Compass Tire Prototypes: Really Big Tires!


Our very first Enduro Allroad prototype tires started out as knobbies with supple casings – then we had the knobs shaved off by Peter Weigle. We wanted to test the concept of a very wide, supple tire before committing to expensive tire molds. We were happy to report that the tires performed even better than expected! So we decided to proceed.

Last week, the project reached another milestone: We received prototypes made from the actual production molds. So while these are made as a very small batch and required even more hand-work than the final tires, they are basically the tires that you will be able to buy and ride in a few months.


The first samples we received were the 26″ x 54 mm tire. (For some reason the tire mold was changed to 58 mm after we approved the text!) This batch uses the “standard” (supple) casing. When we put one of the tires on the scale, it weighed 454 grams – quite light for a tire this wide.


Mounted on a 23 mm-wide rim, the tire measured a little over 49 mm. In the two days since, the tire has “grown” by 2 mm. The “Extralight” tires tend to stretch even more, so when used with wider rims, they’ll probably be close to the anticipated 54 mm.


Then we received a second box… This time, it contained the 650B x 48 mm tires – made with the extra-supple “Extralight” casing. Out came the scale again, and we measured 413 grams – remarkable for such a big, puffy tire.


Mounted on a 23 mm-wide rim, this tire measured just over 48 mm right away, and like the 26″ tire, it has grown 2 mm in the days since we mounted it. That means that this tire is slightly wider than planned. Its width is just a millimeter or two narrower than the 26″ tire.


Of course, measurements don’t tell us much about the tires: What we really want to know is how they ride. Fortunately, our friend Alex Wetmore has two bikes with similar front-end geometries (both have 40 mm trail). One is his “normal” bike, set up for 650B tires (above). The other is his “Travel Gifford”, which runs 26″ tires (photo at the top of the post). These two bikes are perfect candidates to compare the new tires.

Aired up to about 28 psi, I took to the streets and trails in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. On the broken pavement of the residential streets, I wondered why we don’t ride these tires all the time. Even the 42 mm Babyshoe Pass tires of my Grand Bois Urban Bike, which I had ridden to Alex’ house, were surpassed for comfort and secure handling by these even bigger tires.

Riding the two bikes back-to-back, the differences due to the different wheel sizes were very noticeable. The 26″ bike felt very nimble and agile. It was easy to pick a line, but the handlebars required a light touch to maintain that line. The 650B bike, with its larger wheels and greater rotational inertia, felt much more stable. It required more input to change its line, and catching a slide on gravel took a hair longer than it had on the 26″ bike. The 650B bike also had an (empty) front rack, which further stabilizes the steering. While the steering of the unloaded 26″ bike was a tad light, adding a rack and handlebar bag would make it more stable. Both bikes handled fine, they were just at the opposite ends of what I consider “fine handling”.

The real revelation came on gravel. Both bikes felt like good road bikes. The uphill traction was amazing. Sprinting out of the saddle was easy. Only the cornering speeds were lower than on pavement – when the gravel starts sliding under your wheels, no tire can maintain traction. These tires really are a revelation – they have changed how I think a bike can perform on gravel.

Production of the new tires is scheduled, and we hope to have them in stock by July or August. Click here for more information about Compass’ existing tire program.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 72 Comments

Which Hand for which Brake?


One of the most confounding questions in cycling is this: Which hand should control which brake? In the U.S., the law requires that all bikes are sold with the left hand controlling the front brake, and the right hand the rear brake. It’s the same in France. In Italy and Great Britain, it’s the other way around.


Many myths surround the reasons for these differences, but history is the most likely explanation: Early bikes had only a rear brake. In France, this usually was a rim brake. The early brakes were not very powerful, so you needed lots of hand power to stop the bike. Most people are right-handed, and it made sense to control the single brake with the right hand. In Italy and Britain, the single brake was a coaster brake, and there was no brake lever at all.

When front brakes were added to bikes sometime in the 20th century, this required adding a brake lever to the handlebars. In France, the right side was taken, so they mounted the extra lever on the left (above). In “coaster-brake countries”, the entire handlebars were still available, so the brake lever for the front brake went on the right side (below).


