First Impressions: Compass Barlow Pass & Stampede Pass Tires

Riders who prefer skinny tires have plenty of options when it comes to high-performance rubber. But you’re looking for a wide, supple tire, the pickings can be mighty slim. Thanks to Seattle’s Compass Bicycles, fans of wide tires don’t have to sacrifice width for performance.

Compass offers tires for 26″, 650B, and 700C rims. All Compass tires feature folding beads, and most models are available in standard and extralight versions. For long life (and improved puncture resistance), both versions–which are handmade in Japan by Panaracer–feature 3 mm tread thickness. Extralight tires are available with tan or black sidewalls, while standard models are only offered with tan sidewalls.

Model Weight (g) Width (mm)
Stampede Pass
(standard)
281 31.5
Stampede Pass
(extra light)
251 31.8
Barlow Pass
(extra light)
370 37.8
Tires measured on Rolf Prima VCX rims with 22.6 mm outer and 18.4 mm inner widths.

We tested Compass’ 700×32 Stampede Pass in the standard ($57 MSRP) and extralight versions ($76 MSRP), and the extralight 700×38 Barlow Pass model ($78 MSRP). Our testing took place on paved and unpaved roads, and included both utility and recreational riding. Tires were installed (with tubes) on a variety of rims, including models from ENVEHED, Mavic, Rolf Prima, and Specialized. All three sets of tires mounted easily on our test wheels, and seated without any hops or wobbles.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Compass Stampede Pass Black Mountain Cycles TRP RG957 HED Ardennes Plus LT Cane Creek

From ten feet away, one might mistake the Stampede Pass for a basic commuting or touring tire. The tan sidewalls give off a retro vibe that belies the tires’ modern construction and materials. For those that prefer a more modern aesthetic, the extralight version is also available with black sidewalls. On the road and trail, the Stampede Pass tires delivered a smooth, nimble ride. The minimal tread proved effective on hardpack dirt roads, and behaved predictably on wet and snow-covered pavement. While the Stampede Pass tires have a maximum pressure of 90 psi, we never ran more than 80 psi on paved roads.

As good as the standard Stampede Pass versions are, the extralights are in a completely different league. Plush doesn’t even begin to describe the extralights’ ride. The extralight Compass tires practically floated over chipseal roads and broken pavement. In theory, the lighter casings are more susceptible to damage, but we didn’t encounter any issues with the extralight models. Interestingly enough, the only puncture that we experienced during our testing occurred with the standard Stampede Pass tires on an early morning commute. Based on the size of the flint-like shard that caused the flat, we suspect that a heavier, less-supple tire would have met the same fate.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Compass Barlow Pass Rolf Prima VCX Disc Salsa Vaya

While not every bicycle can accommodate 38 mm wide tires, the ones that can will definitely benefit from the Barlow Pass’ smooth, fast ride. The tires’ plump profile proved ideal for mixed-terrain commuting and recreational rides. Some riders may balk at the idea of using $78 tires for commuting, but the Barlow Pass’ superior performance inspired us to seek out longer routes to and from our destinations. We didn’t test the tires in any competitive events, but Compass Bicycles’ Jan Heine reports that many of his customers choose the company’s tires for gravel racing (Heine completed the 360-mile Oregon Outback event on Compass extralight tires with no flats or tire damage).

Are the Barlow Pass tires effective on dirt and gravel? Most definitely–if you understand the limitations of their minimal tread. Performance on hardpack dirt is excellent. Shallow gravel was no problem, but you’ll probably want a wider tire for deeper gravel. In mud or loamy soil, we certainly noticed the lack of knobs. Compass’ Barlow Pass tires really shine on washboard dirt roads; we could comfortably cruise along at a good clip thanks to the tires’ passive suspension properties. And although they are rated to 75 psi, dropping the Barlows’ pressure down to 35 psi (front) and 45 psi (rear) will make them behave like a much wider tire on dirt and gravel.

If you need the reliability of heavily armored tires, the extralight Compass models may not be the right choice for your application. For average riding conditions–including mixed terrain use–we have no qualms recommending the standard Stampede Pass and Barlow Pass tires. Riders who are looking for the next level of performance and comfort owe it to themselves to check out Compass’ extralight tires.

