SPD-compatible Rinko Pedals


The long-awaited SPD-compatible Rinko pedals from MKS have arrived. Now you can enjoy the convenience of SPD shoes and cleats, and yet remove your pedals in just seconds without tools.

Initially intended for Rinko (the Japanese system of disassembling bikes for train travel), MKS Rinko pedals have two parts. A stub attaches to the crank like a normal pedal. The actual pedal attaches to this with a fitting similar to an air hose. To attach or release the pedal, turn the outer ring and push it toward the crank.


The ability to remove the pedals quickly and without tools (or dirty hands) is useful not only for packing bikes when you travel (above). It can help when the bike is stored in a narrow space.

With the MKS Rinko Adapters, you can even share the same set of pedals between different bikes.


MKS now offers Rinko pedals for all popular pedal systems. In addition to the new SPD-compatible pedals, there are Look-compatible and Time-compatible (above) pedals, as well as platform pedals.


MKS makes pedals at many quality levels. Compass imports only the top-of-the-line models that feature silky-smooth cartridge bearings. You have to turn the spindles of these pedals in your hands – then you’ll understand how smooth bearings can be!


With these pedals, you can enjoy visiting distant places, switching between bikes, trains, ships and airplanes, as a true cyclotourist.

Click here for more information about MKS pedals.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Bicycle Flea Market


Visiting Japan is fun, in part because I meet so many different cyclists. There are the cyclotourists, the randonneurs, the collectors…

Bicycle collecting as a hobby has a long tradition in Japan, and there are many events for collectors. The Keiokaku Bicycle Flea Market is one of them.


It’s a popular event that is held on the grounds of a Keirin race track on a weekend when there are no races there. The selection on display is amazing.


Looking for some rare JOS lights for your 1950s René Herse or Alex Singer? You’ll probably find them here.


The first-generation Campagnolo Super Record derailleur was made only for a short time, so it’s ultra-rare. This one is brand-new, but with a twist: The date stamp on the body is incorrect. It appears that somebody found a few outer plates as spare parts and assembled these derailleurs. If you put it on a bike, few will notice, and the price is a bit more affordable than a genuine one.


Much cheaper are these cable ties, used to tidy up the brake cables on traditional, non-aero brake levers. Here is how they work:


“No tools needed” – they just fold over. Never heard of Sinad? Neither had I.


Three generations of Dura-Ace cranks remind me of my early cycling years. That was a time when components still were getting more beautiful with every iteration. The oldest cranks are on the right, the classic 7400 model on the left, with the early 1990s one in the middle. These old gems don’t do the modern Shimano crank in the upper right corner any favors.


The Campagnolo freewheel is one of the craziest bike components ever made. It was superlight, with everything made from aluminum. It came in a wooden case, with its own set of beautifully made tools. I’ve never taken one apart, but old mechanics told me that the bearings ran straight on aluminum surfaces, so it really was suitable only for special events, because it wore out so quickly. But what a gem!


It was a time when everybody copied Campagnolo, so of course, the Dura-Ace freewheel cogs (made out of no-nonsense steel for durability) also came in a wooden case…


… as did Regina’s Futura freewheels. These are neat in that the freewheel body was installed on the hub the normal way, but the cogs could be removed by hand, making it easy to swap ratios.


And then you come across something totally unexpected, like this Mini-Mini-Velo that looks like it’s intended for a circus clown.


The best part about these events is meeting old acquaintances and making new ones. It was nice to see Hiroshi Ichikawa, one of the foremost experts on Campagnolo, with whom I had written an article detailing the development of the first Campagnolo rear derailleur more than 10 years ago.


It was also nice to meet Hideki Sasaki, whose illustrated catalogues of derailleur brands are a true labor of love. (We are currently working on an order from him – hurry if you want a copy of his books on Campagnolo, Simplex or Suntour.)

If you happen to be in Japan during the Keiokaku Flea Market (Spring and Autumn), it’s worth a visit!

