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The Wrong Tool For The Job

Well, we've had this year's warped rim incident.  It happened in a century ride, on a hill that the rider described as "incredible.  Long, steep, and windy..."  The rider is a big guy (240 pounds), making his situation a perfect storm of the sort that I described here last year.   The disappointing thing about this is that the rider who had this happened got in touch a few weeks ago to tell us that he loved the wheels, but had popped a tube on a descent and wondered if the 145psi he regularly used was too much pressure.  We reiterated that we recommend no higher than 125psi, that 145 was dangerous, and that we did not recommend carbon clinchers for situations where one might need to control one's speed for long distances. Exactly the kind of situation he was in. 

A lot of companies out there will tell you that carbon clinchers are a great choice in any situation.  It's our firm belief that this has never been the case and that it is not now the case.  Carbon clincher manufacture has improved, as has brake pad compatibility.  Some situations that would have demolished first generation carbon clinchers are well within the envelope now.  As a testament to the strength of our carbon clinchers, consider that the rider who warped his rims had already exploded two tubes on this ride, without damaging the rims.  This is in addition to the tube he'd exploded prior.  So his tubes gave him two very loud (I presume quite literally) and clear warnings, yet he pressed on through.  

The concerning thing for us in not that we now have to make with a new set of rims and build a warranty set.  Yes, we are going to warranty this set, although the absolute disregard for what we thought were pretty customer-centric use and warranty terms and conditions have caused us to modify them (new T&Cs here).  The concerning thing is that by using such the wrong tool for the job, the rider and all of the riders around him are put at serious risk.  

Carbon clinchers are a fantastic tool for a lot of riding.  I am I don't know how many thousand miles into my set, and they have been flawless, and they are currently the only wheels I have to use.  That is the kind of faith we have in our carbon clinchers - they are the only wheels I currently use.  I'm also 165 pounds, don't ride down monster switchback descents in traffic, don't ride my brakes, maintain my brake pads, and generally stay within the use parameters we've always espoused.  Although we really don't recommend it (and have always excluded damage from it), I raced our district's annual "spring classic" - complete with one mile of dirt road per lap, for a total of six miles of dirt road taken at race speed - on RFSC38s last weekend. And I wasn't dicking around at the back of the field either, I made the break and got fifth.  Last night, I took several trips down a hill that's about 1k long, straight and steep, using several different braking techniques.  Normally, you'd get to about 35 on this hill before needing to brake for the light at the bottom.  I held my speed to 20 on one descent, and though the rims were warm to the touch, there was no issue. 

Heat warping does not happen in normal use modes.  It happens when you take the wheels out of the parameters in which they work.  There are few better wheels to use in your typical road race or office park crit than a well built set of carbon clinchers.  As evidenced by prominent rides (notably, Levi's Gran Fondo) preventing their use, there are some situations in which carbon clinchers are the WRONG choice.  Going down what would ordinarily be a fast and challenging descent with 500 or 5000 of your closest friends, some of whol might be a heck of a lot more proficient at going up hills than they are going down them, is the wrong time to be on carbon clinchers. 

Despite quite a bit of marketing to the contrary, this isn't an issue that the expensive brands have solved.  A bit of Google will show you that, and I'll tell you once again that almost exactly one year ago I saw, firsthand, a set of the most heavily marketed carbon clinchers fail due to heat - in exactly the type of conditions where we warn of their deficiency. The specific set of wheels that are more than any other responsible for the decision taken at Levi's Gran Fondo cost well in excess of $2,000.  You can't hide from physics, no matter how big your marketing budget. 

We like our customers, and want them to enjoy cycling and be safe and have stuff that performs well.  It doesn't take a lot of customer education to convince people that, for example, a mountain bike race is the wrong place to use your road bike.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit more effort to convince people that carbon clinchers are not a wheelset for every condition - even direct and specific warnings emailed personally go unheeded.  That being the case, we feel it necessary to take a couple of actions.  First, the terms and conditions have been updated.  Second, we will no longer be selling carbon clinchers in spoke counts higher than 20/24.  The world's most powerful sprinters don't need higher spoke counts than that (although they do all seem to prefer 24 spoke wheels), so wheel stiffness is not a concern.  This move is purely to discourage those riders who are bigger than would be adequately served by 20/24 spoke counts to choose wheels other than carbon clinchers.  We will lose sales because of this, we know that.  There are cases in which riders might wind up with the exact same rims we sell, but with higher spoke counts.  We simply feel that this is the reasonable and responsible course of action for us and our customers.  

See you at the office park!

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Reader Comments (26)

I love the fact that your R&D process is "let's try this at speed on pavement and see what happens if it doesn't work." You're basically a very fair-skinned lab rat who can build awesome wheels in his spare time...

