Free World-Wide Shipping on René Herse Components

At Compass Cycles, we’ve been excited to see interest in our components grow all over the world. We now work with more than 500 bike shops, as well as a number of international distributors. However, some components are difficult for shops to stock. Our cranks are a typical example: They are available in three lengths, as singles, doubles or triples, with dozens of chainring combinations. And then there are the tandem cranks… Every crank is custom-assembled to order here in Seattle. It makes for a great product, but it also means that it’s difficult for most bike shops to stock all the parts needed to build these cranks.

This means that ordering directly from Compass Cycles often is the most practical solution. To make this easier for our international customers, we now offer free shipping worldwide on René Herse components. This offer includes big components like cranks and, soon, the new cantilever brakes, but not small parts like bolts, chainrings and cable hangers.

For our less specialized components, like Compass tires and handlebars, as well as the parts we distribute from Gilles Berthoud (saddles, bags), Schmidt Maschinenbau (lights, generator hubs), Honjo (fenders) and MKS (pedals), we encourage you to buy from local shops that carry these products.

Click here to find out more about René Herse components.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Autumn Trip to the Japanese Mountains

During a recent trip to Japan, we went on a short trip to the Aizu mountains in northern Honshu (Japan’s main island). It was a beautiful day, and the famous kouyou (‘autumn red leaves’) were at their best.

Like most rides in Japan, we started by taking the train. A Shinkansen bullet train whisked us a few hundred kilometers northward, then we took a small train into the hills.

We assembled our bikes, ate a late breakfast, and headed into the mountains on a small road that meandered up the slopes. There was no traffic at all. The sunlight painted the road surface into a dappled pattern of light and shade. It was a wonderful day for a ride.

With plenty of time, we explored side paths like this one that forded a creek. We climbed higher and higher until we reached a small pass. When we checked the time, we realized that we had to speed up a little if we wanted to reach our destination before dark.


We started zooming down the descent, but after a few turns, the road ahead was blocked. A recent typhoon had caused numerous washouts on the roads of this area. We had been able to pass a few, but here workers were installing concrete shoring. We had to turn around and retrace our steps, all the way back to the train station!

It wasn’t a huge loss, because the main road was beautiful, too. The rice fields in the valley had been harvested, and the hillsides were covered in red colors. A chill in the air betrayed that it was autumn, but with the right clothing, cycling was very pleasant.

From time to time, dark tunnels swallowed us, until we emerged into snow galleries that created a beautiful light in the afternoon sun.

In one village, a huge Gingko tree had dropped its leaves, coloring the ground in vivid yellow.

Natsuko couldn’t understand why I took a photo of the nearby parking lot. For her, this is a normal scene. The pickup trucks of rural Japan are small minitrucks. They are less menacing on the road than their North American counterparts. I suspect the diminutive size of the vehicles is one reason why Japanese rural drivers are so friendly towards cyclists. This makes cycling in the Japanese mountains very pleasant.

Darkness had fallen when we reached our beautiful ryokan (inn). After a hot bath, we enjoyed a traditional meal. We were the only guests that night, so we talked to the owner about the challenges of living in these mountains where typhoons are common, winters are long, and jobs are scarce.

The next morning, we continued our ride on little roads.

We visited a beautiful old village…

…with a restored grist mill. Every twenty seconds, the bucket under the flume filled with water. The weight lowered the end of the beam, until its angle was so steep that the water spilled out of the bucket. Then the beam dropped back, pushing the round pestle into the hole that held the grain. The periodic sound of “poc … poc … poc” used to accompany life in the villages, and here it still does today.


Autumn in northern Japan is a melancholic time. The colors of the trees were incredibly vibrant, but snow poles already lined the road as a sign that winter is coming. On this day, the skies turned from sunny to cloudy, and as we approached the station, it began to rain.

We could feel that the rains soon would turn to snow. In the villages, we had seen snowplows, freshly overhauled and repainted, standing by to keep the main roads open. The small roads we enjoy so much won’t be plowed – they will be closed until late spring.

