Archive | Product News

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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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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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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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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Enduro Allroad Bikes Are Taking Off

The big story of last weekend’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show were Enduro Allroad bikes – road bikes with tires wider than 45 mm. These bikes are great on paved roads, but their true element is gravel. Even on smooth gravel, these extra-wide tires roll better than narrower ones. On loose and rough gravel, there simply is no comparison. Instead of grinding through the gravel, you float over it! It’s amazing what ultra-wide, supple tires can do.
The idea for the Enduro Allroad bike came during the 2014 Oregon Outback (above), where even my 42 mm-wide Compass Babyshoe Pass tires sank deep into the soft gravel. I hunted from the left side of the “road” to the right, trying to find firmer ground. I could see the tracks of the rider ahead of me, Ira Ryan, who won the race. He was fishtailing all over the place (below).
As I tried to keep up the pace on this difficult stretch, I realized there was a solution: A wider tire would float on top of the loose stuff. It would be much faster and also make the bike easier and more fun to handle. The idea of a road tire that was even wider than my 42s was definitely pushing the envelope at the time. The big makers were still trying to figure out whether the ideal gravel tire was 28 or 32 mm wide.
The idea was good, but there was a problem: Nobody in living memory had ridden an extra-supple tire that wide. The closest thing in existence were the FMB tubulars that professional cross-country mountain bike racers use – but not on pavement. (Making a tire that wasn’t supple would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. After all, the goal is more speed and comfort, not less.)
Before we could commit to making tire molds, we had to make some prototype tires. But without molds, you cannot make tires! We found a solution to that problem. Panaracer made a few mountain bike tires with our Extralight casing. Then Peter Weigle shaved off the knobs to create ultra-wide slick tires. Talk about hand-made tires!
We tested these prototypes extensively. On gravel (above), we could not believe the new tires’ performance. Just as importantly, the sidewalls held up to the abuse of riding over rough ground at ridiculously high speed.
But the big surprise came on pavement: The new tires offered incredible cornering, because they put so much rubber on the road. And on the straights, the ultra-wide tires rolled extremely well, too. Whoever was riding the Enduro Allroad bike had no trouble keeping up with the riders on narrower tires.
Any drawbacks? Tire pressure becomes much more important. Whereas I can ride a 42 mm tire anywhere between 35 and 65 psi without trouble, the 54 mm tires require more careful pressure adjustments. Put in too much air, and the tire starts to bounce a bit on some undulations in the pavement. Let the pressure drop too low, and the sidewalls begin to collapse during enthusiastic cornering. For me, the pressure range on pavement was between 25 and 30 psi. Fortunately, that range worked equally well on gravel and on pavement, so at least there is no need to adjust the pressure in mid-ride with tires this wide.
As a result of this research, we introduced the first two Enduro Allroad tires last year. The Rat Trap Pass is a 26″ x 2.3″ tire (54 mm wide). The Switchback Hill (above, named after the first climb of the Oregon Outback) is a 650B x 48 mm. Our customers’ reaction was surprisingly positive, considering that this was a product that nobody had expected. The idea of the Enduro Allroad bike appealed to many riders.
Not quite a year later, the Enduro Allroad Bike is entering the mainstream. Last weekend, WTB introduced their new “Road Plus™” 650B x 47 mm tire (above). It’s interesting to see others follow our lead: The WTB tire even uses a tread pattern that resembles our Compass tires. (The “chevron” ribs are designed to interlock with the road surface as you corner.) And there finally seems to be a consensus that a knobby tread is of little use when riding on gravel. (The rock “layers” move in relation to each other, rather than the tire slipping on the top layer of gravel.)
The WTB tire may look similar to our Compass tires, but it doesn’t duplicate our efforts. At 515 g, it’s about 100 g heavier than our Switchback Hill, and it seems to be intended more as a utility tire.
With more tire choices, more Enduro Allroad Bikes will be built. Above is MAP’s “Rambonneur” with our Switchback Hill tires.
Masi, Miele, Rawland and Brodie have announced new models designed around 650B Enduro Allroad tires. It’s taken less than a year for the new concept to enter the mainstream. That also attests to the inherent appeal of the idea. It’s not something that needs marketing. Anybody who’s ever crested a deserted mountain pass on a gravel road, before launching into an exhilarating descent, understands.
Last autumn, I tested the Elephant NFE for Bicycle Quarterly (above). On the loose gravel of the Iron Horse Trail, I appreciated the extra floatation of the big tires. Where riders on narrower tires were struggling, I felt like I was on a road ride. The road may have been gravel, but the sensations were still those of a road bike. The “Road Plus™” name is not inappropriate, but since it’s trademarked to one company, it’s unlikely to catch on.
We chose the name “Enduro Allroad” to show that this type of bike is a logical extension of the “Allroad” bikes we’ve been riding for years. The new bikes are more geared toward gravel and rough stuff, whereas standard Allroad bikes with their 38-42 mm tires are better on pavement. Both categories overlap on smooth, hard gravel, where they offer similar performance. The new bikes don’t replace our existing ones, but the two categories complement each other.
At last autumn’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, I was surprised how many riders already were on Enduro Allroad bikes. Above is BQ‘s Hahn Rossman on his converted Bontrager (with a new fork and disc brakes) with our 26″ Rat Trap Pass tires, in front of Denny Trimble on a Soma Wolverine.
I am not in favor of segmenting the bike world more than necessary – one bike for all purposes remains my dream – but I know that when I return to the route of the Oregon Outback, I want to be on an Enduro Allroad bike!
Photo credits (Hunter and MAP):, used with permission.

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Rinko Parts – Useful not only for Train Travel

Since our first visit to Japan last year, we’ve been fascinated by Rinko, the Japanese system of packing bikes for train travel. The Rinko system developed by the builders Alps and Hirose is especially elegant and results in the smallest possible package for the bike.
It still amazes me that a fully equipped randonneur bike, with a 60 cm frame, fenders, racks and generator-powered lights, can be disassembled in 12 minutes into a package that is no larger than the frame. Drape a bag over it, and you can carry it on trains, buses, and subways, or load it into even the smallest economy car. Put it in a padded bag, and you can travel on many airlines without paying extra fees. Best of all, there are no couplers or other parts that add significant cost, complication and weight.
After building my own Rinko bike, the “Mule” (above), I realized that every bike could benefit from being Rinko-compatible, even if only to remove the rear section of the rear fender when you transport a the bike inside a car…
The Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly includes a photo feature showing the details that make a bike Rinko-compatible. Small things make it easy to disassemble your bike. For example, slotted cable stops that allow you to remove the handlebars with the brake cables attached. There are only a few special parts needed to make a Rinko bike, and Compass Bicycles now offers them.
A key part is the “Rinko nut” (visible at the top of the fender). The rear fender is cut in half, a piece of fender is inserted into the rear portion, and the Rinko nut allows you to secure the two halves after you have slid them together.
A constructeur will cut the tongue that joins the two fenders from a third fender (since they can use that fender to make tongues for multiple bikes), but you can also shorten the bike’s rear fender by a few inches to get the material you need. Preparing a hammered fender so its halves slide together smoothly isn’t easy, so most Japanese builders use smooth fenders on their Rinko bikes.
FendCmRinko_3419The Rinko nut is threaded on the outside, so you can attach it to the fender with the supplied (thin) hex nut. It also is threaded on the inside. This is where the bolt goes that holds the two fender halves together. It’s a simple part, but if you have to machine it yourself, you’ll spend some time. So we had a batch made to save you the trouble.
A part that is useful not just for Rinko are the Ostrich tube covers. These pads wrap around your frame’s tubes to protect them during travel. The pads are thin, so they can be carried in a handlebar bag when not in use. They close around the frame with Velcro.
The “long” version (above) measures 450 mm, while the “short” version is 240 mm long. The pads fit around standard and slightly oversize frames, but they are not large enough for extremely oversize tubes.
Rinko pedals aren’t required for travel, but they make disassembling your bike much easier. The stub remains on the cranks, and the pedal can be removed without tools. Available as clipless (above) and platform versions (below). The models we sell have MKS’ super-smooth bearings that are nicer than any other currently-made pedal I have tried.
These pedals are useful not only for Rinko, but also for bikes with S&S couplers, or if you want to switch between platform and clipless pedals on the same bike. (If you just want super-nice pedals with great bearings, these pedals also are available in standard, non-Rinko versions.)
The Compass Rinko brake is functionally the same as the standard Compass centerpull brake, but one arm has a different shape, so that the straddle cable unhooks on both sides. That way, you can remove the handlebars and brake cables as a unit. (With the standard centerpull brakes, one end of the straddle cable attaches to the brake.)
The special straddle cable has two barrels that hook onto the brake arms. The cable comes with a second end that gets silver-brazed onto the wire (arrow). That way, builders can set the straddle cable height as they like, for example, to clear a taillight. A minor disadvantage of the Rinko model: After wheel changes, you have to hook both ends of the straddle cable back onto the brake (rather than just one end).
The Rinko Headset Tool is shown here on the headset locknut. It looks like a cat, is made from lightweight aluminum, and weighs just 14 g. You can tighten your headset by hand, or use an 8 mm Allen wrench for extra leverage (above). The other socket measures 10 mm. This tool also is useful if you want to take a headset tool on a ride or tour, where the 8 and 10 mm sockets also can come in handy.
Rinko bags are used to cover the Rinko bike package during travel. The carrying strap attaches to the bike frame, so the bag doesn’t have to carry the weight of the bike (see photo at the top of the post).
The Ostrich L-100 (above) is designed for the Alps/Hirose system of Rinko. Made from sturdy materials, it weighs 310 g, yet when not in use it fits into a pouch that is the size of a small water bottle.
The Ostrich SL-100 has the same dimensions as the L-100, but it’s made from ultralight SilNylon. It weighs just 200 g and packs very small. The SL-100 is not as strong as the standard L-100 bag, so it is not recommended for “Rinko beginners” who may try to stuff their bike into the bag, rather than just pull the bag over the Rinko’ed bike package.
Both Rinko bags come with three straps for packing the bike, a shoulder strap and a pouch to carry the Rinko bag on your bike. (SL-100 shown above.)
The Ostrich OS-500 Airplane Bag is padded for air travel. It is designed to work with many Rinko systems, so it is significantly larger than the L-100 and SL-100 bags. The Rinko’ed Mule fits into the OS-500 bag with room to spare. Taping the bag to reduce its volume allowed it to meet the luggage requirements for All-Nippon Airways (ANA) without requiring a surcharge.
Now that I have enjoyed travel with a Rinko bike, I don’t want to be without one. Considering how little it takes to make a custom bike Rinko-compatible, I know that from now, all my new bikes will be ready for Rinko. Being able to take my bike almost anywhere opens great possibilities.
Click here for more information about Rinko parts from Compass Bicycles Ltd.
Further reading:

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Bicycle Quarterly Jerseys

We’ve been wearing Woolistic’s merino 100% wool jerseys for fourteen years now, since we first ordered these for the Seattle Randonneurs. We appreciate the scratch-free comfort and the wide range of temperatures in which these wool jerseys are comfortable. During long rides, we are glad these jerseys don’t smell like synthetic clothing… They’ve been remarkably durable: I am still wearing the very first jersey I ordered in 2000.
When I designed the Seattle Randonneurs jerseys back then, I tried to find a color that was brightly visible but not garish when we are out on our bikes. The “Italian Champion Blue” with simple white lettering doesn’t clash with most bicycle colors.
We now decided to have Bicycle Quarterly jerseys made along the same lines. They are  made by Woolistic in Italy, and they simply show our logo on the front and the back. Three rear pockets, short zipper, long or short sleeves. Limited quantities.
Click here for more information or to order.

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Bicycle Quarterly Spring 2014

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

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The New Compass Taillight

When building my René Herse randonneur bike, I was unable to find a taillight that combined the functions I needed along with a classic appearance. I ended up making my own taillight. Now this light is available from Compass Bicycles Ltd.
I wanted a generator-powered taillight that matched the appearance and style of a classic, hand-built custom bicycle. The plastic tailights from Europe did not meet that criteria and were not appealing. I also wanted the light to incorporate a reflector, both as a fail-safe and to comply with legal requirements and the rules of randonneuring events.
I wanted reliable internals, and not custom-made electronics. The light had to survive many years of spirited riding on rough roads. It also had to be lightweight.
Bicycle Quarterly contributor Hahn Rossman suggested using the reflector as the lens of the taillight, which creates a nice, diffuse light. This reduces the glare for riders following you closely, yet it is no less visible from a distance. (The reflector doesn’t reflect the other way, so it doesn’t absorb more light than a normal red taillight lens.)
The Compass taillight has a machined aluminum housing. The reflector is EN-approved. (We tested a number of reflectors and used the one that reflected best, while also being thin enough to work as a taillight lens.)
Inside the aluminum housing are the electronics and LED of the Busch & Müller Seculite Plus taillight, which include a standlight. The circuit board mounts to a custom-made stainless steel plate, so it is securely attached. The stainless plate also serves as an attachment for the grounding wire.
The light comes with a custom-machined, two-piece braze-on. Your framebuilder can attach this behind the seat tube of your bike, René Herse-style. The screw-in piece provides a conduit into the seat tube, so the wire doesn’t snag on the sharp edge. It also provides a stop for a seatpost that otherwise might be inserted too deep and cut the wire.
The braze-on is pre-mitered for the seat tube, but your builder also can braze it to the end of a tube, if you want to use the light on a rack. You could also mount it underneath the chainstay, Alex Singer-style.
The light comes with ample wire to reach the headlight. The wire itself is a special automotive wire. The insulation is made of a cross-linked polymer with extra-high abrasion resistance.
The Compass taillight carries a 2-year warranty. It is made in the USA, and available now. More information about the Compass taillight is here.

