It's amazing to me that "sticker brands" continue to proliferate, and at a seemingly accelerating rate. To quickly define "sticker brand," the archetype is a brand that clearly sells open mold rims (carbon or alloy) but claims to have their own molds/layup/extrusions/what have you. I had a conversation with one such brand over the winter, they'd actually reached out to see if we could help them with some translation work, and they put a lot of stock in their wheels being "developed" with input from their sponsored athletes. But by this, they meant that they gave their sponsored athletes a bunch of different wheels that came straight out of the supplier's stock offerings, and the athletes chose the ones that they liked best. That may be product line development, but it's not product development.

Is this so wrong, though? I say that somewhat facetiously, as yes I clearly think that willful misrepresentation is wrong. I also struggle with a company charging a 100% (or more) markup (50% or greater retail margin) simply for the "work" of reselling things out of a catalog while actively promoting that other stuff is happening. There are brands out there, and I will credit NEXT Cycling as a good example of this approach, who do a good job of representing their wheels as being what they are. And that isn't to minimize what they are - NEXT also differentiates not only by their transparency, but by customization, quality hand builds, and reasonable pricing. They are one of several but not a ton of companies which follow those paths. 

The two big perceived differentiators to a lot of carbon brands are aerodynamics and brake heat tolerance. Why do so many brands talk about aerodynamics without showing you any proof of the aerodynamic efficacy of their wheels? Because the perception that the industry has built up is much more compelling than the actual facts are (plus why waste your money on wind tunnel tests when people take a bigger-than-actually-exists benefit for granted anyway). And brake heat failures can and do happen to every brand out there (not surprisingly, we maintain a pretty close awareness of these), though some are clearly more capable in this regard than others. There's more to the story of heat resistance, and that deserves its own discussion.

Aluminum rims and wheels have long been thought to be commodities, but perhaps it's as much or more so with carbon rims these days? Except in certain cases, what shape/depth/width do you see from one vendor that isn't available from another? What benefits do you get from one wheel that make it unique from the other wheels in its category? 

Taking the two big perceived differentiators above (aero and brake heat tolerance), we see them both as more or less irrelevant as benefits. For an elite level TT-worthy aero clincher wheel setup, just get deep HED Jets. Good enough for Tony Martin to win a slew of titles on, good enough for anyone. No weight penalty compared to their category peers, actualy stiffer than most of their category peers, and should you find yourself needing brake performance, they have aluminum brake tracks. For road race/crit/general riding around stuff, the data clearly points to there just not being a notable difference from good alloys to the carbon depths that people are using in those applications. And brake heat can either be a huge part of the story with carbons or a 100% non-issue with alloys. 

Mike's new wheel, which Dave is generously breaking in. Enabler of many recent KOMs

Where carbon rims do have something to offer, once the commodity rim suppliers stop using "High Tg resins" which actually worsen their performance in the use cases where carbons have a potential big advantage, is in weight for disc brake and particularly in mountain bike disc brake wheels, weight in rim brake tubulars, and in impact resistance in disc wheels. As much as our book on carbon road bike rim brake clinchers has well and truly closed, I could see a great product in one of those categories having some interest for us in the future. But it would be a situation where I don't think we'd find enough white space in the market to necessitate our own rim. 

Meantime, the alloy rim brake rim and wheel segment continues to improve, and we seem to have rounded the bend where it's no longer necessary to explain our perspective from step 1, for which I can't possibly be thankful enough. 

Back to blog


Don let's have a scotch together. There is a blog coming soon called "how the 10* yaw angle created the carbon wheel industry." Zipp's long-since thoroughly debunked claim that 10* yaw angle was the most commonly occurring angle happened to coincide with… wait for it… precisely the window where their deep wheels provide maximal benefit really started that justification. But everyone wanted them because they looked cool. And they do. And there's nothing wrong with buying stuff that looks cool. Lots of sunglasses protect my eyeballs from getting burnt but I get the ones that happen to look good on me (lipstick on a pig, for sure). But what if the ones that looked the COOLEST cost 3 to 5x as much and, under certain conditions, allowed your eyeballs to get the living hell burned out of them? And that's sort of our entire position on that thing. When the new Open Pros come out everyone's going to want shallow black rims with more spokes. Mark it.

Dave Kirkpatrick

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.