Tokyo Hand-Made Bicycle Show


A few weeks ago, I visited the Tokyo Handmade Bicycle Show. It was a lot of fun seeing what Japanese builders are doing these days.


Before we entered the show, we parked our bikes outside. The bike parking area by itself was worth a visit: Virtually every bike was a special, handmade machine. It’s nice to see that they get ridden. Some had more patina than others, but all were remarkable.


Inside the show, the first stand (Sanomagic) showed wooden bikes. Wooden bikes aren’t so rare any longer, but these machines, built by a ship builder, also feature wheels, saddles, seatposts and stems made from wood. Most parts are made from wood or carbon fiber…


…or a combination of both: The carbon-fiber Ergopower levers are inlaid with wood.


The incredible workmanship continued with amazing steel frames from Level and Makino (above). Mr. Makino really takes the art of making bicycle frames to the highest level. His frames are simple, yet exquisitely crafted. The lugs are filed super-thin and crisp, and every part of the frame is shaped to perfection. We talked about a feature for Bicycle Quarterly about his bikes and his shop.


Dobbat’s bikes feature neat details and a very cute logo.


Montson adds a touch of whimsy with their panniers. They can be removed with one hand and carried as a briefcase.


Underneath is this complex rack, custom-made to support the bag.


Most Japanese custom builders offer a cyclotouring bike with a bag-support rack – here is Ravanello’s machine.


Toei showed that they don’t only build exquisite cyclotouring bikes: Their show bike was equipped with Shimano Di2 and Nitto’s new carbon handlebars. The frame was as beautiful as expected from these masters of their craft.


Wooden wheels made another appearance. I was told that these are both comfortable and fast. Maybe I’ll have to try a set!


C. S. Hirose showed a fully equipped randonneur bike with his own version of the 1920s Cyclo derailleur (10-speed compatible and super-smooth in its action), custom-made lights and many other interesting features.


The other exhibit at Hirose’s stand was a very cute (and very pink) matching pair of bikes for a mother and daughter. The daughter’s tiny machine was fully equipped with cantilever brakes, derailleurs and even a light mount on the front rack.


Hirose routed the derailleur cable via this custom-made little pulley, so the levers could be on the top tube – easier to reach for the little girl.


Silk showed an interesting “Demontable” frame that comes apart with minimal tools. The bottom bracket shell just contains a bolt that holds the rear triangle. The rear triangle incorporates a second bottom bracket shell, in which the actual BB is mounted. The fork’s steerer tube and stem expander tube are one and the same, so when you unscrew the stem bolt, the fork can be removed. Interesting!


What happens when a jet engine manufacturer makes a bicycle hub? Gokiso’s hubs are incredibly complex, exquisitely machined, and rated to spin at more than 320 km/h (200 mph). Unfortunately, the price also reminds one of jet engines…


Equally exquisite was Watanabe’s show bike, made for a customer with the rarest of rare components, from first-generation Campagnolo Super Record components to a Stronglight crank and bottom bracket with titanium spindle. In Japan, some bicycle collectors like to order new frames which are equipped with classic parts.


Gravel and cyclocross bikes are still fairly rare in Japan, but that is changing. The Tokyo Design School showed a ‘cross bike built by one of their students. The photos in the background show the student racing her bike.


Cherubim is one of the most creative builders in Japan. The bike in the foreground doesn’t have a seat tube… They also build traditional frames, like the one in the background.


The show was a great opportunity to see acquaintances, among them the builder H. Hirose (left; with BQ contributor Natsuko Hirose)…


… and Cherubim’s owner and head builder, S. Konno.


Time passed quickly, and the sun was setting as the show ended for the day. The view from the rooftop, with Mount Fuji in the far distance, was amazing. Seeing where these bikes get ridden was a nice end to the Tokyo Handmade Bicycle Show. That they do get ridden was evident in the bike parking area…

Posted in People who inspired us | 18 Comments

Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly


The Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer and will be mailed in a few weeks. In this issue, we focus on the sense of exploration and discovery, from a trip across the world to a trip to get groceries. Mark Eastman explored a sense of history with his classic bike at Eroica California. The rustic roads, fine local food and wonderful camaraderie in sunny California beautifully evoke the Tuscan gravel roads of the mother event, the Italian L’Eroica.


Join me on a ride in the Cevennes of southern France (above), and on the roads where I became a cyclist when I was a teenager. I revisited places that seemed unchanged over these decades. My bike and skills are different now, but the sense of discovery and the wind rushing through my hair feel as exciting now as they did then.


