Inner Tube Quality


Inner tubes often seem like generic commodities. One is as good as the next – so buy the cheapest one… I used to think that, too, until I started to see split seams, valves separating from the tube, and other mysterious flats that were not caused by “outside influences”. Around kilometer 1000 during the 2007 Paris-Brest-Paris, the seam split on a brand-new Michelin tube that I had bought at a control. (I had good luck with French-made Michelin tubes, but this was one of their Asian-made budget tubes.) It was a distraction I did not need at that point in the ride.

On the other hand, the Schwalbe 650B tubes I had been using always had been flawless. It became obvious that they were made to higher quality standards. So we decided to add Schwalbe tubes to our program. Initially, we intended these as “add-ons” for customers who were ordering tires anyhow. We were surprised how many customers ordered tubes just by themselves. Several customers thanked us for making these tubes available, and commented how they were tired of problems with the generic tubes they bought at their local bike shop…


Nobody likes flats, and fortunately, as we have switched to wider tires, we get far fewer flats. Now we can enjoy the comfort and speed of supple tires without added puncture protection, yet not worry much about flats. But there is no protection against faulty tubes… (The photo above shows a pinch flat. On some very rough gravel, even 42 mm tires are not wide enough…)

I also like to run slightly undersize tubes in my tires. Not only does it save weight, but it also makes the tube easier to install. (Trying to get a slightly stretched-out tube into the tire without creases and folds can be a challenge.) With quality tubes, you can run slightly undersized tubes (say a 28 mm tube in a 32 mm tire) – at your own risk, I hasten to add! The walls of quality tubes are uniform in thickness and will stretch evenly. Budget tubes often have thin spots, which don’t respond well to stretching.

(Superlight tubes always should be sized correctly for your tire, since they are too thin to stretch much. However, some tubes aren’t labeled for all the sizes they fit. For example, the Schwalbe SV14A tubes we sell are labeled for 26″ tires, but they also fit 650B x 38 – 48 mm.)

Better tubes don’t make your bike ride better… so if you are on a tight budget, get the best tires you can afford, and use cheap generic tubes. Be prepared to fix an extra flat once in a while, but at least you get the performance, comfort and pure fun factor of great tires. However, if want quality in all your components (or if you are entering a big event and want to decrease your risk of flats), using quality tubes means that you have one less thing to worry about.

Click here to learn more about the tubes (and tires) Compass carries.

Posted in Tires | 65 Comments

E-Bikes are Game-Changers


“This is the future. It will change everything!” said Koichiro Nakamura as he pointed to a bright green women’s bike in front of his office. We had met to discuss cycling and the media in Japan… and this bike wasn’t what I expected.

After I got over my initial surprise, I remembered riding through Tokyo last year on the way to TOEI, the great constructeurs of classic cyclotouring bikes. As we approached a narrow underpass, a woman on a similar city bike passed us and cut in front of Hahn in a maneuver that would not have been out of place in a cyclocross race. She took the “holeshot” and accelerated away. Nothing about her bike or her appearance suggested a competitive nature… but she had an electric motor that greatly enhanced her power output.

Then we saw them everywhere. Women (mostly, Japan still being a society with somewhat rigid gender roles, at least on the surface) who carried not just one, but often two children on seats attached on the front and back of their bikes. Mothers and children were well-dressed as Tokyoites tend to do and most definitely not working up a sweat, yet moving at a rather brisk pace.


“Do you want to try it?” Koichiro interrupted my reminiscences. Of course I did. The bike belonged to Kaori Inoue, who shares Koichiro’s office space. She was happy to loan her bike and show us its special features. She was especially fond of the kick-stand, which also locked the headset. With the kickstand down, the headset indexed. You could still turn the handlebars against the ratcheting indexing, but they would not turn on their own. This greatly facilitated loading the bike. The kickstand itself was a huge centerstand that kept the bike upright, again to facilitate loading. The last thing you want is your bike falling over with your child on board as you load the basket in the front. There also was a sophisticated child seat with integrated rain cover. These bikes may not be intended for enthusiasts, but they are quite sophisticated.


And so I got to ride an e-bike around Tokyo for a few hours! I was surprised how efficiently I could move with traffic. I especially liked the boost when accelerating from a light. Stopping no longer was an energy-sapper like it is on a normal bike.

I realized that e-bikes allow non-cyclists to use bikes efficiently. What would be a real workout even for a fit cyclist becomes more akin to a stroll with an e-bike. You still get some exercise, you still pollute much less, and you should have fewer problems parking at your destination. It’s a win-win-win situation. No wonder these bikes are so popular!


Then Koichiro told me that Japanese urban cyclists recently have won the right to ride in the streets, after having been banished to the sidewalks for decades. He was very proud of this fact. I wonder how much e-bikes contributed, because they really are too fast to ride on the sidewalk.

Then it dawned on me: E-bikes democratize speed. Anybody now can ride at speeds that before could be attained only by well-trained cyclists on performance bikes. That made me think that our infrastructure planners still are designing facilities for the last century. Most of the trendy cyclepaths are suitable for speeds of up to 15 km/h (9 mph), yet modern e-bikes go much faster. As your speed increases, the fear of getting hit from behind is reduced, whereas the dangers at intersections increase.


With e-bikes, we’ll soon have a new constituency who will demand a cycling infrastructure that can be used at reasonable speeds, which allows commuters to cover significant distances efficiently. It’s a constituency that cannot be so easily dismissed as “fast and fearless” (although that Tokyo lady who cut off Hahn might qualify), but one that has to be taken seriously.

Already, there is talk about re-designing bicycle facilities in the Netherlands to make them suitable for e-bikes. For avid cyclists, re-designing bicycle facilities to accommodate higher speeds and greater distances can only be a good thing. Let’s hope that North American urban planners don’t ignore this trend and spend countless millions on more infrastructure that soon will be unsafe and outdated.

Photo credits: Koichiro Nakamura

Posted in Urban | 71 Comments

Citroën Day


A recent ride with BQ contributor Mark was typical: a combination of great training, enjoying the sights, and stimulating conversation. Except that this one was enriched by encountering some of my favorite cars… (I am aware of the many problems cars have caused, and I rarely drive them, but I do enjoy them from an engineering and design perspective.)

After warming up on the Burke-Gilman Trail on our way out of Seattle, Mark and I raced each other up Juanita Hill. This long hill has just enough variation in pitch to make it truly challenging. By myself, I never ride it as fast as I do when Mark is either pulling ahead, or right on my tail. On this day, I thought I had made a winning break, until Mark reeled me in and passed me a few meters from the top. My legs were so exhausted that I hardly could keep the bike rolling on the plateau at the top. (I did a similar from-behind comeback on the climb out of Holmes Point, so we were even.) It’s fun and great training for the long-distance rides we have planned for the summer.


As we rolled into Kirkland, we noticed a rare Citroën DS convertible parked on a sidestreet. Somehow, the two-door body accentuates the futuristic profile of the DS even further.


I explained to Mark that Henri Chapron, the coachbuilder who made these Citroën convertibles, was located in Levallois-Perret, not far from René Herse’s shop. So my bike and this car are from the same place. Then I remembered that my new Herse was made in Colorado… and because original DS convertibles are incredibly rare, this “Décapotable” (convertible) may well have been converted from a standard Citroën DS in the U.S.


Just then, we spied a rare Citroën SM in the driveway. This luxury coupe used a Maserati engine and was probably the most advanced car of the 1970s. As a little boy, I always looked inside exotic cars to see how far the speedometer went. The SM’s goes to 160 mph…


One of the most amazing features of the European-spec SMs are the six headlights. The innermost ones turn when you steer the car. Only Citroën would dare to make a car like that – totally different from anything else on the market, and yet making a lot of sense. Looking inside, we admired the oval steering wheel. From the outside, we could see how the car tapered to the rear for better aerodynamics, which meant that the rear track is much narrower than the front. It’s even more unconventional underneath the avant-garde sheetmetal… You have to admire the audacity!


There was a third Citroën parked on the street, a 1980s 2CV. A much more prosaic machine, but no less audacious. Designed in the 1940s, this utilitarian car had a 602 cc flat-twin engine that revved to 7000 rpm. Who but Citroën would put a miniature race car engine in an economy car? And make the suspension interconnected, so the rear wheels react to bumps encountered by the front wheels, to smooth out the ride? There even was a four-wheel-drive version with two engines, one for each axle…


The 2CV was also one of the last (perhaps the last?) car to feature separate headlights. On this “Charleston” model, they are round and chrome-plated…


After this pleasant interlude, we stopped at a café. To continue the French theme, I ordered an almond croissant, and to my surprise, it was just as good as those I had eaten in Levallois-Perret, where the Citroën factory was located.