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Price Reductions!

We have reduced our prices on many products that we import. It’s rare that prices go down, but we price our products fairly, based on our costs, rather than “what the market will bear.”
Over the last year, the Japanese yen has lost significant value compared to the U.S. dollar, making products from Japan less expensive. The “favorable” exchange rate is offset somewhat, because raw materials (like rubber for tires) are valued in dollars, so the production costs in Japan also have increased. We pre-pay for the products we order, often long in advance of their delivery, so it takes time for exchange rate fluctuations to significantly affect our retail prices.
Over the past year, our costs for many Japanese products, especially tires, have gone down, and we are passing this on to our customers. We are excited that this makes our quality products even more affordable. We hope this helps you as you get your bike ready for the 2014 cycling season.
Just to be clear, we are not announcing a sale. Our new prices are good until our costs go up again… which we hope won’t be anytime soon. So there is no need to rush and buy, like in the Daniel Rebour cartoon (above) from 1946, when raw material shortages and price controls had cyclists dream of stores full of components (tires especially) at good prices.
Click here for more information about the Compass Bicycles Ltd. product line.

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Crank Bolt Wrench

Our René Herse cranks come with classic 15 mm crank bolts. They are beautiful and easy to tighten. However, it can be hard to find a matching 15 mm wrench. Most wrenches have walls that are too thick to fit inside the hole of the crankarm. (We cannot make the hole larger, since we want to use a standard extractor that fits inside the threaded hole.)
When 15 mm crank bolts were the industry standard, many companies offered crank bolt wrenches. The most famous was Campagnolo’s, but TA and others offered similar versions. These wrenches were beautiful and tactile. Aficionados sometimes called them “peanut butter wrenches,” even though I don’t know of anybody who actually has used them to spread peanut butter. Well, you could, and the chrome-plated finish should be dishwasher-safe, too!
Since most companies have gone to Allen heads for their crank bolts, crank bolt wrenches for 15 mm bolts have become hard to find. Many customers instead have used Allen head bolts on their René Herse cranks. Allen bolts work fine, but don’t look as nice.
Now we introduce a new René Herse crank bolt wrench. It’s made from tough CrMo steel, so it will tighten and loosen your crank bolts thousands of times without wearing out. (We’ve tested prototypes for over a year now.) The wrench is polished and chrome-plated, so it looks even nicer than the old-style wrenches from Campagnolo & Co.
In addition to crank bolts, the 15 mm wrench also works for track-style axle nuts. It’s much lighter and a bit smaller than a standard wrench, so fixed gear riders can easily carry it.
The thin wrench has one additional benefit: If you tighten your crank bolts to the point where the wrench starts being uncomfortable, because it digs in your hand, you have reached about 25 Nm, the recommended torque for our cranks. So you don’t need a torque wrench, yet you won’t over- or undertighten your crank bolts.
The crank bolt wrenches are in stock now. Click here for more information.
P.S.: Many of you have asked when we will have the René Herse double and triple cranks back in stock. (Single-speed cranks are in stock.) The new production run has been forged, and most of the machining is complete. The cranks just need to be checked for quality control and polished. We hope to have them in stock in a February, but we cannot predict the inevitable manufacturing delays. Thank you for your patience.

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Gift Certificates

Usually, products we sell are products we need ourselves. Most of our components are created because we needed something we could not find elsewhere, whether it’s a high-volume, supple tire, a book about René Herse, or a handlebar with more reach and better hand positions.
Recently, a customer contacted us with a need of a different sort. He wrote: “I can’t find gift certificates in your shop – is this an option? I’d love to convince my family to stop getting me Nashbar gift certificates, but I need a good alternative.”
We figured that others might face similar disappointments in the holiday gifts they receive, and to help everybody involved, we decided to offer gift certificates. The recipient gets a certificate in the mail, as well as an e-mail confirmation. Our gift certificates can be redeemed for magazines, books, posters and calendars from Bicycle Quarterly Press, as well as bicycle components from our sister company Compass Bicycles. More information is here.
We wish you a happy and joyous holiday season!

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Same-Day Delivery?

Amazon’s prototype drone for same-day deliveries (below) has been all over the news lately. It is probably just a publicity stunt, and I am amazed that so many newscasts and newspaper articles fell for it, and then gave the company what amounts to free advertising. Our innovative idea is to use randonneurs on porteur bikes for deliveries! In fact, we already do that for some in-Seattle deliveries, like the load shown above.
That delivery by drone would be taken seriously illustrates to what length companies go to provide ever-faster service, since the products they sell otherwise are all the same. Ebay introduced “same-day delivery” in several cities recently, using messengers on bikes and in cars to pick up products at local stores and deliver them to customers, usually within an hour. If it really comes down to the minute for you, you can track the courier on your screen!
For the last-minute shoppers among you, here’s the bad news: we don’t offer same-day delivery at Compass Bicycles. We don’t offer overnight shipping, either, and it’s not because we don’t care about customer service. Our emphasis is on the quality of the product rather than the speed of delivery. We do use Priority Mail through the U.S. Postal Service for most shipments, so you usually get your parcels within a few days.
Our focus is on providing you with the best products possible. We design products, make prototypes, test them, assemble components (René Herse cranks), and even modify them (decaleurs). For our books and magazine, we do actual research, seek out hard-to-find sources, and photograph rare bikes, rather than rely on press releases and ready-to-go publicity shots. That is where we allocate our resources.
We are cyclists and if we don’t answer the phone, we may be out on a ride, in the machine shop, or discussing a project with our engineer. Those rides are important, because they make our products special: They inform our no-compromise philosophy. We know from experience how frustrating it is to have products perform less-than-optimally when you are in the middle of nowhere. We also know how mesmerizing it is to ride on a wonderful bike equipped with supple tires that hum over the pavement. In fact, those experiences led us to start Compass Bicycles in the first place.
Yes, you’ll have to plan ahead a few days if you want one of our products by a certain date. And when they arrive, you can be sure that the components have been tested extensively on the road, that the books and magazines bring you careful research and wonderful story-telling, and that they all reflect our passion for cycling. We think it’s worth the trade-off.

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Chainring Choice or Shifting Ramps?

The chainring choices of our René Herse cranks are not limited by dedicated shifting ramps, so you can use any gear combinations you like. We have optimized the chainring tooth profile to shift well at all times, and not only twice per crank revolution when a ramp and pin are aligned correctly.
During the development of our cranks, we spent a lot of time testing different prototype chainrings (above), as well as the ramped-and-pinned cranks of other makers (below).
Modern chainrings have ramps and pins on the backside below the teeth. The ramps and pins are located where there is an optimal path for the chain from one ring to the other. For that reason, modern chainrings only work in sets of two (or three for triples).
If you put a small chainring with a different tooth count on the cranks shown above, then the ramps of the big ring no longer line up where they should. That is why the large rings are marked not just with their own size, but also with the size of the small ring that is part of the set. In the photo below, the large ring is a 50/34 ring, with ramps that don’t work with other small chainrings, like a 39-tooth ring.

Most component makers offer very limited chainring choices, otherwise they would have to develop a multitude of chainring pairs. Most double cranksets today are available only with 53/39 and 50/34 chainrings.
Some smaller manufacturers offer ramped chainrings that are not designed in pairs. (They are easily recognizable, because they don’t specify for which small ring they are designed.) These ramps are not very effective and mostly serve to reassure customers who see ramps as an important asset of chainrings.
For many decades, chainrings did not have ramps and pins, and yet they shifted fine. Ramps and pins serve only as “insurance” against bad shifts that occur when the rider doesn’t push the lever far enough, or when they forget to let up on the pedals during the shift. Most of the time, the rider initiates the shift when no ramp is aligned correctly, and the chain just moves to the big ring without the help of ramps and pins. (An exception are Shimano STI triples, which don’t work without ramps and pins.)
For the new René Herse cranks, we had to make a choice: Design a few chainring combinations with ramps that offer insurance against bad shifts, or offer almost unlimited chainring choices without ramps. (The third option, to provide “cosmetic” ramps, was not considered.)
It would be prohibitive to provide ramped chainring pairs for each of the dozens of chainring combinations possible with the new René Herse cranks. We would need to develop no fewer than six 48-tooth chainrings, depending on whether you want to use a small chainring with 32, 34, 36, 38, 42 or 44 teeth. And so on for each chainring size! (Now you can understand why even big makers offer only very few chainring choices.)

Instead, we focused on the tooth profile to make sure the chain has an easy path onto the chainring – not just in a few places where there are ramps and pins, but at any spot in the pedal stroke. We tested a number of tooth profiles with a variety of derailleurs to determine how to optimize the shifts without ramps. In the photo above, you can see how the chain runs diagonally between the teeth at the onset of the shift. We use an asymmetric tooth shape that provides more room for this shift. (The teeth bear the chain load only on one side, so there is no need to have as much material on the other side.)

Here’s a bad shift, just what we don’t want, where the chain rides up on the chainring at first, and only engages after half a chainring revolution! This “prototype tooth shape C” was not selected for production…

The downshift to a smaller chainring is relatively simple (above). The chain simply drops down onto the smaller ring. It works every time, without any ramps, pins or special tooth profiles. Small rings wear faster than big ones, so ours use a different tooth profile from the large ones, one that is optimized for durability.
You probably will not notice the optimized chainring tooth profiles when you install your René Herse cranks, but we hope you will notice the difference once you ride them on your bike. Click here for more information about the René Herse cranks.
Further reading:

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SKF Bottom Brackets with French Threads

Many wonderful bikes have been made in France in past decades. Not just the great machines from small constructeurs like René Herse and Alex Singer (above), but also more common bikes like the Peugeot PX-10, the nicer Gitanes and many others. High-end French bikes often used relatively lightweight tubing and a geometry with relatively low trail, which made them perform and handle very well.
The only “problem” with many French bikes is that they use metric threads and dimensions. Even though the world has adopted the metric system (with the exception of one rather large country), the bike industry has standardized on British units for most components.
This means that finding parts for French bikes can be difficult. For stems, the difference is small (22.2 vs. 22.0 mm). You can lightly sand a modern stem, and it will fit into the steerer tube. Seatposts and derailleurs don’t wear out quickly, and used parts can do the job. That leaves bottom brackets as a major problem. The days when Campagnolo, Shimano, Edco and many other companies made high-quality French-threaded bottom brackets are long gone.
To alleviate this situation, we now offer SKF bottom brackets with French threading. There is a small upcharge, because they are made in very small production runs. Like all SKF bottom brackets, the French versions carry a 10-year warranty that includes the bearings. All square-taper spindle lengths are in stock now in British, Italian and French threading. Click here for more information.

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René Herse Cranks in Stock

We just received a new shipment of René Herse cranks. In addition to the double and triple cranks, this production run includes the single-speed cranks (shown above). We also have all chainring sizes in stock (except 50 teeth, which are due to arrive in Seattle in a few days).

The single-speed cranks are machined differently on the back (above): There is no shelf for the second chainring, and the chainring nuts are recessed into the spider. Not only does this look nice, but it allows you to run an ultra-narrow tread (Q factor).

We now also have the new René Herse tandem cranks in stock. The left-side chainrings always are 30 teeth. Since these rings don’t need to shift, we gave them a special tooth profile for extra-long wear. For the right-side crank, you have the same choice of single/double/triple chainrings in all sizes between 24 and 50 teeth.

We now offer the chainring bolts and spacers separately, so you can convert your cranks from double to triple or vice versa.
We appreciate your patience while we worked on the second production run. It takes time and dedicated work to maintain our high quality standards, and our engineer in Taiwan has been working overtime to make this happen. We think the end product is worth the wait. More information on the René Herse cranks is here.

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BQ's Calendar of Classic Bicycles 2013

For 2013, we are proud to introduce the Classic Bicycles calendar featuring studio photos of thirteen classic bicycles. The “cover model” is a 1965 Cinelli Supercorsa, built up by the legendary Spence Wolf of the Cupertino Bike Shop.

Other racing bikes include Eddy Merckx’ winning machine, Francesco Moser’s hour record bike, and René Vietto’s aluminum Barra. The calendar also features a motorpaced stayer bike, an American six-day racer, and the bike of the first female U.S. champion from 1936.

Admirers of cyclotouring bikes will enjoy machines from René Herse, Alex Singer, Camille Daudon and Goéland, as well as the amazing 1930s Schulz.
Most of the photos have been published in the books The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle, but now you can admire them on your wall as you plan your year. Detail views and historic photos of the featured bikes, as well as brief captions, complete the calendar.
Priced at $ 14. Quantities are limited. For more information or to order your calendar, click here.

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Autumn 2012 Bicycle Quarterly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LED Replacement Bulbs for Headlights?

LEDs have revolutionized generator-powered bicycle lighting. They are bright, use less power, tend to last (almost) forever, and easily can be combined with a standlight. However, many riders prefer the elegant shapes of classic taillights. Combining LEDs with classic taillights offers the best of both worlds. Our LED insert replaces the incandescent bulb in a classic taillight, making this conversion easy and effortless. It even includes a standlight.
After we introduced the red LED taillight bulbs, we also received requests for LED bulbs to replace headlight bulbs. The LED bulbs exist in white as well, but unfortunately, an LED bulb will not work well in a classic headlight body. Here is why:
Incandescent bulbs (this includes halogen bulbs) emit light from their filament, and basically are point sources of light. The reflector behind the incandescent bulb is designed to diffuse the light from the point source to create a headlight beam.
LEDs emit light over a larger area. The reflectors of LED lights are shaped differently to work with this larger light source. Sticking an LED into a body for incandescent bulbs will not work optimally. You may be better off just keeping your old bulb and replacing it when it burns out.
Most taillights do not use reflectors behind the bulb. The lens adequately diffuses the light. Replacing an incandescent bulb with an LED insert does not change the effectiveness of the taillight. (You aren’t trying to see with your taillight, but just present a red glow visible to traffic approaching from behind.)
As much as we like the red LED inserts for taillights, we cannot recommend the white LED inserts for headlights. That said, they may be useful in some situations, such as a bike used mostly in the city, where being seen is more important than seeing, and where the standlight provides an important safety benefit. For those applications, we have a few white LED bulbs in stock. You can order them here.
(Sorry, the LED inserts are available only to replace screw-in bulbs, not the smooth halogen bulbs. If you have a halogen headlight, it’s best to stick with halogen bulbs, which are inexpensive and easily available.)

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Hutchinson 650B x 32 mm Tires

Compass Bicycles now carries the Hutchinson “Confrérie des 650” tire. The Confrérie des 650 was created by French riders who loved their 650B bikes. They were concerned that the wheel size might become extinct, leaving them without rims and tires for their bikes. So they formed the Confrérie and began working with manufacturers to offer 650B tires.
Since its inception, the Confrérie has focused on 32 mm-wide tires, because most French 650B bikes of the 1960s-80s used this size, for example, this lovely 1965 René Herse that recently sold on eBay. The first tire the Confrérie created was the Michelin Megamium. This was a utilitarian tire, but it was enough to keep many bikes on the road. In recent years, the increasing popularity of 650B tires in North America and Japan has brought many new and excellent 650B tires to the market, and there is no longer any risk of the wheel size becoming extinct. However, the Confrérie was wary of depending on others for their supplies. So when Michelin decided to stop making the 650B Megamium, the Confrérie worked with Hutchinson to make a replacement.
The result is the new Hutchinson 650B x 32 mm tire. Unlike the relatively narrow Megamium, it measures a true 32 mm wide. Hutchinson used their top-of-the-line racing casing for this tire, so it rolls very smoothly and absorbs shock very well. It is hard to estimate puncture resistance, but it appears to be fine in that respect. As a modern tire, the Hutchinson is black with reflective silver sidewalls. Whether you like it or not is a matter of taste – I prefer the more classic appearance of other 650B tires. It’s hard to dislike the light weight of the Hutchinson: At 267 g, it is the lightest 650B tire available today.
I feel that the Hutchinson is an excellent tire that adds significantly to the appeal of the 650B wheel size. To make it available in North America, Compass Bicycles now carries it in our tire program. More information is here.

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Summer 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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René Herse Cranks Sold Out

The first production run of the new René Herse cranks has sold out. Reports from users have been very positive. The cranks work well with current 10-speed drivetrains, as well as classic setups with 5-9 cogs in the rear.
The second production run is under way. In a month or two, new cranks and chainrings should arrive here. In the mean time, you can pre-order your cranks. Or watch this blog: We’ll announce when the new shipment arrives.

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We sell what we like

When the owner of a bicycle magazine also runs a company that develops and sells bicycle components, the words “conflict of interest” inevitably come up. Does Bicycle Quarterly only like products that Compass Bicycles sells, and disparages those of other companies? Is the magazine blind to the flaws of Compass Bicycles’ products?
Some people think that we like what we sell, when in fact, we sell what we like. There is a crucial difference between the two.
Bicycle Quarterly began selling things other than magazines when we found excellent products that were not available in North America. It started with books, and today, we bring you a number of excellent books, many of which otherwise would not be available to most of our readers. We sell these in very small numbers, and there isn’t much profit in it, but we consider it a service to our readers to make them available. (The photo above includes books that we used to sell, but which now are out of print.)

Then came the wonderful Grand Bois tires, and nobody wanted to distribute them in North America because the profit margins were too small, so we started importing them. As we did more and more research, we had new ideas about products we wanted, but which nobody wanted to make, like the René Herse cranks. We finally started Compass Bicycles to pursue these projects.

It’s obvious that we like most of the products we sell – otherwise we wouldn’t sell them! As a retailer, we can sell pretty much any product. The latest example are the Hutchinson 650B x 32 mm tires. These tires directly compete with the Grand Bois Cyprès 650B x 32 mm tires, which we distribute in North America. We gave them to a reader to evaluate, in addition to riding them ourselves.
If the review of the tires had been negative, then some might have thought: “Of course, Bicycle Quarterly doesn’t like anything that competes with the Grand Bois tires.” Fortunately, the Hutchinsons are excellent tires, and we decided to add them to our program. Now some may think that we like the Hutchinson tires only because we sell them… You can’t win that one, can you?

What if a product we sell does not offer the performance we expect?
When the Mitsuboshi 650B x 38 mm tires were discontinued, I had an idea for a stop-gap replacement: What about using the mold of the Panaracer “Col de la Vie,” but with the Grand Bois casing and tread material? The result was the Grand Bois “Ourson.” Unfortunately, the “micro-knob” tread pattern of the Col de la Vie dominated the experience of riding the Ourson: It was not as fast as the other Grand Bois tires, and the knobs squirmed and flexed, making the Ourson less than ideal both in a straight line and in corners.
Others did not share our concerns, and raved about these tires online. It would have been easy leave it at that, and not review the Ourson at all, but that would not have been honest. The review in Bicycle Quarterly was harsh: “We do not feel that the Ourson warrants the extra cost [over the Col de la Vie].” When we did this, we knew that sales of these tires would collapse. Our stocks of these tires remained in the warehouse for years, until we finally closed them out when the completely new and excellent Grand Bois Lierre was announced.

With the products we develop, like the René Herse cranks, we go through many prototypes to make sure they are flawless both in their performance and in their appearance. If they are tested in Bicycle Quarterly, we will give them to readers, who are not involved with the magazine, in addition to riding them ourselves. (From the Ourson tire experience, it appears that we are harsher critics of our own components than most other users.)
At the same time, we are careful to evaluate other companies’ products honestly. It does not matter whether they compete with our products or not. This means that we can be highly critical of one product, and then give another product from the same company an excellent review. We simply call it as we experience each product.
The conflicts of interest never will go away, but we work hard to ensure that they do not influence our editorial content. In fact, it’s much harder to criticize a product made by others than a product we sell. We easily can stop selling a product we don’t like, but it’s much harder to repair strained relations with other makers, many of whom are personal friends.

For most of these products, if we did not sell them, they would not be available at all. That is not a pleasant thought: My new bike (above) uses Grand Bois Hetre tires, Grand Bois Randonneur handlebars, a Grand Bois fork crown, Kaisei fork blades, the spindle from an SKF bottom bracket, and now has been fitted with the new René Herse cranks. Without these components, my bike would not offer the performance and comfort that I enjoy so much.

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Free Shipping for U.S. Orders over $200

See the blue medallion in the upper left corner? Compass Bicycles introduces Free Shipping to addresses in the U.S. on orders of $ 200 or more. Free shipping is automatic – simply place the order with shipping to a U.S. address, and the shopping basket will not charge shipping. There are no coupon codes, fine print or exceptions.
For all other orders, we charge shipping at cost. Our shopping basket calculates the shipping charges based on the weight and volume of the items you buy, plus insurance. We do not charge for “handling” and we don’t make money on our shipping. The shopping basket calculations are approximate; in the rare case that there is a significant overcharge, we automatically issue a refund.
We ship international orders frequently to places all over the world. When you check out with an international address, we suggest you try the different shipping options in the check-out window. Sometimes, a “flat rate” postal rate is significantly less expensive.
We want to make our excellent product selection more readily available to you, and hope you’ll take advantage of it!

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New Web Site for Compass Bicycles

We are pleased to announce our redesigned the Compass Bicycles web site.  The opening page is an interactive bike map, where you can select that components interest you (you’ll have to try the actual web page, since the links do not work on the screen shot above). The new site follows the simple navigation and clear organization that we developed for our Bicycle Quarterly Press web site earlier this year.

The product category pages allow return customers, who already know what they want, to order directly with a minimum of hassle. Clicking on the product image or name opens a page dedicated to that product.

There you find a description, technical specifications and even a link to blog articles related to this product. The new site also puts all the technical documentation in a single spot, so you can find it easily.

You can download instructions for products we sell, find the dimensions of hubs and rims that allow you to calculate spoke lengths, and even download the Bicycle Quarterly article that shows the optimal tire pressure for your tires, based on your weight.
The web site also features a few new products that we just received:

You can explore the new site by clicking here.
We worked with graphic designer Mark Eastman. We appreciate his website design that serves our needs and reflects the clarity and elegance of our print publications. Thanks, Mark!

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Bicycle Quarterly Spring 2012

Cyclists come in all sizes, as illustrated on the cover of the Spring 2012 Bicycle Quarterly. In this issue, we look at riders that are outside the range of our usual testers. How will a low-trail bike handle for a novice rider? Is “planing” something that all cyclists can experience? How would one build a great bike for a rider who is shorter or taller than our testers? How do wider tires feel to a rider who is used to racing bikes?
The Spring issue features reports from two riders who are new to classic randonneur bikes. One is taller, one is shorter, one a novice cyclist, the other an experienced rider. In addition to their riding experiences, we feature the geometries and tubing selections of their bikes. We also interviewed Lennard Zinn about how he designs bikes for tall riders.
Then we have three brothers report on their bicycle trip in Hannibal’s footsteps across Europe. The series about our editor’s new custom bike continues with an in-depth look at the Nivex derailleur. There are bike and component tests, book reviews, “My Favorite Bike” and more.
The Spring issue is running off the presses right now. It will go in the mail in next week. Readers should get it by April 28. (If you have moved, please let us know ASAP, so we can mail the magazine to the correct address.)
Click here for more information and images from the Spring issue.

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René Herse Cranks are Here!

Customers who pre-ordered their René Herse cranks before February 1 should receive a box in the next few days. Inside…

…is the new René Herse crank. It is delivered with our custom crank bolts and pedal washers. We are ramping up production slowly to ensure the cranks are made to our quality standards. Even though we work with the best suppliers, there have been challenges. The first batch arrived last week. It’s already sold out, thanks to our pre-orders. More cranks are expected to arrive later this week. Then we will be able to fill all pre-orders (except for single-ring and tandem cranks, which are machined separately), as well as have more in stock. This week’s delivery should include all chainring sizes ranging from 24 to 50 teeth.

We are proud of our custom-made René Herse crank bolts. Like the classic Herse crank bolts, they incorporate the washers, so you never risk forgetting to remove the washer and stripping your crank threads as your crank puller pushes on the washer instead of the bottom bracket spindle. The bolts are made from high-strength steel (Grade 8.8) and chrome-plated. (Stainless steel is not strong enough for the forces required to properly seat a crank on a square taper.)
In addition to including the crank bolts with our cranks, we also sell them separately. I plan to install them on most of my bikes, to improve their appearance and function. (Like René Herse, I don’t use dust shields on my cranks. With these bolts, there is no reason to hide them.)
The bolts fit on (almost) any traditional crank/bottom bracket combination. The head fits a 15 mm crank wrench, like old-style Campagnolo (and many other) crank bolts.

