Carbon and Leather

diverge_compass

The Bicycle Quarterly‘s Specialized Diverge test bike came out of the box all black. Specialized’s photo (below) makes it look like a shadow, but when I saw the actual bike, I found quite unappealing. Everything looked like it was made from plastic.

I dreaded taking the bike to the photo studio, where it’s our job to make test bikes look good. And I wasn’t particularly looking forward to riding it, either.

diverge_stock

As it turned out, I had to make a few changes to the Diverge before I could take it on the adventure that we planned for this bike test. With its stock tires, the deck was stacked against the Diverge, so on went a set of Compass Extralights. The handlebars gave me numb hands just riding around town, so I installed a set of Compass Maes Parallel 31.8 bars instead. And the Body Geometry saddle clearly didn’t fit my “geometry”, so it was replaced with a Rivet leather saddle that we were also testing for BQ.

These changes gave me an opportunity to do something about the appearance of the bike, too. Even though Compass tires are available in all-black, I opted for tan sidewalls to accentuate the wheels. Instead of reusing the original tape that looked like somebody had wrapped the bars in an inner tube, I used leather bar tape that matched the honey color of the saddle.

With these small changes, the bike was transformed, both functionally and aesthetically. The tan splashes of color directed the focus on the parts of the bike that matter: the tires that make the bike roll; and the handlebars and saddle as the important contact points with the rider. The black carbon frame connected these parts with smooth lines. To me, the bike now looked really appealing, and I could hardly wait to ride it.

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Imagine my surprise when I saw a similar juxtaposition of carbon and leather on a BMW concept car in a Munich showroom. The “328 Homage” has a body made from carbon fiber. The wheels are silver (not black!), and there are leather straps on the hood.

bmw_328_homage

The interior is covered with beautiful tan leather. It is a rather appealing mix, and I wish I could have sat in those leather seats. For me, leather isn’t about luxury or status, but its texture feels nice to touch. Leather develops a nice patina with age and use.

I imagine how the concept car would look if it was driven for a few thousand miles and then put on display. I was glad that I was able to ride the Diverge. The colors of its bar tape and saddle became even richer with use.

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For a fast camping trip on the Diverge, I took the contrast even further by adding a set of Gilles Berthoud panniers. There was a practical reason to use the Berthouds, as my modern front panniers were too small to carry a weekend’s camping gear. But once the panniers were on the bike, I realized how nice the gray-blue canvas looked with the black carbon…

I believe that timeless materials like leather and “classic” aesthetics can have a place on a modern bike. When you look at your bike, you want to think how wonderful it looks, and have the anticipation that it will deliver a great ride.

Until the bike industry wakes up to this potential, you can take matters in your own hands: A few small changes can radically change the appearance of your bike. And if, as in the case of the Diverge, the function is improved as much as the appearance, then you have two reasons to enjoy riding your bike more.

Posted in Handlebars | 52 Comments

Prepare for Gravel Riding

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Gravel riding is becoming increasingly popular, and we are very happy about it! It was natural for Bicycle Quarterly to become a co-sponsor of the Eroica California ride in April, since it combines two things we love: gravel roads and classic bikes. But gravel riding isn’t limited to riders trying to recreate the glory days of mid-century racing – almost any bike shop in North America will have a selection of carbon fiber “gravel bikes”.

There are many reasons why cyclists have discovered gravel: Gravel roads see much less traffic than paved ones. Gravel roads often traverse magnificent scenery. And riding on gravel enhances the simple experience of cycling, as your bike slides a bit – whereas on pavement, a slide usually results in a crash. On gravel, you can play with the limits of adhesion. It’s fun.

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For more than a decade, Bicycle Quarterly has featured cycling on unpaved roads: dirt roads, gravel roads, even mountain paths. As people have become interested, they often ask us: “What do we need to ride on gravel?” 

Here are some thoughts based on our experience of testing many different bikes on many different gravel roads.

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Bike

Almost any bike can be ridden on gravel. When I was a college student, my friends and I rode our racing bikes through the forest – on 20 mm tires! Today, we call that “underbiking” – riding a bike that is only marginally suited to the environment where we ride. That can be fun for a short while, and it hones your skills, but in the long run, you’ll want a bike that is better suited to the task.

