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Thursday
Jun152017

Rim Reviews: FSW3/Kinlin XR31T

This is a review that gets interesting starting with the title. There are a lot of branded wheel products that use these rims. This one from Hunt is among them - it's a set of XR31Ts with Novatec A291/F482 hubs and bladed Pillar spoke. Only it's not, because it's the Hunt Race Aero SuperDura. Here's another one from them - the Hunt Race Aero Wide. Slightly different hubs (still Novatec) and straight pull Pillar spokes, but same rims. The set weight on that one is a bit hopeful, too. Of course we call our primary product that uses them the FSW3, but that name has a lot of heritage with us (if being in your 7th year of business lets you claim heritage) and we, um, well, we pretty much tell you immediately what they are. 

Sorry, this picture's terrible. I should be - wait for it - shot. (drops mic)

I'm not picking on Hunt here in particular, I just happened to have top of mind awareness that they use XR31Ts. And anytime you see a rim that talks about having Niobium in it, there's roughly a 100% chance it's a Kinlin rim. I've said before that Kinlin should just have named the XR31T "our new proprietary alloy rim" since that's what so many brands call it (Hunt actually doesn't do that - but neither do they tell you what rim it is). We actually get ours with the special bead blast finish so ours are kind of more proprietary than most. 

I had an instinct to chastise myself for talking about the business of the rim instead of the rim itself as a product, but it's a valid part of the product, and a very valid part of the story of the product that we make with the rim. On which more later. 

Anyhow, the actual rim itself: 31mm deep, 24 wide outside, 19 wide inside, ~500g average weight, offset rear rim, offset disc version, tubeless ready. For road tubeless it sets up just very easily, for gravel tubeless it's flawless too. For aggressive dedicated cross tubeless, I'd recommend the Stan's Grail first, then Easton R90SL, and potentially AForce rims before. For one, the tire fit is tight but not that tight (by which I mean inflated tire fit - tire installation is a separate thing and that's pretty easy with these). For two, the circumferential tolerances are not as very precise as the others show (you can of course add a layer of tape to rectify if needed). For three, the bead shelf on the off set side of the off set rims is really small. Though I haven't done it, I can imagine tripping the bead off the shelf and then huge burp.

They scored great in the wind tunnel. It surprised us none that they were good, it did surprise us how good they were - we didn't expect them to equal a 303 and be better than a Flo 30. Of course, as that test proved, we are talking about small order differences here. That said, you'd rather be at the head of the class than not, and these were at the head.

The offset rear (both front and rear for disc) is a nice boon. Most branded wheel products that use these don't take advantage of that. It's sort of an inventory pain, but it does make the spoke tension more even from side to side. That means you can use a lower overall spoke tension, which is good for business. (Once a spoke is in tension, that is as strong as it gets - end of story. Adding spoke tension does not make stiffer wheels. That myth needs to die today, please.) 

These rims make a nice set of wheels. I use them often. For a racer or group rider on a budget, they are like the ideal setup: fast, good quality, strong, good looking, pretty freaking durable, and when you crash them out you just lace a new rim on and boom off you go because they're at the very inexpensive end of the scale. 

So what makes these a lesser quality rim than, say, Eastons? Good question. 

You see that joint ^? If we were looking at an Easton, you wouldn't. Neither with a HED, and an AForce you'd only see a tiny little bit. In worst cases, you set that rim aside, which we do on occasion. We always do a light prep of the brake track on these post-build, pre-ship. Also, the joint should be halfway between those two spoke holes. It doesn't affect anything at all, but in my OCD world it should be in the middle. I often talk about braking being really superb on HEDs and Eastons, and now Al33s. The extrusions come out so regular on those rims it's kind of nuts, which means that when the machine the brake track in, the wall thickness is all very regular to like a microscopic degree. It's a little less so on these. You're not going to feel anything remotely like "thump thump tweak ack thump" when you squeeze the brakes with these, but it's not going to be as buttery smooth and solid as on those other rims. And that also means that while we can put a good build with regular and even spoke tension on these, it won't be perhaps as regular and even as on the others. But you're not asked to dig as deep into your pocket to get a set of these as the others, either. 

So now that it sounds like I've just critiqued these pretty heavily, let me tell you that they are still very good rims - way way better (usually encompassing all of the things I've said in the paragraph above, and more others) compared to the average OEM wheel. They're very much good enough for us to carve a nice spot out for them in our product mix, and for a bunch of other people to put their names on, too. I'd posit that no one else would turn a critical eye toward a product they sell. No, they'd be all "super awesome best rim rah rah!" but yeah that's the rock we push up this hill called life. 

