Let’s End the Pedal Wars!

Sometimes, it feels as if cyclists are divided into two camps on many issues. One of these divisions concerns pedals. There are those who believe that if you don’t have clipless pedals, it’s hardly worth taking your bike outside. Others fervently believe that any foot retention will ruin your enjoyment of cycling.

I’ve never understood this “either – or” attitude. On many of my bikes, I ride clipless pedals (above in Paris-Brest-Paris 2015)…

… but I’ve also ridden 400 km brevets with toeclips and straps. I can’t say that there is a performance difference between the two. I’ve set personal bests and course records on either type of pedals. If you look at the times in Paris-Brest-Paris or in pro races, you’ll see that when clipless pedals became widespread, there was no noticeable jump in speeds.

For me, the advantages of clipless pedals are that my feet don’t get numb on cold days, even after many hours of riding. A disadvantage is that the shoes transmit all the pedaling power, so they must fit perfectly and be tightened just right. If they are just a tad too loose, my feet slide around, which is unpleasant. If they are too tight, they constrict my circulation.

Toeclips and straps have the advantage that I can ride in any shoes. Their disadvantage is that I must remember to open one strap slightly when stopping, so I can remove my foot from the pedal. Natsuko (top photo) prefers half-clips, which allow her to put a foot down anytime, yet they still offer good power transfer.

For shorter rides, flat pedals work great for me. Actually, for quick trips around the city, I often ride in street shoes, even on SPD pedals. It’s not ideal, but it works fine at moderate speeds.

If you don’t use clipless pedals, classic touring pedals are hard to beat: With platforms on both sides, they can be used with street shoes. Add toeclips and straps, and they perform like racing pedals.

Despite their versatility, high-end touring pedals always have been few and far between. Now MKS has updated their popular Sylvan pedals with same silky-smooth cartridge bearings as the company’s other high-end pedals. The new model is called “Sylvan Next” to distinguish it from the lower-end “Sylvan” that has cup-and-cone bearings. (Compass only carries the top-quality MKS pedals. Gritty bearings may not slow you down, but you can feel them as you pedal. A smoothly-working bike is much more fun to ride.)

The Rinko version of the Sylvan Next allows removing your pedals without tools in just seconds. With the EZY-Superior quick-release system, you simply turn the ring on the spindle, push it toward the crank, and pull off the pedal.

Rinko pedals are convenient for travel or storing your bike in tight spaces. And if you want to ride with platform pedals one day and with clipless pedals the next, you can swap between the different MKS EZY-Superior models quickly and without tools. (The photo above shows the USB-Nuevo and the Urban Platform pedals.) We also offer the adapters separately, if you want to use the same set of pedals on several bikes.

The Sylvan Next pedals are now in stock. Click here to learn more about them and the other MKS pedals in the Compass program.

Posted in Components, Pedals | 41 Comments

Berthoud Open Saddles in Stock

We just received our first shipment of Gilles Berthoud “Open” saddles. In the past, I’ve tried many saddles with cutouts, but none were comfortable. While they relieved pressure in the center, the sharp edges of the opening were uncomfortable. So I was skeptical when I received a sample of the Gilles Berthoud Aspin Open.

I was surprised to find that I could not feel the edges of the cutout at all. As expected, there was less pressure in the center, but there also wasn’t a noticeable transition from the cutout to the leather. The curved shape of the hole and its beveled edges really worked to make a gradual transition.

Even after a long day in the saddle, the Aspin Open remained comfortable. In fact, I noticed that the cutout made the saddle a bit more flexible, and thus even more comfortable straight out of the box. As an added plus, the Open version is about 15 grams lighter…

On the downside, the more flexible leather top probably won’t have quite the amazing durability of the standard saddles. (My very first Berthoud saddle is still going strong after a decade of daily use.)

Underneath the leather top is Berthoud’s high-tech frame, made from a composite material that is stronger, lighter and more flexible than the steel traditionally used in this place. The saddles are available with stainless steel and titanium rails, in men’s and women’s models.

With all spare parts available from Compass, you can even convert a standard saddle to the Open version or vice versa, or replace stainless steel rails with titanium to lighten your saddle. These saddles rarely need service, but it’s good to know that all the parts are available.

With the Open version, one of the best saddles has become even more comfortable for riders who need to relieve pressure in the saddle area. And of course, the standard saddles remain an excellent choice for most riders.

Some may wonder why the superlight Galibier model isn’t available with the cutout. The reason is simple: With the cutaway sides, there simply isn’t enough leather to support the rider if the middle of the saddle is removed as well.

Click here for more information about Gilles Berthoud saddles in standard and Open versions. The Men’s versions are in stock now, the women’s saddles will follow this autumn.


Posted in Saddles | 8 Comments

Cyclodonia on the J. P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines

Jan’s comment: It’s always interesting to read others’ impressions of our work. Cyclodonia discussed several bikes from the Concours de Machines in detail. Translated and reposted with permission. The French original is available here. The views expressed are those of the original, not mine. Enjoy!

