Compass Rack Now from Cromoly

Compass Rack Now from Cromoly

The Compass CP1 rack for centerpull brakes now is made from Cromoly steel. This makes it one of the lightest and strongest racks available today. It’s one example of how we work with our suppliers: Together, we create components that go well beyond what the suppliers usually offer.
A little background on this rack: It is intended to support a handle bar bag like those made by Gilles Berthoud. You can see in the photo above how the CP1 rack was specially designed for centerpull brakes: The rack shares the brake bosses that were brazed to the fork blades. (Many racks connect to the fork crown with a flat strap that goes underneath the brakes, but this is far stiffer and stronger.)  The rack in turn is used to attach the fender and the light with dedicated braze-ons. This makes the rack an integrated part of the bike – strong and stiff, yet superlight.
Our racks are well designed, and they are very well made, by Nitto (above), who generally are considered the best makers of production racks in the world. However, even at Nitto, price is a major consideration, and so they make their more complex racks (as well as those they make for other companies) from mild steel. Mild steel not only is cheaper, but it’s also easier to work with, and these racks require a lot of tube bending. The less expensive material and easier bending keep the cost in line.
Mild steel is a decent material for racks, but Cromoly is far stronger. So we asked Nitto to make our CP1 racks from Cromoly. Using stronger steel allowed us to reduce the wall thickness of the rack tubes, so the rack is significantly lighter. At 167 g, it is among the lightest production racks available. In fact, it weighs exactly the same as a custom-made René Herse rack for centerpull brakes. And even with the lighter tubes, it’s still stronger than a rack made from mild steel.
We also asked Nitto to spend a little extra time when cleaning up the fillet brazing and when polishing the tubes in preparation for chrome plating. That makes the rack look a lot nicer. Of course, the more expensive steel and all the extra work cost a bit more. But we think it’s worth while to get one of the most beautiful, strongest and lightest racks ever made.
Together with our centerpull brakes and the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades, the CP1 rack forms an integrated system, where all parts are optimized to work together. This makes it possible to build bikes that combine stunning beauty with exceptional performance.
Click here for more information about Compass racks.
Click here for information about Bicycle Quarterly No. 50 with our report about Nitto.

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Comments (33)

  • Michael

    Congrats on the new rack!
    What is the max payload rating?

    January 27, 2016 at 6:49 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The rack is extremely strong, since it attaches in four points with solid tubes (not flat straps or other flexible parts). It easily can handle 10 kg (22 lb) or more. It’s hard to put much more weight in a handlebar bag anyhow. You’ll find that the bike’s handling deteriorates before you overload the rack.

      January 27, 2016 at 6:57 am
  • Tim Mueller

    Beautiful! I understand that this rack is designed to be used with your Compass brakes and 38-42 mm-wide tires, but I was curious if you think it could be adjusted by gently bending it to fit other applications.
    Specifically, I would like to try to use it with 700c x 30 tires (which would be slightly larger in total diameter than 650b x 42) and Grand Bois Choulette brakes (distance between mounting bolts 13mm less than the Compass brakes)?
    Has anyone else had any luck with this?

    January 27, 2016 at 6:55 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Bending Cromoly is extremely difficult. Otherwise, the rack would bend if your bike falls over. If you make a “cheater bar” that slides onto the tube ends where they attach to the brakes, you may be able to bend the lower arms. However, it’s likely that the chrome-plating would crack…
      The rack/brakes can be used with any wheel size – you just make the fork legs below the brake bosses longer or shorter to accommodate the different wheel size. If you place the bosses so that the brake pads are near the top of the slot, your rack will not sit too high above the tire, but fork crown and brake will be wider than is ideal.
      In North America, there simply isn’t enough demand for brakes and racks that fit bikes with relatively narrow tires, which is why we don’t offer a centerpull brake and rack for that application.

      January 27, 2016 at 7:09 am
  • 47hasbegun

    Everywhere I read about Nitto’s racks like the M18 and M12 (aside from the stainless steel M12SL) says that they’re made of chromoly. Is that not true?

    January 27, 2016 at 9:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I was surprised as well, but Mr. Yoshikawa, the president of Nitto, confirmed that all other racks that Nitto produces are made from mild steel. I don’t think it’s ill intent by the other sellers, just that they don’t really communicate as closely with Nitto as we do, and rely on assumptions instead.

