Volcano High Pass Challenge and BQ Un-Meeting


Compass Cycles and Branford Bikes are excited to announce the Volcano High Pass Challenge as part of a Labor Day weekend filled with great rides. Part race, part scenic ride with friends, this unsanctioned event challenges riders of all abilities. The one-day route goes from Packwood, at the foot of Mount Rainier, to Carson, on the Columbia River.

When: Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, 5 a.m.
Where: Packwood Timberland Library
What: 166 km (102) mile self-supported ride/race


The 166 km (102 mile) course traverses the southern Cascade Range, skirts the mighty volcano of Mount Adams, and crosses Babyshoe Pass, before dropping down to Trout Lake, climbing another pass, and finally descending the amazing Panther Creek Road. When they reach the Columbia River, riders will have climbed 3000 m (10,000 ft) and descended a little more. Half of the course is on gravel, the other half is paved, including some ultra-fast descents. This mix of surfaces is best tackled on a good Allroad bike.

The scenic beauty more than makes up for the challenging terrain, with great views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, plus the beautiful Walupt and Takhlakh Lakes. Participants will take photos of their bikes at iconic locations as proof of passage.

September is our favorite time to ride these roads. The days are still long and sunny, but usually not too hot. The last vestiges of the snow that currently blankets the high roads and blocks the passes will have melted, and the roads usually are dry.

Riders will need to be self-sufficient as services will be limited to an online route sheet. A roving mechanic will be on the course, provided by Branford Bike. Water is available at campgrounds. Anyone is welcome: Just show up at the start at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, in front of the Packwood Library, and ride!

Whether you compete for the fastest time, ride with friends, or start early and complete the ride at a more relaxed pace over multiple days, it’ll be an unforgettable experience. We plan to offer a bag drop service that will carry camping gear from Packwood to Carson during the event. For more information, and to RSVP, click here.

Course map: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/18802349/

Following the Challenge, the 2017 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting will gather in Carson, WA, on Sunday and Monday (Labor Day).

When: Sunday & Monday, Sept. 3 & 4, 2017, 9 a.m.
Where: Carson General Store
What: 2 days of self-supported rides off the beaten path, different route options

The formula of the Un-Meeting is simple: Every cyclist is welcome to join us for two days of great camaraderie and riding off the beaten path. There are no fees, and no services are provided. We simply publish a date and time. Last year’s ride across Big Huckleberry Mountain was a highlight for those who chose that route. Join us in September for a repeat of this amazing ride!

While participants will be responsible for their own accommodations, we will book a group campsite at the Wind Mountain RV Park on the Columbia River, not far from the St. Martin hot springs. Meet us at the Carson General Store at 9 a.m. on both days of the Un-Meeting.

Sunday’s ride will explore the mountains above the Wind River Canyon. Monday’s ride will head to Portland to bring participants back to “civilization”. More details will be posted as the date approaches. Mark your calendars for a great weekend of riding off the beaten path!

Note: The Volcano High Pass Challenge is unrelated to the Cascade Bicycle Club’s “High Pass Challenge,” which goes over paved roads in the same region.

Posted in Rides | 5 Comments

A Keirin Racer on the Road

The other rider passed us at great speed. Getting passed by “hobby racers” while cyclotouring with my Japanese friends isn’t unusual, especially on valley-bottom roads that see many cyclists.

From behind, the rider looked odd. His position was very low. He was turning a large gear. All this sounds like a novice rider, but there was something about his cyclist that piqued my interest.

I decided to speed up to catch the rider and get another look. I told my friends that I’d ride ahead. By now, the rider was maybe 400 m (1/4 mile) ahead of me. It seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my legs and do a little speedwork. I accelerated, shifted a few cogs on the rear, and got into a good rhythm.

