Compass Centerpull Brake Specs

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The new Compass centerpull brakes have been very well received. Numerous builders have asked for the complete specifications for the brakes, since many riders plan to use them on their new bikes. We sold so many of the centerpull braze-ons that we are currently out of stock of these pivots, but another shipment is expected next week.

We recommend that builder have the brakes on hand when they build the bike, so that they can make sure everything fits just right. We have the specifications available online as part of the instructions for the brakes. This also allows riders to check whether the brakes will fit their existing bikes.

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The specifications include detailed drawings that allow builders to get the clearances just right for bikes with 650B x 42 mm tires and full fenders. These measurements are the result of a year’s work: measurements were taken, calculations performed, CAD drawings created, prototypes built… We wanted the entire system of fork/tire/fender/brake/rack to be right, once and for all. These specs will be useful for builders who are not using Compass brakes on their current project, since they show the optimized clearances for tires and fenders.

The Compass CP1 rack is specifically designed to go with the Compass brakes. (The rack only works with centerpull brakes.) The rack is based on a René Herse rack that combines elegance, light weight and rigidity.

It is important that the brake pivots are located at the right height, otherwise the rack will sit too high or too low above the fender. The instructions for the brakes include all measurements a builder needs to build a bike with our brakes and our rack.

The rack and brakes also work for other configurations in addition to 650B wheels and 42 mm tires. For other wheel diameters, the dimensions remain the same in relation to the top of the tire – the builders simply adjusts the measurements for the different outer diameter of the wheel.

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It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, but when we rode these brakes during pre-production testing (above), we realized that it was totally worth the effort. The absolute braking power of the Compass brake is great, and the modulation is superb. This gave us great confidence descending challenging mountain roads at speed. As always, the goal is to have more fun on our bikes!

Click here to download the complete instructions.

Click here for more information about the centerpull brakes.

 

Posted in Brakes | 7 Comments

The Tire Pressure Revolution

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Of all our research on tires, the most revolutionary finding is this: Tire pressure has almost no effect on a tire’s speed. We did not believe it at first, either, so we’ve tested it numerous times. It’s been confirmed numerous times, with different methodologies.

The real revolution is not how you use your pump… What has totally changed our riding are the wide, supple tires, which only work because of this new insight.

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First, let’s look at the data. Here is one experiment: We ran three different 25 mm tires (a supple clincher, a supple tubular and a harsher-riding clincher) at pressures from 4.5 and 9 bar (65 and 130 psi). These tests were done on very smooth asphalt (above), a surface where high pressures should offer the greatest advantages. The graphs below show the power required to ride the bike (above) with the tires at a constant speed of 27.8 km/h, but with different tire pressures.

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There is no relationship between tire pressure and performance in the tested range. (Lower and higher pressures are unsafe to ride.) The graph above shows some variation in power output (lower is better), but there is no trend. The CX tubular rolls fastest at 5.5 bar, the CX clincher is a little faster at 6 bar, while the Rubino is fastest at 9 bar, but almost as fast at 6.5 bar.

Take-home message: Don’t stress about tire pressure!

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This finding has revolutionized our understanding of tires. In the past, we all thought that higher tire pressures made tires roll faster. And that presented a problem for wide tires: A wider tire puts greater loads on the casing than a narrow one. To compensate, you have two choices:

  1. Beef up the casing, which makes the tire less supple and slower.
  2. Lower the pressure, which we thought made the tire slower.

No matter which route you took, then-available science predicted that your wider tire would be slower. It was a catch-22, and for the best performance, you stuck with narrow tires, where you could have a supple casing and high pressure at the same time.

But after realizing that tire pressure doesn’t matter for performance, we were able to explore new possibilities. If lowering the pressure does not make tires slower, you can make supple, wide tires. You run them at lower pressures, and you don’t give up any performance on smooth roads. On rough roads, you gain speed, because the tire (and you) bounce less. And on all roads, you are more comfortable. Instead of a catch-22, you have a win-win-win situation.

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It’s this research that has led professional racers to adopt wider tires. They are up to 25 mm now. (Wider ones won’t fit on their bikes!) For the rest of us, there is no reason not to go wider. I now ride 42 mm tires at 3 bar (43 psi), knowing that they roll as fast as a 25 mm tire at 6 bar (85 psi) – or 9 bar (130 psi), for that matter.