J. P. Weigle (Lyme – USA)

  • 2nd place,  Concours de Machines
  • Prix de la Légèreté [Prize for the lightest bike]

Looking at this bike, the unsuspecting public (and ‘unsuspecting’ includes a good part of the rider in the Cyclosportive Les Copains held the same weekend as the Concours de Machines) might think this is an old bike, built 60 or 70 years ago and restored carefully. And yet, the bike presented by J. P. Weigle did not use any old parts that had been pulled from the drawers of a collector.

weigle concours de machines entier.JPG

The timeless machine of the team  J. P. Weigle / J. Heine.

But why redo what already had been done 70 years ago, especially in a competition where originality was the best way to distinguish your bike? The conviction of Jan Heine, rider and future owner of this bike, a conviction which he has defended for several decades in his magazine Bicycle Quarterly, and which is supported by tests that are of a rigor which we would love to see in the French cycling press, is as follows: During  the 1940s and 1950s, the French randonneur bike, thanks in part due to the influence of the Concours de Machines, had achieved a perfect balance of performance, light weight, reliability, comfort and elegance.

Evidently, this is evidently a counterintuitive opinion when the cycling industry has introduced multitudes of standards and innovations. And it was difficult to show the potential of the products and standards of the randonneur bike of the “grande époque”, when they had mostly disappeared. Hence Jan Heine has re-issued a selection of components that no longer were available, under the Compass brand, notably tires, brakes and cranks. The J. P. Weigle presented an opportunity to showcase Compass products in the Concours de Machines.

The absence of any technical mishaps on the difficult roads of the bike test, the speed of its pilot, and the award for the lightest bike, which the Weigle obtained in addition to the silver medal overall, all show that this was undoubtedly one of the best-performing bikes in the event.

A lightweight bike

The light weight of the bike is first and foremost the result of J. P. Weigle skill. He chose a selection of lightweight tubes, and then he chased every gram while building the frame. The tubes are a “Special Mix” according to the sticker. One can assume that the builder used Kaisei fork blades, but that is all we’ll know: J. P. Weigle keeps his secrets to himself.

But it is also a careful selection of the components that brought this fully equipped randonneur bike very close to 9 kg (9.1 kg with pump and bottle cages, but without bag).

The Herse cranks, one of the most important Compass products, showed the intent: Drilled chainrings brought only marginal weight savings, and they also spoiled the beautiful lines a little, but they drew attention to the fact that this was a bike for the Concours de Machines. (Last year, it was Andouart who gave in to the same temptation.)

weigle pedalier herse.JPG

Three bikes were equipped with the Compass René Herse cranks (Weigle, Berthoud and Brevet). Here, the chainring bolts are aluminum, and the crank bolt (also Herse) has been relieved to eliminate every superfluous gram.

This crank is far from a relic. It is interesting for two reasons: It is one of the lightest on the market, and it offers an unrivaled choice of chainrings with the same bolt-circle diameter: single, double or triple. In each configuration, it can be equipped with chainrings from 24 to 52 teeth. Here it was assembled with 46 and 30 teeth, particularly well-suited to hilly terrain, and yet practically impossible to obtain on a classic double crank with a five-arm spider.

The use of titanium was another means of saving a few grams. There were, for example, the bolts for the brake pads, difficult to see:

weigle canti arriere b.JPG

Other components were drilled and machined to remove material. One of the most noticeable pieces of work were the quick release levers:

weigle patte arriere.JPG

Quick release lever with cutout and drilled dropouts on the frame: the secret to success lies in the addition of marginal gains.

The choice of brakes and cables provided another significant weigh reduction. One notes that the three lightest bikes at the Concours (Weigle, Grand Bois and Tegner) all featured downtube shift levers and centerpull brakes – while the vast majority had chosen the obvious solution of disc brakes and shift levers on the handlebars.

weigle canti

Cantilever brakes (here Compass prototypes): the best compromise between weight and performance. Especially when the pad holders and brake pivots are drilled…

Downtube shift levers (together with non-aero brake levers) are among the distinctive features of vintage bikes. For many cyclists, it’s unimaginable to return to such a shifter. And yet the great speed of the rider during the two bike tests of the Concours shows that this type of shifting system remains perfectly fine for cyclotouring, even at a very intense pace.

Who knows, after the return of vinyl records and Polaroid photos, perhaps downtube shifters will be the next great revival of the early 21st century? Note that Weigle’s solution is far from outdated:

weigle levier vitesse.JPG

Indexed shifter with adjustment screw, allowing precise shifting on this 2 x 10-speed drivetrain.

Exposed cables are lighter, have less friction and are easier to remove (thanks to split cable stops) for maintenance or when disassembling the bike. We will see later that this choice of brakes and shifters also was chosen to facilitate packing of the bike for travel. And in the rare cases where cable housing was used, it was extralight and made from aluminum.

But even if the bike won the prize for the lightest bike, several of J. P. Weigle’s choices show that weight reduction was not the only concern. Without a doubt, aesthetics also played a role, starting with the frame’s lugs that must have added a few dozen grams compared to a fillet-brazed frame. The René Herse straddle cable holders also are more refined aesthetically than simple Mafacs, but also heavier. To make up for it, the screws that hold the brakes are drilled:

weigle canti 2.JPG

Herse straddle cable hanger and Compass brake (prototype) on Jan’s bike…

weigle perso canti mafac.JPG

… and “all Mafac” on Peter’s personal bike.

