A brief history of November, Part 3: The Rail

A brief history of November, Part 3: The Rail

Mike deserves all the credit for us doing the Rail. I was up to my ears in keeping wheel builds going out the door while also having a full time job, which had gone back to being much more than full time by now. Mike was doing the "work on your business, not in your business" phase much better than I was, had sniffed out the as-then very new wider rim thing, and got a set of wheels with Velocity A23 rims. They were horribly built, which we had to fix right away, but he became a convert basically on his first ride. He flipped them to me to use for a bit, and I agreed. So now we're in a position where if it's this obvious to us, it's got to happen large scale, right? So what do we do.

The first thing we did was morph the FSW into the FSW23, using A23 rims. A23s weren't perfect, but net/net they were a super compelling choice at the time. But we also knew that people wanted deep carbon rims and weren't going to accept choosing between wider and deeper - we'd moved into an "and" situation. Could a tiny company like ours do anything about it? 

In parallel, we had to design it and also figure out how to get it made. I took the former, Mike the latter. I remember sitting down at my dining room table with a figurative and literal blank sheet of paper, and starting to work. Without going too deep into the weeds on why, I started with a NACA 0024 section as the baseline, and tweaked it so that it would create a symmetrical section when you installed a 23mm tire on it. Remember, at this point 23 was the wider tire size. Despite revisionism, Zipp's Firecrest 404 and a bunch of other aero wheels were designed around 21s. I know plenty enough to be dangerous with this stuff, so I was able to get to the point where the design made perfect sense to me, but to prove it we'd have to go to the wind tunnel. If you like going into the weeds, here's a good place to go. And then go here

Meantime, Mike had figured out with our Taiwan guy that we could get it made on terms that we could stomach. It would require a shift in how we managed inventory, and it would eat up all the capital we'd squirreled away (I don't even think we'd started paying ourselves yet), but we could do it. The gigantic questions were would the product be good enough, and could we sell enough of them to make it work? Enter Canary Thunder...

Canary Thunder was the plastic prototype that we had made, and it would decide the Rail project's fate. At about 10 pounds and incapable of actually being ridden, it could take an inflated tire and that was enough to send it to the wind tunnel. So we did. But being us, we wanted to give it meaningful context, so we bought a 404 - the undisputed king of the "road depth" aero heap at that point - and sent them to the A2 wind tunnel for a head to head. And using the most conservative, unfavorable-to-us accounting we possibly could, the Rail came out about a half a hair's breadth behind the 6mm deeper 404. Arguably more accurate data translations would show that the Rail was actually faster at more common low wind angles. But the white lie that the Rail was just a small fraction slower saved a whole lot of story telling that our upstart company had no means to do, so we chose to do what we did. 

And with that, we released the molds for fabrication...

As it turns out, this part of the story is a bit longer than I'd planned, so we'll pick it up again later. In the meantime, gotta go build wheels. 


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