I was lucky, but still…

 

taiwanclimb

My trip to Asia reached a premature end. During the descent from Hehuanshan Pass, the highest road in southeast Asia, a car going in the opposite direction suddenly turned left right in front of me. Even though I was going at moderate speed, I could not avoid it. I hit the car’s side head-first…

I was very lucky to escape without life-changing injuries, but the impact was hard enough to break my shoulder, my arm, one or two vertebrae and a few ribs. Stefan, our German engineer in Taiwan, accompanied me to the hospital, first in Puli and then in Taichung. Care in Taiwan seemed overwhelmed by these complex injuries, and I was lucky that my friend Natsuko immediately came from Tokyo and got me on a plane to Seattle. The 20-hour trip was a bit of an ordeal, and we were so happy when we saw Hahn at the Seattle airport. He already had made arrangements, so we checked into the hospital, and a few days ago, surgery bolted my collarbone back together, so that my scapula can heal as well. (Two fractures had my left arm no longer connected to my torso by bones.) I am extremely grateful to these friends who have ensured that my outlook is as good as possible. Fortunately, a full recovery is expected.

rice-field

I am encouraged that all the healing happens simultaneously, so the multiple injuries don’t mean it’ll take much longer to heal. I am looking forward to riding with my Seattle friends when the new cycling season starts again.

Meanwhile, the awesome crew at Compass Bicycles will fill your orders and handle Bicycle Quarterly subscriptions with their usual efficiency. Sometimes blog comments and other areas that I handle may take a bit longer in the coming months as I focus on healing first and foremost.

ooshima

As I work through this long road to recovery, I remember the great cyclotouring adventures of the past month-and-a-half. One memorable trip was a 5-hour ship voyage to a mini-Hawaii off the Japanese coast, where we spent two beautiful days of cyclotouring organized by the Tokyo Cycling Association.

mafacroller

I’ll think of the amazing bikes and great company at the Hirose Owners’ Meeting. I’ll recall riding a 600 km Super Randonnée with 11,000 m of elevation gain through the autumn leaves of the Shinshu and Yatsugatake Mountains. I will cherish touring through the clouds in the mountains above Kyoto.

forge

Visiting the factories that make our Compass products in Japan and Taiwan always is instructive, and discussing new ideas and projects was fun. And even the climb up the 3,422 m (11,227 ft) Hehuanshan was a great experience until it’s premature end. I’ll be busy writing all this up for Bicycle Quarterly and this blog over the coming months.

hirose_meeting

In the mean time, wish me well, and ride safely!

Click here for an update on Jan’s recovery.

Posted in Rides | 183 Comments

Why Wider Tires Corner Better

corner_adams

In our last post, readers noticed the image above and asked about cornering. How am I able to lean the bike so far?

Wider bicycle tires corner better than narrower ones. This may run counter to what many cyclists believe, but it’s easy to explain. The reason is the lower pressure at which you can run wider tires without risking pinch-flats. This has two effects:

1. Wider tires run at lower pressures and thus have a larger contact patch. This simply puts more rubber on the road and increases cornering grip. While simple physical theory suggests that friction should be independent of tire width – narrower tires are pushed onto the road with more pressure – in practice, wider tires provide more interlocking surfaces between road and tire, and thus provide more grip. If you don’t believe this – after all racing bikes use relatively narrow tires – look at racecars or racing motorcycles.

2. Wider tires absorb bumps better. This keeps the wheels on the road and provides more consistent adhesion. A narrow, high-pressure tire skips over the surface, which limits its grip. Even the smoothest asphalt is surprisingly rough. That is why race cars and racing motorbikes have suspension, and why they run their tires at 35-40 psi. If you inflate your tires to 90 psi or more, you are giving up a lot of cornering adhesion. (For the same reason, tires with stiff sidewalls don’t corner as well, because they don’t absorb the vibrations and bumps like tires with supple sidewalls.)

uphill_racer_rando

So much for the theory – how does it translate into the real world? A few years ago, we tested two titanium racing bikes against a 650B randonneur bike. We raced two bikes side-by-side up a steep hill (above), then turned around and rode back down the twisty descent.

I have talked about the uphill part of this test elsewhere, but the downhill part was equally surprising: In the corners, the racing bike with its 25 mm tires could not keep up with the randonneur bike on its 42 mm tires. The riders changed bikes, but it was always the randonneur bike that went down the hill faster. There were two corners, one extra-smooth with new pavement, the other bumpy. The wider tires were better in both corners. Not surprisingly, the advantage was magnified in the bumpy corner. And since the randonneur bike exited the corner faster, it also went faster on the straight that followed.

