Return to Utsukushigahara


When I returned from my first ride to Utsukushigahara, I was ecstatic about the amazing climb, the wonderful scenery and lonesome gravel road at the top, and the incredible descent where hairpin turns followed one another so quickly. But Natsuko was a little disappointed: “You didn’t go on the other gravel road.” It’s true, I had missed the turn-off for the “beautiful” gravel road that she had indicated on the map. I had realized my mistake only when I was already half-way down the mountain. So just before I left Japan, I snuck out for another ride to Utsukushigahara.


Two-thirds up the first, hour-long climb, I stopped at the stone statues that guard a particularly steep hairpin turn. It was autumn now, and clouds were covering the mountains. It seemed prudent to say a quick prayer and ask the gods for safety on this ride.


On this ride, you gain elevation quickly, and soon I was above 5000 ft.


I passed the little restaurant where the owner had given me two tomatoes with salt and pepper during my first ride, saying: “You need vitamins!” I recalled this nice gesture fondly, but on this weekday, the restaurant was closed.


I’d love to photograph the incredible road that scales the steep cliff wall leading to the plateau of Utsukushigahara, but without a helicopter, it’s impossible. Except when you ride a bike, and the hairpins unfold in front of your eyes as you cycle them, one by one.


The sun came out just as I reached the top, offering great views of the surrounding mountains. Up to here, I had just retraced my steps, but now my challenge was to find the “other” road to Matsumoto.


I had to try a few of the roads that led down the mountains before I found one that looked promising. I still don’t read enough Japanese to understand the wooden sign, but the forest track went in the direction indicated on my map.


It was the right road, and it lived up to Natsuko’s description. Flowing along the mountainside, it was fast and smooth in places…


…a bit rough in others, but always fun and challenging.


And when the forest opened up, the views were stunning. In fact, I enjoyed this road so much that at the end, I turned around, rode back, and then enjoyed the incredible descent to Matsumoto as a bonus.


The mountain road took me right to Matsumoto – I almost could have coasted to the train station. It was autumn now, so I just barely made it before it got too dark to ride safely without lights.


After dinner on the Azusa Super-Express – the Bento boxes sold on Japanese trains are excellent food – I arrived at Shinjuku Station in the middle of Tokyo. To think that just two hours earlier, I was still riding the old gravel road high in the mountains…

If you ever find yourself in Japan, I highly recommend the ride to Utsukushigahara. I put a map and route description of the ride on

Posted in Rides | 28 Comments

Get Them While You Can!


We recently decided not to reprint Bicycle Quarterly back issues any longer. In the past, we’ve reprinted issues as they sold out, because we wanted to keep the great content available: amazing bike builders like Alex Singer, Charlie Cunningham, Jack Taylor, Reyhand, Hetchins, Charrel; the incredible French technical trials; original technical research that has revolutionized our understanding of bicycle tires.


The historic photos, but also the great adventures and bike tests, have inspired many cyclists. It’s been rewarding to see readers on social media who’ve ridden to Babyshoe Pass, Bon Jon Pass, Naches Pass (above) and even Rat Trap Pass.

With more than 3600 pages, the back issues of Bicycle Quarterly contain a huge amount of information, of stories, of photos… To make it easy to find your way around, we’ve put the complete table of contents of all issues on the Compass Cycles web site. It’s easy to search and find that article you are looking for. It also helps you to select the issues you want to order. Or simply buy them all, by taking advantage of the special price for issues 1-50.


With 58 issues published so far, it’s simply too much to keep every single magazine in stock at all times. For most issues, we still have good supplies – it’s not like all this content will go away overnight. But some issues are running low (that is why we had to make a decision), and when they are gone, you’ll have to hunt for them in Used Book stores and on eBay…


Another publication that will be sold out soon is the Limited Edition of our René Herse book. The René Herse book (also available in a “standard” edition) has been exceedingly popular, with more than 1300 copies sold. This isn’t a book for collectors, but a fascinating story of a time when cycling was a way of life. The bikes, as beautiful as they are, provide only the backdrop for the adventures and friendships that they made possible.

