Better Headset Spacers

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Spacers with a flat surface on the inner diameter can help prevent your headset from loosening. Just to clarify: If your headset stays put as it is, then don’t change it! It’s just that my headsets kept loosening on two different bikes, and so I was looking for a solution.

Classic headsets use a locknut at the top to maintain the headset’s adjustment. It’s essential to prevent the upper headset cup and locknut from turning together, as this would loosen the headset. A keyed washer between the top cup and nut stops that rotation – in theory. In practice, this system does not always work: The keyed washer tends to turn anyhow, because the key is too small. And you cannot make it bigger without weakening the steerer tube.

When the washer is made from steel, it can mess up your steerer tube’s threads if it turns (very bad). With an aluminum washer, the steerer tube simply cuts new threads as the washer turns (not good). In both cases, the key is not sufficient to stop the washer from rotating.

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The solution is simple: Use a flat surface on the steerer tube, and a matching flat surface on the spacer, to provide more material area than a narrow key. French bikes used that system, and it worked better. The headset cup doesn’t turn with enough force to cut threads into all that aluminum.

Compass made the spacer taller than a simple washer, which provides even more material to resist the turning torque. And since the spacer is so effective in preventing the system from rotating, it’s not necessary to tighten the headset locknut with force. A little more than finger-tight is sufficient to keep it from loosening. You can use a single headset wrench: Tighten the top headset cup first, insert the spacer, then (lightly) tighten the locknut. Don’t overtighten the locknut, otherwise, the spacer can jam.

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It’s easy to retrofit your bike with this system: Machine or file a flat on the back of the steerer tube that matches the inside of the spacer. This doesn’t weaken the fork: You only remove the raised portion of the thread, which didn’t add any strength to the steerer anyhow.

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I’ve used prototypes of these spacers on my Mule for thousands of miles and dozens of Rinko disassemblies. They have performed great, and they’ve solved the loosening of the headset on this bike.

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We now offer the spacers in 5 mm and 10 mm thickness. If you need an in-between thickness, just add standard headset washers (without tabs) to make up the difference. Or cut a few millimeters off your steerer tube to match the spacer, as I did on my Mule.

Click here for more information or to order these spacers. As I said before, if your headset works fine, don’t change it. But if it keeps coming loose, this may be the solution.

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Using Handlebar Bags on Modern Bikepacking Bikes

Bikepacking is popular because it allows you to go places where bikes with panniers face difficulties. Bikepacking bags are inside the outline of the bike, so you can go anywhere an “empty” bike can go. Pushing the bike is easier, too, when there are no bags hanging off the sides.

The only problem with bikepacking bags is that their carrying capacity is limited. Frame bags must fit between your legs, making them very narrow. Top tube bags are even smaller, plus they can get in the way of your knees when you rock the bike while riding out of the saddle. Large saddlebags hold a bit more, but they can give the bike that dreaded “tail wagging the dog” feel.

That is why more and more riders adopt handlebar bags as part of their bikepacking luggage. Handlebar bags fit inside the handlebars, so they don’t encumber the bike in rough terrain. Shaped like a cube, they offer an excellent volume-to-weight ratio. Putting the load on the front helps keep the front wheel on the ground during steep climbs, yet the wheels are easy to lift across logs and other obstacles on the trail.

Handlebar bags have one drawback: They work best when supported by a small front rack. How do you fit a rack on a modern bike?

The Compass UD-1 rack was specifically designed for this purpose. (UD stands for “Universal/Disc”.) The rack is adjustable to make it compatible with many bikes. It is available with two lengths of struts, depending on where the braze-ons are located on your fork. The extra-long struts work even with eyelets on the front dropouts. The rack is lightweight, yet strong enough to support a large handlebar bag.

I recently mounted a UD-1 rack on Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Sequoia test bike. Installation was easy: I used the standard-length struts. After mounting the rack, I marked where the struts extended above the rack platform, then removed the struts to cut them to length. With a file, I rounded the ends of the struts. After mounting the struts again, the bike was ready to roll.

The UD-1 rack’s simplicity is key to its strength and light weight. The platform is made from ultra-strong and lightweight CrMo, while the aluminum struts are easy to shorten to the required length. The rack platform sits level above the front wheel, and it incorporates a mounting point for a front fender.

Key to the rack’s elegance is the strut attachment on the inside of the platform, rather than on the outside as on many other racks. Compared to the other Compass racks, we widened the platform to make it all come together functionally and aesthetically.