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGus

Now that's not entirely true, Gus. Real world testing is only a small part of the R&D that goes into our wheels. All of our rims and hubs and spokes are EN tested for safety, and of course we also have very strict standards on the quality of our wheel builds. We don't currently use proprietary rims and hubs, but one of the advantages of using the same rims as other brands is that there is a history of usage of the products already in place. So us trying something for the first time on a set of our wheels is hardly the first time it's been tried on the same rims.

May 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterMike May

Well said!

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermoralleper

Have you given much thought into a Cosmic style carbon/alu clincher? I'd love to grab a set of deep section wheels for tris & flatter road races, but most of my local rides here in UT incorporate one or more long technical descents. I feel more comfortable with clinchers going into my planned IM in 2013 (ruling deep tubies out), and moreover want a wheelset I can use for racing and training with equal aplomb.


May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSYJ

While I understand your reasons for coming to the decisions that you did, I have to say that I am very disappointed that November will no longer be selling SOB builds for their RFSCs.

As a cyclist of, shall we say, a meatier build than the average (or stereotypical) enthusiast I found the added spoke count offered by the SOB option to be of paramount importance in creating a strong, stiff and durable wheelset.

Does this mean that if I buy a set of 20/24 RFSCs and knock them out of true using my ample girth and ham-fisted riding techniques you will warranty the build?

Will you offer 2x lacing on your builds regardless of spoke counts?

I am also disappointed in your statement: "The world's most powerful sprinters don't need higher spoke counts than that (although they do all seem to prefer 24 spoke wheels), so wheel stiffness is not a concern." Another reason that I was drawn to this company was its avoidance of using the "if it is good enough for the pros...." brand of faulty logic.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ajello

this only goes to show what you get when you buy from a company that puts in ZERO dollars to R&D....your chinese/taiwanese/indonesian knockoffs will eventually catch up to you, and or, get somebody killed or seriously injured. You have no idea what quality control the company you've never visited puts into the hoops you use. You know nothing about the carbon or the resins they use. You guys have got it coming.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrooohhhh-aaahddd

Believe it or not I thought a lot about you when I wrote this.
Simply put, the few bad apples have spoiled the barrel. I see you riding your wheels and it's a pretty darn good argument for keeping the SOB build. Unfortunately, realizing that we could send an email directly to a customer and have what we say blatantly ignored is unfortunately a stronger argument.
Remember that our standard build has more spokes (usually 4 each wheel) more than many others. The wheels "they" are putting together for 180 pound guys who throw 1900 watts in a sprint are laced like our standard build. We will continue to offer tubulars in SOB build.
But the bigger question to you is, knowing the potential misuse of our wheels that's out there, what would you have us do? Cone up with a better solution and we're all ears.
I'm sorry to disappoint you but we unfortunately can count on people to not act like you do.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Hi roooh-aaahdd,

Let me give you the short version so you might understand it a bit more easily: 240 pound guy descends "incredible, steep, twisty" hill at low speed, in a crowd, with overinflated tires. His wheels survive TWO tube blowouts, but eventually fail. It would have been a MIRACLE for any carbon clincher to survive this.

I know where our rims come from, the certification processes they've passed, several of the other companies that are using them, and have hundreds of data points from our own customers who've been using our wheels for great success for coming on two years.

Go to Alpe d'Huez with whatever carbon clinchers you want, with tire pressure 15% over the manufacturer's limit, and carry enough weight so that you weigh 240 pounds. You can not take LESS than 40' for the descent, and it must be done on open roads, with traffic. If the wheels live, we'll buy them for you.


May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Kirkpatrick

Excellent article, thank you for posting. Good reminder that for all the good attributes of carbon clinchers, there are drawbacks as well.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWolfshield

Oh hey look, a troll. Sounds like someone is sore over paying for a marketing budget.

Appreciate the candor and engagement from you guys. Also, loving the FSW 23s with WI's. I haven't touched my 58s since I got them.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

While I'm disappointed I'm not surprised. I love my SOB 38's but I know there is a time and place for them. Luckily for me there are no long, steep technical descents anywhere around me so I get to use them every time I ride. And even on relatively short descents I feather the brakes (per your suggestion) and have not had any issues nor do I expect any.

And I wonder if roooh-aaahdd is trolling the boards for Edge, Zipp, Boyd, Williams etc..? Like you said, this situation would have destroyed any of their wheels with carbon brake tracks. I, for one, will be back for another set. I may wait until I'm less than 215# though.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris P

Isn't the solution telling the guy who repeatedly ignored your advice to f&*( off? Or - if you want to be *really* nice guys - posting this post and ending it by telling everyone that "Hey, act like this idiot, and you're on your own"?

Something tells me that the same people who ignore your technical advice and bomb-beyond-parameters on your existing SOB builds are the same people who will buy 20-spoke builds and do the same thing. So I'm really not sure you get what you want (I presume it's fewer big guys on your wheels) with the new policy.

Just thinking out loud, here. Got a lot of respect for what you've done/what you're trying to do.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Mad bro? But, seriously, if you can't realize that this was by no means the rim's fault, get a life. Or a brain.

