Delivering Bicycle Quarterly


Most of the 5800 copies of Bicycle Quarterly are mailed directly from the printer. Then there are those that go to local newsstands and bike shops, and I greatly enjoy delivering them by bike. It’s also an excuse for a ride on my Urban Bike. A box of magazines neatly fits on the front rack. The bike is great fun to ride even when loaded.

Bulldog News (above) is my favorite newsstand. They have an eclectic selection of newspapers and magazines, and they support small, local publications.


Seattle has a great variety of bike shops. The shops that carry the magazine cater to the various alternatives to the mainstream cycling culture. You won’t find Bicycle Quarterly in the local Performance outlet.

There is Free Range Cycles (above), specializing in “real-world” bicycles. Some of the bikes for our “First Ride” test reports were loaned by Free Range Cycles. When I dropped off the magazines, I heard that half a dozen customers had stopped by during the previous week, to check whether the magazine had arrived. It’s nice to see that Bicycle Quarterly generates so much excitement!


Recycled Cycles started in the basement of their current location as a place to buy and sell used bikes and components. I’ve found some treasures there in the past… They still have a selection of used bikes and components, but they now also serve the student population from the nearby University of Washington with affordable new bikes of all types.

Again, it’s nice to hear that the magazine has been selling well. “It’s the only bike magazine that actually sells”, one employee told me: “We sold out of the Autumn issue more than a month ago.” And then he took a copy from the stack, to read during his lunch break. Recycled Cycles has almost as many employees as the number of magazines I delivered (15). I hope that isn’t where they all are going!


The oldest of these shops is Wright Bros Cycle Works. It’s a small shop. At this time of the year, just Charles, the owner, is there. He doesn’t even sell bikes; he specializes in repairs instead. If you prefer to work on your own bike, you can become a member for a one-time fee, and then use the customer shop for the rest of your life. I used to go there frequently before I had my own workshop and tools. Over the years, Charles helped me with many tricky jobs and taught me a lot of what I know today.


It’s fun to see the fruit of our labor on the shelf, but more than a mere delivery, my rounds allow me to connect with acquaintances and friends. There was only one problem this time: The 50th anniversary issue is so big that I had to make two trips, since I couldn’t fit all the magazines on the rack of my bike! Or was that just an excuse to go for two bike rides instead of one?


Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Rides | 23 Comments

Gift Ideas from Compass Bicycles


This year, the holiday season has snuck up on me. I’ve been so busy with testing bikes, writing articles for Bicycle Quarterly, and developing new products, that suddenly it’s December, and I wonder what to give to those who are special in my life. Worse yet, family and relatives ask me about my wishes.

The same may be happening to you, so here are some great gift ideas. Forward them to anybody who asks “What would you like for …” Click on the photos or links for more info.



If you read this, chances are that you already subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly. If not, it’s a great gift idea. The magazine provides inspiration for rides, tests great products, explores fascinating history, and is simply an overall good read – especially the extra-large 50th issue. The most common complaint is that it does not appear often enough! We also offer back issues, in case you already have a subscription. $36



Goggles & Dust is a lovely little book with photos of 1920s and 1930s racers. You can spend hours marveling at the bikes, the clothes and the facial expressions of the “heroes of the open road.” $17


Our large-format Calendar of Classic Bicycles will accompany you through the year, with beautiful studio photos of some of the most amazing bicycles ever made. $15


Need for the Bike is my favorite cycling book. Philosopher Paul Fournel writes about why we ride. He’s a true philosopher, and he doesn’t hide behind inscrutable prose. It’s a lovely read, and on every page, you’ll nod your head in agreement and yet learn something new. $17


The René Herse Posters bring two of our favorite images from the René Herse archives to your wall. Large (23″ x 32″) posters printed on coated stock and varnished for protection. Ready-t0-frame. $20 / $ 35 for both.


The Competition Bicycle is the sequel to our classic The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles. Even if racing bikes are not your thing, you’ll learn how bicycle technology developed and enjoy the beautiful studio photos of some of the rarest bicycles in the world. $50


TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is a great photo book about the amazing bikes that TOEI has made over the last 50+ years. The text is in Japanese, but the beautiful photos are a joy to behold without foreign language skills. Limited quantities, so if you want this book, put it on your gift list now! $70


Reviewers have called our René Herse book a masterpiece. It wasn’t difficult to write about such a rich and fascinating subject: beautiful bikes, great events, wonderful friendships between riders. The joy of cycling radiates from every photo, and the stories that go with them are incredible. This book isn’t just about René Herse, but about a time when cycling was more than a pastime – it was a way of life. $86

Signed Limited Edition comes in a slipcase and includes four ready-to-frame prints. $185

“I can hardly put it down. This book is so much more than I expected.”
Constance Winters, Lovely Bicycle



Our Merino Wool Jerseys isn’t just the most comfortable jersey you’ll ever wear, it’s also one of the most durable. The blue color is visible on the road, yet blends into the landscape. Available with short and long sleeves. $155 – 165



The René Herse Straddle Cable Hanger looks like a holiday ornament. It won’t make your bike perform better, but it will make it prettier. $38 (pair).


Waterbottle Cages: Nitto and Iribe cages combine beauty and function – a great addition to any bike. Add a Compass Water Bottle to make it a complete set. $60 and up.


If you haven’t tried supple, wide tires yet, this is your chance. Ask for a set, and you’ll smile on every ride. $57 – 78


Tired of overhauling creaking bottom brackets? The SKF bottom bracket is designed for 65,000 trouble-free miles and comes with a 10-year warranty. $149


Perhaps the ultimate holiday gift are our René Herse Cranks. Giving you a choice of chainrings in single, double or triple configuration, you’ll never find yourself in the wrong gear again! $435 – 495


The holiday season always is busy, but I look forward to taking a break and going for a ride, even if it’s only around the city.

All of us at Compass Bicycles wish you and yours a happy holiday season!

Photo credit: Fred Blasdel (top photo)

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Compass Centerpull Brakes Are Here!


We received the last parts for our centerpull brakes, test-assembled them, wrote the instructions, and now they are ready to ship.

Click here to read more about the advantage of centerpull brakes.

There are a lot of parts to a centerpull brake. It all starts with the braze-on posts that mounts onto the fork and seatstays. The holder for the spring is a ring that slides onto the post. It gets brazed in place when the builder brazes the posts onto the frame/fork. The builder can rotate the rings inward or outward to get more or less spring tension. (In practice, the standard setting, with the holes directly above the bosses, works great for most riders and with most brake levers.)


The posts are available in three models:

  • Front (top): mitered to fit the Kaisei “Toei Special” fork blades without any additional filing. Of course, they can be mitered to fit most other fork blades.
  • Rear (middle): with an offset miter that works well for most frame sizes.
  • Universal (bottom): un-mitered bosses for any situation where the pre-mitered bosses don’t fit.

The brake arms are forged for the ultimate in strength and light weight, instead of machined. We analyzed many different shapes, and found that the classic Mafac Raid model optimizes strength and weight, while providing the optimum leverage to work with a multitude of brake levers. So we started with that shape and subtly optimized it for the added grip of modern brake pads. (You can use classic brake levers as well as modern STI/Ergo/DoubleTap lever with these brakes.)

The springs are custom, too. We tested stainless steel springs, but found that their rate changed over time, so ours are chrome-plated spring steel. That way, your brakes will retain their consistent performance for decades.

We made custom brake pad holders, which are a bit shorter than most modern pads. This allows them to clear the fork and seatstays when you open the brake, so that even fully inflated 42 mm-wide tires can pass through. The pads are Kool-Stop’s salmon-colored pads. These old-style pads are thicker than modern ones, which means they’ll last a lot longer. Of course, they use the best modern compound for the ultimate in brake power, both in wet and dry conditions.