Further information:

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

A Book about SunTour


Many Bicycle Quarterly readers wrote to tell us how much they enjoyed Takayuki Nishiyama’s in-depth article about SunTour in the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly (above). SunTour was one of the world’s most innovative component makers, yet little has been written about this company. SunTour went out of business in the 1990s, but the company still is fondly remembered by many cyclists today.


Now Hideki Sasaki has added new books on SunTour to his “Derailleurs of the World” series. These books are the most complete catalogues of classic derailleurs. Every derailleur is shown in photos, with dates and a few specs. His latest work on SunTour is a real tour de force. SunTour was so prolific that their derailleurs require two volumes! Of course, front derailleurs and shift levers are included as well.

Paging through these volumes reminds me of SunTour’s genius and, sometimes, madness. Their first derailleurs were straight copies of the same Huret derailleurs that René Herse used on his bikes. Even though they were made from stamped steel, their quality was excellent. For the wider gear ranges of cyclotouring bikes, they worked better than most other derailleurs. Junzo Kawai, SunTour’s charismatic chairman, had decided that if he was to copy, he should copy the best.


The copying lasted only for a few years, before SunTour improved on the originals with its immortal slant parallelogram. This solved the problems of inconsistent chain gap that had bedeviled derailleur makers ever since they had started to attach parallelogram derailleurs to the dropout instead of the chainstay. Even today, all modern derailleurs for multiple chainrings use a slant parallelogram. The SunTour book shows a few fascinating prototypes, including one made from folded sheetmetal (above).

The slant parallelogram was pure genius, but what about the adjustable cage length of some models? Perhaps it was intended for riders who wanted to use a straight block one day, and mountain gearing the next? Swap your freewheel, adjust the cage length, add a few links to the chain, and off you go! Genius or madness?

Sasaki’s book are very detailed: The classic Cyclone derailleur that took the American market by storm during the bike boom is shown in no fewer than 18 variations. With its slant parallelogram, it handled wide-range gearing better than all other derailleurs of the time, yet it was inexpensive, simple and reliable.


SunTour was one of the first companies to offer mountain bike derailleurs. The Mountech GTL was SunTour’s answer to the Huret Duopar, with a third pivot that kept the chain gap constant on wide-range freewheels.

Paging through the book, I learned that the Superbe Pro rear derailleur on my bike (the Mule) is one of the last, made from 1986 until 1994. It sold for the equivalent of $ 120 in Japan – three times the price of the less expensive models.


I was amazed that the immortal Power Ratchet bar-end shifters remained unchanged from 1972 until 1985. I expected at least half a dozen iterations, but there is just one entry (above in the middle). Why change what works so well? If only SunTour had applied that lesson to their other products! Perhaps this much-missed component maker would still be with us.

The photos may not have the sparkle of the best professional studio images, but they are clear and informative.The descriptions are brief, and unfortunately for most of us, they are in Japanese. Yet the important details are easy to figure out: model number, weight, dates made, and price in Yen. We can marvel at the sheer variety of SunTour’s output, but without knowing what makes them so special, it can be hard to appreciate them. Fortunately, after having read Takayuki Nishiyama’s Bicycle Quarterly article, I recognized many derailleurs, and I was able to fit many of the derailleurs in the new book into their context. That way, SunTour’s fascinating story emerged in ever-more detail.

The “Derailleurs of the World” series now has three titles:

These books are printed in very small quantities and are difficult to find outside Japan. We are placing a one-time order for the SunTour book, as well as the earlier volumes on Simplex and Campagnolo. If you would like a copy, pre-order it by October 20. We won’t stock these books, so please order now if you want one. The books will be shipped in November.


Further information:

  • Compass Bookstore for ordering the Derailleurs of the World books.
  • Bicycle Quarterly 56 features Takayuki Nishiyama’s article on the history of Suntour.
  • Bicycle Quarterly 45 explains how SunTour PowerRatchet and Simplex Retrofriction work, with great drawings by George Retseck (above).