The U.S. copied French practice – probably because Schwinn was the only company importing performance bikes with hand brakes, and Schwinn was influenced by French practice.

Those are the historic reasons why some use “right – front” and others “left – front”, but this doesn’t answer the question: Which is better?


Many reasons have been put forward for the “right hand – front brake” approach. Most motorcycles use that configuration, since the right hand operates the throttle, the left hand the clutch, which in turn means that the right side of the handlebars is the only place to put a brake lever.

Some cyclocross racers prefer the “right – front” setup, so they can brake on the rear with their left hand as they dismount. I am not so sure this makes sense – to get your bike fishtailing when you have only one hand on the bars seems like a really bad idea. You really should be done with braking by the time you release the bars and prepare to shoulder the bike. (European cyclocross professionals generally seem to follow their country’s practice, with French and Belgian racers using the “left – front” setup.)

Yet others point to the fact that most riders are right-handed, and the front brake is the most useful one, so using your stronger hand to operate it makes sense. Except that a good brake shouldn’t require huge amounts of hand power…

What about the advantages of the “left – front” way of setting up your brakes? One advantage in the U.S., where we ride on the right side of the road, is that you can come to a stop and hold on to a railing or post with your right hand, while your left hand still operates the front brake. Being right-handed, I also often use my right hand to shift, eat or take photos, so it’s nice to have the more important brake ready without having to drop whatever I am holding.

It seems that there are pros and cons for each setup, but none are so great that they persuasively make one setup better than the other. It really comes down to personal preference.


On bikes with centerpull or cantilever brakes, it’s easy to switch the brake cables from one side to another. If you have traditional “non-aero” brake levers, you don’t even need to rewrap the handlebar tape (above).


Most sidepull brakes are set up for “left hand – front brake”, even those made by Italian companies like Campagnolo and Gipiemme (above)… yet most Italian racers route the cables the opposite way. The bend of the front brake cable is a little tighter (especially with aero brake levers), but it’s not a big deal.

Whatever you do, I recommend being consistent. During a panic stop, your instincts will take over, and if you are used to pulling on one lever, you’ll find that if the brakes are reversed, you are skidding the rear wheel without slowing down significantly. Several of my friends use the “right – front” approach, and when I ride their bikes, I constantly have to remind myself of the reversed brake levers – and hope that I won’t have to stop in a hurry.


This post is excerpted from Bicycle Quarterly‘s “Brake Special” (above) that was part of Vol. 7, No. 2. All Bicycle Quarterly back issues are available…

Photo credit: Hilary Stone (Baines Flying Gate), Gipiemme (Giovanni Battaglin)

Posted in Brakes | 69 Comments

600 km Brevet: coasting, walking and a lot of riding


Last weekend was the Seattle International Randonneurs 600 km brevet. Not only was it the last brevet we needed to qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris, but we also had a goal of finishing it in R60 time: 24 hours for 600 km.

Some readers my be surprised by our secrets on how to post such a fast time: We coasted a lot, and we walked a lot. (Of course, we pedaled as efficiently as possible in between coasting and walking.)


As usual, I rode my bike to the start. It was fun to ride through a deserted downtown Seattle so early on Saturday morning. It’s a moment full of anticipation, of looking forward to an extraordinary day on the bike.

The ride started at 6 a.m, and almost immediately stopped again. A long freight train was blocking a level crossing. Rather than wait (these trains can take 15 minutes or longer to get moving), some of us decided to head a few blocks to the North, where there is an overpass across the tracks.


We climbed up the steep hill to leave the Duwamish River valley, rode through the tunnel on top of I-90, then coasted down onto the Lake Washington bridge. Hidden behind Wade is Theo, in the aero tuck to make the most of his slender build. It’s amazing how low and narrow you can get on a bike… In the back, Ryan is leading the second group, also in the aero tuck to maximize his speed and catch back on without wasting any energy. As you can see, the coasting started early in the ride…


The morning was overcast, but the views were no less spectacular for it. The sun was peeking out from behind the clouds as we looked toward Bellevue. It was surprising to me how unstable my bike was as I took the photo. “Look where you want to go,” I wrote in one of Bicycle Quarterly‘s “Skill” columns. This is even more true when riding no-hands.


