Mailbag Wednesday - Spoke count and ceramic coated rims

Mailbag Wednesday - Spoke count and ceramic coated rims

Today we resurrect one of Mike's inventions - Mailbag Mondays. Except we're doing it on Wednesday because our mailbag has been quite full lately, we want to reintroduce the convention, and we didn't have another topic for today. 

I think this is a wonderful picture that we posted to Instagram yesterday

We get quite a few emails. Quite a few. And we do try to extend ourselves in answering. I answered a spoke type and lacing email yesterday, which cost me about 10 minutes I guess, from which there's no chance we'll ever see a dime. It's against our nature not to answer these things, which isn't an invitation to all the wing nut wheel questions out there - everyone has limits and even I was close to demurring on the wheel question above. But here's another thing - if you send us an email and don't get a response within at absolute most one business day, it's almost certainly in your spam filter. I lie awake at night concerned about how often these detailed thoughtful responses go to junk mail, and instead of us getting credit for being super attentive, we get hammered for being unresponsive jerks. Also, I wonder how bad the typical (in all industries, not just bikes) company is, because the #1 first line in responses to our responses is "Wow! Thanks for that response!" 

Anyhow, today we have two emails about very popular topics - spoke count recommendations and if ceramic (not really ceramic) coated rims are worth it. Enjoy.


Q: Hi guys - Any guidance on weight limits/spoke count? I'm around 195lb, 6'3". I've been riding Mavic Ksyrium Sl for years with no issues.
A: Hi O - It depends on the rim and (to a lesser extent) the hubs you'd like to use. Experience is a great guide, but Ksyriums are sort of a unique design and rims in particular have changed a lot since 3/4 of everyone rode Ksyriums.
The thing about Ksyrium SLs is that their spokes are gigantic - the spokes have at least twice as much metal in them as more normal spokes. And the wheels wind up at just under 1600g, with quite narrow rims and not being particularly aero. So they do some things quite well - supporting a broad range of rider weights with one low spoke count - and others not as well. 
If you wanted to stay with a similar depth of rim, then you could do a Boyd Altamont Lite with White Industries T11s, laced 24/28, and knock the better part of 100g off of your current wheels. These will be almost 50% wider (20mm internal width versus 14) and somewhat more aerodynamic than your current set. I don't recommend 20/24 lacing for you with Altamont Lites. 
If you wanted to stay with 20/24, you could also go with a HED Belgium+ with White Industries T11s or Easton R90Sls with White Industries T11s, laced 20/24 with thicker Sapim CX Sprint (bladed) or Sapim Race (round), and wind up with a wider, deeper rim that's signinficantly better aerodynamically than your Ksyriums, for a slight weight decrease. Or you could go 24/28 with Sapim CX Rays and wind up in almost exactly the same place weight-wise, give up about .5w of aerodynamic performance compared to the CX Sprint build (but make a small gain compared to the Race build - bladed spokes are usually faster than round), and have what I think is a better build option. 
And then you could go with an Boyd Altamont or AForce Al33, which are both much deeper and wider than your Ksyriums, and in a different aerodynamic league entirely, and stick with 20/24 if you wanted to by using CX Sprints on the back and CX Rays on the front. These would be a few grams heavier than your Ksyriums but I think they're overall a huge improvement.
That gives kind of the lanscape view of things. There are other hub options of course, though we typically lead with T11s. Happy to go through any of these with you in more detail.
The next one is a follow up exchange about ordering a set of AForce wheels while they're still available
Q: Thanks Dave
Are the ceramics worth it? I hear the talk that they perform exceptionally initially, but wear out/come off pretty quickly (and can become a bit ugly in the process). Are the machined versions comparable to any other machined rim (or better or worse)? - R
A: Hi R - There's no one clear answer to are ceramics (which aren't actually ceramic) worth it. They brake better in all conditions and markedly so in wet. We've had remarkably positive durability results from the coating - a few shiny spots after 8000 or 9000 miles is about normal. We were the first to figure out that SwissStop BXPs are THE pads to use with them, and supply a pair with every AForce build. We've seen precisely one "well that didn't work right" durability issue with ceramic (not actually ceramic) rims, and those actually weren't AForce. Apart from that outlier, I think the people who have poor durability with the coating must be using harsh pads (ceramic pads for the old kind of true ceramic rims will kill any rim in short order) or perhaps rocks. I just don't get it.
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I have ~7500 miles on my AL33 wheels. with only one small spot of wear on the ft wheel. I absolutely love them(though I do miss my Rail52s). Still hoping to buy a set of CafeRacers sometime in the future.

Steve Markgraf

Robert – That’s a great comment! Thanks.

Steve, Pete, and Jon – They really are durable. As Jon notes, if you happen to hit the area below the brake track which is anodized, that will get messy. Anodizing is no match for brake pads. And initial pad wear is definitely high. Also I love that the ceramic (not really ceramic) convention has stuck as well as it has.


Running a set of AL33s in ceramic 20/28 on T11s here. ~3500 miles, vast majority in the dry, on my set. A couple of spots in the ceramic finish (really slightly below the brake track actually) but still in mostly good shape. Front chewed up the supplied BXP pads in ~2500 miles (usually get 10k plus on salmons on machined rims) but that has slowed down. That said the braking performance with R8000 calipers is phenomenal so I can live with the pad wear. Wheels have been solid otherwise.

Jon Lumpkin

@ Steve Klapperich. Thanks for your endorcement of the ceramic (not really ceramic) Al33’s. I’m at under 2,000 miles on my set, yet I still worry about how long the finish will last. Glad to hear yours are still in good shape after 11k miles. They really are great rims and when built up with some nice hubs by Mike or Dave, I think they’re the best rim brake wheel out there for my needs.


FYI for Dave K. I am on my third season on the Al33’s. Approximately 11,000 miles. I’m 6’ 205lbs. The ceramic (not really ceramic) brake tracks are still in great shape! I just need to replace the brake pads. Not much left of the rears. 😊 Have not touched a spoke in all those miles!!! Thanks for building me a great set of wheels to replace my Rail 52’s!

Steve Klapperich

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