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Thursday
Jul132017

Does aero trump weight?

Who's ready for some heresy?!?!?!?

There are a lot of word pairs and stock phrases in cycling - crit monster, breakaway artist, TT specialist, and don't get me started on Phil and Paul and light the touch paper and that crap - but one of the more popular ones in the last several years has been "aero trumps weight." It's always phrased like that.

Of course there are formulas for this, and you can go to a site like Analytic Cycling (piece of trivia - that site was created by Katie Compton's dad) and plug in various numbers and parameters and see what's going to go faster when. Since nothing ever unconditionally trumps anything else, except ice cream and Charlie Watts which are both categorically superior to anything else, the buried premise here is that "it is easier to choose a piece of gear which has an aerodynamic benefit that's greater than what a similarly easy to execute weight swap would provide." In other words, it's easier to find a small yet impactful aerodynamic advantage than it is to find a similarly impactful weight advantage. And I'm not even going to really argue with that. My question is does any of it even bear fruit, and more directly does it matter to the average cyclist in our audience really even at all?

If you are racing time trials or triathlons competitively, you're nuts not to chase after aerodynamic gains. In those venues, only an idiot would argue that aerodynamics isn't important. I consider myself to not be an idiot and I would argue that aerodynamic differences between different pieces of gear are wildy oversold, but that's a different tangent.

If you are like our more typical customer, you ride your bike a lot, relatively quickly, and for enjoyment. Enjoyment might include the occasional race or race-like event, but far more often than not it's just riding, group rides, days getting lost in the hills or on the trails, making the motorcycle noise when you feel good, wishing it would all be over soon when you don't. 

Mike will suggest that I artfully put a bunch of links in here, which is hard to do in this, so I will put them in (what's the opposite of artfully? - clumsily?) clumsily. Some of the best wheels we make are FSW3, RFSW3, Select, Select Disc, Select MTB, and Custom

Without going into the fine points of all that this entails (against character, I'm going to make this real short), the wheels that we build are designed around being the best for those purposes. The applicability of a 70mm deep set of wheels (because in actual fact that's sorta kinda about where you need to be to really reap the gains) to that use case is limited. You're toting around extra weight, which may not have much quantitative penalty but which does make the bike feel differently in a way I have seldom to never heard anyone profess to prefer. You're toting around handling difficulties, and you're toting around either a big expense premium or a reliability question or both, probably toting around substandard-to-scary braking, and we just plain don't know what good that does for the people we address. 

It's well proven (and if you don't believe us, download issue #8 of Tour Magazine from 2016 and believe them) that the aerodynamic differences in the wheels that we use in the real world are pretty darn small (Tour says 13 watts between a Ksyrium - long the butt of many aerodynamics jokes - and a 404).

What we think you want, and certainly what we think makes the most sense given the whole context, is good quality components that are well chosen for your bike/tires/riding/weight/etc, assembled with great skill and care. You want to be reassured knowing that you're making or being guided to the right choices, and you really like when someone's got a meaningful, considered, relevant, and informed "because" on the back end of any recommendations. And that's all that we aim to do. If we could make it sexier, we would, but given the recent kit order propaganda (you can order it here), you've all seen enough pictures of my butt and that's about all the sexy the world can take from us. 

Thursday
Jul062017

The new site and costumes for errybody

We've been planning a new site for a long time. The particular difficulty in our case had been finding a platform that does both e-commerce and blog hosting well. Most of the awareness of us is driven through our blog, which is both a big word of mouth thing but also a big Google results thing - there are a lot of searches where we turn up high in the results, and we need that. But the e-commerce side of a custom wheel site is no mean feat, either. Consider that if someone wants a set of "Easton R90s with White Industries T11s," there are 7 hub color options, 4 different spoke lacing combinations, 4 different spoke type choices, and 8 nipple material/color choices.

That alone is more than some blog-heavy/commerce-light sites can manage. We offer tens of thousands of wheel choices. When you don't offer color choices and you limit rim options to a couple and hub options to a couple, it's really easy. Another way to do it is to offer only, say, three colors of hub (which a lot do). But again, we don't want to do that, and people come here expecting more than that, so all that would do would fill up our inbox with "can I get purple?" and then that swamps our time. We'd rather spend the communications time on substantive "what's going to be my best set of wheels" discussion and not on transaction mechanics. But since we don't have neither $1,000,000 to spend on the site nor the capacity to administer it as well as we'd like to, there will always be the need to do some things off the menu. The nature of custom. 

Our current site's mobile platform is also more or less terrible, and we want and need to improve that. Which happens with the new site. 

But we're close now. Our goal is to have the site live next week. Probably 90% of the variety of stuff we'd sell in a year is already loaded in and ready to go.

