A Versatile Performance Bike

In last week’s post, I talked about the joys of riding a performance bike. In the mainstream, “performance” means a racing bike, despite the limitations that go along with narrow tires, lack of fenders, etc. Unfortunately, many of the “alternatives” don’t offer great performance. I know that if I had to choose a bike in a mainstream bike shop, I’d pick a racing bike over the touring and city bikes that are presented as alternatives.

In the comments of the last blog post, there was some discussion on whether certain bikes qualify as “versatile performance bikes” or not. Rather than discuss bikes that I have not ridden, I’d like to show a test bike from the Summer 2012 issue of Bicycle Quarterly, because it comes close to my ideal for a “versatile performance” bike.

Performance: Our research has shown that the frame determines the performance of a bike. The frame must work with the rider, allowing them to generate more power with less fatigue. Such a frame will encourage the rider to go faster and ride more.

It appears that the stiffness of the frame, and especially the balance of the frame tubes, is crucial for creating a frame that feels “lively” and eager to go. Based on the preferences of our testers, Jeff Lyon used thinwall tubes in standard diameters for our L’Avecaise test bike. The result one of the fastest bikes we have ridden.

Interestingly, the best carbon frames use a similar balance of the frame tubes – relatively flexible top tube, somewhat stiffer down tube, very stiff chainstays. On the other hand, even small deviations from this formula, for example, an oversize top tube on an otherwise standard-diameter frame, do not seem to work well for many riders. Thinwall oversize tubing can offer great performance, as long as all tubes are increased in diameter, and the balance of the frame is preserved.

Tires: Jeff Lyon designed the L’Avecaise for 42 mm-wide tires. The wide tires not only are more comfortable, they also provide much better traction. As a result, this bike easily outcorners any racing bike.

Judging by the many bikes with zip-tied fenders, clip-on fenders and other make-shift fender solutions, the one accessory that riders wish they had are fenders. Jeff Lyon built the L’Avecaise with proper clearances for fenders.

The word “proper” cannot be stressed enough. Fenders should be at least 8 mm from the tires. Otherwise, they will need frequent adjustment if the fender moves a bit when the bike is leaned against a wall. The extra space between tire and fender also greatly reduces the risk of debris getting jammed and collapsing the fender, causing the wheel to lock up.

Only at the chainstays, the fenders can get a little closer than 8 mm to the tires. The fender is held tightly by the stays and won’t get out of alignment there. Space is at a premium in this spot, where tires, fenders and stiff (round) chainstays must fit between cranks with narrow tread (Q factor).

Fenders: Adequate clearances for fenders are only part of the game when it comes to preparing a frame for fenders. Jeff Lyon also spaced all bridges equidistant from the wheel centers. The bridges also have threaded braze-ons, to which the fenders can be mounted directly. Of course, Jeff Lyon used dropouts with eyelets.

That means that fender mounting will be relatively easy, and the fenders will be quiet even when riding on rough roads. Sliding brackets, spacers and zip ties are OK for retrofitting older bikes that were not intended for fenders, but they have no place on a brand-new bike that claims to be “versatile.” (Would you buy a Lamborghini that had its fenders attached with zip ties?)

Luggage: Jeff Lyon designed the L’Avecaise so that a Grand Bois M-13 rack will bolt right on. The fork crown already is drilled for it, and the rack’s lower supports will fit onto the cantilever pivots. That provides a firm platform for a handlebar bag.

The bike’s geometry is optimized for unloaded riding, but it will handle fine with a front load. If you plan to use a rack all the time, you should ask for a fork with a little more rake.

Have it all!
A bike like this would make a lot of sense for many riders. As shown in the photos, it would outperform most racing bikes thanks to its superlight frame and wider tires. It’s also a bike that encourages riders to seek out backroads with little traffic and great scenery, without worrying about the bumpy pavement that you often encounter on the most scenic roads.

If the rider enjoys this bike in the summer, they may want to keep riding when the weather turns rainy. No problem: Aluminum fenders would be easy to install, and once installed, they would not draw attention by requiring frequent adjustments or by making noise on rough pavement.

As the rider enjoys the performance of the bike, they might go on longer rides and find they need to carry some spare clothes, more food, a camera… A front rack would be easy to install to provide a secure platform for a handlebar bag. All those parts would fit as if the bike had been built with them in the first place. Our second tester Mark called it a “gateway drug to a randonneur bike,” but the appeal of this bike is not about riding huge distances. It’s really just a bike that is able to keep up with a rider who wants to ride more often and further than they originally planned.

Or the rider might just continue to enjoy Jeff Lyon’s bike as a racing bike on sunny days. It would be excellent for that as well. Having all these options makes for a truly versatile bike.

About Jan Heine

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Rene Herse Cycles, that turns our research into the high-performance components we need for our adventures.
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82 Responses to A Versatile Performance Bike

  1. Erik says:

    This bike certainly seems like a great bike, but as far as I can see some choices have been made for style rather then performance. The downtube shifters certainly offer great reliability but in city traffic STI-shifters (retroshift-shifters) offer faster shifting especially while braking or maneuvering.
    The mafac-style brakes certainly look great, but they are pure misery when it comes to fine tuning, whereas the not so smart looking v-brakes are easy as hell and offer great stopping power for the same weight. So while looking great, I think a daily-allround bike should be more about functionality then about style.

    • To appeal to a modern mass-market audience, you probably would make the frame from carbon or aluminum, install brake-shift levers, and remove a few spokes from the wheels. Those are details, I am more concerned about the concept of the bike and its performance.

      As far as functionality goes, I found that the downtube shift levers worked great even in city traffic – on a performance bike, you don’t need to shift all that much – but the brakes lacked mechanical advantage. I’d very much prefer the long-arm Mafac Tandems or one of the modern copies.

      By the way, are there STI drop-bar levers that work with V brakes? You can use Mini V-brakes with standard drop bar levers, but the horizontal brake cable won’t clear the fenders and especially the rack on the front, so you’d lose the versatility of the bike. For the same reason, I suggest using brake-shift levers without exposed shifter cables, which get in the way of the handlebar bag.

      • Andy says:

        I haven’t yet found a downside to STI brifters. I’ve used bar end and downtube shifters, and just found that I prefer to keep my hands in the same spot. Even if shifting is infrequent, I don’t find any benefit to reaching elsewhere to shift, especially when descending or stopping where I might be both shifting and braking at the same time.

