What to Do with a Bad Book?


I am cleaning out the Bicycle Quarterly Press library. I am keeping all the great books or those that we may need for reference later. This even includes two editions of Eugene Sloane’s Complete Book of Bicycling, which I bought mostly because they had some grainy images of René Herse and Alex Singer bikes – the only information I could find in those pre-Internet days.

But there are a lot of books that simply aren’t good enough to keep.


It’s amazing how much has being printed on bicycles in recent years that has not stood the test of time. Hastily produced efforts on “custom bicycles” with fuzzy photos pulled off the Internet. A history of Campagnolo that appears to have been written in two weeks by somebody only marginally familiar with the company.  I’ll give these books to a local charity. Despite their obvious flaws, somebody will enjoy them…

One book though, has me stumped. It’s a lavishly produced book on Cycling Science, coming from an academic source, the University of Chicago Press. The problem with it is simple: Much of it is wrong.

I know that the science of cycling can be contentious. There still are people who believe that higher pressures will make a tire roll faster. Others insist that stiffer frames perform better. These can be considered gray areas where the science is evolving. However, in this book, the errors are unequivocal.


Take the illustration above, for example. It purports to show the influence of aerodynamics on the performance of a bike. It shows how fast Chris Boardman, who holds the absolute hour record on an upright bike, would have gone on various types of bicycles, with the same power output.

The chart is obviously wrong. Even I can go faster than 9.2 mph even when riding in an upright position. Do I really put out more power than Boardman during his hour record? Does this mean I just need a superbike, and I’ll break Boardman’s record?

Of course, the chart is wrong. Boardman himself rode a standard track bike to a record of 30.7 miles – way more than the 20.9 miles the book predicts for the “tucked down with hands on drops” position. This is just one of numerous errors…

When a book contains many glaring errors like this, I don’t even want to give it to charity. It seems wrong to spread information that is obviously incorrect, and to poison the minds of people who cannot afford to buy better books on the subject. Right now, the book is in the recycling pile. What would you do with it?

Posted in books | 34 Comments

Challenge + Teamwork = Fun


My most memorable rides involved a challenge and friends. We came up with a goal, and then we set out, as a group of friends, to achieve that goal. What followed was a magical ride full of seamless teamwork. We traded pulls. We enjoyed the scenery together. We took turns struggling on the hills. And when we finished, whether we had achieved the goal or not, we basked in the warm afterglow of having given our best.

Even when I was racing, the best moments were about challenge, not competition. The long breakaways, where everybody worked smoothly, trying to stay ahead of the peloton. There is something about working together, rather than against each other, that is a source of true, lasting happiness. By contrast, the joy of winning a final sprint to the line was fleeting for me.


My most memorable challenge, and one of the best rides I have done, was the original Cyclos Montagnards challenge in 2009. It all started with an article in Bicycle Quarterly (Vol. 8, No. 2). Raymond Henry portrayed the constructeur Paul Charrel from Lyon. During the 1930s, Charrel had set himself a challenge: Ride from his home town of Lyon to the top of Mont Ventoux and back in 24 hours. He attempted this feat six times, but never succeeded, always foiled by the strong Mistral winds and the rough roads. (He did succeed in other challenges he set himself.)

When I read the manuscript, I was mesmerized. I called Mark and told him about Charrel’s challenge. There was a moment of silence on the line, then Mark said: “We have to do something like that!”

What would make a good challenge? I suggested Seattle to Windy Ridge on Mount St. Helens and back, but Mark rejected that as not far enough. We’d easily make it in 24 hours. To be a real challenge, the outcome had to be uncertain. What if we added Sunrise on Mount Rainier? That would be 530 km (330 miles). We would visit the two highest roads on the largest volcanoes of the central Cascade Range. Together with Cayuse Pass, there would be three major climbs. It seemed doable, but far from certain.

I called Ryan, and he was excited: “This is right up my alley!” This goal gave our training a new impetus, and we enjoyed many spirited rides in the Cascade foothills as we got in shape for the big ride. We looked at maps and planned the best route. We thought about when to start and where we’d be able to find supplies. Planning the ride already was a lot of fun.