How did it feel riding the racing bike? I was one of the riders, and I consider myself a good descender, so I wasn’t happy when second tester Mark distanced me while he was on the randonneur bike. While I was riding the racing bike, I had to try hard to keep up. The first, smooth corner felt a bit unsettled, but then I really frightened myself in the second corner. I picked a good line that avoided the bumps, but my front wheel started skipping across the surface. I had to open the radius of my corner and went about a foot into the oncoming lane at the corner exit. In the same spot, the randonneur bike’s wide front tire simply keyed into the surface and rounded the corner without drama. (Both bikes were equipped with Compass tires, so the tread compound was the same.)

descent_blewitt

Of course, you can’t just slap wider tires onto any bike and expect it to corner like a machine custom-designed to optimize the handling. Here are some of the issues:

  • A wider tire’s larger contact patch stabilizes the bike. (This is called pneumatic trail.) If your bike’s geometry isn’t designed for wide tires, then your bike can feel sluggish in its response to steering inputs when you increase the tire size.
    Solution: Decrease the geometric trail to account for the pneumatic trail of the tires.
  • Wider tires tend to be a bit heavier, and thus have more rotational inertia. This makes the bike more reluctant to turn into a corner, or to change its line in mid-corner.
    Solution: Reduce the wheel size as the tire gets wider, to keep the rotational inertia within the range that gives the best handling.
  • Wide tires run at low pressures, but too low pressures can allow the tire sidewall to collapse under the cornering forces, which is not good at all.
    Solution: Make sure your tires are inflated enough to prevent sidewall collapse even under hard cornering. Especially supple tires don’t have much sidewall stiffness, and need a little more air pressure to hold them up.

Beyond that, technique can help. On bikes that are too stable because their tires are wider than is optimal, you may need to actively countersteer (that is, push the handlebars to the outside of the curve) to get the bike to lean. On optimized bikes, you do that, too, but you never notice it because the amount of countersteer is totally intuitive.

Overall, there is little doubt that wider tires corner better, all things being equal.

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 41 Comments

Riding my Own Bike Again

diverge_skagit

When I test bikes for Bicycle Quarterly, I treat them like my own bike. I ride them for several weeks, often exclusively so I get used to the bike and get attuned to its peculiarities. Features that were unfamiliar at first soon become second nature. And conversely, minor issues may become significantly annoying with repeated use.

jan_herse_gravel

It’s always interesting to go back to my own bike. The most noticeable adjustments happen after riding a modern machine with electronic shifting. Everything on my bike feels different at first, and I wonder whether my Herse isn’t terribly outdated. It seems odd that I need to take my hands off the bars to shift. And the frame and fork feel so flexible at first…

snoqualmie_valley

But then it all comes back to me. I enjoy the light touch and immediate action of the Nivex rear derailleur. Yes, that is how I like shifting to be!

I also notice how the bike breathes with the surface, almost floating over the bumps and undulations, yet never feeling soft or under-damped. It’s a great feeling, with none of the chatter you get with stiff forks and relatively narrow tires.

corner_adams

More recently when I was back on my own bike, I was having trouble rounding corners. At first, I turned in too abruptly, and then in mid-corner, I was running wide. I realized that the bike I had ridden for a few weeks had much more trail. It required larger steering inputs to get it to lean, but then it fell abruptly into the turn. I had become used to almost yanking on the bars, but then compensating by “catching” the bike to prevent it from leaning too far.

On my bike, the cornering response is much more linear, and none of these adjustments are needed. Once I adapted to my bike again, I was happy to rediscover how precise a bike can handle. I also had to readjust to the greater cornering grip of the 42 mm-wide tires. It’s amazing how much more traction they have compared to 32 mm tires. It took a little time until I was comfortable staying off the brakes in corners where I had to slow down a little on the test bike.

diverge_mtconstitution

I always write my test report before riding my own bike again. That ensures that my impressions are true to that bike, and not relative to my favorite bike. I want the article in Bicycle Quarterly to express how an owner would experience the bike, and I’m sure that many, many owners will love whatever bike I am testing. With our reputation for honest appraisals, it’s rare that somebody sends us a mediocre bike…

Every bike has its strengths and weaknesses, and I think some riders might not like my Herse at all. If you prefer a firm grip on the handlebars, the low-trail geometry may feel scary. It reacts precisely to your inputs, which means it works well with a light touch on the handlebars. And the shifting, especially for the front derailleur with its rod behind the seat tube, might challenge riders who are not so comfortable riding with just one hand on the handlebars. And the extra cornering traction of the wider tires doesn’t mean much if you are a cautious descender…

There definitely are preferences in how we like our bikes to respond, and it’s great that different bikes are available to cater to those preferences. For us as testers, the goal has to be to determine which rider would like the bikes we test, and evaluate them in that context.

diverge_6hands

The differences between test bikes and our own machines often disappear when it comes to how they respond to our pedals strokes. Both my “classic” bike and the recent modern machine “planed” extremely well. The best bikes, whether modern or classic, feel remarkably similar, whether you pedal all-out or whether you are just spinning along. They put a smile on my face, and to me, that is the most important aspect of any bike.

Posted in Testing and Tech | 18 Comments

Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly

BQ54_cover

The Winter 2015 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed in a few weeks. It’s another fun-filled, action-packed issue. The Winter issue’s theme is “Riding with Friends”.

We test the Elephant National Forest Explorer, a bike made for gravel roads (above) by riding it to the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting. How does it perform when riding with friends on gravel roads and trails? And how did it and its extra-wide tires handle the (mostly paved) ride to the event?

Stampede_09

Tom Moran reports on a ride to the “Magic Bus” (of Into the Wild fame) with an Alaskan friend that is much more than just a winter fatbiking adventure.

jan_pbp_2015

My own ride in this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris turned from a quest for speed into a ride with friends, both old and new, over the backroads of France. And it was all the better for it.

onsen_10

Riding through a typhoon doesn’t sound like fun? Unless it’s a great ride with friends that ends at one of the most beautiful Onsen hot springs in Japan.

hoffmann

We visit Jean Hoffmann, a randonneur who turned professional racer and rode in the Tour de France before returning to randonneuring. After looking at the photos from his archives (above: cyclocross in the late 1950s), we join him for a ride up a small mountain pass in central France. I only hope that I’ll be riding like this gentleman when I am 81 years old!

beinn

Our “First Ride” looks at the Islabikes Beinn 26. Is it a near-perfect allround children’s bike?

rinko_02

We have a studio photo feature that shows the details needed to make a randonneur bike Rinko-compatible, with full fenders, generator-powered lighting and even low-rider racks. A related feature talks about optimizing the design of those low-rider racks – not just for Rinko.

fender_06

How to mount fenders on a bike that isn’t quite designed for them? We show you a few neat tricks that solve common problems.

We also test the Gevenalle brake/shift levers, which present an alternative to the systems from the “Big 3”. We try out a Swift Industries handlebar bag and the Haulin’ Colin Porteur rack.

clement_blog

Our “Skills” column talks about maintaining traction on wintry roads, whether it’s in rain or snow. Our “Icons” feature looks at the old Clement silk tubular tires (above). We have a lively discussion about last issues Specialized Diverge test bike in the “Letters” and much more.

Make sure your subscription is up to date, so you receive the Winter Bicycle Quarterly without delay. Click here to subscribe or renew.

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 15 Comments

Paris-Brest-Paris: Compass Tires and a New Book

before_pbp

This year’s PBP saw a significant number of riders on Compass tires. Of course, we (Jan, Theo, Hahn) rode them, too, but it’s always nice to hear from others how our products are doing.

J. O. from Vancouver, B.C., and his wife rode a tandem. We gave them our samples of the Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ tires, which were hand-delivered to the bike check the day before the start (above). Putting on new tires just before the big ride takes confidence, but these riders were not disappointed:

“The Compass Rat Trap Pass tires were an immediate upgrade in terms of comfort. Cobbles and chip seal went from being a jarring distraction and energy sink to a slightly noticeable background hum. My wife noticed and appreciated the extra comfort the Rat Trap Pass tires provided, and she doesn’t want to go back to other tires, either.”

melinda

It’s always fun to see old friends at PBP. I’ve known Melinda Lyon from Boston (above) for many years, and for this year’s PBP, she was on the new Elk Pass 26″ x 1.25″ tires. Her report:

“I loved the tires. They really feel smooth even on the chipseal roads of France. No flats, no problems. Incidentally I seemed to have less shoulder, back problems and less of a sore butt than previous years but there were some other variables to that. On downhills, I felt like I was flying and catching heavier riders just with the tires rolling so well.”

There were others who provided unsolicited feedback:

I’ve been riding Barlow Pass tires all summer. No flats! Put on a new set for PBP. No flats, no hand numbness, no saddle sores. I credit the tires more than anything. Thanks for making my bike ride so nice!

— J.K., Belgrade, MT

“I bought the Stampede Pass Extralight tires for P-B-P… Usually my hands hurt on brevets, and I have to shift hand position often. With these tires no pain at all, and only a little tingling in the little and ring fingers afterwards. It is probably the most noticeable performance-improving change I have ever made to my bicycles.”

— G.P.K., Slagelse, Denmark
BookSyPBPFr2015_cover_1000

Whether you were able to participate in this year’s PBP or not, you may want to learn more about this fascinating event. Jacques Seray has updated his book on PBP with information about the latest edition, including Björn Lenhard’s incredible 600+ km breakaway.

BookSyPBPFr2015_03

The text is in French, but the photos alone make this book a must-have. Seray has assembled a vast treasure trove from the 124-year history of PBP, going back to the very first “utilitarian race” of 1891. Hundreds of photos allow you tollow the early racers on their incredible rides, join the mid-century randonneurs as they battled with wind and rain unsupported, and relive recent editions of this great event. The new book just has been released, and we have it in stock now.

For more information about Compass tires, click here.

For more information about the PBP book, click here.

Posted in books, Tires | 13 Comments

Spare Wheel Carriers for Cyclocross

riding_to_cross

It’s a common dilemma: You want to ride to the start of a cyclocross race. The distance of 20 miles to the start doesn’t bother you – it’s a good warm-up. But your expensive cross tubulars will wear off their knobs quickly if you ride them on pavement. What to do?

One solution is equip your bike for the commute with a spare wheelset with road tires, and carry your cross wheels to the race. I have seen various setups, from single-wheel Bob trailers to strapping the wheels to a backpack, but all leave something to be desired.

Years ago, I read how British time trialists faced a similar problem. They did not want to wear out their tubulars on the way to their events, or worse, get a flat that couldn’t easily be repaired on the road. So they made spare wheel carriers that allowed carrying a second wheelset on the bike.

I suspect the first of these were hand-made, but the British Cyclo company offered an aluminum version. I tracked down a set, figuring that they might come in handy for cyclocross.

cyclo_wheel_carriers

You can see how simple the carriers really are: a flat piece of aluminum, bent to provide some offset for the wheels to clear the cantilever brakes. There is a hole at each end. One goes over the axle of the bike’s front wheel, the other receives the axle of the spare wheel.

cross_wheel_carrier_above

Toe-straps stabilize the wheels on the handlebars. With quick releases instead of wingnuts, I had to put washers under the unsupported side, so the quick release could tension, but otherwise, installation was simple.

ride_to_cross

Riding with this setup was fine, but there were a few surprises:

  1. Toe overlap was severe. Perhaps not a surprise if I had thought about the geometry of the setup. Tight turns are impossible: The spare wheel hits the down tube.
  2. The wind resistance of the two extra wheels is enormous. Now I know why even racing tricycles are so slow. On this windy day, I just was riding across town to Hahn’s house to get a ride, and I almost didn’t make it on time.
  3. With the most of the two extra wheels ahead of the steerer axis, cross-wind instability was severe. Fortunately, my old Alan has a low-trail geometry that is relatively unaffected by cross-winds, but on a modern ‘cross bike with a mountain bike-inspired front-end geometry, this setup might become an unmanageable handful.

old_alan

Switching wheels at the race took less than a minute. My old Alan still is more than competitive against modern bikes. Or perhaps more importantly, the FMB tubulars it wears are absolutely wonderful. The race went well, too.

after_race

It was a dry day, so we didn’t get muddy, just lots of dust on our sweaty faces. The photo was taken seconds after the finish: It was fun!

womens_race

Cross season is still going on. Give it a try! Do you have a way to bring along your spare wheels?

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 26 Comments

Small Differences Can Matter

Herse_crank_48-32

Recently, I was on a familiar road, but riding it did not feel familiar. It seemed like I was straining to stay on top of my gear, whereas usually I just spin along. Was I exceptionally tired? I didn’t feel that way…

Then I remembered that I had replaced my 46-30 chainrings with 48-32 for Paris-Brest-Paris. In PBP, I sometimes ride in big groups and with a strong tailwind… Then my tallest gear of 46-14 – big enough for my riding in the Pacific Northwest – might not be quite tall enough.

So my big ring was 2 teeth larger than usual, hence the difficulty to stay on top of the gear. The difference is about 5% – small, but noticeable. Now that I have returned from PBP, I will re-install the 46-30 rings, since they suit my usual riding better.

It’s too bad that customizing your chainrings isn’t as easy as it used to be. Today, most makers only offer only very few chainring sizes, and none are small enough for non-racers. I have not yet been dropped because I spun out and could not keep up… and yet my biggest gear of 48-14 is 20% smaller than 50-12, the smallest maximum gear you can get from mainstream makers today.

tabata_2

If you have a healthy spin, you’ll rarely, if ever, use the 2 or 3 smallest cogs on a modern drivetrain. And that makes your 10-speed cassette effectively a 7-speed. With smaller chainrings, you could get a closer-ratio cassette, and have smaller steps between your gears, while maintaining the gear range that you currently use. Or you can keep your current cassette, and trade the super-large gears you never use for extra-small gears that will come in handy in the mountains.

crank_collage

With that in mind, we are offering dozens of chainring combinations for our René Herse cranks, from 52 to 42 teeth for the big ring, and down to 24 teeth for the small one. That way, you can equip your bike with gears that you’ll actually use!

Click here for more information about the René Herse cranks.

 

Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 95 Comments