Our cranks also come with pedal washers. These small parts can make a real difference when the time comes to remove your pedals. They provide a smoother transition from the pedal spindle to the crank, which can prevent the spindle edge from digging into the crank. We also offer these separately.
For more information, see Compass Bicycles web site.

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Pivots for Centerpull Brakes

We now have braze-on pivots for centerpull brakes in stock. Small parts like these are easily overlooked. They aren’t exciting, and there is little profit in them. But when you need them, you appreciate them.
Centerpull brakes have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. With brazed-on pivots, they are powerful, elegant and light, while offering superior modulation. However, the pivots have been hard to find. They are different from cantilever pivots.
Most builders have resorted to machining them one by one. Mafac used to offer pivots for brazing onto the frame, and later, Dia-Compe offered copies of the Mafac pivots. Mafac is long-gone, but we managed to get Dia-Compe to make us another production run of these pivots.

The pivots are pre-mitered to fit the fork blades and seatstay. On the left is a rear pivot, which is slightly offset from the seatstays. On the right is a front pivot, which fits in the centerline of the fork blades. (Depending on your configuration, they may need additional mitering.)

The pivots have a machined flat on the part where the spring sits. An aluminum plate with a hole for the spring fits onto the pivot and is located by the flat. Some builder prefer to braze a small tube for the end of the spring onto the pivot. For them, we sell the pivots without the backing plate and spring.

The pivots also include new brake return springs. These are needed if you use Weinmann or Dia-Compe brakes. Mafac brakes already have springs that work with brazed-on pivots. Click here for more information on these pivots and our other framebuilding supplies.
Note: These do not work for Paul centerpull brakes, which use standard cantilever pivots.

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Vision vs. Focus Group

In today’s world, it is crucial for companies to listen to their customers. Give customers what they want, and you’ll be successful, the reasoning goes. Combine that with the economies of scale of mass production, and most manufacturers chase the same “average” audience. As a result, more and more products look and perform alike.
It used to be that instead of listening to their customers, companies decided what they thought met the customers’ needs. At first sight, that may seem like a patronizing approach. However, in a marketplace with ample competition, there is a positive side to this. With every company having a different vision, it leads to more choices. It also allows companies to innovate beyond the wildest dreams of their customers.
In the late 1950s, each European car company each had a different vision of the perfect high-end car.

For Mercedes-Benz, that meant swing axles and safety features such as the first crumble zones.

Lancia offered the first V6 engines. They balanced the front engine with the gearbox in the back for better weight distribution and handling.

Citroën believed in a radically different approach with front-wheel drive, hydropneumatic suspension and aerodynamic bodywork.

Their direct competitor Peugeot countered this with sturdy, but unadventurous designs.

Jaguar still stuck with a separate chassis, but offered a race-bred twin-cam engine and great value for money.
The list goes on. Some cars were fast, others spacious. Some handled well, others placed a stronger emphasis on comfort. Each car had a different feel and different features. They all looked different, too. Customers decided which of these visions for the perfect car matched theirs. There was real choice in the marketplace.
Today, most car companies rely on focus groups that tell them what the “average” customer wants. Then each company builds essentially the same car. In fact, J. D. Powers’ famous customer survey considers unusual design features “problems,” and deducts points for them like they would for a manufacturing defect! A New York Times review of a 2010 Subaru noted approvingly that the cars now had lost most of their individualistic features, adding: “One might ask why it took so long to go mainstream.”
It’s the same in the bicycle world. All the big bike companies define the marketplace in the same categories: racing, cyclocross, hybrid/city, cross-country, downhill… Often, the only difference between the competing bikes are the stickers on the down tube. Compare the three “performance road” bikes below, from Specialized, Trek and Giant…

Carbon fiber, sloping top tube, straight fork blades, 23 mm tires. Is there no other way to make a performance bike?
Component makers are the same way: Every “road” group features brake-shift levers, 10- or 11-speed drivetrains and dual-pivot brakes. Everybody is chasing the same “average” customer – the “low-hanging fruit,” as Shozaburo Shimano once called it in an interview in the Rivendell Reader. Unfortunately, that narrows the choices for the rest of us.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if a company offered a group with downtube shift levers, a 5-speed drivetrain and centerpull brakes? If they offered a low-trail Allroad bike with wide tires, but otherwise equipped like a racing bike? Or if they offered fenders, lights and racks on a high-end randonneur bike, rather than only on relatively inexpensive city bikes?
At Compass Bicycles, we appreciate our customers’ feedback. We love to hear good ideas. We evaluate them carefully and adopt them if they have merit. But we don’t substitute opinion polls for research and careful product design.
Our products reflect our vision of how we like to ride. If you share that vision, you’ll like our products. And if you are looking to equip a carbon-fiber racing bike with all-black 700C x 23 mm tires, you will be able to find suitable components elsewhere.
Acknowledgment: The illustration at the top of this post is by Daniel Rebour.

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New Bicycle Quarterly Web Site

The new Bicycle Quarterly Press web site is up and running. We have a new design, simpler navigation, and clearer organization. The site better explains what Bicycle Quarterly is all about: Inspirational rides (above) and technical articles that explain how bikes work…

… as well as exciting articles about cycling history.

We’ve enhanced favorite pages, including all the bikes we have tested in Bicycle Quarterly:

The site provides a clear overview of the cycling books we carry:

More than a dozen favorite articles are available in pdf format on the web site, including Jada Van Vliet’s classic about “Touring in India” on a locally-made 3-speed, a report from the “Raid Pyrénéen” and our test of the Calfee “Adventure” carbon-fiber bike for wide tires.

To make all this content more easily accessible, we made the navigation as simple as possible. There is even a shortcut for subscribing or renewing with just a few clicks of your mouse.

Start exploring the new site by clicking here.

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Coming full circle with René Herse

When I started researching the history of René Herse more than a decade ago, I never thought I would end up buying the company!
During my research, I talked to riders on Herse’s team and people who had known René Herse himself. I rode surviving examples of his bikes, and even entered Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem.

The stories these riders and builders told me fascinated and inspired me. As I visited Herse’s riders and talked to them on the phone, wonderful friendships developed over the years.
One of these friendships was with Lyli Herse, René’s daughter, and her husband Jean Desbois. Monsieur Desbois was one of the first employees René Herse hired in 1940. He stayed with Herse for close to 15 years, and returned in 1975. He was an invaluable source of information about the company’s history and the techniques employed by Herse to make his amazing bicycles.

During one of my visits, Lyli wistfully told me that she was saddened by the fact that she did not have children, and that the Herse name would disappear with her. She told me: “After we closed the shop, somebody offered to make René Herse frames under license, but my mother was against it. I now wish we had explored that possibility.”
At the same time, my friend Mike Kone was talking about making constructeur bikes. He shared my appreciation of René Herse’s craft, and so I approached him to see whether he might be interested in resurrecting the René Herse name, which had been dormant for almost 20 years. The result of this was that Mike bought the name and remaining assets from Lyli Herse and Jean Desbois, and started to offer modern René Herse frames again.
I acted as a liaison and translator between Lyli/Jean Desbois and Mike. I shared my research into what made these bikes special and worked with Mike to help ensure the new bikes would be worthy of the René Herse name. When Lyli Herse saw my new René Herse at PBP last year, tears were in her eyes as she looked over the lugs, the hand-lettered name on the down tube and the many custom parts that make these bikes special. It meant a lot to her to see the work of her father, her husband and herself carried on. And her approval of the new bike meant just as much to Mike and me.

René Herse was more than just a framebuilder. He actually started as a component maker of revolutionary lightweight components. Through my research into the history and technology of bicycles, I had become involved in making the parts that had worked so well in the past. The result was a new company, Compass Bicycles, which is dedicated to making components that I feel should be available, but aren’t.
To me, the René Herse cranks are the best crank design of all time, so it was natural to think about making an updated version. To make a long story short, Compass Bicycles recently purchased the René Herse name and assets from Mike Kone’s company, Boulder Bicycles. Boulder Bicycles now licenses the name René Herse Bicycles from us, so they will continue to offer René Herse constructeur bicycles as before. And we are free to make updated versions of René Herse’s wonderful components. We also plan to offer replicas of the original René Herse components for restorations of classic René Herse bicycles.
When I started researching René Herse more than a decade ago, I never would have thought that we would see new René Herse bikes made, that his components would be available again, and that we’d eventually own the company. I am glad it turned out that way.

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Wide-Body SON Delux Generator Hub

I am excited about the new Wide-Body SON Delux generator hub. It allows you to enjoy a super-strong wheel, yet roll along with the less resistance than other generator hubs. It is available now in limited quantities with 32 or 36 holes.
When Schmidt Maschinenbau developed the standard SON Delux generator hubs, they optimized the hub’s performance in every way. The Delux is the lightest generator hub, with the lowest resistance, ever made.
To minimize both the weight and the internal air volume,* the hub shell closely hugs the generator inside. The hub flanges are spaced just 50 mm apart, rather than the 60-70 mm of most front hubs. While the resulting wheel is strong enough for most applications, the hub looks slightly odd in standard bicycle forks with 100 mm dropout spacing.
In September, Schmidt introduced their new SON28 hub with wider flange spacing and a more powerful generator. While I was excited about the wider flange spacing, I don’t need (or want) the more powerful generator, which has more resistance than the Delux hub. Modern LED lights powered by the Delux hub are plenty bright even at low speeds. The SON28 may be useful if you ride slowly, and need to charge electronic devices like cell phones or GPS systems while you have your lights on.
Following the introduction of the SON28, I asked Schmidt whether they could make a wide-flange version of the Delux. My dream hub would combine the strength of the SON28 with the low resistance of the Delux. The nice thing when dealing with a small company is that things can happen quickly. In today’s mail, we got a few of the new Wide-Body Delux hubs (below on the left, with a standard Delux hub on the right).

The new hubs are even nicer than I expected. Schmidt managed to increase the flange spacing to 68 mm. This not only is 18 mm wider than the standard Delux hub (above left), but even 6 mm wider than the SON28.
Schmidt designed the “Wide-Body” hub shell so it fits tightly around the generator. There appears to be less air volume inside than in the SON28.* Not only does this improve the longevity of the hub, but I find the resulting gentle curves of the new hubshell very attractive. As usual with Schmidt, the aluminum hub shell is polished to a mirror finish. For the first time, a generator hub not only is functional, but beautiful. This is the generator hub I always wanted to have!
The features that distinguish the “Wide-Body” from the standard Delux hub (in parentheses) are:

  • Wider flange spacing: 68 mm (50 mm)
  • Stainless steel axle (aluminum with stainless steel endcaps)
  • Weight: 412 g (386 g)
  • Cost: $ 305 ($ 285)

All other specifications (power output, resistance) are exactly the same. For me, the very slight increase in weight and cost are a small price to pay for a much stronger wheel. (The steel axle also will provide peace of mind, even though none of the aluminum axles have failed so far.) Most of all, I prefer the appearance of the wider flange spacing, which makes the wheel fill out the front forks of my bicycle.
I cannot wait to build a wheel with the new Wide-Body Delux hub for my new René Herse. (I intended to have two wheelsets for this bike: one with 28/32 spokes for events, and one with 32/36 spokes for all other rides. Now I’m glad that I never got around to building the second wheelset with an old SON20 hub.)
Compass Bicycles has a few “Wide Body” hubs available right now, with more on the way. In a few weeks, we also should have Edelux lights for “upside-down” mounting, so they can hang from a front rack.
In other “bright” news, we now have the standard SON Delux with 28 holes (in addition to 32 and 36 holes), as well as the B&M IQ Cyo without sensors. The latter is the least expensive generator-powered headlight that uses the superb “IQ” optics and high-output LEDs. Click here for more information.
* The internal air volume contracts when the hub cools, sucking outside air (and moisture) into the hub. SON generator hubs feature a pressure compensation system that prevents moisture from being sucked through the bearings; most other hubs do not have this system.

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Pre-Orders for René Herse Cranks

Developing an excellent product takes time and care. The first run of our new René Herse cranks has been forged. Above, you see a raw forging being removed from the forging die.

Above are the raw forgings for the crankarms of the first production run (three containers in the foreground). Around the same time, the forge was making suspension linkages for 2013 model year mountain bikes (talk about a long lead-time!).

Now our chainring tabs, square tapers and pedal eyes have to be machined (above). The first batch of 50 cranksets is being machined right now, from which we will check all the tolerances to make sure the tapers are accurate and the chainrings have the absolute minimum runout possible. Once we have ensured that everything meets our high standards, the full production run will be machined.

