BQ Skills: Ghost Riding

Most of us remember when we learned to ride a bike. The incredible feel of balancing on two wheels – it felt like flying. Over the following days, months and years, our skills improved. First we learned to ride without wobbling. Then – in my case – to start without anybody holding onto my saddle…

And yet there is always more to learn. Some skills are useful, like being able to stop without putting a foot down, others merely amusing, like being able to do a cyclocross mount. They all make you a better cyclist, as you control your bike more fully.

We learn new skills through visualization and practice. To help with the former, every Bicycle Quarterly includes the ‘Skill’ column, which describes an everyday skill and how it works. In the current edition: ‘Ghost Riding’ – riding with two bicycles at once. It’s useful when you need to transfer a bike over a short distance, for example, to drop it off at a bike shop. The video above shows it in action.

Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly to read how ‘Ghost Riding’ works, how to learn it and how to do it safely. Interested in the other ‘Skill’ articles? Check out our back issues!

Warning! Use appropriate caution when attempting new skills, including Ghost Riding.

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Myth 15: Marginal Gains

‘Marginal gains’ are the latest buzzword in cycling. The idea is that many tiny improvements can add up to make a meaningful difference. Make 10 changes that each save 3 Watts, and you’ll have gained 30 Watts…

Think of Greg LeMond winning the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds… If the second-placed rider, Laurent Fignon, had used ceramic bearings, he might have won that year.

Chasing these marginal gains, cyclists put bigger pulleys into their derailleurs to reduce the bending of the chain and make other tiny improvements.

Marginal gains may be appealing when you feel that they are all that is left, after you’ve optimized everything else on the bike. And yet most riders still can make major improvements that will outweigh the sum of all the marginal gains. Here are two examples:

  • Switching to truly fast tires gives you the biggest edge. We are talking 5% in speed gain when compared to most racing tires – more if you currently ride stiffer gravel or touring tires.
  • Getting a frame that ‘planes’ and gets in tune with your pedal stroke can increase your power output by 5% or more.

Even Greg LeMond won the ’89 Tour not because of marginal gains, but because his aerobars reduced his wind resistance by at least 10% compared to Fignon’s traditional bike.

Aerodynamics enable you to go faster without spending any money: Get into the aero tuck on downhills, and you’ll reduce your air resistance by about 30%. Not only will you go faster on the downhill, but you’ll coast further on the flat (or up the next hill), before your speed drops back to where pedaling is faster than coasting. Coasting more allows you to pedal harder the rest of the time. This is one of the secrets behind riding fast across rolling terrain.

There are other gains that we may consider marginal, but each will make a bigger difference than just a few Watts:

  • A fork that absorbs ‘road buzz’ can save 20-30 Watts on smooth roads by reducing the suspension losses, yet most modern forks are stiff and absorb little shock (above).
  • Wide handlebars increase our air resistance. Some pros use ultra-narrow bars, but even going from 44 to 42 cm bars will make a difference.
  • When we optimize the aero tuck, our knees touch the top tube. Modern frames have wide top tubes, which means that our knees can’t get as close together. Modern cranks put our feet further outward. Both increase our frontal area. It’s probably the reason why BQ’s carbon test bikes descend slower in the aero tuck than our randonneur bikes.
  • Cogs smaller than 14 teeth significantly increase a drivetrain’s resistance, because the upper chain run is under load. By comparison, there is almost no load on the lower chain run, so the savings from extra-large derailleur pulleys are much smaller.

Combining all these small, but significant, gains does make a difference. They are the reason why our fully equipped randonneur bikes are as fast (or faster) than modern carbon bikes on real roads, even though the carbon bikes are a bit lighter.

There is one place where very small gains matter: the weight of the bike. Because a bike consists of so many parts, the way to make a lightweight bike is to reduce the weight of every part as much as possible. The remarkably light weight of the J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines (above) – 20.00 lb (9.07 kg) fully equipped – did not come from a few superlight parts, but from every part being as light as possible without giving up strength. Does it matter? Well, every bit counts!

