Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting


This year’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting will take place on September 26 and 27 in Cle Elum, Washington. The Un-Meeting is a simple idea for an event: Anybody is invited, but there is no organization, there are no entry fees, and no services are provided. The logistics of how to get to the Un-Meeting, where to stay, and where to eat are up to you.

We’ll go on some rides together and enjoy an evening campfire. The idea is based on the “Meetings” of Vélocio in 1920s France, where cyclotourists would gather to ride and exchange ideas.


Last year’s Un-Meeting (above) saw a diverse group of about 35 riders, who enjoyed at grand day out. To participate in the Un-Meeting, a basic level of fitness and a well-working bike are recommended, but you don’t need an Allroad bike, nor professional-level fitness. Last year’s event saw a rider on 23 mm tires and another on a hybrid commuter. All had a great time.


This year’s rides will vary in length between approximately 40 and 80 miles. Some will be paved, others will include gravel.

Cle Elum has some amazing roads. There is the Old Blewett Pass (above), which winds its way up to the crest of the Cascades, before plunging back down in a series of fast hairpin turns.


Canyon Road (above) is a wonderful road to Ellensburg that is all paved and smooth…and there is one of my favorite restaurants at the end. One of our rides probably will explore the gravel road that goes from the town of Liberty to Swauk Pass (aka New Blewett Pass).


Unlike last year in Packwood, there are numerous dining options in Cle Elum (not limited to this quaint burger place), and getting there is easy, too. In line with the spirit of Vélocio’s meetings, we encourage you to travel to the Un-Meeting by bike or public transportation, rather than by car. By bike, Cle Elum is about 90 miles from Seattle, with plenty of backroad options. The Greyhound bus serves Cle Elum, too, but unless you have a Rinko bike, you’ll have to box your bike. You could even enjoy the scenic train ride to Leavenworth and then enjoy the jog over Old Blewett Pass in anticipation of the Un-Meeting. We’ll post more details about where we’re meeting as the date approaches.

Mark your calendars! All of us at Bicycle Quarterly hope to see you in Cle Elum in September.




Posted in Rides | 6 Comments

Allroad Bikes Hit the Mainstream!


The big news in the bike world this week is Cannondale’s introduction of an Allroad bike, which will be equipped with 650B x 42 mm tires. And those tires have a file tread pattern, and generally look very much like our Compass Babyshoe Pass tires… which is not surprising, since they’ll be made by Panaracer (like our tires) and will benefit from the tire research from Compass Bicycles and Bicycle Quarterly. (The Cannondale tires will not be available with the extra-supple Extralight casings, though.)

650Bx42 mm tires on a road bike… Supple casings and file tread patterns for pavement and gravel… A few years ago, you would have checked your calendar to see whether it was April 1!

Allroad bikes, gravel bikes, adventure bikes – whatever you call them, they are the fastest-growing and most important segment in the bike market. It’s gratifying to see the bike industry adopting the bikes (and tires) we’ve championed for so long. Unlike most fads, this is a good thing, because the focus is shifting from the equipment to the experience. This new breed of Allroad bikes allows more riders to experience the joys of spirited cycling off the beaten path. The bike only serves as a tool to get out there and have incredible experiences. And even for urban commuting over significant distances, it’s hard to think of a bike that is faster and more fun than one of these…


In the past, when we reported on our wonderful adventures in Bicycle Quarterly, we were aware that for most cyclists, rides like these were out of reach, not because they lacked the conditioning (you could always go for a shorter ride), but because they didn’t have bikes that could handle a mix of pavement and gravel efficiently.

Until recently, your only choice was to get a custom bike, which required not just significant amounts of money, but also knowledge and patience, since most good custom builders have long wait times. If you walked into your neighborhood bike shop, asking for a bike that could be as fast as a racing bike on pavement, yet handle rough gravel as well as a mountain bike, you got blank stares, or perhaps they’d point you toward cyclocross bikes.


A mountain bike is designed for technical terrain, so the riding position and general setup are far from ideal on the road, whether it’s paved or not. On the other hand, most road bikes are limited by their relatively narrow tires. You can take a bike with 28 mm tires on gravel roads, but in many cases, you’ll be underbiking, which is a different experience from just floating over the surface at speed, and still being able to take your eyes off the road to enjoy the scenery.