The 150 copies of the Limited Edition come in a beautiful slipcase with four otherwise unpublished, ready-to-frame art quality prints of amazing photos from the René Herse archives. You see Lyli Herse with Robert Prestat in full flight as they dominated the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race, a young Yves Cohen shifting the lever-operated front derailleur of his René Herse, riders on the Herse team during the 1950s, and Lyli with friends posing during the 1940s.


If you love beautiful books (or are a fan of René Herse), the Limited Edition is the final touch on what many consider the most amazing cycling book ever published. (It’s amazing because of the incredible photo collection of the Herse family that made this book possible.) The standard version (without the slip case and special photos) is a wonderful book in its own right – the contents are the same, of course.

So if you’ve been thinking about getting the book or some Bicycle Quarterly back issues…

Click on the links below for more information:

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, books | 22 Comments

Holiday Gift Guide


Winter is a time when we think about our bikes. That way, when we are riding, we don’t have to think about our bikes. During the off-season, we overhaul parts to make them last another year. We switch components in search of comfort, performance or beauty. We then test the modifications during the early-season rides, make any necessary adjustments, and when the real adventures begin, our bikes are ready. Then we can focus on the ride. We may glance at our bikes leaning against a tree while we enjoy a picnic lunch, but they shouldn’t intrude into our cycling experience.

With the holidays approaching, many people ask us for gift ideas. Beyond the obvious, like a Bicycle Quarterly subscription (from $ 36) or one of our great books (from $ 35), a new component will remind us of the gift-giver every time we ride our bike. It’s much more personal than a gift card…

Back to those bike projects – they often fall into three categories:

Small changes to already great bikes

Through Bicycle Quarterly, I get to test some the best bikes in the world, but on most of them, there are three things that I would change immediately if they were mine.


The gentle curves of Compass handlebars allow you to find the perfect position for your very individual anatomy. It’s hard to believe how much difference great handlebars can make, until you experience them. The new-found comfort will have you plot longer rides, exploring all the places that previously seemed out of reach. Compass offers different models, both with classic and modern oversized clamp diameters. From $ 115.


You’ve probably heard it a thousand times now, but supple tires really are the biggest change you can make to your bike. Almost daily, we get e-mails from customers who tell us how their bikes have been transformed with a new set of Compass tires. Available in all-black and with the always-fashionable tan sidewalls. From $ 57.


Most bikes have gearing designed for Tour de France sprints, yet few of us have a five-man lead-out team for that final rush to the line. As a result, we don’t use half the gears on our bikes, and we wish for smaller gears that we don’t have. A new crankset can customize your gear range exactly to your needs. Our René Herse cranks not only are beautiful, light and strong, they also offer an unmatched choice of chainrings between 52 and 24 teeth in singles, doubles and triples. From $ 435.


Complete Make-Overs

Sometimes, your riding has changed, and so has what you need from your bike. Often, a favorite bike can be modified to do what you want to do. In the latest Bicycle Quarterly, we feature the “Frek”, an old Trek that Steve Frey modified into a full randonneur bike (above). Most projects don’t go that far, but it’s amazing what you can do to with a few simple, but highly functional, additions.


Our M-13 racks attach to bikes with cantilever brakes. They make it easy to carry a handlebar bag. Now available with an integrated light mount (shown) or without, in two sizes for medium-width and wide tires. From $ 155.


Generator lighting is the ultimate in convenience: Always on your bike and never out of batteries. The headlights we sell feature excellent optics and a broad, even beam pattern. Riding at night can be as much fun (and as safe) as riding during the day. From $ 68 (lights) and $ 249 (hubs).


More and more riders use fenders, and for good reason. Often, the forecast predicts a “chance of rain”. Without fenders, we are reluctant to head out, only to regret our choice when the day remains dry. With fenders, we’ll go on our ride, and most of the time, it doesn’t rain. If it does, it’s only a minor nuisance, because we don’t get hit by spray from our wheels.

