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Beyond Carbon

Over the last year, we’ve been developing a decision which goes into effect tomorrow. Which is that as of tomorrow, we’re discontinuing our carbon rim lineup. There is a confluence of factors that goes into this. I’ll briefly explain them.

The biggest objective factor is the cost of insurance. Directly importing products of any sort generally puts you in a more expensive category, but the proper coverage for importing carbon increases that cost well over tenfold. [EDIT 10/6 8:20p - That sentence should have read better. Being in the "manufacturer" category takes your insurance up the first huge amount, carbon just takes it up higher]. Obviously we’re not going to sell wheels that leave you or us exposed if something goes wrong, but the economics of things as they are just don’t stack up.

Another part of it is production control. If domestic production was available (we’ve tried, hard), carbon still wouldn’t be easy but it would be manageable. As it is, with our production geographically, linguistically, chronologically, and culturally as far away as it could be on this planet, we don’t have the level of supply chain control that we want.

This isn't to say that all carbon rims are bad, and in no way is it to say that the carbon rims we've sold have been bad. All told, we've had a good record. But there are still serious limitations to carbon. As heat resistance improves, brittleness increases. Heat resistant resins are much more finicky in the molding process and generate much more scrap. Disc brake rims have no need of high heat resins and can significantly benefit from not using them, but that introduces complexity into the manufacturing process (keeping two lines separate) that a) we don't foresee any companies actually doing and b) if they do, the record keeping and shop floor process to ensure that doesn't get messed up aren't things to take for granted. We've never been able to reconcile the fact that bad technique and the wrong hill can overdome even pretty extraordinary heat resistance. Does physics offer a warranty? And heat is far from the only risk with carbon. 

The changes in the aluminum rim landscape over the past few years have been as profound as those in the carbon landscape, albeit with several orders of magnitude less promotion and hoopla around them. We’ve simply come to the conclusion that once you get past the “ooooohhhhh, carbon!” thing, aluminum clincher rims are simply the better choice for nearly every application (if you’re going for the TT worlds, carbon’s a good choice). 

As a small company, we have to focus on those areas where we can add profound value. At some point, it was inevitable that we’d have to choose between being a “products” company and being a “service” company. We’ve got some great stuff happening on the products side, but really we’re a service company. Between our product experience and expertise, our profound wheel building skill, and the awesome array of components we use, we’re comfortable stating baldly that we feel we offer the best value, execution, and service that you can find. You may be looking for carbon for the sake of carbon, in which case we'll have to part ways. But if you're looking for an insane set of wheels for your actual purpose, built with extreme skill and care and delivered at exceeding value, you're in the right place. 


Colors of fall

As a veteran maker-upper of new and exciting holidays (ask anyone who's been on a Hatteras trip about the joys of Mahalowe'en, Beer Night (a celebration of canned American-style pilseners), and Man Bag Day), I felt justified in proclaiming the second day of fall to be Pumpkin Spice Day. Which I think we're probably all really well and truly over and completely sick of by now, n'est-ce pas?

You can smell the pumpkin spice from here

Anyway, as payment for the shorter hours, crap windy rainy days (I'm looking at you, today), vomit-inducing intervals you need to do just to even suck at cross, and having to hear Mariah Carey's version of Christmas songs anytime you leave the house, we offer you the best comfort we can - THE COLORS OF FALL!

Let's face it, colored hubs are cooler. They're scientifically proven to decrease (er, actually increase) time to exhaustion in time trial effort among a random sampling of people I asked about it. They increase your stature in the community, decrease your heart rate at any given rate of perceived effort, and get you reduced entry fees at USA Cycling sanctioned events. When I met Lance Armstrong, he told me that his one real regret was that he didn't use colored hubs during his career. (some of these statements might not be true)

Ike will say this looks like Easter. He's wrong. It's pumpkin spice.

What IS true, however, is that we're encouraging you to put some pep in your step with colored hubs. How? By paying you - THAT'S how! From now through whenever we decide we've had enough, colored hubs are LESS expensive than black hubs, instead of being MORE expensive than black hubs. I know, right?

And now that we're building with the adorable Industry Nine colorific hubs, there's even more color to love.