Further reading:

Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 6).

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Autumn 2018 Bicycle Quarterly

The Autumn 2018 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed soon. It’s another action-packed edition that will bring many hours of reading enjoyment.

What better way to test the Masi Speciale Randonneur and the Frances Farfarer trailer than to take them on a real adventure? For our third attempt to cross the Sawtooth Range, will a new route bring success? Is the affordable Masi bike enough for such epic ride? And how does the trailer carry its load? You’ve probably seen our movie about this adventure – read the full story in the magazine.

We’ve tested many great bikes, but their performance often carries a price tag to match. Can the joy of pedaling a responsive frame be translated to an affordable price point? That is the promise of the Alter Bikes Reflex 300. It costs just $ 998, yet its frame is engineered to flex with the rider’s pedal strokes. Does it deliver?

Fun on a bike doesn’t get much better than a solstice gravel ride skirting the flanks of Mount Hood, one of the volcanos of the Cascade Range. Join a group of friends as they explore some of the most amazing and challenging roads of the Pacific Northwest.

We take you on a tandem tour along a forgotten part of the Mediterranean Coast. Join us as we explore quaint fishing villages connected by miniature mountain passes.

Raymond Henry has been riding bikes for 60 years, and he’s researched the history of cyclotouring for almost as long. He takes us on a fascinating tour of his incredible collection of documents and historic bikes, and he tells us of the incredible rides he’s done. His most ambitious project took 20 years and 27,000 km to complete!

The early 1980s saw the pinnacle of the classic racing bike. We feature a René Herse with a frame made from Reynolds’ mythical 753 tubeset. Campagnolo Super Record components with plenty of titanium bits complement the beautifully crafted frame. Classic racing bikes don’t get much better than this!

Of course, there is much more to this exciting edition: Join more than 60 cyclists for a weekend of fun in a forgotten corner of the Puget Sound during the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. Visit Ostrich, the Japanese maker of cycling bags. Learn how to ride with two bikes at once. Find out why the features of modern carbon bikes don’t always translate well to steel bikes. And much, much more…

Subscribe today to get your copy without delay!

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Why We Like Custom Gearing

Our Rene Herse cranks are available with chainrings from 24 to 52 teeth, in single, double and triple configurations, including 11-speed compatible versions. We even offer tandem cranks. That way, riders can benefit from customized gearing, but it also means that we stock a lot of chainrings. We try to keep all ring sizes in stock, but sometimes, demand outpaces supply. We’ve just received a new shipment, and all chainrings are back in stock.

It’s easy to see why the big makers limit their chainrings to a few combinations, but the downside is that most riders find themselves with gearing that doesn’t work well for their riding styles. It’s not just that the gears are usually to large, but also that you need to make far too many front shifts.

Why are front shifts so disruptive? With a 50 x 34, the small ring is 32% smaller than the big one. That is a huge step. You probably need a gear that is 5-10% smaller, not 32%, so you shift 3-4 cogs on the rear to compensate until you finally arrive in the gear you need. Multiple shifts take time: Your speed drops, and your rhythm is gone.

To solve this problem, you could make the step between the chainrings smaller, like the 46 x 36 found on some cyclocross cranks in the past. Front shifts now are 22%, and you only need a single shift on the rear to get back to your optimum cadence. The drawback is the limited gear range: A 36-tooth small ring is fine for ‘cross, but most riders need smaller gears when climbing mountain passes.

However, the smaller ‘big’ ring of the cyclocross setup provides the answer to the original problem. If we select our big chainring so that we ride in the middle of the rear cassette during normal riding, we can respond to small changes with just a few shifts on the rear. Pick up a tailwind? Click and we have a bigger gear. A small rise in the road? Click-click-click – a few seamless downshifts as our speed drops, and we are over the crest. No front shift required!

With a 46-tooth big ring, I can surge across gentle hills with just a few shifts on the rear. That means I can select my ‘small’ ring so that I can climb even the steepest mountain passes. For me, that is a 30-tooth. Now the large step between chainrings is OK, because I don’t shift on the front unless I get to a really steep hill. A hill that steep breaks my rhythm no matter what.