The crown of the Sequoia’s carbon fork has a countersunk hole, so I used a brake nut (above) to attach the rack. That provides a very clean look, as the nut is recessed into the fork. For the Sequoia’s large fork crown, I used an extra-long nut (not shown).

With the rack installed, the Sequoia became much more versatile. With a handlebar bag, I finally could carry the gear I needed for my rides with ease. And I found that the Sequoia’s high-trail geometry tolerates a front load well.

The next step to make the bike even more enjoyable would be installing the Compass light mount, a headlight and a generator hub. Then I could enjoy the bike even after the sun goes down.

The UD-1 rack is a great solution for bikes with disc or cantilever brakes that aren’t specifically designed for rack mounting. As long as you have eyelets on the fork blades or on the dropouts, and a hole in the fork crown, you should be able to mount this rack. And yet it’s not a compromise solution: It offers performance, durability and beauty similar to other Compass racks.

Click here for more information about Compass racks.

Posted in Racks/Bags | 41 Comments

Ride to the Tulips

Guest post by Natsuko Hirose, Bicycle Quarterly.

On a rainy Sunday, I visited a farmers’ market in Seattle, instead of going cyclotouring. I saw many tulips for sale. Often, I forget about the seasons, because I am so busy. I wondered why there were so many tulips. Jan explained: “It’s the season of tulips.”

Later that day, I researched places to go cyclotouring near Seattle. I asked Jan: “Where is the Skagit Valley?” – “Not too far from here.” Jan explained that it was a popular tourist attraction, so he had never seen the tulips, because cyclotourists often try to avoid the crowds. But I am a tourist, so I wanted to visit!

The next Sunday, we were greeted by sunny weather as we started our ride in Mount Vernon. I was surprised how much traffic there was, and tulip symbols were everywhere. I was excited – it was a clear sign that there would be many tulips to see. And we hoped to avoid the traffic by staying off the main highways.

We rode on back roads and even atop a levee, and we had the roads to ourselves. Cycling here was fun. And it was sunny! Finally, after all the rain in Seattle, it felt like spring had arrived.

We passed Jackpot Lane, and saw a classic car for sale. “Comes with spare engine” said the sign on the windshield. In Japan, cars usually are sold at dealers, so this was an interesting discovery.

The fields were colorful with yellow flowers: dandelions. Spring really had come. But where were the tulips?

We joined a road that was marked as part of the Tulip Route. But still no tulips!

Our hearts beat faster when we saw yellow blossoms in the distance, but they turned out to be daffodils. Beautiful, but no tulips!

Finally we saw a long line of parked cars in the distance. And to the side were colorful fields. We had found the tulips!

For me, it was an amazing sight. After the gray winter in Seattle, seeing so many vivid blossoms reminded me that life can be full of color and joy!

The tourists all gathered in one place where the tulips were in full bloom. We explored dirt paths and found the fields where workers were picking the tulips that we had seen at the farmers’ market. The blossoms had not yet opened. They looked so fresh and crisp. We realized that the other tulips were planted for the tourists, to show how beautiful tulips can be. These ones were going to bring joy to people’s lives all over.

We left the tulip fields behind and continued to the fishing town of La Conner, where we ate lunch on the bank of the Swinomish Channel.

The Skagit Flats are really flat and criss-crossed by the many arms of the Skagit River. Around Tokyo, the flat areas are densely populated and not so good for cycling. But here, we could find small roads that had no traffic. It reminded me of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. It was very romantic.

The sun was almost setting when we returned to Mount Vernon. It had been fun to meander through the fields, cross the rivers and channels on high bridges, and cycle on quiet backroads.

We had bought postcards from a local artist at a small store in the countryside, so the tulips continued to ride with us.

Now I remember the tulips we bought on that rainy Sunday, which led us to explore the Skagit Valley. It was a fun ride, and of course, we bought more tulips. They continue to brighten our dining room. Tulip season continues. Enjoy the spring!

Posted in Rides | 8 Comments

“I’m practically living in them” – Compass Knickers Review

I really like our cyclotouring knickers. They are based on a design I discovered in Japan. The ones we offer are a development from that, a little lighter and even better for spirited riding. I’ve been wearing mine on almost every ride since we introduced them. So it’s no surprise that I like them – I developed them!

That is why it’s important to get independent feedback. The ideal reviewer would be somebody who isn’t interested in Allroad cycling or cyclotouring. How about a mountain biker who is into 29ers (not 650B mountain bikes!)? Enter the blogger “Grannygear” at TwentyNineInches.com.

Not only did he review the knickers, he even bought them with his own money. The first we found out about the review was when it was published. (I got permission to quote him, but the photos are our own due to copyright restrictions.) Here is what TwentyNineInches.com had to say about the Compass knickers:

“I not only wore them for an 8-hour road trip, I practically lived in them. […] I really, really like them. On the bike, they never bind or pinch or ride up or ride down. Pedaling is easy. […] They breathe well in hot temps and dry fast.

“They are cut slightly higher in the back at the waist, so they do not ride down at all. They do pack up very small, and I can’t get them to wrinkle no matter how much I stuff them when stored.”

Dislikes? The small openings of the pockets. We agree, by the way, which is we’ve already enlarged the pocket openings since his knickers were made.

He wrote: “Other than the pocket openings, I can’t think of anything I do not like about them, and they are made right here is the U S of A.”

Thank you, Grannygear!

You can read the full review here, and you can order your own Compass knickers here.

Posted in Clothing | 37 Comments

Insights of a Gravel Racer

Drew Wilson won the Ragnarok 105-mile gravel race on Compass tires recently, so we used the opportunity to ask him about his race and gravel riding in general.

JH: Congratulations on your win at the Ragnarok 105. Its a tough event – tell us a bit about it.

DW:  The Ragnarok is a traditional midwest gravel race, now in its tenth year. It is free with postcard entry and is self-supported. Many in the region consider it an essential part of spring. The course is 107 miles, with around 8000 feet of vertical ascent across 14 climbs. The road surface is roughly 85% gravel, 10% minimum maintenance ‘gravel’ and 5% paved. The largest climbs are back to back, at about mile 55. “Heath’s Hill” at mile 87 is an ATV/Snowmobile trail that takes about 9 minutes and often decides the outcome of the race. In some years, it has been completely covered in unrideable snow. It’s the hardest ~100 mile gravel race I’ve done, and it always feels like an accomplishment to finish.

JH: How did the race go for you this year?

DW:  My plan was just to stay upright and to react to the chaos during the first part of the race, until we got over the steepest of the hills, where I would be at a relative disadvantage. Then I’d look for a way to go solo. The finishing climb is steep and does not suit me well, so I hoped to find a way to get to it alone.

I was dropped at mile 15 by a huge group of riders, but caught back on 4 miles later by descending fast. Had to decide at mile 24 whether or not to go with a solo attack and again at mile 30 when another rider went to bridge up…  I decided ‘No’ on both. Got nervous about the gap they were creating at mile 45 or so and attacked, only to pull my foot out of my pedal and drop my chain, which forced me to tuck tail and regain the chase group. As expected, I was dropped from the chase group of eight riders on the large hills at mile 55, then overcooked a corner into a ditch while chasing on the descent. Caught back on when there was a bit of a lull.

Around mile 68-70, I tried to rally the group to go after the solo leader (one of the pair up front had flatted out) and found the group didn’t have much interest in chasing. So I snuck off the front and chased solo. I know now that we were 8 minutes behind, but we had no idea at the time. Caught the solo leader with 6 miles to go, went by and held a 2-minute gap to the line. Got to high-five my four-year-old daughter as she ran beside me on the final climb!

JH: That was a truly eventful race! How did you get into gravel racing?

DW: I decided in August of 2008 to get into bike racing, and I tried some mountain biking. The following spring, I saw an article in the local paper about the Almanzo 100 and an interview with founder Chris Skogen.  The race was only two weeks out at that point, and I had never ridden 100 miles. I sent Chris an email that basically said: ‘Hey, I think I can ride 100 miles. Can I get in?’  I rode the Almanzo that year in 8:04 hours on a 1996 Marin Pine Mountain I had equiped with drop bars and 26′ x 1.5′ slicks. The wind blew about 30 mph all day. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I was hooked!

JH: In your experience, how is racing on gravel different from road racing?

DW: Gravel races have time to breathe. Morality, friendship, betrayal and vengeance all have room to grow. Road races around here are not hard enough for that same development. You watch the pros in the classics and world championships, or a break-away near the end of a grand tour stage, when they race each other… that’s the dream. The opportunity to have those emotions in our racing. Individual riders pushed to the limit by each other and the course. Even when the larger road teams show up, by the end of 3 or 4 hours on gravel, they’ve lost control. On the road, there is much more control.

