5 BELIEFS ABOUT CHOOSING CYCLING GEAR I’VE DROPPED

I’ve been evaluating and writing about bike gear for a few years now from my perspective as a road cycling enthusiast.

While I started with a ‘peloton’ of established beliefs shaped largely by the media and supplier ‘bosses’ of the cycling industry, I’ve begun to drop some of them in favor of several ‘breakaway’ views from fresh experience and critical analysis of today’s gear.

I may be wrong or premature about some of these views, but for your consideration I wanted to share 5 of the conventional beliefs that I think have been or will soon be spit out the back and what is taking their place in the bunch.

I’d love to know what you think of these and what beliefs you’ve long held that are changing from your own enthusiast’s experience with new gear.  Let me know in the comment section at the end of this post.

To get it started, here are 5 beliefs I used to hold and how they have or are changing.

1. WEIGHT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS WHEN CHOOSING CYCLING GEAR

Source: cyclosport.org

Source: cyclosport.org

This is a mainstream belief that you see perpetuated in nearly every product write-up, on every gear package, and in almost every discussion with a salesperson.  Weight is one of the clearest, most tangible, most marketed differences between bikes, wheelsets, components, helmets, tires, even some kits.  And as enthusiasts, we lap it up.

Yet, I’ve come to understand that unless you are a very fit and lean amateur or pro racer or plan to do mostly alpine ascents, gear weight is one of the least important buying criteria.

The truth is that light weight components almost never matter and certainly don’t matter relative to your body weight, the weight of extra stuff you carry on your bike, your level of mental and physical fitness, your strength to weight, your training program, what you eat, the amount of sleep you get, your cycling technique, your position on the bike, and many, many other factors.  I’ve detailed what matters most if you want to ride faster in posts here and here.

Let’s stay with weight for a moment, though and point out the fallacy of putting too much focus on gear weight.  Consider that a 150-160lb (68-73kg) enthusiast putting out 200-250 watts on a climb with an average 7% grade will save 2-3 seconds for each pound they shed.  So if you buy a wheel that is 300 grams less than what you ride now or can choose between when you buy something new, which is a big weight difference, you’ll save about 2 seconds per mile on that climb.  It will likely cost you $1000/£700/€1000/AU$1100 or more for that lighter wheelset, whether you are going from 1800-2000g stock wheels to a 1500-1600g all-around set or by choosing ultra-light 1200-1300g climbing wheels instead of the all-arounders.

A 4lb/1.8kg lighter bike, like some of the new ones that are on the lightweight bike bleeding edge, will save you 8-12 seconds/mile or 5-7.5 seconds/kg.  It will cost you thousands of $, £, €, AU$, CA$ or (fill in the currency of your choice) for this lighter weight steed.

Drop 5lbs/2.3kg from your midsection? 10-15 seconds/mile. 10 or 15lbs?  You do the math.  How about bringing one less water bottle (700g)?  Put less stuff in your back pockets or in your saddle bag?  Easily as much as you save on a set of lighter wheels.  With any of these, you save more time going up than you do with a lighter bike, wheelset or groupset, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.

But body weight isn’t the same as the rotating weight in your wheel rims, you say, so it doesn’t matter as much!  Well, rotating weight matters only when you are accelerating.  I don’t know about you but I don’t accelerate a whole lot going uphill.  Believe me, drop those 5-10 extra pounds or 2-5 extra kilos you’ve been carrying and you’ll feel like you are flying uphill like the mythical winged horse Pegasus.

And most of us don’t ride 7% average grades that often.  Sure we might hit a short 5% hill during regular rides, do one or two steeper passes on a century ride or do a bunch of them if we head into the mountains.  But I’ll bet that 95% of the time (maybe more) we ride the flats and 2-4% rollers.

In addition to weight affecting your performance up steep pitches, weight also matters when accelerating on flats and rollers.  But again, unless you are doing criteriums or road racing where you are frequently attacking or accelerating, you don’t really accelerate hard or fast that often as a road cycling enthusiast.  Solo training or group riding with your friends doesn’t demand many if any competitive accelerations.

Aerodynamics actually matters as much or more than weight during acceleration.  Indeed on the flats, rollers, downhills and any time you are averaging at least 18 mph or 29 kph, gear weight differences don’t matter at all and better aerodynamics matters all the time.  So does the rolling resistance of your tires and your body position and a bunch of other things.  But that’s another set of beliefs that I won’t get into here.