We discover the camaraderie of young cyclotourists on a 1957 tour around Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, in our exclusive photo feature. All who were there agree that it was a fun trip!


We test MAP’s take on the ultimate urban bike. Is it possible to combine the speed and comfort of a randonneur bike with the versatility and ease-of-use of a city bike? Mitch Pryor of MAP Bicycles thinks so, and we test the prototype for his 650B Urban Randonneur Project to find out.


How good are modern carbon-fiber production race bikes? We climb the highest peak in Taiwan on a Giant to assess how it climbs and descends.


Our Specialized Diverge test bike is back for a long-term test. Has Specialized fixed the issues that marred our initial experience with this bike? What better excuse than to take the “BQ Team” on a fast-paced ride into the Cascade foothills?


A Flèche 24-hour ride in Japan evoked the travel route of a famous 17th century Haiku poet. Today’s challenges may be different from those he faced, but what we took away from the voyage was similar in the end.


While in Japan, we visited a few amazing bicycle collections. We saw super-rare (and beautiful) components and bicycles, including a René Herse that is the star of a comic book! Enjoy our exclusive studio photos of components that you didn’t even know existed, and read how these collectors became fascinated by bicycles and components.


Bicycle Quarterly always has a strong technical focus. In this issue, we look at the relationships between tire and rim width. Do wider tires need wider rims? The answer, as so often, is: “It depends.”

Of course, there is much more: a ride across the highest roads in the Cascades at cyclotouring pace, our “Skill” column about developing a good spin, the story of Bianchi’s celeste color…

Click here to subscribe or renew, so that you will be among the first to receive the Spring 2016 Bicycle Quarterly.


Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues | 20 Comments

When Experts Are Missing Something


Recently, I posted about slick tires and why they tend to offer poor traction, especially in the wet. Almost predictably, some Internet “experts” declared that it was all wrong. One of the more polite comments was: “Wow, lots of misinformation in this article.”

I guess it’s normal: If your research is breaking new ground, the results aren’t what people think they know. But the unexpected isn’t always wrong.

What the “experts” really are saying is: “This isn’t what most people believe right now. It may take a few years until it becomes widely accepted.”


The same thing happened when we first published Bicycle Quarterly’s real-road tire tests a little over eight years ago. Back then, the idea that higher tire pressures do not increase speed bordered on heresy.

The idea that tires roll faster the harder you pump them up seemed so evident that there wasn’t even a need to discuss this. Every tire company expert agreed with this. End of story. Or so it seemed.


We were just as surprised by our results as everybody else. But after double- and triple-checking the results by running more tests, we concluded that the results were real.

Bicycle Quarterly has two people with Ph.D.’s on our editorial team, so we know how to design experiments, test hypotheses, and do statistical analyses to ensure that we are measuring real differences between tires and not just variations in the testing conditions. (The last point is very important, yet it’s often omitted in cycling research.)

How to explain these new findings? We realized that the “accepted wisdom” overlooked an important factor: Suspension losses caused by the vibrations of bike and rider consume significant energy. With higher tire pressure, suspension losses go up, and they cancel out any reduction in rolling resistance that comes from less internal deformation of the tire.

Previous testing had been done on smooth drums, were suspension losses don’t occur. That is why the experts missed a crucial part of the equation, and their conclusions did not match the real-road testing.


Test results are fine and well, but the results must confirmed on the road. Apart from BQ staff and readers, professional racers were the first to adopt our idea of running wider tires at lower pressures. On the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, you now find many pros running 30 mm-wide tubulars at 70 psi. The days when racers used suspension forks and narrow tires pumped to high pressures (above) are long past.

And even on the smooth roads of the Tour de France, the pros run 25 mm-wide tires, which is a huge step up from the 21.5 mm tires that were standard when I last raced on the road 15 years ago. In fact, I am envious that today’s racers have 35% more air volume in their tires than I did!


And finally, even the “experts” have come around. It was gratifying to read a decent explanation of suspension losses in Lennard Zinn’s recent Velo tire test:

“If you were riding on smooth glass, higher pressure would be better. On rough surfaces, however, a tire at lower pressure is better able to absorb bumps, rather than deflecting the entire bike and rider upward.[…] The less energy is sent upward with each bump, the less energy it takes to keep the bike rolling.” 

Even though most Internet experts now accept our tire pressure research, they aren’t any more open to new ideas than they were eight years ago. I read that tire tread is purely cosmetic, because tires don’t hydroplane. (True, but tire tread isn’t there to displace water.)  That slick tires stick better, because they put more rubber on the road. Various tire experts were quoted.

