KNOW’S NOTES – DESIGN DOESN’T MEAN PERFORMANCE, SHOP’S A POPPIN’, POD HELP ME
It’s been a busy spring here at In The Know Cycling testing wheelsets, sunglasses, jerseys and bibs, a 12-speed groupset, and other assorted cycling gear and kit. As I look across all of this and what’s been happening on the site, I wanted to use this latest installment of Know’s Notes to share perspective on wheelset design vs. performance, an update where the deals are, a request for help, an invitation to speak your mind, and a preview of what’s reviews I’m working on.
And of course, I’d like to wish Happy Mother’s Day to all of you roadie moms and all of the mothers in my life, none of whom are roadies…but I still love you.
DESIGN DOESN’T MEAN PERFORMANCE
My fellow testers and I are always evaluating different wheelsets to find the best performers in one category or another. I posted a comprehensive review of The Best Aero Bike Wheels at the end of April which compared 7 of the fastest and best performing 55-65mm deep wheelsets for fast training, group riding, road racing, and time trialing.
In March, I published The Best Carbon Wheelset For The Money – Part 1 that shared with you my detailed and hopefully fair-minded analysis of the companies making all-around “value carbon wheelsets”, those selling for USD$1000 to $1500. This first part covered the engineering, production, sales and service skills and approaches behind nearly 20 companies in four categories offering these lower priced wheelsets.
Reflecting on these two reviews and the performance evaluations we’re doing now on about 10 of the value carbon wheelsets for Part 2, I’m finding more and modern examples of why cycling enthusiasts like you and me shouldn’t expect an often hyped design characteristic to translate directly to a certain performance level on the road.
Here are four examples of what I’m seeing in our recent testing on fast, expensive aero wheels to value-priced all-around ones.
Wider doesn’t mean more comfortable – My fellow testers and I have ridden wheels with internal widths of 17mm, 19mm, and 21mm in the last few months. The conventional thinking is that the wheelset with the 21mm or 21C rim would automatically be more comfortable than the 19C which in turn would be more comfortable than the 17C, controlling for tire brand, size, and pressure.
That’s not what the performance testing is showing. Some 19C wheels are more comfortable than 21C ones and some of the same widths have very different levels of comfort.
Why? I’m not a wheel designer or manufacturer but it’s safe to say there is more than rim width that goes into the wheel comfort, more technically known as compliance or vertical stiffness. Things like the carbon layup, resin choice, rim manufacturing process, hub flange diameter, hub flange distance, number of spokes, spoke angles, spoke tension, and how those and perhaps other things are mixed together can make wheels of any width more or less comfortable.
Lighter doesn’t mean better acceleration and climbing – This is a common misconception that was reinforced for me during a recent A-B test I did of two wheelsets. One weighs 1460g while another weighs just over 1800g. They are both 50mm deep and their internal rim width is within 0.5 mm of each other.
From the years of reinforcement that lighter wheels will out-accelerate and out-climb heavier ones, you would think that the 1460g wheelset lightweight would absolutely dust the 1800g+ anchor of a wheelset.
Didn’t happen. They performed about the same.
One thing I noticed and one I suspect.
In the case of these two wheelsets, I clearly noticed that the lighter one is like riding a pair of noodles while the heavier one is like riding on rails. The power I put into my pedals that runs through my drive train doesn’t transfer through the less stiff, lighter wheelset and onto the road nearly as efficiently as it does on the stiffer, heavier one. Stiffness plays more of a role than weight between these two wheelsets
I suspect that the aero performance of the two wheelsets is also different. While being the same depth, the profiles are distinctly dissimilar. Research has clearly shown that aero performance means a lot more than weight in acceleration, even from a full stop. I’m also confident that the heavier wheelset has a lot more research, design, and testing behind the aero design of the rim than the lighter one.
Neither of these is quick to accelerate or one I’d pick for climbing. But, you shouldn’t just go with a lighter wheelset and expect that it’s going to be quicker and a better climber than a heavier one without knowing about how relatively stiff and aero they are.
Deeper doesn’t mean faster – Because of their aero differences, a 50mm deep wheelset isn’t always going to be faster than, say a 40mm deep one, that has a different rim profile, spokes, and nipples. A ton of work goes into testing different rim profiles based on different assumptions on what angles the wind is coming from, what percentage of the time it comes from each angle, how fast the rider is going, etc.
The amount of friction in your hubs can also affect your speed. Having a mounted and inflated tire that is sufficiently narrower than the rim to allow the air to pass from one to the other without breaking free can also affect the drag from your wheels and the speed your ride.
Here again, our recent, non-scientific testing of the best aero wheels and value carbon wheels doesn’t show a great correlation between depth and speed. Some just feel faster while others feel slower independent of their depth. If there was a clear correlation between deeper wheels and faster speed, I would think we would consistently notice that when we are riding wheels that are within 10mm – 15mm of each other’s depth. We don’t.
Unfortunately, you can’t really depend on the aero claims of wheel makers. Those claims are all over the map and recall what Benjamin Disraeli is believed to have said about statistics: there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
You can make almost any wheelset’s aero performance look good depending on what kind of testing you choose to do and what performance results within those tests you choose to highlight. That doesn’t mean they are faster.
