J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines

Off The Beaten Path

In this year’s Concours de Machines technical trials, I am riding J. P. Weigle’s entry (above). The Concours is a competition for the best “light randonneur bicycle”. The rules stress light weight, reliability and innovation. Bikes must be fully equipped with lights and the ability to carry luggage, plus a pump and a bell. There are bonus points for fenders.

Bikes are examined at the beginning, with points for light weight and desirable features. Then they are ridden over an extremely challenging course to see how well they hold up, with penalties for anything that goes wrong. Click on the link for the complete rules of the Concours (also available in English).

Building a bike for the Concours is a major undertaking, because most parts have to modified for light weight and other features. It’s almost unavoidable that the bike is finished barely in time for the event. In our…

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Choosing Your Tires

Off The Beaten Path

We’ve experienced a profound revolution in road bikes in recent years: It used to be that to go fast, you rode narrow tires and pumped them up to the maximum pressure. If you wanted more comfort, you used wider tires and (maybe) lower pressures, but you knew that you’d be slower.

Now we know that comfort and speed aren’t opposed, but inextricably linked: A bike that absorbs shocks better rolls faster. Narrow tires don’t have any speed advantage, and inflating your tires to the maximum often makes your bike slower.

But what does this means in practical terms, when it comes to choosing new tires for your bike? Do you need to get a new bike with clearances for ultra-wide tires? Or is there a way to benefit from the “tire revolution” on your existing bike?

The simple guidelines below are based on more than a decade of research into…

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The Trouble with “Road Tubeless”

Off The Beaten Path

It’s always interesting when bike industry people talk among each other, off-the-record. On the ride from the airport to Paul Camp a few weeks ago, one bike tester was still visibly shaken when he related: “My tubeless tire blew off the rim yesterday. I almost crashed.” Worried that this might have been one of our tires, I asked about the brand. He mentioned a big maker, known as a pioneer of  “Road Tubeless”. The tester continued: “I had it inflated to 90 psi, well under the max. I was just riding along, when suddenly – bam!”

Tubeless tires are becoming popular these days. Using inner tubes inside your tire almost seems like a throwback to the 1950s. Cars have not used inner tubes in over half a century, and mountain bikes have gone tubeless, too. Many of us have been riding our Allroad bikes, with their wide tires, tubeless for years.

Finally, road bikes, with…

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Why We Choose Steel Bikes

Off The Beaten Path

At Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been testing quite a few titanium and carbon bikes lately, and even a bike made from bamboo. We really liked most of these bikes. And yet our own bikes continue to be made from steel. Why don’t we ride carbon or titanium (or bamboo) bikes?

We choose steel because this material allows us to build custom bikes that are dialed in to the nth degree. High-end steel bikes have benefited from decades of research and development. They now offer a performance that is difficult to equal with other materials. With performance, I don’t just mean speed – although the best steel bikes have no trouble keeping up with ti or carbon racers – but also handling, reliability and all-weather, all-road capability.

Steel tubing is available in many diameters and wall thicknesses, so it’s easy to fine-tune the ride quality and performance of our bikes. For example, my…

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A Keirin Racer on the Road

Off The Beaten Path

The other rider passed us at great speed. Getting passed by “hobby racers” while cyclotouring with my Japanese friends isn’t unusual, especially on valley-bottom roads that see many cyclists.

From behind, the rider looked odd. His position was very low. He was turning a large gear. All this sounds like a novice rider, but there was something about his cyclist that piqued my interest.

I decided to speed up to catch the rider and get another look. I told my friends that I’d ride ahead. By now, the rider was maybe 400 m (1/4 mile) ahead of me. It seemed like a good opportunity to stretch my legs and do a little speedwork. I accelerated, shifted a few cogs on the rear, and got into a good rhythm.

My first acceleration simply saw me maintain my distance, but not gain on the other rider. I had underestimated his speed. I dug deeper and made up some ground…

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Visiting C.S. Hirose

Off The Beaten Path

A highlight of my trips to Japan is visiting Cycle Store Hirose. It’s a truly special place.

I enjoy talking about bikes with Mr. Hirose. His knowledge is deep, and his ideas and thoughts never cease to surprise me. This time, I was proud to show him the Compass decaleur that licenses Hirose’s locking mechanism. He had seen prototypes before, but this was the first time that he saw the final production version. I was glad that he approved of the decaleurs.

My Japanese still is very limited, but fortunately, Natsuko and our friend Meisei are becoming expert translators! Meisei’s new bike was almost finished, and we took it outside to admire it. Mr. Hirose is much more than a framebuilder – there aren’t many parts on the bike that he didn’t make or modify in some way.

Meisei’s bike is equipped with Hirose’s own desmodromic rear derailleur. Inspired by the classic French Cyclo…

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When to Use Knobby Tires

Off The Beaten Path

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Compass has long championed the use of “road” tires on gravel. More and more gravel racers agree: When gravel is sliding on gravel, knobbies are of little use.

So then why does Compass offer a knobby tire, the Steilacoom 700C x 38 mm? Knobs are useful in mud. They dig into the surface, and since the mud is viscous (gooey), it provides something for the knobs to push against. That is why cyclocross bikes use knobby tires.

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It’s important is to space the knobs widely, so the mud is ejected as the tire rotates. Otherwise, the tire just clogs up, and soon you are riding on slick tires again, except that their tread is made of mud instead of rubber. What you want is a muddy bike, but clean tires (above) – the tires pick up mud only briefly before it is flung off.

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Snow is a different story again. Depending on…

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