Even the bolts are custom-made. (The only off-the-shelf parts are the silver washers on the left and the straddle cables.) Using custom bolts not only allows us to have smaller (and lighter) bolts, but the brake arms themselves are smaller and lighter, too.


The straddle cable attachment consists of four custom pieces. At one end (right in the photo above) there is the “dumbbell”, which acts as a quick release. (You unhook it from the brake arm to open the brake.)

On the other side (left), there is an eyebolt with a spacer and a special nut. The advantage of this system is that the two anchor points of the straddle wire can swivel as the straddle cable angle changes when you apply the brake. This eliminates the stress that tends to break straddle cables. It allows the use of a thinner shift lever cable as a straddle cable. The thinner cable can make a tighter bend at the cable hanger, so it doesn’t have as much springiness that translates into lost travel when you apply the brake.

Using a standard shifter cable as the straddle cable also means that if you ever need to replace the straddle cable, it’s easy to find a replacement. And you can set the straddle cable height where you want it – here it is set high so the hanger does not obstruct the taillight. (Centerpull brakes are not very sensitive to straddle cable length, unlike some cantilevers.)

Many will recognize these design features from classic Mafac centerpull brakes. We tried to improve on them, but with a few exceptions, we couldn’t – those mid-century French engineers knew what they were doing! Using tried-and-true technology not only means that we don’t need to worry about parts breaking, but also that our hardware fits on classic Mafac brakes.

If you have an old Mafac brakeset, you can use the new Compass hardware to replace everything but the arms, which shouldn’t wear out… If you want a brake for narrower 700C tires, a set of Mafac “Racer” arms and our hardware will get you a brake that is as good as new.


We didn’t like the stamped aluminum Mafac straddle cable hangers, so our brakes instead come with a replica of the lovely René Herse straddle cable hangers. These are reversible, so you can either set them that the roller spins freely, and equalizes the brake force of the two arms, or, if you have problems with one pad rubbing, you can set it so that the roller is fixed.


Together with the brakes, we offer a rack that is custom-designed to offer the same clearance as the brake. The rack is patterned after those made by René Herse. It is a clever piece of design that eliminates most of the stress risers where racks can break. Made by Nitto to our specifications, it’s also very light and elegant. We added a light mount, so that modern headlights (Edelux, IQ Cyo, etc.) can be mounted directly.


The rack attaches to the brake posts with special René Herse bolts, as well as to braze-ons on the fork. (Unfortunately, that means it isn’t an easy retrofit.)

We feel that by combining the genius and expertise of René Herse, Mafac and Nitto, we have created one of the very best brake/rack system for bikes with wide tires.

Click here for more information on the brakes, and here for information on the rack.



Posted in Brakes | 44 Comments

Two New Books


We are excited to add two new books to the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore. One is a lovely little book with photos of racers from the 1920s and 1930s. Whether you are interested in racing or historic photos, Goggles & Dust is a treasure trove of interesting images.


Take this image of Eugène Christophe in the 1925 Tour de France. Goggles protect his eyes from stones thrown up by other riders on the gravel road. A musette bag and two spare tubular tires are slung over his shoulders, one deflated and unused, the other with some air and perhaps ripped off the rim after a puncture. Another tubular is strapped under his seat. His randonneur-style handlebars are tilted upward and have a very shallow drop. His stem-mounted double bottle cages hold only one bottle. Christophe is outfitted like a warrior, yet his face expresses the confidence and serenity of a champion.

Goggles & Dust features 101 photos like this one, all from Brett Horton’s unique collection. At $ 17, this small-format book is very affordable. The perfect stocking stuffer for the cyclist in your life?


TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is a more weighty tome – the most beautiful book on TOEI we’ve ever seen. Many readers will have heard of TOEI, the legendary Japanese builders, but few know much about their history. This book tells the TOEI story with beautiful studio photos of 110 TOEI bicycles. This text is in Japanese, but I found I enjoyed the photos without needing to understand the text.

The book begins with a Randonneur made in 1957. The early bikes took their inspiration from French and British bikes of various makers, with fancy racks made from steel wire and lugs with curly cutouts. Toei then began to emulate the restrained style of René Herse. However, rather than simply copy the master, Toei often imbued the bikes with refinements of their own. For example, Toei’s rod-operated front derailleurs had limit screws to adjust the travel, unlike Herse’s.


Toei builds what the customer requests. The result is an incredible variety of bicycles, which makes this book so appealing. There are Herse-style Démontable take-apart bikes, but also bikes with S&S couplers. Some bikes feature ornate, British-style lugs. Others are fillet-brazed. There are racing bikes, tandems, camping bikes and even a track bike. Most of the stems are fillet-brazed like Alex Singer’s, but once in a while, a lugged stem catches the eye. It is fun to see each bike and think of the owner’s vision that led to him or her placing the order.


A few historic photos of Japanese cyclotourists provide a context for the bikes. Beautifully produced and 288 pages thick, TOEI – The Art of the Beautiful Bicycle is the ultimate book on this famous Japanese builder.


Bicycle Quarterly’s 2015 Calendar of Classic Bicycles still is available as well. If you like to look at beautiful bicycles, it’ll be a wonderful companion throughout the coming year.


These are just a few of the titles available in our bookstore. We only sell the books that we think are exceptional, and we hope you will enjoy them as much as we do. For more information or to order, visit the Bicycle Quarterly bookstore.

Posted in books | 7 Comments

Exploring Close to Home


This week I am working on writing articles based on our recent adventures in Japan, while they still are fresh in my memory. And while cycling to 1200-year-old Onsen hot springs during a typhoon certainly was memorable, I was reminded last weekend that great rides also can be found close to home.

My son and I had installed fenders on his bike for his commute to school, now that the cyclocross season is over. He suggested: “Let’s go for a ride to a place we haven’t been.” As if on cue, the sun came out after days of rain. We decided to head to West Seattle.


The autumn light was beautiful. As we passed downtown, we saw the Space Needle surrounded by new apartments that look a little bit like the rooftops of Paris…


We cycled along the railyard (photo at the top of the post), where we ran into Eric Shalit, an old acquaintance. He has a blog interviewing “everyday cyclists”, and asked to interview my son about why he rides a bike. (You can read the interview here.)


A cold spell last week abbreviated our autumn foliage color, so we were surprised to see this Maple tree still ablaze in gold and orange.


West Seattle always has great views of downtown, but they were even more spectacular in the evening light. The colorful container ships looked beautiful, but the fact that they were moored here due to a labor dispute is less exciting. We sincerely hope the conflict resolves soon to everyone’s satisfaction.


Visiting new places allows us to discover new things, like this modern house. What is it like to sit on that deck, cantilevered out into space?


The trail along the Sound was fun.


The peaks of the Olympic mountains glinted in the evening light with their cover of new snow.


It was getting dark as we headed back home. Cirrus clouds portended rain – we were lucky to get out for such an enjoyable ride together. My son mentioned: “We live in a beautiful city.” I am grateful for that, and for our friends and family that make life here so wonderful!

Posted in Rides | 11 Comments

What is Planing?


Can a 650B randonneur bike climb as well as the best titanium racing bikes? It did climb as well in a Bicycle Quarterly test, and that raised a few eyebrows. After all, the randonneur bike weighed 10 pounds more…

Theoretically, assuming equal power output on each bike, the lighter bike will be faster up the hill. So how could the heavier randonneur bike keep up?

The assumption of “equal power output” lies at the root of many misunderstandings about bicycle performance. A rider’s power output varies with many factors, like fatigue and comfort. One factor often has been overlooked: How well the bike’s frame gets in sync with the rider’s pedal strokes also affects how much power the rider can put out.

On different bikes, the same rider will have different power outputs. Optimize the bike’s flex characteristics, and your rider will be able to put out more power.


First, let’s look at how much that weight difference really amounts to. For a rider who weighs 165 pounds and a bike that weighs 15 pounds, adding 10 pounds increases the weight of rider-and-bike by 5%. To keep up with the titanium racing bike, the rider on the randonneur bike has to put out about 4% more power. Is that feasible?


The answer is yes.

A few years ago, we did a double-blind test. Jeff Lyon built four frames for us. Three used different tubing, the fourth was identical to the third. (Having two identical frames in the test was important to make sure our results were reproducible.)

Apart from the down and top tubes, the frames were identical – same tubes, same geometry, same paint. (The lighter frames had weights inside to equalize the weight.) Even the differences between the bikes were small – all were relatively flexible by modern standards. We wanted to see whether small differences in frame tubing are discernible to the riders, and whether they make a measurable difference in performance.

The test was a true double-blind test. Neither test riders nor test administrator knew which frame was made from which tubing. To hide the tubing diameter (one frame used oversized tubing), the bikes were wrapped in foam insulation. In every way, the test met the most rigorous scientific standards.

We rode the bikes in a variety of tests. One of them was an uphill sprint for 340 m (1100 ft), with two testers racing each other. Both bikes were equipped with calibrated power meters. We repeated the sprints five times, with the riders switching bikes after each run. After the fifth run, the riders were exhausted, so we stopped the experiment. It’s one of half a dozen experiments that all showed the same: Small differences in frame tubing can lead to a significantly different feel and performance.


The results for one rider were especially clear (above). Despite starting the experiment on Bike 1, the rider consistently put out less power on Bike 1 than on Bike 2. The rider was also consistently slower on Bike 1. The inferior performance wasn’t for a lack of trying – nobody likes to get dropped – and the rider’s “effort” and “perceived exertion” were greater on Bike 1 than they were on Bike 2. (The low power output for Run 5 simply shows that the rider is exhausted…)

The difference in power output was about 15%. That is huge, and it shows that the frame’s tubing, and how it interacts with the rider’s pedal strokes, affects how fast a bike climbs – more than almost anything else (except the rider’s fitness).

To give this phenomenon a name, we called it “planing” – like a boat that rises out of the water and requires less energy to go at higher speed than it did fully submerged at lower speeds.


Back to the comparison between the randonneur bike and the titanium racing bike: Yes, it does weigh 10 pounds more, but we now know that a difference in power output of about 4% isn’t all that large.

Does that make the titanium bike a suboptimal bike? Not at all! It was great fun to ride, and it “planed” very well for our testers. There aren’t many bikes that ride and perform as well – it’s just that our randonneur bikes, honed to the nth degree for our pedal strokes and power outputs, perform even (slightly) better – enough to make up their (small) weight handicap.

For me, the lesson from this test is that cyclists tend to overestimate the effect of their bike’s weight, but underestimate the difference that the frame flex characteristics can make on their power output.

Further reading:

Posted in Bicycle Quarterly Back Issues, Testing and Tech | 110 Comments

Cyclocross Mud Contest: the Answer


Last week, I asked readers to guess how much mud my cyclocross bike carried at the end of a recent race. The answers varied greatly. Clearly, the mud around the bottom bracket and chainstays looked impressive, and some thought it added 30% to the weight of the bike. (Many readers also overestimated the weight of my bike.)


Others figured that there wasn’t that much mud elsewhere on the bike, and thought it amounted to just a few hundred grams (< 1 lb).

The answer lay in the middle: There was some heavy mud, but pine needles and wood were mixed in with the soil, and they are relatively light in weight. The bike carried 1040 g (2.3 lb) of mud. The bike’s overall weight, mud-free, is 10.0 kg (22.0 lb), so the mud added 10.4% to the bike’s weight. That’s quite a bit of mud weighing the bike down, and makes me wonder about using superlight parts on a ‘cross bike!

To my surprise, not just one, but two readers guessed remarkably close to the actual figures: Jesse Prichard from Spokane and “Paul in Dallas” both came up with 1 kg and 10%. Since Jesse was the first to enter, he is the winner. Congratulations! You won a 1-year subscription to Bicycle Quarterly, starting with the special 50th issue.

Posted in Rides | 22 Comments