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.  


The Stiffness Saga, Pt. 1: Rims

If you've never read it, Edward Tufte's book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is definitely worth a look.  With all of the info that we're shaking loose from our wheel stiffness testing and measuring, it's definitely a challenge to parse it out into pieces you can actually chew.  This project has actually made me need to go back and digest what it is I've thought I've learned several times.  

Since the wheels we make are really nothing if not assemblies of components, it's worth it to talk about the components themselves.  You have rims, hubs, and spokes.  Each affects the system, but they all work together.  You do a bunch of horse trading back and forth to try and tease out the biggest spike of the features you want to maximize, while paying the lowest cost in negative features like weight and drag.  

Once you have the right fixtures, it's easy to measure rim stiffness.  You support the wheel at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock, and load it at 6 and 12.  Measure the deflection under load et voila, there you go.  A few pieces of aluminum extrusion, a weight, and a dial gauge were all we needed for this one.  

We measured every type of rim we have on hand, except the Iron Cross rims because some dummy already built them into wheels and can't wait to use them.  Mike channeled his inner Edward Tufte and this came out:


All of these are 700c/29" rims (which is why the Stan's Crest isn't there - some dummy ordered the wrong size of those).  Note that we have plotted them against weight, so the bias line you see is stiffness to weight ratio.  On the line can be said to have average stiffness to weight, above the line can be said to have good stiffness to weight, and below the line can be said to have less good stiffness to weight.  

Rail 34s do quite well measuring this way.  

Now, of course, stiffness to weight isn't the only important thing in a rim.  The Rail 52 is fundamentally a pretty similar structure to the Rail 34, but pays a weight cost for its depth and shape.  That depth and shape come with the benefit of making it among the fastest wheels anywhere near its depth (and any clincher near its weight).  Conversely, the Stan's 340 comes with a very light weight.  Light riders who aren't slapping out watts might not need all that stiffness, and can benefit from lighter weight.  And a Stan's 340 with a good hub and an appropriate spoke count can be a quite stiff wheel - a 28 spoke Stan's 340 was a standout in whole wheel testing.  In the case of the Arch EX, we're building those with 32 spokes, not the 20 spokes that a Pacenti SL23 front might have.  And it needs to durability as well as stiffness - the two are neither mutually in- or exclusive.  The Kinlin XC279 which has been the basis for our FSW23 wheel has a nice mix of all of the attributes.  

We'll talk about hubs and spokes individually before we get into the whole assembly, and note that this is lateral stiffness.  Radial or circular stiffness is another thing that we'll talk about.

All of these measurements take massive mounts of time - building wheels, configuring the test apparatus, etc etc etc, so this will come over some time period.  But we're happy to be out of the land of guessing and into the realm of knowing.  


What Are We Riding?

These guys are teed up for a lot of upcoming milesWith so many options available to us, a lot of people wonder what Mike and I actually ride.  For the most part, we're pretty boring.  I'm still on the Rail 34s with WI hubs that I started with in March.  Nearly 3000 miles later, I love them (more on this later).  Mike anxiously awaits the return of his 34s, but has mostly been on a set of 52s.

Since our first week with the wheel deflection testing rig has opened up more questions than it's given us answers (this is a good thing, I assure you), and since we want to get more up close and personal with a few of the more popular custom alloy setups, and since cross season and a marathon mountain bike race are coming up, it's time to branch out a bit.  

Mike's chosen a set with Stan's 340 rims, 24/28 lacing, with red White Industries hubs, black CX Rays, and gold nipples.  I presume he chose this color combo to accentuate the quite cool graphics on the rims.  For road, I'm getting onto a set built with Pacenti SL23s, 28/32 lacing, black WI, silver CX Rays, and red nipples.  We'll each spend some time on the ones we've chosen, probably switch and compare notes, and then move onto another build. 

The Iron Cross set above will be my main cross wheels.  I'm going all tubeless this year.  For mountain biking, I'm going with a set built on Arches for my 29er.  Disc for cross wouldn't actually be my first choice, but I sold my beloved HOT BUNS to my buddy Raul after last year.  He wanted a pit bike, and I don't think he needs to turn a single wrench to set up my bike for himself - our setups are nearly exactly alike.  

Is our love affair with Rails cooling?  No. But we both pretty well know how they behave in any situation possible, and having learned that it's time to broaden our experience.   

So, after 3 months and change on 34s, here's a brief review.  First, I love the way they look, for whatever that's worth.  My road bike is well into its 4th year and I should be bored with it, but with 34s on it, I still love to look at it.  As far as being "daily drivers," they've been used in the complete array of conditions including monsoons, mountains, crazy amounts of wind, gravel roads, crits, road races, mellow rides, you name it.  They feel plenty fast, which the wind tunnel will either confirm or bust soon enough.  They laughed off being driven into a pothole that sprained both of my thumbs (neither of which is yet back up to speed), as well as another pothole that pinch flatted a tubeless tire (yes, seriously).  They corner flawlessly.  I've done most of the miles tubeless, which was great with Hutchinson tires.  After the aforementioned tubeless pinch flat, I switched the rear to a Michelin Pro4 with a tube.  A piece of glass put that tire on death watch the other day.  If I were made to use only 34s for the rest of my riding days, I'd be more than cool with that.  

What do they do wrong?   Not much.  Braking in a downpour isn't great.  It's functional, and combined with the SwissStop pads it's better than any carbon wheel we'd previously made, and let's face it braking on a road bike in a monsoon isn't so super fantastic in any case.  

Headed to VT later in the week for the field portion of our Rail heat test, combined with a photo shoot and some actual honest-to-god training.  Speaking of photos, check out the old (brand new) Instagram.  Haven't got a ton of photos up yet, but they're coming day by day.