At the same time, gravel is about participation and camaraderie, too. No categories. Riders who wouldn’t be comfortable ever racing on the road are welcomed. Riders from different disciplines, walks of life, etc., ride together for hours. It’s very inclusive and approachable. The magic is that everyone can find something in it, regardless of where they come from, what they ride, or what their goals are.

JH: Any tips for riding on gravel?

DW: I live on a gravel road. Every ride I go on is a ‘gravel ride’. Don’t be afraid to ride any bike you own on gravel. Just go!

From a skills perspective? Stay loose, don’t try to force the bike. Always look for the best line. If you have to ride in the grass on the edge of the road, ride in the grass. If you have to cross the road to find firm ground, cross the road. Don’t get down about your average speed if you are used to riding on the road, just let it happen. Gravel will find you.

JH: There are many opinions on what makes a perfect gravel bike. Tell us about yours!

DW: This is my 5th season on the same bike with fairly minimal changes. I’ve ridden countless other gravel and cyclocross bikes over the years, but haven’t found anything I liked better for gravel racing. The frame is a 56cm 2010 Tommaso Diavolo. I purchased the frameset really cheaply with minor damage to the stays. Later, I broke it clean through the downtube at CX Nationals in Madison, and I repaired that. It has about 11 or 12000 miles on it now, after the repairs. I replaced the fork with a carbon Trek that is 5 mm longer than stock, but with the same offset. This was primarily because the stock fork was miserably flexy and likely dangerous. There is nothing particularly special or high-quality about the frame itself, it just happens to fit my needs. It is relatively light and has canti bosses, which also help to save weight. I run 10-speed Shimano Ultegra electronic, a Dura-Ace 7900 crankset with a powermeter, Paul cantis, Industry Nine I25 wheels and Compass tires. Everything is pretty standard, with an eye toward durability. The one notable deviation would be my custom aerobars, constructed from Bontrager XXX Lite aero extensions and XXX Lite 44cm traditional drop bars.

JH: There aren’t many gravel racers using aerobars…

DW: There are several advantages to aerobars. Mine are a little different from a traditional clip-on bar, though. My extensions actually go right through the main portion of the bars, and everything is integrated together for stiffness and fit. Having the extensions down as low as possible, and the pads sitting low on the tops of the bars allows me to have a very aero position when in the aerobars, but a comfortable all-day position on the hoods. I run a relatively deep drop road bar for much the same reason. Aerobars allow me to drastically change positions and recruit different muscles in pedaling. It’s amazing how much better it feels sometimes to drastically vary my position, and even my cadence. They also allow me to take weight off my hands on longer rides. Of course, they are also more aerodynamic.

JH: That must have helped when you were off the front! Which tires did you run?

DW: I was on Compass Bon Jon Pass 35s, set up tubeless with 1.5 oz of Orange Seal Endurance sealant, on Industry Nine I25 wheels.

JH: You wrote on Instagram that the second finisher also was on Compass tires?

DW: Yes, he was on the same tires. Over the last year or so, in our bigger gravel events (Ragnarok, Almanzo, Filthy 50 etc.), a large portion of the podiums have been on Compass tires. People who could ride other tires they can get at a team discount have been choosing instead to buy Compass tires.

JH: What do you like about Compass tires for gravel racing?

DW: Rolling resistance is the primary factor. Along with that they have amazing ride quality and traction. They are the lightest, fastest, most supple tires available in these wider sizes. Suppleness is really the key. A supple tire conforms to the road, which creates both traction and speed. At first, it was a little weird not having knobs. We’ve all been indoctrinated that knobs are needed for traction. Of course, that isn’t true.

I had previously been racing FMB tubulars on Dura-Ace carbon tubular wheels. Not only are the Compass tires significantly faster, there is zero drop off in handling and my I9 wheels/tubeless Bon Jon pass setup is nearly the same weight too. My front wheel/tire only weighs 1090 g as raced.

JH: You told me a neat story how you discovered Compass tires

DW: I had been racing on tubulars. For longer rides and touring, I had been using very heavy/slow ‘touring’ tires. I had a ride planned from Stewartville, MN to Copper Harbor, MI, which I wanted to do as rapidly as possible. There was a gap in my season, and I wanted to challenge myself with the pace/distance. I had been following along with Bicycle Quarterly a little and knew of the Compass tires. The Stampede Pass seemed like it might work for the mixed surface route, and I thought I’d be able to fit them on my 1990 Focus road bike, which I planned to ride. They did fit with a little modification to the rear brake. I had a great trip. Finished the 507 miles (810 km) in just under 50 hours including a good night of sleep at a hotel. I’ve been using Compass tires for a wide range of situations ever since.