We reached the train station just as it got dark. We packed our bikes for the long trip back and then locked up our Rinko bags. We had intended to visit a public bath near the station, but today was the one day of the week when it was closed. So we went to a bakery instead.

An hour later, our train arrived, and we boarded for the first leg of the trip back to Tokyo. It was a short tour, but our memories will last a long time.

Posted in Rides | 20 Comments

Compass 11-speed Chainrings

Compass Cycles is introducing the first-ever 11-speed-compatible René Herse cranks and chainrings. And the first-ever René Herse chainrings with ramps and pins. These are not just any ramps and pins: They’re carefully engineered to shift as well as the best cranks from the big manufacturers. We are proud to offer this performance with useful chainring sizes – plus the beauty and light weight of the classic René Herse cranks.

The shifting performance of our new cranks is a bigger deal than it may sound at first, because developing chainrings at this level is a major undertaking. Our engineering team has spent almost 18 months on this project. We tested prototypes for thousands of miles (above) before settling on a final design. (Many readers have wondered how the Firefly’s 11-speed drivetrain worked with the René Herse cranks, and why that simple question didn’t get a simple answer…)

There are plenty of ‘ramped-and-pinned’ chainrings out there, because it’s not hard to cut a few ramps into chainrings and rivet in some pins. But, the ramps and pins don’t do much unless they are carefully aligned with the chain path. To work well, the chain has to hit the pin just right, in the middle of an outer link. Then it gets transported seamlessly to the big ring, and the ramp only acts as a cut-out to provide an easier path for the chain.

Another key element is to treat this as a dynamic system, spinning at 50-130 rpm. When we looked at other chainrings, we quickly discovered that this was the biggest difference between the best-shifting chainrings and those that offer only so-so performance. It became clear that the three big makers understand this, but everybody else seems to design their chainrings as a static system. Here is what ‘static’ means: When you put a chain half on the small and half on the big ring (above), it fits beautifully. But when you shift while pedaling, the teeth don’t have time to snug in between the links of the chain (which is running at an angle during the shifts). As a result, the chain rides up on the chainring and the carefully-planned alignment of the chain path is compromised.

By comparison, the chain seems to fit a little less perfectly on the ‘dynamic’ chainrings from the big makers – until you are pedaling. Then you are surprised by the smooth shifts. We benchmarked Shimano’s Ultegra cranks – widely known as the best-shifting in the business – for the performance that our 11-speed René Herse cranks had to match. Now we feel that we have achieved that goal, and so we are introducing the first 11-speed-compatible René Herse chainrings in a 46-30 combination. And of course, the excellent shifting performance of these rings works with 10- and 9-speed derailleurs, too.

While the upshifts get a lot of attention, the downshifts are just as important with 11-speed, because the distance between the rings is so small that the chain no longer can just be ‘thrown’ to the inside and then land on the inner ring, as it was with older systems. The new René Herse 11-speed chainrings feature special tooth profiles to facilitate downshifts. The chainrings also are machined specifically to reduce the gap between the rings, so the ultra-narrow 11-speed chains cannot get caught between the rings.

Instead of requiring you to buy completely new cranks, only the outer chainring is new. What this means is that older Compass-made René Herse cranks can be retrofitted. However, the 46-30 ring should be used with a 30-tooth inner ring, otherwise, the chain path doesn’t work properly. The small chainrings remain unchanged, because they don’t do anything during shifts, except release the chain upward. Because only the outer ring is new, this also means that our 46-30 tandem cranks (below) are 11-speed-compatible, too.


The production chainrings have just arrived, so we don’t have photos yet, but rest assured that they match the beautiful finish of our other chainrings. (The photo of the ramped-and-pinned rings show unpolished prototypes.) In the future, we also plan to offer other popular chainring combinations with 11-speed compatibility.

Click here to order 11-speed cranksets or chainrings.