Even if you stay on pavement, the most scenic and fun roads often are poorly maintained, because few cars drive on them. Few cyclists use them, because on a typical “road” bike with narrow tires, they just aren’t all that much fun. Wider tires allow you to really enjoy these amazing roads, away from traffic and congestion.


It has been encouraging to see the bike industry (finally!) embrace this type of riding to the fullest. Wide tires. Fenders. Lights. And not only on inexpensive (and compromised) hybrid or commuter bikes, but on race-bred $ 8500 carbon fiber machines (above).


At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ll try to test all these new machines. With more than a decade of gravel riding experience under our belts, we are able to tell you what works and what doesn’t. And as always, we’ll take these bikes on splendid adventures that hopefully will inspire your own rides off the beaten path. Because in the end, the bike is just a means to getting out there and enjoying the ride.


At Compass Bicycles, we are already pushing the envelope further. Cannondale’s Allroad bike reputedly has clearances for 60 mm tires, so our new 650Bx48 mm Compass Switchback Hill tires will truly bring out the potential of this machine. The thought of a modern carbon bike that can fly over pavement like a racing bike, but handle rough gravel like a mountain bike, and everything in between, is truly exciting.

There are good times ahead!

Posted in A Journey of Discovery, Testing and Tech | 51 Comments

Snares and Traps for Cyclists


What does the photo above show? It reminds me of the traps used to ensnare animals, used by trappers who hunt animals for their fur. As the animal passes, its leg gets caught in the snare…

So why are these snares appearing all over Seattle’s bike lanes? Is it a nefarious plot by cyclist-hating drivers to kill us off?


Actually, the snares are one unfortunate byproduct of creating “protected” bike facilities. The city has been installing flexible bollards to provide a visual separation between cyclists and cars. The reasoning goes that cyclists will feel more comfortable with the barrier separating them from cars, which will encourage more people to ride bikes, which in turn has many positive effects.


The flexible posts are relatively easy to install. The company manufacturing them probably markets them heavily. I can imagine the sales rep bringing one to a planning meeting. It looks very well-made: white and black and reflective…


Alas, this is Seattle – where almost every car has dents because drivers tend to mis-judge the size of their vehicle – and so people tend to drive over these posts. Good thing they are flexible… but eventually, the get ripped off their foundations, leaving a bump and a snare.

During daytime, they are relatively easy to avoid, but at night, they are nearly invisible.


To make matters worse, the city has been installing them not just to separate cyclists from cars, but often in the middle of the cyclists’ path. It is only a matter of time until the center post in the photo above will be ripped out by a car turning out of the side street. Then a bump and snare will be right in the center of the bike lane. When you consider that this is at the start of the bike lane, where cyclists are moving from the road to the bike lane, it’s very likely that somebody will get caught in the trap!


Here is another installation, located at the end of the Ballard Bridge. It’s bad enough that cyclists have to cross the right-turn lane with fast-moving traffic barreling down on them from behind. The safest path is the shortest way across (solid arrow), yet the posts obstruct that path, forcing the cyclist to remain in the dangerous turn lane much longer (dashed arrow). Once they are permitted to cross, they compete for space with the cars turning out of the side street.


Funny thing is, a sharrow roughly indicates where it’s safest to ride, but the flexible posts now obstruct that path. When I now ride here, I actually move all the way to the left into the path of fast-moving traffic to stay out of harm’s way. I have no idea why these posts were installed at all – it’s not like cars are ever driving through that space.

All this is happening in the name of making cycling safer in Seattle. I understand that it is not malicious, but it is so incompetent and dangerous that it must stop. Take out those flexible posts, at least in any place were a cyclist might conceivably go. If a post “must” be there, then make the bases reflective, since they remain after the posts get ripped out, so cyclists can see them in the dark. And have crews go around and replace the posts that are ripped out within 24 hours, before somebody gets hurt. Let’s hope there is not a life-changing injury in the meantime…

Don’t get me wrong – I think cycling facilities are important and often appropriate. Like everything, they need to be designed carefully and maintained well, otherwise, they can do more harm than good.

Stay safe out there.

Posted in Cycling Safety | 84 Comments

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