Testing the Compass Elk Pass Tires


We recently received the first production samples of the new Compass tires. We’ve been testing the high-volume tires on our own bikes, but we don’t have any bikes designed for the 26″ x 1.25″ Elk Pass tires.

Fortunately, a Japanese friend was visiting, and she took the new Elk Pass Extralight tires on a tour of the Cascades, roughly following the first part of the Volcano High Pass Super Randonnée.


How would the 32 mm-wide superlight tires fare on a ride that encompasses some of the most challenging roads, whether gravel or paved, that the Cascades have to offer?


The roads were indeed rough, but the tires fared fine. In four days of riding, she had one pinch-flat, and no other problems. She noticed (and liked) the improved comfort, both on gravel and on pavement, compared to the Panaracer Paselas she usually rides.


I was glad to hear that, because these are some of my favorite roads, and the landscape is spectacular. But if you are continuously “underbiking” or suffering from multiple flats, it’ll take the fun out of the most scenic ride.


The new tires, despite their ultra-light weight and minimalist construction, not only handled the challenging ride just fine, but also, thanks to their suppleness, made it more enjoyable.


She reported that the tires were sure-footed on pavement – which is their main intended use. Under heavier riders, the 32 mm width is a bit marginal for really rough gravel, but if you are looking for the fastest, lightest 26″ tire ever made, this probably is it. Not only does it weigh just 178 g, but it uses the Compass Extralight casing and our ultra-sticky tread rubber for the ultimate in suppleness and cornering grip.


Now she has Rinko’d her bike and headed back to Tokyo. We look forward to hearing how the Elk Pass tires fare on the roads of the Japanese Alps where she usually rides.

Meanwhile, the main shipment of our new tires will soon head the other way across the Pacific, and we should have all models in stock by the end of the month (August 2015). We’ll announce them here and in our customer newsletter when they arrive.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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56 Responses to Testing the Compass Elk Pass Tires

  1. Greg says:

    Awesome. I’ll be stocking these for sure! There hasn’t been a tire even close to this since the old 1.25-inch “Fat Boys.” These will easily out-perform those, I’m sure. Next up: a 27 x 1.25-inch high-performance Compass tire? Please?

  2. I thought the only new tires you were making in 26″ were the Rat Pass tires. Do you have any plans to make an ultralight version of the 1.75″ slumgullion Pass? If allroad enduro bikes finally take off this would be a great size for road rides, and fender coverage would not be compromised.
    On the other hand, that is an amazingly light tire.

    • There are four new Compass tires this year:
      • Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 54 mm
      • Switchback Hill 650B x 48 mm
      • Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm
      • Elk Pass 26″ x 1.25″

      Making an Extralight version of the 26″ x 1.75″ Slumgullion Pass is not a good idea, because the transition from tread to sidewall is very abrupt on that tire, which creates a stress riser that can cause the casing to start breaking there. The Slumgullion Pass uses an existing Panaracer mold (with Compass-specific casing and tread rubber). If we were to make an Extralight tire in that size, we’d need a new tire mold. If the Rat Trap and Elk Pass tires are successful, we may further expand our program of 26″ tires…

  3. leslilarson says:

    So glad to see more tire offerings in the 26″ size format. As a shorter rider, I have always had trouble sourcing 26″ tires wider than 1″. I have opted for 650b but I might now reconsider a custom in 26″ if you continue to make 26″ performance tires in wider widths. Also – I have to say it is refreshing to see female test riders on your blog.

  4. Doug says:

    Do you have actual measurements on the Bon Jon Passes on wide rims? My old set of EL Cypres stretched to 34.3mm on my wide rims and fit. I bet I could do an extra mm!

  5. Luis Bernhardt says:

    Jan, having used 700C (clincher and sewup) all my cycling life, I’m pretty ignorant of other tire sizes. I have done a search on your site of 26-inch and 650B tires, trying to find a comparison of the two sizes. I notice that at one time 650B might be the next big thing for mountain bikes, but as far as I can tell, 26 is pretty standard internationally, while 650 occupies a very small niche (French cyclists had to lobby a tire company to prevent its extinction). So is there an advantage to 650B if 26″ spares are so easy to obtain anywhere? Perhaps you could point me to a past article, thanks!

    • The advantage of 650B is a) that you have many more great tire choices than 26″. (26″ tires aren’t rare, but good ones are few and far between.) and b) that you get a more stable handling of the bike with tires between 35 and 45 mm wide, because of the rotational inertia. Narrower than 35 mm, 700C is optimal, wider than 45 mm, I prefer the handling of 26″ wheels. We tested this for Bicycle Quarterly a few years ago (BQ 31)…

  6. B. Carfree says:

    The anticipation is killing me. I’m so excited for the Rat Trap Pass tires to arrive that I check in almost daily.