Posted in Rene Herse cranks | 38 Comments

Tubesets for our Bikes: Mule

In addition to individual Kaisei tubes, Compass Cycles offers three tubesets: Superlight, “Mule” and Oversize. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. After describing the Superlight set, today we’ll look at the Mule. Named after my most versatile bike, it features an unusual configuration: an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter) for added stiffness, and a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm) for the flex characteristics that give our favorite bikes their “lively” feel.

Originally, I built the Mule for a trip to Japan as a Rinko bike that could handle both fast randonneur rides and loaded tours. The bike was intended as a test-bed for components and parts, and it was built in a rush, so we nicknamed it “The Mule”, a name used by Italian race car builders for the bare chassis that they road-tested with rudimentary bodies to finalize suspension and engines, before the car went to the carrozzeria to have its real body added.

What makes the Mule different from most bikes is that it uses an oversized down tube (31.8 mm diameter), but a standard-diameter top tube (25.4 mm). While unusual, this configuration is not without precedent: René Herse built some camping bikes, as well as some tall frames, with similar configurations. Japanese Keirin builders also build bikes with this combination of tubing diameters. And when you look at modern high-performance carbon bikes, they usually have very slender top tubes and relatively massive down tubes.

This is very different from some bikes that use an oversized top tube and a standard down tube, making both tubes the same diameter (28.6 mm). With their stiffer top tubes, these bikes don’t perform well for the BQ Team and many other riders. They also tend to shimmy, probably because both tubes have very similar resonant frequencies.

Going with a smaller top tube and larger down tube was an experiment. Would tweaking the balance of frame stiffness supercharge the Mule’s performance beyond anything we’d experienced thus far? The Mule has performed very well on many rides, but it isn’t a magic bullet: Careful back-to-back testing has shown that, for me, the Superlight tubeset gives the bike slightly better performance.

The Mule’s oversized down tube adds stiffness, yet the standard-diameter top tube keeps the flex characteristics that make for a “lively” feel. That makes the Mule perfect for carrying heavy front panniers. (I avoid loading up the rear, as that requires a much stiffer frame and also makes it difficult to rise out of the saddle.)

But the Mule isn’t just for loaded touring. Some riders who’ve ridden the Mule really like the stiffer, more planted feel compared to the Superlight spec. The Mule doesn’t shimmy as easily – even with a Chris King headset, which is prone to shimmy, the Mule is well-behaved under most conditions.

My Mule is built with a down tube that has just 0.35 mm-thick walls. With the large diameter and super-thin walls, I have found that this tube is very easy to dent. So for the Kaisei tubes, we chose 0.5 mm walls for the unbutted center sections. We offer the tubes with longer thinwall “bellies”, so the overall flex characteristics are very similar.

Even though I prefer the Superlight tubing for all-out performance, I am probably faster on the Mule than on 90% of the bikes we’ve tested at Bicycle Quarterly. I’ve ridden the Mule in a Japanese 600 km Super Randonnée with 11,000 m (36,000 ft) of climbing, and the bike felt great throughout the ride. It was only during the back-to-back testing that I realized its (slight) performance deficit. Would I do the 765-mile Paris-Brest-Paris on the Mule, if my Superlight bike wasn’t available for some reason? Absolutely!

If I could have only one bike, I probably would choose the tubing spec of the Mule. How about you? Obviously, if you plan to go touring, the oversized down tube is a great choice. If you are concerned that the Superlight tubeset may make your frame feel too flexible, especially if you are a heavier or stronger rider, I would recommend the Mule’s tubeset as well. And if you are concerned about shimmy, the very different resonant frequencies of the top and down tubes apparently keep it from developing in most cases. Compared to the more specialized bikes in my stable, the Mule is a great allrounder.

Further Reading:

Posted in Framebuilding supplies | 35 Comments

We Aren’t Models!


We aren’t models! Anybody who has looked at our photos will have noticed this… but what I really want to say is that every photo you see in Bicycle Quarterly, on this blog and on the Compass web site is totally authentic. It’s not a posed shot with – yes – a model gazing wistfully over a mountain landscape, where you instinctively feel that they’ve come up here in a van and there is a second truck parked nearby with equipment and perhaps a third one for the catering.


