Paris-Brest-Paris: Compass Tires and a New Book


This year’s PBP saw a significant number of riders on Compass tires. Of course, we (Jan, Theo, Hahn) rode them, too, but it’s always nice to hear from others how our products are doing.

J. O. from Vancouver, B.C., and his wife rode a tandem. We gave them our samples of the Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ tires, which were hand-delivered to the bike check the day before the start (above). Putting on new tires just before the big ride takes confidence, but these riders were not disappointed:

“The Compass Rat Trap Pass tires were an immediate upgrade in terms of comfort. Cobbles and chip seal went from being a jarring distraction and energy sink to a slightly noticeable background hum. My wife noticed and appreciated the extra comfort the Rat Trap Pass tires provided, and she doesn’t want to go back to other tires, either.”


It’s always fun to see old friends at PBP. I’ve known Melinda Lyon from Boston (above) for many years, and for this year’s PBP, she was on the new Elk Pass 26″ x 1.25″ tires. Her report:

“I loved the tires. They really feel smooth even on the chipseal roads of France. No flats, no problems. Incidentally I seemed to have less shoulder, back problems and less of a sore butt than previous years but there were some other variables to that. On downhills, I felt like I was flying and catching heavier riders just with the tires rolling so well.”

There were others who provided unsolicited feedback:

I’ve been riding Barlow Pass tires all summer. No flats! Put on a new set for PBP. No flats, no hand numbness, no saddle sores. I credit the tires more than anything. Thanks for making my bike ride so nice!

— J.K., Belgrade, MT

“I bought the Stampede Pass Extralight tires for P-B-P… Usually my hands hurt on brevets, and I have to shift hand position often. With these tires no pain at all, and only a little tingling in the little and ring fingers afterwards. It is probably the most noticeable performance-improving change I have ever made to my bicycles.”

— G.P.K., Slagelse, Denmark

Whether you were able to participate in this year’s PBP or not, you may want to learn more about this fascinating event. Jacques Seray has updated his book on PBP with information about the latest edition, including Björn Lenhard’s incredible 600+ km breakaway.


The text is in French, but the photos alone make this book a must-have. Seray has assembled a vast treasure trove from the 124-year history of PBP, going back to the very first “utilitarian race” of 1891. Hundreds of photos allow you tollow the early racers on their incredible rides, join the mid-century randonneurs as they battled with wind and rain unsupported, and relive recent editions of this great event. The new book just has been released, and we have it in stock now.

For more information about Compass tires, click here.

For more information about the PBP book, click here.

Posted in books, Tires | 13 Comments

Spare Wheel Carriers for Cyclocross


It’s a common dilemma: You want to ride to the start of a cyclocross race. The distance of 20 miles to the start doesn’t bother you – it’s a good warm-up. But your expensive cross tubulars will wear off their knobs quickly if you ride them on pavement. What to do?

One solution is equip your bike for the commute with a spare wheelset with road tires, and carry your cross wheels to the race. I have seen various setups, from single-wheel Bob trailers to strapping the wheels to a backpack, but all leave something to be desired.

Years ago, I read how British time trialists faced a similar problem. They did not want to wear out their tubulars on the way to their events, or worse, get a flat that couldn’t easily be repaired on the road. So they made spare wheel carriers that allowed carrying a second wheelset on the bike.

I suspect the first of these were hand-made, but the British Cyclo company offered an aluminum version. I tracked down a set, figuring that they might come in handy for cyclocross.


You can see how simple the carriers really are: a flat piece of aluminum, bent to provide some offset for the wheels to clear the cantilever brakes. There is a hole at each end. One goes over the axle of the bike’s front wheel, the other receives the axle of the spare wheel.


Toe-straps stabilize the wheels on the handlebars. With quick releases instead of wingnuts, I had to put washers under the unsupported side, so the quick release could tension, but otherwise, installation was simple.


Riding with this setup was fine, but there were a few surprises:

  1. Toe overlap was severe. Perhaps not a surprise if I had thought about the geometry of the setup. Tight turns are impossible: The spare wheel hits the down tube.
  2. The wind resistance of the two extra wheels is enormous. Now I know why even racing tricycles are so slow. On this windy day, I just was riding across town to Hahn’s house to get a ride, and I almost didn’t make it on time.
  3. With the most of the two extra wheels ahead of the steerer axis, cross-wind instability was severe. Fortunately, my old Alan has a low-trail geometry that is relatively unaffected by cross-winds, but on a modern ‘cross bike with a mountain bike-inspired front-end geometry, this setup might become an unmanageable handful.