Disclosure: Compass Bicycles provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: MORSA Designs Accessory Mounts

Handlebar real estate is a precious thing. If you’re one of today’s well-connected cyclists, there’s a good chance that your bicycles’ handlebars are overflowing with electronic accessories. Making room for a new toy–whether it’s the latest POV camera or smart phone–sometimes means leaving one gadget behind. Not so with the MORSA mounting system. The modular design can accommodate two accessories, and takes up less space on the handlebar than even the tiniest cycle-computer.

At the heart of the MORSA system is the company’s carbon-composite mounting arm ($20.00 MSRP). The arm allows you to mount one or two accessories using MORSA’s adapters $10.00/ea MSRP), which are available for Garmin-style computers, Rokform phone cases, and Garmin, GoPro, and Shimano cameras. MORSA also offers a universal adapter ($10.00 MSRP) that is compatible with nearly any accessory that normally clamps to a 31.8mm handlebar.

Unlike some dedicated accessory mounts, the MORSA system does’t limit your accessories’ positions to one or two options. If you want to mount your GoPro camera level but prefer your Magellan GPS positioned at an angle, that’s no problem. The mounting arm can also be flipped so that devices can mount in front of, or behind the handlebar, and the adapters’ positions can be adjusted independently of one another (and relative to the mounting arm).

We tested the MORSA with a variety of accessories including Garmin Edge 500 and Magellan Cyclo 505 cycle computers, lights from Lupine and Phillips, and wearable devices from Mio and Polar. Even when paired with the heavier items, we didn’t detect any slipping or unwanted flex with the MORSA system. And despite our initial concerns, the small, low-torque fittings held tight over washboard dirt and gravel roads. Swapping the mounting arm between different bikes was easy thanks to system’s hinged-clamp design.

MORSA’s modular, à la carte design makes it easy to configure the exact system for your particular accessories. Compared to many competitors’ single-device mounts, the MORSA system is a real bargain. One addition that we’d like to see is a bespoke adapter for Magellan’s excellent Cyclo computers (Magellan uses a slightly different mounting foot than Garmin).

Disclosure: MORSA Designs provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Blackburn Design Outpost Packs

It’s no secret that bikepacking has exploded in popularity over the past few years. And as more and more riders sought out two-wheeled adventure, a cottage industry of bespoke bag makers helped satisfy the need for specialized gear. In 2014, Blackburn Design threw their hat in the bikepacking ring with the company’s introduction of their Outpost line of products.

Blackburn’s Outpost bags include a top tube pack ($44.99 MSRP), handlebar roll ($74.99 MSRP), and seat pack ($99.99 MSRP). Each Outpost bag attaches directly to the bike–no racks are required. When a company that practically built itself on racks delves into the rackless bag market, you know that bikepacking has officially crossed over to the mainstream.

To test Blackburn’s new Outpost packs, GRAVELBIKE enlisted the help of local cyclist Noah Schabacker. Having grown up along Colorado’s Front Range, Schabacker is no stranger to riding his bicycle on dirt and gravel roads. After putting the Outpost bags through the wringer, he shared his thoughts on Blackburn’s bikepacking goods.

Top Tube Pack
Blackburn’s Top Tube Pack has a number of useful features that came in handy when riding a century, or when there wasn’t room for a conventional seat bag. The Top Tube Pack has a mesh top pocket that closes with Velcro, an open pouch on the side, a zippered side pocket, and a main pocket with a zipper that runs around the top of the bag. There’s also a clever divider that attaches with Velcro to the sides of the main pocket, but can be moved anywhere inside the bag–if you want to divide the compartment in half, or ¾, or have it uninterrupted, that’s easy to do. The main compartment’s zipper opens wide so you can see everything inside; on the other hand, the need to run it all the way around the bag to really get into the pocket makes it slightly more difficult to use when pedaling.

I like to carry extra food and some small tools in a top tube bag so that I’m prepared for whatever I might encounter, and the Top Tube Pack swallowed some jerky, two Bonk Breaker bars, a mini chain tool, and some hand sanitizer without complaint. The side pockets are a little difficult to get into because of their small size–not quite the right size for a credit card–but they would accommodate some folded cash and coins. The top mesh pocket will take a gel packet.

