November in the wind tunnel, part 1


Today was one of the most interesting days in my life, and I started it by oversleeping.  Late-shifted daylight hours, a comfortable bed, good blackout curtains, and no yammering birds saw me sleeping past 6am for the first time since sometime in the mid-aughts, and had me behind the curve driving from Blowing Rock to Mooresville.  Well, when in Rome, they say...  I made it in plenty of time.  

We've got a few things to finish up, so while we can't yet start publishing what we learned, I thought it would be fun to go through the logistics of a day in the tunnel.  

We got 17 runs in today.  That might be some kind of a record.  Wheels we tested were: Rail 52*, Rail 34*, Zipp 404*, Enve 3.4*, Pacenti SL23^, Kinlin XC279^, Rail 52 Disc^, Rail 34 Disc^.  Wheels with a * were tested with both 23 and 25mm Conti 4k tires, wheels with a ^ were tested with a 23mm Conti 4k only.  Rail 34 Disc was tested with a full positive and negative (-20* to 20* in 2.5* increments) sweep, everything else was done from 0* to 20* in 2.5* increments (update - Wednesday morning we tested a Rail 52 Disc through a full sweep from -20* to 20* with both a 140mm and a 160mm disc since I wrote this).  We then tested the 34s, 52s, and a 34 front/52 rear combo on my Wheelhouse.  Those were done with a 23mm tire front and 25mm tire rear.  Finally, we started to run all those bike/wheel tests with me on the bike, whereupon we found out that I move around too much to be a usable pedaling dummy.  I got ants in my pants and I need to dance, I guess.  

Accomplishing all of this in one day made for a crazy busy day.  You only use one of each tire that you're testing with, so a lot of the day is simply swapping tires from one wheel to another.  We had a good system where we'd run one with on its 25mm tire test while swapping the 23 from one wheel to another, which erased a ton of potential downtime.  At one point, I was inflating a tube (they have a compressor-driven Prestaflator, I'm getting one) and the tube failed.  I thought I must have pinched it somehow, but found out that the valve stem had ripped the tube, and realized that this tube had been installed and removed about 10x more than any other tube I'd ever used - all in the course of around 4 hours.  

As the test in going on, you watch the data set develop on the screen in front of you.  It's a very lively experience, fraught with anxiety and joy and relief and it's really just exciting.  Of course you don't have much time to watch because you have to prep the next wheel to go out for a test.  The thing in the world it's most close to is probably being backstage at a fashion show, except there's no hot models walking around half butt naked.  It would be cooler if there were a lot of hot models walking around half butt naked.  

The tunnel itself was designed and built in-house.  The bigger Aerodyn tunnel next door (same corporate parent) is where NASCAR teams do their testing (a Nationwide Cup car team was there today), but the A2 tunnel can test anything from bikes to cars, too.  The fans have a staggering 640 horsepower between the 4 of them, but in testing bikes at 30mph, you only use around a quarter of that.  A Computrainer is the guts of the wheel contact part.  The tunnel is cool, but the sensors and software are the business.  Their IT guy is smart.  They've incorporated a new measurement for steering axis torque since our last visit, which we'll be talking about in more detail, but boy did the results not make me a liar for all the times I've said 34s are invisible to cross winds. 

This endeavor is FAR from cheap, but it's necessary.  For example, we get asked about the 34 front 52 rear "mullet" combo all the time, and though we were quite laughably accused of pulling answers out of our butts on what we say about that (we've actually researched it quite a lot), we suffered the expense of testing it because until you really know, you really don't know.  The quote at the top says it all.  Today was a really interesting day.  



The Carolina Swing, Part 1

If we'd followed the original plan for this testing jag, we'd be done by now.  A recent comment on the previous blog reminded me that there are a lot of people who are sitting there thinking "so... ?"  The simple explanation is that Mike and I were talking about the wind tunnel menu, and decided to pitch it as a story.  Homer on the first pitch on that part, but there were suddenly a whole lot more logistics, and they all required input from people who were really busy with what was going on in France.  We got delayed a bit, but it's a way better outcome for us, and it inspired us to double down on the tunnel piece.  