The riders in our photos actually rode their bikes to the location. The camera was carried in a handlebar bag. We may ride back and forth a few times to get the shot “just right”, but that is it. Our photos record actual rides.


In the photos that accompany BQ’s bike tests, you see the actual testers on the actual test rides. To us, that authenticity is important. We want to give you as much of the experience of being there as possible.

Even our famous “To us, it’s just another road” tire ad (above) was shot during a bicycle tour. The lighting was just right, the road looked great and we seized the opportunity.


Shooting photos during our rides keeps our marketing budget small. Those vans, equipment trucks and catering cost a lot of money. Professional photo shoots result in beautiful images, but another way to get great shots is to go out again and again, until everything turns out just right. Since we ride a lot, we get plenty of opportunities… and great rides make for much better stories than great photo shoots!

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Rides, Testing and Tech | 14 Comments

City Cycling in Kyoto, or How to Make a Fully Equipped Bike for $300

During a recent visit to Kyoto, we rented bikes for a day. Cycling is a great way to get around this beautiful old city, and it also presented an opportunity to experience Japanese city bikes.

Our guest house offered bike rentals for the equivalent of $ 5 per day. In Kyoto, bicycles are one of the main means of transportation. We saw them everywhere, ridden by everybody: men and women of all ages, some dressed in business attire, others carrying one or two children in child seats. Not only grown-ups rode bikes, but also teenagers and children. Only a few college students were on what you could call performance bikes; everybody else rode the ubiquitous Japanese city bikes. That is what we were going to ride as well.

After breakfast, we headed out on two almost-new Maruishi bikes. Our first destination was the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji), one of the most famous Zen Bhuddist temples in Japan. In front of the gates, we saw signs for the bike parking lot.

And, this being Japan, there were instructions on how to park your bike in an orderly fashion. With a sign this cute, we tried our best to line up the bikes as shown.

I didn’t know what to expect from the Golden Pavilion, but as so often in Japan, the reality exceeded anything I could have imagined. Not only are the walls of the Golden Pavilion covered in real gold, but it’s next to a lake that shows its reflection. Islands with carefully trained trees are designed to enhance the view. Even on this overcast day, the temple was luminescent, but rather than gaudy, it looked beautiful and tasteful. It took my breath away.

After a visit to another temple, we had lunch at an former bathhouse that had been converted to a café. It was one of the beautiful old buildings that give Kyoto its charm.

After lunch, I looked over our bikes. Japanese city bikes are designed to offer basic transportation at a very affordable price. Our Maruishis – the brand hasn’t been imported to the U.S. in decades – were among the better city bikes. They had pleasing overall lines, and the chrome-plated frames and all-silver parts added to the appeal.

A little web searching showed that this model comes in a single size, designed to fit riders over 146 cm (4’9.5″) tall. At 181 cm (5’11”), I was at the upper end of the spectrum: With the seat post extended to its maximum, the saddle was still a bit low for efficient pedaling. I noticed that most people rode their bikes that way, making it easier to put a foot down when stopping. The handlebars aren’t adjustable, so they are either high (for tall riders) or very high (for shorter ones).

These Maruishis cost just 32,800 yen (about $ 300). For that price, you get a fully equipped bike, with fenders, lights, a basket and even a lock. There is nothing else you need to buy; the bike is ready for a few years of daily use.

To understand how a fully equipped, decent-quality bike can be so inexpensive, it’s perhaps best to compare it to a car. Imagine the Maruishi as a basic Honda Civic – one of the nicer mass-produced cars, but not something an enthusiast would want to drive. The low cost is the result of designing every part to be as inexpensive and as easy to assemble as possible – while maintaining adequate quality – and then producing huge numbers. For the Maruishi, the result surprised me in many ways.

