Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Compass Chinook Pass Tires

I recently put some new tires on one of my bikes and got my first opportunity to try out the very nice traditional-looking Compass brand tires -- specifically, the 28mm Chinook Pass. The Compass tires are billed as having exceptionally supple casings which should yield a great ride and handling with very low rolling resistance. Over the years, Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly magazine has published the results of a number of real-world-based tests to measure tire rolling resistance, and those tests helped lead to the development of the Compass tires. In the interest of disclosure, Bicycle Quarterly and Compass Cycles are the same company, and Heine is very up-front and forthcoming about that fact - but I'm inclined to put good faith in their test results which have helped lead a welcome trend in the bicycle industry toward larger volume tires.

The Chinook Pass tires on my King of Mercia. They have a great
 look on a retro-grouchy bike. Natural tan sidewalls, a traditional
file tread, and the label is small and subtle. Useful tip: always
 line up the tire logo with the valve stem.
The Compass tires are made by Panaracer, which also makes the Grand Bois tires, which are also available through Compass Cycles. Panaracer also makes tires for Rivendell, in addition to the tires they sell under their own name. One thing to note about the Compass tires is that all the different sizes that are available have different names, unlike many other brands/models such as the Panaracer Pasella, which comes in a wide variety of sizes and widths but all with the same name. For example, for a huge 700c x 38mm tire, get the Barlow Pass. The 32mm tire is the Stampede Pass. The Chinook Pass is labeled as 28mm, and the Cayuse Pass is the narrowest option at 26mm. All of the road tires are named after roads around the Cascade mountains.

Most of the Compass tires are available with either a black or natural tan sidewall. I always opt for the natural tan for my vintage-styled bikes. People with more modern rides might choose the black sidewalls if that suits their style better. All the different tires use the same traditional file pattern tread, and are available with one of two casing options: Standard, and Extralight. The Extralight is a little thinner and is supposed to be even more supple than the Standard casing, but it adds nearly $20 to the price. I opted for the Standard casing Chinook Pass for $57 -- not inexpensive, but that does appear to be the going rate for high-quality, high-performance clincher tires these days. Panaracer Pasellas sell for less, but they have a noticeably thicker casing and tread. I would not consider them a high-performance tire (that's not a criticism - it's just a matter of different tires for different missions).

The previous tires I had used on my Mercian King of Mercia were the Challenge Paris-Roubaix tires. I have to be honest in saying that, from a performance standpoint, those are tough to beat. The Paris-Roubaix is billed by Challenge as an "open-tubular" -- not just a "clincher" tire. That is, they use the same exact casing as their tubular tires, but instead of sewing the casing around the tube, they use the wire bead of a clincher. Okay - that's just a matter of semantics, or marketing-speak. But the tires were wonderful - springy, fast, and comfortable. The only criticism I've seen against them is that some feel they are a bit too vulnerable to flats. However, I rode mine for several years and wore the tread down completely and only suffered one flat in that whole time. The price on the Paris-Roubaix seems to have gone up since I last bought them. I'm certain I didn't pay more than about $55 each ($60 at the very most), but checking around lately, the going rate seems to be about $75 each. Gulp!

Hoping for a similar riding experience, I got the Compass Chinook Pass when the Paris-Roubaix finally wore out. I got the new tires mounted with no difficulty. I was able to pull the bead over the edge of the rim all the way 'round with no tools. A little pulling here and pinching there, and I was able to get them mounted perfectly straight and even as well. They seem very well made - a quality product.

The Mercian King of Mercia is my most "modern" bike.
Traditional-looking Reynolds 725 chrome moly lugged frame,
with modern Campagnolo Centaur 10-sp. drivetrain,
Ergo integrated shifters, and even a threadless stem.
It doesn't even have a Brooks saddle! But it does use 57mm
 reach brakes, and has room for fairly large-volume tires.
Mounted up and out on the road, my first impression is that the tires compare pretty favorably to the Challenge. I can't do a true side-by-side comparison, but they feel comparable. I would say, however, that the old Paris-Roubaix tires felt just a bit cushier. That's really hard to quantify, and the difference (if there really is one) can't be much. Even a small change in air pressure could account for the difference. However, one thing I can measure with certainty is the width of the tires. The Paris-Roubaix tires are labelled as 27mm, and installed on my Mavic Open Pro rims (19.6mm wide) they had an actual measurement of more than 28mm! On the other hand, the Chinook Pass is labelled as 28mm, but on the same rims, my calipers come up with a width of 26mm. Actual tire width can vary a bit from one rim model to another, but it seems pretty clear that the Compass tires run a little smaller than the listed size. It's not unusual for that to be the case, and a difference of 2mm is actually pretty small compared to some tires I've seen or used over the years. Many readers probably remember buying tires in the '80s and '90s that could easily run 4 or 5mm smaller than the listed size. In any case, if I'd known the tires would mount up on the smaller side, I might have opted for the Stampede Pass, as I have no doubt that I can fit a 32mm tire, especially if it only measures 30. I guess my advice for buyers who want fatter tires would be that if they are trying to choose between two sizes, go up.