Anyhow, the wind tunnel starts tomorrow and we're testing a pantload of stuff.  More on that later.  Today was a side trip to Beech Mountain, near Boone, NC, to do some more brake heat testing.  The test was simple: do three runs down the 3 mile stretch that's the crux of the climb from the south, a section known for killing carbon clinchers.  I'd have liked to do 20 runs, but it was just me and no way was I climbing that thing 20 times, especially since I was back on the "kettle bells in a backpack" program.  

I always seem to take pictures like this.  The hills in Western NC are big, for real hills.  Beech isn't necessarily very long, but it's steep, with some crazy pitches, and it's all switchbacks so it's a fairly technical descent. This particular climb also has an interesting bit of history.  It was used as the finishing climb of the Tour duPont a few times, and is supposedly the place where, in 1998, Lance decided that he did indeed want to come back from testicular cancer and be a pro cyclist again.  Which explains the still-very-likely-to-be-ironic "Viva Lance" slogan freshly painted on the road near the top.

Rail 34s once again, although different ones than the ones from VT, and SwissStop Black Prince pads.  New Michelin Pro4 SCs, tubes, set to 95 front/100 rear.  It was a WINDY day, and cool for the time of year - mid 60s. The first run down, I had the full 40 pounds in the bag, and tried to mimic what I thought a very timid descender would do.  I let myself gain speed, but then scrubbed speed whenever I got going faster than what a lot of people would be comfortable with.  Before turns, I braked really hard and went through the turns slowly.  I stopped 4 times to check rim temperature.  Max heat recorded was just over 200f.  

Second run, I was down to 175 on the scale, thanks to a miracle diet known as leaving a 25 pound kettle bell at the bottom of the hill.  Still had to climb up with the 15, though.  Second run was more of a constant low-20s run.  Never got going too fast, never had that much speed that I had to get rid of.  Turns were similar speed to the first run.  As expected, this heated things up quite a bit.  After 90 seconds or so of constant braking through the steepest pitches, the front rim got up to 213f, which was the highest recorded temp, even though rider weight was lower.  After about 5 seconds, heat was down to 186.  Each check was similar, just not quite as high.

Third run, I was down to body weight (still 158) and just ripped the downhill.  Absolutely sent it. Wow.  My job's fun.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind cars about halfway down so I couldn't go as fast as I wanted, but the fun part's at the top anyhow.  Rim temp after the stop at the bottom was a blistering 126.  

This part of things isn't pure science, we know, and it's not designed to be.  It's designed to expose things that happen in the real world, quantify them, and interpret what it means.  In this case, what it means is that a Rail has no problem being ridden down one of the most iconic descents in the east, either by a timid 200 pounder, or a 175 pounder who's a bit more enthusiastic but doing it all wrong.  And that they're fun as hell when a 160 pounder gives them full stick down it.  


Testing 1-2-3

Since the beginning, we've focused on doing what others either wouldn't or couldn't.  Early on, this meant delivering reliably sourced and expertly handbuilt wheels (the FSW clincher and RFSW tubular), and the Wheelhouse.  The Wheelhouse, available as both a component frame and complete build, wound up being far far more than we ever imagined it could - those who've owned or even ridden them are absolutely smitten with them, even after all this time.  Unfortunately, the supplier went nutso on terms and we can't offer the original any more, but the lingering enthusiasm for what it is and what it does has moved us to have one of the world's top builders resurrect it for us.  More on that later.  

the joke comes at the end

The Rail rim series was a big step for us, a heat resistant carbon clincher with verified world class aerodynamics, built by hand with the best components you can find.  Developing the Rail opened our eyes to the value testing offered to us and our customers.  As ever, the "how" of testing was just as important to us as the "what" of it - just proclaiming empty and untethered statements like "10% faster" or "18% stiffer" without explicating what the comparisons mean, and being transparent about how we arrived at them, didn't do it for us.  It had to be the November way, completely open book, as objective as we could possibly be.  

