Visiting Panaracer

panaracer_mt

As a child, I used to think of Japan as a densely populated place full of skyscrapers and freeways. Of course, those big cities exist, but much of Japan is very rural. So when I travel from Tokyo to visit the Panaracer factory, I get to experience that transition from city to countryside.

shinkansen

My trip starts with one of the incredible Shinkansen trains. These trains now travel at up to 320 km/h (200 mph). Their shapes are designed to reduce turbulence when two of these projectiles meet at full speed in a tunnel. (Imagine the pressure wave!)

fuji_shinkansen

On the way, the train speeds by Mount Fuji, and I am reminded why the Japanese revere this volcano so much. It really is stunning.

super_nozomi

In less than 2 hours, I am in Osaka, more than 500 km (310 miles) from Tokyo. But my trip is far from over. I now switch to the standard narrow-gauge Japanese railways, and board the “Kounotori Super Express” (above).

single_track

By American standards, it’s a fast train, and the trip through gorges and tunnels is spectacular. After 1.5 hours, I have crossed an entire mountain range, but my trip isn’t over yet.

green_orange_train

I now change to a local train, the kind that is used by schoolchildren and people going shopping in the next town. This train finally takes me to the small town where the Panaracer factory is located. From the station, it’s just as brief walk to the place where our Compass tires are made.

panaracer_mountains

What inspired our tires is also what the workers see when they look out of the factory gate: mountains.

panaracer_engineers

It’s always a privilege to meet Panaracer’s engineers (above). We present them with our ideas, they give us their feedback, and we discuss how we can further improve our tires. We discuss rubber compounds, casing materials, tread patterns, and other things that make our tires perform as well as they do.

yabitsu_tunnel

Several Panaracer engineers are avid riders themselves. All are as passionate about bicycle tires as we are, and I enjoy working with them immensely. And best of all, I get to enjoy the tires’ performance in the mountains that have inspired them.

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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26 Responses to Visiting Panaracer

  1. Frank B. says:

    I really like the Panaracer-made tires – but I think that the venerable Pasela should get more love. I have mounted the 650B x 42 Pasela PT on my Rawland Stag now. It replaced a Hetre for the “Cologne Carneval” season, where there is even more glass on the streets and cycle paths here than usual. I suppose, the Hetres’s (in)fampus “flat resistance” probably is a phenomen local to Seattle: Here I get at least one flat a month in town with Hetres, and many more in winter.
    The Pasela OTOH so far is holding up well even during the carneval – and my winter training times didn’t suffer (it’s slow miles anyway) and while they feel a bit wooden, they also feel much better than other commuting tires. By comparison: My wife didn’t get a single flat with her 26 inch Schwalbe Supremes in about a decade! The Hetres will stay in hibernation for a while …

    • Sorry you had bad luck with the Hetres. I know that German cyclepaths can be pretty awful… but even so, wide tires at low pressures usually roll over glass that would get hammered into narrower, harder tires. I get about 2 flats every year (one every 5000 km or so). Almost all are caused by steel wires that penetrate any tire.

      • Frank B. says:

        Thank you for your kind words. However I am convinced, that it’s not just bad luck. All my numbers suggest that for tires of the same width, Hetres are significantly more flat prone in urban traffic than Paselas and Marathon Supremes, i.e. tires with some kind of puncture protection, be it more rubber or some special casing. I kept most other factors the same: same roads including some, that actually are a challenge to tires; same/similar rider; long test duration (several years) – I only changed the tires. Not a single flat on Supremes vs. dozens of flats in Hetres speak volumes, IMO.
        Of course flat resistance is not the only factor in chosing tires, and often it’s not even a relevant one. If I’d live in an area, where Hetres would flat only twice a year, I wouldn’t care. I still run Hetres most of the year even here. I run them when cycle touring and on long distance rides. But I would advice against mounting them, if and where flat resistance matters, because they simply have more flats than tires like the Pasela.

      • What caused the flats you were getting? When I rode them, I found Hetres to be almost impervious to cuts through glass, at least the variety that is caused by American beer bottles thrown out of cars. However, steel wires will puncture almost any tire, unless you make the tread so thick that they simply get stuck before they reach the inner tube…

        I am glad you found tires that work better… and I am interested to know which model Paselas you use.