On another trip, I was talked into riding the bike leg of a team triathlon (above). I only had my touring bike with the Stampede Pass tires on it. I shocked myself by averaging 25.1 mph (40.4 km/h), nearly as fast as I could ride a ‘proper’ TT bike.  

JH: Do you run the tires tubeless?

DW: Yes. I am currently. However, I’ve put about 5000 miles on the Barlow Pass and Stampede Pass tires over the last couple years with tubes. Tubeless is great. But I’ll take a great tire with a tube over a good tubeless tire any day. I generally run tubes when touring rather than racing.

JH: What is your experience with tubeless tires?

DW: Two weeks ago at Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville, I hit a pothole very hard early in the race. The pack was still over 100 riders large, and I had zero warning. I lost a bottle, and my saddle turned about 30 degrees to the side from the impact. I’m convinced I would have flatted, possibly double-flatted, with tubes. I was able to straighten my saddle and continue to finish second in the race. Tubeless saves a little weight, maybe a little rolling resistance, but, more importantly, it saves pinch flats.

JH: Tell us about your business! You repair carbon frames and paint bikes…

DW: I repair 3-8 frames a week and recently have been painting 2 or 3. I have a background in composite work from long before I started riding. When I broke my personal Look 585 in 2011, I decided to fix it myself. Roughly 700 frames later, I’ve been doing this full-time since quitting my day job early in 2015, and I couldn’t be happier.  The best way to follow along is via https://www.facebook.com/cyclocarbon

JH: I heard you are putting on a gravel race yourself. Tell us about it – I am sure some of our readers will want to ride it.

DW: The Dickie Scramble is coming up on the 22nd of this month in Elgin, MN. The Dickie is a challenging 84 mile route with roughly 75% gravel, 15% pavement and the remainder minimum maintenance road or ATV/Snowmobile trail. The route meanders through river valleys in the bluff country near Whitewater State Park and is punctuated by four very long climbs. We do a potluck style checkpoint, where riders can drop off food at the start and choose from a large spread as they roll through. Registration is open until the day of the event, and more information is available here.

I also organize a fall ride/race out of Lanesboro, MN called the Tour of Fillmore. I have not yet set a date for this year’s event. The Tour of Fillmore course is the hardest 77 miles you’ll find in Minnesota, but the views and descents are worth the effort. What really sets it apart is the high percentage of winding single-lane climbs and descents.

And anyone reading this from the midwest should also certainly make the trip to one of the Almanzo events in May.

JH: Thank you, Drew, and good luck with the upcoming races!

Posted in Rides | 3 Comments

Video: Testing the Open U.P.

Bicycle Quarterly took the Open U.P. to Odarumi, one of the highest passes in Japan. How does a carbon bike for wide tires handle the 2000 m (6600 ft) paved climb? And how does it do on the challenging gravel descent? We made a little video to take you right into the action. Join Bicycle Quarterly in this amazing adventure!

Click on the image above or watch at this link. Make sure you watch it full-screen!

Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly and receive the Spring issue (BQ 59) with the full story of this adventure!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Swift Campout 2017


Compass Cycles is proud to sponsor the Swift Campout for the second year. The Swift Campout is a global event, allowing riders to participate where and as they choose: On Saturday, June 24, cyclists will head out for camping trips to a destination they select, then return on Sunday. It’s fun to be part of this and knowing that, all over the world, riders are sharing similar experiences.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s also an opportunity to make use of the long days near the solstice to ride far out into the wild, camp at the end of the road, and return the following day.

In the twelve weeks leading up to the event, Swift Industries will offer information about bike camping on their website. They also encourage riders to register their rides, in an effort to create a community by sharing our destinations and adventures. They’ll raffle some prizes, too.

For me, the Campout is a neat opportunity to put a date on the calendar and think of a great route. Two years ago, Mark and I headed to the end of the road at Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier (top photo). Last year, the Campout coincided with the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, so I headed across the Cascades (above at Takhlakh Lake) to Carson for a weekend of fun.

Where will you head for this year’s Swift Campout?

Posted in Rides | 1 Comment