The Art of Compromise

The Art of Compromise

It may be popular to talk about “no-compromise” products, but the reality is that the best products involve a careful balance of features and properties. Take our new Compass tires…
We could have made them lighter!
The only place to remove material is in the middle of the tread. We might save up to 50 grams on the 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass, but the tire would wear out much faster.
So we removed all the weight we could, but left just the right amount of tread to provide a long service life.
We could have made them faster!
A thinner tread flexes less, reducing the rolling resistance slightly. If we had reduced the tread thickness in the center, we might have increased the speed by up to 1%. The difference is very small, and it comes at the expense of longevity and puncture resistance.
We already use the most supple casing available. Our research has shown that the casing, more than anything else, influences the speed and comfort of a tire.
Our tires will be as fast and as light as “event” tires once you have ridden them for a few thousand miles. A friend of mine calls other companies’ super-thin event tires “pre-worn.”
We could have made them sturdier!
Reinforcing the tire sidewalls, adding puncture-proof belts or making the tread thicker all will make the tire sturdier. The downside is that the tires would ride harshly and roll slower.
We decided that our tires needed to hold up in most off-pavement conditions. We have tested them on gravel roads and even moderate mountain bike trails (above) without problems. For us, that makes them sturdy enough.
Hint: Wider tires are inflated to lower pressures, so they roll over debris that would puncture a narrower tire. You get less flats that way.
We could have made them last longer!
A thicker tread gives you more rubber to wear down before you have to replace the tire. However, after a while, the tire becomes “squared off” and no longer corners well. The thicker tread also increases the tire’s rolling resistance. (The Grand Bois Hetre in the photo above may look squared off, but it’s actually still nice and round after about 10,000 km/6000 miles.)
We decided to make our tread thick enough that it will last thousands of miles, but not so thick that it will square off before wearing out. We feel that is a good compromise.
Hint: Wider tires spread the wear over more rubber and last longer.
We could have made them more colorful!
Our on-the-road experience has shown that colored rubber does not grip as well as black rubber, especially on wet roads. So our Compass tires use black tread rubber for optimum handling and safety, but the sidewalls are available in both tan and black, depending on your taste.
Fortunately, there are some things where compromise is not necessary. Handling is one of them.
We could NOT have made them corner better!
We spent a lot of time researching tire treads, before selecting a pattern that offers optimum grip in wet and dry conditions. The tread pattern along with the grippy yet durable rubber make our tires corner better than any tire we have tried.
We made many compromises when we designed our tires. We think they are the right compromises to provide you with tires that offer a maximum of performance, comfort and fun, while being suitable for everyday riding, commuting and even gravel roads. We are proud of the result, and we are glad to hear that others are enjoying these tires as much as we do.
Click here to find out more about our Compass tires.

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Comments (43)

  • Chris Bernique

    Is there a chance that there will be a 700×25 size in the Grand Bois model? Thanks.

    April 23, 2014 at 4:37 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The 700C x 26 mm measures 25.5 mm on most narrower rims.

      April 23, 2014 at 6:38 am
    • Greg

      There already is. The 700 x 26 is 25 mm wide on most rims, in my extensive experience.

      April 23, 2014 at 6:39 am
  • Randy J. Arnold

    I’m excited to try the new tires. Will the 700c x 28 Chinook be offered in the standard model?

    April 23, 2014 at 4:58 am
  • Greg

    We use a lot of the 700 x 26 and 28 GB tires (and we will now transition to the even-better Compass 700 x 26 and 28).
    I’m confident enough in these ultra-high-performance tires to go 2500 miles on a rear, and double that on a front. For my wife’s favorite weekend-bike, that works well, as I replace the rear every Winter and the front every second time that I replace a rear….
    It is such a joy to have tires this good, after decades of mostly-inferior clinchers. I am still primarily a tubular-tire guy, but we now have about a half-dozen bikes that I’ve switched over to vintage clincher wheels with Mavic MA40 rims. There are far fewer compromises now. That wasn’t true a decade ago.

    April 23, 2014 at 5:09 am
    • Dylan

      Can I come and pick up your “used” tires?

