Scared or Just Honest?

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We've done a pretty unique thing in attaching a terms and conditions page to our carbon clinchers sales process.  Before your order goes through, you have to click that you're read and understood the conditions.  In a lot of ways, this might seem like an anti-sales tactic, or that we don't "stand behind" our product.  Well, it may be an anti-sales tactic to some degree, but it's got nothing to do with a lack of confidence in our product.

People love carbon clinchers.  Good ones have the light, stiff, snappy feel that people love, without the pain in the butt factor of tubulars.  Aerodynamic advantages of various depths aside, a wheel like the RFSC38 is just going to spoil you for a lot of other wheels.  I've done about 98% of my last 10,000 or 12,000 or so miles of road riding on 38 clinchers, in all kinds of conditions and on all kinds of terrain - including a lot of riding that we'd explicitly tell you not to do with carbon clinchers.  Having the most first hand experience on our wheels and being able to calibrate their limits is important to us.  So if I do all of this stuff on the wheels, why are we so cautious when it comes to recommending what you should and shouldn't do on our wheels? 

We have a ton of confidence in our wheels and the parts that go into them.  We spent a lot of time sourcing them, have absolute confidence in our suppliers, and are now sitting on a couple of years of really solid history.  Because we assemble those parts into wheels ourselves, we get a good hard look at everything as it's coming together.  Anything strange going on with any component would almost certainly make itself known during the build process, and the building/destressing/QA process itself is probably more stressful an experience than most (or at least a whole lot of) wheels will ever see in the real world. 

But we can't replicate every experience that people can have on wheels.  I might have 10,000 miles on my wheels, but the global mileage on our wheels is orders of magnitude beyond that.  I can do down an 8% grade, switchbacked hill that's 4 miles long 10 times and only reach a maximum rim heat recording of 185* (which is BALLS hot, but nowhere near hot enough to melt a rim - we use Thermax heat recording strips, which are cheap and accurate and fit nicely in the tire bed of a rim), but I can't replicate every situation that's out there.  If I did it on an 85* day, with no traffic on the road, and I weigh 165 pounds and use my braking technique, then that's not an excellent predictor for a guy who weighs 20 pounds more than I do who's stuck behind a truck that's going wicked slowly, and he likes to pump his tires up to a rock hard 135, and it's 100* out.  I think we try as hard as anyone to make people aware of good techniques and practices, but that guy's probably not got it ingrained in his head that he'd be better off pulling over and waiting 5' for the truck to go away, and bumping his tire psi down to 110 (115 if he must have a very firm ride).

The simple fact is that no wheel, carbon or aluminum or any other material, is "x" proof.  "X" happens, and by being honest about where "x" is more likely to happen and encouraging people to avoid situations where the consequences of "x" can be unwelcome, we believe we're doing the right thing.  I've seen rims which are advertised to be "x" proof fail under "x" when "x" = brake heat.  Still, the wheels are advertised as being "x" proof and the situation that I saw with my own eyes has somehow "never tested positive."  To us, that way of operating just isn't right.  Smashing a root at mach speed in a cross race could break the brake track, and when that happens the rim is ruined and it's an expensive pain in the butt.  Sure, we could say "our rims are cross proof!" and maybe sell a lot more wheels by making that claim, and then quietly replacing rims for people who broke them, but that's not the way we want to go.  For the record, many cross races have actually been won on our carbon clinchers, and none have broken in use in cross races, but that's neither here nor there.  We won't sell you carbon clinchers under the false pretenses that they are great cross wheels.  Carbon tubulars are GREAT cross wheels. 

Honesty may sometimes be an anti-sales tactic and it may sometimes read as us not being secure in what we're selling.  We know we sell great stuff because we use it ALL THE TIME.  We just prefer to be honest and make you aware of whatever might happen, instead of relying on fine print BS to bail us out after claims that no one should ever have made wind up leading to a bad outcome. 


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  • Tom on

    All very sensible in spirit, and great that you guys are being open about this. But some of the items in your 'excluded' list are a bit OTT.I find this item in your disclaimer particularly odd:"Use in events with downhill neutral roll outs is specifically excluded."So no rolling out of the school parking lot at Giro di Coppi? And while the screaming 45mph downhill into a 90 degree turn at Page Valley RR is ok, the barely-sloped access road out of the town park means the race is excluded?(Likewise for your first bullet, though I've never done Seagull Century, I'm pretty sure that part of the world is pan flat.) It seems like your long list of exclusions could be better summarized as, "damage due to braking heat is wear-and-tear; it is not covered by warranty."

  • Mike on

    As someone who HAS destroyed a carbon clincher (though a combination of all the wrong "X's" adding up with my own poor decision making) I appreciate any attempt to educate buyers. Prior to my experience, I'd heard of carbon clinchers having issues with heat built up, but it seemed like one of those fringe events that would "never happen to me". Putting info like this out there, in my eyes, reinforces your image as a trustworthy business – so thanks!

  • Mike May on

    Hi Tom. Your comment gets to the heart of what our approach to warranties is all about. In our opinion, a warranty is to protect you from situations where a piece of equipment fails, causing you to remark, "Whoa – now THAT wasn't supposed to happen." The biggest challenge with carbon clinchers that we see – industry wide – is that customer expectations about them is not aligned with the performance capacity of the technology. Bottom out your alloy clinchers on a root while racing cyclocross at 30.5 PSI and you'll bend your brake track but probably be able to salvage it. Hit the same root on carbon clinchers at 30.5 PSI and the nature of the material means you are facing a replacement, not a repair. Same thing with heat buildup and brake tracks – failure happens, to all carbon clinchers no matter who makes them, under extreme conditions. Carbon clinchers are NOT alloy clinchers, and are not interchangeable for the same applications.Our Ts & Cs are to educate riders on the range of situations under which they should not be surprised at the failure of carbon clinchers. As a result, our terms are much more specific than any other brand's that we have seen because we don't want you to guess about what you should or should not use the products for – we want you to know. Most other warranties include very general language like, "This warranty does not apply to damage to the product caused by a crash, impact damage, abuse of the product, non-compliance with manufacturers specifications of usage or any other circumstances in which the product has been subjected to forces or loads beyond its design." There's a lot of wiggle room in that language, as it would be easy for a manufacturer to say that the root you hit in a CX race actually IS impact damage, and that riding the brakes down a 12% grade for 6 straight minutes subjects a rim to "loads beyond its design." You simply can't know how it will be interpreted, so in the customer's mind, anything that goes wrong may well get them a free replacement wheel. That can create a moral hazard, where people take more chances because they feel their risk has been mitigated. Trouble is, take the wrong chance in a gran fondo with a technical alpine descent and you're putting yourself and the 25 people stacked up behind you in danger. That's no place for a misunderstanding about the performance capacity of equipment.We try to be specific because our objective is not to exclude every activity imaginable from warranty coverage, but to help our customers understand the conditions under which they should and should not be surprised at failure. Judging from your comments, we've succeeded. The other benchmark to consider with warranties is that with a lot of manufacturers you've voided your warranty completely the moment you've pinned on a number. We actually encourage our customers to race our stuff. The 45mph corner you mention is actually a lot gentler on brake tracks than a similar descente in a non-race scenario where the crowd in front of you forces you to go 20mph on the same slope. Which is to say that the risk of failure in all of the scenarios you've mentioned is exceedingly low. So while a pan flat century is technically not covered, it's practically irrelevant.


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