        I don’t know about all the varieties, but my new Ultegra brifters have all the cables within the shifter. That makes bags on the front no longer an issue with figuring out where to route the cable.

      • bc says:

        For using integrated levers with V-brakes, there is the Travel Agent, and Paul’s new MiniMoto brakes supposedly clear a fender (never tested it myself). Not sure about interference with a front rack, either.

        As for integrated levers with external cables, at this point, no top end shifter has external cables. Shimano was the last one, and they moved internal about five years ago. Only their OEM level parts (Tiagra, Sora) come with the external cables.

    • Conrad says:

      One more opinion, for what it is worth- I prefer down tube shifters in most situations for their light weight, low cost, simplicity, and that in forcing you to move your hands around they improve comfort on long rides. I still do road races and crits on a bike with down tube shifters and I really don’t feel like they slow me down. I think I am the last person using them in races though. You do have to anticipate your shifts more than with brifters but it becomes a reflex after a while. The only place where I prefer brifters is in cyclocross racing, where there is so much uneven terrain and abrupt changes in direction and speed that it really is nice to be able to shift without taking your hands off the bars. Its too bad though because its not nice to pack 400 dollar brifters with mud and have them stop working… for that reason I have gone to bar end shifters for cyclocross and I think its a good compromise.

      • Andy says:

        Sounds like you might be interested in RetroShift – http://retroshift.com/.

        I have no connection or experience with them, but it sounds like a neat concept to keep shifters cheap and serviceable. I’m lazy and just prefer brifters.

      • bc says:

        Integrated shift levers generally cost much less than $400. Brand new Ultegra shifters can be had for $300 online, and perfectly functional new and used integrated shift levers from Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo can be had for considerably less than that.

        With all that said, I’ve raced a lot of CX in a lot of terrible conditions, and I’ve yet to see a shifter (that wasn’t crashed) packed with mud.

      • I don’t think I’d buy a set set of Ultegra brake/shift levers. My tandem stoker (PBP 2003) had hers wear out in just two years. When she complained to the pro shop where she bought them, they simply said: “You ride too much.” Still, 10,000 miles is a pretty short life expectancy for a $ 300 part.

      • Andy says:

        Jan, are you saying that from one person’s experience with a brifter “wearing out” that you’ve discounted using anything similar? That’s a bit surprising since BQ seems to be all about putting things to the proper test to make informed decisions rather than going by a few anecdotes.

      • Her experience appears to be pretty typical. However, I am not discounting brake/shift levers at all. However, they are not an inexpensive option compared to downtube shift levers that last (almost) forever. We have tested many bikes with integrated shifters, and I have liked them.

      • bc says:

        No, her experience is not a-typical for an extremely high-mileage rider, but 10,000 miles a year isn’t exactly typical either. I wasn’t necessarily advocating for integrated shift levers (though I use them on virtually every bike I own), just pointing out that they are actually quite durable and not as expensive as some believe. Unfortunately for your friend, Shimano only offers a two-year warranty with Ultegra.

        Personally, I prefer Campagnolo for the quality of shift and ease to rebuild. I’m surprised that I’m the first to point out this latter fact.

      • She rode 5,000 miles/year, so she got a little over two years out of the shifters. Is the latest Ergopower still rebuildable? I recall hearing something to the contrary.

      • Dan says:

        I must say, I’ve ridden the same pair of Sachs (New Success) integrated shifters on my cross bike since 95 and have never had a single issue. They have proven very reliable and the ergo is super convenient. However, I’ve recently (9 months ago) switched to the Ultegra product on two bicycles and couldn’t be happier with the fit, feel, and function. At present, I’m riding an average of 300 miles per week and will be curious to see how they hold up. We ride all year round, including Winter here in Minneapolis, and I am not particularly kind bikes. I’ll pass the info along as things progress.

    • Matthew J says:

      I have been commuting in Chicago going on ten years now. Winter I use single speed as road salt gums up the drive train. 8 months out of the year I use DT shifters no problem at all. Instead of keeping a death grip on handle bars, I think commuters ought to worry more about traffic laws and physics.

      • John Duval says:

        Unfortunately, short life span of products is supported by the market. I am in the product development business, and among the standard questions we ask clients are about life expectancy, usage patterns, warrantee service records, and target costs. With every generation of product they want increased “perceived value” and to trim back costs wherever they can, including warrantee service.

        It is all a numbers game balanced on a razors edge. Find the largest target audience you can and don’t add costs to please a few on the fringes (especially if you can sell them an upgrade). A few years ago, reputation and word of mouth was everything. These days, more high-end bikes are purchased for the sake of vanity, influenced by advertizing, sponsorship, and on-line reviews on products fresh out of the box. Nobody reads reviews on products that are two years old, much less 40 years old (BQ being the exception). New is always better!

        Many of these products are used much less than the buyer would like to think. They ride little enough that the product is old and irrelevant before any serious accumulation of wear. The manufacturers and sellers know this, and plan accordingly. Unfortunately, going up the price points no longer assures more durability. After all, do you expect a 10 year car battery to actually last 10 years? No, the vast majority sell the car within 3 years (a car that is 6 years old at that point).

        Down tube shifters are not only difficult to cheapen any more due to their simplicity, they don’t have a large enough target audience to bother wringing more profits out of them. They are actually quite expensive for what they are, but the cheapest shifters you can buy. If everyone wanted them, they would be cheaper and cooler, but wear out fast too. As more people commute by bike, and put serious hours on their products, you will see reliability rise in importance as it has with cars.

        Personally, I don’t like down tube shifters because at 6’6”, I have quite a reach from the handlebars to the down tube. I use the space instead for tandem water bottles. I suspect that modern 10 speed clusters would work very well with friction shift, since they seem to hold a gear without skipping or noise regardless of cable adjustment.

      • Thank you for your sobering perspective. Fortunately, that approach by the mainstream bike industry leaves room for small companies who cater to those dissatisfied with the mainstream offerings.

        Personally, I don’t like down tube shifters because at 6’6”, I have quite a reach from the handlebars to the down tube.

