the room is just a tad larger than actually required, but the fact that more than one or two of the lights seem not to be working fails to reveal the unused expanse. the only windows are more or less at ceiling height, most of them reinforced opaque glass, though at that elevation, one has to wonder why. the walls amply demonstrate the concept that public halls such as this benefit from whatever paint happened to be in the cupboard at the time. not to be seen in photoshop's swatch panel, it's a strange mixture of beige and fern green.
if that's indeed possible.
against the far wall there are a couple of incongruous tables of different heights, and the rest of the wall is taken up with stacked wooden and plastic chairs. we usually number around fourteen, but tonight there's barely half that number, so our semi-circle consists of a few empty chairs. despite the fact we've all known each other for a while, we seem to have managed to leave an empty chair between each attendee as we sit facing the facilitator; part confessor, part psychologist.
every evening starts in more or less the same way, and this evening it's my turn to start. "my name is brian and i'm a wheelaholic."
however, i like think to think i'm a wheelaholic with an educated sense of discretion. i have a self-satisfying obsession with bicycle wheels, but i'm not willing to accept just any old construction as contemporary currency. the fact that a simple collection of steel spokes (preferably double or triple butted), two polished hubs and a pair of shiny box-section rims can be assembled into a round, weight-bearing and hopefully speedy pair of cycle wheels is little short of marvellous.
however, though the art of the handbuilt wheel may just possibly be experiencing a resurgence, the cutting edge is most often being explored by the factory built offering, quite possibly at the behest of self-reinforced fashion. more often than not, these wheels exist on an anorexic spoke count, the front almost certainly laced in a radial pattern. it's at this point that i am tempted to invoke my educated sense of discretion, for i have severe misgivings about the substantially reduced spoke count that comprises most of the more stylish and light weight hoops.
you can imagine my initial horror, therefore, when considering the rolf prima ares 4 carbon rimmed wheels that arrived at the croft for review. for while conventionally laced wheels alternate spokes from left to right all round the rim, rolf are famed for pairing the spokes. the theory behind this method is neutralisation of the spoke tensions, contrasting, according to rolf, the lateral forces pulling the wheel out of true in a low-spoke count, conventionally laced wheel. again, rolf maintain that spoke pairing allows them to use fewer spokes than any of their competitors.
the ares 4 wheels have fourteen paired spokes up front, and two more at the rear, the latter laced one-cross, the former radial. the carbon rim has a depth of 46mm. uk distributors 2pure are also the distributors of clement tyres, and they had thoughtfully shod the rolfs with 120tpi 700x25c clement strada lgg tyres across the 21mm carbon clincher rims. given carbon's reluctance to conduct heat, the wheels arrive with carbon specific brake pads, and in order to allow simplicity of tyre inflation, each wheel features a valve extension.
according to a tiny sticker on the deep section rim, the tdf5.5 hubs are built with ceramic bearings, the rear wheel featuring a large slotted flange on the non-drive side to even out the tension on the paired spokes. everything, including the sapim cx bladed spokes, were henry ford black. the eleven-speed compatible shimano pattern freehub arrives with a spacer allowing use of a ten speed cassette, something that will probably be used by many customers until the extra japanese sprocket infiltrates the world of the pelotonese.
colnago very kindly allowed me to retain the services of the recently reviewed ac-r bicycle on which to review the ares 4 wheels. aside from the convenience of doing so, i thought it would be just ginger peachy to find out how the bike rode with a much lighter and potentially more sprightly pair of wheels. having fitted the carbon specific brake pads and ten speed cassette, i figured my misgivings concerning such a low and unconventional spoking pattern had been justified before the bike was even removed from the workstand.
neither wheel was perfectly true. in fact, with the calipers set fairly close to the rim, both wheels rubbed on the brakes when freely rotated. not what i'd call an impressionable start even though we're only talking mere millimetres. the spoke nipples on the rolf wheels are concealed within the rims, meaning removal of tyres, tubes and rim tape to effect truing or spoke replacement. no doubt there's an appropriate tool for so doing, a tool i didn't have in my possession, so i simply backed out the caliper arms a smidgeon to let the wheels run free.