      January 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm
      • 47hasbegun

        Why does the M18 on one of my bikes say “Cr Mo” on it, then?

        January 27, 2016 at 5:46 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I checked the Nitto web site, and it does say that the M-18 uses “CrMo tube”, and the other racks “steel tube”. I asked Nitto for clarification, but from what I gather, it appears that racks that have only a simple platform (and thus are relatively easy to make) are made from CrMo, but the racks that have more complex shapes that require much tube bending are made from mild steel.
          I’ll let you know when I get a response from Nitto. In the mean time, I changed the blog post to reflect this.

          January 27, 2016 at 6:03 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        See the comment below – there may be a miscommunication, and it seems likely that Mr. Yoshikawa was referring only the “direct-mount” racks with more complex shapes that require much tube bending. It appears that the simple racks that attach with struts and straps, like the M-18 and “Mark’s Rack”, have a platform that is made from CrMo.

        January 27, 2016 at 6:05 pm
  • Doug Wagner

    When did this change occur? I bought mine in Oct’15: is it mild or chromo steel?

    January 27, 2016 at 11:24 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It was around then. Weigh yours – if it’s under 170 g, it’s Cromoly. The mild steel rack is plenty strong, just heavier. (But on the plus side, you paid less, too…)

      January 27, 2016 at 4:14 pm
  • Ewen @ Gellie Custom Bikes

    Thanks guys. Was that a running-change to chromolly tubing, or were early racks, such as the one I have here made from it?
    On Thursday, January 28, 2016, Off The Beaten Path wrote:
    > Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly posted: ” The Compass CP1 rack for > centerpull brakes now is made from Cromoly steel. This makes it one of the > lightest and strongest racks available today. It’s one example of how we > work with our suppliers: Together, we create components that go well beyond > wh” >

    January 27, 2016 at 12:42 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It was a recent change. The early Compass centerpull racks were made from mild steel, like all other Nitto-made racks. They are fine, and guaranteed in case you have a problem…

      January 27, 2016 at 4:15 pm
  • Kevin

    So, what are the chances of getting this rack but fitting porteur mounts? (top of the fork crown and down at the dropout)
    It looks so nice!

    January 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The rack really should be used as intended. Of course, you could buy one, strip the chrome, braze on some different tubes, but at that point, you might as well make a rack from scratch.

      January 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm
  • Chad

    Very nicely done. Any plans to sell a matching low rider, front pannier rack?

    January 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It would be nice to offer a well-designed lowrider rack. We are thinking about it. The low-rider rack design that was detailed in the last Bicycle Quarterly unfortunately has to be custom-made, since it ties into both the top and bottom eyelets of the dropouts, and that spacing is different on every bike.

      January 27, 2016 at 4:19 pm
  • Sean

    Such a stunning piece, I only wish it was offered sans light mount strut.
    I’ve gone with a ‘Velo Lumino’ fender mount ( and my vanity prevents me from running your rack due to the uneeded light mounting strut…. Any hope a mount free option could be offered down the line?

    January 27, 2016 at 8:31 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We may offer a version without a light mount (perhaps just a simple eyelet for those who decide to mount a light later). However, if you plan to mount a light, the rack is a much better spot than the top of the fender. The light is much better-protected there, since it’s within the outline of the pyramid formed by front wheel and handlebars. Also, it’s not going to get bumped by the handlebar bag on rough ground. And the rack is a more solid mounting point than the fender…
      If you already have a hole in the fender, it’s easy to close with an aluminum rivet. Alex Singer did that on bikes that used to have rear racks, but which were discarded at some point because the owner found he never used the rear rack, or on bikes that received a new front rack with a light mount, making the fender-mount redundant.

      January 28, 2016 at 4:36 pm
  • DavidM

    I’ve just weighed my CP1 rack, it comes in at 184 grammes, so it’s mild steel I suppose. Can you advise what maximum payload is recommended Jan?

