Happy Holidays!

All of us at Compass Cycles and Bicycle Quarterly wish you Happy Holidays!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Around the Coastline of Britain – Interview with Andrew Mathias

The top of Bealach na Ba Pass

This autumn, Andrew Mathias rode around the entire coastline of Britain in one setting. Many of us followed his beautiful journey on Instagram. Now I had the opportunity to interview Andrew about his epic journey.

JH: Congratulations on riding around the coastline of Britain. It was fun to
follow you on Instagram. You rode 5000 miles (8000 km) in 64 days?

AM: Thanks very much, and I’m glad you enjoyed following the journey. I really enjoyed updating and creating a small mini log via Instagram. I rode 5,000 miles in 61 days. The original plan was to do the ride in 64 days, however, I finished ahead of schedule.

At the start of the 5000-mile ride

JH: How did you get the idea for this ride?

AM: For a long time, I’ve wanted to explore several areas of the UK coastline on two wheels, especially the west coast and the islands off the shore of Scotland. As I delved into planning and research, highlighting places I wanted to visit, it soon became clear that it was an option to do the whole coastline in one go. Once the idea entered my head it was always going to happen!

JH: Did you ride every day? No rest days?

AM: Yes, I rode for 61 consecutive days. I had multiple chances to have a day off, however, with no pain or injuries, and wanting to keep the momentum going, I just kept plodding on.

The first night at Aberystwyth

JH: And you did it self-supported! Where did you sleep?

AM: Yes, I rode solo for the entire tour and was self-supported. I camped using a tent I carried for most of the first month. A few areas were close to friends, so I stayed with them. I used hostels/bunkhouses and some bed & breakfasts. I also used Warm Showers, which is basically the bike-touring equivalent of couch surfing. I met many interesting, like-minded people this way.

Portpatrick Stranraer

JH: I really enjoyed your photos. I realize that riding along the coast, you
had plenty of great views, but I still was amazed by the beauty of your
shots.

AM: Thanks, I loved stopping to take photos! If I had stopped every time I wanted to take one, then I’d still be on the road! I knew there would be spectacular scenery in places, however, I was genuinely amazed almost daily at how underestimated the UK is in terms of beauty. I am massively lucky to have had the opportunity to undertake this journey.

Lake District

JH: It seems that the weather was OK despite your riding in late autumn?

AM: October and November worked best for me in terms of taking time away from work. However, it’s very nearly the worst time of year to do this ride. I was incredibly lucky with the weather. It was a risk for sure, but I’m a big believer in the statement “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit.” Having only had around six days of constant rain, I can’t complain whatsoever!

Helmsdale

JH: What did you carry on the bike?

AM: The main items were a few pairs of bib shorts, a few jerseys, rain jacket and wet-weather gear, tent, mattress, limited casual clothing, spares and tools. I tried to pack very minimally and include things only if they could be used for multiple purposes. Anything I needed en route I could buy, and anything surplus to requirements could be left behind.

Harbour town of Kippford

JH: Did you get your bike and equipment for this ride, or did you just ride
a bike you had?

AM: I spec’d the bike specifically for long days in the saddle with lots of miles. It was built with touring in mind, however, the frame that Triton Bikes and Cloud9 Cycles built is super-versatile, meaning that, with small changes, I can use it for pretty much anything. I’m now making the change to ultra-endurance race events; the bike will also be perfect for this, too. I bought the Apidura bags specifically for the journey and was massively happy with the way they performed.

JH: Any equipment trouble?

AM: One of my tent poles snapped a few days in. Not ideal, but I was able to improvise. Apart from that, I was extremely lucky with how the bike and my setup performed.

John O’Groats at the northeastern edge of Britain

JH: You rode Compass tires. How did they perform for you?

