How Do We Talk About This Stuff?

Because we're so averse to inflated claims about product benefits and attributes, it can be tough for us to articulate things we find without sounding hypocritical.  It's actually a lot easier to debunk wind tunnel tests where each brand is somehow able to conjure up the results that place their product in the best light while contradicting everyone else's data than it is to credibly bunk (opposite of debunk - long story) some of the more subtle stuff we (at least think we) learn. 

Example 1: Mike swears that painted bikes (opaque color plus clearcoat) ride differently than bikes with just a clear coat.  He's reached this conclusion in as controlled a "real world" environment as possible - same frame, same components throughout, same wheels, same tires, same measurements, same bartape, same everything.  He's been on the clearcoated bike for who knows how long now, long enough that its every nuance is burned into his muscle memory.  So when he gets on the exact same bike except one is painted, and feels an immediate difference, it seems an awful lot like something's there.  Maybe it's all in his head, and there's some deep subconscious thing that triggers him to believe that a white painted bike will have a more muted, less crisp ride feel.  But if it's enough for him to spend most of a ride trying to sort out, and for us to spend the time we did talking about it, chances are good that there's something there.  It also may be the kind of thing that seems stark for the first ride or two and then feels bog standard normal by your third or fourth ride.  Whether what's there or not is actually material, who really knows. 

Example 2: Definitely more materially applicable than example 1, Mike's also spent some time on 85s lately, and is convinced that the whole benefit story on them happens above 25 mph.  At normal cruising speed on flat roads, they feel like phenomenally stiff wheels that you feel like a bit of a dingus for riding because who just piddles around on 85mm deep carbon wheels?  We're both seriously used to wheels that weigh in under 1500 grams, so whenever the road starts to tilt up, there's a noticeable effect when your wheels weigh about a half pound more.  There's also a handling thing, which can be parsed out from crosswinds because even when you ride on absolutely windless days (like yesterday) it's there.  Maybe it's best described as a gyroscopic effect, or maybe it's just that they're so stiff that they don't give any feeling of carve, but turning them is a different, and far more active, prospect than turning a shallower wheel.  After his most recent outing, Mike said he couldn't really imagine riding 85s in crits.  But when you're really giving it some stick, the benefits start to show up.  Goose it on up to 25 and you keep on rolling.  Take it up to 27 or thereabout and and it's remarkably easier to get there and stay there - enough so that Mike's sure it could change his late race strategy and allow him to go from far further out and hold a higher speed for longer.  The caveat being that getting to that higher speed means overcoming an extra dose of inertia.

Example 3: We're sold on wider rims.  The carbon wheels have 21mm brake track widths as opposed to the usual 19mm width, which makes a far bigger difference than you'd think 2mm could make.  It adds a notable degree of stiffness (which is easy to feel if you lay a wheel with a wider rim down flat and press on the rim edges and compare it to a skinnier rim), and changes the shape of the tire on the rim (any given tire will, when inflated, actually be wider on a wider rim than it would be on a skinnier rim - you can measure that) which changes the way the tire rolls and corners.  A lot of wide rim proponents talk about reduced risk of pinch flats, but we hadn't really gotten a good feel for whether that is at all valid or not.  As I was straignthening the bars on my cross bike once again on Saturday, after hitting yet another root on yet another trail that probably shouldn't have been ridden on a cross bike, I realized just how often I "should" have flatted and yet haven't.  There's nothing in my setup that's anything to do with flat prevention; I use Challenge Grifo clinchers with regular tubes, and normally go between 30 and 33 psi on the back and 26 to 28 or so on the front.  The only non-standard thing is the 23mm wide rims.  Paul's been using his 38 clinchers (21mm brake track) all season (for the record I still think it's a bit crazy to use carbon clinchers for cross but he's making it work), with Clement PDX tires and normal tubes, running his standard pressure.  Plenty of podiums, and no flats.  Have I just cursed us both?  Probably.  Have the wider rims made a difference so far?  Again, probably.  When does "anecdote" morph into "data"? 

See you on Sunday at Granogue. 

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