MKS Allways Pedals

Allways pedal

At Compass Cycles, we sell only parts that we want to ride on our own bikes. It’s important that we can rely on the components we use to carry us through all conditions, problem-free. This is why we offer the top-of-the-line pedals from MKS.

Each of the MKS pedals we offer features silky smooth cartridge bearings, beautifully finished bodies and elegant design. Our most recent addition, the Allways platform pedal, is a great choice for urban riding, when you don’t necessarily want to wear cycling-specific shoes.

When I saw the prototypes of the Allways pedals this spring in Tokyo, I was impressed by their light weight and silky-smooth bearing. When I spun the pedals, they seemed to rotate forever. Then the engineers from MKS explained the other features behind the pedals: The large platform has a slightly concave surface so that your foot doesn’t slip. Removable pins provide further retention of your shoe. They told me that the name  “Allways” is a play on the fact that these pedals are intended to be used “always” and on “all ways and roads”.

 

Allways Rinko pedal

The Rinko version of the Allways pedals allows removing the pedal without tools in just seconds with the EZY-Superior quick-release system. It’s convenient for travel, to store your bike in tight spaces, or if you want to ride with platform pedals one day and with clipless pedals the next.

Click here to learn more about the Allways and our other MKS pedals.

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What Is a Road Bike?

In past decades, there was little doubt about what made a “road” bike: narrow tires, drop handlebars, no fenders.

Then randonneur bikes were re-introduced into cycling’s mainstream, leading to some confusion. “That is a touring bike,” said many. “It has a rack and fenders.” But the performance of the randonneur bike is the same as that of a racing bike, and far from a touring bike. Basically, the randonneur bike is a racing bike with integrated fenders, lights and a small rack. (The geometry also has been tweaked to carry the load.) If you take the meaning of “road bike” literally, a randonneur bike fits it at least as well as any other bike.

And then along came wide tires, and suddenly you have a bike like the Open U.P. (above) or my Firefly. “It has 26″/ 27.5″ wheels and fat tires. It’s a rigid mountain bike with drop bars,” opined some when they saw me on one of these bikes. But it isn’t.

Imagine replacing the wheels on these bikes with 700C and installing 28 mm tires – easy enough with disc brakes. Now everybody would accept them as “road” bikes, yet the riding position, handling and even the performance would be unchanged. In fact, I would go one step further, and call them “racing bikes”, not just “road bikes”. Let me explain what I mean by “racing bike.”

The photo above shows me during my racing days. You can’t even see the bike, but there is little doubt I am riding a racing bike, not a mountain or touring bike. You can see it from my riding position.

For me, the definition of a racing bike comes down to how the bikes feels when I ride it. This is determined by:

  • Riding position: A racing bike has a relatively low, stretched-out riding position.
  • No equipment: A racing bike doesn’t carry a load, nor does it have fenders. Why is this important? These parts actually do change how the bike feels. When you ride out of the saddle and rock the bike from side to side, extra weight makes a difference. With less weight, the bike rocks much more easily. Even lightweight fenders and an empty rack change that feel – more so when that load is placed higher.

When I conceptualized this post, I expected this list to be long, but these two points already define the racing bike for me. There are other factors that are important, but they aren’t unique to a racing bike:

  • Performance: A racing bike – in fact, any performance bike – should entice its rider to go faster. It either “planes” and gets in sync with its rider, or it’s stiff and ready to sprint forward as long as the rider stays on top of his or her pedal stroke.
  • Nimble handling: A good performance bike goes exactly where you point it. It’s stable and holds its line until you ask it to change direction. Then it assumes the new course with precision and without delay. On a racing bike, most of this is due to the rotational inertia of the wheels. Whether you use 650B wheels with ultralight carbon rims and tubeless tires (as on the Open) or 26″ wheels with a more traditional setup (like the Firefly), the rotational inertia is about the same as that of a traditional racing bike with 25 mm tires. And that, as much as anything, determines how an unloaded bike feels.

