Why Synthetics for our Knickers?

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I’ve long championed wool as a great material for cycling clothes, so some riders were surprised that our Compass knickers are made from synthetics. Why didn’t we choose wool, or some other natural material?

We chose the fabric after careful consideration and rigorous testing. We briefly considered cotton, but it gets heavy and cold when wet – not a good choice for cycling clothes.

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Wool is a great choice because it adapts to a great range of temperatures, and it doesn’t smell even when you are sweaty. That is why it’s virtually ideal for cycling jerseys. (Our Bicycle Quarterly jerseys are made from ultra-soft Merino wool.)

However, wool isn’t very abrasion resistant. Where your seat rubs on your bike’s saddle, wool tends to wear out relatively quickly. Within a few thousand miles, I wore through the seat on all wool shorts and knickers that I’ve tried. In fact, since I started wearing the Compass knickers over my wool tights, the tights no longer wear out as they used to.

Key to the Compass knickers’ performance is the thin fabric that doesn’t constrict your pedaling motion at all. The cut is very sophisticated to prevent bunching up as you pedal. Features like the hidden drawstrings at the knees require multiple layers of fabric that would be too bulky when made from wool. That is also the reason why we don’t use a thicker material like Schoeller fabric – it would inhibit the performance of our knickers.

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We’ve tested the final prototypes of the Compass knickers over many thousands of miles. I wore them for a Flèche 24-hour ride, during most of last year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (above), and on various tours in the Cascades, in France and in Japan. I now wear them every time I head out on a bike. During cold weather, I wear them over my tights. I’ve even used them for hiking.

My prototype knickers finally suffered a long tear and had to be retired, after more than 10,000 km of hard riding. And the tear was in a weird location and may have been caused by the brush I was hiking through, rather than wear and tear from normal riding. So we know these knickers last a long time.

What about the propensity of synthetics to retain odors? The knickers are airy enough that they don’t get smelly, yet they are close-fitting enough that they don’t billow in the wind and slow you down. Two months ago, I wore the original prototypes in the Seattle International Randonneurs 100 km Populaire. That event is open to all, and it always sees some very strong riders participate. We rode the 100 kilometers, including stops for controls, in 3:24 hours. During this spirited ride, not once did I notice my knickers. But when we went to a pub afterward, I didn’t feel conspicuous in too-tight-fitting cycling shorts.

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It’s what makes the Compass knickers unique: They offer the performance of technical cycling clothes with a more traditional style and superb durability. In fact, that is the goal for all our components, and we go (or ride) the extra mile to get there.

Find out more about our knickers!

Posted in Clothing | 36 Comments

It’s a Hobby!

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It might be challenging to understand cycling enthusiasts when you aren’t one. We spend a lot of money on bikes, then spend a lot of time getting into shape, and then we go on rides to nowhere, and come home tired. After all this effort, we are back exactly where we started. We haven’t achieved anything. Except that we are happy.

Perhaps that is the definition of a hobby – something that isn’t necessarily useful, but that gives you satisfaction and makes you happy. For some cyclists, it’s hard to justify spending time and money on what is “just” a hobby. Shouldn’t we focus on more “important” things, like a new car or an addition to the house?

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It took me a while to realize that my “hobby” actually is among the most important things in my life. It struck me when I read about David Purley, a British refrigerator maker who raced his own Formula 1 team in the 1970s. When his car’s competitiveness flagged, he assembled his team and admonished them:

“For you, this may just be a job. But you have to understand: For me, it’s a hobby!”

Purley turned the normal priorities on their head. Shouldn’t a job be more important than a hobby? Yet Purley’s comment stuck with me. It’s about passion. Racing was Purley’s passion, and he was concerned that for his team, it was just a job, something where adequate performance was good enough.

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Our passions, whether it’s Formula 1 racing or cycling, are the things that define us. To me, they are the most important things in my life. That is why it’s so important to go out and ride with friends. I make it a priority, not something that I try to fit into a busy schedule as an afterthought. Because cycling is my passion.

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Rat Trap Pass back in stock

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This is just a quick note that our popular 26″ x 2.3″ Rat Trap Pass tires are back in stock in all versions. We’ve been surprised by the popularity of these tires…

Many cyclists have a cherished old mountain bike, an expedition tourer or a tandem that is transformed with a set of supple high-performance tires. Others had Enduro Allroad bikes custom-built around these tires. In fact, I’ve been riding the Rat Trap Pass myself, and all that volume and speed is almost intoxicating.

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At the other end of the 26″ tire spectrum is our Elk Pass 1.25″ tire. It’s one of the lightest, fastest 26″ tires ever made, and many riders rave about them. Here is what Georgena Terry, the famous bike builder, wrote:

“I really didn’t want to get off the bike. For those of you who wondered where I was for most of last month… well, I was riding my bike!”

Her experience is typical of how our customers feel when riding on Compass tires. Whether it’s in letters, e-mails or in person, hearing that our products bring so much joy is the best part of my job!

More information:

Posted in Tires | 24 Comments

Weekend Trip to the Mountains

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Short trips often are the most enjoyable. Last weekend, we did not venture far from Tokyo. After an hour on the commuter train, we were assembling our bikes in a mountain valley.

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Our ride started on backroads. In Tokyo, the cherry blossoms are long gone, but here in the mountains, the whispy “sakura” still herald the coming of spring. We were only three at this point; our fourth rider was going to join us later.

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The weather forecast was mixed, but the day unexpectedly turned sunny.

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Cycling in the mountains of Japan feels different from the Cascades in Washington: Lunch was at a 300-year-old restaurant. After the delicious meal, we got a tour around the building.

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The mountains were lush with the fresh green of spring. It was nice to see different touring styles. If you thought all Japanese cyclotourists rode on classic, French-inspired machines… The bike on the left is mine, whereas the Cannondale belongs to our Japanese friend.

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We climbed a beautiful mountain pass. The road has many sharp curves, and it’s equally popular with cyclists, motorcyclists and car enthusiasts. Drivers and riders were skilled, and clearly enjoying themselves.

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The top of the pass was in the clouds, at 1146 m (3760 ft).

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In Japanese, “cute” is always considered a positive attribute… The sign indicating the pass certainly qualifies!

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During the descent, we met up with our fourth rider. He had to work late, so he went to another train station and backtracked along the course until he met us. We enjoyed the long descent together.

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Japan has no shortage of beautiful hotels. We enjoyed a hot bath, as well as a great dinner and breakfast, before heading out again the next morning.

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Our ride continued on old road that see hardly any traffic, because new highways bypass them.

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We visited what must be one of the tallest fish ladders in the world. You see about 1/3 of it in the photo above. It allows the fish to climb up to a 27 m (89 ft) tall dam.

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We stopped to visit beautiful old buildings…

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… and to watch a procession for a local religious festival.

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Our ride ended in the suburbs, where we joined more friends for dinner, before boarding the train that took us back to the city. These friends hadn’t toured together in many years, but at the end, everybody decided that it was a fun weekend in every way. Hopefully the next trip will be planned soon.

What short weekend tours have you taken lately, or plan to take this year?

Photo credits: Natsuko Hirose (photos 3, 4, 12, 14)

Posted in Rides | 29 Comments

Improving the “Unimprovable”

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A few years ago, I called the Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags “unimprovable”. After all, they are lightweight, waterproof and last (almost) forever. The elastic closures are easy to operate (unlike buckles), and they allow overstuffing the main compartment and pockets. And being made from canvas and leather, the bags also are beautiful. What more could  you ask for? (The top pockets are even perfectly sized for a Michelin map!)

That didn’t prevent me from thinking of improving them to meet my needs even better. So I modified mine: I removed the side pockets to give my hands more room on the ramps of the handlebars. This also improved the aerodynamics and reduced the weight by more than 50 grams. Many readers asked for similar bags, and so we had Berthoud make bags with smooth sides as a special model for us.

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More recently, I noticed how other people conveniently carried their bags with shoulder straps (right), unlike my bag that I had to tuck under my arm (left). A shoulder strap leaves your hands free, whether it’s to take photos or carry other luggage (or even your bike, Rinko-style).

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So we asked Berthoud to add bag loops to the models we sell. As a Compass exclusive, we offer all our handlebar bags with shoulder straps – with side pockets (above) and with smooth sides. Even if you use the strap only once a month, you’ll appreciate it when you need it.

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These handlebar bags come in three sizes. The idea is that they fill the space between your bag-support rack and the handlebars (below). A taller bike gets a bigger bag. That way, the bag attaches securely to the handlebars, and you can open the flap while straddling the bike.

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If you are tempted to go with a smaller bag to improve the performance of your bike, don’t worry about it. The bags weigh almost the same, since the weight is in the leather reinforcements and pockets. Adding some canvas doesn’t add much weight. And since the bag acts as a fairing, a bigger bag actually is more aero.

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We also love Berthoud’s panniers. They use the same waterproof construction as their handlebar bags. The laces allow expanding the bags to fit your luggage, whether it’s for a short overnighter or a weeklong trip (above). The only thing we didn’t like was the modern “Klick Fix” attachment that tends to rattle when going over rough roads. So we asked Berthoud to make them with traditional leather straps at the top and a steel spring at the bottom. This provides an ultra-secure and durable attachment. Putting the bags on is a bit fiddly, but the advantage is that you can leave them on when you park the bike.

With these changes, we feel that these bags truly are the best bike luggage ever made. Click here for more information.

Posted in Racks/Bags | 71 Comments

Weekend Rides on Film: Gravel Racing and Rinko

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Spring is coming to many places, and this weekend was filled with wonderful rides. Two of them were captured on video, and they inspire me as I plan upcoming outings on my bike. One is from the Rasputitsa Gravel Road Race in Vermont, the other from the Flèche Northwest. Both rides are challenges, but in very different ways. The Rasputitsa is all about speed, whereas the Flèche is about endurance. Both favor teamwork and put friendship above competition.

 

In the Rasputitsa Gravel Road RaceBicycle Quarterly reader Matt Surch was in a breakaway of four riders. In the video, you see them working smoothly on the gravel as they race to the finish. The top photo shows Ansel Dickey (left) as he made his winning attack. Matt Surch came second in this race, riding his Compass Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires.

Matt’s teammate Iain Radford came seventh. Iain reported: “The Bon Jon’s allowed me to roll faster with less effort compared to everyone else in the chase group. I was able to let gaps go on the climbs to save effort and easily get back on the group using the descents.” (And unlike sponsored pros, these guys say this even though they paid for their Compass tires with their own money.)

Before departing for the Flèche, Hahn Rossman packed his bike for Rinko. The team started their ride in Olympia, but there weren’t enough bike spots for the entire team on the Talgo train. Hahn was glad that he could just carry on his bike after putting it into its Rinko bag. Theo took the time-lapse video. Even in real time, the entire process took less than 10 minutes.

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The team had a great ride, enjoying a challenging course over the gravel roads of the Willapa Hills. And the sunrise after riding through the night was gorgeous!

Enjoy the videos!

Further reading:

Photo credits:

Posted in Rinko, Testing and Tech, Tires | 5 Comments

Join the Swift Campout

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Some of Bicycle Quarterly‘s favorite stories have been campouts – short camping trips into the mountains. We pack lightly and enjoy spirited rides, unrolling our sleeping bag or setting up a lightweight tent at the end of the day, before continuing the next morning on a loop that brings us home at the end of the day.

It’s a formula that doesn’t require a huge investment of time and money. For example, our ride to the end of the road at Carbon Glacier (above) took 24 hours start-to-finish. This year, Bicycle Quarterly is partnering with Swift Industries to sponsor the Swift Campout, which encourages riders all over the world to plan their own campouts on June 25-26, 2016. The rules are simple: Pick a great place and register (or just head out without a destination), ride your bike there, camp for the night, and then ride back.

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We look forward to hearing of all the great campouts that readers will enjoy. In the past, Campout riders have retraced our “Secret Pass” adventure that traversed the Cascades on long-forgotten mountain passes (above).

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This year, we’ve heard that some readers plan a cyclotouring ride over the Volcano-High-Pass route, inspired by our feature in the Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly. Our ride took four days, and every one was unforgettable, culminating in the discovery of Takhlakh Lake (above).

Whether it’s camping in a small RV park during a freezing night, and neighbors bringing you wood for a huge fire; reaching Carbon Glacier at midnight and washing off in the freezing river; or enjoying a canoe ride on Takhlakh Lake as the sun turns Mount Adams into ever-changing shades of orange – you’ll have these experiences only when you spend a night out in the wild. And that is the idea of the Swift Campout: Mark your calendar, perhaps gather a few friends, pack your bike with a few essentials, and have fun!

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This year’s Swift Campout is on the same day as the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting in Carson, WA, but that doesn’t represent a conflict at all – you can easily participate in both events, by making the Un-Meeting your Swift Campout! When you register for the Swift Campout, simply indicate the Un-Meeting as your destination. (The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting doesn’t require registration – just show up!)

We hope you join the fun, wherever you go. And please tell us about it afterward! Click the links for more information:

Photo credits: Mark Vande Kamp (gravel), Andrew Squirrel (campfire).

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments