Hanging Edelux II Headlights


When the new Edelux II headlights came out a little over a year ago, they were another big step forward in lighting technology. Compared to the first Edelux, the new version features a much wider and more evenly lit beam. Compared to older halogen headlights, the difference is night and day. (Sorry for the pun.)

At first, the Edelux II was available only for “standing” attachments. This works well if you mount your light on the fork crown or with a rack designed for such a light (like the Compass CP1 rack), but if you prefer to mount your light under the handlebars or on a custom rack, the hanging attachments has several advantages.

It took a while to redesign the Edelux II for hanging attachment, but we are glad to report that the first production samples have arrived. There are two versions:


The first features the standard on/off switch, the standard co-axial wire and a second connector for a taillight. The taillight connector is different from the standing Edelux, in that it uses a screw that attaches a connector, rather than a plug-in connector (see photo below).  The screw makes sure no water can enter through the connector. (The screw should always be installed, even if no taillight is attached.)


The second version is intended for bikes with separate light switches. This version has no switch, no wire and only a screw connector to attach the wire from the generator hub. (Both versions have the “Ground” connected to the light’s housing.)


At first, I was surprised that there wasn’t a single-strand wire as on the previous hanging Edelux lights, but I now realize the connector is better: Since most custom bikes will use wiring that runs inside the fork blades, fenders and/or rack tubes, having a screw connector allows you to remove the light without disturbing the wires.


The hanging Edelux II does not have a light sensor – if you use a handlebar bag, the bag shades the light, and the sensor always would turn the light on. Otherwise, they are functionally identical to the standing versions.

I am looking forward to installing these lights on my next bike. We now have a very limited quantity in stock. More will arrive, but we don’t know when. Eventually, they will become regular products in the Compass Bicycles line.

For a photo of this light installed on a bike, see Anton Tutter’s photos.

Click here for more information or to order.

Posted in Lighting, Uncategorized | 22 Comments

400 km Brevet: Teamwork is Fun!


“Let the guys on the 650B bikes to the front. They’ll be ahead anyhow.” That is what the organizer of the Seattle International Randonneurs 400 km brevet said before the start. We laughed – what a change from just a few years ago when many people thought I was exceptionally strong, since I could ride such a “slow” bike so fast.


So we rolled out together, but on the first twisty downhill, Wade, Theo and I got a gap on the rest of the field. Those wide tires really do corner faster…


We sped with ease over the rolling roads along the Snoqualmie Valley. Fog covered the meadows, but above, we could already see the sunny skies.


It turned into a gorgeous morning as we made our way up north. The course went from Redmond in the suburbs of Seattle almost to the Canadian border, where it would climb the lower slopes of Mount Baker. The sun was shining, and Wade’s shadow outlines what a fast brevet bike apparently looks like these days: Wide, supple 650B tires, fenders, handlebar bag. It helps that Wade is a very strong rider who races cyclocross as a Category 2. Theo has a perfectly smooth pedaling stroke as he spins up the steepest hills without apparent effort. Both ride predictably and are good company for a long, fast ride.


The second group came into view once in a while, but each time, the terrain turned hilly, and the gap opened again. Finally, about 100 km into the ride, they started catching us. Just then, I had a flat (super-sharp glass shard). Bad luck with flats this year, two already, whereas last year, I had only one all year…


The flat tire didn’t take long to repair, and then we suddenly found ourselves on brand-new pavement, and the scars of the terrible Oso landslide came into view. Even as a former geologist, it amazes me how far the debris from a deep-seated rotational slide can travel. The headscarp of the slide was more than half a mile away, yet all around us was the debris that had covered the highway (and adjacent houses). The mood was somber as we continued our ride…


We saw the last riders of the lead group leave Darrington as we arrived, but their legs were fresher from a longer stop, so they slowly pulled away from us. We enjoyed the lightly travelled backroads, including the wonderful Sauk River-Concrete Road (above).


In Concrete, the climbing started in earnest. The road that leaves the valley is incredibly steep, especially after having ridden a spirited 180 km. We saw the lead group struggle on the slope ahead.


We had agreed beforehand to walk the steepest stretch. It was good to stretch our legs (the slope is steep, perfect for a calf stretch). The brisk walk kept our heart rates up, but our cycling muscles were well-rested as we reached the top. The lead group was out of sight – riding is a little faster even on a hill this steep.


Our strategy was to use our well-rested legs and power over the stair-step climbs toward Mount Baker, while the lead group would struggle after exerting themselves on the steep climb.

It didn’t take long until the lead group came into sight. Our strategy worked exactly as planned. As we surged past the other group, several riders tried to jump on our wheels, but they later told us that their legs indeed were tired.

The competition between the two groups is friendly – in fact, several of my best friends were in the other group. The competition serves mostly as an incentive to keep riding hard as we chase each other around the course. It’s a game, not a fight. It helps us excel at what we love doing: Trying to cover the course as fast as possible.


For the time being, we were distracted by the scenery. My camera had a hard time capturing Mt. Baker in the mid-day sun, but the view was truly outstanding.

We appreciated a brief rest at the control that was staffed by the SIR organizers, then plunged back into the valley. We battled terrible headwinds on flat roads (a most demoralizing combination), saw the other group briefly at the last control, and then rolled at full speed with a nice tailwind. No photos from this portion, since we were working hard, with smooth, efficient pulls.


When we reached Snohomish, we calculated that if we kept our speed up, we might finish the brevet in less than 14:30 hours. That became our new goal. (Four years ago, I finished in 14:52…) Here we are waiting for a red light near the finish: Like the rest of us, Theo looks a little tired, but none the worse for wear.


Just as the last light was fading, we turned into Mark Thomas’ driveway and completed the ride. Our official time was 14:27 – not bad for a challenging 400 km brevet. It showed what a well-matched team can accomplish. Thanks to my riding buddies – it was a fun ride!

Postscript: After an hour of recovery and socializing, we headed back to Seattle under an almost full moon. It was a magic ride and a great way to finish a wonderful day.

Posted in Rides | 40 Comments

Not A Museum Piece


When bikes are as stunningly beautiful as the machines from René Herse, Alex Singer and other French constructeurs, it is easy to dismiss them as “beauty queens” or “show bikes.” This would be a mistake: The performance of these bikes is as outstanding as their appearance. They confirm the old saying: “What looks right usually is right.”

When I first became interested in the bikes of René Herse and Alex Singer, collectors told me: “Yes, they are beautiful to look at, but they probably aren’t so great to ride.” As a rider, that dampened my interest in these machines. 


So imagine my surprise when I read Bernard Déon’s classic book Paris-Brest et Retour about the history of the famous 1200 km PBP randonneur event, and saw that these bikes had not only been ridden for that long distance, but ridden at incredible speeds. For example, Roger Baumann (above) completed the 1956 PBP, one of the windiest and rainiest ever, in 52:19 hours, riding completely unsupported.

Whatever the merits of the rider, his René Herse must have performed well to enable such a performance. I decided to find out more.


So I started experimenting, with the generous help of friends. For two seasons, I had two wonderful constructeur bikes in my garage: a 1952 René Herse 650B bike (above) and a 1954 Alex Singer 700C bike (photo at the top of the post). I started using these machines together with my brand-new custom bike.

One of the fastest riders at the Seattle International Randonneurs at that time was Kenneth Philbrick. He was training for the Furnace Creek 508 race. On his Campagnolo-equipped Litespeed, he could set a ferocious pace on the flats. We engaged in a little bit of friendly competition. Sometimes, we finished together, at others one of us would take the lead and finish alone.


Toward the end of the second season, Ken asked me during a ride: “How much does your new bike weight? It must be a lot heavier than the old ones, since you seem so much faster on the old bikes.” This surprised me, since the three bikes all weighed the same – about 26 pounds fully equipped.

Thinking about this, I realized that Ken was wrong about the weight, but right about the performance: Whenever I had ridden the new bike (above), he had dropped me. I sometimes had managed to catch him again when he got confused about navigation (his Litespeed did not allow him to keep the route sheet in sight), but there was no question that he was the stronger rider. However, when riding the Singer or the Herse, I had dropped him every time, and finished alone. It appeared that those bikes worked better for me.


Eight brevets are not enough to obtain statistically significant results, but a 100% correlation is interesting nonetheless. Combined with the better handling of the old bikes and the better shock absorption of their slim forks, I decided to get my own classic constructeur bike, and I bought the 1974 Alex Singer that I rode for many years. The trend continued to hold – my times during brevets improved on the classic machine.

Clearly, the old constructeurs knew what they were doing. It’s only been through our recent research into superlight tubing that we have been able to design bikes that, for us, surpass the performance of the old machines. But even now, the old machines offer a performance that few modern bikes can match. And we finally have tires again that perform as well as the hand-made clinchers the old randonneurs raved about.