AM: This was the first time I used Compass tyres. In fact, it was the first time I ran anything larger than 28 mm tyres on the road. I went for the 35 mm Bon Jon Pass tyres and set them up tubeless. Within 20 miles I had already fallen in love with how comfortable I was. The low rolling resistance was a big asset: They were super quick once momentum had been gained. The grip was great in both dry and wet conditions. I ran around 4.5 bar (65 psi) front and rear, and I experienced only a minimal drop in pressure overnight. I covered around 2,500 miles (4000 km) before getting my first puncture! I was carrying a new spare which I changed over to shortly after this. I picked up a few more punctures before the end. However, I was massively happy with the way they performed, so much so that I will continue to use them for definite. I will find it very hard to go back to anything smaller than 35 mm tyres, especially with races next year totalling over 200 miles (320 km) a day… Comfort is key!

The bottom of Bealach na Ba Pass

JH: Tell us about some highlights of your ride!

AM: There were many highs as well as many lows, all adding up to create an incredible journey. My biggest highlight was Bealach na Ba Pass. This is a renowned climb in the Scottish Highlands. It takes you through the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula. A hurricane was forecast for the day I reached the pass. The wind was strengthening as I a approached Applecross, but the scenery was spectacular. I was lucky to get clear skies, so I could enjoy jaw-dropping views during the ascent. The climb itself is around 6% average for 3-4 miles, followed by four 20% switchbacks at the summit. I felt a massive sense of relief and achievement before enjoying a hugely fast descent.

Approaching Applecross during a hurricane

JH: And what were the hardest parts?

AM: As well as being a highlight, Applecross was also the hardest physical day on the bike. The fact it was so difficult made it even more of a highlight. From a mental point of view, keeping morale and motivation high was difficult. Taking every day as it comes is all you can do. Enjoy your surroundings, and the freedom that your bike gives you, and the mind will look after itself.

At the westernmost point of the ride

JH: If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?

AM: The obvious answer is to do it in the summer! However, doing it in the cold, wet and, at times, dark conditions added to the challenge. Seeing areas like west Scotland in its raw and rough state was something that I will never forget!

JH: I was glad to see that just after finishing your great ride, you already
were back on your bike. Any plans for another big adventure?

On the white cliffs of Dover – almost at the finish!

AM: For sure! I was out and about the day after finishing, and have been a fair bit since. I’m currently training for the TransAtlanticWay, which is an ultra-endurance race in Ireland next year. However, I want to explore Europe for six months or more by bike. That is also in the pipeline!

JH: Good luck on those endeavors. I look forward to hearing and them!

You can see all of Andrew’s photos from his trip on his Instagram feed at mathias0487.

Posted in Rides | 1 Comment

René Herse: The Beauty of Function

At Compass Cycles, we have taken much of our inspiration from René Herse and his legendary bikes. In the past, we’ve talked about the great performance and incredible reliability of Herse’s bikes, but what is even more striking is their beauty. You notice it immediately when you look at one of his bikes, or even a photo… but it took much study to unlock the secrets of the ‘magician of Levallois.’ (Levallois was the suburb of Paris where Herse made his bikes.)

Herse’s bikes don’t derive their beauty from complex lug shapes, but from their simplicity. It was Hiroshi Hagiwara, the maker of the Japanese Alps bicycles, who said in a recent Bicycle Quarterly interview: “A bicycle is a frame with two wheels. Everything else is a distraction.” When I thought about this while looking at a René Herse bike, I realized that Herse’s genius was to turn these distractions into assets that make the bike more beautiful.

The most obvious one are the fenders (above): They follow the outline of the wheel so gracefully that they enhance the bike to the point where the same bike without fenders would look naked.

Herse masterfully joined the frame and wheels: Herse’s custom-made dropouts place the wheel centers in the prolongation of the stays and fork blades. That way, the wheels are centered in the end points of the frame, which ties the whole bike together. As an added benefit, this allows the dropouts to be smaller, stiffer and lighter.

Other things are harder to notice: The two arms of the custom-made hanger for the Cyclo derailleur line up perfectly behind each other. This is very difficult to do, since the chainstays are angled upward and outward, and the two arms have to be bent very precisely to very different curves. It adds to the beauty of the bike, even if it’s not immediately apparent.

