Monday
Jun162014

The Wind Cries Tunnel

A boring weekend in the life of 34s, what with our budding NRC star enjoying a well-deserved weekend with her toes in the sand and a fruity blender drink in her hand.  Lacking any local races to do myself, I took my 34s for a 70 mile cruise of the south coast, whereupon I averaged comfortably in excess of 20mph and reconfirmed that if solo centuries were a valid from of racing, my standard of mediocrity would be several levels higher than where it currently stands.

Your guess is as good as ours

In addition to shipping a bunch of wheels (sun shining, hay making, etc) we're currently prepping our next trip to the wind tunnel, which will take place soon.  This will be the first time we've sent a pair of 34s, and we're doing better than sending one - we're sending two pairs.  One of the burgeoning questions around disc brakes on road bikes is how well or poorly they perform aerodynamically.  While the results should stand as a definitive answer for "how does a 24 spoke 34 equipped with disc brakes compare to a 20 spoke 34 equipped for rim brakes," it will be a pretty good proxy for the general question of "what's the aerodynamic cost of disc brakes in on wheels in general?"  The wheel we're sending has a White Industries CLD hub, using a 160mm SRAM rotor.  Tunnel time costing what it does and our interest in this question being enough to send a disc-ready 34 but not enough to exhaustively test every conceivable permutation out there, this will be what we test.  

As we've said a bunch of times, the mandate of the 34s is quite a bit beyond simply being an aerodynamic sensation.  That's way higher up on the job list for 52s than 34s, so while verifying the speediness of 52s before we put them into production was an absolute requisite, it hasn't been so urgent for 34s.

This will also be the first trip that a production 52 has made to the tunnel.  If you'll recall, when we first tested the 52, we sent our pre-production prototype, fondly dubbed Canary Thunder.  Canary Thunder had 24 spokes rather than the standard 20, and was a little rough of finish.  We'll be testing it against the same benchmark 404 that we send last time (same wheel exactly, as correct protocol would mandate), so we'll have a good reference benchmark back to the original test.  This will give us a slightly dirty answer to the question of how 4 extra spokes affects a 52 specifically, intermixed with some noise about how a yellow plastic prototype compares to a full production wheel.  

There will be a few other wheels making the trip, some of which will be making multiple runs to answer more of the world's burning questions, and you can be sure we're going to drag this one out into a bunch of blogs to ensure that any at-work time in July that you're not spending glued to the Tour will be spent glued to this site.  As it should be.

How about that Talansky, huh?  

Thursday
Jun122014

A Day in the Life of Rail 34s: Air Force Cycling Classic Weekend

This weekend was the NCC-Tier 1 Air Force Cycling Classic, which is a dual weekend of criterium racing with Clarendon Cup on Saturday and Crystal Cup Sunday.  I have wanted to race this weekend since the beginning of my "racing career.” This spring’s challenge was to be in good enough shape to get my upgrade to Cat 2, and then stay in good enough shape to live through the races that made me want to upgrade in the first place.  It’s been a long process, but I was pretty amped up to get a chance to race it.  

