Litespeed T5G and the Cannondale’s Slate.

What about the name? Babyshoe Pass is a 1330 m (4350 ft) high passage between the great volcanoes of Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams in the Cascade Range (above during the recent Volcano High Pass Challenge). The origins of the name are shrouded in mystery, but that doesn’t keep passers-by from hanging baby shoes from the sign (top photo). It’s a great way to travel from Seattle to Portland while avoiding the crowded Puget Lowland.

During challenging rides like this, you will enjoy the Babyshoe Pass TC tires, which roll as fast as racing tires on the paved lower sections of the climb, yet float across the gravel as you cross the actual pass. No matter from which side you ride it, the descent is so steep that speed builds quickly. As you fly across the gravel, you’ll appreciate the possibility to run your tires tubeless. When you don’t have to worry about pinch flats, you can even look up from the road and see glimpses of Mount Adams snow-covered cone. Of course, like all our tubeless-compatible “TC” tires, you can also run the new Babyshoe Pass TC with tubes.
The original Babyshoe Pass (without the “TC” in the name) remains available as long as supplies last. It’s a little lighter, a little narrower and a little cheaper than the new model.
Click here for more information about Compass tires and the new Babyshoe Pass TC.
 

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Ultra-wide tires: Unfair advantage in ‘cross?


Last weekend was the first cyclocross race in Seattle. Almost every year, the first race catches me by surprise. Summer is over? It’s ‘cross season already?
Usually, I oil the chain on my trusty Alan ‘cross bike and head to the races. This year, the Alan’s tubular tires needed regluing. The glue must cure for 24 hours, and the race was too close for that.

What to do? I looked at my Firefly, still dusty from the Volcano High Pass Challenge and the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. What if I raced it instead?
The morning of the race, I took off the low-rider rack and two bottle cages, then rode the 25 miles (40 km) to the start. I arrived with just enough time to remove the last bottle cage, unclip the underseat bag, and do a practice lap. I let some air out of the tires, and then it was time to race.
At the start, I was a bit nervous, because I had forgotten to swap my touring pedals for dual-sided mtb pedals. On the bumpy course, clipping in after a remount wasn’t easy. I knew I’d lose some time. And I worried about the grip of my “road” tires at race speeds on the loose stuff, especially the grass. I had entered the Category 4 race. It’s the lowest of the three categories offered, but the fastest racers come out of a season of road racing and are quite fast.

Then we were off! I’ve never been an explosive sprinter, and so I found myself somewhere around 15th position as we went into the first corner. A long straight followed, and I was surprised by how fast my bike went. I know what bumpy grass feels like on 34 mm tires, and it was a totally different experience on 54s. Instead of bouncing, I was able to put down power and ride smoothly.
I had moved up to 3rd position when we reached the first sandpit. And since I hadn’t been working as hard as the others on their narrower tires, I could outrun them. (In the deep sand, even my 54 mm tires didn’t provide enough floatation to make riding more efficient than running.) I took the lead at the exit of the sand pit and never looked back (top photo).

I ran through the next sand pit, too, but the third one was relatively short, and I found that momentum carried me across. Just accelerate hard on the approach and keep going! Where the course doubled back on itself, I could see my pursuers. I was surprised how quickly my gap had grown. I would like to claim superior fitness, but I think the bike’s speed deserves more credit. I’ve raced Cat. 4 in the past, and I’ve never experienced such a speed difference.

With so much grip, I rarely touched my brakes. I did realize why ‘cross bikes have higher bottom brackets: After leaning deep into a corner, I righted the bike until I thought that I was straight again. When I started pedaling, I was still leaning much further than I thought. I clipped a pedal, and next thing I knew, I was on the ground. My lap times show that I lost 10 or 15 seconds, and my pursuers came back into sight. But adrenalin enhances performance, and I managed to hold onto my lead to take the win after 42 minutes of all-out racing.
What did I learn? First, on bumpy terrain, wider tires are much faster. We already knew this, but the magnitude of the effect surprised even me. Being able to pass other racers at will really represents an unfair advantage. Cornering grip on the loose, but dry, surfaces also was far superior to what I am used to.

What about the lack of knobs on my tires? We know that on gravel, knobs don’t make any difference, and I found that the same holds true on dirt and even dry grass. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised: Traditional dry-weather ‘cross tires (above) have almost no tread – in fact, they are so smooth that we used to ride them on the road, since they were a little bit wider than the 21 mm racing tubulars we had back then.
Of course, riding the Firefly with its 54 mm tires in a ‘cross race is unfair. The best rider should win, not the rider on the widest tires. Road racing and its muddy cousin, cyclocross, are traditional sports, and the bikes are clearly defined by the rules. It may be possible to make faster bikes, but finding the fastest bike isn’t the point of racing – it’s finding the fastest rider. As BQ contributor Hahn Rossman (below) put it: “Cross is about riding a road bike off-road. You really shouldn’t ride across bumpy terrain on narrow tires, but it’s great fun.”
Cyclocross has an element of underbiking, and that is why the UCI has limited tire widths for professional racers. For amateurs in the U.S., the UCI rules usually don’t apply, but I feel it isn’t in the spirit of the sport to ride a bike that is so blatantly outside the accepted norm.

I am also not sure my advantage would persist as the weather turns rainy. On a muddy course, my ultra-wide tires may not work so well. A narrower tire – say 35 to 40 mm wide – digs into the mud and probably creates more lateral resistance when cornering. A super-wide tire may just skate across the muddy surface without finding any grip. Once the weather turns muddy, I could put a set of mountain bike knobbies on the Firefly to find out.

Or I’ll just ride my Alan (above) again, because it’s already set up for muddy riding. In the end, my experiment hasn’t shown anything we didn’t know already: On bumpy surfaces in the dry, wider tires are much faster. We also know that in mud, you need knobs to dig into the surface and generate grip.

If you have been intrigued by cyclocross, give it a try. It’s great fun, and what you learn about bike handling will improve your skills on all surfaces, year-round. Don’t worry if you don’t have a cyclocross bike. Just ride the most suitable bike you have. Cyclocrossers are very relaxed about the competition – nobody complained that I rode ultra-wide tires. Last weekend, old road bikes, a randonneur bike (with the fenders removed), and mountain bikes mixed it up with the purpose-built ‘cross bikes.
And if you need cyclocross tires – whether for dry or muddy conditions – our Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm and Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm knobbies are hard to beat. I just wish they fit my old Alan, which dates from a time when 28 mm tires were “huge”. It would save me from having to re-glue my tires!
Photo credits: Westside Bicycle (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5), Natsuko Hirose (Photo 8).

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Kaisei Tubing


It’s no secret that we love steel bikes. Steel allows us to build the bikes we need for our adventures – bikes where every detail is optimized to the nth degree. You can imagine our concern when True Temper, one of the most important suppliers of steel tubing, decided to leave the bicycle market. Without steel tubes, especially the superlight ones that True Temper was specializing in, there wouldn’t be any more of the bikes we love.

What to do? We thought about who made the best steel tubing in the world today. There is no simple answer, but Kaisei in Japan was an obvious candidate. Kaisei is unique in that most of their tubes are used for professional racing bikes: More than 2000 Japanese Keirin riders race on steel bikes, and most are made from Kaisei tubing, which is known for its high quality.

Kaisei is an interesting company, because they are just a manufacturer, without any marketing. All they do is supply tubes to Japanese framebuilders. And since those builders work for professional racers, there is no need for fancy names and stickers. As a result, Kaisei uses Cromoly tubing. It’s the strongest and most reliable, and the thinwall tubes are heat-treated. I like that no-nonsense approach.

Kaisei tubes are rounder than most, and their walls are more uniform in their thickness. They match their spec exactly, unlike some other tubes we’ve measured. The heat treatment is uniform, and it’s designed to strengthen the tubes without making them brittle. This precision reduces the risk that a frame breaks due to defects in the tubing. For Keirin racers, this point is very important: They are not allowed to change bikes during a weekend of racing, and if their bike breaks, they are out of the races. And since they live off their prize money, this means they have no income, either.

In the past, Kaisei tubing was designed for smaller frames, since Japanese (racers and otherwise) tend to be shorter than the average westerners. The thinwall “bellies” of the tubes were relatively short, which meant that tall frames were heavier and stiffer than necessary. In addition to offering these “short” tubes, we worked with Kaisei to make “long” tubes with longer thinwall “bellies” that are optimized for taller frames. Since we commissioned the tooling for these tubes, they are available exclusively from Compass Cycles.

 
To complement the excellent Kaisei tubes, we developed a selection of framebuilding parts. They are made by Longshen in Taiwan to the highest specifications. The new Compass fork crown is a perfect fit for the Kaisei TOEI Special fork blades that we use on all our bikes. The new fork crown combines classic looks with a modern box section construction. The result is an ultralight and super strong fork crown.

The Compass bottom bracket shell is specifically designed for wide tires. The chainstay sockets angle outward a bit more (10°) to accommodate curved chainstays. This provides extra tire clearance. It’s the secret for using wide tires with road cranks. Designed for standard-diameter tubes and with enough material to carve and match your preferred lug shape, the Compass bottom bracket shell combines light weight with versatility.
These are just a few elements of our new frame tubing program. Instead of lamenting the demise of a major supplier of steel frame tubing, we worked on a replacement that is arguably even better. Now it’s easier than ever before to have your dream bike made!
Click here for detailed specs of the tubes, as well as our complete program of braze-ons and other framebuilding parts.
Photo credit: Paul Keller (Photo 4).

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Let's End the Pedal Wars!


Sometimes, it feels as if cyclists are divided into two camps on many issues. One of these divisions concerns pedals. There are those who believe that if you don’t have clipless pedals, it’s hardly worth taking your bike outside. Others fervently believe that any foot retention will ruin your enjoyment of cycling.

I’ve never understood this “either – or” attitude. On many of my bikes, I ride clipless pedals (above in Paris-Brest-Paris 2015)…

… but I’ve also ridden 400 km brevets with toeclips and straps. I can’t say that there is a performance difference between the two. I’ve set personal bests and course records on either type of pedals. If you look at the times in Paris-Brest-Paris or in pro races, you’ll see that when clipless pedals became widespread, there was no noticeable jump in speeds.

For me, the advantages of clipless pedals are that my feet don’t get numb on cold days, even after many hours of riding. A disadvantage is that the shoes transmit all the pedaling power, so they must fit perfectly and be tightened just right. If they are just a tad too loose, my feet slide around, which is unpleasant. If they are too tight, they constrict my circulation.

Toeclips and straps have the advantage that I can ride in any shoes. Their disadvantage is that I must remember to open one strap slightly when stopping, so I can remove my foot from the pedal. Natsuko (top photo) prefers half-clips, which allow her to put a foot down anytime, yet they still offer good power transfer.