When I was commuting using the Outpost Seat Pack, I could fit a tube, a mini tool, and a tire lever with plenty of room to spare–that’s when the divider came in handy to help control the space and keep things from shifting around.

Handlebar Roll
Blackburn’s Handlebar Roll ($74.99 MSRP) is the item that really stands out the most from the systems that are most common in the bikepacking world. Rather than using straps to attach the (included) drybag and wrap (kind of like a burrito), Blackburn instead relies on a nylon mount with a quick release. It takes up a little extra space on the bars and requires some angling when not using bars with a wide flat section, but it has the advantage of allowing you to quickly release the roll and carry it using the included strap. For my commuting use, I appreciated that easy on-off; but if you’re touring, you’ll want to bring it with you because the roll is so easy to detach. The mount itself seems sturdy, but it would be worthwhile to keep an eye on it if you’re depending on it in the backcountry, to make sure that it doesn’t loosen from your bars or develop any cracks over time.

The Handlebar Roll fit fine on my drop handlebars (46cm width), but the drops also limited the amount of stuff I could fit into the drybag. As seen in the photos, I also tested it on a bike with mustache handlebars–this required angling the mounting hardware so it was above the bar. The Handlebar Roll is best suited to flat bars such as standard mountain bike bars, or variants like the Jones H-Bar. You’ll also want to make sure you have about 2.5 inches of spare space on either side of your stem in order to mount the quick release hardware.

Even so, the Handlebar Roll also performed well–the attachment was rock solid, but still released with just a twist of the wrist when I wanted it to. The wrap and the drybag attach to each other with Velcro, which was convenient for the initial attachment while connecting the buckles that hold everything together. The drybag is shaped like an hourglass, so thinner (and denser) items should go in the center, and then more voluminous items (like clothing) are better suited to the outside. The carry straps double as extra support for the wider outside sections. Again, things stayed together well, with no unwanted movement or interference with steering. One advantage to the mounting hardware is that it moves the Handlbar Roll far enough off your stem that it should avoid interfering with a cantilever brake cable. My one complaint is that the drybag is pretty stiff, which makes it a little tougher to roll down tight for smaller loads. This is a setup that wants to carry near full capacity.

Seat Pack
Blackburn’s take on the Seat Pack is innovative. Instead of a roll-top bag, or a completely open carrier that requires a drybag, the Seat Pack allows you to use a drybag (included) or pack various smaller items into it. The tail of the Seat Pack is also kind of like the floating front panels on some larger backpacks, allowing you to carry wide, cylindrical or oblong objects without having to find a place to cram them (a yoga mat or a sleeping pad would be ideal here). The Seat Pack attaches to your seatpost and saddle rails, and then snugs against those to compress and control the load. The drybag is different from a standard one in that it’s multilayered: The outer layer is an abrasion resistant nylon, followed by a very thin padding layer, and finished off with a waterproof layer. I don’t know whether Blackburn recommends it for rafting, but it seems ideal for use on the bike.

My inaugural ride with the Seat Pack was an exciting 30-mile commute that featured mud, snow, and freezing temperatures. The Seat Pack drybag swallowed several days’ worth of clothing (including button-down shirts for the office) without complaint. That same drybag lived up to its name–I arrived at the office with clean and dry clothes. The Seat Pack held snug, with no swaying or bouncing (I forgot it was there until I pulled up to the office). I especially liked the daisy chain nylon across the rear of the shove-it tail–I was able to attach two rear lights there so cars could see me, and I imagine it would hold other lightweight items well. Additional rides weren’t quite as exciting as the first one, but the Seat Pack never disappointed.

Blackburn is doing some interesting things with their new line of rackless bags. The bags have innovative features that help them carry well. My favorite feature remains the beavertail on the Seat Pack; being able to slide in a sleeping pad or a sleeping bag in sideways (in its own drybag) would solve one of the difficulties with carrying that sort of bulky-but-light object in other rackless bag setups.

Disclosure: Blackburn Design provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

Special thanks to Noah Schabacker for his contributions to this review.