Testing the Compass Elk Pass Tires


We recently received the first production samples of the new Compass tires. We’ve been testing the high-volume tires on our own bikes, but we don’t have any bikes designed for the 26″ x 1.25″ Elk Pass tires.

Fortunately, a Japanese friend was visiting, and she took the new Elk Pass Extralight tires on a tour of the Cascades, roughly following the first part of the Volcano High Pass Super Randonnée.


How would the 32 mm-wide superlight tires fare on a ride that encompasses some of the most challenging roads, whether gravel or paved, that the Cascades have to offer?


The roads were indeed rough, but the tires fared fine. In four days of riding, she had one pinch-flat, and no other problems. She noticed (and liked) the improved comfort, both on gravel and on pavement, compared to the Panaracer Paselas she usually rides.


I was glad to hear that, because these are some of my favorite roads, and the landscape is spectacular. But if you are continuously “underbiking” or suffering from multiple flats, it’ll take the fun out of the most scenic ride.


The new tires, despite their ultra-light weight and minimalist construction, not only handled the challenging ride just fine, but also, thanks to their suppleness, made it more enjoyable.


She reported that the tires were sure-footed on pavement – which is their main intended use. Under heavier riders, the 32 mm width is a bit marginal for really rough gravel, but if you are looking for the fastest, lightest 26″ tire ever made, this probably is it. Not only does it weigh just 178 g, but it uses the Compass Extralight casing and our ultra-sticky tread rubber for the ultimate in suppleness and cornering grip.


Now she has Rinko’d her bike and headed back to Tokyo. We look forward to hearing how the Elk Pass tires fare on the roads of the Japanese Alps where she usually rides.

Meanwhile, the main shipment of our new tires will soon head the other way across the Pacific, and we should have all models in stock by the end of the month (August 2015). We’ll announce them here and in our customer newsletter when they arrive.

Posted in Tires | 56 Comments

Last-Minute PBP Prep: Tabata Intervals


Paris-Brest-Paris is less than three weeks away. If you are riding in the 1200 km ride, you already have qualified and trained. You will have thought about your equipment and tried any changes that you may want to make.

Your endurance training should be complete by now. Riding long distances between now and PBP will only fatigue you. Arriving on the start line well-rested and eager to ride is a key component to an enjoyable experience in the long ride.

Now the final count-down has begun. What can you do to increase the likelihood of your success and to make your PBP experience more enjoyable? Of course, this advice applies to all big rides, not just PBP…

The answer is simple: Work on your speed!


Why speed? Speed gives you options. If you are riding with a good group, speed means that you’ll likely be riding below your maximum. It willbe easy to keep up, and you can even do a greater share of the pulls. Speed also allows you to pull ahead of the crowds in PBP, which may allow you to go through the controls without lines. Not only is this more pleasant, but it saves valuable time and allows you to sleep where you want. Speed allows you to slow down or even stop if you want, knowing that the time limit isn’t breathing down your neck. Speed means that you don’t have to ride at your limit unless you choose to. It’s a nice option to have, and it makes a timed ride a much more enjoyable experience.


Speed training, unlike endurance training, is something that you can accomplish in a relatively short time. It also doesn’t have to fatigue you very much. You get faster by taking your body to the max, and then resting. During the recovery, your body adapts to the new demands you’ve placed on it by getting stronger. And perhaps surprisingly, the speed you can sustain during a long ride is directly related to your top speed during short bursts. So if you increase your top speed, you’ll also increase your speed in a long ride like PBP.

Taking your body to the max is best done in structured intervals. Last year, the trainer at my gym recommended Tabata intervals. This year, my schedule has been tight, and so I’ve incorporated them into my training regimen, and they seem to work exceedingly well. Most of all, they are not all that hard to do, because they are so short!


Here is how it works: Find a flat road without cross-traffic. After a good warm-up, go as hard as you can – for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, then repeat. After 8 intervals, rest for a minute or two, then do another set of 8. Repeat until you’ve done three or four sets.

20 seconds hard
10 seconds rest
20 seconds hard
10 seconds rest, etc.

My watch has only a single timer, so I set it to 10 seconds. During the intervals, I ride hard until the second beep, but the rest lasts only one beep. The “intermediate” beep during the interval shows me that only 10 seconds of hard riding remain, and I redouble my efforts.

The beauty of Tabatas is simple: 20 seconds is short enough that you can really go all-out. Just as it starts to get difficult, your watch will beep for the second time, and you get a short reprieve. And four sets of 8 Tabatas take only 15 minutes, so with a 20-minute warm-up and 20-minute cool-down, your training session lasts less than an hour. During that time, you’ll have worked hard for only 15 minutes, but the training effect will be tremendous. If you do three or four set of Tabatas in the next 10 days, it may well take an hour or more off your PBP time. Give it a try!

