Introducing the Full Line of Compass Tires


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.


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.


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


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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


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