Could it be that the experts once again are overlooking something? Back in 2007, they didn’t realize that suspension losses were important.

Perhaps now the idea that the bicycle tire tread can interlock with road surface irregularities is still a little “out there” – even though it’s long been known and accepted by many tire experts. (I first read about it in a 1980s paper authored by a Michelin tire engineer.) Perhaps we have to wait another eight years until the idea is generally accepted…


In the mean time, we’ll continue to do what we always do: ride our bikes. And we already know that the new Compass tires offer excellent traction, both on dry and wet roads. Everybody who has ridden them seems to agree. To me, that is all that matters. Because when it comes down to it, I’d rather be riding than discussing bikes online.

Posted in Testing and Tech, Tires | 74 Comments

Winter Ride up Yabitsu Pass


Where to go for my first ride after recovering from my accident? I had commuted around Tokyo to make sure it was fine to ride my bike again, but now I wanted to experience the Japanese mountains once more before returning to Seattle. And so I headed to one of my favorite routes: Yabitsu Pass.


My outing started like most rides in Tokyo: I rode to the station, Rinko’d my bike, and boarded a train. Even after dozens of “Rinkos”,  it remains very satisfying to reduce my bike to such a small and convenient package in such a short time. An hour after leaving central Tokyo, I arrived at Takao, the final station of the suburban line.


After reassembling my bike, the first thing was to buy supplies at a typical Japanese convenience store. These stores bear little resemblance to their North American counterparts. Here, they don’t sell gasoline, but fresh food and even flowers! It was easy to find what I needed for lunch: onegiri (rice with filling wrapped in nori seaweed), hot tea and an ice cream bar for dessert. For the road, I bought juice, dark chocolate and a package of cookies.


A beautiful shrine provided a good spot for the meal, and in the sun, it was warm enough to sit outside. While I was at the shrine, I prayed for safety on the road. It’s a common practice among Japanese cyclists, and after my recent experience, I figured it couldn’t hurt…


The road started climbing almost immediately, but the grades were not very steep – perfect for getting back into a rhythm after a long time off the bike. Snow was lining the road when I reached Lake Miyagase. I had been here with Hahn during our very first trip to Japan. Then it was crowded with tourists on a weekend during the cherry blossom season. Now it was deserted. Both times, it was beautiful.


A few kilometers further, I turned onto the narrow road to Yabitsu Pass. The mirrors that allow looking around corners came in handy not just to check for traffic – there was none – but also to see whether there was ice on the shaded parts of the road. I did meet a mountain biker and a motorcyclist, who gave me a big thumbs up as I began the climb in the late afternoon.

The road winds its way along a valley, so it’s not steep, but very narrow and twisty: great fun!


I had calculated that I should reach the pass before dark, so I could descend the other side before temperatures dropped. I was concerned that meltwater might freeze on the road. However, I had not counted on ice and snow on the road up to the pass. Not wanting to risk a fall, I walked my bike on the icy parts.

I was still about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the top. If the entire road over the pass was icy, I would hike late through the night… Turning around was an option, but I really wanted to ride across the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. I decided to push on until 4:30 p.m. and decide then whether to continue or to turn around.


Just when I was giving up hope to reach the pass, the road cleared. I remembered that higher up, the road was more exposed. I figured (hoped?) that I’d be able to ride most of the way. I pushed my “decision time” out to five o’clock. If I made it to the top by then, I’d be fine. If I had to turn around, I knew where the icy spots were and could negotiate them in the dark.


Fortunately, the road was ice-free for most of the way to the pass. I reached the top just before five.

The climb seemed less challenging than I remembered it. When I rode here with Hahn almost two years ago, I had engaged in an impromptu race with an older gentleman on a racing bike. His age handicap was balanced by my loaded panniers, so our speeds were well-matched, and the climb seemed much longer at full effort.


The other side of the mountains is exposed to the mid-day sun, so there was no snow on the road. I was relieved. The descent was less challenging, which was welcome, as the light was fading fast. I was happy to enjoy the winding road.

After a few tight turns, I rounded the cliff face and saw the edges of the Tokyo-Yokohama agglomeration below and the Pacific Ocean beyond. It was as beautiful as I remembered it from our first ride here.

My late timing had an unforeseen benefit: a most spectacular view of Mount Fuji (photo at the top of the post). When I rode here with Hahn, the sky had been overcast, and we didn’t even know that the mountain usually was visible. Tonight, the unexpected view, and having the mountain all to myself, made it all the more special.


