BQ 64 Preview: Our Biggest Adventure Yet

The Summer 2018 Bicycle Quarterly caps our 15th anniversary year, and so we’ve put together a very special issue. In our most epic adventure yet, we headed south to the incredible Copper Canyons of Mexico. The video above takes you right into the action. Make sure to enjoy it in full-screen mode!

Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly and read the full story of this adventure, plus the many other exciting articles of this 112-page edition.

Posted in Uncategorized

Back in Stock and New Fenders

Some new products are much more popular than we anticipate. Even though we try to keep everything in stock at all times, production can take a while to catch up to the increased demand. Recently, that has affected a few products.

The first batch of our 11-speed Rene Herse chainrings sold out quickly. They’ve received rave reviews from customers. These riders enjoy shifting on par with the very best rings, but with more useful 46×30 chainrings. Add the elegance and light weight of our Rene Herse cranks, and you can see why they’ve been popular.

The new chainrings work just as well with 9- and 10-speed drivetrains. During our testing, we’ve found Shimano’s Ultegra chains to offer the best shifting, so we designed our tooth profiles for this chain. (If you run 9- or 10-speed, use the appropriate Ultegra chain.)

The 11-speed cranks are in stock for single bikes and tandems. Click here for more information.

The MKS Allways pedals take this popular platform style to the next level. They feature the super-smooth cartridge bearings found only in top-of-the-line MKS pedals. Just as importantly, the platform is slightly concave to provide a better grip for your foot. The Allways pedals are available both with standard spindles and with the EZY Superior system that allows removing your pedals without tools in seconds (above). Click here for more information.

The Ostrich frame covers are back in stock, too. They protect the frame when you travel with your bike. Unlike thick foam tubes, these covers are small enough to easily fit in your handlebar or seat bag. That makes them ideal for trips where you’ll put your bike on a bus, on a train, or in a car for part of the trip. New is the ‘oversize’ version for the large-diameter tubes of carbon, titanium and aluminum frames. Click here to find out more.

Our handlebars are back in stock in all sizes. Their shapes were developed when stages were long and roads were rough. Now we offer them for standard-diameter and oversized stems, so you can enjoy their all-day comfort on modern bikes.

Why are classic handlebar shapes more ergonomic? Human bodies haven’t changed, it’s only that modern races are shorter and speeds are higher, so modern racers can get away with less-than-optimal shapes. For the rest of us, the classic shapes make a remarkable difference in the comfort of our bikes. Click here for more information.

And finally, we are excited to announce a new fender. We now offer Honjo’s fluted fenders in a 47 mm width for 700C wheels. This is ideal for tires between 32 and 36 mm wide.

Like all our Honjo fenders, the new model is custom-made to our specifications. Front and rear fenders are longer than standard to provide better coverage. We supply all fenders with our elegant Rene Herse eyebolts (above).

We also sell extra fender stays separately for bikes without a front rack, where the second fender stay stabilizes the front fender ahead of the fork crown. Not only does this guarantee that the fender is quiet, it also improves safety and longevity, as it reduces flex and the risk that the fender breaks. Click here for more information about our fenders.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Myth 11: Rear tires should run at (significantly) higher pressure

To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. Today, we explain why your bike’s weight distribution does not directly translate into your tire pressures.

We are partly responsible for the myth that front tires should run at significantly lower pressures. When we first started researching tires, we published Frank Berto’s tire pressure chart, which lists inflation pressures to achieve a ‘tire drop’ of 15% with average tires. That pressure depends on the width of the tire and on the load on the wheel.

Most bikes carry roughly twice as much weight on the rear wheel as on the front (above). So we reasoned that it makes sense to inflate the rear tire twice as hard as the front one. Except it doesn’t work that way.

During hard braking, the entire weight of the rider is on the front wheel. Now the front tire carries three times as much weight as it usually does. If this isn’t factored into the tire pressure, then the tire can collapse during hard braking: Suddenly, the sidewall no longer holds up the tire. The tire loses the ability to transmit the forces from the road to the bike – braking and steering are seriously impaired. It’s like riding with a flat tire.

