Let your 2017 be filled with wonderful rides and passionate pursuits!
—The team at Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles
Let your 2017 be filled with wonderful rides and passionate pursuits!
—The team at Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles
In Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve featured a number of the great bicycle builders in Japan: TOEI, C.S. Hirose, Iribe and Level. We did a brief feature on Bicycle Shop Gen – one of my favorite shops anywhere in the world. This year, I had the opportunity to visit again.
Bicycle Shop Gen is the passion of Genzo Yoshizawa (above). The shop is tiny – it occupies what used to be a single-car garage – yet it contains one of the most amazing collections.
Inside, the shelves are overflowing with beautiful and rare components. Classic French headlights… Every model of the sought-after Ad-Hoc pumps… Derailleurs…
Bicycle Shop Gen specializes in building up TOEI frames. On display are Mr. Yoshizawa’s eight TOEIs, each equipped with very special components.
It’s difficult to photograph the shop, because it holds so much in such a limited space. I could look for hours and still discover new details. Some things are easy to notice, like the beautiful fork rake for which TOEI’s bikes are famous…
… or the chainguard with the elegant cutout of the TOEI logo.
Each bike is special and unique. This “Sports Model” has different lugs from the others. I like the pump peg that is brazed onto the lug.
Aficionados will appreciate the super-rare mid-1970s first-generation Super Record derailleur. This was Campagnolo’s response to Huret’s superlight Jubilee derailleur. For the Super Record, Campagnolo used titanium bolts to save weight and black paint to update the optics a bit. Most importantly, this derailleur was the start of the Super Record groupset that became the dream of a whole generation of cyclists (myself included).
The TOEI even features the rare Porta Catena, a chainrest that allowed wheel changes without having to touch the chain. There is an interesting story behind this part: When Tullio Campagnolo bought two Nivex derailleurs from Alex Singer at the 1948 Salon du Cycle, they came with dropouts that incorporated a chainrest like this. The Nivex derailleur inspired the immortal Gran Sport – the first parallelogram derailleur for racing bikes. Today, all derailleurs trace their ancestry to the Gran Sport and the Nivex that guided its design.
What about the chainrest? I imagine that in the 1970s, somebody at Campagnolo found the dropouts with the chainrests in a drawer and decided that this was a neat idea…
Originally it was intended to be used with a 5-speed freewheel, but 6-speed spacing (the chain rest sits where the sixth cog usually goes). The craftsmen at TOEI went one better and mated it to a six-speed freewheel.
The system came with a special shift lever that had a lock-out for the last position, so you didn’t accidentally shift onto the chainrest when you slammed the lever all the way forward for an all-out sprint.
The Porta Catena wasn’t a big success, but its importance for cycling history goes beyond its rarity value: Campagnolo’s chainrest looks exactly like the Nivex, and it corroborates Alex Singer’s story that the Nivex inspired Tullio Campagnolo when he developed the Gran Sport derailleur.
In addition to the wonderful TOEI bikes, Bicycle Shop Gen has numerous classics on display, like this Lygie with Campagnolo’s Cambio Corsa shifter…
…as well as Alex Singers (foreground) and René Herses (background). The bikes are in spotless condition, yet they all get ridden, because Mr. Yoshizawa is an avid cyclotourist. For me, that is the best part.
If you are ever in Tokyo, Bicycle Shop Gen is definitely worth a visit. Their address is:
Nishigaoka 1−27−8, Kita-ku, Tokyo, Japan; Zip code: 115-0052. Their web site is in Japanese, but it includes a map. Make sure that they are open before you head their way – Mr. Yoshizawa’s hours are variable.
Thank you to Misao Takigawa for taking me to Bicycle Shop Gen.
We wish all our readers Happy Holidays!
At Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles, we take thousands of photos on our rides big and small. Only a fraction make it into the magazine or onto our web site. Many of the others are just too precious to vanish into our archives. Instagram provides a great way to share them.
Most of all, I really enjoy Instagram. With each photo that pops up on my screen, I participate for a few seconds in somebody’s adventure. Some of these amazing rides go over familiar roads to Babyshoe Pass, Takhlakh Lake or Carbon River. Others are from places that I dream of visiting some day. Each is like a mini-story, and it brightens my day!
In Seattle, the cycling season has ended. Snow has closed most mountain passes. Our bodies welcome a little rest from the long adventures. The time has come to pour a cup of tea and review the rides of this year.
Here are some of the most memorable rides of this year. Click on the links to read blog posts (blog) or see Bicycle Quarterly issues with these rides (BQ), where available.
