Building a wheel you've never built before is a small challenge, from sizing the spokes to making sure there's nothing inherently weird about the way the wheel comes together, but the pre-production Rail front went together easily. Friday evening was finally the chance to ride the thing.
Tire of choice was a Vittoria Corsa Evo CX, for the primary reason that I'm exceptionally familiar with the tire and wouldn't get any noise from it. The reason I'm so familiar with it is that it's a tire I really really like. Normal butyl tube with an 80mm stem. I used my Wheelhouse, which after two and a half years couldn't be more of a known quantity.
Time was a bit short since I still had a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the 13 hour mountain bike relay race we were doing on Saturday, fortunately I have a loop nearby where I can quickly get the measure of how a wheel generally behaves. Doing my opener ride as part of this deal would kill two birds with one stone. What I learned was that it seemed to handle very very well, seemed stiff, didn't show any weird behavior at all, and it made me excited to race it on Sunday.
Before Sunday's race there was this small matter of doing nearly 5 hours of singletrack at pop your eyes out (literally - two of us blew out contact lenses) pace. Consider doing 7 cyclocross races in a day, that's roughly what Saturday was - one heck of an opener workout.
Off the front about halfway through. Front wheel is a Rail 52, rear is a wide 50 that we've been using as a construction test while waiting for the Rail mold to get up and running. Picture credit to Daniel Meaurio.
Cursing Mike for telling the internet that I was racing on Sunday, I lined up for the 1/2/3 race at Carl Dolan on Sunday. Dolan is kind of an egg shaped course, about 2 miles long, with one really fast tight downhill right hand turn and an uphill finish. A gusty wind had me thinking "oh crap, maybe I should have brought a shallow front wheel?" An ambulance on the course delaying our start had me thinking "maybe this skinny tire racing isn't all it's cracked up to be?" I'm always jumpy before the race starts and then settle down as soon as we get going, which we did soon enough.
I'm very pleased with how the wheel worked. There was enough wind that it was a top of mind thing at all times in how you positioned yourself, but never once was there the remotest amount of steering feedback from the wheel getting blown around. I can't say that this wouldn't have been the case with other wheels, but it wasn't with the Rail. Not the most technically demanding course in the world but the one real turn there is is a tricky one. I was able to find a sneaky and tight inside line that no one else was using, which helped me to save a lot of hard pedal strokes every time I used it (you couldn't always get to it safely from where you were in the pack). With about a bazillion and six hard corners in my back pocket from Saturday, I might just have been sharp at cornering, but that was the line I wanted and the wheel sure seemed to like it as much as I did.
At one point I jumped off the front of the field headed toward a break up the road. A couple of guys bridged to me and we got a huge chunk of the way across, but teammates of guys in the break came and sat on us and then the field decided they wanted the whole thing back anyhow. All I can say is that the bike felt fast and I was riding with guys who are way stronger than I am.
It may sound like I'm damning the wheel with faint praise, which obviously I'm not trying to do. Quite the contrary, I pretty much don't ever want to use any other wheels anymore ever. I loved it. But absent something that has a baseline chance of 0% (like me winning that race) coming to pass, it's hard to say too much about what the wheel did or didn't do. I loved riding it and you'll pry it out of my cold dead hands.