BQ Un-Meeting 2015


I thoroughly enjoyed the second Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting this last weekend. It had seemed hard to top the first-ever Un-Meeting, but this year’s gathering was at least as much fun!

About 50 cyclists met in Cle Elum for a day of riding and good company. The group split up into a “paved” ride that went up Old Blewett Pass and an “unpaved” ride that explored the Teanaway Hills. Both had a lot of fun.


We had gorgeous weather, and we found some amazing roads and trails.


A great variety of bikes and riders attended, with a large share of 650B wheels and wide tires. Many of us were surprised what you can do on randonneur bikes, but others did fine on cyclocross bikes. The riders on road bikes preferred the “paved” ride.

Despite the somewhat rough terrain of some of the rides, there were next to no mechanical issues: just a few flat tires and a broken light mount. Clearly, the participants knew how to ride, and their bikes were set up well with reliable parts. This meant that there was very little down time required to deal with bike-related issues, and all the more time to enjoy the ride.


Out-of-towners included George Retseck from Philadelphia, perhaps best known as the illustrator of the iconic 1990s Bridgestone catalogues. He is becoming an Un-Meeting regular…


…Fred Matheny, from Colorado, who was one of Bicycling magazine’s bike testers and Training and Fitness Editor during the 1980s…


… and Gerolf Meyer from Germany, formerly of the magazine Fahrstil, who now has his own radio show about bicycles! They really enjoyed getting a glimpse of riding off the beaten path in the Pacific Northwest.


The remainder of the crowd were from closer by in the Northwest. Since this was an “Un-Meeting”, it was slightly “un-organized” and thus impossible to get everybody into a single photo.

Despite a burn ban, we managed to find a fire pit at a local pub, where most of the riders congregated on Saturday night. (I had arrived only at 4 a.m. that morning after an night-time gravel ride out there, so I didn’t join the festivities this year, but went to sleep instead!)


On Sunday, many of us rode back to Seattle via the Iron Horse trail.


And coming back to Seattle, we were even treated to great views of the lunar eclipse and the sunset… a great ending to a wonderful weekend.

Let’s do it again next year!

For more photos from Un-Meeting participants, check out the hashtag #bqunmeeting on Instagram.

Update 10/2: Fred Matheny’s home state and job title at Bicycling magazine have been corrected.


Posted in Rides | 18 Comments

$ 5: Add Bicycle Quarterly to Your Order


We often hear from new subscribers: “If I had known how much I like the magazine, I would have subscribed years ago!”

Now it’s easier to give Bicycle Quarterly a try: you can add the current issue to your Compass Bicycles Ltd. on-line order for just $ 5 at


Whether you are a new reader or want an additional copy to give to a friend, it’s an easy way to enjoy our inspiring adventures, detailed bike tests and gorgeous photography…


… our in-depth reports from the greatest builders…


… and our great features from cycling’s glorious past.

Look for this special offer on the check out page of your Compass Bicycles order. We’ll either include the magazine in your package or, if it doesn’t fit, send it with our next regular mailing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Retracing the first Paris-Brest-Paris


The first Paris-Brest-Paris was held as a “utilitarian race” in 1891. Organized by the newspaper Le Petit Journal, the big event started with a parade through Paris, before the cyclists raced off toward France’s westernmost city, some 600 km distant.

On our way to the pre-ride bike check of this year’s PBP, Hahn, Theo and I decided to retrace the beginning of the very first Paris-Brest-Paris.


We met in front of Notre Dame. The original PBP did not go here, but Notre Dame is considered the “center of France”, and the first Flèches Vélocio started here. Left to right: Steve T. (who couldn’t join us), Hahn, Jan, Theo.


The original PBP started at the building of Le Petit Journal in the Rue Lafayette. The offices of Le Petit Journal occupied the center of the block (above), but they’ve been replaced by a modern building that attempts in vain to echo the grand portal of the original (below).


However, the adjacent buildings remain, giving a feel for the architecture. And best of all, cyclists still parade down Rue Lafayette. Today, they ride the wildly popular Vélib ride-share bikes.


Led by organizer Pierre Giffard and by the president of the Union Vélocipédique de France, more than 200 racers paraded through town, followed by hundreds of spectators on bicycles.

