BikeRadar Reviews the Compass Handlebars

At Compass, we design our components over thousands of miles on the (often rough) roads we ride, so we have full confidence that others will enjoy them as much as we do. Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the world’s biggest cycling web site, BikeRadar, tested our handlebars and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 stars.

That puts our bars somewhere between “one of the best you can buy” and “a genuine class leader.” BikeRadar’s tester Jack Luke was impressed by the “supremely comfortable position.” He noted that the shape works well with modern shifters, unlike other ‘classic’ bars that create an “awkward scoop before the hoods.”

The only downside he noted was that some lights may be difficult to clamp on because the 31.8 mm center bulge is relatively short. He also noted (playfully) that you cannot use them with aerobars, for the same reason.

He concluded: “From gravel nonsense to fast-ish centuries, the Compass Randonneur handlebars have proven to be an exceptionally comfortable option, and I expect I’ll be swapping these between bikes for many years to come.” 

Thank you, Jack, we’re glad you enjoyed the bars so much!

For Jack’s full review on the BikeRadar site click here.
Click here for more information about our handlebars.

Posted in Handlebars | 4 Comments

Winter 2017 Bicycle Quarterly

The new Bicycle Quarterly is shipping now – subscribers should have their copies in a few weeks. Many of our readers already have enjoyed the video of our tandem trip to the French Alps. Taking an unrestored 70-year-old bike on a challenging tour was full of adventure. Natsuko writes about her first tandem ride, and a companion article explains why this old tandem performed so well.

Even further off the beaten path, Gerolf Meyer and three friends ride their bikes across the Balkans. They encounter grandiose landscapes, plenty of gravel, and fascinating cultures. Reading their story will make you want to pack up your bike and head to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece.

Adventure bikes are one of the biggest trends in bicycles. What happens when you increase the tire size beyond what fits into a road frame? To find out, we ride the Rawland Ulv, a randonneur bike designed for 80 mm tires.

Seattle’s 333fab offers the hand-built AirLandSea as ‘one bike to do it all.’ We ride it high into the Cascade Mountains on a quest to re-discover Jack Pass, which was cut off when a river jumped its banks and washed out the road. How does this bike designed for ultra-wide tires handle the different conditions encountered during this adventure?

Shimano has grown from humble beginnings to dominate the bicycle component market. How did Shimano achieve its current status? We visit the company’s headquarters for an inside look at the company. Our journey takes us not only to the beginning of Japan’s cycling industry, but to the roots of Japanese metalworking when we visit a maker of traditional knives, who works not far from Shimano’s global headquarters.

 

Shimano’s famous ‘7400’ Dura-Ace group represents a pivotal point in Shimano’s history. For the first time, Japanese components were as good as, or better than, anything else in the world in every aspect: function, quality, finish, and even marketing. And yet to me, the ‘7400’ always has looked like the group that Campagnolo should have made to replace its famous Super Record – especially the cranks bear an uncanny resemblance. During our research, we talk to those involved in the development and learn that this is closer to the truth than we imagined.

We report on the Firefly after two years and use the opportunity to test different wheel sizes – above with a 650B front and 26″ rear wheel. Does the handling of a bike remain the same, as long as you keep the outer diameter of the wheels (and thus the front-end geometry) the same? Or are there other factors to consider?

Our report on the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting takes you right into the action of this fun-filled weekend, with many photos of the different riders and bikes that came together to enjoy a weekend of riding with old and new friends.

For my last big ride of the year, I take the superlight J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines across the Southern Alps of Japan. My plan was simple: Take the first train from Tokyo to one side of the mountain range, then catch the last train on the other side. In between are four big mountain passes that reach high into the clouds. Failure means sleeping on a bench outside the station in the cold night. Will the performance of the bike and the form of my legs be enough to make it?

Adventures are rides that have unknown outcomes. There is plenty of adventure in the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Searching the limits of 80 mm-wide tires resulted in a big splash…

…but we also discovered that how great the rewards of heading into the unknown can be.

Subscribe today to get the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Or if your relatives or friends are looking for the perfect present, suggest a gift subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.

Click here for a full table of contents of this issue.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 8 Comments

New Water Bottles and Others ‘Back in Stock’

Our new water bottles celebrate the Compass and René Herse logos with a bold new design. The bottles are based on Specialized’s popular 26 oz. Purist design, with our custom graphics.

In addition to the iconic logos, the bottles feature a quote that describes our approach to bicycles. The new design is limited to 500 bottles, and we expect them to sell out fast. Get yours while you can!

Click here to order.

A few other Compass products also have been popular, and we’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand. We’ve just received new stock of the following:

Our Cyclotouring Knickers look great on and off the bike. Their slightly roomy fit is comfortable, yet they do not billow like many ‘casual’ cycling shorts. Whether on or off the bike, they simply disappear. Hand-sewn in Seattle, WA, from a synthetic woven fabric with a little stretch, the Compass knickers don’t constrict your pedaling, no matter how fast (or slow) you are riding. Click here for more information about Compass clothing.