The remainder of the descent was uneventful, and 30 minutes later, I was at the train station in Hadano. I warmed up with a hot chocolate at a café…


… before Rinko’ing my bike again and returning to Tokyo in time for dinner. It was great to be back on my bike, and I am grateful that the recovery from my accident has been so smooth and uneventful.

We wrote about our first trip to Japan, including our tour that also went over Yabitsu Pass, in Bicycle Quarterly 48.

Posted in Rides | 17 Comments

Compass Rack Now from Cromoly


The Compass CP1 rack for centerpull brakes now is made from Cromoly steel. This makes it one of the lightest and strongest racks available today. It’s one example of how we work with our suppliers: Together, we create components that go well beyond what the suppliers usually offer.

A little background on this rack: It is intended to support a handle bar bag like those made by Gilles Berthoud. You can see in the photo above how the CP1 rack was specially designed for centerpull brakes: The rack shares the brake bosses that were brazed to the fork blades. (Many racks connect to the fork crown with a flat strap that goes underneath the brakes, but this is far stiffer and stronger.)  The rack in turn is used to attach the fender and the light with dedicated braze-ons. This makes the rack an integrated part of the bike – strong and stiff, yet superlight.


Our racks are well designed, and they are very well made, by Nitto (above), who generally are considered the best makers of production racks in the world. However, even at Nitto, price is a major consideration, and so they make their more complex racks (as well as those they make for other companies) from mild steel. Mild steel not only is cheaper, but it’s also easier to work with, and these racks require a lot of tube bending. The less expensive material and easier bending keep the cost in line.


Mild steel is a decent material for racks, but Cromoly is far stronger. So we asked Nitto to make our CP1 racks from Cromoly. Using stronger steel allowed us to reduce the wall thickness of the rack tubes, so the rack is significantly lighter. At 167 g, it is among the lightest production racks available. In fact, it weighs exactly the same as a custom-made René Herse rack for centerpull brakes. And even with the lighter tubes, it’s still stronger than a rack made from mild steel.

We also asked Nitto to spend a little extra time when cleaning up the fillet brazing and when polishing the tubes in preparation for chrome plating. That makes the rack look a lot nicer. Of course, the more expensive steel and all the extra work cost a bit more. But we think it’s worth while to get one of the most beautiful, strongest and lightest racks ever made.


Together with our centerpull brakes and the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades, the CP1 rack forms an integrated system, where all parts are optimized to work together. This makes it possible to build bikes that combine stunning beauty with exceptional performance.

Click here for more information about Compass racks.

Click here for information about Bicycle Quarterly No. 50 with our report about Nitto.

Posted in Racks/Bags | 33 Comments

Tokyo Cycle Parts Show


The first Tokyo Cycle Parts show was held last week. This trade show is open only to the bicycle industry, which allowed focused inquiry into products, and provided a good glimpse at what is happening in Japanese cycling.


For me, it also provided a great opportunity to see acquaintances, such as Mr. Yoshikawa, the president of Nitto, and his son.


Mr. Imi, the owner of Ostrich, was there, too. We discussed a few new product ideas, even though I usually visit the companies directly to discuss new projects with fewer distractions.


Among the interesting new products were Ostrich’s bike stands. They raise the rear derailleur off the ground when the bike is disassembled for Rinko. The larger collapsible stand (bottom) has been available for a while, but the minimalist single-sided ones (in two lengths) are new. You can see a bike with the single-sided stand on the table in the photo of the Ostrich booth.


Speaking of new products, Nitto showed their first carbon handlebars. Made in Japan, they are made to Nitto’s exacting quality standards. The track version (above) is painted Nitto blue. Sharp eyes will notice the width: just 380 mm. Japanese track racers prefer narrow bars, so they can exploit small gaps when they make their winning moves.

As impressive as these bars are, I don’t think a carbon fiber version of the Compass Randonneur handlebars is in our future plans.


Another product is unlikely to make it into the Compass program: Nitto is making a seatpost-mounted Di2 battery system for Shimano.


MKS showed their pedals, including the beautiful top-of-the-line ones that Compass sells.


I finally got to see their new SPD pedal. More than a year ago, I’d seen drawings, then photos of prototypes. I am not so keen on the aesthetics, but the function is neat. The front retention mechanism is split, so you need to open only one side to release your foot, yet the shoe is held securely when you pedal. A Rinko version also will be available. And of course, the bearings are better than any other SPD pedal…


Honjo had only a small table to show their lovely fenders. I think that is because they are plenty busy these days.


From fenders to tires: Even in the mainstream, 650B no longer is purely for mountain bikes, and more companies offer road-oriented tread patterns. Vittoria’s new “Revolution” is 50 mm wide and looked promising at first. But the weight of 810 grams shows that there is a lot of rubber, and the description lists it as an “urban” tire. When will Vittoria finally offer their high-end racing tires in more sensible widths?


IRC’s new 650B x 54 mm tire felt more promising when I pressed it between my fingers. No specs were available. We’ll try to get a test sample soon. Perhaps it’s a sign that the Enduro Allroad Bike idea is catching on.


Soyo offers hand-made tubular tires that look very nice, but they are available only in narrow widths. And they carry a price tag of more than $ 200 for the best ones. Still, it’s nice to see that true handmade tires are still produced in Japan.


At the other end of the spectrum, airless tires are alive and well. And they are as scary as ever!


More encouraging: In Japan, you still can buy lugged production bikes with downtube shift levers and hammered fenders for less than $ 2000.


Of course, carbon is big in the mainstream, and Scott had their own candy made to celebrate their claim that they are “carbon experts”.


Contrasting with the carbon were the leather goods from a Japanese company. Their extra-thin handlebar tape looked interesting.


When I started cycling seriously, Hoshi spokes were considered the best. Nice to see that they are still around, offering a wide variety of spokes, including the bladed ones that they pioneered long before they became fashionable.


Another Japanese specialty are rain covers for child seats. It’s common to carry two children on your bike in any weather. This maker used cute inflatable figures to demonstrate their covers.


Among the many things at the Minoura stand was this neat camera mount, which uses your bike to stabilize your camera. Lionel Brans had a similar mount on his custom bike when he rode from Paris to Saigon in 1947. As long as you don’t need your bike in the photo, it’s a neat idea.


And then you have true oddballs, like these stickers to dress up your bike. Do you prefer your fenders with a houndstooth or a plaid pattern?


The sun was setting when I finally left the exhibit. As I walked by the pagoda of the temple in Asakusa, I was reminded how Japan has a long tradition of making beautiful things. The best Japanese bicycle makers are rooted in that tradition, and that is why we enjoy working with them so much.

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments

Hiking the Old Road to Houshi Onsen


A few weeks ago, we went back to Houshi Onsen, my favorite hot springs in Japan. Our friends had taken Hahn and me to this wonderful place on a ride that coincided with a typhoon hitting Japan. Despite the torrential rain and lashing wind, we took the old road that travelers used centuries ago, when they crossed the mountains to arrive at the ancient inn that was built around the hot springs.


We wrote about that adventure in the latest Bicycle Quarterly. Riding on narrow trails and  portaging our bikes over stairs made from wooden logs was memorable and fun.


This time, we hadn’t brought our bikes, but went hiking in the snow instead. Instead of torrential rain, we enjoyed a sunny day, as we climbed up the same wooden steps.


I was a bit afraid that the trail, which had seemed so adventurous in the typhoon, would appear benign on a sunny day. Instead, the trail was much steeper and narrower than we remembered. “Did we really carry our bikes down this in a typhoon?” we kept asking with incredulity.


The trail was a reminder how geologically active Japan is. The steep slopes keep sliding downhill. Trees tilt as the soil moves, but they always grow upward, so over time, their trunks develop pronounced curves.


We saw some spectacular needle ice, which occurs when the air is below freezing, but the water in the soil remains liquid. It was straight out of a geomorphology textbook: When the ice needles thaw, they’ll fall over and transport the soil that is on top downslope – very effective soil erosion.


We were the only ones out on the trail, except a fox who’d left footprints, and a horde of monkeys who scattered excitedly as we approached. Their handprints were easy to make out in the fresh snow (above).


After climbing 300 m (1000 feet) in just 2.4 km (1.5 miles), we turned around to a gorgeous view of the mountains, with Houshi Onsen cradled deep in the valley. During the typhoon, it was raining so hard that there was no view at all. Back then, we hiked into the unknown…


That time, we rode through the tunnel that pierces the mountain, and I regretted a little that we didn’t go over the old pass. Now was our chance to redress the balance!


As we gained more elevation, the snow got deeper and deeper. It was fun to run up the trail, but after a while, we had to turn around, since the days are still short, and we wanted to get back before darkness.


We returned to the ancient inn, where I visited the oldest, smallest bath for the first time. (The baths alternate between men and women, so everybody can enjoy each bath.) After hiking in the cold, it was wonderful to soak in the hot water…


… before enjoying a fabulous dinner.


The next morning, it snowed even more, and the entire valley was covered in white. It was a view like a postcard, capping a great visit to one of my favorite places in Japan.

Click here for more information about the Winter Bicycle Quarterly.

Posted in Rides | 8 Comments