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Wednesday
Apr012015

Pretty Standard, Really... or Fricking Lasers

Whenever you're stumped for a blog title, Dr Evil can reliably get you out of a jam. James Huang, aka the Angry Asian, seems like he wants to see all of the new "standards" placed in a burlap bag and beaten. Admittedly, all of these new "standards" makes ordering a "standard" set of wheels a bit ore complicated. With the increasing popularity of disc wheels (still in the minority, but way way less so than ever before), it's not so easy to build wheels for stock and ready shipping. The color choices are always going to be the color choices, but with two popular axle choices for front and rear, it gets even a bit more complex. We'd sure hoped that one format would win out, but now there's even a new front format coming out so it looks like we're moving in the wrong direction there.  

One of the things we've sort of been dragged along with is the use of CX Rays for every application. They're great spokes, but it's seemed maybe a bit overblown to use them as pervasively as gets done. Does a 28/32 "do everything" set of alloys really benefit from CX Rays? Does that set in 24/28 really benefit from them for that matter? This came to a real head for me as I was recently building up a set of road disc wheels for myself - on which I chose to use Lasers in a decision that felt less like a decision and more like the obvious right thing to do. All of my personal mountain bike and cross wheels use Lasers, which seems an awfully great reason for us to be using them more pervasively.  

When we measured CX Rays versus Lasers at the A2 wind tunnel a while ago, we found a measurable but small difference between the two. Used in a wheel like a Rail, this difference is worth the price of entry. In a wheel with a less significant aerodynamics mandate, the cost of CX Rays becomes a bit harder to justify. If your wheel set has 52 spokes, the retail cost of your spokes (at $3/per) starts to approach or possibly exceed that of your rims, and matches the cost of many Asian OEM hubs. 

Lasers and CX Rays are the same weight. CX Rays have some cycle fatigue and ultimate breaking strength advantages that are incredibly unlikely to ever come into play in the lifespan of your wheels. Dirty little secret - CX Rays are easier to build with. So at some point, it starts to feel like you're paying a bunch of extra money to make the wheel builder's life easier and not getting a whole heck of a lot in return. So in our new standard alloy wheel set, Lasers will be the norm. There will be a CX Ray option, and they will both be tremendous values, but picking up the Laser flag once again seems like a wonderful decision. 

I've just used a phrase "new standard alloy wheel set." Huh? Yeah, the cat is struggling with the bag, but we're going to have to keep him in there for a tiny bit more. What we can say is that, having grown this little endeavor with an ever-increasing number of people choosing custom options, a standard wheelset offers some great advantages for us. A build that needs no specific planning, made out of parts that are easy to keep on hand, and able to be built both during planned runs and whenever there isn't another build on the board, that's a huge advantage to us in keeping things rolling. And you will share in that advantage. Sorry to be a tease. More soon.

 

Thursday
Mar192015

Time and Place

An eye-opening article in this week's Economist (I could link it but you'd be in front of a paywall about 2 sentences in) about corporate HQs in Silicon Valley makes this a good time to talk about our new office. 

For the last year, we've been operating in two states: Mike remains in MD, while I've been in RI since last winter. The riding- and racing culture around DC has been wonderful to be a part of, but my entire family and many life-long friends live in RI, so when I had the chance to move back, I took it. This adds a wrinkle to how Mike and I do what we do, but the way our roles split makes that aspect pretty painless. 

On the other hand, having a work space that's 100% committed to allowing November's operations to flow as smoothly and effectively as possible has introduced efficiency and - I think you'd have to call it joy - that lets things work better than they ever have. In our case, place creates time that supports our mandate to keep overhead as low as possible. 

It doesn't hurt when this is the course for your Tuesday Night Worlds

A palacial monument to ourselves will never be us (in line with The Economist's view), but neither would some cinder block bunker in an industrial wasteland. Our operations base is actually a perfect reflection of November's soul - efficient, small, human, colorful, and slightly quirky. You'd also have to throw hand built in there. It's a story of value and values - just like in your wheels, you want something that absolutely works the part, and looks the part, but gives a big middle finger to what most of the world is telling you costs the part. 

