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Featured Build

We're psyched to offer USA made Industry Nine Torch hubs in our latest Featured Build. Paired with Easton R90 SL rims (in rim or disc brake) they build into a highly satisfying wheelset in the 1550g range, customizable with your choice of 11 color hubs. Starting at $820

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Friday
Sep232016

Interbike news

Astute readers of the blog will be aware that we've been testing a new rim for a couple of months now, and will likely have been frustrated with our caginess regarding same. Last night, I got a text from Interbike, where said rim is being shown, that said "dude, people are going GAGA over these!" To which I replied "well, duh - welcome to the first time I've said I told you so." Product announcements are always hard to time, but at the risk of making everyone want these before they're available (we'll be able to start shipping them in November - what a great month!), here you go. We've got roughly 1500 miles on a set of AForce AI33 rims, and they're great. I'm actually the first person in the US to have built or ridden a set, and it's been fun to sit back and read what the peanut gallery's had to say online while I've been secretly riding around on them. 

Specs are pretty simple: 32.5mm deep, 19.6 inside brake track, 24.2 outside brake track, 26.2 max width, with a nice 9mm tall brake track. Per rim weight is 470.5 (it's claimed at 465, ours are 470 and 471). The extrusion thickness at the nipple bed is 2.1mm, which is thick for a performance-oriented and weight-conscious rim. The shape, as you can see from the pics, is toroidal. They are made of a 6000-series aluminum alloy variant that is claimed as harder and stiffer than normal rims. I can vouch for the stiffness, and they sound different from other alloy rims when you're handling them. Durability has been on fleek to date (see what I did there?).

Nice shape

The set we have has internal nipples and 2:1 lacing on the rear, as well as the optional ceramic brake track. Our inclination is to stock and do standard builds with external nipples, 1:1 rear lacing, and do the ceramic brake track. With so limited a universal of test rims, we're testing what we were given to test. Given that they are absolutely arrow straight after what I've put them through, I'd be fine going with internal nipples but people generally hate them. 2:1 lacing solves for a situation (inadequate non-drive tension) that hasn't been an issue in thousands of our builds, and it leaves a LOT of space between non-drive side points of control (like 8"). The ceramic brake track is a huge part of the story, though, and I can't see us selling a single set without it. 

1500 miles worth of brake track wearMost people just looking at the wheels assume they're carbon. The ceramic brake track has developed a sheen much like what you'd see on a carbon brake track. The wear is even. The rims still look great. I'm far from a maintenance freak, and since the supplied pads got lost in transit I've been using a set of the carbon pads we used to supply with older generation Rails. At first I used pads for alloy rims and they freaked me out with how much pad slough (new term, there) there was. BikeRadar experienced a similar thing with the supplied pads in their review of them. The Rail pads have had none of that, they're dead silent, and they brake at par with Easton and HED rims (which is to say as well as any rim I've ever used). I don't know what effect they have on rate of wear, but since the rate of wear using them is so darn minimal I think I'm glad that we have a large box of leftover pads to use with them. 

Mmm, carbon-y looking

As to the aerodynamics, we can't yet say precisely (as you know, saying without knowing isn't our game). We're coordinating a significant wind tunnel trip (A2 will do the testing) that will give a definitive look at how these compare to standard-bearer carbon wheels (404s), shallower carbon wheels, and other alloy rims on the market. Expect that to happen within about the month. From riding, I can tell you that they aren't slow, and that they are as manageable in crosswinds as any wheel I've used. Tire installation is easy, and the tubeless interface works great for road. Haven't tried a CX tire on them yet. 

Our enthusiasm for these is a continuation of the philosophy we've been developing for almost two years now, that resulted in our decision to end the Rail 34, and coming to a peak with this post I wrote in May of this year. A tubeless-compatible carbon clincher of this width, depth, and assumed aerodynamic profile would weigh not less than 20g per rim less than these, at somewhere starting at somewhat more expensive than these (for "who knows where it came from" eBay/Alibaba carbon) to 4+ times as expensive for super premium options. The final analysis will hinge somewhat on what A2 tells us, but so far these are among the nicest road wheels I've ever used. It's something of a golden age for alloy fans as the Easton R90SL slots right into that group, too. And I've ridden darn near everything. 

So there you go, some breaking news for you. 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Sep202016

Genuine Risk

We consider ourselves to be good salesmen. That mark is a little fraught, as it will inevitably conjure up an image of an overweight guy with a bad comb-over and white belt and shoes, chomping a cigar while patrolling the used car lot. We don't mean that. What we mean is that when someone contacts us, we will put forth a genuine effort to match that person's stated needs and goals with a product. We have the luxury of always getting to recommend what we earnestly believe to be the best match, without needing to offload aging inventory to beat a payable date or whatever else might shade our advice. The risk we run is that we're too genuine. 