    January 28, 2016 at 2:35 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The strenght of the CP1 rack comes from its smart design more than from the CrMoly tubes, so the payload is similar (>10 kg/22 lb). Again, it’s going to be limited more by your bike’s handling than anything else. Your rack is slightly easier to bend if the bike falls over, but again, that isn’t going to be a problem, because your handlebars hit the ground first.
      Thanks to its smart design, even the mild steel CP1 was quite light – compare a Nitto M-12 at 250 g or a Nitto M-18 at 350 g.
      So in short, there is no need to replace your rack with the latest version. We’ve made the racks even lighter and even stronger… Especially the weight adds up quickly, and our search for improvements is why our own randonneur bikes, with wide tires, generator hubs, lights, fenders, rack, etc., weigh less than 25 lb., yet function isn’t compromised in the slightest anywhere. (Nothing silly like aluminum water bottle cage bolts on our bikes!)

      January 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm
  • David T.

    I have two racks made by Nitto and they are both labelled “Cr.Mo. Nitto Japan.” They are both “complex”, whatever that means. My large front rack has 10 bends. I wonder if maybe most of the racks sold by Nitto are already Cr. Mo.?
    I doubt that the “strength” ( if you mean resistance to breaking) of a rack has much to do with the type of steel that is used, because a rack usually fails at a typical point, likely near the attachment point or at the attachment bolt itself, and if you wanted to make it “stronger” you would reinforce these parts, instead of using some different type of tubing for the rest of the rack.
    The stiffness of the rack is important because a flexible rack will increase the repeated strain at these attachment points, leading to fatigue failure, and also produce an unsettling ride or shimmy as the weight shifts back and forth. Using a larger diameter tubing and a braced construction would increase the stiffness of a rack.

    January 28, 2016 at 8:09 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Here is the story: When we gave Nitto our prototype for the CP1 rack, they made their own, and theirs was heavier. So we asked about it, and they said: “Ah, yes, yours is made from CrMoly. We made ours from mild steel.” We were surprised, so we asked about their other racks, and Mr. Yoshikawa, Nitto’s president, said: “Our racks are made from mild steel.” Now it appears that something was lost in translation (or lack thereof), since the M-18 at least appears to be made from CrMo. Mr. Yoshikawa’s office told me that he is on a business trip and will get back to us when he returns. But we know that many Nitto racks are made from mild steel. In fact, for our CP1 rack, it took some time until they had the processes in place to make it from CrMo – otherwise, we’d have always made it that way.
      Racks break at weak points, and I am happy to say that the CP1 doesn’t have any obvious weak points. We’ve taken the prototypes on some very rough roads with heavy loads at high speeds, and neither they nor any of our customers’ racks have broken. As you say, good design is the most important way to ensure a racks longevity.

      January 29, 2016 at 6:11 am
      • David T.

        Thanks Jan. Your rack is a good design because of the four attachment points; it will resist twisting better than small front racks with a single central rod or tang that that can fail in bending.
        There is a story that RAF planes gradually had weight pared down by examining planes that had been shot down, and then removing armour from any parts of the remaining planes that didn’t tend to show bullet holes in the crashed planes (I am not sure I described this correctly, I still don’t completely understand the logic of this process but it was meant to remove weight where it is unnecessary.)
        I have thought that on steel bikes certain parts of the bike are overbuilt, and if someone really wanted to get to the minimum weight they would remove weight from areas that tend not to fail, and reinforce the points that typically break ( or bend, which may be a more common type of failure for a rack? ) For example, on my Surly there is a steel gusset welded to the spot where the bottom of the down-tube meets the head tube; I believe that must be a point that typically cracks. It would be interesting to hear from the people at Nitto what they see when they do repeated-cycle testing on their parts. Also, are bicycle frames ever tested in the same way, or do we only learn gradually what the weak points are by word of mouth?

        January 29, 2016 at 7:04 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          That type of failure analysis is the reason why bicycles have become such “mature” technology relatively early. Every builder pushes the envelope and then pulls back. For example, early René Herse bikes had very thin dropouts, but soon, he beefed them up – the early ones must have failed. Similarly, the straddle cable hangers went from a design with a simple pinch bolt to one where the cable is pulled thought a hole, providing a much more secure attachment.
          By studying old designs, we often are able to avoid making the same mistakes again. And when people think they can just replace a part dimensioned for steel (say, a BB spindle) with titanium, they are risking failure.

          January 29, 2016 at 8:10 am
  • Olle

    Hi Jan
    During PBP my MAP 650B was weighing aprox 11 kg.
    Nice rack, indeed.