Our group smoothly climbed the Cascade foothills as we made our way south toward Mount Rainier. The reason you see so few photos of riders pedaling is simple: It’s hard to take photos while working hard. It’s only when coasting that I can easily reach into my handlebar bag and pull out the camera.


We weren’t the only ones having fun on the deserted roads this morning. It seems like we see this red Ferrari during every brevet that goes through the May Valley. Later during the day, when the going wasn’t always easy, I sometimes pined for something a bit more motorized than my mount…


With a time goal in mind, there wasn’t much time for slowing or stopping, and corners were taken at speed. I appreciated that even in mid-corner, Wade had a quick wave for the driver who had stopped for us. (We had the right-of-way, but unfortunately, not all drivers respect that.)


A few hours later, and we were approaching Mount Rainier. It looks so different every time I see it, depending on my viewpoint and the season. Right now, the volcanic cone still is covered with snow. It’s a long climb up the Nisqually River valley, but the gradient is almost imperceptible. So it’s easy to work too hard here trying to keep the speed up. The secret is to relax and go a little slower, rather than ride yourself into the ground.


Skate Creek Road always is a favorite, and on this glorious day, it was no exception. We played during the descents, here Steve is in the aero tuck, rapidly catching up to Wade who hasn’t tucked his arms and is visibly less aerodynamic.


As expected, we encountered fierce headwinds in the Cowlitz River valley as the warm air from the lowland rose up the slopes of the Cascades. Fortunately, our group of 7 was large enough to form an efficient rotating paceline. The wind was slightly from the left, and you can see that only Steve (first on the right) is bent low over the handlebars. He is just getting to the front, so he’ll be facing the wind head-on. But he has momentum from drafting the rider to his left, and he is about to pull off himself and slow down. The riders on the left are facing the wind with less protection, but they are riding slower than the protected riders on the right. This means that no rider ever faces the wind for more than a few seconds.

We went about 2 mph (3.2 km/h) faster than if we had just ridden in a standard double paceline, and expended less energy. And it was fun.

We had asked the organizer for permission to use backroads that took us off the “official” course that ran along the highway. We were assured there were no secret controls on these stretches of relief from the monotony and traffic of the highway. As an added bonus, the wind was much less strong on the sides of the valley.


The pace started to take its toll, and several riders elected to make a longer stop in Morton, so our group now was down to four. Here we enjoy the golden evening light on the way to the “overnight” control in Elma. The rough pavement seemed to take a toll on James on his racing bike, and he decided to stop and sleep, while Steve, Wade and I continued.


Steve, Wade and I have ridden a lot together. We know each other’s styles, so we can ride through the night without having to worry about touching wheels and crashing. Each of them is very smooth and predictable. The photo at the top of the post is typical: Coasting downhill, playing with each others’ drafts, so we are rotating even as we are in the aero tuck. Both also are great conversationalists, so the time never gets long with them!

Night fell as we rode along the Hood Canal, a glacial fjord that was most beautiful in the twilight. The hillsides were reflected in the water, and a few lights shimmered on the other side, while the sky slowly turned dark. (Unfortunately, my “on-the-bike” photos did not turn out.)

At midnight, we reached the control at the edge of the Tahuya Hills, where we enjoyed the hospitality of the volunteers, who made us hot soup. It was fun to sit around a campfire for a few minutes and relax, before tackling the pièce de résistance of this ride.

The Tahyua Hills are a magical landscape. Illuminated by the moon, the hills and valleys looked even more mystical than usual. These hills are steep and relentless, and depending on your form and state of fatigue, they can be daunting or a lot of fun. For us, it was the latter. The rises and falls of the road have a good rhythm, and we climbed them smoothly. Our headlight beams pierced the night as we speared down the descents, trying to discern where the road was leading.