The bike comes with a Shimano Nexus three-speed hub gear that should give years of reliable service. However, the gearing was so large that I never got out of first gear! These bikes aren’t intended for riders spinning at a high cadence.

At the rear, there is a band brake that serves as the main brake. Even on our almost-new bikes, this was barely able to skid the rear wheel. Once the friction surfaces wear on these brakes, the braking power is further reduced, but the metal-on-metal friction produces a high-pitched squeal that acts as a warning: The cyclist can’t stop, but pedestrians can jump out of the way!

There is a sturdy kickstand. Frame construction is adequate – there are real dropouts, not just squished chainstays as on older German city bikes. Look carefully, and you can see the non-adjustable fender stays. The fenders are designed to fit just right, and the stays are held by the rear axle bolts.

The aluminum fenders are perhaps the biggest surprise: They are made by Honjo, just like the fenders on the most expensive custom bikes. These ones don’t have a polished finish, and, while the edges are not crimped over, they are dipped in rubber to prevent cuts from sharp edges. And, as mentioned before, the stays are not adjustable, which eliminates most of the hardware. Features like these cut costs and reduce maintenance, but the function of the fenders is the same as on the more expensive Honjos we use on our own bikes: Uninterrupted interiors and rolled edges keep the water from dripping off the edges.

I’d like a little more fender coverage on the front wheel, but at the relatively low speeds of these bikes, spray from the front wheel doesn’t fly as high as it does during spirited riding, so it’s less of a problem. (And I suspect these bikes are shipped with the front wheel removed, hence the short-ish fender.) At least the fender extends far enough at the front to keep spray out of your basket…

The bridges are made from stamped steel (rather than tubing), but they incorporate fender mounts. Direct fender mounting speeds up assembly; it also ensures that the fenders will neither resonate nor break prematurely. And indeed, even older Japanese city bikes are silent as they roll around the city (except for the occasional high-pitched squeal of the brakes).

Despite its relatively low cost, the Maruishi comes standard with a generator hub. However, cost savings are evident in the fork: It doesn’t have dropouts. The ends of the fork blades are squeezed and slotted. At this price, don’t expect fine craftsmanship!

At the front, there is an LED headlight that provides sufficient illumination. The basket is permanently mounted on the bike, supported by stays that run down to the dropouts. The right stay curves around the headlight, doubling as a protector.

The front brake is a simple side pull, stamped from flat steel stock, but it worked adequately. The right lever operates the front brake, Italian- and British-style, yet most riders seem to use the rear brake, operated with the left hand. It’s not that most Japanese are left-handed, but it’s another indication that the debates over “which hand for which brake” are besides the point: It doesn’t matter!

Most Japanese city bikes don’t have taillights, just a very rudimentary reflector. More often than not, this tends to go missing after a while. It’s surprising to see thousands of almost-invisible cyclists zoom around Kyoto at night, yet there seem to be very few accidents. Drivers are used to cyclists being everywhere, and with narrow streets and the need to weave around utility poles in the roadway, “distracted driving” is not an option! You can’t help but feel that despite all this apparent anarchy, it’s actually safer than riding in Seattle.

The seatpost binder bolt only looks like a quick release: It’s just a lever for turning the bolt. That makes it easy to adjust the saddle height without tools, useful when a bike is shared among several family members. (It’s like a car’s seats that are easy to adjust for different drivers.)

The lock is permanently installed. The key stays on the bike; it can be removed only after you’ve locked it by pushing the ring through the spokes. That way, there is little risk of misplacing the key. The lock provides only basic protection: Somebody could carry away the bike. But at 19.5 kg (43 lb), it’s heavy enough to defeat most would-be thieves.

Another surprising spec: the wheels. Who said 27-inch wheels were obsolete? The tires are nominally 37 mm wide, but in reality, they probably measure closer to 32. They are sturdy Kendas, and they didn’t roll fast. Why such large wheels? I suspect it makes the bike more stable.