    Having said that, now I’m wondering if I might not enjoy a set of these Elk Pass tires for those times when we are riding our tandem on relatively nice pavement like the Devil Mountain Double. How do you think they would compare to the Rat Trap Pass tires on a tandem with a 185 pound stoker and a 130 pound captain? (We thought we had found the best tires ever when we put a set of your 26X1.5″ tires on, until we tried the Slumgullion Pass, if that matters.)

    • Use the Rat Trap Pass. The lower pressure gives you better cornering and fewer flats. The 32 mm tires will be marginal with the combined weight of tandem and team.

      • John Oswald says:

        Seconded! We are cycling the Camino Santiago in Spain on a 26″ wheel tandem with a 1.75 Pasela and a 1.75 Continental replacement tire right now. We had to use our spare (a 32mm Pasela Tourguard) and it only lasted one and a half 75km days before sidewall cuts (which happened because of the high pressure needed to prevent pinch flats under two people and bags) rendered it unusable. We are a sub 300lb team with only front panniers. Get the RTP’s. If we had them on this trip we’d (almost!) never have to push after losing traction on steep climbs.

  7. Mark says:

    I sold my 26 inch wheel RivRoad in 2012, mostly due to lack of tire choices. It was an excellent bike, built for 1.25 tires (or go fast 650c, not b, wheels). Only tire I used were Paselas, these tires would have been perfect.

    Oh well.

  8. Nathan says:

    What tube did you use for these fine looking tires?

  9. Greg says:

    Are these EL tires?
    Also, what width fender is she running? Is that OK for these tires?

  10. heather says:

    I love that bicycle, that would be my size. It would fit so well, ride beautifully, I can just imagine…. It’s nice to see appropriate sized wheels on a small frame, and a beautiful bicycle too. I got rid of my 26″ touring bicycle because it was horrid, turned me off 26″ wheels and there were so little quality tire choices. But a light smooth 32mm tire might have motivated me to at least find a better quality 26″ road bike or keep my mountain bike. I have 4 beautiful tiny road bikes, all designed for 700cc and there are issues: wiggles, toe overlap, suboptimal frame design…. At least two have enough clearance for a 650b or 650c(can this size be resurrected in anyway? The tire options are dismal) conversion, but a 26″ conversion would be too problematic. I would like to see a 28mm or 30mm 650B tire for us little folk, as in my experience there is such a thing as too wide a tire.

  11. Garth says:

    Love the picture of your friend tucked in with her camera glued to her back, five stars for bicycle chic! Also took note of the cantilevers her Hirose sported.

    On an interesting note, I’m actually excited about the 700 x 35 tires. I love the 38s but have held off a new wheel set because the rims would be wider, causing dangerously less clearance than I already have.

    On a related note, I was disappointed to learn the new all-road enduro Rawland will be a stiff-forked disc brake bike. I therefore made up my mind to learn to build one. I’m wondering if there are plans to have fenders available for the 55mm tire size combination?

    Further reflecting on the article Jan wrote about Citroens and French technology, I find it surprising the Germans don’t have a stronger bicycle innovation culture like the French, English and Italians. When you look at their cars and motorcycles, they have not only been innovative but also reputably reliable products as well. (SON, Rolloff , Schwalbe come to mind…)


    • Christoph says:

      The Rawland website states that the Ravn will have cantis, not disc brakes; this page explains why: http://ravn.rawlandcycles.com/
      There was a Rawland model called Ravn that had disc brakes (and was a mountain bike rather than a road bike) a few years back, maybe that is what you stumbled upon.

      • Garth says:

        Christoph, I could be confused, I’ve been known for that(!) but I put my name on the mailing list and received an update a few weeks ago. They’d been testing the disc brake prototype and liked not only the discs but also that you could switch between 26″ wheels and 650bs.

        Response on various googled discussion lists seemed favorable to this. Perhaps I should keep an open mind, but disc brakes really turn it into a mountain bike. The mud advantages of the disc brake indicate knobby tires for mud and then no fenders.

        I’m a firm believer in thin flexible fork blades. As I ride I can watch my 14mm fork blades flexing up to 1/2″ on bumps. I’m glad others are excited about the change to the Rawland, but I’m preferential to Jan’s idea of the All-Purpose Enduro.

        I’ll check my email for that update.

      • Christoph says:

        I just noticed that the information about the brakes was removed from the website. It basically stated that an early Ravn prototype had disc brakes, but the stiff fork required for this setup interfered with the desired ride characteristics for obvoius reasons.

        Given the choice, I would have preferred disc brakes on a bike like this because they would facilitate swapping wheelsets between 650B and 26″ depending on the type of ride. 42-584 tires might look a tad skinny in a frame that takes 26 x 2.15″ tires, but at least the diameter is identical.

        The Elk Pass tires look like a great upgrade for many kids bikes, by the way. Looking forward to when my son is tall enough to ride a 26″ bike – he’s still on 20″, so might take a while…

      • Christoph says:


        I just saw your post, that’s really confusing! Let’s see how it turns out.…

        For the time being, I’ll enjoy the stiff fork blades and disc brakes on my all-road/off-road touring bikes as much as the flexible titanium fork blades on my low-trail brevet bike.

