SKF Bottom Brackets after 5 Years


It’s been five years since Compass Bicycles started selling SKF bottom brackets, and three years since we became the world’s exclusive distributor. At that point, we extended the warranty to 10 years, since we had great confidence in the quality of these bottom brackets. They have patented labyrinth seals, and their oversize bearings run directly on the spindle and shell. There was no reason to doubt the claim of the SKF engineers: These bottom brackets should last 100,000 km of rainy riding. Since most of us don’t ride in the rain all the time, they should last even longer in real life.


Now the first bottom brackets that we’ve installed are half-way through their minimum expected lifespan. I am happy to report that they have proven as reliable as we had hoped. Both on our own bikes and on most customers’ machines, they simply do their job. Mark and I installed ours four years ago, and then forgot about them. They still spin as smoothly as they did on the day we installed them.

Out of several thousand bottom brackets sold, we’ve had fewer than a dozen warranty returns. Some were due to grit getting trapped in the outer seals. The seals did their job, and the contamination never reached the bearings, but the grit could be felt when turning the bottom bracket spindles by hand. While this isn’t a defect, we replaced the units for new ones.


There were three fluke failures, with the most bizarre coming from the rider who overhauled his bike, reassembled it, and the next morning, he found both cranks lying on the ground next to the bike. The spindle had broken on both sides! Since this was an ISIS “Mountain” bottom bracket, we replaced it with the “Freeride” version, which has a smaller hole in the spindle, and thus much stronger spindle. Considering the huge loads a bottom bracket undergoes, this rate of warranty returns is extremely small. It confirms that the confidence we placed in these bottom brackets has not been misplaced. We look forward to the next five years of selling and riding with these bottom brackets.

SKF bottom brackets are available with JIS and ISO tapers, as well as for ISIS cranks. They come in BSC, Italian and French threading. Click here for more information.


Posted in Bottom brackets | 35 Comments

Packwood “Un-Meeting” Route Sheets


Next weekend is the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting” in Packwood. The weather forecast is great: warm during the days, a little cooler at night, sunshine. Bring sunscreen! Here are a few things about logistics:

Getting there: Here is a route from the nearest train station in Centralia to Packwood.

For those riding from Seattle, there are several routes, either via the Green River Trail, Enumclaw and Cayuse Pass, or via Sumner, Eatonville and the Nisqually valley. We’ll probably take the latter, so we may see you out there on Friday.


Meeting is at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13,  at the Packwood library (above, right in the center of town, across the street from the Hotel Packwood and the Packwood Campground).


Here are three rides in the area that we plan to do. Please be aware that the terrain is very mountainous and challenging. Don’t overestimate your capabilities! There is no cell phone service, and nobody to pick you up if you cannot make it.

  1. Packwood, Skate Creek Road, Longmire, Paradise (Mt. Rainier National Park). A scenic road, all paved except a short stretch of smooth gravel to get into the park (through the backdoor). 52 km/ 33 miles round-trip. Extension to Paradise (4500+ ft climb) possible, for a total of 90 km/60 miles round-trip. Lunch available at Longmire and Paradise lodges (sit-down restaurant). Return the way you came (preferred), or by descending to Box Canyon, Ohanapecosh, Packwood (last 8 miles on busy highway). Click here for map, and here for route sheet.
  2. Packwood, High Rock, Longmire, Paradise (Mt. Rainier Natl. Park). Same as 1, but going over the top of the ridge at High Rock, rather than in the valley at Skate Creek. Adds beautiful views, and gravel. 76 km/48 miles round-trip. Extension to Paradise (4500+ ft climb) possible, for a total of 117 km/73 miles round-trip. Lunch available at Longmire and Paradise lodges (sit-down restaurant). Return the way you came (preferred), or by descending to Box Canyon, Ohanapecosh, Packwood (last 8 miles on busy highway). Click here for map, and here for route sheet.
  3. Packwood, Walupt Lake, Babyshoe Pass, (Trout Lake), Randle. A long gravel climb, a beautiful mountain lake, Babyshoe Pass. Plenty of gravel. Possibility to turn around at Walupt Lake (73 km/45 miles round-trip). 145 km/90 miles with no services for most of the ride. Extension to the remote Trout Lake with its diner famous for blackberry shakes offers services, but full distance is 223 km/140 miles. Click here for map, and here for route sheet.

Please print the route sheets for the rides you plan to do, since we’ll only have a few at the start.

On Saturday night, there will be a campfire at the Packwood Campground. On Sunday, we’ll ride back to Seattle.

About the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting”: The “un-meeting” isn’t an organized event. There is no entry fee, no services will be provided, there are no rules, and there is no insurance or liability of any kind. The goal is to meet like-minded cyclists and to have a good time. We hope to see you there!

Posted in Rides | 10 Comments

Scouting the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting


On Labor Day, I scouted the routes and logistics for the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting”, which will be held (or “un-held”) in Packwood on September 13. After a few rainy days, it was a gorgeous sunny morning. With my family, we had been hiking in the area, so I started in Greenwater with the climb up Cayuse Pass. It was sunny and warm, but a few clouds obscured the top of Mount Rainier.


The sign on top of Cayuse Pass became a casualty of avalanches or snowplows a few winters ago, so now the “proof of passing” is the road sign at the top.


I added the bonus climb to Chinook Pass – an out-and-back that was well worth the effort for the magnificent views at the top.


I wasn’t the only one enjoying the mountains. This VW Beetle-based Bugatti kit car roared down the mountain, making me a little envious of the fun its crew had. Except I had as much fun as we both roared down the long descent of Cayuse Pass. They stayed behind me for a long time, until I waved them past to get a better view.


The last miles to Packwood always are into a headwind, but they passed quickly. Here is the library, right in the middle of town. We’ll start our rides here at 9 a.m. The Hotel Packwood is across the street…


… and the campground is next door. The Bicycle Quarterly crew will stay at the campground, and we’ll have a campfire on Saturday night.


Packwood is nice, but its true attractions are the roads that radiate into the mountains. I went up Skate Creek Road, a perennial favorite that winds its way up a narrow valley.


Skate Creek Road is hard to surpass, but this small forest road is even better. It climbs and climbs at a moderate gradient, with views of the mountains from time to time.


I had no trouble finding the turn-off to Forest Road 84 – a good thing, since it’s part of one of our rides. Despite the sign that the road isn’t recommended for cars, the gravel was very smooth – more like hard-packed dirt than normal gravel.


For the first time, I came through here on a clear day (once I had been through here in a snowstorm, and twice at night). The view was as spectacular as I had imagined it, but I was disappointed that Mt. Rainier was still surrounded by clouds, with only the very top peeking out.


Then my attention was occupied by the descent. It’s ultra-fast if you let the bike roll, and great fun.


I re-joined Skate Creek Road in the Nisqually valley, and got another glimpse of Rainier’s summit – well, almost.


I entered the National Park through the back door. (I have an annual pass, and this route is 10 miles shorter and free of traffic.)


I always enjoy the old suspension bridge at Longmire, but even more today…


…since this was my big dinner stop. I had to wait 30 minutes for the restaurant to open, but it was well worth the wait. (I wrote some postcards in the mean time.)


The early dinner was followed by the long climb up to Paradise. While it’s a significant climb, it’s not very steep, and the gradient varies, so whenever you start to get tired, it relents, and you get a little rest. I stopped on the bridge over the Nisqually River and looked at the glacier (barely visible, covered with rocks, up the valley). The clouds above were a bit disconcerting – I had to hurry to get over the top before it got dark and really cold.


Looking down gave me a vertiginous view of the river… better to get going before I got dizzy.


The Paradise Lodge was as beautiful as ever, with a piano player and guests lounging after a day exploring the mountain. I resisted the temptation to stay for dessert, since the sun was setting outside.


And what a sunset it was, with the mountains glowing in orange and pink.


Just to tease me, there was another “almost” view of the mountain as I passed Reflection Lakes. It was twilight here, and I encountered a young black bear leaping onto the road about 40 feet ahead of me. I braked hard, and we both were equally surprised as we faced each other at close range. By the time I got my camera, the bear had disappeared into the undergrowth.

The super-fast descent to Box Canyon had me shiver a bit on my bike, but the climb up Backbone Ridge warmed me up alright. It was dark now…


… and as I looked back, I finally got a view of the summit free of clouds. I’d been chasing this view all day over four mountain passes, and here, in the fading light, the mountain finally revealed itself.


