Video: Testing the Open U.P.

Bicycle Quarterly took the Open U.P. to Odarumi, one of the highest passes in Japan. How does a carbon bike for wide tires handle the 2000 m (6600 ft) paved climb? And how does it do on the challenging gravel descent? We made a little video to take you right into the action. Join Bicycle Quarterly in this amazing adventure!

Click on the image above or watch at this link. Make sure you watch it full-screen!

Subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly and receive the Spring issue (BQ 59) with the full story of this adventure!

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Swift Campout 2017


Compass Cycles is proud to sponsor the Swift Campout for the second year. The Swift Campout is a global event, allowing riders to participate where and as they choose: On Saturday, June 24, cyclists will head out for camping trips to a destination they select, then return on Sunday. It’s fun to be part of this and knowing that, all over the world, riders are sharing similar experiences.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it’s also an opportunity to make use of the long days near the solstice to ride far out into the wild, camp at the end of the road, and return the following day.

In the twelve weeks leading up to the event, Swift Industries will offer information about bike camping on their website. They also encourage riders to register their rides, in an effort to create a community by sharing our destinations and adventures. They’ll raffle some prizes, too.

For me, the Campout is a neat opportunity to put a date on the calendar and think of a great route. Two years ago, Mark and I headed to the end of the road at Carbon Glacier on Mount Rainier (top photo). Last year, the Campout coincided with the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting, so I headed across the Cascades (above at Takhlakh Lake) to Carson for a weekend of fun.

Where will you head for this year’s Swift Campout?

Posted in Rides | 1 Comment

Tubeless-Compatible Barlow Pass 700C x 38 mm

First, I want to apologize that several Compass tire models are out of stock. Orders from our distributors in Europe and Japan have exceeded our expectations, and tire production has to be scheduled long in advance… The tires now are on a boat to Seattle. We should have all models back in stock toward the end of the month. Until then, we appreciate your patience. We’ll put up an announcement when the new tire shipment comes in.

That shipment also includes the new Barlow Pass tubeless-compatible tires. Not only did we change the bead to a tubeless-compatible one, but we also increased the size by 1.5 mm to make it a true 38 mm even on narrow rims. The photo above shows a prototype. Mounted with a tube on a narrow rim, it measures 37.5 mm. On a 30 mm-wide rim and mounted tubeless, it “grows” to 40 mm. That puts it right in the middle between our 35 mm Bon Jon Pass and the 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass. The new Barlow Pass is another great addition to the Compass range. If you want to run your tires tubeless, it’s definitely worth the wait.

Click here for more information about Compass tires.

Posted in Tires | 34 Comments

Volcano High Pass Challenge and BQ Un-Meeting


Compass Cycles and Branford Bikes are excited to announce the Volcano High Pass Challenge as part of a Labor Day weekend filled with great rides. Part race, part scenic ride with friends, this unsanctioned event challenges riders of all abilities. The one-day route goes from Packwood, at the foot of Mount Rainier, to Carson, on the Columbia River.

When: Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, 5 a.m.
Where: Packwood Timberland Library
What: 166 km (102) mile self-supported ride/race


The 166 km (102 mile) course traverses the southern Cascade Range, skirts the mighty volcano of Mount Adams, and crosses Babyshoe Pass, before dropping down to Trout Lake, climbing another pass, and finally descending the amazing Panther Creek Road. When they reach the Columbia River, riders will have climbed 3000 m (10,000 ft) and descended a little more. Half of the course is on gravel, the other half is paved, including some ultra-fast descents. This mix of surfaces is best tackled on a good Allroad bike.

The scenic beauty more than makes up for the challenging terrain, with great views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, plus the beautiful Walupt and Takhlakh Lakes. Participants will take photos of their bikes at iconic locations as proof of passage.

September is our favorite time to ride these roads. The days are still long and sunny, but usually not too hot. The last vestiges of the snow that currently blankets the high roads and blocks the passes will have melted, and the roads usually are dry.

Riders will need to be self-sufficient as services will be limited to an online route sheet. A roving mechanic will be on the course, provided by Branford Bike. Water is available at campgrounds. Anyone is welcome: Just show up at the start at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, in front of the Packwood Library, and ride!

Whether you compete for the fastest time, ride with friends, or start early and complete the ride at a more relaxed pace over multiple days, it’ll be an unforgettable experience. We plan to offer a bag drop service that will carry camping gear from Packwood to Carson during the event. For more information, and to RSVP, click here.

