The recent uncharacteristic blog silence is brought to you by the home rehab in which I am currently enmeshed. Plaster wall demolition is sort of like climbing practice, at least that's what I tell myself in advance of the Vermont Gran Fondo this coming weekend. Anyway, dealing with a 120 year old house takes time and most of my free mental time is usurped by trying to figure out the first floor's interior design (any kitchen experts out there?).
So now we get a rim over which, many of you have noted, we've been quite enthusiastic for some time: the AForce Al33. These came onto our radar screen just about one year ago when we got a test set to build and use. They arrived at a perfect time for us, as we were seriously chewing on the carbon question and looking for a legitimate path forward that didn't include carbon and its inherent (and disqualifying) material and logistical liabilities. Building and riding them, I quickly first used a phrase I've used many times since - that these are "the best carbon clinchers on the market." We quickly decided to not only offer them for custom builds, but also to make them a centerpiece on their own - the RFSW3.
Of course the immediate provocation for this title was the ceramic brake track, which gives them the look of carbon which, let's face it, knowing what we know now about aerodynamics, is carbon's compelling feature. But it's more than that, and what started as an off the cuff cliche has developed as I've ridden them more than any other wheels for a year now, and with normal machined brake tracks for much/most of that.
The numbers: 32.5mm deep, 26mm max outside width, 19.6mm inside width, 495g/rim. Available in 20/24/28/32 drilling, with or without PEO ("ceramic") brake tracks. Tubeless ready, with quite easy tire fit (tubeless inflation needs a compressor or charge pump with some tires). We got a surprise set of disc rims (fully anodized, no machined brake track) last week but honestly they're not even unwrapped yet. Busy. The finish quality out of the gate has been extraordinarily good. We've had a couple of rims we put to the side, but for a new product from a new company, it would be tough to ask for a better start.
As we'll get to in the summary of this review endeavour, a prominent characteristic of wheels is their feel. Each of the rims we've reviewed thus far has a feel. You can tune that feel with different complementing components, but the rim sets the mood. Al33 builds feel like riding mid-depth, wide carbons, with some advantages over them. An adjective that often gets used with them is "planted" - you set a line through a turn and they're going to get you through that line. They won't make you turn better (no equipment "makes you" do anything better), but they will certainly allow you to explore and stretch the outer bounds of what you can do. And they feel awfully fast and they build into the kind of wheels where you all of a sudden hear yourself making motorcycle noises as you're riding along. If, as is the case for so so so so many people, your riding consists of a heavy diet of "crit, group ride, rinse, repeat" these are seemingly the basis for the ultimate set of wheels for that agenda.
The customer feedback from builds with these has been as strong as we've experienced with any wheels ever. One guy was upset that they weren't lighter. Beyond that, it's pretty much been a complete love fest.
Of course the brake track needs some discussion. I refer to the PEO coating as a "durable black brake track treatment." It's orders of magnitude more durable than anodizing, which will wear off at the first sign of using your brakes in even damp conditions, but it's not impervious to any wear. Some places selling similarly treated rims state plainly in their web store copy that it will not wear off, and then say elsewhere that it can get damaged by certain things. Use the right brake pads (which we supply with rims and builds) and keep things clean and the black brake tracks will stay intact for a good long time. The braking, particularly in damp conditions, is a bit better with the PEO rims, but not incredibly so. People forget that one of the myriad benefits of alloy rims is that you can use conditions-specific pads, and that all pads are not equal in the first place. Use SwissStop BXPs or KoolStop dual compounds on your regular alloy rims and your life will get better all around. In any case, the PEO coating certainly adds to the story of these rims, but it is not THE story of them - as my personal set of wheels attests.
Last, these have often been tagged as "expensive for alloy" rims, just like HEDs are. We don't consider these, or our builds with these, as comparable to what you're going to see out of carbon at a similar pricepoint. If you could make an NSW-tier alloy, these would be there (as the majority of our builds would be, quite simply). So we will unapologetically compare the wheels we build not to price similar carbons, but to premium-and-better wheels no matter their material content.
PEO brake track rims have been out of stock for a while but we are just days away from getting them back in*, and machined brake track versions are available for immediate builds.
*unless something stupid happens in shipping/customs