May 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan

Removing the SOB build will only encourage larger riders to ride with fewer spokes thus compounding the issue. Anyone, essentially no matter their weight, that abuses carbon clinchers as claimed is going to run into problems. How will removing the SOB build stop this from happening with a 20/24 build? It seems the best answer is to try to inform your customers the best you can, update your policies to not cover gross misuse of any wheels, and those that do misuse the wheels are on their own. This will allow you to keep more business, further education throughout the biking community, and allow those that want the SOB build (be that for weight, durability or any other reason) to still have a great economical choice for a carbon clincher. I was hoping to have a 28H powertap, that I already have, built into a carbon clincher when the money was available. Unfortunately it looks like it won’t happen with November now which is a huge disappointment.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris

A few reasons why we're disinclined to do them:
1. They're heavy. The people who need them most are unlikely to want them - "light for the climbs."
2. Ebay is littered with Cosmic Carbones and the like. I realize that new is different than used, but they are all over the place built and in good shape for short money.

Chris -
Spoke count has no effect on heat buildup. We know that there is "usage seep" with our wheels (people sneak usage outside of the box that we recommend). But we've made wheels that perform really well within the recommended box for guys who weigh 240 (the guy who spanked his rims LOVED the way they performed when he used them as recommended) - usage seep for a guy that big can have disastrous consequences. A 190 or 200 pound guy is going to find our 20/24 lacing in a 58mm wheel to be more than adequate for the job - we know this to be empirically true - and the outcome of his usage creep will be less dangerous.
We have found through testing, research and observation that the point of diminishing returns for a wheel feeling "torque stiff" (resistant to huge power input) is right around 24 spokes in the wheel depths we use (it's actually lower in 85s).
We've found we need to make our wheels less attractive to the very big rider. We had been one of a very very very few players with a solution for that (perhaps the only one).
We knew we would disappoint people with this move. We have to accept that.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Kirkpatrick

Your warranty disclaimer states, "These warranties cover only defects in materials and workmanship...No claims of fitness of use are expressed or implied." I'm surprised you didn't just say that this guy's damage constitutes consumer misuse and please refer to the crash replacement policy.

He might complain, but too bad. The Internet is full of people complaining because a bike or bike component company didn't warranty something after it exploded whether or not it appears to have been due to a legit defect or user error. People still complain even if it does get warranty replacement: Do some Googling about older generation Zipp 303s cracking.

If you have now added the new exclusion in the Terms for damage caused by riders over 200lbs, why eliminate a wheel build that would be optimal for such riders in some circumstances?

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCM

Wow no SOB builds that sucks.
My 150 lbs and my buddies 200lbs will miss them.
Jere B

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJere B

Should have named the post "The Wrong Fool for the Job"

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Just a few quick things, First the new police states "Warranty coverage for use in Gran Fondos, Centuries, and Alpine tours is specifically excluded.."

Now, just to clarify, I am assuming this means organized rides rather than say, me and two of my racing buddies going out and hammering a 100 mile "century" on a random Wednesday?

Second, the 20/24 build, what sort of rider weight limit would you put on that, without even considering ascents or descents, just flat terrain that may include a few bad roads? Would 205 be fine? 215?

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

CM - Solid point, but I don't trust that warranty statements are personal injury lawyer proof. To paraphrase the late, great MCA - we don't want more suits than Jacoby & Meyers (which one might have had to grow up in/near NY to get), and more than getting sued or whatever, we don't want something we've built to be the instrument of someone getting hurt/killed. This situation could have had a much worse outcome. The guy in question LOVED his wheels, which clearly encouraged him to broaden his usage of them when he should have been (even per our directly delivered recommendation to him) using other wheels.

Jere - Perhaps not, see below.

Bill - Good one, golf clap.

Kevin - Little c versus Big C matters, yes. Nothing about long rides increases risk inherently. But organizers of rides, frequently for profit, seeking more "epic" routes and larger fields with consequently more congested descents are problematic. I am scheduled to ride nearly a route that's nearly 100 today (for all the riding and racing I've done, I've never to my knowledge done 100 miles in one ride) and I'm doing it on carbon clinchers.

We've never been fans of weight limits because one guy's 190 can be way different than another guy's. We've tried to go beyond that to match rider and use to spoke count. We also have a continually developing data set of what works for people. We know that 20/24 58s are more than good for 205# guys with crazy strong sprints. We know that 85s will handle huge riders and are the last wheel someone is likely to use for a climb/descend fest. So we are putting out new weight limits later today. These will reflect weights that will give the wheels good durability and give great performance to users within the range.

Another thing to mention which we have confirmed many times ourselves and users have confirmed for us is that our brake pads do not build heat like many others, SwissStop yellows in particular.

Thank you to all (except maybe aah roid/drop dead fred) for the comments. This dialog is valuable and important to us.

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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