How is it to ride one of these bikes? Unusual at first! Of course, Maruishi doesn’t publish the geometry of the bike, but measuring from photos, I came up with a super-shallow head angle of 67° and a whopping 135 mm of fork offset! This results in zero trail, and thus zero wheel flop…

With my heavy backpack in the front basket, the fork wanted to turn even without wheel flop, and at first, it was difficult to ride in a straight line. Then I realized that the problem was my trying to guide the bike with a gentle touch. With a firm grip on the bars and my elbows locked, the bike tracked straight and handled predictably. Even rising out of the saddle – necessary for me on the hills – the bike didn’t veer off its line. With no trail, it’s easy to turn the fork to avoid a bump, but since there is no wheel flop, the movement isn’t amplified. And the large, heavy front wheel’s inertia immediately recenters the fork. Now I understand why Japanese city cyclists look wobbly, but actually move in very straight lines.

This handling trait is actually very important in the congested Japanese cities. With cars, trucks and buses passing cyclists with just inches to spare, it’s crucial not to wobble or weave! As long as cyclists move in a straight line, they are predictable, and other traffic can avoid them. As a pedestrian here in Japan, I had to learn this. When cyclists come barreling toward me on the sidewalk, I tend to freeze, figuring they will go around me. But they head straight toward me, expecting me to jump out of the way. It’s the opposite of how we do it on the trails in Seattle. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter who moves out of the way, as long as everybody is on the same page.

One place where nobody seems to be on the same page is traffic rules. Natsuko and I are used to riding out in the country, on the left side of the road. Imagine our surprise when cyclists coming toward us sometimes moved left, sometimes right, with no rhyme or reason. Cyclists are like pedestrians here – moving at low enough speeds that they don’t crash into each other, but not bound by rules beyond common courtesy and self-preservation. We didn’t see a single cyclists wearing a helmet, yet cycling injuries in Japan are extremely rare.

As the sun started to set on this autumn day, we headed to another public bath, this one still in operation. While I soaked in the hot water, I thought about the Maruishi. It’s a remarkable piece of engineering, designed for affordability and reliability above all. That you can buy a complete, fully-equipped bike for just $ 300 intrigues me. But then, the Maruishi’s car equivalent also offers remarkable value: If you calculated all the components of a Honda Civic at the prices charged for bicycle components, you’d end up with a price many times higher than the $ 19,000 that the Honda costs these days.

Both the Maruishi and the Civic achieve their low cost through sophisticated design and huge economies of scale. Everything on them is just ‘good enough’ for a daily user. What is remarkable is that a generator hub and high-quality fenders are among these “absolute necessities” for everyday riding. Neither the bike nor the car feature beautiful craftsmanship, but they will offer satisfactory service for those who buy them. And both feature a little extra – the Maruishi’s chrome-plated frame and the nice interior of the Honda – to instill some pride of ownership.

What if the same approach was used to make a bike for more spirited riding? Something that isn’t just for transportation, but is also fun to ride? For less than twice the price of a Civic, you can buy a real sports car, like the Mazda Miata or the Subaru BRZ. Imagine a fully equipped randonneur bike – with integrated fenders, lights and racks – for twice the price of the Maruishi! I guess you’d need to get the weight down and the performance up a bit, but even if you triple the price, you are still below $ 1,000. Imagine a bike that offers 80% of the performance and reliability of an expensive custom bike, but without any of the craftsmanship. I can’t see why this wouldn’t be possible, but it requires economies of scale that still elude the makers of performance bikes. But just think of the possibilities!

Posted in Rides | 25 Comments

Tubesets for Our Bikes: Superlight

In addition to individual Kaisei frame tubes, Compass Cycles offers three tubesets. Each tubeset is based on bikes that we have found to work extremely well. These bikes have distinct characters that I’ll describe in a series of blog posts.

The Superlight tubeset is just that – the lightest, thinnest-wall tubeset you can buy today. In the unbutted center sections (“bellies”), the tube walls measure just 0.4 mm. At the butted ends, they go up to 0.7 mm for strength at the joints. We offer the Kaisei tubes in two lengths, with “bellies” optimized for short and tall frames.