Genuine Risk, the horseSure enough, we're enthusiastic about bikes and riding and wheels and what we do. But we are who we are. We don't own a sock game, I can't recall a time that either of us could accurately have been called "on fleek," the only doping we do at this point is with Geritol, we're not rad (good lord, are we ever not rad), and our bikes are not steeds, rigs, wagons, or whips - they're just bikes. And that's the way it is for us. I know that I cost us two sales last week simply because I kept having to ask "can you please tell me what you mean by that?" in response to clearly hip lingo of which I was categorically ignorant.

Genuine Risk, the boatFor some of you, how we are is a plus. For many many many other people, it's a big minus. I'm not going to tell you that all the stuff about trendy language and words and rad colors and on point this and sock-doping-wheel-doping-kit-doping necessarily detracts from the job at hand of building wheels as well as possible, I can just tell you that our 8-track doesn't play those songs (see what I did there?). It's all well and good if that's what sweetens your coffee, it's just that for us to engage in that kind of talk would be genuine pandering. 

We've always been about finding the audience that's matched to who we are and how we do what we do. As salesmen and business owners, we're not in an rush to alienate market segements that our products could serve rather well, but we do need to run the risk of staying genuine.

And now pardon us while we go yell at some clouds. And please - get offa my lawn.

Tuesday
Sep132016

USDA Prime Hubs

Blog time has been at a premium lately. The other element, quite honestly, is that the editorial idea pile hasn't exactly been overflowing. Today's topic comes, as many have, thanks to my morning perusal of the industry headlines. It's about hubs.

Very early on, we became convinced of the value of great hubs, and we emphasized it. Certainly with rim brakes, the hub is the only non-consumable part of the wheel. Spokes can act non-consumable, but when your rims wear out and you get new ones, if you get different rims than the ones you had you probably need new spokes. But a great set of hubs can be used nigh on forever if it's well cared for. Plus they usually survive whatever crash you might throw at them. 

A lot of the brands against which we're compared have always primarily used hubs that are closely comparable to the Novatec hubs we first sold. That's not a bad thing, as they are pretty nice hubs. You can read more in-depth about hubs in this post which is from 18 months ago. Now, many of those brands are offering more boutique or name brand hubs as options in their builds. The critical thing is that we were so often being compared against them as we were at or near price parity with them when our build had name brand hubs (White Industries T11s more often than not) and theirs had OEM-spec hubs. Now they are bolting a few hundred dollars onto their prices with the name brand hub options. For many, it's an exercise in "more expensive must mean better." If you're reading this, I expect more from you than that. 

Red may be the fastest color and all, but we sell an awful lot of pink

We're currently doing a featured build with Industry Nine hubs. We've been flirting with I9 for a long time, and I'm not going to lie a big part of that has been that they are dead sexy, but they've also got a great rep coming mostly out of the mountain bike sphere, and mountain bikers trash hubs. Like the old Life cereal ads, if they like it, it's got to be good. They also do some things uniquely nicely, which is a separate topic. But we're also not far away from adding back some OEM hub options to the mix, which will provide a marked contrast to some of what we've seen.

Let's say Wheel Company A has a build for $750 with OEM hubs, good house-labeled alloy rims, and CX Rays. Leaving aside the whole "are CX Rays worth it over Lasers" question for a moment, there is no second of my life that I'll think that our $785 Select+ build with T11s, Easton R90SL rims, and CX Rays doesn't absolutely blow Company A's build out of the water. There's no comparison to me. But when Company A adds a name brand hub as an option and adds $300 or even more to the price of their wheels, you have to be kidding me. The only thing better about the Company A proposition in that case is their increased margin.

Conversely, when we reintroduce OEM spec hubs as an option, we will categorically NOT be chopping $300 or more off our price. They will be less expensive, for sure. The benefit of offering a still-awesome set of wheels with a more attainable price is self evident - they will be great wheels and a great value. But we never puffed up the price with the name brand hubs so there won't be a price reduction equivalent to the increase we're seeing from others as they add name brand options. 

 

Wednesday
Sep072016

A complex sport's beautiful simplicity 

Eurobike 2016 is a wrap. From what we've seen, this was a year of refinement and normalization rather than a year of "that's just crazy enough to work!" new stuff. For cycling to work best, in our view, there needs to be a cutting edge, but the cutting edge should be just that - the edge. For the huge majority of people, what gives the best ownership experience will come from evolution and not revolution (and 12 demerits to me for using one of history's worst cliches - sorry).