Classic bikes are interesting, because the engine – the human body – has not changed over the last half-century. Modern materials may reduce the weight by a few percent (when you look at the entire system of bike-and-rider), but the things that really matter haven’t changed much over the years. The bikes that worked so well back then still work well now, and the “hottest” trend of the moment – wide, supple tires – is only a re-discovery of what these riders already knew more than half a century ago.

Posted in Testing and Tech | 46 Comments

Reviews of Compass Tires


When you design a product, develop it, test it and finally bring it to market, you wonder how it will be received. Of course, you are confident that others will like it as much as you do – you wouldn’t have released it if it didn’t meet your high expectations. Still, it nice to hear from customers that they enjoy the product. Perhaps even more gratifying are independent reviews. These people have nothing invested in the product, and they usually have significant experience with similar components.

Recently, there have been two reviews of our Compass tires.


“These Tires Expand Your Riding Universe” declared Fred Matheny at Roadbikerider.com after riding the 700C x 38 mm Barlow Pass Extralight tires. From somebody as experienced as him – he has been testing bikes for decades – it was particularly satisfying to read:

“The puffy tires rolled at my usual speed on pavement and handled the unpaved surfaces with plenty of traction in loose corners and surprising comfort even on washboard.”

You can read the full review here.


Mark Chandler at the Gravelbike blog tested both the Stampede Pass and Barlow Pass tires. He wrote:

“As good as the standard Stampede Pass versions are, the extralights are in a completely different league. Plush doesn’t even begin to describe how the extralights ride. The extralight Compass tires practically floated over chipseal roads and broken pavement.”

The full review is here.

Developing new tires takes a large amount of time, effort and money. It’s satisfying that riders and reviewers enjoy them as much as we do. Because that is why we made them in the first place: So we and others could enjoy riding our bikes even more!


Posted in Tires | 38 Comments

Fun with Compass Brake Parts: Twin-Blade Skates


My daughter’s science project this year was an interesting one. She had seen a photo of a scooter with two front wheels.


She wondered whether she could make an ice skate with two blades. Would it offer better grip in corners than a single-blade skate? There was only one way to find out…


There already are twin-blade ice skates, but they have limitations (kind of like training wheels on a bike): the blades don’t pivot, so the skater cannot lean into turns. My daughter wanted to make a twin-blade skate that can lean into turns. “Can we do it?” she asked. That is not such a far-fetched question in a household where metalworking and prototyping are a part of everyday life…


In her project proposal, she listed under resources “fully equipped machine shop” and “welding equipment”, as well as “9 centerpull brake pivots” and “metal bars”. Not to forget an extra ice skate and an extra pair of ice skate blades.

We talked about how to keep the blades parallel, and decided that on the rear, only a single link was needed to keep the blades spaced correctly, since the two links on the front already kept them parallel.


And then we headed to Hahn’s machine shop. She got to work with files, and watched how angle grinders and milling machines work. She donned a dark mask as Hahn welded the pivots onto the blades.

As so often with these projects, they take longer than planned, and the work is too hard or too dangerous for children, so parents tend to do a lot of it. But in the end, she was glad to have a working twin-blade leaning ice skate.


She developed the protocol of testing it all by herself, with no adult input at all. She found that the twin-blade skate does feel more stable when skating one-legged (probably due to the friction in the pivots), but it’s harder to come out of turns and get the skate upright again (probably for the same reason). The main issue is weight – the extra blades make the skate very heavy. It was an interesting exercise for all involved, but like many prototypes, it’s probably going to remain a one-off.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Hahn Rossman for the use of his machine shop for making the skate.

Posted in Testing and Tech | 17 Comments

Climbing Passes near Kyoto, Japan


I am back in Japan to discuss our new tires with Panaracer, talk to other suppliers, ride bikes, visit friends, enjoy great food… It is delightful to return to places that are starting to become familiar.


My Rinko bike that we call the “Mule” is back in Japan – now actually finished and painted, unlike last time, when I had completed building it just hours before the plane left, with no time to have it painted.


I had a great view of Mt. Fuji from the train. The Shinkansen bullet train is fast! In the time it took the camera shutter to move from top to bottom of the photo, the railings in the foreground already had moved backward!


I had planned to work on the Summer 2015 Bicycle Quarterly on the train, but by the time I was done with breakfast, we were almost in Kyoto.


