The 2016 Technical Trials


This summer saw the first Technical Trials in France since 1949. Then as now, the goal was to find the best “light randonneur” bike. Organized by Christophe Courbou, the magazine 200, and Victoire Cycles, this year’s event was a great success.


The original Technical Trials of the 1930s and 1940s brought incredible progress to bicycles. They proved that bicycles could be lightweight and reliable. Aluminum cranks, front derailleurs, cartridge bearings in hubs and bottom brackets and even low-rider racks all were pioneered and proven in the Technical Trials. The Trials allowed small constructeurs like René Herse, Alex Singer and Jo Routens to show that their bikes were better than those of the big mass producers. Unfortunately, the original Trials ended in 1949, when cars became popular, and interest in improving bicycles waned. Who knows what advances we’d have seen if the Trials had continued?


Now the Technical Trials (Concours de Machines in French) have been revived. This year’s event saw 19 makers compete for the prize of the “best bike”. The focus was not just on impeccable function, but also on innovation. Each maker brought their interpretation of the future of randonneur bikes. There was the Pechtregon (above) with its amazing truss fork. One of the Cyfac bikes had a carbon fiber and titanium frame with integrated carbon fiber fenders. The Milc/Goblin had front and rear suspension.


The bikes had to prove their worth on a challenging course. The first stage went over an extremely hilly 235 km (146 miles) with two mountain passes. The following day had bikes (and riders) compete in a timed climb up the Col du Béal. The event finished with a 73 km (45 miles) stage over rough gravel roads. After each stage, the bikes were carefully checked, and points were deducted for anything that no longer worked.


As a member of the jury, I rode the entire event, observing the bikes on the road. It was a fun weekend, and we learned a lot about what works in a bike and what doesn’t. That part was relatively easy – although it’s always surprising how many things no longer work after a weekend of hard riding – but the hard part was awarding points for the merits of each design. There were many discussions, but in the end, we all felt that the winners were worthy.


The winning bike from Victoire Cycles was a well-designed machine, ridden by an excellent pilote. (Average speed counted in the results to make sure the bikes were ridden hard.) For Compass Bicycles, it was nice to see that 9 of the 19 builders chose Compass tires, including the winner, 2nd place, and best rookie. And the best team – the Julie Racing Design tandem – even featured three Compass tires (one on their custom-built trailer).

A full report of this amazing event, with a presentation of the bikes and a test of the amazing Pechtregon that took third place (second photo from top) will be appear in Bicycle Quarterly soon.

Further reading:

Photo credits: Cycles Victoire (winning bike).

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 28 Comments

How Small is a Rinko Bike?


When we introduced the idea of Rinko bikes to our readers and customers, there were some questions whether they could fit within the airline luggage requirements, or whether they’d have to pay oversize luggage fees. I’ve flown with Rinko bikes many times, and never paid a surcharge because the bag was too big.

The Ostrich OS-500 Airplane Bag in the photo looks big, because it is – it’s designed for all kinds of bikes, not just the Alps/Hirose system of Rinko that I use. It is far bigger than the Rinko bike inside, so I usually tape the excess to wrap around the bag. (The photo doesn’t show tape, because when the airline employees saw how much I could tape the bag, they simply said: “Don’t bother, it’s OK.”)

I did have to pay once, when Delta decided that because it was a bicycle, it had to pay the surcharge, no matter the size. But how big is a Rinko bike really?


To find out, I measured two Rinko bikes. One is very small, the other rather large. Here are the measurements:


  • My Mule (above) is a 650B randonneur bike with a 60 cm frame (c-t), full fenders, racks and lights. Packed into its Rinko bag, it measures 79 x 83 x 23 cm. The airline dimension comes to 186 cm, or 73 inches.


  • BQ contributor Natsuko Hirose’s C. S. Hirose has a 47 cm frame and 26″ wheels. It measures 77 x 81 x 22 cm, for a total of 180 cm, or 71 inches.

On the face of it, both bikes are larger than the airline size limit of 158 cm (62 inches). Yet both have flown multiple times without paying a surcharge. The reason is simple: The package is shaped like a parallelogram. If you place it between two vertical walls, you’ll get the measurements I took. But when you take a tape measure and measure along the top, it’s actually quite a bit shorter. The bottom also is shorter. Riders of Ritchey’s Breakaway system have reported the same: In theory, the bike is a bit larger than the luggage requirement, but in practice, it usually is fine.

That leads to the second question: How secure is your bike in the OS-500 Rinko bag? That depends on your airline. We’ve had good experiences with Japanese airlines, but other airlines aren’t as careful with your luggage.