The brake cables are truly parallel to the head tube and seatstays. That way, they don’t distract from the frame, but underline the straightness of the tubes.

Herse considered the proportions of the frame beyond the simple question of frame fit. The tandem we rode in France last summer has twin lateral stays, but they don’t just line up whichever way. Herse subtly adjusted the frame’s dimensions so that the lateral stays are parallel, and the balanced sizes of triangles they form further adds to the attractiveness of the frame.

Herse’s genius was to achieve this with bikes that also fit their riders perfectly. Because all this magic wouldn’t mean much if it detracted from the ride.

The opposite is the case. For René Herse bikes, the old adage that “What looks right usually is right” really holds true. His bikes and tandems ride wonderfully.

The beauty of Herse’s bikes makes it easy to forget that they were not intended as showpieces – they were designed to be ridden hard. Herse’s background reveals much about his thinking: He worked on prototype aircraft before he started making bicycle components and then bicycles. His aircraft experience shows in details like the custom screws: During the early 20th century, there were no universal specifications for bolts. Airplane makers made their own bolts, and to make sure that only correct bolts were used, each maker gave their bolt heads a distinctive shape. That way, a mechanic could immediately see if a bolt had been replaced with an incorrect one of suspicious quality. René Herse’s distinctive bolts for stems and seatpost binder have triangular heads that trace their origins to this practice.

Elegance and function also are combined in his lighting systems. The most important part of the photo above is what you don’t see: lighting wires. They run inside the rack, inside the fenders, and inside the frame tubes. Even where the current needs to be transmitted from the fork to the frame, there is no external wire: An insulated carbon brush on the steerer tube mates with an insulated brass ring inside the head tube, transmitting the current while allowing the fork to turn freely. Eliminating exposed wires not only is more elegant, but it also reduces the risk of wires getting snagged or breaking from being moved time and again.

The beauty of René Herse goes beyond the frames. After all, Herse started as a maker of components, and only began making complete bikes during World War II, perhaps because it was difficult to sell components without bikes onto which to put them. Herse’s components, whether his brakes (above), cranks or stems, combined superlight weight with superb performance.

Often overlooked are small details, like his double-ended bolts for attaching the rack to the brake pivots. Many builder simply use the brake bolt to hold the rack tab as well, but this brings the risk that the bolt works loose. Herse’s solution is more elegant: His brake bolt has a forward extension onto which the rack mounts with a nut. It will never work loose. You’d expect no less from an airplane builder: If a bolt loosens in mid-air, you can’t just stop and tighten it!

Despite all their elegance, René Herse’s bikes have a certain handmade quality. It’s obvious that the lugs and stem were shaped by hand. A lot of modern builders make bikes that look more crisp and uniform. At first, I thought that this was because René Herse bikes were made in significant numbers – up to 350 left the workshop during the best years – and corners had to be cut. But René Herse’s hand-lettered logo indicates that the handmade aesthetic was intentional. Herse could easily have ordered decals, but instead, every frame was hand-lettered by a sign painter. Like great pottery, Herse’s bikes look handmade without appearing crude or unfinished. In my opinion, that makes them works of art.

For the complete story of René Herse, his bikes and their riders, read our 424-page book on the ‘magician of Levallois,’ lavishly illustrated with studio photos of his bikes and historic photos from the Herse family archives. We still have a few copies of the Limited Edition (with a slipcase and art prints of four unpublished photographs from the René Herse Archives), or the ‘standard’ edition at a more affordable price (also available in French). Click here for more information.

Two of my favorite images from the book are available as large-format, ready-to-frame Limited Edition posters. Hang them on your wall and be inspired every time you look at them. Click here to order our set.

And if you haven’t seen our video of a René Herse tandem in action, click here.

Posted in books, Rene Herse cranks | 23 Comments

New SON Generator Hubs!

We are excited to announce the latest SON generator hubs. The biggest news is the connector-less SL system for thru-axle hubs: Now you can remove your front wheel and its generator hub without having to disconnect any wires, even with a thru axle.