        For very tall riders and also riders who use a very upright position, I would like to see shift lever mounted on the top tube again, like they were in the 1930s. Mounting them on the stem (1970s style) makes little sense, as it requires extra cable housing and complication, but putting them on the top tube would make them easy to reach.

  2. Dan says:

    Sorry for this rant, but I’m getting the distinct impression that you’re taking this wide tire thing to an extreme in this instance. Actually, I believe you’re frequently making overreaching statements where this is concerned and I’m not sure you’re being very accurate, or including the appropriate caveats. You state that this bike, with its wide tires, will out corner “any” racing bike? Firstly, I’m not sure tires are the only factor involved in how well a bike, and its rider, go downhill / descend. I’m also not sure that a guy on a mountain bike – riding slicks – is going to have a better experience on a paved downhill than someone riding a proper road bike with a more traditional tire set up. You make it sound like everyone might as well be riding mountain bikes or city cruisers – after all, they have very wide tires and are super stable, right? The wider is better logic has to have a limit?

    Additionally, I have a number of custom steel bicycles and believe many do a much better job of embodying “performance.” Running 28s, which all of my road bikes can do, is a very good alternative to a traditional “racing” width, and when the weather gets really bad (it gets very very bad here), I just hop on my 90’s era Salsa cross bike. I will gladly put the performance of my custom Waterford, running 28s on old school rims, against any randonneuring bike with fat tires. I’m also having an issue seeing how downtube shifters, which you obviously are fond of, equal performance in any way? I think this is another instance of how your bias and your strong preference for an old school aesthetic impact the content of your reporting. If you don’t like STI or ERGO, bar end or bar top shifting would still prove a more convenient option.

    Finally, my riding partner and I were discussing some of your recent posts and I think it’s worth noting that your riding habits do not translate directly, or as easily, to other riders as you may suggest. Rain is obviously a huge issue for you, and so is the necessity for luggage and lights. I / we ride about 300 miles a week and we both ride very versatile bikes. However, I have never had the urge to run a suitcase on any part of my bicycle and rarely find the need for anything more than what fits under my saddle or in my jersey pockets. If I’m not mistaken, your average recreational cyclist is not doing this kind of mileage, and it’s pretty unlikely that they are going to knock out a 1200k unless they are doing a major tour. In which case, I would assume they’re going to have all the baggage they require? Your average person looking for fun and fitness will most likely never need the kind of family truckster accessories which you ascribe as essential to the fully functional and well appointed “performance bike. I agree that fenders are nice, and lights can be a little more than important. However, this doesn’t mean I want them permanently attached to my bike. I notice the beautiful bike pictured in this post was photographed sans said accessories.

    • It seems like you have some great bikes and enjoy riding them. That is what counts!

      There is no doubt that wider tires corner better, all other things being equal (rider skill, bike geometry, rubber compound and casing construction). Just look at racing motorbikes. They don’t run 23 mm tires at 130 psi. Their tires are much wider – even on the unpowered front wheel, and they run at pressures between 30 and 40 psi.

      There are two reasons why wider tires allow faster cornering: 1. More rubber on the road provides more traction. 2. Lower pressures mean that the tire stays in contact with the road surface even on small and medium-size bumps. When your tire skips, you lose traction. Avoiding this loss of traction means you can go faster.

      As far as the direct comparison you suggest between a randonneur bike and a race bike, we’ve done that in the Summer issue of Bicycle Quarterly. We looked at times on a local climb for a number of bikes, including the carbon fiber Calfee we tested last year. We also calculated the times based on the weight differences, etc. The differences are too small to be measurable on the road.

      I had the option of buying the Calfee carbon bike we tested at a great price. It’s a great bike that I enjoyed riding very much. In the end, I decided that it did not offer anything my René Herse randonneur does not offer as well.

      Many commenters seem to think that every ride we do is at least several days in length. However, like most riders, we don’t have time or inclination for that. Most of our rides are 2-5 hours long, at a brisk pace, with sprints for city limit signs and just having fun on the bike. If I felt that the Calfee or any other racing bike performed better on those rides, I would have kept it, and reserved the randonneur bike for the truly long events. The simple fact is that whether speed or enjoyment, there was no difference between the two on these short, dry, sunny rides.

      • Dan says:

        So a GP Moto racer could and would ride an even wider tire than what is standard now? There is no limit to this, aside from what the fork and stay will accommodate? Formula 1 tires have not reached their max in terms of width? This is folly! There is a reasonable limit to everything and you continually insist, without stating a limit, that wider is better. Then why not continue to increase widths? Next time you ride PBP, I’ll plan on seeing you on a Salsa Mukluk or a Surly Pugsley? And I can’t wait to descend on one of these bad boys. While we’re at it, when will we see 42s on the track on in the TT?

      • Of course, there is a limit to tire width. A ten-foot-wide tire won’t perform well. In motor racing, tire widths for the most part are limited by the rules, but that is a different application anyhow.

        Where does the reasonable limit lie for bicycles? We are trying to figure this out. We found that up to at least 38 mm, you still get significant benefits in cornering. Going up from there still improves comfort, but you get problems with fitting everything between the chainstays. 42 mm seems to be the limit based on those constraints.

        As far as speed goes, we are working on that as well. We have found conclusively that with the same casing, 25 mm tires are faster than 23 mm, which in turn are faster than 20 mm. Does a 28 roll faster than a 25? And a 32 faster than a 28? What about a 42 mm tire? We don’t know, but we are working on finding out. The data of our previous tire tests suggest that even at those widths, wider tires at least aren’t slower.

        The width discussion is sort of a sideshow anyhow: Most important is the casing construction. A supple 28 mm tire will be faster and more comfortable than a stiff 32 mm tire. So unless they start making supple tires for the Pugsley, it’s not a good choice for performance cycling.

        It also depends on the roads you ride. On smooth roads, I find very little difference between a 32 and a 42 mm tire. Once the road gets a bit rougher, the difference becomes huge.

        That is just the data. What you ride is based on many factors, including aesthetics and road feel. If you prefer 28 mm tires, then that is a great choice for you. If you love your Pugsley, then you should absolutely ride that. There are many great bikes out there, and everybody should enjoy the one they like best.

      • GuitarSlinger says:

        Wider is not always better as many of the custom M/C folks have found out ( most due to major accidents I might add ) There are limits .. and they’re not exceeded without some semblance of a penalty ….. be it speed … handling etc ( FYI MotoGP bikes are currently right on the knifes edge limit when it comes to tire width )

        It’ll be interesting to see what the optimal width tire finally turns out to be for a bicycle . I’ve done the 28 ( on my Serotta and Colnago’s and still found them wanting ) did the + 40 thing on friends bikes ( found them too wallowy ) So somewhere in between must be the optimal compromise for a non racing , yet still performance tire width .

        As to down tube shifters though ….being of a certain age ( 50 + ) and having clear memories of using the bloody things back when we had no choice ….. well ……. Suicide Shifters might be a better description .

        Everything new isn’t always better Jan . But not everything old isn’t any good either . Down tube shifters falling into that category . The ultimate is when the best of the old and the best of the new are used in combination ….. taking from the strengths of both categories

      • Matthew J says:

        DT shifters are suicide shifters?

        Maybe i am a gifted acrobat and just never realizes it. I have never encountered any difficultlies reaching down to shift with one hand while keeping my other hand on the bar.

      • As technology moves on, it often is hard to imagine for younger generations that old technology worked just fine. Intercity travel in the 1930s involved speedy trains and was perhaps easier and more comfortable than today. Cars with unsynchronized gearboxes required double-declutching on downshifts, but even my grandmother mastered that skill. Similarly, most cyclists had no trouble operating downtube shift levers.

        If anything, dt levers required riders to have a light touch on the bars, rather than lean on them with all their weight.

    • BBB says:

      Dan. Unless you have tried most of tyre widths yourself you CAN’T KNOW what wide, narrow or “extreme” really is. Like most of members of road cycling community you are simply just stuck in a cosy 23-28mm matrix and may not be able to see the real world beyond it.

      To me after having tried anything from 23mm to 50mm wide tyres on the road, 28mm and narrower tyres as “EXTREMELY” narrow and functionally pointless regardless of how many people repeat “I’ve never had any problems with ….mm tyres” mantra.

      The holy grail of road cycling for me is a retro mountain bike speced as a road bike (drop bars etc…) with a nice flexy Tange Cr-Mo tubing and 2″ wide Schwalbe Kojaks or modded/shaven Schwalbe Furious Fred MTB! tyres, all tun tubeless.
      The difference in cornering grip, safety margin and comfort, especially on some UK country roads is like night and day comparing my “skinny” riding partners.

      The example of Salsa Mukluk or a Surly Pugsley completely misses the point as they are very specialist bikes with tyres NOT designed with low rolling resistance in mind.
      However I wouldn’t be surprised if a new Surly Krampus with its lightweight 3″ was actually faster than most of regular trial bikes with 2.35″ tyres.

      I shall say it again: Unless you try something for yourself and experiment with various setups, you lack a solid reference point and a right perspective.
      You shouldn’t automatically assume that anything you’re not familiar with is “extreme” or doesn’t work as good or better.

      One thing I agree though is down tube shifters… 🙂

      • Dan says:

        Interesting that you would say that, BBB, as I’ve been in the industry since 84, have worked with some of the original mtb builders – Jeff Lindsay most notably – and have probably ridden every tire configuration you can think of. I have ridden in North America, Africa, and throughout a good chunk of Europe. You assume too much if you guess that I’ve not experienced the benefits of a wide tire. Perhaps you should come over and ride some of our gravel?

      • Let’s keep the personal out of this. There are many valid perspectives, and new evidence emerging all the time.

    • Joe Kendrick says:

      “Running 28s, which all of my road bikes can do, is a very good alternative to a traditional “racing” width…” I am from Minnesota. I’ve witnessed in maybe 12-13 years a noticeable decline in pavement, road quality. I initially went from 25’s to 28’s for this reason. However, I’m finding myself often in conditions where 28’s don’t have my back. And, no, I’m not talking about anything sexy like fire trails. I mean everyday urban, suburban, and highway pavement. If nothing else brings on more 42’s, the long term decline in spending on infrastructure will.

      • Dan says:

        In that context, I completely understand. However, if you were riding on a consistently good surface and didn’t need the protection, would you still ride that width? I think that makes this an issue of protection and necessity, and not one of performance (as performance is typically defined)?

      • I wish I knew a place that had a consistently good surface, yet has little traffic and great scenery. Perhaps an indoor velodrome?

        Even on smooth roads, I’d ride wide tires. Perhaps not 42s, but at least 35s. Wider tires offer better handling and more stability (in a good way) even on smooth roads. There are few disadvantages to wider tires. As far as we can tell, the speed of wider tires (all things considered, including aerodynamics) is no slower than that of medium-width tires, with narrow tires being slowest. Even some world-class track riders are reported to have moved to 25 mm tires… The extra weight of a wider tire amounts to half a waterbottle. You don’t usually get dropped on hills because your waterbottle is half-full, and the next guy’s is empty.

        And when you see that little road going off to the side, you can explore it without being afraid that the 50-year-old pavement will rattle you and your bike to pieces.

  3. Dan says:

    I read that recent article you mentioned and don’t have too many issues with the premise. However, I find some of this other stuff to be problematic. Just this Sunday we were talking about your dream bike, and I cannot see how a rod actuated front derailleur = performance or convenience. That kind of thing crosses over into fetish, which I think is a hallmark of some / much of your work.

    I should note that I have not ridden a carbon fiber bicycle since an early incarnation that was given to me by Vitus in the 80’s. I share many of your preferences, but think you frequently take things a bit far. The stuff you most often discuss translates directly to the necessities of your long rides and the specifics of the Pac NW.

    I won’t argue the benefits of a wider tire; I feel a 28 is pretty wide, and have ridden more than my share of 32s. On my cross bike, I used to ride a 45 front. I do however think that the implication that wider is better needs to be qualified and I’m pretty sure riding a 42 results in a lot of tradeoffs.

  4. Andy says:

    Is there a reason why the front brake cable stop is mounted on top of the spacers? I always put that on first, with spacers above. On an aluminum bike, I found that the shortest distance of exposed cable possible eliminated common brake shudder. Also, any comments on tall stack stems? I’ve seen those on a few custom bikes and they look great. VO and San-Esu have a model I’ve been considering.

    • The cable stop was mounted that way when we got the bike. It worked fine.

      Tall-stack stems – if you need the stem high, it seems like a good option, as long as you don’t need the adjustability that the spacers allow.