The stem isn’t made from aluminum, but custom-fabricated from steel. One can bet that J. P. Weigle has used all his skill to limit its weight to an absolute minimum:

weigle potence.JPG

Double bolts on the steerer and on the handlebars: screws with a conical head like Herse, but for Allen keys.

And as if to show that light doesn’t mean spare, J. P. Weigle even allowed himself the luxury of integrating a system to lock the decaleur, a good idea in view of Ambert’s rough roads:

weigle decaleur.JPG

And the comfort of a leather saddle clearly had priority over the light weight of a carbon saddle.

Proof that extra light does not mean poorly equipped, the mudflap – an accessory that is very dear to J. Heine – had not been forgotten:

weigle bavette

The mudflap is removable, with one hand and without tools.

The all-day ride in the rain and through mud was a perfect occasion to test, under real-life conditions, the efficiency of this accessory intended to protect the rider’s feet and the front of the drivetrain. The result is a bit mixed:

CM weigle BdP.JPG

To the defense of the Weigle team, the other bikes of the Concours were not in better condition as they crossed the finish line, and the Weigle remained quite clean after such a hard ride. [JH: I had to remove the mudflap on the rough trails during the first day, because it got caught on the long grass and huge rocks we had to traverse.]

CM Weigle arrivee

I had doubts about the positioning of the pump on seatstay, close to the rear wheel and thus in the path of spray. But the verdict was rather clearer, even on this rainy day. The pump remained as shiny as it had been before the morning start.

weigle pompe

The choice of the generator hub was another example where the search for the lightest weight was not the last word. The SON Delux hub is a descendant of a model intended for small wheels where the dropout spacing often is 75 mm. Used on a large wheel, the resistance is lower, but it also produces less current. The latter point has stopped being a real issue with the amelioration of LED headlights, and the Delux has become interesting for cyclotourists looking for performance. Its only fault stems from its origins: the flange spacing is narrower than ideal for a 100 mm axle. The Wide-Body version corrects this problem and offers a flange spacing optimized for standard forks. In fact, the greater the flange spacing, the stronger is the wheel when subjected to lateral loads. J. P. Weigle chose this version even though it weighs almost 30 grams more than the standard version. To make up for this, the dropouts have been custom-made and are smaller than the standard SON SL dropouts. They incorporate the insulated plate that allows connecting the hub electrically without any apparent wires. In addition to its elegance, the SL system simplifies the removal of the front wheel.

weigle leviers qr.JPG

The SON Wide-Body generator hub is a bit heavier… but the drilled dropouts and machined quick release levers show the focus on light weight. One – almost – makes up for the other.


Lighting is one of the few places where Jan Heine agrees that current components are superior: Over the last 20 years, generator hubs, LED headlights and optics specifically designed to project an even beam onto the road have greatly improved night-time cycling.

The electrical circuit on this bike is especially well thought-out: SON SL connector-less hub, switch integrated into the stem cap, and a taillight that is brazed onto the seat tube and connected by internal wires:

weigle feu compass.JPG

The taillight, protected between the seatstays is also ready for Rinko.

weigle feu catadioptre.JPG

The taillight has an integrated reflector which also provides a more diffuse light that is less blinding to riders drafting behind.


Several builders at the Concours showed ideas for folding or disassembling the frame, so the more discreet Rinko bike risks being overlooked: The idea of Rinko consists of choosing the components in such a way that a quick and simple disassembly is possible without any modification of the frame itself, thus avoiding extra weight or, worse, a chance in the ride characteristics of the frame. In fact, when pressed for time, the possibility to disassemble the bike in less than 15 minutes makes the Rinko method competitive with frame couplers, which are more costly and not always results in a package that is stable enough to stand on its own.

[JH: Cyclodonia did not have a photo of the bike in its Rinko’ed state, so I added this image of the free-standing package to illustrate how it works.]

When packing a bike Rinko-style, the wheels are placed on either side of the frame. The most compact method consists of removing the fork, while the front wheel remains installed. This requires removing the handlebars, which will be placed on one of the wheels. On the Weigle, the handlebars can be removed from the bike in a few instants: the slotted housing stops and the cantilever brakes allow removing the brake cables in just seconds:

weigle ferule

A chain hook is placed very high on the seat stay, and the rear fender can be split to facilitate the operation. The little wing nut allows to remove the upper part of the rear fender without tools:

weigle garde boue arriere scindable.JPG

The wing nut at the joint of the rear fender.

The chainstays and fork blades are nickel-plated: This lends the bike a timeless beauty, but most of all, it protects against the scratches: The rear dropouts are one of the three contact points with the ground of the Rinko package. [JH: The back of the saddle forms the third.]

weigle butee gaine

Chain- and seat stays, as well as fork blades, are nickel-plated.


What makes the Weigle so classic is that its aesthetic decisions always appear to be justified by practical function.

weigle porte paquet

Weigle chape herse avant.JPG

Twin-plate fork crown and minimalist rack: beauty in lightness.

Weigle fentes.JPG

Aluminum cable housing, pinstripe along the seatstay, René Herse cable hanger, end of the seat post binder bolt slotted to help extraction in case the bolt breaks… and the super thin lugs.

weigle garde boue

Aluminum for light weight, paint for a touch of elegance.

