We've told you that the Rail 34 is the do everything wheelset. Over the next few months on the blog, we're going to show you. We're pairing Rail 34s with a few different riders tackling different sorts of challenges and having them chronicle it all right here. Road racing, gravel adventures, gran fondos and the like - if the Rail 34 is good for it, we're finding someone to help show us how good.
First up is Katie, who upgraded to the women's elite road racing ranks a few weeks back with a solo win on a hilly and underpaved circuit from 30 miles out. New competition deserves new wheels so we put her on a set of 34s for some high stakes crit racing, starting with the Tour of Somerville in New Jersey.
At the Wilmington Grand Prix last weekend I flatted riding my November RFSW 50 tubulars. I love those wheels. LOVE. I have been riding them in nearly every crit I have entered since 2012. They are fast, super light, responsive and very sticky around corners when paired with Vredestein Fortezza Pros. Also, I should point out, I do not like change, especially when it comes to training and racing. I am regimented, I am superstitious, if something is off, if something is different, I FREAK out. I will CRY if my powertap battery dies during a workout. I am female, I have a LOT of emotions and I have high expectations for my equipment. Also, I have been spoiled with really nice gear since I started racing. Faced with the prospect of GASP! having to ride Somerville on GASP! clinchers, Mike and Dave offered me some 34s to play with for awhile.
I already have a set of Rail 52s. I have been using the front and my old RFSW 38 power tap rear to train on. I have done some road races with that combo and it suits me just fine. I am 5'5" and race at about 128, and there are times I feel a bit knocked about in the breeze on the 52. Nothing crazy, just a bit nudged here and there. I've wanted to try a pair of 34s since they were announced, but DEMAND has proven to be too high, so I jumped at the chance to ride them this weekend (and for the chance to save 150 bucks on new tubular tires for awhile).
When I got the wheels Mike had already tricked out with Conti GP4000s. New wheels AND tires I have never used before: definitely more than enough to scratch me out of any race (because that is not what I'm used to so I will totally fail!), but I promised I would race them, so I had no choice.
The weekend's racing was in my home state of New Jersey. Raritan and Somerville are the part of the state that people think of when they aren't thinking of the jersey shore cast or the Turnpike. Just salt of the earth NJ peeps, delis, GOOD PIZZA (not the crap we get in DC) commuter trains, cops and big guys in tanks hanging out talking about UFC and the Giants. The plan was to race the Raritan Cycling Classic Saturday with a smaller field than was expected for the Tour of Somerville on Monday. Raritan was lightly populated with some pros and neo pros and was the perfect course to test wheels, a mostly smooth, 6 corner crit with 5 lefts and one right, mostly 90* each. I set up the Conti GP4000s tires at 100psi. That is what I race with. People look at me sideways when I tell them I don't race at 130 psi. I don't understand someone my size racing with that much pressure. I get all the stick I need through corners, and plenty of roll.
Immediately upon starting I felt really really good on the bike. This is totally not normal for me. It takes me a while (usually the first 2/3 of a race) to settle in. I 100% forgot I was riding wheels I had never been on before. I came out of every corner with speed, if I had to brake for any reason, it was so easy to accelerate it seemed a bit unfair. I felt so good that I took a flyer with 3 to go. Anyone familiar with my racing style will know I race like a total wuss and wait for stuff to happen, pretty much, ALL of the time. Oddly enough, full of confidence in both my handling and my fitness, I launched myself solo and "railed" corners (see what I did there?) for 2.75 laps until I was caught by the field with two corners to go. Even with my effort, I carried enough speed to finish 7th in the sprint. After I finished I texted Dave that I loved those wheels. LOVED. I said: if you can only buy one set of wheels, these are the wheels you buy.
The big test for the 34s (and me) was Monday at the Tour of Somerville. For those that don't know Somerville is one of the oldest running races in the country. It's a pretty big deal. Also, the women's purse is 7,500 bucks. THAT is a lot of doubloons. I got there with two hours to spare. On Sunday there was an email sent out by the race promoters about an indoor cycling gym on the finishing straight near the line that was offering their space for people to warm up in. As it was 85 degrees or something when I arrived, I decided to register, find that place and figure out the deal. Apparently I was the only person that bothered to read that email, b/c I ended up warming up on my trainer in a big cycling studio with fans, music, water, and indoor plumbing all alone. It was perfect, I stayed cool, calm, and didn't have the distraction of watching UHC pro after pro ride by me.
I figured, given the cast of characters, we were in for a super fast ride. I was wrong, it was one of the most boring crits to date but, when you have big teams represented who are waiting for a sprint, that is what happens, I guess. It was pretty windy on the backside, mostly a headwind, but a bit swirly. I felt solid. No slight wind nudges at all, I was able to stay low and surf wheels easily. I was sitting pretty well until the second to last corner when the rider I was behind fishtailed and then slid out in front of me. I had no problem slowing down to avoid her bike, and got myself going enough to pass some stragglers who had fallen off the pace of the pack in front of the crash and ended up 21 of 55. One spot out of the money of course.
Big weekend take-aways:
These wheels are for me. I thought that after this weekend, I would put an order in for some tubular tires to get started on the process of stretching, gluing etc so that I would have them for later this summer. I am putting that on indefinite hold. Heck, I may just take the road tires off all together and start the process of gluing my cx tires early. So far, I like the 34s as much if not better than my 50s. For the next few weeks I'm living in "Critlandia" but soon enough I am planning on racing some hilly races with these babies. I'll let you know how it goes.