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.

1990’s Georgena Terry Symmetry

A Terry Symmetry frame, built up to my specifications.

About 8 years ago I bid on a NOS 1990’s Terry Symmetry steel frame on eBay.  I was at that time searching for the perfect bike to fill the gap left by my crashed (in 1999) 1976 Centurion Pro Tour.  I had purchased and ridden quite a few bikes since then, but none of them “took”.  I won the auction for the Terry frame, but when it arrived, I saw that one of the downtube shifter bosses was damaged, and perhaps that was why the frame had never been built.  The seller was shocked that he hadn’t noticed this, and he reimbursed me for the costs I incurred to have the frame repaired.

Damaged shifter boss

Nice hand lettering on the Georgena Terry logos

I took the frame to Oregon Manifest winner Tony Pereira, who re-brazed a new downtube shifter boss.  That involved removing the existing lavender sparkle paint in the immediate area around the shifter braze-ons.  His painter was not able to match the paint exactly, so instead came up with the perfect solution of using an accent color.  You can see in the above photos the new blue accent color and the perfectly executed hand-lettering of the Georgena Terry logos.  Now my Terry frame sports a custom paint job!

Georgena Terry is an engineer by training.  She is an avid cyclist, and after the frustration of not finding a bicycle appropriate for smaller cyclists, she began building bicycle frames in her basement, and by 1985 introduced the first steel Terry hand-built bicycle, designed specifically for the dimensions and stature of women’s bodies.  If you don’t know anything about her, you’ll be amazed by this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDRbinNduhM

If we use the term “womankind” to signify all human beings, as is always done with the term “mankind”  then we would have bicycles sized for such beings – who are on average about 5’4″ in height.  Such bicycles would have appropriately sized wheels (probably 26 inch or smaller), and bicycle frame geometry would reflect the correct dimensions of such a human.  Georgena’s initial frame geometry solution was to keep the big 700c wheel at the back, which was the industry standard at the time, and to use a smaller wheel on the front – a 24 incher.  This meant that the steel frame for the rider could be quite large, with a hefty headtube, but still be “as fast” as any other bike out there due to the 700c rear wheel.

Georgena Terry Classic – courtesy of georgenaterry.com

While I am one of those cyclists that prefers the look of a bicycle with the same sized wheels front and rear, this design proved wildly successful and womankind was pleased, as finally they had bikes to fit their bodies.  Since then, Georgena has researched the anatomy and physiology of women riders, and has incorporated her findings into her latest endeavor:  Hand built steel bicycles – both custom and off the shelf, built by Waterford and engineered by Georgena, having sold her interest in Terry Precision Bicycles back in 2009. All of the bikes she builds now feature the same sized wheels front and rear (559s usually), plus many frames designed with a sloping top tube.  They are typically built with Waterford OS2 double butted steel. Her bicycles have some unique characteristics:  large head tube, very little BB drop, steep seat tube angle, slack head tube angle, vertical drop outs, long chainstays, and minimal fork rake. Some of these characteristics are not necessarily what I seek in a bike frame, yet the Terry Symmetry that I ride regularly is one of my most comfortable and treasured bicycles!

One of my theories about this bike’s amazing comfort is the large head tube – made possible by the almost negligible bottom bracket drop of 35 mm.  The frame is “square” meaning that the seat tube and top tube are the same length – 51 cm.  With the minimal drop, there’s a high bottom bracket -about 28 cm.  You’d think I would hate this frame, but instead, having all that steel (Tange tubing which is TIG welded) under me helps to absorb road shock, and is much more flexible than a smaller frame would be. The frame is a bit tall for me – but, who cares?  I often ride pretty tall frames. The most important measurement for frame comfort is the top tube.  In this case, it’s only 51 cm – much shorter than many “smaller” frames, and that’s why I feel so relaxed on this bike – my hands naturally connect with my Nitto Rando bars with no effort at all.

I set this bike up with some of my favorite components:  Shimano bar end shifters, Shimano side pull brakes, Shimano brake levers, and my 1984 Shimano 600 crankset and front derailleur (taken off my old Davidson) which apparently will never wear out!  I ordered a Harris custom 8 speed cassette after riding the bike for a while with an off the shelf unit.