Generally for flying, there are two approaches: Either make it very clear that the bag contains a bike that is fragile, so baggage handlers are careful. I once flew (on the airline’s advice) with another bike in a clear plastic bag, and it arrived just fine. The alternative is to protect the bike so much that it will survive almost any abuse – with a sturdy hardshell case. The in-between solutions, like cardboard boxes, are the worst – they hide the bike so that it’s not clear how fragile the package’s content really is, yet they offer next to no protection from it getting crushed. The OS-500 bag has some padding, but it says in multiple languages that a bicycle is inside.

Maybe we’ll offer a small hardshell case for Rinko bikes in the future. It would be relatively easy to carry, perhaps even as a backpack – especially when compared to the bulky hardshell cases that are available currently. If you are arriving and leaving at different airports, you could even ship it from the start point to the end point of your trip… But that is a future project. For now, we offer numerous parts that make building a travel bike much easier.

Click here for more information on our Rinko products.

Posted in Rinko | 23 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting: Fun for Everybody


The third Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting met in scenic Carson, on the Columbia River. More than 70 cyclists attended, and everybody had a lot of fun. BQ published a place, date and time, and then cyclists from all over congregated for a great day of riding together.


We started the ride together by climbing up the Wind River valley. Soon, a few riders chose the all-paved route to Old Man Pass, while the rest headed up the wonderful Panther Creek Road (above) and continued onto the gravel of the Carson-Guler Road. The previous days’ rain had compacted the surface nicely, and there was no dust, which made for pleasant riding. The rainclouds were dissipating, and we got spectacular views of Mount Adams.


Back on pavement, we descended to Trout Lake, where we enjoyed the famous huckleberry shakes while sitting under shady trees on this sunny summer day.


Instead of returning the same way we came, we explored Forest Road 86. This road surprised us with great riding and next to no traffic: We encountered four cars in five hours!


We enjoyed an amazing gravel descent, and then our group split again. Half went over yet another pass back to Carson, while the others took a more direct route to the Columbia River.


For the last miles along the mighty river, the stronger riders provided shelter from the powerful headwinds that blew through this magnificent gorge.


The Un-Meeting drew a variety of riders on a variety of bikes: old mountain bikes, mass-produced and custom-built Allroad machines, and carbon gravel bikes were among the machines that tackled the beautiful course.


The sun was getting low in the sky when we returned to Carson after a great day of riding and of meeting new and old friends.


The following day, several groups rode to Portland via the magnificent Bridge of the Gods and the beautiful Historic Columbia River Highway. It was a great weekend, and there already is talk of the next Un-Meeting. I hope you’ll join us next time!

Posted in Rides | 3 Comments

A Better Way to Adjust Toe-In


Compass centerpull brakes now come with special washers to adjust toe-in. These washers are easy to retrofit on older Compass and even classic Mafac brakes. With this system, you to adjust toe-in only once, when you initially set up the brakes, and then never worry about it again.


What is toe-in? It means setting up the brake pads so that the fronts are closer to the rim than the rears. This is important for cantilever brakes, because the fork blades twist when you brake, and the brake pads rotate in relation to the rim. With the right amount of toe-in, the pads will be parallel to the rim when you brake hard.

How much toe-in do you need? There are no firm values because it depends on how much your fork blades twist. It’s trial-and-error. Too much toe-in just makes your brakes work less effectively. Toe-out is worse: Your brakes don’t work well and they howl and squeal. When in doubt, go for a little toe-in rather than too little.


Centerpull brakes attach close to the fork crown, so the fork blades don’t twist significantly. This is why centerpull brakes offer such consistent brake modulation. It’s also the reason they don’t require toe-in. Centerpull brakes work best when the pads are parallel to the rim at all times.

When we introduced the Compass centerpull brakes, the toe-in was not adjustable. In our testing of prototypes, we found that the brakes might squeal for the first few rides, but they became quiet as the pads wore until they were parallel to the rim. Most of our customers have had similar experiences. Riding in the rain helps, because it wears your pads faster.

However, we’ve found since that for a few riders, our brakes squealed, and continued to squeal longer than was acceptable. If the brake pivots on the frame and fork are brazed on at a slight angle, it’s possible that your pads initially have significant toe-out. Rather than wait for the pads to wear away, you’d want to compensate for the misalignment of the post by adjusting the toe-in.