I've gotten out for several rides on the new tires. They do live up to the advertising in that they do feel fast, and comfortable. Handling around corners is good, and on chip-seal paving (really common on rural backroads in my area) they do a good job of keeping the "buzz" to a minimum.

It's way too early to tell about long-term durability, but I don't expect any problems. I've had excellent experiences with Panaracer-made Rivendell tires like the Roly Poly and the Jack Browns, as well as Panaracer Pasellas. I will be interested to see how the lighter, more supple casing affects the durability on the Compass tires. Certainly, as I get more miles on these, if I observe anything that would change my long-term impressions, I'll post something. I should note, however, that the tires specifically do not have any kind of extra puncture resistant measures in their construction. Adding extra puncture resistant layers and belts can cut down on flats, obviously, but such layers also make for a stiffer casing and add rolling resistance. Though Heine mentions in his articles that they use the Compass tires over all kinds of roads without issues, I might suggest that if someone is really concerned about punctures on their heavy-duty commuting bike that they ride over roads strewn with broken glass or goat-head thorns, they are probably not in the market for a lightweight performance tire. Just getting that out there.

So far, though, I'd say that if riders are interested in a light, fast, performance tire - especially one that looks right on a classic-styled bike - then the tires from Compass give us several more options and in a nice variety of available sizes.


  1. Perhaps just habit more than anything at this point, but, I always find myself buying Panasonic tires. One bike has got a set of Clement LCG(?) in 28mm width that I'm liking a lot, and there's been the odd other tire here-and-there that I've liked over the years, but when it comes right down to it, I know that if I buy a Pana tire, it's going to be good. I've tried an awful lot of their different models, but typically buy the armored paselas. Very good price/quality ratio in my book.

    I've never bought the Compass-branded tires, but am certainly intrigued. There's one bike in the fleet that I am horribly curious to see what a 650x42 tire would feel like on it. I imagine it would be nothing short of luxurious, but I am trying my best to not add yet another wheel size to my stable. If my willpower fades, it'll get Compass tires on it, I'm thinking.


  2. You have done me, and probably many others, a service with this disappointing news that Compass tires can measure undersize when mounted. They are expensive enough, inluding shipping, to make mistakes very expensive. With exchange rates and shipping a Canadian rider pays over $100 ea.

    I once wrote to ask Jan Heine why no more information in his web tire catalogue, like weights and typical mounted widths. (Remember Rivendell's photos of digital calipers measuring their tires?)

    I also asked why he did not simplify things by giving tires of like construction a single model name and then the usual "700 X 28mm, 30mm, 35mm, 42mm, etc.", rather than all the clever mountain pass names that don't mean much to people who live outside Washington State. Thank you for preceding "Chinook Pass" with the "28mm", saving the need to look it up.

    And thanks for reporting your positive experience with Challenge tires.

    1. They do seem nicely made, and yes, the names are less than straightforward. I didn't want to make TOO big of a deal about the size difference, as it isn't unusual for tires to run smaller than the listed size - but yes, if I'd realized that ahead of time, I'd have gone one size larger. However, one of the other commenters pointed out that in his experience, the tires may expand a little as they age (at least, his Rivendell tires made by Panaracer did). It's something I'll have to watch, and if I observe that to be the case, I'll definitely post something about it.

    2. I've used both the Challenge Parigi Roubaix and the 559 X so-called-32 Compass Elk Pass (extra light). From my experience, the Compasses are, if anything, better rolling than the PRs, and the PRs were superbe.

      I put the width of the Compass tires in quotes because mine too run small (and I've currently 5 of the Elk Passes installed -- 2 bikes and an extra wheel. On 19 mm outside rims they are just shy of 28 mm, and on 23 mm outside rims, they measure about 29 mm. But I don't mind! They EPs are so supple, smooth and, above all, fast, that 27 mm feels like 32 mm + with other tires; for example, they are smoother and certainly faster than the 559 X 1.35 or 622 X 35 Kojaks that I also have many miles on, and the Kojaks are very worthy tires indeed.

      Despite their featherlight weight -- my 559 X 32 EPs weigh an average 175 grams on a Pelouze mail scale -- they are surprisingly good on firmish dirt and light gravel, here in ABQ, NM goatheadcapital USA.

