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.

Why I Love Cycling

1974 Touring Bicycle with fillet brazed joints – Photo credit – DeLong’s Guide to Bicycles & Bicycling.

In 1974 I was a high school senior, soon to graduate. I often rode to classes on my 5 speed derailleur bicycle, and that involved a number of steep hills, some of which I dismounted to ascend.  The bike I rode seemed incredibly incompetent, heavy, and badly geared.  At that time, I knew nothing about lightweight steel tubing, expertly brazed and filed lugs, and quality components.  I was riding the bike my parents purchased for me, after much goading on my part.  I can’t even remember if my 5 speed was a Sears or a Schwinn, but I think it was the former.  All I knew then was that I loved to ride bicycles, and wanted to be on my bike whenever possible.  My parents did their best to accommodate this odd request coming from their middle child – a daughter no less.

Baby blue Volkscycle

Upon graduation, my parents presented me with a beautiful blue Volkscycle. I was in heaven, as this was the nicest bike I had ever ridden.  After riding this bike in my college days in the late 70’s, I took a hiatus from school, and moved to the Oregon coast.  That was when my cycling energy surged. Every Sunday I mounted my blue Volkscycle and rode inland up Yaquina Bay, to Toledo, and back.  I rode this bicycle whenever I could, leaving my funky Datsun 510 truck in the carport most of the time.

After a while, I began to realize that the Volkscycle might not be the best bicycle out there for me. There was no internet at this time, so my knowledge came word of mouth talking to other cyclists, some of whom were part of the 1976 BikeCentennial.

Later, I acquired my 1976 Centurion Pro-Tour – a bike which really defined my cycling experience.  The frame was “too big” for me, and yet I toured all over the Pacific Northwest on this amazing bicycle.  I crashed it back in 1999, and that is what prompted a life long search for an equal partner.

But that never happened.  Instead, I ride on several bicycles regularly.  I have never found my one true love – the bicycle of my youth which comported me over miles of challenging terrain.  I don’t know what to think about why that is – but the upside is that I now enjoy riding a number of wonderful and interesting machines.