A good gravel bike combines the performance of a racing bike with the ability to use wide tires. If you have a choice, stay away from touring bikes and hybrids! Their stiff and heavy frames limit their performance. You’ll have more fun on a bike that offers a spirited ride and encourages you to go faster and further. Cyclocross bikes are great for gravel, as are the increasingly popular gravel bikes. A good randonneur bike with wide tires is an excellent choice as well. Classic racing bikes often have clearance for wider tires, too. On these bikes, you fly over the gravel, rather than grind through it.

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Knobs vs. Smooth Tires

Tires are the most important choice of your gravel bike. Contrary to what many cyclists expect, you don’t need knobs to ride on gravel. When you slide, it’s because the gravel layers slide against each other, not because your tires slide on top of the gravel. Knobbies don’t improve your traction. (Knobbies mostly give you an advantage on mud.) Most gravel rides include a fair amount of pavement, where knobbies roll slowly and corner unpredictably. That is why most gravel riders choose “road” tires with relatively smooth tread patterns.

rough_gravel

Tire Width

You want the widest tire you can fit on your bike. At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve ridden tires between 20 and 54 mm wide on gravel. The verdict is clear: The widest tires are by far the fastest and most fun. Three reasons:

  1. When your bike bounces on the gravel, that energy is lost from the forward motion. (The technical term is called “suspension losses”.) The more your bike bounces and vibrates, the slower it is. With wider tires, you can run lower pressure, so your tires bounce much less. You get more speed and more comfort.
  2. The more rubber you have on the “road”, the more sure-footed your bike becomes. Your bike slides sideways in corners when the stones under your tires roll or slide. A wider tire spreads the cornering forces over more stones, so it’s less likely to slide.
  3. On soft surfaces, a narrow tire sinks into the gravel. Displacing gravel takes energy. (Imagine walking on a soft sandy beach or in deep snow. It’s hard!) The ideal tire leaves almost no track in the gravel, but just floats over it. (Imagine snowshoes. They distribute your weight, making hiking through deep snow easier.)

Your tire width is limited by the clearances of your bike’s frame and fork. Read this post about determining how wide a tire you can fit on your bike. And then use the widest tires that safely clear your frame.

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Tire Choice

Many riders imagine that you need a reinforced tire for gravel, but that isn’t necessarily the case. On gravel, you are much less likely to get flats. Here is why: As you roll over debris, your tires push it into the ground. It’s the opposite of unyielding pavement, which pushes the debris into your tires – they puncture.

For some riders, sidewall cuts can be a problem when riding over sharp rocks. We don’t really know why some riders cut their sidewalls and others don’t. Many experienced cyclocross racers use hand-made tubular tires with thin cotton casings. Others tend to slash the sidewalls even if they use reinforced tires. Experiment and see what works for you.

There is a good reason to ride high-end tires with thin, flexible sidewalls: Supple tires are especially fast and comfortable on gravel. (That is why ‘cross racers use those expensive tubulars.) Supple tires reduce vibrations, so less energy is lost to the bike bouncing. You go faster. Less bouncing also means that your body doesn’t suffer as much. It’s a win-win situation.

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Brakes

On gravel, your braking power is limited by the lack of friction between tire and road. You can only brake until your tires start sliding. This means that absolute brake power is less important, but modulation is key.

On gravel, you often need to keep your wheels right at the lockup point to slow down for a corner. You need brakes that provide good feel and feedback. Many modern disc brakes are still lacking in that respect. At Bicycle Quarterly, we have found classic centerpull brakes to be so excellent that we re-introduced them through our sister company, Compass Bicycles.

no_fender_gravel

Fenders

Most gravel bikes don’t come with fenders. It’s really a shame! Fenders will keep you and your bike much cleaner than Hahn in the photo above. Gravel roads remain muddy long after paved roads have dried out. And even the most beautiful ride can be miserable, if you are getting coated with mud.

Why don’t bike makers install fenders on their gravel bikes? Unfortunately, most commonly available fenders will not withstand the vibrations of gravel roads for long. There are alternatives: Well-mounted, high-quality aluminum fenders, like the Honjos on our bikes, will last as long as the bikes they are mounted on.

Make sure that your fenders have adequate clearances around your tires. Ideally, you want 20 mm on top of the tire, so that gravel picked up by the tires doesn’t grind against the fender. If you hear constant “Scrrrshh” sounds, your fenders are too tight. This isn’t just a cosmetic problem: Debris can collapse your front fender, jam it into the fork crown, and send you over the bars. Don’t use fenders that are sub-optimal! When in doubt, it’s better to get muddy than to risk injury.

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Pedals/Shoes

Walkable shoes are useful. On gravel roads, you may have to carry your bike across small washouts or landslides. Sometimes, it’s easier and more efficient to hike up very steep passages. Use a pedal system with cleats that don’t get mashed up when you walk across gravel. SPD pedals have proven themselves in this environment. Others use touring shoes or even light hiking boots with traditional pedals and toeclips.

Prevent Mechanicals

On gravel, your bike inevitably vibrates more than it does on pavement. Make sure that all your bolts are tight. Check that straps and other parts don’t rub through. During the 360-mile Oregon Outback, the spare spokes that I had taped to my fender stays rubbed through two layers cloth tape until they fell off! The faster you go, the higher the vibration frequencies, and the more you demand of your bike.

It is possible to design and build a bike that can withstand thousands of miles of gravel riding without requiring maintenance or tightening of bolts. The lost spokes were the only problem I encountered during that epic trek across Oregon. (Below is my bike after the race.)

herse_outback

What to Carry?

Gravel riding takes you into remote places. Don’t count on getting outside help – you’ll often be out of cell phone range. Make sure your bike is reliable, and carry a few essentials.

Be prepared for flat tires. Carry two spare tubes and also a patch kit, in the unlikely case that you have more than two flats. Bring a pump, and not a CO2 inflator. (You may need to inflate multiple tires.) A spare tire is useful if you slice your tire. (Or bring a piece of tire casing that makes an excellent boot – much better than the stuff you can buy for this purpose.) When I carry a spare, I bring a narrower, lighter tire than I usually use – it’s only intended to get me home…

Obviously, a few wrenches, for the bolts that are most likely to loosen, should be in your tool kit. If you ride with friends on similar bikes, you can pool your spares. For example, one spare tire will suffice for the group if all use the same wheel size…

Bring water and food, plus clothing for all expected weather conditions: Be prepared for hot climbs, cold descents, and everything in between. Use a layering system that packs small. Your bike should have the capacity to carry that luggage. Backpacks are a last resort: They tend to be uncomfortable during long rides.

A good gravel bike will have lights, so you aren’t stranded if you get lost and have to ride after dark. Bring a small emergency blanket and a small first aid kit, just in case.

With these precautions, you’ll be able to enjoy gravel roads with little worry. Riding off the beaten path is quite safe. The biggest danger for cyclists, drunk drivers, are rarely found on  twisting gravel roads in the mountains. In the unlikely event that your bike breaks and you cannot continue, you’ll hike back to civilization. That might be uncomfortable, but not dangerous. And on many gravel roads, you’ll still encounter a car or truck every few hours.

And during events like the Eroica, you can experience gravel riding without the need to be self-sufficient. It’s a great way to get a taste of gravel riding, before heading out on your own or with friends.

GravelHelens

If you don’t have a perfect bike, don’t let that keep you from enjoying riding on those unpaved roads. If all you have is a hybrid, make sure it’s in good shape, maybe put on new tires, pack your gear in a backpack, and head out. It’s good to be prepared, but once you are out there, don’t worry and enjoy the ride!

More information:

Posted in Testing and Tech | 41 Comments

The Bicycle Quarterly “Team”

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The Bicycle Quarterly “Team” is the inspiration for much of what we do. Whether it’s the ride stories in Bicycle Quarterly or the components made by Compass Bicycles, it all starts with a bunch of friends riding bikes. You may have noticed that “team” is in quotation marks, because it’s not an official team, but a really remarkable group who have found each other over the years.

We all are of similar strength, which means that a common pace comes naturally. We’ve ridden many thousands of miles together, so we have developed similar styles. We can paceline on gravel descents, because we know that nobody will suddenly brake or swerve. Riding with people you know so well is relaxing and safe. Our conversations during these rides are animated and inspiring. Our friendships extend far beyond the bike.

team_gravel_paceline

At this time of year, we usually ride in the foothills of the Cascades and train to see our form return, while we wait for the snow to melt on the high mountain passes. We really live for those summertime adventures!

CM09Helens

Whether it’s riding 530 km (330 miles) from Seattle to the highest roads on Mount St. Helens (above) and Mount Rainier, and back, in 24 hours, during the original Cyclos Montagnards Challenge…

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… or climbing gravel mountain passes at night (and hiking through snow at the top), it’s great to have a group of friends who share the excitement of planning rides that go a bit beyond what many consider possible on a bike.

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We like to ride at a spirited pace and over long distances. That is demanding on our bikes, and more than one idea for Compass components has originated on a ride, when we found that the available equipment wasn’t up to the task. “There must be a better way!” has been the start for many a new product. We then return to the workshop to make prototypes. We test them on the following rides. Once we’ve found them up to the task, we put them into production.

Similarly, we take Bicycle Quarterly’s test bikes on adventures that explore the limits of rider and bike alike. If a bike performs well in our testing, readers can be assured that it’s an excellent machine.

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Of course, not every ride is a magnificent adventure. Often, we just head out for six to eight hours. We ride into the foothills of the Cascades (above), or through Western Washington’s marvellous coastal landscapes.

Whether our rides are short or long, we are lucky to have these friends, because as much as we love our bikes, they are an end to a means: enjoying our rides even more.

flip book

The best of these rides are turned into stories for Bicycle Quarterly. You can read about one of the most memorable ride, the Volcano High Pass 600 km Super Randonnée, in our sample issue online.

Posted in People who inspired us, Rides | 7 Comments

Tire Pressure Take-Home

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What is the “correct” tire pressure for your bike? The simple answer is: Whatever feels right to you. Confused? Here is how it works:

In the past, many riders inflated their tires to the maximum pressure rating. Now most cyclists now recognize that the optimum pressure often is much lower.

But what is the right tire pressure? At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve done a lot of research into the rolling resistance of tires at various pressures, and on various road surfaces.

BertoPressChart

Frank Berto’s tire pressure chart (above), first published in Bicycle Quarterly many years ago, has received much attention. (Note that the weights are per wheel, not for the entire bike.)

Berto made the chart in the 1990s, when tires were much narrower. Hardly anybody today still rides on 20 mm tires, and even 23 mm are on their way out! At the other end, 37 mm no longer is huge, as many of us ride 42 mm tires on pavement, and even wider ones on gravel. How does it all translate into the modern world?

tire_drop

Much of it depends on the tires you run. Berto measured the tire drop (above; how much the tire deflects for a given load and pressure) for dozens of tires. He then averaged the values, and drew his chart for a tire drop of 15%.

The 15% as desirable tire drop was based on the recommendations of several tire manufacturers, but not on actual testing. So the chart shows how much you need to inflate an average 1990s tire to achieve a tire drop of 15% – nothing less and nothing more.

A few years ago, Berto sent me all his original data. Looking over his measurements, it’s clear that supple tires – back then pretty much only the Michelin Hi-Lite – deflect much more than stiff ones, at the same pressure. This means that specific tires can vary quite a bit from the averages shown in the chart.

golden_gardens

To get the same tire drop with supple tires, you would need to run them at higher pressures. But is 15% tire drop really what you want with supple tires?

The answer is “No”. The 15% tire drop is an arbitrary value. However, even if it’s only by coincidence, the values in Berto’s chart actually work quite well for Compass tires. They’ll result in more than 15% tire drop, but that is OK: Comfort and speed are optimized. And that is what really matters.

track_tire_test

The biggest surprise of all our testing (above) was this: For supple tires, pressure makes little difference in performance. We tested three Vittoria tires (Rubino, CX clincher, CX tubular; all 25 mm wide) and found that the supple CX models roll as fast at 70 psi as they do at 130 psi. (For the rest of the world, that is 5 bar and 9 bar.)

The reason is simple: Higher pressure decreases the energy required to flex the tire. Less energy is lost due to internal deformation (hysteresis). But higher pressure increases the losses due to the vibrations of bike and rider. More energy goes to suspension losses. The two effects cancel each other. Whether you pump up your supple tires super-hard or ride them squishy-soft, they have the same resistance.

On the other hand, truly stiff tires feel sluggish at 15% tire drop. The stiff tire is much harder to flex, so it’s useful to minimize that flex by increasing the pressure. For stiff tires, the suspension losses do not vary as much with pressure – they’re always high – since the stiff casing transmits a lot of vibration at any pressure.

Recently, Velo-News confirmed our results: The performance of a hand-made tire with cotton casing did not change at different tire pressures. And a stiffer tire rolled slower at lower pressures than at higher ones. (It’s nice to see that our results, after having been highly controversial for years, now are becoming generally accepted.)