Course map: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/18802349/

Following the Challenge, the 2017 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting will gather in Carson, WA, on Sunday and Monday (Labor Day).

When: Sunday & Monday, Sept. 3 & 4, 2017, 9 a.m.
Where: Carson General Store
What: 2 days of self-supported rides off the beaten path, different route options

The formula of the Un-Meeting is simple: Every cyclist is welcome to join us for two days of great camaraderie and riding off the beaten path. There are no fees, and no services are provided. We simply publish a date and time. Last year’s ride across Big Huckleberry Mountain was a highlight for those who chose that route. Join us in September for a repeat of this amazing ride!

While participants will be responsible for their own accommodations, we will book a group campsite at the Wind Mountain RV Park on the Columbia River, not far from the St. Martin hot springs. Meet us at the Carson General Store at 9 a.m. on both days of the Un-Meeting.

Sunday’s ride will explore the mountains above the Wind River Canyon. Monday’s ride will head to Portland to bring participants back to “civilization”. More details will be posted as the date approaches. Mark your calendars for a great weekend of riding off the beaten path!

Note: The Volcano High Pass Challenge is unrelated to the Cascade Bicycle Club’s “High Pass Challenge,” which goes over paved roads in the same region.

Posted in Rides | 5 Comments

A Keirin Racer on the Road

The other rider passed us at great speed. Getting passed by “hobby racers” while cyclotouring with my Japanese friends isn’t unusual, especially on valley-bottom roads that see many cyclists.

From behind, the rider looked odd. His position was very low. He was turning a large gear. All this sounds like a novice rider, but there was something about his cyclist that piqued my interest.

I decided to speed up to catch the rider and get another look. I told my friends that I’d ride ahead. By now, the rider was maybe 400 m (1/4 mile) ahead of me. It seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my legs and do a little speedwork. I accelerated, shifted a few cogs on the rear, and got into a good rhythm.

My first acceleration simply saw me maintain my distance, but not gain on the other rider. I had underestimated his speed. I dug deeper and made up some ground, but then the gradient of the road steepened a little. My speed dropped, while he continued with metronomic precision. I was back in a holding pattern, not gaining any ground, yet riding at a speed that was a little too fast to be sustainable after the previous effort. I remembered my racing days, caught in “no-man’s land” after being delayed by a crash or being blocked by dropped riders. In this unsustainable situation, you have two choices: abandon the chase or muster all your reserves and close the gap in a sprint. I chose the latter…

That is how I caught him. Out of breath, I looked at the rider. His position was incredibly low – his hands were lower than his knees, and his back was truly flat. Just look at his shadow on the road!

I drew alongside, greeted him and asked: “Suminasen, shashin totte mo iidesuka.” (“Excuse me, is it OK to take a photo?”) He looked up, and I was surprised to see a wrinkled face that seemed at odds with his speed. This was no novice “hobby racer”!

He seemed startled, too. Was he not used to having another rider come up from behind? Or was my broken Japanese the source of wonder? He nodded his permission and put his head down again. Clearly, he had better things to do than talk to strangers on randonneur bikes!

I looked over his bike. It was a track bike with beautiful Dura-Ace track cranks and, of course, a fixed gear. Contrasting with the superb frame and drivetrain, the brakes were almost an afterthought. The right brake lever was higher than the left, and both were hard to reach. I suspected they were only for emergencies, or perhaps to satisfy traffic rules. A spare tubular tire was strapped under the saddle, and a pump attached a bit haphazardly to the top tube. It was obviously a track bike to which the parts that made it street-legal had been added only reluctantly.

The rider’s tights were inscribed “All-Star Keirin”, and the legs they hid were large and muscular. His feet turned classic pedals with toeclips and -straps. The Arai hardshell helmet confirmed: I was riding next to a true Keirin racer. That explained the ultra-low position and the slow, but smooth and powerful, pedal stroke. I had seen this on the track, where Keirin racers pedal at (for them) moderate speeds, waiting until one of them unleashes the sprint. Then they rise out of the saddle, throw their bikes from side to side as they jockey for position under full acceleration. They dash toward the finish line at a speed and cadence that is fast and furious, whereas before it was slow and deliberate.

I wanted to ask the Keirin racer how far he was riding. Was he still racing, or, more likely, had he retired from the track? I know a few retired Keirin racers, but I’ve never had the opportunity to ride with them on the road. But I felt that I had intruded enough. In any case, my Japanese probably wasn’t up to understanding his answers. So I let him go. I turned around to ride back to my friends. I had ridden next to him for less than a minute, and yet the image of this unexpected figure, turning his pedals with deceptive ease in a huge gear, remains etched in my mind. I hope to meet him again some day.