Our engineer in Taiwan (above on the left) visits the forging and CNC shops every week to make sure everything is to spec.
The first 50 sets of cranks should arrive here in late December or early January, together with the 48-tooth and 32-tooth chainrings. Other chainring sizes, more cranks (including single-chainring and tandem models) will follow shortly thereafter.

We are now taking pre-orders for the René Herse cranks, which will be filled “first come, first served.” Obviously, if you order a 48-32 double, you’ll get yours from the very first shipment, whereas other sizes will take a little longer (but not much). Tandem cranks and triples for half-step gearing probably will come last. Click here for more information.
At this time, we also would like to announce that Compass Bicycles is the sole manufacturer of René Herse cranks.  Herse Bicycles Inc. of Boulder, CO, has decided to focus on their core competencies of making superb custom-made bicycles under the René Herse brand. The René Herse cranks will be available directly from Compass Bicycles. The cranks also will be available from bicycle retailers.

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New LED Taillight Solutions

Taillights can be very elegant and beautiful. Some are shaped like raindrops, others emerge from the fender like a submarine parting the waves. There are minimalist taillights like the beautiful JOS lights that René Herse mounted on the seat tubes of his randonneur bikes.
In recent years, the LED revolution not only has made headlights much brighter, but taillights have improved as well. More than added brightness, generator-powered LED taillights offer the advantage of a standlight, so you are visible when stopped at a stop sign or traffic light. However, even the nicest modern taillights, like the B&M Seculite (below), lack the elegance of the old lights.

Some American constructeurs are making their own taillights with modern LED internals. Others have converted classic taillights to modern LED circuits. Either approach requires considerable effort and expense.

We now offer a red LED insert (above) that screws into a classic taillight. It even includes a standlight circuit. It’s a clever design: The housing of the LED is shaped like an old incandescent light bulb. You can power your lights with a generator hub or even a classic sidewall dynamo.
You can simply replace the light bulb of your taillight with this LED bulb, without any other modification. If you ever want to return your light to original spec, you can put back the incandescent bulb.
We’ve tested the LED bulbs. They are bright. The standlight remains lit for at least a minute at full brightness. They work well with the higher voltage of modern LED headlights. Unlike incandescent bulbs, they don’t burn out, but last a very long time.

In other light news, Compass Bicycles now carries Busch & Müller‘s excellent and affordable generator-powered lights:
The IQ Cyo (above) has the same optics as the Schmidt Edelux. It even features a big cooling surface on top to keep the LED running cool and efficient. Unlike the Edelux, it is made mostly from plastic. The IQ Cyo is available in black and silver (shown). We sell the versions with a standlight and a light sensor that automatically switches on the light when it gets dark – for example, as you enter a tunnel. (They can be switched off, too.)

The Busch & Müller Lyt is an affordable LED light that offers remarkable performance. It was the clear winner of the “affordable light test” in Bicycle Quarterly. We were surprised how good this light is: Its beam is bright and broad, yet the Lyt does not blind oncoming traffic. You could ride all night with this light. It even has a standlight and an On/Off switch. For just $49, there is no reason to continue using your dim old halogen headlights. And of course, we also sell the Seculite taillights, as well as Schmidt’s excellent generator hubs. Brighten up your holidays and winter riding with a generator-powered lighting system!

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Bicycle Quarterly Charity Drive

We are grateful that we can ride beautiful bicycles, both for enjoyment and for transportation. We discuss issues like geometry, load placement and the advantages of generator over battery lights.
Much of the world is less fortunate. Even in the United States, one of the richest countries anywhere, there are many people whose most basic needs aren’t met. One of the ways Bicycle Quarterly Press has chosen to make a difference is our charity drive. We will donate half of all magazine subscriptions and selected book orders through December 8, 2011.

We will give 50% of the purchase price of each Bicycle Quarterly subscription and renewal, as well as of our book The Competition Bicycle, to charities that help make the world a better place. Simply order online or send a check. You do not need a special code or coupon. (If you send a check, make sure it is postmarked by December 8.)

If you have been thinking about subscribing to Bicycle Quarterly or buying our book, please do so now, and do a good deed at the same time. Bicycle Quarterly sells these subscriptions and books below cost so that we can help make a difference.
In recent years, we have chosen two charities, Doctors without Borders and Save the Children, who help alleviate the most urgent needs all over the world. This year, we add the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization that works toward making the world a better place. The proceeds of the Bicycle Quarterly Press charity drive will be split evenly between the three charities.
We also encourage you to work within your local communities by contributing your time and/or your money. Thank you so much!

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Bottle Cages

When I knew Ernest Cuska, the long-time owner of Cycles Alex Singer, he did not have bottle cages on his bikes. After riding with him a few times, I realized why: He did not drink anything while riding. Imagine my surprise when I looked at old photos of him and saw a bottle on the down tube of every one of his bikes (above during the Tour de France Cyclotouriste 1950). When he was younger and one of the fastest cyclosportifs of France,  even he had to hydrate while riding.
When I was a teenager, putting a bottle cage on my bike was the first act of becoming a “serious” cyclist. No longer did I just ride around town, but I was riding for hours now, and I needed to carry a drink. (In those days, it was water with a little lemon juice.)

At the time, everybody used the inexpensive TA aluminum bottle cages. They worked well, but eventually, they broke. We tried extra-sturdy cages from Specialized, but they also broke, albeit a little later. When I moved to the United States, I discovered the American Classic bottle cages, which lasted much longer and held the bottles more securely. All these cages were made from aluminum, so they marked the bottles.
On my new bike, I did not want grungy-looking bottles, so I needed a steel bottle cage. TA used to make steel cages (above), but they were heavy, and they got rusty, especially if your bottles contained electrolytes (salt). Fortunately, Nitto offers stainless steel bottle cages that are lightweight, hold the bottle securely, don’t rust, and look beautiful.
There are three models:

The R Cage (above) consists of two wire loops that act like a spring. It holds your bottle very securely.

The R80 Cage is similar, but made from stainless steel tubing rather than wire. This reduces the weight by 20% (10 g).

The T Cage is the most beautiful cage I know. It has a closed loop on top, which holds the bottle very securely even when it is mounted underneath the top tube. However, because it has no spring action, inserting the bottle requires more precision, and some bottles may rattle.
Nitto bottle cages are hand-made in small batches. They can be hard to find. We sell the products we like and use on our own bikes, so Compass Bicycles now carries Nitto bottle cages. Click here for more information.

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The Competition Bicycle – Price Reduced

As a small publisher, we don’t have a “publicist” who works full-time to promote our books. Therefore, we always are excited when one of our titles is mentioned in a major publication. Over the years, our books have been featured in the Sunday Times UK, one of Britain’s largest newspapers, in Outside magazine, the Seattle Times and on Just recently, Velo-News featured our The Competition Bicycle in their September 2011 issue in a prominent spot (above). We appreciate the positive press, and we think it speaks of the quality of our books when major publications discover them almost on their own.
In time for the holidays, we have reduced the price of The Competition Bicycle to $50. Next year, distribution of the book will be taken over by Rizzoli New York. Buying your copy from us now helps us finance future book projects. (Both editions will be identical except for the dustjacket, and both retail for $ 50.) You can find out more about our books and order your copies here.

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Paris-Brest-Paris – The Book

Paris-Brest-Paris is an event that captures the imagination. It’s not just the epic length of the ride – 1200 km or 750 miles – but also the history that makes this event special.
Paris-Brest-Paris (or PBP in short) was created in 1891 by Pierre Giffard, a colorful journalist, with two goals: Obviously, he wanted to increase the circulation of his newspaper, and what better way of doing that with reports from the most amazing bike racer ever? His second goal was more idealistic: Giffard wanted to showcase the utility of the bicycle at a time when it was mostly used as a fashionable pastime for rich young men, who paraded in parks and town squares.
Giffard saw the bike as a means of transportation, as a way to travel. His ideas for the race reflected this. He wrote:
“I dream of a truly utilitarian race, with racers who will ride the same machine from one end of the route to the other, and don’t change along the way, who will not try to devour the distance without taking an hour of sleep, who will sleep when their nature demands it, who will be true wandering cyclists, with bags and lanterns.” (Translated from French.)
Giffard dreamed of a randonneur event! Of course, this was long before randonneuring existed as a sport. As Giffard envisioned, the first PBP had numerous adventurous souls at the start. Among them were a handful of women, but they were not allowed to start.*
The limelight was stolen by two professional racers, whose newly-invented pneumatic tires gave them a huge advantage over the amateurs with their airless tires. In the end, Charles Terront, sponsored by Michelin, won over Jiel-Laval, who rode for Dunlop. Terront took only 71:27 hours for the long ride, whereas the last participants returned to Paris ten days after the start.

PBP was such a success that it was decided to hold the race every 10 years. The following events saw professional racers with full support, but also independents in the “Touriste-Routier” category. If you read French, you can read about the history of PBP, all the way up to this year’s ride, in Jacques Seray’s hardcover book Paris-Brest-Paris:12 ans, 1200 kilomètres.
For all readers, the main appeal of the book lies in the hundreds of photos. I thought I had seen most photos from the early days of PBP, but Seray found many more that I had never seen before.

The photos include true gems. Above you see the decisive moment of the 1911 race: The leaders are getting ready to change their bikes as the race enters the hills toward the finish. You see their helpers running alongside with the spare bikes. However, the rider in the center, Emile Georget, attacks instead of changing his bike. He breaks away and wins the race.
Why did the racers change their bikes? Seray doesn’t mention the background, but from other sources, we know that racers back then did not use multiple gears. In fact, Henri Desgrange, the “Father of the Tour de France,” famously wrote: “Derailleurs are only for old men, who don’t have the force to face a hill head-on any longer.” (Desgrange’s main motive appears to have been commercial: The bike makers that financed the racing teams wanted to sell simple single-speed bicycles, rather than retool their factories for modern derailleur-equipped bicycles.)
The racers soon found that they could go faster if they adjusted their gearing to the terrain. The rules forbade them to use derailleurs, but they said nothing about changing bikes. So when a racer needed a different gear ratio, he simply changed bikes, with the new bike having different gearing. It may have been hypocritical for Desgrange to claim: “True men don’t change their gears!” when his true men in fact changed their entire bicycles…

The race continued to hold the public’s attention every ten years. Most of the great riders associated with the famous event are shown in evocative photos in Seray’s book, including the Australian Hubert Opperman, who won the event in 1931 (above). Alas, there is no photo of Charly Miller, the only American ever to race in the professional PBP, unless he is one of the many unidentified racers shown in various photos. (It appears we don’t know what Miller looked like.)

In the 1950s, professional racers lost interest in the long race, but the randonneurs, who had been riding PBP since 1931, took over as the “Heroes of the Route Nationale.” Above is the start for the 1956 event, with Roger Baumann lined up in the center of the front row. He would be the first solo rider to return to Paris that year.

The randonneurs have grown in number in recent decades, and in 2011, almost 5000 riders took the start. Seray brings the story up to date with images and a report (in French) from this year’s PBP (above).
To make this wonderful book available to our readers, we are importing a few copies of Paris-Brest-Paris: 120 ans, 1200 kilomètres. Click here for more information.
* Women participated in unorganized randonneuring from the start. The randonneur PBP admitted women from the first edition in 1931.

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Net-Shape Forging and Crank Length

Net-Shape Forging
The new René Herse cranks will be offered in one length only, 171 mm, which allows us to have the cranks forged to their final shape. (The photo above shows the raw forging.) The process is called “net-shape forging.” The grain structure of the aluminum is aligned during the forging process, so that it follows the contours of the crank. Net-shape forging optimizes the crank’s strength and enables us to offer a lightweight part without undue concerns about reliability.
Machining Cranks to Length
When small-production cranks are offered in different lengths, they usually are made with an adaptable forging, like the raw forging for the TA “Pro 5 vis” cranks shown below.

On the right side, you see how the pedal eye area is elongated. The crank is machined to the correct length by cutting away material near the pedal eye. The following illustrates what happens when you do extensive machining on a forging.

Above is a schematic drawing of a raw forging. You can see how the grain structure conforms to the final shape. This makes for a very strong part.