We followed their original route via the Place de l’Opéra and the Place de la Concorde (above). In 1891, thousands of spectators were lining the streets, and on each square, marching bands and orchestras played. In 2015, we were almost alone on the streets of Paris on this Saturday morning.

From here, we went up the Champs Elysées toward the Arc de Triomphe (photo at the top of the post). The actual race then started in the Bois de Boulogne, a large park that borders the Seine. We don’t know exactly where the start was.


The racers climbed the hill of Suresnes and went through Saint-Cloud (above). Back then, the Eiffel Tower was brand-new and highly controversial. Today, it’s one of the icons of Paris.


The first real hill of the race was the Côte de Picardie. The eventual winner, Charles Terront, was the first to arrive at the top, led by his pacemakers (which were then allowed in the race). Spectators lined the road, and wondered: “How long until he will come the other way?” Estimates ranged from 70 hours to 5 days…


The racers then “flew” through Versailles and passed the famous chateau. We took our time to stop and look at the impressive façades.

From here, we followed the original course for a few more kilometers, before turning off to head to today’s start in Guyancourt. On the way back, we retraced our steps and passed a commemorative plaque that answers the early-day spectators’ question.


At the exit of Versailles, Terront was in the lead again after a most exciting and eventful race. 71:16 hours after he started, he stopped for a last time before heading to Paris as the winner of the great race. After Terront’s death in 1933, this stone plaque was mounted on the restaurant where he had rested for a few minutes. When the building was demolished, the plaque was saved and mounted on a stone.

On our way back, we decided to follow the course of the post-war Paris-Brest-Paris instead of retracing our steps: We headed across the Seine to arrive at the restaurant Aux Trois Obus at the Porte de Saint-Cloud.


Theo recreated the famous photos taken at the finish by the great photographer Maurice Berton. Below is Roger Baumann, the fastest single-bike riders in 1956.


It is remarkable how little Paris has changed over the 124-year history of Paris-Brest-Paris. To me, that is one of the main appeals of riding this event: You really feel like you are riding in the wheel tracks of great riders like Charles Terront and Roger Baumann.

For further reading about the fascinating history of Paris-Brest-Paris, we recommend:

  • Bicycle Quarterly No. 50: The story of the 1891 Paris-Brest-Paris, translated from Bernard Déon’s classic book Paris-Brest Et Retour.
  • Jacques Seray’s Paris-Brest-Paris, with hundreds of incredible photos from his collection. (French text, but the photos alone are worth the cover price.)
  • René Herse, with photos and stories of PBP during the post-war years, when most of the fastest riders were part of René Herse’s team.


Posted in PBP Preparation, Rides | 11 Comments

Compass Randonneur Handlebars


Handlebars are one of the most important parts of your bike. As one of the three “contact points”, the handlebar shape determines whether you are comfortable on the bike or not. After every Paris-Brest-Paris, numerous cyclists complain about numb hands. Some riders take weeks until their hands feel and work normally again.


When we rode the 2003 edition of Paris-Brest-Paris on a 1946 René Herse tandem, I realized that hand problems were not inevitable. Despite having to hold onto the bars for 1200 km (765 miles) – riding no-hands on the tandem was possible, but I didn’t do it very much – I had no hand problems whatsoever. The old tandem was equipped with AVA Randonneur handlebars.

Ever since, I have tried to replicate that comfort, but currently-available randonneur handlebars did not live up to their promise. The upward curve of the “Randonneur” shape provides three-dimensional support for your hands, rather than the two-dimensional shape of “normal” handlebars. However, to fit into the palm of your hands, the bars must be shaped just right. The upsweep of most “Randonneur” handlebars does little except raise the bars a bit. Many of these models actually are less comfortable than standard handlebars.

After a decade of trying many different handlebars, we gave up trying to find a new shape. Instead, we decided to replicate the original AVA handlebars. We made detailed measurements of an original and then had Nitto make us a few prototypes.


To test the prototype handlebars, I mounted them on my “Mule” and took them to Japan, where I rode them in a Flèche 24-hour ride. Riding for that long, almost non-stop, at relatively low speeds, meant that a significant portion of my upper body’s weight rested on my hands. At the end, my arms and shoulders were tired, but I had no hand problems at all.