Posted in Rides | 15 Comments

A True Dual-Purpose Knobby

steilacoom_paved

“Don’t do this on knobby tires!” would be most cyclists’ advice when looking at the photo above. Everybody knows that cornering hard on pavement and knobby tires don’t go together.

And yet, the photo shows me on Compass Steilacoom knobby tires. And I didn’t take any undue risks. It was a cold winter day, and the pavement was still moist from a recent snowfall, so I didn’t push the limits, and the tires always had plenty of grip in reserve. (I apologize for the blurry photo – there wasn’t enough light for high-speed photography on this dark winter day.)

We took this photo during an all-paved ride around Mercer Island – a fast-paced route with many corners and subtle (and not-so-subtle) ups and downs. It’s a challenging course to ride fast. And it’s even more challenging when riding with my friend Ryan, who trains here several times a week and knows every inch of the road.

I rode a bike with Compass 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom knobbies (above), because I wanted to find out how well they perform as dual-purpose tires.

steilacoom_action

After a full season of cyclocross, we already know the Steilacooms work great on mud and loose surfaces… What about rides that are mostly on pavement, but include enough muddy trails that you’d want some knobs on your tires?

I had always been bothered by how terrible my cross bike felt on the few paved sections of the race course. Those sections rarely measured more than a few meters, but if there was a corner, I had to take it carefully. Annoying when I really wanted to go all-out. I figured that there had to be a better way. And when designing the Steilacooms, we thought hard about how to make a knobby perform well on pavement, too.

steilacoom_on_pavement

How do you make knobbies that perform well on pavement? We designed the tread pattern together with the engineers at Panaracer. They were excited to bring all their knowledge to the project, with no concern about “what people expect a knobby tire to look like.” Together, we spent a lot of time thinking about knob shapes and spacing, and how the tire transitions from one knob to the next.

The key difference to previous knobbies is that we didn’t look at each knob individually. We treated them as a system that interacts, not just as the tire is rolling forward, but also as it leans into a turn. We made sure that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, not sudden changes as you transition from one row of knobs to… sometimes almost almost no rubber at all.

We also discussed knob sizes with Panaracer’s engineers. They have to be small enough to dig into the mud, but large enough that they don’t fold over during hard cornering. It’s not rocket science, but it requires visualizing what the tire will do as it rolls and corners.

On the Steilacoom, you don’t fall off one knob and then climb onto the next, so the tires roll more smoothly than most knobbies. And the knobs are big enough that they don’t squirm, which also helps with your speed and cornering.

steilacoom_corner2

I had high expectations for the Steilacooms, but even I was surprised how well they perform on pavement. On that ride around Mercer Island, I had no trouble keeping up with Ryan, even though he was riding his new titanium bike with smooth Compass Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires. The Steilacoom knobbies did not just perform well on the straights, I also didn’t lose any ground in the corners. Of course, this doesn’t prove that the Steilacooms roll quite as well as the Babyshoes, but if there is a difference, it is much smaller than I anticipated.

During our next “BQ Team” ride, I switched bikes with Mark. At first, he was reluctant. “Why would I ride knobbies on the road?” he asked. But then he, too, was surprised. He said: “When you hear the knobs sing on the pavement, you think the bike will be slow. But on the downhills, the wind drowns out the tire noise, and then you realize that they perform pretty much like a good 38 mm road tire would.” And this from the guy who had sworn off knobbies for good when he designed his 650B randonneur bike.

Now, we understand that many readers will be skeptical when a maker claims that their new tire revolutionized how well a knobby tire rolls. So we took a few photos… with a little tree to show that we didn’t just tilt the photo to make it look more dramatic. The Steilacoom really raises the bar beyond what even we thought possible.

steilacoom_sx

The optimized arrangement of knobs is only part of the story. Just as important for the Steilacoom’s speed is the supple Compass casing. The result is a knobby tire that is faster than most slick road tires.

Are there drawbacks of the Steilacoom tread pattern? Of course, otherwise, we’d all ride knobbies from now on. First, once we test them on the track with a power meter, I fully expect that they will roll a little bit slower than our other tires. That is unavoidable, but the difference is too small to notice on the road. That is pretty remarkable.

