we've all got wheels on our bikes, round spokey things in most cases which are pretty much like electricity - you take them for granted till they stop working or go a bit wobbly. over the years i have witnessed some appalling aberrations that allegedly came under the heading 'wheels', usually because they were not built for the job in hand. such as toting an entire house contents on a tour of western scotland using machine built wheels fitted to a mail order mountain bike. you get the general idea.
and up until relatively recently you only had two real wheel options open to you: a pair of beautifully crafted wheels, lovingly hand built by the local wheel guru, or a bog standard pair of machine builds.
and then along came mavic ksyriums. mavic were arguably the first to produce what could be called 'superior' machine built wheels, often distinguished, as in the case of the ksyriums, by the employment of straight spokes and a radial build. now whether mavic moved along this road (no pun intended), because they were dissatisfied with the more regularly spoked wheel, or because it seemed like a marketing opportunity just waiting to be filled, we will probably never know. however, it revolutionised (honest, these puns just creep out of the woodwork) the modern racing bicycle wheel.
there are now a seemingly infinite number of companies offering a similarly infinite number of options when it comes to kitting out the bike with new hoops, and i along with probably most of you occasionally stop and wonder whatever was wrong with the standard 32 spoke, three cross versions of yesterday. well in fact there was, and is, absolutely nothing wrong with the aforesaid, but that has never stopped folks with a big enough r&d budget from trying to see if they can improve the wheel for the benefit of us pedallists and for their profit margin - that's how the world goes round.
and of course there has been the emergence of techniques and materials that weren't even thought of when 32 three cross was the standard - witness the carbonsports lightweight wheels that the post has tested in the past, mating carbon rims with kevlar spokes. and it is one of the properties of carbon fibre unavailable to butted steel that has allowed mavic to present us with their latest wheel and the concept on which it is based.
now i, like most of you, could probably survive without the technospeak that inevitably accompanies this seemingly radical idea: does it work or doesn't it, will i like it, and how much does it cost? i'm with you most of the way there but this is mildly intriguing. regular spoked wheels can only exist in tension - the spokes cannot be compressed because the spoke nipple can easily move inside the rim, and even if this were not the case, have you ever tried to compress a spoke along its length (what - not even at a party?). and we should care because...? well mostly because the spokes on mavic's new r-sys (careful with that name eugene) are carbon fibre tubes which are stiff even before any tension has been applied, so consequently less tension has to be applied to build a successfully round wheel. and because carbon fibres are just what it says on the tin, they will survive a modest amount of compression, hence mavic's 'tracom' (traction/compression) concept as printed on the hub caps.
with the exception of the drive side rear spokes, which are flat alloy allowing them to be built two cross, all the r-sys spokes are radially laced carbon. these thread into raised drilled sections in the polished alloy rims, and cannot, therefore, sustain any vertical movement as per normal spokes. the by-product of this, and similar to other mavic wheels, is a perfectly sound inner rim section dispensing with the need for any rim tape, and theoretically able to support tubeless tyres (if they ever see the light of day).
the straight spokes thread through a hole in the hub flange, and the wheels arrive with a large alloy starfish of a spoke key to allow for any wheel tweaking that may become necessary. how easy it is to obtain spare spokes for these wheels i have no idea, because as far as i can find out at the moment, they are still not on sale in either the uk or the usa, but i would imagine mavic to have made suitable provision for spares should they prove necessary.
since the spokes are effectively carbon fibre tubes, they are pretty strong, but i'm somewhat reluctant to find out just how well they survive a lateral impact. there were more regular carbon spokes supplied many moons ago, that disappeared from the market due to rumours of lateral fragility. mavic's offering seem considerably more robust and carbon technology has come a long way since the early nineties.
the drive side spokes at the rear are straight pull bladed alloys slotted into a very chunky cnc'd hub flange - i doubt there's any way you could build the carbons in an any-cross pattern.
i have heard accusations of poor aerodynamics levelled at these wheels, but short of popping the r-sys shod colnago into a wind tunnel, i can neither confirm nor deny. i doubt if most of us have the power output to put this to the test, though it seems logical that a big fat round spoke will cleave the air less efficiently than a flat svelte one. as they say, your mileage may vary, and it's a point that is unlikely to lose me any sleep.
i'm not sure if i like the acid yellow spoke nipples and ends or not (pink would be nice to match my headset), but it does ensure that the wheels are noticeable in a crowd.
the wheels arrived with a shimano pattern freehub, though according to the muti-lingual manual, they can be had with a campag version too, a pair of wheelbags, quick release skewers and one or two unexplained tools to help deal with the spokes, i imagine.
anyway, enough of the fol de rol, what are they like?
surprisingly, considering the chunkiness of the rims, spokes and hubs, these are the most comfortable wheels i have ridden in a long time, which is exactly the opposite of what i expected. and as i'm sure i have bored you with more than once, islay's roads would tend to contravene the laws of comfort - they certainly do on most other wheels, with the possible exception of the lightweight ventoux. while it may be because they are brand new, with nice new cartridge bearings, these wheels roll so smooooothly across everything in sight, that i have happily and selflessly freewheeled at every opportunity. this joy has been greatly aided by an incredibly quiet freewheel mechanism, that stands in marked contrast to the campag freehub on my more regular protons or, indeed, the dtswiss hub on the lightweights.
as new wheels deserve, these were shod with nice new ultremo tyres from schwalbe which smartened up the company colnago no end. this combination was ridden throughout the soaking entirety that was the gran fondo d'ardbeg, and brought to light the long forgotten joy (not) of wet brake shoes on new wet rims. while the brake surfaces are beginning to bed in and restoring braking to something more approaching acceptability, the initial stopping moments were heart stopping moments.
the wheels weigh in at around 1355g for the pair which is not alarmingly light, but not particularly heavy either. in order to test their lateral wobbleability when climbing, i employed thewashingmachinepost wobbleability when climbing test. this consists of setting the rear brake shoes as close to the rim as i dare, then hammering up somewhere like bowmore main street. since this test is carried out using the same colnago everytime, any frame flex is accounted for. the r-sys rear behaved every bit as well as a rear lightweight standard, and that's the stiffest i've ridden. the ideal wheels for happy climbing (just ask mauricio soler).
and, i hear you ask, how on earth do i attach a magnet to those carbon tree-trunks to see just how much faster they make me go. yes, i too had that in my mind at one point, but we need fear not, since mavic have already thought of this and fitted a cylindrical magnet to one of the front spokes. this is held in place by a couple of plastic endpieces and can be slid up and down to line up with wherever the sensor has to be on the fork blade. (how you get it off is another matter, however).
as i mentioned earlier, these wheels do not appear to be on general release at the moment (mid-august in the uk i believe), so i don't have a uk specific price - mavic's website lists them at 1100 euros which currently translates to $1500 or £750 which puts them at the level above mavic's own ksyrium (ksyria?). luxury you might struggle to afford?
they'll stay on the company colnago for a wee while longer, but i must say that i am suitably impressed, and i do so like the comfort.
mavic very kindly let me hang on to the r-sys wheelset for a total of a month and a bit, which seems like an adequate time to get to know a pair of wheels. and happily we are still friends. to be honest there's not a lot more i can add to my initial review (above). despite being rumbled across the worst that islay has to offer, the rims look just as good as the day they arrived, though they do experience soapy stuff a couple of times a week, when the colnago gets a bath.
the wheels still look as if they shouldn't be at all comfortable, but after riding around 150km a week since they arrived, the comfort factor is still the most obvious feature of mavic's latest. if you're of a mind to complete even one cyclo-sportive in the next twelve months, you could do a lot worse than fit a set of these. when all-day riding is a happy necessity, these should ensure you arrive neither shaken nor stirred.
while the comfort underfoot (so to speak) should not be ignored, they are not lacking in the speed department: i had the wheels fitted when undertaking a team triathlon last month, and despite pouring rain throughout, i still managed to knock over a minute off my time from last year. and i'm not getting any younger. while the rolling was good at new, now that the bearings have bedded in, they're now notionally faster despite the average pair of legs clipped to the pedals. these are very good hoops.
not unexpectedly, the braking was mediocre when the wheels were brand new out of the box (much the same on any new pair of rims) - that has improved dramatically over the period of test, and it's quite likely you could stop on a groat by now.
i'll be really sorry to see the mavics return home. they have been a source of great joy, even though i was hoping to become blase about their presence on the colnago, treating them just like any other pair of wheels. i've read elsewhere some concerns about the resilience of the carbon spokes should they be clobbered from the side - that will have to remain one of those imponderables, since my pair remained perfectly safe, and i had no desire to be a crash-test dummy.
still no sign of any uk dealers with stock or price listings (that i could find anyway), though competitivecyclist.com in the usa have them advertised at $1399.99 - at current exchange rates that would bring them in at just under £700, which compares reasonably well with the ksyrium es at £680. will the arrival of the r-sys see the gradual fading out of the ksyria at the top end? time will undoubtedly tell.
sad to say, i'm still enthusing about them to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen...........................................................................................................................................................................................................
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading...........................................................................................................................................................................................................