round things with rubber on the outside. a stunningly simplistic way of describing a pair of wheels, and in terms of visual appeal, it's a difficult description to argue with. but you and i are members of the cognoscenti, less inclined to deal with such marked simplicity. not for us the immediacy of stepping into a reputable bicycle emporium and asking for a pair of "round things with rubber on the outside", safe in the knowledge that the answer from behind the counter may not be the one we were looking for.
the very best wheels not only own, but may provide a subtle yet expansive range of emotions and characteristics to a bike ride, depending very much on the components used and just how they are put together. the ubiquitous carbon fibre has invaded the upper regions, and latterly the mid-range offerings from many of the principal suppliers. and where at one time it would have been a case of carefully selecting a wheelbuilder from within your locale, there are now almost as many providers of off the shelf solutions as there are profferers of bicycle frames. this increased variety does not, however, come without its own considerable baggage, frequently concealed behind a creatively designed aesthetic.
be careful you don't choose your wheels on looks alone.
for if we're to return, albeit briefly, to the skilled wheelbuilder, their primary concern is that of the purpose to which the prospective wheels will be put. as we're talking cognoscenti to cognoscenti at this point, i will not insult your intelligence by disseminating the latter statement; i know you know what i know. but, on the off-chance that one or two civilians are accidentally eavesdropping, i will elucidate. wheels, in similar manner to the bicycle frame, can be called upon to undertake many velocipedinal tasks, not all of which will push them to their limits. you don't honestly think that ivan basso would walk all the way to the supermarket when there's a cannondale leaning against the garage door?
however, there is likely no real need to be so utterly pedantic. when choosing from the wide range of factory-built wheels, it is simply an astute move to carefully consider in what style of riding you intend to participate. additionally, budget might be something to keep at the back of your mind, though maybe not in that of your significant other.
i was alerted to the provenance of cole wheels by the inestimable richard sachs, whose cyclocross team has raced most successfully on the cole brand for the past three years. as quoted in the current cole wheels catalogue "for the 2009 season, i changed out only one component from the year before (my wheels). by december i'd won six races and finished first in the usa cycling's men's masters cyclocross ranking. cole t24 wheels rock atmo."
you can be reasonably sure that mr sachs can trouble a pair of wheels a great deal more consistently than i, and it's that very fact that makes these the ideal subject for review; how well do they behave for the less valiant in battle? i however, would be guilty of betraying my amateur roots, were i to have requested a pair of the t24s. for the pre-fix to this particular model signifies the necessity of gluing tubulars to the rims. though i may conceivably have given the impression that i am all things to all bicycles, fitting a pair of tubs from the ground up is, in fact, one of the many gaps in my armoury. thus, the cole wheels under consideration below are the latter's clincher sibling, the c24 lite, classified by the manufacturer as suitable for racing and training; the number twenty-four in the title signifies a 24mm depth in an all aluminium rim.
in an all but saturated market, each eager participant does well to project a unique selling point, for excluding the very expensive all carbon offerings at the stratospheric end of the chequebook, it's possible to consider that a wheel, is a wheel, is a wheel. the weak link, should it be considered as such, of the traditional wheel is the 'j' bend at one end of the spoke where it threads through the hub flange. with a constant diet of stressing and de-stressing while in use, it is not entirely uncommon for spokes to break at this point. though no doubt encouraged by the simplification of the lacing procedure for construction by machines, this is arguably the the single most important contribution made by the genre of the factory-built wheel. however, the removal of the spoke bend has a not always positive effect on the resilience of the wheel; road buzz and vibration has now a straight path along which to travel.
at the hub end of cole's swiss steel spokes are round, flat brass coloured 'nipples' into which each spoke is threaded. the proprietary hub flanges feature large round slots into which these fit, effectively allowing the spokes to self-centre irrespective of the cross pattern or the stresses imparted to the wheel. at the rim end, the spoke threads into a more standard-looking nipple. cole designate this dynamic spoke alignment or dsa; the unique selling point. cole's araya produced rims are of standard configuration; a rim tape (supplied) is a necessary requirement. weighing a commendable 1650g per pair, they are available in either shimano/sram or campagnolo (reviewed) models, sporting a minimal 16 aero-style spokes at the front and twenty at the rear.
allowing for the fact that islay's roads have not experienced a miraculous recovery of late, and that the intention was to scare the heck out of the coles, one had to choose one's tread pattern carefully. in this case, i relied on a tried and trusted pair of vittoria open pave cx clinchers; it would be negligent of me not to have at least one safety net. both were inflated to around 110psi.
it is something of an undeniable fact that pretty much any wheel offered to the paying pelotonese these days will run smooth and true along the average highway, even if routed through the abbatoirenberg forest. i may not have been fighting with the great and the good for first position into a drain bedecked corner, but i had no real intention of avoiding the crappy bits purely out of self-interest. it is far easier these days to select the very road that might just cause a pair of cole c24 lites to pine for their plushly lined wheel bag.
so i did.
i cannot tell a lie; i have ridden more comfortable wheels. these ageing bones do rather like their comfort, but they do also like the satisfaction of travelling at speed on a bicycle, fully aware of every twist and turn in the roads being hammered. the infirmity of my local road surfaces has become an occupational hazard, one that shows little sign of improving in the foreseeable future. thus, we return to a need to choose those wheels carefully, that an equanimitable balance can be agreed between the incredible lightness of being, and unimpeded forward motion. pootling about the numerous backroads and cattle-grids hereabouts provides a reasonable overview of the impressive intrinsic qualities provided by the coles, but surely the ideal would be a whole day in the saddle, trammeling such nooks and crannies in more extended and sequential fashion?
the ride of the falling rain.
though there was disturbingly little sign of sustained precipitation on the appointed day, six hours plus in the saddle of an eager colnago master provided an inspired opportunity to assess the veracity of an admittedly visually attractive pair of wheels. and though their comfort has been bettered, they have an impressive ability to roll across and through pretty much everything placed in their path. including the herd of cows that inhabits the mid-point of the carrabus road. i cannot lay claim to the same atmosphere as mark cavendish when it comes to launching myself towards an imaginary line across the road, but it didn't take every last ounce of restrained effort to bring all up to victorious speed. (it entitled me to sit on the comfy sofa).
if i am allowed to dispense with the imaginary formalities of the conscientious reviewer, these wheels were better than great. you can chuck them anywhere you like, and give as much welly as possible when the road heads upwards. my thoroughly unscientific method of measuring lateral displacement (have the brake calipers as close as possible without rubbing) bore little tangible result; the pads were left untroubled. i have bounced these across more cattle grids than most of you will see in a lifetime, taken great care to explore the inner reaches of a wide variety of sheep devouring potholes, and thrown them round sketchy downhills (where does all that gravel come from?) without managing to even make them sneeze. i have hit the brakes hard in the pouring rain while impersonating a calmac ferry, and lived to tell the tale. and i have cheerfully ridden in company with the mighty dave t during the ride of the falling rain, enjoying his unique take on life without losing all feeling from the neck down.
richard sachs might be onto something.
a pair of cole c24 lite wheels costs £274.99 and comes with a pair of q/r skewers and a padded bag for both wheels. cole wheels are exclusively distributed in the uk by evans cycles
posted monday 8 august 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................