The knobs also add weight to the tire. And the bigger you make the knobs, the heavier the tire gets. Thanks to our lightweight casings, the Steilacoom still isn’t a heavy tire, but it weighs about 30 g more than our Barlow Pass with smooth tread. This won’t slow you down much even when climbing mountain passes, but if you don’t need knobs, why carry the extra weight?

Like all knobbies, the Steilacooms tend to wander a bit while going straight. You are rolling from one knob to another, rather than on a continuous tread. Again, it’s not a huge deal, but if your ride doesn’t require knobbies, I would pick one of the other Compass tires with their road-optimized tread. And finally, there is more noise from the tires as they roll. But compared to other knobbies I have ridden, all these disadvantages are very subdued.

naches_highland

The Steilacoom’s excellent pavement performance opens up completely new rides. Imagine you are heading into the mountains and expect muddy sections along your course, but most of the ride will be paved. No problem with the Steilacooms. They will make short work of the mud, without holding you back on the paved portions of your ride. That makes the Steilacoom the ultimate multi-purpose tire.

Click here to find out more about the Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm tires.

Photo credits: Ryan Hamilton (Photo 1, 4), Heidi Franz (Photo 2), Duncan Smith (Photo 5), Hahn Rossman (Photo 6).

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 28 Comments

Visiting C.S. Hirose

A highlight of my trips to Japan is visiting Cycle Store Hirose. It’s a truly special place.

I enjoy talking about bikes with Mr. Hirose. His knowledge is deep, and his ideas and thoughts never cease to surprise me. This time, I was proud to show him the Compass decaleur that licenses Hirose’s locking mechanism. He had seen prototypes before, but this was the first time that he saw the final production version. I was glad that he approved of the decaleurs.

My Japanese still is very limited, but fortunately, Natsuko and our friend Meisei are becoming expert translators! Meisei’s new bike was almost finished, and we took it outside to admire it. Mr. Hirose is much more than a framebuilder – there aren’t many parts on the bike that he didn’t make or modify in some way.

Meisei’s bike is equipped with Hirose’s own desmodromic rear derailleur. Inspired by the classic French Cyclo, it’s entirely hand-made and shifts very smoothly. Mr. Hirose is proud that the latest version is 10-speed compatible, but Meisei opted for just 8 cogs on the rear cassette.

Mr. Hirose also makes his own front derailleurs. The cages are custom-shaped for each rider, depending on how they pedal and shift. That is one reason why Hirose wants to meet each customer and see them ride before designing their bikes.

Meisei’s new machine is a beautiful bike, and I could have spent much time admiring it. The winter sun bathed the bike in a golden light, but the cold of this Tokyo winter day drove us back inside.

The shop is crammed with Hirose’s bikes, old and new. There are classic machines that he made decades ago, as well as brand-new customer bikes waiting to be picked up. Each is special in some way. Mr. Hirose loves to develop new solutions for old problems.

He prefers to equip his bikes with centerpull brakes. Many mountain roads in Japan are incredibly steep, which can tax the brakes of  tandem. Mr. Hirose has found a solution: old mountain bike U-brakes really are very beefy centerpulls!

Mr. Hirose attaches the front rack to the brake pivots for a fully integrated solution. This leads to an interesting juxtaposition of slender steel tubes and massive brakes, but most of all, I am sure the brakes perform well.

During every visit to the shop, I have admired this yellow bike. Now I finally realized why it seemed so familiar. I had seen a sister bike, almost identical except the color, in the very first book about Japanese custom bicycles that I had bought from a friend many years ago. The grainy B&W photos had impressed me very much back then. It was the first time I saw centerpull brakes with brazed-on pivots, custom stems and many other details. Unable to read the descriptions, I did not realize that the derailleurs also were custom-made, rather than just old French components.

But they are, and so are the shift levers. I love the simple, but elegant lugs on this machine, and for a moment, I thought of painting my Mule in the same yellow. Unfortunately, I don’t think my large frame would look as good in this bright color as this much smaller bike.

Koushou Kinugawa (of Helavna Cycles) joined us, and we discussed the next bike in the queue, built around Compass Naches Pass 26″ x 1.8″ tires.

Mr. Hirose showed us the new gauge labeled “343”. He uses these gauges to check the spacing of the bridges and fork crown from the axle center to make sure the fenders will fit perfectly. The many gauges show the great variety of bikes Mr. Hirose has built – each represent a tire and wheel size!

Time passed quickly, and suddenly, it was time to go. I love visiting great builders – there is so much to discover and learn.

Further reading:

  • Cycle Store Hirose was featured in Bicycle Quarterly 53. The issue also included a test of a Hirose Mini-Velo.
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