Should Children be Indulged Cyclists?

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As my son has got more into cycling, I have grappled with the question: “Should he have the best equipment?”

On the one hand, I feel that we all need to make our own experiences. I learned how to jump a racing bike with skinny tires across streetcar tracks – after a few near-crashes when my rear tire got caught in the gap. I cobbled together a bike on a shoestring when I was in college. I now am glad about those experiences. I feel that riding inferior bikes has made me a better cyclist. It also made me more appreciative of what I have now.

However, when my son’s narrow tires got caught in a gap between two concrete road panels and he crashed on our first cross-town ride, I wondered how far you want to go in having your children make their own experiences. I recall many of my own lucky escapes during my youth, but there probably were others who weren’t as lucky…

When my son joined me for our first truly long ride, it started raining. His bike did not have fenders (above). He was a good sport as the spray ran down his nose and coated his back with grime. As I rode my fender-and-mudflap-equipped bike, I wondered: “Should I really introduce him to the suffering of cycling in this way?”  Or should I just get him a 650B bike with supple tires, fenders and excellent brakes, so his cycling can be as enjoyable and safe as mine?

Where safety is concerned, the decision is easy. While I survived a childhood of riding a bike with steel rims that offered almost zero braking in the rain, I will make sure that my son has equipment that is safe to use. We are replacing the brake pads on his brakes with better ones. He obviously has a helmet, and he’ll also get fenders and good lights. No more narrow tires, either!

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But what about things that enhance his cycling experience? Last autumn was my son’s first cyclocross season. He lined up against children who rode carbon bikes and were dressed in skinsuits full of sponsorship logos – “the pro kids,” as he called them. He was wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of hand-me-down cycling shorts. His shoes were spinning shoes found on close-out at REI. His bike was a nice test bike, but far from a professional-grade ‘cross racing machine. And yet he had a great time and did quite well, and I believe he learned that equipment alone does not determine success or enjoyment of a sport.

Now that he has shown a great love for the sport, I am tempted to get him the equipment that makes cycling more enjoyable … at least within reason. We don’t feed him bad food, so why should he ride on crummy tires? I needed somebody to test our new Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm tires anyhow, so that is what he is riding now. Next winter, he’ll have wool tights and a real jersey, so he can enjoy rides in all weather. And maybe, some day, he’ll even get the full 650B bike of his dreams.

What are your thoughts about cycling equipment for children?

Posted in Uncategorized | 75 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Spring 2014

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The Spring 2014 Bicycle Quarterly came off the press earlier this week. It’s another exciting issue, full of inspiring stories, useful technical articles and beautiful bikes.

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We tested a new semi-production bike from Mitch Pryor (MAP). This was a perfect excuse for us to embark on a “fast camping trip” to explore two “secret” passes in the Cascade Mountains. We encountered everything from fast pavement to terrain that is more suitable for mountain bikes. How does a lightweight 650B randonneur bike fare in such a diverse endeavor?

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The randonneurs of the mid-20th century have been a wonderful inspiration for us. In the Spring issue, Raymond Henry protrays six female randonneuses and takes us on their amazing rides. Whether it’s a Diagonal in the 1930s or the Raid Pyrénéen during the 1960s, these women knew how to ride and how to have fun!

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We feature a Camille Daudon that was ridden by one of the women on René Herse’s team. She rode this lovely machine to many records in time trials and other events. The bike has survived exactly as she rode it, displaying a lovely patina.

BQ123_tire

What makes a tire fast? How important is the width of your tires? The thickness of the tread? The tpi of the casing? The rubber compound of the tread?

We quantify each variable, so you can choose the best tires for your upcoming season. A second article looks at how tire tread works, while a third explains why tire pressure does not matter when it comes to optimizing the performance of your bike.

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A new feature are our “First Rides,” which bring you a first impression of a new bike before we have the opportunity to do a full test. We rode the affordable Soma Grand Randonneur 650B bike for a few days and tell you how it performs.

As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: book reviews, news, articles about skills and icons of classic cycling design, letters…

Click here for a full table of contents.

Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Product News | 24 Comments

My Solitary Ride

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I usually ride with friends; it’s great fun to enjoy a wonderful ride together, to share the experience, and to pass the time with animated conversations. I’m disappointed when the scheduling does not work out, when no one can make it, or when things come up at the last moment. That happened this week. But the weather forecast was great, so I used this opportunity for a solitary ride.

After testing various bikes recently, I enjoyed riding my own bike again. I had just equipped it with the new Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires. I put a few energy bars in my handlebar bag, filled my water bottles, grabbed my camera and mini-tripod, and headed out.