Switching wheels at the race took less than a minute. My old Alan still is more than competitive against modern bikes. Or perhaps more importantly, the FMB tubulars it wears are absolutely wonderful. The race went well, too.


It was a dry day, so we didn’t get muddy, just lots of dust on our sweaty faces. The photo was taken seconds after the finish: It was fun!


Cross season is still going on. Give it a try! Do you have a way to bring along your spare wheels?

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 26 Comments

Small Differences Can Matter


Recently, I was on a familiar road, but riding it did not feel familiar. It seemed like I was straining to stay on top of my gear, whereas usually I just spin along. Was I exceptionally tired? I didn’t feel that way…

Then I remembered that I had replaced my 46-30 chainrings with 48-32 for Paris-Brest-Paris. In PBP, I sometimes ride in big groups and with a strong tailwind… Then my tallest gear of 46-14 – big enough for my riding in the Pacific Northwest – might not be quite tall enough.

So my big ring was 2 teeth larger than usual, hence the difficulty to stay on top of the gear. The difference is about 5% – small, but noticeable. Now that I have returned from PBP, I will re-install the 46-30 rings, since they suit my usual riding better.

It’s too bad that customizing your chainrings isn’t as easy as it used to be. Today, most makers only offer only very few chainring sizes, and none are small enough for non-racers. I have not yet been dropped because I spun out and could not keep up… and yet my biggest gear of 48-14 is 20% smaller than 50-12, the smallest maximum gear you can get from mainstream makers today.


If you have a healthy spin, you’ll rarely, if ever, use the 2 or 3 smallest cogs on a modern drivetrain. And that makes your 10-speed cassette effectively a 7-speed. With smaller chainrings, you could get a closer-ratio cassette, and have smaller steps between your gears, while maintaining the gear range that you currently use. Or you can keep your current cassette, and trade the super-large gears you never use for extra-small gears that will come in handy in the mountains.


With that in mind, we are offering dozens of chainring combinations for our René Herse cranks, from 52 to 42 teeth for the big ring, and down to 24 teeth for the small one. That way, you can equip your bike with gears that you’ll actually use!

Click here for more information about the René Herse cranks.


Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 95 Comments

Fenders for Different Tire Sizes


As the rains return to the northern hemispheres, many cyclists’ thoughts turn toward fenders (or mudguards, as British riders call them). Fortunately, the idea that fenders are just an afterthought is long passé – today, most real-world bikes are designed with fenders in mind from the onset. Just like Porsche and Ferrari only sell cars with fenders…

Whether you are planning a new bike or retrofitting an old one, fitting fenders takes some consideration. Well-mounted fenders enhance the appearance of the bike, and they disappear when riding – until the roads get wet, when they protect your body and your bike’s drivetrain from the road spray that makes life so miserable.

Poorly designed and/or poorly mounted fenders rattle and resonate, they drip water onto your feet, and they often break prematurely. Sometimes, they even catch on the front tire and send you over the handlebars.


The best fenders are stiff enough to hold their shape, long enough to prevent front wheel spray from reaching your feet and drivetrain, and have rolled edges that keep the water inside, so it doesn’t drip onto your feet. The Honjo aluminum fenders Compass sells meet all these requirements, plus they are lightweight and beautiful.

Once you have ridden with these fenders, you realize that plastic fenders are at most “50% fenders” – they keep some water off you, but they offer only 50% the protection and riding comfort that you get with the Honjos.

Requirements for good fender installation:


  • Clearance (required). Some riders manage to squeeze a fender into a 5 mm gap between tire and frame, but ideally, you should have about 30 mm between the tire and the bridges/fork crown. 20 mm (above) is workable, but if you have much less then you are running into safety risks. On some bikes, it may be necessary to switch to narrower tires when mounting fenders.


  • Chainstay bridge (highly desirable): If your bike doesn’t have a chainstay bridge, fender mounting will be difficult. There are work-arounds, such as using a clamp on the seat tube and cutting the fender short, but they are less than ideal.


  • Drilled bridges (required): If your chainstay and seatstay bridges aren’t drilled for fenders, then fender installation will be difficult. Ideal is a vertical drilling (above), which allows direct mounting of the fenders. The Honjo fenders we sell come with a sliding bracket that allows mounting the fenders on a seatstay bridge drilled horizontally for a rear brake.
  • If your bridge isn’t drilled, you can drill it yourself and install a rivnut. Rivnuts usually are used to retrofit waterbottle bosses on older frames.
  • Equidistant bridges (desirable): When you look at the three photos above, you see that the gap between tire and bridge is the same at the seatstay and chainstay bridges, as well as the fork crown. (The same applies to any fender mounting points on the racks.) This makes it easy to get good fender lines and to install the fenders stress-free, which is crucial for their longevity. If your bridges aren’t spaced correctly, you’ll need to figure out spacers to mount your fenders.

