New Handlebars and Stem

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One of the all-time favorite handlebar shapes is the Philippe Professionel. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, you found them on the bikes of professional racers (below), randonneurs, cyclotourists, even track bikes.

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Their flat ramps provide plenty of hand positions, rather than forcing you onto the brake hoods like many modern bars. The medium-sized hooks provide enough room to be comfortable, and the long drops not only look great, but also allow you to roam in the drops. Few handlebars that are as comfortable, especially if you spend long hours in the saddle.

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A few years ago, Grand Bois reissued these bars as their “Maes Parallel” model. They’ve become my favorites, too, equipping my 650B randonneur bike and even my cyclocross bike. (The bars on the Weigle at the top of the post also are Grand Bois version – you can’t tell them apart, unless you look at the logo, which is hidden under the bar tape on the Grand Bois model.)

Mid-century racers and riders (and the BQ crew) aren’t the only ones who like these bars: They have been one of our more popular products. However, many customers have asked for versions that are either narrower or wider than the 410 and 420 mm we’ve offered. That is where our new 400 and 440 mm-wide models come in. The widest bars are heat-treated for strength, and all pass the stringent EN “Racing Bike” standards for fatigue resistance.

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We have many friends who ride modern bikes, and they were frustrated by the lack of similar handlebars for modern 31.8 mm clamps. So we worked with Nitto on making the Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 mm handlebars. Same great shape, but with a 31.8 mm handlebar clamp diameter. They are also heat-treated and tested to the highest standards.

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To go with these and other modern handlebars, we now offer a stem for bikes with 1 1/8″ threadless steerers. It’s fillet-brazed from lightweight steel tubing. The stem is designed to provide a little extra height, so you don’t need to run a stack of spacers underneath. The clamp is on the front, which provides a cleaner, more elegant appearance. The stem is available in lengths from 80 to 120 mm.

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The new Compass stem integrates seamlessly with the Grand Bois decaleur. This finally provides a reliable off-the-shelf decaleur option for riders of modern bikes, without bolts that come loose or parts that break off.

To clear the larger-diameter handlebars, you need to use a decaleur drop kit as shown in the photo above. We offer these drop kits with between 10 and 30 mm, so you can get the decaleur to match the height of your handlebar bag. (The decaleur does not replace a front rack; your bag still needs to be supported from below.)

I am excited by the possibilities that these new components offer. You can install the 31.8 mm handlebars on a modern racing bike to provide comfort for your hands, wrists and shoulders. Or you can use the stem and decaleur together with modern carbon-fiber handlebars on a randonneur bike. And you finally can get these bars in the width that works best for you, both for classic 25.4 mm and modern 31.8 mm stems.

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All these products are made by Nitto in Japan. Nitto offers different quality levels. All are safe to use, but there are real differences in weight and finish. For all Compass components, we’ve chosen Nitto’s highest quality level, because we want our parts to be as light, as strong and as beautiful as possible.

I hope these new products will bring your dream bike one step closer to reality!

Click here for more information on our handlebars,
and here for information on our stems and decaleurs.

Posted in Handlebars | 33 Comments

Renault or Bugatti?

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To North Americans, it may seem odd that the most advanced classic bikes – the ones that have inspired our “real-world” randonneur bikes – came from France. When I was growing up, Italian bikes ruled. British bikes came second. A tier or two below these dream machines were French bikes.

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If you wanted the best, you chose an Italian bike: Cinelli, Masi, Colnago, Bianchi were names that cyclist revered. You bought a Peugeot, Gitane and Motobecane if your budget was limited: You got a bike with a full Reynolds 531 frame for half the price of a Cinelli. So you put up with some gaps in the brazing, accepted black-painted instead of chrome-plated lugs, and lived with components that lacked the finish and finesse of Italy’s best.