When we cut off one end, we interrupt the grain structure at that end. Each of these interruptions is a weak spot. On a crank, the interruptions occur at the pedal eye – one of the places that are subject to the most stress. If a crank breaks, it often happens at the pedal eye. Machining the crank to length has eliminated the advantages of the forging process in this area.
“Net-shape” forging keeps the grain of the crank intact. The result is a stronger crank. If you want to offer multiple lengths, a better way is to make separate forging dies for each length. However, this multiplies the cost, especially with small production runs, whereas machining the cranks to length costs very little, because the cranks already are going to be machined for the pedal eye, chainring interfaces and spindle taper anyhow.
The Importance of Crank Length
But what about riders who need a different crank length? I used to think that I was highly sensitive to crank length. I found the 175 mm-long Shimano Deore triple cranks on my touring bike much harder to spin than the 172.5 mm Campagnolo cranks on my racing bike. It was obvious to me that the 2.5 mm extra length made the touring bike’s cranks difficult to spin.
Then I visited my friends Pamela and John in Boston. I had brought my Bike Friday along, but since we were to enter a 300 km brevet together, Pamela suggested that I should ride a bike with better performance. They were to ride their tandem, and John’s bike fit me fine, so why not take it instead? Very well, except it was equipped with 175 mm cranks, and I was concerned about being able to spin such long cranks. John scrounged around and tried to find shorter cranks for me, but his bike was optimized for narrow tread (Q factor), and none of the shorter cranks would fit. I decided to take a chance and ride John’s bike with the long cranks.
To my surprised, I could spin his 175 mm cranks very well. I had a great ride on the hilly roads of Connecticut with my friends, and never felt bogged down like I did on my touring bike. I realized that it had not been the length of the Deore cranks that inhibited my spin, but their width. Their tread (Q factor) was at least 20 mm wider than my Campagnolo cranks. John’s cranks were as long as the Deore cranks, but their tread (Q factor) was almost as narrow as that of my Campagnolo cranks.

Let’s look at the length by itself: The difference of 2.5 mm amounts to only 1.4% of the total crank length. The cranks in the photoshopped image show the range that most manufacturers offer, from 165 mm on the left up to 175 mm on the right. The cranks look similar because they are similar: The longest crank is just 6% longer than the shortest one.
Imagine putting five random people next to each other: Their leg lengths would not be within 6% like the lengths of the cranks in the image. If we wanted to scale our cranks to our leg length, we would need lengths between 140 and 210 mm, as Lennard Zinn suggests. And according to this formula, I would need 186 mm cranks.
TA at least offers their cranks in lengths between 150 and 185 mm, but most cranks are available only in a very narrow range between 165 and 175 mm. People’s inseams and thigh lengths vary by at least 30%, yet most cranks vary in length by less than 10%. There are two possible explanations:

  1. Crank length does not matter for most riders, and the small differences in the commonly available crank lengths don’t affect how the cranks feel and perform.
  2. Crank length matters, and the crank makers have it all wrong. They should offer lengths that vary by 30% or more.

My experience suggests that 1. is correct, that small differences in crank length do not make a big difference. Today, I am as happy spinning the 175 mm cranks on Mark’s bike as I am on an old René Herse with 165 mm cranks. Compared to other factors, such as the tread (Q factor) and the flex characteristics of the frame (my touring bike with the Deore cranks also had a stiffer frame that contributed to the “bogged-down” feeling), crank length appears to matter little for most riders.
If you are outside the “normal” size range of cyclists, then you may benefit from significantly longer or shorter cranks. By significant, I mean not just a 165 mm or a 175 mm crank instead of a 170 mm. For example, I went to some lengths to put 150 mm cranks on my children’s bikes, and very tall riders may benefit from significantly longer cranks.

We are confident that our 171 mm cranks will work well for the vast majority of cyclists. For those who “need” a 175 mm or a 165 mm crank, we ask them to re-consider whether the 2-3% shorter or longer René Herse cranks really will feel very different. If future research finds that crank length does matter after all, then all makers will have to start making 140 mm and 210 mm cranks. In that case, we will make additional forging dies for those lengths. Until then, we hope that most riders will be happy with our 171 mm cranks, even if they are 4 mm shorter or 6 mm longer than their preferred length. In our opinion, the advantage of a stronger crank is worth the slight compromise in the length.

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Winter 2011 Bicycle Quarterly

The Winter 2011 issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed next week. Our full report from the Oregon Manifest (pictured on the cover) showcases the innovative and inspiring bicycles that excelled in the technical trials. We also take you on an epic ride across the Pyrenees mountains of southern France, to fuel your imagination over the winter months.

We discuss frame geometry and how it affects the fit and handling of your bike. And of course, we test bikes and equipment and bring you book reviews.

My personal favorite in Bicycle Quarterly is the “My Favorite Bike” column, where readers present a bike that is special to them. In the Winter issue, Wolfgang Habermeyer from Munich reports how he visited a bicycle chain store, found this wonderful 1970s Bertin in the basement among the unloved trade-ins, and bought it for a song. I wish we could all be that lucky!

Click here for more information on the Winter 2011 Bicycle Quarterly.

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SON Generator Hubs and Lights

Compass Bicycles has added SON generator hubs and Edelux lights to our program. We are excited to carry the best bicycle lighting systems ever made.
A few years ago, a reporter asked me what I considered the most important innovation in bicycles during the last half-century. After thinking about the many innovations that have been branded as “game changers,” I answered: “Generator hubs and modern lights.” (The only other thing that comes close are clipless pedals.)
Generator hubs have made bikes far more useful, because you now can ride as well at night as during the day. No longer do you need to worry how much charge you have left in your batteries. Nor do you have to ride the brakes on descents, so you don’t outrun the beam of your dim lights that are powered by a sidewall dynamo. In the rain, you no longer worry about your generator slipping on the wet tire.
Generator hubs have made bicycles as convenient as cars: When it gets dark (or you enter a tunnel), you just flip a switch, and the lights come on. They are always there, not consuming significant energy when they are off, and very little when they are on. (In fact, we didn’t even wire a switch on my son’s bike. His lights are on all the time, like those of modern cars.)

Schmidt Maschinenbau (above), a small company with 28 employees, developed the first modern generator hubs. They continue to make the best generator hubs and LED lights in their small factory in Germany. Most of their suppliers are within cycling distance, and they pick up many parts by bicycle.
For years, we have collaborated with Schmidt Maschinenbau on testing the resistance of generator hubs and the beam patterns of lights and have made suggestions for products, such as the SON 20R (now called Delux) and the connector-less hubs, which transmit the current to a special dropout without wires to unplug when you remove the wheel. We have been using their hubs and lights for many years on our own bikes.

We are proud to announce that Compass Bicycles now sells Schmidt’s SON generator hubs and Edelux headlights. Click here for more information.

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A Future for Independent Bookstores?

About ten years ago, I walked into a small bookstore in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. I saw a beautiful book on motorcycles, and even though I am not particularly interested in motorbikes, I picked up the book. The photography in The Art of the Motorcycle was stunning. I liked it so much that I bought the book. My first thought was: “Wouldn’t it be great to do a similar book on bicycles?” Later I met one of the photographers who had worked on The Art of the Motorcycle and learned that he rode a René Herse. This meeting led to our books The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle.
Today, this story would be unlikely to happen. Even though Fremont is a vibrant neighborhood, the bookstore no longer exists, because most people buy their books online. Online, I never would have found the motorcycle book, because it is not within the standard profile of what I tend to buy.
A single company, Amazon, now controls almost 50% of the entire U.S. book business. A little while ago, Amazon introduced their new Kindle Fire tablet for digital readers. The new device is sold at a discount, but Amazon plans to make up for that because it “will corral users into a tightly walled garden around Amazon’s content and devices and may secure a new dominance for Amazon as an online retailer and technology company,” as the New York Times noted. The “dominance” enables Amazon to dictate their terms to publishers and others who generate “content.” They pay much less for books than the bookstore in Fremont. And as Amazon publishes more books themselves, there is little to prevent them from steering customers to their books instead of those from other publishers.
Amazon does not only control the book business, but the company is involved in all kinds of other retailing transactions. If you look for bicycle components online, you are likely to end up at Amazon’s web site. “Amazon Fresh” will bring groceries to your house. Even libraries, eager to offer e-books to their readers, have teamed up with Amazon. In the future, when I  borrow an e-book from our library, the final checkout will happen at Amazon. Not only does Amazon collect a fee from the library, but it also collects the personal data of library users.
As Amazon inserts itself into more and more of our purchasing and reading, my concern is not only that they are taking their cut every time. More than that, I fear that we are losing our diversity. I will miss the enchanting little bookstores, where I can browse books and discuss them with the owners, rather than obtain computer-generated “recommendations.” I will miss the quirky bike shops that have odd bikes gathering cobwebs under the ceiling and long-obsolete parts in back room drawers. I am glad that many of them still exist, and I hope they will continue to serve us forever, as long as we are willing to bring them our business.
When Bicycle Quarterly Press published our first book, we decided not deal with Amazon. Our books are available only from us directly or through independent bike shops and bookstores. And when you visit them, who knows what other treasures you will find?

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Damaged Books at a Discount

Every once in a while, we receive a shipment of books that got damaged in transit. Usually, the damage is slight, like a bump on a corner, and most bookstores would sell them as “new” books. We know that you value the cycling books you buy from us, and so we want to make sure your books are in pristine condition when you receive them.
Yet we have a few stacks of damaged books that would do more good being read by someone. We are selling these books at a 25% discount:

On most of these books, the damage is limited to bumped corners, and all of them have pristine insides. Quantities are limited to stock on hand. We have sorted all books by the amount of damage, and the first orders will get the best books.
Order your copy here, and select the second entry (“Damaged Copy”) when you order. If you prefer a pristine copy of these wonderful books, you can order it at the same link.
Update 11/2/2011: All damaged books have been sold.

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René Herse Cranks: Prices and Availability

The new René Herse cranks have entered production. The arms are being forged, the chainrings are being machined, and the crank bolts are being made, each by specialist manufacturers who are among the best in their trade. The photo above shows the final production version of the arms and chainrings. (The crank bolt still is a prototype.)
We plan to have the cranks in stock for the Holidays. We also have finalized the prices: $385 for single- and double-chainring cranksets, and $440 for a triple. We will offer tandem cranksets as well.
The double-chainring cranks are designed for a 113 mm JIS bottom bracket, resulting in a tread (Q factor) of 142 mm with a standard chainline. (If you ride mostly on the big ring, you can use a shorter BB spindle to move the cranks inward a bit, if your frame permits. This will reduce the tread/Q factor by up to 6 mm.)
The new René Herse cranks are compatible with many bottom brackets, including the excellent SKF bottom bracket available from Compass Bicycles.
I am looking forward to putting these cranks on my new randonneur bike!

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Autumn 2011 Bicycle Quarterly

The Autumn issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It will be mailed next week. On 72 pages, we cover a variety of topics, including:

  • High-wheeler racing in New Zealand today.
  • Test of the Calfee “Adventure” – a carbon fiber bicycle for the real world.
  • Braking: We test how it’s done best, and compare a few interesting brakes (Sram Force, Eebrake, Velo-Orange Gran Cru).
  • Many remember George Retseck’s illustrations from old Bridgestone catalogues. We talk to the man and show some rarely seen artwork.
  • A daytrip across the Yorkshire Dales immerses you into the landscape, culture and history of this beautiful region.
  • Our editor’s ultimate custom bicycle. How he designed it, and how it was built.

Click here for more details and photos from the Autumn 2011 Bicycle Quarterly. If you are not a current subscribers, sign up or renew today to make sure that the Autumn issue reaches you without delay.

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History of Aluminum Cranks

During the development of our new René Herse cranks over the last two years, I have been thinking a lot about crank design. Modern cranks are an interesting story of standards that evolved until nobody remembers why they were adopted in the first place. Here are a few questions that I tried to answer:

  • Why do triple cranks have two different bolt-circle diameters?
  • Why do makers offer “compact” and regular cranks, when you could make 53-tooth chainrings for “compact” cranks and offer only a single, more versatile model?
  • Why do “road” cranks have five-arm spiders, but many “mountain bike” cranks have only four, and some only three?

When something doesn’t appear to make sense, it often helps to look at how it evolved over time.
The first successful aluminum cranks were introduced in 1933 by Stronglight (photo at the top). They used a square taper fitting on the spindle instead of the cotters used by most steel cranks at the time. As their name implied, these cranks were strong and light.
They had one drawback. The chainring attached to a small flange on the right crankarm, as was common among cranks at the time. If you ran two or more chainrings, the additional chainrings attached to the big ring with bolts, nuts and spacers. Installing the chainrings on these cranks is a fiddly business. The small bolts are under-dimensioned. It is hard to tighten them enough without breaking them.

The next modern aluminum crank was offered by René Herse in 1938 (above; 1950s tandem version shown). Herse mounted his chainrings to a larger spider instead of a flange. Using three arms and a bolt-circle diameter of 70 mm, these cranks preserved all the advantages of the Stronglight, while making it much easier to attach the chainrings. The cranks could be set up as a single, double or triple with any chainring combination down to 24 teeth.
When Herse began to offer complete bicycles in 1940, his cranks were available only on his bikes.  If you wanted a René Herse crank, you had to buy a René Herse bike. This precluded a more widespread adoption of this great design.