Finally, in late July, the snow had melted on the high passes, the weather forecast was favorable, our bikes were tuned up, and we were ready to go. After dinner, I rode to Mark’s house, then we picked up Ryan. At 7:33 p.m., we had our cards signed at a coffee shop in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle.

For the next 24 hours, the clock would always be ticking! We made good progress on our way south. We skirted the western flanks of Mount Rainier on empty roads in the middle of the night. Just before 1 a.m., we made our first stop in Morton, a lumber town with a 24-hour gas station. An hour and a half later, we turned off the empty highway and started our ascent of Mount St. Helens. For three hours, we climbed this massive volcano. We did not see a single car during this time, but plenty of deer and a porcupine. We reached Windy Ridge at sunrise, right on schedule. The huge crater of the volcano was bathed in the pink light of the rising sun (photo at the top of this post). It was an incredible feeling to stand there, realizing that we had ridden all this way since dinner.


As we turned around, we saw four volcanoes in a stunning panorama: Mount St. Helens to the west, Mt. Hood to the south, Mount Adams to the east, and right in front of us, our next destination, Mount Rainier.

The day that followed saw vertiginous descents, breakfast at a small coffee shop, and long, long climbs. At high elevations, the wildflowers were in full bloom, but we were struggling in the heat. As we reached our second destination, Sunrise on Mount Rainier at 6400 feet, our goal looked elusive. There was even talk of abandoning, of calling somebody to pick us up.


Of course, you don’t abandon a ride on top of a huge descent, so we rolled downhill toward Greenwater. In Greenwater, we agreed that we could continue to Enumclaw. And once we reached Enumclaw, Mark mentioned: “If we continue at this pace, we might, just might, make our goal.”

That was enticement enough, and we raced the last 50 miles back to Seattle. We lost a few valuable minutes trying to find our way through the maze of streets in Kent, and the last few rollers on Lake Washington Boulevard were painful for our tired legs. But we knew that barring a mechanical mishap, we would make it back in time. And we did, reaching the café in Leschi at 7:12. We had made our goal with 21 minutes to spare. The barista working the evening shift was the same one who had signed our cards the day before. He was incredulous: “Did you really ride all this time?”


The immediate aftermath of the ride was anticlimactic, as it often is. Mark had given the most and suffered from dehydration. Ryan was exhausted and lay on the floor. Even so, we all made it home fine, on our own bikes.

And ever since, we keep talking of the day when we rode and rode, covering this incredible distance under our own power, and having one of the greatest times of our lives.

Rides like these are the reason we fine-tune our bikes, test tires and geometries, think about where to carry our gear, and how to optimize our stops. We love our bikes because they allow us to do these incredible things. Every winter, we talk about that ride and think about other challenges we can do in the coming year.


We opened up the Cyclos Montagnards Challenges to all riders, since we want to share this experience. Other riders have designed their own challenges in a similar spirit. We hope to add a few more to the list in coming years.

We also are excited about the Super Randonnées 600 km rides, organized under the auspices of the Audax Club Parisien. Over a distance of 600 km, these rides include at least 10,000 m of elevation gain, and you have 50 hours to complete the ride. There are three in North America right now, and more all over the world.

Challenges can be large or small – all it takes is come up with a ride that pushes the boundaries of what you think you can do. My first challenge was to ride 120 miles to visit my parents for my father’s birthday during my first year in college… That was more than 25 years ago, and it seemed huge then. That ride built my confidence for longer, more ambitious rides, which have kept my cycling exciting and fresh ever since.

What are your favorite challenges, past or future?

Further reading:

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments

How much faster are supple tires?


Improving your tires can make the biggest impact in the speed of your bike (apart from changing the motor!). The difference is especially pronounced for slower riders, whose wind resistance is less than that of faster riders.

Most cyclists know that supple tires make you faster on your bike. But so do ceramic bearings in your derailleur pulleys. The important question is: “How much faster?” For ceramic bearings, the difference is too small to notice on the road, because standard ball bearings already have close to zero resistance.

For supple tires, the difference is much greater. If you have a hard time staying with a group, changing your tires to a faster model may help you avoid getting dropped. And if you get close to the time limit in brevets, faster tires can provide you with a significant time cushion, so that a flat tire or a slight detour due to misreading the route sheet no longer results in a DNF.