What does a bike built from the Superlight tubeset feel like on the road?

My René Herse (above) is made from tubes with these dimensions. It’s my favorite bike for spirited rides. It’s the bike that exemplifies “planing” for me – a bike that gets in sync with my pedal strokes, and always seems to entice me to go faster. It’s the bike that I’ve ridden on some of my memorable rides, whether it’s “Charly Miller” times in Paris-Brest-Paris (top photo) and in the Cascade 1200 km brevet, or in the Raid Pyrénéen that goes non-stop from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via 18 mountain passes (above).

In all these performances, the bike deserves a lot of credit. On long rides, it really helps to have a bike with just the right flex characteristics to synch with my pedal strokes. Pedaling becomes a subconscious routine. When we say that steel bikes can offer the same performance as modern racing bikes, it’s these bikes we are talking about.

The same characteristics make me pick the Herse for fast Saturday morning spins with the BQ Team. When we race each other up the Cascade foothills, this is the bike that I find easiest to pedal hard. It’s the fastest in these impromptu sprints because it lets me put out the most power. Compared to my other bikes, I am breathing harder at the top of the climbs, and I am more tired when I get home. And my smile is bigger, too.

The tubeset not only defines this bike’s performance, but also its feel. It always feels light, like a racehorse. Whether you like that or not depends on your taste in bikes. A very strong rider probably would find the superlight tubeset too flexible, but remember that Andy Hampsten won the 1988 Giro d’Italia on a bike made from tubes with the same dimensions. I was lucky enough to ride Hampsten’s bike once, so I can report that it feels very similar to my Herse.

While my Herse is equipped with some classic components, you could use “modern” brake levers and derailleurs without changing the feel of the bike. With a different fork, you even could use disc brakes…

How about descending on a bike this “flexible”? Despite rumors to the contrary, it feels the same as other bikes. When you look at the physics, you realize that the bike is always balanced, no matter how hard you corner. Otherwise, it would fall over. There are no significant side loads that could flex the bike when you are coasting.

Our on-the-road experience has confirmed this: During our ground-breaking double-blind test of frame stiffness, none of us felt any differences between the bikes on the downhills – whereas on the uphills, both Mark and I were measurably faster on the two bikes with superlight tubesets.

What about the durability? You often hear the description “paper-thin” for tubes this light, but when you pick up a raw tube, you realize that they are actually quite sturdy. Most of all, the walls at the ends measure 0.7 mm – not much thinner than those of other tubes (0.8-0.9 mm). And since frames rarely break in their unbutted center sections, I am not worried about the longevity, either. I’ve ridden my Herse for 6 years now, including the 360-mile Oregon Outback gravel race. After that ride (above), my rims had developed cracks (I use better ones now!), and my spare spokes had worn through the cloth tape I used to attach them to the fender stays, but the rest of the bike was no worse for wear.

Why not build all bikes from this tubing? First, there is the lightweight feel that some riders don’t enjoy. It really depends on your power, your riding style – these bikes work best with a light touch on the handlebars – and your preferences. Furthermore, with a tubeset this light, these bikes are more prone to shimmy. It hasn’t been an issue on my Herse, but that bike uses a needle bearing headset that dampens the steering slightly. Also, I wouldn’t recommend this tubeset on a bike that commonly carries a heavy load. The Herse is fine with a heavily loaded handlebar bag, but if I were to ride a lot with loaded front low-riders, I’d pick a stiffer down tube.

One last datapoint is that I am 181 cm tall (5’11”) and weigh 70 kg (154 lb). I ride a relatively large frame (58 cm seat tube, 57 cm top tube, c-c). Shorter tubes are inherently stiffer, so I feel that this tubeset makes even more sense for smaller frames. On the other hand, taller or significantly heavier riders may need a stiffer tubeset. Fortunately, we offer those as well…

Further Reading:

Posted in Framebuilding supplies | 57 Comments