In the car world, it was similar: You dreamed of an Italian Ferrari or Maserati, or at least an Alfa Romeo. French cars rarely were at the top of the list: Renaults had a dodgy reputation for rust. Citroëns were stricken with poor reliability (caused mostly by mechanics unfamiliar with their advanced technology). Peugeots appealed only to people who weren’t really into cars. Yet today, many of the most prized cars, the ones that win awards at Concours d’Elegance and are featured in magazines, were made in France.

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With French cars and bikes, you need to look further back to understand why they are now considered among the very best. During the 1930s, many of the world’s best and most glamorous cars came from France. Bugattis traced their “pur sang” (pure blood) directly to the race cars that dominated during the 1920s. Delages (above) were the ultimate in sporting luxury. And the swoopy Delahayes and Talbot-Lagos (top of the post) were show-stoppers unlike any others. And even the mass-produced machines from Citroën were innovative: They introduced unibody construction and front-wheel drive on a large scale.

It’s easy to overlook that France has long been a leader in technology. The French built Europe’s first space rockets, the first supersonic passenger plane (the Concorde, together with the British), and Europe’s first high-speed trains. Some of the famous car makers are still in business, too. Hispano-Suiza makes jet engines. The original Bugatti company is the world’s largest producer of landing gear for airplanes. Their high-tech expertise made it easy for them to get out of the unprofitable luxury car market and into more lucrative aerospace work.

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Speaking of aircraft, during my research for the René Herse book, I learned that both Ettore Bugatti and René Herse worked at the Breguet aircraft factory during the 1920s (Bugatti) and 1930s (Herse). Perhaps this explains why the custom screws on Bugatti’s cars share some design elements with those on Herse’s bikes?

The cross-pollination between the makers of aircraft, cars and bicycles was not limited to René Herse. Louis Delage was a customer of Camille Daudon’s, and he later wrote that his Daudon was the most marvellous piece of machinery he’d ever owned. This from a man whose company made some of the first V12 engines!

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Key to understanding the French bicycle builders is their location. Herse, Alex Singer and Daudon all had their shops in or near Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris that specialized in high-end metalworking.

Levallois-Perret was an extraordinary place. The Citroën factory was just across the Seine. The factories of Hispano-Suiza and Delage were nearby. And when Ettore Bugatti designed aircraft engines during World War I, the government installed him here, too. The reason for this concentration was simple: There was a great network of machine shops, foundries, platers…

For the bicycle makers, this meant that they had incredible resources right at their doorsteps. Making stems, brakes, cranks and bottom brackets requires sub-contractors who can forge and machine the components required.

There also was a large pool of skilled labor. Jean Desbois, long-term framebuilder at René Herse, told me how he was hired by Herse when the machine shop where he worked closed during World War II. (His boss didn’t want to work for the Germans.) A number of similarly skilled workers found refuge with the constructeurs of bicycles. It appears that the Germans didn’t expect the bike makers to be of any use for armament production, so they just ignored them. Good thing they didn’t know that Herse was an expert machinist who had worked on prototype aircraft!

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It’s much easier to make great bicycles when you are in a neighborhood full of people like Desbois, who was an expert metalworker. During the late 1940s, the lugs on Herse’s frames were filed by two workers from the Morane-Saulnier aircraft factory, who came by the Herse shop after hours. Desbois told me: “They were experts in filing metal.”

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Not only did the constructeurs have all the resources needed to make highly advanced bicycles, but they also had a ready clientele. Engineers and other professionals appreciated fine bicycles, and the more technologically advanced the bikes were, the better. These customers not only appreciated every detail of the bikes, but they also were willing to pay for custom racks, lighting wires that ran inside the frames, and innovations like the carbon brushes inside the steerer tubes that transmitted the lighting current from frame to fork without external wires.

This confluence of factors did not exist in other countries, where cycling was very much a working-class sport. Neither Enzo Ferrari in Italy nor the Bentley Boys in Britain had any interest in bicycles. There was little market for ultra-high end cyclotouring bikes.