My season started with a great ride up Yabitsu Pass in Japan. It had snowed that week, but the road was (mostly) passable. I enjoyed having the mountain all to myself, and as a bonus, I crested the pass at sunset and was treated to a most glorious view of Mount Fuji. (Blog)
February saw us explore a local favorite, the Tahuya Hills, on a part-pavement/part-gravel road that we hadn’t ridden before. We were rewarded with a fun ride, great views, and a huge bald eagle flying next to us. (Blog)
In March, Hahn and I embarked on our biggest adventure yet: We climbed the 4000 m-high Paso de Cortés in Mexico on Enduro Allroad bikes. It was an amazing feeling to cycle almost as high as the top of our Mount Rainier. The loose volcanic soil provided a great test for our ultra-wide tires. And the night-time ride into Mexico City was an adventure all of its own. In the process, we discovered that the central highlands of Mexico are a great place to ride a bike, and remarkably accessible from the U.S. (BQ)
Spring is a great time to ride almost anywhere, and there were many wonderful rides. One that stands out was a trip to the mountains in Japan with a group of friends who’ve been touring together since college. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, the small mountain roads were beautiful, the conversation was full of laughter – it was a great two-day ride with no thought given to speed or distance. (Blog)
In May, I entered what is billed as the “hardest bike race in Japan”, the Otaki 100 km Mountain Bike Race. Since the race goes over gravel roads, I thought that a mountain bike would be overkill, and I brought my Enduro Allroad bike with its 54 mm tires. I was in for a surprise: The roads were incredibly rough, and the organizers weren’t kidding when they recommended full suspension bikes.
What happens when a road cyclist on a road bike (albeit with wide tires) enters a full-on mountain bike race? The full story is in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
Right after that epic race, we enjoyed a tour of the Hanto Peninsula. It was a beautiful place, off the beaten path and yet easy to reach from Kyoto or Osaka, and with just enough tourism to provide the services we needed without ever feeling remotely crowded. (BQ)
June saw a great all-day ride with the “BQ Team” as we tried to find the “Lost Pass” in the central Cascades. We did not find the elusive connection between two valleys, but our ride was a great test for the Litespeed T5g Allroad bike. And this winter, we’ve already identified a few more promising roads on our maps: The search for the “Lost Pass” continues! (BQ)
The Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting was another unforgettable experience. A great variety of riders came out for a great weekend of riding off the beaten path. The weather turned sunny just in time for the Un-Meeting, but on the way to the gathering, many riders crossed the rain-soaked Cascades for an added dose of adventure. (Blog and BQ)
A few days after the Un-Meeting, I headed to France to participate as a judge in the first Technical Trials since 1949. It was exciting to meet young and established constructeurs, who are continuing the great tradition of French cyclotouring bikes. Riding with them over challenging mountain roads in the heart of France was a great experience. (Blog and BQ)
A trip to France would not be complete without visiting Lyli Herse. My tandem ride with the 88-year-old daughter of the great constructeur was one of the shortest rides this year, but also one of the most emotional. To pilot her not far from the roads where she used to dominate the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race during the 1940s and 1950s was a great experience, especially since we rode a tandem built in 1946 by her father! (Blog)
A summer ride to Bon Jon Pass sounds like a great way to test a modern Allroad bike, but the weather forecast’s “slight chance of showers” turned into solid rain. Despite the inclement weather, Ryan (left), Gabe (right) and I had a great ride. The full story and test of the Moots Routt are in the current Bicycle Quarterly.
September saw me back in Japan, where I discovered the ride to Utsushigahara. With beautiful scenery, challenging climbs, a gravel road above 2000 m, and the most incredible (paved) descent, it’s one of my favorite rides anywhere. (Blog)
Japan offers a wonderful mix of challenging adventures and beautiful rides at a more casual pace, like this weekend ride in the mountains near Fukushima. (Blog)
October saw a great ride over an incredible mountain pass. Since the story and bike test will be published in the Spring 2017 Bicycle Quarterly, I cannot talk about it without being a spoiler. Suffice to say that it was another highlight in a year full of great rides.
In November, the end of the cycling season was approaching quickly, so I snuck out for a last ride over the gravel passes of the Cascades. Snow was already accumulating on the ground at the higher elevations, but the sun came out and bathed my favorite landscape in a beautiful light. It’s always bitter-sweet to enjoy the mountains for a last time, before the snow closes my favorite roads for 6 months.
And just when I thought the cycling season was over, I found out that the Washington State Cyclocross Championships were in early December. So I dusted off the old Alan, checked that the FMB tubulars still held air, and headed north for my first ‘cross race in more than a year. What fun it was, and what a great way to close the season!