My first acceleration simply saw me maintain my distance, but not gain on the other rider. I had underestimated his speed. I dug deeper and made up some ground, but then the gradient of the road steepened a little. My speed dropped, while he continued with metronomic precision. I was back in a holding pattern, not gaining any ground, yet riding at a speed that was a little too fast to be sustainable after the previous effort. I remembered my racing days, caught in “no-man’s land” after being delayed by a crash or being blocked by dropped riders. In this unsustainable situation, you have two choices: abandon the chase or muster all your reserves and close the gap in a sprint. I chose the latter…

That is how I caught him. Out of breath, I looked at the rider. His position was incredibly low – his hands were lower than his knees, and his back was truly flat. Just look at his shadow on the road!

I drew alongside, greeted him and asked: “Suminasen, shashin totte mo iidesuka.” (“Excuse me, is it OK to take a photo?”) He looked up, and I was surprised to see a wrinkled face that seemed at odds with his speed. This was no novice “hobby racer”!

He seemed startled, too. Was he not used to having another rider come up from behind? Or was my broken Japanese the source of wonder? He nodded his permission and put his head down again. Clearly, he had better things to do than talk to strangers on randonneur bikes!

I looked over his bike. It was a track bike with beautiful Dura-Ace track cranks and, of course, a fixed gear. Contrasting with the superb frame and drivetrain, the brakes were almost an afterthought. The right brake lever was higher than the left, and both were hard to reach. I suspected they were only for emergencies, or perhaps to satisfy traffic rules. A spare tubular tire was strapped under the saddle, and a pump attached a bit haphazardly to the top tube. It was obviously a track bike to which the parts that made it street-legal had been added only reluctantly.

The rider’s tights were inscribed “All-Star Keirin”, and the legs they hid were large and muscular. His feet turned classic pedals with toeclips and -straps. The Arai hardshell helmet confirmed: I was riding next to a true Keirin racer. That explained the ultra-low position and the slow, but smooth and powerful, pedal stroke. I had seen this on the track, where Keirin racers pedal at (for them) moderate speeds, waiting until one of them unleashes the sprint. Then they rise out of the saddle, throw their bikes from side to side as they jockey for position under full acceleration. They dash toward the finish line at a speed and cadence that is fast and furious, whereas before it was slow and deliberate.

I wanted to ask the Keirin racer how far he was riding. Was he still racing, or, more likely, had he retired from the track? I know a few retired Keirin racers, but I’ve never had the opportunity to ride with them on the road. But I felt that I had intruded enough. In any case, my Japanese probably wasn’t up to understanding his answers. So I let him go. I turned around to ride back to my friends. I had ridden next to him for less than a minute, and yet the image of this unexpected figure, turning his pedals with deceptive ease in a huge gear, remains etched in my mind. I hope to meet him again some day.

Posted in Rides | 15 Comments

A True Dual-Purpose Knobby

steilacoom_paved

“Don’t do this on knobby tires!” would be most cyclists’ advice when looking at the photo above. Everybody knows that cornering hard on pavement and knobby tires don’t go together.

And yet, the photo shows me on Compass Steilacoom knobby tires. And I didn’t take any undue risks. It was a cold winter day, and the pavement was still moist from a recent snowfall, so I didn’t push the limits, and the tires always had plenty of grip in reserve. (I apologize for the blurry photo – there wasn’t enough light for high-speed photography on this dark winter day.)

We took this photo during an all-paved ride around Mercer Island – a fast-paced route with many corners and subtle (and not-so-subtle) ups and downs. It’s a challenging course to ride fast. And it’s even more challenging when riding with my friend Ryan, who trains here several times a week and knows every inch of the road.

I rode a bike with Compass 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom knobbies (above), because I wanted to find out how well they perform as dual-purpose tires.

steilacoom_action

After a full season of cyclocross, we already know the Steilacooms work great on mud and loose surfaces… What about rides that are mostly on pavement, but include enough muddy trails that you’d want some knobs on your tires?