    • Conrad says:

      I agree. There are a lot of things you can do to minimize brake shudder with cantilevers but the one sure fire method in my experience is a fork crown mounted cable stop. Granted that will interfere with some front rack setups. Cantilevers get a bad rap because when they’re not set up right they really don’t work well- but if you take the time to set them up right they are at least as good as V brakes and have better rim clearance.

      • A problem with many modern forks are stiff blades and flexible steerers. So you get all your flex up in the steerer, where it causes brake judder. The L’Avecaise uses flexible Kaisei “Toei Special” blades. Concentrating the flex near the tips not only improves comfort, but also all but eliminates issues with brake judder.

  5. rory says:

    I think the last article about the lavecaise and Dan’s post are actually quite similar. The theme is somewhat the same: a desire for a simple bike without the complexity of the fine tuned fenders, internal generator wiring, or custom racks built to hold either a small or large load. freedom from those details and a concentration on just the ride.

    While I do have bike that encompasses most those details, I also decided to strip down my green bike recently and ride it sans fender, lights, and rack. In seattle, during the summer, you can almost be guarenteed during the months of july and august you can ride from 6am to 8pm without worrying about any of that. there’s no need to bring a change of clothes, since the weather is usually pretty decent. no rain. plenty of sunlight. convenience stores pretty much every 10 miles, if not sooner for something larger to eat. why do i need all the other stuff?

    oh yeah, the other 10 months out of the year here. That said, i’ll enjoy my relative 2 month freedom of simplicity, whether its with tires that are 42mm or my skinny 32mm. either way, the wider tires don’t restrict me from riding through more complex environments then the risk a 23mm tire would. I *could* ride a 28mm tire on logging roads or unpaved trails, but it simply won’t be less risky/ more enjoyable as with the wider tires.

    • I totally agree. When you look at the Cyclos Montagnards web site, you see my friend Ryan climbing out of the crater of Mount St. Helens on a carbon racing bike with 23 mm tires. It was one of the most memorable rides we’ve had…

      I echo your sentiments of stripping your bike of added accessories. When we got the Calfee test bike, it came with plastic fenders. I took those off, because they were more hassle than anything. On a well-designed randonneur bike, the simplicity is in the fact that all the parts are there without drawing attention to themselves. On a bike that has been retrofitted with those parts, it’s often nicer to ride the bike without them.

    • Allen says:

      My experience precisely. My only real “every day” bike is an older racer and not designed for fenders or a rack. I use clip on plastic fenders, but I remove them once winter is over. In Denver and the foothills, rain is infrequent and predictable. The bike looks and sounds better w/o the crappy little fenders, which work well enough when installed. The rack stays all year because I can use it to carry a u-lock or a bag of coffee or a 12-pack, even without the bag attached.

  6. Ryan says:

    The flexible bikes you love seem to always have stiff chainstays. Have you ever investigated the potential benefits of flexible chainstays? As long as you avoid tire rub, it seems like flex could be just as beneficial in the rear triangle as well. Just curious…..

    • It seems that flexible chainstays are detrimental, especially if the main frame is stiff. We’ve ridden a number of bikes with that setup, and they offered only lackluster performance. On the other hand, many Alex Singers perform better than the specs of their main triangle would suggest. Singer always used very heavy-gauge chainstays.

      Many racers used to believe that shorter chainstays make a bike climb faster. This belief occurred both in Britain and in France, so I suspect that there is something to it. I suspect it’s not the length (there is no physical explanation why it would), but the stiffness: Shorter stays are much stiffer.

  7. djconnel says:

    The new Salsa Warbird, although following a different path (disk brakes, for example) indicates a lot of what Jan is advocating seems to be catching on to some degree.

    I do think the simplicity and robustness of downtube shifters is under-appreciated. I find it curious that people propose bar-ends as a preferred alternative, since bar ends were able to compete with downtube shifters pre-1990’s and never became popular with racers (although there were rare exceptions). It depends on how one judges “performance”. On Saturday’s Mt. Tam Double there’s a blind left hand turn off a gradual highway descent onto a steep climb. That’s a nice example of where brifters come in handy. But Jan’s obviously very successful riding his bikes.

  8. Rich Freeman says:

    I’m a lot confused by this particular test bike adventure. In the magazine, it sounded like you had it built to be a “racing bike”. In this blog entry, you’re backing off to where you call it a “performance bke” as an alternate to the purchase of a racing bike for recreational use. What it is, in fact, is a randoneuring bike with all of its accessories removed.

    If it’s a racing bike, then race it. Not timed hill climbs, actual pack racing at a level high enough to count, say Cat 1 or 2. If it can hang with semi-pro racers and their Tarmacs and Pinarellos, then you’ve proved your point. If it can’t, then it’s not a racing bike. Without testing under racing conditions, the “racing bike” name is not deserved.

    It’s obviously a beautiful bike and I’ve love to have one, but you’ve managed to leave it with an identity crisis. How is it different than several of the other bikes you’ve tested, and for what purpose was it commissioned?

    I really don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not a racer nor do I have a tire-width axe to grind. I’m simply curious to find out if steel tubes and Hetres really can match up with modern carbon racers. Your testing seems to indicate that weight doesn’t matter much and that wide tires are an advantage. Prove it! Data and race results are not the same thing.

    • I was tempted to start racing again and race the L’Avecaise. I used to race, and I remember being able not just to hang with Cat. 2 racers on their STI-equipped carbon and titanium bikes, but actually making them work on the climbs. I was riding a steel bike with downtube shift levers that was a decade old and way outdated. Does that prove anything? I don’t think so.

      I also remember riding my steel Singer randonneur bike in the lead pack of PBP in 2007. Everybody else was on racing bikes. On the climb approaching the first control, everybody was jostling for position, because getting in and out of that control quickly is crucial. I had no problem moving to the front. So what? I may have had to put out 2% more power than the guy next to me on that climb because my bike was heavier, or 2% less because my tires rolled faster – it all gets lost in the noise.

