Saturday, February 28, 2009

Carbon Clinchers? Nope.

We've gone back and forth on the idea of offering a full carbon clincher. And we've had a fair amount of inquiries around this. We had plans on putting together some prototypes this spring but for now, we've decided against it.

Here's what we're thinking:

Would people buy them?
Yes. The siren song of pretty carbon rims paired with a natural aversion to tubular glue make them a quickly growing segment of the market. If we did put one out there, a 40mm deep set would likely weigh between 1550 - 1600g and be priced between $1000 - 1100, making them a very competitive option. So yes, people would buy them and yes, that's usually the only justification needed to bring something to market, but hey, call me a lousy capitalist.

Do I want to build them?
I can only build a finite number of wheels so I really try to only design and build wheels that I can see myself riding and racing. So...

Do I see a reason to ride or race carbon clinchers?
Frankly, no. Obviously they are going to be more convenient than tubulars. When it comes to race equipment though, should convenience really trump weight and price? I tend to think not. Any set of carbon clinchers is going to be at least 200g heavier (+ weight of tubes & rim strip) than the comparatively priced tubular option and any degree of convenience is not worth that kind of rotating weight.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that clinchers should never be used. Tubulars would be a pain in the ass to use as training wheels everyday. But since there's really no reason to use carbon wheels as training wheels, why bother with clinchers?

There's also the possible safety issue. The wrong combination of hard braking could cause excessive enough heat to blow the tire off the rim and that would obviously be a bad thing.

I can't say for sure that we'll never change our views on this, but for now, that's our reasoning. Feel free to tell me I'm way off base on this one. In the mean time, if you really really want a set of carbon clinchers and no one can convince you otherwise, I'd recommend checking out options from EDGE compostites and Reynolds. They are going to be pretty pricey but they are some of the lightest and most durable options out there.

Friday, February 20, 2009

FAQ - Part 5

Previous FAQ installments available here, here, here & here.

Why use bladed spokes on cross wheels or climbing wheels? Why use hidden nipples on a cross specific wheel?

Sure, aerodynamics may not be the most important consideration when choosing a climbing wheel or cross wheel but it still matters. And you if can make a wheel more aerodynamic without increasing weight or compromising strength, doesn't it make sense to do so?

First off, let's talk about the pointlessness of building a wheel just for climbing. With the exception of uphill TTs, very few wheels are ever going to be ridden exclusively uphill.
Generally, you're going to have to ride to the hill in order to climb it and then down the hill you've climbed. So, aerodynamics and solid braking are always going to be considerations.

Our 22L generally weighs in at 1280 to 1300 grams. There are surely lighter wheels out there but not too many offer the cost and braking advantages of an aluminum rim. None of them will be anywhere near our price of $480 and most use round spokes based on the flawed assumption that aerodynamics doesn't matter on a lightweight wheelset.

Now with cyclocross, aerodynamics arguably matter less but you're still out there moving at a decent rate of speed and you're also less likely to be in a pack compared to a road race so better airflow doesn't hurt. In my experience, bladed spokes also clear mud more easily. We also recognize that even though we build the 50x and 25x for cyclocross, a lot of our customers are looking for a more solidly built road wheel and some people will use them on both their road and cross bikes (although that's a lot of gluing and ungluing for my taste).

Now, as for the hidden nipples on the carbon wheels go: yes they are more aerodynamic. The farther out on the diameter of the wheel you go, the more aerodynamics are going to be a factor. That said, they are 10x more expensive than traditional nipples and more difficult to work with when building the wheel. Maintenance will also be an issue since you will need to remove the tire to true the wheel or replace a spoke if needed. So, if aerodynamics were the only benefit, hidden nipples would not be worth the cost.

There is, however, a much more important consideration: strength. I've seen a lot of carbon rims either fail at the spoke hole or "pucker" at the spoke hole after hitting a pothole, curb, log, etc. With traditional nipples, you need to drill a relatively large hole in the rim bed. With spokes at high tension, the stress on the rim is concentrated around the edges of this hole. By drilling a smaller hole and using a larger hidden nipple, this stress is spread out over a larger surface area, minimizing the chance of damage upon impact. Using hidden nipples on an alloy rim would provide the same benefit but to lesser degree - the chance of a rim failure is less and cost to replace the rim is lower.

As for the issue of maintenance, we use a conservative build for our carbon wheels 20/24 spokes for the 50 and 24/28 spokes for the 50x. We also build carefully to tight tolerances. It depends a lot on your riding style, weight and other factors, but the wheels should not need to be trued too often, if ever, unless you've really knocked something out of whack.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When sponsors collide

I read with interest an overview of the team Ouch bikes on today. It's definitely a nice bike and I'm sure it rides admirably but you have to admit that it is on the heavy side at 16.2 lbs compared to what other top teams are riding. Most of the other teams are safely within the UCI weight limit (14.9) to the point where they are free to add non-rotating mass in the form of useful things like SRM cranks or PowerTap hubs in order to make the bikes "legal."

So where is this heft coming from?

"Carbon tubulars still hold a firm upper hand in terms of weight, though, as the clincher setup still gives up at least 500g in comparison."

Yeah, 500g - safely over a pound in rotating weight. I thought that had to be a misprint so I checked and sure enough, the Carbone SLRs are listed at 1600g, 415g more than the tubular version. Add in the weight difference between clincher/tube/rimstrip vs. tubular/glue and a total difference of 500g is certainly reasonable.

So why not use tubulars or lighter clinchers? Sponsor obligations. Bear with me here because this is one of those rare instances where you can say to yourself, "Thank god I'm not a fully sponsored professional cyclist."

You see, the tire sponsor for Ouch is Maxxis and the wheel sponsor is Mavic. These are fine brands in and of themselves. But, Mavic doesn't really make a light, aero clincher (who does?). Maxxis makes some really great road clinchers and I'm personally a big fan of the Raze for a cross clincher. For some reason, though, they hate tubulars and have no interest in manufacturing them (or putting their logo on someone else's). And that's how Floyd and friends get stuck with an extra pound of rotating handicap as they make their way around the state of California.

In other Mavic news, judging by the wheels ridden by Ag2r at the AToC, it looks like the new R-Sys will still use carbon spokes but use a blend of woven and unidirectional fibers (the recalled version was completely unidirectional). This should, in theory help prevent catastrophic failures. Woven carbon is more resistant to impact because if it is damaged in some way, the damage is limited to the length of the weave. The woven fibers around it can easily pick up the slack. Unidirectional carbon, while having its own benefits, does not have this protection. If the fiber is damaged at any point, the entire length of the fiber is compromised. This is why, in the original iteration, a teeny bit of damage to one spoke could cause the whole front wheel to fail.

Monday, February 16, 2009

FAQ - Part 4

Previous FAQ installments available here, here & here.

What is your return policy? warranty? crash insurance?

If you open the box, remove the wheels (but do not ride them) and decide that for some reason, you do not want them, you can return them within 30 days for a full refund minus shipping. Your wheels are under warranty for defects in parts and labor for one year. Please contact us and we'll do what we can to make it right. We are honest, reasonable people and operate under the assumption that you are an honest, reasonable person. We do not sell "crash insurance." Instead of charging you now for insurance that may be useful in the future, we offer a no-fault rim replacement plan that any of our U.S. customers can take advantage of if something unfortunate arises. Details of the plan can be found here & here but basically, if you break your wheel(s) for any reason and the hub is unaffected, we will rebuild the wheel for you at a very reasonable cost.

How can I remove the rim decals?

What's wrong with our decals? You don't like the logo? The colors don't match your bike? Just ride faster and it will all be a blur anyway. Seriously, you just made our design guy cry and now I have to coax him out of the corner with fruit roll-ups and hot chocolate.

But, since you asked, here you go: We use rim decals that are sturdy, UV resistant and should look great on your wheels as long as you want them there. However, should you choose to cruelly disassociate yourself from us, just start at the corner and slowly peel. Don't use a screwdriver or anything drastic like that. There should be little or no residue left but if there is, acetone or goof-off or any other solvent that is safe to use on tubular glue should be fine. Be careful though because many solvents are not safe to use, especially on carbon rims.

I live outside the US. Can I still purchase wheels from you?

Maybe. Contact us through the site for more details. Canada is no problem although shipping may take a few more days and customs could cause delays and additional costs. Please research customs laws and tariffs for your country so that you are aware of potential headaches and costs that could occur. International shipping is through USPS and generally takes 6-10 days. Shipping will cost between 40 to 100 USD. We will provide you with a "coupon code" to account for the additional shipping when you checkout through the site. Due to the high cost of shipping, our rim replacement program does not apply to international orders.

At this point, we can not ship wheels within the European Union because our rims do not have a rim wear indicator. Yes, they'd probably get through customs without anyone noticing or we could just write "rim wear indicator" with a Sharpie on the braking surface but a law's a law and we don't scoff at such things.

Friday, February 13, 2009

FAQ - Part 3

Part 1 available here. Part 2 here.

Who builds your wheels?

I do. Me, Jonathan Kahler - all of them. For now. At some point, we may need to hire or contract with someone else but we're not in a hurry to get there. I got into this business because I like to build wheels and I'm very particular about how the wheels are built.

Actually, I'm surprised we don't get this question more often because even though we use "hand-built" as a selling point, unless I know whose hands are building the wheels, I'd rather have them built by a machine. I'm not going to sell you a line about how wheel building is an art form involving black magic and alchemy but it does take skill, effort and patience. The quality of the build is just as important as the quality of the componentry. Every wheel I build is trued and tensioned to very tight tolerances. Each spoke is checked with a tensiometer many, many times and since it's my reputation on the line with each wheel we sell, I'm very careful about what goes out the door.

What makes you different from other direct to consumer wheel manufacturers?

We make better wheels at a better prices and our wheels look cooler. We believe this to be true but we are admittedly biased. Take a look at our specs and prices; talk to someone with firsthand experience. As a guiding principle, we don't put a wheel out there if there is something better and less expensive already on the market. We don't have a lot of time and money to spend convincing you that our wheels are a better value, so instead, we just make them a better value. If you come to a different conclusion, purchase wheels from someone else. You won't hurt our feelings too much.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rev 50x Review

Cyclocross Magazine just posted a preliminary review of our carbon cross specific tubular, the Rev 50x. Check it out by clicking on the header above. A full review will appear in an upcoming print issue. If you're not familiar with Cyclocross Magazine, it's the greatest magazine ever and you should subscribe here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

FAQ - Part 2

Part 1 available here.

Do your wheels ever go on sale?

Generally, no. We operate on pretty slim margins and price our wheels fairly, based on what it costs us to produce them. I guess we could follow the example of other direct-to-consumer outfits and come up with arbitrary and inflated "retail" prices and then "discount" our wheels so that they are always "on sale." We feel that this would be insincere and disingenuous and we would not dream of insulting you with such a transparent ploy.

It's getting late in the year. When do next year's models become available?

Rest assured, from time to time, we will come out with new products and tweak existing ones. The timing of such changes will not be based on an arbitrary date on a calendar. No one is breathing down our necks, forcing us to increase revenues by X% by enticing you to replace a perfectly good product with one that comes with more hype and a new decal, and we don't have a marketing department full of people we need to keep busy with such tasks. When we do make changes to our products, they will based on common sense, new technologies, availability of materials and rider feedback.

FAQ - Part 1

Frequently Asked Questions

So, in an effort to make answering emails a bit easier for me and to allow people to get to know us a bit better, I've put together some answers to common questions. I'll try to do one or two a day until I run out. If you have any more for me, please let me know.

Who are you and why are you here?

This question has been partly addressed here & here. Basically, instead of basing our wheel designs on what can be done or what market research suggests that people want, we are making wheels that we would want to ride at a price that we are willing to pay. So let me answer by trying to articulate our philosophy when it comes to bicycle equipment.

The law of diminishing returns can be applied pretty easily to bicycle racing. We are lucky in that we participate in a sport that allows us easy access to the exact same equipment that pros are using. If you have the cash, you can go right out and buy the bike that was purposely built for elite superhuman riders to conquer the monuments of our sport. Will you be able to utilize the full potential of the machine? Probably not. As a mere mortal, you may get a teeny performance advantage on the $10,000 bike compared to the $3,000 bike but it's extremely unlikely that the $7,000 difference will keep you from winning races. I'm not going to begrudge anyone who wants to spend that much on a bike. Someone has to and I appreciate that those consumers keep the industry afloat and allow companies like Cervelo to have the cash to front a ProTour team.

My point is that you can achieve 99% of the performance of the top level stuff at 50% of the price. This is what we aim for when we design and spec our wheels. We hit that sweet spot that gives you a strong, light and fast wheel at a very affordable price. Now if you ride our wheels and take a close look at the specs, you'll find that they are lighter, stronger and more aerodynamic than wheels that can cost much, much more. This brings us to the next question.

Why are your wheels so cheap?

Please, we prefer inexpensive. Or better yet, "Why are your wheels such a fantastic value?" Well, thank you for asking. The answer is twofold: 1. Low Overhead 2. Direct sales.

First, we maintain fairly spartan operations. We do very little in the way of expensive marketing and prefer to grow slowly by word of mouth. Having low fixed costs allow us to sell our wheels to you for not a whole lot more than it costs us to buy the components that they're made of.

This leads us to our second point: we sell directly to you. If we went with the traditional multi-channeled sales approach, we would manufacture our wheels and sell them to a distributor who would mark them up and sell them to retailers who would mark them up and sell them to you. We skip a few steps and just sell directly to you for about half of what we'd have to charge if using the traditional model. Is there anything wrong with that model? No. We would never disparage distributors or bike shops who provide extremely vital services to the industry and to you, the consumer. In fact, as soon as you are done purchasing wheels from us, go directly to your local bike shop, and use the money you've saved to purchase a cassette, some tires and maybe some fresh bar tape.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Try before you buy

Want to demo our wheels before committing to a purchase? We've partnered with Echappe Equipment to allow you to do just that. You may have seen their little blue stickers at races across the country or even at the occasional World Cup. This season, you'll find them at races such as Battenkill, Fitchburg and the Verge NECX Series. If you'd like to try them at another event, simply have them FedEx the wheels directly to you. Both the Rev-50 and Rev-50x are available. The price for a rental is $50 for the first day and $10 for each additional day.

If, after your demo, you'd like to purchase a pair, contact us for a $50 off discount code to cover the cost of the first days rental.