Clarendon's a 5 corner crit with one corner being pretty close to a 180 but nothing totally out of control.  I arrived 90 minutes early and set up my trainer near the corner immediately following the 180 that seems to catch a lot of racers off guard.  True to form, I didn't get a chance to pre-ride.  So it was going to be a "vaya con dios" kind of early lap scenario for me as we were lined up immediately after the men's 2/3 race.  Since I'm also the absolute BEST at lining up and pulled up right in the BACK, I got a good look at the players for the day: Colavita sans their superstar sprinter, TIBCO, Fearless Femme staring Tina Pic, and my favorite somewhat local hero Laura Van Gilder, who had 4 more Mushrooms with her.  I figured, (as an optimist of my caliber might) that Clarendon would have the same kind of HOLY CRAP I CANNOT BELIEVE WE ARE GOING THIS FAST STILL, I CAN'T BREATHE, MARY CALL THE EMBASSY I NEED A VISA OUT OF THIS PLACE start as Wilmington, as there was a similar cast of players. I also thought that Colavita was going to try and get something up the road, because the other teams had their sprinters.  While I was thinking this, the announcer reminded me of something I had TOTALLY browned out: we were doing 50 laps.  50 is a lot of times around a 5 corner course.  250 corners to be exact.  Yeah, I get that the men do 100, but that’s just straight up insane. Anyway, the race started somewhat spirited, but nothing out of control.  Colavita and others were sending bombs upcountry, but the course was open enough that nothing really stuck.  I noted things such as the ability to breathe through my nose and crack a smile when catching the call of a vuvuzela in the crowd (thank you LP!). As is the custom, it took me awhile to settle in.  For the first 1/3 of the race I was near the tail end.  Braking through corners and then hammering to catch back on is no way to win a bike race, so I eventually got myself further up in the pack where there was less braking, and more pedaling.   Also notable, I wasn't watching the lap counter tick down, which was an excellent sign.  It means I was... HAVING FUN.  Which is the whole point of it in the first place.  

Here is when I tell you how awesome the 34s are.  They are awesome because nothing freaked me out, I was able to corner just fine with whatever line was available, and as it got windier as the race went on, nothing rattled me, I hit a few pot holes and all went without incident.  

With about 8 to go, I got myself INVOLVED by latching on third wheel to a Mushroom move going up the road. We went somewhat fast for awhile and then we were swarmed.  I could shorten ALL of these blogs by saying “I went really fast and then I got swarmed, I didn't win, the end.”  But that isn't blogging is it.  You need DETAILS.  So… the race came down to a sprint, I had good position until 1 to go and then I got swarmed and pushed back and was 25th or something coming out of the final corner and managed to pass some lead out train droppees and eke out 18th. IN THE MONEY.  YAY! Riding by yourself means not sharing your prize money with anyone else but yourself! I then prepped for Sunday by waiting like two hours to eat, having a sangria, and sitting out in the sun watching the men’s race.  RACE PREP 101 people, learn from the master. 

Crystal Cup on Sunday is all new to me.  (each year I have attended Clarendon Cup as a spectator , I have managed to WIN the "party".  So I've never made it out to day 2 of the Air Force Classic is what i'm saying here.)  Anyway the scene, the course, were totally new to me.   I thought it was a longer lap, closer to circuit length, but its not.  It's a 5 corner crit, but this course goes from wide and luxurious (which is pretty much all of Clarendon), to BARELY ONE LANE which are cordoned off by terrifying barriers.  Truthfully, I wasn't into this race. I was totally spent from the day before, and it isn't nostalgic for me like Clarendon.  But, there is a pro race in your back yard, you go and race it dammit.  So I did.  Unlike the day prior, I managed to eat something before my race, so I wasn't fueled on only GU and dreams. This time I was fueled by a smoothie AND GU.  Progress!  The women's race was after the men's pro race this time and also after the kids races. The announcers called us out right after the men's race finished but then had us sit and wait baking in the sun while the little kids (who are totally cute, I love kids, I promise but I was just really ready to start racing before all remnants of my warm-up were rendered totally void) raced like half a lap of the course.  And then I lined up in the back, because that is how I do.  The race started a lot faster than the day prior.  With no pre-ride available it was "vaya con dios" once again.  The first few laps were terrifying, a lot of riders (myself included) seemed tired and jumpy, and the course was rutted, full of manhole covers, and overall, not fun for me.  I don't like to be negative, (cough!) and I love me some technical crits, but honestly it seemed a bit unsafe.  Two lane wide portions that narrowed to one lane around a corner just seems like asking for trouble and an ambulance.  At any rate, I had a hard time keeping myself near the front of the group, I would work my way up on the finish straight, and then drift back when it narrowed.  My whole body was clenched the entire time.  There was nothing wrong with my legs, but my head was totally not there.  With three to go a fellow MABRA racer and I got gapped pretty hard behind another racer, and had to jump around to close it down.  I wanted a chance to sprint with the group, I was NOT going to lose that chance with 3 to go.  Anyway, long story short, there was a crash on the first turn of the final lap, I was luckily inside of it, and managed to hook onto the back of the group just in time to dig in and sprint past some lead out train remnants again to nab 15th.  IN THE MONEY.  

Lessons:  Racing two of these crits in two days is probably tougher mentally than it is physically.  Readers who are interested in 34s will be happy to know, that you can be "not all there" in a seriously technical and dangerous crit and do just fine.  Through two days and 500 corners among some of the best crit racers in the country, they let me do anything I needed or wanted to do the entire time. 

I’ve just earned myself a week off the bike.  Feel free to tune into my next blog about sitting on a beach and not moving for 48 hours.  

Wednesday
Jun042014

A Day in the Life of Rail 34s: Crits with Men and Weekend Worlds

Katie continues putting a set of Rail 34s through the paces - this weekend racing with the local Legends of the Fast at a popular crit, and then mixing it up again at the Sunday ride Dave we would call a hammerfest if Dave didn't expressly forbid use of the word. 

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Weekend 2 of the 34s challenge was local. Sleeping in your own bed until 9:30 is AWESOME. (I'm a sleeper, 10 hours just about covers it. I can slide by on 8 but I don't like it.) On the docket for Saturday: Ride Sally Ride. It's a flat four corner crit, shorter, like .7 mile or so. The plan was to race the W's 123 and then jump right into the Men's Masters 35+ (run jointly with the 45+) or as we refer to it: "Old and Fast." I can call it that because I am old (not because I am fast). The women's race went about like local women's races do. It was windy, so it was unlikely there would be a break in a field of about 25. I fudged up the final lap and ended up 5th. It was a relatively uneventful race, there isn't much to say about it.

I had just enough time to grab a new bottle from my car, have my new number fixed up, and get to the start. There were 50 or so dudes lined up. That is the perfect size field for me to train in, as most pro women's races level off at about that number. We were off from the whistle, and immediately it was fast. Not holy crap I'm redlining fast, just a nice "let's pedal our bikes!" fast. I settled in and realized that men pedal HARD through corners and are not afraid to be close to you. Again, as expected, the 34s behaved perfectly. This was probably the biggest test so far as every corner was taken at speed. There wasn't one second where I didn't trust those wheels completely. Men are pretty aggressive, so putting my faith in those wheels was paramount and I had ZERO issue doing so. It was windy, and I felt 100% stable and in control the entire time. It was easy to maintain speed and surf the pack as well as match the men's acceleration, I never felt like I was drifting back and there were times when I was able to move up easily during a surge. I finished the race in the pack, and was a little sad it was over. Normally, I am counting down the laps until the end, but I was enjoying the roller coaster ride so much, I was actually kind of let down we didn't have more laps to do.

Some takeaways: The men's field is somewhat damp and smelly. It reeks up in there, it's not like the ladies smell like sunshine and rainbows (or something that actually has a scent) but the dudes are a bit stinky. Also, what's up with spraying water on your legs and back? It was like 80 and low humidity, not 100. I'm sure some of the damp was also snot. Whatever, I get it, I have nose goblins too. Also, QUIET. The men's race is quiet. Ladies, sometimes, chat. I made like Depeche Mode and Enjoyed the Silence.

Earning fistbumps in the Masters Men race.Thanks to the guys who came up to me after the race. That was really nice, I was sort of hoping not to be in the way, but it was super awesome to get a fist bump and well done here and there. A little respect for your fellow female racers goes a long way. It is motivating, so thanks for being so cool. Which brings me to Sunday's training session: the 10am...

Rather than drive 90 minutes to race against 10 women, I decided to stay local, SLEEP in again and do the local "fast" weekend group ride. I'm in total prep mode for Air Force next weekend so I thought it might be a better lesson for the legs than racing. I have mixed feelings about the 10am ride. It meets most Saturdays and Sundays in Rock Creek Park. It's a MIXED bag of abilities. Its also a MIXED bag of egos. It's 99% dudes. Most of the "racer" types are totally fine with me being there. I have, however, been told to "get to the back where you belong" once, so that happened. For some the10am is training, for a lot of other riders, it is basically a weekly race. It's a tough route for me to hang on, as there are some big ring uphill portions that zap my legs pretty good. (There are only so many times I can punch my 450 watt ticket. After like 3 times, I start to fold.) The ride starts off pretty mellow through the park. There were three of us to start, and we picked up most of the ride on the way. I haven't done this ride since April and am used to it being a bit more populated, and heavier on the racers. Yesterday not so much. The official 10 am "regulator" was present (easily recognized with his purple hubs) so I was confident that the pace would be lively but smooth. This is preferable to me. I can do fast, but I have a difficult time with a heavily undulating pace. For the most part the pace remained civil up Tuckerman to Falls. That gave me just enough warmup I needed to shake off Saturday's efforts. Even once we crossed the bridge onto Glen, we weren't hammering into the first rise like usual. Again thank you, it was totally fine for me to move up on the hills and settle back into the group after. Even when spinning out on downhill portions, it was easy to maintain speed with the 34s. (yes, I use compact cranks, my biggest gear is a 50/12, I NEED the free speed). The instructions from coach were to "win" the10am. Um, even on my best day ever (and certainly not after racing twice the day prior), that is probably not going to happen, (see, purple hubs from earlier). In the (inevitable) event that I was dropped, I was supposed to give chase. NORMALLY my coach is kind enough to let me stay "dropped" once that happens. But it is RACE season, PRO WOMEN WANT YOUR SOUL TO CRUSH so I had to ride hard. I managed to stay on until just about when it gets mellow again. Right before the turn onto Seneca. I was under the mistaken impression that there were more people behind me. Apparently those people had been dropped much earlier because I let up a little to regroup behind someone and poof! I was off. No more people. I followed orders (albeit very reluctantly) and chased hard for about 5 minutes. I managed to close a bit, I could see the group on river, but it was too late. Thankfully there was fellow droppee who let me wheel suck for the next 15 miles on my way home. Thank you Mr. Bike Rack on the Cervelo with the noisy bottom bracket. I was pretty cooked when I returned home. So cooked actually, I marched into the Walgreens with my bike and got a LARGE ass can of coke. And then I ate all of the Chipotle and a pint of Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream. Don't judge me, I ride my bike so I can eat like a teenage boy. I love food, a lot.

Thursday
May292014

Faster Rail shipping and Custom Rail builds

As soon as White Industries made their hubs available in colors, we immediately began offering them to our Rail and FSW customers. We learned some stuff:

  • Red hubs were the most popular, outselling even black.
  • Red and black comprised about 80% of all orders. Blue was a distant third with about 10%. All other colors combined (gold, green, pink, purple, silver) made up the other 10%.
  • Most customers who wanted black had zero interest in other colors. Customers who wanted red would sometimes switch to black if it meant faster delivery. Customers who wanted any other color were adamant that it had to be that color - almost as if the availability of a pink or purple or blue hub is what drove the demand in the first place. 
  • Choosing a hub color doesn't feel like a custom wheel build, even though it since we have been building most of our wheels to spec (ie, after a customer has purchased them and selected hub color). Because it doesn't feel like custom, why the hell do I have to wait 3-4 weeks for it? It only takes a few hours to build my Rail 34s with blue hubs so they'll ship tomorrow, right?
  • The uncertainty of what color hubs in which rims would sell this week had a mildly paralyzing effect on production, as we were unwilling to build much ahead of time and risk tying up rim inventory and build resources for stuff that might languish in inventory.

Good lessons, all. We've spent a few months learning and digesting and have made two changes that improve our service levels and offerings pretty considerably. They are:

  1. Standard Rail 34 and Rail 52 builds: Because most of the Rails we sell are with black and red hubs, we're offering those as standard builds that we build up ahead of time. This means we'll be able to ship them out within 2-5 days of orders most of the time. Visibility into color demand makes it a lot easier to commit resources to building for stock. For now, we are still offering a choice of decal color (silver/red or all silver), though we do see a time where a standard build comes with a standard decal color (since 90% of people choose what would be the standard anyway).
  2. Rail Custom builds: This is the good stuff. Since we're building a lot of wheels to customer spec anyway, why not let the customer fully spec the wheel and make it feel as custom as it is? Rail Custom allows you to choose rim depth (get your mullet if you really want to), drillings for each rim (20/28? no problem), hub color, spoke color, nipple color, decal color and decal quantity. Some of these options carry an extra cost and anything through the custom process can take up to 4 weeks, but you're getting precisely the wheelset you want and we are building it just for you. 

All our PowerTap and disc hub builds are now in the Rail Custom option. In advance of the 8 people about to ask in the comments if we plan on adding other hub options to Rail Custom I can say with certainty that we don't know yet. We're small and want to stay that way so are exceptionally wary of adding complexity that isn't warranted. We're going to see how custom affects demand before looking into other hub options. So a definite possibly. In the meantime, there are plenty of talented wheelbuilders who are building Rails with other hubs, so hit them up.

And before the next bunch of you ask, no you cannot get 7 white spokes laced against black in a pattern that roughly resembles your initials, alternating nipple colors, 3x drive side and radial nds, or other modifications not presented in the store page. That's full custom. We offer November Custom which, like most of what we do, is a little different but thoughtfully so. Again, for the full custom stuff talk to these folks here

The main reason for these changes is that we realized our product philosophy had become a little watered down. By offering a "standard" build with a lot of options that took a long time to deliver because we were building to spec, we were neither a productized brand nor a custom builder, but were straddling between both. You could argue that we offered the benefits of both but I think the reality is that by not being able to ship wheels out ASAP and by not offering a more complete custom offering, we lacked the advantages of either. With these changes we are both a productized brand AND a custom builder, able to more fully satisfy a couple of different use cases. Provided you like Rails that is. 

 

Wednesday
May282014

A Day in the Life of Rail 34s: Somerville Swing Edition

We've told you that the Rail 34 is the do everything wheelset. Over the next few months on the blog, we're going to show you. We're pairing Rail 34s with a few different riders tackling different sorts of challenges and having them chronicle it all right here. Road racing, gravel adventures, gran fondos and the like - if the Rail 34 is good for it, we're finding someone to help show us how good. 

First up is Katie, who upgraded to the women's elite road racing ranks a few weeks back with a solo win on a hilly and underpaved circuit from 30 miles out. New competition deserves new wheels so we put her on a set of 34s for some high stakes crit racing, starting with the Tour of Somerville in New Jersey.

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At the Wilmington Grand Prix last weekend I flatted riding my November RFSW 50 tubulars.  I love those wheels.  LOVE.  I have been riding them in nearly every crit I have entered since 2012.  They are fast, super light, responsive and very sticky around corners when paired with Vredestein Fortezza Pros.  Also, I should point out,  I do not like change, especially when it comes to training and racing.  I am regimented, I am superstitious, if something is off, if something is different, I FREAK out.  I will CRY if my powertap battery dies during a workout.  I am female, I have a LOT of emotions and I have high expectations for my equipment.  Also, I have been spoiled with really nice gear since I started racing.   Faced with the prospect of GASP! having to ride Somerville on GASP! clinchers, Mike and Dave offered me some 34s to play with for awhile.

I already have a set of Rail 52s.  I have been using the front and my old RFSW 38 power tap rear to train on. I have done some road races with that combo and it suits me just fine.  I am 5'5" and race at about 128, and there are times I feel a bit knocked about in the breeze on the 52.  Nothing crazy, just a bit nudged here and there.   I've wanted to try a pair of 34s since they were announced, but DEMAND has proven to be too high, so I jumped at the chance to ride them this weekend (and for the chance to save 150 bucks on new tubular tires for awhile).

When I got the wheels Mike had already tricked out with Conti GP4000s.  New wheels AND tires I have never used before: definitely more than enough to scratch me out of any race (because that is not what I'm used to so I will totally fail!), but I promised I would race them, so I had no choice. 

The weekend's racing was in my home state of New Jersey. Raritan and Somerville are the part of the state that people think of when they aren't thinking of the jersey shore cast or the Turnpike.  Just salt of the earth NJ peeps, delis, GOOD PIZZA (not the crap we get in DC) commuter trains, cops and big guys in tanks hanging out talking about UFC and the Giants. The plan was to race the Raritan Cycling Classic Saturday with a smaller field than was expected for the Tour of Somerville on Monday.  Raritan was lightly populated with some pros and neo pros and was the perfect course to test wheels, a mostly smooth, 6 corner crit with 5 lefts and one right, mostly 90* each.  I set up the Conti GP4000s tires at 100psi.  That is what I race with.  People look at me sideways when I tell them I don't race at 130 psi.  I don't understand someone my size racing with that much pressure.  I get all the stick I need through corners, and plenty of roll. 

Surprising everyone (myself included) with a few to go at Raritan.Immediately upon starting I felt really really good on the bike. This is totally not normal for me.  It takes me a while (usually the first 2/3 of a race) to settle in.  I 100% forgot I was riding wheels I had never been on before. I came out of every corner with speed, if I had to brake for any reason, it was so easy to accelerate it seemed a bit unfair.  I felt so good that I took a flyer with 3 to go.  Anyone familiar with my racing style will know I race like a total wuss and wait for stuff to happen, pretty much, ALL of the time.  Oddly enough, full of confidence in both my handling and my fitness, I launched myself solo and "railed" corners (see what I did there?)  for 2.75 laps until I was caught by the field with two corners to go.  Even with my effort, I carried enough speed to finish 7th in the sprint.  After I finished I texted Dave that I loved those wheels.  LOVED.  I said: if you can only buy one set of wheels, these are the wheels you buy.

The big test for the 34s (and me) was Monday at the Tour of Somerville.  For those that don't know Somerville is one of the oldest running races in the country.  It's a pretty big deal.  Also, the women's purse is 7,500 bucks.  THAT is a lot of doubloons.  I got there with two hours to spare.  On Sunday there was an email sent out by the race promoters about an indoor cycling gym on the finishing straight near the line that was offering their space for people to warm up in.  As it was 85 degrees or something when I arrived, I decided to register, find that place and figure out the deal.  Apparently I was the only person that bothered to read that email, b/c I ended up warming up on my trainer in a big cycling studio with fans, music, water, and indoor plumbing all alone.  It was perfect, I stayed cool, calm, and didn't have the distraction of watching UHC pro after pro ride by me.

I figured, given the cast of characters, we were in for a super fast ride.  I was wrong, it was one of the most boring crits to date but, when you have big teams represented who are waiting for a sprint, that is what happens, I guess.  It was pretty windy on the backside, mostly a headwind, but a bit swirly.  I felt solid.  No slight wind nudges at all, I was able to stay low and surf wheels easily.  I was sitting pretty well until the second to last corner when the rider I was behind fishtailed and then slid out in front of me.  I had no problem slowing down to avoid her bike, and got myself going enough to pass some stragglers who had fallen off the pace of the pack in front of the crash and ended up 21 of 55.  One spot out of the money of course.

Big weekend take-aways:

These wheels are for me.  I thought that after this weekend, I would put an order in for some tubular tires to get started on the process of stretching, gluing etc so that I would have them for later this summer.  I am putting that on indefinite hold. Heck, I may just take the road tires off all together and start the process of gluing my cx tires early.  So far, I like the 34s as much if not better than my 50s.  For the next few weeks I'm living in "Critlandia" but soon enough I am planning on racing some hilly races with these babies. I'll let you know how it goes.

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