Your ideal gearing depends on a number of factors: your cadence, your strength and speed, and the terrain where you ride. From your current setup, you know which gears you use when riding on flat roads. Select your big chainring so that these gears are in the middle of the cassette, and your riding will be much smoother. That is the secret behind custom gearing. The small chainring can be up to 16 teeth smaller, because that is the maximum that modern derailleurs can handle reliably.

We offer our Rene Herse cranks with so many chainrings because we recognize the need for custom gearing. Click here for more information about Rene Herse cranks.

Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 4).

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Why We Don’t Do OEM

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could buy a complete bike that is already equipped with Compass tires? Take a bike like the Masi Speciale Randonneur (above), roll out of the bike shop and into the hills, your tires gently humming as they roll over the rough pavement. When the road turns to gravel, the feel of the bike changes on the loose surface, but its speed and comfort remain the same.

We get a fair number of requests from bike manufacturers who want to install Compass tires as OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts. It seems like an opportunity for Compass: Once riders have experienced the joys of riding on supple tires, they won’t return to stiffer, harsher, slower tires. So why don’t we do OEM sales?

The answer is simple: Cost. Compass tires use the highest-grade materials, from the fabric for the casing to the rubber for the tread. They are made by hand, which requires skilled, experienced labor. Compass tires are made in Japan, a country with high wages. All these factors increase our production costs.

At the consumer level, we (and other small makers of bicycle components) can compensate for the high cost with our low overhead. Big companies need a lot of money for administration, marketing, shareholder profits, etc. We eliminate most of those, and the final consumer price of a Compass tire isn’t much higher than that of a mass-produced tire.

OEM prices are low because the orders are large, and even big companies can significantly reduce their overhead. For small companies like Compass, there isn’t much overhead, and to compete at the OEM level, we’d have to reduce our production costs. We’d have to downgrade our specifications and move production to a low-wage country. That direction isn’t really where we want to take Compass Cycles.

Others have taken our ideas and made them ‘OEM-comptabile.’ At Compass Cycles, we welcome that bike makers now can spec affordable bikes with wide allroad tires. Bikes like the Surly Midnight Special (above) simply wouldn’t exist if there were no affordable OEM tires to ship them with from the factory. Similarly, Masi’s Kellen LeBlanc explained that their Speciale Randonneur was delayed for years until a lower-priced, wide 650B tire became available.

Now more and more cyclists experience the joys of all-road riding on wide rubber. In the past, we never saw another bike on our favorite routes in the Cascade foothills. Now we meet cyclists on almost every ride. Their smiles tell it all.

And in the future, our Compass tires (and other components) provide great upgrades that will make them fall in love with their bikes all over again.

More information:

Posted in Tires | 10 Comments

Myth 14: More Lumens Make a Better Light

As the days get shorter, many cyclists are thinking about lights. How do you measure the quality of a headlight? It’s tempting to look at how many lumens the light puts out. After all, brighter is better, isn’t it?

On the road, what matters is not lumens, but lux. What is the difference?

Lumens looks at the source: how much light does the headlight emit?
Lux looks at the result: how much light arrives on a given surface area of road.

In the image above, the circle on the left is the wall projection of the beam. Its brightness multiplied by its size give you an idea of how many lumens the light puts out. The side view shows where the light is going. The plan view illustrates how many lux arrive on different parts of the road surface.

Lumens can be expressed as a simple number, but lux depends on where you measure it. This makes lumens easy to measure, while lux are difficult to quantify.

The headlight shown above is a typical high-powered bicycle headlight. It’s got an impressive bright spot with a lot of lumens. But when you look at the road surface, you see that not much of that light arrives on the road. The symmetric beam shines almost half the light into the sky, and there isn’t enough left to illuminate the road. In addition, you are blinding oncoming traffic, which isn’t just a bother, but can be dangerous on narrow roads.