There's still a ton of moving dust and the time of the year means that some work on the place takes a decided back seat to getting orders out the door. And ongoing struggles with the switch to a new phone mean that most of the pictures are inaccessible at the moment, but what better time to follow us on Instagram and see the pictures we've posted there?

Apart from the office, we've got one more piece of ultra exciting product news that's a bit too premature to talk about. Don't you hate teasers like that?

 

Tuesday
Feb242015

Picture Pages

So we've kind of been on the rivet as far as getting everything built and out the door, without much time for our usual erudition. Lots of things going on beyond, as well - a new corporate address, some really neat product stuff, long term projects with some suppliers coming to fruition. Life is, indeed, a rich pageant. It's also a frozen pageant at the moment. Anyhow here are some pictures.

People are getting on board the color train. Love it. These live in FL now.

Actually, these also live in FL now.

These live on the left coast. Everyone's warmer than me.

Scarlett came to stay for a few days

Paul, caught in the act of winning life. On Mt Lemmon. He and I actually even made it rain out there.

All work and no play makes Dave a dull boy.We're in this "kaizen" mode, trying to make continual improvements all around. It's working out. Happy with the work we're shipping now, but striving to do better all the time. 

Friday
Feb062015

Riding the Brakes Redux

So now that I have about 1000 miles on the disc brake bike (I spent 9 days riding my behind off in Tucson), in all sorts of weather (during the trip to Tucson, we got 2 of Tucson's average 12 rainy days per year), on all sorts of roads and grades, with groups large and small and alone, what's the report?First off, they stop well. Very well. While riding in a traffic light-rich environment, I noticed myself coming to a stop much sooner than others. I very much still think that mixed company riding is not a big deal. The argument that everyone will have to switch at once for a peloton to work is a straw man. The simple fact is that when you ride with a group, you have the ability choose how quickly you brake, and though it might take a little getting used to, the few hundred miles I'd done prior to the trip were much more than needed to acclimate me for riding disc brakes in a group. But when you want to, yeah, you can stop quickly. 

During the first ride or two, I actually skidded more than a few times while braking. I've tried to describe it a few times without a ton of success, but what I notice is that instead of thinking "how much pull do I need to get the job done," you think "how much less power than a full skid do I want here?" That's a very imperfect way of stating it, but it's the best I can do for now. 

Setting the bike up after a plane trip, I had to adjust the front brake mounting slightly. This takes all of 30 seconds but it does require a Torx screwdriver. My mini tool has the right one, and my mini tool is pretty basic. Yours probably has the right one. 

Until it rained, the brakes were silent. The closest I came to actual noise was on my second trip down Mt. Lemmon, which was done at absolute warp speed. I rode down with the gentleman who placed second in Ironman Hawaii last year, and we were HAULING. Approaching one sweeper bend, we caught up to three cars (went from 200 yards behind them to ON THEM in about .01 seconds) and I had to scrub a bunch of speed quickly. There was a bit of resonant hum at the very end of that, but not as much as the noise coming from my counterpart's carbon clinchers (which weren't very loud, either).

In rainy conditions, they're loud. Loud. A rainy trip down Kitt Peak (steeper, less regular, and more technical than the Lemmon descent) had them screaming a few times. It can be a bit disconcerting. There are those who will say "Shimano brakes wouldn't have made noise" and to them I say you are wrong - I've ridden with plenty of people on Shimano brakes and wet rotors and fouled pads are wet rotors and fouled pads, no matter who made them. On my CX bike, I use plate rotors (no holes at all) in muddy conditions, which ameliorates this to a huge degree. We are also talking about pretty nasty conditions here, with many deep puddles and an absolute metric ton of silt and sand and general yuck getting smashed into the pads. Lightly sanding the pads (remove wheel, fold piece of sandpaper and place between pads, lightly pull brake leer, rub sandpaper back and forth - takes two minutes and you'd want to do the same routine with rim brakes after a ride like this) after riding and cleaning the rotors with an alcohol swipe silenced the brakes, at least until the next deep puddle and general ingress of road skank. Two days of persistent rain, and Tucson is a wet wet wet place. Inadvertent rivers all up in the place. 