So get some wheels, get some color, get back at Lance Armstrong, decrease your resting heart rate, increase threshold power by 8%, and more importantly make your rig/steed/whip way more sexier by getting some hoops with rad colored hubs!


The challenging question of weight

Aerodynamics are easily but expensively quantified. Weight is easily and cheaply measured, but in reality it's difficult to quantify. People like the feel of light stuff, wheels in particular. Whether that's a scientifically valid feeling or placebo, I can't say. Shallower rims look like they should be lighter, and deeper rims look like they should be heavier. Put two otherwise exactly matched bikes on the rack at the bottom of a hill, but put a set of deep wheels on one and shallow wheels on the other, and ask people to choose a bike to climb and descend said hill. My guess is that nearly 100% of people would choose the shallower ones.

The two most popular questions we've gotten regarding the AI33 rims thus far are "will they fit in my bike?" and "how does the weight compare to x?" I can't answer the first question universally, but the second one is easy because the AI33s we have weigh 470g per rim. Some people are skeptical that a rim as deep and wide can be 470 and have requisite strength and durability, which is somewhat funny because the Kinlin XR31 is very nearly as deep and almost as wide is a 485g rim and people think they're tanks. Other people look at the AI33 compared to a 400 or 425g rim and say "boat anchor." For me, the boundaries described by the ~450g Easton R90SL at the light (but not as deep or wide) end and the Kinlin is great territory for road rims. 

Adding to this is that more people are choosing to do their organized riding in gran fondos and centuries and big ass gravel rides and fewer people are road racing. I know that road racing racer days in the US are officially down, which lines up with what we hear from people. If you're riding a gran fondo, it seems logical to me that you'd want wheels that feel great - that are lively and light and offer perfect control - versus a racing environment where you just want any go fast help you can wring out of your wheels. And if I go on a nice two hour ride by myself or with friends, I don't much care about the 15 or 20 (or 60 or 90) seconds I may be giving away by less than optimized aerodynamics, I really just want everything to work and feel great. 

But that's the challenging thing - how much weight is too much weight? Does the fact that AI33 rims each weigh 100g per rim less than Flo 30 rims make a tangible difference? Do any of the analytic calculators that always say that aerodynamics trumps weight actually accurately model weight's effects? And does feel indicate any physiological effect, or is it all just a feeling? 

More questions than answers today. 


Interbike news

Astute readers of the blog will be aware that we've been testing a new rim for a couple of months now, and will likely have been frustrated with our caginess regarding same. Last night, I got a text from Interbike, where said rim is being shown, that said "dude, people are going GAGA over these!" To which I replied "well, duh - welcome to the first time I've said I told you so." Product announcements are always hard to time, but at the risk of making everyone want these before they're available (we'll be able to start shipping them in November - what a great month!), here you go. We've got roughly 1500 miles on a set of AForce AI33 rims, and they're great. I'm actually the first person in the US to have built or ridden a set, and it's been fun to sit back and read what people have speculated about them online while I've been secretly riding around on them. 

Specs are pretty simple: 32.5mm deep, 19.6 inside brake track, 24.2 outside brake track, 26.2 max width, with a nice 9mm tall brake track. Per rim weight is 470.5 (it's claimed at 465, ours are 470 and 471). The extrusion thickness at the nipple bed is 2.1mm, which is thick for a performance-oriented and weight-conscious rim. The shape, as you can see from the pics, is toroidal. They are made of a 6000-series aluminum alloy variant that is claimed as harder and stiffer than normal rims. I can vouch for the stiffness, and they sound different from other alloy rims when you're handling them. Durability has been on fleek to date (see what I did there?).

Nice shape

The set we have has internal nipples and 2:1 lacing on the rear, as well as the optional ceramic brake track. Our inclination is to stock and do standard builds with external nipples, 1:1 rear lacing, and do the ceramic brake track. With so limited a universal of test rims, we're testing what we were given to test. Given that they are absolutely arrow straight after what I've put them through, I'd be fine going with internal nipples but people generally hate them. 2:1 lacing solves for a situation (inadequate non-drive tension) that hasn't been an issue in thousands of our builds, and it leaves a LOT of space between non-drive side points of control (like 8"). The ceramic brake track is a huge part of the story, though, and I can't see us selling a single set without it. 

1500 miles worth of brake track wearMost people just looking at the wheels assume they're carbon. The ceramic brake track has developed a sheen much like what you'd see on a carbon brake track. The wear is even. The rims still look great. I'm far from a maintenance freak, and since the supplied pads got lost in transit I've been using a set of the carbon pads we used to supply with older generation Rails. At first I used pads for alloy rims and they freaked me out with how much pad slough (new term, there) there was. BikeRadar experienced a similar thing with the supplied pads in their review of them. The Rail pads have had none of that, they're dead silent, and they brake at par with Easton and HED rims (which is to say as well as any rim I've ever used). I don't know what effect they have on rate of rim wear, but since the rate of rim wear using them is so darn minimal I think I'm glad that we have a large box of leftover pads to use with them. They're a great match.

Mmm, carbon-y looking

As to the aerodynamics, we can't yet say precisely (as you know, saying without knowing isn't our game). We're coordinating a significant wind tunnel trip (A2 will do the testing) that will give a definitive look at how these compare to standard-bearer carbon wheels (404s), shallower carbon wheels, and other alloy rims on the market. Expect that to happen within about the month. From riding, I can tell you that they aren't slow, and that they are as manageable in crosswinds as any wheel I've used. Tire installation is easy, and the tubeless interface works great for road. Haven't tried a CX tire on them yet. 

Our enthusiasm for these is a continuation of the philosophy we've been developing for almost two years now, that resulted in our decision to end the Rail 34, and which came to a peak with this post I wrote in May of this year. A tubeless-compatible carbon clincher of this width, depth, and assumed aerodynamic profile would weigh not less than 20g per rim less than these, at somewhere starting at somewhat more expensive than these (for "who knows where it came from" eBay/Alibaba carbon) to 4+ times as expensive for super premium options. And you have the manifold benefits of an aluminum rim - better braking, no overheating worries, and way cheaper to replace after a crash. The final analysis will hinge to a degree on what A2 tells us, but so far these are among the nicest road wheels I've ever used. It's something of a golden age for alloy fans as the Easton R90SL slots right into that group, too. And I've ridden darn near everything. 

So there you go, some breaking news for you.  


Genuine Risk

We consider ourselves to be good salesmen. That mark is a little fraught, as it will inevitably conjure up an image of an overweight guy with a bad comb-over and white belt and shoes, chomping a cigar while patrolling the used car lot. We don't mean that. What we mean is that when someone contacts us, we will put forth a genuine effort to match that person's stated needs and goals with a product. We have the luxury of always getting to recommend what we earnestly believe to be the best match, without needing to offload aging inventory to beat a payable date or whatever else might shade our advice. The risk we run is that we're too genuine. 

Genuine Risk, the horseSure enough, we're enthusiastic about bikes and riding and wheels and what we do. But we are who we are. We don't own a sock game, I can't recall a time that either of us could accurately have been called "on fleek," the only doping we do at this point is with Geritol, we're not rad (good lord, are we ever not rad), and our bikes are not steeds, rigs, wagons, or whips - they're just bikes. And that's the way it is for us. I know that I cost us two sales last week simply because I kept having to ask "can you please tell me what you mean by that?" in response to clearly hip lingo of which I was categorically ignorant.

Genuine Risk, the boatFor some of you, how we are is a plus. For many many many other people, it's a big minus. I'm not going to tell you that all the stuff about trendy language and words and rad colors and on point this and sock-doping-wheel-doping-kit-doping necessarily detracts from the job at hand of building wheels as well as possible, I can just tell you that our 8-track doesn't play those songs (see what I did there?). It's all well and good if that's what sweetens your coffee, it's just that for us to engage in that kind of talk would be genuine pandering. 

We've always been about finding the audience that's matched to who we are and how we do what we do. As salesmen and business owners, we're not in an rush to alienate market segements that our products could serve rather well, but we do need to run the risk of staying genuine.

And now pardon us while we go yell at some clouds. And please - get offa my lawn.