One mountain pass remained, but even the climb up the long side of Cayuse Pass wasn’t as challenging as it had been when I last rode it after 500 km during the Volcano-High Pass Super Randonnée.

It was 10 p.m. when I crested the pass. The ride back to Seattle was another 100 miles, but it passed quicker than I thought. In the still night, my bike seemed to fly, and even a few light rain showers didn’t dampen my spirits. Leaving Enumclaw on small roads, not a single car passed me for the next two hours, nor did I meet anybody during the next hour on the Green River Trail. I arrived home at 4 a.m., a little later than planned. It was a lovely ride, and I honestly can say that I enjoyed every minute of the 19 hours I was on the road. I just hope that the weather will be similarly nice next Saturday, except with fewer clouds over Mount Rainier!

About the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting”: The “un-meeting” isn’t an organized event. There is no entry fee, no services will be provided, there are no rules, and there is no insurance or liability of any kind. All that happens is that the Bicycle Quarterly crew will be doing a few rides starting at the Packwood Library at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 13. Distances will range from 40 to 80 miles, and anybody is welcome to join us. In the evening, there will be a campfire. The goal is to meet like-minded cyclists and to have a good time. On Sunday, we’ll ride back to Seattle. We’ll post the route sheets in a few days, so you can print them out and bring them along. We hope to see you there!

Posted in Rides | 12 Comments

Autumn 2014 Bicycle Quarterly


The Autumn 2014 issue of Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It will be mailed soon. We are excited to share a variety of topics with our readers.


The Oregon Outback was an exciting gravel event, and we bring you right into the action with two features. One brings you the atmosphere of the ride, while the other examines what makes a perfect gravel bike.


Speaking of bikes, we test the Ritchey Swiss Cross. Can a cyclocross bike keep up with a good road bike on smooth pavement, yet also tackle gravel roads off the beaten path?


The Toussaint Velo Routier is an affordable 650B frame. We take it on a ride to find out how it performs.


Junzo Kawai, long-time chairman of the board of Suntour, died recently. We look at his life and how he led Suntour toward remarkable innovations that we continue to use today.


We visited Tokyo and here report on the cycling culture of this amazing metropolis. Among many surprises, we found double-decker bike racks and juvenile wanna-be outlaws on bicycles with neon lights and batman wings.


Tokyo also is home to Honjo, makers of the world’s most beautiful fenders. We take you on a tour and show you how metal fenders are made.


Fenders are great to keep you and your bike dry and clean, but they also can cause accidents. We look at how to make your fender-equipped bike as safe as possible, so you don’t have to worry about your fender folding up and throwing you over the bars.


Product tests in this issue include SRAM’s revolutionary 1×11 drivetrain (above) and a minipump with a neat pressure gauge (below).


Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly or to subscribe.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 11 Comments

Putting Our Lives on the Line


Testing bicycles may sound like a dream job – you get to ride all kinds of bicycles without having to pay for them – but it comes with risks. We ride the bikes hard, although we don’t abuse them. We are relatively smooth riders, so we don’t stress components unduly. Even when riding the bikes as intended, problems often manifest themselves during our two-week test. We’ve tested more than 60 bikes, and there have been a number of close calls and actual injuries.

On one test bike, the headlight fell off and hung from its wire, dangling in the spokes. On another, a poorly mounted front fender broke loose and wrapped itself around the front wheel during a high-speed descent on a busy road. I was lucky not to crash, but a friend of a friend suffered a similar failure on a bike from the same maker and is still dealing with a the consequences of a brain injury.

I’ve broken my thumb when the tires of a test bike offered next to no grip in the wet, and I crashed as I braked for the first corner. Two handlebar bags have flown off the front rack from decaleurs that were too loose or broke off entirely. I rode over one, the other one went sideways. A year ago, I approached a stoplight at the bottom of a steep hill when the straddle cable pulled out of the front cantilever brake, leaving me with only the rear brake and almost no brake power. That certainly was exciting!

I’ve had other close calls. A just-introduced hydraulic disc brake was recalled two weeks after our test. The seals could blow out in cold temperatures, “resulting in abrupt loss of brake power, and an inability to stop the bike,” according to the manufacturer. And I just had taken the bike with those brakes on steep mountain descents and braked so hard that I could feel the left fork blade flex and affect the bike’s steering. Good thing it wasn’t very cold during my night-time descents on the bike.