Shallower doesn’t mean less affected by crosswinds – This is much the same story as deeper doesn’t mean faster. One of the good things about testing wheels in the spring and fall is that, at least where I and my fellow testers live, we get a lot of windy days. And, it’s pretty clear that some wheels are better than others and their depth doesn’t dictate these differences.
Yes, a 30mm deep wheelset will almost always be less affected by crosswinds than most 50mm wheelsets. But we’ve ridden 50mm wheelsets that are hardly affected by 15 mph crosswinds and some 35-40mm ones that I don’t want to take out in 10 mph breezes.
These are not “exceptions that prove the rule” situations. While wider, lighter, deeper, etc. will perform better than narrower, heavier, shallower, etc., all else being equal, all else is never equal. There are too many other factors involved for us to be lazy and go with these simple and sometimes overhyped design cues that marketers use to suggest road performance.
Bottom line, choose your wheels based on how they perform and not on their design specs.
SHOP’S A POPPIN’
It’s been about 6 weeks now since I launched Know’s Shop on the site. It’s the one place you can go on the web to compare prices and buy whatever gear, kit, bikes, components, supplies, etc. you are interested in from more than a dozen stores I recommend because they have among the lowest prices, highest customer satisfaction ratings, and widest roadie gear selection of the nearly 100 online stores I track.
The Know’s Shop pages are becoming some of the most visited places on this site (thank you!) and the search tool at the top of the sidebar on every page of the site is an easy way to start your search (thanks designers!). When you click a link from the Shop and buy anything from one of the stores those links take you to, you not only get a great deal from a trusted store, you also help support this site and keep us free of ads and bias.
If you are a deal shopper, you can see a list of them at the bottom of each page of Know’s Shop in the Deals and Discounts box. These are all 10-20% off deals that are category- or store-wide and that need a code. Some of these are exclusive to you as In The Know Cycling readers. All of them are good deals on a wide range of products.
Built into the prices that come up when you do a search at Know’s Shop are the 10% to 50% off sales for a specific product, brand or narrow range of products that don’t require a code. The Shop updates all the products from all the stores every day so you don’t have to search across different store sites to find the best deal. You can compare the prices and sales from different stores all in one place by searching for it at Know’s Shop.
So check out the shop, check out the prices on the gear you are looking for, check out the reader exclusive and open-to-the-public deals that require codes, make your life easier and show your support of In The Know Cycling all in one place at Know’s Shop.
It’s all part of my mission to help roadies decide what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.
POD HELP ME!
I’ve been doing some long road trips on family business these last few months and been looking for something beyond music and news to keep me going. Podcasts seem to be all the rage now but I’ve yet to find many great ones on cycling despite doing a lot of sampling.
What I often is the echo chamber of industry news and product announcements (regurgitated marketing talking points about this or that “great” new gear without any critical analysis), pro race previews and recaps (kind of like sports talk radio for cyclists), training programs (very detailed coaching tips. I do like the one from FasCat Coaching), or cycling culture (not my cup of tea, or at least I haven’t found one that talks about roadie culture yet. Are we so boring that no one is doing a podcast about how great it is to be a roadie?)
I have listened to a bunch of episodes from the Marginal Gains podcast that is put out by Silca. It usually tackles and simplifies nerdy, technical topics about bikes, wheelsets, tires, and components. Silca owner and former Zipp chief engineer Josh Poertner does the explaining while a couple of contributors tee up the questions to him in a way that sounds a bit overproduced and unnaturally scripted. If you can get by the too long Silca product promotions at the beginning of each episode and the smartest-guy-in-the-industry persona that Josh brings, you can learn a lot that could advance your road cycling and racing.
Can you help me find some others? I’ve got a weekly date with my lawnmower and yard work now and would love to listen to and learn from a couple of hours of interesting cycling talk to overwhelm the mower engine. Please share your suggestions with me on cycling podcasts you enjoy listening to in the comments section below.
ALL CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK IS WELCOME
I welcome any constructive feedback and opinion that isn’t trolling or snarky. Jack had a long comment you can read below or respond to here at the end of the first part of my recent review of value carbon wheels.
IN THE QUEUE
We’re about halfway through our performance evaluations of value carbon wheels. I’m leaning toward posting a review in the next few weeks of those wheelsets we’ve finished riding and then coming back later in the summer with the rest. If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments below.
Nate, Miles, and I have kicked off evaluations of what will probably be about a dozen cycling sunglasses. Thanks to Competitive Cyclist for sending the first group of these shown above to get us started.
I’m trying to hit this from a few angles. Dedicated cycling sunglasses, others that you can both ride with and also wear around town without looking like a geek, ones that you can add prescription lenses to, high-performance ones, lower-cost ones, etc.
What I can tell you so far is that they are almost all better than the ones I’ve been wearing for the last 5 years. How did I let that happen?
In the next month or so, you’ll also see a review of the SRAM RED AXS 12 speed groupset that we’ve been riding for a few months, my take on the Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tires, some new jerseys and bibs good for the spring and summer riding, and a few other additions to category-wide, comparative reviews previously posted.
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That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and supporting the site. To keep in touch with what I’m posting and your fellow roadies are commenting on, use the popup form to get an email when new posts come out and the icons at the top to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. There’s also an icon you can click to get posts sent to your RSS reader.
Thanks and enjoy your riding safely.
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