I had always been bothered by how terrible my cross bike felt on the few paved sections of the race course. Those sections rarely measured more than a few meters, but if there was a corner, I had to take it carefully. Annoying when I really wanted to go all-out. I figured that there had to be a better way. And when designing the Steilacooms, we thought hard about how to make a knobby perform well on pavement, too.

steilacoom_on_pavement

How do you make knobbies that perform well on pavement? We designed the tread pattern together with the engineers at Panaracer. They were excited to bring all their knowledge to the project, with no concern about “what people expect a knobby tire to look like.” Together, we spent a lot of time thinking about knob shapes and spacing, and how the tire transitions from one knob to the next.

The key difference to previous knobbies is that we didn’t look at each knob individually. We treated them as a system that interacts, not just as the tire is rolling forward, but also as it leans into a turn. We made sure that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, not sudden changes as you transition from one row of knobs to… sometimes almost almost no rubber at all.

We also discussed knob sizes with Panaracer’s engineers. They have to be small enough to dig into the mud, but large enough that they don’t fold over during hard cornering. It’s not rocket science, but it requires visualizing what the tire will do as it rolls and corners.

On the Steilacoom, you don’t fall off one knob and then climb onto the next, so the tires roll more smoothly than most knobbies. And the knobs are big enough that they don’t squirm, which also helps with your speed and cornering.

steilacoom_corner2

I had high expectations for the Steilacooms, but even I was surprised how well they perform on pavement. On that ride around Mercer Island, I had no trouble keeping up with Ryan, even though he was riding his new titanium bike with smooth Compass Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires. The Steilacoom knobbies did not just perform well on the straights, I also didn’t lose any ground in the corners. Of course, this doesn’t prove that the Steilacooms roll quite as well as the Babyshoes, but if there is a difference, it is much smaller than I anticipated.

During our next “BQ Team” ride, I switched bikes with Mark. At first, he was reluctant. “Why would I ride knobbies on the road?” he asked. But then he, too, was surprised. He said: “When you hear the knobs sing on the pavement, you think the bike will be slow. But on the downhills, the wind drowns out the tire noise, and then you realize that they perform pretty much like a good 38 mm road tire would.” And this from the guy who had sworn off knobbies for good when he designed his 650B randonneur bike.

Now, we understand that many readers will be skeptical when a maker claims that their new tire revolutionized how well a knobby tire rolls. So we took a few photos… with a little tree to show that we didn’t just tilt the photo to make it look more dramatic. The Steilacoom really raises the bar beyond what even we thought possible.

steilacoom_sx

The optimized arrangement of knobs is only part of the story. Just as important for the Steilacoom’s speed is the supple Compass casing. The result is a knobby tire that is faster than most slick road tires.

Are there drawbacks of the Steilacoom tread pattern? Of course, otherwise, we’d all ride knobbies from now on. First, once we test them on the track with a power meter, I fully expect that they will roll a little bit slower than our other tires. That is unavoidable, but the difference is too small to notice on the road. That is pretty remarkable.

The knobs also add weight to the tire. And the bigger you make the knobs, the heavier the tire gets. Thanks to our lightweight casings, the Steilacoom still isn’t a heavy tire, but it weighs about 30 g more than our Barlow Pass with smooth tread. This won’t slow you down much even when climbing mountain passes, but if you don’t need knobs, why carry the extra weight?

Like all knobbies, the Steilacooms tend to wander a bit while going straight. You are rolling from one knob to another, rather than on a continuous tread. Again, it’s not a huge deal, but if your ride doesn’t require knobbies, I would pick one of the other Compass tires with their road-optimized tread. And finally, there is more noise from the tires as they roll. But compared to other knobbies I have ridden, all these disadvantages are very subdued.

naches_highland

The Steilacoom’s excellent pavement performance opens up completely new rides. Imagine you are heading into the mountains and expect muddy sections along your course, but most of the ride will be paved. No problem with the Steilacooms. They will make short work of the mud, without holding you back on the paved portions of your ride. That makes the Steilacoom the ultimate multi-purpose tire.

