Thursday, June 14, 2007

Equipment - Are Deep Carbon Rims Worth The Money?

I asked a good friend of mine the same question when the Zipps first became readily available - probably 12 or 13 years ago. He looked at me and asked "Will you make back the $1000 you're spending on the wheels if you buy them?"

Well, no.

But I also don't make back almost any of the money I spent on my frame, bars, seat, cranks, levers, tires, heck, even my entry fees.

So are deep carbon wheels worth it?

Back at that time I did a lot of "tests" with equipment. I say "tests" in quotes since I didn't have a lot of scientific precision. I looked for gross changes - not 0.1 mph or even 0.5 mph but 2 or 3 mph. And I found that deep wheels (carbon or not) made a significant difference in speed at the upper levels of my cruising speeds. This was different than putting on a different seat or seatpost or going from a 32 spoke GL330 to a 28 spoke GEL 280. Those changes were very fine and I could barely detect a difference except in particular situations. Aero wheels though they made a huge change and I could feel it every time my speed went into the 30 mph range.

With deep (or otherwise more aerodynamic wheels), you'll notice a benefit at crunch time, when the pace has hotted up to 35-40 mph and everyone is scrambling for wheels. At that point I feel they're worth 2-3 mph (depending on how deep a rim you get). My legs feel a lot less stressed at those times. I remember one race where I switched back to box section rims as I thought the extra weight of the aero wheels held me back. Well it seemed that every time the boys made a move, I was dying to stay on wheels. The next week, on the same course, I switched back to aero wheels. The same gears, the same speed, the same racers, but this time I felt fine.

Another question is whether it's worth it to get a high dollar wheel - the top line Zipps or perhaps the Campy Boras. Mega buck difference in price. Performance? Probably not a huge difference.

The quantum leap is going to a deep rim with fewer spokes - once you're there, the differences between wheels is less significant than, say, your current wheels versus any deep rim wheel. Paying more for a deep rim wheel gets you fancy light hubs, better spokes (straight pull or not), and perhaps some patents. The expensive ones typically get you wheels which sponsor a ProTour team or has some brand name. I know that some of the high end rims (like Campy's carbon clincher rims) are pretty weak (as expressed as a "tire pressure limit" of under 120 psi). This indicates the carbon in the rim hasn't been optimized. Stick with wheels which you can treat like a metal one - no expressed limits in pressure within reasonable limits, no weight limit under 200 pounds, etc.

For me, a working Cat 3? For a while I was seriously thinking of getting the Zipp FlashPoints for training. Then I saw the WilliamsWheels (the deep tubular would make a good race wheel I think). Both deep wheels are about $1000, my self imposed limit for not feeling like I got raped on a set of wheels. Seeing as I spend years deciding what wheels to get, I didn't get either, didn't have time to make a decision.

Instead I got a PowerTap - and I like looking at the data so much I decided to save up for a 24H PowerTap hub so I can lace over a Zipp 440 rim I have laying around. My rear Reynolds DV has been unraced for the last few races as I use the PT wheel instead.

The only race wheels I've sought since testing riding those aero wheels back to back are the Specialized TriSpokes (i.e. HED) and deep carbon wheels (Zipp 440, then Reynolds DV). I've also used Spinergy Rev-X's, a rear disk (prototype from Colorado I bought from someone), and medium deep rims. I like deep aero wheels much I pretty much exclusively rode on TriSpokes (which were the worst for catching cross winds) for a few years so that I would feel comfortable on them in all conditions.

I don't make money racing - I might win $100 a year (this year - $0 so far). I pay to race. Racing involves a lot of time and energy and money - buying equipment after figuring out what to buy, training or trying to train, driving to/from races and rides, and racing itself. Fast wheels makes the racing I do a lot more fun. I'm already way into the sport. I spent more on wheels than on my frame(s) or my group(s). It's where I notice the most difference in performance.

Are deep carbon wheels worth it?

For me the answer is a resounding "Yes".


Anonymous said...

YES! I agree wholeheartedly on the deep carbon rims making a noticeable difference. Even if it's only effective at 30+ mph when you're in the wind, I like being able to have an extra 3mph over the competition in a sprint finish.

Now we only need more reasonably priced wheels. It's really getting ridiculous. My all-carbon Rev-X's cost $799 in 2000. What's an all-carbon (or even just carbon rimmed) wheel cost now? And enough with the silly spoke lace pattern gimmicks! Gimme radial front and a few crosses in the back and keep it simple (and more aero, btw).

Anonymous said...

Came across an interesting article my friend was in concerning aero-rims and if they're worth the money relative to the performance boost. Since my deal is more the traithlon scene, the aero-helmet is, of course, much more relevant to me than to you roadies. Just thought you'd find the article interesting.


Cote: Most people don't realize that a nonaero helmet creates four times the drag of a nonaero wheelset. So you can spend two thousand dollars on a wheelset, or spend two hundred on a helmet and be faster. How you put your race number on matters more than having an aero wheel; today, we glued on our numbers to get them to fit flatter. Then there's water bottle placement: On a round-tubed frame, having a bottle on your seat tube is more aerodynamic than not having one at all, and it's much more aero than putting it on the down tube. And wearing gloves in a time trial will slow you down more than using a nonaero front wheel.",6610,s1-3-12-14995-1,00.html