When we reached the highway again with its punishing climb, we decided to walk. This allowed us to reach the long false flat on the approach to Seabeck with fresh legs. Instead of trying to recover on that long uphill, we started it with relatively fresh legs. Walking probably saved us time in the end.

We rested for three minutes in Seabeck, laying down on a picnic table. Then we headed up Anderson Hill Road. This road is the most punishing, and I don’t know anybody who enjoys it. The first part is steep. Then follows a super-fast downhill and an even steeper uphill. On top of that comes an even steeper hill. We walked the first hill, then coasted the downhill to gain speed that carried us up the next hill, before walking the third.

From there, it was relatively smooth sailing. Knowing that the finish was close made us forget the little aches and pains that are an inevitable part of such a long ride. Twilight announced the new day as we approached Port Gamble, and more backroads  took us back to Bainbridge Island and the finish. We completed the ride in 23:35 hours and now are on our way to PBP! It was a hard ride, I cannot deny that, but the teamwork with friends is memorable and makes it special.

Posted in Rides | 35 Comments

Compass Bicycles on Instagram


We had so much fun with our Instagram images during last year’s trip to Japan (#BQinjapan) that we decided to start a dedicated Compass Bicycles Instagram account. Follow us at:


Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Riding to the Sea of Japan


Oceans have a strong appeal to me. The Raid Pyrénéen, a ride across the length of the Pyrenees mountains, starts at the Atlantic and ends at the Mediterranean. On our Flèche 24-hour rides, we often visit the Pacific Ocean. Oceans seem like limitless expanses of water from the shore, yet you know that way, way, way over there, on the other side, there are exciting foreign lands.

In Japan, we had cycled for many kilometers along the Pacific Ocean, yet it wasn’t so exciting. On the other side of the vast water is… Seattle! Riding along the Sea of Okhotsk during our tour of Hokkaido had more romance, since it freezes over during the winter, and Siberia is on the other side. But I really wanted to see the Sea of Japan… which links Japan to Asia, and really provides the context for our experiences there.

Kyoto is located where the main island of Honshu is narrowest, so the distance “from shining sea to shining sea” is less than 100 km “as the crow flies”. I already was in the mountains north of Kyoto, so the Sea of Japan really wasn’t that far, and my friends from I’s Bicycle suggested a bike ride to Obama on the promised shore. They’d drive across the first pass, while I’d ride, together with their employee Choco, an avid randonneur who would ride all the way from Kyoto.


It was a frigid morning when I set out from the guesthouse where I was staying. Almost immediately, the road started climbing, gentle at first, then steeper as I approached the mountain pass. The cherry trees were in full bloom, but the temperature at the bottom of the pass was a frigid 39°F. I could not read the Kanji on the sign, so I didn’t know whether to expect snow on the pass. So I forged ahead…


On the other side of the mountains, I found the small town where I was to meet Harumi and Ikuo. That is where I finally encountered Choco, too (above). We had planned for me to catch up to him shortly after leaving my guesthouse, so we could ride together. Somehow, I had passed him on the single highway across the mountains without either of us noticing. One of the mysteries of long-distance riding…


Then we met up with Ikuo and Harumi Tsuchiya, the owners of I’s Bicycle. Together, we cycled up another mountain pass, which we traversed via a tunnel near the top. (There is no shortage of mountain passes in Japan!)


Choco and I briefly explored the old road across the pass, which was great fun, but we decided that it would take too long, so we, too, went through the tunnel.


We rode past cherry trees in full bloom (photo at the top of the post), along scenic backroads, and then, suddenly, there was…


… the Sea of Japan! Obama is located on a large bay, so you don’t get the experience of a “limitless expanse of water”, but it was still moving to realize that out in the distance (actually, to the right in this photo), there is the vast continent of Asia.


The bay may not give you a feeling of “limitless expanse of water”, but it makes the ride along the water much more interesting and varied. After lunch on the seaside and a short stretch on a busy highway…


…we joined a cyclepath that went high on the cliffs above the water.