We experimented with numerous ways to adjust toe-in, from the Shimano system of the late 1980s with its wedge-shaped washers to the modern spherical washers. We found all of them hard to adjust, hard to keep adjusted, and they all make changing brake pads a big pain. Basically, you have to hold the adjustment of the brake pad in three directions while you tighten the bolt:

  • angle of pad to rim (seen from the front)
  • alignment of pad to rim (see from the side)
  • toe-in (seen from above)

As you tighten the mounting bolt, all these alignments tend to move. You never get it right, and after a while, you just give up and accept whatever you have as “good enough”. Every Bicycle Quarterly test bike with cantilevers, even those set up by the best pro shops, has had inconsistent brake pad alignment.

What is silly about this process is that, at least on centerpull brakes, the toe-in should be set only once. It compensates for slight misalignment of the brake pivots, and those will remain the same for the life of the bike. Why would you design a system that requires riders to adjust the toe-in again and again, every time they adjust the brake pads? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could adjust the toe-in once, and then it have it remain the same forever? Adjusting and replacing brake pads would be easy!


So we adopted a system that does just that. It’s really simple: The washer that goes under the posts of the brake pad has one groove that is deeper than the other. This puts the brake pad at a 2.5° angle, which gives you about 2 mm of toe-in. There is a dot on the reverse (invisible once installed) that shows which groove is deeper. Install the washer in the orientation that you want your toe-in, and you are done. The washer remains in place as you adjust or change the brake pads, so you never have to think about it again. Your toe-in always remains the same.

And setting the adjustment is easy – you just substitute the new washer and then set up the brake as usual. Since the toe-in is pre-selected, you’ll get it right every time. With our post-style pads, tightening the mounting nut only tends to rotate the pads in one direction (alignment of pad to rim), which is easy to compensate. The other movements aren’t affected as you tighten the bolt, which makes it easy to adjust the brake pads. While we offer a special tool to hold the brake pad during this adjustment, it’s not really needed. Usually, I don’t bother with it.

Worried about adjusting your toe-in in smaller increments than 2.5°? As the pads wear, they’ll take care of any small differences. Realistically, if you get within a degree or two of your target value with modern spherical pads, you are doing very well.


The new washers are included with all Compass centerpull brakes (in addition to the washers without toe-in for bikes with perfectly placed pivots). They also are available as a retrofit for Compass and classic Mafac brakes.

Unfortunately, this method for adjusting toe-in won’t work on most modern brakes, which use “bolt-on” rather than “post-style” pads. For those, somebody should design a system where you adjust the toe-in once and for all, rather than having to fiddle with it every time you adjust the brake pads. (Some cartridge brake pads allow you to replace the pads without disturbing the holders. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help when you have to adjust the pads as they wear, so they still hit the rim in the right place.)

One more piece of news about our brakes: They now are sold individually, to give you a maximum of flexibility when spec’ing your bike.

Click here to learn more about our brakes or to order your set of washers.

Posted in Brakes | 26 Comments

The “Friend”, an Affordable Touring Bike


During a recent cyclotouring trip in Japan, we stopped at an onsen hot bath. As we locked up our bikes, I noticed an interesting touring bike, chained to a lamppost.

“A few decades ago, a bike like this was every boy’s dream,” my friends remarked. Looking over the bike, I can understand why. It’s a smartly designed, yet affordable, campeur in the French tradition. As a teenager, I would have dreamt of a bike like this, too.


The frame looks nicely made, with Nervex “Professional” lugs. The seatstays cross over the seat tube. This is intended to stiffen the frame at the seat tube, useful when you carry heavy loads on the rear rack. The seat tube is less likely to act like a hinge that has the bike flex in undesirable ways. The lack of logos is a marked contrast to the mountain bike next to it.


The seat tube sticker reads “Friend – since 1933 – hand made”. The pump peg on the seatstay is a nice touch. It frees up the frame’s main tubes to carry bottle cages. And it keeps the top tube clear, so you can shoulder the bike and carry it. A true adventure probably includes portaging the bike…


The front rack is made from tubular steel. Its large platform allows carrying a big handlebar bag, or even a small bundle of firewood. The clamps are for a flashlight – useful to illuminate the road when riding after dark, and easy to remove to use while setting up camp. In addition, there is a generator-powered headlight on the other side.


The fork and the rack stay both have attachments for low-riders. The kink in the rack stay is an interesting design feature: When using a low-rider, it spreads the attachment points further apart, and yet the rack remains triangulated.


There are low-rider attachments on the seatstays as well. Mafac cantilever brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Wheels are 650A (590 mm, rather than 650B/584 mm).


The bike is prepared for Rinko, with a split rear fender. The generator that attaches to the bottom of the seatstay is missing.


The SunTour Vx derailleur was one of the best-shifting derailleurs of its time. Together with the triple cranks, it provided a wide spread of gears. There is even a rubber strap to protect the chainstay from getting scratched by chain slap on bumpy roads. Vertical dropouts make it easy to remove the rear wheel even with fenders – important for Rinko.