The short summary of the above: As long as you have adequate clearances, you can use Honjo fenders.


Which fenders for which tire size?

Generally, fenders should be about 40% wider than your tires. This allows them to wrap around your tires without encroaching on the required clearances. This works well for tires up to 42 mm wide, which are best used with 58-60 mm-wide fenders.

However, you cannot scale up fenders indefinitely: Fenders wider than 60 mm do not work with “road” drivetrains, as the chain hits the fender in the smallest gears. For tires wider than 42 mm, stick with a 60 mm-wide fender. Choose a model that does not wrap around the tire very far, and mount it higher above the tire to provide the required clearance. You get a bit of “air” showing between tire and fender, but this “motocross” look is inevitable if you want to run ultra-wide tires with a road drivetrain. (Mountain bike cranks sit further outward and have room for wider fenders.)

Here is a list of Compass tires and recommended fenders:

  • 26″ x 1.25″ – 1.75″ tires: no fenders currently offered by Compass.
  • 26″ x 2.3″ tires: Honjo 650B smooth. These fenders are 60 mm wide and don’t wrap very far around the tire. The 26″ x 2.3″ tires have the same outer diameter as 650B x 42 mm tires, so 650B fenders are a good choice.


If you buy your fenders from Compass Bicycles, we include a reprint of Peter Weigle’s article on fender installation in Bicycle Quarterly 34, with easy step-by-step guidance on how to indent the fenders for fork crown and chainstays (don’t cut aluminum fenders!) and how to mount them free of stresses, so they will give decades of silent, trouble-free performance.

Click here for more information about Honjo and Grand Bois fenders.

Posted in Fenders | 61 Comments

Aesthetic Choices


The bike above is the icon of my youth – a 1980s Cinelli Supercorsa with Campagnolo Super Record components. Back then, I was riding a crummy Peugeot 10-speed with heavy tires, rattling fenders and poorly-shifting derailleurs, and I dreamt of a lithe racing bike.

When I finally was able to afford one (a Bianchi, since Cinellis were out of reach), I loved the fender-less wheels, the narrow tires, and the almost ethereal appearance of my bike. I promised myself that I’d never ride a bike with fenders again.


A few decades later, my preferences have changed. To my youthful eyes, my current bike would have seemed bulky and unappealing. The big tires, the wide fenders, the racks, the lights… It is a lot of bike, and it wouldn’t have squared with my vision of the ultimate performance bike. Most of all, I would have thought that the randonneur bike offered less performance than the racing machine.

Today, we know that both bikes perform equally well. We now know that wider tires don’t roll slower than narrower ones, provided they use the same supple casing. Physics tells us that the weight of fenders and lights has only an insignificant effect on climbing performance, and our on-the-road testing has confirmed this.

For me, the randonneur bike, with its lighter-gauge frame tubing, actually climbs better than the Cinelli with its heavier frame. The Cinelli is geared more toward a strong sprinter, and I am more of a climber and long-distance rider. But a racing bike could be built with a lighter-weight frame that would perform like my randonneur bike, so that isn’t a good reason to prefer one over the other.

It’s also churlish to chastise a rider on a sunny day for not having fenders, or to look down upon a weekend rider who may never ride all the way through the night, but prefers to ride a fully-equipped randonneur bike.


In the end, it comes down to aesthetic choices. I have grown to love the look of a good randonneur bike. The fenders serve to accentuate the wheels, the small rack makes the entire bike look as if it is moving forward, and the lights add interest to the bike. To me, a racing bike now almost looks incomplete, as if the builder had not yet finished his or her task.

Even so, I fully understand the appeal of a great racing bike, whether modern or classic. The track bike is the ultimate expression of that aesthetic – it’s the bike reduced to its simplest form. The racing bike then adds only the parts that are absolutely necessary: brakes and derailleurs. The tires are only as wide as need be. It’s a minimalist aesthetic that contrasts sharply with the randonneur bike’s “fully equipped with everything in its place” look.

Whichever we prefer, it’s useful to realize that we are making aesthetic choices. There’s no need to defend one preference over another because of its imagined performance advantages. (It’s different if you are actually racing, or riding in wet weather, or at night. In that case, the machine that is specific for your activity is the best choice.)