The new site also needed to help us with merchanidizing tires and rotors and cassettes and other stuff that makes your life easy when you get it through us. It's awfully nice to pull a completely ready to install set of wheels out of the box, equipped with stuff recommended by people who stay obssessively tuned in to this stuff and who ride and test and aren't limited to pushing one brand or another. 

Pat took this picture after smoking Dave (and everyone else) up App GapOne thing we actually can use some help from you on is pictures - we'd love to feature your wheels and bike in product photos for the new site. The standard wheels against a static background shots are fine, but people want to see what wheels look like on bikes. And they don't have to be the standard #baaw bike against a wall shots - odd duck, random cool photos are just hip and dandy with us. Send them to the info@ if you can - thanks.

So look out for that, watch the Tour, and buy some wheels.

In other news, Sagan got completely robbed. As we said on Twitter the other day, the only reason Sagan turned out to be the villain is that he had the skill and cajones to stay upright (and then get second - the AUDACITY!). If he falls over, the whole thing is Cav's fault 100%. As anyone who watched the Olympic MTB race last year saw, Sagan has a mix of power and skills that cycling has never seen. And while the world has seen his power before, I think it's never seen his skills. He got screwed. 

LAST, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT - YOU CAN BUY THE NEW NOVEMBER KIT WHENEVER YOU LIKE. Click on this link and it will take you to the Verge store where you can get the world's new favorite cycling costume. 

Thursday
Jun292017

Rim Reviews: Best of the Rest

Darwin has had his hand on the steering wheel of our business for a while now. We've organically evolved into a full service custom wheel building shop, because that's what the demand is for, that's where we can impart the most value, having our own products is onerous and limiting in terms of working capital requirements, vendor hassles and risk (watch this for a fun look at why label brands might not be all they're cranked up to be), and the market is exceptionally well suited to supply everything we need in order to build the wheels we think you should be riding. Our strongest suits have always been as selectors/editors, and assemblers, and we've stripped everything away to just do that. Happy times all around. 

A particular benefit of this is that we're unlimited in terms of what we can use. If we think one rim or hub is a unique tool for your application, we can use it without regard to our own brand components or needing to shift inventory or developing new products for a specific use at a rate beyond our capacity. If Stan's doesn't update their rims to something that we see a need for, Easton has something. If the RaceFace ARC24 is out of stock for an extended spell, why look the WTB KOM series covers that ground exceptionally well. New rims come out all of the time, use patterns change which might make one combo make way more sense, and as I just wrote in an email a few minutes ago, it's evolved to the point where the easiest route is just to contact us and tell us what kind of bike, tires, and use situation you've got, and we'll hit you back with our best options and a heaping dose of why we think each would be well suited to the task. All at assembly quality and pricing that, sorry to say it (but not really because that's become our space), the typical LBS is woefully unprepared to match. 

So having gone deep on the rims that it would be a weird week for us not to send out several builds of, we'll now take a quick look at some of the rims that we use often enough but are maybe in the backwoods of Select or Custom builds, or are maybe off the menu entirely (and in that vein, the new site is crazy close to launching).

Stan's Grail

The Grail is the "King of One Thing" - cross tubeless. Tire fit is a bit tight, but you want it to be. One of the more remarkable experiences I had with this rim was riding at Providence Festival of CX (sadly now somewhere in CT), coming off of this weird launch ramp over a curb off of a downhill and onto pavement, going about 20 in a vain attempt to stay with a group I didn't belong with in the first place. I went about 6' through the air, landed front tire first, at exactly 90* to the bike's direction of travel, and the tire (which had maybe 21 psi in it) stayed on. Tubeless cross has its limitations, but tires staying on the rims without burping doesn't have to be among them. It's also a lovely rim for gravel and some road disc use, but tire selection is important. We can guide you through that.

Kinlin TL23 (not pictured)

Kinlin TL23 is a very economical rim which we've used several times for disc 650b wheels. It punches WAY above its price point in terms of finish quality, and the 23mm internal width is fantastic for a big range of tires that get used in this new breed of "700c with road tires/650b with gravel tires" bikes.

DT RR411

A nice, light, economical, low profile rim that's well made and features an asymmetric profile for rim brake rears and disc brake use. Not quite as light as DT claims it to be (we get ~430 for symmetrical rims and ~440 for offsets), but still a very useful rim. Slightly narrower at 18 internal than a lot of the current crop, it works great when frame space is limited, or when you just want a light, low profile, no-nonsense wheel. Unlike the not-quite-as-nicely finished DT460, this comes in the full range of drillings down to 20h. Lighter riders eat this one up. 

WTB KOM

We love the i23 (23 internal) version of this for both 700c and 650b gravel builds. It's light enough, strong enough, very classy looking, has a great tubeless interface, and makes for happy customers. 