  2. Willem says:

    Trains are indeed an important part of civilized life. Your pictures of the Japanese countryside make me envious.
    As for Compass tyres: I have just fitted the Rat Trap Pass tyres to my loaded tourer, and they are a joy. Compared to the Compass 26×1.75 they are faster on smooth tarmac, but particularly faster and more comfortable on gravel roads. I look forward to probing their abilities more deeply. I had been concerned that they might not leave enough clearance on my bike, but thus far I do not need to worry. The 60 mm Berthoud mudguards are a good match as well.

    • john says:

      What frame are you using to fit 26×2.3″ tires? Sounds like a good set-up for touring, something I’m currently interested in pursuing. I’m looking for a frame suitable to fit these exact tires.

      John

      • Alex says:

        John, many of the good pre-disc steel mountain bike frames from ca. 1990-1997 are ideal for this: they have braze ons for racks AND well spaced & threaded bridges (2x) for mudguards, & obviously have tire clearance. It’s almost astonishing when you have a look at a good example: “what happened to our knowledge of sensible frames!?” I ask myself. You have to watch the frame quality & weight: there can be differences up to 1500g for frame/fork between a high quality frame & a run-of-the-mill frame. 750g for the fork & 2000g or less for the frame is possible. Good luck with your touring!

  3. Joseph says:

    Is this the route you took?
    I was a little confused by the text, because I think the Nozomi Super Express is the name of the limited-stop high speed train from Tokyo to Osaka. So then the second train would have been the Hashidate or Kounotori line, and the final part of the trip would be on the Fukuchiyama line. Is that right?

  4. Lee Wilkerson says:

    Jan

    I always enjoy your posts and now dream of visiting Japan someday. We have a mutual friend, Ted Schwartz in Providence, RI and he is advising me to put Compass tires on my bikes. An order is coming for my first 2 sets and I am excited about riding in the Adirondack mountains this summer in comfort! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Lee Wilkerson Indian Rocks Beach, FL

    >

  5. Willem says:

    In reply to John’s comment: My frame is a fillet brazed custom loaded touring bike by m-gineering (the premier Dutch frame builder), designed for wide tyres. Rear spacing is 135 mm for the Rohloff hub, so there are no major clearance issues there. Brakes are NOS Magura HS66 hydraulic rim brakes for drop bars, and unlike the modern ones these have L shaped prongs that extend a bit, but not too much to get really close to the tyre. My frame lock had to be replaced by a Trelock R450 Balloon model, however. I had been a bit concerned about the 59 mm clearance between the legs of the Long Shen fork crown, but all is well with the Gilles Berthoud mudguards.

  6. Frank says:

    A visit to Panaracer! What are you cooking up? C’mon! A new Compass tyre is big news.

  7. B. Carfree says:

    It’s cruel to describe the train systems of civilized nations to us poor barbarians in the US. I’m now imagining how wonderful it would be if we had a modern train serving the I-5 corridor. It’s so depressing to deal with what we have.

    On the bright side, our low-quality train is a nice incentive for me to ride my bike when I travel from the Willamette Valley to the Sacramento Valley. This Spring I’m going to ride an inland route rather than my usual ride down the coast.

    Then again, everything seems to provide incentives to ride; it’s all in how you look at things.

  8. Proud American says:

    When I take the Interstate from Rowan, Iowa to Mason City, to do shopping or nightlife, I feel very civilized, blessed, and proud.
    I like my freedoms, including the freedom to move about when and where I want. Very American.
    And I am pleased with how fast I get my Compass tires, partially transported by our interstate trucking system!

    • The post was not intended to denigrate cars or freeways. (In fact, I don’t think I mentioned either.) I am sorry about the misunderstanding.

      When I first learned about Panaracer, I imagined a huge factory in Osaka where tires pop out of huge machines, sort of like the component maker Shimano. When I found out that Panaracer is located in a small mountain town, and that our tires are mostly made by hand, I was impressed. I used the trains to illustrate that fact and also convey that Japan isn’t the crowded, neon-lit place many of us imagined.

      You mention the freedom of driving a car. Cars exist in Japan, they just aren’t the only option for getting around. I could have rented a car and spent all day driving from Tokyo to visit Panaracer. Instead, I had the freedom to get there in a few hours on the train, while working on my laptop. The Shinkansen runs every 10-15 minutes, and the local trains at least every 30, so I can go when and where I want. Surprising to me, the trains are run by private companies and don’t receive government subsidies. It’s an issue of critical mass – once enough people ride the trains that they are 80% full, they run at a profit, so more trains are put on the schedule, which makes them more convenient, so more people ride them, etc.