Update 10/21/2016: The order for the Derailleurs of the World books is now closed. The Bicycle Quarterly issues mentioned above are still available.

Posted in books | 15 Comments

Cyclotouring in the Rain


On a rainy weekend in late September, a group of seven friends headed out for a weekend tour in the mountains. We took a long train ride from Tokyo to Fukushima. We started climbing almost as soon as we left the station. Up an up we went, into a landscape hidden by clouds and rain.


When the clouds opened up for a moment, I saw mountains shrouded by mist. Then they were gone again. As I pondered the mystery of this elusive landscape, I realized how much I enjoy discovering a new place.


Riding in the fog was almost meditative. The muted sounds reinforced the quiet and solitude of the small roads.


I looked up from my musings to see steam coming out of the mountainside. This was a mesmerizing spectacle for me, but for my friends it was nothing unusual. A volcanic spring emerged from the mountainside here, and the water was traveling to an Onsen bath through ancient wooden pipes.


The rain stopped as we passed a beautiful lake, where an inviting line of row boats beckoned us to enjoy the still waters. But cyclotourists cannot linger too long, if they want to reach their destination. Riding our bikes, we experience the world quite intimately with every hill and valley, yet we are also outsiders who observe more than we participate. I often think of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s romantic descriptions of this feeling. A mail pilot during the 1920s, he landed his plane in exotic places for half a day, then took off into his own world, up in the clouds, again.


The lure of a mysterious road and a sense of discovery are big parts of cyclotouring. And, as my Japanese is still limited, I had no idea where we were going. I could only follow my friends. This made the ride up this tiny mountain road full of anticipation.


The mountain road dead-ended in a narrow valley at a centuries-old Onsen bath and Ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). This was our destination. Soaking in the hot bath, we relaxed and warmed up after a day of riding in the rain.


After the bath, we left our wet cycling clothes hanging to dry and donned the hotel’s yukata robes. These cotton robes mean that you don’t need to bring a complete change of clothes when you travel. On this chilly day, we also used the woolen capes that the hotel provides.

We sat down to a wonderful dinner of traditional Japanese fish, meats and vegetables. There was much laughter and merriment during the drawn-out meal. I caught snippets of stories about mountain passes (“touge”), bicycles (“jitensha”), the weather (“tenki”)… Even though I couldn’t follow most of what was being said, I was aglow with a warm and happy feeling. Cyclotouring is even more enjoyable with friends.

The first time I rode in these mountains was on a beautiful spring day, and it was spectacular. But despite the lack of cooperation from the weather on this rainy weekend, we had a great time. Perhaps cyclotouring’s greatest appeal is that it can be enjoyed almost anywhere, almost anytime.

Posted in Rides | 40 Comments

Steilacoom Tire Testing


We thoroughly test every Compass product before we release it. We also seek unbiased evaluations from experienced riders who weren’t involved in the development of the products. For the new Compass Steilacoom cyclocross tires, we gave them to a number of cyclocross and gravel racers. Two of them have reported back in detail, and we are happy that they like the new tires even more than we do. Matt Surch (above) is one of the fastest gravel racers in Ontario. Wade Schultz (below) is a Category 2 ‘cross racer from Seattle.


Both liked the performance on damp surfaces and mud – Matt commented: “The grip is fantastic, allowing extreme lean angles” – but that was to be expected on a tire with big, widely spaced knobs. What surprised them both was the excellent performance on pavement.


Wade: I expected these tires to be appropriately slow on smooth pavement, but was frankly surprised by how well they did. Their rolling resistance is lower than other pure mud CX tires (tight center knob spacing helps). I love the excellent transition from center to side-knobs. I did not experience any on/off traction vagary on corner lean initiation.

Matt: My Woven rims have a very good tubeless bead shelf and inner ridge that holds the bead in place. They mounted easily, and I went out for a cx rip. Wow! Seriously, I didn’t expect this tread to roll so well. Yes, it’s pretty close to linked in the centre, but with so much open space, I thought they’d feel slow on pavement. Nope. Instead, they just feel like they roll sort of crazy fast, like faster than they should.