      Testing a bike under racing conditions is difficult. What would be the test protocol? What outcome would you consider proof? Say I raced the bike and got dropped, what would that prove? That I have not been training? Or that the bike is slow? What if I stayed with the bunch, but didn’t win the sprint? Good bike or bad bike? Even if I won…

      When Indurain won the Tour against Rominger, was that proof that steel bikes are faster than titanium? Or that Campagnolo components were faster than Shimano? Racing has so many variables…

      In fact, smart racers rely on data, rather than race results, for their equipment choices. They wonder: Does the bike accelerate well? Does it climb well? Does it corner well? Does it hold its line in a tight bunch? Is it comfortable? and so on… Many of those things are best evaluated outside a race.

      Finally, most racing bikes are not sold to racers, but to riders who like the performance and feel of a racing bike for spirited rides.

      • WMdeRosset says:

        Dear Jan,

        The Avecaise would be barred from any road racing that actually enforces the UCI rules anyway, wouldn’t it? Does the maximum tire width rule apply to road racing? I know you couldn’t ride it in elite-level cyclocross (tire width >33mm is not allowed).

        As a punter, I don’t have to worry about these things, but you’d probably have to do so if you came back at CAT 2 or wherever you left the sport.

        The officials haven’t historically cared much in masters racing (I’ve known a few riders on sub-14 lb bikes who haven’t been hassled, for example, though the gear limit on the juniors is rigorously enforced).


        William M. deRosset
        Fort Collins, CO

      • Last I checked, the UCI maximum tire width applied to cyclocross only. As you say, it’s not a major concern of mine these days.

    • In the magazine, it sounded like you had it built to be a “racing bike”. […] What it is, in fact, is a randoneuring bike with all of its accessories removed.

      A randonneur bike with the “accessories” removed is basically a racing bike, except that it has a slightly different fork offset. That point is often lost when people see the fenders and rack and think “heavy, slow touring bike.”

      In fact, we kept one of the racing bikes from our “double-blind 3-bike test of frame stiffness.” With a different fork and front rack added, it has become a very competent randonneur bike. (Hahn replaced the fork because he did not like the stiff blades of the original fork, not because the fork was not suitable for randonneuring.)

  9. GG says:

    A general theme of this blog is that there is a gap between what is available for the public in local shops, and what they would be ideally served by in terms of their bike spec. The alternative presented, however, tends to require quite a bit of time and effort on the part of the consumer: find a frame builder, probably wait in a queue for a long time, get a custom bike, etc. This results in a lot of self-selection and opt-out; most potential consumers have more money than time and are just going to go back to the LBS for their next bike. All of this begs the question: why don’t you folks put together a standard Compass Bikes Model 1 build in sizes S/M/L/XL and sell it over the web site?

    • We have no plans to offer complete bikes. Our hope is to influence the industry, both directly and through consumer demand, to offer bikes like the one shown here, in addition to the many excellent bikes they already offer.

    • John Duval says:

      The performance bicycle with large tires is exactly what I had in mind when I built my own bike. Unfortunately I didn’t discover BQ until after it was built, but my interpretation still suits me just as well.

      Whether money is an issue or not, going outside the mainstream usually requires creative solutions and lots of research on the part of the end user. Seeing what other people have done is a tremendous help.

      It was my search for large performance tires that lead me to BQ in the first place. Previously, I was impressed by how the recumbent bicycle press (Recumbent Cyclist News [now out of print] for example) has by necessity found and shared solutions to issues far more difficult than those posed here. Big tires are old news in the recumbent world and well accepted, but unfortunately racing bikes are now having a negative influence even this far outside the mainstream, with far harsher consequences.

      On my own bike, I had a custom frame made by a builder without a constructeurs specialized knowledge. Living in Southern California, I didn’t need the features that make a build so complicated. It is basically a cyclocross frame, fork and brakes with road bike geometry. It will take at least 38mm tires, but no fenders. All at about 30% of the cost and time of a constructeur bike.

      It is hard to know what features are really necessary for that maybe-someday ride. But when you relax the requirements even a little, the possibilities grow exponentially, and the budget drops equally.

      • Your bike sounds really nice. I envy the off-pavement riding that is available in southern California – the scenery is just amazing.

        when you relax the requirements even a little, the possibilities grow exponentially, and the budget drops equally.

        It’s more laziness than anything else that makes so many bikes hard to equip with fenders. Once the builder has figured out where to place the bridges, it isn’t hard on subsequent bikes. After all, they can get the top tube length within 2 or 3 mm, which is a complex mitering job, so a simple bridge should not be that hard to place.

      • John Duval says:

        It is true, all of my off-the-rack bikes before 1990 had fender and rack mounts standard, and they were not expensive bikes. I can’t comment as to their quality as I simply never needed them. Today there is much momentum against having largely unused braze-ons on the frame. Cost, complexity, inspection, failure points, percieved weight, figuring out how to do them with the wide variety of materials currently in use, the poor quality of “accessories”. The momentum should be reversed, both on the manufacturing side and the bulk of bicycles being used only recreationally.

        For the future, is it necessarily so that the only way to get the benifits of a fully integrated design is to go to a constructeur? Do builders have at their disposal simple standards, tables or apps that will give them the needed dimensional starting points for most of these features? Would the accessibility of quality fenders, racks and lights not benifit from as much standardization as derailleurs, cranks, wheels and headsets? Can we facilitate the creation of a standars based on wheel and tire dimensions? Or is the only choice that we abandon all standards and go the way of auto manufacturers, with all major components brand specific?

        I would like to know the thoughts of leaders in the industry on these points.

        Ah! Southern California fire roads… It has been too many years since I last hit the trails. They demand a high level of fitness. I was an early adopter of full suspension cross country mountain bikes with hard tires in these conditions. Downhill bikes seem to be the norm now, but maybe nobody climbs any more. I don’t think any of the tires on Compass Bicycles or BQ would be suitable for these roads. Time to buck the trends, throw some 29er tires on my fat-tire road bike and get out there (after it cools off a little)!

      • You raise some excellent points.

        Would the accessibility of quality fenders, racks and lights not benefit from as much standardization as derailleurs, cranks, wheels and headsets?

        The big issue is that you’ll have to adopt one standard. Jeff Lyon took the Honjo 58 and Grand Bois/Nitto M-13 rack as standard for this bike. But the next builder might want to use a different standard. By standardizing racks that mount to brake pivots and fork crown, you’d effectively standardize clearances. I can see a lot of discussion there – some builders like the “hot rod” look of fenders almost grazing the tires, others prefer the safety and low maintenance of larger clearances. Maybe the effort has to come from an accessory manufacturer. Blackburn pretty much standardized the mounts for their “custom” low-rider racks – and many builders then offered those braze-ons as an option.