What would I change about them? Product wise, they are a great product that gets really really high marks in a lot of areas, and has a few niggles that their price point papers over. Really they exemplify the challenge we face in transparently building with identifiable products. One company's "superb value wheelset, they ought to be commended for the work they do for mankind in democratizing availability of outstanding wheels" can be a "geez, that's kind of an expensive way to get those components" when it's pointed at us - simply because you can identify what we use. But instead of trans-shipping boxes, we're actually building the things here, and offering variations, and writing things like this and getting them to the wind tunnel and all o' that crap, and all o' that crap adds up. But Kinlins do let us put a wheelset that "Bikes, Inc" in general would have no trouble charging you $1000 for on our site for $575. And that's pretty darn valuable. 

Tuesday
Jun132017

Rim Reviews: Easton R90SL

With all of the contemporary awareness that aerodynamic advantages of certain wheels have been perhaps overstated for some time, and weight playing a role but a limited one, what then makes one wheel better than another? Do some rims play nicer with certain hubs better than others? Why not just keep the stock wheels that came with your bike and avoid all the hoopla and expense?

First and foremost, good wheels are dependable. They should work, always, and take a good fair catastrophe to make them stop working. The should stay true, be resistant to dings, dents, and "d'oh!"s. Even if weight isn't that big a deal in the physics, it's not that hard to feel changes in weight and all of the rims we use fit within a fairly tight window of weight. No wheel is going to credibly and actually "hold speed better" or any of the other things people love to say, but there are gradations among rims. And various rims allow us to emphasize or minimize certain characteristics. A 120 pound woman whose every day workout is a solo ride up and around Mount Tam needs a dependable (everyone needs dependable) set of wheels that's light, is able to take the torque she imparts, has excellent cross wind manners (it's freaking windy over there) and is a champ at braking. My 160 pound mostly hack around relatively flat group riding and occasional racing behind can give away some of the light weight and wind manners emphasis and wants more "John why did you not point that gigantic pothole out" durability. And so on and on for every different type of rider and riding. Though the hub is the first element we design the build around, the rim matters a whole lot. 

And so onward to rim number the first in our review, the Easton R90SL. These rims came to our attention about 15 months ago. The very first one I saw, I said "hey look at that it comes from the factory that makes HED rims," which to me is a tremendous credential. After building several of them, and riding a set, I was absolutely sold and they quickly became a favorite.

The specs: 455g/rim weight; 27mm tall; 19.5 inside width, 24.25 max outside width; 582 ERD (they call it 580 but they measure it in a weird way); tubeless ready; disc and rim versions; 20/24/28/32 rim brake drilling and 28/32 disc brake drilling.

Subjectively, I'll start by saying that if every other rim were to go away, I'd be just fine with Eastons as the only rim in town. I'll say that about others, but perhaps with a little less emphasis. They do everything well and nothing poorly. They're toward the very light end of rims that we use (and the lightest that we offer on our regular menu), slightly less stiff than some but plenty plenty stiff to make a good build. Depth is mid range with a great shape, and the width works superbly for everything from 23mm race tires to the gravel grinding tires that are currently on them on my CX bike. Tire install is easy, yet tubeless tires work GREAT with them. Construction is superb and their braking is at the top of the pyramid. We are able to do crazy nice builds with these rims. Their price is somewhat toward the higher end, but it's not hard to justify given their quality. 

Aesthetics are basic and very good - a shot-peened low gloss anodize finish with simple, nice looking logo decals that are simple to remove if desired. 

What's not to love? I guess it would be nice if they did a 24h disc version, and the disc version has a vestigial brake track that you don't really notice, but it's there. They might take 7 or 8g out of them with a disc specific extrusion, but this doesn't slow us down in recommending them. 

In sum, we recommend a lot of Eastons, we sell a lot of Eastons, we ride Eastons, and we like them a whole lot. For the majority of our customers in the majority of use cases, these are a top option. Not very many "complete wheel" brands make component rims, and though these are not the same as rims that Easton sells in any complete wheel product (in fact I think they're much nicer than any of those rims), Easton deserves a lot of credit for making this excellent rim available as a component rim. 

Monday
Jun122017

Areas of focus

The promised rim discussion is coming, but there's a topic I've been meaning to raise since the winter and just now getting to it. A strange thing happened when the wind tunnel results from February came back: I started cleaning my bike a lot more, and paying more attention to how I inflated my tires. 