This isn’t a complete surprise – much thought and development went into the spacing of the knobs. We didn’t want to space them so close that they’d clog up and no longer grip on mud, but we alternated them in a way that keeps the tire supported, rather than have it bump up and down as the knobs pass underneath.


The other question is what tire pressure is ideal for these tires? Matt tested the absolute minimum he could run:

Matt: I took pressure down to 27, which was low enough to fold the rear on off cambers and fold the front on some soft to hard transitions. This is the same sort of folding I’d expect from my tubulars, and I figure if I can get a tubeless tire to fold but not burp, I’m good. I lost no pressure at all after 40 minutes of trying to get them to burp. And this is minutes after mounting.

A minor note of caution: Running your tires at pressures this low gives you the ultimate in traction for cyclocross racing, but it can reduce the life expectancy of the tires, as the casings are under a lot of stress when they fold over.


Matt raced the tires in the first races of the season. He reported after the first one:

Matt: My experience through the 60 minutes of racing was overwhelmingly positive. I didn’t feel at 100% physically at the start, yet I had my best cx race I can remember, finishing closer to a few adversaries than ever before, for 4th overall in the Senior / Master 1 race.


It’s exciting that the tires work as well as we had hoped. A lot of thought went into that tread design – it’s much more than just a few widely spaced knobs – and we are glad that the tires offer the on-pavement speed and smooth cornering that we wanted to achieve. Here are the final words from these two experienced racers:

Wade: Is my satisfaction with this tire linked more directly to the casing volume (vs traditional cx tubulars) or the tread design? [I suspect the answer is: Both.]

Matt: I am extremely happy with them. Congrats on making an awesome tire.

Further info:

Photo credits: Andrea Emery (Photos 1, 4, 5); Heidi Franz (Photos 2, 6) Alain Villeneuve (Photo 3).

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 10 Comments

Hirose Mini-Velo


The Autumn 2016 Bicycle Quarterly includes a photo feature about riding in the Hirose Owners’ Meeting. I really enjoy these events, because they combine amazing bikes with wonderful rides. Many Japanese custom bikes are incredibly elaborate and beautifully crafted, yet they are intended to be ridden.

What makes “Hirose watching” so much fun is that each bike is completely different. Some have Hirose’s custom rear derailleurs, which are based on the classic Cyclo “pizza cutter” derailleur – except they are 10-speed compatible. I have seen at least four completely different front derailleurs Hirose has made. One bike shown in the BQ article has Mafac cantilevers, with an extra pulley to double the mechanical advantage of each brake.

Whereas most builders will turn you away if your ideas are too crazy, Hirose-san will look at you for a while and say: “That is an interesting question. Let me see how I can solve it.” The amazing thing is that he really does solve it: All his bikes work great. They have nothing of the “not-quite-there prototype” quality that you often get with one-offs.


At the last Owners’ Meeting, I was especially fascinated by this Mini-Velo. Mini-Velos use smaller wheels to make them easier to portage on narrow mountain trails. They also are popular for city riding because they are especially nimble. This one looked simple at first, but a closer look showed that it was anything but. Click on the images for higher resolution.


On this Mini-Velo, all cables run inside the frame tubes (except the front brake, which would require a cable run too convoluted to work well).


In the photo above, you can see the cables for front and rear derailleur, as well as the rear brake, enter the frame.


Here you see the crossed-over seatstays, and the exit for the brake cable, which then runs through the seat tube to the rear brake. Clever – but there is another reason why Hirose used the crossed-over seatstays.

The rear derailleur cable also runs through the top tube. This avoids having to route it around the bottom bracket – the straighter cable run makes for better shifting. The crossed-over seatstays allow the cable to enter the stay without having to get around the seatpost. If you didn’t know the cable was in there, you would never guess. All cables run inside small tubes that connect entry and exit points, so replacing a cable is easy. But just imagine assembling it all as you braze the frame!