 

MKS Allways pedals (left) combine a large platform with superlight weight. The US-B Nuevo clipless pedals (right) are compatible with Time’s ATAC cleats. Both feature the smooth-spinning bearings for which high-end MKS pedals are famous. The Ezy Superior Rinko version of each model (shown above) allows removing the pedals without tools – ideal for travel or for storing the bike in a narrow spot. Click here for more information about MKS pedals.

We hope you’ll enjoy these products as much as we do!

Posted in Bottle cages | 10 Comments

Watch the Video: Ride into the Unknown

The Winter Bicycle Quarterly features the story of a remarkable adventure: Touring unknown mountain roads in the French Alps on an unrestored, 70-year-old René Herse. To bring you right into the action, we made a little video about the ride. Click on the image above to watch, before reading the full story in BQ 62 (available soon). Subscribe today to get your issue in time for the holidays.

Make sure to watch in full-screen mode. If the video does not display above, click here to watch it on YouTube.

Camera: Nicolas Joly.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 22 Comments

Introducing René Herse Cantilever Brakes

The new René Herse cantilever brakes are here! Prototypes of these brakes were one of the secrets that made Peter Weigle’s bike at this year’s Concours de Machines so light. They weigh just 75 g per wheel including bolts, springs and pad holders (without pads).

How can the René Herse cantilever brakes be that light? After all, even carbon cantilevers like the TRP RevoX are 50% heavier at 113 g. The TRP shows what happens when you take a standard brake and try to make it lighter – there is only so much you can do.

The secret of our new cantilevers is simple: They are different in many ways from most current brakes. The credit goes to René Herse, who designed these brakes for the 1940s Concours de Machines technical trials, where his bikes were among the lightest ever made. And yet his brakes weren’t just for weight weenies – they even equipped his tandems. I’ve ridden Herse tandems in the mountains, and the stopping power of the brakes was definitely sufficient.

How do you make a superlight brake? You start with an absolutely minimalist arm. Ours is forged from aluminum for ultimate strength.

Just as important is the shape – we used Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to model the stress distribution in the arms (above). Blue and green means low stresses. As you can see, Herse’s original design showed no stress concentrations. (The small spot of red is caused by a lack of reference points near the edge, not because the arm is likely to break there.) The FEA model confirms the genius of the ‘magician of Levallois,’ who didn’t need computers to make parts that were light and strong.

The arms are so minimalist that there is nowhere to attach the springs. Drilling holes would weaken the arms, so the springs wrap around them instead. You’ll also notice that there are no screws to dial in the spring tension. They aren’t necessary, because our springs are carefully equalized. You only need to adjust the tension if one spring is stronger than the other – which unfortunately is the case on many cantilevers. Making springs to such close tolerances is more expensive, but it also makes setup easier.

René Herse used post-style pads. (In fact, he may have invented them – earlier cantilever brakes used the same pads as sidepulls, which attach directly with screws.) The advantages of post-style pads are many. First, it makes it easy to adjust for pad wear – you just slide the pads inward. This means that the brakes fit on bikes with a wide range of canti post spacing. The posts also allow adjusting for minor variations in canti post height (as you slide the pads inward, the arm rotates outward, which lowers the contact of the pad on the rim.)

Post-style pads make it possible to make the arms lighter, because they don’t need flat spots with slots where the pads attach. Herse used large eyebolts to attach the pads to the arms. This is one place where our new brakes are even lighter than the originals: Optional titanium eyebolts for the pad holders save weight without sacrificing strength – these bolts are large to fit over the pad holder posts, not because they have to withstand big stresses.

To adjust the toe-in of the brake pads, René Herse simply bent the arms. That worked for him, because his brakes were used only on custom bikes, which were set up in his shop by experienced mechanics. The advantage of this method is that you only bend the arms once, and the toe-in is set forever. Later, you can replace the brake pads without having to set the toe-in again.

For our new brakes, we offer the option of angled washers that let you set the toe-in (part 28/28T, shown above in blue). This is super-simple and permanent, too, so pad replacement is easy. Since the washers take up extra space, we replace the large aluminum nut on the eyebolt with a shorter steel one. The weight goes up a fraction (4 g), but it’s a great solution for customers who aren’t comfortable bending their brake arms, or for brakes that may be used on many different bikes. (Bending the arms too often can weaken them.)

Like our centerpull brakes, the new René Herse cantilevers use an extra-thin straddle cable. This is made possible with swiveling attachments to the arms, which eliminate stresses to the cable that occur with standard clamp bolts. The thinner straddle cable isn’t just lighter, it also bends more easily around the straddle cable holder. This eliminates the flex you get with thicker straddle cables, which have to straighten first when you apply the brakes, before they can transmit brake power. The thinner straddle cable makes the René Herse brakes more powerful, yet the minimal ‘lost motion’ allows you to set the pads with plenty of clearance to the rim – without the risk of bottoming out the levers. This also means that the René Herse cantilever brakes work equally well with modern ‘aero’ and with classic ‘non-aero’ brake levers.