RaceFace ARC series

RaceFace is Easton's sister brand for mountain bike applications, and RaceFace rims share every accolade we've given to Easton rims. They're just outstandingly made. Options for 650b and 700c (and even 26), with widths appropriate for everything from wider gravel tires to fat tires. Dave's go-to for his own mountain bike wheels (I just referred to myself on the third person, sorry). Love. These. Rims. They're also launching a component carbon mtb rim in August, which is reasonably priced and covers the bases under which we will consider carbon to be beneficial and applicable. Of course we're still ultra enthusiastic about the alloy versions, as you should be as well.

Stan's MTB rims

Despite focusing more on their carbon-rimmed wheel systems, Stan's did a refresh on their alloy mtb series for 2017. The Crest, Arch, and Flow (in ascending order of burliness) are nearly ubiquitous at any mtb race or event, and for good reason: they're good and competitively priced. Stuff that works without costing you all of the fun tickets - what a concept. 

So that's just kind of a quick skim of some of the non-headline, but still very relevant, rims that we use in certain cases. There are more, but it's summer (finally, thankfully) and time is short. The last post of this series will be a summary overview, but first you should join us at the Vermont Gran Fondo this weekend. 

Tuesday
Jun272017

Rim Reviews: AForce Al33

The recent uncharacteristic blog silence is brought to you by the home rehab in which I am currently enmeshed. Plaster wall demolition is sort of like climbing practice, at least that's what I tell myself in advance of the Vermont Gran Fondo this coming weekend. Anyway, dealing with a 120 year old house takes time and most of my free mental time is usurped by trying to figure out the first floor's interior design (any kitchen experts out there?). 

So now we get a rim over which, many of you have noted, we've been quite enthusiastic for some time: the AForce Al33. These came onto our radar screen just about one year ago when we got a test set to build and use. They arrived at a perfect time for us, as we were seriously chewing on the carbon question and looking for a legitimate path forward that didn't include carbon and its inherent (and disqualifying) material and logistical liabilities. Building and riding them, I quickly first used a phrase I've used many times since - that these are "the best carbon clinchers on the market." We quickly decided to not only offer them for custom builds, but also to make them a centerpiece on their own - the RFSW3.

I'm not just the Hair Club president, I'm also a client!

Of course the immediate provocation for this title was the ceramic brake track, which gives them the look of carbon which, let's face it, knowing what we know now about aerodynamics, is carbon's compelling feature. But it's more than that, and what started as an off the cuff cliche has developed as I've ridden them more than any other wheels for a year now, and with normal machined brake tracks for much/most of that. 

The numbers: 32.5mm deep, 26mm max outside width, 19.6mm inside width, 495g/rim. Available in 20/24/28/32 drilling, with or without PEO ("ceramic") brake tracks. Tubeless ready, with quite easy tire fit (tubeless inflation needs a compressor or charge pump with some tires). We got a surprise set of disc rims (fully anodized, no machined brake track) last week but honestly they're not even unwrapped yet. Busy. The finish quality out of the gate has been extraordinarily good. We've had a couple of rims we put to the side, but for a new product from a new company, it would be tough to ask for a better start. 

As we'll get to in the summary of this review endeavour, a prominent characteristic of wheels is their feel. Each of the rims we've reviewed thus far has a feel. You can tune that feel with different complementing components, but the rim sets the mood. Al33 builds feel like riding mid-depth, wide carbons, with some advantages over them. An adjective that often gets used with them is "planted" - you set a line through a turn and they're going to get you through that line. They won't make you turn better (no equipment "makes you" do anything better), but they will certainly allow you to explore and stretch the outer bounds of what you can do. And they feel awfully fast and they build into the kind of wheels where you all of a sudden hear yourself making motorcycle noises as you're riding along. If, as is the case for so so so so many people, your riding consists of a heavy diet of "crit, group ride, rinse, repeat" these are seemingly the basis for the ultimate set of wheels for that agenda. 

The customer feedback from builds with these has been as strong as we've experienced with any wheels ever. One guy was upset that they weren't lighter. Beyond that, it's pretty much been a complete love fest. 

Of course the brake track needs some discussion. I refer to the PEO coating as a "durable black brake track treatment." It's orders of magnitude more durable than anodizing, which will wear off at the first sign of using your brakes in even damp conditions, but it's not impervious to any wear. Some places selling similarly treated rims state plainly in their web store copy that it will not wear off, and then say elsewhere that it can get damaged by certain things. Use the right brake pads (which we supply with rims and builds) and keep things clean and the black brake tracks will stay intact for a good long time. The braking, particularly in damp conditions, is a bit better with the PEO rims, but not incredibly so. People forget that one of the myriad benefits of alloy rims is that you can use conditions-specific pads, and that all pads are not equal in the first place. Use SwissStop BXPs or KoolStop dual compounds on your regular alloy rims and your life will get better all around. In any case, the PEO coating certainly adds to the story of these rims, but it is not THE story of them - as my personal set of wheels attests. 