Is it worth obsessing over or paying hundreds, maybe a thousand more for a 50 to 100g weight difference between different wheelsets, groupsets or other pieces of gear?  I don’t think so.  There are so many other, more important considerations in making your gear decisions.  I came up with and use a set of selection criteria for wheelsets here and groupsets here that will help you make good decisions instead of using weight as your primary criterion when you are looking to buy a new piece of gear.

2. YOU’LL GET BLOWN AROUND ON DEEPER RIMS IN CROSSWINDS

dropped cross wind

For a long time, the belief and the reality was that the deeper your wheels, the more unstable you were in the crosswinds.  That was one of the things that put a lot of enthusiasts off even considering wheels deeper than your basic shallow, alloy hoops.

With many of the better rim shapes now, mostly the blunt nosed toroid ones, the old belief about crosswinds is being… thrown to the wind.  I’ve ridden some 50mm+ deep carbon wheels lately where I feel almost no effects in crosswinds, and I’m a light (150lb/68kg) rider.

Generally speaking, the rounded modern rim shapes in the latest generation of wheels are much better at managing crosswinds than the older V-sections or box section rim designs.  Riding the better toroid shaped rim wheels has changed things to the point where if you frequently ride in crosswinds, you should no longer be scared away from getting the aero benefits of deeper wheels.

3. YOU CAN’T BRAKE SAFELY WITH CARBON CLINCHERS GOING DOWNHILL OR IN THE RAIN

downhill popsugar.com

Source: popsugar.com

We’ve probably been through 3 or 4 generations of carbon clincher designs since they first came to the market.  Some of the problems with earlier generation clinchers were highly publicized and became so deeply seared into people’s brains that they may never be erased.

Today, looking afresh at this belief about the inferiority of carbon brake tracks, I’d say… not so much anymore.

I’ve been riding different clincher wheelsets with carbon brake tracks and the best ones and many in the second tier are every bit the equal of alloy braking performance in dry weather on flats and rollers.

Going down steeper hills, unless you are engaging or ‘dragging’ your brakes for very long periods of time, you don’t need to worry about your wheels overheating or warping and causing you a blow-out. I’ve done some serious alpine riding this past year on a newly introduced carbon wheelset from one company, on another from a second company that came out last year, and on a third that came out a couple of years ago.  I have had no issues with any of them.  I’ve also ridden them up and down my ‘hill repeat’ training course that averages 8% for a mile without incident.  I’d regularly touch the brake tracks after arriving at the bottom of each repeat and didn’t feel any overheating and they remained true after these rides.  I, on the other hand, was an exhausted, deformed lump on the couch after returning home from the repeats.

In the rain, carbon wheels still don’t brake as well as alloy ones do, but they are getting better here too.  If I rode a lot in the rain, as unfortunately some commuters do, I’d stay with alloy wheels.  But I try to schedule my rides around the rain, and if I get caught out in the rain, I ride differently than I would on dry roads regardless of whether I’m on wheels with carbon or alloy brake tracks.

A combination of higher temperature resins, improved brake track treatments and better pads has made many wheelsets with carbon brake tracks far superior to their predecessors to the point where I’m plenty confident riding on all-carbon wheels in most any situation.

At the same time, my experience, and I’d expect that of other enthusiasts riding all-carbon wheels, has caused me to change my technique so that I now ride these wheels more safely downhill and in the rain without worrying about damaging the wheels or myself.  I don’t brake on carbon wheels the same way I do on alloy brake tracks anymore.

In addition to not dragging the brakes on carbon wheels when I’m riding downhill, I alternate braking the front and back wheels.  In the rain, I know to give myself a little more time and to brake a little harder when I first get on them, to essentially squeegee the water off the brake tracks for a few rotations.

The experience and technique of braking on carbon and alloy tracks isn’t the same but the braking performance difference is much less than it used to be.  For me, and for most enthusiasts, the benefits carbon wheels bring over alloys in other performance areas (including stiffness, comfort and aerodynamics) far outweigh the smaller, narrowing and manageable differences in braking performance.