The great machines from builders like Herse, Singer, Daudon, Routens and Barra have little in common with the mass-produced French ten-speeds that became popular in North America during the Bike Boom. Just like the Bugattis and Delages of the 1930s came from a different world than the sad Renaults that were sold in the U.S. during the 1980s.

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The glorious French cars of the streamline era are unaffordable and impractical today, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs remain as exciting to ride now as they were then. The cars may be distant dreams from a bygone era, but the bikes of René Herse and the other constructeurs have inspired a new generation of North American constructeurs. Their bikes are ridden every day, and they give their riders as much joy as the originals did more than half a century ago.

Further reading: René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders

Photo credits: David Cooper, Cooper Technica (Delage Aerosport), Peter Rich (Velo-Sport with Ferrari)

Posted in books | 47 Comments

Delivering Bicycle Quarterly

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Most of the 5800 copies of Bicycle Quarterly are mailed directly from the printer. Then there are those that go to local newsstands and bike shops, and I greatly enjoy delivering them by bike. It’s also an excuse for a ride on my Urban Bike. A box of magazines neatly fits on the front rack. The bike is great fun to ride even when loaded.

Bulldog News (above) is my favorite newsstand. They have an eclectic selection of newspapers and magazines, and they support small, local publications.

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Seattle has a great variety of bike shops. The shops that carry the magazine cater to the various alternatives to the mainstream cycling culture. You won’t find Bicycle Quarterly in the local Performance outlet.

There is Free Range Cycles (above), specializing in “real-world” bicycles. Some of the bikes for our “First Ride” test reports were loaned by Free Range Cycles. When I dropped off the magazines, I heard that half a dozen customers had stopped by during the previous week, to check whether the magazine had arrived. It’s nice to see that Bicycle Quarterly generates so much excitement!

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Recycled Cycles started in the basement of their current location as a place to buy and sell used bikes and components. I’ve found some treasures there in the past… They still have a selection of used bikes and components, but they now also serve the student population from the nearby University of Washington with affordable new bikes of all types.

Again, it’s nice to hear that the magazine has been selling well. “It’s the only bike magazine that actually sells”, one employee told me: “We sold out of the Autumn issue more than a month ago.” And then he took a copy from the stack, to read during his lunch break. Recycled Cycles has almost as many employees as the number of magazines I delivered (15). I hope that isn’t where they all are going!

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The oldest of these shops is Wright Bros Cycle Works. It’s a small shop. At this time of the year, just Charles, the owner, is there. He doesn’t even sell bikes; he specializes in repairs instead. If you prefer to work on your own bike, you can become a member for a one-time fee, and then use the customer shop for the rest of your life. I used to go there frequently before I had my own workshop and tools. Over the years, Charles helped me with many tricky jobs and taught me a lot of what I know today.

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It’s fun to see the fruit of our labor on the shelf, but more than a mere delivery, my rounds allow me to connect with acquaintances and friends. There was only one problem this time: The 50th anniversary issue is so big that I had to make two trips, since I couldn’t fit all the magazines on the rack of my bike! Or was that just an excuse to go for two bike rides instead of one?

 

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Rides | 23 Comments

Gift Ideas from Compass Bicycles

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This year, the holiday season has snuck up on me. I’ve been so busy with testing bikes, writing articles for Bicycle Quarterly, and developing new products, that suddenly it’s December, and I wonder what to give to those who are special in my life. Worse yet, family and relatives ask me about my wishes.

The same may be happening to you, so here are some great gift ideas. Forward them to anybody who asks “What would you like for …” Click on the photos or links for more info.