Some people scoff at aesthetic choices as being superficial, but I consider them very important. Few of us sit on upturned fruit crates in our homes – and just like our furniture, our bikes are important for our enjoyment of our daily lives. And like our clothes, our bikes present ourselves to the world. Let’s be proud of our aesthetic choices while respecting those of others.

Photo credit: (Cinelli)

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Testing and Tech | 40 Comments

BQ Back Issue 4-Packs


All Bicycle Quarterly back issues continue to be popular, because their content is timeless. Our historic articles are well-researched, with interviews of the people who were there, plus detailed research in the contemporary literature. If you want to know the story of Alex Singer or Jack Taylor, or how the first Campagnolo parallelogram derailleur was developed, there simply is no better resource than the BQ back issues.

Our technical articles also have stood the test of time. What we wrote ten years ago about front-end geometry revolutionized the understanding of bike handling (think low-trail geometries). Our first tire tests have now been confirmed by many others (wider tires roll as fast as narrow ones). Other subjects, such as frame flex and “planing”, still remain ahead of the mainstream press. You won’t find more definite articles on these subjects anywhere else.

Our rides continue to inspire riders to explore roads off the beaten path, whether it’s riding a 1946 tandem in Paris-Brest-Paris, the incredible Raid Pyrénéen with its 18 mountain passes, or finding “secret passes” in the Cascade Mountains.

All back issues continue to be available. (Ordering several also provides savings on shipping.) For readers who just want all, we do offer BQ 1 – 50 at a special price. You get 2844 pages of reading enjoyment…


We now offer 4-packs of BQ back issues as well: These are “mix and match” – you get to choose your selection of back issues. We also offer pre-selected “packages” on individual subjects, to make it easier for readers who want to read up on one of the following topics:

  • Tire PerformanceOur famous tire tests that started the revolution toward wider tires.
  • Bike HandlingDetailed explanations of how to design bikes to handle well with various loads, tire sizes and other factors, plus a look at bicycle geometry and how each factor affects a bike’s handling.
  • Frame Stiffness and PlaningOur double-blind tests of frame stiffness and how it affects performance, plus tests of fork blade flex and more.
  • General Bike PerformanceWind tunnel tests of fenders, bags, clothing and tires of different widths. Quantifying suspension losses as the bike goes over bumps. Measuring the drag of generator hubs. A survey of PBP equipment, correlated to finishing times and problems riders experienced.
  • Our Best InterviewsGrant Petersen, Charlie Cunningham/Jacquie Phelan, the builders at Toei, Paulette Porthault.
  • Classic Builders 1Alex Singer, Jack Taylor, Goëland, Reyhand.
  • Classic Builders 2Charrel, Barra, Hetchins, TA.
  • American Builders SpeakPeter Weigle, Mark Nobilette, Bruce Gordon and Jamie Swan on filing and making lugs, a carbon-titanium bike and frame alignment.
  • TandemsClassic tandems, geometries, amazing tandem rides past and present, and the restoration of the 1956 PBP-winning René Herse.

We put together the packages with as little overlap as possible. You can order all “technical” 4-packs and not get a single issue twice. The same applies to the “history” 4-packs. (Where overlap does occur, it is noted in the descriptions.)

Click here for more information about BQ back issues or to order.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 4 Comments

Charlie Cunningham Needs Our Help


Of all the people I have interviewed for Bicycle Quarterly, Charlie Cunningham was perhaps the most fascinating. We talked for hours about a great variety of bike-related topics. I am particularly fascinated by his various brake designs – we both prefer brakes with posts next to the fork crown. (Since then, even Shimano has adopted that technology.)

The hardest part for me was distilling our several hours of conversation into a BQ article. It still ended up 14 pages long, but I am proud to think we managed to explain how Charlie’s “Toggle Cam” and “Lever Link” brakes actually work. Charlie exemplifies the “mad inventor” for me – a guy with scant regard for convention, but who is right more often than not.


The same issue (BQ 29) also included a long interview with Charlie’s partner, the incomparable Jacquie Phelan. Together, they make one of mountain biking’s most amazing and inspirational couple.

So you can imagine how sad I was when Jacquie told me recently that Charlie had a bike accident with multiple broken bones. Worse, a head injury manifested itself six weeks later, requiring emergency brain surgery. Charlie is a tough guy, and it appears that he is recovering, albeit slowly.

We want to help get the word out that there is a fund drive to raise money to help cover mounting expenses, especially in the face of what looks like a long recovery. One of their friends has set up a relief fund. Please donate at

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments