Why René Herse Cranks Aren’t Anodized

Sometimes, we get questions about why our René Herse cranks aren’t anodized. Some even wondered if this was a cost-saving measure. Rest assured, Compass never will choose a cheaper process over a better one. There is a reason why our cranks aren’t anodized:

When I was racing, I bought a beautiful used Campagnolo Croce d’Aune crankset (above). Named after the pass on which Tullio Campagnolo suffered from frozen fingers and no longer could open the wingnuts of his rear wheel to change gears, the Croce d’Aune group was second only to the C-Record in the Campagnolo lineup. They were a smart design and beautifully made.

The cranks had very few miles on them, as witnessed by the (then) almost-new chainrings. Even so, I paid very little for the cranks – because they had lost some of their beauty. The previous owner’s ankles had rubbed against the crankarms and worn through the anodizing. You can see it between the Campagnolo logo and the crank extractor bolt.

It wasn’t a functional problem, and since they went on a bike that I was racing hard, I didn’t care too much about the cosmetics. In fact, I soon added to that “polish” with my own ankles. The rough life of racing led to more scratches over the next few years.

And yet: if the cranks had just been polished, instead of anodized, the buffing from the rider’s ankles wouldn’t have disfigured the cranks. Even the scratches would have been easy to polish out. Polishing out scratches isn’t just about aesthetics: It allows checking whether a scratch really is a scratch, or whether it’s a crack that might cause the crankarm to break. Of course, you can polish out a scratch on an anodized crank, too, but doing so removes the anodizing, and then the crank doesn’t look good any longer.

So why do some component makers anodize their cranks? High-strength aluminum tends to corrode. Different from steel, where the corrosion flakes off until the part is gone, aluminum oxide forms a protective layer that prevents further oxidation. But it means that the aluminum turns gray. Anodizing forms a hard oxide layer that protects the alloy. Clear anodizing means that the aluminum won’t tarnish. But if the anodizing wears off in one place, the part looks worse than if it hadn’t been anodized in the first place. That is why it only makes sense to anodize components that won’t get scratched.

René Herse never anodized his cranks. The cranks on this 1952 bike still look nice after many thousands of miles. If you ride these cranks in the rain, use a high-quality car wax to protect them. That is what we do on the modern Compass René Herse cranks when we assemble them. Reapply the wax once or twice a year, and your cranks will look as nice as these, even after 65 years of hard use.

We don’t anodize our crankarms, but the chainrings are anodized. Why? They are made from 7075 aluminum for the ultimate in wear resistance. 7075 aluminum contains zinc as its main alloying agent. It oxidizes much more readily than other aluminum alloys. Without anodizing, the chainrings soon would develop ugly spots. And since your ankles (hopefully) won’t rub on the chainrings, there is little risk of wearing through the anodizing.

It would be easy to anodize our René Herse crankarms, and it would make them easier to sell, because anodizing still is taken as a sign of quality. But we prefer crankarms that we can polish and restore to “as good as new” condition, no matter how hard they have been used. Because we fully expect you to ride our cranks for many decades, just like René Herse’s riders did with their original cranks.

Click here for more information about Compass René Herse cranks.


Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 21 Comments

Wool Jerseys: Continue Riding Even as the Weather Cools

Now that it’s officially autumn in the northern hemisphere, the temperatures are getting colder, the days are shorter, and there’s often a chance of rain in the forecast. For me, that makes riding my bike all the more important. I enjoy breathing fresh air, feeling the wind in my face, and seeing the landscape change with the season. I come home invigorated.

Speaking to my riding companions, everybody agrees that the hardest part is heading out. It’s rare that we went on a ride and then thought: “I should have stayed home.” Usually, it’s the opposite, and one of us exclaims: “So glad this ride was on the schedule. Otherwise, I might not have gone, but this is a great!”

How do you avoid being miserable when it’s cold (and maybe damp) outside? “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That old saying is especially true for cycling: On a warm, sunny day, you can ride in almost anything, but in more demanding weather, good cycling clothes make all the difference.

In time for the colder seasons, we have the Bicycle Quarterly wool jerseys back in stock in all sizes, with short and long sleeves. You’ve seen them in many photos, because it’s pretty much all we wear on our rides. Wool is an almost magic material: It’s comfortable over a wide range of temperatures. It insulates equally well wet and dry. And it doesn’t absorb odors. These qualities make it ideal for cycling jerseys, especially at this time of year.

Great wool jerseys can be hard to find. The best Merino wool is soft to the touch, doesn’t scratch or shrink in the wash, and lasts for many years. That is why we offer the Bicycle Quarterly wool jerseys, made by Woolistic in Europe.

We chose the blue color of the Italian champion jerseys, because it offers high visibility, yet looks classy – something that isn’t easy to achieve. We used the same color for the Seattle Randonneurs jerseys, so we get to see them on the road quite frequently. They really stand out from a long ways in any weather.

Why wool over all other materials? I have found that it’s important that the innermost layer remains dry – it’s next to my skin! That is why wool jerseys are much more useful than windbreakers and other jackets. Even breathable shells tend to get damp on the inside. I get sweaty, and on the next downhill, the moisture chills me to the bone.

When I layer up in wool, the moisture is transferred outward, and I stay dry on the inside. This becomes obvious on very cold days, when the moisture generated by my body freezes on the outside of my jersey (above), but inside, I remain warm and dry. (I wore four layers of wool that day. Usually, it’s not that cold on our rides.)

Even in light rain, I prefer not to wear a shell. I find that if the outer wool layer gets moist, it’s OK, as long as the inner layers next to my skin remain warm and dry. Shells have their place: I wear them in downpours, when there is so much water that my body heat cannot keep me dry; and during long mountain descents, when I don’t pedal and thus generate little heat.

Once you have the right clothing, temperatures – at least down to freezing – no longer need to discourage you from riding. It’s truly liberating when you realize that you can go for a ride when you want, not just when the weather is “nice”.

Once you have your clothing dialled in, you may consider installing fenders on your bike, not so much because you want to ride in the rain, but for all those days when there is merely a “chance of rain”. Being prepared allows you to head out and enjoy the day, and most days, the rain never materializes. Even more independence comes with generator-powered lights. They free us from being limited by the short days at this time of year. But those are topics for future discussion.

If you are new to autumn cycling, focus on your clothing first, so you can enjoy riding on those many dry, but chilly, days.

Readers who live in the southern hemisphere are heading into spring. We envy you! And yet, you’ll want good clothing, too, since the weather in spring is as unpredictable as it is in autumn. Having a good wool jersey in your wardrobe will allow you to enjoy many more memorable rides.

Click here for more information about our wool jerseys.

Posted in Clothing | 32 Comments

The Best Drivers’ Cars are 50 Years Old

Quite a few people were surprised at the 2017 Concours de Machines when Peter Weigle’s bike was the lightest by a big margin. With a steel frame and mostly metal components, the Weigle weighed just 9.1 kg (20.0 lb) fully equipped with wide tires, fenders, lights, a rack, even a pump and a bell. To date, no carbon or titanium bike has been as light, while being similarly outfitted for real adventures.

As impressive as that weight was, for the Concours, being light was not enough. In this competition for the best “real-world” bike, the contestants were ridden over hundreds of miles on very challenging courses, including rough mountain bike trails, with more than 5,000 m (16,000 ft) of elevation gain over two days. Not only did they get penalized if something broke, but they also had to perform well. Any bike that didn’t maintain a high average speed incurred further penalties.

The Weigle was one of the fastest bikes in the event, bettered only by bikes that were ridden by strong amateur racers whose power output gave them an advantage. How can this bike be so light and perform so well, when, at least on the surface, it lacks the latest technology?

Car enthusiasts probably aren’t surprised. Ask ten motoring journalists which cars are the best to drive, and they won’t point to the the latest carbon-fiber supercars, though they are amazing technological achievements. Instead, the best driving machines trace their roots 50 years back, but they have been honed to the nth degree by small, dedicated companies.

Top of the current crop is a Porsche “reimagined by Singer”. This small Californian company takes air-cooled Porsche 911 – 25-year-old cars built to a design introduced in 1962 – and replaces almost every part with a hand-made component that is outwardly similar, but has been improved in every way possible. The price tag for these “used cars” starts at $ 350,000. And everybody who has driven one says it’s worth the money. That is reflected in the two-year wait list if you want one. (I’d love to experience driving one!)

If you just care about the driving, and don’t need things like a roof or a trunk, the Caterham 7 is supposed to be even more amazing. For me, the most surprising part is that this is a car introduced in 1957 (as the Lotus 7)! You have to be an expert to distinguish the latest model from one made decades ago, but the Caterham also has been refined, with new engines, modern tires, and numerous other tweaks. And yet the basic concept is the same as it was 60 years ago. On paper, it’s archaic, but in practice, it is said to offer a performance that belies its age.

On a ride with the BQ Team, we talked about these cars and wondered: How can they be better to drive than the latest supercars? On paper, it looks like a Lamborghini Aventador should be the far better car. It’s developed by a huge engineering team and made in an advanced carbon fiber production facility. How can small companies like Singer and Caterham, that most people haven’t even heard of, make cars that are better to drive?

I think there are a few reasons for this:

  • Refining the same design over many years allows small manufacturers to make each car better than the last. The big makers have to introduce new products all the time. Then they spend the first few years ironing out the bugs. Once the product approaches maturity, it’s time for the next model.
  • The cars from the small makers sell to an educated clientele, so they don’t have to play the “numbers game”. They can give up a little in horsepower, 0-60 times and top speed to focus on what really matters: performance and enjoyment on real roads.
  • Without large overheads and the need to compete on price, every part can be the best in the world. For example, the Singer Porsche’s shock absorbers cost more than some brand-new cars. Small makers can choose a part that is 10% better, but costs 30% more, knowing that their customers will appreciate it. For big companies, it’s more cost-effective to spend that money on marketing, and keep their per-unit costs low.
  • These factors outweigh the small advantages that modern materials may offer in theory.

There is a direct parallel between these cars and randonneur bikes like the Weigle or my René Herse (above). Like that Porsche or the Caterham, they may look like classics, but they, too, have benefitted from decades of development. Every part has been refined until these bikes offer a performance that is hard to match. “Modern” mass-produced bikes may be lighter, stiffer or have more gears – impressive “numbers” – but none offer superior performance across real-world terrain.

With so many beautifully designed and meticulously crafted details, it’s easy to overlook that these bikes are great to ride. Or as a journalist put it about the Singer Porsches: “They may be engineered to perfection, but they’re also engineered to be fun.”

If you are in the Boston area, you can see Peter Weigle’s amazing Concours bike at the New England Builders’ Ball this weekend, on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.

And the full story of the 2017 Concours de Machines is in the Autumn 2017 Bicycle Quarterly, including an article by Peter Weigle on building the bike and going to France for the Concours.

Photo credits: evo magazine (Photo 1), Natsuko Hirose (Photo 3), Caterham (Photo 4), Maindru (Photo 5).

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Testing and Tech | 54 Comments

Tubeless-Compatible 650B x 42 mm

The updated Compass Babyshoe Pass TC 650B x 42 mm tires are now in stock in all models. What’s new? We took our most popular 650B tire, and made it tubeless compatible. When you are riding fast on rough gravel, tubeless really makes sense – as I found out when I had dual pinch flats on a Bicycle Quarterly test bike on the original Babyshoe Pass tires (below).

You may wonder how I pinch-flatted on what looks like a smooth gravel road. It was smooth, and so we let the bikes fly on a fast downhill section. Right after a bend in the road, the gravel turned very rough. It was only a short section, but it was enough to pinch-flat both tubes. By the time I had stopped the wobbling bike from a speed of 65 km/h (40 mph), the road was smooth again, as if it all had been a bad dream. At least it was a scenic spot to change the tubes…

While we were making a new tire mold, we also increased the width of the new Babyshoe Pass by 1.5 mm. Now the tires measure a true 42 mm wide on most rims. That makes them the perfect tires not just for randonneur bikes, but also for a whole generation of gravel bikes like the Litespeed T5G and the Cannondale’s Slate.

What about the name? Babyshoe Pass is a 1330 m (4350 ft) high passage between the great volcanoes of Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams in the Cascade Range (above during the recent Volcano High Pass Challenge). The origins of the name are shrouded in mystery, but that doesn’t keep passers-by from hanging baby shoes from the sign (top photo). It’s a great way to travel from Seattle to Portland while avoiding the crowded Puget Lowland.

During challenging rides like this, you will enjoy the Babyshoe Pass TC tires, which roll as fast as racing tires on the paved lower sections of the climb, yet float across the gravel as you cross the actual pass. No matter from which side you ride it, the descent is so steep that speed builds quickly. As you fly across the gravel, you’ll appreciate the possibility to run your tires tubeless. When you don’t have to worry about pinch flats, you can even look up from the road and see glimpses of Mount Adams snow-covered cone. Of course, like all our tubeless-compatible “TC” tires, you can also run the new Babyshoe Pass TC with tubes.

The original Babyshoe Pass (without the “TC” in the name) remains available as long as supplies last. It’s a little lighter, a little narrower and a little cheaper than the new model.

Click here for more information about Compass tires and the new Babyshoe Pass TC.


Posted in Tires | 16 Comments

Ultra-wide tires: Unfair advantage in ‘cross?

Last weekend was the first cyclocross race in Seattle. Almost every year, the first race catches me by surprise. Summer is over? It’s ‘cross season already?

Usually, I oil the chain on my trusty Alan ‘cross bike and head to the races. This year, the Alan’s tubular tires needed regluing. The glue must cure for 24 hours, and the race was too close for that.

What to do? I looked at my Firefly, still dusty from the Volcano High Pass Challenge and the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. What if I raced it instead?

The morning of the race, I took off the low-rider rack and two bottle cages, then rode the 25 miles (40 km) to the start. I arrived with just enough time to remove the last bottle cage, unclip the underseat bag, and do a practice lap. I let some air out of the tires, and then it was time to race.

At the start, I was a bit nervous, because I had forgotten to swap my touring pedals for dual-sided mtb pedals. On the bumpy course, clipping in after a remount wasn’t easy. I knew I’d lose some time. And I worried about the grip of my “road” tires at race speeds on the loose stuff, especially the grass. Hopefully, the competition wouldn’t be overwhelming. I had entered the Category 4 race – the lowest of the three categories offered.

Then we were off! I’ve never been an explosive sprinter, and so I found myself somewhere around 15th position as we went into the first corner. A long straight followed, and I was surprised by how fast my bike went. I know what bumpy grass feels like on 34 mm tires, and it was a totally different experience on 54s. Instead of bouncing, I was able to put down power and ride smoothly.

I had moved up to 3rd position when we reached the first sandpit. And since I hadn’t been working as hard as the others on their narrower tires, I could outrun them. (In the deep sand, even my 54 mm tires didn’t provide enough floatation to make riding more efficient than running.) I took the lead at the exit of the sand pit and never looked back (top photo).

I ran through the next sand pit, too, but the third one was relatively short, and I found that momentum carried me across. Just accelerate hard on the approach and keep going! Where the course doubled back on itself, I could see my pursuers. I was surprised how quickly my gap had grown. I would like to claim superior fitness, but I think the bike’s speed deserves more credit. I’ve raced Cat. 4 in the past, and I’ve never experienced such a speed difference.

With so much grip, I rarely touched my brakes. I did realize why ‘cross bikes have higher bottom brackets: After leaning deep into a corner, I righted the bike until I thought that I was straight again. When I started pedaling, I was still leaning much further than I thought. I clipped a pedal, and next thing I knew, I was on the ground. My lap times show that I lost 10 or 15 seconds, and my pursuers came back into sight. But adrenalin enhances performance, and I managed to hold onto my lead to take the win after 42 minutes of all-out racing.

What did I learn? First, on bumpy terrain, wider tires are much faster. We already knew this, but the magnitude of the effect surprised even me. Being able to pass other racers at will really represents an unfair advantage. Cornering grip on the loose, but dry, surfaces also was far superior to what I am used to.

What about the lack of knobs on my tires? We know that on gravel, knobs don’t make any difference, and I found that the same holds true on dirt and even dry grass. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised: Traditional dry-weather ‘cross tires (above) have almost no tread – in fact, they are so smooth that we used to ride them on the road, since they were a little bit wider than the 21 mm racing tubulars we had back then.

Of course, riding the Firefly with its 54 mm tires in a ‘cross race is unfair. The best rider should win, not the rider on the widest tires. Road racing and its muddy cousin, cyclocross, are traditional sports, and the bikes are clearly defined by the rules. It may be possible to make faster bikes, but finding the fastest bike isn’t the point of racing – it’s finding the fastest rider. As BQ contributor Hahn Rossman (below) put it: “Cross is about riding a road bike off-road. You really shouldn’t ride across bumpy terrain on narrow tires, but it’s great fun.”

Cyclocross has an element of underbiking, and that is why the UCI has limited tire widths for professional racers. For amateurs in the U.S., the UCI rules usually don’t apply, but I feel it isn’t in the spirit of the sport to ride a bike that is so blatantly outside the accepted norm.

I am also not sure my advantage would persist as the weather turns rainy. On a muddy course, my ultra-wide tires may not work so well. A narrower tire – say 35 to 40 mm wide – digs into the mud and probably creates more lateral resistance when cornering. A super-wide tire may just skate across the muddy surface without finding any grip. Once the weather turns muddy, I could put a set of mountain bike knobbies on the Firefly to find out.

Or I’ll just ride my Alan (above) again, because it’s already set up for muddy riding. In the end, my experiment hasn’t shown anything we didn’t know already: On bumpy surfaces in the dry, wider tires are much faster. We also know that in mud, you need knobs to dig into the surface and generate grip.

If you have been intrigued by cyclocross, give it a try. It’s great fun, and what you learn about bike handling will improve your skills on all surfaces, year-round. Don’t worry if you don’t have a cyclocross bike. Just ride the most suitable bike you have. Cyclocrossers are very relaxed about the competition – nobody complained that I rode ultra-wide tires. Last weekend, old road bikes, a randonneur bike (with the fenders removed), and mountain bikes mixed it up with the purpose-built ‘cross bikes.

And if you need cyclocross tires – whether for dry or muddy conditions – our Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm and Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm knobbies are hard to beat. I just wish they fit my old Alan, which dates from a time when 28 mm tires were “huge”. It would save me from having to re-glue my tires!

Photo credits: Westside Bicycle (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5), Natsuko Hirose (Photo 8).

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech, Tires | 22 Comments

Allroad Riding in Alsace (Open’s Video)

Open made a video to introduce their facelifted U.P. wide-tire racing bike. They went for a beautiful ride in the Alsace Mountains of France, coincidentally the same region where the first post-war Concours de Machines was held in 1946.

A few months ago, we sent Open’s Andy Kessler a set of Compass 650B x 48 mm Switchback Hill tires for testing. He put them on the new bike and featured them in the video. How did they perform? Andy’s comment:

“Funny enough, I was downloading a MTB loop to my Garmin that was described as difficult. OK, we had to push our U.P.s for 5 minutes as the trail was big rocks and drops, but all the rest can be done with an U.P. also.”

Seeing the video makes me want to head out for a ride in the hills. Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Kaisei Tubing

It’s no secret that we love steel bikes. Steel allows us to build the bikes we need for our adventures – bikes where every detail is optimized to the nth degree. You can imagine our concern when True Temper, one of the most important suppliers of steel tubing, decided to leave the bicycle market. Without steel tubes, especially the superlight ones that True Temper was specializing in, there wouldn’t be any more of the bikes we love.

What to do? We thought about who made the best steel tubing in the world today. There is no simple answer, but Kaisei in Japan was an obvious candidate. Kaisei is unique in that most of their tubes are used for professional racing bikes: More than 2000 Japanese Keirin riders race on steel bikes, and most are made from Kaisei tubing, which is known for its high quality.

Kaisei is an interesting company, because they are just a manufacturer, without any marketing. All they do is supply tubes to Japanese framebuilders. And since those builders work for professional racers, there is no need for fancy names and stickers. As a result, Kaisei uses Cromoly tubing. It’s the strongest and most reliable, and the thinwall tubes are heat-treated. I like that no-nonsense approach.

Kaisei tubes are rounder than most, and their walls are more uniform in their thickness. They match their spec exactly, unlike some other tubes we’ve measured. The heat treatment is uniform, and it’s designed to strengthen the tubes without making them brittle. This precision reduces the risk that a frame breaks due to defects in the tubing. For Keirin racers, this point is very important: They are not allowed to change bikes during a weekend of racing, and if their bike breaks, they are out of the races. And since they live off their prize money, this means they have no income, either.

In the past, Kaisei tubing was designed for smaller frames, since Japanese (racers and otherwise) tend to be shorter than the average westerners. The thinwall “bellies” of the tubes were relatively short, which meant that tall frames were heavier and stiffer than necessary. In addition to offering these “short” tubes, we worked with Kaisei to make “long” tubes with longer thinwall “bellies” that are optimized for taller frames. Since we commissioned the tooling for these tubes, they are available exclusively from Compass Cycles.


To complement the excellent Kaisei tubes, we developed a selection of framebuilding parts. They are made by Longshen in Taiwan to the highest specifications. The new Compass fork crown is a perfect fit for the Kaisei TOEI Special fork blades that we use on all our bikes. The new fork crown combines classic looks with a modern box section construction. The result is an ultralight and super strong fork crown.

The Compass bottom bracket shell is specifically designed for wide tires. The chainstay sockets angle outward a bit more (10°) to accommodate curved chainstays. This provides extra tire clearance. It’s the secret for using wide tires with road cranks. Designed for standard-diameter tubes and with enough material to carve and match your preferred lug shape, the Compass bottom bracket shell combines light weight with versatility.

These are just a few elements of our new frame tubing program. Instead of lamenting the demise of a major supplier of steel frame tubing, we worked on a replacement that is arguably even better. Now it’s easier than ever before to have your dream bike made!

Click here for detailed specs of the tubes, as well as our complete program of braze-ons and other framebuilding parts.

Photo credit: Paul Keller (Photo 4).

Posted in Framebuilding supplies | 31 Comments