Magazine:

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If you read this, chances are that you already subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly. If not, it’s a great gift idea. The magazine provides inspiration for rides, tests great products, explores fascinating history, and is simply an overall good read – especially the extra-large 50th issue. The most common complaint is that it does not appear often enough! We also offer back issues, in case you already have a subscription. $36

Books:

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Goggles & Dust is a lovely little book with photos of 1920s and 1930s racers. You can spend hours marveling at the bikes, the clothes and the facial expressions of the “heroes of the open road.” $17

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Our large-format Calendar of Classic Bicycles will accompany you through the year, with beautiful studio photos of some of the most amazing bicycles ever made. $15

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Need for the Bike is my favorite cycling book. Philosopher Paul Fournel writes about why we ride. He’s a true philosopher, and he doesn’t hide behind inscrutable prose. It’s a lovely read, and on every page, you’ll nod your head in agreement and yet learn something new. $17

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The René Herse Posters bring two of our favorite images from the René Herse archives to your wall. Large (23″ x 32″) posters printed on coated stock and varnished for protection. Ready-t0-frame. $20 / $ 35 for both.

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The Competition Bicycle is the sequel to our classic The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles. Even if racing bikes are not your thing, you’ll learn how bicycle technology developed and enjoy the beautiful studio photos of some of the rarest bicycles in the world. $50

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TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is a great photo book about the amazing bikes that TOEI has made over the last 50+ years. The text is in Japanese, but the beautiful photos are a joy to behold without foreign language skills. Limited quantities, so if you want this book, put it on your gift list now! $70

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Reviewers have called our René Herse book a masterpiece. It wasn’t difficult to write about such a rich and fascinating subject: beautiful bikes, great events, wonderful friendships between riders. The joy of cycling radiates from every photo, and the stories that go with them are incredible. This book isn’t just about René Herse, but about a time when cycling was more than a pastime – it was a way of life. $86

Signed Limited Edition comes in a slipcase and includes four ready-to-frame prints. $185

“I can hardly put it down. This book is so much more than I expected.”
Constance Winters, Lovely Bicycle

Clothing

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Our Merino Wool Jerseys isn’t just the most comfortable jersey you’ll ever wear, it’s also one of the most durable. The blue color is visible on the road, yet blends into the landscape. Available with short and long sleeves. $155 – 165

Components:

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The René Herse Straddle Cable Hanger looks like a holiday ornament. It won’t make your bike perform better, but it will make it prettier. $38 (pair).

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Waterbottle Cages: Nitto and Iribe cages combine beauty and function – a great addition to any bike. Add a Compass Water Bottle to make it a complete set. $60 and up.

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If you haven’t tried supple, wide tires yet, this is your chance. Ask for a set, and you’ll smile on every ride. $57 – 78

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Tired of overhauling creaking bottom brackets? The SKF bottom bracket is designed for 65,000 trouble-free miles and comes with a 10-year warranty. $149

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Perhaps the ultimate holiday gift are our René Herse Cranks. Giving you a choice of chainrings in single, double or triple configuration, you’ll never find yourself in the wrong gear again! $435 – 495

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The holiday season always is busy, but I look forward to taking a break and going for a ride, even if it’s only around the city.

All of us at Compass Bicycles wish you and yours a happy holiday season!

Photo credit: Fred Blasdel (top photo)

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Compass Centerpull Brakes Are Here!

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We received the last parts for our centerpull brakes, test-assembled them, wrote the instructions, and now they are ready to ship.

Click here to read more about the advantage of centerpull brakes.

There are a lot of parts to a centerpull brake. It all starts with the braze-on posts that mounts onto the fork and seatstays. The holder for the spring is a ring that slides onto the post. It gets brazed in place when the builder brazes the posts onto the frame/fork. The builder can rotate the rings inward or outward to get more or less spring tension. (In practice, the standard setting, with the holes directly above the bosses, works great for most riders and with most brake levers.)

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The posts are available in three models:

  • Front (top): mitered to fit the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades without any additional filing. Of course, they can be mitered to fit most other fork blades.
  • Rear (middle): with an offset miter that works well for most frame sizes.
  • Universal (bottom): un-mitered bosses for any situation where the pre-mitered bosses don’t fit.