      I believe that having a choice between car and train is nice. There are many reasons this choice doesn’t exist in the U.S., but I don’t think we should be proud of that. Fortunately, there are many other things to be proud of in our country!

  9. Nick Floros says:

    Jann,
    Thanks for showing the home of my go-to bike tire, the Panaracer Pasala. After wearing out a few pairs of Panaracers, I tried other brands. Schwalbe Marathon Supremes rode like rocks, and Continental Gatorskins were flat magnets. You’re working with the right company to produce Compass tires.

  10. Andrew says:

    Beautiful pictures. I cannot thank you and Panracer enough for producing these wide “road” tires. Just put a set of stampede passes on my cross bike and love them. The ride quality is amazing. Now we will see how fun slicks are on the occasional trail.

  11. Proud American says:

    I was responding to the comment from B. Carfree.
    Your writing is superb and sticks to the issue.
    There are other forums for comments like that from B.Carfree, and probably mine too.

    • Matthew J says:

      Nor does B. Carfree denigrate autos.

      Rather, he laments that the US, alone among first world nations, has very poor rail infrastructure outside of the Atlantic States and a few urban areas.

      As Jan’s post and reply to you say, Japan has autos and excellent alternatives to autos. It is unfortunate that most of the US does not.

    • B. Carfree says:

      I guess my metaphor of referring to us Americans as barbarians in reference to our lack of modern rail was a bit inappropriate. I meant no offense and I apologize. Happy trails and safe journeys to you and yours.

      I’m simply more than a bit jealous of the wonderful train systems that have been implemented in other nations. However, I do enjoy Jan’s wonderful descriptions of his use of rail overseas and hope for more. Riding on trains is my third favorite means of travel. (Like many folks reading Jan’s wonderful writing, my favorite mode is on a bicycle, followed by walking.)

  12. Karl Wilcox says:

    Soma sells a Panaracer manufactured tire they call the “Supple Vitesse SL” which has a “supple tubular casing” for 66.00 dollars (700c 33c tire that weighs 240g.). At present, I am riding the Compass 32c ‘Stampede Pass’ extra light tires also made by Panaracer at a price of 75.00 dollars. My question is this: is the casing on both the Soma and Compass extra-light or open tubular tires the same? I am very pleased with the Compass extra-light tires, but if the same casing is used for both the Compass and the Soma tires, I would be very tempted to switch to the “Supple Vitesse SL”, given that I could then save 20 dollars on a set of tires and end up with the same ride quality. Is this a case now of Panaracer making tires for two different companies which are, essentially, the same tire with different treads?

    • I am excited that supple tires are becoming more popular, and that more makers are offering them. I don’t know much about Soma’s latest tires, or the casings they use.

      I think you’ll find that our Compass tires have a carefully designed tread that offers an optimum of longevity without the wooden feel of thick “touring” tires. At least some of Soma’s earlier tires were very thin. They were very light, but didn’t last long. Making a great tire takes a lot of development work, and the copies often are cheaper because they haven’t benefited from the same R&D.

      • Karl Wilcox says:

        Thanks Jan for you response; at this point, I think I’ll stick with your tires. They are the best riding tires I’ve used since my early racing days when I rode Clement Del Mondo silk sew ups… indeed, the Stampede Pass tires may even be better than the silks, as the 32c width seems just about perfect for a 700c rim, and the Stampede pass tires deflect punctures amazingly well. With respect to punctures: I am 2 meters tall and weigh 190 lbs, and I am running the Stampede Pass tires at 65 front and 75 rear. I’ve observed that if I run the Stampede Pass tires at a full 90 psi, I get lots of punctures; and I mean a lot of punctures and also deep cuts right through the casing, etc. With the somewhat lower pressures, I virtually never flat even when riding on the marginal roads of rural Texas. Full 90 psi in the Stampede Pass 32c tires is a good way to nullify their ride quality and shorten the life span of the tires– that’s been my experience. The lower pressures ride faster and just plain feel better…

  13. Willem says:

    I had a look. By and large the Soma tyres are similarly priced, and would seem to be quite similar in construction to various Grandbois and Compass models (of both standard weight and extra light weight). The 700c tyres have some kind of block tread pattern, and tread patern and weight are probaly the area of the biggest differences.

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