For shorter rides, flat pedals work great for me. Actually, for quick trips around the city, I often ride in street shoes, even on SPD pedals. It’s not ideal, but it works fine at moderate speeds.
If you don’t use clipless pedals, classic touring pedals are hard to beat: With platforms on both sides, they can be used with street shoes. Add toeclips and straps, and they perform like racing pedals.
Despite their versatility, high-end touring pedals always have been few and far between. Now MKS has updated their popular Sylvan pedals with same silky-smooth cartridge bearings as the company’s other high-end pedals. The new model is called “Sylvan Next” to distinguish it from the lower-end “Sylvan” that has cup-and-cone bearings. (Compass only carries the top-quality MKS pedals. Gritty bearings may not slow you down, but you can feel them as you pedal. A smoothly-working bike is much more fun to ride.)

The Rinko version of the Sylvan Next allows removing your pedals without tools in just seconds. With the EZY-Superior quick-release system, you simply turn the ring on the spindle, push it toward the crank, and pull off the pedal.

Rinko pedals are convenient for travel or storing your bike in tight spaces. And if you want to ride with platform pedals one day and with clipless pedals the next, you can swap between the different MKS EZY-Superior models quickly and without tools. (The photo above shows the USB-Nuevo and the Urban Platform pedals.) We also offer the adapters separately, if you want to use the same set of pedals on several bikes.

The Sylvan Next pedals are now in stock. Click here to learn more about them and the other MKS pedals in the Compass program.

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Berthoud Open Saddles in Stock


We just received our first shipment of Gilles Berthoud “Open” saddles. In the past, I’ve tried many saddles with cutouts, but none were comfortable. While they relieved pressure in the center, the sharp edges of the opening were uncomfortable. So I was skeptical when I received a sample of the Gilles Berthoud Aspin Open.

I was surprised to find that I could not feel the edges of the cutout at all. As expected, there was less pressure in the center, but there also wasn’t a noticeable transition from the cutout to the leather. The curved shape of the hole and its beveled edges really worked to make a gradual transition.

Even after a long day in the saddle, the Aspin Open remained comfortable. In fact, I noticed that the cutout made the saddle a bit more flexible, and thus even more comfortable straight out of the box. As an added plus, the Open version is about 15 grams lighter…
On the downside, the more flexible leather top probably won’t have quite the amazing durability of the standard saddles. (My very first Berthoud saddle is still going strong after a decade of daily use.)

Underneath the leather top is Berthoud’s high-tech frame, made from a composite material that is stronger, lighter and more flexible than the steel traditionally used in this place. The saddles are available with stainless steel and titanium rails, in men’s and women’s models.

With all spare parts available from Compass, you can even convert a standard saddle to the Open version or vice versa, or replace stainless steel rails with titanium to lighten your saddle. These saddles rarely need service, but it’s good to know that all the parts are available.

With the Open version, one of the best saddles has become even more comfortable for riders who need to relieve pressure in the saddle area. And of course, the standard saddles remain an excellent choice for most riders.
Some may wonder why the superlight Galibier model isn’t available with the cutout. The reason is simple: With the cutaway sides, there simply isn’t enough leather to support the rider if the middle of the saddle is removed as well.
Click here for more information about Gilles Berthoud saddles in standard and Open versions. The Men’s versions are in stock now, the women’s saddles will follow this autumn.
 

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New Tire: Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm


Many cyclists dream of a dual-purpose tire that rolls smoothly on paved roads, but has knobs that dig into the surface when it gets slippery. In the past, combining these two qualities in a single tire has been elusive. Usually, the knobs were too squirmy for good performance on pavement – especially when cornering hard – and yet the knobs were spaced too closely to shed mud when the going got rough.
When we designed our first knobby tire, the 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom, we made the knobs big enough so that they don’t squirm, but left enough space in between to clear mud. We distributed the knobs so that the tire always is supported by the same amount of rubber, whether it’s rolling forward or leaning into a turn. This gives you uniform grip at all times.

Does it work? Even we were surprised how well the Steilacoom rolls and how hard you can lean it into corners (above). If it weren’t for the (unavoidable) noise of the knobs, you’d soon forget that you were on knobby tires at all. I am aware that this sounds too good to be true, so I gave the Steilacooms to other riders to test. Mark’s initial comment was: “Why would I ride knobbies on a paved ride?” When he rode the tires, he was surprised how “un-knobby-like” they felt on pavement. And gravel racer Matt Surch found that he had no trouble keeping up with fast road pacelines on Compass knobbies. Both these riders confirmed that the Compass knob pattern works exceedingly well on pavement.

What about mud? After all, the whole point of a knobby isn’t just to ride on pavement, but to provide extra traction when conditions get slippery. A full season of cyclocross, including the single-speed world championships, have shown that the knobs have no trouble shedding mud. Your bike will get dirty, but your tire tread stays clean – as it should be. And the knobs are tall enough to dig into the surface and provide excellent traction.

With so many Allroad bikes running 650B wheels these days, it made sense to offer the same tread pattern in a 650B tire with a little more volume. Enter the Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm. We named it after Pumpkin Ridge, a quiet paved road near Portland, Oregon, that has a number of promising dirt spurs heading toward the Tualatin Mountains. Past explorations failed to reveal a connection, but filled our fenders with mud. We wished for knobby 650B tires that would not get bogged down in the mud, yet would also roll well on pavement. Imagine where you might go with these tires….

The Compass Pumpkin Ridge is designed for rides that mix pavement, gravel and muddy dirt. “Road” tires quickly reach their limits here, yet if you ride knobbies, the paved sections of the ride aren’t much fun. The Pumpkin Ridge performs equally well on all these surfaces. And of course, if you race cyclocross on 650B wheels, like BQ Team rider Steve Frey, there finally is a tire that offers the ultimate in performance in that wheel size.
The Pumpkin Ridge is now in stock, in Standard and Extralight casings. Click here for more information or to order.

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Tubeless-Compatible 650B x 42 mm


If there is such a thing, Babyshoe Pass is our favorite tire here at Compass and Bicycle Quarterly. It’s 42 mm width gives it great cornering grip, comfort and puncture resistance. The 650B wheel size offers nimble handling with wide tires. The Babyshoe Pass is named after an iconic gravel pass in the central Cascade Mountains, because it’s great on gravel, too. Virtually everybody at Compass and on the “BQ Team” rides more than 90% of the time on these tires.

The Babyshoe Pass is an obvious choice for modern Allroad bikes. Some, like the Cannondale Slate, already are equipped with 650B tires, and they can realize their true potential with a set of supple tires. Others are designed around 700C x 35 or 38 mm tires, but 650B x 42 fits nicely and provides more air volume for gravel, as well as more nimble handling for paved descents. It’s a win-win situation, as evidenced by the Bicycle Quarterly test bikes that were equpped with these tires (above).

Being intended for pavement and gravel alike, the Babyshoe Pass tire always was an obvious choice for tubeless. However, tubeless-compatible tires have a different bead, so this required a new mold. We first wanted to gain experience with our other tubeless-ready tires before we replaced the molds for the Babyshoe Pass. Now that time has come…
When we designed the new mold, we increased the size of the Babyshoe Pass by 1.5 mm to make it a true 42 mm wide on most rims. If you mount it tubeless, it will be a little wider yet.
Currently, the new Babyshoe Pass is in stock with the “standard” casing. Later this year, the Extralight version also will get the tubeless-ready bead and extra width.
Click here for more information or to order.
 
 

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Two Years of Racing on Compass: Interview with Matt Surch


Long-time Bicycle Quarterly reader Matt Surch (above) put his name on the map when he won last year’s Steaming Nostril gravel race on Compass Bon Jon Pass tires. We checked back in with him to see how the tires performed in the year since then, and to hear about his road racing on Compass Cayuse Pass tires.
JH: With another season of riding and racing on the Bon Jon Pass tires, how do you feel about them?
Matt Surch: Frankly, the Bon Jons have been exactly what I’ve been hoping for in a gravel tire. This comes down to two key aspects: 1) volume – 35 mm is perfect for so much of the riding I do off paved roads. 2) tubeless – I love this format for its road feel and flat resistance. One of the things I’m really enjoying with the Bon Jons is that they are perfect for the rides where I head out the door without much more of a plan than to ride fun stuff. That tends to mean taking paved roads up to Gatineau Park, then piecing together spans of trail, some of which are very old dirt roads, in novel ways. I just go where I feel like going, try branches I don’t know, discover things. While the 32s are a bit small for rides like this, and the 38s bigger than required, the Bon Jons are the Goldilocks option: just right.
The Bon Jon has become my go-to for gravel, and I have them mounted on wheels that are on my cyclocross/gravel bike all summer. I have a pair of 32mm extralight Stampede Passes on another steel all-road bike for paved rides that I don’t need my aero road bike for.

Tell us about some memorable rides or races on these tires.
Sure, I have a couple that come to mind, from perhaps opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was our big annual local criterium in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighborhood, the Preston Street Criterium. This was the 44th edition of the race, which draws the best crit racers from Toronto and Montreal, in addition to our locals. I can still remember the first time I visited the crit, about 15 years ago, with my friend and longtime Compass tire evangelist, Rodd Heino. I barely touched my road bike then, and didn’t even consider racing.
I only took up racing criteriums in 2015, in fact, after waiting until I was sure I could ride at the front of the local training races as much as I needed in order to stay safe and learn the ropes. So last year, on Father’s Day, I raced the Preston St. Crit for the second time in the ‘Pro’ race. As I’d been doing all season, I was on the 26mm Compass Cayuse Pass Extralight tires on my Cervelo S5 aero road bike, mounted onto 55 mm-deep carbon Woven Precision Handbuilts wheels. This is a pretty aerodynamic set-up, and I’ve been very happy with this combination.
The race was pretty incredible. I missed the breakaway of 4 guys that went out about 30 minutes into the race, and decided to bridge up to them. One rider came with me, and we worked really hard together over the longest 8 minutes of my life to connect. The whole time friends and family were cheering me on so hard from the sidelines. I actually feel emotional as I write this….
We rode the rest of the race as a group of 6, ultimately lapping the field. Into the final turn I felt good and was positioned third, behind the two best sprinters. In an instant, I was sliding across the pavement. I’d slid out, not focusing enough on my cornering technique as we hit the final turn faster than any other lap. I lost a lot of skin and literally burned through my much-loved Giro SLX shoe, but my bones and bike were fine. My family found me, and they and a few guys from The Cyclery, one of Ottawa’s best bike shops, took care of me. I jumped back on my bike to salvage 5th, which was a bit of a consolation (I made a bit of money to help pay for repairs to my kit), but was just really happy to have delivered a peak performance that was only marred by one mistake. And having my family and everyone there supporting me was really special.