Click here to find out more about the Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm tires.

Photo credits: Ryan Hamilton (Photo 1, 4), Heidi Franz (Photo 2), Duncan Smith (Photo 5), Hahn Rossman (Photo 6).

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 28 Comments

Visiting C.S. Hirose

A highlight of my trips to Japan is visiting Cycle Store Hirose. It’s a truly special place.

I enjoy talking about bikes with Mr. Hirose. His knowledge is deep, and his ideas and thoughts never cease to surprise me. This time, I was proud to show him the Compass decaleur that licenses Hirose’s locking mechanism. He had seen prototypes before, but this was the first time that he saw the final production version. I was glad that he approved of the decaleurs.

My Japanese still is very limited, but fortunately, Natsuko and our friend Meisei are becoming expert translators! Meisei’s new bike was almost finished, and we took it outside to admire it. Mr. Hirose is much more than a framebuilder – there aren’t many parts on the bike that he didn’t make or modify in some way.

Meisei’s bike is equipped with Hirose’s own desmodromic rear derailleur. Inspired by the classic French Cyclo, it’s entirely hand-made and shifts very smoothly. Mr. Hirose is proud that the latest version is 10-speed compatible, but Meisei opted for just 8 cogs on the rear cassette.

Mr. Hirose also makes his own front derailleurs. The cages are custom-shaped for each rider, depending on how they pedal and shift. That is one reason why Hirose wants to meet each customer and see them ride before designing their bikes.

Meisei’s new machine is a beautiful bike, and I could have spent much time admiring it. The winter sun bathed the bike in a golden light, but the cold of this Tokyo winter day drove us back inside.

The shop is crammed with Hirose’s bikes, old and new. There are classic machines that he made decades ago, as well as brand-new customer bikes waiting to be picked up. Each is special in some way. Mr. Hirose loves to develop new solutions for old problems.

He prefers to equip his bikes with centerpull brakes. Many mountain roads in Japan are incredibly steep, which can tax the brakes of  tandem. Mr. Hirose has found a solution: old mountain bike U-brakes really are very beefy centerpulls!

Mr. Hirose attaches the front rack to the brake pivots for a fully integrated solution. This leads to an interesting juxtaposition of slender steel tubes and massive brakes, but most of all, I am sure the brakes perform well.

During every visit to the shop, I have admired this yellow bike. Now I finally realized why it seemed so familiar. I had seen a sister bike, almost identical except the color, in the very first book about Japanese custom bicycles that I had bought from a friend many years ago. The grainy B&W photos had impressed me very much back then. It was the first time I saw centerpull brakes with brazed-on pivots, custom stems and many other details. Unable to read the descriptions, I did not realize that the derailleurs also were custom-made, rather than just old French components.

But they are, and so are the shift levers. I love the simple, but elegant lugs on this machine, and for a moment, I thought of painting my Mule in the same yellow. Unfortunately, I don’t think my large frame would look as good in this bright color as this much smaller bike.

Koushou Kinugawa (of Helavna Cycles) joined us, and we discussed the next bike in the queue, built around Compass Naches Pass 26″ x 1.8″ tires.

Mr. Hirose showed us the new gauge labeled “343”. He uses these gauges to check the spacing of the bridges and fork crown from the axle center to make sure the fenders will fit perfectly. The many gauges show the great variety of bikes Mr. Hirose has built – each represent a tire and wheel size!

Time passed quickly, and suddenly, it was time to go. I love visiting great builders – there is so much to discover and learn.

Further reading:

  • Cycle Store Hirose was featured in Bicycle Quarterly 53. The issue also included a test of a Hirose Mini-Velo.
Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Making Strong and Durable Wheels

jan_pbp_2015

When building a bike, one important decision concerns the wheels. How do you get the best performance and still make your wheels strong enough to withstand 20,000+ miles of riding on rough roads without needing service?