When sites like Friction Facts came out, I found it sort of easy to dismiss them. The processes for getting the gains they talked about seemed onerous (complicated chain baths, waxing your chain in a crock pot to save a few watts but only have it last a couple of hundred miles) and more one of those "the juice just ain't worth the squeeze" type of deals. But then, as happens, discussion started happening around the ideas and knowledge, and all of a sudden the byzantine techniques had accessible analogs that didn't take any incremental time or effort or even money over what you'd already do if you took care of your bike. 

Coincident with this, the info available on tires and rolling resistance started to explode. Velonews published a lot of info, Bicyclerollingresistance.com (link here) threw a ton of info out there, and all of a sudden everything that everyone was talking about was tires and not wheels. There was a topic on slowtwitch.com's forum where a new triathlete asked about the top several upgrades he could make to his equipment and it took two pages of answers before anyone said anything about wheel aerodynamics. This was a new world indeed. 

And then we augmented the significant relative values of aerodynamic savings of various wheels with more absolute values, and my personal approach changed overnight. I've always been something of a princess with tires, and it turned out that the tires I'd preferred were at or near top of class anyhow, so that was good. But latex tubes went from the periphery of my awareness (we'd done good testing on them a few years ago) to "oh I should make it a point to use them instead of butyl when not going tubeless." Inflation pressures got a real close look, and while I wound up not making sea changes I have generally been using higher pressure than the really low pressure I'd been using. The thing that's underreported about latex tubes is how effectively they mute road buzz. So using really supple tires and good latex tubes, inflated to the correct trade-off pressure for my use, results in a really fast and smooth ride. 

Chain friction is another one where I took a good hard look. I'd never neglected my chain really badly, but neither was I a freak about it, either. And I'm still not, but I have been paying more attention. Get a chain cleaning tool, pair it with a good degreaser, and use it every couple of hundred miles. Heck, even Simon from GCN finally gave up the ghost on his WD-40 based chain maintenance program and does what I now do. Get your chain clean and that's going to reduce friction, increase component life, improve shifting, and reduce noise. The cost? A minute or three per week, that you should be spending on this anyway. And then you just have to make a good choice on lube to optimize. I prefer Squirt, which is like an easy to use "out of a bottle" version of the crock-pot-wax thing, or Rock and Roll Gold for the mountain bike. Both score very well in friction testing (Squirt isn't in this test but similar wax lubes do very well). And the blissful silence...

I also did a thorough go-through of all the bearings all over my bikes, and though we're still sure that ceramic bearings are wasted on bikes, worn out, rusty, dry, or otherwise janky bearings waste your watts. And they make noise. 

And then when you add all that stuff up, you have a faster, smoother, quieter, more efficient, longer lasting, cleaner, and all around sexier bike that's more fun to ride. All of this comes with literally zero downside, no extra expense, no compromised braking, no crosswind handling issues, and no switching brake pads for race day. Plus the benefits actually exist, and exist at 100% whether you are drafting or not, climbing or descending, riding at 15 or 30 mph, whatever. 

So that's been a substantive change of mindset and action for my approach. In the great and grand scheme of things (okay it doesn't even have to be a great and grand scheme), I'm nothing special on a bike, but we all like to ride bikes that are efficient and smooth and feel like they're working as well as they can. 

Wednesday
Jun072017

Rims, Gran Fondos, etc

A brief public service announcement - we're sponsoring the Vermont Gran Fondo (registration page here) which takes place in Middlebury, VT on July 1. The date is a little unfortunate because it's also the date of the Gnar Weasels Kenda Cup round in Brownsville, VT which a friend of mine co-promotes, but whatcha gonna do? Summer is short and there are too few dates for too much good riding. Anyhow, if you go to the Vermont Gran Fondo, a few things will happen. 1 is that you'll ride in a great and superbly supported event that does most of the iconic central Vermont Gap climbs (some of them twice). 2 is that you will get to prepare for it the night before in the worst of all possible ways, by having beers with us at a local watering hole at November Happy Hour (details TBA) 3. is that you'll have a lovely post-event meal and social time at Woodchuck Cider's HQ and get to harrass us about which wheels you should buy as we'll have a table set up there 4. is that you'll have a chance to win a set of FSW3s. None of these are bad things, so get right on that, would ya?

It's always sunny on App GapThere's no motivation quite like food and adult beveragesSo come do the event, m'kay?