The other day that stands out was rather different. Iain Radford (fellow Compass devotee) and I decided to organize a gentleman’s race over an awesome road/off-road route at the beginning of July. Some of the most fun we’ve ever had on bikes has been when riding this format – teams of 4-6 riders team time trialling a big, hard route, unmarked, unofficiated – so we wanted to put one on. Our Ride of the Damned event is run in a team format, too, but it’s not a race. This time, we wanted to race.
We sketched out a route for a recon ride at the end of June and hit it up as a group of 4 on a rainy Sunday. I was on the 38 mm Compass Barlow Passes, Extralight (above), with Challenge latex tubes. I ended up with a tiny puncure on a rock, which I put down to the tubes being stretched so thin. The feel of the route wasn’t quite right, there was too much pointy rock on some of the sections of trail we used, which really interfered with the flow of the ride. We opted to tweak it, removing the pointy rock bits, and landed on a 117 km route that alternated between pavement, trail, and dirt road sectors.
On the morning of the event, El Camino, we had ten 4-man teams pre-registered, and we all headed off at roughly one minute intervals. My team was well balanced, and we leveraged our strengths well, riding mellow on the climbs, and absolutely drilling it everywhere else. It was a really hard effort on the bike, but so much fun! I’d opted to run the Bon Jons in tubeless format instead of the larger 38s with tubes, and this worked perfectly. Iain punctured, which saw us passed by a number of teams, then we chased them back down. It was exciting! At the end of the day we secured the fastest time, 3:51, beating our goal of 4 hours.
But the fun didn’t end there. We had everyone bring BBQ stuff, and got the grill at the park going for a great party after the ride. It was really simple logistically, and tons of fun hanging out after the ride as teams streamed in. Of all the racing I’ve done, this format is the most fun, I love it. Rather than a team working for one rider, everyone contributes to the whole team’s result. It requires a lot of strategy, it’s a bit of an art, like team trialing on the road, but more technical!

You run the tires tubeless. Any tips on how to set them up? What rims do you use?
Yes, I run the Bon Jons tubeless. I’ve had them on 55 mm-deep carbon Woven Precision Handbuilt wheels (above), which use a different tubeless bead design, so there has been a bit of a learning curve. The wheels are designed with a fairly deep centre channel for easy of tire mounting, with a tubeless bead shelf that has a lip on the inside, along the channel, for the tire bead to climb over when inflated. Early on, I realized that I needed a bit more tubeless tape than required for sealing the rim. I was having some trouble airing the tires up, which can be caused by a weak compressor or obstruction in the valves. I added another layer of tape (Gorilla tape, in fact) to see if that’d do the trick. It did, the tires mounted immediately when I beefed up the channel this way. So this is my #1 tip: if you don’t have a snug fit at the channel, add tape and try again.
The other tips are standard:

  • Use a bit of water on the bead when mounting, it really helps. I don’t bother with soapy water, but just grab a bottle and drop some onto the tire.
  • Remove the valve core of your tubeless valve when mounting the tire. I use the air-gun nozzle on my air compressor, sticking it into the valve. This allows more air to pass through.
  • Don’t put sealant into the tire until you’ve mounted it. Trust me on this, you don’t want that stuff spraying all over you, it stains! Air up the tire, get the beads locked in, then use an injector to put sealant into the tire. I use one scoop of Stan’s regular formula sealant.
  • You really need to shake the tires all over the place, especially on their sides, to get complete sealing. I’ll do that, then rest the wheel on its side for an hour or more, then flip it. This works well. Sometimes you actually need to ride a tire a bit to get it to seal. This isn’t a Compass-specific thing.
  • If you don’t have an air compressor or access to one, yes, you can use CO2 to air up your tubeless tires. Obviously, this is wasteful and more costly than using a compressor. But it will work for a tire with a tight enough bead. DO NOT inflate with CO2 with sealant in your tire; the sealant will solidify into a ball. If you use CO2, let it all out after locking the beads, then replace with air.
  • If you use a carbon rim, don’t overtighten your valves. If you do, you can deform the brake track, which you’ll feel under braking. Silca makes a nice valve set with a fairing that helps reduce the possibility of creating this deformation.
  • If you don’t ride wheels you’ve set up tubeless often, your sealant will dry up sooner than if you ride it regularly. If you only use one scoop of sealant, odds are it’ll be mostly dry when you’re riding. You’ll want to make sure you keep some liquid sloshing round in the tires. Always bring at least one spare tube, two for more risky rides.
  • Tubeless sealant really only seals small holes, like those from glass, thorns, wire. Medium-sized (a few mm long) can sometimes be sealed with the help of some cotton or similar fabric. Cut some small strips from scrap fabric at home (I’ve recently tried a cloth number plate/dossard) and pack them into your flat kit. If you puncture, try poking that fabric into your tire to create a dam for your sealant to seal around/soak into. This is best done while the tire is still fairly well inflared. I’d have this work, as have others, it’s worth a shot.
  • You’ll need to air the tires up pretty high to get the beads to seat – this is normal. Bring the pressure back down to where you like it after seating the bead.
  • Experiment with your air pressure. For very light tires like the extralight Compass Bon Jon, the sidewall is so compliant you’ll need a bit more pressure – with tubes or not – than you might imagine. Start on the firm side, then gradually drop your pressure during a ride until you find the best balance of ride feel you are looking for.
  • Experiment, this is how you’ll get the most from your tires, and remember, tires cut more easily when their pressure is high.


Are you still on your first set of tires? Or if you replaced them, how many kilometers/miles did you get out of them?
I’m on my second set of Bon Jons now, but after 3000km my first pair are still rolling on my old bike. I mounted a fresh pair of the tan-walls on my new Brodie Romax (above) in the spring, and they’ve been perfect ever since.
Any durability concerns?
No, I have had no durabillity concerns whatsoever, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. I find climbing is the toughest on tires for wear, and most of the climbing I do on this bike is on unpaved roads, which is why I think I’m getting quite good wear out of them. Because the tread wraps around the tire well, I don’t have any sidewall damage, which is somewhat incredible considering some of the trails I’ve ridden!
What tire pressure do you run? And how much do you weigh?
I weight about 172 lbs in the spring… up to about 177 lbs during the season. I used to run 50 psi rear, 47 front on the Bon Jons, but now I tend to run closer to 40. I spent a week in South Carolina riding big climbs and fast descents, and settled on about 55 psi in the 32 mm tires, which felt fantastic in the turns…

Our tires have a tread pattern that is optimized for road use. How do you find their grip on dry gravel?
Yeah, good question, I think this is something a lot of people are wondering about. I learned years ago at the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée that tread doesn’t do much for you on gravel. I rode 28 mm Grand Bois tires the first year there, then the 32s. Same tread, more volume with the 32s. On the descents, I didn’t have grip issues with either, but the loose climbs were always where the challenge lay. It was clear that more volume, more tread on the surface, was key. So I kept going up in size as I was able to get bigger tires on bikes, and confirmed that volume is all that matters for gravel. When the substrate is not locked in place, knobs have no effect. It’s like snowshoeing: all about surface area.
The tricky part comes when we need to deal with routes that have a mix of surfaces: pavement, gravel/dirt road, and trails. Trails, when gravelly, are fine with no tread. But knobs become useful if they have something to cut into. Slick patches of mud are an example. The standard Compass tread is scary on these, one has to ride completely upright. A bit of tread can cut through a bit of mud and dig into dry dirt below. On snow and grass, a little tread goes a long way too. At the Steaming Nostril race last year, we had some grass on the course, and I really had to use a lot of energy to keep moving with just the “Road” tread. But it was worth it! On the snow side – I know some are thinking, ‘What the….’ – the 2015 Rasputitsa Gravel Road race had an extended packed snow/ice sector that we absolutely HAD to use a file tread tire for. That was a shame, as the rest of the course would have been faster on the Compass tread.
On the El Camino route we capped things off with a very steep gravel trail climb, which kicks up to 23% in grade. With the Bon Jons I made it up, despite having no knobs on the tire. It was more a matter of smooth power transmission than tire grip.
When we face exposed rock, especially wet, we also tend to want some tread. A file tread tends to work well for this, as they have so many little edges.
I’ve recently spend some time on the 650B Switchback Hill 48s and 42 mm Babyshoe Passes, since my new cyclocross / gravel bike has disc brakes; I can run different wheel diameters. Both these tires climb really well on loose surfaces, due to their volume. That volume can also make them a little skittish on corners with pebbles over hardpack, which allow narrowed tires to cut to the firm surface more readily. That’s not a matter of tread, but width. I’m very much looking forward to trying the new Pumpkin Ridge 42mm 650Bs on mixed terrain, which will definitely work well in mud.

