Compass Elk Pass vs. Panaracer Pasela, Part II

I promised to update my experience with these Compass Elk Pass tires after riding them for at least a few hundred miles.  Well, I’ve only put about 60 miles on these tires and I’ve already had my first flat.  That experience led to some other important realizations about these tires and the Schwalbe tubes I purchased with them from Compass Bicycles, a few months back.

Schwalbe tubes vs. Qtubes – 26″

To say that I am in a good mood this evening, after walking my bike home (rather than repairing the flat on the road – to be explained later), and then spending nearly two hours attempting to repair my flat rear tire at home would be incorrect.  First, though, I’ll talk about how these tires handled out on the road – before the flat.

These tires are lightweight – significantly so in comparison to the Pasela’s I had been using.  That reduction in weight, and the nature of the tire’s properties led to an enormous increase in my enjoyment of cycling on my Terry, which features 559’s front and rear.  The Elk Pass tires are fast and responsive under acceleration.  Accordingly, I found myself riding more aggressively than normal (but maybe that’s not such a good thing).  They are comfortable tires, and while narrower than their advertised width (32mm vs. actual 28 mm on my rims), the plush ride they provide feels like 38 mm tires or more.

The flat I had today occurred on pavement, and without any observed road detritus such as broken glass or thorns.  Within seconds of hearing a strange noise while climbing, my rear tire was flat.  This fortunately happened while I was cycling at  low speed.  The tire went TOTALLY flat – something that really can’t happen with regular clinchers that have more robust sidewalls.  The sidewalls on the Elk Pass tires are so supple that once the tube lost air, the tire had nothing to support it.  These tires are very much like a tubular in that respect.  Since I was only about a half mile from my house, I tried inflating the tube to see if I could simply coast home before the air made its way out.  No luck there.  The tube would not hold air at all.  So I removed my bags and walked the bike home with the rear wheel elevated, so as not to further damage the delicate sidewalls.

Once home, I examined the tire.  I couldn’t see any obvious cuts or sidewall cracks.  But, that’s not unusual when assessing a bicycle’s flat tire.  When dealing with flats, I normally unseat one side of the tire’s bead, take out the tube and then inflate the tube to determine where the puncture occurred.  That way, I can see where the tire is compromised, and if a projectile needs to be removed.  This tube went flat so quickly as I tried to inflate it that I ended up removing the tube from the wheel and closely examining it for the source of the puncture.

I hadn’t used the tubes that Compass had recommended for these tires – Schwalbe SV12 tubes which are wide and heavy in comparison to the Conti 650c tubes which have worked well for the 559 Paselas I had been using on this bike.  Since my existing tubes were good, I re-used them when installing the new Compass Elk Pass tires.  Upon close examination, I determined the source of the leak and then searched the tire for that location.

And, voila, here is the tiny little cut in the tread area.  Although very small, the cut bulged out once I had a new tube installed, so I booted this area with a folded dollar bill.  This experience made me want to mount the heavier and wider Shwalbe SV12 26″ tubes which are recommended (and I think this is due to the delicate nature of this tire’s construction), but after hours of trying to make these too large tubes fit into my tire and rim, I gave up (and remember that I recently mounted at 700c tube into this rim, with success).  The Compass recommended Schwalbe tubes are simply too large in diameter and too wide to enable them to work with this tire and on my Mavic X221 rims.  I tried dousing my hands, tires and tubes with some carcinogenic talcum powder to see if I could get these tubes to flatten out and not bunch up inside the tires.  NO SUCH LUCK.  And now, I am probably radioactive…

Compass Elk Pass vs. Pasela Tourguard, Part I

I recently had an experience involving a flat that restored my faith in Portland cyclists, and maybe in humanity itself.  I was riding to work on my beloved Terry Symmetry, which is equipped with 26″ (559) wheels front and rear.  While crossing the Tilikum Bridge, I experienced a flat, so pulled over to get out the tools needed to install a new tube.  Unfortunately, the tube I was carrying would not hold air.  As I contemplated my fate, thinking I would walk the bike, or take the Max train, a friendly cyclist rode up to ask me if I needed anything.  I mentioned that my replacement tube was compromised, and she reached in her bag to offer her spare tube.  Taking a quick gander at her bike, with its flat bars, I mistakenly assumed that she was riding 26 inch wheels.  She rode off before I could even offer payment for the tube she supplied, and that is a favor I intend to pay forward.  However, the 700c tube (622 mm) I had in my hand needed to go into my 559 mm rim.  Well, it did.

I barely inflated it, and gingerly installed the Pasela TourGuard folder back onto the rim, and was reminded why I carry FOUR tire irons in my tool kit.  The Paselas are a tight fit on these Mavic X221 rims, both on and off.  While I was underway with getting the bike back on the road, using very low pressure for the too large tube, a nearby construction worker asked me whether flats are a common problem.  To which I replied, no.

I have had more flats on my Terry, with its Pasela Tourguards than on any other tires I ride, but that is too say only once every year or two.  Even so, as I was thinking about the fact that the only tires I ever have flats on are these Paselas on the Terry, maybe it was time to consider something different.

Compass Elk Pass 559s

Pasela TourGuard 559s

Based on Georgena Terry’s recommendation, I ordered a set of Compass Elk Pass tires.  As you can see above, these tires have no tread at all, and have a kind of cross-hatch pattern on the very flexible side wall.  The logo is understated relative to the Pasela’s.  Both tires are made by Panasonic.

Elk Pass width – a little over 28mm

Pasela width – a little over 30mm

I was hoping that the Elk Pass tires would be at least as wide as the Pasela’s, but that was not that case.  The Elk Pass tires mounted at a little over 28mm on the Mavic rims, whereas the Paselas are a little over 30 mm in width.  Both tires are marketed as 32 mm tires.  I suspect that the Elk Pass tires will widen over time, but probably they will never be 32mm on my rims.