I left my house at 7 a.m., and an hour later, I already was heading into the hills. Two hours later, I swooped down into the Skykomish River Valley. I cruised through Snohomish. From there, I hardly saw a car as I headed into the hills near Lake Roesinger.

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To think that roads like these are just a few hours from Seattle! Sadly, we rarely see other cyclists on them – it seems that most riders prefer the flatter, busier roads in the valleys.

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When I ride by myself, I am more aware of my surroundings. I had passed this beautiful tree-lined road to a horse farm dozens of times, but never had noticed it.

Riding alone also means time to think and meditate. By this point in the ride, I already had come up with ideas for two articles that you may see eventually in Bicycle Quarterly, as well as a number of other evolving thoughts.

cougar_descent

Twisting downhills brought me back into the Skykomish River valley. There is one particular turn that you almost can take without braking. The road surface is smooth, and today, it was dry, yet clean after the recent rain. On the earlier descents, I had noticed the improved traction of the new tires. I realized I could recalibrate my ideas of what my bike can do.

Instead of riding in the drops, I got into the aero tuck, and built speed quickly. I changed into the drops just before the road began to turn. A light dab on the front brake, not to scrub speed, but to change the weight distribution and get more traction on the front tire. Then I was committed to the turn. It felt – it was – very fast. Almost too fast. Yet nothing untoward happened. I got pushed into the saddle by the g forces a bit more than usual, but the bike rounded the curve without drama.

I’ll just have to be careful when I next ride a racing bike, with narrower tires that offer so much less traction!

fallen_tree

It was windy, and I was battling a fierce headwind as I headed up the Skykomish Valley. When I turned onto Reiter Road, there were many branches lying on the ground. I considered the risk of getting injured by a falling tree branch, but with a few exceptions (above), all the fallen branches were small. Being in the trees had me sheltered from the wind, which was nice.

snow_on_reiter

I was surprised to see snow by the side of the road. It must have snowed here earlier in the week, when we in Seattle just got our usual cold rain. Reiter Road always is enjoyable, and my fatigue from riding into the wind vanished as I headed up this enchanted road.

Riding alone is different, as my speed varies more. In a group, I ride faster when I am not feeling great, so I don’t hold up the others. And I ride slower when my legs want to fly. Today, I was flying and flagging by turns. By myself, there was nothing to moderate my pace.

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It did not take long to reach my destination, Index. The small old wooden houses that line one of the three or four streets of the town look almost like a movie set. The town is set into a narrow side valley, surrounded by towering cliffs. It’s a charming town that is waiting to be “discovered.”

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For now, the lunch choices are limited to a convenience store. My picnic meal had the calories I needed, but lacked a bit in nutritional value. And I missed the conversations that animate our lunches when we are out with a group of friends.

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Although with a view like this, I wasn’t complaining. It would have been nice to share this with a friend or two.

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I took a look at my bike. I really count myself lucky. When I first started writing about bikes, I wouldn’t have dreamt of riding a René Herse. I didn’t even imagine that tires could perform so well. And I never came out here, since it was too far, and the backroads were too rough to be enjoyable. It’s not that I am stronger now than I was then – quite the opposite – so I really have to credit the bike for being able to do these rides now.

road_to_monroe

It was time to head back. The wind had calmed down a bit, but it still pushed me vigorously down the valley. I took the backroads from Sultan to Monroe (above), and I enjoyed the little rollers that add some challenge to this section. And unlike on a ride with friends, nobody dropped me on the hills, nor did I have to wait on top. It made for a nice flow.

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From Monroe, I rode through the wide-open Snoqualmie valley. By now, it was so warm that I took off my tights and rode in shorts for the first time this year. Then I climbed the hills that separate the Snoqualmie valley from Lake Washington, before riding the Burke-Gilman Trail back to Seattle.

sunset

As I crested Phinney Ridge, I saw the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains. I got home a ten minutes later than planned, but still in time for dinner. It was another wonderful day on the bike, and it left me recharged for the challenges of daily life.

Posted in Rides | 41 Comments

Introducing the Full Line of Compass Tires

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Compass Bicycles Ltd. introduces a full line of high-performance tires in both 700C and 650B sizes. The narrower 700C tires are a great way to transform the performance and comfort of a racing bike. The wider 700C tires, especially the 38 mm-wide “Barlow Pass”, will allow riders of 700C bikes to enjoy the benefits of supple, fast and wide tires. The wide 650B models provide more performance and better cornering grip than existing models, thanks to their optimized tread pattern and thickness.

Eight years ago we started the first systematic real-world tests of tire performance in recent memory. We conducted both roll-down tests and track tests with a power meter. What was revolutionary about these tests was that they were performed with a rider on board. As it turns out, the rider is an integral system of the bike, and suspension losses in the rider’s body are one of the main components of the resistance that tires create.

We tested dozens of different tires. We tested the same tires at different pressures. We tested the same tire models in different widths. We tested different tire treads. We even had prototype tires made with different casings and tested those.

In addition to that, we rode dozens of different tire models over challenging terrain to test things like wet- and dry-weather grip, cornering and road feel. We’ve ridden them on gravel and on pavement.

We’ve published the results in Bicycle Quarterly, and they have informed the design of the tires that we have developed with Grand Bois and Challenge. Those tires were far superior to any wide tire that had been available before, but we wanted to optimize the tread pattern even further and offer additional sizes, so we decided to make our own line of tires under the Compass brand.

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The Compass line of tires is designed to offer optimum performance above all. Their supple casing is key, and these tires roll faster than most. The supple casing also absorbs vibrations and shocks better, making these tires supremely comfortable. The tire tread was designed to offer optimum cornering adhesion and precision, both in wet and dry conditions.

Despite this focus on performance, we designed these tires to be sensible everyday tires. The tread is 3 mm thick to last many miles, unlike thinner high-performance tires which are best treated as “event” tires. The new tires are available with “standard” casings and brown sidewalls, as well as “extralight” casings with brown sidewalls or in all-black. The “extralight” casing not only reduces the tire’s weight, but is also more supple, thus increasing the tire’s speed and comfort even further.

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The new tires are available in six sizes, named after some of our favorite mountain passes in the Cascade Range:

  • Cayuse Pass 700C x 26 mm
  • Chinook Pass 700C x 28 mm
  • Stampede Pass 700C x 32 mm
  • Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm
  • Loup Loup Pass 650B x 38 mm
  • Babyshoe Pass 650B x 42 mm

All tires have the same optimized casings and tread patterns.

With their focus on ultimate performance and handling, the new Compass tires will complement the existing Grand Bois tires, which will remain in the Compass Bicycles program. The Compass 26” tires remain unchanged as well. The tires are available right now. Click here for more information.

Posted in Product News, Tires | 161 Comments

The New Compass Taillight

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When building my René Herse randonneur bike, I was unable to find a taillight that combined the functions I needed along with a classic appearance. I ended up making my own taillight. Now this light is available from Compass Bicycles Ltd.

I wanted a generator-powered taillight that matched the appearance and style of a classic, hand-built custom bicycle. The plastic tailights from Europe did not meet that criteria and were not appealing. I also wanted the light to incorporate a reflector, both as a fail-safe and to comply with legal requirements and the rules of randonneuring events.

I wanted reliable internals, and not custom-made electronics. The light had to survive many years of spirited riding on rough roads. It also had to be lightweight.

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Bicycle Quarterly contributor Hahn Rossman suggested using the reflector as the lens of the taillight, which creates a nice, diffuse light. This reduces the glare for riders following you closely, yet it is no less visible from a distance. (The reflector doesn’t reflect the other way, so it doesn’t absorb more light than a normal red taillight lens.)

The Compass taillight has a machined aluminum housing. The reflector is EN-approved. (We tested a number of reflectors and used the one that reflected best, while also being thin enough to work as a taillight lens.)

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Inside the aluminum housing are the electronics and LED of the Busch & Müller Seculite Plus taillight, which include a standlight. The circuit board mounts to a custom-made stainless steel plate, so it is securely attached. The stainless plate also serves as an attachment for the grounding wire.

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The light comes with a custom-machined, two-piece braze-on. Your framebuilder can attach this behind the seat tube of your bike, René Herse-style. The screw-in piece provides a conduit into the seat tube, so the wire doesn’t snag on the sharp edge. It also provides a stop for a seatpost that otherwise might be inserted too deep and cut the wire.

The braze-on is pre-mitered for the seat tube, but your builder also can braze it to the end of a tube, if you want to use the light on a rack. You could also mount it underneath the chainstay, Alex Singer-style.

lighting_compass_tail_all

The light comes with ample wire to reach the headlight. The wire itself is a special automotive wire. The insulation is made of a cross-linked polymer with extra-high abrasion resistance.

The Compass taillight carries a 2-year warranty. It is made in the USA, and available now. More information about the Compass taillight is here.

Posted in Lighting, Product News | 32 Comments

A Winter Adventure

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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.

station_seattle

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

morning_snow

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.

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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.

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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.

museum_snow

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?

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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).

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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.

cascade_ride

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