Last, these have often been tagged as "expensive for alloy" rims, just like HEDs are. We don't consider these, or our builds with these, as comparable to what you're going to see out of carbon at a similar pricepoint. If you could make an NSW-tier alloy, these would be there (as the majority of our builds would be, quite simply). So we will unapologetically compare the wheels we build not to price similar carbons, but to premium-and-better wheels no matter their material content. 

PEO brake track rims have been out of stock for a while but we are just days away from getting them back in*, and machined brake track versions are available for immediate builds. 

*unless something stupid happens in shipping/customs

Tuesday
Jun202017

Rim Reviews: HED Belgium+

HED is responsible for some major innovations. You can quibble over the fine details of who did what, but HED was certainly very involved in the development of wider, more blunt aerodynamic rim shapes as well as wider road rims in general. The HED C2 was a seminal rim in the proliferation of the wide road rim trend. Interestingly, HED as a company has stayed out of the full carbon clincher game even to this day, which doesn't stop their Jet wheels from being a top choice for people chasing the asymptotes of aerodynamic gains. But today we look at the rim that really blew it wide open for HED's reputation in alloy rims - the Belgium+.


We've used this pic 100 times. It's pretty

At the outset, I will give HED (like we did Easton) tremendous credit for making these available as component rims. As we've been discussing in the last few posts, it's easy to support a higher price point for complete wheel products when the components used within them don't have MSRPs that you can look up and do a little math to figure out what kind of premium you're paying for "productization." And though it's easy to accuse HED of pushing the limit of alloy rim price points, you can still do builds with tremendous value based on a Belgium+ - we can build you a custom wheel set with hubs that are the easy equal of most "premium" wheel system hubs with CX Rays for $720. Bump the hubs up to WI T11s and you're at $880. Compare what else is out there at anything close to that price point and then tell us that HEDs are expensive.

There's also the ridiculous "expensive for alloy" argument. If you'd rather have the carbon wheels you can get for $880, with the purchase process and customer support inherent with them, instead of a set of wheels built with the nicest alloy rims made and paired with the best spokes and hubs that have no superior on the market, we just can't help you. That's an idiotic premise. Oh and don't forget that Belgium+ are the aerodynamic equal of Flo 30s (don't get me started), and exceptionally competitive even compared to Zipp 303s. 

So I just used this phrase "nicest alloy rims made." Yeah? Yeah. The first thing I noticed when we got our first Easton rim in for testing was that Eastons are clearly made by the same people who make HED's rims. This was like an immediate "oh these will be great rims" tell. Let's go back to November 2014 and repeat what I said about HED rims in our road and cx rim roundup from back then - "What I'm saying there is that a HED alloy is darn near at the limit of what an alloy rim can be, fit and finish-wise." When you build a HED rim properly, you can make the spoke tensions darn near exactly the same in any group. The reason why you can do this is that the rim is rolled completely round, and the extrusion (the raw aluminum shape that becomes the rim) is freakishly uniform in thickness and incredibly straight, with no weird hard spots in the metal. The join is more or less invisible. This gives the rim durability and strength, which goes back to the value/expense issue - you're getting return on the extra spend on these since they're so freaking strong and durable. 

 

Is this all that big of a love-fest? Kind of. They're great rims. The magic of the Easton rims is that they more or less do what HEDs do for less money, but it's not that much of a premium. Just like Eastons, putting tires on is easy, and tubeless setup is easy as well. Aggressive cross tubeless use isn't quite as tight with Belgium+ rims - although I've heard several people swear by them, it takes a really tight fitting tire (Hutchinson) to get the most out of them. Their ~460/rim weight doesn't make them lightweights, but it does put them comfortably into a category where you only really go much lighter because you want your scale to say a certain number. 

HED covers the gamut of spoke drilling options, as well - 20/24/28/32 rim brake and 24/28/32 disc. On HED's factory builds, they put a rider weight limit of 225 pounds on their 18/24 lacing. We're a whole bunch more conservative than that, but there are certainly use cases for each lacing option. 

For a very lively, responsive, light and light-feeling wheelset that sets tires up extraordinarily well, has aerodynamics that make all of your KOMs all your own (and leaves fault for the ones you miss entirely with your legs), will last a long long time with zero headache, and makes you "the guy who's smart about the stuff s/he buys" in any bunch, Belgium+ are almost impossible to top. Buy a set, we love building them.