Here is a comparison between three tires from Bicycle Quarterly‘s tire tests. These are all marketed as performance tires, and none of them have puncture-proof layers that would further slow them down.

  • Vittoria Open CX Corsa 700C x 25 mm
  • Grand Bois Cyprès (standard casing) 700C x 32 mm
  • Rivendell Rolly-Poly 700C x 27 mm


Our first tests were rolldown tests on relatively rough pavement, like you typically find on American backroads. The speed was between 23 and 25 km/h (13.5 – 15.5 mph).

On this surface, the fastest tire rolls 13.5% faster than the slowest. That is a huge difference. Imagine going 15 mph with the slower tire, and on your next ride, after changing your tires, riding at 17 mph with the same effort. During a century ride, you’d be 45 minutes faster!


We also tested these (and many other) tires on a very smooth asphalt surface at constant speed with a Power Meter. The speed was higher (27.9 km/h; 17.3 mph), and the ultra-smooth surface reduced the vibrations. However, even under these “ideal” conditions, the rider on the slowest tire had to put out 13.5% more power to keep up with the rider on the fastest tire. That can make the difference between “hanging with a group” and getting dropped within a few miles.

If you calculate the speed difference for the same power output, it’s 5%. (Wind resistance going up exponentially with speed, so you need 13.5% more power to increase your speed by 5% to stay with the rider on the faster tires.)

As you can see, supple tires make the greatest difference on rougher surfaces, and at lower speeds. But even at high speeds, make the largest difference in the performance of your bike. For comparison, aero wheels make you about 1% faster. And when you are drafting, your wind resistance goes down, so rolling resistance becomes even more important. That is why the pros always have ridden supple tires.

Does this mean we all should ride Vittoria CX tires? Not exactly. The CX is optimized for ultimate performance, and it has a very thin tread. This means it will wear out quickly and suffer more punctures on the way. If you are racing or riding a timed event, these compromises may be worth making. For everyday use, it often makes sense to give up some speed to obtain twice as much service life and fewer punctures.

The Grand Bois Cyprès is designed as an all-round tire. It has a thicker tread that will last thousands of miles. It will get faster as it wears. The Grand Bois also has a sturdier casing that resists sidewall cuts better. As a result, it rolls a little slower. (Disclosure: Compass Bicycles sells Grand Bois tires.)

The Rivendell Rolly-Poly has an ultra-tough casing that provides peace of mind when you ride through debris and are afraid of cutting your tire’s sidewalls. This may be overkill for most riders. The more rigid casing slows the tire down significantly.


When we designed our Compass tires, we started with the Grand Bois tires, and then optimized the performance further, without making the tires into “event” tires that are not very suitable for everyday riding. We reduced the tread thickness on the shoulders of the tire, where it does not wear out, but kept it the same in the middle, where it wears.

For the Extralight models, we used a casing that is significantly more supple than the “standard” casing shown in the test results above. We haven’t measured the performance under controlled conditions yet, but our (and others’) on-the-road experience suggests that they are significantly faster than the standard models.

Tires really make a big difference. When I switched from tires with stiff sidewalls to supple ones, not only did I set many personal bests on long rides, but I also found that I could rest while drafting, whereas before, I was working hard just to hang on.

Take our Flèche team in the photo at the top: If one of us had significantly slower tires than the others, he would have to be much stronger just to keep up. We’d rather have the stronger rider take longer pulls at the front!


What if you don’t care about speed? Supple tires also are much more comfortable. And they just feel different, making cycling much more fun. To me, that is the most important difference, and why I ride them on all my bikes.

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 71 Comments

The 650B Ancestor: René Herse Randonneur


I had the opportunity to ride a favorite classic René Herse again recently. This is the bike that started the current trend of 650B bikes in North America. It’s the bike that made us re-evaluate front-end geometries and wide tires. It’s truly the ancestor of the bikes we ride today, and it has been hugely influential.

I first rode this 1952 René Herse more than a decade ago. I didn’t have very high expectations. Wide tires at low pressures? Must be slow. “Suicide” front derailleur? Must be difficult to shift. Huge amount of fork rake? A clear sign they didn’t understand front-end geometry back then. Today, we smile about these assumptions, but back then, they were deeply ingrained in all of us.

