Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly

BQ_56_cover

When our readers receive the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly, they’ll have a hard time putting it down. We embarked on our most ambitious adventure to date: A ride from Cholula to Mexico City via the 4000 m (13,100 ft)-high Paso de Cortés. We rode on rough gravel roads, past the majestic volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Iztacchihuatl, before testing our bikes’ handling on a super-steep and twisty paved descent. Then we took the old road to Mexico City, riding on century-old cobblestones.

firefly_rest_izta

A ride like that isn’t possible on ordinary bikes… We brought our latest test bike, a Firefly titanium Enduro Allroad bike that promises the performance of a modern racing bike with the wide tires we needed for the loose gravel on the actual pass. For comparison, we brought an old Bontrager Race Lite that Hahn had converted into an Enduro Allroad bike. In the best Bicycle Quarterly tradition, this ride was part adventure and part bike test. Both bikes are featured in this issue.

DF_bikes

The ride took us deep into the history of Mexico: We retraced the steps of Hernan Cortés, who marched on the capital of the Aztec empire. But instead of bloody conquest, we came to celebrate how bicycles have played a major part in the rejuvenation of Mexico City. In a second story from this trip, join us as we explore this fascinating metropolis by bike.

toc_02

Suntour: No other defunct component maker is missed as much as this iconic Japanese brand. Takayuki Nishiyama has researched Suntour’s history, with access to original archives and interviews with key players, including long-time Suntour president Junzo Kawai. Learn how Kawai’s dream of better sports bicycles led to the slant parallelogram derailleur and many other innovations.

bike_school

There are many framebuilding classes all over the world, but the Tokyo College of Cycle Design is the only place we know that offers a 3-year degree in bicycle building. We visit this remarkable school and show you the students’ work.

bihoro_touge

Bike rides don’t have to push the limits to be memorable. Natsuko Hirose takes you on two rides to Hokkaido. She first went there as a student with a group of friends. With no experience and little money, every day was an adventure. More than a decade later, she returned for a more leisurely trip of onsen hot springs, good food, and riding up mountain passes.

rpf_02

Many of the latest trends are not as new as we think. We explore the origins of wide, supple tires with photos of a 1920s survivor. Now that suitable tires are available once more, this machine has been returned to the road. How does it ride?

Chainline5spd3XOur technical feature looks at chainline. Chainlines have changed in recent years, with cranks moving further outward, and rear cassettes extending further inward. Why does it matter, and how does it affect your riding experience? We’ve measured and tested to bring you answers. This knowledge will help you set up your bike for optimum performance.

As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: Our Skill column talks about how to brake on all kinds of surfaces. Our Icon article features a superlight bell, and there is much, much more…

Subscribe today to receive your copy of the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly without delay.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | Tagged | 15 Comments

The Paso de Cortés

not_for_publication

Where is the best place to test an Enduro Allroad bike? That is what we asked ourselves as we planned the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly. It had to be a ride that went beyond the capabilities of the Allroad bikes we usually ride, with their 42 mm-wide tires. And yet we couldn’t just take it to a mountain trail, because the Enduro Allroad bike still is a road bike…

paso_uphill_turn

We found the perfect road in Mexico. The Paso de Cortés is one of the highest passes in North America. The uphill is made from very soft gravel, perfect to test whether 54 mm tires are wide enough to float over loose surfaces rather than sink into them.

paso_de_cortes

After climbing to an elevation of 4000 m (13,100 ft), we launched into a paved downhill with dozens of challenging turns. It was one of the best descents I’ve ridden anywhere in the world, and that includes the incredible Shirabiso Pass in Japan…

hahn_corner

This rollercoaster ride would challenge any bike’s handling. How does a 54 mm tire feel on pavement? There is only one way to find out!

popocatepetl

It was a ride that pushed the limits of our endurance. After 12 hours on the bike, you notice whether your bike performs well or not!

hahn_and_sheep

Our ride took us deep into Mexico, with its beautiful mountains and fascinating history. We explored a country that isn’t known as a cycling destination, yet we found wonderful riding and amazing landscapes. Riding over the Paso de Cortés was our greatest adventure yet! The full story and bike tests will be published in the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly, which is going to print today.

Subscribe to receive the Summer issue without delay.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Rides, Testing and Tech | Tagged | 7 Comments

Why Synthetics for our Knickers?

knickers_mountain_road

I’ve long championed wool as a great material for cycling clothes, so some riders were surprised that our Compass knickers are made from synthetics. Why didn’t we choose wool, or some other natural material?

We chose the fabric after careful consideration and rigorous testing. We briefly considered cotton, but it gets heavy and cold when wet – not a good choice for cycling clothes.

bq_jersey_mountain_road

 

Wool is a great choice because it adapts to a great range of temperatures, and it doesn’t smell even when you are sweaty. That is why it’s virtually ideal for cycling jerseys. (Our Bicycle Quarterly jerseys are made from ultra-soft Merino wool.)

However, wool isn’t very abrasion resistant. Where your seat rubs on your bike’s saddle, wool tends to wear out relatively quickly. Within a few thousand miles, I wore through the seat on all wool shorts and knickers that I’ve tried. In fact, since I started wearing the Compass knickers over my wool tights, the tights no longer wear out as they used to.

Key to the Compass knickers’ performance is the thin fabric that doesn’t constrict your pedaling motion at all. The cut is very sophisticated to prevent bunching up as you pedal. Features like the hidden drawstrings at the knees require multiple layers of fabric that would be too bulky when made from wool. That is also the reason why we don’t use a thicker material like Schoeller fabric – it would inhibit the performance of our knickers.

jan_pbp

We’ve tested the final prototypes of the Compass knickers over many thousands of miles. I wore them for a Flèche 24-hour ride, during most of last year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (above), and on various tours in the Cascades, in France and in Japan. I now wear them every time I head out on a bike. During cold weather, I wear them over my tights. I’ve even used them for hiking.

My prototype knickers finally suffered a long tear and had to be retired, after more than 10,000 km of hard riding. And the tear was in a weird location and may have been caused by the brush I was hiking through, rather than wear and tear from normal riding. So we know these knickers last a long time.

What about the propensity of synthetics to retain odors? The knickers are airy enough that they don’t get smelly, yet they are close-fitting enough that they don’t billow in the wind and slow you down. Two months ago, I wore the original prototypes in the Seattle International Randonneurs 100 km Populaire. That event is open to all, and it always sees some very strong riders participate. We rode the 100 kilometers, including stops for controls, in 3:24 hours. During this spirited ride, not once did I notice my knickers. But when we went to a pub afterward, I didn’t feel conspicuous in too-tight-fitting cycling shorts.

knickers_back

It’s what makes the Compass knickers unique: They offer the performance of technical cycling clothes with a more traditional style and superb durability. In fact, that is the goal for all our components, and we go (or ride) the extra mile to get there.

Find out more about our knickers!

Posted in Clothing | 36 Comments

It’s a Hobby!

first_ride

It might be challenging to understand cycling enthusiasts when you aren’t one. We spend a lot of money on bikes, then spend a lot of time getting into shape, and then we go on rides to nowhere, and come home tired. After all this effort, we are back exactly where we started. We haven’t achieved anything. Except that we are happy.

Perhaps that is the definition of a hobby – something that isn’t necessarily useful, but that gives you satisfaction and makes you happy. For some cyclists, it’s hard to justify spending time and money on what is “just” a hobby. Shouldn’t we focus on more “important” things, like a new car or an addition to the house?

lec_purley

It took me a while to realize that my “hobby” actually is among the most important things in my life. It struck me when I read about David Purley, a British refrigerator maker who raced his own Formula 1 team in the 1970s. When his car’s competitiveness flagged, he assembled his team and admonished them:

“For you, this may just be a job. But you have to understand: For me, it’s a hobby!”

Purley turned the normal priorities on their head. Shouldn’t a job be more important than a hobby? Yet Purley’s comment stuck with me. It’s about passion. Racing was Purley’s passion, and he was concerned that for his team, it was just a job, something where adequate performance was good enough.

diverge2

Our passions, whether it’s Formula 1 racing or cycling, are the things that define us. To me, they are the most important things in my life. That is why it’s so important to go out and ride with friends. I make it a priority, not something that I try to fit into a busy schedule as an afterthought. Because cycling is my passion.

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Rat Trap Pass back in stock

rat_trap

This is just a quick note that our popular 26″ x 2.3″ Rat Trap Pass tires are back in stock in all versions. We’ve been surprised by the popularity of these tires…

Many cyclists have a cherished old mountain bike, an expedition tourer or a tandem that is transformed with a set of supple high-performance tires. Others had Enduro Allroad bikes custom-built around these tires. In fact, I’ve been riding the Rat Trap Pass myself, and all that volume and speed is almost intoxicating.

elk_pass

At the other end of the 26″ tire spectrum is our Elk Pass 1.25″ tire. It’s one of the lightest, fastest 26″ tires ever made, and many riders rave about them. Here is what Georgena Terry, the famous bike builder, wrote:

“I really didn’t want to get off the bike. For those of you who wondered where I was for most of last month… well, I was riding my bike!”

Her experience is typical of how our customers feel when riding on Compass tires. Whether it’s in letters, e-mails or in person, hearing that our products bring so much joy is the best part of my job!