In recent years, the potential for trouble has increased as we now run supple tires at lower pressures. Back in 2010, when we published the chart, we inflated our 23 mm tires to 120 psi. Running the fronts at 80 psi was fine, since the stiff sidewalls of the tires most of us rode helped with holding up the bike.

These days, many of us are on supple 42 mm tires inflated to 35 psi. Dropping the front to 23 psi is fine when rolling along, but during hard braking, the sidewall will collapse.

The solution is simple: Use Frank Berto’s chart (above) to calculate the optimum tire pressure for your rear wheel, based on the weight distribution of your bike. But for the front, assume that 50% of your weight rests on the wheel, even if the real number is less. In our experience, that will prevent the tire from collapsing.

When you are just riding along, your front tire will be a bit harder than necessary, and you’ll lose a little comfort, but it’s better than risking problems during hard braking.

If you use a handlebar bag, that puts more weight on the front and works toward equalizing the weight distribution – a randonneur bike’s weight distribution is 45:55. This means that you don’t have to overinflate the front tire by much.

If you carry a heavy front load, your weight distribution may be heavier on the front than on the rear. In that case, you obviously want to inflate your front tire based on the actual weight it carries.

In any case, the pressures in the chart are just a starting point for your own experimentation. We’ve found that these pressures work well for supple tires and for riding on pavement. On gravel, you’ll want to reduce your pressure (above), but not so much that you bottom out frequently.

This week’s myth shows how our understanding of bicycles continues to evolve – and also why on-the-bike observation is more important than theoretical reasoning. What seems right in theory often overlooks factors that are important on the road.

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 23 Comments

Compass Antelope Hill 700C x 55 mm Tires

We are proud to introduce our biggest tire yet, the much-anticipated 700C x 55 mm Antelope Hill. The new tires have arrived with the latest shipment and are now in stock.

Antelope Hill is the unofficial name of the last great climb of the iconic Oregon Outback, the 360-mile gravel race that traversed Oregon from the south to the north. Like many gravel rides, almost a third of the Outback route is on pavement, including Switchback Hill itself (above). The ideal tire for this and similar rides combines excellent speed on pavement with enough width to float on top of the gravel, rather than sink into the loose aggregate.

The new 700C Antelope Hill completes the trilogy of ultra-wide Compass allroad tires, which also includes the 650B Switchback Hill – named after the first big climb of the Oregon Outback – and the 26″ Rat Trap Pass.

Like most Compass tires, the Antelope Hill is available with our Standard casing and tan sidewalls (above). This is the more economical choice. Also, the sidewall is stronger to resist cuts better.

For the ultimate in performance, we recommend our Extralight casing, available in tan or black. This is the same ultra-supple casing found on top-level tubular tires. The Extralight isn’t just incredibly light for such a big tire (465 g) – the supple casing also improves its speed and comfort further. And thanks to the extra width and hence lower pressure, the Antelope Hill Extralights are strong enough even in rough terrain.

Experienced riders can use these tires on rough trails, but they are not intended as true mountain bike tires. The supple sidewalls aren’t stiff enough to climb out of ruts, and the casing can suffer cuts if it’s forced into sharp rocks. We mostly intend them for riders who enjoy their 29er mountain bikes on gravel and paved roads. Under those conditions, Compass allroad tires will transform your bike’s performance. You’ll want to ride it everywhere… We can’t wait to see where people are taking their Antelope Hills!

The Antelope Hills are available now. For more information or to order a set, click here.

Posted in Tires | 30 Comments

Swift Campout photo contest sponsored by Compass Cycles


Calling for the most evocative, inspirational, and just plain amazing photos that show ‘cyclotouring off the beaten path’! Share your adventures and win a $ 200 gift certificate and other prizes!

Simply post a photo – or several! – on Instagram by June 30 and add the hashtag #swiftcompasscontest. Anybody can enter – no need to register or become a customer. Just post your photos with the hashtag, and you are automatically entered. Of course, you can only enter photos you’ve taken yourself. The goal is to share the fun of cyclotouring, nothing more and nothing less. Enter your best photos!

We’ll chose 8 finalists, and put them here on the Compass blog for final vote by the public. The winner will be announced on July 11 and receive a $ 200 gift certificate toward Compass and Rene Herse components, Bicycle Quarterly magazines, or our books. All finalists will receive a one-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.

Entrants give permission to repost their photos on Compass blog and web site, only for the purposes of this contest. Employees of Compass Cycles, Swift Industries and their families may enter, but are not eligible to win.

Vital stats:

  • Post your photo(s) on Instagram
  • Use hashtag #swiftcompasscontest
  • Photos posted until 6/30/2018 are eligible to win
  • More information about the Swift Campout.

Have fun!

Photo credits: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1); Natsuko Hirose (Photo 3).

Posted in Rides

Yabitsu Pass in the Rain

During my recent trip to Japan, I found myself with a free day in Tokyo. With no time to plan, I decided to head to Yabitsu Pass.

Yabitsu Pass is popular with cyclists, because it’s close to the capital, and yet it traverses a mountain range that is far off the beaten path. You could ride there from central Tokyo, but I decided to take the train for the first leg of the ride. Not only does this save time, but it keeps navigation simple. The way I did it, the ride across Yabitsu Pass has only three or four turns where one could get lost.

An hour’s train ride from the center of Tokyo brings me to Takao at the foot of the mountains. The first thing I do is un-Rinko my bike – remove the carrying bag and assemble it.

Twelve minutes later, I am ready to roll. My ‘Mule’ currently lives in Japan. It’s nice to have a bike waiting for me when I arrive – a bike that can handle anything from a fast group ride to loaded touring.

Heading out of town, I stop at my favorite shrine for a moment of contemplation. As is the Japanese custom, I pray for safety on the road. It reminds me to be careful and not take undue risks as I head out for an adventure.

After riding through suburbs for a while, I enjoy the short, steep climb as I reach Lake Miagase. The lake is formed by a large dam, and I have to climb that elevation all at once, with a gradient that feels like 18%. My Japanese is making only slow progress, but I don’t need to read Kanji to understand what this sign says. Alas, no cute monkeys are visiting the park today.

My effort is rewarded by the view across Lake Miagase. Today the mountains are shrouded in mist. The weather forecast predicted a 20% chance of showers. Usually, Japanese forecasts are very accurate, since they rely on the latest technology. So I hope that the rain I see falling on the lake is just one of those ‘showers.’

From here, the ride is heading into the mountains. I follow the beautiful road that skirts the shore of the lake.

When I reach the rugged valley that leads to Yabitsu Pass, rain starts falling in earnest. It’s not typhoon season, but it doesn’t feel all that different, except the rain is colder. I am glad the ‘Mule’ has generous fenders and a good mudflap. I am getting wet from above, but there isn’t the constant barrage of spray that can chill legs and feet to the bone. I am carrying enough clothes in my handlebar bag to deal with any conditions, as long as I keep moving: wool tights, extra layers and a rain shell. For emergencies, I carry a space blanket. It’s not so much equipment that it’ll slow me down, but it’s enough to be prepared.

The road to Yabitsu Pass is an all-time favorite. The first part is almost level as it goes along the lower reaches of the river. Curve follows after curve, and on a well-handling bike, it’s great fun.

Despite my limited Japanese, I do know the Kanji for rain: 雨. This sign indicates in the third line that if more than 20 mm (0.8″) of rain fall in one hour, the road will close. (The second line says that if 100 mm/4″ fall without a dry spell, it’ll close as well.) In this steep terrain, the danger of mudslides is ever-present. Today, I hoped it won’t come to that!

Just before the real climb to Yabitsu Pass starts, there is a side road that I have been wondering about. I’ve been making good time today, so this seems like good an opportunity to explore it.

The road is closed to motorized traffic with a big gate, but it seems that bikes are allowed. At another fork in the road, I turn left and go up a beautiful valley.

Soon I discover why the road is closed: Rockfalls have made it impassable for cars. No problem on a bike, but wide tires are a plus to avoid pinch-flats.

A big tree has fallen across the road. It’s only a minor obstacle. On wet and slippery ground, it’s not advisable to jump, cyclocross-style, so I take it at a more cautious pace. Click on the arrow to watch the video clip!

I pass a sign for Mt. Tanzawa. A hiking trail scales the steep valley side. I continue on the road, until it ends where another rockfall has completely obliterated the road. Time to turn around and explore the other fork…

The second road is steeper as it climbs the ridge between two valleys. The climbs have a nice rhythm, and I am having a good day. The ‘Mule’ and I get in sync, and the gradient feels much less steep than it probably is.

When I chart the ride on RidewithGPS later, I am surprised how the two sidetrips each climb more than the actual pass! (The steep downhill after the first climb is an artifact of my drawing a straight line on the map – the software doesn’t follow the closed road.)

The road climbs higher and higher in switchback after switchback. It is fun!

The top comes almost unexpected. It’s another trailhead for Mt. Tanzawa. It feels like I’ve climbed the 1567 m (5,141′) mountain from both sides. For a moment, I think of a passhunting adventure. I could hike with my bike to the top, then down the other side. Maybe another day!

The downhill is wet. Very wet! On the steep slope, I drag my front brake continuously, so my rims stays warm enough to evaporate the water. That way, I can brake for the hairpin turns. In conditions like this, powerful brakes are important. If your brakes are marginal in the dry, they cannot cut through the film of water that builds up on the rims when you ride in the rain. No problem with the Mule’s centerpull brakes, though.

When I return to the main road, I am starting to get cold. Fortunately, the gradual uphill invites an all-out effort. That is why it’s so popular with racers. Pushing myself and my bike to their limits, the curving road is great fun. Where sightlines allow it, I don’t slow for the bends, but use the entire road. At other times, I have to brake for the curves, even through the road is heading uphill.

There is no traffic at all. I remember the sign at the bottom of the pass and wonder whether it has rained more than 20 mm in an hour, and the road has been closed. It doesn’t matter – it’s too late to turn around.

As I reach the last, steep kilometer before Yabitsu Pass, I can feel the effort in my legs. I give it everything I have and reach the pass without slowing. Getting here feels like a real achievement today. The pass is deserted on this rainy weekday.

Now all I have to do is coast down the other side to the train station at Hadano. No more photo stops – I need to get down the steepest part of the descent before my body has a chance to get chilled. Then I reach the station. I Rinko my bike and get on the train. I am back in Tokyo for dinner.

If you find yourself in Tokyo looking for a great ride, I recommend Yabitsu Pass. It’s scenic; it sees little traffic (albeit a bit more on sunny weekends); and navigation is easy. The two optional out-and-back side trips add to the challenge if you feel so inclined.

The ride across Yabitsu Pass in numbers:

  • Distance: 66 km (42 miles)
  • Elevation gain: 1300 m (4265 ft)
  • Two extra climbs add about 30 km (19 miles) and 900 m (3000 ft)
  • Link to map on RidewithGPS
Posted in Rides | 16 Comments

Myth 10: Stiffer Forks Steer Better

To celebrate Bicycle Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary, we are looking at myths in cycling: things we used to believe, but which we’ve since found out not to be true. This week, we have a ‘double feature’ that looks at fork blades. In the first post, we looked at whether they flex enough to improve comfort. Here we examine the belief that stiffer fork blades make the bike steer better.