On the road, this is borne out. The Open feels like a racing bike. So does my Firefly. They sprint like racing bikes. They corner like racing bikes. The biggest difference to a racing bike with narrow tires is that these bikes feel great on all roads, not just smooth ones.

This doesn’t mean that every bike with wide tires, no fenders and drop handlebars feels like a racing bike. Even before I installed a handlebar bag, the Specialized Sequoia (above left) felt like a mountain bike. Seeing the Sequoia next to my Firefly illustrated the difference between a mountain and a road bike: a more rearward weight distribution, a (slightly) more upright riding position, and much wider handlebars. The front-end geometry is different, too, with a slacker head angle and much more trail.

Riding both bikes back-to-back on mountain bike trails drove home the point: The Firefly had to be guided rather than forced, whereas the Sequoia was easy to manhandle across the bumpy terrain. The rougher the trail got, the less the Firefly was in its element, and the more the Sequoia came into its own. On gravel and paved roads, the tables were turned, and the Firefly shone with its easy, intuitive handling. Despite being superficially similar, the two bikes couldn’t have felt more different.

If the Firefly is a road bike – despite it wide tires and 26″ wheels – then what is it when equipped with low-rider racks? And what about the Specialized Diverge, a 700C bike with medium-width tires, which we also equipped with low-rider racks (below)? 

Both bikes carried a camping load, but they didn’t feel like touring bikes. Of couse, the extra weight was noticeable, but all that weight is down low, so it doesn’t have a huge effect, even when riding out of the saddle. Even with a camping load, these bikes felt like performance road bikes.

If we try to categorize the Firefly or the Sequoia (above) in this form, what would they be? Should we make up a new category: Performance tourer? Gran Turismo? Loaded racer? It starts getting silly, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The categories between my favorite bikes are blurring, but what they all have in common is that they are performance bikes. And that is the important thing, because it makes them great fun on the rides that I enjoy!

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Concours de Machines: Results

The 2017 Concours de Machines in Ambert (France) was a great success for everybody involved. The bikes were amazing – and much-improved over last year’s machines – the routes were truly challenging, and most of all, the spirit among all participants was wonderful.

The goal was to find the best “light randonneur bike”, with 24 builders bringing their interpretations of this theme. Most participants were French builders, but others came all the way from Sweden, Slovakia, Great Britain, the USA and even Japan. Builders from Germany and Spain had entered the Concours, too, but weren’t able to finish their bikes before the start of the event.

After two days of challenging rides, 18 bikes made it to the finish. The course was very hard: The first day, we covered 230 km (140 miles) on backroads and mountain bike trails with more than 4600 m (15,000 ft) of climbing and many sections that exceeded 15%.

The second day’s roads were smoother, but the route went over four mountain passes. It was a perfect test for the bikes: Some riders chose to go slow to reduce the risk that their bikes broke (above), but they were penalized for their low average speed. Others went faster, but their bikes suffered mechanical problems. To place well, you had to go fast and your bike had to hold together – just as it should be in a Technical Trial.

First place went to Pechtregon. The details of the results are not yet available, but it’s clear that the Pechtregon’s combination of relatively light weight (around 10.5 kg / 23.2 lb), flawless performance, high-enough speed and remarkable innovation put it in first place.

Apart from the girder fork which doubles as a rack, the Pechtregon featured a pump inside the steerer tube and a rear triangle that folds forward to transport the bike, Rinko-style. Builder Matthieu Chollet had even made a Rinko headset nut to facilitate disassembly. It was another amazing machine from this builder and a worthy winner.

Second place went to J. P. Weigle’s randonneur bike. At 9.7 kg (21.4 lb) fully equipped –including the handlebar bag, spare tubes and tools – it also received the prize for the lightest bike. (The bike alone weighs just 9.1 kg / 20.0 lb.)