the interesting initial comparison was effectively just how much less comfort might be afforded by an undoubtedly lighter, yet stiffer pair of wheels than the stock colnago artemis which arrived with the ac-r. to this end (as if i actually had any choice) i did everything in my meagre power output to ride over the crappest roads we own, incorporating one or two cattle grids for good measure. you'd be very surprised if i claimed the same level of comfort as the stock versions, so i'll not disappoint you by doing so. however, the double-ended benefit proved that, not only do colnago have an uncanny knack of designing comfortable frames, but the rolf ares wheels didn't shake loose any dental fillings. quite the contrary in fact.
having (sort of) satisfied the comfort part of the equation - and believe me, i really showed little mercy regarding the infidelity of a whole range of road surfaces - the second concern for any prospective carbon wheel owner is surely just how well they stop? i can see little point in achieving untold acceleration and speed if it becomes necessary to run into a cow in order to stop. in the dry, there was really little cause for concern; braking was every bit as good as with conventional wheels. in the wet (and i managed to find lots of wet), provided i paid attention, stopping was quite impressive.
having ridden almost 20km along a rain-soaked road on my way to froth-supping, it seemed only prudent to try jamming on both brakes simultaneously for purely experimental reasons. despite my obviously considerable experience in such matters (who am i kidding?), i gave myself a fright when the bike stopped a lot quicker than i'd expected. it does no harm to modulate the brakes if heading downhill or when contemplating possible car/bike interface, getting rid of at least some of the water from pad and rim, but by and large, the rolfs were comfortably confidence inspiring.
acceleration had the effect of positioning me as the very chap that sir dave needs as an integral part of his classics team (i already have the necessary apparel), while their alacrity in climbing easily justified the robert millar ponytail. the colnago was delightfully chuckable in standard guise, but the rolfs enhanced that fivefold, encouraging closer proximity to anything that resembled a bend in the road. if i might borrow a word from ned boulting, they are positively stannardian.
i may have, on occasion, mentioned the wind that inhabits my hebridean domicile; it's a qualitative experience that more often than not, eats deep-rim carbon wheels for breakfast. in regular winds of up to 30kph, it was possible to experience the occasional nudge on both front and rear, but rarely anything worth getting worked up over. however, a pair of these rolf primas retail at around £2100, and had i handed over my hard-earned, i'd want to ride them at any and every opportunity. this is august, one of the island's softer months, but happily, two days of gale-force winds invaded last weekend, offering a better real-world performance test.
while their straight-line speed is impressive, even into a headwind, being clouted by 60kph crosswind gusts really did little for the constitution. in fact, due to a very scary ride down uiskentuie strand on saturday afternoon, when i was seriously looking for somewhere soft to land, on sunday i opted to ride my conventionally wheeled cielo. i would not like to repeat the experience. though the rolfs are a remarkably impressive pair of wheels, i would certainly not recommend these for hebridean life.
though the principal consideration was deep carbon and minimal paired spoking, it seems only fair to mention the sterling service provided by the clement tyres. firstly i was mightily impressed that the colnago had ideal clearance for 25mm tyres, but secondly, i was even more impressed with the tyres themselves. for rubber that retails at around half of its competition, the stradas were brilliant. though i've credited the wheels with providing much of the comfort in the face of stiffness, even at 100psi, the clements must take a portion of the kudos. it was just like riding tubs most of the time, wet or dry.
i'd be surprised if the purchaser of a colnago ac-r were happy to pay even more than the cost of the bike for a pair of rolf wheels, but should they do so, they'd transform a budget colnago into a very serious bit of kit. for anyone riding more expensive carbon, these would be a worthy addition to the armoury. the fact that these were not perfectly true, considering the substantial financial outlay, is something that really ought to be remedied, and would be well worth checking at point of purchase. however, despite showing them no mercy, they did not get any worse; i checked. but all that aside, the ares were the perfect solution to my wheelaholic tendencies.
just don't expect to ride in a straight line when the wind blows.
thursday 22nd august 2013