4. YOU NEED A HIGH-END POWER METER TO TRAIN WITH POWER THE RIGHT WAY

Pioneer Power Meter cyclingtips

Source: cyclingtips.com.au

Despite the urging of the more-data-is-better crowd, it appears that most cyclists buying power meters want simple and less expensive solutions that do most if not all of what you truly need.  Enthusiasts don’t want to spend more than $1000 on a power meter and don’t feel we need left and right leg power measurements.

As someone who has used power meters for years, I don’t see the value in high-end, independently left and right leg measuring power meters and all the unusable metrics that come with that capability to get the training benefit I or most enthusiast-level riders need in our training.

Even the so-called experts don’t know whether you should be balanced and how you should train differently if you are imbalanced or have certain pedal smoothness or pedal efficiency levels derived from independent L/R measuring power meters.  These and others measures are in vogue now and only available with current leading or bleeding edge of power meter technology that is expensive and often requires proprietary head units.

I’ve written previously (here) that Stages was the real break-away rider in the power meter race when they introduced a sub $1000/£1,000/€1000, easy to install and transfer, left only crank power meter three years ago.  The Stages provides accuracy and consistency levels within a half percent of the most expensive PMs and translates that through Garmin head units to provide the range of measures that are more than good enough for nearly all but some top flight amateur and professional racers whose coaches want something more for a specific training purpose.

The established ‘pros’ like SRM, Quarq and power2max have been slow to follow Stages with anything more than profit-crushing price drops on their current power meters and new ones that are largely derivative designs.

Companies like Powertap, Rotor, Pioneer, Garmin looking for a ‘new contract’ with enthusiasts because their recent performance hasn’t won them many races have begun to try some new designs for them (Powertap) or at least follow the lower cost, left-leg-is-plenty-good-enough strategy of Stages.

New players in the power meter game including 4iiii and Favero and others have proven or announced products that are trying to outdo Stages with new approaches that disrupt the power meter cost, technology or business model, the way Stages did to the old guard just a few years ago.  They are successfully driving down prices further while maintaining good-enough performance.

It’s unclear whether these new players will become the new GC leaders or classics specialists or domestiques but it sure looks to me that the belief that you need an SRM or SRM-aspiring power meter to train well has joined the gruppetto.

O.K.  I’m done with that metaphor.  You probably are too.

5. HAND-BUILT WHEELS ARE GOOD AND FACTORY WHEELS ARE BAD

dropped hand built sugar wheel works

Source: sugarwheelworks.com

This is one belief that never really took hold in me but so many experienced riders and wheel builders passionately write about in forums that I thought it was something worth looking into.

As I researched it further, I realized ‘hand-built’ versus ‘factory-built’ is a false dichotomy.  Many (most?) of the wheels made today that come out of a factory and have carbon rims or sell for more than about $1000 (and quite few that sell for less than that) are indeed built by hand.

Further, the so-called independent or small shop ‘wheel-builders’ aren’t really building much at all.  They are assembling standard rims, hubs and spokes designed and made by others.  No doubt it’s a skill, perhaps a craft but these shops are no more skilled than those assembling wheels by hand in factories.  This is the way all wheels used to be built before Mavic got the idea to design, make and assemble all the components of a wheelset as an integrated system.  Individual wheel builders and small shops that build to order are continuing the wheel building practice that was long in place before Mavic changed the game and nearly everyone else followed.

Today’s larger wheel ‘factories’ are usually companies that not only assemble but also design wheels, manufacture rims, and build hub shells or entire hubs all in the same company, something that so-called ‘hand-built’ shops don’t do. Medium and smaller wheelset companies do all their own design work and do for themselves or contract to factories some combination of rim building and wheelset assemble often using hubs and spokes sourced from companies that specialize in those components.

I’ve come to believe that a better distinction than hand-built and factory-built is ‘custom-built’ and ‘standard-built’.

Custom-built wheels are made to your custom order and specification from rims, hubs and spokes designed and made by others.  This is the only way to get something built to support your extra weight or the specific kinds of riding you want to do or the unique combination of components you want or if you just want something no one else has.  But, the rims, hubs and spokes that go into these wheels are no better than those that come out of factories because, in almost all cases, they also come out of factories.

Standard-built wheels are made by hand or machine to a repeatable standard.  The standard specifies the design and components, how those components are to be assembled, what tolerances are acceptable, what performance levels they should be tested to and consistently meet, etc.  And they are made in volume lots, usually ahead of customer orders.

Some of the bigger custom-built shops have established wheelset component combinations that they assemble and market repeatedly.  They may have input into or specify rim or hub designs they want to order in quantity and keep in their inventory.  They may then recommend to you and build to your order a combination they’ve built before for others with similar preferences or requirements from components they specified and hold in that inventory.

This is sounding more like a wheel they are assembling to a standard but that they are waiting for an order to build.  Some custom-built shops even assemble a good amount of the same wheels ahead of time and promote them on their web sites.

Does all of this make a difference?  Is one better than the other?

I don’t think so or at least could make arguments for and against each.  We can disagree till the cows come home about whether custom-built or standard-built wheels are more or less expensive, perform better or worse, are more durable or not, etc. but I think it would be more like evaluating and reviewing any two wheels, regardless of where they were assembled.

You can compare the performance of one standard-built wheel model to another along cost, performance, design and quality criteria because of the volume of wheels produced for a given model and the consistency in their production.  Unfortunately, since custom-built wheels are made by so many different shops, to different standards, with different component combinations and in such low volumes, you can’t practically compare custom-built wheels to each other or to standard-built models. Or, at least, I don’t know how to do that and I don’t in my comparative wheelset reviews (here).

What has become clear to me though is that hand-built vs. factory-built is not a useful way to look at wheels and the arguments between them are a waste of time. I can’t even argue that hand-built wheels, assembled to a customer order or to a standard would likely be better than wheels made from the same components but assembled by a machine.

Wheels assembled by a machine are usually made from lower cost, generations old designs (e.g. box section alloy rims) for the stock wheel or low-priced alloy wheel market.  But many custom-built wheels are also assembled from low-cost components and generations old designs.  Component and design choices will drive performance more than assembly method from experienced assemblers whether the wheelset is a custom- or standard-built one.

    *     *    *    *    *

So those are how my beliefs have changed since I’ve broken free from the biases of the cycling opinion setters and learned through my own enthusiast’s experience.  How about you?  I’d love to hear your take on the beliefs I’ve shared above and how your personal experience with some of the new gear has shaped or reshaped your own beliefs.

Thanks for reading In The Know Cycling.  There’s more you can read about the site and how you can support it if you click those links.  You can also check out the home page for in-depth reviews on entire categories of cycling gear.

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30 comments

  • Hi, your point #3 is very interesting, on the improvements of the braking on the carbon clinchers. You vaguely mentioned you used 3 carbon clinchers with I’m assuming different brake pads? Why didn’t mentioned the name of the carbon clinchers that you used, with the combination of the pads? I recently read an article, I think from Boyd, that different carbon clinchers from different manufacturers react differently to different brake pads; as in brake pad ‘A’ is more effective to certain brands, brake pad ‘B’ to some others, etc. That is why using the recommended brake pads by the wheel manufacturer is important. Can you tell us readers which combination you had just for references?

    I think you should not underestimate the Chinese/Taiwanese carbon stuff as well (that would make a good review!). Several riders in my club (myself included) have a set of these wheels and we have no problems with them so far and they cost much less than their branded counterpart.

    Amazing website by the way Steve! Thanks for all the articles here, they are all very detailed and informative!

    • AVS, Thanks for writing and for your positive feedback. I always use the brake pads supplied with the wheels as, I assume, that’s what the manufacturer thinks works best with their wheels. The wheels I refered to were the ENVE SES 4.5, Reynolds Assault SLG and Vision Metron 40. I only mentioned them vaguely, as you say, since I think the improvements are broader than three wheelsets would suggest; these are good ones for sure but representative. I’d like to try the wheels you mention but have not been offered the opportunity. If and when… Best, Steve

  • Loved this post. Thanks. I only started cycling this year, and I love it. Your post is helping me get over the “tech and carbon” lust that occasionally affects me. I definitely think I could lose weight for a lot less than it would take to make my bike lighter.

  • Great piece Steve that has prompted me to rethink a few areas I’d been mulling over already (ie): The kit I carry on the bike…do I ‘really’ need it ‘all?’

