After shifting away from carbon for about a year and a half, in the spring of 2018 we decided that the time was right to get back into it. This might have been one of the trickiest acts we've ever had to explain, but the way it worked out is that it made all the sense in the world.
When we left carbon, there were two things that we thought to be both true and fatal to its application: that rim brake carbon rims would never be the product for "every rider, every ride" that had been promised for so long, and that "disc brake carbon rims" were, even from the major market brands, rim brake rims without a brake track. Most road/cross/gravel disc rims (Range rims being a notable exception) were and had been dragging all of the compromise built into trying to coax carbon into being suitable for "every rider every ride" with rim brakes around. From a technical perspective, this was insane. From a market perspective, it made sense - disc rims were the also-ran afterthought there.
In the 18 months of our carbon vacation, that really changed. Market share for disc brakes on drop bar bikes skyrocketed, and we started to see OEM disc rims that were engineered exclusively for disc brakes. This meant the loss of a few grams, and a greater ability to shape rims without considering brake tracks, but also allowed the use of lower temp resins, which are easier to work with and have physical properties that are much more in line with how you want a rim to work.
Having gone through the difficulty of designing and sourcing our own proprietary rims, we'd decided that the business fit of that was bad for us. Buoying that position was the fact that both brands and OEMs had options for more or less any shape/width/depth that we thought had enough market mass to try and satisfy. Carbon rims began to enter a golden era just like the alloy rim era that was then still on.
The first rims we offered on our way back in were from the major brands - Enve, Stan's, HED, etc. We sold some of them for sure, but nowhere near enough to change our business meaningfully. People want to have us build their wheels, but the other half of that is the value play that we create by sourcing and vetting stuff that's just as good as the namey-name stuff at compellingly lower prices. And that work was on the back burner through the "alloy-only" period, so when the moment arrived, we were ready. Nearly three years into this experiment, I'm convinced that many OEM rims and certainly the ones we use are at least equal to and in many cases superior to the namey-name rims.
The era in which we now find ourselves is a true back to the future one, where a huge array of rims is ready to be matched with whatever hubs best suit the project through the filters of use case, budget, and other preferences, and built by people whose sole mission is to advise, engineer, and assemble the wheel package that best fits exactly what you want to do.
For those of you wondering "what are all these pictures here that look nothing like November's RI operations base" the short answer is that I'm spending most of the winter in VT. It's a logistical pain in the butt with managing parts and pieces and meeting all the requirements around COVID safety, but the chance was there and we'll explain it all some more in another installment. Zwift has its place, but being able to embrace winter on its terms is spectacular.