During the road racing season, you’ve been riding our Cayuse Pass 700C x 26 mm tires. How have those tires worked for you?
I’ve been riding the 26 mm Cayuse Pass tires on my Cervelo S5 aero road bike for almost two seasons now, and they have been somewhat transformative. Previously, I used Hutchinson’s tubeless tires on the bike, which were wooden, but reliable. In 2015, I used Continental GP4000s and Michelin Pro Race 4s. I punctured all but one of these tires badly enough to write them off. They were all 23 mm tires on my 19 mm (internal width) Woven wheels. While the Contis test very fast for aerodynamics and rolling resistance on rims like mine, in practice, I found them ill-suited.
The problem is that their tread – and this is true for the Michelins too – does no wrap around the casing enough to protect the tire’s casing. The tires handled well, somehow, but I had all kinds of flats on the shoulder of the tires. Because they were 23 mm tires (their 25s were too big for my frame/fork), they were somewhat squared off on my rims, and I had to run 100psi to avoid pinch flats. But this created too much casing tension, which makes it easier to cut the tire! In the spring, I was delighted to discover that the 26 mm Cayuse Pass fit my bike, so I’ve been on them all season. I experimented with pressure, working down from 95 psi to 80, where I’ve stayed. Wow, what a difference! I’ve got more grip, lower rolling resistance, and my bike feels so much more comfortable than it used to. I thought it would always suck on long rides, especially on typical roads with cracks, but I’ve found myself grabbing the bike so much more often, because it feels good. I’ve had only one flat on these tires in about 5,600 kms, a pinch on a pothole in the dark. I’ve still had no flats on the Bon Jons.
So, on top of being far more reliable than what I used to use on my road bike, I’ve found the Cayuse Passes roll really fast, and any aerodynamic hit I’ve taken as a result of them being a little wide for my rims and taking up more space within my frame and fork are outweighed by their fast rolling, grip, and reliability. I’m stoked to be on these tires, and don’t plan to change. I used to wish for a tubeless version of these tires, but now I am happy to stick with latex tubes. It’s hard to argue with no punctures in two years.
I wish I had a power meter, because I’d love to compare the Bon Jons on my CX bike against the Cayuse Pass. They feel slower on smooth paved roads, but I want quantification of the difference, ideall on the same bike. When it comes to our highest speed and intensity races, the crits and road races, I still feel I need to favour my system’s aerodynamics, and the 26s are the max I can fit in my Cervelo. But what if that bike was designed to be optimal with 28 mm, 30 mm, or 32 mm tires? Would it be as fast? I wish I could find out…
You’ve been trying the knobby Compass Steilcoom tires lately. How did that go?
I wanted to use the Steilacooms at the Steaming Nostril this year – our region was getting epic rain, and we experienced swampy conditions. But first I had to build my confidence in their pavement performance. I’d seen your post about them, so I was cautiously tentative. Results were good! I found that the faster I went, the better they rolled, as they sort of plane above 25-30 km/h, and really hum along around 40-45. We had some fast corners to deal with, one totally sand-covered, and I had zero issues. The profile really is great for cornering on the road. Ultimately, I was able to ride where I wanted to be and pull as long as I wanted to pull the whole time, and it was a total succes. I won’t make a habit of riding them for smooth stuff like this, but I am stoked that they are able to perform well on pavement, gravel and in mud.
You placed 2nd in this year’s Steaming Nostril. How did the Steilacoom tires perform in the actual race?
The Steilacooms performed really well in April at the Steamin Nostril. I had to make a tough call, between them and Bon Jons for race day. The region had seen a lot of rain leading into the race, and I was expecting the crux section to be waterlogged and slippery. Knowing that was where I’d want to break away from the front group and try to go on solo for the remaining 10k or sp to the finish, I opted for the Steilacooms. Ultimately, the section was quite dry, and I didn’t wind up needing the knobs. I managed to break away and went for it solo, but was fading into the wind as Sjaan Gerth pursued me, ultimately overtaking and holding me off for the victory. The Bon Jons would have been the faster tire on the day, but it was a game-time decision, and sometimes you just have to roll the dice and see. The Steilacooms were incredibly good in a few cyclocross races I did in 2016, and I remain really fond of them. I might just have to shave some down over the winter…
If we made a tire that isn’t in the program yet, what would you like to see from Compass in the future?
My dream tire, if I could pick just one, would be based on the Bon Jon casing (tubeless, same size), and add a file (diamond) tread. That would allow me to use the Compass tire for most of the gravel rides and races. The Continental CX Speed tread is probably the closest to ideal I can think of. There would still be some events that required more volume and tread, but a file tread would cover the bigger existing gap. It would also be a more sure-footed feeling tire for those less comfortable with a bit of sliding out there on unpaved surfaces!
We’ll consider that. Thank you very much, Matt, and good luck with the other races this season!
Further reading:

Photo credits:
All photos by Matt Surch, except:
1. Preston Street Criterium 2016
6. Rasputitsa Gravel Road Race 2016
7. Grégoire Crevier, Canadian Criterium Championships 2016

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Choosing Your Tires


We’ve experienced a profound revolution in road bikes in recent years: It used to be that to go fast, you rode narrow tires and pumped them up to the maximum pressure. If you wanted more comfort, you used wider tires and (maybe) lower pressures, but you knew that you’d be slower.
Now we know that comfort and speed aren’t opposed, but inextricably linked: A bike that absorbs shocks better rolls faster. Narrow tires don’t have any speed advantage, and inflating your tires to the maximum often makes your bike slower.
But what does this means in practical terms, when it comes to choosing new tires for your bike? Do you need to get a new bike with clearances for ultra-wide tires? Or is there a way to benefit from the “tire revolution” on your existing bike?
The simple guidelines below are based on more than a decade of research into the performance of tires, and they’ve proven themselves on the road time and again.

Supple Casing
The most important part of the “tire revolution” is the supple casings. In the past, we thought that supple casings and wide tires didn’t go together well, because supple, wide tires have to be run at relatively low pressures. Now we know that lower pressures don’t make tires roll slower. And that makes a supple casing better in the two important areas of tire performance: A supple casing has less resistance as it flexes (hysteretic losses) and it transmits less vibrations from the road (suspension losses). It’s a win-win scenario.
Compared to the casing, all other factors – width, tread thickness, weight, etc. – are of minor importance. In Bicycle Quarterly‘s tire tests, the five fastest tires ranged in width from 24 to 36 mm, but they all had one thing in common: a supple casing. In practical terms, this means that a supple 25 mm-wide racing tire will be more comfortable and faster than a 42 mm touring tire with stiff sidewalls.
So don’t fret if your bike can only fit relatively narrow tires. Just get the best, most supple ones you can find, and enjoy most of the benefits of the “tire revolution”.

Width
When in doubt, use wider tires. At least up to 42 mm, wider simply is better. More grip, more comfort, same speed, fewer flats. What about the aerodynamics of wider tires? In our testing, both in the wind tunnel and on the test track, we found the effect too small to measure. And when you factor in the greater shock absorption (lower suspension losses) of the wider tires, it’s likely that any small increase in wind resistance is made up by the smoother rolling of the wider tires. On smooth roads, it comes out the same, on rough surfaces, wide tires are demonstrably faster.
Of course, you’ll have to work with the clearances of your bike. Don’t try to squeeze the largest possible tire in there with just a hair’s breadth of clearance. Your tire may “grow” with age or your wheel may go slightly out of true. I recommend a minimum of 3 mm clearance all around the tire. When in doubt which tire will fit, go with a slightly narrower one. If you find that you have more clearance than expected, get the bigger size the next time around.

Wheel Size
When you get a new bike, wheel size is an important consideration. Smaller and/or lighter wheels will be more nimble, larger and/or heavier wheels will be more stable. Ideally, your bike is both stable and nimble: It should stay faithfully on a chosen line, but it shouldn’t resist if you want to change its trajectory. How do you achieve that?
The forces of trail and wheel flop cancel each other, especially on a bike without a front load. That is why the wheel size plays such an important role – you can’t really compensate for a front wheel that is too large or too small.
The bike industry is only slowly waking up to this. Too many gravel bikes still come with the same 700C wheels that you find on racing bikes with much narrower tires. Smaller 650B wheels are a better choice for wide tires – from 40 to 50 mm –  and for even wider tires, I prefer 26″ wheels. That way, you can enjoy the nimble feel of a good road bike and the surefootedness of wide tires…
If you use ultralight carbon rims and superlight tires (like our Compass Extralights), you can go up one wheel size. The larger diameter compensates the light weight to keep the rotational inertia in the “optimum” range.

My “dream bikes” are equipped with either 650B x 42 mm tires (left) or 26″ x 54 mm, depending on whether they will see mostly paved or mostly gravel roads. But in practical terms, I am perfectly happy on a bike with 700C x 32 mm tires (right), provided the tires are supple performance models and not sluggish “touring” tires.

The importance of supple casings isn’t a new discovery. For almost a century, professional racers have ridden supple, handmade tires, no matter whether the fashion was for 30, 20 or now 25 mm-wide tires. In fact, tires are the only thing that hasn’t changed significantly on pro racing bikes during the last 70 years. You could put Fausto Coppi’s tires on Christopher Froome’s bike, and he’d never know the difference.
Outside the pro peloton, the importance of supple tires was largely forgotten as riders became more concerned about flat resistance than the joy of gliding along on a cushion of air. Only recently, supple clinchers have become available that offer the feel and performance of great racing tubulars, but in much wider widths.

Speaking of flats, that is the one drawback of staying with narrow tires. Since they run at higher pressures, they are more likely to puncture. And yet, in my experience, the fear of flats is often overstated. On the beautiful backroads that offer the best cycling experience, flats are relatively rare.
Debris accumulates where cars don’t go, hence you get so many flats when riding on the shoulders of busy highways. On backroads, you ride in the traffic lane (but with little traffic, you don’t bother anybody), so there isn’t much debris that could puncture your tires.
downhill
To summarize, you don’t need a new bike to enjoy the “tire revolution”. For your existing bike, choose tires with supple casings, and use the widest model your bike can fit with safe clearances. And when it’s time to get a new bike, consider getting a bike designed for wider tires and perhaps smaller wheels to get the performance of wide tires with the nimble handling that makes a good racing bike so much fun. It’s that simple!
More information:

Photo credit: Goggles & Dust / Brett Horton Collection (classic racers).

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Berthoud Saddles and Spare Parts


Berthoud saddles are among the most comfortable in the world. What’s even better, they are fully and easily rebuildable. Every part for the saddles is available from Compass Cycles, and you can replace all parts using standard tools. Berthoud saddles are designed to be easy to work on, even though it is rarely necessary:  The 10-year-old prototype saddle I am using on my Urban Bike shows no sign of wearing out.
The most important spare parts are probably the leather tops (above). After a few decades of hard riding, you may need a new one. Or if you want to change the color of your saddle, it’s easy enough to do. Simply unbolt the top and install a new one.

All the other parts are available as well. If you want a lighter saddle, you can replace your stainless steel rails for titanium ones. A friend once lost one of the bolts on his Berthoud saddle – easy to fix. The front and rear frames have never broken before, but just in case your saddle is involved in an accident, we have the parts in stock. It’s all part of Compass’ commitment to customer service. And if you prefer to have your bike shop service your Berthoud saddle, we wholesale all these parts, too.

In addition to the spare parts, we now have Berthoud’s women’s models, the Marie-Blanque (stainless rails) and Agnel (titanium) in stock. The names are inspired by the high mountain passes where these saddles were developed: The stainless steel models take their names from the Pyrenees, while the titanium-railed saddles are named after passes in the Alps. The women’s models have shorter noses than the men’s saddles. On all Berthoud saddles, the extra “give” of the flexible underframes makes them more comfortable than leather saddles with metal frames.

Berthoud also makes leather handlebar tape, in colors matching those of the saddles (except the “cork” finish). It’s one of the best handlebar tapes you’ll find anywhere.

We enjoy working with Berthoud, because everybody there has many years of experience. Above you see company owner Philippe Marguet (left) and Vincent Crétin (right) examine the hides that will be turned into saddles. Before starting production a decade ago, Gilles Berthoud tracked down employees from the long-defunct French saddle maker Idéale to learn about the craft of making leather saddles.

The same applies to the bags and panniers. For the last 20 years, they all have been made by one woman: Véronique Durand. And she in turn was trained for three years by a seamstress from Sologne, the bag maker that pioneered these bags in the 1950s. All this experience shows in products that are among the best in the world.

Last summer, we cycled across beautiful backroads to Pont-de-Vaux in France, where Berthoud’s workshop is located. We spent a day learning how saddles, bags and other parts are made. We met the dedicated employees, and even had Véronique sign the panniers she made for me 17 years ago (below). We ate a great lunch at a traditional French brasserie and enjoyed a day filled with fun and laughter.