        Or is the only choice that we abandon all standards and go the way of auto manufacturers, with all major components brand specific?

        That seems more likely. For example, Grand Bois has two racks, the “narrow-tire” and the “wide-tire” versions. They fit every Grand Bois bike that is sold in Japan.

        I would like to know the thoughts of leaders in the industry on these points.

        So would I! I am afraid that most of this is under their radar, but maybe some industry leader will come out of the shadows and chime in.

  10. John Hawrylak says:

    Can you provide the tubing wall thicknesses? You mention the standard diameters, but fail to give the walls.

  11. Keith Andrews says:

    Thanks Jan for showing us bikes that meet the standards of a solid, all around bike.
    I have a collection of road racing / club riding bikes and truly need to add a bike such
    as you speak of to the mix. I also appreciate a frameset made to support fenders and
    lights. I hate half hearted efforts to support necessary, functional elements to a made-for
    all-rounder bike.

  12. Preston Grant says:

    Shifters: I ride my bike with Ergo Power shifters, and I think “Gee, this is nice”. Then I ride my 1978 Jack Taylor with Simplex down tube shifters, and I think “Hey, this is nice too!”. Brifters are
    really convenient, but not always so fast. For extreme high to low or low to high shifts, down tube shift levers are much faster than brifters. Just use one hand to push one lever all the way
    forward and the other lever all the way back, takes a couple of seconds, way faster than brifters,
    but you have to take a hand off the bars. Like ’em all: brifters, bar ends, down tube, but really
    miss my old Cylco Benelux rod operated front derailleur. It was quick, positive, satisfying. Don’t
    know why I gave it away, and I can understand Jan enjoying something similar. All of you out
    there: “Have a great ride” regardless of equipment preferences.

  13. Mark Roland says:

    Do you happen to know if this test bike is spoken for? It looks to be my size.

    Regarding down tube shifters, particularly friction: for me, it’s not a retro-grouch thing, or much about aesthetics (though there is that). I find that it creates a different riding experience when shifting a bike this way. It engages not just a greater body movement, in taking my hand off the bars to perform the operation, but also greater mind movement–it keeps my mind more aware, more present. I could see a lever-operated front derailleur offering yet another level of this interaction. It’s probably this sensation that also has me preferring a manual transmission in my motor vehicle. (Though I do admit to keeping my fancy digital camera mostly on the auto setting! Sheer laziness.)

  14. Steve Park says:

    What are your thoughts on thin-wall tubing when riding rougher dirt or gravel?

    For the most part I enjoy the springy pedaling of my thin-wall rando 650b bike. However, when riding on rough dirt and gravel, the frame flex seems to increase, and the bike feels less planted. IMO, not ideal for that situation. (Perhaps this explains why I’ve noticed some cx frames using a slightly beefier tube than the road counterpart from the same brand).

    What is your experience?

    • I haven’t noticed this. I have taken my new René Herse on some very rough gravel roads, without noticing any problems. That bike has the thinnest tube walls you can get today (0.7-0.4-0.7 mm standard diameter). However, as Jeff Lyon’s bike showed, increasing the down tube wall thickness by 0.1 mm does not seem to change the performance or feel of the bike, while adding a little strength. So that would be my choice if I were to commission another bike.

  15. Bob says:

    To me a high performance bike can be used as a racing bike. These two words (performance/racing) has been marketed in the wrong way. For a bike that can be used for racing, it must be a performance bike. But lets get real, it all depends on the engine! Most want-a-be racers don’t get it. Some feel that by buying the latest high end racing bike it is going to make them faster. But in truth, it’s the engine that can make this bike go faster. I’ve seen strong cyclist ride almost any type of bikes and ride away from the riders riding the latest and greatest marketed wonder bike. I have all types of bikes with STI’s to bar end and d/t shifters, It does not matter to me. But lately I do like the d/t shifters the most! I also like my rando and a steel frame road bike that can be set up with wider tires and with fenders. With bikes like this, I have ridden in many rides through lousy weather, wet nasty roads, carry extra stuff and light up my roads finishing with a good time. To me this is what I consider a high performance bike!

    • You are right, the engine is most important in the performance of the bike. If an average rider works overtime to afford an expensive high-performance wheelset, they’d see a bigger improvement if they spent the overtime with focused training instead.

      However, on a given day, you cannot change your engine, but you can pick the bike that offers the best performance, and thus – for many riders – the most pleasant sensations when riding.

  16. Ben Lively says:

    I ride an early 80s Japanese touring bike and have found it’s nearly perfect for me. Nearly. My only real issues are that I can only fit 700c x 32mm tires and the horizontal rear dropouts which are a pain with fenders. As soon as I read the specs of the L’Avecaise in Bicycling Quarterly, I knew I’d found my ideal bike. The test bike even has the exactly perfect top tube-to-seat tune proportion (with a slightly shorter top tube) that my old touring bike has. Even the appearance is exactly what I want: subdued and classic. I’d build mine with mostly vintage components and ride the heck out of it. Unfortunately, it’s simply far too costly a project for me to justify any time soon. Luckily my old bike is wonderful, if not 100% perfect. But if I ever come into a few extra thousand dollars, Jeff Lyon will be the first person I contact!

  17. BBB says:

    Here is a good alternative to DT and STI shifters. I’ve been using a pair of these (prototype) for a while and they are brilliant. Simple to make by anyone with a milling machine.

  18. MDV says:

    As someone currently looking to ‘try on’ various handlebar and stem configurations, I’m seeing the benefit of D/T shifters and non-aero brake levers. Changeovers will be much faster and easier, so I’m considering making the change to that configuration. At least until I stabilize all else….

  19. The Goats says:

    Interesting topic and wide and varied responses on many points and I just wanted to relay a quick story regarding ‘New’ vs ‘Old’.

    I had a younger rider (in his 30’s who had no experience with friction shifters) test a ‘new’ shifting system recently that was set up to operate in friction. He rode for a couple minutes and came back with a massive smile on his face and said the shifting was really cool (or something along those lines). What he liked about it was the lack of clicking to change gears and how smooth friction felt and when was this new type of system going to be available. He thought friction was a new idea!…

    Sometimes ‘New’ is simply a change.