I am proud to have been involved in this machine, both as a supplier of components and as the rider. The bike gained points for its light weight and many custom features. It completed the challenging course without any problems – I didn’t carry any tools except spare tubes, since everything counted in the weight. The Weigle also was among the first finishers each day, so it avoided penalties on both counts. What it lacked compared to the winner was “innovation” – most of its features, whether the ability to be disassembled for Rinko, the SON SL generator hub without wires, or the switch on the stem that operated the headlight, had been seen before.

The amazing Cyfac took third place. Ridden by a strong racer, it finished each stage with the fastest speed, yet there were no technical problems. Constructed mostly from carbon fiber (with some stainless steel), this machine also received the prize for the most innovative machine, as well as the vote of the public. The bike sported fenders that could be removed without tools, as well as indicators in the bar plugs that were operated by the left-hand shift lever. (The 1×11 drivetrain does not have a front derailleur.) Pushing the lever for a longer time turned the lights on (or off). It was a technical tour de force that showed what the dedicated team at Cyfac – the biggest maker of custom bikes in France – can do. The only thing that kept it from first place was its relatively heavy weight of 12 kg (26.5 lb).

When asked why their all-carbon bike was 33% heavier than the steel-and-aluminum Weigle, Cyfac’s design engineer explained: “Take our carbon rack, for example. A steel rack can flex, but with carbon, flexing leads to failure. So we overbuilt it, and it weighs 400 g. [The Weigle’s rack weighs 137 g.] And we used a relatively heavy Ortlieb bag.” It was a brave decision to bring a carbon bike that weighs more than steel, but it allowed Cyfac to showcase their specialty: custom-made carbon bikes.

The special prize of the jury went to the Vagabonde, an elegantly simple randonneur bike that was ridden well throughout the event.

The prize for the best presentation went to Grand Bois. At the start of the event, their bike was the lightest by a small margin, with many parts sporting cut-outs that left only a skeleton of material. While everybody appreciated the work that went into this bike, many questioned whether the parts would be strong enough to hold up on the road. On the first day, the rear derailleur developed a fatigue crack and broke, putting the Grand Bois out of the event.

There were other innovative machines. The Perrin (in back) not only featured a double-decker rack (a tent is intended to go on the bottom “shelf”), but more interestingly, its fenders were attached with strong magnets. I had doubts whether the magnets would stay in place on the rough course, but it appears that they did. Imagine a Rinko bike where the rear fender just snaps in place!

Others, like the Brevet Cycles of Sebastien Klein, were excellent machines that completed the challenging course without problems – not even a flat tire in his case – but didn’t have the light weight or innovation to place high in the final standings. These bikes are great machines even if they don’t figure in the results of the Concours.

This year, there were no “crazy-light” parts on the bikes, perhaps because the organizers had made it clear that the course would be more challenging. And yet overall, the bikes were lighter than before.

Whereas last year, hardly any bikes completed the course without mechanical problems (including the winner!), this year, failures were rare. Tires were wider than last year, ranging from 700C x 32 mm (Vagabonde) to 650B x 48 mm (Pechtregon). I was surprised that of the 24 starters, no fewer than 16 rode on Compass tires (including the first three places), even though there was no sponsorship, and builders had to pay for their tires. It appears that when high speeds on rough roads are required, French builders choose Compass tires.

The Concours de Machine 2017 was a rousing success. As intended, it has improved the real-world capabilities of the bikes riders can buy. It has shown interesting ideas for future innovation. And most of all, the participants (as well as the spectators) had a great time!

A full report will follow in Bicycle Quarterly.

Photo credit: Victor Découard (Photo 2), Natsuko Hirose (all other photos).

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 68 Comments

J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines

In this year’s Concours de Machines technical trials, I am riding J. P. Weigle’s entry (above). The Concours is a competition for the best “light randonneur bicycle”. The rules stress light weight, reliability and innovation. Bikes must be fully equipped with lights and the ability to carry luggage, plus a pump and a bell. There are bonus points for fenders.