We reminisced about the story behind the bags on my bike: I had to wait six months for these panniers while Véronique was on maternity leave. Gilles Berthoud apologized at the time, but I was glad that she could spend time with her daughter. I think of that every time I use the panniers – and now they even have Véronique’s signature on them. I plan to use them at least for another 17 years!
It’s one of the many fascinating parts of the Gilles Berthoud story. For a detailed feature on the company, with many photos, check out the Summer 2017 Bicycle Quarterly.
To find out more about Gilles Berthoud products, click on the links below:

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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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The Trouble with 'Road Tubeless'


It’s always interesting when bike industry people talk among each other, off-the-record. On the ride from the airport to Paul Camp a few weeks ago, one bike tester was still visibly shaken when he related: “My tubeless tire blew off the rim yesterday. I almost crashed.” Worried that this might have been one of our tires, I asked about the brand. He mentioned a big maker, known as a pioneer of  ‘Road Tubeless.’ The tester continued: “I had it inflated to 90 psi, well under the max. I was just riding along, when suddenly – bam!”
Tubeless tires are becoming popular these days. Using inner tubes inside your tire almost seems like a throwback to the 1950s. Cars have not used inner tubes in over half a century, and mountain bikes have gone tubeless, too. Many of us have been riding our Allroad bikes, with their wide tires, tubeless for years.
Finally, road bikes, with narrower tires, are going tubeless, too. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing: There are more and more reports of tires blowing off the rims. What is going on? Why are tires with inner tubes safe at high pressures, but the same tires sometimes blow off the rim when mounted tubeless?

An inner tube doesn’t just hold air, it also reinforces the joint between the tire and the rim. Air pressure pushes the tube against the tire so that it no longer can move independently. For the tire to blow off, a very small section of the tube must stretch tremendously, so the tire can climb over the rim’s edge. As flexible as inner tubes are, they get to a point where they don’t stretch any farther – pull on a tube, and you’ll notice this. That makes it very hard for the tire to blow off the rim.
Without an inner tube, there is nothing reinforcing that joint. If the fit between rim and tire is even just the slightest bit loose, the tire can slide upward, and – bam! In fact, even with a perfect fit, there is a point at which a tire blows off the rim: Tire beads can stretch a little, and the higher you inflate the tire, the more force there is stretching the bead. That appears to be the root cause of the problem: Road tires typically are run at relatively high pressures.

Thinking about this, I realized that ‘Road Tubeless’ is a bit in uncharted waters: Usually, tubeless tires run at much lower pressures. Tires for cars and motorcycles are generally inflated to less than 45 psi. (The exception is airplane tires with up to 200 psi, but those are a very special design.)
All these tires also are much stiffer than bicycle tires, which helps them stay on the rim. A supple tire can move in just one small spot, which makes it much easier to climb over the rim’s edge. I was surprised at Paul Camp to hear about the tester’s experience with a tire that isn’t even known for its supple casing. But compared to car or motorcycle tires, even stiff bicycle tires are supple…

To test the limits of our tires with tubeless mounting, I installed a Compass Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tire on a wheel that we had measured carefully to make sure its diameter was exactly to spec. I inflated the tire to its maximum pressure of 90 psi (6.2 bar) – without problems. The pressure has already gone down to 85 psi by the time I took the photo – there was no sealant in the tire for reasons that will become apparent in the next paragraph.
I then inflated the tire further. 100 psi was fine. 105 psi, no problem. A few more pump strokes, about 108 psi, and – bam! The tire blew off the rim. I was wearing ear protection, and there was no sealant inside the tire, so no damage was done.
Of course, few people would inflate a 35 mm tire to 108 psi (7.6 bar). Even with tubes, the Bon Jon Pass is rated to a maximum of 90 psi (6.2 bar). And as long as everything is perfect, you can run them tubeless at this pressure, too. But in the real world, not everything is perfect. The diameter of different rims can vary considerably. We’ve found that the rims on many production bikes are a bit smaller than spec, because that makes it easier to mount the tires on the assembly line. Of course, this also results in a looser fit of the tires. If you build up the rim bed with extra rim tape – some mechanics even use thicker ‘Gorilla Tape’ – you can improve the fit of the tire on the rim.

Over the last year, I’ve been testing every model of tubeless-compatible tire in the Compass program. I’ve mounted them without tubes on a range of bikes, both Bicycle Quarterly test bikes and my own machines. I’ve experienced zero problems, but I also run them at pressures of 60 psi (4 bar) or lower. I remounted the Bon Jon Pass that blew off the rim and inflated it to 60 psi, put in some sealant, and took it for a couple of rides. As expected, it was fine. (However, we don’t recommend reusing tires that blew off the rim, as the bead can get damaged.)
Based on this experience, we recommend: Do not exceed 60 psi (4 bar) when running Compass tires tubeless. If you need higher pressures, please use tubes. Since the problems with running tubeless tires at high pressures are not limited to Compass tires, I’d recommend this for all tubeless tires – and especially for high-performance tires that are relatively supple.
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However, you also don’t want to run too low a pressure with tubeless tires. If the tire flexes excessively, this will break down the casing until it starts to leak (above). With a narrow tire, you have a narrow window between “too high” and “too low” pressures. On a 35 mm tire, 60 psi (4 bar) still is plenty for most riders. (I usually ride my Bon Jons at about 35-40 psi.) But if we were to offer a 26 mm-wide tubeless-compatible tire, 60 psi isn’t enough even for a light rider. Yet going higher than 60 psi would risk blowing the tire off some rims.

With wider tires, you don’t have that problem. I run the 54 mm-wide Rat Trap Pass tires on my Firefly at 40 psi (2.8 bar) on smooth roads. At such a ‘high’ pressure (for tires this wide), the bike feels like a racing bike. On gravel, I can go down to 22 psi (1.5 bar) without risking damage to the casings. I run them tubeless now, after suffering two pinch flats during the Otaki 100 km Mountain Bike Race in Japan (above). As I found out, riding over really rough ground at very high speed will pinch-flat even 54 mm tires!
I feel that for riding on rough gravel, tubeless really is the way to go. Choose tires that are wide enough, run them at low pressure, and you shouldn’t have trouble. (Unless your rims are way out of spec.)
For road riding, the advantages of tubeless tires are less clear. Pinch flats are much less of an issue on the road, unless you still ride ultra-narrow tires. All the testing I’ve seen – including our own – indicates that the rolling resistance of tubeless tires is no lower, and perhaps even higher, than using thin, lightweight inner tubes. That isn’t surprising: You replace an ultra-supple inner tube with a liquid sloshing around inside your tire.
What about flats? One nice feature is that the sealant inside the tubeless tire automatically seals small punctures. You don’t have to go tubeless for that: Some riders use sealant inside their tubes. They report that it also seals small punctures in the tube – provided you use it from the start, when you mount a new tire. (With an old tire, during a puncture, the air may not escape through hole that is right above the puncture in the tube, but through a bigger hole from a previous puncture that is elsewhere in the tire. Then the sealant flows into the space between tire and tube, creating a mess without sealing the tube.)
Based on all of the above, we – as well as other tire makers like Pirelli – have concluded that at this time, running high-pressure tires tubeless isn’t worth the risks. Can these issues be resolved? It’s difficult to say. Perhaps ‘Road Tubeless’ is the way of the future, or perhaps it’ll be like radial tires for bicycles. Cars have used radials for decades, but for bicycles, they never caught on.
What needs to happen to make tubeless tires safe even at high pressures? Clearly, the interface between tire bead and rim must become more standardized, and manufacturing tolerances must become tighter. With a ‘perfect’ rim, it’s already fine to run our 35 mm tires tubeless at 90 psi, but how do we get all rims to be perfect?

For now, here is the take-home message for running tubeless tires:

  • For tubeless, we recommend a maximum pressure of 60 psi (4 bar).
  • If you are riding on gravel or rough stuff, tubeless eliminates pinch flats. And you’ll be running less than 60 psi anyhow.
  • If you ride on the road and need more than 60 psi, use inner tubes. Not just with Compass tires, but with other brands as well.
  • Even on smooth roads, Compass’ wide tires roll as fast as our narrow ones. Getting wider tires and running them at pressures below 60 psi is a good way to use tubeless on the road.
  • When mounting a tire tubeless, first inflate it 20% higher than the pressure you’ll be riding. Let it sit for a while to make sure it will not blow off your rim. Then decrease the pressure before you ride the bike. That way, you know that you aren’t at the upper pressure limit for that particular tire/rim combination.

Tubeless technology holds great promise, but like everything, it should be applied where it makes sense and where it is safe. In a future post, we’ll talk about tips on how to set up Compass tires tubeless.
Photo credits: Nicola Joly (exploded tire), Cyclocross Magazine (damaged casing), Toru Kanazaki (Otaki 100 km Race)

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Why We Choose Steel Bikes


At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been testing quite a few titanium and carbon bikes lately, and even a bike made from bamboo. We really liked most of these bikes. And yet our own bikes continue to be made from steel. Why don’t we ride carbon or titanium (or bamboo) bikes?

We choose steel because this material allows us to build custom bikes that are dialed in to the nth degree. High-end steel bikes have benefited from decades of research and development. They now offer a performance that is difficult to equal with other materials. With performance, I don’t just mean speed – although the best steel bikes have no trouble keeping up with ti or carbon racers – but also handling, reliability and all-weather, all-road capability.

Steel tubing is available in many diameters and wall thicknesses, so it’s easy to fine-tune the ride quality and performance of our bikes. For example, my Mule (above) – intended for hauling heavier loads – has a stiffer main triangle than my René Herse (second from top), which is intended for speed first and foremost. With steel, it’s relatively easy to fine-tune the bike’s flex characteristics for optimum performance – what we call “planing”.

Steel is easy to shape. That means that it isn’t too difficult to bend the chainstays slightly, so they curve around wide tires. You can indent the stays to create even more clearance. And steel is stiffer for a given volume than all other materials, so slender tubes are sufficient: Steel chainstays need less of that valuable space between tire and cranks.

Steel is easy to machine, which helps when making dropouts, braze-ons and other parts. Pump pegs and braze-ons for centerpull brakes are readily available in steel. Making those parts out of titanium isn’t as easy as it sounds.

What about the weight and performance of the frame itself? Titanium, steel and aluminum all have the same stiffness-to-weight ratio. Titanium weighs half as much as steel and is half as stiff. For aluminum, it’s 1/3.
If you made frames from each material, with the same tubing diameters and the same stiffness, you’d get three frames that weigh the same. The titanium tubes would have walls that are twice as thick, the walls of the aluminum tubes would be three times as thick.
In the real world, titanium frames tend to be lighter than steel. They use larger-diameter tubes with thinner walls, which require less material to obtain the same stiffness. However, you can make the walls of a frame tube only so thin before the tube risks buckling, denting or cracking. That is the limit with steel – remember that for the same stiffness, a steel tube’s walls will be only half as thick as those of a titanium tube. If you wanted to make a steel frame that is as light as the best titanium frames, the tubing walls would get too thin. So you keep the tube diameter smaller, with the result that the frame weighs a little more.
The weight advantage of titanium frames is smaller than you might expect. Remember that the frame makes up only 20% of a bike’s weight. And once you factor in the rider’s weight, the weight advantage of a titanium bike practically disappears.