The system consists of three parts: The heart is the SONdelux 12 generator hub. The SONdelux is the lightest generator hub in Schmidt’s program, and it has the least resistance, so it was a natural choice for this application.  The flanges are spaced as far apart as possible while still leaving room for the disc rotor and caliper.

This hub has proven itself for many thousands of miles. What’s new is the lack of external connectors for the lighting wires. The current is transmitted via the axle (positive) and an insulated ring that is pressed onto the axle (negative). Like its counterpart with external connectors, the connector-less SL hub is available in black or silver.

The hub mates to a special dropout. By the way, the machining traces that form the funky pattern in the photos can be removed by your framebuilder. Above you see the outside, which looks like a standard stainless steel dropout for 12 mm thru-axles (12 x 1.5 mm thread).

It gets more interesting on the inside, where one dropout has a recess…

… into which an insulated contact plate fits. As you install the hub, the axle connects to the dropout for the positive contact, while the insulated ring on the hub mates to the dropout’s contact plate, which is insulated as well. A wire goes inside the fork leg from the contact plate through to the lights. That way, you provide a path for the current to flow from the hub to the light without any exposed wires that can get snagged or break from repeated flexing during installation and removal of the front wheel.

We have a small number of contact plates and dropouts in stock, with more to come once production catches up with demand. And of course, the connector-less SL system has been available for non-disc hubs all along, and we have those components in stock, too.

That isn’t all the generator hub news! Many modern rear hubs are black, and we are now offering SON hubs and lights in black to match. We’ve worked with Schmidt Maschinenbau to make our favorite hub, the SONdelux Wide-Body, in black, too. The black hub is available in the standard and connector-less SL versions, with 32 holes. This is a one-time production run, so quantities are limited. If there is sufficient demand, Schmidt will make more for us, and in other spoke counts, too.

We also have the SONdelux Centerlock Disc for quick release forks in black…

… and the Edelux II headlight for hanging mounting. (We’ve been stocking the ‘standing’ Edelux II in black all along.) Now you can choose between silver and black components when equipping your bike with the best and most reliable generator lighting.

All these products are in stock now. For more information or to order, click here for hubs and here for lights.

Posted in hubs/rims, Lighting | 8 Comments

BikeRadar Reviews the Compass Handlebars

At Compass, we design our components over thousands of miles on the (often rough) roads we ride, so we have full confidence that others will enjoy them as much as we do. Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the world’s biggest cycling web site, BikeRadar, tested our handlebars and awarded them 4.5 out of 5 stars.

That puts our bars somewhere between “one of the best you can buy” and “a genuine class leader.” BikeRadar’s tester Jack Luke was impressed by the “supremely comfortable position.” He noted that the shape works well with modern shifters, unlike other ‘classic’ bars that create an “awkward scoop before the hoods.”

The only downside he noted was that some lights may be difficult to clamp on because the 31.8 mm center bulge is relatively short. He also noted (playfully) that you cannot use them with aerobars, for the same reason.

He concluded: “From gravel nonsense to fast-ish centuries, the Compass Randonneur handlebars have proven to be an exceptionally comfortable option, and I expect I’ll be swapping these between bikes for many years to come.” 

Thank you, Jack, we’re glad you enjoyed the bars so much!

For Jack’s full review on the BikeRadar site click here.
Click here for more information about our handlebars.

Posted in Handlebars | 5 Comments

Winter 2017 Bicycle Quarterly

The new Bicycle Quarterly is shipping now – subscribers should have their copies in a few weeks. Many of our readers already have enjoyed the video of our tandem trip to the French Alps. Taking an unrestored 70-year-old bike on a challenging tour was full of adventure. Natsuko writes about her first tandem ride, and a companion article explains why this old tandem performed so well.

Even further off the beaten path, Gerolf Meyer and three friends ride their bikes across the Balkans. They encounter grandiose landscapes, plenty of gravel, and fascinating cultures. Reading their story will make you want to pack up your bike and head to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece.