By now, most cyclists know that spokes don’t break from overloading, but from fatigue as the spoke is loaded and unloaded when the wheel rotates. The wheel flattens at the bottom, which unloads the spoke at 6 o’clock. With each wheel revolution, every spoke passes through that spot, where it is slightly detensioned, and then tensioned again. Over time, that causes the spoke to fatigue.

laser-det_0

To get the maximum life out of your spokes, you want the detensioning to be as small as possible. That is what double-butted spokes (above) are for: They are thinner in the middle, so they can stretch more, which means that they don’t detension as much as a thicker spoke would. Yet the ends, where spokes fail if they break, are thick and thus will last a long time. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the thinner mid-sections make double-butted spokes more durable than thicker straight-gauge spokes.

PinchParisRoubaix

Wheels tend to go out of true when you hit a bump and a spoke detensions so much that it goes slack. As the spoke is tensioned again, the nipple unwinds a bit. Now the spoke has less tension, so it will go slack more often, allowing the nipple to unwind more and more… For more information about the basics of wheel building, I recommend the late Jobst Brandt’s excellent book The Bicycle Wheel.

Now, let’s look at the specifics of building a strong wheel.

HerseCH1225

How many spokes do you need? For many years, 36 spokes was the standard (above), then it became 32 as modern spokes became stronger. On my René Herse (top photo), I use a 28-spoke front wheel. I built the wheel six years ago and never touched it again. If the rim hadn’t cracked (different story!), I am sure it would still be going strong today.

bump_big_tire

We can use fewer spokes, because the wider tires we ride today transmit far fewer shocks to the rim. Imagine hitting the bump above with a 23 mm tire: Even if you don’t bottom out, your tire is so hard that much of the impact will be transmitted to the rim. The big, soft tire not only transmits less shock to the rider, but also to the rim.

With smaller 650B or 26″ rims, the spoke bracing angle is greater, which makes the wheel stronger as well. That means that 28 spokes are plenty, even for rough roads.

herse_outback

However, the SON Delux hub I usually ride on my Herse has very narrow flanges, which results in a smaller spoke bracing angle, negating the benefits of the smaller 650B rims. For the Oregon Outback 363-mile gravel race, I put on a wheel with an old SON20 generator hub that has wider flanges (above). When you negotiate rough terrain, your wheel can slip while it’s pointing sideways, then suddenly catch and regain traction. If the wheel is not strong enough, it can collapse into a potato-chip shape, and your ride is over.

sonwi

We wanted a wider spoke bracing angle, so we asked Schmidt Maschinenbau for the Wide-Body Delux hubs, which have the widest flange spacing possible and thus build into the strongest wheels. Compass now offers these hubs in 28 holes, in addition to the 32h and 36h that have been available for a few years. If I had a Wide-Body hub on my bike, I would have been perfectly happy with 28 spokes for the Oregon Outback.

shimano_disc_blogThere are cases when a front wheel with more than 28 spokes makes sense. With disc brakes, your flanges are more narrowly spaced to make room for the rotor – that is why there is no Wide-Body Disc hub – and the entire force of braking is transmitted by the spokes. In this situation, a 28-spoke wheel usually is OK, but 32 spokes gives you an additional margin of safety. The same applies for 700C wheels (larger-diameter rims result a smaller spoke bracing angle), or for very heavy bike/rider combinations. For tandems, I’d go with 36 spokes.

son_delux12_silver

Compass offers the excellent SON Delux Wide-Body hubs with 28, 32 and 36 holes, so you can choose the spoke count that is right for you. We also offer the Delux for disc brakes with 32 holes, both in quick release and thru axle versions (above).

What about the rear wheel? Here, too, the answer is: “It depends.” If you have a strong rim, then 28 spokes may be enough. When HED send us test wheels with their Belgium rims a few years ago, they used 28 spokes front and rear, and they held up fine even when we rode them on mountain bike trails. One reason is that the rear wheel never sees significant side loads.

However, the rear wheel has a much narrower spoke bracing angle to make room for the freewheel/cassette. That is why British builders often used rear wheels with 4 or 8 more spokes than the front. I did the same on my René Herse, which has 36 spokes on the rear. Most wind tunnel studies indicate that the rear wheel is in such turbulent air that its aerodynamics don’t matter much, and the little extra weight isn’t a big deal, either.

Next, let’s talk about rims: Most rims today are stiff and strong. If rims crack, it’s usually caused by poor design or sub-standard materials. Once you’ve eliminated those problems, what you want from your rims is a good fit of the tires. With classic rims, it needs to be good enough to seat the tire automatically as you inflate it. And the tire shouldn’t come off even if you have a sudden blowout on the front. With tubeless-ready rims, the fit needs to be even more precise, so the tire seals easily and doesn’t blow off the rim despite lacking a tube that reinforces the joint between tire and rim.

theo_bike

Compass offers three rims:

  • The Grand Bois rims are a proven classic, available with 36 holes. The polished finish is beautiful, and the tire fit is very good. However, they aren’t compatible with tubeless mounting.
  • The brand-new Pacenti Brevet rim combines classic appearance with tubeless-ready construction. Compass has them in stock in 28 and 32 holes.
  • The HED Belgium Plus is a modern, lightweight, wide semi-aero rim. It is tubeless-compatible, with a tire fit that is consistently excellent. A few of us have been riding them for a few years now (above Theo’s bike), with zero need for truing and easy tire mounting. Black anodized and available in 28 and 32 holes for rim brakes, and in 32 holes for disc brakes.

For each of these rim/hub combinations, we now offer spoke packages with the highest-quality, double-butted, superlight Sapim Laser spokes (2.0 – 1.5 – 2.0 mm) and aluminum nipples. That makes it easy to build a generator hub wheel that is perfect for your intended use: Just select your hub and your rim, and then order the spoke package that goes with this combination. (We also offer the spokes individually.)

Click here for more information about Compass wheel goods.

Posted in hubs/rims, Lighting | 52 Comments

Panaracer: Hand-Made Tires

A highlight of my visits to Japan is going to the Panaracer factory. It’s a magical place, where some of the world’s best tires are made largely by hand. It resembles a storybook factory: Huge machines emit hissing steam. Skilled hands assemble casing, beads and tread. Hot tires cool as they move along conveyors under the roof.

The main reason for my visits to the factory is to discuss ideas for new tires, and improvements to existing ones, with Panaracer’s engineers (above). These guys know more about making bicycle tires than almost anybody in the world. We bring them our ideas, they provide feedback and input, and together, we finalize new designs, like the innovative tread pattern of our Steilacoom knobbies.

During recent meetings, we’ve been talking a lot about tubeless tires. Tubeless is an emerging technology without real standards yet. We must figure out how to make tires that work on as many different rims as possible. When customers have problems, we try to diagnose and troubleshoot for them. We all share the goal of making the most of this exciting new technology.

Once we have finished our meetings, we often get to walk around the factory. Two weeks ago, we saw our Steilacoom, Switchback Hill and Snoqualmie Pass tires being made. It was the first time that my visit coincided with one of our production runs – great fun!

There is nothing really toxic involved in making tires at this factory – just steam and heat – so there is no need for protective clothing, not even earplugs. (Like many Japanese, the worker below wears a face mask for protection against spring-time pollen, not industrial pollution.)

Making tires starts with kneading the hot tread rubber in huge machines that look like they belong in a giant bakery. The rubber is rolled into thinner and thinner strips, until it has the right thickness for the tread.

