i have receounted on several occasions having been called to effect some form of repair to wheels of various descriptions, mostly affixed to bicycles on which cyclists have been found touring not just islay, but several portions of scotland's west coast to the north. we all have financial considerations and situations with which to contend, and i'm aware that the constitution of the bicycle is not always uppermost on the list of items on which money might conceivably be spent. however, i think it indicative of the status apportioned to the humble velocipede that so many have ventured this far west on something i'd have been less than keen to ride to the averagemarket in bowmore main street.
not everyone keen on a week or two of cycle touring will have taken a physics class while at school, and perhaps i place too much onus on the human intellect to have at least savoured the equation for more than a moment. add the weight of self, to the weight of at least a couple of filled panniers, and it makes perfect sense (to me at least), that both are going to have to be supported by the pair of wheels attached to the £150 bicycle purchased from an advertisement in the weekend colour supplement. as well as the bike frame itself.
at that point, my equation fails to be solved. add in the parlous state of many a rural singletrack road and it falls apart entirely.
of course, there is a certain degree of exaggeration in all the above. it is entirely possible that the budget priced bicycle will succeed manfully or womanfully in transporting all the length and breadth of the hebrides without so much as a glitch. but i really wouldn't bet on it. nor, indeed, would i be particularly keen to subject my person or posterior to the iniquities thereof. holidays of any sort ought to be as enjoyable as it's possible to make them, meaning in the case of a cycling holiday, that the mechanicals, including the wheels ought to be fit for purpose. a decent pair of wheels might even removed the need for one of those awful gel saddles.
not all of us, however, are tourists in the cycling sense of the word. many would raise their hands and admit to being more closely associated with the pelotonese, racing hither and thither in emulation of someone a lot thinner and a lot faster than ourselves. and perhaps needlessly, we undertake this (mostly weekend) activity on slivers of carbon fibre that are way too good for that honed physique. it's just the way things are, and in truth there is nothing wrong with so doing. after all, many don football jerseys emblazoned with the names of people they quite patently are not, and kick a ball endlessly into an empty goal.
others will dress smart but casual in pringle sweaters and tartan trousers, grasping bespoke clubs in a singularly gloved hand, yet spend more time in sand than on the green stuff. none of this matters as long as we're all enjoying ourselves at nobody's expense but our own.
there are, however, ways and means of making such cycling activity a more equitable pleasure without involving the bank manager, one of which harks back to my opening drone regarding wheels. as several of you will be well aware, a decent set of wheels is often the simplest upgrade to any bicycle that might transform it from the mundane to the incredible. it would be wrong to decry the factory builds that adorm many of today's off-the-shelf bicycles, for in truth many of them are quite superb and atrract a certain level of kudos when displayed in pelotonic fashion on the sunday ride. this is often why many are sold with dramatic and sizeable graphics applied to the rims.
however, by their very nature and manufacture, they inhabit the one size fits all school of thought; it would be inordinately difficult for it to be any other way. but in truth, since many bicycles are purchased as complete items nowadays, rather than as frame and parts, it is often easier to simply settle for whatever was in the dropouts when removed from the box.
however, there is, young skywalker, another way.
derek mclay of wheelsmith in larbert, scotland has been offering a wheelbuilding service for the last 27 years, wheels that range from the relatively mundane to the frighteningly exotic, but more recently has begun to build hubs, spokes and rims that are not only the result of years of experience, but with the added bonus of the wheelsmith marque, an apellation that does not come lightly applied. i have had a pair of wheelsmith race 23s fitted to the colnago master for a year or so now with inviting success, so the notion of perhaps enhancing a colnago and ultimately a cervelo with the 24mm rims seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
i should, however, place all this in some sort of perspective; come the end of august, beginning of september, with cyclocross season appearing over the horizon, i asked derek if he had any wheels that he might recommend for this particular genre of cycling. it seemed a pragmatic notion that i might explore and review items that might be of interest to those keen to emulate sven or jeremy. the result, as you will by now have guessed, arrived in the shape of the race 24 wheels, but with one proviso.
as the race 23s had been previewed with predominantly road miles in mind, might it be possible to start out this way with the 24s prior to shoeing them with 'cross clinchers, thus offering a more pertinent comparison? since the man undoubtedly had a point, that is precisely how the 24s have been employed since they arrived. the muddy bit will come along later.
compared to the race 23s, the coating on the 24s is applied, not anodised, after which the brake surface is machined. this offers up a shiny bit before the wheels have turned even a single revolution as opposed to theur predecessors on which the coating eventually wore off in use. the rims on the 24s are of niobium alloy and rather obviously, are 1mm wider than the 23s as well as slightly deeper. derek now fits the rims with velotape making them tubeless-ready.
the front wheel is radially spoked using brass nipples with twenty sapim x-ray black spokes to match both hub and rim, while the rear offers twenty four of the same, but in a two-cross pattern on the drive side to resist the power of those chris hoy like thighs. weight for a pair is around 1430g.
because i rather like them, and have had decent success on previous review wheels, i opted to fit a pair of clement strada lgg 25c clinchers. as derek says "A clincher tyre sits very wide on the rim, making for a more rounded profile. Any tyre, 22m upwards to 36mm CX tyres, tubeless or standard clincher fitment can be used." it's easy to see what he means about the tyre profiling sitting on such a relatively wide rim, as the sidewall on the 25c tyres at no point overhangs the brake track even when inflated above 100psi. it also appears to offer improved handling on the scrubby stuff and in the wet.
the wheelsmith badged black hubs are new also, featuring a titanium nitride coated axle along with a twelve-pawl interchangeable freehub. the pair under review arrived with a shimano/sram splined ten speed hub, but it would be a simple matter to replace this with the new eleven-speed equivalent or a campagnolo version of required. swapping these over requires no alteration to the dishing of the wheel, something derek believes might be a first.
technical prowess is, however, no guaranteed portent of ride quality, and it is very much to islay's advantage that we currently own so much utterly crap tarmac on which sales pitch might be matched against performance. they did not fail their expectations. in fact, i was wont to contact derek after only a week of use to enquire whether the hbs were fitted with ceramic bearings, since on almost every occasion, when the road went downhill (literally), i freewheeled passed the compact and bijou peloton despite their being of a mass greater than mine.
when the road went up instead of down, the 24s were just as seemingly bereft of untoward friction, along with a resilience that prevented them even shaving closely to rather tightly adjusted rear calipers, something that cannot be directly placed at the door of the frame to which they were fitted, as they have offered sterling service on both an aging colnago and brand new shiny cervelo. i noticed slightly more benefit on the colnago where they tightened up a marginally more flexible frame, but were entirely in keeping with the ethos of the cervelo (review of which will follow within the week).
despite having had to contend with an inordinate number of potholes and sizeable gravel around the principality, their trueness has not varied by so much as a millimetre. and even on the occasion of suffering a front tyre blowout on hitting something rather large and immoveable, the rim suffered not one whit during several metres of running totally flat on a moonlike surface.
i will now proceed to fit a pair of challenge grifo 33mm 'cross tyres and see how they like the rough stuff. heck, i'd even tour on a pair of these.
a pair of wheelsmith race 24 wheels as reviewed retail at a remarkably equitable £480. they are also available built with chris king r45 hubs at £840
tuesday 15th october 2013