Imagine my surprise then when the old Herse was faster than my custom bike. It handled better and was more fun to ride. I set a few personal bests on this bike, and to this day, it holds the fastest time on the challenging “Three Volcano 300 km” brevet.

The old Herse made me realize the merits of 650B tires. I talked about this bike with Grant Petersen from Rivendell, who took up the idea of 650B tires. Then Kogswell asked me for a bike design, and I modeled the P/R’s low-trail geometry on this Herse. And the rest is history…

Seeing and riding the bike again was a lot of fun. Underneath the lovely patina of its 62 years, it amazed me once again how aesthetically and functionally resolved this bike is.


The Herse stem still is one of the most beautiful ever made. It’s also quite lightweight. The bell is directly attached, and the original owner’s name remains engraved on the stem cap.


The René Herse crank has become a more common sight these days, but it’s still one of the most beautiful ever made. Too bad about the 38-tooth middle ring, which is the largest ring that didn’t always have the triangular cutouts. I think it would look a lot nicer with the cutouts, so we added them to the 38-tooth rings on the current-production René Herse cranks.


The Herse cantilever brakes are among the lightest ever made, yet they work very well. Details like the rack attachment to a forward extension of the brake attachment bolt are elegant and functional. (Several companies now offer copies of these bolts.)

Every component and every bolt is only as large as it needs to be. This doesn’t only save weight, but also makes the bike so elegant.


The Herse front derailleur shifts very smoothly, even on a triple. At first, I found it difficult to move the chain from the big to the middle chainring – it went straight to the small ring. After a few shifts, it became second nature, and I never thought about it again.


The Cyclo rear derailleur has an aesthetic purity that must have appealed to René Herse. It shifts surprisingly well. This one needed a little lubrication: Front shifts tended to rotate the entire derailleur on its support, rather than just the chain tensioner arm. The result was an unexpected rear shift every other time I shifted on the front. When I rode the bike years ago, it didn’t have that problem…


Herse made an eccentric shift lever, since the Cyclo derailleur moves inward and outward as you shift. Otherwise, the shifter cable goes slack on the largest cogs. One thing that is easy to miss in this photo: There is no lighting wire going from the fork to the frame. The current is transmitted via a carbon brush inside the head tube.


You can see where the inspiration for the Compass taillight came from! We had to modify the shape so it looked good with a flat reflector instead of the curved lens of this old JOS taillight.

You also notice how the rear brake cable runs parallel to the seatstay. That is one of the reasons the classic Herse’s look so light and elegant.


I wish somebody would make a headlight that was nearly as pretty as the old JOS. This is Herse’s special version, with no mounting bracket, since it attaches directly to the support on the rack. The lighting wire runs inside the rack tubes.


The only lighting wire that is exposed on the entire bike is at the rear. Here, it leaves the fender and immediately enters the seatstay.  A little further down, it exits the seatstay at the bottle generator. All other lighting wires are internal. I love the blue line painted on the “Le Paon” fenders, outlined in gold.


The bottom bracket shell doesn’t look special, until you realize that it was fabricated from pieces of tubing that were welded together. On the inside, there are shoulders to locate the pressed-in SKF cartridge bearings for Herse’s custom bottom bracket. The bearings have never been overhauled in the bike’s 62-year life, yet they still spin smoothly.


This photo epitomizes the craft of René Herse for me. The stays extend as far as possible toward the rear axle. As a result, the custom-made dropouts are tiny, which saves significant weight and also makes the frame stronger. The workmanship is close to perfect. (The slight rounding-off you see on the stay ends happened during the polishing for chrome-plating.)

Notice how fender eyelet is placed on a smaller radius than the smallest freewheel cog. That way, the nut that protrudes on the inside doesn’t interfere with the chain on the smallest cog. Few makers, past or present, have resolved details like these in such a neat and unobtrusive way.