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To get the most benefit out of these lower pressures, you need supple tires. A stiff sidewall takes more energy to flex, so the tire will be slower. And since the sidewall is stiffer, it also will be less comfortable. You could call it a “lose-lose” situation.

Professional racers have known this all along: As much as their equipment has changed over time, they’ve always ridden supple tires. They usually ride hand-made tubulars (above), but for the rest of us, supple, wide clincher tires now make it possible to enjoy the ride and speed of supple tires on any road.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 124 Comments

10 Common Misconceptions about Randonneuring

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With Paris-Brest-Paris coming up this year, a lot of people seem to be interested in randonneuring. They like the idea of a challenging, but not competitive, sport. Many brevets feature great scenery, a sense of adventure, and wonderful people to ride with. Unfortunately, all too often, I hear people say: “It sounds wonderful, but I couldn’t do it.” In many cases, that isn’t true. Most randonneurs, myself included, are pretty average people. Here are ten common misconceptions about randonneuring:

1. It takes a huge amount of time.

Randonneuring is a sport that doesn’t require a lot of training. If you are a moderately fit cyclist and able to ride a century without much trouble, you can start randonneuring now.

Every year, the brevets are in sequence. The 100 km populaire is great training for the 200 km brevet. The 200 prepares you for the 300, and so on. Even if you do a “full series” of populaire, 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets, that is only 5 rides a year. Most of them are one-day rides, with the exception of the 600. So your time commitment amounts to about 6 days a year, in addition to your normal riding and training. And if you don’t have that much time, you can just do the 200 and 300.

2. You have to be super-human to do it.

Riding 600 km in 40 hours may seem beyond what average cyclists can do, but like so many things, it just takes a little training. You build up to it, just like you built up to your first century. Fortunately, nobody starts with a 600, and the 200, 300 and 400 km brevets are great preparation for the “big one”. And remember that these numbers are in kilometers. Translate a 200 km brevet into 124 miles, and it sounds more do-able straight away.

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3. You need a special bike.

Bicycle Quarterly has done a lot of research on what makes an optimized randonneur bike, but you can use any bike for randonneuring. One of my friends rode several seasons, including PBP, on a carbon-fiber LeMond (above). Another friend rode a 1980s Trek on many brevets, including a 24-hour Flèche Vélocio. You can ride any bike.

A true randonneur bike will be a bit faster, quite a bit more comfortable, and probably more reliable, but you don’t have to have one. Unlike racing, where a poor bike choice will have you dropped on the first hill, randonneuring can be done on almost any bike.

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4. It’s only for cyclists who are fast.

The most prestigious randonneur ride, the 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris, requires an average speed of 8.3 mph (13.3 km/h). Most cyclists ride faster than that. Completing a brevet within the time limit has more to do with keeping your stops short and planning ahead than with riding fast on the road.

5. It’s only for cyclists who are slow.

Randonneurs ride at all speeds. It’s not uncommon for the first riders to average 22 mph or more, while others ride at half that speed. Whether you like riding fast or slow, you’ll find plenty of company among the randonneurs. And unlike racing, there is no ranking, and no implication that the faster riders are superior to the slower ones.

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6. It’s expensive.

Compared to most sports, it’s remarkably cheap. Most brevets cost between $ 10-60 to enter. You can use almost any bike. You’ll need some money for food along the way. Assuming you have a bike, you could do a full randonneuring season on less than $ 300.

It’s often best to pack your own food anyhow, since the food choices in rural America are limited (above). Sometimes you are lucky, though, and volunteers at a control serve homemade soup or chili!

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7. It’s all about riding more miles.

It’s true that most RUSA awards require you to ride more miles. But randonneuring is a big tent, and anybody can find their own challenges and joys. For some, it’s riding a 200 km every month of the year. For others, it’s reaching those mileage goals. Others challenge themselves to improve their personal bests through the Cyclos Montagnards R80/R70/R60 program. And yet others just enjoy riding with friends and discovering new courses. All are equally successful randonneurs.

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8. Sleep deprivation is scary.

Riding through the night is a new experience for most cyclists, but with a little bit of planning, there is no need to ride when your head drops and your bike veers. Many randonneurs sleep every night even during long rides.

I find that after a long day in the saddle, I really enjoy riding at night. The glare of the sun is gone, the wind usually dies down, and the sounds and smells are different. There is much less traffic. And mountain rides under a full moon are unforgettable experiences. If I get sleepy, I pull over and rest for a while.

