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FEATURED BUILD - FSW3 with PowerTap.

Our last trip to the wind tunnel proved that the Kinlin rims in our FSW3 wheels are every bit as fast as those 40+mm carbons you use on race day. So now that your everyday alloys can also be your game day wheels, there's no better time to add a PowerTap. Especially since we've added tires (installed) and knocked $135 off the price.



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The Tires We Recommend

I’ve had a long standing observation that the second piece of information any male wants to learn about any female is “is she good looking.”  It’s like there’s some social geometry where the good lookingness of a woman will allow us to triangulate every other piece of information we may learn about her – but only if we have one other piece of information first, whatever piece of information that might be. 

While I find this to be nearly 100% accurate as an observation (that guys do this), I advocate neither its propriety nor its efficacy.  But there must be some greater thing at work here because guys do it in other venues.  To wit: tires.  No one’s first question is ever what kind of tires we recommend for use with the Rail, but having asked one question first, nearly everyone then asks what kind of tires we recommend.  Generally, we think any tire that you like, you’ll like better on Rails.  Specifically, we’ve tried long-standing favorites like Challenge Criteriums, Vittoria Corsa EVO CX, and Michelin ProRaces of various iterations, and they’ve all been great on Rails.  For width, either 23 or 25 work great.  25 tends to feel like a little bit overkill, as tires set up wide on Rails (a “25mm” wide Challenge Strada goes 26.75mm wide on a Rail, for instance), and 23 is the standard width that all tires seem to come in and be readily available in. 

Based on a few recommendations, we tried Continental GP4000s recently.  These are tires I’d tried before but that hadn’t blown me away, and then fatal tread cuts bade them a premature end anyhow.  They must have done something with the compound, or maybe it’s just a magical combination with the Rail, but holy crap.  So smooth, so fast, so nice in the turns.  23mm ones measure bang on 23mm on Rails (which means they’re narrower on whatever you’ve been using them on).  They’ll be my go to this year for sure. 

An auspicious first is on the way for me – my first gran fondo.  I’ve never found the concept that appealing, to be honest, and I go into this one luke warm.  I’m excited for it as an event, an experience, but the strategy of how you “win” the things is off-putting to me.  In any case, I’m giving it a roll at the Garrett County Gran Fondo on June 22nd.  Doing the whole hog Diametrical Double or whatever it’s called – 125 or so miles.  This will be my longest ever ride.  Don’t tell anyone – I’ve never actually done a 100 mile bike ride.  Want to know what wheels I’ll be using?


Gram Fondo

In what appears to be a continuing theme, I will now take a picture from our Facebook page and write a blog about it.

Here’s Dave.  Unfortunately, in this picture, he’s experiencing a bout of rapid slowdown syndrome.  Ain’t that a b?  But anyway, Dave’s fast, has won big races, and has ridden everything under the sun, so we asked him to test out a set of Rails.  We didn’t necessarily have this particular test in mind, but we certainly knew it was a possibility.  In any case, prior to this particular test, he’d found the Rails to be fast and stiff.  If you look closely at his legs, you’ll see they’re different from mine in two ways: a) they are not so pale as to be translucent and b) they look like they might enable him to hit a pretty good sprint.  In this case, looks don’t lie.  Andy Schleck, he’s not.  If he finds them stiff, I can pretty well guarantee that you will too.

How does the wheel look now?  Straight as an arrow, no issue, straight back into use.  Unfortunately, the rider was concussed so he is not straight back into use. 

Various people on various forums have expressed their “disappointment” that we have produced a wheel set that weighs what Rails do (which is just around 1500 grams, for the record).  I’m not kidding, they actually say they’re disappointed.  Scenes like above are an unfortunate part of racing.  Sprints like Dave has are unfortunate parts of my hopes of finishing in the money in a lot of races.  Grams are great, the fewer the better, right?  But stuff's got to be what it's got to be or else it won't be what it could be.  These are looking an awful lot like they are what they could be.

Of course there’s a balance, you don’t want to roll out on quarter ton manhole covers just as much as you don’t want wheels that can’t deal with the rigors of real life and racing.  What you don’t see about the picture above is that this event happened in a 6 man break that had 40 seconds on the field.  One of them had won the race, they just didn’t know who yet.  So, stiff enough to make the break, fast enough to make is stick, and strong enough to deal with when things don’t go exactly according to plan.  Yup, I’ll take that. 