Finally, chance sometimes does a good job, too. The integration of the bell into the stem had been forgotten, so J. Heine placed it under the saddle. A position that is hard to reach in emergencies, but a beautiful reference to the bikes of the classic age:

weigle sonnette

The bell is attached to the titanium rails of the Berthoud saddle, which at 360 g is one of the lightest leather saddles on the market.

The Compass / Herse components have been featured in an earlier article of the blog.

More information about the J. P. Weigle bike:

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 41 Comments

New Tire: Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm

Many cyclists dream of a dual-purpose tire that rolls smoothly on paved roads, but has knobs that dig into the surface when it gets slippery. In the past, combining these two qualities in a single tire has been elusive. Usually, the knobs were too squirmy for good performance on pavement – especially when cornering hard – and yet the knobs were spaced too closely to shed mud when the going got rough.

When we designed our first knobby tire, the 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom, we made the knobs big enough so that they don’t squirm, but left enough space in between to clear mud. We distributed the knobs so that the tire always is supported by the same amount of rubber, whether it’s rolling forward or leaning into a turn. This gives you uniform grip at all times.

Does it work? Even we were surprised how well the Steilacoom rolls and how hard you can lean it into corners (above). If it weren’t for the (unavoidable) noise of the knobs, you’d soon forget that you were on knobby tires at all. I am aware that this sounds too good to be true, so I gave the Steilacooms to other riders to test. Mark’s initial comment was: “Why would I ride knobbies on a paved ride?” When he rode the tires, he was surprised how “un-knobby-like” they felt on pavement. And gravel racer Matt Surch found that he had no trouble keeping up with fast road pacelines on Compass knobbies. Both these riders confirmed that the Compass knob pattern works exceedingly well on pavement.

What about mud? After all, the whole point of a knobby isn’t just to ride on pavement, but to provide extra traction when conditions get slippery. A full season of cyclocross, including the single-speed world championships, have shown that the knobs have no trouble shedding mud. Your bike will get dirty, but your tire tread stays clean – as it should be. And the knobs are tall enough to dig into the surface and provide excellent traction.

With so many Allroad bikes running 650B wheels these days, it made sense to offer the same tread pattern in a 650B tire with a little more volume. Enter the Pumpkin Ridge 650B x 42 mm. We named it after Pumpkin Ridge, a quiet paved road near Portland, Oregon, that has a number of promising dirt spurs heading toward the Tualatin Mountains. Past explorations failed to reveal a connection, but filled our fenders with mud. We wished for knobby 650B tires that would not get bogged down in the mud, yet would also roll well on pavement. Imagine where you might go with these tires….

The Compass Pumpkin Ridge is designed for rides that mix pavement, gravel and muddy dirt. “Road” tires quickly reach their limits here, yet if you ride knobbies, the paved sections of the ride aren’t much fun. The Pumpkin Ridge performs equally well on all these surfaces. And of course, if you race cyclocross on 650B wheels, like BQ Team rider Steve Frey, there finally is a tire that offers the ultimate in performance in that wheel size.

The Pumpkin Ridge is now in stock, in Standard and Extralight casings. Click here for more information or to order.

Posted in Tires | 18 Comments

Tubeless-Compatible 650B x 42 mm

If there is such a thing, Babyshoe Pass is our favorite tire here at Compass and Bicycle Quarterly. It’s 42 mm width gives it great cornering grip, comfort and puncture resistance. The 650B wheel size offers nimble handling with wide tires. The Babyshoe Pass is named after an iconic gravel pass in the central Cascade Mountains, because it’s great on gravel, too. Virtually everybody at Compass and on the “BQ Team” rides more than 90% of the time on these tires.

The Babyshoe Pass is an obvious choice for modern Allroad bikes. Some, like the Cannondale Slate, already are equipped with 650B tires, and they can realize their true potential with a set of supple tires. Others are designed around 700C x 35 or 38 mm tires, but 650B x 42 fits nicely and provides more air volume for gravel, as well as more nimble handling for paved descents. It’s a win-win situation, as evidenced by the Bicycle Quarterly test bikes that were equpped with these tires (above).

Being intended for pavement and gravel alike, the Babyshoe Pass tire always was an obvious choice for tubeless. However, tubeless-compatible tires have a different bead, so this required a new mold. We first wanted to gain experience with our other tubeless-ready tires before we replaced the molds for the Babyshoe Pass. Now that time has come…

When we designed the new mold, we increased the size of the Babyshoe Pass by 1.5 mm to make it a true 42 mm wide on most rims. If you mount it tubeless, it will be a little wider yet.

Currently, the new Babyshoe Pass is in stock with the “standard” casing. Later this year, the Extralight version also will get the tubeless-ready bead and extra width.

Click here for more information or to order.



Posted in Tires | 6 Comments

Two Years of Racing on Compass: Interview with Matt Surch

Long-time Bicycle Quarterly reader Matt Surch (above) put his name on the map when he won last year’s Steaming Nostril gravel race on Compass Bon Jon Pass tires. We checked back in with him to see how the tires performed in the year since then, and to hear about his road racing on Compass Cayuse Pass tires.

