A Winter Adventure


Last weekend, we took our children and their friends on a trip. Our car is too small to hold all of them, so my son and I decided to use a combination of train and bike to get to the destination, while the others drove. For us, it turned into a splendid adventure.


We started by riding to the station. The renovated King Street Station in Seattle is truly magnificent and uplifting. It really adds a sense of occasion to the trip. And on the regional Cascades trains, you can just roll on your bike (after making a reservation). If they could give you the seat assignement online as well, rather than making you stand in line, it would be perfect.


Our destination was just six miles from the train station at the other end, but those six miles were on a busy highway. So instead we had mapped a longer ride on small backroads. En route we added a few sidetrips exploring gravel roads.


After a week of cold weather, the puddles on this road were frozen. My son is relatively lightweight, but I later broke through the ice on one of the puddles and splashed myself with muddy water. Even fenders can’t help you much when you suddenly crash into a deep puddle!


You never know what you’ll find at the end of a small gravel road. My son had envisioned an abandoned farmhouse with an overgrown orchard, but instead, we ended up in some sort of guerrilla warfare playground.


It was a surreal maze of tires, wooden walls and stacked bricks. BBs littered the ground. The place was deserted and rather spooky. We did a few laps of “guerrilla cross” before heading on to our destination.

We had seen steely gray skies to the south that portended snow, and just minutes after we arrived at our destination, huge flakes started to fall in dense flurries. It snowed most of the night.


When it was time to head back in the morning, snow covered the fields and laced the evergreen trees with white. Unfortunately, salt had been spread on many roads, making the ride wet and slushy.


On roads where we found pristine snow, the riding was wonderful. On the uphills, we had to stay in the saddle and pedal smoothly, otherwise, our rear tires just spun. Braking on the downhills, our tires tended to lock up for a moment until we reduced the pressure on the brake levers. On snow, the bike’s reactions are slower, so there isn’t much risk of crashing even when your tires lock up.


My son was riding a bike without fenders, whereas I was on my fully equipped Urban Bike. Which is better? On the slushy roads, my son suffered a bit, as spray attacked him from all sides. It sprayed up from the front wheel into his face, it bounced off the down tube onto his legs and feet, and it sprayed up his back to run down his neck. He was enjoying the ride nonetheless.


I was glad about my fenders until we reached a stretch of road with particularly soft, sticky snow. It accumulated inside my fenders, and it soon became harder and harder to pedal, as the snow packed in tightly. I was afraid that if I stopped, the snow might freeze to the tires and lock my wheels. Even though my fenders have adequate clearances for most riding, I realized that if I were to ride frequently in snow, I might want to get a bike with even more generous fender clearances.


All these inconveniences were only a minor distraction as we admired the beautiful landscape and marveled at unexpected discoveries along the way. We found this cute car museum with an evocative collection of signs and other automobilia in a little hamlet of a dozen houses. A phone number indicated that one could visit the museum by appointment, but we had a train to catch and could not investigate further.

The trip was a splendid adventure. It certainly beat renting a second car or a van to carry everybody on the Interstate.

Posted in Rides | 37 Comments

Winter Clothing: Shell or No Shell?


Quite a few readers have asked about winter clothing. Most of all, they seem surprised that I don’t wear windbreakers or shells unless it is very cold (way below freezing) or raining very hard. What is the best clothing for winter riding?

I think the answer depends. If you ride at a brisk pace, you tend to generate so much heat that you tend to stay warmer. The extreme example are cyclocross races. Even in 45-degree weather, I race in shorts and an extralight wool jersey with short sleeves, without being cold. Climbing mountain passes at night, we often wear just shorts and an extralight short-sleeve jersey, despite the temperatures being rather nippy (in the photo below, we ran into snow just a little higher up the climb).


During winter rides, I layer up in wool. I often wear three or even four layers, starting with a short-sleeve undershirt, then a long-sleeve base layer, followed by a long-sleeve jersey, and, if it is really cold, a thicker wool jersey on top. For my legs, wool usually tights suffice. If I add shells to this, I tend to get clammy, because the brisk pace not only generates heat, but also transpiration.

Even when it rains, I prefer to have my outer layer get wet, since even the most breathable shell tends to disrupt the moisture transfer. The heat transfer from my body outward keeps the inner layers dry. (I have to add that I use fenders that keep all spray off my body, and a handlebar bag that shields my legs from the rain.) However, if it rains so much that more moisture comes down than goes outward from my body, I use a shell to keep myself (marginally) drier.


I also use a shell for mountain descents. I don’t pedal much on long downhills, so the outward heat and moisture transfer are much-reduced, while the wind (and rain) come at much greater velocity. A shell keeps cold air from penetrating my clothing and reaching my skin.

If you pedal without generating as much heat, then a shell may be useful even while riding on the flat. As always, experiment to find out what works for you. Every rider has a unique body, so all these thoughts are just starting points for figuring out what works for you.

