after returning from earls court and the london cycle show, i was wont to mention that the carbon on offer these days was becoming a tad generic. i'm generalising of course, because there are always one or two differences and occasional innovations to be seen, but as more and more machines are designed by computer, in a similar way to the current crop of motor cars, they all start to look much the same. and i have a notion that the painters in taiwan are either fairly restrictive in their palettes, or just not particularly skilled in decorating all that burnt plastic.
but it's rare that innovation comes to a halt altogether; at some time there will likely be a sea change, someone will think of a great idea and bicycles will start to annoy the uci once again. so the clever folks turn their attention to other associated areas which will aid the becalmed rider and progress continues apace. such has been almost quietly happening in the area of wheels over the past year or so, with both technological developments, and intellectual revelations occuring on almost a daily basis. it's not so very long ago that campagnolo sprung their aluminium, deep flange rims on a gasping public: ideal for time trialling because of the rotating weight, but effectively a one trick pony. advances in weight saving shifted up a gear (pun intended), but it was the advent of the deep flange carbon wheel rim that really made all the difference, even if the early versions still required aluminium rims. carbon conducts heat very poorly, so a full carbon rim needs secific pads - the normal ones don't stop very well (believe me, i know from personal 150km experience).
sort the pads, and full carbon rims are once again a real possibility, but initially for tubular tyres only. the reason here is the side pressure exerted by a clincher tyre with which aluminium copes admirably, but carbon, until recently, generally struggled. but of course, challenges like this are just the homework that some folks love, hence the current availability of just such a range of wheels, in this case from reynolds in the specific shape of their assault carbon clinchers.
the carbon rims are 46mm deep with an abraided braking surface that still requires carbon specific pads. the wheels sent to washingmachinepost towers from uk distributors, upgrade bikes, were shimano flavour; not a problem because so are my chris kings, so i simply swapped the amercian classic campag compatible cassette, but the wheels arrived with the necessary brake pads for shimano. i do keep a set of campagnolo carbon specific pads, but upgrade were unsure of the composition of such and asked that i waited until they sent a set of reynolds badged swiss stop pads. these seemed very similar to the campag offerings, but i believe the concern was that they might be of the cork variety which should definitely not be used on these wheels. however, buy a set, and the pads come with it.
so after all the palaver with which pads should be necessary on an abraided carbon braking surface, it was comfort and joy to discover that when stopping power was required, it was there in large enough portions. stopping in the dry, by now, is probably not too hard to achieve, but the proof of the pudding (always messy on carbon) is just how easy the same can be managed in the wet stuff. thankfully, this too was accomplished with relative ease, not too much heart fluttering and a modicum of finger strength. to be honest, after one or two outings, it was difficult to perceive much difference between carbon and aluminium. a fine outcome, if initially unexpected.
actually the wheels package is rather comprehensive. apart from brake pads, there are a pair of reynolds skewers, a set of tyre levers, a pair of valve extenders and the tool necessary to true the spokes. a park spoke key is quite useless in this case; presumably in order to minimise the amount of trouble caused to the passing airflow, the spoke nipples are concealed inside the carbon rim, thus if any truing is required, the tyre needs to be removed along with the rim tape. a bit of faff really, particularly in my case (and likely many others) since my top speed is unlikely to be giving the airflow too much hassle whether spoke nipples are in or out. however, in the current situation, this is of academic interest, since the wheels remained remarkably true throughout the troubles i gave them.
lets assume that, like me, you have a pair of deep rim carbon clincher wheels that you want to test for strength, resistance to flex, and general all-round bashing; what would scare them more than anything else this side of the arenberg forest? exactly - cattle grids. thus the first outing into the hinterlands contained a total of six of the little blighters, two of which are showing signs of distinctly less than accurate paralleogramism (a technical word relating to rural artefacts - you wouldn't understand). i would usually stand up crossing cattle grids just to lighten the load, so to speak, but this is testing, so it was hard, fast and remain seated. nothing, apart from the rider, moved. carbon is a stiff composite, and in an unmanaged condition can oft times transmit all or most of this through the chamois and the track mitts. as a professional or elite rider this may well be an occupational hazard; as an aspiring speedy recreational rider, i'd prefer if that road buzz and cattle grid chatter didn't make it quite as far as me. if this is of similar mind to yourselves, then fear not on a pair of assaults: they're plenty stiff, but seem to hang on to the majority of the roughness and dissipate it in some incomprehensible way.
granted, there were a couple of occasions when i had doubts about the inflation of the rear tyre. they're mucking up the roads round here on an almost daily basis, and running over certain portions of this unrelieved relief were just a little harsh through the saddle. but that was just to remind me i was on carbon. the front wheel has twenty spokes in a radial pattern, while the rear has 24; radial on the left, two cross on the drive side. the hubs are of reynolds design, and are nothing fancy to write home about, though entirely functional. the rear freehub did emit one or two light clunks occasionally when in the larger sprockets, but i figure this may have more to do with the cassette itself rather than anything reynolds put together, since there was no discernible lessening of its mechanical ability.
the weight of the wheels tops out at around 1.5kg; not astoundingly light, but not so as you'd notice when climbing. i resorted to my usual unscientific system of keeping the brakes close to the rim and walloping it up a climby bit. a mere 24 spokes at the rear is sort of below my own preferred mimimum, but there were very few occasions when this made much difference under those conditions. granted, a 46mm carbon rim would not be expected to have much in the way of lateral movement, and reynolds have been very successful at harnessing this - onwards and upwards.
priced comfortably under a grand, these are undoubtedly the sort of wheels you could purchase for regular use, whether training, racing or a bit of both. however, the acid test is the added factor of wind. not that provoked by too many energy bars, but the whizzy stuff lumping it in from the atlantic. into a headwind, the assaults carry out their true vocation in life with admirable aplomb, making it easier to forge a way through the invisible mattress. crosswinds, however, are a whole different ball game: on the basis of just because i can, i took the colnago out in 60kph, gale force winds, just to see how much of a handful the reynolds would be. silly idea really. in the uk, we ride on the left: sadly i spent much of my time on the wrong side, and very thankful that islay has light traffic on a saturday afternoon. i appreciate that most of us would dig out a cycling video rather than go out riding in winds as fierce, but one has to be thorough. very much a case of don't try this at home: it just doesn't work, though not entirely unexpected.
carbon has an historical reputation for fragility, and will happily display this trait if deployed in the wrong way. the idea of a pair of carbon deep rimmed wheels holding tightly to a pair of clincher tyres is not, at first glance, the ideal recipe for a sturdy pair of all-round hoops (yes, i know what i just did), but on the evidence of my ham-footed effort to prove this assertion correct, i failed miserably. crosswinds notwithstanding, the reynolds assaults are as near perfection in their genre as current technology allows. however, having been shown at earls court the next stage of development due from reynolds for 2010, it's about to get a whole lot better.
and yes, even carbon clinchers make that wonderful whooshing noise under acceleration: worth the price of admission alone.
a pair of reynolds assault carbon clincher wheels cost around £850 on average ($1300) and are available in both shimano/sram or campagnolo flavours.
posted saturday 17 october 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................