Bikes are examined at the beginning, with points for light weight and desirable features. Then they are ridden over an extremely challenging course to see how well they hold up, with penalties for anything that goes wrong. Click on the link for the complete rules of the Concours (also available in English).

Building a bike for the Concours is a major undertaking, because most parts have to modified for light weight and other features. It’s almost unavoidable that the bike is finished barely in time for the event. In our case, the bike arrived in France almost ready, so we took it to our friends at Cycles Alex Singer to finish it. Then Olivier Csuka hung it from the scale that already weighed the Singers that won in the 1940s Concours.

We were excited to see that the bike (with pump and pedals) weighed just 9.1 kg (20.0 lb). That is incredibly light for a fully equipped randonneur bike, especially since we didn’t want to make a “one-event” bike, but a bike that will be fun to ride for many years. So we built the bike with a generator hub instead of a superlight sidewall generator (which is noisy and can slip in the rain), with a comfortable Berthoud leather saddle and ergonomic Compass Maes Parallel handlebars. We avoided the temptation of “crazily light” components with limited lifespans.

How do you make a bike so light? You choose the very light components, and then modify them to make them even lighter. Peter Weigle even cut pieces out of the headset crown race. (The race only locates the cartridge bearings, so there are no balls that could fall into the cutouts).

The Compass René Herse cranks already are among the lightest in the world, but they were reprofiled to reduce their weight further. The holes drilled in the chainrings save another 10 g.

Prototypes for the new Compass René Herse brakes save even more weight. They are modeled on the classic originals, but adapted for current-style posts. With hardware made from titanium and aluminum, they probably are among the lightest brakes available today, yet they offer great stopping power.

Peter Weigle also made a superlight rack. It weighs just 137 g when a standard Compass rack tips the scales at 168 g, and most production racks weigh 200 g or more.

Peter even reprofiled the Compass taillight to save a few more grams.

We worked with Gilles Berthoud to make a superlight handlebar bag that weighs just 266 g. Made from the same canvas and leather as the standard Berthoud bags, it eliminates all outside pockets and reduces the leather reinforcements to a minimum. Even though it’s the lightest handlebar bag I’ve ever seen, it still incorporates a map case on top. Because without it, you risk getting lost!

When the bike was weighed at the Concours ready to go, loaded up with its bag, spare tube and tools, it weighed just 9.7 kg (21.4 lb).

Despite the focus on light weight, we wanted to include innovative features. The bike disassembles Rinko-style, so it’s easy to carry in cars, airplanes and trains. In fact, this came in very handy on the way to the Concours, when we had to fit five people, their luggage, and three bikes into a station wagon…

A switch on the stem operates both head- and taillights. When descending mountain roads, it’s easy to switch on the lights when a tunnel appears. At dusk, you can ride without lights to save a little resistance, but turn them on when a car appears in the distance. And if the bike is used in Paris-Brest-Paris, where you often ride in pelotons at night, you can turn the headlight off when it reflects off the calves of the riders in front of you. (The standlight still makes your position obvious to the riders around you.)

For reliability, Peter did all the standard things of directly mounting the fenders to the frame, etc. The generator hub uses Schmidt’s SL system, which eliminates the external wires that connect the hub to the lights. Instead, an insulated ring on the hub connects to a similarly insulated plate on the left dropout, with the axle and the frame forming the ground. The positive wire runs through the frame and rack to the headlight and taillight. Not having wires means there is one less thing to go wrong.

We didn’t take the weight savings to an extreme: We used a Delux Wide-Body hub, which is a few grams heavier, but makes for a lot stronger wheel. There are other places where we could have saved weight, but we opted for comfort, performance and reliability instead.

Today was the first stage of the bike test. With more than 4000 m (13,000 ft) of climbing, the test was more challenging for the rider than for the bike. The photo below shows the Weigle after the 230 km (140 mile) stage over mountain bike trails and muddy forest paths (above).

Tomorrow is another stage of the bike test, then comes the final reckoning. The jury, the builders and the public each also get to award some points. Together with the points for the features and penalties for any malfunction, this determines the final score. At the end, the bike with the most points will win the 2017 Concours de Machines.

