The Carolina Swing, Part 1

If we'd followed the original plan for this testing jag, we'd be done by now.  A recent comment on the previous blog reminded me that there are a lot of people who are sitting there thinking "so... ?"  The simple explanation is that Mike and I were talking about the wind tunnel menu, and decided to pitch it as a story.  Homer on the first pitch on that part, but there were suddenly a whole lot more logistics, and they all required input from people who were really busy with what was going on in France.  We got delayed a bit, but it's a way better outcome for us, and it inspired us to double down on the tunnel piece.  

Anyhow, the wind tunnel starts tomorrow and we're testing a pantload of stuff.  More on that later.  Today was a side trip to Beech Mountain, near Boone, NC, to do some more brake heat testing.  The test was simple: do three runs down the 3 mile stretch that's the crux of the climb from the south, a section known for killing carbon clinchers.  I'd have liked to do 20 runs, but it was just me and no way was I climbing that thing 20 times, especially since I was back on the "kettle bells in a backpack" program.  

I always seem to take pictures like this.  The hills in Western NC are big, for real hills.  Beech isn't necessarily very long, but it's steep, with some crazy pitches, and it's all switchbacks so it's a fairly technical descent. This particular climb also has an interesting bit of history.  It was used as the finishing climb of the Tour duPont a few times, and is supposedly the place where, in 1998, Lance decided that he did indeed want to come back from testicular cancer and be a pro cyclist again.  Which explains the still-very-likely-to-be-ironic "Viva Lance" slogan freshly painted on the road near the top.

Rail 34s once again, although different ones than the ones from VT, and SwissStop Black Prince pads.  New Michelin Pro4 SCs, tubes, set to 95 front/100 rear.  It was a WINDY day, and cool for the time of year - mid 60s. The first run down, I had the full 40 pounds in the bag, and tried to mimic what I thought a very timid descender would do.  I let myself gain speed, but then scrubbed speed whenever I got going faster than what a lot of people would be comfortable with.  Before turns, I braked really hard and went through the turns slowly.  I stopped 4 times to check rim temperature.  Max heat recorded was just over 200f.  

Second run, I was down to 175 on the scale, thanks to a miracle diet known as leaving a 25 pound kettle bell at the bottom of the hill.  Still had to climb up with the 15, though.  Second run was more of a constant low-20s run.  Never got going too fast, never had that much speed that I had to get rid of.  Turns were similar speed to the first run.  As expected, this heated things up quite a bit.  After 90 seconds or so of constant braking through the steepest pitches, the front rim got up to 213f, which was the highest recorded temp, even though rider weight was lower.  After about 5 seconds, heat was down to 186.  Each check was similar, just not quite as high.

Third run, I was down to body weight (still 158) and just ripped the downhill.  Absolutely sent it. Wow.  My job's fun.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind cars about halfway down so I couldn't go as fast as I wanted, but the fun part's at the top anyhow.  Rim temp after the stop at the bottom was a blistering 126.  

This part of things isn't pure science, we know, and it's not designed to be.  It's designed to expose things that happen in the real world, quantify them, and interpret what it means.  In this case, what it means is that a Rail has no problem being ridden down one of the most iconic descents in the east, either by a timid 200 pounder, or a 175 pounder who's a bit more enthusiastic but doing it all wrong.  And that they're fun as hell when a 160 pounder gives them full stick down it.  


Testing 1-2-3

Since the beginning, we've focused on doing what others either wouldn't or couldn't.  Early on, this meant delivering reliably sourced and expertly handbuilt wheels (the FSW clincher and RFSW tubular), and the Wheelhouse.  The Wheelhouse, available as both a component frame and complete build, wound up being far far more than we ever imagined it could - those who've owned or even ridden them are absolutely smitten with them, even after all this time.  Unfortunately, the supplier went nutso on terms and we can't offer the original any more, but the lingering enthusiasm for what it is and what it does has moved us to have one of the world's top builders resurrect it for us.  More on that later.  

the joke comes at the end

The Rail rim series was a big step for us, a heat resistant carbon clincher with verified world class aerodynamics, built by hand with the best components you can find.  Developing the Rail opened our eyes to the value testing offered to us and our customers.  As ever, the "how" of testing was just as important to us as the "what" of it - just proclaiming empty and untethered statements like "10% faster" or "18% stiffer" without explicating what the comparisons mean, and being transparent about how we arrived at them, didn't do it for us.  It had to be the November way, completely open book, as objective as we could possibly be.  

When we test in the tunnel, it's directly against a proven class leader, as when we benchmarked the Rail 52 against the Zipp 404.  This week, we're excited to be going back to test an actual production 52 (with 20 spokes rather than the 24 that our prototype had), as well as to test a 34 against an Enve 3.4.  Beating up on some nebulous "standard 32 spoke box section wheel" that no one has any interest in riding anyway is one way, but openly testing against known leaders is a much more informative (and, for us, exciting) way to do it.

Now we've gotten into testing wheel and rim stiffness, in ways that allow us to get much smarter about what wheels we recommend.  Since so many of the wheels we sell are available from other sources, why do we do it?  Who in their right mind would test their proprietary carbon rim against an alloy rim that you can get in a build from many dozens of builders?  We're excited to learn, and we know it improves what we do and how we do it.  If knowing what we feel like we need to know costs us the time, expense, and potential risk that these tests expose us to, so be it.  The final result, whatever the result, is that we're better able to help you find the build that's best for you.

And what of the shared benefit of this knowledge?  We know that once we publish what we find, the info is going everywhere, and people who've gained knowledge on our dime can use what we've shown to their own benefit completely outside of us.  For one thing, results are one thing and process is quite another.  Going through all of the steps to learn what we are simply makes us smarter.  Borrowing our facts is well and good, but the fundamental knowledge we gain is ours to keep.  For another, being a leader in the testing game has already opened doors for us and continues to do so in exciting ways.  

In the long run, we know it comes back, and that people want to work with the people who move the game forward.  To date, we feel that we've helped drive the conversation to more rational places.  For example, the way we benchmark aerodynamic tests is something that's gotten a lot of notice, and people now expect more from the information they're given.  The joke that is "claimed weight" is being exposed for the farce that it is.  We'll be more than happy if we can help drive a substantive change away from the way a lot of this stuff has been done, but if we have to be out standing in our field, we're good with that, too.  


A day in the life of 52s: Tri-ing them on

Mike won't run except when chased, I'm challenged to my limit by the dozen or so steps in a cross race, and neither of us floats. So we've asked Laurier Balthazard, an accomplished triathlete and product manager at Louis Garneau to explore how Rail 52s get along with the world of triathlon.  Here is his first report as he prepares for the upcoming IM Whistler in British Columbia.  

I got them last week on Thursday. I mounted them with Vittoria Pro Slick 25s. The shape of the wheels with the tires is just massive and looks really fast. However, it took a bit of doing to fit on my tri bike. I have a Garneau Gennix T1, and the rear brake clearly was not designed to receive such a large setup. I worked with our prod managers and we had to change the rear calipers to fit the wheels. The front brake was all right, although opened so wide that the pads were hard to align.  We see this issue on this bike with other wide-rimmed wheels too, like the Zipp Firecrests, so I guess this is a potential issue with frames designed before the wide rim trend.

First real ride I made with the wheels was last Saturday, right after I had my fit made by a Retul specialist (who also happens to be our marketing director). The bike looks amazing with the wheels. So on Saturday, I went for a 190 km tempo ride in the northern townships of Montreal. First impression on the wheels is that they handle much easier than the older versions C50s I am used to. The handling compares to the newer version of C50 11speed that pro athletes love so much.

The Rail 52s are also really stiff thanks to the number of spokes on them. People I’ve ridden with find the wheels really nice looking, but many note the fact that they have a lot of spokes.  Once at speed they seem to hold the speed very easily, but they seem to be a bit harder to bring up to speeds of over 40 kmh. On a rolling terrain they go very well as they carry speed very well, but as mentioned it’s really in the handling, crosswinds etc that they seem to be better than what I am used to.

Matched with 25 tires, they are extremely comfortable and aero is optimized, 2 key elements for a guy like me preparing for IM.  Braking took a bit to wear in with brand new pads, but now it’s all right.

I’ve done all the lunch rides so far with my tri bike as I am only riding this bike 2 weeks before the race. On Tuesday, I beat the lunchtime Strava alone - yeah, the one that we established using a 3-guy leadout train the week before....

Yesterday I went on a 4hour ride with my coach from team Garneau Merrel and 2 boys from the Garneau-Quebecor road team. It was planned to be a tempo ride to get good feelings before the race, but it turned into a ridiculous measuring contest. It was a really hilly ride, and two of the other guys had road bikes... But the bike and wheels was really stiff and aero so I was giving the guys a pretty hard time. I am really happy about the setup. The more I ride this wheel and tire combo, the more confident I am for Whistler.

I really look forward to riding the wheels on my road bike when I come back from Whistler.  I am leaving Wednesday, the race is on Sunday the 27th. 


Get Light

Does this mountain make my butt look big?I spent the last few days in Vermont doing a photo shoot, riding more miles than my legs could handle, and getting a lot of testing done in ways that are very applicable in the real world.  Three guys spent a significant amount of time on Rails for the first time, and it was nice to hear their responses.  

In any case, my mission yesterday was to find the steepest, twistiest, meanest piece of a descent that I could find.  Fortunately, the "Switchbacks" segment at the top of Smuggler's Notch was nearby, and was close to a few great coffee joints.  After the previous 3 days, I needed gallons of the stuff.  

The mission was simple: ride down the segment the worst way I know how, stop at a predetermined spot, and immediately take the temperature of the rims.  Then, I would ride back up partway, accelerate to a given speed, and then come to a full stop at the line and remeasure the rim temperature.  These two test techniques would mimic a likely way that a very timid descender would approach a section like this, and replicate a situation like coming to a stop sign at the bottom of a steep downhill pitch.  The kicker?  Having done that with my own bodyweight (which on the morning of the test was 158 pounds), I would then add first an additional 25 pounds and retest, and then an extra 15 pounds on top of that and retest.  The kicker to the kicker?  I had to get back up the segment under my own steam each time.  

