The Wrong Tool For The Job

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Well, we've had this year's warped rim incident.  It happened in a century ride, on a hill that the rider described as "incredible.  Long, steep, and windy..."  The rider is a big guy (240 pounds), making his situation a perfect storm of the sort that I described here last year.   The disappointing thing about this is that the rider who had this happened got in touch a few weeks ago to tell us that he loved the wheels, but had popped a tube on a descent and wondered if the 145psi he regularly used was too much pressure.  We reiterated that we recommend no higher than 125psi, that 145 was dangerous, and that we did not recommend carbon clinchers for situations where one might need to control one's speed for long distances. Exactly the kind of situation he was in. 

A lot of companies out there will tell you that carbon clinchers are a great choice in any situation.  It's our firm belief that this has never been the case and that it is not now the case.  Carbon clincher manufacture has improved, as has brake pad compatibility.  Some situations that would have demolished first generation carbon clinchers are well within the envelope now.  As a testament to the strength of our carbon clinchers, consider that the rider who warped his rims had already exploded two tubes on this ride, without damaging the rims.  This is in addition to the tube he'd exploded prior.  So his tubes gave him two very loud (I presume quite literally) and clear warnings, yet he pressed on through.  

The concerning thing for us in not that we now have to make with a new set of rims and build a warranty set.  Yes, we are going to warranty this set, although the absolute disregard for what we thought were pretty customer-centric use and warranty terms and conditions have caused us to modify them (new T&Cs here).  The concerning thing is that by using such the wrong tool for the job, the rider and all of the riders around him are put at serious risk.  

Carbon clinchers are a fantastic tool for a lot of riding.  I am I don't know how many thousand miles into my set, and they have been flawless, and they are currently the only wheels I have to use.  That is the kind of faith we have in our carbon clinchers - they are the only wheels I currently use.  I'm also 165 pounds, don't ride down monster switchback descents in traffic, don't ride my brakes, maintain my brake pads, and generally stay within the use parameters we've always espoused.  Although we really don't recommend it (and have always excluded damage from it), I raced our district's annual "spring classic" - complete with one mile of dirt road per lap, for a total of six miles of dirt road taken at race speed - on RFSC38s last weekend. And I wasn't dicking around at the back of the field either, I made the break and got fifth.  Last night, I took several trips down a hill that's about 1k long, straight and steep, using several different braking techniques.  Normally, you'd get to about 35 on this hill before needing to brake for the light at the bottom.  I held my speed to 20 on one descent, and though the rims were warm to the touch, there was no issue. 

Heat warping does not happen in normal use modes.  It happens when you take the wheels out of the parameters in which they work.  There are few better wheels to use in your typical road race or office park crit than a well built set of carbon clinchers.  As evidenced by prominent rides (notably, Levi's Gran Fondo) preventing their use, there are some situations in which carbon clinchers are the WRONG choice.  Going down what would ordinarily be a fast and challenging descent with 500 or 5000 of your closest friends, some of whol might be a heck of a lot more proficient at going up hills than they are going down them, is the wrong time to be on carbon clinchers. 

Despite quite a bit of marketing to the contrary, this isn't an issue that the expensive brands have solved.  A bit of Google will show you that, and I'll tell you once again that almost exactly one year ago I saw, firsthand, a set of the most heavily marketed carbon clinchers fail due to heat - in exactly the type of conditions where we warn of their deficiency. The specific set of wheels that are more than any other responsible for the decision taken at Levi's Gran Fondo cost well in excess of $2,000.  You can't hide from physics, no matter how big your marketing budget. 

We like our customers, and want them to enjoy cycling and be safe and have stuff that performs well.  It doesn't take a lot of customer education to convince people that, for example, a mountain bike race is the wrong place to use your road bike.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit more effort to convince people that carbon clinchers are not a wheelset for every condition - even direct and specific warnings emailed personally go unheeded.  That being the case, we feel it necessary to take a couple of actions.  First, the terms and conditions have been updated.  Second, we will no longer be selling carbon clinchers in spoke counts higher than 20/24.  The world's most powerful sprinters don't need higher spoke counts than that (although they do all seem to prefer 24 spoke wheels), so wheel stiffness is not a concern.  This move is purely to discourage those riders who are bigger than would be adequately served by 20/24 spoke counts to choose wheels other than carbon clinchers.  We will lose sales because of this, we know that.  There are cases in which riders might wind up with the exact same rims we sell, but with higher spoke counts.  We simply feel that this is the reasonable and responsible course of action for us and our customers.  

See you at the office park!


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  • SYJ on

    Dave,Have you given much thought into a Cosmic style carbon/alu clincher? I'd love to grab a set of deep section wheels for tris & flatter road races, but most of my local rides here in UT incorporate one or more long technical descents. I feel more comfortable with clinchers going into my planned IM in 2013 (ruling deep tubies out), and moreover want a wheelset I can use for racing and training with equal aplomb.SYJ

  • moralleper on

    Well said!

  • Mike May on

    Now that's not entirely true, Gus. Real world testing is only a small part of the R&D that goes into our wheels. All of our rims and hubs and spokes are EN tested for safety, and of course we also have very strict standards on the quality of our wheel builds. We don't currently use proprietary rims and hubs, but one of the advantages of using the same rims as other brands is that there is a history of usage of the products already in place. So us trying something for the first time on a set of our wheels is hardly the first time it's been tried on the same rims.

  • Gus on

    I love the fact that your R&D process is "let's try this at speed on pavement and see what happens if it doesn't work." You're basically a very fair-skinned lab rat who can build awesome wheels in his spare time…

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    Hi roooh-aaahdd,Let me give you the short version so you might understand it a bit more easily: 240 pound guy descends "incredible, steep, twisty" hill at low speed, in a crowd, with overinflated tires. His wheels survive TWO tube blowouts, but eventually fail. It would have been a MIRACLE for any carbon clincher to survive this. I know where our rims come from, the certification processes they've passed, several of the other companies that are using them, and have hundreds of data points from our own customers who've been using our wheels for great success for coming on two years. Go to Alpe d'Huez with whatever carbon clinchers you want, with tire pressure 15% over the manufacturer's limit, and carry enough weight so that you weigh 240 pounds. You can not take LESS than 40' for the descent, and it must be done on open roads, with traffic. If the wheels live, we'll buy them for you. Thanks!Dave



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