    The Goats

  20. ted kelly says:


    re: “The word “proper” cannot be stressed enough. Fenders should be at least 8 mm from the tires. Otherwise, they will need frequent adjustment if the fender moves a bit when the bike is leaned against a wall. The extra space between tire and fender also greatly reduces the risk of debris getting jammed and collapsing the fender, causing the wheel to lock up.”

    I think the fittings that mount metal fenders to stays protrude further from the inside of the fender than the ones typically used on plastic fenders (e.g sks). Do you recommend the same 8mm minimum clearance for both types of fenders?


    • Considering the dangers of running fenders close to the tire, I recommend adequate clearances with all fenders. The accidents with collapsing plastic fenders are many, and the “safety releases” don’t seem to do much to alleviate the concern. Your best protection appear to be stiff fenders that are unlikely to collapse, adequate clearances, and good fender lines (so anything that enters can go through, rather than getting stuck).

      • ted kelly says:

        Im not arguing, just asking for a clarification about what adequate clearance is. Is 8mm (the number you recommended in the post) the minimum adequate clearance for both plastic and metal fenders? Is the 8mm measured from the inside of the fender itself, or from the largest protrusion inside the fender?

      • Before replying, I checked the fenders on my new René Herse. The fender comes closest on the edges, where it is about 8 mm from the tire. In the middle, it sits further up, so there is at least 8 mm between the fender mounting screws and the tire. Since fork blades flex, your clearance will decrease on top of the tire when you sit on the bike, and even more when you go over bumps. As I noted before, at the chainstays (and the fork blades), the clearance can be a little tighter, since the fender won’t be dislodged in those placs.

        On the Herse, I appreciate that if the tires pick up a small rock, it does not roll through the fender with that awful sound. Yet the fenders look very nice – it’s not like a motocross bike where the fender is half a foot above the tire.

    • Rich Freeman says:

      I agree with you about the hardware for metal fenders. There’s really no good reason to put the nut inside where it reduces the clearance. I can visualize a fastener with a thin head inside and the nut outside, for instance.

      The normal SKS-ish plastic fender method includes a cross strap of metal holding the eyebolts for two stays. The metal is thin, but as Jan says, it redirects the water out of the fender. Most are not rustproof metal either. What’s up with that? Maybe we’re not supposed to get our fenders wet, hmm?

      If you look at Planet Bike’s basic fenders ( http://ecom1.planetbike.com/7005.html ), a U-shaped Honjo-ish stay is held to the fender by a small u-shaped strap on the outside with two screws threaded into a thin steel plate on the inside. Pretty good idea, actually. I have a set and prefer it to the “normal” method. Not much projection to the inside and no water redirection. The strut adjustment is also unusual but works well. PB seems to be phasing this method out in favor of the normal, though.

  21. ted kelly says:


    re tire width, you wrote: “Jeff Lyon designed the L’Avecaise for 42 mm-wide tires. The wide tires not only are more comfortable, they also provide much better traction. As a result, this bike easily outcorners any racing bike.” and “… it would outperform most racing bikes thanks to its superlight frame and wider tires. It’s also a bike that encourages riders to seek out backroads with little traffic and great scenery, without worrying about the bumpy pavement that you often encounter on the most scenic roads.”

    Though the frame is designed for 42mm wide tires a rider could easily opt for somewhat narrower ones that were still larger than what is typically used on race bikes. Do you recommend ~40mm tires for riders of all sizes, or do you suggest varying tire width with rider weight (and hence tire load)?

    • Those are interesting questions. We tested the L’Avecaise with 38 mm tires, and it handled very well, too. So you could use narrower tires. The differences were mostly in road feel. With 38 mm tires, the bike felt like a racing bike in all the good ways. With 42 mm tires, it was more plush… In the review, I compared the bike with 38 mm tires to a sports car. With the 42, it was more like a modern off-road racing car – still offering great performance and handling, but a little less feedback from the road.

      Our testers weigh about 150-160 lb. If you are significantly lighter, then it might make sense to try narrower tires. On the other end of the spectrum, I’d love to try 45 mm tires or even 50 mm, but you cannot easily fit tires that wide between cranks with narrow tread (Q factor).

      • ted kelly says:

        38 is ~10% less than 42, and over 50% more than 23. Perhaps getting a bit off topic, but what do you feel is the most appropriate use/application for a 32 mm 650b tire like the GB Cypres?

      • I think the 32 mm-wide 650B tires do have a place on small bikes that cannot fit 700C tires. However, such a wheel always will be less stable. I’ve ridden a few bikes with those tires, all kinds of different geometries, and none felt totally planted. I prefer 700C wheels for tires up to 32 mm wide.

  22. HillDancer says:

    The cornering prowess of the Hetre is under utilized on standard width rims due to high slip angle. Excessive slip angle slows turn-in response and can promote deviation from a chosen line. A correspondingly increase in rim width to match a tire’s width will reduce slip angle at a given tire pressure. Increase the tire pressure and reduce slip angle for just about any tire; one reason a narrow tire at higher air pressure feels like it has greater sporting utility. A wide rim won’t turn the Hetre into a tubular racing tire, but it will reduce its tendency to squirm when leaned way over, and heavy feeling steering response. Some squirm and squeal when cornering is a result of the Hetre’s tread pattern when new, but that characteristic is short lived.

    Unfortunately, wide rims aren’t available currently for those living the cantilever dream.

  23. Travis Stuckey says:

    You can buy Reynolds 953 in standard gauge 5-3-5, it would be interesting to see how flexible of a bike that ends up being.

    • One thing we haven’t really tested is how far you can take the balance of the frame. Traditionally, the top tube was 1/8″ smaller in diameter, and, on Reynolds tubing, 0.1 mm thinner in the walls. What would happen if you made the top tube even thinner in the walls? Or the down tube even larger, or thicker? René Herse used to offer bikes with an oversize down tube (30 mm instead of 28 mm), mostly for tall and heavy riders. I’ve ridden one of those bikes. It took about 60 miles to adjust, but then it performed quite well, especially considering that it was a camping bike with a stiff frame. It might be worth building a lightweight frame with OS down tube and standard top tube…

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