Click here to read Natsuko’s post about the Concours de Machines (in Japanese).

Posted in Rides, Testing and Tech | 81 Comments

New Favorites from Compass; Others Back In Stock

Compass is now offering two new leather handlebar tapes: one from Gilles Berthoud in France (above) and another from Maware in Japan. We’ve also restocked several popular items.

Berthoud’s leather handlebar tape is made from a luxurious cowhide in seamless strips dyed to match their high-quality saddles (except cork). Riders who appreciate a bit of padding will prefer this tape.

For riders who prefer thinner bar tape, we have Maware of Japan’s durable and weather-resistant tape made from pigskin (above). This tape has plenty of stretch for a perfect wrap. Available in dark brown, black, and tan, Maware handlebar tape comes with lightweight plugs, covered in matching leather.

Click here to shop Berthoud and Maware handlebar tape.

In addition to bar tape, Maware makes a wide range of leather goods for bicycles. We’re also offering their frame cover, in colors that match the tape, to protect your frame from getting scratched by bike racks or posts.

Light mounts are back in stock, for threaded eyelets and for adjustable struts, to fit all Compass racks, as well as many others. These mounts make it easy to attach a standing or hanging generator light to your existing rack. Our carefully designed hardware lets you adjust tension perfectly to keep the light in place on rough roads, but still adjust the light angle by hand, without tools.

Click here to learn more or buy a light mount.

Knickers are back in stock for sizes 30 – 36 and 40. We’ve enlarged the pocket openings, so it’s now easier to get your hands in and out. Designed to fit over bike shorts or bibs, our knickers are light and durable, equally at home on or off the bike.

Click here to learn more and shop the Compass Knickers

Our very popular 700C x 38 mm Barlow Pass tires are back in stock in all casings and colors. They’re now tubeless-compatible and measure a true 38 mm wide. This is a great tire for pavement, gravel and mixed-terrain rides.

Click here to see the Barlow Pass and other 700C tires from Compass.

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Technical Trials – What is Innovation?

Next weekend, the Concours de Machines (Technical Trials) will be held in Ambert, France. The Concours is a competition between bikes, not riders, with the goal to find the best “light randonneur bike”. Bikes will be weighed, judged on their features, and then sent on a challenging course over three days to see how they hold up in real-world riding. It’s an exciting event with an illustrious history: Many of the things we now take for granted – aluminum cranks, front derailleurs, cartridge bearings in hubs and bottom brackets, even low-rider racks – first proved their worth in the original Concours de Machines of the 1930s and 1940s (above). The question for this year’s event is how much our current machines can still be improved. The organizers place special emphasis on innovation in the judging of the bikes.

Last year, I was a member of the jury. This year, my role is that of a participant, riding a J.P. Weigle – coincidentally the only American entry in an international field of 30 builders. The bike for the Concours is collaboration between Peter Weigle and Compass. Peter built the bike, and Compass worked on sourcing the components. Together, we spent quite some time thinking about the goals of the event: to find the best “light randonneur bike”, with a special focus on innovation.

What is innovation? Is it a radical departure from the diamond-frame bicycles most of us ride today? Already in the 1930s, recumbents were popular for a while (above), but they’ve never made a break-through… because the classic diamond frame just works incredibly well.

Or is it a bike with special features that aren’t found in the mainstream? At last year’s Concours, there was a fully suspended bike, but neither the front nor the rear of the bike moved when I pushed on the handlebars and saddle. Perhaps it was for the better – the “rigid” bike performed quite well on the road – but to us, innovation that doesn’t work isn’t innovation.