The casing is stored in huge rolls, ready to be impregnated with rubber. Both the thickness of the threads and the amount of rubber coating determine how supple the tire will be. This is where the experienced workforce and time-tested machinery allows Panaracer to go a few steps further than most tire makers and use ultra-fine fabric and a very thin rubber coating to make the lightest and most supple tires possible.

The tires are assembled by hand. It’s a fascinating process, and I could easily spend a month photographing the factory. There is enough material write a book! But there are too many trade secrets, so no photography is allowed. Panaracer’s engineers would prefer if nobody knew what is going on in their factory.

Ever since I first visited this amazing factory, I’ve wanted to show our readers how high-end tires are made. It took us years to persuade the company to do a photoshoot last year. Each photo was carefully vetted before it was cleared for publication in Bicycle Quarterly. Knowing this, I feel incredibly privileged to be allowed to see everything and ask questions about anything when I am visiting.

Once assembled, the raw tires look almost like the finished product (above), but they are only loosely assembled. They still lack their tread pattern, too. All this comes in the next, most impressive step…

Each tire is vulcanized (above). That means it is placed in a mold that is engraved with the tread pattern. Steam heats the mold until the rubber partially melts. The tread rubber flows into the mold and is imprinted with the tread pattern. Since the tire partially melts, all its elements are fused together and become inseparable, making the tire very strong. When the tire emerges from the mold, it is no longer flat, but has the domed shape of, well, a tire. After it cools, it’s ready for quality control and packaging.

In the past, vulcanized tires were considered slow, and hand-glued ones were faster. That was because the casing material used in the factories that vulcanized their tires was stiff and not optimized for performance. With all tires, the casing is by far the most important factor that determines the tire’s performance and comfort.

Panaracer’s high-end tires use very supple casings, yet they are vulcanized. This combines the best of both worlds – the naturally round shape of the tire further optimizes the tires’ performance: As the wheel rotates and the contact patch leaves the ground, the tire automatically resumes its round shape.

Many hand-made tires are not vulcanized. Held together with strong glue, they look like the raw tires in the photo above – flat. When their contact patches leave the ground, tire pressure has to overcome the tire’s natural flat shape to make it round again. According to Bicycle Quarterly‘s testing, this makes the tire about 3% slower.(1) The very best tubular tires, such as those made by FMB, are assembled on an inflated casing. That way, the tire has the same round shape as a vulcanized tire. Why aren’t all tires vulcanized? Small makers don’t have the machinery that is required.

For the Compass Extralight models, Panaracer uses a casing usually reserved for their top-end racing tubulars. Panaracer doesn’t use this casing on their own clinchers. The company feels that their tires may end up with inexperienced customers, who may need sturdier tires.

We are glad that Panaracer’s engineers are willing to push the envelope a bit further for our Compass tires. We are confident that Compass customers try to avoid crashing into potholes and obstacles that could ruin a high-performance tire. In any case, the limits of what supple tires can do are quite high – witness the photo above showing a set of Compass Extralight tires in action. The tires survived the long and rough descent from Odarumi Pass in Japan without damage.

I cannot show you the factory, but if you are going to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in Salt Lake City, Utah, this weekend, you’ll be able to meet the people from Panaracer. Stop by their booth and tell them how much you enjoy the tires they make for us!

The full report on the Panaracer factory was published in Bicycle Quarterly 58. If you missed that issue, it’s available as an individual back issue or with our 4-pack of the last year’s Bicycle Quarterlies.

Click here for more information about Compass tires.

(1) We tested two tires made with the same casing and tread. One was assembled on an inflated casing, the other “flat-glued”.

Posted in Tires | 42 Comments

Mountain Cycling Club Hillclimb Race

road_from_above

Tokyo’s Mountain Cycling Club reminds me of the Groupe Montagnard Parisien: almost unknown, yet fascinating and influential far beyond their limited membership. The French riders brought us the Technical Trials and modern randonneur bikes, while their Japanese counterparts co-invented mountain bikes.