Options Optional

The last blog mentioned an unusual period of quiet, which in my experience almost always precedes even more quietude.  In this case, precedent has held and it’s been even more quiet around here.

On our Facebook page, we posted a picture I took during a mountain bike ride over the long weekend.  Before posting it, Mike and I discussed whether posting a picture of a “November Mountain Bike” would be a good thing or a bad thing.  You see, despite the fact that I have the bike that would have become the November 29er, we decided even before we’d gotten the prototype/sample frames that the mountain bike market wasn’t a good fit for us.  Between cross country hard tail and full suspension, all mountain mid travel and long travel, enduro, and gravity, across three wheel sizes, two or three rear axle formats, 3 front axle formats, and usually with the desire for a single speed variant in each, a player like us has lost before we’ve stepped onto the field. 

Putting aside for a moment the risk of having a container full of hard tail 29er frames when all of a sudden dual suspension 650B (or 27.5, whichever the world decides to call it) becomes the belle of the ball, there’s the simple obstacle of our ability to do everything we do as well as we can.  Quite simply, you can’t have expertise in everything. 

While the mountain bike market is moving ever further away from consensus on materiel, the road market at least has moved to a unified aesthetic: black.  Black, black, black, it must be black.  I get that Schooly D song “Am I Black Enough For You?” stuck in my head every time I think about it.  This is a slight challenge for Mike and me because it’s not the look we prefer, but while we’re unwilling to sell performance or functionality in which we don’t wholeheartedly believe, we’re less resistant to accommodating a prevailing aesthetic.   So our aesthetic direction, for good or bad, is generally “fade to black.”

Going back to Facebook, we were just asked for a status update on a shallower Rail.  Having now gotten a collective 10000 or so miles (actually, probably quite a bit more at this point, maybe I should track that more closely?) on the pre-production Rail 52s, we are overwhelmed by how universal the “I can’t believe how stable these things are in cross winds” feedback is.  We’ve felt it ourselves, of course.  The first several times I rode them my overriding thought was “I’ve got to get someone else to confirm this because I can’t even trust what I’m (not) feeling here,”  but we’re biased and it wasn’t until more objective people confirmed it that we really let ourselves talk about it. 

What does that mean for the shallower Rail?  It puts it firmly on the back burner.  With significant aerodynamic advantages and enough stability in breeze to make that a non-issue until it’s windy enough that just plain riding bikes is an issue, we struggle to find the objective need for a shallower Rail.  Knocking off 80 or whatever grams per set would be endlessly more beneficial on paper than it would be in actual fact.  Speed that exceeds our old 85s at stability that exceeds our old 38s, all at very very raceable weight, makes the 52 look an awful lot like a one wheel solution.   



Silence Is Golden

This has been an unprecedented quiet spell for the November blog.  We haven't been completely silent, as we've been oversharing with the world in the newsletter and on our Facebook page, but inasmuch as we can ever be described as "deep," those venues don't exactly show off that side of us. 

So why so quiet?  Well, there's a lot going on.  The Rail pre-order is steamrolling along until Friday, and we are continually working with the five and change pre-production sets we've got on hand. We're getting closer to announcing our next frame, making sure everything's taken care of with our European Rail partner, and starting a research project that we can't even believe we somehow got ourselves into.  Plus, if you didn't notice it's the heart of racing season, so I've been busy getting throttled in my first season of mountain biking as a Cat 1 (it's a rapid and hostile environment, but when I don't flat I'm doing just fine, thanks).  The focus shifts to road this weekend, although the course and weather forecast seem to indicate that the transition won't be a clean one - there will be mud. 

The majority of my time has been spent getting pre-production Rails built up, tuning up our wheelbuilding team, and making sure every last detail on the Rail is as it should be.  Since I don't personally have the capacity to build all of the Rails that we're selling (at least if people want to use them this year), we've been developing a small team of builders.  I'm very excited with where we stand on this, from a production point of view but primarily from a quality perspective.  Each wheel built of course goes through my stand and I do my worst to it to ensure it's exactly where I want it, and in that process it becomes very evident whether the builder really cared about the build.  Building skills I can teach, commitment I can't. 

It's been windy lately around here, usually windy enough that you instinctively question whether a 50mm deep rim is the sane choice.  What each and every person who's ridden on a Rail has mentioned as a first impression is how calm they are in wind.  People are freaked out about it, to be blunt.  We knew they'd be good in this regard, we just didn't know how good. 

After some initial head scratching I think the braking performance is officially where we'd aimed for it to be, at least.  I'll admit, until we learned the ideal set up we heard some squeals that would have made a fire truck take notice, but we've got that sorted out now.  Actually coming to a stop was never an issue, it was just how many hundreds of people knew about it.  Now that answer is "no hundreds." (my relief at figuring out the brake issue is a nice double meaning for the title of this post)

Stiffness.  Umm.  These are stiff.  Yes sir.  They track corners exceptionally well, and they absolutely laugh at the though of my meager (although a lot less meager than it used to be, strangely enough - am I seeing an early rush of old man power??) sprints knocking them out of plane.  Quite stiff. 

In the next couple of weeks we'll be sending some wheels out on an impromptu road show to get more complete third party impressions of them, but at this point we feel like we've got the whole nut very very dialed in.  Full steam ahead. 


Riding the Rail

Building a wheel you've never built before is a small challenge, from sizing the spokes to making sure there's nothing inherently weird about the way the wheel comes together, but the pre-production Rail front went together easily.  Friday evening was finally the chance to ride the thing. 

Tire of choice was a Vittoria Corsa Evo CX, for the primary reason that I'm exceptionally familiar with the tire and wouldn't get any noise from it.  The reason I'm so familiar with it is that it's a tire I really really like.  Normal butyl tube with an 80mm stem.  I used my Wheelhouse, which after two and a half years couldn't be more of a known quantity. 

Time was a bit short since I still had a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the 13 hour mountain bike relay race we were doing on Saturday, fortunately I have a loop nearby where I can quickly get the measure of how a wheel generally behaves.  Doing my opener ride as part of this deal would kill two birds with one stone.  What I learned was that it seemed to handle very very well, seemed stiff, didn't show any weird behavior at all, and it made me excited to race it on Sunday. 

Before Sunday's race there was this small matter of doing nearly 5 hours of singletrack at pop your eyes out (literally - two of us blew out contact lenses) pace.   Consider doing 7 cyclocross races in a day, that's roughly what Saturday was - one heck of an opener workout. 


Off the front about halfway through. Front wheel is a Rail 52, rear is a wide 50 that we've been using as a construction test while waiting for the Rail mold to get up and running.  Picture credit to Daniel Meaurio.

Cursing Mike for telling the internet that I was racing on Sunday, I lined up for the 1/2/3 race at Carl Dolan on Sunday.  Dolan is kind of an egg shaped course, about 2 miles long, with one really fast tight downhill right hand turn and an uphill finish.  A gusty wind had me thinking "oh crap, maybe I should have brought a shallow front wheel?"  An ambulance on the course delaying our start had me thinking "maybe this skinny tire racing isn't all it's cracked up to be?"  I'm always jumpy before the race starts and then settle down as soon as we get going, which we did soon enough. 

I'm very pleased with how the wheel worked.  There was enough wind that it was a top of mind thing at all times in how you positioned yourself, but never once was there the remotest amount of steering feedback from the wheel getting blown around.  I can't say that this wouldn't have been the case with other wheels, but it wasn't with the Rail.  Not the most technically demanding course in the world but the one real turn there is is a tricky one.  I was able to find a sneaky and tight inside line that no one else was using, which helped me to save a lot of hard pedal strokes every time I used it (you couldn't always get to it safely from where you were in the pack). With about a bazillion and six hard corners in my back pocket from Saturday, I might just have been sharp at cornering, but that was the line I wanted and the wheel sure seemed to like it as much as I did. 

At one point I jumped off the front of the field headed toward a break up the road.  A couple of guys bridged to me and we got a huge chunk of the way across, but teammates of guys in the break came and sat on us and then the field decided they wanted the whole thing back anyhow.  All I can say is that the bike felt fast and I was riding with guys who are way stronger than I am.

It may sound like I'm damning the wheel with faint praise, which obviously I'm not trying to do.  Quite the contrary, I pretty much don't ever want to use any other wheels anymore ever.  I loved it.  But absent something that has a baseline chance of 0% (like me winning that race) coming to pass, it's hard to say too much about what the wheel did or didn't do.  I loved riding it and you'll pry it out of my cold dead hands.