    January 29, 2016 at 3:43 am
  • DavidM

    Thanks for the information Jan, I’m never going to notice maybe 15 grammes extra in my front rack, nor will I ever PLAN to ride with more than 5 or 6 kilos of load up front! (Maybe in emergency sometime…) I’m just happy to share the actual weight on your blog.
    On the question of weight-saving, I have a wonderfully light set of wheels, with Pacenti PL23 rims, and aluminium spoke nipples, so they’re wonderful on the scales, with their White LTA hubs. The hubs are wonderful on the road too, as were the entire wheels. Until one nipple fractured just at the nipple head, leaving the nipple stem on the spoke which flapped around announcing that I had a mechanical issue. I actually had a spare, and as I sought to fit it, I discovered that the 584-38 Loup Loup Pass tyres were virtually impossible to remove from those rims, even with the entire bead moved into the rim centre to take advantage of any well available. Even then, I could only get a lever under the bead using undue force. So these are not-so-wonderful wheels on the real road, and I’m happy to also have Velocity A23 rims, allowing removal and fitting of the same tyres by hand, no levers, and snapping perfectly into place on inflation with no further attention needed to centring the tyre. I also recall vividly an image of a pulled spoke on a PL23 rim, so I won’t be riding on those again. Ever, if at all possible.
    Some weight is necessary, there’s an irreducible minimum, and I regard good quality chromed brass spoke nipples as the lightest sane choice for a reliable long distance low maintenance bicycle, knowing as I do that others are happy with other choices.

    January 29, 2016 at 5:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      With every bike I build, I am thinking that “this time, I’ll get below 23 pounds for a fully equipped bike”. And then I consider each weight savings and the potential for problems, or just compare function. Sure, superlight canti brakes are even lighter than the Compass centerpulls, but I like to brake deep into corners, so I prefer the linear modulation of the centerpulls… Sure, I could make titanium bolts to hold the brake pads, but what if one fails? And so on.
      This doesn’t mean that unnecessary weight is added – witness our racks – but that last pound to get to 23 would compromise function and reliability, and that isn’t worth it. I love the feel of a lightweight bike, and for events like PBP, I want every advantage I can get, but to finish well, I first have to finish. So I’d rather ride a 24-pound bike that is 100% reliable.

      January 29, 2016 at 6:04 am
    • Michael

      I’ll report here, just to add to the literature, that my Loup Loup pass tires go on, bead seat, and go off the Grand Bois 650b rims (black label) wonderfully easily. They are a really good match.

      January 29, 2016 at 9:56 pm
  • Michael

    Would non-chrome plated versions of Compass components make these components more cost-accessible for a wider audience? I am under the impression that the chrome plating adds significantly to the cost.
    300+$US for rack and decaleur may be out of reach for some riders (though maybe worth it for the years of service they may provide) while non-chromed rack and decaleur may reach a wider audience.

    January 29, 2016 at 11:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      CrMo rusts more than mild steel, so powdercoating these racks isn’t a good idea. If you want to eliminate the chrome-plating, you’ll end up with racks where the paint rubs off, so mild steel is a better material.
      There are many ways to make components cheaper. It starts with the R&D – making prototypes and testing them takes time and money. It continues with the materials, the finish and finally, the customer service. We decided early on that Compass was going to make the very best components, using the very best materials and the very best suppliers. We want components that we can use on our own bikes with confidence, whether we head out to the “secret passes” of the Cascade Mountains or try to “do a time” in Paris-Brest-Paris.

      January 30, 2016 at 12:16 am
  • Jon Blum

    In addition to following your passion, it makes business sense for Compass to focus on the market niche you’ve chosen. You’d likely not succeed competing with Bike Nashbar or Shimano or Amazon on their turf, but you’ve found a unique market segment with unmet demand.
    I am curious why this beautiful rack, which is very close in design to a Rene Herse (like the Herse cranks), is named Compass rather than Herse. Of course, I don’t mind, I am just curious how you choose the designation.

    January 31, 2016 at 7:37 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      When we purchased the René Herse name from Lyli Herse, René Herse’s daughter, it was not for commercial reasons, but to continue the legacy of this great builder. So we decided that we only use the René Herse name on parts that Herse himself made. Of course, we continue to develop them, as he would have done. This includes big parts like his cranks, as well as small parts like his rack mounting bolts.
      Our CP1 rack is based on René Herse’s designs, but Herse’s rack were custom-made for each bike, so we decided to sell it under the Compass name to avoid confusion.

      January 31, 2016 at 7:47 pm

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