So, are disc brakes the next big thing?  Should you throw out your current bike to get some? 

Here's my take: for the road bike riding that I do, which general falls under the auspices of racing and training for racing, without a whole lot of "this isn't the right place for a road bike but let's do it anyway" type of stuff (I have a cx bike and a mtb for that, and I'm not being judgmental but I'm just not into that stuff as a regular part of my diet), and with the occasional gran fondo, but with most of my huge hilly rides either during races or with small to medium groups of well-ish matched riders, I'd just go for rim brakes. I'm fairly light (low 160s), and as a descender I would call myself highly skilled and confident, although I am a chicken and a half when descending in rain. 

The aftermath of torrential rain. This is a once in a lifetime event on Mt Lemmon. Lucky to have seen it.

If, on the other hand, I was super into the "adventure" stuff, or was 25 pounds heavier and had a calendar full of hilly gran fondos and centuries, or did a lot of touring, or did a lot of commuting in the Pacific Northwest, I would go for discs. To be honest, if that was my gig, I'd also just use a cx bike and not a road bike, but that's just me. Also, having experienced both mechanical and hydro discs, I can't wait to put hydros on the cx bike. There's absolutely no comparison. You might as well be talking about the difference between 1960's era rim brakes and the latest dual pivot caliper brakes. It's night and day. 

Do I think road racing needs discs? Absolutely not. They're nice, but like anything else in the world they have their plusses and minuses, and they're no magic bullet.  And I ran this one really long. Sorry.

Friday
Jan232015

2015 Rail Enhancements and Pre-Order

It doesn't yet feel like two years ago that we launched the Rail 52, but here we are - and a year into the 34 to boot. In that time, they've starred in VeloNews, done even more time in the wind tunnel, undergone an extensive real world brake performance test program, and of course been used to win a pantload of races and done too many miles to possibly count. We're proud parents. Of course, plus ça change... we're constantly working to improve everything we do, so we're introducing a few small changes. 

First, and most significantly, we're eliminating the clear coat on the brake track. The clear coat makes them look insanely hot out of the box, but it wears relatively quickly. We've gotten more than one "oh my God my wheels are a week old and the brake track is scratched up!" email. Soon enough that wear normalizes and everything is hunky dory. We've also learned that the wheels brake better and more quietly as the clear coat wears away. So, since form follows function, new Rails will be sans clearcoat from the get go, instead of getting that way over time. The new rims look great, too. 

 

Rails shipped with disc hubs (becoming a bigger thing all the time) will continue to have the clearcoated brake track. This makes them look their best, and the clearcoat provides a modicum of protection against scrapes and scratches. 

I guess that photo lets the cat out of the bag on the second change - graphics. More and more, people requested all white or all black graphics. While we're huge fans of color ourselves, we swim against enough tide and we're just going with the flow on this one. So new Rails will also have new great look! The updated graphics will come in white, as shown above and below, or in a super dark charcoal (but not black) color that, once we picked it, we immediately named "bleached black." In the coming few days, we'll post copious photos of both (non)colorways. Warning - these photos will feature cacti and stunning scenery. Just be ready for that. 

As Rails become better and better known, the Rail branding has actually caused a bunch of confusion. The link between Rail and November often gets missed. We also really really like the new November branding that Casey dreamed up for us last year, so we're going with it. The bleached black version is much more subtle, but if you want a little zing in your swing, the white's where it's at. There is always a rainbow of colored hub and nipple choices at your command, as ever. 

The other change you'll notice at the moment is that we're going back to the future and, for the first time since who knows when, we're having a pre-order on Rail 52, Rail 34 and Custom Rails. Starting now, all Rail orders are on pre-order for $100 off the regular price (which is unchanged for 2015). Delivery is slated for mid-ish February, dependent of course on volume and our capacity to hand assemble, build and ship each wheel.