JH: With another season of riding and racing on the Bon Jon Pass tires, how do you feel about them?

Matt Surch: Frankly, the Bon Jons have been exactly what I’ve been hoping for in a gravel tire. This comes down to two key aspects: 1) volume – 35 mm is perfect for so much of the riding I do off paved roads. 2) tubeless – I love this format for its road feel and flat resistance. One of the things I’m really enjoying with the Bon Jons is that they are perfect for the rides where I head out the door without much more of a plan than to ride fun stuff. That tends to mean taking paved roads up to Gatineau Park, then piecing together spans of trail, some of which are very old dirt roads, in novel ways. I just go where I feel like going, try branches I don’t know, discover things. While the 32s are a bit small for rides like this, and the 38s bigger than required, the Bon Jons are the Goldilocks option: just right.

The Bon Jon has become my go-to for gravel, and I have them mounted on wheels that are on my cyclocross/gravel bike all summer. I have a pair of 32mm extralight Stampede Passes on another steel all-road bike for paved rides that I don’t need my aero road bike for.

Tell us about some memorable rides or races on these tires.

Sure, I have a couple that come to mind, from perhaps opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was our big annual local criterium in Ottawa’s Little Italy neighborhood, the Preston Street Criterium. This was the 44th edition of the race, which draws the best crit racers from Toronto and Montreal, in addition to our locals. I can still remember the first time I visited the crit, about 15 years ago, with my friend and longtime Compass tire evangelist, Rodd Heino. I barely touched my road bike then, and didn’t even consider racing.

I only took up racing criteriums in 2015, in fact, after waiting until I was sure I could ride at the front of the local training races as much as I needed in order to stay safe and learn the ropes. So last year, on Father’s Day, I raced the Preston St. Crit for the second time in the ‘Pro’ race. As I’d been doing all season, I was on the 26mm Compass Cayuse Pass Extralight tires on my Cervelo S5 aero road bike, mounted onto 55 mm-deep carbon Woven Precision Handbuilts wheels. This is a pretty aerodynamic set-up, and I’ve been very happy with this combination.

The race was pretty incredible. I missed the breakaway of 4 guys that went out about 30 minutes into the race, and decided to bridge up to them. One rider came with me, and we worked really hard together over the longest 8 minutes of my life to connect. The whole time friends and family were cheering me on so hard from the sidelines. I actually feel emotional as I write this….

We rode the rest of the race as a group of 6, ultimately lapping the field. Into the final turn I felt good and was positioned third, behind the two best sprinters. In an instant, I was sliding across the pavement. I’d slid out, not focusing enough on my cornering technique as we hit the final turn faster than any other lap. I lost a lot of skin and literally burned through my much-loved Giro SLX shoe, but my bones and bike were fine. My family found me, and they and a few guys from The Cyclery, one of Ottawa’s best bike shops, took care of me. I jumped back on my bike to salvage 5th, which was a bit of a consolation (I made a bit of money to help pay for repairs to my kit), but was just really happy to have delivered a peak performance that was only marred by one mistake. And having my family and everyone there supporting me was really special.

The other day that stands out was rather different. Iain Radford (fellow Compass devotee) and I decided to organize a gentleman’s race over an awesome road/off-road route at the beginning of July. Some of the most fun we’ve ever had on bikes has been when riding this format – teams of 4-6 riders team time trialling a big, hard route, unmarked, unofficiated – so we wanted to put one on. Our Ride of the Damned event is run in a team format, too, but it’s not a race. This time, we wanted to race.

We sketched out a route for a recon ride at the end of June and hit it up as a group of 4 on a rainy Sunday. I was on the 38 mm Compass Barlow Passes, Extralight (above), with Challenge latex tubes. I ended up with a tiny puncure on a rock, which I put down to the tubes being stretched so thin. The feel of the route wasn’t quite right, there was too much pointy rock on some of the sections of trail we used, which really interfered with the flow of the ride. We opted to tweak it, removing the pointy rock bits, and landed on a 117 km route that alternated between pavement, trail, and dirt road sectors.

On the morning of the event, El Camino, we had ten 4-man teams pre-registered, and we all headed off at roughly one minute intervals. My team was well balanced, and we leveraged our strengths well, riding mellow on the climbs, and absolutely drilling it everywhere else. It was a really hard effort on the bike, but so much fun! I’d opted to run the Bon Jons in tubeless format instead of the larger 38s with tubes, and this worked perfectly. Iain punctured, which saw us passed by a number of teams, then we chased them back down. It was exciting! At the end of the day we secured the fastest time, 3:51, beating our goal of 4 hours.

But the fun didn’t end there. We had everyone bring BBQ stuff, and got the grill at the park going for a great party after the ride. It was really simple logistically, and tons of fun hanging out after the ride as teams streamed in. Of all the racing I’ve done, this format is the most fun, I love it. Rather than a team working for one rider, everyone contributes to the whole team’s result. It requires a lot of strategy, it’s a bit of an art, like team trialing on the road, but more technical!

You run the tires tubeless. Any tips on how to set them up? What rims do you use?