The brake arms are forged for the ultimate in strength and light weight, instead of machined. We analyzed many different shapes, and found that the classic Mafac Raid model optimizes strength and weight, while providing the optimum leverage to work with a multitude of brake levers. So we started with that shape and subtly optimized it for the added grip of modern brake pads. (You can use classic brake levers as well as modern STI/Ergo/DoubleTap lever with these brakes.)

The springs are custom, too. We tested stainless steel springs, but found that their rate changed over time, so ours are chrome-plated spring steel. That way, your brakes will retain their consistent performance for decades.

We made custom brake pad holders, which are a bit shorter than most modern pads. This allows them to clear the fork and seatstays when you open the brake, so that even fully inflated 42 mm-wide tires can pass through. The pads are Kool-Stop’s salmon-colored pads. These old-style pads are thicker than modern ones, which means they’ll last a lot longer. Of course, they use the best modern compound for the ultimate in brake power, both in wet and dry conditions.

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Even the bolts are custom-made. (The only off-the-shelf parts are the silver washers on the left and the straddle cables.) Using custom bolts not only allows us to have smaller (and lighter) bolts, but the brake arms themselves are smaller and lighter, too.

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The straddle cable attachment consists of four custom pieces. At one end (right in the photo above) there is the “dumbbell”, which acts as a quick release. (You unhook it from the brake arm to open the brake.)

On the other side (left), there is an eyebolt with a spacer and a special nut. The advantage of this system is that the two anchor points of the straddle wire can swivel as the straddle cable angle changes when you apply the brake. This eliminates the stress that tends to break straddle cables. It allows the use of a thinner shift lever cable as a straddle cable. The thinner cable can make a tighter bend at the cable hanger, so it doesn’t have as much springiness that translates into lost travel when you apply the brake.

Using a standard shifter cable as the straddle cable also means that if you ever need to replace the straddle cable, it’s easy to find a replacement. And you can set the straddle cable height where you want it – here it is set high so the hanger does not obstruct the taillight. (Centerpull brakes are not very sensitive to straddle cable length, unlike some cantilevers.)

Many will recognize these design features from classic Mafac centerpull brakes. We tried to improve on them, but with a few exceptions, we couldn’t – those mid-century French engineers knew what they were doing! Using tried-and-true technology not only means that we don’t need to worry about parts breaking, but also that our hardware fits on classic Mafac brakes.

If you have an old Mafac brakeset, you can use the new Compass hardware to replace everything but the arms, which shouldn’t wear out… If you want a brake for narrower 700C tires, a set of Mafac “Racer” arms and our hardware will get you a brake that is as good as new.

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We didn’t like the stamped aluminum Mafac straddle cable hangers, so our brakes instead come with a replica of the lovely René Herse straddle cable hangers. These are reversible, so you can either set them that the roller spins freely, and equalizes the brake force of the two arms, or, if you have problems with one pad rubbing, you can set it so that the roller is fixed.

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Together with the brakes, we offer a rack that is custom-designed to offer the same clearance as the brake. The rack is patterned after those made by René Herse. It is a clever piece of design that eliminates most of the stress risers where racks can break. Made by Nitto to our specifications, it’s also very light and elegant. We added a light mount, so that modern headlights (Edelux, IQ Cyo, etc.) can be mounted directly.

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The rack attaches to the brake posts with special René Herse bolts, as well as to braze-ons on the fork. (Unfortunately, that means it isn’t an easy retrofit.)

We feel that by combining the genius and expertise of René Herse, Mafac and Nitto, we have created one of the very best brake/rack system for bikes with wide tires.

Click here for more information on the brakes, and here for information on the rack.

 

 

Posted in Brakes | 44 Comments

Two New Books

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We are excited to add two new books to the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore. One is a lovely little book with photos of racers from the 1920s and 1930s. Whether you are interested in racing or historic photos, Goggles & Dust is a treasure trove of interesting images.