You also may be interested in our previous post about how to stay warm on a ride.

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 52 Comments

Looking Forward to the Season


The new cycling season is starting! As we start to train again, we are making plans for another great season of riding. Not all these plans will come to fruition, but it’s nice to dream, plan and look forward to some amazing rides.


The Flèche is a highlight every year, and I look forward to riding for 24 hours with my friends iso early in the season. As a bonus, all the teams congregate at the finish, and we get to meet with people we haven’t seen all winter.


In May is the Oregon Outback, a Tour Divide-style 360-mile ride/race across Oregon’s dirt roads. It promises to be an amazing experience of beautiful roads and solitude. I very much look forward to this ride. (Photo: Critical Dirt)


I also hope to do another ACP Super Randonnée 600. With at least 10,000 m of elevation gain, these rides are truly challenging, but also offer a great sense of accomplishment. And the scenery usually is breathtaking.

I look forward to other randonneur brevets as well. Randonneuring is a wonderful way to challenge yourself in the company of supportive riders. At the finish, there is a real sense of having worked together as a team. I am also very tempted by the 1200 km California Central Coast Randonnée, which allows “allure libre” riding on your own schedule, rather than on a pre-set schedule with sleep stops.


Apart from these big rides, there will be many impromptu rides with friends. Last year, we headed to the San Juan Islands in early spring (above), and I hope to repeat that trip this year.


There are many small roads in the Cascades that we haven’t explored, and others that we want to revisit. There is a lot to look forward to!


Autumn is still a long way off, but my son and I are already looking forward to the cyclocross season. The ‘cross season is short and intense, just like the races, which makes it all the more exciting.

What rides do you dream of this year?

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments

Price Reductions!


We have reduced our prices on many products that we import. It’s rare that prices go down, but we price our products fairly, based on our costs, rather than “what the market will bear.”

Over the last year, the Japanese yen has lost significant value compared to the U.S. dollar, making products from Japan less expensive. The “favorable” exchange rate is offset somewhat, because raw materials (like rubber for tires) are valued in dollars, so the production costs in Japan also have increased. We pre-pay for the products we order, often long in advance of their delivery, so it takes time for exchange rate fluctuations to significantly affect our retail prices.

Over the past year, our costs for many Japanese products, especially tires, have gone down, and we are passing this on to our customers. We are excited that this makes our quality products even more affordable. We hope this helps you as you get your bike ready for the 2014 cycling season.

Just to be clear, we are not announcing a sale. Our new prices are good until our costs go up again… which we hope won’t be anytime soon. So there is no need to rush and buy, like in the Daniel Rebour cartoon (above) from 1946, when raw material shortages and price controls had cyclists dream of stores full of components (tires especially) at good prices.

Click here for more information about the Compass Bicycles Ltd. product line.

Posted in Product News | 12 Comments

Gravel Riding


Gravel Grinding is the new “hot” trend in cycling. I am very excited about this. Riding on gravel is great fun. A friend who was a telemark skier had a T-shirt: “Free your heel and your mind will follow.” I get a similar feeling when my tires are freed to slip a little on gravel.

Gravel roads usually see only little traffic, and they often traverse very scenic landscapes. This makes for a relaxing and beautiful cycling experience. And the bikes that are suitable for gravel also make wonderfully versatile road bikes, since they have clearances for wider tires (and fenders).


Riding on gravel isn’t new, of course. Until the 1950s, cycling in the mountains usually meant riding on gravel. At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been exploring gravel roads for more than a decade. Back then, we rode a 1952 Jo Routens on gravel roads in the Cascades (above). It’s fun to think back on it: That year we even organized an “off-pavement brevet”. About a dozen people showed up, and we had a great time. Most of the riders were cyclocross racers, probably because most randonneurs didn’t have bikes yet that could be ridden long distances on gravel.

Maybe the bikes were the limiting factor and the reason why “off-pavement brevets” didn’t really catch on then. The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée (D2R2) in Massachusetts was an exception (although it’s not an official brevet), and it contributed a lot toward popularizing riding on unpaved roads. Now that gravel riding is becoming more popular, there is talk about organizing more official off-pavement brevets.


In the decade since that first article, we’ve taken more and more trips and rides on unpaved roads. Many of our bike tests now include rides on gravel, if the bikes are suitable for it. Of course, the bulk of our test riding is on pavement, but we simply enjoy riding on those remote roads so much that we take every opportunity to get a little gravel under our wheels. Even on shorter rides, we often include an unpaved section along the way.


One of the most exciting things we have found is that the same bikes that work so well on pavement also are ideally suited to unpaved roads. My René Herse has excelled on the paved roads of Paris-Brest-Paris, yet the same bike has performed wonderfully on many gravel rides (above). The wide tires that offer such great cornering on pavement also float over hardpack and gravel with amazing grace and pace.

If there is one thing that I don’t like about “gravel grinding,” it’s that particular name. “Grinding” seems to imply that it’s hard and slow, yet with the right bike, riding on gravel comes with the same effortless speed as riding on pavement. For me, it’s about experiencing the ride more than about the road surface: the breeze, the fleeting light on the trees, the feedback from the bike underneath me, and the “taste of the effort,” as the French called it. It just happens that gravel roads have expanded our universe where we can experience these joyous feelings.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Rides | 91 Comments

Crank Bolt Wrench


Our René Herse cranks come with classic 15 mm crank bolts. They are beautiful and easy to tighten. However, it can be hard to find a matching 15 mm wrench. Most wrenches have walls that are too thick to fit inside the hole of the crankarm. (We cannot make the hole larger, since we want to use a standard extractor that fits inside the threaded hole.)

When 15 mm crank bolts were the industry standard, many companies offered crank bolt wrenches. The most famous was Campagnolo’s, but TA and others offered similar versions. These wrenches were beautiful and tactile. Aficionados sometimes called them “peanut butter wrenches,” even though I don’t know of anybody who actually has used them to spread peanut butter. Well, you could, and the chrome-plated finish should be dishwasher-safe, too!

Since most companies have gone to Allen heads for their crank bolts, crank bolt wrenches for 15 mm bolts have become hard to find. Many customers instead have used Allen head bolts on their René Herse cranks. Allen bolts work fine, but don’t look as nice.


Now we introduce a new René Herse crank bolt wrench. It’s made from tough CrMo steel, so it will tighten and loosen your crank bolts thousands of times without wearing out. (We’ve tested prototypes for over a year now.) The wrench is polished and chrome-plated, so it looks even nicer than the old-style wrenches from Campagnolo & Co.


In addition to crank bolts, the 15 mm wrench also works for track-style axle nuts. It’s much lighter and a bit smaller than a standard wrench, so fixed gear riders can easily carry it.

The thin wrench has one additional benefit: If you tighten your crank bolts to the point where the wrench starts being uncomfortable, because it digs in your hand, you have reached about 25 Nm, the recommended torque for our cranks. So you don’t need a torque wrench, yet you won’t over- or undertighten your crank bolts.

The crank bolt wrenches are in stock now. Click here for more information.

P.S.: Many of you have asked when we will have the René Herse double and triple cranks back in stock. (Single-speed cranks are in stock.) The new production run has been forged, and most of the machining is complete. The cranks just need to be checked for quality control and polished. We hope to have them in stock in a February, but we cannot predict the inevitable manufacturing delays. Thank you for your patience.

Posted in Product News, Rene Herse cranks | 33 Comments

Aren’t Bikes Traffic?


On a ride around Lake Washington, I began to notice the signs. They occurred mostly at construction sites, and re-directed bikes where the bike lane was closed. It’s nice that they now put up signs, where in the past they simply roped off the bike lane or parked a big truck in it. What I didn’t like was what the signs said:


“Bikes merge with Traffic”? What do they mean? Aren’t cyclists part of traffic? Can you imagine a sign on the freeway saying “Right lane ends. Trucks merge with traffic”? Of course not, that would be absurd. Do traffic engineers or whoever designs these signs still consider traffic to be cars, and cyclists to be secondary users who don’t really belong on the roads?


And then there was “Road closed to vehicles,” with the clear implication that bicycles are not “vehicles.”

To be sure of the meaning of “traffic”, I looked it up in Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language:

traf•fic: 1. The movement of vehicles, ships, persons, etc. in an area, along a street, through an air lane, over a water route.

The definition said “vehicles,” not cars, so now the question was whether a bicycle is a vehicle or not:

ve•hi•cle: 1. any means in or by which someone travels or something is carried or conveyed.

There is nothing in either definition that indicates that bicycles are not vehicles, or not part of traffic. Yet the signs imply that vehicles are only cars and trucks, and that traffic does not include bicycles. And since roads are intended for traffic, they are not intended for bicycles.

Some might say that this is just semantics, but I am concerned about the attitude this implies – an attitude that remains all too prevalent among drivers. Why not simply say: “Bicycles merge left”?

Or perhaps we should just get rid of the merging instructions altogether. After all, if you see a sign that says “Right lane closed” and you don’t know that you need to merge left, you shouldn’t be driving a car or riding a bike! “Bike Lane Closed Ahead” really tells you all you need to know!


As to the “Road closed to vehicles” sign, a better way could be to keep the “Road Closed” sign and simply write on the other sign “except pedestrians and bicycles.”

I am not so much concerned about the signs themselves, but about the underlying attitude they represent, that bicycles aren’t vehicles or traffic and don’t have equal rights to use the road.

What do you think? Do you have better ideas for a concise message to write on these signs?

Posted in Cycling Safety | 67 Comments