      April 24, 2014 at 11:05 pm
  • Rod

    You couldn’t have made them any more fun, either. Bravo! I’ve been happily rolling on a pair of the Barlow Pass Extralights. A ride through some April showers last night provided an occasion to verify that they grip well in wet conditions.

    April 23, 2014 at 5:40 am
  • Brian Campbell

    Really enjoying my Barlow Pass EL’s! Thanks for doing the “heavy lifting” and getting these tires made.

    April 23, 2014 at 8:12 am
  • lawschoolissoover

    Not related to tires, but…
    Most cyclists in the US (in my experience) mount their headlights to the left of the front wheel. I mount mine to the right (on the theory that if I need to bail because of a bad driver, I want to have seen and thus know where I’m going). I notice that the bike(s?) in the photos has the light mounted on the right side. Do you do that for the same reason I do, or for another reason?
    Just curious!

    April 23, 2014 at 8:42 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It really makes little difference. I mount mine on the left, so it doesn’t reflect off the white line on the right edge of the road when I ride at night far from other light sources…

      April 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm
      • Steve Palincsar

        Back in the days of the E6 it made a difference what side of the fork you mounted the light on, because the beam was bright but narrow as a light saber; but with beams as wide as even the “old” Edelux, never mind the Edelux II, it really doesn’t matter any longer.

        April 23, 2014 at 1:38 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          You need to see the road about 20 feet in front of your bike, and at that point, it makes no difference whether the light is mounted 10 cm further to the right or the left…

          April 23, 2014 at 4:58 pm
  • B. Carfree

    I finally decided to give Compass tires a roll. Unfortunately, for my 26″-wheeled tandem, there is only the choice of one tire in two widths and those beasts are HEAVY. I decided to go with the narrower of the two (1.5″) just because I couldn’t wrap my mind around tires that weigh a pound apiece.
    I’ll put them on and ride them for the next couple weeks before taking them on a ride down the coast of OR and NorCal, but I do have my doubts. Are these beastly things really going to roll better than the Specialized Fatboys they’re replacing? At the listed weights, perhaps the compromises made regarding performance were different for the 26″ tire than they were for the 700C and the 650B, or are looks deceiving me?

    April 23, 2014 at 10:49 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The 26″ Compass tires use an existing mold, because demand for quality 26″ tires is too small to warrant new molds. This means that the tread is a bit thicker than we consider ideal, but you still get the same supple casing and excellent ride quality. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 440 g isn’t very much for a tire that is 44 mm wide. Hetres weigh almost that much…

      April 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm
      • B. Carfree

        We finally gave the 1.5″ Compass 26″ tires a roll. After about a quarter-mile, my wife (the captain) was so impressed she asked why we hadn’t made the change long ago. She actually began seeking out lines with the most beaten up pavement (not hard around Eugene) just to see how smoothly they rolled over our lousy roads. In spite of that, it was definitely the smoothest ride I’ve had in the stoker’s saddle in many a year.
        I didn’t notice any speed differences, for better or worse, but the plushness greatly enhanced the ride for us. Now she insists I get a set of 1.75″ and some 700C tires for her half-bike.
        Jan, you’ve created a monster! Thanks so much.

        April 28, 2014 at 4:56 pm
    • Justin Becker

      Caveat: I’m a fatter-tire-believer.
      So of course, our tandem took the plunge and bought the bigger ones: 1.75″ of goodness.
      Stoker happy, captain the same. Initial ride of ~30 miles and we’re both satisfied.
      The fat in me says go fat as you can fit. Especially for tandem.
      The fast in me says the same, but we’re not fast.
      We’re in for comfort, longevity, grip. I don’t use a pressure gauge, just fingers. The tires look great. And seating was a breeze (also on the 700×32 version for my mom).
      Go fat as you can fit. Weight difference between 1.5 and 1.75 is a booger or two. For butts, another 15 miles, maybe (for us).

      April 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm
  • Jason

    Hi Jan – how do we get your tyres in Oz? Kind regards Jason

    April 23, 2014 at 11:47 am
  • ThomasG

    Now we just need som extra leger 26″ tires. Preferably in wide sizes.. I’m currently riding the 1.75″ ccompass tires. While nice, they are a bit narrow for 26″ tires and perhaps not as supple as the best of your tires. My dream: 2.5″ ultra supple tires.

    April 23, 2014 at 12:45 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I wish there was enough demand to make an outstanding 26″ tire. It’s a great size for wider tires…

      April 23, 2014 at 12:56 pm
      • Steve Palincsar

        It is kind of surprising, what with 559-wheeled bikes as common as cockroaches and 650B bikes as rare as they are, that the market doesn’t support outstanding tires in 559.

        April 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm
  • ThomasG

    Well, it seems to me that you’re beginning to be in a position where you’re starting to define the demand. Who’d have thought of wide 700c tires two years ago?
    I’m positive that wide 26″ tires wold be well recieved. There’s quite a few 26-incers out there.. 🙂

    April 23, 2014 at 3:01 pm
    • Conrad

      Agreed. I commuted for a long time on a mountain bike with various slick tires. At one point I had a Tioga tire- I think it was called the Moab- that was much better than anything I had used before. It was a solid 2 inch tire with a fairly supple casing and they rode and cornered beautifully. I cringe at all the knobby tires on mountain bikes out there, that will never be ridden in mud! As time goes on I really hope that more people realize how much better their mountain bike will work for city riding with a good tire.

      April 23, 2014 at 9:23 pm
      • alexmwilkins

        Absolutely agree

        April 24, 2014 at 3:42 am
      • Sukho V

        I have a 1985 Bstone MB-3 that I lovingly restored as a commuter/urban destroyer/family bike/all-rounder. With quality 26″ tires, I would put it up against any 700c bike out there, as far as utility and all around usefulness. Those old (higher quality) MTB’s are golden, and I’m doing my part to help people realize it just by riding it and getting tons of comments everywhere I go.

        April 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm
  • John Duval

    How is the weight removed from the extra leger tires, and what is the compromise there?
    I find that the tan sidewalls do not stand up as well as the black on the Grand Bois. They tend to crackle in about 6 months. May be the smog here.
    26″ tires are common on performance oriented recumbents, but reading the forums and visiting shops the demand is for very small, very tough, very high pressure tires with the assumption this is faster. Ironic, because I learned about the benefits of wide tires riding recumbents, long before discovering BQ while researching wide performance tires for a new upright bike!

    April 24, 2014 at 12:01 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Extralight tires use a different casing, with thinner threads. The result is not just lighter weight, but also a much more supple tire. The downside is that the thinner threads are easier to cut. We’ve used the Compass Extralight and Grand Bois Extra LĂ©ger tires on gravel roads for hundreds of miles without problems, but if you are concerned about sidewall cuts, then the standard casing may be a better choice.
      As far as longevity and puncture resistance go, the Extralight tires are just as good as the standard version, since the tread pattern and thickness are the same.
      Some users report tiny cracks in the rubber, almost invisible to the naked eye. We don’t know why they appear, but as long as the casing threads are intact, the tire is safe to ride.
      Regarding recumbents, there are a number of recumbent riders who use our tires and are very happy with them. However, as you say, many still chase high pressures and a rock-hard ride in the outdated belief that it is faster.

      April 24, 2014 at 3:49 am
  • Owen

    Jan, I have to say the photo of you “scorching” the trail on your randonneur bike is priceless. This is making me curious to try the Barlow Pass on my road bike here on the trails of Marin County…though I’m hesitant as the terrain is much more rocky that up there in the Pacific Northwest. Keep up the good work!

    April 24, 2014 at 4:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      On some of the rougher sections, a mountain bike would be faster, and you wouldn’t have to pick your line carefully. Chris Kostman defined the term “underbiking,” and it applies here. On the other hand, riding a mountain bike from Seattle to that trail in Issaquah would be a chore, which is why I prefer my randonneur bike.

      April 24, 2014 at 4:51 am
  • Scott G.

    Before 559 tires, how about a some 597s and 40 hole rims in 700c & 597.
    to put some vintage British bikes back on the road.

    April 24, 2014 at 11:19 am
  • Will

    “Hint: Wider tires are inflated to lower pressures, so they roll over debris that would puncture a narrower tire. You get less flats that way.”
    …until you get a pinch flat.