Carbon can be even lighter and stiffer. The down side of most carbon frames is that they are made in molds. If you want to change something, you have to make a new mold. That makes it almost impossible to fine-tune the ride characteristics to your preferences. Carbon also works best in uninterrupted shapes. That means it’s not so easy to install braze-ons for racks and other parts that feed significant point loads into the frame or fork. Carbon also tends to be more fragile. Where a metal tube may at worst dent in a fall, carbon often cracks.

For forks, steel and carbon are the only materials that are commonly used today. Most carbon forks are made in molds, so if you want a different geometry, you need a new (and expensive) mold. None of the carbon forks available today have enough offset for a low-trail bike. With steel, you just rake the fork blades a little further. That is why my titanium bike has a steel fork – I wanted to get a geometry optimized for wide tires. Every time I carve into a turn during a steep, twisty descent, I am glad about the precise handling this allows.
Steel also has a longer fatigue life than carbon, which means you can make smaller-diameter fork blades that flex and absorb shocks. If a carbon fork flexed as much as our Kaisei “TOEI Special” fork blades (above), the carbon layers soon would delaminate, and the fork would fail. To be durable, carbon forks have to be relatively stiff. That transmits more shocks to the handlebars, making the bike less pleasant to ride on rough roads.

What about the performance of a steel bike? We’ve tested our steel bikes against the best titanium and carbon bikes. We expected the steel bikes to be a little slower, but we were surprised: The best bikes’ performances were indistinguishable. (And quite a few titanium and carbon bikes actually were slower, because their flex characteristics didn’t work as well with our pedal strokes.)
One carbon bike was a tiny bit faster up a steep hill, because it was lighter. Once we equalized the weights of the bikes, their performance was the same. The extra weight of our bikes came mostly from the fenders, lights and rack. The frame tubes themselves don’t actually weigh that much. We added two full water bottles to the carbon bike, and it was as heavy as the steel bikes.
We aren’t the only ones who’ve rediscovered steel. I was surprised when I recently heard about Global Cycling Network’s new “dream bike”. The frame is made from steel, and they absolutely love it. Click on the video below to watch their first ride on the steel machine.

It’s important to remember that these steel bikes are true high-performance machines. They have little in common with most production steel bikes available today, which are mid-priced bikes that make little pretense to performance. Made from sturdy tubing, these bikes often are very stiff and don’t exhibit the “lively” feel that makes the best bikes perform so well.
Great bikes can be made from many materials. My titanium Firefly and my steel René Herse both feel remarkably similar in how they respond to my pedal strokes – and both are worlds apart from most steel production bikes.

The bikes we love and ride are handbuilt from ultra-thinwall tubing in carefully selected diameters and wall thicknesses. They incorporate things like dropouts with built-in connectors for the generator lighting. Their racks are custom-built for ultimate strength, stiffness and light weight. Their cranks have low tread (Q factor) for optimum pedaling efficiency, yet we can run wide tires. There is a lot that goes into making a great bike. When it comes to our most challenging adventures, we usually choose our steel bikes, because they are no-compromise machines designed to perform under all conditions that we may encounter on the “road”.
This isn’t to say that the other materials cannot be used to make great bikes. Some day, somebody will make a fully integrated “real-world” bike from titanium or carbon, maybe even bamboo. It’ll match the performance of our steel bikes, but it won’t do anything significantly better. It’ll be cool because it’s different. If it’s made from titanium, it won’t dent as easily as our steel bikes. If it’s made from carbon, you can bring an extra water bottle without a weight penalty. Such a bike will probably cost significantly more than our steel bikes (which aren’t cheap by any means!). I really look forward to riding that bike when it becomes available, but I doubt it’ll start a revolution that makes our steel bikes obsolete.

The biggest problem with steel bikes is that the truly great ones aren’t easily available. You have to order one from a custom builder. That is a bit more difficult than going to a bike shop and picking up a bike. But for us, it’s worth the effort, because a custom bike offers things you cannot get with a production bike. Your bike will be exactly as you want it – with features that no production bike offers. And since you are buying it directly from the maker, it’s surprisingly affordable for something that is truly handcrafted to the highest specifications.

Compass offers custom builders a variety of framebuilding parts, like fork crowns, braze-ons, and – soon – a bottom bracket shell specially designed for wide tires (prototypes shown above). We are also adding high-quality frame tubing to our selection. Fewer makers offer frame tubing for bicycles these days, because demand for steel bikes is not as high as it once was.
One place where steel bicycles are still made in large numbers is Japan. Japan’s more than 2000 Keirin racers ride steel bikes, and that creates a significant demand. Many of these bikes are made from Kaisei tubing, which is chosen for its excellent quality. Keirin racers are not allowed to change bikes during a weekend of racing. If their frame breaks, they are out of the races. And since they live off prize and starting money, that is something to be avoided at all costs. So everything about their bikes has to be absolutely top quality.

In the past, Kaisei tubing was difficult to get outside Japan, and the tube lengths were optimized for smaller frames built for Japanese racers (who tend to be less tall than many westerners.) That is why you may never have heard of Kaisei despite its excellent track record. My Urban Bike (above) is made from Kaisei tubing, and it’s held up great over a decade of really hard service.

Starting this summer, Compass Cycles will distribute Kaisei tubing. When we visited their factory (above their tube butting machine), we were really impressed with the quality of their tubing. We have worked with Kaisei to offer tubes with longer unbutted center sections that are designed for larger frames, in addition to their existing tubes. We will offer a large selection of Kaisei tubing in standard and oversize diameters, with ultra-thin walls (0.7-0.4-0.7 mm) that we use on our own steel bikes.

We’ve found that when you want the very best performance in every way, a custom steel bike is hard to beat. Our goal is to provide what your builder needs to make one of these exceptional bikes for you!
Click here to find out more about Compass framebuilding supplies.

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Better Headset Spacers

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Spacers with a flat surface on the inner diameter can help prevent your headset from loosening. Just to clarify: If your headset stays put as it is, then don’t change it! It’s just that my headsets kept loosening on two different bikes, and so I was looking for a solution.
Classic headsets use a locknut at the top to maintain the headset’s adjustment. It’s essential to prevent the upper headset cup and locknut from turning together, as this would loosen the headset. A keyed washer between the top cup and nut stops that rotation – in theory. In practice, this system does not always work: The keyed washer tends to turn anyhow, because the key is too small. And you cannot make it bigger without weakening the steerer tube.
When the washer is made from steel, it can mess up your steerer tube’s threads if it turns (very bad). With an aluminum washer, the steerer tube simply cuts new threads as the washer turns (not good). In both cases, the key is not sufficient to stop the washer from rotating.
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The solution is simple: Use a flat surface on the steerer tube, and a matching flat surface on the spacer, to provide more material area than a narrow key. French bikes (and some British ones) used that system, and it worked better. The headset cup doesn’t turn with enough force to cut threads into all that aluminum.
Compass made the spacer taller than a simple washer, which provides even more material to resist the turning torque. And since the spacer is so effective in preventing the system from rotating, it’s not necessary to tighten the headset locknut with force. A little more than finger-tight is sufficient to keep it from loosening. You can use a single headset wrench: Tighten the top headset cup first, insert the spacer, then (lightly) tighten the locknut. Don’t overtighten the locknut, otherwise, the spacer can jam.
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It’s easy to retrofit your bike with this system: Machine or file a flat on the back of the steerer tube that matches the inside of the spacer. This doesn’t weaken the fork: You only remove the raised portion of the thread, which didn’t add any strength to the steerer.
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I’ve used prototypes of these spacers on my Mule for thousands of miles and dozens of Rinko disassemblies. They have performed great, and they’ve solved the loosening of the headset on this bike.
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We now offer the spacers in 5 mm and 10 mm thickness. If you need an in-between thickness, just add standard headset washers (without tabs) to make up the difference. Or cut a few millimeters off your steerer tube to match the spacer, as I did on my Mule.
Click here for more information or to order these spacers. As I said before, if your headset works fine, don’t change it. But if it keeps coming loose, this may be the solution.

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Using Handlebar Bags on Modern Bikepacking Bikes


Bikepacking is popular because it allows you to go places where bikes with panniers face difficulties. Bikepacking bags are inside the outline of the bike, so you can go anywhere an “empty” bike can go. Pushing the bike is easier, too, when there are no bags hanging off the sides.

The only problem with bikepacking bags is that their carrying capacity is limited. Frame bags must fit between your legs, making them very narrow. Top tube bags are even smaller, plus they can get in the way of your knees when you rock the bike while riding out of the saddle. Large saddlebags hold a bit more, but they can give the bike that dreaded “tail wagging the dog” feel.

That is why more and more riders adopt handlebar bags as part of their bikepacking luggage. Handlebar bags fit inside the handlebars, so they don’t encumber the bike in rough terrain. Shaped like a cube, they offer an excellent volume-to-weight ratio. Putting the load on the front helps keep the front wheel on the ground during steep climbs, yet the wheels are easy to lift across logs and other obstacles on the trail.
Handlebar bags have one drawback: They work best when supported by a small front rack. How do you fit a rack on a modern bike?

The Compass UD-1 rack was specifically designed for this purpose. (UD stands for “Universal/Disc”.) The rack is adjustable to make it compatible with many bikes. It is available with two lengths of struts, depending on where the braze-ons are located on your fork. The extra-long struts work even with eyelets on the front dropouts. The rack is lightweight, yet strong enough to support a large handlebar bag.
I recently mounted a UD-1 rack on Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Sequoia test bike. Installation was easy: I used the standard-length struts. After mounting the rack, I marked where the struts extended above the rack platform, then removed the struts to cut them to length. With a file, I rounded the ends of the struts. After mounting the struts again, the bike was ready to roll.

The UD-1 rack’s simplicity is key to its strength and light weight. The platform is made from ultra-strong and lightweight CrMo, while the aluminum struts are easy to shorten to the required length. The rack platform sits level above the front wheel, and it incorporates a mounting point for a front fender.

Key to the rack’s elegance is the strut attachment on the inside of the platform, rather than on the outside as on many other racks. Compared to the other Compass racks, we widened the platform to make it all come together functionally and aesthetically.

The crown of the Sequoia’s carbon fork has a countersunk hole, so I used a brake nut (above) to attach the rack. That provides a very clean look, as the nut is recessed into the fork. For the Sequoia’s large fork crown, I used an extra-long nut (not shown).