It was nice to see my good friends at I’s Bicycles (who also were going to take my suitcase to Miyama, where I am staying for a few days.) I un-Rinko’ed my bike, and headed into the mountains for the 80 km (50-mile) ride to Miyama. The road starts climbing right in front of I’s Bicycles shop. I have more than 1600 m (5500 ft) to climb before I get to Miyama. Click here for the route.

The cherry trees are in full bloom in Kyoto and amazingly beautiful. I apologize for the poor cell phone photos – I left my camera in my suitcase, not planning to take any photos on this ride with its tight schedule. The scenery turned out too beautiful to resist…


I soon reached Kurama with its beautiful temple. I didn’t have much time – dinner in Miyama was in 4 hours, and even though that seems like ample time for 80 km, once I had bought food and made it through Kyoto’s rush-hour traffic, my schedule was getting tight. But I couldn’t pass the temple without at least a brief visit. Above is just one of the many temple buildings that dot the entire slope of Mount Kurama.

Past Kurama, the road starts climbing in earnest, with hairpin following upon hairpin, until it reaches Hanase Pass at 750 m (2500 ft elevation). It was raining, but after all that climbing – Kyoto is almost at sea level – I wasn’t cold.

The descent was exciting and a good place to bed in my new brake pads, since I couldn’t just let the bike roll at speed in the dense fog.


A brief interlude in a bucolic valley was followed by the ascent to Sasari Pass. This is an absolute gem with a beautiful flow to it. The sign at the bottom says “10%”, but it’s not as steep as the Hanase pass (which obviously must be steeper than 10%). When I crested, it was dark.

Unlike the first time, when we underestimated the severity of the weather in the mountains, I was prepared this time. It was still warm enough that I didn’t need my puffy vest, but I put on my jacket and wool gloves for the descent.


At the first hairpin of the downhill, I encountered snow! To think that just down in the valley, the cherry trees are in full bloom! The descent, despite the rain and fog, was great fun. I remembered the road, having ridden this descent twice almost a year ago. I only held back a bit because I was afraid of hitting deer. I did encounter a few white-tailed creatures, but they scampered up the impossibly steep slopes as I approached.

Once I reached the valley, it was a time trial, with a slight downward gradient, but also a headwind, for an hour to reach my destination. A last brief climb over the “Exciting Team Risk Pass”, and I was in Miyama – just in time for a delicious dinner. And the hot bath afterward felt especially good!




Posted in Rides | 20 Comments

Berthoud Bags: Straps for Elastic-Loop Closure Models



Berthoud handlebar bags are wonderful, and we’ve been selling them for years now. I even wrote once that they were “unimprovable”. It turns out that they can be improved after all!

The model most riders prefer is the “standard” version, which uses elastic loops to close the pocket flaps. The “luxury” version uses leather straps and buckles, which sounds nice until you try to open them one-handed while riding, or with cold hands while stopped – it’s fiddly and can be frustrating. However, the “luxury” version also has rings and a removable shoulder strap, so you can more conveniently carry your bag. In the photo above, you see me with my bag wedged under my arm, while Natsuko Hirose carries hers comfortably slung over her shoulder.

After experiencing the difference first-hand, I asked Gilles Berthoud whether he could make the “standard” elastic-loop bags with shoulder straps for us. He agreed, and we now have them in stock. Since it’s a custom model, there is a small upcharge. We continue to carry the standard version as well. The photo below shows the loops, but not the strap –  a webbing strap is included with this model.


Berthoud handlebar bags are available in three sizes, depending on how much room you have between your stem/decaleur and your front rack. Taller riders get bigger bags – which makes sense, since their spare clothes take up more space, and they tend to eat more food! (All the handlebar bags we sell must be supported by a front rack. They can’t just dangle from the handlebars, where they are high and floppy, to the detriment of your bike’s handling.)


We also asked Berthoud to combine the strap loops with our “no side pocket” special model (above). Having the side pockets removed saves weight, makes the bag more aerodynamic, and gives more room for your hands on the bars, which is especially useful if you like narrow handlebars. The first shipment included only the largest “GB28” model with loops. The other models will follow at a later date.

My handlebar bags are far from worn out – even though I bought my first one 15 years ago – but I might just get another one for those trips when I take my bag along while visiting museums, or travel by train Rinko-style.

Photo credit: Hitoshi Omae (cover photo)

Posted in Racks/Bags | 26 Comments