Aluminum fenders are lighter than the plastic alternatives and keep you drier, because the front fenders reach lower, and the rolled edges keep water from splashing onto your feet. When mounted properly, they will last for decades. We carry a good selection from Honjo, who make the world’s best and most beautiful fenders. From $ 136.


Finishing touches

If you have a bike that works perfectly for you, congratulations! A few finishing touches might make it even more enjoyable.


Nitto bottle cages aren’t just beautiful, but they also are superlight and hold your bottle more securely than most other cages. From $ 60.


Small details like the René Herse straddle cable hangers can really make you enjoy looking at your bike much more. The smart design gives you a choice of a freely turning roller that re-centers your brakes automatically, or a fixed roller so you can set your straddle cable position – useful on brakes with uneven spring tension. $ 38.


If you have a Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag, the new cell phone pocket is a useful addition. No longer do you need to dig through your bag for the phone every time you want to take a photo! The pocket attaches to the Velcro that holds the stiffener (which most riders remove anyhow). I’ve been using mine on every ride. $ 24.


Finally, don’t forget the rider’s clothing. Compass knickers combine excellent performance with style. They’ve become the favorite wear of most riders who’ve tried them. $ 129.

I hope this has given you some ideas as you approach your bike projects this winter, and some gift ideas as well. Click on the images or links for more information about these components.

I plan to work on my bikes over the next month, so that they are ready when the new season starts. Because summer is too short for working on bikes!

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Guide to SON Generator Hubs


Generator lighting make bikes far more versatile. You can ride at night and never have to worry how much charge you have left in your batteries. Your lighting system is always there, not consuming significant energy when off, and very little when turned on.

Which generator hub is best for your bike? This post will explain the differences between different Schmidt generator hubs and introduce a few exclusive models made specially for Compass.

Since introducing the first modern generator hub in 1995, Schmidt generator hubs and lights have become the choice of randonneurs, long-distance riders and commuters all over the world. What makes Schmidt hubs special?

  • Low resistance. Some other hubs now come close, but none are faster.
  • Pressure-compensation system. Generator hubs have a larger volume, and as the temperature changes, moist air gets sucked through the bearings into the hub. Many early generator hubs failed that way, so Schmidt developed a pressure compensation system that prevents this. No other maker has addressed this issue.
  • Made in Germany to the highest quality standards.

Schmidt offers a large range of generator hubs. Here is a short guide to the mainstays of the program:


The SON28 is a descendant of the first generator hub. It provides ample power, which was necessary with old halogen lights that consumed far more current than modern LEDs. Today, the SON28 is the perfect choice if you need a lot of current to charge digital devices. With the SON28, you can charge your cell phone and/or GPS while riding at low-to-moderate speeds with your lights on. The downside is a little more weight and resistance.


The Delux was developed originally for bikes with small wheels. Those wheels turn faster, so the hub doesn’t need to produce as much power per revolution. Some of us figured out that it worked fine with larger wheels, too, as long as you rode faster than walking speeds. Then came LED lights with their much-lower power consumption, which illuminated brightly when powered by the Delux, even at low speeds. The minimalist design and aluminum axle make this SON’s lightest generator hub. The downside is the narrow flange spacing, which results in a weaker wheel (and looks a bit odd). When riding out of the saddle on a bike with a Delux hub, the rim can rub on the brake pads.

sonwiThe Delux Wide-Body is our favorite. We use these hubs on most of our bikes. It features the ultra-low resistance of the Delux, but with extra-wide flanges for a much stronger (and nicer-looking) wheel. The weight penalty over the standard Delux is a paltry 27 grams. The Delux Wide-Body is strong enough for off-road racing and even tandems.

We’ve had many requests for Wide-Body hubs with fewer logos. Compass now offers them with only subtle “SON” logos. As another Compass exclusive, we also asked Schmidt to make them with 28 holes (in addition to the standard 32 and 36-hole versions). With the wide flanges, 28 spokes are plenty for a front wheel, even in rough terrain.