Starting in the late 1940s, Tullio Campagnolo adopted a number of cyclotouring components for racing. The first was the Gran Sport derailleur, which was based on the Nivex parallelogram derailleur. (Campagnolo famously bought two Nivex derailleurs from Alex Singer the year before he introduced the Gran Sport. You can read Bicycle Quarterly’s article on the development of the Gran Sport here.) The Gran Sport was so successful that it set the mold for all modern derailleurs. Even Shimano’s electronic Di2 rear derailleur can trace its ancestry directly to the Gran Sport.
When Campagnolo offered his first cranks in 1958 (above, 1965 version shown), Campagnolo used five arms for the spider instead of Herse’s three arms. Perhaps he thought that racers needed more support for the chainrings? Like Herse, he considered the smallest chainring his customers would use.  At the time, most racers used a small chainring with 47 teeth. The result was a 151 mm bolt-circle diameter.

Around the same time, triple cranks were becoming popular among racers. Campagnolo offered a “Strada” model that simply used longer chainring bolts and nuts, plus spacers, so you could bolt a third chainring to your cranks. Of course, a triple with a small ring of 47 teeth was of little use to most riders.
Some mechanics instead retrofitted Campagnolo cranks with a third ring, with a smaller bolt circle (from Stronglight or TA). They drilled holes into the crank’s spider, tapped them, and attached the third ring with spacers. The photo above shows one of these home-made conversions. Since it’s a tandem, you see a fourth chainring, which is on the other side of the bike.
In the 1970s, Campagnolo began offering a factory-made version of this design. The Campagnolo triple appears to have been the first production crank with two different bolt-circle diameters.
For decades, most component makers copied Campagnolo, sometimes with small modifications. Shimano’s cranks used a 130 mm bolt-circle diameter that allowed using chainrings down to 38 teeth. Campagnolo reduced their bolt-circle diameter first to 144 mm (42-tooth chainrings), then to 135 mm (39-tooth chainrings).

When mountain bikes popularized triple chainrings, the crank makers copied the dual bolt-circle diameter of the old Campagnolo “retrofit” triple cranks (above; the second set of bolts is hidden on the other side of the crank). Component makers reduced the bolt-circle diameters to allow the use of smaller chainrings, but did not reexamine whether it made sense to have two different bolt circles on the same cranks.

During the 1980s, Campagnolo tried to break away from the dual-bolt circle diameter “retrofit” cranks. Their Gran Sport Touring, Victory and Triomphe cranks had a smaller 116 mm bolt-circle diameter (above), so they could be equipped as doubles or triples, with chainrings down to 36 teeth. (It appears that Campagnolo could not envision anybody using rings smaller than 36 teeth.)
The basic idea was sound, but it fell by the wayside as Shimano began to dominate the component market. When Campagnolo offered a road triple again in the 1990s, they were back to two different bolt circles.

In recent years, Shimano’s mountain bike cranks have moved away from the five-arm spider. To save weight, they now use four arms. However, the two bolt circles remain.

On triple cranks for the road, Shimano remains faithful to the tradition of five-arm spiders and multiple bolt circles, even though the extra arms and larger bolt circle for the outer rings provide no advantage.

In recent years, many riders found they needed chainrings smaller than the 39- or 38-teeth offered by racing cranks. Crank makers could have reduced the bolt-circle diameter further, just like Campagnolo had in the past. Instead, they offered additional “compact” models (above) with a 110 mm bolt circle. This bolt circle limits the smallest ring to 34 teeth, even though many riders could use smaller chainrings. The crank makers continue to offer the larger bolt circles for their “standard” cranks.

Even today, the old René Herse design remains the most logical: It allows using any chainring combination. It’s lighter than most modern cranks, because it uses only as much material as needed. The Herse cranks did not serve as a template for the industry because they were too rare and mostly unknown when “modern” cranks were introduced during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Instead, everybody copied the Campagnolo cranks, which initially were intended for ultra-strong racers, and then retrofitted with a third chainring for those not strong enough to climb hills in a 47-tooth (and later 42-tooth) chainring. It appears that nobody took a clean sheet of paper and tried to come up with a more rational design for a bicycle crank.
We are proud to reintroduce René Herse cranks, so that today’s cyclists can enjoy the benefits of light weight, narrow tread (Q factor), unlimited chainring choices, and easy setup.

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Pricing Small Parts

There are different philosophies on how to set prices. The traditional way is to figure out how much something costs to make, add a little profit, and determine the retail price. The more modern way is to keep your prices low on “high-visibility” items for which people comparison-shop, but inflate your margins on “add-on” products that people tend to buy without comparing prices.
I may be old-fashioned, but I dislike having to compare prices on everything I buy. I prefer to shop from companies whom I can trust to sell at fair prices, no matter what I buy. This is how we set prices at Compass Bicycles.

For example, we sell our Nitto handlebar shims for $ 12. Another popular cyclotouring mail-order company charges 25% more and sells them for $ 15.

We sell the Park Tool BBT-18, used to install SKF bottom brackets, for $ 12. Other companies charge between $ 17 and $ 19 for this tool.
For most customers, it may not make a huge difference, but I feel it’s  more honest to charge a normal markup on these “add-on” items, even though most people don’t compare prices on them.

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René Herse Crank Weight

In our original announcement of the new René Herse cranks, we wrote that they were lighter than Campagnolo Record Carbon cranks. A few readers asked us to substantiate this. We weighed the cranks on Bicycle Quarterly’s precision scale (above).
We don’t have the final chainrings for our new cranks yet, so the weight may still change by a few grams, but here is the comparison:
René Herse (171 mm):
Right crank (48-32 chainrings, steel bolts): 385 g
Left crank: 163 g
Set: 548 g
Campagnolo Record Carbon (2006 model, square taper, 175 mm):
Right crank (53-39 chainrings, aluminum bolts): 444 g
Left crank: 225 g
Set: 669 g
The two cranks are not directly comparable, since the Campagnolo crank is slightly longer and has somewhat larger chainrings. However, comparing the left crankarms (which don’t have chainrings), you see that the Campagnolo arms are 62 grams (38%) heavier than the René Herse crankarms. The right arms are 59 grams heavier, indicating that chainrings and bolts weigh about the same on both cranks. (Campagnolo’s larger chainrings are thinner, and they use aluminum bolts, which makes up for their slightly larger size and greater number of bolts.)
We weighed the 2006 model, because it was the last time Campagnolo offered a separate crank without an integrated bottom bracket. Current Campagnolo cranks have integrated bottom bracket spindles. The spindles have thin walls and use very small bearings, which saves significant weight. If we include a 1950s-style René Herse bottom bracket with extra-large bearings that are pressed straight into the bottom bracket shell, the comparison is as follows:
René Herse:
Cranks: 548 g
Bottom bracket (110 mm, with bearings and dust caps): 235 g
Crank bolts (2): 31 g
Total: 814 g
Campagnolo (2011 Record Ultra-Torque, 50-34 rings):
Cranks with BB spindle: 622 g*
BB cups: 54 g*
Total: 679 g*
*Campagnolo’s claimed weight.

Clearly, the low weight of modern cranks is mostly due to the superlight bottom brackets, rather than the cranks themselves. With the bottom bracket, the latest Campagnolo carbon cranks weigh 135 grams less than an equivalent set of René Herse components. Much of the Herse’s extra weight is in the large bearings (72 g for two bearings). On the plus side, the bearings last for decades without overhaul. For me, that is worth a few extra grams.

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The Beauty of Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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René Herse Cranks – Strong Enough?

When we presented the new René Herse cranks last week, a number of people wondered whether they would be strong enough. After all, most cranks have four or five spider arms, whereas the Herse cranks use only three. And what about the small bolt-circle diameter? Does it support the chainrings sufficiently?
Classic components have one major advantage: They have proven themselves. We don’t have to guess whether they are a good design, we can look at their record. Or records – because numerous performance records have been set with René Herse cranks.
The photo above is from the Summer 2011 Bicycle Quarterly. It shows Lucien Détée and Gilbert Bulté on their way to a record in the Journée Vélocio hillclimb. That climb was about 3 km (2 miles) long, up a steep hill near Paris that maxed out at 15%.
Their Herse tandem is equipped with Herse cranks. Think of the forces on that large 54-tooth chainring as this powerful team sprints out of the saddle, up this steep hill, in an all-out effort.
Détée and Bulté were among the strongest randonneurs of their era. They just had been the fastest riders in the 1956 Paris-Brest-Paris. They also set a record in the 100 km (64 mile) time trial, averaging over 43 km/h (27 mph). All these rides, and many more, were on René Herse cranks. I asked them whether they ever had problems with their cranks or chainrings, and the answer was: “No.” If Herse cranks were stiff enough for the combined forces of these two riders, they will be fine even for the most powerful racers.

Speaking of powerful racers, here is Geneviève Gambillon on the way to winning the 1972 world championships, on a René Herse bike with Herse cranks. She was known for her powerful sprint, and she used it to devastating effect at the world championships. She repeated her performance two years later, winning the 1974 world championships in Montreal. (The photo is taken from our book The Competition Bicycle.)
René Herse cranks has proven themselves over decades and millions of kilometers of hard riding. We are confident that the new production will be at least as reliable.
So why do other makers use more arms on their spiders and larger bolt circles? That is a topic for a separate post: stay tuned.

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René Herse Cranks

Compass Bicycles and René Herse Bicycles are proud to introduce a modern version of the classic René Herse crank. The new crank will be available this fall.
Some products are hard to improve; they make you wonder why all components are not made that way. The classic René Herse cranks are like that. Here are some of the features that make them stand out:

  • Three-arm spider to support the chainrings: Most cranks today use four or five arms, but they only add weight. Three arms support the chainrings well. Two arms would not be enough, since they do not triangulate the chainring support. (If you wonder whether three bolts can handle the torque of a strong rider, check out this Renault Alpine sports car. Its wheels attach with three bolts each.)
  • 70 mm bolt-circle diameter: Herse determined that a 24-tooth chainring was the smallest chainring that riders might want. This determined the bolt-circle diameter of 70 mm. All chainrings have the same bolt-circle diameter.
  • Single, double or triple: One, two or three chainrings can be bolted to the spider. There is no need to buy new cranks if you want to go from a double to a triple chainring setup.
  • Unlimited chainring combinations: Since all chainrings have the same bolt circle diameter, you can use any chainring combination from 24 teeth upwards. Most cranks today use bolt-circle diameters that make it virtually impossible to set up useful combinations like 48-32 or 46-30.
  • Light weight: With only three arms on the spider, only three chainring bolts, and a smart overall design, the Herse cranks are very light, lighter even than carbon-fiber Campagnolo Record cranks.
  • Low tread (Q factor): Most classic Herse cranks were between 130 and 140 mm wide, even with triple chainrings.
  • Great reliability: Herse cranks have been ridden to world championships. They were used on tandems that climbed the 15% hill of the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race in the big ring. Over decades of hard riding, they have proven extremely reliable.
  • Elegance: Highly polished, with a beautiful circle pattern formed by the arms and chainrings.

The new cranks are faithful to the original design in most points. Over 2 years of research and development, we have modernized the cranks in ways that Herse might have done as well, if the technology had been available back then:

  • 6066 forged aluminum arms: This alloy offers most of the strength of 7000-series alloys without that material’s risk of stress corrosion cracking.
  • 7075 CNC machined chainrings: This high-strength alloy greatly increases the lifespan of the chainrings. The rings are clear anodized for protection against corrosion.
  • Gently curved arms: While preserving the classic appearance, the slight curve of the arms (see photo above) provides extra ankle clearance. (Modern CNC machining makes it easier to create curved forging dies, which would have been difficult in Herse’s day.)
  • JIS square taper bottom bracket: The curved arms use a shorter, and thus lighter, spindle (110 – 113 mm for double; 121 – 126 mm for triple).
  • 22 mm extractor: The standard tool to remove the cranks is in almost every cyclist’s tool box.
  • Compatible with 10-speed drivetrains. A little extra space between the arm and outer chainring provides room for the “sculpted” cages of most modern front derailleurs. Moving the arms slightly outward also keeps the chain from hitting the end of the crank in the largest gear with modern, wide cassettes. As a result, the new cranks’ tread (Q factor) is slightly wider than that of the originals: about 142 mm for a double. This still is lower than most cranks available today.

The new cranks will be available in the Fall with a large range of ring sizes from 24 to 48 teeth. We will offer the cranks with single, double and triple chainrings, as well as a tandem model.

