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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

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Reader Comments (11)

Thank for the review. If you could choose between the AL33, HED Belgium + or Easton R90 SL- which one would it be? I'm 230 pounds, use rimbrakes and prefer 32h. Thanks un advance!

June 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Hi John,

Glad you like it. We'll get to the sort of preemptive recommendations in the next post, which will be a wrap up, but to answer your question with a bunch of questions...
What kind of bike is it going on (road - more race type or more endurance type, cross, gravel, etc)
What kind of tires do you plan to use (model, size, tubes or tubeless)
What kind of surfaces do you plan to ride them on
Do you race/large group ride or more solo/small group, centuries etc
What kind of wheels are you replacing and what are you trying to replicate/avoid with the new set
Budget
Durability over weight or vice versa

From there if anything stuck out from those answers we might follow up but that would give us a heck of a start on a recommendation.

Dave

June 27, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

Wow Dave, thanks for your clear and comprehensive response. I will answer your questions as good as possible. Here we go.

It's about alloy rims for a road bike, race oriented (single speed). I plan to use 28-32mm tires 700c. Maybe Specialized Turbo Cotton 28mm or Compass Stampede 32mm, both clinchers (so not tubeless). The surface will be 95% flat with occasional climb. With the mountain bike I ride most of the time with friends, but with the race bike I go whenever I can and almost always solo.

The new rims will replace the current Velocity Deep V 700c, they go on the winter bike. Although I'm not weight weenie it would be nice if the rims weigh less than the Deep V. Weight is not the main goal, quality and durabilty are. And if that costs more, so be it, no problem!

Thank you very much, it is greatly appreciated!

John

June 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I've had these since very early spring, and I have to say that I've never been happier with a wheelset. My carbon wheels have been sitting since I first got on these. They give up nothing in speed, are a quarter pound lighter, and brake worlds better in both wet and dry. I've been using Campy Red pads (ee brakes) and have been extremely happy with pad wear.

I was deep in a 25mph paceline last week and went thru a pothole that was a good 9 in deep and 25-30 inches across. Two riders behind me flatted (both on carbons and using 23's). I expected an issue, but not a scratch and the wheel is still dead true. No flat either-credit the large air volume of the Corsa 25's and latex tubes.

These wheels weren't inexpensive for a wheelset with Bitex hubs, but they were worth every penny. I'd love to be able to get these with Shimano hubs, but c'est la vie.

June 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGreg L

What are your thoughts on 2 fairly recent developments: (1) Enve 4.5 AR which has a 30.5-31mm external and 25mm internal rim width...which seems ideal for 28-32mm tires, which is where I'm increasingly headed and (2) Mavic's recently announced tight tolerance Tubeless system, which solves one of the main reasons I still use tubes.

One of my November wheelsets has the Pacenti sl23 v2.0 which are awesome in every way except it's difficult to fit tires and forces me to carry a tire bead jack in case of a flat.

My dream rim set would be these AForce rims in a 30mm external / 25mm internal width with Mavic newly announced standards and tolerances for ease of fitting tubeless tires.

June 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris K

John - Single speed, huh? Interesting. None of the above are going to be wrong, except that there won't be Al33 32h in the US so far as I know. They're very strong rims and for the overwhelming majority of riders I don't think a 32h is needed. At your weight, you certainly don't need it, but with single speed it's not an awful idea. But if you're using a single speed specific hub, you don't. So Al33 in 28 would actually be first choice depending upon hub. Then HED simply because it's a little wider and you're using wide tires. Any of them will be significantly lighter than your Deep Vs (which are 580g +).

Greg - So happy to hear that. Thank you.

Chris K - Good questions. The AR is sort of an interesting rim. I dislike that you need to use tubeless specific tires - that points to some kind of deficiency or at least a big compromise in the design. From what I've heard, they also make Pacenti rims seem easy to put tires on (which the version 2s actually are if your technique is good - see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd0QsdCwq6E). Finally, I'm not sure that all that width is the best thing, depending on what tires you want to use. It's at the top end of intended use at least, I think. SO much is being made of the "the rim's width should be 105% of the tire's width for aero!!!" dogma these days. You know who said that? The guy who called dimples a "game changer." Dimples are worth about .5w at 30mph, maybe. Josh does some exceptionally good work, but he also gets let's just call it enthusiastic about these things, and the tendency is for people to get hot about aero at the expense of everything else. The more I learn about aerodynamics, the less I'm willing to sacrifice other things to achieve it. But, the AR does have two characteristics - disc brake and no bead hook - that make it eligible for us as a carbon rim. We simply won't do carbon any more that doesn't have those two characteristics. And we're an Enve dealer, so we'd build those, but we're obviously not out there beating the bushes to promote them as the be-all-end-all.

The Mavic thing is just too early to tell. Original UST mountain interface was indeed kind of awesome in the tire/rim interaction in installation and inflation, but the tires generally sucked (way overbuilt) and people quickly gravitated away from them. And in many cases a "non-consumer ideal" fit is what you want - Stan's Grails are the business for cross tubeless simply because tires fit very tight on them. Some tires it takes incantations and chicken bones to get them to seat, but good luck getting them to burp. Mavic says they'll have Open Pros available for us to buy on 7/6, so we'll get a set and I'll be using those for a while to see what we see.

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

Thanks for the thoughtful review Dave!

Any eta on disc Aforce rims/builds? These seem intriguing for cross.

Thanks!
Ben

June 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Ben - We just got a set of pre-production in house for test build and ride. Haven't gotten a chance to build them yet, and don't have a firm time frame on when they'll be ready for prime time. But they should make for a very nice wheel.

June 29, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

Do you ship to Australia? I still have a few US bucks from before I expatriated last September and your wheels are a bargain compared to having them built here! Still living my Rail 52's FYI. They're absolute bullets.

June 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay

Hi Jay, absolutely. It's a normal shipping option. Not super cheap shipping (I think $130 - on mobile now so can't easily check) but we do it regularly. - Dave

June 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDave

> From what I've heard, they also make Pacenti rims seem easy to put tires on (which the
> version 2s actually are if your technique is good - see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd0QsdCwq6E)

I know to keep the bead in the center channel. Mounting Michelins and Vittorias on my Pacenti v2 is still a bear. That is with one layer of Pacenti rim tape. Even getting the old tire off can take 15 minutes.

The Pacenti v1's were totally impossible without a bead jack.

That and cracking issues, has left a bad taste in my mouth.

July 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVeloKitty

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