All the above hubs are available with the connector-less SL system. This eliminates the wires between hub and bike – a special dropout incorporates an insulated ring that mates with a matching ring on the hub axle. (All you see above on Peter Weigle’s BQ test bike is that there are no wires…)

You remove or install the wheel just like you would on a wheel without a generator hub: Open the quick release and pull out the wheel. Apart from a clean look, this means that there are no connectors that can fail and no wires that can break. You need a bike – or at least a fork – that is prepared for this system. In North America, that means a custom bike. The system is so brilliant that if you get a custom bike, I consider it a “must-have”.


For bikes with disc brakes, we recommend the Delux Disc. Its symmetric flanges are as wide as possible, while still leaving room for the disc rotor. Its internals are the same as the other Delux models, with superlight weight, ultra-low resistance and proven reliability. The Delux Disc features a Center Lock disc mount, but you can get adapters if you want to use a 6-bolt rotor.


The Delux Disc 12 is designed for bikes with thru axles. It has the same ultra-low resistance as the other Delux hubs. Compass now offers a special version of this hub in anodized silver. (Not shown. Usually, it’s available in black only.)





Schmidt’s headlights match the quality of their generator hubs. They simply are the best in the world. The Edelux beam pattern is shaped specifically to provide even illumination of the road, unlike many battery-powered headlights with symmetrical beams that put more light into the sky (and into the eyes of oncoming traffic) than on the road. The beam shape is far more important than the output in lumens, which tells you nothing about where the light goes. The Edelux features a sturdy aluminum housing that will survive tens of thousands of miles on rough roads, where other lights with plastic mounting eyelets tend to crack.

All of us on the Bicycle Quarterly “team” use Schmidt’s generator hubs and headlights on our bikes, because we don’t want to think about lights when a ride takes longer than planned, and we end up returning home in the dark. And for spirited night-time adventures in the mountains, there simply is no other choice for us.

Compass Cycles now is a distributor for select models of Schmidt generator hubs and lights. This means that in addition to offering them directly to our customers, we also wholesale them to bike shops, wheelbuilders and bike builders.

Click here to find out more about Schmidt hubs and lights.

Posted in Lighting | 83 Comments

A Photo Says More than 1000 Words


This photo shows our Compass centerpull brake with the straddle cable released. (It also shows a Rinko fender, and a Babyshoe Pass Extralight tire after about 5000 kilometers…) More than a thousand words, this photo explains the design of our brakes:

  • The arms fit around 42 mm-wide tires and fenders with generous clearances.
  • You can install the wheel with its 42 mm tire inflated. (Most other brakes for wide tires require deflating the tire every time you remove the wheel.)
  • The brake is dimensioned so the pads are about 2/3 of the way down – not at the limit. This gives you some room for adjustments.
  • When the pads wear, it’s easy to slide them a bit further inward, without having to completely re-adjust the brake.


With the straddle cable closed, you can see how nicely the arms are profiled to fit over the fender. It’s a small detail, but it makes the bike so much more beautiful. (It’s also one of the reasons why the brake opens so wide.)

The slender arms don’t just look nice, but they also make this one of the lightest brakes on the market – lighter than Dura-Ace racing brakes. We used Finite Element Analysis to optimize the brakes’ stiffness, so they offer excellent braking power and superb modulation. And the arms are forged, not CNC-machined, so they are plenty strong despite their superlight weight.

Fender clearances are an important topic for “real-world” bicycles. The photos show 20 mm clearance between frame and tire. That is more than you find on most “fender-ready” bikes today. But there is a good reason for this: With that much clearance, the fender won’t rub even if a fender stay gets bent. More importantly, small debris will clear the fender rather than risk getting stuck and cause the fender to collapse and jam against the frame.


Of course, you don’t want so much fender clearance that the bike has that “Motocross” look, but my “Mule”, the bike you see in the photos here, is far from that. A bike with well-judged fender clearances looks graceful, yet it’s supremely functional.