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Summer 2011 Bicycle Quarterly

Happy Solstice! This means that summer officially has started, and the Summer issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It will be mailed next week. The topics include:

  • Do larger wheels roll faster on bumpy roads than small ones?
  • Collecting roads: How to find the best backroads.
  • Test of the Ellis Randonneur bike that won “Best Frame” at the 2011 North American Handmade Bicycle Show.
  • How we test bikes and measure their geometries.
  • The story of the René Herse tandem that come first in Paris-Brest-Paris and won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race, then was restored from a complete wreck.
  • More experiments on shimmy: What contributes to it, and what you can do to prevent or at least reduce it.
  • Peter Weigle explains in the “Builders Speak” series how he shaves tires to improve their performance.

Click here for more details and photos from the Summer 2011 Bicycle Quarterly. If you are not a current subscribers, sign up or renew today to make sure that the Summer issue reaches you without delay.

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An In-Depth Look at Copenhagen

We finally got our shipment of Cecilia Vanman’s book Copenhagen – City of Bicycles. You can order your copy here. City of Bicycles is a full-color, hardcover, 196-page book that provides an in-depth look at what makes Copenhagen the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. Vanman explains how Copenhagen was on track to becoming yet another car-centric city during the 1950s and 1960s, but then turned toward bicycles instead. City of Bicycles vividly illustrates how much cycling has become a part of everyday life in Copenhagen.

To me, the main appeal of the book were the portraits of dozens of cyclists, from all walks of life: Students, retired people, middle-aged professionals, young fashion models, recent immigrants, etc. It becomes apparent that nearly everybody in Copenhagen cycles. Eight out of ten Copenhageners cycle regularly, and more commute to work by bike than by car.
The bikes are as varied as their riders: classic city bikes, tandems, mountain bikes, recumbents, fully-faired velomobiles, two- and three-wheeled cargo bikes… a kaleidoscope of human-powered machines.
City of Bicycles goes on to explore Copenhagen’s bike builders, from the famous hippie commune of Kristiana that resurrected the Dursley Pedersen to modern design studios. Vanman examines messenger culture, bike polo and “bike wars,” where bike-mounted riders clash like medieval knights. She also reports on Copenhagen’s urban planners and their models for recreating Copenhagen’s success in other parts of the world. It is to Vanman’s credit that the book not only is comprehensive and well-researched, but also enjoyable to read.

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Bottle Cages, Bike Stands and Leather Washers

At Compass Bicycles, we carry products we value, even if we don’t expect them to be very profitable. The Iribe bottle cage is a case in point. On the face of it, $ 150 for a bottle cage is a lot of money. It’s only slightly lighter than a Nitto cage. Without a bottle, it looks slightly odd. So what is the appeal?
It’s really a piece of artwork first, and a fully functional bottle cage second. The craftsmanship reminds me of a Samurai sword. Mr. Iribe mostly builds Keirin track frames, and he makes a few bottle cages as well. Each is crafted by hand from stainless steel tubing. Stainless steel must be silver-brazed, and silver does not lend itself to fillet-brazing, so Mr. Iribe wraps tiny plates of steel over each joint to give it enough surface area for the silver-brazed joint. Then the entire cage is polished, not plated, and so you can see how it was made.

The shape actually makes perfect sense once you see it with a bottle inside. When somebody expends that much care on a simple bottle cage, we want to support them.

The Nitto Bike Stand is another simply beautiful object. It’s fillet-brazed from steel tubing, like an upside-down rear rack. It holds the bike securely, making it easy to carry the bike with the stand attached. It’s a very elegant way to display a bike.

Classic bikes are relatively easy to maintain, but the rubber brake lever hoods tend to deteriorate over time, and there is no way of refurbishing them. For classic Weinmann brake levers, we now offer Japanese reproduction hoods that are at least as nice as the originals. (Update: the hoods are no longer available.)

Finally, here is an item that most “real-world” riders need. Leather washers keep your metal fenders quiet and prevent the bolts from vibrating loose. We’ve been frustrated by washers that were too soft and squishy, but these are hand-made by Phil Woosley in California from firm, thick leather. A package of five will be enough for even the most completely-equipped constructeur bike: One for each bridge on the rear, plus two for the fender attachments of the rear rack, and one for the fender attachment of the front rack. (There should not be any washers on the fender stay attachments.) We include these washers with every set of fenders we sell, and we now offer them separately as well.

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Smart Move Books – Reduced Price for Damaged Copies

The book Smart Move is now out of print. We have a few copies with slightly bumped corners, which are for sale at 20% off the normal price: $ 68. Once they are gone, there will be no more. (Update: All Smart Move books are sold out.)

We also have a few copies of The Dancing Chain, also with bumped corners. These are 25% off: $ 45.

And we’ve finally received more Japanese Alex Singer books. To order any of these, click here.

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The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles in Japan

When I became interested in the bicycles of the French constructeurs many years ago, the little information that was available came from Japan. I am happy to return the favor: Our book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles now is available in Japanese. Maybe it will broaden the appreciation of fully integrated cyclotouring bikes beyond the small circle of Japanese bicycle collectors, just like the English version has done in North America.
It would be nice to do a French edition, too, but the French publishing industry is really hard to crack. Today, these wonderful bikes are more appreciated in North America and Japan than their native country.

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SKF Bottom Brackets: World Exclusive

Compass Bicycles is proud to be the sole distributor of SKF bottom brackets world-wide. Svenska Kugellagerfabriken (SKF) has been the leader in bearing technology since 1907. Today, SKF is the largest bearing manufacturer in the world, and their bearings are used in Formula 1 racecars and other high-end applications.
SKF’s ball bearings have been used on many of the best bicycles. Campagnolo’s famous ball bearings were made by SKF. Starting in the 1940s, Alex Singer and René Herse equipped their custom-made bottom brackets with pressed-in SKF cartridge bearings, because they were the best available.

When SKF decided to make bottom brackets, using the highest-quality bearings was a given. Bearings run smoothly only if they are kept clean and well-lubricated, so the company developed and patented custom seals that keep the grease in and contamination out. SKF designed the bottom brackets as completely integrated units. By running the balls and rollers directly on the spindle and shell, the design saves valuable space, allowing the use of larger bearings for greater strength and durability.
Why is this such a big deal? Many other high-end bottom brackets use standard bearings pressed onto the spindle and into the shell. There is only so much space inside a bicycle’s bottom bracket shell, so the ball bearings have to be much smaller (usually 2.8 mm diameter vs. 4.5 mm on the SKF). And many expensive bottom brackets don’t use any seals, relying on the dust seals of the bearings to keep them clean. These dust seals aren’t designed to keep out water… and they don’t. As a result, riders who ride through rain and snow have to replace their bearings annually.
SKF wanted to design a bottom bracket with a maintenance-free life expectancy of 10 years or 100,000 km (65,000 miles) under harsh conditions, so they had to address these concerns. They also made all parts from stainless steel or aluminum, so corrosion is not an issue.

With such an excellent product, SKF did not anticipate the difficulty of selling their bottom brackets. Without their own access to bicycle shops, the company relied on a variety of distributors world-wide, who often buried the bottom brackets deep in their catalogues. Without adequate promotion, sales lagged behind their targets.
When we heard that SKF might stop selling their bottom brackets, we offered to distribute the bottom brackets for the company. SKF bottom brackets will remain available directly from Compass Bicycles and through our network of quality bicycle shops. We are committed to keeping all available sizes in stock at all times. Below, you see our latest shipment from Germany as it arrived…

To reflect the superior quality of SKF bottom brackets, we have extended the warranty to 10 years or 100,000 km (65,000 miles), whichever comes first. This warranty includes the bearings. (We are unaware of any other maker of bottom brackets whose warranty includes the bearings.) We are confident that these are the best bottom brackets ever made, and we are proud to make them available to cyclists world-wide.

We now offer the Park BBT-18 installation tool, because it is important to use the correct tool when installing these bottom brackets. We aren’t making money on the tools (we sell them at a discount), because we want you to be happy with your SKF bottom brackets!

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A New Book on Cycles Alex Singer

From 1938 until today, Cycles Alex Singer has made some of the most wonderful bicycles ever made. (I may be biased, since I ride my 1973 Alex Singer randonneur bike more than any other bike.) Alex Singers have been appreciated especially by Japanese cyclists. This new hardcover book celebrates Cycles Alex Singer, seen through a Japanese lens.

On 168 pages, the large-format book shows studio photographs of 44 Alex Singer bicycles. The highlight is the machine that won the 1946 Concours Duraluminum technical trials (above, click on images for higher resolution). Weighing only 6.875 kg (15.16 lb) fully equipped with fenders, rack, lights and even a pump (but without tires),* this probably was the lightest “real-world” bike ever built. Detail photos show how every part was modified to save weight. Even the pedal bodies were cut away, exposing the spindle and bearings.
Renovating this bike was Ernest Csuka’s last project before he died in late 2009. This book is an homage to this builder, who was the soul of Cycles Alex Singer for half a century. Between the studio photos of the bicycles are historic photos of Alex Singer bicycles in action and wonderfully evocative views of Ernest Csuka in his shop.

Most of the bikes featured in this book were built during the last two decades for Japanese customers. At first sight, they look like historic machines from the 1940s and 1950s, because they are outfitted with classic components like Cyclo derailleurs, Stronglight cranks and Maxi-Car hubs. Only some details of the frame construction (and their serial numbers) give away their recent age.
Reprints of Alex Singer catalogues with their artful Daniel Rebour drawings complete this book. The text is in Japanese, but a (sometimes rough) English translation of a few chapters is included with the book. The texts don’t offer much new, certainly not an in-depth history of Cycles Alex Singer, and they contain a few errors. Even so, I enjoyed Olivier Csuka’s reminiscences of visiting suppliers in the Paris region with his mother.
For Alex Singer aficionados and those who appreciate beautiful bikes, this book is worth the price for the photos alone. We expect an airshipment of books in the next two weeks, and the rest should arrive in late February/early March. Each large-format (9.25″ x 12″), hardback, full-color book costs $80. Pre-order your copy now.
* Lightweight bicycle tires were available only on the black market in 1946, so the bikes were weighed without tires and tubes to level the playing field. For comparison, the lightest randonneur bike Bicycle Quarterly has tested, with carbon fiber frame, fork and fenders and a titanium rack, weighed 8.825 kg (19.46 lb) without tires, or 1.95 kg (4.3 lb) more than the 1946 Alex Singer.

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Bicycle Quarterly Press Around the World

Does this book look familiar? Look again: It’s the German edition of The Competition Bicycle – A Photographic History, published by Covadonga in 2009. Our books and Bicycle Quarterly are being read all over the world. Here are a few examples:

The Times (London, UK) mentioned Bicycle Quarterly’s article on Tour de France speeds and bicycle technology in a recent issue of their monthly science magazine Eureka.

Omega Lifetime, the magazine of the famous Swiss watch maker, focused their latest issue on sustainable technology. They featured both The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles and The Competition Bicycle… Click on the links above for more reviews of these books. And if you are in North America and want a copy of the German edition, contact us. We have a few for sale.

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COMPASS BICYCLES: Components for Real-World Riders

At Bicycle Quarterly, we sometimes discover products that are superb, but nobody imports them to North America. Or our research indicates that certain classic components work better than those available today, but nobody is making them.
We have suggested some of these products to existing manufacturers. I told Paul Price how wonderful centerpull brakes were, and sent him a set of Mafac Racers. The Paul “Racer” centerpull brakes were the result. In other cases, we have imported cycling components to make them available to North American cyclists. For example, we now import Grand Bois tires and components, as well as SKF bottom brackets. There are plenty more components that we would like to have available.
We are starting Compass Bicycles Ltd. to provide these components. Compass Bicycles will take over the bicycle components from Bicycle Quarterly Press, which focuses on publishing the magazine and books. In addition to the components already on offer, we are working on a number of new components.
Compass Bicycles’ first new products are the 650B fork crowns with matching Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades. These classic fork crowns provide the right amount of tire clearance for 38-41 mm tires. The crowns are a reproduction of those used by René Herse and Alex Singer, which have proven themselves over decades of hard use.

The fork blades use the “Imperial Oval” cross section at the fork crown for strength, and a small diameter in their lower half for optimal shock absorption.

The small diameter near the bottom also makes them easy to rake to a graceful curve, as on this fork raked by Mark Nobilette for a René Herse bicycle.

For the future, I dream of a Nivex derailleur, with constant chain tension, superlight weight, and immediate, light-action shifting due to its twin-cable operation without a return spring.

I still use Maxi-Car hubs on my bikes, with twin labyrinth seals and adjustable cartridge bearings. A cassette-hub version of these would be nice. I also would like to see a centerpull brake with forged arms for light weight and safety, so that riders no longer have to scour eBay for “new old stock” Mafac “Raid” brakes.
As before, the Bicycle Quarterly team will develop and test all components before they become available. You will know that the components you buy from Compass Bicycles have proven themselves over thousands of kilometers. Check out the new web site

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