For us, true innovation has to improve the riding experience or the performance of the bike. We examined every part to see whether it could be improved. We considered disc brakes, but decided against them because they a) are heavy and b) preclude the use of flexible fork blades that do so much to absorb road shock during long rides. We thought about carbon fenders until we found that aluminum ones are lighter. In the end, the bike that I’ll ride in the Concours looks remarkably similar to the bikes that Peter usually builds (above one of his recent machines). Perhaps that isn’t surprising, because these bikes are the result of decades of fine-tuning and evolution. So if “radical innovation” isn’t possible, what else could we do?

The second consideration of the Concours is light weight. Bikes have to weigh less than 10.5 kg (23.15 lb) to avoid heavy penalties. That sounds achievable until you realize that this weight includes bags to carry a load provided by the organizers, spare tubes, tools, etc. – the motto is “Nothing in the rider’s pockets.” And the bike has to be equipped with “autonomous” lighting (no batteries), fenders, a bell and even a pump. All this adds up, and suddenly you realize that unless you resort to crazy lightweight parts that will barely last through the weekend, it won’t be easy to avoid the penalties.

The course includes plenty of rough gravel roads, so wide tires are a necessity. Fixing flats will slow you down, and if you don’t make the required 22.5 km/h (14.0 mph) average speed over the mountainous 250 km/160 mile course, you will incur penalties, too. The idea is that the bike must offer good performance, and it should be ridden hard to show up any deficiencies.

So we went through every part of the bike, especially the Compass components: How could we lighten them without compromising reliability or performance. The gains were incremental, but they added up to a significant weight savings on parts that already are among the lightest available today.

One example is the ultralight rack Peter Weigle built (above). At 137 g, it’s incredibly light, and Peter cautions that it’s not designed for much more than the 3 kg (6.6 lb) load the bikes will carry during the Concours. And yet it is only 31 g lighter than our standard Compass rack that has withstood years of hard riding with heavy loads on rough roads. There were other parts where we felt that even for hard use, we could lose some weight. This means that the bike for the Concours will lead to better – or at least lighter – components that our customers will be able to buy in the future. But first the superlight parts have to prove their worth during the harsh test of the Concours and beyond, because Peter Weigle’s bike isn’t just intended for one weekend. It will be ridden, and ridden hard, for many miles.

Once all the participants meet in Ambert at the end of this week, I’ll report more on the details of our bike, as well as the machines of the other competitors. The goal of this event is pushing the development of real-world bicycles to new heights, and I already know that in the case of Compass, the goal has been achieved.

Photo credit: Peter Weigle (rack); Nicolas Joly (night photo)

Posted in Testing and Tech | 33 Comments

Choosing Your Tires

We’ve experienced a profound revolution in road bikes in recent years: It used to be that to go fast, you rode narrow tires and pumped them up to the maximum pressure. If you wanted more comfort, you used wider tires and (maybe) lower pressures, but you knew that you’d be slower.

Now we know that comfort and speed aren’t opposed, but inextricably linked: A bike that absorbs shocks better rolls faster. Narrow tires don’t have any speed advantage, and inflating your tires to the maximum often makes your bike slower.

But what does this means in practical terms, when it comes to choosing new tires for your bike? Do you need to get a new bike with clearances for ultra-wide tires? Or is there a way to benefit from the “tire revolution” on your existing bike?

The simple guidelines below are based on more than a decade of research into the performance of tires, and they’ve proven themselves on the road time and again.

Supple Casing

The most important part of the “tire revolution” is the supple casings. In the past, we thought that supple casings and wide tires didn’t go together well, because supple, wide tires have to be run at relatively low pressures. Now we know that lower pressures don’t make tires roll slower. And that makes a supple casing better in the two important areas of tire performance: A supple casing has less resistance as it flexes (hysteretic losses) and it transmits less vibrations from the road (suspension losses). It’s a win-win scenario.

Compared to the casing, all other factors – width, tread thickness, weight, etc. – are of minor importance. In Bicycle Quarterly‘s tire tests, the five fastest tires ranged in width from 24 to 36 mm, but they all had one thing in common: a supple casing. In practical terms, this means that a supple 25 mm-wide racing tire will be more comfortable and faster than a 42 mm touring tire with stiff sidewalls.

