Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting 2016

Un-Meeting_profile

This year’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting will be held on June 25 and 26 in Carson, Washington. Carson is located on the Columbia River near the Bridge of the Gods. It is easily accessible by bike from Portland along the Columbia River (90 km/50 miles).

From Carson, there are many options for great rides. On gravel, we can head to Trout Lake for the famous huckleberry shakes. On pavement, the ride over Old Man Pass to Northwoods at the foot of Mount St. Helens is truly spectacular. Both are part of the Volcano High Pass course that has featured repeatedly in Bicycle Quarterly, most recently as part of the “Road to Takhlakh Lake” in the Spring 2016 issue. We are exploring other route options that promise to be even nicer.

Carson has several campgrounds in town and nearby, as well as the Hotel St. Martin with its iconic hot springs. Food options include a brew pub, a grocery store, as well as more restaurants in nearby Stevenson.

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The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting has a simple format: A meeting time and place are announced, a few routes are scouted, and everybody is welcome to join us for a day of cycling “off the beaten path”. The following day, there is the option of joining the group for the ride back to Portland via the scenic Historic Columbia Highway.

Logistics are up to each participant. The Un-Meeting has no entry fees, no waivers and provides no services. Everybody is welcome on any type of bike. However, because there are no services, riders must be self-sufficient. There will be no sag wagon…

Un-Meeting Dirt

Un-Meetings are unscripted get-togethers of cyclists who enjoy riding off the beaten path. We will ride together in the mountains, on routes that are accessible to most cyclists – no need to be a Super Randonneur to keep up. The rides vary in length between 80 and 150 km (50 and 90 miles). The focus is on fun and exploration more than performance.

campfire

After the day’s ride, we will congregate at a campfire and share stories and experiences. Part of the fun is looking at each others’ bikes, because the machines at the Un-Meeting are as individualistic as their riders. By the end of the Un-Meeting, we hope many new friendships will be made and old ones rekindled.

Join us at 9 a.m. on June 25, 2016 at the grocery store in the center of Carson. (There is only one!) We’ll have more information in the weeks leading up to the event. I hope to see you at the Un-Meeting!

Photo credit: Andrew Squirrel (campfire).

Posted in Rides | 1 Comment

New Bicycle Quarterly 4-Packs

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The popularity of our 4-packs of Bicycle Quarterly back issues has surprised us.  They provide a neat way of reading up on a topic that interests you, whether it’s tire performance, American framebuilders, or tandems.

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Especially popular has been “Our best interviews”, which includes Grant Petersen; the legendary builders at TOEI; a double feature with Jacquie Phelan/Charlie Cunningham; and Paulette Porthault.

You may not know Madame Porthault, but you’ve probably seen her: On the Bicycle Quarterly web site, she is climbing the Galibier in 1936. You’ll want to read her story: She toured all over Europe during the 1930s. During the war, she won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race (above). Then she rode for René Herse in the Technical Trials. She was incredibly strong, yet she really enjoyed leisurely touring, too. Her stories have been an inspiration for all of us at Bicycle Quarterly.

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We put together two new 4-packs:

  • Our best bike tests. Of course these are not just cut-and-dry bike tests. We take our test bikes on adventures that you’ll enjoy whether you are in the market for a new bike or not: Descending gravel-road mountain passes at night on a Calfee carbon bike during the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée. Riding a MAP in search of the secret passes of the Cascades (above). Taking a J. P. Weigle to the original Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. And going bikepacking in the snow on a Jeff Jones titanium 29er.

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  • Classic Bike Technology. Read what it’s like to ride a Bi-Chain, Retro-Directe and the early racing derailleurs like the Super Champion. Learn to shift Campagnolo’s Cambio Corsa, which requires opening the rear quick release and backpedaling. We’ve ridden them all! How do they compare to Campagnolo’s ground-breaking Gran Sport or its predecessor, the Nivex? What about Simplex and Huret Jubilee? Or the marvellous Spirax with its automatic chain tension adjustment? Discover the 1930s ancestor of the Huret Duopar with its two separate parallelograms. Fascinating stuff! This 4-pack also includes Bicycle Quarterly‘s “Brake Special” (imagine a Dancing Chain about brakes). You’ll be amazed how many different brake designs there have been over the last century (above). And we explain how Retrofriction and PowerRatchet shift levers work, with specially commissioned drawings by George Retseck.

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Of course, each back issue contains many other articles that you’ll find enjoyable. In fact, many readers have been ordering our complete set of BQ 1 – 50, which give you 2844 pages of reading enjoyment at a special price.

Click for further information about Bicycle Quarterly:

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues

Carbon and Leather

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The Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Diverge test bike came out of the box all black. Specialized’s photo (below) makes it look like a shadow, but when I saw the actual bike, I found quite unappealing. Everything looked like it was made from plastic.

I dreaded taking the bike to the photo studio, where it’s our job to make test bikes look good. And I wasn’t particularly looking forward to riding it, either.

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As it turned out, I had to make a few changes to the Diverge before I could take it on the adventure that we planned for this bike test. With its stock tires, the deck was stacked against the Diverge, so on went a set of Compass Extralights. The handlebars gave me numb hands just riding around town, so I installed a set of Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 bars instead. And the Body Geometry saddle clearly didn’t fit my “geometry”, so it was replaced with a Rivet leather saddle that we were also testing for BQ.

These changes gave me an opportunity to do something about the appearance of the bike, too. Even though Compass tires are available in all-black, I opted for tan sidewalls to accentuate the wheels. Instead of reusing the original tape that looked like somebody had wrapped the bars in an inner tube, I used leather bar tape that matched the honey color of the saddle.

With these small changes, the bike was transformed, both functionally and aesthetically. The tan splashes of color directed the focus on the parts of the bike that matter: the tires that make the bike roll; and the handlebars and saddle as the important contact points with the rider. The black carbon frame connected these parts with smooth lines. To me, the bike now looked really appealing, and I could hardly wait to ride it.

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Imagine my surprise when I saw a similar juxtaposition of carbon and leather on a BMW concept car in a Munich showroom. The “328 Homage” has a body made from carbon fiber. The wheels are silver (not black!), and there are leather straps on the hood.

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The interior is covered with beautiful tan leather. It is a rather appealing mix, and I wish I could have sat in those leather seats. For me, leather isn’t about luxury or status, but its texture feels nice to touch. Leather develops a nice patina with age and use.

I imagine how the concept car would look if it was driven for a few thousand miles and then put on display. I was glad that I was able to ride the Diverge. The colors of its bar tape and saddle became even richer with use.

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For a fast camping trip on the Diverge, I took the contrast even further by adding a set of Gilles Berthoud panniers. There was a practical reason to use the Berthouds, as my modern front panniers were too small to carry a weekend’s camping gear. But once the panniers were on the bike, I realized how nice the gray-blue canvas looked with the black carbon…

I believe that timeless materials like leather and “classic” aesthetics can have a place on a modern bike. When you look at your bike, you want to think how wonderful it looks, and have the anticipation that it will deliver a great ride.

Until the bike industry wakes up to this potential, you can take matters in your own hands: A few small changes can radically change the appearance of your bike. And if, as in the case of the Diverge, the function is improved as much as the appearance, then you have two reasons to enjoy riding your bike more.

Posted in Handlebars | 52 Comments

Prepare for Gravel Riding

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Gravel riding is becoming increasingly popular, and we are very happy about it! It was natural for Bicycle Quarterly to become a co-sponsor of the Eroica California ride in April, since it combines two things we love: gravel roads and classic bikes. But gravel riding isn’t limited to riders trying to recreate the glory days of mid-century racing – almost any bike shop in North America will have a selection of carbon fiber “gravel bikes”.

There are many reasons why cyclists have discovered gravel: Gravel roads see much less traffic than paved ones. Gravel roads often traverse magnificent scenery. And riding on gravel enhances the simple experience of cycling, as your bike slides a bit – whereas on pavement, a slide usually results in a crash. On gravel, you can play with the limits of adhesion. It’s fun.

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For more than a decade, Bicycle Quarterly has featured cycling on unpaved roads: dirt roads, gravel roads, even mountain paths. As people have become interested, they often ask us: “What do we need to ride on gravel?” 

Here are some thoughts based on our experience of testing many different bikes on many different gravel roads.

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Bike

Almost any bike can be ridden on gravel. When I was a college student, my friends and I rode our racing bikes through the forest – on 20 mm tires! Today, we call that “underbiking” – riding a bike that is only marginally suited to the environment where we ride. That can be fun for a short while, and it hones your skills, but in the long run, you’ll want a bike that is better suited to the task.

A good gravel bike combines the performance of a racing bike with the ability to use wide tires. If you have a choice, stay away from touring bikes and hybrids! Their stiff and heavy frames limit their performance. You’ll have more fun on a bike that offers a spirited ride and encourages you to go faster and further. Cyclocross bikes are great for gravel, as are the increasingly popular gravel bikes. A good randonneur bike with wide tires is an excellent choice as well. Classic racing bikes often have clearance for wider tires, too. On these bikes, you fly over the gravel, rather than grind through it.

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Knobs vs. Smooth Tires

Tires are the most important choice of your gravel bike. Contrary to what many cyclists expect, you don’t need knobs to ride on gravel. When you slide, it’s because the gravel layers slide against each other, not because your tires slide on top of the gravel. Knobbies don’t improve your traction. (Knobbies mostly give you an advantage on mud.) Most gravel rides include a fair amount of pavement, where knobbies roll slowly and corner unpredictably. That is why most gravel riders choose “road” tires with relatively smooth tread patterns.

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Tire Width

You want the widest tire you can fit on your bike. At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve ridden tires between 20 and 54 mm wide on gravel. The verdict is clear: The widest tires are by far the fastest and most fun. Three reasons:

  1. When your bike bounces on the gravel, that energy is lost from the forward motion. (The technical term is called “suspension losses”.) The more your bike bounces and vibrates, the slower it is. With wider tires, you can run lower pressure, so your tires bounce much less. You get more speed and more comfort.
  2. The more rubber you have on the “road”, the more sure-footed your bike becomes. Your bike slides sideways in corners when the stones under your tires roll or slide. A wider tire spreads the cornering forces over more stones, so it’s less likely to slide.
  3. On soft surfaces, a narrow tire sinks into the gravel. Displacing gravel takes energy. (Imagine walking on a soft sandy beach or in deep snow. It’s hard!) The ideal tire leaves almost no track in the gravel, but just floats over it. (Imagine snowshoes. They distribute your weight, making hiking through deep snow easier.)

Your tire width is limited by the clearances of your bike’s frame and fork. Read this post about determining how wide a tire you can fit on your bike. And then use the widest tires that safely clear your frame.

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Tire Choice

Many riders imagine that you need a reinforced tire for gravel, but that isn’t necessarily the case. On gravel, you are much less likely to get flats. Here is why: As you roll over debris, your tires push it into the ground. It’s the opposite of unyielding pavement, which pushes the debris into your tires – they puncture.

For some riders, sidewall cuts can be a problem when riding over sharp rocks. We don’t really know why some riders cut their sidewalls and others don’t. Many experienced cyclocross racers use hand-made tubular tires with thin cotton casings. Others tend to slash the sidewalls even if they use reinforced tires. Experiment and see what works for you.

There is a good reason to ride high-end tires with thin, flexible sidewalls: Supple tires are especially fast and comfortable on gravel. (That is why ‘cross racers use those expensive tubulars.) Supple tires reduce vibrations, so less energy is lost to the bike bouncing. You go faster. Less bouncing also means that your body doesn’t suffer as much. It’s a win-win situation.

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Brakes

On gravel, your braking power is limited by the lack of friction between tire and road. You can only brake until your tires start sliding. This means that absolute brake power is less important, but modulation is key.

On gravel, you often need to keep your wheels right at the lockup point to slow down for a corner. You need brakes that provide good feel and feedback. Many modern disc brakes are still lacking in that respect. At Bicycle Quarterly, we have found classic centerpull brakes to be so excellent that we re-introduced them through our sister company, Compass Bicycles.

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Fenders

Most gravel bikes don’t come with fenders. It’s really a shame! Fenders will keep you and your bike much cleaner than Hahn in the photo above. Gravel roads remain muddy long after paved roads have dried out. And even the most beautiful ride can be miserable, if you are getting coated with mud.

Why don’t bike makers install fenders on their gravel bikes? Unfortunately, most commonly available fenders will not withstand the vibrations of gravel roads for long. There are alternatives: Well-mounted, high-quality aluminum fenders, like the Honjos on our bikes, will last as long as the bikes they are mounted on.

Make sure that your fenders have adequate clearances around your tires. Ideally, you want 20 mm on top of the tire, so that gravel picked up by the tires doesn’t grind against the fender. If you hear constant “Scrrrshh” sounds, your fenders are too tight. This isn’t just a cosmetic problem: Debris can collapse your front fender, jam it into the fork crown, and send you over the bars. Don’t use fenders that are sub-optimal! When in doubt, it’s better to get muddy than to risk injury.

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Pedals/Shoes

Walkable shoes are useful. On gravel roads, you may have to carry your bike across small washouts or landslides. Sometimes, it’s easier and more efficient to hike up very steep passages. Use a pedal system with cleats that don’t get mashed up when you walk across gravel. SPD pedals have proven themselves in this environment. Others use touring shoes or even light hiking boots with traditional pedals and toeclips.

Prevent Mechanicals

On gravel, your bike inevitably vibrates more than it does on pavement. Make sure that all your bolts are tight. Check that straps and other parts don’t rub through. During the 360-mile Oregon Outback, the spare spokes that I had taped to my fender stays rubbed through two layers cloth tape until they fell off! The faster you go, the higher the vibration frequencies, and the more you demand of your bike.

It is possible to design and build a bike that can withstand thousands of miles of gravel riding without requiring maintenance or tightening of bolts. The lost spokes were the only problem I encountered during that epic trek across Oregon. (Below is my bike after the race.)

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What to Carry?

Gravel riding takes you into remote places. Don’t count on getting outside help – you’ll often be out of cell phone range. Make sure your bike is reliable, and carry a few essentials.

Be prepared for flat tires. Carry two spare tubes and also a patch kit, in the unlikely case that you have more than two flats. Bring a pump, and not a CO2 inflator. (You may need to inflate multiple tires.) A spare tire is useful if you slice your tire. (Or bring a piece of tire casing that makes an excellent boot – much better than the stuff you can buy for this purpose.) When I carry a spare, I bring a narrower, lighter tire than I usually use – it’s only intended to get me home…

Obviously, a few wrenches, for the bolts that are most likely to loosen, should be in your tool kit. If you ride with friends on similar bikes, you can pool your spares. For example, one spare tire will suffice for the group if all use the same wheel size…

Bring water and food, plus clothing for all expected weather conditions: Be prepared for hot climbs, cold descents, and everything in between. Use a layering system that packs small. Your bike should have the capacity to carry that luggage. Backpacks are a last resort: They tend to be uncomfortable during long rides.

A good gravel bike will have lights, so you aren’t stranded if you get lost and have to ride after dark. Bring a small emergency blanket and a small first aid kit, just in case.

With these precautions, you’ll be able to enjoy gravel roads with little worry. Riding off the beaten path is quite safe. The biggest danger for cyclists, drunk drivers, are rarely found on  twisting gravel roads in the mountains. In the unlikely event that your bike breaks and you cannot continue, you’ll hike back to civilization. That might be uncomfortable, but not dangerous. And on many gravel roads, you’ll still encounter a car or truck every few hours.

And during events like the Eroica, you can experience gravel riding without the need to be self-sufficient. It’s a great way to get a taste of gravel riding, before heading out on your own or with friends.

GravelHelens

If you don’t have a perfect bike, don’t let that keep you from enjoying riding on those unpaved roads. If all you have is a hybrid, make sure it’s in good shape, maybe put on new tires, pack your gear in a backpack, and head out. It’s good to be prepared, but once you are out there, don’t worry and enjoy the ride!

More information:

Posted in Testing and Tech | 41 Comments

The Bicycle Quarterly “Team”

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The Bicycle Quarterly “Team” is the inspiration for much of what we do. Whether it’s the ride stories in Bicycle Quarterly or the components made by Compass Bicycles, it all starts with a bunch of friends riding bikes. You may have noticed that “team” is in quotation marks, because it’s not an official team, but a really remarkable group who have found each other over the years.

We all are of similar strength, which means that a common pace comes naturally. We’ve ridden many thousands of miles together, so we have developed similar styles. We can paceline on gravel descents, because we know that nobody will suddenly brake or swerve. Riding with people you know so well is relaxing and safe. Our conversations during these rides are animated and inspiring. Our friendships extend far beyond the bike.

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At this time of year, we usually ride in the foothills of the Cascades and train to see our form return, while we wait for the snow to melt on the high mountain passes. We really live for those summertime adventures!

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Whether it’s riding 530 km (330 miles) from Seattle to the highest roads on Mount St. Helens (above) and Mount Rainier, and back, in 24 hours, during the original Cyclos Montagnards Challenge…

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… or climbing gravel mountain passes at night (and hiking through snow at the top), it’s great to have a group of friends who share the excitement of planning rides that go a bit beyond what many consider possible on a bike.

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We like to ride at a spirited pace and over long distances. That is demanding on our bikes, and more than one idea for Compass components has originated on a ride, when we found that the available equipment wasn’t up to the task. “There must be a better way!” has been the start for many a new product. We then return to the workshop to make prototypes. We test them on the following rides. Once we’ve found them up to the task, we put them into production.

Similarly, we take Bicycle Quarterly’s test bikes on adventures that explore the limits of rider and bike alike. If a bike performs well in our testing, readers can be assured that it’s an excellent machine.

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Of course, not every ride is a magnificent adventure. Often, we just head out for six to eight hours. We ride into the foothills of the Cascades (above), or through Western Washington’s marvellous coastal landscapes.

Whether our rides are short or long, we are lucky to have these friends, because as much as we love our bikes, they are an end to a means: enjoying our rides even more.

flip book

The best of these rides are turned into stories for Bicycle Quarterly. You can read about one of the most memorable ride, the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée, in our sample issue online.

Posted in People who inspired us, Rides | 7 Comments

Tire Pressure Take-Home

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What is the “correct” tire pressure for your bike? The simple answer is: Whatever feels right to you. Confused? Here is how it works:

In the past, many riders inflated their tires to the maximum pressure rating. Now most cyclists now recognize that the optimum pressure often is much lower.

But what is the right tire pressure? At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve done a lot of research into the rolling resistance of tires at various pressures, and on various road surfaces.

BertoPressChart

Frank Berto’s tire pressure chart (above), first published in Bicycle Quarterly many years ago, has received much attention. (Note that the weights are per wheel, not for the entire bike.)

Berto made the chart in the 1990s, when tires were much narrower. Hardly anybody today still rides on 20 mm tires, and even 23 mm are on their way out! At the other end, 37 mm no longer is huge, as many of us ride 42 mm tires on pavement, and even wider ones on gravel. How does it all translate into the modern world?

tire_drop

Much of it depends on the tires you run. Berto measured the tire drop (above; how much the tire deflects for a given load and pressure) for dozens of tires. He then averaged the values, and drew his chart for a tire drop of 15%.

The 15% as desirable tire drop was based on the recommendations of several tire manufacturers, but not on actual testing. So the chart shows how much you need to inflate an average 1990s tire to achieve a tire drop of 15% – nothing less and nothing more.

A few years ago, Berto sent me all his original data. Looking over his measurements, it’s clear that supple tires – back then pretty much only the Michelin Hi-Lite – deflect much more than stiff ones, at the same pressure. This means that specific tires can vary quite a bit from the averages shown in the chart.

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To get the same tire drop with supple tires, you would need to run them at higher pressures. But is 15% tire drop really what you want with supple tires?

The answer is “No”. The 15% tire drop is an arbitrary value. However, even if it’s only by coincidence, the values in Berto’s chart actually work quite well for Compass tires. They’ll result in more than 15% tire drop, but that is OK: Comfort and speed are optimized. And that is what really matters.

track_tire_test

The biggest surprise of all our testing (above) was this: For supple tires, pressure makes little difference in performance. We tested three Vittoria tires (Rubino, CX clincher, CX tubular; all 25 mm wide) and found that the supple CX models roll as fast at 70 psi as they do at 130 psi. (For the rest of the world, that is 5 bar and 9 bar.)

The reason is simple: Higher pressure decreases the energy required to flex the tire. Less energy is lost due to internal deformation (hysteresis). But higher pressure increases the losses due to the vibrations of bike and rider. More energy goes to suspension losses. The two effects cancel each other. Whether you pump up your supple tires super-hard or ride them squishy-soft, they have the same resistance.

On the other hand, truly stiff tires feel sluggish at 15% tire drop. The stiff tire is much harder to flex, so it’s useful to minimize that flex by increasing the pressure. For stiff tires, the suspension losses do not vary as much with pressure – they’re always high – since the stiff casing transmits a lot of vibration at any pressure.

Recently, Velo-News confirmed our results: The performance of a hand-made tire with cotton casing did not change at different tire pressures. And a stiffer tire rolled slower at lower pressures than at higher ones. (It’s nice to see that our results, after having been highly controversial for years, now are becoming generally accepted.)

It can be hard to believe this, because higher pressure feels faster. Here is why: When you go faster, your bike hits more road irregularities per second: The road buzz increases in frequency. Most cyclists know: higher speed = higher frequency.

Higher tire pressure cheats you into thinking that you are going faster, because it also increases the frequency of the vibrations: higher pressure = higher frequency.

It’s natural to assume that this means: higher pressure = higher frequency = higher speed, but that is incorrect. Instead, you are looking at two different mechanisms that both increase the frequency of the road buzz.

Even after years of riding supple, wide tires, this “placebo” effect sometimes plays tricks on me. A supple tire absorbs vibrations better, so it can feel slower – until you look at your speedometer.

hahn_un-meeting

What does it all mean? Here is the take-home summary:

  • Stiff casings always will be slow. They are even slower at lower pressures.
  • Supple casings are fast, and pressure doesn’t matter.
  • On smooth roads, tire pressure is a matter of personal preference (at least with supple tires). High and low pressures offer the same performance.
  • On rough roads, lower pressures are faster. So if you want to optimize your speed on all roads, including rough ones, go with a relatively low, but safe, pressure.
  • Your tire pressure needs to be high enough to avoid pinch flats. If you get pinch flats, increase your tire pressure, or better, choose wider tires. Pinch flats are rare with wide tires.
  • On pavement, your pressure needs to be high enough that the tire does not collapse during hard cornering.
  • The minimum safe pressure is higher for more supple casings. Stiff casings hold up the bike more, and thus require less air pressure.
  • On gravel, you can run lower pressures than on pavement. On loose surfaces, the tires don’t collapse as easily, because the cornering forces are much lower.
  • Don’t run your tires so low that the casing cords start to break. That happens only at very low pressures, but if you start seeing multiple lines across the casing where cords have broken, inflate the tires a bit more.
  • Berto’s chart still is a good starting point. Inflate your tires to the pressures it recommends, then experiment by adding or letting out some air.
  • See what feels best to you. That is the optimum tire pressure for you. Don’t worry about tire pressure any further! At least on paved roads, you won’t go faster or slower if you change your tire pressure.

Even simpler, here is a summary in two sentences:

  • Ride the tire pressure that feels good to you.
  • When in doubt, let out some air.

It’s really that simple!

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 46 Comments

Early-Season Ride: Hood Canal and Tahuya Hills

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The Bicycle Quarterly Team’s early-season rides usually head into the Cascade foothills to our east. There are plenty of quiet roads that seem to dead-end in the mountains… until you realize that they are connected by gravel roads! This allows us to string together a variety of rides – free of traffic and in beautiful surroundings.

We love those rides, but sometimes, a change of scenery heightens our sense of adventure. When Mark suggested a ride along the Hood Canal and through the Tahuya Hills, it didn’t take much to persuade us. Especially since he promised some gravel in the mix.

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Steve (black), Mark (yellow) and I met on the 6 o’clock ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. By the time we prepared to disembark, dawn announced the new day. Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer!

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The first kilometers along a busy highway were quickly forgotten, because we soon found ourselves on smaller roads. From Belfair, we headed along the Hood Canal into the Tahuya Hills. This is a favorite road that we’ve traveled during many a Seattle International Randonneurs brevets, usually in the middle of the night.

This morning, the scenery was especially spectacular. We saw three layers of clouds hovering above the sound. The water in the distance was still blanketed by a thick layer of fog. Above were low clouds (or perhaps dissolving fog), with a high cloud cover above. And best of all, the sun was shining on us!

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A little further, we surprised a huge bald eagle by the roadside. The eagle looks big in the photo, but you cannot see its wingspan: It was at least 1.8 m (6 ft). I did not realize how large these birds really are, until one flew right by my shoulder!

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Soon we entered the Tahyua Hills. This time, we did not take paved inland route, but a gravel road that hugs the coast line. We had seen only three or four cars since leaving Belfair, and now we had the road entirely to ourselves.

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A coastal route may sound flat, but the Tahyua Hills deserve their name. Cyclists whisper about these hills – most have heard about them, but only the hardiest actually have ridden here. I reality, the Tahuya Hills are fun – a rollercoaster of ups and downs with tight turns that test the skills of the riders and the quality of their bikes. Mark and Steve’s randonneur bikes were up to the task. The terrain was a bit more challenging for my Specialized Diverge long-term test bike, but I made it fine, too.

fog

We rode into the fog that we had seen in the distance, just as it started to lift. We were glad to have fenders, because the previous day’s rain had left the gravel muddy. (A gravel bike without fenders makes little sense around here, even on sunny days.)

bay

We rode along beautiful bays, now back on pavement, but still away from traffic. Time flew by, with spirited pedaling and animated conversations to distract us. It was a typically wonderful ride with friends.

seabeck

Just as we were getting hungry, we reached Seabeck with its general store. Weekend rides like this one aren’t timed events, so we stopped for a leisurely lunch.

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After lunch, we soon turned off the main road again. Flanked by the Puget Sound on one side and a Navy base on the other, there was hardly any traffic until we reached Bainbridge Island.

Here, we split up. My companions were keen to get home, so they continued on the busy highway. I preferred the backroads for a wonderful spin over the narrow, twisting two-lane blacktop. It’s hillier and thus takes longer than the highway, but for me, it was a nice end to a great ride.

bainbridge

I would have caught the same ferry if I hadn’t stopped at the store in Winslow to buy a second lunch. The sun had come out, and I enjoyed my picnic at the ferry dock. An hour later, I was riding home along the Seattle waterfront. These are the best kind of pre-season rides: interesting, enjoyable and thoroughly low-key.

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