Looking at my bike, I realized I really have to re-wrap the handlebar tape… The wear pattern shows that I mostly use the “on the ramps” position that makes the Maes Parallel handlebars so comfortable.

We then continued our ride, with Mark excitedly describing his recent interest in Bayesian Statistics. In short, Bayesian statistical modeling involves specifying initial beliefs by defining a prior distribution and comparing it to each new piece of data, adjusting the distribution as you go along. This is radically different from the standard approach of testing a “null hypothesis”. It eliminates many opportunities for error and yields a more reliable result. It’s also more intuitive – it sort of replicates what we do when we make real-life decisions based on emerging data… (Mark and I rarely talk about bikes on our rides, since there are so many fascinating topics.)

On the way back into Seattle, we saw a fourth Citroën, this one a late-model DS in my favorite color (photo at the top of the post). It was a pretty good day out on our bikes!

Recommended reading: Wikipedia on the fascinating history of the Citroën 2CV.

Posted in Rides | 62 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting


This year’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting will take place on September 26 and 27 in Cle Elum, Washington. The Un-Meeting is a simple idea for an event: Anybody is invited, but there is no organization, there are no entry fees, and no services are provided. The logistics of how to get to the Un-Meeting, where to stay, and where to eat are up to you.

We’ll go on some rides together and enjoy an evening campfire. The idea is based on the “Meetings” of Vélocio in 1920s France, where cyclotourists would gather to ride and exchange ideas.


Last year’s Un-Meeting (above) saw a diverse group of about 35 riders, who enjoyed at grand day out. To participate in the Un-Meeting, a basic level of fitness and a well-working bike are recommended, but you don’t need an Allroad bike, nor professional-level fitness. Last year’s event saw a rider on 23 mm tires and another on a hybrid commuter. All had a great time.


This year’s rides will vary in length between approximately 40 and 80 miles. Some will be paved, others will include gravel.

Cle Elum has some amazing roads. There is the Old Blewett Pass (above), which winds its way up to the crest of the Cascades, before plunging back down in a series of fast hairpin turns.


Canyon Road (above) is a wonderful road to Ellensburg that is all paved and smooth…and there is one of my favorite restaurants at the end. One of our rides probably will explore the gravel road that goes from the town of Liberty to Swauk Pass (aka New Blewett Pass).


Unlike last year in Packwood, there are numerous dining options in Cle Elum (not limited to this quaint burger place), and getting there is easy, too. In line with the spirit of Vélocio’s meetings, we encourage you to travel to the Un-Meeting by bike or public transportation, rather than by car. By bike, Cle Elum is about 90 miles from Seattle, with plenty of backroad options. The Greyhound bus serves Cle Elum, too, but unless you have a Rinko bike, you’ll have to box your bike. You could even enjoy the scenic train ride to Leavenworth and then enjoy the jog over Old Blewett Pass in anticipation of the Un-Meeting. We’ll post more details about where we’re meeting as the date approaches.

Mark your calendars! All of us at Bicycle Quarterly hope to see you in Cle Elum in September.




Posted in Rides | 6 Comments

Allroad Bikes Hit the Mainstream!


The big news in the bike world this week is Cannondale’s introduction of an Allroad bike, which will be equipped with 650B x 42 mm tires. And those tires have a file tread pattern, and generally look very much like our Compass Babyshoe Pass tires… which is not surprising, since they’ll be made by Panaracer (like our tires) and will benefit from the tire research from Compass Bicycles and Bicycle Quarterly. (The Cannondale tires will not be available with the extra-supple Extralight casings, though.)

650Bx42 mm tires on a road bike… Supple casings and file tread patterns for pavement and gravel… A few years ago, you would have checked your calendar to see whether it was April 1!

Allroad bikes, gravel bikes, adventure bikes – whatever you call them, they are the fastest-growing and most important segment in the bike market. It’s gratifying to see the bike industry adopting the bikes (and tires) we’ve championed for so long. Unlike most fads, this is a good thing, because the focus is shifting from the equipment to the experience. This new breed of Allroad bikes allows more riders to experience the joys of spirited cycling off the beaten path. The bike only serves as a tool to get out there and have incredible experiences. And even for urban commuting over significant distances, it’s hard to think of a bike that is faster and more fun than one of these…


In the past, when we reported on our wonderful adventures in Bicycle Quarterly, we were aware that for most cyclists, rides like these were out of reach, not because they lacked the conditioning (you could always go for a shorter ride), but because they didn’t have bikes that could handle a mix of pavement and gravel efficiently.

Until recently, your only choice was to get a custom bike, which required not just significant amounts of money, but also knowledge and patience, since most good custom builders have long wait times. If you walked into your neighborhood bike shop, asking for a bike that could be as fast as a racing bike on pavement, yet handle rough gravel as well as a mountain bike, you got blank stares, or perhaps they’d point you toward cyclocross bikes.


A mountain bike is designed for technical terrain, so the riding position and general setup are far from ideal on the road, whether it’s paved or not. On the other hand, most road bikes are limited by their relatively narrow tires. You can take a bike with 28 mm tires on gravel roads, but in many cases, you’ll be underbiking, which is a different experience from just floating over the surface at speed, and still being able to take your eyes off the road to enjoy the scenery.


Even if you stay on pavement, the most scenic and fun roads often are poorly maintained, because few cars drive on them. Few cyclists use them, because on a typical “road” bike with narrow tires, they just aren’t all that much fun. Wider tires allow you to really enjoy these amazing roads, away from traffic and congestion.


It has been encouraging to see the bike industry (finally!) embrace this type of riding to the fullest. Wide tires. Fenders. Lights. And not only on inexpensive (and compromised) hybrid or commuter bikes, but on race-bred $ 8500 carbon fiber machines (above).


At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ll try to test all these new machines. With more than a decade of gravel riding experience under our belts, we are able to tell you what works and what doesn’t. And as always, we’ll take these bikes on splendid adventures that hopefully will inspire your own rides off the beaten path. Because in the end, the bike is just a means to getting out there and enjoying the ride.


At Compass Bicycles, we are already pushing the envelope further. Cannondale’s Allroad bike reputedly has clearances for 60 mm tires, so our new 650Bx48 mm Compass Switchback Hill tires will truly bring out the potential of this machine. The thought of a modern carbon bike that can fly over pavement like a racing bike, but handle rough gravel like a mountain bike, and everything in between, is truly exciting.

There are good times ahead!

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Testing and Tech | 51 Comments

Snares and Traps for Cyclists


What does the photo above show? It reminds me of the traps used to ensnare animals, used by trappers who hunt animals for their fur. As the animal passes, its leg gets caught in the snare…

So why are these snares appearing all over Seattle’s bike lanes? Is it a nefarious plot by cyclist-hating drivers to kill us off?


Actually, the snares are one unfortunate byproduct of creating “protected” bike facilities. The city has been installing flexible bollards to provide a visual separation between cyclists and cars. The reasoning goes that cyclists will feel more comfortable with the barrier separating them from cars, which will encourage more people to ride bikes, which in turn has many positive effects.


The flexible posts are relatively easy to install. The company manufacturing them probably markets them heavily. I can imagine the sales rep bringing one to a planning meeting. It looks very well-made: white and black and reflective…


Alas, this is Seattle – where almost every car has dents because drivers tend to mis-judge the size of their vehicle – and so people tend to drive over these posts. Good thing they are flexible… but eventually, the get ripped off their foundations, leaving a bump and a snare.

During daytime, they are relatively easy to avoid, but at night, they are nearly invisible.


To make matters worse, the city has been installing them not just to separate cyclists from cars, but often in the middle of the cyclists’ path. It is only a matter of time until the center post in the photo above will be ripped out by a car turning out of the side street. Then a bump and snare will be right in the center of the bike lane. When you consider that this is at the start of the bike lane, where cyclists are moving from the road to the bike lane, it’s very likely that somebody will get caught in the trap!


Here is another installation, located at the end of the Ballard Bridge. It’s bad enough that cyclists have to cross the right-turn lane with fast-moving traffic barreling down on them from behind. The safest path is the shortest way across (solid arrow), yet the posts obstruct that path, forcing the cyclist to remain in the dangerous turn lane much longer (dashed arrow). Once they are permitted to cross, they compete for space with the cars turning out of the side street.


Funny thing is, a sharrow roughly indicates where it’s safest to ride, but the flexible posts now obstruct that path. When I now ride here, I actually move all the way to the left into the path of fast-moving traffic to stay out of harm’s way. I have no idea why these posts were installed at all – it’s not like cars are ever driving through that space.

All this is happening in the name of making cycling safer in Seattle. I understand that it is not malicious, but it is so incompetent and dangerous that it must stop. Take out those flexible posts, at least in any place were a cyclist might conceivably go. If a post “must” be there, then make the bases reflective, since they remain after the posts get ripped out, so cyclists can see them in the dark. And have crews go around and replace the posts that are ripped out within 24 hours, before somebody gets hurt. Let’s hope there is not a life-changing injury in the meantime…

Don’t get me wrong – I think cycling facilities are important and often appropriate. Like everything, they need to be designed carefully and maintained well, otherwise, they can do more harm than good.

Stay safe out there.

Posted in Cycling Safety | 84 Comments

Compass Tire Prototypes: Really Big Tires!


Our very first Enduro Allroad prototype tires started out as knobbies with supple casings – then we had the knobs shaved off by Peter Weigle. We wanted to test the concept of a very wide, supple tire before committing to expensive tire molds. We were happy to report that the tires performed even better than expected! So we decided to proceed.

Last week, the project reached another milestone: We received prototypes made from the actual production molds. So while these are made as a very small batch and required even more hand-work than the final tires, they are basically the tires that you will be able to buy and ride in a few months.


The first samples we received were the 26″ x 54 mm tire. (For some reason the tire mold was changed to 58 mm after we approved the text!) This batch uses the “standard” (supple) casing. When we put one of the tires on the scale, it weighed 454 grams – quite light for a tire this wide.


Mounted on a 23 mm-wide rim, the tire measured a little over 49 mm. In the two days since, the tire has “grown” by 2 mm. The “Extralight” tires tend to stretch even more, so when used with wider rims, they’ll probably be close to the anticipated 54 mm.


Then we received a second box… This time, it contained the 650B x 48 mm tires – made with the extra-supple “Extralight” casing. Out came the scale again, and we measured 413 grams – remarkable for such a big, puffy tire.


Mounted on a 23 mm-wide rim, this tire measured just over 48 mm right away, and like the 26″ tire, it has grown 2 mm in the days since we mounted it. That means that this tire is slightly wider than planned. Its width is just a millimeter or two narrower than the 26″ tire.


Of course, measurements don’t tell us much about the tires: What we really want to know is how they ride. Fortunately, our friend Alex Wetmore has two bikes with similar front-end geometries (both have 40 mm trail). One is his “normal” bike, set up for 650B tires (above). The other is his “Travel Gifford”, which runs 26″ tires (photo at the top of the post). These two bikes are perfect candidates to compare the new tires.

Aired up to about 28 psi, I took to the streets and trails in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. On the broken pavement of the residential streets, I wondered why we don’t ride these tires all the time. Even the 42 mm Babyshoe Pass tires of my Grand Bois Urban Bike, which I had ridden to Alex’ house, were surpassed for comfort and secure handling by these even bigger tires.

Riding the two bikes back-to-back, the differences due to the different wheel sizes were very noticeable. The 26″ bike felt very nimble and agile. It was easy to pick a line, but the handlebars required a light touch to maintain that line. The 650B bike, with its larger wheels and greater rotational inertia, felt much more stable. It required more input to change its line, and catching a slide on gravel took a hair longer than it had on the 26″ bike. The 650B bike also had an (empty) front rack, which further stabilizes the steering. While the steering of the unloaded 26″ bike was a tad light, adding a rack and handlebar bag would make it more stable. Both bikes handled fine, they were just at the opposite ends of what I consider “fine handling”.

The real revelation came on gravel. Both bikes felt like good road bikes. The uphill traction was amazing. Sprinting out of the saddle was easy. Only the cornering speeds were lower than on pavement – when the gravel starts sliding under your wheels, no tire can maintain traction. These tires really are a revelation – they have changed how I think a bike can perform on gravel.

Production of the new tires is scheduled, and we hope to have them in stock by July or August. Click here for more information about Compass’ existing tire program.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 72 Comments