    For example: Heavy multi tool; (I’ve never really had to use it). two full water bottles (I do distance work but I guess I could always top up a water bottle at a friendly cafe/pub.
    Puncture repair kit needed? Well I carry two spare tubes anyway.(so do I need it I ask).
    I did get a CO2 inflator thing for tyres (& I’d say, great piece of kit, will pump up two TYRES I reckon on one cannister & it’s small (tip for today!).
    But I keep a backup cannister as well on the bike! (Mmmmm…maybe that could go?).
    And…I’ve been thinking if popping the kit from my saddle bag into an adapted water bottle to sit in the front cage. (Apparently more aerodynamic there too! Whooohooo!)
    So I’m already thinking of ways to dump uneccessary ballast off my bike rather than get lighter wheels..etc

    It is hard changing the mentality of…”But one day I might need it..!”

    Any advice on making hill climbs slicker by dumping in needed kit is welcome!!

  • Curious whether fellow enthusiasts can observe or feel frame flex. I know there are tests out there that measure tension, etc…and the buzz besides being light is that it’s stiff and of course somehow naturally it’s compliant whatever that means. But assuming the audience here are not professional sprinters but amateur enthusiasts, have you been able to tell when you can flex a frame?

  • Weight is important but your right at what cost. I’m about to upgrade to a new 17+ pound carbon bike after 10 years on my very nice 22 pound 9 speed steel bike. Weight was a key point on the type of bike but I didn’t go with this bike because of the weight. However, if next year I decide to drop a few large on a 15 or 16 pound ride I’m just fooling myself. On all my cycling gear I go with what feels and rides great and of course looks.

    • Hi Steve. I love your reviews and agree with most of you points but I do continue to find that wheel rim weight makes a big difference in my enjoyment and my perceived ability to ride fast and respond to changes in speed and pitch of a climb. Also I own a ZIpp 404 Firecrest Carbon Clincher wheel set and generally I find them very stable on windy days, except on downhills where I am in the 35-45 mph range. Then they become scary. When I know I am going to be riding fast downhills on a windy day I now switch wheel sets to my Bontrager RXL wheel set which are very stable in all wind conditions.

    • I have an 18lb carbon bike and a 21lb steel bike. Both bikes have their virtues, but the ride quality of the steel bike (1990 Merckx GP) is better. A few seconds here or there on a club ride is no big deal when what I really want is to be comfortable for 3-4 hours and have a great time. Plus, I get way more comments on the Merckx. 🙂

  • Steve, have you changed your feelings regarding disc brakes and electronic shifting as being the definite direction to go as current componentry needs replacing? I know you have been speaking positively for them.
    Ron

  • Being an older guy, I’ve always taken a lot of this advice with pinches of salt. I live in a hilly district with loads of steep hills, but use an 8 year old bike. I manage to more than keep keep up with the younger folk (20-40 years difference?) on our club runs, if I’m slower sometimes uphill I’m a fast descender so catch up. And don’t get me started on nutrition, fluid intake or clothing!!! But I’m no way a top athlete, just an average enthusiast. There’s a penchant for following fashion in cycling but as I’ve never been fashionable maybe this attitude is an extension. But on the enjoyment stakes I’m way high!

  • Hi Steve,

    Love your page, it’s my go to for legit advice re buying. Keep pumping out the shorter blog posts when you can as I know the full reviews must be extremely time consuming.

    I’m buying a set of wheels for my frame (not even upgrading) and was wondering if you had a recommendation on a sub $800usd 35-50mm alloy clincher. I’m thinking of going with the pro lite 42mm as you’ve taught me that a few 100grams doesn’t matter too much!

    Keep up the great work! Pat

    • Pat,

      Thanks for the feedback and encouragement. I don’t have any riding experience with the Pro Lites but the 35-50mm alloy clincher as a class is generally going to me well more than 100 grams above that of a similar depth carbon or even carbon alloy. I believe the pro-lite 42 is 1850g or so claimed weight. As comparison, the carbon Assault SLG at 41mm depth is 1550g measured. The other difference is that you can’t get the rim shape you want much beyond 35mm deep and if you are going 40-50mm deep you really want blunt nose/toroid to get aero benefit. Finally, most of the less expensive alloy wheels are narrow. I believe the pro-lite is a 13c so its probably no more than 20mm wide.