Our brakes come with detailed instructions on how to get all these clearances right. The Compass brakes are part of a system: They work perfectly with our superlight CP-1 rack. Our centerpull braze-ons are pre-mitered to fit Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades. Of course, you can also use other components, but this system makes it easier to build a bike that is both beautiful and functional.


Beauty, light weight, performance and superior function in every way – that is what we strive for with every Compass part we design.

Click here for more information about our brakes.

Posted in Brakes | 44 Comments

Our Man in France


Compass components have found fans all over the world. We are shipping them as far as Brazil, South Africa and Singapore. Unfortunately, international shipping is expensive. And we really want to see our products in bike shops. So we are working with distributors to make our products more widely available.

Many of our customers live in Europe. We are excited to work with Jean-Philippe Ferreira (JP). His company, 2-11 Cycles, distributes Compass products to bike shops and also sells them directly to customers. And since France is part of the Euro zone, it’s easy to mail Compass products all over Europe.

When asked about the name, JP explained that it should be read: “To 11 Cycles”. In a reference to the movie Spinal Tap. With his company, he wants to distribute products that “take it to 11”.


2-11 Cycles had a stand at the Concours de Machines technical trials this summer. For now, 2-11 Cycles sells Compass tires, select components like handlebars, Bicycle Quarterly back issues, and the French edition of our René Herse book.


French builders have been embracing Compass components. No fewer than 9 out of 17 bikes competing in the technical trials were on Compass tires!

And the best shops in France now carry Compass components. Thank you, JP: We look forward to working with you for many years to come!

To find out more, visit the 2-11 Cycles web site or check them out on Facebook as “2-11 Cycles”.

We also are working to appoint other distributors in Europe. Many bike shops already order from Compass directly and carry our products. We appreciate that cyclists all over the world are excited about our components!

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Compass Racks: Light Mount Optional


We love handlebar bags. They are easy to access, they don’t affect the bike’s handling when you ride out of the saddle, and they are more aerodynamic than rear bags. (Yes, we did test that in the wind tunnel!)

To take a photo, you stop, put a foot down and get out your camera. Less than 30 seconds later, you are back on the bike. This means that you take more photos and bring home more memories. The map pocket on top allows you to view your route sheet at all times, so you are less likely to get lost. Or if you don’t need a route sheet, you can use the pocket for a photo of a loved one.


To carry a handlebar bag well, you need a front rack. Otherwise, the bag sits too high and affects the handling of your bike. Supporting the bag from below not only is stronger, but also lighter. (Yes, we’ve weighed many bags to check this.) Supported by the rack, the bag doesn’t have to be sturdy and stiff, which saves more weight than the rack and decaleur add. Speaking of racks, Compass offers two racks for handlebar bags.


The CP-1 rack is designed for our Compass centerpull brakes. It’s superlight – just 168 g – yet super-strong and elegant. It’s the perfect solution for a custom bike: You get great brakes and a great rack that are designed to work together.


For bikes with cantilever brakes, we offer the M-13 racks. These racks attach to the canti posts and the fork crown, so they fit many bikes. We offer two versions: The “wide” version is intended for bikes with wide tires, which have more space between the fork crown and the cantilever braze-ons. The “narrow” version works on bikes with tighter clearances.

We’ve added new models to our rack line-up, so that you can get most racks with a choice of light mount (above) or with simple eyelets that give you the choice of using a light or not (top).

Our latest racks are made by Nitto to our exclusive “Extralight” specifications from lightweight, yet ultra-strong, Cromoly tubing. Our “Standard” racks use the same materials as Nitto’s other racks. Even the standard version gets nicer workmanship and a better finish than Nitto’s “production” models.

The beautiful finish is matched by careful design. For example, our dedicated light mounts went through many prototypes until we worked out a location that places the light in just the right spot – protected if the bike falls over, yet far enough forward so that your front tire doesn’t cast a shadow in your path when you make tight turns at night.


All these details are things you’ll appreciate when you ride at night, whether it’s on your commute or during a randonneur ride that descends mountain switchbacks in the middle of the night.

Click here for more information about Compass racks.

Posted in Brakes, Racks/Bags | 29 Comments