    April 24, 2014 at 2:22 pm
  • Simon Jackson

    Love the new barlow pass tyres on my surly cross check.
    Supplied by commuter cycles in Melbourne, Australia.

    April 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm
  • Rod

    For those wondering about the Compass tires for 559, I put a pair of 26″ x 1.75″ (44mm) on an LHT last year, and have been quite happy with the quick acceleration, easy roll, comfort, and grip in a range of mixed-surface conditions. No flats, no sidewall problems in the first 700 miles, Good for a long, fast, varied ride.

    April 25, 2014 at 5:48 am
  • Paul Glassen

    Some riders of older bicycles have fitted modern tires wider than original. I have done this sort of thing too, my mid 80s Gitane tourer has been riding on 35mm Panaracer Paselas. I am so pleased with the 38mm tires on my 650B bike that I would eagerly consider the Compass 700x38mm tires as replacements for the Gitane. (What’s with all these names? If they are the same tire in different sizes, why not give them all the same name plus the numerical size designation?) However, one thing I have noticed with wider tires is the height of the bike creeping up, both at bottom bracket and seat. How much height is added? If you go from a 28mm wide to a 38mm, do you add 10mm of height as well as width?

    April 25, 2014 at 10:17 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Each tire is named after one of our favorite mountain passes in the Cascades. Each tire also has a different feel and personality. To name a 700C x 26 mm tire the same as a 650B x 42 mm didn’t seem right – they feel very different.
      Regarding the height of the bike, yes, it will go up, although usually not as much as the width. Many older tires were taller than they were wide, whereas our Compass tires are very round. You’ll notice the higher saddle height only when you stop and want to put a foot down, and even then, it’s not huge. Most older bikes have a BB that is 5-10 mm lower than modern bikes, anyhow.

      April 26, 2014 at 4:19 am
      • John McNamara

        I do have a comment on the height question: I have a GB EL 700×30 front (which appears more like 32mm) & the Barlow Pass (38mm) recently replaced a 35mm tire on the rear wheel. Early on it was surprising how slanted the bike feels when, as Jan said, I put my foot down. This didn’t happen with the 35mm tire I’m certain.

        April 27, 2014 at 10:05 am
  • Willem

    I have been very happy with the Compass 26×1.75 on camping tours with my (lightly, i.e. about 12 kg) loaded touring bike. They have been fast, comfortable, and thus far reliable enough. Such tours are mostly on tarmac, but they also take me on forest trails and gravel roads. And indeed, for me that is the natural habitat for a camping tour: ride minor paved roads, and don’t shy away from gravel roads and mild trails. In these circumstamnces I think the slightly courser Pasela tread of these tyres is just perfect: not so much that it slows you down terribly on tarmac, and just enough to stay upright when the going gets a bit rougher, As others have said, a wider version (about 47 mm real size) would be great for this purpose, and a natural size, to extend the bad road capability, and provide some more comfort in those conditions. In my view such a tyre would therefore need to have a tread pattern like the wider Pasela’s, rather than the virtually slick pattern on the new Compass tyres. For really rough rides and expeditions there are other tyres, of course.

    April 26, 2014 at 3:40 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We’ll think about a wider 26″ tire. As you point out, it makes a lot of sense. Regarding the tread pattern, we’ve found the fine chevron pattern of the Compass tires to work very well on gravel and dirt. When you compare “dry-condition” cyclocross tires, you’ll see that many have similar tread pattern. Coarser treads and knobs are needed only when you encounter mud or snow.

      April 26, 2014 at 4:21 am
  • Matt Sallman

    Just wanted to pass along my thanks for your new tires and improved Grand Bois rims. I built my first set of wheels and did my first ride yesterday.
    The Babyshoe Pass extra light glided over some of the very bad pavement we have in Metro Detroit this spring, as well as a section of packed gravel road. The changing winds did not give me a chance to compare speed, but I felt I was at least as fast as my previous 32mm Paselas and the comfort was greatly improved! Unfortunately I had one flat, but it was caused by a nasty wire that would have defeated any tire. I think Kent Peterson calls them Michelin Wire no matter what brand they came from.
    Can’t wait for this weekend’s 200k brevet to give them more chance to prove their worth.

    April 28, 2014 at 9:26 am

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