With the rack installed, the Sequoia became much more versatile. With a handlebar bag, I finally could carry the gear I needed for my rides with ease. And I found that the Sequoia’s high-trail geometry tolerates a front load well.

The next step to make the bike even more enjoyable would be installing the Compass light mount, a headlight and a generator hub. Then I could enjoy the bike even after the sun goes down.
The UD-1 rack is a great solution for bikes with disc or cantilever brakes that aren’t specifically designed for rack mounting. As long as you have eyelets on the fork blades or on the dropouts, and a hole in the fork crown, you should be able to mount this rack. And yet it’s not a compromise solution: It offers performance, durability and beauty similar to other Compass racks.
Click here for more information about Compass racks.

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Tubeless-Compatible Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm


First, I want to apologize that several Compass tire models are out of stock. Orders from our distributors in Europe and Japan have exceeded our expectations, and tire production has to be scheduled long in advance… The tires now are on a boat to Seattle. We should have all models back in stock toward the end of the month. Until then, we appreciate your patience. We’ll put up an announcement when the new tire shipment comes in.
That shipment also includes the new Barlow Pass tubeless-compatible tires. Not only did we change the bead to a tubeless-compatible one, but we also increased the size by 1.5 mm to make it a true 38 mm even on narrow rims. The photo above shows a prototype. Mounted with a tube on a narrow rim, it measures 37.5 mm. On a 30 mm-wide rim and mounted tubeless, it “grows” to 40 mm. That puts it right in the middle between our 35 mm Bon Jon Pass and the 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass. The new Barlow Pass is another great addition to the Compass range. If you want to run your tires tubeless, it’s definitely worth the wait.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.

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A True Dual-Purpose Knobby

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“Don’t do this on knobby tires!” would be most cyclists’ advice when looking at the photo above. Everybody knows that cornering hard on pavement and knobby tires don’t go together.
And yet, the photo shows me on Compass Steilacoom knobby tires. And I didn’t take any undue risks. It was a cold winter day, and the pavement was still moist from a recent snowfall, so I didn’t push the limits, and the tires always had plenty of grip in reserve. (I apologize for the blurry photo – there wasn’t enough light for high-speed photography on this dark winter day.)
We took this photo during an all-paved ride around Mercer Island – a fast-paced route with many corners and subtle (and not-so-subtle) ups and downs. It’s a challenging course to ride fast. And it’s even more challenging when riding with my friend Ryan, who trains here several times a week and knows every inch of the road.
I rode a bike with Compass 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom knobbies (above), because I wanted to find out how well they perform as dual-purpose tires.
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After a full season of cyclocross, we already know the Steilacooms work great on mud and loose surfaces… What about rides that are mostly on pavement, but include enough muddy trails that you’d want some knobs on your tires?
I had always been bothered by how terrible my cross bike felt on the few paved sections of the race course. Those sections rarely measured more than a few meters, but if there was a corner, I had to take it carefully. Annoying when I really wanted to go all-out. I figured that there had to be a better way. And when designing the Steilacooms, we thought hard about how to make a knobby perform well on pavement, too.
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How do you make knobbies that perform well on pavement? We designed the tread pattern together with the engineers at Panaracer. They were excited to bring all their knowledge to the project, with no concern about “what people expect a knobby tire to look like.” Together, we spent a lot of time thinking about knob shapes and spacing, and how the tire transitions from one knob to the next.
The key difference to previous knobbies is that we didn’t look at each knob individually. We treated them as a system that interacts, not just as the tire is rolling forward, but also as it leans into a turn. We made sure that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, not sudden changes as you transition from one row of knobs to… sometimes almost almost no rubber at all.
We also discussed knob sizes with Panaracer’s engineers. They have to be small enough to dig into the mud, but large enough that they don’t fold over during hard cornering. It’s not rocket science, but it requires visualizing what the tire will do as it rolls and corners.
On the Steilacoom, you don’t fall off one knob and then climb onto the next, so the tires roll more smoothly than most knobbies. And the knobs are big enough that they don’t squirm, which also helps with your speed and cornering.
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I had high expectations for the Steilacooms, but even I was surprised how well they perform on pavement. On that ride around Mercer Island, I had no trouble keeping up with Ryan, even though he was riding his new titanium bike with smooth Compass Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires. The Steilacoom knobbies did not just perform well on the straights, I also didn’t lose any ground in the corners. Of course, this doesn’t prove that the Steilacooms roll quite as well as the Babyshoes, but if there is a difference, it is much smaller than I anticipated.
During our next “BQ Team” ride, I switched bikes with Mark. At first, he was reluctant. “Why would I ride knobbies on the road?” he asked. But then he, too, was surprised. He said: “When you hear the knobs sing on the pavement, you think the bike will be slow. But on the downhills, the wind drowns out the tire noise, and then you realize that they perform pretty much like a good 38 mm road tire would.” And this from the guy who had sworn off knobbies for good when he designed his 650B randonneur bike.
Now, we understand that many readers will be skeptical when a maker claims that their new tire revolutionized how well a knobby tire rolls. So we took a few photos… with a little tree to show that we didn’t just tilt the photo to make it look more dramatic. The Steilacoom really raises the bar beyond what even we thought possible.
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The optimized arrangement of knobs is only part of the story. Just as important for the Steilacoom’s speed is the supple Compass casing. The result is a knobby tire that is faster than most slick road tires.
Are there drawbacks of the Steilacoom tread pattern? Of course, otherwise, we’d all ride knobbies from now on. First, once we test them on the track with a power meter, I fully expect that they will roll a little bit slower than our other tires. That is unavoidable, but the difference is too small to notice on the road. That is pretty remarkable.
The knobs also add weight to the tire. And the bigger you make the knobs, the heavier the tire gets. Thanks to our lightweight casings, the Steilacoom still isn’t a heavy tire, but it weighs about 30 g more than our Barlow Pass with smooth tread. This won’t slow you down much even when climbing mountain passes, but if you don’t need knobs, why carry the extra weight?
Like all knobbies, the Steilacooms tend to wander a bit while going straight. You are rolling from one knob to another, rather than on a continuous tread. Again, it’s not a huge deal, but if your ride doesn’t require knobbies, I would pick one of the other Compass tires with their road-optimized tread. And finally, there is more noise from the tires as they roll. But compared to other knobbies I have ridden, all these disadvantages are very subdued.
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The Steilacoom’s excellent pavement performance opens up completely new rides. Imagine you are heading into the mountains and expect muddy sections along your course, but most of the ride will be paved. No problem with the Steilacooms. They will make short work of the mud, without holding you back on the paved portions of your ride. That makes the Steilacoom the ultimate multi-purpose tire.
Click here to find out more about the Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm tires.
Photo credits: Ryan Hamilton (Photo 1, 4), Heidi Franz (Photo 2), Duncan Smith (Photo 5), Hahn Rossman (Photo 6).

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Making Strong and Durable Wheels

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When building a bike, one important decision concerns the wheels. How do you get the best performance and still make your wheels strong enough to withstand 20,000+ miles of riding on rough roads without needing service?
By now, most cyclists know that spokes don’t break from overloading, but from fatigue as the spoke is loaded and unloaded when the wheel rotates. The wheel flattens at the bottom, which unloads the spoke at 6 o’clock. With each wheel revolution, every spoke passes through that spot, where it is slightly detensioned, and then tensioned again. Over time, that causes the spoke to fatigue.
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To get the maximum life out of your spokes, you want the detensioning to be as small as possible. That is what double-butted spokes (above) are for: They are thinner in the middle, so they can stretch more, which means that they don’t detension as much as a thicker spoke would. Yet the ends, where spokes fail if they break, are thick and thus will last a long time. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the thinner mid-sections make double-butted spokes more durable than thicker straight-gauge spokes.
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Wheels tend to go out of true when you hit a bump and a spoke detensions so much that it goes slack. As the spoke is tensioned again, the nipple unwinds a bit. Now the spoke has less tension, so it will go slack more often, allowing the nipple to unwind more and more… For more information about the basics of wheel building, I recommend the late Jobst Brandt’s excellent book The Bicycle Wheel.
Now, let’s look at the specifics of building a strong wheel.
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How many spokes do you need? For many years, 36 spokes was the standard (above), then it became 32 as modern spokes became stronger. On my René Herse (top photo), I use a 28-spoke front wheel. I built the wheel six years ago and never touched it again. If the rim hadn’t cracked (different story!), I am sure it would still be going strong today.
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We can use fewer spokes, because the wider tires we ride today transmit far fewer shocks to the rim. Imagine hitting the bump above with a 23 mm tire: Even if you don’t bottom out, your tire is so hard that much of the impact will be transmitted to the rim. The big, soft tire not only transmits less shock to the rider, but also to the rim.
With smaller 650B or 26″ rims, the spoke bracing angle is greater, which makes the wheel stronger as well. That means that 28 spokes are plenty, even for rough roads.
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However, the SON Delux hub I usually ride on my Herse has very narrow flanges, which results in a smaller spoke bracing angle, negating the benefits of the smaller 650B rims. For the Oregon Outback 363-mile gravel race, I put on a wheel with an old SON20 generator hub that has wider flanges (above). When you negotiate rough terrain, your wheel can slip while it’s pointing sideways, then suddenly catch and regain traction. If the wheel is not strong enough, it can collapse into a potato-chip shape, and your ride is over.
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We wanted a wider spoke bracing angle, so we asked Schmidt Maschinenbau for the Wide-Body Delux hubs, which have the widest flange spacing possible and thus build into the strongest wheels. Compass now offers these hubs in 28 holes, in addition to the 32h and 36h that have been available for a few years. If I had a Wide-Body hub on my bike, I would have been perfectly happy with 28 spokes for the Oregon Outback.
shimano_disc_blogThere are cases when a front wheel with more than 28 spokes makes sense. With disc brakes, your flanges are more narrowly spaced to make room for the rotor – that is why there is no Wide-Body Disc hub – and the entire force of braking is transmitted by the spokes. In this situation, a 28-spoke wheel usually is OK, but 32 spokes gives you an additional margin of safety. The same applies for 700C wheels (larger-diameter rims result a smaller spoke bracing angle), or for very heavy bike/rider combinations. For tandems, I’d go with 36 spokes.
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Compass offers the excellent SON Delux Wide-Body hubs with 28, 32 and 36 holes, so you can choose the spoke count that is right for you. We also offer the Delux for disc brakes with 32 holes, both in quick release and thru axle versions (above).
What about the rear wheel? Here, too, the answer is: “It depends.” If you have a strong rim, then 28 spokes may be enough. When HED send us test wheels with their Belgium rims a few years ago, they used 28 spokes front and rear, and they held up fine even when we rode them on mountain bike trails. One reason is that the rear wheel never sees significant side loads.
However, the rear wheel has a much narrower spoke bracing angle to make room for the freewheel/cassette. That is why British builders often used rear wheels with 4 or 8 more spokes than the front. I did the same on my René Herse, which has 36 spokes on the rear. Most wind tunnel studies indicate that the rear wheel is in such turbulent air that its aerodynamics don’t matter much, and the little extra weight isn’t a big deal, either.