This is perhaps why we like cross so much. I mean, yeah, disc brakes are disruptive, but they also work better for the average racer who doesn't have mechanics tuning a fleet of 8 bikes and 47 sets of wheels. And tubeless is evolving quickly in cross, but again that marches toward a real world benefit - the ability to use more tires while owning fewer wheels, with less installation hassle than tubulars. And tubulars are still available and work the best (yes, tubulars are the best use experience, but come with an ownership hassle) so it's not that anything has been sacrificed in order to make way for tubeless. 

No front shifting, no tubes, and a more in-shape Dave

In anything, cross sees more addition by subtraction than addition by addition. Many people, me happily included, are down to one chainring. Didn't need a new crank or anything to do it, just a chainring that needed replacing anyway. The front derailleur now sits in the parts box, and the cable for it is long gone. 

A cross race is short, and you want to maximize your experience with it. A bit like riding in general for most people; you don't get enough time to do it, so you'd like to optimize the time you have. My road bikes (yes I have two - one disc, one rim brake - this is necessary to do my job) have achieved "this works perfectly so why would I change a thing?" We aspire to being the wheel part of an equivalent situation for each of our customers. Sometimes the real jewel is the new thing that offers something great, but more often the prizes are the tried and true things that work perfectly. Maybe not the lightest, or deepest, or widest, or anythingest, but often as not the best.

What achieves that best for you will depend, of course, on you. We're here to help you sort through finding that, and then to execute it as well as it can be done. 

Thursday
Sep012016

New year new stuff same focus

A mistake that the bike industry so often makes is that it decouples use experience from ownership experience. So much top level use experience comes from emaciated pros who ride at improbable speeds over inhospitable terrain, and then having crossed the finish line hand their bikes to a mechanic who ensures that said bike is perfect for the next stage. Ownership is a little different, and often involves a bit of compromise. Also, pros race on tubulars. Tubulars are so different than clinchers that lessons learned on one are more or less inapplicable to the other, rim-wise.

What we sell over the next year will be perhaps more different than it's been in any year since we introduced the Rail 52 nearly 4 years ago (and a brief "holy cow it's been almost 4 years" on that one). The focus that we've always had on advocating wheel products that offer a tremendous ownership experience, which of course includes the use experience as a hugely significant subset, will steadfastly remain. 

The Rail 52 stays the same, since it's still so well suited to the job of being a very fast road wheel for road bikes. One of the themes at Eurobike, and throughout everything, is disc brakes. We are building and shipping the first round of Range builds right now, and we're quietly confident that we've hit the bullseye on that one. 

Unless HED throws some unforeseen changes in, their rim lineup will stay substantially the same. The asterix on that is that they're doing a little subtraction by subtraction, with the excellent Belgium+ disc tubular going away. The simple fact is that tubulars are a non-entity in the current consumer landscape, with the exception of cross racers. Even in cross, tubulars seem to be tailing off. 

The Easton R90SL rims have elbowed their way into a position of prominence in our order book, and in our esteem. Easton has had a series of hub designs that maybe tried too hard to be innovative, and their factory builds have always been a bit underspoked for our tastes, but the rims are a stunning example of normalcy. They aren't the lightest, nor widest, nor deepest, nor anything-est. What they are is well constructed, of a current shape that makes a ton of sense for their intended use, and as light as they can reasonably be. Anyone self-identifying as a "weenie" of any stripe will be totally non-plussed by them, which goes a long way to explaining why we, as dyed in the wool "normal stuff that works well weenies" like them so much.

As stated before, there is a new road rim that the internet has begun to talk about, which we've been testing for nearly 1000 miles of use now. An ever present challenge is that you'd like to have 10 people of various weights and riding styles and agendas test them for a complete life cycle before you get excited about them. The reality is that reality never affords this opportunity. Since a lot of this rim's story is about aerodynamics, we more or less demanded that they be wind tunnel tested, and we've successfully made that case so we're spearheading a wind tunnel test with them.

Some existing rims are going away and being replaced with new models. We've had the opportunity to beta test a bunch of these (seriously, I either need to spend all day riding or just get a bike that uses 6 wheels) and ultimately time will tell. There are always cases where time has told a different story than the initial "ooh ahh pretty new!" excitement gives, so as much as is possible for a company the size of ours, we put a big focus on getting to the time that will tell as quickly as possible.