9. It’s dangerous.

Like most activities, cycling can be dangerous, and randonneuring is no exception. There have been some accidents. In some cases, courses went on busy roads that see lots of drunk driving. Most organizers now try to stay away from those. A few riders have crashed when they became too tired, yet continued to ride. Most riders now know better than to ride when they are too tired to do so safely. So choose your courses carefully and don’t push beyond what is reasonable, and you should find that randonneuring is safe.

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10. You need to worry about complicated rules.

Randonneuring does have rules, but they all make sense: Obey traffic laws and don’t get lost or take shortcuts, and you’ve already covered 90% of what you need to think about on the road. The rules are on the books so that things are clear, and there are no ad-hoc decisions, but most of the time, riders don’t need to think about them.

Here is what randonneuring is in a nutshell: Cycling with like-minded friends, on beautiful roads, while challenging yourself to ride better than you ever imagined. How you define “better” is up to you. Better can mean faster, more miles, more fun, more… or a combination of the above.

Check the web site of the Randonneurs USA for more information about randonneur events.

Posted in Rides | 47 Comments

Reconnecting Old Friends

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Last week, I called Lyli Herse to wish her a happy 87th birthday. You can see her 62 years earlier in the photo above (third from the left). I love this photo – a great group of young (and some not-so-young) people. They congregate around a beautiful bicycle, yet their bond is not with the machine, but with each other. You sense that the smiles aren’t just for the camera: More than one rider has told me how much fun they had in those days.

When I called, Lyli was in a buoyant mood because she just had received two visits from long-lost friends and relatives. They had found her through the miracles of the Internet, and more specifically, via our René Herse book.

She told me excitedly how a few distant cousins from Normandy had visited her. They had searched for “René Herse” and found the web page for our book. They contacted me, asking for information about how to find Lyli. I put them in touch…

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Lyli was just as excited about the second visit, from two riders who used to be on her father’s team. One of them was Jean Hoffman, holding the bike’s stem in the top photo. Nobody had heard much of him since he became a professional racer in the mid-1950s. We weren’t even sure whether he was still alive.

It was a huge surprise for Lyli to have him show up in the company of Roger Demilly, another rider on the Herse team. (Demilly is leading the charge in the photo above, taken during the 1966 Paris-Brest-Paris.) I can only imagine all the memories that were rekindled during their afternoon together. And I hope to meet these riders myself the next time I am in France.

Cycling creates life-long bonds. There is something about sharing the experiences of the open road together that makes friendships deeper and longer-lasting. I am glad that Lyli has reconnected with so many of her old friends. Even though the photos above were taken more so many decades ago, she is in touch again with five of the riders, plus many others who rode on her father’s team during the 1960s, as well as a few of the women who raced for her during the 1970s.

I hope that when I am too old to ride, I’ll be able to visit with old-time cycling companions. I envision us digging out old photos and reminiscing of the incredible Cyclos Montagnards challenge, of exploring gravel roads, of night-time mountain rides, of cresting passes in the snow… of the joys that come with cycling in the company of friends. In fact, we probably shouldn’t wait until old age, but plan a get-together now!

Posted in books | 21 Comments

MKS: Pedals and more in Japan

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During our recent visit to Japan, we had the privilege of visiting Mikashima Industrial Company, better known as MKS, the makers of bicycle pedals. We had expressed an interest in MKS to our trading company. Fortunately, the MKS’s president, Toshiyuki Ogino (right), had heard about Bicycle Quarterly and was also interested in meeting us.

MKS is remembered by many for making many wonderful pedals for SunTour, but even after that great component maker disappeared, MKS continued to make great pedals.

It was a 1-hour train ride from Tokyo to Sayama-Ga-Oka, where the MKS factory is located. Before we started our tour, we were given MKS caps to show that we were legitimate visitors as we walked around the factory. (Employees all wear company shirts or jackets.)

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We were surprised by the wide range of products that MKS makes. Bicycle pedals are only half their output. The remainder appears to consist of parts for the automobile industry.

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We were asked to not take photos during the visit, which is too bad! It would have been nice to take you on a virtual tour of this impressive factory with its large heat treating ovens, huge presses, forging hammers, polishing machines…

As we enter the first building, one machine is stamping toeclips out of large sheets of steel. It reminds me of making shape cookies with cookie cutters. The toeclip shapes fall into bins, while the left-over steel sheet now has toeclip-shaped holes. It’s fun to watch.