Yes, I run the Bon Jons tubeless. I’ve had them on 55 mm-deep carbon Woven Precision Handbuilt wheels (above), which use a different tubeless bead design, so there has been a bit of a learning curve. The wheels are designed with a fairly deep centre channel for easy of tire mounting, with a tubeless bead shelf that has a lip on the inside, along the channel, for the tire bead to climb over when inflated. Early on, I realized that I needed a bit more tubeless tape than required for sealing the rim. I was having some trouble airing the tires up, which can be caused by a weak compressor or obstruction in the valves. I added another layer of tape (Gorilla tape, in fact) to see if that’d do the trick. It did, the tires mounted immediately when I beefed up the channel this way. So this is my #1 tip: if you don’t have a snug fit at the channel, add tape and try again.

The other tips are standard:

  • Use a bit of water on the bead when mounting, it really helps. I don’t bother with soapy water, but just grab a bottle and drop some onto the tire.
  • Remove the valve core of your tubeless valve when mounting the tire. I use the air-gun nozzle on my air compressor, sticking it into the valve. This allows more air to pass through.
  • Don’t put sealant into the tire until you’ve mounted it. Trust me on this, you don’t want that stuff spraying all over you, it stains! Air up the tire, get the beads locked in, then use an injector to put sealant into the tire. I use one scoop of Stan’s regular formula sealant.
  • You really need to shake the tires all over the place, especially on their sides, to get complete sealing. I’ll do that, then rest the wheel on its side for an hour or more, then flip it. This works well. Sometimes you actually need to ride a tire a bit to get it to seal. This isn’t a Compass-specific thing.
  • If you don’t have an air compressor or access to one, yes, you can use CO2 to air up your tubeless tires. Obviously, this is wasteful and more costly than using a compressor. But it will work for a tire with a tight enough bead. DO NOT inflate with CO2 with sealant in your tire; the sealant will solidify into a ball. If you use CO2, let it all out after locking the beads, then replace with air.
  • If you use a carbon rim, don’t overtighten your valves. If you do, you can deform the brake track, which you’ll feel under braking. Silca makes a nice valve set with a fairing that helps reduce the possibility of creating this deformation.
  • If you don’t ride wheels you’ve set up tubeless often, your sealant will dry up sooner than if you ride it regularly. If you only use one scoop of sealant, odds are it’ll be mostly dry when you’re riding. You’ll want to make sure you keep some liquid sloshing round in the tires. Always bring at least one spare tube, two for more risky rides.
  • Tubeless sealant really only seals small holes, like those from glass, thorns, wire. Medium-sized (a few mm long) can sometimes be sealed with the help of some cotton or similar fabric. Cut some small strips from scrap fabric at home (I’ve recently tried a cloth number plate/dossard) and pack them into your flat kit. If you puncture, try poking that fabric into your tire to create a dam for your sealant to seal around/soak into. This is best done while the tire is still fairly well inflared. I’d have this work, as have others, it’s worth a shot.
  • You’ll need to air the tires up pretty high to get the beads to seat – this is normal. Bring the pressure back down to where you like it after seating the bead.
  • Experiment with your air pressure. For very light tires like the extralight Compass Bon Jon, the sidewall is so compliant you’ll need a bit more pressure – with tubes or not – than you might imagine. Start on the firm side, then gradually drop your pressure during a ride until you find the best balance of ride feel you are looking for.
  • Experiment, this is how you’ll get the most from your tires, and remember, tires cut more easily when their pressure is high.

Are you still on your first set of tires? Or if you replaced them, how many kilometers/miles did you get out of them?

I’m on my second set of Bon Jons now, but after 3000km my first pair are still rolling on my old bike. I mounted a fresh pair of the tan-walls on my new Brodie Romax (above) in the spring, and they’ve been perfect ever since.

Any durability concerns?

No, I have had no durabillity concerns whatsoever, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. I find climbing is the toughest on tires for wear, and most of the climbing I do on this bike is on unpaved roads, which is why I think I’m getting quite good wear out of them. Because the tread wraps around the tire well, I don’t have any sidewall damage, which is somewhat incredible considering some of the trails I’ve ridden!

What tire pressure do you run? And how much do you weigh?

I weight about 172 lbs in the spring… up to about 177 lbs during the season. I used to run 50 psi rear, 47 front on the Bon Jons, but now I tend to run closer to 40. I spent a week in South Carolina riding big climbs and fast descents, and settled on about 55 psi in the 32 mm tires, which felt fantastic in the turns…

Our tires have a tread pattern that is optimized for road use. How do you find their grip on dry gravel?

Yeah, good question, I think this is something a lot of people are wondering about. I learned years ago at the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée that tread doesn’t do much for you on gravel. I rode 28 mm Grand Bois tires the first year there, then the 32s. Same tread, more volume with the 32s. On the descents, I didn’t have grip issues with either, but the loose climbs were always where the challenge lay. It was clear that more volume, more tread on the surface, was key. So I kept going up in size as I was able to get bigger tires on bikes, and confirmed that volume is all that matters for gravel. When the substrate is not locked in place, knobs have no effect. It’s like snowshoeing: all about surface area.