Looking at Hahn cornering hard on the comparatively flexible Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades (above), you can see that the wheels are perfectly aligned as he scythes around this fast downhill corner. His bike steers no differently from a bike with ultra-stiff fork blades. This goes against the widely held belief that a stiff fork offers more ‘precise’ steering.

Stiffer setups improve the steering response in cars and tricycles, where the forces of cornering flex the suspension components. On a two-wheeler, those forces are aligned with the centerline of the bike, otherwise, the rider would fall over (above, from Bicycle Quarterly‘s article on balancing and steering). Even when you corner hard, the centrifugal forces don’t cause the fork to flex.

At low speeds, the front wheel turns at a greater angle, which puts small lateral loads on the fork, but since you aren’t going fast, you won’t notice the little flex this causes. The one exception is tandems: Due to their long wheelbase, you can feel the flex of the front wheel when cornering very hard on tight mountain hairpin turns.

At high speeds, as in the top photo, the fork turns very little even when you corner hard, so the flex is insignificant – even on a tandem.

The only time you put significant side loads on the bike is when you ride out of the saddle. What you realize then is that the lateral flex of the front wheel is far greater than that of the fork.

Climbing out of the saddle on the same bike with two different front wheels confirmed this: On a wheel with a ‘narrow’ SONdelux generator hub (right), the rim rubbed on the brake pad. With the ‘Wide-Body’ model (left), the rim never touched the brake pads, because the wider flanges make the wheel laterally stiffer. The difference in the flex of the wheels was very noticeable.

By comparison, the fork blades flex only very little: Riding the same ‘Wide-Body’ wheel on bikes with different fork blades (standard vs. flexible Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’), we never had the rim rub on the brake pads – even flexible fork blades are plenty stiff for riding out of the saddle. You can easily test that by pulling sideways on your front rim while holding the handlebars steady. You’ll see the wheel flexing, but there won’t be any visible flex in the fork blades.

Even a flexible wheel corners just fine – I haven’t heard anybody talk about the poor handling of aerodynamic wheels with few spokes (and low lateral stiffness). Still, there is no benefit to a laterally flexible wheel… We asked Schmidt to make the ‘Wide-Body’ hubs for us, because they don’t just reduce brake rub – they also make a much stronger wheel. That allows you to use fewer, thinner spokes, which improves the wheel’s shock absorption, weight and aerodynamics.

The one time when you don’t want your fork blades to flex is when you are braking hard. The longer the lever, the greater the force – so fork blades taper as they move away from the hub. The tops of fork blades are ovalized for the same reason – they have to resist the loads of braking, rather than side-to-side flex. Thanks to these features, the flexible ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades are more than stiff enough for hard braking. Their flex is concentrated at the bottom of the blade, where the forces of braking are small.

Disc brakes are a different matter, as the forces of braking are fed into the fork blade where the caliper attaches. That changes the requirements on fork blades. Using flexible forks with disc brakes will require some more thought and testing.

Contrasting with the myth, slender fork blades actually improve the cornering, because they absorb bumps that would otherwise unsettle the bike. If your bike skips over bumps, the tires lose traction…

If you are a powerful sprinter, the suspension of the fork blades can be a disadvantage: When you work the bike extremely hard while out of the saddle, slender fork blades can feel a bit like a suspension fork that bobs with your pedal strokes, albeit to a much smaller degree. Even track sprinters don’t need ultra-stiff fork blades; they might choose something like the Kaisei ‘Standard’ fork blades. In fact, since they also rock the bike much more from side-to-side and don’t have brakes, they often use round fork blades.

For the rest of us, we’ve found that the Kaisei ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades (above) take the edge off large bumps to improve comfort, tracking in corners and speed. Steel is a great material for fork blades, because it can flex without affecting its durability: our ‘TOEI Special’ fork blades have been 100% reliable over tens of thousands of miles. I consider them a key component of our bikes, making them faster and more enjoyable at the same time.

More information:

Posted in Framebuilding supplies | 41 Comments