It can be hard to believe this, because higher pressure feels faster. Here is why: When you go faster, your bike hits more road irregularities per second: The road buzz increases in frequency. Most cyclists know: higher speed = higher frequency.

Higher tire pressure cheats you into thinking that you are going faster, because it also increases the frequency of the vibrations: higher pressure = higher frequency.

It’s natural to assume that this means: higher pressure = higher frequency = higher speed, but that is incorrect. Instead, you are looking at two different mechanisms that both increase the frequency of the road buzz.

Even after years of riding supple, wide tires, this “placebo” effect sometimes plays tricks on me. A supple tire absorbs vibrations better, so it can feel slower – until you look at your speedometer.

hahn_un-meeting

What does it all mean? Here is the take-home summary:

  • Stiff casings always will be slow. They are even slower at lower pressures.
  • Supple casings are fast, and pressure doesn’t matter.
  • On smooth roads, tire pressure is a matter of personal preference (at least with supple tires). High and low pressures offer the same performance.
  • On rough roads, lower pressures are faster. So if you want to optimize your speed on all roads, including rough ones, go with a relatively low, but safe, pressure.
  • Your tire pressure needs to be high enough to avoid pinch flats. If you get pinch flats, increase your tire pressure, or better, choose wider tires. Pinch flats are rare with wide tires.
  • On pavement, your pressure needs to be high enough that the tire does not collapse during hard cornering.
  • The minimum safe pressure is higher for more supple casings. Stiff casings hold up the bike more, and thus require less air pressure.
  • On gravel, you can run lower pressures than on pavement. On loose surfaces, the tires don’t collapse as easily, because the cornering forces are much lower.
  • Don’t run your tires so low that the casing cords start to break. That happens only at very low pressures, but if you start seeing multiple lines across the casing where cords have broken, inflate the tires a bit more.
  • Berto’s chart still is a good starting point. Inflate your tires to the pressures it recommends, then experiment by adding or letting out some air.
  • See what feels best to you. That is the optimum tire pressure for you. Don’t worry about tire pressure any further! At least on paved roads, you won’t go faster or slower if you change your tire pressure.

Even simpler, here is a summary in two sentences:

  • Ride the tire pressure that feels good to you.
  • When in doubt, let out some air.

It’s really that simple!

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 46 Comments

Early-Season Ride: Hood Canal and Tahuya Hills

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The Bicycle Quarterly Team’s early-season rides usually head into the Cascade foothills to our east. There are plenty of quiet roads that seem to dead-end in the mountains… until you realize that they are connected by gravel roads! This allows us to string together a variety of rides – free of traffic and in beautiful surroundings.

We love those rides, but sometimes, a change of scenery heightens our sense of adventure. When Mark suggested a ride along the Hood Canal and through the Tahuya Hills, it didn’t take much to persuade us. Especially since he promised some gravel in the mix.

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Steve (black), Mark (yellow) and I met on the 6 o’clock ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. By the time we prepared to disembark, dawn announced the new day. Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer!

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The first kilometers along a busy highway were quickly forgotten, because we soon found ourselves on smaller roads. From Belfair, we headed along the Hood Canal into the Tahuya Hills. This is a favorite road that we’ve traveled during many a Seattle International Randonneurs brevets, usually in the middle of the night.

This morning, the scenery was especially spectacular. We saw three layers of clouds hovering above the sound. The water in the distance was still blanketed by a thick layer of fog. Above were low clouds (or perhaps dissolving fog), with a high cloud cover above. And best of all, the sun was shining on us!

eagle

A little further, we surprised a huge bald eagle by the roadside. The eagle looks big in the photo, but you cannot see its wingspan: It was at least 1.8 m (6 ft). I did not realize how large these birds really are, until one flew right by my shoulder!

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Soon we entered the Tahyua Hills. This time, we did not take paved inland route, but a gravel road that hugs the coast line. We had seen only three or four cars since leaving Belfair, and now we had the road entirely to ourselves.

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A coastal route may sound flat, but the Tahyua Hills deserve their name. Cyclists whisper about these hills – most have heard about them, but only the hardiest actually have ridden here. I reality, the Tahuya Hills are fun – a rollercoaster of ups and downs with tight turns that test the skills of the riders and the quality of their bikes. Mark and Steve’s randonneur bikes were up to the task. The terrain was a bit more challenging for my Specialized Diverge long-term test bike, but I made it fine, too.

fog

We rode into the fog that we had seen in the distance, just as it started to lift. We were glad to have fenders, because the previous day’s rain had left the gravel muddy. (A gravel bike without fenders makes little sense around here, even on sunny days.)

bay

We rode along beautiful bays, now back on pavement, but still away from traffic. Time flew by, with spirited pedaling and animated conversations to distract us. It was a typically wonderful ride with friends.

seabeck

Just as we were getting hungry, we reached Seabeck with its general store. Weekend rides like this one aren’t timed events, so we stopped for a leisurely lunch.

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After lunch, we soon turned off the main road again. Flanked by the Puget Sound on one side and a Navy base on the other, there was hardly any traffic until we reached Bainbridge Island.

Here, we split up. My companions were keen to get home, so they continued on the busy highway. I preferred the backroads for a wonderful spin over the narrow, twisting two-lane blacktop. It’s hillier and thus takes longer than the highway, but for me, it was a nice end to a great ride.

bainbridge

I would have caught the same ferry if I hadn’t stopped at the store in Winslow to buy a second lunch. The sun had come out, and I enjoyed my picnic at the ferry dock. An hour later, I was riding home along the Seattle waterfront. These are the best kind of pre-season rides: interesting, enjoyable and thoroughly low-key.

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments

Enduro Allroad Bikes Are Taking Off

2016-NAHBS-Hunter-Enduro-All-Road

The big story of last weekend’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show were Enduro Allroad bikes – road bikes with tires wider than 45 mm. These bikes are great on paved roads, but their true element is gravel. Even on smooth gravel, these extra-wide tires roll better than narrower ones. On loose and rough gravel, there simply is no comparison. Instead of grinding through the gravel, you float over it! It’s amazing what ultra-wide, supple tires can do.

outback_04

The idea for the Enduro Allroad bike came during the 2014 Oregon Outback (above), where even my 42 mm-wide Compass Babyshoe Pass tires sank deep into the soft gravel. I hunted from the left side of the “road” to the right, trying to find firmer ground. I could see the tracks of the rider ahead of me, Ira Ryan, who won the race. He was fishtailing all over the place (below).

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As I tried to keep up the pace on this difficult stretch, I realized there was a solution: A wider tire would float on top of the loose stuff. It would be much faster and also make the bike easier and more fun to handle. The idea of a road tire that was even wider than my 42s was definitely pushing the envelope at the time. The big makers were still trying to figure out whether the ideal gravel tire was 28 or 32 mm wide.

The idea was good, but there was a problem: Nobody in living memory had ridden an extra-supple tire that wide. The closest thing in existence were the FMB tubulars that professional cross-country mountain bike racers use – but not on pavement. (Making a tire that wasn’t supple would have defeated the purpose of the exercise. After all, the goal is more speed and comfort, not less.)

weigle_shaving

Before we could commit to making tire molds, we had to make some prototype tires. But without molds, you cannot make tires! We found a solution to that problem. Panaracer made a few mountain bike tires with our Extralight casing. Then Peter Weigle shaved off the knobs to create ultra-wide slick tires. Talk about hand-made tires!

enduro_allroad_cobbles

We tested these prototypes extensively. On gravel (above), we could not believe the new tires’ performance. Just as importantly, the sidewalls held up to the abuse of riding over rough ground at ridiculously high speed.

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But the big surprise came on pavement: The new tires offered incredible cornering, because they put so much rubber on the road. And on the straights, the ultra-wide tires rolled extremely well, too. Whoever was riding the Enduro Allroad bike had no trouble keeping up with the riders on narrower tires.

Any drawbacks? Tire pressure becomes much more important. Whereas I can ride a 42 mm tire anywhere between 35 and 65 psi without trouble, the 54 mm tires require more careful pressure adjustments. Put in too much air, and the tire starts to bounce a bit on some undulations in the pavement. Let the pressure drop too low, and the sidewalls begin to collapse during enthusiastic cornering. For me, the pressure range on pavement was between 25 and 30 psi. Fortunately, that range worked equally well on gravel and on pavement, so at least there is no need to adjust the pressure in mid-ride with tires this wide.

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As a result of this research, we introduced the first two Enduro Allroad tires last year. The Rat Trap Pass is a 26″ x 2.3″ tire (54 mm wide). The Switchback Hill (above, named after the first climb of the Oregon Outback) is a 650B x 48 mm. Our customers’ reaction was surprisingly positive, considering that this was a product that nobody had expected. The idea of the Enduro Allroad bike appealed to many riders.

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Not quite a year later, the Enduro Allroad Bike is entering the mainstream. Last weekend, WTB introduced their new “Road Plus™” 650B x 47 mm tire (above). It’s interesting to see others follow our lead: The WTB tire even uses a tread pattern that resembles our Compass tires. (The “chevron” ribs are designed to interlock with the road surface as you corner.) And there finally seems to be a consensus that a knobby tread is of little use when riding on gravel. (The rock “layers” move in relation to each other, rather than the tire slipping on the top layer of gravel.)

The WTB tire may look similar to our Compass tires, but it doesn’t duplicate our efforts. At 515 g, it’s about 100 g heavier than our Switchback Hill, and it seems to be intended more as a utility tire.

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With more tire choices, more Enduro Allroad Bikes will be built. Above is MAP’s “Rambonneur” with our Switchback Hill tires.

Masi, Miele, Rawland and Brodie have announced new models designed around 650B Enduro Allroad tires. It’s taken less than a year for the new concept to enter the mainstream. That also attests to the inherent appeal of the idea. It’s not something that needs marketing. Anybody who’s ever crested a deserted mountain pass on a gravel road, before launching into an exhilarating descent, understands.

BQ54_coverphoto

Last autumn, I tested the Elephant NFE for Bicycle Quarterly (above). On the loose gravel of the Iron Horse Trail, I appreciated the extra floatation of the big tires. Where riders on narrower tires were struggling, I felt like I was on a road ride. The road may have been gravel, but the sensations were still those of a road bike. The “Road Plus™” name is not inappropriate, but since it’s trademarked to one company, it’s unlikely to catch on.

We chose the name “Enduro Allroad” to show that this type of bike is a logical extension of the “Allroad” bikes we’ve been riding for years. The new bikes are more geared toward gravel and rough stuff, whereas standard Allroad bikes with their 38-42 mm tires are better on pavement. Both categories overlap on smooth, hard gravel, where they offer similar performance. The new bikes don’t replace our existing ones, but the two categories complement each other.

hahn_enduro_allroad

At last autumn’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, I was surprised how many riders already were on Enduro Allroad bikes. Above is BQ‘s Hahn Rossman on his converted Bontrager (with a new fork and disc brakes) with our 26″ Rat Trap Pass tires, in front of Denny Trimble on a Soma Wolverine.

I am not in favor of segmenting the bike world more than necessary – one bike for all purposes remains my dream – but I know that when I return to the route of the Oregon Outback, I want to be on an Enduro Allroad bike!

Photo credits (Hunter and MAP): http://www.theradavist.com, used with permission.

Posted in Product News | 75 Comments

René Herse Cranks: 177 and 165 mm

3_lengths

The photo above shows raw forgings for Compass René Herse cranks. Perhaps you will have spotted that they are all different: Their length varies in 6 mm steps. We introduce René Herse cranks now available in 165 mm and 177 mm lengths, in addition to the 171 mm we have offered in the past.

Why 6 mm steps? Everybody seems to agree that crank length differences of 3 mm or less are unnoticeable even for the most discerning cyclists. If you usually ride 175 or 180 mm cranks, our 177 mm will be perfect for you. The 171 mm covers 170 and 172.5 mm. And if you prefer shorter cranks, we now offer 165 mm as well. Together, these three lengths will satisfy 90% of cyclists.

cnc_factory

Last autumn, I went to Taiwan to discuss the final phase of this new project with our suppliers. I love visiting with the people who make our components. The man on the right is our engineer, who works full-time in Taiwan to supervise the production of our components that are made there. (Many other components are made in Japan, and a few are made locally in Seattle.) In the center is one of the engineers from the CNC company who machine our cranks and chainrings.

forging_hammer

Seeing our components being made is exciting. Like most high-performance cranks, the Compass René Herse cranks are forged. It’s a very involved process: You need a huge forging hammer (above). For scale, you can see two workers in the photo. On the right you see two pallets with raw aluminum pieces that will be turned into components.

The long orange tunnel is an oven to pre-heat the parts. You heat the aluminum a little bit to make it more ductile, so it flows better when you smash it with the big hammer inside the tall machine. The “hammer” slams down onto the aluminum shape with a force of more than 1000 tons. That is the weight of 25 fully loaded semi-trucks!

forging_dies

The forging dies are stored in long racks. These are the tools that are smashed together, with the aluminum in between, and the result is your part. It’s that simple, except the forging dies must withstand huge forces during the forging process. No wonder they cost so much!

Why are parts forged, when the tooling is so expensive? Another process is to machine the parts, or basically carve them, out of big blocks of aluminum. To machine a part, you don’t need any specific tooling. The same milling machine that can make all kinds of things. Yet forging has two advantages:

  1. For huge production runs, forging can be less expensive. You waste less aluminum, because you only use as much as as you need for the shape of the part. (This also is better for the environment.) And forging is fast – just a second or two per part, rather than 30 minutes or more on a CNC machine. If you can amortize the cost of the forging die over millions of parts, it’s quite inexpensive. For small runs, the forging dies add significantly to the cost of each part, so CNC-machining usually is cheaper.
  2. Forging makes a stronger part. Forging reshapes the “grain structure” of the aluminum, whereas machining interrupts it. Imagine a part made from wood. If the wood grain runs the same way as your part, it will be very strong (forging). If you cut across the grain when you make the part, it will be very weak (machining).

High-end bike parts are made in small numbers, so forging is more expensive per unit. However, the higher strength means that forged parts need less material, so they are lighter and more elegant.

Most small crank manufacturers use a combination of forging and machining. The reason is simple: They want to make multiple crank lengths from the same forging die. That is a compromise, because the grain structure is interrupted right where the crank can break (at the pedal eye). When you machine a crank to length, you lose many of the advantages of the forging process.

rh_crank_die

Above you see the forging dies for the René Herse cranks. They look like negative imprints of the cranks. This is called “net-shape” forging, and it is a better way to make cranks. The advantage: You don’t machine off anything that would interrupt the grain structure. The disadvantage: You can make only one crank length from each forging die.

We use net-shape forging because it’s the only way a lightweight, classic crank meets the highest EN “Racing Bike” standards for fatigue resistance. We know that our Compass René Herse cranks are ridden hard, and we want to make them as strong as possible.

new_dies

This means that for each crank length, we need a new forging die. It’s expensive, and we thought long and hard before adding new lengths to our program.

If you look carefully at the two raw forgings above, you’ll notice that we didn’t just change the length. We also added a little material to make the 177 mm cranks a bit stronger. Longer cranks have a longer lever arm for the pedaling forces. And taller riders tend to push harder on the pedals (but spin at lower cadences). Two reasons why they need stronger cranks. When you machine cranks to length, the longest cranks are also the weakest. It’s an additional disadvantage!

crank_machining

With net-shape forging and three raw forgings, we also need separate fixtures for each crank length, when the threads and other details are machined.

Adding new crank lengths is a large project! But it’s worth it: We want our cranks to be the best in the world. This means that we will not compromise on their performance or quality.

al2014

The new lengths aren’t the only change for the Compass René Herse cranks. We also went to a stronger aluminum. The 6066 aluminum we used until now offers great corrosion resistance and is easy to work with. That is why it’s used extensively in the bike industry. It’s also plenty strong for most riders.

However, with a superlight crank like ours, we feel more comfortable with a greater margin of safety. The 2014 alloy that we now use is stronger, yet it isn’t as brittle as the even-harder 7075 alloy that is unsuitable for bicycle cranks. (Our chainrings are made from 7075 aluminum to resist wear.)

2014 alloy is ideal for making cranks, but the heat treatment is more difficult than with other alloys. We worked with our suppliers to ensure that they mastered the process before using this alloy in our cranks. We have tested multiple samples of the new cranks, and they exceed the most demanding standards (the afore-mentioned EN “Racing Bike” standard). We are now confident to offer them to our customers.

rh_tandem_crankset

We now have all three lengths in stock. They are available as single, double, triple, and even tandem cranks (above), with chainrings between 52 and 24 teeth. They are compatible with drivetrains from 5-speed to 10-speed.

When you enjoy the Compass René Herse cranks on your bike, you know that you aren’t just riding one of the most beautiful bike components, but also one of the best-performing. We feel that this is in the spirit of René Herse. His insistence on the highest quality and attention to detail earned him the nickname the “Magician of Levallois”.

Click here for more information about Compass René Herse cranks.

 

Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 67 Comments