The views of the water and shorelines were spectacular, but I was almost as interested in the slope stabilization projects on the other side. Faced with a very young and active landscape, the Japanese spend huge amounts to maintain their infrastructure and prevent damages before they occur. These concrete latticeworks span the mountains in Japan and stabilize slopes that otherwise might crumble into landslides.


After a snack at a beautiful antique store-cum-bakery in a small seaside town, it was time to head back.


Did I already mention that the cherry trees were in full bloom? I’ve always loved the “sakura”, but in Japan, they are incredible.


Choco and I split up from Harumi and Ikuo, who took a more direct route back. We cycled back into the mountains, had a snack at a small store (above)…


… and then it was just one more mountain pass for me. For Choco, getting back to Kyoto involved 70 km (44 miles) and four big passes. It didn’t faze him… but I have to admit that I was getting tired.


Not so tired that I didn’t admire the “yama sakura” (mountain cherries) high in the valleys. I am deeply grateful to our friends who took me here and showed me these beautiful places. It was a great outing, and one that I will remember!

Posted in Rides | 25 Comments

Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly


The Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed next week. This summer’s theme is a “Journey of Discoveries”.


We test the Breadwinner B-Road that won last year’s Oregon Outback. We take it on a journey to the ghost town of Monte Cristo. Join us as we discover the fascinating history of this region.


A “Sub-24 Hour Overnight” adventure took us to Mount Rainier, where we searched for mountain goats. We discover the beauty of a place we don’t visit often enough.


BQ contributor Gerolf Meyer rediscovered his roots when he looked at Communist era racing in East Germany. To obtain race-worthy bicycles, racers had to barter or even make their own components. For example, some racers made bike parts “on the side” and after hours at a medical device factory. His story is a fascinating glimpse behind the Iron Curtain.


We take you to TOEI, the legendary Japanese constructeur, who make some of the most sophisticated and best-constructed frames in the world. We were allowed unprecedented access to document how these craftsmen make some of the most beautiful bikes in the world.


After reading about how these bikes are made, join us on a visit to one of the most amazing bike shops in Tokyo, and marvel at the amazing machines on display there.


Rounding off the feature on TOEI is a report on our editor’s Urban Bike. How does this TOEI-built machine hold up after seven years of hard work – commuting and hauling magazines, books and components. Which features have proven themselves, and what would he do differently if he were to order another bike tomorrow?


For our “First Ride”, we evaluate another bike intended for the urban jungle. How does the Lynskey Urbanskey with its titanium frame and 650B wheels perform on the (urban) roads?


We also tested MKS’ new Rinko pedals, both in a platform and a clipless version. You even can switch from one type to the other, without tools!

As always, there is much more in this issue of Bicycle Quarterly: our Skill and Icon columns, Readers’ Forum, News and more product reviews.

To enjoy the Summer issue without delay, click here to subscribe or renew.



Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 14 Comments

10 Most Important Innovations in Cycling


A while back, another magazine published a list of the “10 Most Important Innovations in Cycling”. The list included things like electronic shifting and Lycra, but left out pneumatic tires…

This got us thinking: What are the ten most important innovations in cycling? To keep things straightforward, we’ll start after the invention of the chain-driven “safety bicycle” with two equal-sized wheels – otherwise, the invention of the wheel would be number 1.


10. Indexed shifting has allowed many casual cyclists to enter the magic world of spirited riding on a multi-speed, derailleur-equipped bike. Indexed shifting goes back to the first derailleurs, which were indexed to convince skeptical cyclists that they were easy to use. But it really was Shimano with the 1985 SIS who introduced the idea to the masses. Today, all mainstream bicycles use indexed shifting.

(Photo by J-P Pradères: 1939 Super Champion from The Competition Bicycle.)


9. Quick release attaches the wheels more securely than wingnuts, yet makes it easy to remove a wheel in case of a flat tire. Even though Tullio Campagnolo usually is credited with this invention, new research has put this in doubt. No matter; today, most performance bikes are equipped with cam-operated quick releases based on Campagnolo’s design.