I then took the “Mule” on a multi-day camping trip on rough gravel roads in the Cascades, and the handlebars worked great in that challenging setting, too. The handlebars flare at the bottom, so it was easy to access the drops despite the long reach. (Click here for Lovely Bicycle’s explanation of the hand positions on drop handlebars.)


This persuaded me to use the new handlebars in Paris-Brest-Paris, where they excelled once more. After this much testing, we were confident to offer them to our customers.


With these bars, it’s important to angle them upward, so that the ramps (the top portion behind the brake levers) are approximately horizontal. It is this part that you use most of the time. The brake hood position provides a more stretched-out position, and the drops are lower and even more aerodynamic. Thanks to the large radius of the hooks, I find that hand position very comfortable, too. And the upward angle of the drops may look unfamiliar at first, but it approximates the angle of your hands when riding in that position.


These bars have generous dimensions, so that each hand position is truly distinct. It means that not just your hands, but also the angle of your back change as you move your hands between the different parts of the bars.

Measured with the bars horizontal, the reach measures 115 mm. It increases when you angle the bars upward. The drop is 140 mm with the bars horizontal. Angled correctly, the reach gets shallower… When angled correctly, both reach and drop work out to about 125-130 mm.

It’s actually a brilliant design in many ways, and it all works out to a handlebar shape that is truly sublime. It’s easy to see now why bars that simply sweep upward from the stem don’t work nearly as well.

The photos show the handlebars with traditional brake levers, but they work as well as with modern ones. Modern levers have slightly longer bodies, so your “on-the-hoods” position will be slightly more stretched out.

We worked with Nitto to make the new Compass version of these handlebars even lighter than the previous Nitto “Superlight” bars. The “Extralight” handlebars are probably the lightest drop handlebars Nitto ever has made, yet they are strong enough for gravel roads and cobblestones. They are heat-treated for strength. They are available in widths of 400, 420 and 440 mm.

We asked Nitto to put our logos on the ends of the bars (as did AVA back then), so they are hidden underneath the handlebar tape. This means that you can use these bars for restorations of classic randonneur bikes, in place of the unfindeable AVA originals.

Click here for more information about these handlebars or to order.

Posted in Handlebars | 81 Comments

BQ Un-Meeting: September 26 in Cle Elum WA


It’s less than two weeks to the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting! What’s unique about our approach is that it is not a set, planned route, but rather the opportunity to loosely gather and explore together. Last year’s meeting near Mount Rainier was great fun (above). This year we will meet on September 26 and 27 in Cle Elum, Washington.

The idea is to get together to ride bikes and talk in an informal setting. We really don’t need much more organization, fees, or prepared services. We are setting up a time and place and hope you’ll meet us there if you’d like to ride with like-minded cyclists. You’ll be able to figure out how to get there and where to stay.

Hahn did a recon trip up to Cle Elum and scouted the accommodations. For those who want to camp, we’ll be at the Whispering Pines RV Park in a nice, secluded area by the pond. There are showers, bathrooms and a propane grill. There is a burn ban as of today, so we won’t be able to talk around a campfire, but I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to hang out at night near our campsites. Cle Elum also has a number of inns and motels.

The Bicycle Quarterly crew will arrive on Friday night. Saturday’s ride will start at 8 in the morning at the campground. At 8:15, we’ll stop at the Cle Elum bakery (E 1st and NE Peoh Ave) for supplies. You can meet us there, too.

From there, we’ll head into the mountains. Most of us probably will explore a gravel loop, possibly the old road from Liberty to Swauk Pass. If you prefer to stay on pavement, you can head up the highway over Swauk Pass and then return via the old road on Old Blewett Pass. Or you can just go up to Old Blewett Pass and back. There are many options… The rides will probably be between 60 and 80 miles (100-135 km), but you can shorten the rides by turning around early. We plan to be back in Cle Elum for dinner.

On Sunday, we’ll ride back to Seattle via the John Wayne Trail – again on gravel, avoiding the highways except for a short section around Snoqualmie Falls.

Please note that no services will be provided, so make sure that you and your bike are in shape to do these rides (ie: there will be no sag wagons!) Bringing a map of the area is a good idea, too. (We recommend the Delorme Washington State Atlas & Gazetteer, where we cut out the sheets we need for a given ride.)

Last year’s Un-Meeting was great fun, and I am sure this year’s will be great, too. See you there!