Weight gain program, part 1

The short answer to the testing is that it takes a heck of a lot worse than this test dished out to overheat a Rail.  The segment in question is .9 km long, with an average gradient of 11%.  The maximum rim temperature I recorded was 196*f, after the descent with 25 additional pounds.  The temperature after the descent with 40 additional pounds was a few degrees lower, which indicates some amount of test error, which is actually great, since the conditions in which we ride aren't that well controlled.  This is why we want to have nice buffer zones.  When I rode down with just my own bodyweight, the rim temp at the bottom was 155*f.  As physics would have it, weight does indeed make a significant difference.  

The protocol of this test was simply to maintain 10mph, under conditions when the natural inclination of the bike would have been to go 40+ mph.  This was a big, but not conclusive, part of the answer to the "how close to a Rail's limit would you be under certain extreme braking scenarios."  The lab-tested limit of a Rail is just shy of 350*f.  So, the answer from yesterday's test was "not close at all."  Even factoring in some amount of testing error given that maybe I didn't scan the absolute hottest part of the rim (which I'd have absolutely no way to identify), and given the speed at which the rims cooled down, if you tack 40* onto each scan, you're still not close.  It took me about 3 seconds to measure the rim heat after stopping, while the average additional heat loss in 5 seconds of being stopped (I did an immediate scan and a 5 second delay scan each time) was over 15* - and that's with no air cooling.  

Significantly, these tests would have destroyed most previous-generation rims on the market, and would have killed plenty of current rims on the market.  Certainly, it would have at least been right there with Kenny Loggins in the danger zone for a broad swath of rims that haven't taken advantage of (and suffered the additional cost of) the latest resin tech.  

But the biggest and most immediate thing I learned was how devastatingly difficult that much additional weight makes climbing hills on a bike.  What was a reasonably challenging experience at my bodyweight turned into a notable struggle with 25 extra pounds, and turned into a walk with 40 extra pounds.  

Please note that this is not "the authoritative blog about brake heat under real world testing conditions."  It's a big, and very reassuring part of it, but it's not it.  Please also note that this doesn't mean that there isn't some other fuse that blows before your rims do - tires being the main suspect.  Learn good descending and braking technique, and force yourself to use it.  


The Stiffness Saga, Pt. 1: Rims

If you've never read it, Edward Tufte's book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is definitely worth a look.  With all of the info that we're shaking loose from our wheel stiffness testing and measuring, it's definitely a challenge to parse it out into pieces you can actually chew.  This project has actually made me need to go back and digest what it is I've thought I've learned several times.  

Since the wheels we make are really nothing if not assemblies of components, it's worth it to talk about the components themselves.  You have rims, hubs, and spokes.  Each affects the system, but they all work together.  You do a bunch of horse trading back and forth to try and tease out the biggest spike of the features you want to maximize, while paying the lowest cost in negative features like weight and drag.  

Once you have the right fixtures, it's easy to measure rim stiffness.  You support the wheel at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock, and load it at 6 and 12.  Measure the deflection under load et voila, there you go.  A few pieces of aluminum extrusion, a weight, and a dial gauge were all we needed for this one.  

We measured every type of rim we have on hand, except the Iron Cross rims because some dummy already built them into wheels and can't wait to use them.  Mike channeled his inner Edward Tufte and this came out:


All of these are 700c/29" rims (which is why the Stan's Crest isn't there - some dummy ordered the wrong size of those).  Note that we have plotted them against weight, so the bias line you see is stiffness to weight ratio.  On the line can be said to have average stiffness to weight, above the line can be said to have good stiffness to weight, and below the line can be said to have less good stiffness to weight.  

Rail 34s do quite well measuring this way.  

Now, of course, stiffness to weight isn't the only important thing in a rim.  The Rail 52 is fundamentally a pretty similar structure to the Rail 34, but pays a weight cost for its depth and shape.  That depth and shape come with the benefit of making it among the fastest wheels anywhere near its depth (and any clincher near its weight).  Conversely, the Stan's 340 comes with a very light weight.  Light riders who aren't slapping out watts might not need all that stiffness, and can benefit from lighter weight.  And a Stan's 340 with a good hub and an appropriate spoke count can be a quite stiff wheel - a 28 spoke Stan's 340 was a standout in whole wheel testing.  In the case of the Arch EX, we're building those with 32 spokes, not the 20 spokes that a Pacenti SL23 front might have.  And it needs to durability as well as stiffness - the two are neither mutually in- or exclusive.  The Kinlin XC279 which has been the basis for our FSW23 wheel has a nice mix of all of the attributes.  

We'll talk about hubs and spokes individually before we get into the whole assembly, and note that this is lateral stiffness.  Radial or circular stiffness is another thing that we'll talk about.

All of these measurements take massive mounts of time - building wheels, configuring the test apparatus, etc etc etc, so this will come over some time period.  But we're happy to be out of the land of guessing and into the realm of knowing.