Next, let’s talk about rims: Most rims today are stiff and strong. If rims crack, it’s usually caused by poor design or sub-standard materials. Once you’ve eliminated those problems, what you want from your rims is a good fit of the tires. With classic rims, it needs to be good enough to seat the tire automatically as you inflate it. And the tire shouldn’t come off even if you have a sudden blowout on the front. With tubeless-ready rims, the fit needs to be even more precise, so the tire seals easily and doesn’t blow off the rim despite lacking a tube that reinforces the joint between tire and rim.
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Compass offers two rims:

  • The brand-new Pacenti Brevet rim combines classic appearance with tubeless-ready construction. Compass has them in stock in 28 and 32 holes.
  • The HED Belgium Plus is a modern, lightweight, wide semi-aero rim. It is tubeless-compatible, with a tire fit that is consistently excellent. A few of us have been riding them for a few years now (above Theo’s bike), with zero need for truing and easy tire mounting. Black anodized and available in 28 and 32 holes for rim brakes, and in 32 holes for disc brakes.


For each of these rim/hub combinations, we now offer spoke packages with the highest-quality, double-butted, superlight Sapim Laser spokes (2.0 – 1.5 – 2.0 mm) and aluminum nipples. That makes it easy to build a generator hub wheel that is perfect for your intended use: Just select your hub and your rim, and then order the spoke package that goes with this combination. (We also offer the spokes individually.)
Click here for more information about Compass wheel goods.

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Panaracer: Hand-Made Tires


A highlight of my visits to Japan is going to the Panaracer factory. It’s a magical place, where some of the world’s best tires are made largely by hand. It resembles a storybook factory: Huge machines emit hissing steam. Skilled hands assemble casing, beads and tread. Hot tires cool as they move along conveyors under the roof.

The main reason for my visits to the factory is to discuss ideas for new tires, and improvements to existing ones, with Panaracer’s engineers (above). These guys know more about making bicycle tires than almost anybody in the world. We bring them our ideas, they provide feedback and input, and together, we finalize new designs, like the innovative tread pattern of our Steilacoom knobbies.
During recent meetings, we’ve been talking a lot about tubeless tires. Tubeless is an emerging technology without real standards yet. We must figure out how to make tires that work on as many different rims as possible. When customers have problems, we try to diagnose and troubleshoot for them. We all share the goal of making the most of this exciting new technology.

Once we have finished our meetings, we often get to walk around the factory. Two weeks ago, we saw our Steilacoom, Switchback Hill and Snoqualmie Pass tires being made. It was the first time that my visit coincided with one of our production runs – great fun!
There is nothing really toxic involved in making tires at this factory – just steam and heat – so there is no need for protective clothing, not even earplugs. (Like many Japanese, the worker below wears a face mask for protection against spring-time pollen, not industrial pollution.)

Making tires starts with kneading the hot tread rubber in huge machines that look like they belong in a giant bakery. The rubber is rolled into thinner and thinner strips, until it has the right thickness for the tread.

The casing is stored in huge rolls, ready to be impregnated with rubber. Both the thickness of the threads and the amount of rubber coating determine how supple the tire will be. This is where the experienced workforce and time-tested machinery allows Panaracer to go a few steps further than most tire makers and use ultra-fine fabric and a very thin rubber coating to make the lightest and most supple tires possible.

The tires are assembled by hand. It’s a fascinating process, and I could easily spend a month photographing the factory. There is enough material write a book! But there are too many trade secrets, so no photography is allowed. Panaracer’s engineers would prefer if nobody knew what is going on in their factory.
Ever since I first visited this amazing factory, I’ve wanted to show our readers how high-end tires are made. It took us years to persuade the company to do a photoshoot last year. Each photo was carefully vetted before it was cleared for publication in Bicycle Quarterly. Knowing this, I feel incredibly privileged to be allowed to see everything and ask questions about anything when I am visiting.
Once assembled, the raw tires look almost like the finished product (above), but they are only loosely assembled. They still lack their tread pattern, too. All this comes in the next, most impressive step…

Each tire is vulcanized (above). That means it is placed in a mold that is engraved with the tread pattern. Steam heats the mold until the rubber partially melts. The tread rubber flows into the mold and is imprinted with the tread pattern. Since the tire partially melts, all its elements are fused together and become inseparable, making the tire very strong. When the tire emerges from the mold, it is no longer flat, but has the domed shape of, well, a tire. After it cools, it’s ready for quality control and packaging.
In the past, vulcanized tires were considered slow, and hand-glued ones were faster. That was because the casing material used in the factories that vulcanized their tires was stiff and not optimized for performance. With all tires, the casing is by far the most important factor that determines the tire’s performance and comfort.
Panaracer’s high-end tires use very supple casings, yet they are vulcanized. This combines the best of both worlds – the naturally round shape of the tire further optimizes the tires’ performance: As the wheel rotates and the contact patch leaves the ground, the tire automatically resumes its round shape.
Many hand-made tires are not vulcanized. Held together with strong glue, they look like the raw tires in the photo above – flat. When their contact patches leave the ground, tire pressure has to overcome the tire’s natural flat shape to make it round again. According to Bicycle Quarterly‘s testing, this makes the tire about 3% slower.(1) The very best tubular tires, such as those made by FMB, are assembled on an inflated casing. That way, the tire has the same round shape as a vulcanized tire. Why aren’t all tires vulcanized? Small makers don’t have the machinery that is required.

For the Compass Extralight models, Panaracer uses a casing usually reserved for their top-end racing tubulars. Panaracer doesn’t use this casing on their own clinchers. The company feels that their tires may end up with inexperienced customers, who may need sturdier tires.
We are glad that Panaracer’s engineers are willing to push the envelope a bit further for our Compass tires. We are confident that Compass customers try to avoid crashing into potholes and obstacles that could ruin a high-performance tire. In any case, the limits of what supple tires can do are quite high – witness the photo above showing a set of Compass Extralight tires in action. The tires survived the long and rough descent from Odarumi Pass in Japan without damage.
I cannot show you the factory, but if you are going to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in Salt Lake City, Utah, this weekend, you’ll be able to meet the people from Panaracer. Stop by their booth and tell them how much you enjoy the tires they make for us!
The full report on the Panaracer factory was published in Bicycle Quarterly 58. If you missed that issue, it’s available as an individual back issue or with our 4-pack of the last year’s Bicycle Quarterlies.
Click here for more information about Compass tires.
(1) We tested two tires made with the same casing and tread. One was assembled on an inflated casing, the other “flat-glued”.

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Berthoud Saddles and Bags

theo_bikeWe’ve been fans of Gilles Berthoud saddles and bags for many years. Above is Theo’s bike with Berthoud GB28 bag and Aspin saddle. These parts have been incredibly durable: I still use the very first Berthoud handlebar bag that he bought 17 years ago, and the prototype Berthoud saddle on my Urban Bike is still going strong after a decade of hard use. There simply aren’t better-quality or higher-performance bags and saddles anywhere.
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We’ve recently added Berthoud saddles to the Compass-exclusive bags we’ve been selling for years. Leather saddles have long offered the ultimate in comfort for long-distance cycling, because they shape themselves to your unique anatomy. Gilles Berthoud wasn’t satisfied with other leather saddles, because quality had declined over time. Most companies now try to get as many saddles as possible from each hide, without regard for irregularities and direction of grain. So, he decided to make his own saddles.
Berthoud saddles start with the best vegetable-tanned cow hides, which are dyed in-house. Each saddle top is then cut in the direction of the leather grain. While this results in fewer saddles from each hide, it ensures that the saddle doesn’t sag. The remnant leather is used to make fender washers and other small parts, so there isn’t any wasted material.
The leather is thick and initially firm, but Berthoud saddles are comfortable out of the box due to their excellent shape. Pre-softened to shorten the break-in, they will last many years with occasional treatment. (We recommend Obenauf’s leather treatment, which we now also carry.) Berthoud saddles rarely need tensioning, but when they do, all you need is a 5 mm allen key.
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Gilles Berthoud’s saddles use thoroughly modern materials and construction methods, while maintaining the advantages of a tensioned leather saddle. The composite frame is stronger than steel and absorbs shocks better. Berthoud placed the bolts outside the sitting area, sparing your cycling clothes from snags and abrasion. We’ve been riding these saddles for years and appreciate their quality and re-buildable design – every part can be replaced.
Compass offers three models of Berthoud saddles: the Aspin, Aravis and Galibier. Each is available in tan, (dark) brown, black or Berthoud’s distinctive cork finish (below).
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The Aspin (shown above) is a high-performance leather saddle with a medium width – designed for an intermediate riding position that most cyclists find comfortable over long distances. Named for the 1,489 m (4,885 ft) Col d’Aspin in the Pyrénées, the Aspin uses Stainless Steel rails for strength and affordability. The Aravis saddle, named for the 1,487 m (4,878 ft) Col des Aravis in the Alps, combines the same shape with ultralight titanium rails for lighter weight.
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Berthoud’s lightest high-performance saddle combines a narrow shape with titanium rails for a weight of only 346 g. Named for the 2,645 m (8,677 ft) Col du Galibier in the Alps, this saddle is designed for spirited riding in a stretched-out position, yet features the same thick, luxurious leather upper as Berthoud’s other top-quality saddles.
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Berthoud is best-known for their beautiful and functional bags. Handlebar bags place supplies within easy reach while riding, and keep your map, or cue sheet, in view. On a bike with suitable front-end geometry, they affect the handling less than a rear load.
In the early days of randonneuring, Sologne pioneered what we now consider the classic handlebar bag. When Sologne went out of business, Gilles Berthoud bought the patterns and know-how, so that these classic handlebar bags remain available today. With more than 50 years of experience, their bags are sewn in France from cotton and leather. While we love their classic appearance, we use Berthoud bags mostly for their superior performance: They are lighter and more waterproof than most “modern” bags.
Based on our decades of riding with Berthoud bags, Compass asked Berthoud to make small improvements to the “Compass-exclusive” bags: All our bags have shoulder straps, and we offer them also without side pockets for better aerodynamics and even-lower weight.
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We also offer Berthoud’s panniers with classic leather straps and springs for an ultra-secure mounting that doesn’t rattle against your rack (above).
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We sell these Berthoud products directly to our customers, and we now also wholesale them to bike shops who carry the Compass product line. If your local shop doesn’t have an account with us yet, please put them in touch.
For our complete line of Berthoud saddles and bags click here.

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