The tricky part comes when we need to deal with routes that have a mix of surfaces: pavement, gravel/dirt road, and trails. Trails, when gravelly, are fine with no tread. But knobs become useful if they have something to cut into. Slick patches of mud are an example. The standard Compass tread is scary on these, one has to ride completely upright. A bit of tread can cut through a bit of mud and dig into dry dirt below. On snow and grass, a little tread goes a long way too. At the Steaming Nostril race last year, we had some grass on the course, and I really had to use a lot of energy to keep moving with just the “Road” tread. But it was worth it! On the snow side – I know some are thinking, ‘What the….’ – the 2015 Rasputitsa Gravel Road race had an extended packed snow/ice sector that we absolutely HAD to use a file tread tire for. That was a shame, as the rest of the course would have been faster on the Compass tread.

On the El Camino route we capped things off with a very steep gravel trail climb, which kicks up to 23% in grade. With the Bon Jons I made it up, despite having no knobs on the tire. It was more a matter of smooth power transmission than tire grip.

When we face exposed rock, especially wet, we also tend to want some tread. A file tread tends to work well for this, as they have so many little edges.

I’ve recently spend some time on the 650B Switchback Hill 48s and 42 mm Babyshoe Passes, since my new cyclocross / gravel bike has disc brakes; I can run different wheel diameters. Both these tires climb really well on loose surfaces, due to their volume. That volume can also make them a little skittish on corners with pebbles over hardpack, which allow narrowed tires to cut to the firm surface more readily. That’s not a matter of tread, but width. I’m very much looking forward to trying the new Pumpkin Ridge 42mm 650Bs on mixed terrain, which will definitely work well in mud.

During the road racing season, you’ve been riding our Cayuse Pass 700C x 26 mm tires. How have those tires worked for you?

I’ve been riding the 26 mm Cayuse Pass tires on my Cervelo S5 aero road bike for almost two seasons now, and they have been somewhat transformative. Previously, I used Hutchinson’s tubeless tires on the bike, which were wooden, but reliable. In 2015, I used Continental GP4000s and Michelin Pro Race 4s. I punctured all but one of these tires badly enough to write them off. They were all 23 mm tires on my 19 mm (internal width) Woven wheels. While the Contis test very fast for aerodynamics and rolling resistance on rims like mine, in practice, I found them ill-suited.

The problem is that their tread – and this is true for the Michelins too – does no wrap around the casing enough to protect the tire’s casing. The tires handled well, somehow, but I had all kinds of flats on the shoulder of the tires. Because they were 23 mm tires (their 25s were too big for my frame/fork), they were somewhat squared off on my rims, and I had to run 100psi to avoid pinch flats. But this created too much casing tension, which makes it easier to cut the tire! In the spring, I was delighted to discover that the 26 mm Cayuse Pass fit my bike, so I’ve been on them all season. I experimented with pressure, working down from 95 psi to 80, where I’ve stayed. Wow, what a difference! I’ve got more grip, lower rolling resistance, and my bike feels so much more comfortable than it used to. I thought it would always suck on long rides, especially on typical roads with cracks, but I’ve found myself grabbing the bike so much more often, because it feels good. I’ve had only one flat on these tires in about 5,600 kms, a pinch on a pothole in the dark. I’ve still had no flats on the Bon Jons.

So, on top of being far more reliable than what I used to use on my road bike, I’ve found the Cayuse Passes roll really fast, and any aerodynamic hit I’ve taken as a result of them being a little wide for my rims and taking up more space within my frame and fork are outweighed by their fast rolling, grip, and reliability. I’m stoked to be on these tires, and don’t plan to change. I used to wish for a tubeless version of these tires, but now I am happy to stick with latex tubes. It’s hard to argue with no punctures in two years.

I wish I had a power meter, because I’d love to compare the Bon Jons on my CX bike against the Cayuse Pass. They feel slower on smooth paved roads, but I want quantification of the difference, ideall on the same bike. When it comes to our highest speed and intensity races, the crits and road races, I still feel I need to favour my system’s aerodynamics, and the 26s are the max I can fit in my Cervelo. But what if that bike was designed to be optimal with 28 mm, 30 mm, or 32 mm tires? Would it be as fast? I wish I could find out…

You’ve been trying the knobby Compass Steilcoom tires lately. How did that go?

I wanted to use the Steilacooms at the Steaming Nostril this year – our region was getting epic rain, and we experienced swampy conditions. But first I had to build my confidence in their pavement performance. I’d seen your post about them, so I was cautiously tentative. Results were good! I found that the faster I went, the better they rolled, as they sort of plane above 25-30 km/h, and really hum along around 40-45. We had some fast corners to deal with, one totally sand-covered, and I had zero issues. The profile really is great for cornering on the road. Ultimately, I was able to ride where I wanted to be and pull as long as I wanted to pull the whole time, and it was a total succes. I won’t make a habit of riding them for smooth stuff like this, but I am stoked that they are able to perform well on pavement, gravel and in mud.

You placed 2nd in this year’s Steaming Nostril. How did the Steilacoom tires perform in the actual race?

The Steilacooms performed really well in April at the Steamin Nostril. I had to make a tough call, between them and Bon Jons for race day. The region had seen a lot of rain leading into the race, and I was expecting the crux section to be waterlogged and slippery. Knowing that was where I’d want to break away from the front group and try to go on solo for the remaining 10k or sp to the finish, I opted for the Steilacooms. Ultimately, the section was quite dry, and I didn’t wind up needing the knobs. I managed to break away and went for it solo, but was fading into the wind as Sjaan Gerth pursued me, ultimately overtaking and holding me off for the victory. The Bon Jons would have been the faster tire on the day, but it was a game-time decision, and sometimes you just have to roll the dice and see. The Steilacooms were incredibly good in a few cyclocross races I did in 2016, and I remain really fond of them. I might just have to shave some down over the winter…

If we made a tire that isn’t in the program yet, what would you like to see from Compass in the future?

My dream tire, if I could pick just one, would be based on the Bon Jon casing (tubeless, same size), and add a file (diamond) tread. That would allow me to use the Compass tire for most of the gravel rides and races. The Continental CX Speed tread is probably the closest to ideal I can think of. There would still be some events that required more volume and tread, but a file tread would cover the bigger existing gap. It would also be a more sure-footed feeling tire for those less comfortable with a bit of sliding out there on unpaved surfaces!

We’ll consider that. Thank you very much, Matt, and good luck with the other races this season!

Further reading:

Photo credits:
All photos by Matt Surch, except:
1. Preston Street Criterium 2016
6. Rasputitsa Gravel Road Race 2016
7. Grégoire Crevier, Canadian Criterium Championships 2016

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 9 Comments

1995 Rivendell: Turning the Tide

When Bridgestone USA closed in 1994, many mourned the loss of what they saw as the last bastion of sensible design in the quickly changing world of bicycles. They rejoiced when later that year, Bridgestone’s marketing manager Grant Petersen started Rivendell Bicycle Works. The new company’s first project were three hand-built frames, the Road, Mountain and All-Rounder.

Looking back, it is hard to appreciate the significance of these first Rivendells, because what they championed has become commonplace. They were a turning point in the decline of custom steel bicycles in the U.S. By the early 1990s, steel was rapidly being replaced by aluminum and titanium among high-end bikes. Almost overnight, steel was relegated to inexpensive production bikes. Sure, custom builders still built beautiful steel bikes, but more and more, they seemed like hold-overs from a glorious past when great champions still won big races on steel bikes. It was a dying craft – the idea that young cyclists might pick up the torch and become framebuilders seemed almost laughable.

Then along came Rivendell and made steel cool again. “Steel is still the best choice for frames,” was the message, “and now steel is better than ever before!” It was a breath of fresh air welcomed by all who harbored doubts about the “newer is better” ethos that had taken over the bike industry. For Grant Petersen, it may have been the logical next step – to take the customer base he had built at Bridgestone in a more up-market direction – but it also legitimized and revitalized the entire genre of hand-built steel bikes.

The Rivendells were also the first bikes in more than a decade to feature a headbadge. Fitting for a purely ornamental part, the headbadge was perhaps the most over-the-top part of the frames, with cloisonné inlays that were devilishly difficult to produce. In the days before Internet marketing, Rivendell published the Reader, a zine that detailed all the trials and tribulations of the young company. It is telling about Rivendell’s influence that headbadges have become a must-have accessory, even on mass-produced frames.

During his Bridgestone days, Grant had been a defender of lugs against the encroachment of less-expensive TIG-welding. At Rivendell, he coined the slogan: “I ride lugged steel, and I vote”. The lugs of the first “Road” frames were based on a design Richard Sachs had carved for Bridgestone. They had lingered in a drawer for years, perhaps because they would have been too difficult to braze on a production line. Playful and yet elegant, they’ve rarely been bettered. They were perfect for a bike named after a mythical place taken from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. With that headbadge and those lugs, it almost seemed like the frames were made by elves.

The elves who made the first Rivendells lived in Waterford, Wisconsin, where Richard Schwinn had resurrected the old Paramount shop after the first of Schwinn’s many bankruptcies. The Rivendell frames were built to order with a wide choice of sizes, braze-ons and colors. The basic frame design was fixed, an evolution of the much-loved Bridgestone RB-1. To many, the early Rivendells were the bikes that Bridgestones should have built, had price not been a concern.

These first Rivendells were dream bikes of their era. The tubing was the best of the best, Reynolds’ mythical 753, the first “supersteel”, custom-drawn to Rivendell’s specifications. Grant even had special stickers made, with French lettering referring obliquely to the great French constructeurs, recently discovered by another Grant (Handley), in whose bike shop Planetary Gear Grant Petersen sometimes hung out.

The early Rivendells were as sensible as they were beautiful. They were designed for performance. Clearances were optimized to fit the widest tires with the then-available brakes. A head-tube extension enabled a comfortable riding position. Braze-ons for racks allowed converting the bikes for touring. These were bikes intended to be ridden, bikes that promised to go wherever their riders wanted to take them – racing, touring, exploring, even commuting.

Everything that followed – the steel bikes from Surly, Soma, All City, etc.; the renewed popularity of handbuilt custom bicycles that since has swept the world; the comeback of classic components; even Compass Cycles – can trace its roots to the moment when Grant Petersen stood up and said: “I love steel and lugs. Why not?”

Further reading: The full story of the first Rivendell Road lugs is told in the Summer 2017 Bicycle Quarterly.

P.S.: The frame featured here is for sale on ebay.

Posted in Uncategorized | 38 Comments