I built the wheels myself (Mavic X221 32 hole rims on Shimano hubs), converting the bike from its original 650c wheel size to 559, and after years of service my wheels have never gone out of true.  Because this bike has minimal clearance (it was built in the sad “racing” days of yore), I needed to mount my fenders over the top of the fork and rear brake bridge.  I cut up an ancient Bluemels fender set which was pretty long in the tooth.  But, the fenders are holding up well.  Recently, I switched out my p-clamps on the front fork (which had no eyelets), for a Velo Orange fender bracket.  The bracket cleans up the look on the front end, but makes front wheel removal much more finicky. I use Panasonic Panaracer Tourguard folders on this bike which have been comfortable and reliable.  Georgena Terry is now recommending Compass Elk Pass 559 Road Tires for her bikes (also made by Panasonic), so I may try those out whenever the Panaracer’s wear out.  But, meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this wonderful bicycle which I always look forward to riding.

 

Cranky

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Vintage TA crankset with triple rings – 48/40/28.

The lovely & vintage TA crankset which I selected for my 1980 Meral 650b conversion has been an unusually frustrating interaction between the characteristics of vintage components and modern cycling requirements.  I chose this component for two reasons:  the crank arms were 160 mm, helping me to eliminate toe overlap on my 1980 sportif frame; and, since the Meral came with a TA bottom bracket,  I thought it would be nice to match it to a TA crankset of the same era.

But this crankset was problematic.  The big ring had a massive wobble that I had straightened a few times in my vise.  And, even though I use a similarly geared crankset on my Terry – a Shimano 600 with 48/40/30 rings – there was something about the TA rings that never really came together.  I never landed on my “cruising gear” even though I went through two different cassettes and two different front and rear derailleurs.  And, the drive train was always noisy, even after trying a few different chains.

Some frame-up builds come together perfectly, and some require more tweaking.  The Meral ended up being in the latter camp.

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Version 2 with TA 44/28 rings.

I decided that I might prefer a compact setup for this bike.  Since most of my current riding is commuting, it is important if only for safety reasons not to have to worry about gear selection while riding.  My other bikes provide easy and intuitive gear selection, so that my eyes can stay on the road.

A large tooth difference between the chain rings was de rigueur back in the heyday of French cyclo touring.  So, maybe it would work for me too.  I sourced NOS TA 44 and 28 teeth rings on eBay.  The rings are very pretty, and gave the Meral a real “French” look.

Unfortunately, for my kind of riding, the 28 tooth ring did not work at all.  Essentially, I was now riding a bike with a single chain ring plus a bail out gear, rather than a regular double crank which allows for even steps between the gears.  And, shifting between the two front rings often required a triple shift to maintain cadence. To make matters worse, the small chain ring was noisy in certain gears due to the extreme angle of the chain, front to rear and side to side.

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Version 3 with 44/32 rings.

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Beautiful new TA Pro Vis 32 tooth ring.

Not one to give up, I decided that a larger toothed small chain ring would be the answer.  I ordered a brand new 32 tooth TA ring from Boulder Bicycle.  The new ring is beautifully etched, and looks quite fine with the older crankset.  Even better, after installing yet another cassette (a SRAM 7 speed 12-32) to accommodate this new gearing, and adding a few links to the chain, the bike’s gearing is perfect for what I need.  My new gear inch range is 26 to 95, with even steps between the gears.  My shifting pattern is normal, and I have a cruising gear on my big ring that matches a comfortable cadence on a flat surface.  While I was at it, I adjusted the Simplex Super LJ front derailleur lower to make my front shifts crisper.  This front derailleur uses a parallelogram with an extreme angle, so in order to make it work well, it needs be about 1 mm above the teeth of the larger chain ring, rather than the usual 2 or 3 mm, to achieve ideal shifting.

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1980 Meral 650b as currently configured.

This bike was meant to take the place of my old beloved 1976 Centurion Pro Tour, which I crashed irreparably in 1999.  It has been a “long and twisted road” finding the right bike which can carry me not only to work and back, but to the undiscovered as well as the familiar. But this is what I have been yearning for.  A soul mate.