Sunday, October 25, 2009

Interbike 2009 - HED Wheels 2010

In some ways I've been an early adapter in the world of bike racing.

I'm convinced that my "good jump" back in the day was partly due to the fact that I rode 138 or 76 gram pedals (for steel and Ti axled Aerolites respectively, the minimal weight including cleats and hardware), that I obsessed about light rim weight, and that I rode aero wheels long before they became "de rigueur" of the pro peloton.

To be fair I never went as extreme as the true pioneers, but when I saw Coors Light clean up while on Specialized TriSpokes (with updates now known as the HED3), I realized my Zipp 340/440 setup wasn't quite as radical as I thought. I went to using TriSpokes for a long, long time, stopping only when I rode another company's wheels because I wanted to support my friend's employment there.

Aero wheels have always been a fascination for me, and for next year, I was looking for some way of bumping up my speed.

In 2010 I'm convinced that there's a new wheel in town, or rather, a new wheel company in town: HED.

They've been around for a while, and they've had an online store for at least a few years (because I always go over there and drool and such). But they're trying to set up a dealer network, something they started a little while ago.

Anyway, they've revamped their line-up for 2010, and man, it looks good.

It looks good enough that I want to sell all my wheels and replace them with HED's line-up, almost from bottom to top. I have rarely felt need with cycling - I liken it to my desire to get a power meter, or my desire to break into aero wheels back in the late 80s and early 90s.

What made me feel this way?

Let's look at what I saw at IB 2009.

First, a little while ago, I did a post on Faired versus Structural Aero Wheels. I happened to use HED wheels as an example, but only because they sold the same kind of wheels in both versions. To clarify things, HED sells structural rims for tubulars ("Stingers", with exposed spoke nipples) and faired ones for clinchers ("Jets", with hidden spoke nipples). The aluminum box-section rimmed wheels are named after some of the Northern Classic terms, like Ardennes or Bastogne or Kermesse.

Significantly for 2010, HED spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel developing their new line of wheels. And they found that wider rims make for more aero rims. Wider not just at the bead (the 23 mm rims introduced last year, like their base model Kermesses), but in the fairing itself.

Basically the rim needs to get wider below the brake track before it gets narrower.

From the 2010 brochure, it seems that making a rim really wide makes it more aero in certain wind directions, but it sacrifices aero in others. HED set out to optimize the maximum rim width to work with the wind angles most riders see.

And, apparently, they've made some huge gains.

For 2010, they proudly claim that their Stinger 4, a 46 mm tall and 26 mm wide rim, is more aero than their 2008 Stinger 8 (80 mm tall rim), and more aero than any sub 80 mm tall rim.

The Stinger 6, at 60 mm tall and 28 mm wide, is all that much faster, faster than any sub 90 mm rimmed wheel.

The Stinger 9, their tall wheel at 90 mm tall (and holding at 28 mm wide), is their fastest spoked wheel.

Curiously, HED makes no claims on the HED3 wheels, the TriSpokes made so popular by Lance's consistent use of the front wheel. Their rim widths (for all the wheels - clinchers and tubulars, 55 or 90 mm tall versions) remain at 19 mm, one that could be construed to be relatively inefficient. I figure they'll either come out with some wider HED3 (for the Tour?) or relegate the wheel to the scrap heap.

Anyway, based on the data and claims of HED, I figure the ultimate wheel setup, for 2010, would look like this:

1. Race wheels, the primary focus, would be tubulars. Ideally you'd want to stay under 1300 grams for a pair of wheels, this way you won't need specific climbing wheels. You may need to get a shorter height front wheel for windy races.

Choice: Stinger 6s, front and rear. For windy days or long, fast, gusty descents, a Stinger 4 front.

2. Training wheels, because you need to train with tall wheels if you're to understand how the wheels handle in all circumstances. The brake tracks are wider on all the 2010 HEDs so you'd want to get matching wheels.

Choice: Jet 6s, the clincher version of the Stinger 6.

3. Box section wheels, because for the really crappy weather, you probably want non-aero wheels. Plus the missus will need some wheels for her bike, and she liked the box section wheels more than the aero wheels she rode for a while. Since these would be the "beater" wheels, you could get lower end wheels.

Choice: Kermesses.

The one thing I don't understand or agree with is the Flamme Rouge ("FR" in HED's catalog) option. The Flamme Rouge is the "Red Flag" marking 1 km to go in a race, and implies something race related. For HED it means the hubs (in this case) and the rim/fairings get some special treatment. This includes a carbon hub body, Ti ratchet ring, Ti skewers, and some hi-mod carbon in whatever rim/fairing.

The Ti pieces and carbon body do little to lose weight. Hi-mod carbon is typically stronger but more brittle than "regular" carbon. Functionally I can't see the significance of the FR upgrade. It'll save you about 50 grams for the clinchers, about 10-15 grams for the tubulars.

For $200 I can't see laying out the money for the FR option. It'd be more practical to buy extra tubulars, a lighter cassette, or maybe some aftermarket skewers.

The FR option reminds me of the pricey and limited Mugen option offered by Honda on their Civic Si. The upgrades seem limited, and, embarrassingly, the Mugen was actually slower than the stock Si due to the bigger and heavier wheel/tire package. For $9,000, you could do a lot better by buying aftermarket items, and, like tactics in bike racing, investing in some driving schools to learn how to drive better.

Anyway, other than the FR option not seeming too special, the HED line up prompted me to think about moving off my current standard width stable of wheels.

It's a lot to invest though. 7 total wheels, 3 pairs plus a lone front, all so that I can swap wheels without adjusting derailleurs or brake calipers. If I wanted a spare rear race wheel, maybe one more.

Now, I could move the fronts over to the track bike, for sure, but that doesn't recoup any money for any new wheels.

And for me it's an all or nothing gambit. I want all the wheels or none of them.


Um. Anyone need 1.5 pairs of carbon tubulars, a pair of carbon clinchers, and 2 sets of aluminum box section clinchers? Campy freehub bodies.

Anyone? Hello? Bueller?

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