Another machine is forging parts for truck diesel engines. We suspect they are fuel injectors, but it’s too loud in here to ask many questions. And what is “fuel injector” in Japanese, anyhow?

The polishing machines are impressive, with colorful stones rotating in cone-shaped barrels as the parts are polished. The heat treatment ovens are state-of-the-art, as Stefan, our Taiwanese engineer who has joined us for our meetings in Tokyo, confirms. (He used to install these ovens for a living before moving to Taiwan to work in the bike industry.)

The assembly building is much quieter. One room has an assembly line for the aforementioned Subaru headrests. The next room has a single employee assembling the top-of-the-line Keirin pedals. He is wearing white gloves, and next to his workstation are small bins with paper-thin shims. The pedals are equipped with cartridge bearings, but the end play is adjusted with these shims, in 0.03 mm increments. (That is 1/1000 of an inch!) The employee screws in the locknut, checks the play, then removes the nut and installs the next-bigger shim. He repeats the process until the bearing adjustment is perfect. It’s labor-intensive: While we watch, we see only a single pedal being completed and put aside for packing.

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We pick up the pedal. Feeling the bearings spin oh-so-smoothly is an object lesson in quality. I want to get a set to keep on my desk and to play with from time to time, to inspire me to insist on the best quality as I am working on our own Compass components.

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The pedals have many neat features. The cages are cut away to save weight, yet they support the feet in all the important places. There is a lock for the toe strap, so the old technique of twisting the straps as you feed them through the underside of the pedals isn’t necessary – the straps will stay in place no matter how often you open and close them. Even with a spindle made from strong boron steel, the RX-1 pedals are as light as the classic Campagnolo Super Record pedals with their titanium spindles. And the cages are replaceable, since they’ll wear over time where your cleats touch them.

Of course, these pedals are approved by the NJS for Keirin racing. NJS stands for Nihon Jitensya Shinnkoukai (or Japan Bicycle Promotion Association in English). NJS-approval is an interesting thing: it’s intended to keep the races safe and the playing field level. Every part of the bikes used in these track races must be tested for safety and approved. So for you as a rider, “NJS-approved” means that the pedals are safe even under the strongest riders. (NJS doesn’t say anything about performance or bearing quality.)

The next, much larger room houses the assembly for the less expensive MKS pedals. The contrast to the quiet, unhurried pace of the top-of-the-line pedal assembly is remarkable. The less expensive pedals are assembled by hissing pneumatic tools. The finished pedals drop into buckets with loud clanks. Even here, an employee checks the final bearing adjustment by hand. When we feel a pedal, it’s clear that these pedals will need to “break in” as you ride. The Keirin pedals, on the other hand, have silky-smooth bearings right out of the box.

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“Right out of the box” – once you figure out how to open the box! You open the top flap, and then flip open the box like a book. Each pedal has its own little compartment. The smooth lacquered paper stock and tasteful finish ensure that you’ll find a reason to keep this box even after you have installed the pedals.

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Keirin racers use toeclips and straps, so MKS also makes what I think are the best toestraps. (And yes, I’ve used Binda Extras and most other famous brands of the past.) Two layers of glove-soft leather sandwich a layer of anti-stretch Nylon. That way, you don’t have to cinch down your toestraps until they cut the circulation in your feet. Adjusting them to a comfortable snugness is enough to prevent your feet from coming out of the clips even when you climb out of the saddle (or sprint in a Keirin race).

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MKS even makes cleats that work with modern 3-bolt LOOK-style shoes, removing one further barrier of entry into the world of toeclips and straps. (They also make more affordable toestraps with just a single layer of high-quality leather, as shown above.)

I am on the fence about toeclips and straps. On the one hand, I love the classic appearance and incredible quality of these MKS components. I have a set of touring bicycle shoes that work with toeclips and allow me to walk. But for all-out efforts, I prefer a more rigid connection to the pedal, which requires cleats that make walking difficult. So for randonneuring, I prefer SPD-style pedals and shoes.

If you have several bikes that you enjoy for their different feel and ride, at least one of them probably should have traditional pedals. I am tempted to put a set of the MKS Keirin pedals on my Alex Singer camping bike.

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For riding in street shoes, half-clips are a great option. They locate your feet during the downstroke (which is where you put out all your power anyhow). And on bumpy roads, they prevent your feet from sliding off the pedals. MKS makes these lovely “Cage Clips”, which are welded from steel rod, rather than stamped out of flat steel sheet. Not only are they beautiful, but they also don’t have sharp edges that can scratch your shoes. And they are made from stainless steel, so they won’t rust even if you scratch them up a bit as you start from a stop with the pedals flipped upside down.