And after this encore, the season now is truly over. Memories keep the dream alive. Now it’s time to pull out the maps and start planning next year’s adventures!
What were your favorite rides this year?
Photo credits: Carlos (Photo 4), Toru Kanazaki (Photo 6), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 10, 11, 15, 17).
Over the last few years, Bicycle Quarterly has tested quite a few titanium bikes. There is a simple reason for this: Titanium is a great material for an up-to-date, thoroughly modern bike.
In recent years, the pace of innovation, especially with respect to tires, has been incredibly rapid. Just a few years ago, “gravel grinders” were riding 28 mm-wide tires. Today, many riders use 32 mm tires on the road, and much wider ones on gravel…
Carbon bikes require expensive molds, which take time to engineer and manufacture. That is why most carbon bikes available today were designed 3 or 4 years ago. Metal, on the other hand, is more easily shaped, so new bikes can be introduced as the technology evolves. And titanium builders have been especially keen to make bikes that perform equally well on gravel as they do on pavement.
Since Bicycle Quarterly has provided much of the inspiration behind the current “Allroad” bike trend (together with visionaries like the organizers of D2R2 and a few others), it’s only natural that we’ve been testing these exciting machines.
All the titanium bikes we’ve tested have been great machines. That has allowed us to take them on some amazing rides. Not only are these adventures great tests of the bikes, but they also make for a great read, even if you aren’t in the market for a new bike.
The Firefly impressed me so much during our ride over the 4000 m-high Paso de Cortés in Mexico (above) that I bought the test bike! It’s designed as a racing bike with ultra-wide (54 mm) 26″ tires. Riding the bike all over the place, I found that it really has delivered on the promise of combining the best of a racing bike with the go-anywhere ability of wide tires.
The Litespeed T5g was great fun during our search for the “Lost Pass” in the Cascades. Built up with 650B wheels, the bike’s nimble handling was impressive, and the smaller wheels allowed fitting wider tires than with 700C wheels. A win-win scenario made easy with modern disc brakes.
The Moots Routt was another machine that offered amazing performance. Intended as a classic “gravel grinder” (if there is such a thing), it was equipped with 700C x 35 mm tires. Our ride to Bon Jon Pass seemed like a perfect mid-summer adventure, until the heavens opened and drenched us with a deluge. But the rain was warm, and the Moots was fun until the end.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Jones 29er, which looks like a mountain bike, yet was able to climb with the fastest bikes we’ve tested. Most of all, riding the Jones to a deserted cabin in the wilds of the snow-covered Olympic Peninsula was a great adventure. (Thanks to Fred for designing a perfect test for this bike!)
These four bikes cover the spectrum of modern titanium Allroad bikes, with 700C, 650B and 26″ wheels and a variety of frame configurations. If you are in the market for a modern Allroad bike, you’ll learn much about these bikes, and about what to look for in a modern bike in general, by reading these four issues.
We now offer these tests in a convenient Bicycle Quarterly 4-Pack at a special price. Click here to find out more or to order your set.
Photo credits: Fred Blasdel (Photos 1, 6), Duncan Smith (Photo 2), Hahn Rossman (Photos 3, 4).
To make the wonderful story of René Herse available to a larger audience, we’ve decided to list our book René Herse: The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders on Amazon.com. The story has inspired our readers. René Herse is fascinating not just because of the amazing bikes he built. At least as inspiring are the riders who rode them: impeccably turned-out cyclotourists, randonneurs in search of personal bests, racers who rode Herse frames to victories and championships…
Many were larger-than-life characters, and their first-hand accounts and photos in the book really bring the story to life. It’s been fascinating how every reader discovers their very personal connection. A friend’s wife commented how she loved the book for the clothing the riders wear. Another friend enjoyed studying the facial expressions of the riders, whether it’s a smile as they ride by the camera or the look of intense concentration as they battle for victory on the 14% hill of the Poly de Chanteloup. And of course, the bikes also are spectacular…
Since you are reading this blog, there is a good chance that you’ve read the book already. So perhaps you’ll consider writing a review on the Amazon page, if you enjoy that kind of thing. Our biggest challenge has been to convince readers that they’ll enjoy the story. Too many think a book about René Herse must be intended for collectors, when it’s actually written for a much larger audience – anybody who enjoys an inspirational story.
Constance Winters wrote on the Lovely Bicycle blog:
“I am stunned by the Rene Herse book. I cannot put it down. This book is much more than I expected. The amount of work you must have done to do this research and put together this narrative, with all the photos and illustrations… Just amazing.”
If you don’t have the René Herse book yet, it’s a great thing to put on your holiday wish list!
Click on the links for