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

A Visit to Ben Le Batard


While I was in Paris after this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris, I visited Ben Le Batard, who runs a machine and fabrication shop. He specializes in motorbikes and bicycles. The bicycle portion of his shop is run by Daniel Hanart, perhaps best known for building Jeannie Longo’s hour record bike, as well as some of the bikes of the Confrérie des 650.

Le Batard bicycles are unique creations. The bike above is a time trial bike with an aluminum frame, which reputedly has won numerous French championships. According to Monsieur Le Batard, polishing the frame alone took more than 9 hours.


The entire bike is an amazing piece of fabrication. The custom-made stem-cum-aerobar combo was inspired by René Herse’s stems…


Here is another Le Batard creation. This one is unorthodox in the British tradition – the goal is to keep the chainstays short and stiff for optimum performance. I’d love to test one!


Outside, we saw a customer’s bike, which featured many neat details. The integrated headset cups remind me of 1950s Bianchis, except here they house easily replaceable cartridge bearings. The internal brake cable routing also is quite elegantly done.


Among the personal bikes of Monsieur Le Batard was this magnificent track bike, built for 6-day racing, and completely original, left untouched since it had last been raced.


Even though it was labeled “Terrot”, it was quite obvious that the frame was made by Bianco, who built the frames for many professional racers at the time. Bianco only delivered bare frames, which then were painted in the colors of the racer’s sponsors. So there are no “Bianco” decals, and yet anybody with a little knowledge can easily tell a Bianco by many of the details, as well as the superb workmanship.


From the sublime to the (slightly) ridiculous: a Honda Monkey mini-motorbike. I actually kind of like it. At the very least, I’d love to try one.


Custom motorcycles, hour record bikes and now also some classic randonneur machines – it’s an fascinating mix that speaks highly of Messieurs Hanart and Le Batard’s abilities. It was a fun visit! Merci beaucoup, also to Ivan Souverain, who introduced me to this unique shop.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Compass Knickers


We are happy to introduce our Compass Knickers! Now we can be more confident when entering restaurants or shops, knowing that our cycling clothes do not stretch the boundaries of good taste by being too tight and revealing. Yet on the bike, these knickers are slick with the wind, and do not billow like many “casual” cycling shorts. I’ve ridden many spirited rides on them, including part of this year’s PBP, and they simply disappear.

During my first trip to Japan, I discovered Japanese cyclotouring knickers. I started to wear them on most rides, and whenever a photo of me appeared in the magazine, on our blog or on other social media, we received requests from readers who were interested in the knickers. Clearly, there is a demand for performance cycling knickers, but unfortunately, none of the Japanese manufacturers were interested in selling small quantities to North America.

The solution was to make our own. We worked with a local company in Seattle to develop knickers that combine the best features of various knickers we have tried. We have tested a number of prototypes with different cuts and fabrics over thousands of kilometers.

Compass Bicycles_2064 cop 1

The final model uses a synthetic woven fabric with a little stretch, so they don’t constrict your pedaling, no matter how fast you are going. The fabric wicks moisture, so it is comfortable even in very hot weather. The cuffs below the knees are elastic and adjustable. The waist is both elastic and features a belt, so you can dial in your fit.

Compass Bicycles_2037 cop 1

They don’t have a pad, so you also can wear them off the bike. I’ve found them perfect for back-country hiking as well. On the bike, I simply wear my normal cycling shorts underneath them. They also pack so small that you could just stuff them in your jersey pocket and only wear them when you arrive at your destination. (They fit over your cycling shoes, so they are easy to put on.)

Compass Bicycles_2036 cop 1

The Compass knickers are finely detailed and hand-made in Seattle. They are available now in five sizes between 28″ and 36″, in two colors. The fit is adjustable, so order a size up if unsure, especially if you wear padded cycling shorts underneath. Click here for more information about the Compass Knickers or to order your pair.

Posted in Clothing | 39 Comments