The Wrong Tool For The Job

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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I'm with Joe A., that is, disappointed.Don't you already notify customers not to use the clinchers for extended technical descents with much heavy braking? I guess personal responsibility is going out of style. Suck.

Mike F

Kevin – ThanksTodd – We suspect that they're actually quite generous with replacement. The story they give is basically "we've found the solution, these WILL NOT FAIL" – a very different premise from our "these will be fantastic as long as you avoid certain situations" statements. So when theirs do fail, they don't have the room to say "you did absolutely everything we told you not to do," which btw might have been language that Mike used in his response to our guy. I would suspect that they play the old "must have been a bad batch, never happens, etc" story. Their cost of goods sold versus retail value (which is a separate thing from their margins) is a big ass gap, so replacing a set of wheels isn't a big hit to their bottom line. There are lots of accounting games you can play with stuff, too. For example, on all of your stock for sale, you can allocate substantial overhead and carrying costs to that. That makes your inventory look really really valuable, which is a good game to play with your bank. But then you can hold aside some stock for warranty, to which you don't allocate the same costs, and that makes your warranty costs look lower than they might otherwise be. Since we load costs onto our wheels at a much more stripped down rate (we basically only value them at direct cost – materials plus shipping, duty, and assembly costs), when we replace a set of wheels for a customer, it financially looks like the hit it actually is. Little further down the rabbit hole than you were probably after, there. Big point being that they can minimize the pain of what basically amounts to hush money. And that is a harsher characterization of it than I do actually think they have – they care quite a bit, I'm positive. They aren't just Scrooges out there with a "let them eat melted carbon" attitude, but they are curating a marketing story. Very actively so. We are too, ours is just a lot different.

Dave Kirkpatrick

Dave and Mike. Knowing you don't ever like to "do what the other guy's do"; but, what is the policy and disclaimer statements from the big guy's (Zipp/SRAM/Mavic/Reynolds, etc)? I would think they would be telling your over zealous and e-mail comprehension challenged customer to pound sand and please go away. Just saying. TB


This is why I love you guys Dave, you tell it like it is. I was just curious about the Century/century thing because I am one of those guys who can just get lost on a ride and go for hours before even considering where I am. And as a (currently) 215 pound dude its good to know the wheel will handle me.I want to buy a set of 58s as soon as I can afford it, probably sometime before next season.. this summer is going to be spent doing a cross country ride so there will be no racing (and no work, either).


Off topic, but that the post's photo is definitely the Moki Dugway in Utah. I remembering riding up that, jack-hammering the crotch on some nice washboards. Also remember an elephant train of cement trucks barreling down at me.


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