      Now for the caveat. When I first intalled the Parigi Roubaix, I patched literally 50 flats or so the first week. Light, supple tires don't function among goatheads. I installed Stan's (I now use Orange Seal, even better) and flats were a thing of the past. The same for the EPs: they'd be impossible here without sealant, but in all sincerity I really believe that tubular quality wired-ons and modern sealants together make up the most important technical advance in cycling since butted tubing.

    3. Thanks for adding your experiences - very valuable. I do suspect (as I mentioned) that part of the difference I perceive between the Compass and the P-R could be due to the slight difference in size/air volume. And I will be interested to see if the tires expand any as they age - as a couple people have said.

      Slightly related note - I am SO GLAD I don't live in goathead territory!

  3. I've got Compass tires on a couple of bikes, the Mercian I ride all the time has 32mm Extralight Stampede Pass tires that are almost 2 years old(maybe 4,000 miles or so?)and they're as great as Jan Heine described them. I've had 2 flats but I ride that bike like a 'Cross bike so I don't think it's the tires fault. I also use extralight 38mm Barlow Pass tires on my actual 'Cross bike for everything except racing and it's the Bomb as well.

    One thing to be aware of about lightweight tires in general and these in particular, as they age they will expand. Maybe not all the way to 28mm in your case but if you put them on a bike with tight clearances it could become a problem over time. I used to use the Jack Brown green 33mm tire on one of my bikes and I would take them off and put them on the Mercian long before they were cooked because the chainstay clearance got closer than seemed wise. At that point they measured over 36mm. When I put fenders on that bike I had to find something else, they were just too tight for safety.

    I'm thinking hard about building one of them there Enduro All-Road type bikes around the Compass Rat-Trap Pass 26" tire.


    1. I have definitely noticed that Panasonic tires normally start out skinnier than noted, but eventually grow into their size (or bigger). The armored versions seem to do this marginally less than the others.


  4. How might these compare to say, Continental 28mm All Season Grand Prixs?

    1. I couldn't say - as I've never used those Continental tires. Looking at the description and specs, though, they seem to have some flat-prevention belts and such - which would probably give them more puncture resistance at the expense of adding a bit more rolling resistance. That's a pretty normal trade-off.

    2. Based on my experience with 25mm Conti's GP4000 clinchers, Sprinter gatorskin and Competition tubulars AND 35mm Compass Extralights - all the Conti's feels like boatanchors.

      Rolling resistance, grip and smoothness on Compass's Extralight's (regardless if used with butyl tubes, latex tubes or tubeless) rivals the very best tubular tires mony can buy. They are THAT good...

  5. Yeah, they do run a little narrow. I've got some Rat Trap Pass EL on 24mm rims with inner tubes. Nominal width is 2.3", inflates to "only" about 53mm.

    Can't say I'm not happy with the tires, though. Quite fun having a vintage mountain bike drop bar conversion that rolls as well as my road bikes on smooth pavement, and can handle gravel no problem.

  6. I subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly and I run a set of Barlow Pass tires on my Sam Hillborne. I think my tires run about a mm narrower than indicated in the tire, using Compass Grand Bois rims. Jan talks about the disparity between labeled tire sizes and actual. It was written back in 2011, before he started selling tires under the Compass brand.

  7. Anyone compared Compass standard to Pannaracer Gravelking's in identical whiths? My Guess is that they are 100% identical - weight wise, thread pattern and thinkness is. (owning a pair of 35mm Extralights and recently a pair of 40mm Gravelking SK's).

  8. The Panaracer Gravel King tires are actually different from Compass tires in every way. The casing is reinforced for more puncture protection, but as pointed out in the post above, that makes them less supple, less comfortable, and less fast. Compass Extralight tires use Panaracer's top-of-the-line tubular casing, which they don't use for any of their own clincher tires. The Gravel Kings are based on the old Pari-Motos, whereas Compass tires use dedicated molds. We've added a millimeter of rubber, but only in the center of the tread (which is where the tire wears). This makes the tire last a lot longer, but doesn't measurably impact comfort or performance. (We've tested a set of worn-out Compass tires against a new set, and the performance was indistinguishable.)

    Jan Heine
    Compass Cycles

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jan -- I sure couldn't have answered that one with any certainty.

    2. thanks, unfortunately my 35mm extralight sidewalls has a major error (sealent boiled thrught the casing when i mounted them tubless which i gave up un and now the casing weave is beginnin to loosen thread by thread)
      And the brittish reseller i purchased them from is kind of slow at responding to emails (bought them summer 2016)