in certain locations, wheels command a level of respect that either adds or detracts from their ultimate desire. in common parlance and deeply held belief, the finest means of upgrading any bicycle is via the wheelset. but so doing requires a knowledge often greater than that acquired by the entry-level cyclist. it was not always thus; at one time, wheels were simply built 36 spoke three-cross, subsequently dropping to 32 spoke as ubiquity took account of technology. rims offered subtle variation such as (mildly) aero profile or flat, eyeleted, double-eyeleted or devoid of eyelets altogether. radial build with bladed spokes was the preserve of the time-triallist, and not considered to be the most robust of options.
nowadays i rather pity those who have need of choosing, for much like those digital camera group tests, gathering all the available information only leads to confusion and even more indecision. the plethora of factory builds, adopting pretty much every possibility doesn't make things any simpler. but then, we've been aware of all this for some considerable time. what other unkown factor could make wheel life any worse?
well, a hebridean galeforce crosswind for a start.
the perennial and frequent existence of those has prevented me from ever considering deep-rim wheels. they are potentially faster into the teeth of a headwind, and a great boon if pushed by a powerful tailwind, but have that front wheel catch in a strong crosswind and you could be investigating the interior of a roadside ditch from closer proximity than desired. at the risk of sounding blasé, i know well of which i speak.
and given that any quality set of wheels carries with it a commensurate price-tag, owning such a set may well have them confined to their wheelbags for long and uneconomical periods of time. it would be iniquitous, however, to judge the purchase of deep-rimmed wheels purely on how scotland's west coast reacts with their profile. there will be many an area of the uk, europe and the rest of the world where an uncountenanced crosswind carries with it little by way of rider discontent. that said bearing in mind that the prudent man looketh well to his going, prior to purchasing these most stylish of wheel genres, wouldn't it be ideal to learn of their wind-cheeting propensities?
i think it would.
wheelsmith of larbert in scotland have been producing some of the most impeccable handbuilt wheelsets on the market for several years. these range from shallow, 23mm rimmed normal wheels, all the way to deep carbon-rimmed exotica, some of which your bank manager will applaud and others that will be met with a deep financial scowl.
those most recently on review perilously close to the atlantic ocean field 38mm deep aluminium rims, laced 20 spoke radially up front and 24 built two cross at the rear. this particular pair match the 21mm wide aero rims with wheelsmith's own excellent hubs, though they can be ordered with hope, dt swiss or chris king hubs at additional cost. such are the benefits of handbuilding. the spokes are black sapim cx-ray bladed, held to the rim via (black) brass nipples. the principal benefit of alloy rims is the machined alloy braking surface, meaning no need for expensive carbon-compatible pads and the concomitant faff that comes along with having to fit the darned things in the first place.
at a weight that hovers around the 1650 gram mark, they're neither excessively heavy nor light, though reasonably impressive for a deep alloy rim. according to wheelsmith's derek mclay. they'll take anything from a 23mm road tyre up to a 35mm cyclocross knobbly without so much as a dispirited grunt. though i've yet to ride them in the latter configuration, they replaced a pair of mavic ksyrium slr wheels on the colnago c40, swapping the 25mm clement lgg strada tyres in the process. it seemed the ideal, if not entirely scientific means of providing some form of context for the review. derek also contends that they truly come into their own at speeds in excess of 18mph (30kph).
though the wheels arrive from larbert replete with skewers (and rim tape), i left in place the blue anodised pair to which the colnago has been home for the last couple of years. though skewers can make an appreciable difference in some cases, the make-up of both pairs is so similar as to have reduced any unapparent idiosyncracies.
i, along with many others, find the appearance conferred upon any bicycle by deep-rimmed wheels to be particularly attractive. in every case, this style of wheel has made the colnago look effortlessly fast even when sitting still against the bike shed door, or a nearby passing place sign. the downside, as previously advised, is the occasional (or, in my case, frequent) heart-stopping moment when a strong cross-wind catches the front wheel and literally pushes the bike and rider across the road and ultimately into a ready and waiting ditch.
except, in the case of the race 38 set, this iniquitous situation actually failed to occur. i'm not enough of a fluid dynamic specialist to pinpoint exactly why this was the case, but the curve atop the spoke end of the rim and its relative shallowness appear to offer a release valve towards undue air pressure. do not for a moment misunderstand me; the wheels are not completely unaffected by gusting crosswinds (up to 75kph in my case), but pilot control was never ever under threat.
however, if all we desired from a pair of wheels was immunity from crosswinds, we'd refrain from fitting deep rims in the first place. but deeper rims offer consummate benefits when ploughing into direct headwinds or even in windless (who am i kidding?) conditions. in order to check the veracity of wheelsmith's claims that the wheels are at their finest above 30kph, i fitted my grossly under-used garmin and kept an eye on the numbers to see if any change could be detected. i'd hesitate to equate the effect to that of a turbo kicking in on a motor car, but there's no doubt a decided 'lift' is experienced at around that sort of speed.
by this, i do not mean a lightening of grip on the road, but more a sort of invisible push. take them up to a cruising speed of between 30/35kph and i defy you not to smile at the result. even into a galeforce headwind, with 30kph only a distant pipedream, they're detectably more impressive than a more standard set of wheels. couple that with excellent braking performance, it seems that wheelsmith are proffering that frequently used cliché, the near perfect package.
i'm of a mindset where a 1650 gram wheelset doesn't strike me as oppressively heavy (the similarly constituted carbon aero 38 wheelset is a mere 100g lighter), thus their climbing prowess was actually quite dignified, and i was never once in fear that a sneaky crosswind might derail me on the few quick descents available around the principality. for once, it meant that i could ride in the hebridean equivalent of gent-wevelgem and still benefit from the splendid profile enhancement that comes free with each pair.
if i have any criticism at all, it would be that the wheelsmith lettering is applied to the rim in black on a black alloy rim and thus all but invisible to both the innocent bystander and fellow members of the pelotonese. i'd far rather that those letters were writ large in either white or red so that others might learn at first hand why the colnago and its rider have yet to be pushed off their flightpath. i'd cheerfully ride these throughout the winter months up here; until now, there are no other deep rim wheels about which i could say the same.
the wheelsmith road 38 wheelset retails at a very reasonable £480 in their reviewed format. that's almost £300 less than the carbon rimmed equivalent. i'd order a pair now before derek fixes his calculator.
monday 11 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................