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The new tubeless ready Rail 52, arriving next week. 

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Friday
Dec182015

Rail 52 Tubeless. Ready?

Since we launched the Rail 52, it's been a hit. As easily controlled as shallower options while being faster, and as fast as deeper options while being much more easily handled. The 18mm bead seat width is still in the heart of the strike zone for optimizing aerodynamics with the tires most people prefer to use with them. Durable enough for every day, plenty fast for race day. If we were to design it all over again, we'd make the same exact shape.

So we did. The time came for a new mold (molds wear out), and as that time approached we had discussed exactly how we'd change the 52 in order to bring it up to date. The answer as far as shape is concerned was nothing at all. Through use and through very precise testing, the 52 continues to prove itself, so we kept the exact same aerodynamic shape and 18mm bead seat width. 

There was one thing we really wanted, though...

It's no secret that we're fans of tubeless. In our experience, it works wonderfully, and adding a tubeless ready tire bed detracts nothing from those who have no interest in using tubeless. The rim is just as happy whether you use tubes or not.

"Can Rails be used tubeless" has been one of the most frequently asked questions we've had over time, and while the old ones could, the new ones can much more easily. Tires are easier to install and inflate. With more and better tubeless options coming on the market all the time, we expect that more people will want to use tubeless than ever before. And again, if you don't want to, there's no detriment. 

The other change is from the unidirectional brake track that the Rail has had, to a woven (3k) brake track. This provides a benefit in stopping power and brake feel, and helps to reduce brake noise. Not a huge difference, but refinement and steady improvement is what we're all about here. 

 

We've been out of stock of 52s for a little bit, as our last order from the old mold sold a little more quickly than we'd thought it would, but don't despair - we'll launch a pre-order in the coming weeks for delivery in late January/beginning of February. 

The next question will, of course, be "are you adding a disc-specific version to the range?" In fact we are. It is called the Range. Nifty name, huh? The Range is dedicated to extending your range, whether on the road, on the gravel, or on the cx course. Employing the same aerodynamic philosophy and know-how that make the Rail 52 so good, the tubeless ready, 45mm-deep Range offers a nice turn of speed, and is tuned for slightly wider tires. Making a rim fully disc-specific allows a significant reduction in weight over switch-hitting versions, and it's also got one surprise we're keeping up our sleeve for the moment. 

Build options will continue to include both standard Nimbus Ti-based and custom options, and you'll be very pleased with 2016 pricing as well. 

Tuesday
Dec152015

Power To Spin

No, I'm not talking about the power I will undoubtedly have after this morning's smoothie - a spinach, beet, beet green, avocado, walnut, pumpkin seed, tart cherry juice, cherry and blueberry extravaganza that will undoubtedly leave the shop's toilet in smoking ruins before the day is out. A nagging hip injury and some other recent corporeal mishaps led me to discover that I am, in fact, old, which led to a vast nutritional rethink. Coffee is replaced by tea, nutrient density is the new watchword, and though the beer budget still exists, it is a mere shadow of its former self. All of which has nothing to do with today's topic.

The aerodynamic properties of a wheel contains two drag components: the power it takes to push that spinning wheel through the air, and the power it takes to spin the wheel at the speed at which it's spinning. The former, called translational drag, is the headliner. The second, "power to spin," is something of an afterthought. It's an important afterthought, though, if only because whenever a discussion of spoke type or spoke count or really anything about wheel aerodynamics comes up, power to spin gets called up. The test is soon called useless for not having included power to spin. The counterpoints are made that most wind tunnels don't provide a measurement of it, that without a reference for comparison against other wheels having that number for any particular wheel is useless, etc etc etc. If I could bet on the arc of these conversations, I'd be rich.

Someone with the quick Google skills will call up this document (the link is actually a Google search - pick the first result, download it, remove the ".bak" extension from the end, and open it as a .pdf), from a test that Zipp did a while ago, and let me tell you that's a smoking gun, eh? Huge gain in power to spin for CX Rays over both bladed spokes and more so over round ones. There are a few problems with this test, the most notable of which is that they never actually compare two otherwise identical wheels, with the same rim and spoke count and only the spoke shape is different. They talk about doing such, but it's not shown. The other of course is that they don't clarify if they've normalized for tires, and if anyone was unaware of tire importance before, it's now a hot topic since this came out

But if you reference this sheet, you see that the Zipp 101 is only shown to gain 42 seconds, or a savings of 14 watts, in the mythical wind tunnel 40k TT versus "the industry's benchmark aluminum wheelset." The industry's benchmark aluminum wheelset doesn't come with CX Rays. Said benchmark is usually a 32 spoke Open Pro-based build, which would, as an industry standard, come with 14/15 gauge spokes (or possibly straight gauge spokes, which would make it even worse per the power to spin test). Given the differences implied by the power to spin test data, one would expect that the shallower industry standard wheel would suffer more than a 14 watt beat down just from longer, less aerodynamic spokes alone. So why not add that power to spin edge to the translational drag edge, and show a really huge gain?

My simple guess is that they found out that there wasn't that much "there" there with regard to power to spin. One year ago today, we posted on the blog and on our FB page about the tests that we did in collaboration with Velonews, which were published in their January 2015 issue. Per the discussion arc I described above, power to spin came up. No less an authority than Dr Andrew Coggan got involved in the comments in the FB post, and directly called power to spin a red herring, saying that he'd measured a worst-to-first change of 2w across wheels when doing wind tunnel calibration work. A great wheel takes 3w to spin, the worst takes 5. Interpolating that info is a slippery slope, but if a super deep wheel with 20 CX Rays or DT Aerolites takes 3w to spin, and the least aerodynamic wheel you can get your hands on with 32 round spokes takes 5w to spin, we're pretty sure that changing from CX Rays to Lasers in an otherwise identical wheel doesn't cost 10, 5, or even 1 watt. 

It should go without saying that this post isn't a bag on Zipp. They had a test, it showed data, and even if that test was incomplete or wrong, the internet doesn't forget. I hope that in 20 years people are as aware of us as they are of Zipp now, and are retrospectively discussing our old tests. Plus, we can absolutely categorically agree with the last bit of Zipp's power to spin thing: "many wheel companies avoid the CX-Ray due to its extremely high price (roughly 4 times the cost of butted round spokes), but when ultimate performance is desired, there is no other logical option." There's a spoke for every purpose. 

Thursday
Dec102015

From The Vault: Eurobike News

One of the things that Mike and I bat around but never actually get to is figuring out how to make info in the blog archive more accessible. It's a regular thing that someone will ask a direct question or post something on a forum, and there's already been a post with a complete answer to the question. A freakish amount of the time, we'll actually remember the post right off, and have some touchstone to be able to find it. Today's Throwback Thursday is not one of those. Though it addresses a forum thread where I wasted time that I'll never get back, I didn't remember this relevant post at all. 

Originally posted 9/7/2010

Now that I'm a big fancy pants bicycle company executive, I follow the trade coverage more closely than I did before.  One item that stuck out among the write-ups about the recently completed EuroBike show was the news that the major carbon suppliers were passing along a pretty striking price increase for the coming year; something on the order of 60%.  Time to buy your new bike right now and beat that price increase, right?  Maybe. 

Have you ever noticed how immediately gas prices go up when oil prices climb, and then they settle back down more slowly, to a level above what was considered "par" before?  I'm not accusing bike brands of profiteering in the way that oil companies do (Congress doesn't seem to have the same proclivity for rhetoric about "windfall taxes" when they talk about the bike industry), but there's a similar dynamic that goes on with news like this. 

The price of raw materials is but one component of the price you pay for a fancy new carbon toy.  Take a pretty standard frame, and let's say that it weighs 1100g.  In that weight, you have aluminum dropouts, BB shell, maybe some stops riveted on, etc.  Let's say that there are 150g of aluminum in the frame.  That brings the net weight down to 950g for the actual carbon bits of the frame.  Now, the "carbon bits" are really "carbon and epoxy matrix bits," of which somewhere around 60% to 70% by volume is carbon.  But while epoxy is sold by volume, carbon is sold by weight.  Epoxy's way heavier than carbon.  So by weight (and keep in mind this is a well educated guesstimation designed to make advance a point, not to provide laser accuracy), your 1100g frame has maybe a half pound of carbon in it.  When you're talking about something as expensive as carbon, it certainly makes a difference, but in the context of a $3,000 frame, it's not that big a deal. 

THINGS THAT ARE DEFINITELY A BIGGER COMPONENT OF THE PRICE YOU PAY FOR A FRAME THAN CARBON:

1. Marketing

2. Inventory

3. Labor

4. Engineering

5. Supply chain markups

6. Floor plan financing

THINGS THAT ARE PRETTY SIMILAR TO THE COST OF CARBON AS COMPONENTS OF THE PRICE YOU PAY:

1. Manufacturing overhead

2. Graphics and paint

3. Boxing and shipping

So, yes, any time raw material input costs rise, it puts upward pressure on the price of finished products.  Don't, however, be fooled into equating a price increase in raw materials with a corresponsing increase in finished goods pricing.   Yes, everything adds up.  When I wear my product manager hat, I see that in as clear a light as you can imagine.  Every penny saved is a good thing.  We've stripped as many of the Big 6 costs down to zero as we can, so we're actually less insulated from raw material increases than others are.  I'm far more concerned about the state of global shipping than I am about the cost of carbon. 

Prices do rise over time, we know this.  Central bankers call 2% inflation "price stability."  But if there's a story that the price of carbon bikes and wheels is going up 5% this year because the price of carbon went up, it's BS.  There, I said it. 

Friday
Dec042015

Imaginary wave sailing

My friend Mark is a really good windsurfer. He used to be just kind of good, but he moved to Florida and sails all the time and now he's really good. But when he and I windsurfed together, he was infatuated with wave sailing. The problem is, you only get to really wave sail a couple of times a year (at most) in Rhode Island. It's windy enough here that you get to sail a lot, it's just not that often that wind from the right direction coincides with good waves - and it's not a Wednesday afternoon and you're stuck at work, or 26 degrees out. Newport ain't Maui. 