We’ve tested the new René Herse cantilevers on a variety of bikes over hundreds of miles. They fit over 42 mm-wide tires with 62 mm-wide fenders, or 54 mm-wide tires without fenders. They are designed to work with cantilever posts that are spaced between 62 and 84 mm wide. To work with the ultralight design of these brakes, the height of your frame’s cantilever posts must be within standard tolerances. (Your current brake’s pads should be roughly in the middle of the slots.) If the pads of your current brakes are at the top or bottom of the slots, the René Herse brakes may not fit on your frame.

We are excited that we now can use these amazing brakes on many of our own bikes. For more information about the René Herse brakes or to order a set, click here. And if you’re curious about René Herse himself, we recommend our book on the ‘magician of Levallois.’

Posted in Brakes | 52 Comments

The Forgotten Pass

During the second day of our recent cyclotouring trip to the Aizu mountains in northern Japan, we embarked on a little adventure to discover the ‘Forgotten Pass.’

In the evening of the first day, we climbed a small mountain pass, but found to our surprise that a tunnel now traversed the ridge that we had intended to climb.

It was getting dark, so we went through the bore, eager to reach our ryokan (inn) with its hot bath and sumptuous dinner. “Let’s climb the old road tomorrow,” suggested Natsuko.

Over breakfast, we looked at the topographic maps of the area. I was delighted to notice that the maps categorize roads by their width. The narrowest category is ‘less than 1.5 m (5 feet) wide.’ Even the tiny Japanese minitrucks won’t fit there. That is great information when choosing routes for cyclotouring! But for this ride, we had little to go by – the map hadn’t been updated since the tunnel was built. It still showed a road that was wide enough for 1-2 cars all the way across the pass.

The tunnel was built 10 years ago – as evidenced by a plaque on the portal – and at first, the old road looked in good shape.

But the new pavement didn’t last long. The road to the pass soon turned into a narrow, overgrown gravel path, with just a little pavement poking through once in a while. I was surprised how quickly the road had been reclaimed by nature once maintenance had ceased. It was fun to explore this ‘Forgotten Pass,’ as we named it. The autumn colors provided a beautiful backdrop for our ride, and without pavement or even gravel, we felt truly immersed in the scenery.

Through the trees, we could see fresh snow on the mountains around us.

It was hard to believe that this was a ‘real’ road just a decade ago. The curves were still lined with mirrors to see around the corner and check whether other traffic was approaching. One is visible in the center of the photo. A decade of typhoon rains had turned the mirrors completely blind. Not that we needed mirrors – the ‘Forgotten Pass’ was deserted.

Road signs warning of falling rocks had fared better than the mirrors: They looked almost new. We had to laugh at this one: The entire road was covered with soil and rocks. There was no doubt that a lot of rocks had fallen during the last ten years.

The ‘road’ became narrower and rougher, until it was little more than a hiking trail. Judging from the tracks in the soft soil, it was frequented only by deer.

Then we reached the ‘Forgotten Pass.’ The slope was less steep here, and the road was in better shape. Once, there was a parking lot with a trailhead to hiking trails. A sign still reminded visitors that they were entering public forests here.

It was a little easier cycling on the downhill. Dry leaves rustled under our tires. In places we had to portage our bikes where big rocks had fallen onto the road.

And then we were on the new road again, which seemed deliciously smooth and fast after our off-pavement adventure. To think that in ten years’ time, this road would look like the mountain trail we just came down if it wasn’t maintained continuously!

The ‘Forgotten Pass’ was a poignant reminder that our presence in these mountains is ephemeral. We are only visitors, grateful that we can come here, but the mountains only belong to themselves.

Posted in Rides | 9 Comments

Free World-Wide Shipping on René Herse Components

At Compass Cycles, we’ve been excited to see interest in our components grow all over the world. We now work with more than 500 bike shops, as well as a number of international distributors. However, some components are difficult for shops to stock. Our cranks are a typical example: They are available in three lengths, as singles, doubles or triples, with dozens of chainring combinations. And then there are the tandem cranks… Every crank is custom-assembled to order here in Seattle. It makes for a great product, but it also means that it’s difficult for most bike shops to stock all the parts needed to build these cranks.

This means that ordering directly from Compass Cycles often is the most practical solution. To make this easier for our international customers, we now offer free shipping worldwide on René Herse components. This offer includes big components like cranks and, soon, the new cantilever brakes, but not small parts like bolts, chainrings and cable hangers.

For our less specialized components, like Compass tires and handlebars, as well as the parts we distribute from Gilles Berthoud (saddles, bags), Schmidt Maschinenbau (lights, generator hubs), Honjo (fenders) and MKS (pedals), we encourage you to buy from local shops that carry these products.

Click here to find out more about René Herse components.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments