People often get in touch to ask if they can use their wheels for various events (even as I write this, another one comes in), they’re really hard questions to answer. When we post a photo from D2R2 on our Facebook page, where one of our Rail custom wheel build partners used a set of Rails to tackle the New England dirt road icon, does that mean that we endorse these wheels for that use? Tough question. In context, Eric was testing the rims to see what they could take, which as a guy who’s going to hopefully build a crazy number of wheels using those rims, is a smart thing for him to do. Also, look at the tires in the picture. Not exactly track tires, those. Then look at the headtube – that’s not exactly Shaquille O’Neal’s bike.
This spring, I started to think a lot about carbon rims for mountain bikes, not as a bling factor (I don’t get into bling), or a weight weenie thing (sorry, not a weight weenie either), but actually as an economical alternative. My wife, who is a fast, strong, and aggressive mountain biker, but who weighs nothing soaking wet, had just badly dented a rim on a water bar climb. The rims that I’d been using since fall of ’12 (and granted, I’d done a bunch of riding that was at least at the limit of what XC wheels should be subjected to) were totally functional but had about a thousand little dents from rock strikes and whatever – they’d be totally unusable with rim brakes. Carbon doesn’t bend, it breaks, but when it’s made for the task, it takes many times more impetus to break carbon than it does to bend aluminum. So I wasn’t after something that was prettier or lighter, I wanted the same weight and just more strength. Haven’t had a chance to explore that much more.
But… Eric’s D2R2 test and my own personal testing (I weigh more than Eric) have shown that Rails are pretty darn strong indeed. A huge amount of this comes from the shape – the U shape is actually weaker than the sharper V-like shape of our older wheels, which requires more material in the sidewalls, which leads to the kind of “incidental strength” that you want a pair of wheels to have if you’re using them “off piste.” I’m pretty far from telling you right now that Rails are your ultimate gravel wheels, but they might not be too far off.
Still, the way I’m going to answer these inquiries is going to be a bit tortured. I’m basically cheap, and I don’t have the bling or the weight weenie impulse, so my perspective may be way the heck different than yours on those counts. If I tweak a rim, I can go to the rack and grab myself a new rim and build myself a new wheel. I don’t want to, I’d rather spend my wheel building time building your wheels, and my wheels are always last on the priority list (seriously), but I can.
Carbon wheels are strong, but they are also relatively expensive. Your rims might get all scratched to heck if you use them off road, and if you can live with that, by all means. The warranty is the warranty – warranty is there to protect you against deficient components or assembly, not known and foreseeable damage risks. Crack a rim against a rock, or tweak your wheel in a slideout, c’est la vie.
If that was a tortured and hamfisted general answer to the question, well, that’s about as well as I can do.