What if you orient the beam downward? Now you have a super-bright spot right in front of the bike. Why is that bad? It makes it difficult to see into the distance. Your eyes adjust to the bright illumination, and you can’t see the darker parts of your field of vision.

It’s like walking out of a brightly-lit room at night – you can’t see until your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. On the bike, the bright spot just ahead prevents your eyes from adjusting to the darkness. You feel like you’re peering through a layer of fog. It’s difficult to see the darker road surface in the distance.

This is especially tiring when descending mountain passes, where you need to see far ahead. In the city, you can’t see potholes, debris and other obstacles until the last moment.

If we make the beam square and even, it gets better, but we’ve fixed only part of the problem. The wall view looks great, but looking at the side view, you notice that the beam hits the ground at different angles: steeper near the bike, shallower further away.

The dashed lines split the beam into thirds. Notice how the lower third illuminates about 15% of the road surface, while the upper third spreads its light over a much greater area (~50%). With an even beam, the area in front of the bike is three times brighter than the distant road surface. You’re still peering through a fog of brightness.

The way to solve this is to use a layered beam – shown above is the SON Edelux II headlight. The wall projection (left) shows how the light intensity increases upward. This compensates for the different angles at which the beam hits the ground (side view): The lower portion of the beam is darker, because it illuminates less of the road surface. The upper portion of the beam is brighter, because it spreads its light over a greater surface area. This ensures an even illumination of the ground ahead of the bike (plan view).

At the top, the beam is cut off. This eliminates any wasted light and ensures that you aren’t blinding oncoming traffic.

With a light like this, all the light goes where you need it. None is wasted, and the ground is illuminated evenly, making it equally easy to see objects near and far. You aren’t peering through a bright ‘curtain of light,’ so your eyes adjust to the darkness. This in turn allows you to see outside your narrow beam, for example, when deer are about to cross the road.

There are very few headlights that use a layered beam. The two best known are the SON Edelux II (above) and the Busch & Müller headlights.

Layered beams are used by car headlights, so why don’t more bicycle headlights use them? The answer is cost: The complex reflector takes much R&D to develop – the cost is in the $100,000s –  and to work properly, the LED must be located with great precision. If you ride at night, you’ll gladly pay a bit more to get a light that illuminates the road evenly.

So what matters isn’t how many lumens your light puts out, but how brightly and evenly it lights up the road surface. When we descend gravel mountain passes in the middle of the night, we need lights that show what’s ahead without fatiguing our eyes. It’s fair to say that the SON Edelux headlights have revolutionized how we ride our bikes at night. That is why we sell them at Compass Cycles, and why we distribute them to bike shops, too.

More information:

  • Lights in the Compass program
  • Other posts in this series:
    Myth 1: Wider tires are slower
    Myth 2: Titanium is lighter than steel
    Myth 3: Fenders slow you down
    Myth 4: Stiffer frames are faster
    Myth 5: An upright position is always more comfortable
    Myth 6: Tread patterns don’t matter on the road
    – Myth 7: Tubeless tires roll faster
    – Myth 8: Modern components are lighter
    – Myth 9: Fork blades don’t flex
    Myth 10: Stiffer forks steer better
    Myth 11: Rear tires should run at (significantly) higher pressures
    Myth 12: Disc brakes work better than rim brakes
    Myth 13: Leaning without Countersteering

Illustrations of beam patterns courtesy of Schmidt Maschinenbau.

Posted in Lighting | 47 Comments

BQ 65 Preview: Traversing the Sawtooth Range

The Autumn Bicycle Quarterly take you on a trip across the Sawtooth Range. Long-term BQ readers know that it’s been a bit of a holy grail for us to find a passage across this mountain range, with our first attempts ending in washouts and snow. This time we take the affordable Masi Speciale Randonneur and the Frances Farfarer trailer on the search for a route that crosses these beautiful mountains. Will we make it this time?

The full story (and tests of bike and trailer) are in the Bicycle Quarterly 65. We are finalizing the mailing lists tomorrow, so subscribe today to be among the first to get this exciting edition! Click here to sign up online – it’s easy and takes just a minute or two.

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