So how was it to ride the 1952 Herse again? When I first rode it 11 years ago, it was a revelation, but today, it feels surprisingly familiar. The main reason is that my current bike is basically an updated version of the 1952 Herse. (So are about a dozen test bikes I’ve ridden for Bicycle Quarterly.) The differences are slight: My own bike feels like a 105% version of the 1952 machine, with slightly more flexible fork blades, a slightly more responsive frame, slightly better shifting (my Nivex vs. the Herse’s Cyclo) and slightly better brakes (centerpulls vs. cantilevers). Even the weight of the 1952 Herse (11.2 kg/24.8 lb including the pump) remains more than competitive for a modern bike that is fully equipped.

I rode the bike on a beautiful spring day. Mark and I headed out on our “standard” loop around the North End of Lake Washington. We rode up Juanita Hill, and it was obvious that Mark was feeling strong that day. We raced up the hill with abandon, and more than once I felt like surrendering. But somehow the bike kept going, and toward the top, I even felt good enough to try to outsprint Mark. I managed a clean shift with the Cyclo derailleur, but when I rose out of the saddle, my legs almost buckled, and Mark pulled away. Can’t blame the old bike for that!


We stopped at a café in Kirkland, and just as we were leaving, a Ford Model T racer pulled up. Now here was a machine that was even older than this Herse. However, unlike the Herse, which easily holds its own with modern machines, I doubt the Model T holds any course records today!

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Rides, Testing and Tech | 65 Comments

Helmets Wars – Missing the Point


In the U.S., most “responsible” cyclists wear helmets, yet when I cycle in Europe or Japan, I see many cyclotourists who ride without helmets. The Europeans or Japanese don’t seem like dare-devils or poorly informed. What is going on here? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve concluded that helmets don’t matter all that much, compared to other factors that that influence the safety of cycling.

Please note that I am not anti-helmet. When I was in college in Germany during the late 1980s, I was one of two cyclists in town who wore a helmet. I’ve worn a helmet on most rides since then. Even so, I have revised my views on this topic – while continuing to wear a helmet.

As an individual cyclist, safety comes from being able to control your bike and from being able to anticipate traffic’s often erroneous moves. On a societal level, safety comes from having so many cyclists on the road that cycling is normal and accepted.
A helmet is only the last line of defense when everything else fails.

What about the arguments in the “helmet wars”? Let’s look at them one by one:


1. Most cyclists who died didn’t wear helmets (used as proof that helmets save lives).

This analysis assumes that riders who wear helmets and those who don’t wear helmets otherwise behave identically. They don’t.

Consider that 25% of cycling fatalities occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Most people who are getting killed aren’t randonneurs on night-time rides. They are people who lost their driver’s license because of drunk driving. (31% of cycling fatalities have blood alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher.) These fatalities were on their way home from the bar. Most of them don’t wear helmets, but they also are riding a bicycle while intoxicated, without lights, usually on busy highways, just after the bars close. The lack of helmets is their smallest problem.

To figure out how effective helmets really are, you’d need a randomized trial, where you assign riders randomly to wear helmets or not each day they ride. The riders shouldn’t know whether they are wearing a helmet, so you’d give the “no-helmet” riders a placebo – something that looks like a helmet, but doesn’t protect your head. Of course, you wouldn’t do a trial where you potentially put riders in harm’s way…

So these statistics are misleading. The good news for us is that the statistics also overestimate the dangers of cycling. If you do not ride drunk, without lights, after midnight, on busy highways, then you already have reduced your accident risk significantly.

A better way is to compare statistics from one country to the next. And there, we find little evidence that the countries where people wear helmets (like Sweden) see fewer cycling head injuries than those where people don’t wear helmets (like Denmark).

Conclusion: Helmet use doesn’t seem to have a great impact on cyclist fatality rates.


2. Helmets make cycling appear more dangerous than it is.

In the U.S., when I part with people and get on my bike, many say: “Be safe!” or “Be careful out there!” I don’t get that in France, where people encourage me with “Pedalez bien!” (Ride well!)

When I drive a car or walk, nobody says “Be safe!” Modern cars are equipped with airbags, so you don’t have a wear a helmet while driving. It would be cheaper and safer to wear helmets – race cars don’t have airbags, yet are much safer than the cars we drive on the road. But helmets would reinforce the message that you are about to engage in a dangerous activity, whereas airbags are invisible until you need them…

In reality, cycling becomes safer if more people ride. Cycling in Copenhagen is relatively safe not because the cyclists there are more skilled. Nor do the cyclepaths reduce the risk of accidents (they don’t). Cycling in Copenhagen is safe because everybody is used to looking for cyclists.