      If you want to go with deep wheels, you could go with the carbon-alloy rims but the better ones will be beyond your budget. There are a couple at the high end of it in the 50mm depth if you take a look here that are still 100g to 150g lighter (and deeper) than the PLs

      If you are willing to go shallower, take a look at my post on the best <$1000 wheelsets here. The Shimano C35s are deepest ones I suggest (an alloy with a carbon wrap rather than a fairing or extension) and you can get the RS81 version (35mm deep, claimed 1629g – measured closer to 1700g) well within your budget here, here or here. They have Utregra hubs which are probably on par with the PLs but are not to the level of the DA hubs on the Dura Ace C35s, which is my pick for the best carbon-alloy all around but about $400 outside your budget (here).

      Cheers,
      Steve

  • Thanks for the article. i enjoyed reading. A point of note regarding acceleration going uphill. When climbing you are actually accelerating all the time against the force of gravity. This is most readily evidenced by the fact that you will roll back down the hill without exerting more force to counteract gravity. Thus weight is most important going up hills because you’re in a state of continuous acceleration. When you think about it, the “king of the Mountains” is almost always a small cyclist too.

    Small point, but I have enjoyed looking around your site. Thanks!

    • Mark, Thanks for your feedback on the article and site. I do agree with you that your overall weight is important going uphill because you are working against the force of gravity. One of the points I was trying to make was that its probably easier and certainly cheaper to reduce your body weight than the weight of your bike, components or wheels.

      The well known equation force = mass x acceleration dictates that the less mass you have, the less force you’ll need to put out to work against gravity. Acceleration, however is the rate of change in velocity (or speed, if you aren’t changing direction). By the same equation, acceleration = force/mass. Once your mass (or weight) is set, you are only accelerating (or decelerating) going up a hill when the pitch changes and you don’t change the amount of force you are putting out or you put out more force on the same pitch. Typically, when the pitch changes, you do change the amount of force you put out to either maintain your speed when it gets steeper or conserve some energy when the pitch eases off. To the extent you dont’ or can’t fully maintain your speed you will accelerate or decelerate. Granted, changes in pitch happen during a climb though these are gradual and you are probably doing your best to maintain your speed by changing your force in small amounts. Otherwise, significant acceleration only happens when you want to attack on a hill. Steve

  • Considering the C35 or the Reynolds Assault SLG – about the same price. Out of interest which one would you go for? I ride mainly in the UK (surrey/kent hills) with the odd trip to the Alps / Dolomites (twice a year). Would the assaults work out there?

    • Tom, If you are comfortable using or learning the carbon wheel braking techniques I describe in this post, the Assaults should be fine in the Alps and you should be able to ride them safely in the rain at home. Steve

      • I rode planet x carbon tubulars on the maratona and etape this year and found the breaking a little suspect. Manageable but not toally confidence inspiring. I am coming down to 3 carbon wheelsets which would be used for all year round riding 1 – Assaults (£900) 2 – Cosmic Carbone 40 (£1150) 3 – Zipp 303 (£1400).

        I am guessing from reading your posts that in that scenario you would go for the Zipps?

  • Excellent article Steve. Companies marketing machines keep fooling their own customers. Take a look at Specialized marketing of their aero Venge, they keep telling us is the fastest non TT bike on the planet but Peter Sagan rode a Tarmac in the championships in a mostly flat course and not the Venge; very telling.

  • Hi Steve,

    I’m 54, got back into bicycle this year after selling my sport bike! Totally agree on loosing the weight around the waist. I have seen people spending thousand and thousands of dollars to put carbon fiber part on their bike to save lees than a pound. Loosing 10 on my body was good on track days and even better for me and it was free!

    Just discovered your site this weekend and already in my fav’s!

    Keep it coming

    Luc

  • Steve: Your point #3 above about full carbon reliability is a bit at cross currents with your post on “Best Climbing/Descending” wheels where you recommend Shimano Dura Ace C35s, as against your “Best All Around ” support for Zipp 303s. I live in coastal NJ but do fair bit of VT mountain riding where long, multi-mile descents are not uncommon. On the other hand, one brakes judiciously, aluminum or carbon. I’ve only got enough bling for one set of upgrades. I’m inclining to the safer course of all around durability and reliability in the hybrid Shimano, but would spring for the Zipps if I thought the mountain portion of my bike life would hold up. Any further wisdom is appreciated, and thanks for your work. I’m 170 lbs, age 61 and ride about 3,500/4,000 miles a year. Wilson

    • Wilson, You are right (and are reading my posts closely). I have eased up a bit in my view since writing the climbing and descending post in part because of the experience I’ve gained riding carbon clinchers in the mountains and after riding more of the newer generation carbon wheels. I’ve also gotten a better understanding of the level of sophistication some who read the site have about the gear and wheelsets they ride.