So don’t fret if your bike can only fit relatively narrow tires. Just get the best, most supple ones you can find, and enjoy most of the benefits of the “tire revolution”.

Width

When in doubt, use wider tires. At least up to 42 mm, wider simply is better. More grip, more comfort, same speed, fewer flats. What about the aerodynamics of wider tires? In our testing, both in the wind tunnel and on the test track, we found the effect too small to measure. And when you factor in the greater shock absorption (lower suspension losses) of the wider tires, it’s likely that any small increase in wind resistance is made up by the smoother rolling of the wider tires. On smooth roads, it comes out the same, on rough surfaces, wide tires are demonstrably faster.

Of course, you’ll have to work with the clearances of your bike. Don’t try to squeeze the largest possible tire in there with just a hair’s breadth of clearance. Your tire may “grow” with age or your wheel may go slightly out of true. I recommend a minimum of 3 mm clearance all around the tire. When in doubt which tire will fit, go with a slightly narrower one. If you find that you have more clearance than expected, get the bigger size the next time around.

Wheel Size

When you get a new bike, wheel size is an important consideration. Smaller and/or lighter wheels will be more nimble, larger and/or heavier wheels will be more stable. Ideally, your bike is both stable and nimble: It should stay faithfully on a chosen line, but it shouldn’t resist if you want to change its trajectory. How do you achieve that?

The forces of trail and wheel flop cancel each other, especially on a bike without a front load. That is why the wheel size plays such an important role – you can’t really compensate for a front wheel that is too large or too small.

The bike industry is only slowly waking up to this. Too many gravel bikes still come with the same 700C wheels that you find on racing bikes with much narrower tires. Smaller 650B wheels are a better choice for wide tires – from 40 to 50 mm –  and for even wider tires, I prefer 26″ wheels. That way, you can enjoy the nimble feel of a good road bike and the surefootedness of wide tires…

If you use ultralight carbon rims and superlight tires (like our Compass Extralights), you can go up one wheel size. The larger diameter compensates the light weight to keep the rotational inertia in the “optimum” range.

My “dream bikes” are equipped with either 650B x 42 mm tires (left) or 26″ x 54 mm, depending on whether they will see mostly paved or mostly gravel roads. But in practical terms, I am perfectly happy on a bike with 700C x 32 mm tires (right), provided the tires are supple performance models and not sluggish “touring” tires.

The importance of supple casings isn’t a new discovery. For almost a century, professional racers have ridden supple, handmade tires, no matter whether the fashion was for 30, 20 or now 25 mm-wide tires. In fact, tires are the only thing that hasn’t changed significantly on pro racing bikes during the last 70 years. You could put Fausto Coppi’s tires on Christopher Froome’s bike, and he’d never know the difference.

Outside the pro peloton, the importance of supple tires was largely forgotten as riders became more concerned about flat resistance than the joy of gliding along on a cushion of air. Only recently, supple clinchers have become available that offer the feel and performance of great racing tubulars, but in much wider widths.

Speaking of flats, that is the one drawback of staying with narrow tires. Since they run at higher pressures, they are more likely to puncture. And yet, in my experience, the fear of flats is often overstated. On the beautiful backroads that offer the best cycling experience, flats are relatively rare.

Debris accumulates where cars don’t go, hence you get so many flats when riding on the shoulders of busy highways. On backroads, you ride in the traffic lane (but with little traffic, you don’t bother anybody), so there isn’t much debris that could puncture your tires.

downhill

To summarize, you don’t need a new bike to enjoy the “tire revolution”. For your existing bike, choose tires with supple casings, and use the widest model your bike can fit with safe clearances. And when it’s time to get a new bike, consider getting a bike designed for wider tires and perhaps smaller wheels to get the performance of wide tires with the nimble handling that makes a good racing bike so much fun. It’s that simple!

More information:

Photo credit: Goggles & Dust / Brett Horton Collection (classic racers).

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 43 Comments