Furthermore, if everybody cycles, drivers no longer harbor resentments against cyclists for their presumed political views and social preferences. In the U.S., much of the animosity against cyclists stems from what people perceive cyclists to stand for – city dwellers, liberals, granola-crunchers – rather than from the minor inconvenience they may cause.

Conclusion: Emphasizing helmets discourages people from cycling, which makes cycling less safe.


3. Helmets provide a false sense of security, therefore people feel they can take more risks.

The initial argument for risk compensation was based on the fact that more cyclists die in countries where riders wear helmets (U.S., UK) than in countries where cyclists ride bare-headed (Europe). The conclusion was that helmets somehow make cycling less safe, and the best hypothesis seemed to be that riders who wear helmets feel invulnerable and take greater risks (risk compensation).

The data do not support this analysis. In the U.S., most riders who die don’t wear helmets (see 1), so the higher death rate in the U.S. cannot be explained by risk compensation of helmet-wearers. In fact, helmets take the “carefree” out of cycling and make people more aware of the risks (see 2.).

There is a concern about helmets, though: If we tell new cyclists that a helmet is all they need to guarantee their safety, we are putting them in harm’s way. Real safety comes from accident avoidance through looking ahead, anticipating others’ behavior, and judging the road conditions correctly.

We see the same in cars, where we North Americans focus on buying big cars with the best safety ratings, but not on learning to drive well. And our traffic fatalities are among the highest in the industrialized world, much higher than in countries where people drive small (and relatively unsafe) cars with greater skill.

Conclusion: As a society, a focus on helmets detracts from teaching about real safety.


So where does all that leave us? From my perspective, there are two conclusions:

  1. On an individual level, wearing a helmet is a good idea. It is likely to reduce your injuries in many crashes, and it rarely seems to do any harm. The “rotational brain injuries” often quoted by helmet opponents seem to be very, very rare, if they occur at all. (I hit my head and cracked my helmet in a recent accident, and fortunately did not sustain a head injury. I only broke my hand.)
  2. On a societal level, insisting on helmets is detrimental. It detracts from the facts that a) cycling is relatively safe, and b) that safety lies in preventing accidents more than in trying to survive them.

Wear a helmet if you are an “optimizer” – the type who worries about the last 5% in performance or safety. (I do wear a helmet!) But don’t tell anybody else to wear one, or not to wear one! Instead, let’s focus on teaching cycling and traffic skills.

Will this analysis end the “helmet wars”? I am not holding my breath… and with that, I am opening up the comments, and ducking for cover.

Posted in Cycling Safety | 211 Comments

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.

Posted in Product News | 20 Comments

Oregon Outback and The Long Way Back


Last week, I rode the 363-mile Oregon Outback gravel road race/ride. It was an epic adventure, and a full report will come soon, either here or in Bicycle Quarterly. In the mean time, you can enjoy first-finisher Ira Ryan’s report here.


I saw Ira’s tire tracks much of the time, and he even wrote “Go Jan!” in the gravel during one particularly hard stretch toward the finish. Thank you, Ira!

I finished second, a bit less than two hours after Ira. My goal was to beat 30 hours, and I made it with 2 minutes to spare. (I took the photo above after trying to find somebody at the finish, but realized as an “unorganized” event, there wasn’t anybody there.)

After resting for 30 minutes, it was time to take stock. I was 100 miles from the next train station in Portland, and the wind was howling up the Columbia Gorge. Riding into that wind would not be fun. And on Memorial Day weekend, the trains (or at least the bike spaces) might be fully booked. There was some vague talk about a shuttle to Portland from a bike shop nearby, but I didn’t know the details, nor the schedule.


My bike was in great shape, having survived the challenges of the Oregon Outback better than its rider. Not a single flat on the Compass Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires, nothing broke or fell off during hundreds of miles of rattling and bouncing from rock to rock.

The chain squeaked because it was so dry – I should have lubed it before the event! And the spare spokes that I had attached to my fender stays with cloth handlebar tape were gone. The vibrations had worn through the tape, and the spokes had fallen off. That shows how punishing this ride was, but neither were significant issues…

Before I left Seattle, I had heard that Chinook Pass was to open this weekend. So I chose Option 2: just ride home. I figured I could cover the roughly 350 km (220 miles) in two days.

As I was about to cross the Columbia River, I ran into a group of bicycle tourists. One of them, a Bicycle Quarterly reader, recognized my bike and offered some chain lube, which was greatly appreciated. The climb out of the Columbia River Gorge was slow into the howling winds, but the shower and bed in Goldendale’s nice motel were welcome.


I only had brought maps for the course of the Oregon Outback, but at the upper edge of the last map, I could see some small roads going through the Simcoe Mountains as an alternative to the busy Highway 97. It was an easy choice…

So I found myself on the edge of town, heading into the hills. Ahead was a gorgeous view of Mount Adams. Wildflowers were in full bloom. Life was good.

I had planned to re-inflate my tires to their “road” pressures, but had been too tired the night before. Now I was glad…


After a few hours of riding on empty roads, I came to the boundary of the Yakima Indian Reservation. The signs had very specific instructions on what was not allowed: Hunting? No. Alcohol or controlled substances? No. Firearms? No. Sightseeing? Well, I was just traveling through. I thought I passed the entrance exam and continued along the inviting road.


I didn’t see anybody for the next few hours. From time to time, I caught a glimpse of Mount Adams in the distance, so I knew I was still traveling in roughly the right north-easterly direction. (I was off my maps by now.) After a few hours of riding, I got on pavement again, and then saw a sign for a gate ahead.


At the guard station, I was detained by two officers of the tribal police. It turns out that these mountains are restricted tribal land of the Yakima Nation, and non-members of the tribe are not allowed there. The officers were surprised to see a cyclists: “That is definitely a first!” They radioed the head game warden to come and deal with me. They were friendly, and we chatted for an hour while we waited.

Things became a little more tense when the head warden arrived, radioed for a case number for trespass, and wrote me a ticket for $ 100. I don’t think any of us expected that, since I had no ill intent. If I wanted to argue my case, I could take it to tribal court. At least I was free, and allowed to continue… and the game wardens had mapped me a nice route through the reservation.


Eastern Washington has a feel of the “Old West” to it, and nowhere more so than on the reservation. When I passed this man looking for a ride at this lonesome intersection, I called out: “Hi!” His reply was “I don’t get high!” His joke had me smile for miles thereafter.


Food is a problem east of the Cascades – Coca-Cola, potato chips and candy bars get old very quickly. Fortunately, this fruit stand had fresh cherries. I bought a container, put it in my handlebar bag, and ate them while riding through the afternoon heat. Like Hänsel and Gretel, you could follow my tracks by the cherry pits I left behind.


Trying to get around Yakima, I got a bit lost as I went up the wrong canyon, although the lovely roads made the detour well worth the while. Finally, I found my way to Cowiche. A few sprinkles fell as a huge thunderstorm passed to my East.


I had a final fright when the road to Naches was closed – which would have meant a long, long detour most of the way to Yakima, and then riding back on the busy roads I was trying to avoid. But the repaving was done, and I was able to pass through on a road that just lacked striping. I was even more lucky to find a hotel room in Naches…


The next day took me across the Cascades. Chinook Pass is a long slog – 80 km (50 miles) uphill. Clouds were covering the mountains, but there also were sunbreaks. The rainbows were beautiful. I only got hit by a few sprinkles, but the roads were wet, so I was glad to have fenders on my bike – even though they had been of little use during the Oregon Outback.


After a few hours of gentle climbing in the valley, the road pitched up for the final ascent to the pass. With clouds obscuring the view, it was wintry up here.


The top: Time to put on every piece of clothing I carried in my handlebar bag!


On the other side of the pass, it was raining hard, but fortunately, it wasn’t very cold. Once I left the mountains, the sun came out, and it became another transport stage back to Seattle. I missed my goal of getting home in time for dinner by an hour and a half, though…

The trip back added an adventure to the adventure. Thank you to the guys from VeloDirt for putting on the Oregon Outback – definitely one of the most challenging rides I have done – and enticing me to ride all the way from southern Oregon to Seattle over the course of a long weekend.

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