Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nice Wheels

Wheels may be one of my favorite things on a bike.  Wheels are the main connection to how a bike feels and rides.  Wheels and tires are the point of contact between the bike and the road.  So, why would you want to ride on anything but a set of wheels that makes the riding experience more enjoyable.  

I recall years ago when parts makers would court me to get their components spec'd on to the Masi road bikes I was designing and developing.  There are some parts from that era that I still use and are my favorites today.  One being the fi'zi:k Arione saddle.  Still use them today and still ride one that has a "prototype" sticker on it.  One of the parts I ceased using after spending considerable time on is the Mavic Ksyrium wheelset.

The day that I decided I didn't much care for the Ksyrium wheels because I found something better is a day I remember well and I don't have many moments like that I recall easily.  Setting the stage, the Mavic Ksyrium wheel is stiff.  It's built with a tallish aluminum rim and some fat, bladed aluminum spokes.  It's a road racing wheelset.  Not built for all-day comfort.  The wide bladed spokes are supposedly aero - until the wind comes at your from the side, then they move you side-to-side on the road with the wind gusts.  But, if that's all you know and all you've been riding because they represent "the best" wheelset on the market at the time, then that's all you know and you just get used to them.  

Then the day Ric Hjertberg of FSA shows up with a new set of RD-400 wheels.  Ric is the second half of a brother (Jon) team behind Wheelsmith and knows a thing or two about wheels.  Ric's an engineer/designer at FSA and arrives for an OEM meeting with a set of unusual wheels.  The rims of the wheels have an unusual shape.  The shape, Ric explains, is toroidal* and is aerodynamic and is an ideal shape for a rim that gives it great strength when spokes are tensioned in it.  There were probably a bunch of other technical features about the wheels that I forgot.

Ric leaves me with the set of wheels and soon I fit them to my bike and head out for a lunch ride.  "Whoa, these wheels feel friggin' great on the road.  They're so smooth feeling and I'm not getting blown all over the place in the wind."  What I discovered was a nice set of wheels that made the bike feel more alive and smooth and comfortable than those Ksyrium wheels felt.  The spokes were much thinner stainless aero spokes that do what stainless spokes do - flex with the road imperfections.  Just enough to smooth out the ride.  The thick aluminum blades of the Ksyrium wheels didn't flex.  They didn't budge.  They just transmitted all the road shock through the frame into me.  

Now, what was the point of this post as I got side-tracked about the past.  Oh yeah, nice wheels.  I love building nice wheels.  Here's some recent wheel builds.

No Tubes Flow EX with White Industries MI6 and an XD driver

HED Belgium rims, Chris King R45 hubs, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, Continental GP 4000s II tires

Pacenti SL25 rims, Industry Nine hubs, DT Swiss spokes

Not wheels yet.  I really like the Pacenti SL23 rims and really like what they did with the minimal branding on the silver version.

Velocity A23 offset rim + old Shimano XT 135 spaced hub = dishless wheel.

Velocity Blunt 35 rims, White Industries CLD hubs, DT Swiss spokes - and 36h for extra durability.  Big thanks to rim and hub makers who continue to offer 36h wheels.  

*You may have heard about toroidal shaped rims the past several years from the folks at Zipp who "pioneered" the shape.  However, Ric and FSA showed off this shape in a rim years before Zipp.  I don't think the design lasted very long with FSA.  Designs that are too far ahead of their time generally don't gain quick industry recognition initially. 

(What's playing:  The Jimi Hendrix Experience Hey Joe)


RonDog said...

Really like my new wheels - thanks a ton!

james said...

Hey Mike,
really nice wheels there. Do you ever build with DT hubs? Can you give an opinion on DT vs the other fine hubs you build with?

blackmountaincycles said...

james - DT Swiss hubs are great. Love building with them. Their 350 model offers a great option when you want something lighter than Shimano, but not as expensive as White/King. Slots very nicely with a very good weight/cost balance.