Next time, I’ll talk about checking your bike before you head to Paris. All the training in the world doesn’t help if your bike breaks down!

Posted in PBP Preparation | 24 Comments

Centerpull Brake Parts and Tools


For our Compass centerpull brakes, we started with a design that had proven itself in decades of hard use: the Mafac Raid brakes. In fact, we had logged tens of thousands of miles on our own bikes with these brakes. We thought hard about how to improve them, but apart from a few minor tweaks, the Mafacs appear unimprovable. The one thing we could improve is the quality. The original Raids were budget parts – well-designed, but the finish and tolerances often were mediocre.

That means that the Compass brakes use old-style canti brake shoes, which have a few significant advantages.

  • The brake arm isn’t twisted to accommodate the bolt-on brake shoes. This makes it stiffer and lighter.
  • You can slide the brake shoe inward as the pads wear, so there is no need for barrel adjusters or other mechanisms to take up pad wear. Since you’ll reset the pad angle, there is less risk of the pad starting to cut into your tire as it wears and hits the rim higher up.
  • Adjusting the pad angle is easier, because you can grip the pad holder as you tighten the bolt.


Mafac used to make a nifty tool to hold the pad holder in place as you tighten the nut. Grand Bois has re-introduced this tool, and we have it in stock. It’s beautifully finished, but most of all, it makes working on centerpull brakes (whether Compass or Mafac) so much easier.


We made sure our hardware is interchangeable with the classic Mafac brakes, since we could not improve upon their design.


So if you have a brakeset with sloppy bushings or rusty bolts, you can rejuventate them with our Replacement Hardware Kit. The arms themselves never wear out. Polish them up, and install the new hardware, and your brakes look and perform better than new.


To remove and install the bushings in the brake arms, Compass offers a simple tool. Use a hammer and gently tap the old bushings out of the brake arms. Then use the same tool to tap in the new bushings.

The holes for the Mafac pivot bushings have somewhat loose tolerances, so we recommend reaming the holes in the brake arms to make sure that our bushings fit. You need a 10 H7 reamer (10 means 10 mm, H7 is the tolerance of the fit), which is available in good hardware stores.


Kool-Stop offers replacement brakes pads for Mafac brakes. They come in the normal length (4-dot) or extra-long for tandems (5-dot). Kool-Stop offers them both in their excellent salmon-colored compound for superior wet-weather brakes, and in black for restorations. We use them on the Compass brakes, and also sell them separately.


For the straddle cable hanger, we could not resist using the lovely René Herse rollers. Apart from the domed nut that is a slightly taller shape (so it will not bottom out, unlike the originals), the René Herse straddle cable hanger is an exact replica of the original, which is great for restorations of classic René Herse bikes. Of course, they also work great on other bikes. You have the option of letting the roller turn, which automatically centers the brake every time you apply it. If your brake springs have uneven tension, you can reverse the screw that holds the roller so that it does not turn. Then you can set the straddle cable position where you want it, and it won’t change. It’s a smart design – once again, we could not improve upon it.


We also offer replacement straddle cables for some Mafac 2000 brakes. They also fit some “Competition” models, but the straddle cable hanger may be higher than before. Fortunately, with centerpull brakes, the mechanical advantage does not change significantly with straddle cable height. (These straddle cables do not work for brakes that require the ball-end straddle cables.)

The Compass brakes use a standard shifter cable as the straddle cable, so you won’t need to worry about spare parts availability.

Click here for information about these and other Compass brake parts.

Posted in Brakes | 25 Comments

400 km Brevet Video

Theo is the ride organizer of an upcoming Seattle International Randonneurs 400 km brevet. So a week ago, Theo, Hahn and Ryan of the Bicycle Quarterly team pre-rode the course, to make sure that the cue sheet is correct, that roads are open, and to get a general feel for the ride. Are the controls easy to find? Are the stores open at the times required, or is there a need of an “informational” control for some riders who may come through at night? Are there long stretches without “services”? All those questions are best answered by doing the ride a week ahead of the official ride. The “pre-ride” also allows the organizers to do the ride and get credit, for example, to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Ryan mounted his GoPro camera on his bike for this ride and edited the footage into a lovely 6-minute video. It gives a great feel of one of these rides, in the company of friends. You see the three taking pulls in a paceline, getting into the aero tuck on downhills, riding through the night, and indulging in a hearty breakfast. Click on the image above and enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments

Inner Tube Quality


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Tires | 65 Comments

E-Bikes are Game-Changers


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Photo credits: Koichiro Nakamura

Posted in Urban | 71 Comments

Citroën Day


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Rides | 62 Comments