      • Rod Holland says:

        As the situation has evolved, it now appears that Rawland will be bringing out both the canti bike (named Ravn) and the disc brake version (name TBD). This is just one rcog reader’s understanding of what he’s read, however…

  12. velofinds says:

    Your tester’s descending technique looks outstanding!

  13. Garth says:

    Okay, sorry, don’t want to hi-jack the thread, but just looked at Rawland Owners Group discussion group. On 7/17 Sean, who I believe is owner of Rawland, posted there would be a disc brake only version. On 7/30 he posted the canti Ravn will still go through and the disc brake version will get a new name.

    Perhaps Compass Cycles will consider commissioning an All-Road Enduro frame as Jan prescribed…

  14. gasconha says:

    Again and again, congratulations for all the good work in putting in the market high quality products without trying to follow some kind of trend (which manufacturer will put money into the development of a new 26″ tyre?).

    However I hope that Bicycle Quaterly will be able to remain “independant-ish” of Compass and that you will continue to review other tyres as well (what about the popular thunder burst or furious fred?).

    While I am at it: shipping cost from US to France for a pair of tyres are huge (and not very environmentaly friendly). Anybody selling those in Europe?

  15. teamdarb says:

    I’m confused. Who makes these 26″ wheeled road bikes? (old or new)

    • Most road bikes with 26″ wheels are custom bikes. There are some Rivendells and Surlys that use 26″ wheels. In the mainstream, 26″ wheels aren’t so popular any longer.

      • Garth says:

        I work with a woman who rides a 24″ children’s bike. Solid colors, no pink ponies!

        Probably a notable segment of population that doesn’t ride because most adult bikes are too big. Part of reason 26″ mountain bikes were so popular?

      • Heather says:

        If you can afford a rivendell, and I have a feeling they are overbuilt for petite people. I had a small surly with 26″wheels and it was dreadful. Elk Pass tires would not have saved that bike.
        I have considered getting an Islabike! Small women’s road bikes sometimes come with 650c wheels but there is little tire choice, certainly nothing supple and widest one can go is 28mm. My vintage tiny high end road bikes that I have managed to find in the past year are so glorious to ride in spite of the 700cc issues. If I were even shorter my options would be very limited.
        One can find vintage bambino italian road bikes on ebay or craigslist that would have 24 or 26″ wheels.

    • teamdarb says:

      I, too, have found many modern bikes are not designed compliant for us small and light weight people. I’ve gone into habit of throwing 26″ forks on 27″ wheeled frames. But this keeps me mostly on mixte frames, due to geo changes on diamonds.

  16. teamdarb says:

    Would it be safe to mount these tires on a Rhynolite

  17. Joe says:

    Did i see something about the bon jon being tubeless ready? That’s a dream come true right there 🙂

  18. Patrick Moore says:

    Jan: what rims is your Japanese friend’s bike built with? While light, strong 559 bsd rims were common 20+ years ago, most rims of this size nowadays are wider and heavier than I like for road use.

    Until now, perhaps it is the Schwalbe Kojak (the casing for the wire and Kevlar bead versions is the same, said Schwalbe) that is the best 559 tire on the market. I’ve used these for several years, and it will be very interesting to compare them to the Elk Passes. Comparing the 622 X 35 version of the Kojak to the clincher Parigi Roubaix, the latter “felt” a bit faster and a bit smoother.

    I hope the Elk Pass remains on the market! I’m investing large $$$s in wheel rebuilding to accommodate it!

  19. Patrick Moore says:

    Belay that last comment; I should have read more carefully.

    *Will* it be possible to use the Elk Pass sans tube on a tubeless-ready rim?

  20. Mike says:

    Glad I found this site/product. Very timely since I am rebuilding an 80s MTB to be a heavier tourer (Schwinn Cimarron). Quick question of advice, since this will be my first build with 26″ tires. I am planning for 60-70% paved, 30-40% unpaved/gravel riding (often with load) and wondering on your suggested tire width? I’ll definitely be buying one of your sets, but would you recommend your 26×1.5 or x1.75 or wait for these in the x1.25?

    • If you can fit the new 26″ x 2.3″ Rat Trap Pass tires, I’d recommend those. The 1.25″ tires are a bit narrow for gravel riding. It’s do-able, but you have to be careful… unless you are very light.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for the tip. I did not see the 26×2.3 listed in the store, so thanks for the heads up, and I’ll check them out. Forgive me, just getting up to speed and reading back through all the good info on the issue of widths, etc… and so trying to learn quickly! I think I’ll have clearance for them, but will do some checking.

      • The new tires will be listed in the store when we have them in stock – please check back later this month! (We’ll also announce them here and in our customer newsletter.)

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