Posted in Rides | 13 Comments

Visiting a Bicycle Mega-Store


During a pre-PBP visit to Germany, I had the opportunity to visit one of the largest bike shops in the region. Germany is the country with the most bicycle sales in Europe… and it shows. This shop is more like a supermarket. It’s huge. There are four cash registers to take care of all the sales.


There is a vast selection of, well, almost everything a casual cyclist needs. Helmets, bike shorts and jerseys, bells, racks… It was impressive.

When I was a teenager, I went to this shop to buy my first Silca pump, my first hairnet helmet, and they even had a 50-tooth Campagnolo chainring for my sister’s bike. (I bought it to replace the 53-tooth that came with her bike.)


The store’s size has increased many-fold. I saw rows upon rows of racing bikes. Upon further inspection, all still had 700C x 23 mm tires. There were no gravel bikes. No wool clothing. It felt like I had traveled five years back in time…


Finally, in the very back of the shop, I found three cyclocross bikes. They seemed banished to the far corner, even though cyclocross season is right around the corner. Then I remembered that cyclocross isn’t popular in Germany (yet)…

I am confident that when I return in a year or two, all this will have changed. Already, as I was leaving, I saw that employees were putting a gravel bike prominently on display. And when I was interviewed by a German radio show about cycling, the interviewer asked about wide tires, 650B, Allroad bikes… Experts are aware of these trends, but they haven’t made it into mainstream bike shops yet.


In recent years, many important trends – like handbuilt bicycles, wider tires on road bikes, gravel riding, wool clothing – originated in North America, and then slowly made their way to Europe and the rest of the world. It used to be the other way around… but today, cyclists all over the world are looking to North America for inspiration. We’ll keep trying to do our part to make sure the new trends are positive and improve the enjoyment of cycling!

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Weight Limits?


We sometimes get the question whether there is a weight limit for Compass tires or components. The answer is “No”. That doesn’t mean that our components are indestructible. It’s just that we have found rider weight to be a poor predictor of component failure. Neither is power output.

Heavy and strong riders, who pedal smoothly and ride “light”, rarely break components. On the other hand, there are light riders with modest power outputs who tend to destroy components. So instead of simple weight limits, we ask you to look at each part and your riding style.


For tires, there is a weight limit of sorts: the maximum tire pressure that the casings can support. Your tire pressure is related to your weight, and if you don’t inflate your tires enough, you will get pinch flats. Our wider tires have a higher “weight limit” than narrow ones, even if their maximum inflation pressure is lower.

For example, Compass 38 mm-wide tires have a maximum inflation pressure of 75 psi (5.2 bar). At the maximum pressure, these tires will support 150 kg (330 lb) of bike/rider weight. Our 26 mm tires have a maximum inflation pressure of 105 psi (7.2 bar). At that pressure, it will support a 110 kg (240 lb) bike-cum-rider.

This is especially important for tandems. It’s pretty much impossible to find a good tandem tire that is narrower than 30 mm. A narrow tire that can support the pressure required for the weight of a tandem team will be harsh-riding and relatively slow. However, if you go to a 38 mm tire, you’ll find that most tandem teams can ride them at the 75 psi for which these tires are designed.

(Of course, if you weigh less, you should inflate your tires to lower pressures. The limit is just the maximum, not the recommended, pressure.)


For components, it’s trickier. Compass components are high-performance parts intended for spirited riding. We test our components to the highest “racing bike” standards for fatigue resistance, but that does not mean that they are indestructible. If you are a rider who has a history of breaking parts, then our components may not be suitable for you.

We could make our components strong enough for the riders who are hardest on their components. However, that would make them so bulky and heavy that they no longer would appeal to the other 90% of riders. It’s a trade-off, and we want to be honest about it.


So if you are a “normal” rider, even a very strong one, you probably will have no problems with our components. Compass parts are designed to the highest standards in the bike industry, and tested to the most rigorous “racing bike” test protocols. (Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all “boutique” component makers.)

And for everybody, it’s a good idea to work on a smooth pedal stroke and on “riding light” and working with the bike, rather than let it crash into the irregularities of the road. It makes you a better rider, it makes cycling more enjoyable, and it makes your components less likely to break.

Posted in Testing and Tech | 35 Comments