After the factory tour, we meet with the engineers and the president of MKS. We decide to import some of the pedals, straps and cages that MKS already makes. And we hope to collaborate on future projects. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a true randonneuring and cyclotouring pedal designed for long-distance comfort and longevity? The adapted mountain bike components we use today have mud clearance we don’t need, and the down side is a small cleat that puts more pressure on our foot and wears out quicker than is ideal.

In the mean time, click here for more information on the MKS components we sell.

Posted in Pedals | 42 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues

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From its beginning more than a decade ago, Bicycle Quarterly was intended as a timeless resource, rather than a magazine you read once and then recycle. Most of our content is still relevant and interesting, and our back issues continue to be popular. We are glad that new readers enjoy timeless articles like these:

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  • The interview with Ernest Csuka, long-time owner of Cycles Alex Singer, who took us back to cycling in France during the 1940s and 1950s. (Vol. 1, No. 1)

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  • Our testing of the influence of wheel size on bicycle handling. We rode three identical bicycles, except one was made for 700C, the second for 650B and the third for 26″ wheels. Do they feel different? And which one is best? (Vol. 8, No. 3)

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  • The wonderful interview with mountain bike pioneers Jacquie Phelan and Charlie Cunningham. Jacquie was the first NORBA champion (three years in a row), and she rode one of Cunningham’s revolutionary aluminum mountain bikes (photo above). (Vol. 8, No. 1)

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  • The Volcano-High Pass-Super Randonnée on a Calfee 650B carbon bike. A ride over 600 km and 8 mountain passes, much of it on gravel: That was probably the most challenging bike test any magazine ever has done! (Vol. 12, No. 1)

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  • The insightful article about female riders during the golden age of randonneuring. (Vol. 12, No. 3)

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  • The amazing story of the porteurs, the newspaper couriers in Paris. Not only did they earn more than the directors of the papers they delivered, but they also had a suspenseful race every year (above). (Vol. 6, No. 3)

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  • Our Randonneuring Basics series with advice ranging from “what to bring on a long ride” to “how to ride most efficiently over hilly terrain”.

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With 50 issues published so far, there have been many great articles: tire tests, the Jack Taylor story (above), touring in India, the Raid Pyrénéen…

Instead, I’ll ask our readers: Which is your favorite Bicycle Quarterly back issue or article?

Special Offer: We’ve made it easier to read up on past Bicycle Quarterlies: If you order all back issues from Vol. 1 through 12, you get two volumes free (so you pay for 10 instead of 12). We additionally reduced the price of complete sets to reflect that the combined shipping is less expensive than 12 individual parcels. Bicycle Quarterly back issues are now more affordable than ever. The discount is applied automatically when you select “order by volumes” and then “Vol. 1 – 12″ in shopping basket.

Click here for more information on Bicycle Quarterly back issues.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 27 Comments

Je suis Charlie

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Like everybody, we’ve been shocked by the terrorist attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They are abhorrent, and I am glad that the French have stood united against this attempt to stifle free speech. (“Je suis Charlie” means “I am Charlie”.)

I also admire – unfortunately posthumously – the artists and editors at Charlie Hebdo. It takes courage to publish things that may offend. Few editors in North America dare this any longer. Here, most are concerned about the bottom line, whereas the people at Charlie Hebdo paid with their lives.

We don’t face that kind of threat at Bicycle Quarterly, but we have to admit to misgivings when we published some articles that we knew would offend some. The most recent example was “Tullio Campagnolo – The Visionary behind the Legend” which debunked many of the myths surrounding this legendary man, questioning whether Tullio Campagnolo really invented the quick release.

We knew that we’d lose some readers over this, and infuriate others. We published the article anyhow, and I am glad we did. It’s our job to provide information, to challenge the status quo (even if it’s only in the arena of bicycle history and technology), and then let our readers form their own opinions. As a result of this approach, we are no strangers to controversy. (Long-term readers will remember the Internet flame wars when we first realized that higher tire pressures don’t make tires faster.)

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo have affected all of us. We hope the newspaper will continue to publish (whatever we may think of it), and we vow not to censor ourselves for fear of offending.

Photo: Cycles Alex Singer, showing their shop window.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 38 Comments