The shifter cable exits the seatstay – also with a straighter cable run than if it used the usual path along the chainstay. The shifting is superb, which isn’t always the case with internally routed cables.


With the crossed-over seatstays and the elegant brake cable routing through the seat tube, the rear brake must be on the front of the seatstays. Hirose-san prefers centerpull brakes, and for this bike with narrow tires, he used an old set of Mafac Competitions. But with the small wheels, the brake sits much lower than usual, and the angled stays are too far apart for the brake bosses.

The solution? A curved bridge that provides the mounting points for the brake pivots with the right spacing. The brake pad holders are custom-made, too – Hirose-san does not like the riveted Mafac originals (which can loosen – this is not a problem with the one-piece Compass brake shoe holders). So he machines his own posts that screw onto modern pad holders, so he can use them with classic centerpull and cantilever brakes.


The decaleur also is a fabrication tour de force. It attaches both to the front and the rear of the (custom-made) stem! This is necessary to make it stronger and more stable, since there is no rack to support the bag. There top part of the part that attaches to the bag doubles as a handle.


The elegant bag support doesn’t need triangulation, since the weight of the bag is suspended from the saddle.


Chrome-plated lugs and fork crown add beauty, but the bike doesn’t take itself too serious – how about the custom-made holder for a whimsical front light?


The reflector attaches to the pump, making it easy to remove if you don’t think you’ll need it.


A custom bottle cage…


… and a beautiful taillight provide the finishing touches to this amazing machine. And having seen it on the road, it appears that it rides as well as it looks. It’s truly a show-case of Hirose’s genius.

Further reading:

Posted in Rides | 28 Comments

A Different Kind of Company


A few months ago, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) ran a feature on Compass Bicycles. It drove home a point that I hadn’t really thought much about: Compass is a different kind of bike company.

BRAIN quoted Elton-Pope Lance about Harris Cyclery’s experience: “The shop doesn’t introduce customers to the brand; they come in asking for Compass tires or parts.”


This bottom-up approach is the opposite of the industry norm. Usually, a company launches a product. The company introduces the product to dealers at the big trade shows. The dealers then order it and present it to their customers, the cyclists. The cyclists usually are the last to find out that a new product exists.

With Compass, it’s the other way around: Riders go to their shops and ask for our products. Shops then contact us to set up a wholesale account. (It’s easy, because we aren’t a big company that makes shops jump through hoops.) Thanks to our customers, we now have more than 450 bike shops all over the world who carry Compass components.


The difference goes deeper than just how our products are introduced – it’s also how we develop them. Compass didn’t start with a market analysis. Compass didn’t really have a business plan, either. Compass started with a bunch of us riding our bikes.

For the long and adventurous rides we liked to do, we needed tires and components that weren’t available. So we developed them ourselves. We made prototypes and then put them into production by working with the best suppliers in the industry. That is how Compass started, and that is how we operate today.


We were surprised by the positive response to our products. We weren’t the only ones interested in tires for spirited rides that combined paved and gravel roads. Many riders also needed handlebars that were comfortable during all-day rides and beyond. They wanted cranks with chainrings that suited their gearing needs, rather than those of racers. And so on…

The BRAIN article quotes Kathleen Emry of Free Range Cycles: “Compass tires are much wider than even commuters are used to, yet almost everyone comments on how supple they are and how much faster they feel.” We are excited that customers enjoy our products as much as we do.

Thanks to customers like you, who spread the word about our products, we don’t have to go to trade shows or create marketing campaigns. Instead, we can focus all our resources on making better products.


We develop every product to meet our own exacting standards. When we ride far beyond the horizon, when we crest mountain passes at night, when we take our bikes to the limit on hairpin after hairpin during twisty mountain descents, we must have complete confidence in our bikes. That is the standard we apply to everything we make.

And we realize that without our customers, these products wouldn’t exist. And we wouldn’t be out there riding and developing new products, because we’d have to market our existing program. Without you, Compass wouldn’t be possible! Thank you!

Posted in Components | 32 Comments