      Bottom line, if you know what you are doing, you should be fine in most mountain situations with the best carbon clinchers including the Zipp 303s. Vermont mountains, for the most part, can have steep descents but aren’t very turny or have a lot of car traffic so you can fly downhill for long periods without the need to brake and keep your rims cool. Same goes for the Rocky mountains.

      But, in parts of the tourist rich European mountains like the Alps that are basically a series of switchbacks and during the summer there and perhaps in the US during peak leaf peeping season, the roads can get filled with lots of cars and lots of less experienced riders feeling the need to ride their brakes. If you do primarily this kind of riding and don’t have the confidence or experience to avoid dragging your brakes and are thinking of getting one of the less expensive/less advanced carbon clinchers, dont! Go instead for the alloy brake track wheels.

      Steve

  • Hi Steve, re point 5 I have unashamedly moved from factory wheels to hand built. Nothing to do with performance and all to do with rebuild. My Mavic Equipe hit a broken road joint hard on an evening ride so in the darkness I saw nothing before it happened and whilst I had it re-trued a bit I’m locked into the proprietary spokes if it I want it sorted more, my Dura Ace WH7850 were brilliant but the bike shop failed to tell me the rims were so thin they would be scrap quickly, the price of rebuild locks me into replacement rims at a crazy price and I now have two beautiful paperweights as the fabulous hubs are 16H/20H and no sensible wheelbuilder wants to work with the low spoke counts, I have other examples. In contrast my 20 year old Mavic CXP30 have been rebuilt twice and still ride strong with plenty of rim thickness, my Campag Record hubs built with Mavic Open Pro can have spokes or rims replaced easily, my Ultegra hubs built with Archetype rims can be rebuilt easily too etc. For me this was an expensive lesson across my 25 years of cycling and I didn’t see this point brought out in your article. Apologies if you did or if someone already made the point and I missed it.

  • Last Christmas Eve our bikes were stolen in San Diego while on a visit.
    I took your advice to heart about weight saving and shed 10 lbs by April 1st. Still did not have a replacement so I rode my clunker (26lbs?) up Hurricane Ridge, 18 miles, 5000 ft gain. BIG difference from the previous Fall. Got a new bike and took lots of time off the climb.
    As an aside, chammois butter sounded yucky so I tried anti perspirant (sp) instead. 1000 miles of this and at worst only minor issues.

    • Chuck, Sorry to hear about your bikes but glad to see the the weigh loss helped. I don’t use chamois butter either. A good clean chamois does the trick for me. Steve

  • On weight and gear: Before I got a roadbike I used to enjoy going on lots of long road rides on my mtb after changing to slick tyres. After awhile I Got quite fit and decided to enter a few road sportives. Anyway we have a local ~100km /2000m race which I’ve done now 5 times on the mtb and over that number on my roadbike. My fastest ever time was on my 9.5kg 26″ rigid mtb with slicks. I’ve got within a few seconds of it on my 8.1kg(all up) roadbike, but have never beaten it. Riding my mtb I could hide better in the bunch as no one expected me to ride on the front into the wind on the 40km flat section(tactical suicide on an un-aero machine anyway). While on my roadbike I always would do my turn on the front using up more energy.
    It became obvious that in a bunch situation I was benefiting from all the people riding their expensive bikes and deep dish wheels When we got to the many hills the aero benefit was negligible and it was all about power to weight and I’m relatively light. My roadbike of course is quite a lot faster in a TT situation. On a 20km hilly tester route my roadbike time is 4mins faster than my PR riding my mtb at peak fitness. Yes I’m still annoyed I haven’t beaten my mtb time! And I really thought getting a roadbike would make me a good 10minutes faster. I’m still waiting… 😀

  • Steve, your website is such a great read, thanks so much. One part of Cycling Gear that I just can’t agree with is the wearing of a cap. I’ve always found them uncomfortable to wear under a helmet, and they make me overheat in the sun.

  • Al’ o – “tactical suicide on an un-aero machine anyway” What? You were riding a sportive, why do you need tactics? It’s not a race…. 😉

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