A carbon fork I had been testing was recalled the next month, because several of them had broken after just a few months of riding. On another bike, a tire was mounted incorrectly with a large wobble. On yet another, a front brake pad came loose. Fortunately, I noticed it before it fell off completely.

Why write about these incidents? There is no glory in road rash or broken bones. I write about them because all these problems were avoidable, and we don’t want the same things to happen to you. The problems were due to poor design, careless manufacture or faulty installation. On our own bikes, these incidents simply don’t happen. We choose parts that have proven themselves over many years of riding. We are careful to assemble our bikes well. If something breaks, it’s usually after many years of hard use.

If you are fastidious, you’ll completely strip down any bike you buy and re-assemble it correctly before you ride it. Car racers do that when they buy a race car… For most people, this isn’t practical, but here are five safety checks that can eliminate some of the biggest risk factors:

  • Brakes: Pull on the lever for the front brake as hard as you can. The brake pads should squish, the brake may flex, but the cable should not pull out of its anchor on the brake. I’ve done this test on three new bikes recently, and on two, the cable pulled out of the brake. On these bikes, the brakes work fine until you really need them in an emergency situation!
  • Check that both tires are seated correctly. Most tires have a line molded into the sidewall that should sit just above the edge of the rim. That line must be concentric with the rim. If it dives under the rim edge, the tire isn’t seated correctly and could blow off while you ride.
  • Push down sharply on the brake levers (with drop bars) or the ends of the handlebars (with swept-back bars). The bars should not rotate in the stem.
  • If your bike has a decaleur, insert the bag and remove it. Is it tight enough to stay put when you go over big bumps? If it isn’t, use additional straps to secure the bag on the rack platform.
  • Problems with wheel quick releases have been publicized so much that they hopefully are rare. Even so, check that they are closed tightly.

Assembly problems are usually easy to correct or mitigate. More difficult is dealing with issues of poor design. Often, the only solution there is to walk away. There are also some things that I prefer not to test, because they are simply too dangerous:

  • Inexpensive carbon forks. There are just too many cases of them breaking.
  • Bikes that have anything clamped to a tapering fork blade. It’s bound to come loose.
  • Fenders that are poorly mounted or have inadequate clearances.
  • Sorry to say, but anything sold by Civia. Too many recalls, and too poorly designed are their bikes. (Both the fender incidents described in the post were on Civias – with two different fender designs – as well as the fork recall.)

Cycling is not a particularly dangerous sport, but like any activity, taking sensible precautions greatly reduces your risk. I wish companies would take more care when they design their bikes and components – they are playing with our lives!

At Bicycle Quarterly, we will keep pushing bike builders and manufacturers to make their bikes safer. As avid riders, our own health and safety depends on it.

Do you have any additional tests you use to reduce the risk on a newly-assembled bike?

Posted in Cycling Safety, Testing and Tech | 80 Comments

Meet Our Polisher


Eric Hayes is the craftsman who polishes our René Herse cranks, locally on the outskirts of Seattle. These days, most bike parts are black, and few in the bike industry still have the skills to polish metal without grinding off too much material, which looks ugly and affects the strength of lightweight parts. So we went outside the bike industry to find a polisher whose work is better than anything we’ve seen elsewhere.


Eric works with his partner Tracy in Edgewood. He polishes all types of metal. It’s hard and dirty work, but he takes great pride in his craftsmanship.


Here is a sample of his work, a hood ornament for a 1950s car. On the right, you see what it looked like when it arrived: terribly pitted. On the left is the condition after Eric finished his magic. His display includes hub caps that were dented and rusted, and now look like new. The sign with the labor rates is outdated. Eric’s rates have gone up: Skilled labor has a price.

Most of Eric’s work is for restorations of cars or motorcycles, but he does other things, too. The biggest job he’s had recently was to polish an entire private jet! Many of you have seen his work on a few bikes that have been featured in our book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.


Here is how Eric polishes our cranks. He starts with sandpaper to smooth out the inside of the grooves that are forged into the arms.