Adventure bikes are one of the biggest trends in bicycles. What happens when you increase the tire size beyond what fits into a road frame? To find out, we ride the Rawland Ulv, a randonneur bike designed for 80 mm tires.

Seattle’s 333fab offers the hand-built AirLandSea as ‘one bike to do it all.’ We ride it high into the Cascade Mountains on a quest to re-discover Jack Pass, which was cut off when a river jumped its banks and washed out the road. How does this bike designed for ultra-wide tires handle the different conditions encountered during this adventure?

Shimano has grown from humble beginnings to dominate the bicycle component market. How did Shimano achieve its current status? We visit the company’s headquarters for an inside look at the company. Our journey takes us not only to the beginning of Japan’s cycling industry, but to the roots of Japanese metalworking when we visit a maker of traditional knives, who works not far from Shimano’s global headquarters.

 

Shimano’s famous ‘7400’ Dura-Ace group represents a pivotal point in Shimano’s history. For the first time, Japanese components were as good as, or better than, anything else in the world in every aspect: function, quality, finish, and even marketing. And yet to me, the ‘7400’ always has looked like the group that Campagnolo should have made to replace its famous Super Record – especially the cranks bear an uncanny resemblance. During our research, we talk to those involved in the development and learn that this is closer to the truth than we imagined.

We report on the Firefly after two years and use the opportunity to test different wheel sizes – above with a 650B front and 26″ rear wheel. Does the handling of a bike remain the same, as long as you keep the outer diameter of the wheels (and thus the front-end geometry) the same? Or are there other factors to consider?

Our report on the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting takes you right into the action of this fun-filled weekend, with many photos of the different riders and bikes that came together to enjoy a weekend of riding with old and new friends.

For my last big ride of the year, I take the superlight J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines across the Southern Alps of Japan. My plan was simple: Take the first train from Tokyo to one side of the mountain range, then catch the last train on the other side. In between are four big mountain passes that reach high into the clouds. Failure means sleeping on a bench outside the station in the cold night. Will the performance of the bike and the form of my legs be enough to make it?

Adventures are rides that have unknown outcomes. There is plenty of adventure in the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Searching the limits of 80 mm-wide tires resulted in a big splash…

…but we also discovered that how great the rewards of heading into the unknown can be.

Subscribe today to get the Winter Bicycle Quarterly. Or if your relatives or friends are looking for the perfect present, suggest a gift subscription to Bicycle Quarterly.

Click here for a full table of contents of this issue.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 8 Comments

New Water Bottles and Others ‘Back in Stock’

Our new water bottles celebrate the Compass and René Herse logos with a bold new design. The bottles are based on Specialized’s popular 26 oz. Purist design, with our custom graphics.

In addition to the iconic logos, the bottles feature a quote that describes our approach to bicycles. The new design is limited to 500 bottles, and we expect them to sell out fast. Get yours while you can!

Click here to order.

A few other Compass products also have been popular, and we’ve had a hard time keeping up with demand. We’ve just received new stock of the following:

Our Cyclotouring Knickers look great on and off the bike. Their slightly roomy fit is comfortable, yet they do not billow like many ‘casual’ cycling shorts. Whether on or off the bike, they simply disappear. Hand-sewn in Seattle, WA, from a synthetic woven fabric with a little stretch, the Compass knickers don’t constrict your pedaling, no matter how fast (or slow) you are riding. Click here for more information about Compass clothing.

 

MKS Allways pedals (left) combine a large platform with superlight weight. The US-B Nuevo clipless pedals (right) are compatible with Time’s ATAC cleats. Both feature the smooth-spinning bearings for which high-end MKS pedals are famous. The Ezy Superior Rinko version of each model (shown above) allows removing the pedals without tools – ideal for travel or for storing the bike in a narrow spot. Click here for more information about MKS pedals.

We hope you’ll enjoy these products as much as we do!

Posted in Bottle cages | 10 Comments