So Mark had a bunch of equipment that was geared quite hard toward the wave sailing that he so enjoyed and wanted to do all the time, but never really got to do. The issue was that when conditions were great for the sailing that you actually get to do quite a lot of here, his gear was marginal at best. So he spent a lot of time on the beach frustrated, when if he'd accepted that Newport ain't Maui and had more appropriate gear, he could have spent a lot more time enjoying the good conditions that we do get. 

What does this have to do with anything?

23mm tires were the new 21, then 25s became the new 23s, then 28s, now we've kind of jumped straight over that and "real" tire clearance is for, like, the better part of 40mm. The problem with that is that you're dragging around a lot of compromises full time if you've got clearance for tires that big but don't actually do the kind of riding that calls for them. 

I recently read a forum thread where a guy was bemoaning the lack of tire clearance on his race bike. The bike in question is a good one, very much a top level race bike. The prevalent thought was that any race bike worth its salt should be able to fit "any" 28 with no problems, a thought with which I can't agree. A top end race bike needs to be a lot of things - stiff, light, fast, hopefully not a dog in the wind, stable, nimble, ergonimically correct for the "chew on the bars and kill yourself" position that we do whilst road racing, and some I've probably missed. Excessive tire clearance is at odd with at least a few of those - wheelbase has to get long, axle to crown on the fork has to increase, chainstays need to be wider which drives a whole lot of other factors, if you make the BB height correct for say 30mm tires, then it's going to be pretty f-ing low with 23s on it, and the bike is going to weigh more, too. Plus the fact that when we talk about "any" 28 on any rim, we're really talking about 31 to 32mm tires. And please please please please we need to stop bringing in pro tire choices when we have these discussions - pros ride tubulars which are pretty close to the size that they claim to be. The 25mm clinchers that you have on your road bike are probably substantively bigger than the 27s that pros sometimes ride, and way much bigger than the 25s that they often ride (not to mention HUGE compared to the 23s that they also often ride). 

This isn't an argument against Swiss Army, do it all, one bike solution bikes. Not at all. That's a perfectly valid bike. I just don't want to race the crit at Green Mountain Stage Race on it. Or any other crit. Or most road races. Some group rides, sure fine. This is, rather, a "can we please let race bikes be race bikes?" question. 

I freaking love riding nice race bikes. It's awesome. Race bikes can do "not roads" too. Sometimes.

Wednesday
Dec022015

Braking News

TLDR version: Road pros can use disc brakes without limit in 2016. This makes overall adoption of disc brakes something of an inevitability, if only because manufacturers will likely make it so. Though we're far from disc brake evangelists, we've been prepping for this day for 5 years. But the bigger question to us is "what do actual real people think about discs on the road?"

Yes, we tested

With the cycling world's silly season headlines dominated by the recent UCI decision to allow discs in 2016, you had to know that we'd weigh in on it, and almost certainly with a terrible pun. Happy to oblige. But while every pro constituency has some angle on it one way or another, and while the general public seems to be in favor of letting pros use them, what we're curious about is what the people who matter - bike riders - have to say about them. 

We've actually been swinging at the road disc pinata for longer than I care to consider. In 2011, when we first tested what became the HOT BUNS cross frames, I pulled the straw to test the disc bike (which is actually still my cross bike) and thus began our road disc wheel story. Because you need road wheels for your cross bike. And you need cross wheels for it, too. 

This sexy beastThen, when we did the Timoneria, we did a disc version to check it out. The drop dead looker you see before you is currently kitted out in full winter regalia with fenders and saddle bag, but that just makes it kind of like a swimsuit model in jeans and a baseball hat - somewhat more down and dirty, but more than capable of setting things quite astir. 

Having ridden said disc bike in situations that run the full gamut, I can say that I believe that the danger of mixing discs and rim brakes is a red herring. Whatever crash that happens might happen differently, but my considered and experienced opinion is that no crashes will occur because of a mixed brake environment. I say this having crashed in a mixed brake environment on Sunday, when I simply wasn't paying super close attention, allowed my front wheel to overlap too much with the guy ahead, who is a strong but not steady rider, who swerved while I happened to be blowing a snot rocket (those of you who ride with me will know that this is about 1/3 of the time), and woof! down I went. No brakes were even involved, and no one got branded with red hot rotors. 

But my experience is also that while good disc brakes are undeniably better than rim brakes, they're not nearly the experience-changing switch that disc brakes were in mountain biking, or even cross. They're better. They remove the heat danger from rim brake wheels (yes, Virginia, you can even overheat an aluminum rim), but that just means they transfer it within the braking system.  

The standards are something of a mess, which if there's one good thing to come from pro peloton adoption it is that that should clear up. For amateur racers, the wheel swap speed is once again, to me, a total red herring. Most of my lifetime of flats has occurred in races. Two times I was able to absolutely smoke myself and catch back on. The far more other times, my day was over. If you flat in an amateur road race, you're probably hosed. 

But enough about us, what do you think about us? Have you got any experience with them? What do you see as the good, bad and ugly of it?