Then he uses a disc sander to remove the parting lines of the forging dies.


The main polishing comes next. There are many different polishing wheels. Each material has its own wheels. First, a rougher wheel is used (photo at the top of this post), which then is followed by a finer wheel (above).

From start to finish, polishing a crankset takes about an hour. Then the cranks go into an ultrasonic cleaner to remove the residue from the polishing. A final buffing by hand, and they are ready to be assembled as you order them, with any chainring combination from 24 to 52 teeth.


What you end up with is a crank that isn’t just shiny, but also has all the details of the wonderful shape intact. Polishing cranks to this standard is a lot of work, but we believe the final result is worth it. That way, the appearance of our cranks matches their functionality.

The cranks are in stock now. Click here for more information.



Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 41 Comments

In Search of Hawaii’s Gravel Roads


During a recent family vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, we did plenty of snorkeling and hiking, with a bit of surfing, and otherwise enjoyed the beaches. For me, the mountainous island presented the opportunity to explore a new landscape by bike. The Big Island is famous for the Ironman Triathlon, and most cyclists I saw were on the shoulder of the main highway, riding tri or racing bikes with narrow tires.

I had a different type of riding in mind. I wanted to explore the mountain roads of the island. After a few memorable road rides that will feature in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Quarterly, I set out to explore the gravel roads above Captain Cook during our last few days on the island. I had seen the roads on my map, and it looked like several nice loops were possible.

I had brought Alex Wetmore’s travel bike, which was designed to fit a large range of his friends. It packs into a suitcase as large as the front wheel, so it was simple to bring along.


Since I planned to spend the days with my family, I rode before breakfast. I left at the crack of dawn. Captain Cook is on the western slopes of Mauna Loa, one of the two big volcanoes on the island. Apart from the highway that circles the island, most roads switchback either up or down. I wasn’t interested in the beach, so that meant going up. Without a handlebar bag adding a little weight to the front of the bike, it was sometimes hard to keep the front wheel on the ground during steep climbs.


And steep they were, these roads. While the Hawaiian shield volcanoes look like a shallow shield from a distance, up close they are made up of individual lava flows, which breaks them up into flat plateaus and very steep ascents. The town of Captain Cook lies at the foot of such an ascent…


The first morning, I tried all kinds of small roads, often merely two tracks of asphalt with grass in the middle. I climbed and climbed, only to find dead ends. It was fun, but I was not successful in my goal to reach the gravel roads on the plateau above the town.

That night, I fired up my travel laptop and checked satellite images on Google maps. I prepared the next day’s ride in great detail, tracing routes on the map and checking the satellite images to make sure the roads really existed. I was excited, as it seemed certain that I’d reach my goal this time.


I climbed yet another vertiginous road that seemed to lead straight up to the sky. It was a fun 30-minute climb. On top, another disappointment awaited. The gravel road was there, but it led through farmland. There were gates and “No Trespassing” signs. The gates did not show up on the satellite images, which is why geographers insist on “ground truth” when they interpret these images.

A man walking his dog said: “You are the first cyclist I’ve seen up here!”  He confirmed that yet another promising side road ended up at “an estate”. I took it anyhow – it was a nice ride.


On top, I met two mules behind yet another gate. The mules came over to see what I was doing as I checked my map. I tried another road, with the same result – gates blocked off the access to the gravel roads.

I finally gave up and just enjoyed the ride. The climbs were so steep that I had to keep working hard all the time. The descents had me brake continuously. Where possible, I let the bike roll to cool the rims. Several times I stopped to check the rims’ temperature. Each time, they were too hot to touch, but not sizzling when I put a wet finger on them. No danger of melting the rubber on the tire bead and suffering a blowout, then.


I enjoyed my ride immensely, even the parts on the highway that connected the various hillclimbs. I passed a beautiful old church…


… and incredible trees. The vegetation on the island never ceased to amaze me. Depending on the slopes’ orientation to the prevailing winds and thus moisture, the landscape can be almost desert-like or the lushed rainforest. Captain Cook was on the lush side, although not as green as the northern side of the island.

I wish I had more time, because after looking at various maps, I now have found a few roads that look like they should connect to the gravel roads. Only “ground truth” can tell whether they really do. I guess I’ll have to come back…


Posted in Rides | 38 Comments