Saturday, September 05, 2020

Addicted To Wheels

 Note: EXTREME nerding out again today on wheels. You've been warned!

 The Atomik/Berd Ultimate wheels.
I've probably written a post like this over the past 15 years of this blog. I don't remember, and you probably don't either. Ah! No searching! That's cheating. Gotta use the noggin. I vaguely recall something along these lines, so I'm betting I have before. Oh well..... Here goes!

Wheels. Everybody knows that there are good wheels, bad wheels, and wheels that make you all giddy in the......well.....I won't go there! You know what I mean. A good wheel set can really make your cycling experience a LOT better. I keep learning this all the time. You see, I have an issue that prevents me from being 100% on board with spending the big bucks on wheels. That is this practical 'gene' in my DNA that says to me "you can just get by with THAT wheel set! It's good enough for you". And I roll with that and believe it until I get these chances I get- and I know - I am totally blessed to have these chances - to get these chances to ride incredibly great wheels. Then I am blown away and think my inner voice is so full of BS that I must get these wheels! It's crazy, I know. But it is real. Both the voices in my head and what good wheels can do. Ha!

So, anyway, here's the thing. I am not the only person that should be riding really incredible wheels. It makes a huge difference in your riding experience. Again- because of what I do I get to ride various wheels and I have so-so ones, good ones, and the occasional great one comes along as well. Now here's the thing: The really great ones are not always from where you might think they should be from. 

I've ridden some really expensive wheels that were.....  Honestly? "Ho-hum" comes to mind. Especially compared to others I have used that were simply amazing. Some are a LOT less expensive as well. There are two wheel sets I am using right now that are the sort of wheels that make me think my inner voice, my practical gene inside of me, has it all wrong. These two wheel sets are great examples of really incredible wheels that would make a huge difference in anyone's riding. Not necessarily what I would call inexpensive wheels by any stretch, but good bang fer the buck anyway. 

Once again, I am reminded how much wheels affect our riding. It is crazy. My favorite example is the old 1X1 with those Velo Orange hubs laced to Velocity Cliffhanger rims and shod with those monstrously fat Extraterrestrials. That wheel set flew! There was no reason to think it should be so fun to ride those wheels. All the parts were decent, yes, but none of them were incredible or had any quality alone to recommend being wowed by the combination. But those wheels really did the trick. Andy is the owner of that bike now and I think he's been bitten by the bug those wheels have. He rides it quite often now! 

 These aero wheels from FLO Cycling are amazing AND aero.
To my way of gravelly thinking here, a 'great wheel set' needs to do three things really well: They need to be comfortable. That's number one on the list because if the wheels make your hands go numb, are too rough, or are a negative in the handling department, I don't care how light they are. Two? They need to be STIFF laterally. This is a huge deal! Wheels that lack this quality suck to ride on gravel, and the thing is, many people probably don't know they have this issue of laterally flexy wheels. Three? They need to have high quality, free rolling hubs. This is another forgotten quality of wheels that is absolutely a big, big deal. I've ridden some hubs touted as being really 'all that and a bag-o-chips'. Hubs I thought were the bomb at one time and I have been disappointed in how they perform on gravel. Not gonna name names here, but great hubs are not a given. 

You'll notice that weight has not been listed. Yep. Hold that thought, because the next thing I'm going to suggest trumps weight too. That is aerodynamics. In my mind, this will be the next big deal in wheels for gravel. Aero is real folks. You'd know it if you've spent time on a aero wheel set in a tri or on the pavement. Well, the very same things are in effect for gravel travel. Why wouldn't they be? Mark my words. Aero wheel set wars will be happening between the brands for gravel just like they do for triathlon and road racing. You don't need aerodynamics to have that great wheel set experience, but this is icing on the cake if you do. Trust me. I have felt this. 

Weight? Yeah, it is important, but it isn't THE most important thing like many think it is. Simply making a wheel set light isn't going to result in a great wheel set for gravel. Those things above here need to be happening, or that light weight? It won't matter a lick. Plus, there is such a thing as too light. There have been scientific studies to show this. A certain amount of 'fly wheel effect' is a very good thing for humans that cannot apply an even power stroke in 360° of rotation. Think about that. It makes a ton of sense. 

Of course, there are obvious things that I haven't covered here. Durability? Yes. VERY important. Wheel and tire fitment? Totally important. But any decent wheel set should have those things, or why bother? Looking good? Maybe. Some great wheels don't look anything special, in my opinion. But yes- aesthetics of the presentation may matter to many of us. So, yeah, three things of importance is really saying those are MY three top concerns with any wheel set. 

And I am an admitted wheel addicted dude. I LOVE wheels. Building them, fixing them, and especially riding them. I know there are many of you just like me out there too. You probably already know all about great wheels. But shouldn't everyone get to ride great wheels at least once? I think so. It is such a joy to try a great wheel set.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Thanks for sharing that little nugget about your old Velo Orange/Cliffhanger wheelset!. I would like to build up a singlespeed rim brake BMC Monstercross and was planning to use a cheap basic wheelset. I was thinking 105 hubs and Alex Adventurer rims. But I might have to expand the budget and try that Velo Orange/Cliffhanger combo. It sounds like they spin well and carry a a lot of momentum?