(Photo by J-P Pradères: 1950s Campagnolo from The Competition Bicycle.)


8. Aluminum components become possible when high-strength alloys were developed in the 1910s. During the early 1930s, aluminum revolutionized bicycle construction by reducing the weight of rims, cranks, handlebars and most other components. While the wonder material of the moment is carbon fiber, aluminum remains the material of choice for most bicycle components.

(Photo by J-P Pradères: 193os Stronglight and Caminargent aluminum bicycle from The Competition Bicycle.)


7. Generator hubs have transformed night-time cycling by providing light at any time, at the flick of a switch. No longer do cyclists have to worry about battery charge, or endure the drag and noise of sidewall dynamos. (To say nothing of the hassles of carbide lamps!)  After many false starts since the 1930s, it was the German maker Schmidt Maschinenbau (SON) who introduced the first generator hub suitable for spirited night-time riding in 1995. Today, generator hubs are replacing sidewall generators on utility bikes throughout the world, and more and more performance bikes are equipped with them as well.


6. Drop handlebars have multiple, ergonomic hand positions that make it possible to ride long distances in comfort. Invented by cyclotourists around the turn of the 20th century, drop bars have persisted, despite many efforts to come up with alternative shapes. Today, all racing bikes use drop bars.

(Illustration: Lucien Buysse in the 1926 Tour de France, from The Competition Bicycle.)


5. Clipless pedals for walkable shoes are a development from racers’ clipless pedals. Originally, clipless pedals were sold as safety equipment: they release in a crash. Otherwise, they worked like racing pedals with toeclips and straps. Once clipless pedals became available for shoes you could walk in, they revolutionized cycling. Intended originally for mountain biking, they were adopted by cyclotourists, commuters, weekend riders and randonneurs as well. No longer did you have to choose between waddling like a duck with cleated shoes, or risk coming out of your toeclips on steep hills and in sprints. Shimano’s SPD system was the first, and it remains the predominant one.

(Photo: 1980s Shimano M737 from Bicycle Quarterly.)


4. Derailleurs really made cycling in the mountains not just possible, but enjoyable, with all due respect to hub gears, floating chains and Retro-Directs. It is simply revelatory to be able to select just the right gear with the flick of a lever, without having a heavy hub in the rear change the feel of the bike. The derailleur appears to have been invented in Britain, but it was popularized in France starting in the 1910s. Despite some comebacks from hub gears, derailleurs equip most performance bicycles today.

(Photo by J-P Pradères: 1950 Nivex from The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles)


3. Cable-operated brakes are often overlooked, but we don’t realize that the biggest problem for early mountain cyclists was slowing down. Some cyclists cut down small trees and attached them to their rear triangles, so they dragged on the ground during descents. The first French Technical Trials in 1901 were concerned only with brakes. The cable-operated rim brake showed its superiority back then, and it continues to equip most performance bikes today.

(Photo: 1930s Jeay from Bicycle Quarterly.)


2. Butted, thinwall frame tubing makes the frame sing, even though the idea of “planing” may not yet be universally accepted. Few people will deny that cycling on a lightweight frame is more fun than on a frame made from “drainpipe”. When thinwall, butted frame tubing became common on racing bikes during the 1930s, Tour de France speeds increased more than at any time in history. Today, butted steel tubing still is competitive against newer materials, and even the latest carbon machines use variable wall thicknesses and diameters to mimic the feel and performance of the best steel frames.

(Photo: Bikes for Bicycle Quarterly’s double-blind test of frame tubing.)


1. Pneumatic tires are by far the most important innovation in cycling. Cycling saw many false starts until it finally found enduring popularity in the 1890s. One major reason for the breakthrough were pneumatic tires. No longer did bicycles deserve the name “boneshakers”. The air-filled tires were more comfortable and much faster. Invented in Britain and Ireland (twice!), the invention spread around the world, and today, virtually all bicycles are equipped with pneumatic tires.

(Photo by J-P Pradères: 1894 Humber from The Competition Bicycle.)

What do you consider the most important innovation in cycling?

Posted in Testing and Tech | 92 Comments