The Mountain Cycling Club started exploring the mountain passes in the Japanese Alps decades ago. For their incredible rides on single-track or even hiking with their bikes on their backs, they developed “Passhunter” bicycles: wide tires, derailleurs, flat handlebars and cantilever brakes… meeting all the definitions of what makes a mountain bike.

Around the same time, Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and all the others in Marin County started putting derailleurs on their “Klunkers,” so they could go up, and not just down the mountains. I’m still learning about Passhunters, but it’s clear to me that they were initially designed to go uphill, whereas mountain bikes started with the idea of going downhill… Imagine if the Japanese riders had been as ambitious in marketing their ideas as their Californian counterparts – mountain bikes might look quite different today!

shinjuku

Natsuko has been a member of the Mountain Cycling Club for many years, and she introduced me to the club. Every year in late February, the club organizes a hillclimb race. That is why last weekend, we left central Tokyo at sunrise with our bikes in their Rinko bags and headed into the mountains by train.

amanda_cross

We assembled our bikes and rode to the start. The race goes up a pass that climbs more than 700 m (2300 ft) in about 8 km (5 miles). The road is paved, but this early in the season, there often is snow on the upper reaches. As you’d expect from the Mountain Cycling Club, this isn’t an ordinary race!

Riders show up on a variety of machines. This winter hasn’t seen much snowpack, and conditions were rumored to be dry, so two riders came on carbon-fiber racers. Others had brought cyclocross bikes, like this lovely Amanda (above), in case there was snow after all.

makio_toei

And then there were purpose-built machines like Makio-san’s old Toei, with 650A wheels, cut-off randonneur handlebars and low gears. This machine exists only to climb hills as fast as possible.

start

At 11 o’clock, we lined up for the start. We could see the pass in the distance, looming high above and doing its best to intimidate us.

As the club has aged, there aren’t as many racers as in the past, but those who came were serious about the task ahead. In fact, two participants weren’t members of the club, but racers who had come just to measure themselves against the mountain. Natsuko, who was the only woman, had started 15 minutes earlier together with the oldest rider…

warmup

The first few kilometers were on a moderate gradient, and the group rode together to warm up. Then the valley steepened, the road narrowed, and the race began in earnest.

Obviously, I didn’t have time to take photos while racing… I got a good start and opened a small gap on a short downhill section – the only one on the course – but then the two racers reeled me in relentlessly. As the road steepened to about 18%, I struggled as they caught me. Knowing the course, they accelerated before a sharp turn after which the gradient relented a bit. I didn’t have the legs to stay with them, and they vanished into the distance.

The course was un-marked, and twice, I reached forks in the road not knowing which way to go – until I heard the organizer’s trumpet from above. It was a very romantic way to guide me and the other racers in the right direction.

soup

After a final sprint to the top, I finished in 54 minutes and a few seconds. The winner was an impressive 4 minutes faster. When I arrived, he and the second-place finisher already were eating Oden soup that the organizer had cooked on a camping stove. Makio-san on his Toei hillclimber came fourth.

top

One by one, the riders arrived. We enjoyed gorgeous views and lively conversation. Unlike most “real” races, this unsanctioned event had a great mix of competition and camaraderie.

snow

To cool down, I went across the pass. The other side was in the shade, and there, I did encounter snow and ice. Now I believed the stories of running through the snow, cyclocross-style, on the upper reaches of the climb.

down_2

There was a brief awards ceremony – Natsuko was the fastest (and only) woman, while my third place made the fastest member of the club. Clouds were covering the sun, and it was getting chilly so high up in the mountains, so we headed back down.

down_1

Only then did I realize how steep this road really was. The descent was twisty, technical, very fast, and great fun. When we reassembled at the bottom, everybody agreed that it had been a great day. I can’t wait until next year. Hopefully, I’ll be in Tokyo again for the race. Now that I know the course, perhaps I can improve my time?

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