The other part of today's post is to announce that we have a new winner. Our previous most-asked-question was "what lacing should I get?" Perhaps we've beaten that horse into dust, perhaps something else, but it's not the most asked question anymore. The most asked question now is "which rims should I get?" I think that our series on hubs was effective both because those pages get a ton of traffic and because we don't get those questions all that much. Also when people do ask about that, we can link them to the pages with full explanations and then their heads explode with what nerds we are and we never hear from them again. 

ANYHOW... the simple answer to the rim question is that there isn't so much of a spread among the various rims we use in any category that one will be so pinpoint ideal and any other will be just plain wrong. One may be pinpoint ideal, but when that's the case there will be a whole bunch of others that are good, too. The only trait where I think that would possibly not be the case is for cross tubeless, which takes a fairly specific rim in order to work as well as it can. And, you know, #crossiscoming so we'll be aware of that. 

But you know we've never left any topic with just that kind of a brush off, so we will go into our usual stultifying (there's an SAT word for ya) detail on at least the top choices so that you can also have your head explode with what nerds we are and never be heard from again.

There will be two things that we ask of you during this process. First, from the Beavis and Butthead department, yes we will be talking about rims. Enough said. Second, Mike and I for whatever reason just really really really don't like when rims are called "hoops." We don't like it when brakes are called "stoppers" or really when any of the myriad bike parts whose names are specific and yet boring receive the "let's try super hard to figure out different words to call these things" treatment. I think we're also both totally on the spectrum. So you're welcome to call them whatever you'd like, but we'll stick to rims.

And since I got about 250 yards into last night's ride before slight chance of rain turned into certainty of downpour, it is now time to ride the bicycle.

 

Tuesday
Jun062017

The media's in on it

First of all, my girlfriend and all around superstar Katerina Nash not only won the women's division at the Lost and Found gravel race, she'd have been 14th in the men's race and beat some seriously talented fast men. Wonder Woman, indeed. If only she'd return my calls...

There's no real argument that cycling products have advanced in the past several years. My personal list of improvements would begin with the wealth of choice in good alloy rims, then go to improvements in tires (encompassing width, compounds, tubeless stuff - basically tires are just better now than ever before). It's about 6 years since Jaroslav Kulhavy first showed that dual suspension 29er was the way to go in XC, and I'm super on board with that.

That said, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of this week's stuff making last week's stuff obsolete are highly exaggerated. And it seems the media is on board with this. Take this one quote I pulled off of Bike Radar this morning:

"As with every new product released in the cycling industry, the (redacted product's) technology follows the Daft Punk theory of innovation and are better, harder, faster and stronger than their predecessors as well as the competition."

If you added up all of these "quantitative" but seemingly POSB* (*Pulled Outta Someone's Butt) performance gains over the years we've been tracking this stuff, your average 2017 bike would be better than George Jetson's car. Claimed miracles have become the staunch enemy of dogged incremental improvement. And let's head over to Competitive Cyclist for a product description that Mike or I could have written (heck, we probably have) for a current wheel deal:

"Despite what the industry hype machine might have you believe, aluminum is still perfectly viable for race wheels. Case in point: Easton's tubeless EA90 SLX Road Wheelset. As our "aluminum is still perfectly viable disclaimer suggests, the wheels are defined by the rims. They're alloy, which means they're more equal than carbon to the abuse of everyday training across chipseal and in early spring conditions where damp roads leave your brake tracks covered in grit."

Despite our ongoing love affair with Easton's component rims, we don't happen to love the qheels in question - they're fatally underspoked, the rims aren't nearly as nice as R90SLs, and the hubs are regrettable. They're a rollup of every fashion victim "trying to make a splash" item we try to avoid. But, take that paragraph and apply it to any build we do and we call it valid as charged. 

Diligent execution is the new sexyOf course it's easy to make a big splash with new this and 43% better that, but to us the simple fact remains that quality stuff, assembled and executed diligently and with great skill, is sexier, valuable-er, and more noteworthy than other stuff. RFSW3s (ceramic is back in stock, btw) are a great example of this - a mix of good new stuff with good old execution. It's hard to compete with the flash value that some stuff brings, but those are our windmills to joust with every day, and our stance is resonating more and more each month.

The new costumes turned out great. People made us open a reorder. So we did.Finally, the new kit turned out better than we'd hoped. More or less everyone who's seen it wanted us to do a reorder (to which, I mean, we told you so...) so we're doing one. You can order yours here. But before you do, please look at the SIZE CHART - in some jerseys I'm an XS, in these I am a large.