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Take this image of Eugène Christophe in the 1925 Tour de France. Goggles protect his eyes from stones thrown up by other riders on the gravel road. A musette bag and two spare tubular tires are slung over his shoulders, one deflated and unused, the other with some air and perhaps ripped off the rim after a puncture. Another tubular is strapped under his seat. His randonneur-style handlebars are tilted upward and have a very shallow drop. His stem-mounted double bottle cages hold only one bottle. Christophe is outfitted like a warrior, yet his face expresses the confidence and serenity of a champion.

Goggles & Dust features 101 photos like this one, all from Brett Horton’s unique collection. At $ 17, this small-format book is very affordable. The perfect stocking stuffer for the cyclist in your life?

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TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is a more weighty tome – the most beautiful book on TOEI we’ve ever seen. Many readers will have heard of TOEI, the legendary Japanese builders, but few know much about their history. This book tells the TOEI story with beautiful studio photos of 110 TOEI bicycles. This text is in Japanese, but I found I enjoyed the photos without needing to understand the text.

The book begins with a Randonneur made in 1957. The early bikes took their inspiration from French and British bikes of various makers, with fancy racks made from steel wire and lugs with curly cutouts. Toei then began to emulate the restrained style of René Herse. However, rather than simply copy the master, Toei often imbued the bikes with refinements of their own. For example, Toei’s rod-operated front derailleurs had limit screws to adjust the travel, unlike Herse’s.

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Toei builds what the customer requests. The result is an incredible variety of bicycles, which makes this book so appealing. There are Herse-style Démontable take-apart bikes, but also bikes with S&S couplers. Some bikes feature ornate, British-style lugs. Others are fillet-brazed. There are racing bikes, tandems, camping bikes and even a track bike. Most of the stems are fillet-brazed like Alex Singer’s, but once in a while, a lugged stem catches the eye. It is fun to see each bike and think of the owner’s vision that led to him or her placing the order.

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A few historic photos of Japanese cyclotourists provide a context for the bikes. Beautifully produced and 288 pages thick, TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is the ultimate book on this famous Japanese builder.

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Bicycle Quarterly’s 2015 Calendar of Classic Bicycles still is available as well. If you like to look at beautiful bicycles, it’ll be a wonderful companion throughout the coming year.

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These are just a few of the titles available in our bookstore. We only sell the books that we think are exceptional, and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we do. For more information or to order, visit the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore.

Posted in books | 7 Comments

Exploring Close to Home

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This week I am working on writing articles based on our recent adventures in Japan, while they still are fresh in my memory. And while cycling to 1200-year-old Onsen hot springs during a typhoon certainly was memorable, I was reminded last weekend that great rides also can be found close to home.

My son and I had installed fenders on his bike for his commute to school, now that the cyclocross season is over. He suggested: “Let’s go for a ride to a place we haven’t been.” As if on cue, the sun came out after days of rain. We decided to head to West Seattle.

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The autumn light was beautiful. As we passed downtown, we saw the Space Needle surrounded by new apartments that look a little bit like the rooftops of Paris…

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We cycled along the railyard (photo at the top of the post), where we ran into Eric Shalit, an old acquaintance. He has a blog interviewing “everyday cyclists”, and asked to interview my son about why he rides a bike. (You can read the interview here.)

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A cold spell last week abbreviated our autumn foliage color, so we were surprised to see this Maple tree still ablaze in gold and orange.

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West Seattle always has great views of downtown, but they were even more spectacular in the evening light. The colorful container ships looked beautiful, but the fact that they were moored here due to a labor dispute is less exciting. We sincerely hope the conflict resolves soon to everyone’s satisfaction.

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Visiting new places allows us to discover new things, like this modern house. What is it like to sit on that deck, cantilevered out into space?

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The trail along the Sound was fun.

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The peaks of the Olympic mountains glinted in the evening light with their cover of new snow.

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It was getting dark as we headed back home. Cirrus clouds portended rain – we were lucky to get out for such an enjoyable ride together. My son mentioned: “We live in a beautiful city.” I am grateful for that, and for our friends and family that make life here so wonderful!

Posted in Rides | 11 Comments