Moneyball for Cyclists


Spoiler alert: the in-stock price of the Rail will be $1285.  The pre-order price is $1145.  The in-stock price is a 14% increase over our existing RFSCs.  The pre-order price (pre-order availability will be limited) is $40 more than the in-stock price of a set of RFSCs.  To make this comparison, I took the base price of the RFSC series, added the $40 ABG which will be standard on all Rails, and the $120 CX Ray upcharge since CX Rays will be standard on all Rails. 

So how do you bring an entirely new wheel, with post-season aerodynamics and all-star stiffness, ride quality and heat management, to life for such a small price jump?  If you're thinking to yourself "I think he's about to tell me," you're right.

Our design payroll is way under the salary cap.  Way.  Fortunately, I spent most of the first 30 years of my life working with and thinking about boats and sails.  What's that got to do with anything?  Well, the sails on a boat going 8 knots into an 18 knot breeze have a whole whole whole lot in common with wheels going 25 miles an hour into a 5 mile per hour breeze.  The centerboard and rudder on that boat, which have to move through the water effectively at anywhere between 4 and 25 knots, also have a lot in common with wheels.  To spend today's terrbile pun card, you could say that my background gave me a fluid intutitive understanding of how to achieve what we were after. 

It helped that our parameters are as well defined as they are.  By starting with the 18mm inside width, and knowing that that dictated a 25mm outside width, and knowing that we wanted to be just over 50mm deep, the design box was set.  It would be ridiculous to claim that the current state of the art in wheel design didn't have a huge influence, but that's just how it is with design - it's a continuum.  Although many wheel designs claim to have "thrown away" the NACA profile book, I thought it was an ideal (and free) starting point.  I've previously talked about why I started with the 0024 section, from which it was a fairly straightforward series of tucks and tweaks to get the points to come together in the way I wanted. 

In effect, the design was free.  Verifying its speed was not.  First, we had to commission a prototype, the handsome yellow devil you've seen us flog around so often lately.  Once we got that, we built it up and sent it to the tunnel.  Both of these were pretty hefty investments, which we viewed as absolute necessities.  A wind tunnel isn't a race course, but it's the best proxy that we've got, and the only real way available to prove the aerodynamic validity of a design.  The risk we bore was if my design sucked - first because although I was confident in it, you don't know until you know, and second we were dumb enough to tell everyone what we were doing before we did it.  Our failure would not be private.  And, oh yeah, if the design was a swing and a miss, the investment in the prototype and testing would be a waste. 

The results we got at A2 mark the significant departure that we took from what the other leading brands do.  Where they NEED to leave the tunnel with the fastest shape, we said "this is definitely a major league shape, to coax every last gram out drag out of it would be exponentially more expensive, we're going with this one."  Aerodynamic speed is a HUGE part of the game, but we knew that we had road feel in the bag thanks to our 18mm inner width, and critical other parts of our lineup were already set.  In the battle to keep costs from getting out of hand, knowing when to stop is key, so we released the mold for construction.  The mold is a huge capital expense, and like the prototype and testing costs, we plan to amortize it over a whole pantload of wheel sales. 

For the rest of the project, we've been more general manager than player.  Our rim supplier has proven themselves over I don't even know how many rims we've bought from them, and has been working hard on heat management.  We'll test and verify their effectiveness on that front, but we couldn't have done the work that they've done, so we're happy to leverage their expertise.  SwissStop has blown us away with the effectiveness of their new pads.  If the biggest carbon wheel companies are taking of the shelf SwissStop products to use as their own, why wouldn't we?  They're way more expensive, but the first time you pull the brakes you'll know what we've found.  They also have testing infrastructure and resources that we could no way replicate, so we're just doing the smart thing and renting their expertise to check our work.

Sapim spokes speak for themselves, and the wind tunnel proved to us that using CX Rays was the only logical choice for the Rail.  Done.  Hubs are a bit of a funny one.  We will continue to offer the option of Chris King, White Industries, and Powertap hubs, but our standard hubs are like that late round draft pick who starts putting up hall of fame stats.  Since we've been working with them, they've become darlings of the wheelbuilding crowd for their excellent geometry, top notch construction, and killer performance on the road.  The 11 speed version will continue where the 10 leaves off.  The build will be handled as it has been: here, by us.

Mike and I pretty much act as living test labs, ferreting out what doesn't work and chasing down promising leads.  That helps us stay locked down on the directions we want to go, but before we sell a single Rail, we'll test every parameter of the final version to prove the benefits of what we've put together. 

I wouldn't necessarily call it easy to put together a wheel with the Rail's verified performance on what amounts to a shoe string budget, but it can be done. 


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  • Kevin on

    Understandable Dave, I was just curious as I personally would probably buy a tubular over a clincher for racing.Does that mean there are plans for a Rail Tubular?

  • Dave on

    Hi Kevin,The wide tubular we're doing right now is really a cross wheel, with the width much more about gluing surface on the tire bed than aerodynamics. It's a fantastic cross rim and if there was any cross season left I'd prep a pair for myself when they come in and start using them right away.Wind tunnel time is hideously expensive, and we need to be answering very specific questions to answer when that meter is running. We had a broader mandate with the recent trip than we'll have in subsequent trips, so we'll be going more with a rifle approach than the shotgun approach we took last week. To validate the aerodynamics of a rim that no one bought based on its aerodynamics won't give us much that we can use. When it's time to go on the Rail tubular, we'll definitely test that. Dave

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    DC – No reason they wouldn't. I've set tubeless tires up on RFSC. It was extremely challenging to get the tires mounted. Joe – We'll have more to say after more and more formal testing. Obviously we can't evaluate every event out there. If saying "yes" to the pan flat Seagull Century" means saying yes to the Diabolical Corkscrew of Death and Fury", obviously the answer is an across the board no. Some of these events are on insane and i would say unsafe routes. So there are events for which they'll be a bad choice and for any event that recommends against using carbon clinchers, we won't be giving any explicit or implicit waivers against the event's recommendations. "Extremely good heat performance" is not the same as "infallible heat performance." Ride the brakes long enough on anything – car, motorcycle, disc brake bike, rim brake bike – and you'll have a problem. We'll always counsel caution and since there is no way possible for us to consistently judge ex post facto whether anything like proper technique was used, it's a challenge for us. I know you didn't mean the question as such but this type of question often reads to us on our side as "can I do whatever the heck I want with these and you promise me I won't overtake them?" The answer to that question could never be "yes". Also bear in mind that even if the rims can withstand heat way better than our older rims and phenomenally better than a lot of what's out there, there's still a lot of heat going on that doesn't dissipate as quickly as when you are using an aluminum rim. When your tube pops or your front tire melts, you've still got a big problem on your hands. Set your oven to 330 and put a tube and tire in there and you'll see what I mean. ThanksWould I personally ride a gran fondo with them? Most of them, yes. I know of one that I would not, but I wouldn't ride the event anyway as I believe it to be an unsafe route for large packs of cyclists in any case.

  • Joe Clement on

    What's the warranty going to be on these? No Fondos?

  • DC on

    Would tubeless tires work on the rail?

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