I also questioned my sanity when I read this warning on the Elk Pass packaging:  “This tire is made of very sensitive material.  Never use the tire when you drive on unpaved road, mountain trail and waste land.  Please be careful of flat tire due to side wall cutting by fallen rocks…”  Hmmm…are these tires so delicate that commuting on them will rip them to shreds?  I am not sure, and hope that this is just a wacky result of over zealous product liability advisors.

Now that I have the Elk Pass tires mounted, which involved over-inflating them so that they would seat properly on the rims, then bringing the pressure back down, I am going to test them out on my Portland commute, which includes occasional rough roads and some gravel riding.  I will follow up with a second post once I’ve ridden these tires for a few hundred miles.  As far as tire pressure goes, I am going to start with 70 psi rear and 60 psi front, which is the tire pressure I have used on the Pasela’s.  We will see how that goes.

Short People Got Nobody

1980s’s ALAN with 24 inch wheels

Randy Newman’s silly tune “Short People” was unfortunately taken literally rather than as its intended satire by the listening public when it was released back in 1977.  So, I heard this song all too often in the wrong context in those days – with people I knew laughingly singing the lyrics while mocking their friends of shorter stature, seemingly with full license from Randy himself.

But, the song was intended instead to mock those who held such discriminatory, narrow views of other humans who were ever so slightly different from themselves – a problem of human nature which seems to know no end or bounds (current events confirm this resoundingly).

The cycling industry is a casualty of such views, not only with regard to human stature, but also with regard to gender and race.

One of my quests has been to educate cyclists about the world they encounter when trying to find the appropriate bicycle for their needs.  In an ideal world, there would be no bias toward any particular size or type of bicycle.  Instead, bicycles would be manufactured according to the variation of human sizes, and according to their intended purposes (and that is to say that only a tiny fraction of bicycles would be “racing bicycles”).

1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist with 26″ wheels

The opposite was true for many recent decades.  Bicycles manufactured to fit only a certain taller human were offered, and all such bicycles were conceived as racing machines, since that is what appealed to the western, white male mass culture of the times.

The needs of daily riders, smaller cyclists, older cyclists, non-male, and non-white cyclists, and differently-abled cyclists were never considered.  Economic justice issues as they relate to transportation were not even in the vocabulary.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about what has changed and is changing in the industry, and how those changes address these basic inequalities:

1980’s Viner – converted to 650c

Wheel size:  the move toward smaller wheels for smaller frames is finally underway…again.  There was no bias in the early days of cycling toward any particular sized wheel.  Velocio” championed small wheeled bicycles from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s as more efficient, even though he was of taller stature than most humans.  Georgena Terry is a modern day pioneer of small wheeled bicycles.  She continues to design frames around the anatomy of cyclists who are of smaller stature. Rodriguez Cycles, builder of custom frames in Seattle, also figured this out long ago, offering many frames designed for  650b, 650c and 26″ wheel sizes. Brompton, Bike Friday and other builders of small wheeled and foldable bicycles (which can be ridden by humans of any size) are also part of the solution.  Grant Petersen of Rivendell began offering smaller frames designed for 26″ and 650b wheels decades ago, well ahead of any current wheel size trends.

1990’s fillet brazed Terry Symmetry

Frame size, construction and materials:  While I love and prefer lugged steel frames, fillet brazed steel frames offer much in the way of customization for tube angles.  Georgena Terry’s smaller frames feature fillet brazing, with a sloping top tube.  Purchasers of her custom built frames can specify the degree of slope they prefer.  But one thing to remember is that for any cyclist who is actually riding a bicycle with appropriate sized wheels, they also need to carefully consider top tube length, which for me is the most important measurement on a bike’s frame.  The Terry that I include in my constellation of daily riders is a fillet brazed off the shelf Tange steel model from the 90’s.  The short 51 cm top tube means that I experience a comfortable ride, even on long hauls.  The 559 wheels allow for a large head tube – and that means an overall very comfortable ride, with more steel underneath the rider to absorb road shock.  Shorter cyclists should rule out most modern aluminum frames, as they will be much too stiff and uncomfortable due to their smaller overall size.  One exception is vintage ALAN frames (or any other bonded aluminum frame) from the 70’s to the 90’s.  These aluminum frames can actually be more flexible and comfortable than their steel counterparts.

Photo credit J. Maus

The crazy obsession with stand over height:  When was the last time you had an unfortunate encounter with your bike’s top tube?  Probably, if you are an adult, the answer is NEVER.  There really is no reason to fret over whether you have just the right amount of stand-over height for your bicycle (whatever that is) unless you are planning to use your bike for stunts.  It’s very easy to dismount a slightly taller bike than one you would normally ride and lean it over at stops.  If you have ever been to Portland, you’ll enjoy seeing the occasional tall bike making its way through traffic.  The rider has no chance of putting a foot down at stops, and instead learns to balance and maneuver their odd contraption, sans traditional bike fitting advice.

1980’s Panasonic Mountain Bike converted to City Commuter

1980 Meral custom frame converted to 650b

And, summing up:  if you are a shorter cyclist looking to get back in to cycling, or to find a bicycle better suited for your build, DON’T go to your Local Bike Shop (at least not initially).  Look at the bike you currently have:  can it be converted to a smaller wheel size?  If not, I advise purchasing an appropriate frame (or having it custom built), and then building it up to your spec’s from there.  Better yet, learn how to do this yourself by enrolling in the many bike maintenance classes that are available in your city.  Smaller lugged steel mountain bike frames make wonderful and inexpensive commuter bikes – but pay attention to the top tube length.  And, there are many lugged steel vintage 700c frames that are good candidates for conversion to 650b.