More information:

Posted in Tires | 24 Comments

Weekend Trip to the Mountains

old_road

Short trips often are the most enjoyable. Last weekend, we did not venture far from Tokyo. After an hour on the commuter train, we were assembling our bikes in a mountain valley.

sakura_1

Our ride started on backroads. In Tokyo, the cherry blossoms are long gone, but here in the mountains, the whispy “sakura” still herald the coming of spring. We were only three at this point; our fourth rider was going to join us later.

spring

The weather forecast was mixed, but the day unexpectedly turned sunny.

lunch

Cycling in the mountains of Japan feels different from the Cascades in Washington: Lunch was at a 300-year-old restaurant. After the delicious meal, we got a tour around the building.

spring_green

The mountains were lush with the fresh green of spring. It was nice to see different touring styles. If you thought all Japanese cyclotourists rode on classic, French-inspired machines… The bike on the left is mine, whereas the Cannondale belongs to our Japanese friend.

lotus_europa

We climbed a beautiful mountain pass. The road has many sharp curves, and it’s equally popular with cyclists, motorcyclists and car enthusiasts. Drivers and riders were skilled, and clearly enjoying themselves.

pass_bikes

The top of the pass was in the clouds, at 1146 m (3760 ft).

monkey_sign

In Japanese, “cute” is always considered a positive attribute… The sign indicating the pass certainly qualifies!

fourth_rider

During the descent, we met up with our fourth rider. He had to work late, so he went to another train station and backtracked along the course until he met us. We enjoyed the long descent together.

hotel

Japan has no shortage of beautiful hotels. We enjoyed a hot bath, as well as a great dinner and breakfast, before heading out again the next morning.

tunnel

Our ride continued on old road that see hardly any traffic, because new highways bypass them.

fish_ladder

We visited what must be one of the tallest fish ladders in the world. You see about 1/3 of it in the photo above. It allows the fish to climb up to a 27 m (89 ft) tall dam.

old_building

We stopped to visit beautiful old buildings…

procession

… and to watch a procession for a local religious festival.

safety_zone

Our ride ended in the suburbs, where we joined more friends for dinner, before boarding the train that took us back to the city. These friends hadn’t toured together in many years, but at the end, everybody decided that it was a fun weekend in every way. Hopefully the next trip will be planned soon.

What short weekend tours have you taken lately, or plan to take this year?

Photo credits: Natsuko Hirose (photos 3, 4, 12, 14)

Posted in Rides | 29 Comments

Improving the “Unimprovable”

michelin_map

A few years ago, I called the Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags “unimprovable”. After all, they are lightweight, waterproof and last (almost) forever. The elastic closures are easy to operate (unlike buckles), and they allow overstuffing the main compartment and pockets. And being made from canvas and leather, the bags also are beautiful. What more could  you ask for? (The top pockets are even perfectly sized for a Michelin map!)

That didn’t prevent me from thinking of improving them to meet my needs even better. So I modified mine: I removed the side pockets to give my hands more room on the ramps of the handlebars. This also improved the aerodynamics and reduced the weight by more than 50 grams. Many readers asked for similar bags, and so we had Berthoud make bags with smooth sides as a special model for us.

rinko_bags

More recently, I noticed how other people conveniently carried their bags with shoulder straps (right), unlike my bag that I had to tuck under my arm (left). A shoulder strap leaves your hands free, whether it’s to take photos or carry other luggage (or even your bike, Rinko-style).

BagsBtPockets

So we asked Berthoud to add bag loops to the models we sell. As a Compass exclusive, we offer all our handlebar bags with shoulder straps – with side pockets (above) and with smooth sides. Even if you use the strap only once a month, you’ll appreciate it when you need it.

three_bags

These handlebar bags come in three sizes. The idea is that they fill the space between your bag-support rack and the handlebars (below). A taller bike gets a bigger bag. That way, the bag attaches securely to the handlebars, and you can open the flap while straddling the bike.

Mule_rinko

If you are tempted to go with a smaller bag to improve the performance of your bike, don’t worry about it. The bags weigh almost the same, since the weight is in the leather reinforcements and pockets. Adding some canvas doesn’t add much weight. And since the bag acts as a fairing, a bigger bag actually is more aero.

OldColumbiaHwy_insta

We also love Berthoud’s panniers. They use the same waterproof construction as their handlebar bags. The laces allow expanding the bags to fit your luggage, whether it’s for a short overnighter or a weeklong trip (above). The only thing we didn’t like was the modern “Klick Fix” attachment that tends to rattle when going over rough roads. So we asked Berthoud to make them with traditional leather straps at the top and a steel spring at the bottom. This provides an ultra-secure and durable attachment. Putting the bags on is a bit fiddly, but the advantage is that you can leave them on when you park the bike.

With these changes, we feel that these bags truly are the best bike luggage ever made. Click here for more information.

Posted in Racks/Bags | 71 Comments