When we test in the tunnel, it's directly against a proven class leader, as when we benchmarked the Rail 52 against the Zipp 404.  This week, we're excited to be going back to test an actual production 52 (with 20 spokes rather than the 24 that our prototype had), as well as to test a 34 against an Enve 3.4.  Beating up on some nebulous "standard 32 spoke box section wheel" that no one has any interest in riding anyway is one way, but openly testing against known leaders is a much more informative (and, for us, exciting) way to do it.

Now we've gotten into testing wheel and rim stiffness, in ways that allow us to get much smarter about what wheels we recommend.  Since so many of the wheels we sell are available from other sources, why do we do it?  Who in their right mind would test their proprietary carbon rim against an alloy rim that you can get in a build from many dozens of builders?  We're excited to learn, and we know it improves what we do and how we do it.  If knowing what we feel like we need to know costs us the time, expense, and potential risk that these tests expose us to, so be it.  The final result, whatever the result, is that we're better able to help you find the build that's best for you.

And what of the shared benefit of this knowledge?  We know that once we publish what we find, the info is going everywhere, and people who've gained knowledge on our dime can use what we've shown to their own benefit completely outside of us.  For one thing, results are one thing and process is quite another.  Going through all of the steps to learn what we are simply makes us smarter.  Borrowing our facts is well and good, but the fundamental knowledge we gain is ours to keep.  For another, being a leader in the testing game has already opened doors for us and continues to do so in exciting ways.  

In the long run, we know it comes back, and that people want to work with the people who move the game forward.  To date, we feel that we've helped drive the conversation to more rational places.  For example, the way we benchmark aerodynamic tests is something that's gotten a lot of notice, and people now expect more from the information they're given.  The joke that is "claimed weight" is being exposed for the farce that it is.  We'll be more than happy if we can help drive a substantive change away from the way a lot of this stuff has been done, but if we have to be out standing in our field, we're good with that, too.  


A day in the life of 52s: Tri-ing them on

Mike won't run except when chased, I'm challenged to my limit by the dozen or so steps in a cross race, and neither of us floats. So we've asked Laurier Balthazard, an accomplished triathlete and product manager at Louis Garneau to explore how Rail 52s get along with the world of triathlon.  Here is his first report as he prepares for the upcoming IM Whistler in British Columbia.  

I got them last week on Thursday. I mounted them with Vittoria Pro Slick 25s. The shape of the wheels with the tires is just massive and looks really fast. However, it took a bit of doing to fit on my tri bike. I have a Garneau Gennix T1, and the rear brake clearly was not designed to receive such a large setup. I worked with our prod managers and we had to change the rear calipers to fit the wheels. The front brake was all right, although opened so wide that the pads were hard to align.  We see this issue on this bike with other wide-rimmed wheels too, like the Zipp Firecrests, so I guess this is a potential issue with frames designed before the wide rim trend.

First real ride I made with the wheels was last Saturday, right after I had my fit made by a Retul specialist (who also happens to be our marketing director). The bike looks amazing with the wheels. So on Saturday, I went for a 190 km tempo ride in the northern townships of Montreal. First impression on the wheels is that they handle much easier than the older versions C50s I am used to. The handling compares to the newer version of C50 11speed that pro athletes love so much.

The Rail 52s are also really stiff thanks to the number of spokes on them. People I’ve ridden with find the wheels really nice looking, but many note the fact that they have a lot of spokes.  Once at speed they seem to hold the speed very easily, but they seem to be a bit harder to bring up to speeds of over 40 kmh. On a rolling terrain they go very well as they carry speed very well, but as mentioned it’s really in the handling, crosswinds etc that they seem to be better than what I am used to.

Matched with 25 tires, they are extremely comfortable and aero is optimized, 2 key elements for a guy like me preparing for IM.  Braking took a bit to wear in with brand new pads, but now it’s all right.

I’ve done all the lunch rides so far with my tri bike as I am only riding this bike 2 weeks before the race. On Tuesday, I beat the lunchtime Strava alone - yeah, the one that we established using a 3-guy leadout train the week before....

Yesterday I went on a 4hour ride with my coach from team Garneau Merrel and 2 boys from the Garneau-Quebecor road team. It was planned to be a tempo ride to get good feelings before the race, but it turned into a ridiculous measuring contest. It was a really hilly ride, and two of the other guys had road bikes... But the bike and wheels was really stiff and aero so I was giving the guys a pretty hard time. I am really happy about the setup. The more I ride this wheel and tire combo, the more confident I am for Whistler.

I really look forward to riding the wheels on my road bike when I come back from Whistler.  I am leaving Wednesday, the race is on Sunday the 27th. 


Get Light

Does this mountain make my butt look big?I spent the last few days in Vermont doing a photo shoot, riding more miles than my legs could handle, and getting a lot of testing done in ways that are very applicable in the real world.  Three guys spent a significant amount of time on Rails for the first time, and it was nice to hear their responses.  

In any case, my mission yesterday was to find the steepest, twistiest, meanest piece of a descent that I could find.  Fortunately, the "Switchbacks" segment at the top of Smuggler's Notch was nearby, and was close to a few great coffee joints.  After the previous 3 days, I needed gallons of the stuff.  

The mission was simple: ride down the segment the worst way I know how, stop at a predetermined spot, and immediately take the temperature of the rims.  Then, I would ride back up partway, accelerate to a given speed, and then come to a full stop at the line and remeasure the rim temperature.  These two test techniques would mimic a likely way that a very timid descender would approach a section like this, and replicate a situation like coming to a stop sign at the bottom of a steep downhill pitch.  The kicker?  Having done that with my own bodyweight (which on the morning of the test was 158 pounds), I would then add first an additional 25 pounds and retest, and then an extra 15 pounds on top of that and retest.  The kicker to the kicker?  I had to get back up the segment under my own steam each time.  

Weight gain program, part 1

The short answer to the testing is that it takes a heck of a lot worse than this test dished out to overheat a Rail.  The segment in question is .9 km long, with an average gradient of 11%.  The maximum rim temperature I recorded was 196*f, after the descent with 25 additional pounds.  The temperature after the descent with 40 additional pounds was a few degrees lower, which indicates some amount of test error, which is actually great, since the conditions in which we ride aren't that well controlled.  This is why we want to have nice buffer zones.  When I rode down with just my own bodyweight, the rim temp at the bottom was 155*f.  As physics would have it, weight does indeed make a significant difference.  

The protocol of this test was simply to maintain 10mph, under conditions when the natural inclination of the bike would have been to go 40+ mph.  This was a big, but not conclusive, part of the answer to the "how close to a Rail's limit would you be under certain extreme braking scenarios."  The lab-tested limit of a Rail is just shy of 350*f.  So, the answer from yesterday's test was "not close at all."  Even factoring in some amount of testing error given that maybe I didn't scan the absolute hottest part of the rim (which I'd have absolutely no way to identify), and given the speed at which the rims cooled down, if you tack 40* onto each scan, you're still not close.  It took me about 3 seconds to measure the rim heat after stopping, while the average additional heat loss in 5 seconds of being stopped (I did an immediate scan and a 5 second delay scan each time) was over 15* - and that's with no air cooling.  

Significantly, these tests would have destroyed most previous-generation rims on the market, and would have killed plenty of current rims on the market.  Certainly, it would have at least been right there with Kenny Loggins in the danger zone for a broad swath of rims that haven't taken advantage of (and suffered the additional cost of) the latest resin tech.  

But the biggest and most immediate thing I learned was how devastatingly difficult that much additional weight makes climbing hills on a bike.  What was a reasonably challenging experience at my bodyweight turned into a notable struggle with 25 extra pounds, and turned into a walk with 40 extra pounds.  

Please note that this is not "the authoritative blog about brake heat under real world testing conditions."  It's a big, and very reassuring part of it, but it's not it.  Please also note that this doesn't mean that there isn't some other fuse that blows before your rims do - tires being the main suspect.  Learn good descending and braking technique, and force yourself to use it.