Another nice touch is the seatpost: a Japanese SR copy of my all-time favorite, the classic Simplex seatpost. The Brooks Professional saddle looks like a later upgrade to me. It shows that somebody has loved this bike.


The headbadge finally gives away the maker of this well thought-out machine: Leopard. A quick Internet search turned up a bike maker with that name, but it was founded in 2004, not 1933 like the seat tube sticker of this bike proclaims. So it must be another company, unrelated to the maker of this bike.

I didn’t meet the owner of the bike. I would have liked to know more about its history, and especially find out how it rides. It’s probably great. The relatively steep head angle and a good amount of fork offset result in a low-trail geometry perfect for precise handling with a load, but also handles well unloaded. Even in this very small size, it doesn’t seem to have toe overlap. Whoever designed this bike knew what they were doing.


In fact, the entire bike would fit right in with the machines we ride today, after our decade-long “Journey of Discovery” has taught us the merits of fully integrated bikes, aluminum fenders, low-trail geometries and wider tires on smaller wheels. To think that in Japan, as a teenager, I could have bought a bike like this off the shelf…

It’s really a shame that bikes like these no longer are available, except as expensive custom bikes. Cyclotouring is resurgent, and this bike once again could be the machine of many dreams. Today, it’s not just boys who dream of taking to the road by bike, but girls (and women), too.

Just imagine if you could buy a bike like this at an affordable price: A nicely made, lugged steel frame. Low-trail geometry. Wide tires and good components. Even comfortable handlebars. (The shape is remarkably similar to the Compass Maes Parallels.) Aluminum fenders, lights, and a front rack as standard equipment. Front and rear low-riders as optional extras that you can add later, when you are heading out on a tour. And most of all, the “Friend” looks purposeful, yet elegant and beautiful.


Touring by bike is a dream, and bikes like these made the dream more attainable. Before and after the grand tour, the “Friend” would be fun to ride around town and on weekend jaunts.

Who will be the first to make a bike like this again? I have no doubt that it will be successful.

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech | 43 Comments

Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting Next Weekend!


The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting is next weekend. Join us for two days of riding, camaraderie and exploration! We’ll meet at the General Store in Carson, WA, on Saturday, June 25, 2016, at 9 a.m. There is only one store in Carson, so it’s easy to find.

Carson General Store

From there, we’ll ride up Panther Creek Road to Trout Lake. Faster riders can explore some side trips – I’ve been intrigued by the Guler Ice Caves for some time. We’ll have lunch at the diner in Trout Lake that is famous for its huckleberry shakes. Then we’ll return to Carson. The round trip is about 70 miles (115 km), with about 1/3 on gravel.

Unfortunately, Takhlakh Lake (top photo) is a bit far, but the scenery in that part of the Cascades is spectacular anywhere. Usually, we get great views of Mt. Adams on our rides in these parts.


I hope to have time for a bath at the famous Hotel St. Martin with its volcanic hot springs. Dinner is at the brew pub in Carson. Most of us probably will stay at the Panther Creek National Forest campground, where we’ll have a campfire that night. There are hotels for those who prefer a real bed.


On Sunday, we’ll return to Portland via the Bridge of the Gods and the Old Columbia Highway (above). It’s going to be a fun weekend, and I look forward to seeing many of you there!

About the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting:

  • Everybody is welcome.
  • There is no registration, no fees, no services.
  • We simply publish a time and place, and anybody who wants to participate shows up and joins us.
  • Please be prepared to ride your bike self-supported. (There is no sag wagon!)
  • No need to have a special bike – we have everything from commuters to racing bikes participate.
  • It’s all about having fun and making friends.


Posted in Rides | 10 Comments

Suspension Losses Confirmed


Recently, Bicycle Quarterly’s experiments on suspension losses have been replicated and confirmed: Higher tire pressures don’t result in faster speeds – even on smooth pavement. Replicating results is a crucial part of science, which makes the new results an important milestone in the understanding of bicycle performance. No longer is it just Bicycle Quarterly talking about suspension losses and lower tire pressures – the science is becoming widely accepted.

When Bicycle Quarterly’s tire tests (below) showed that higher pressure didn’t make your tires faster, few people believed it. Back in 2007, everybody “knew” that pumping up your tires harder made them faster.

We had doubts, too. So we tested again and again, and our results always were the same. We concluded that it was true, even if it went against the accepted wisdom of almost 100 years of cycling knowledge.


Looking through the literature and talking to experts like Jim Papadopoulos, we found a mechanism that could explain this: suspension losses caused by vibrations. As the tissues in the rider’s body rub against each other, friction turns energy into heat. And that energy must come from somewhere: It is taken from the forward momentum of the bike. Your body vibrates, and that slows down the bike. (The bike also vibrates, but it’s not as significant, since it’s mostly made from hard materials that don’t generate much friction.)

The next step was to prove that these vibrations could cost significant power. We went to rumble strips on the shoulder of a highway (photo at the top), because they allowed side-by-side comparison between smooth pavement and a “standardized” rough surface. The results were surprising: Riding on the rough surface took up to 290 Watts more than riding on the smooth surface (below).


Where did those 290 Watts go? After testing various pieces of equipment on the rumble strips all day, I knew where the energy went: My body was sore all over. I had experienced suspension losses on my own body!

Careful testing is only a first step. Real science demands that all scientific experiments are repeatable and replicable.

Repeatable means that if you run the same experiment twice, you must get the same result. We did that multiple times: Each configuration was run at least three times. And we ran the same equipment at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the test, to make sure that conditions (wind, temperature, etc.) did not change and affect the results.

Replicable means that others must be able to do the same experiment, and get the same results. We published our methodology for testing suspension losses in Bicycle Quarterly. That was back in 2009, and we’ve been waiting for others to replicate them. We are excited that now Joshua Poertner has done similar test, also using rumble strips. And his results are similar to ours:

rumble strip test web

The blue line at the bottom shows the old-style steel drum tests: Higher pressure makes your tires faster. But that is true only if you don’t have a rider on board. (No rider = few suspension losses)

Once you put a rider on the bike, things start to look very different: The green line shows brand-new asphalt, the yellow line coarse intermediate asphalt, and the red line are the rumble strips. You can see that resistance increases beyond a certain pressure. This is the opposite of the old wisdom, which is expressed by the blue line.

It’s important to remember that the green, yellow and red lines are real-world testing. The blue line is done in the laboratory. And when laboratory tests don’t match the real world, then they are useless.


The article doesn’t mention Joshua Poertner’s methodology. I am a bit surprised that the dropoff in performance at higher pressures is so large. Our own testing (above) – on very smooth pavement – showed that very high pressures actually resulted in the same performance as lower pressures – not worse performance, as Joshua Poertner’s data seem to indicate. In the future, we’ll have to figure out which is correct. Or perhaps it’s a simple matter of Joshua Poertner’s “smooth” asphalt being rougher than ours…

However, everybody now agrees that higher pressures do not make you faster. We also agree that when things get rough, higher pressures are actually slower.

For riders, what matters most is how you can make your bike faster. And Joshua Poertner’s advice mirrors what we’ve been saying for years: “It turns out that it’s much better to be 10 or even 20 psi lower than the ideal tire pressure than 10 psi higher.” And: “Here’s the next thing you have to think about. As tire width increases, tire pressure decreases. So a wider tire performs better in terms of rolling performance.”


Looking into the future, Poertner said: “I remember when wheels went from 19 mm to 23 mm. It was a very gradual process. And then we went from 23 mm to 25 mm. Now we’re seeing 28 mm wheels. Where does it stop? I don’t know.”

And we all agree that wider tires are faster because they can run at lower pressures over a mix of surfaces. Joshua Poertner is comparing identical tires at different widths. It is understood that to offer good performance, the wider tires must be supple, otherwise, you lose too much energy to flexing the tire casing at it deforms with each wheel revolution.

In other words: On most roads, and especially on rough ones, a 32 mm Compass tire will be faster than a 26 mm Compass tire. But a 42 mm Schwalbe Marathon will be slower than both, even though it’s wider – because it’s so stiff that its casing absorbs way more energy.

Here is what it means in practical terms:

  • Run the widest tire that fits your frame, at least within reason. Bicycle Quarterly’s tests have shown that 32 mm tires roll as fast as 25 mm even on very smooth asphalt, and faster than 23 mm or 20 mm. On rough roads, the wider tires are clearly faster. Since we measured this at 22 mph (35 km/h) with a rider, this takes into account the wind resistance at typical “spirited” cycling speeds.
  • Run your tires at a relatively low pressure that still offers good handling. You don’t want your tires collapse under hard cornering, but beyond that, there is no benefit to adding more air. Experiment with different pressures, but don’t be afraid to let out some air.
  • Select the most supple tire for the best performance.

It’s taken almost a decade, but it’s nice that our results finally have been replicated and confirmed. What once was controversial is becoming universally accepted. And as Joshua Poertner points out (“Where does it stop?”), there is more research to be done. Fortunately, Bicycle Quarterly is already working on this!

Further reading:

Posted in Testing and Tech | 80 Comments