Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wheelsmith 50mm Carbon Clinchers - Review

This site has been very music focused over the last few months so it's probably time to address the balance with a bit about cycling. It would be cheap of me to make reference to my recent win in the tourdepance vuelta so instead I shall give you a quick review of a new set of wheels that have recently come into my possession.
[EDIT] N.B. This is just a first ride review, I'll be posting an update when I've got some proper miles on them and can talk about how they hold up.
These are they:
They're a set of 50mm Gigantex carbon clinchers in the new 24mm width, built onto wheelsmith's own hubs with Sapim CX ray spokes. You can find them in the price list at £740 inc shipping.
I went with clinchers because even the idea of the hassle of a tub puncture puts me off them. Carbon because I wanted something lighter than my current wheels, and deep section because they look nice and if there is an aero advantage to be had, I want it.

So in chronological order: firstly I cannot recommend highly enough the service from wheelsmith. I ordered them on the friday, they were built up that afternoon and arrived on monday afternoon. All the while Derek was also available to answer my dumb questions via e-mail after we'd had an initial chat on the phone.
Almost needless to say they're as true as the scales of justice both horizontally and rotationally.

Secondly then, some numbers. weight excl skewers but inc rim tape = Front 687g, Rear 828g, total of 1515g. Not too shabby at all for a pair of deep rim clinchers.
Wheelsmith supply them with some nice light titanium skewers that weigh 44g the pair and they also include a set of carbon specific brake blocks. More on braking later.
I stuck a new pair of 25mm Michelin Pro 4 Service Courses on and with skewers, tyres and tubes the total weight came to 2205g for the pair. They're replacing a set of Planet-X model Bs with Schwalbe Luganos that weighed in at 2665g so I've saved nearly half a kilo but it's a fine example of the law of diminishing returns.

On the bike they look like this:
After much pressure (mainly from certain people who didn't do quite so well in the fantasy Vuelta) I have swapped the valve caps for black ones. Actually it wasn't much pressure at all, the yellow ones look naff.

Which brings us to thirdly, how do they ride?
Well despite my cunning attempt at a scientific control, this is where we leave all the numbers out of it and start getting into stuff like "feel" and "seemed like" and all that. If you're ok with that then read on, if you just want the numbers then that's your lot.

For the first ride I kept the tyres at the same pressure as I'd been running the (23mm) Luganos (but I might well drop this a bit, particularly over the winter) to try and minimise the variables and, with a similar aim in mind, headed out on a route we knew pretty well: fairly flat, 7-8 mph headwind on the way out, following on the way back.
Being a fair bit lighter I did feel the old "spinning up quickly" effect and generally stamping on the pedals resulted in a sprightly leap forward. Averaging about 18 mph or so outwards I cannot honestly say that the wheels felt any different to the model Bs on the flat. In order to provide an effective control I swapped bikes with my mate (also on an ultegra-equipped pro carbon but still with the old model Bs) unfortunately the change in set up made far more difference to the feel than any kind of kit change (though it did highlight my need to clean up my bottom bracket).
I did notice (or so I believe) the reduced weight going up the hills but I also noticed that as we picked up speed (between 30 and 35 on a couple of downhills - told you it was a flat route) that I was going quicker than I had previously. How much of that is psychosomatic I couldn't say. Similarly though, as we pushed on a bit on the way in, the faster we went the more my mate struggled to keep up. Last time we went out the boot was on the other foot.
Initial impressions therefore seem to back up the standard suggestion that the faster you go the more any benefits will take effect. This makes sense given that wind resistance increases as a square of your speed.

One final word on braking, I haven't used these in the wet yet, in the dry the braking has been fine, not noticeably different to my alloy rims. I will update this post when I've got some wet miles in.

Any questions?


  1. Thanks Drew - makes me realise that although I ride one around all the time, I know nothing about bikes whatsoever.

  2. I think there are a great many people in the same boat! A friend of mine used to offer a regular bike repair service at work (payment in beer of course) for people who'd had a problem on the way in a couldn't get home. Hardly ever needed anything more than an allen key to fix.
    Fundamentally they're simple machines, which is why making them better is very complex.

  3. Ah Drew! The old "YH basement" impromptu bike repair service.

    Glad to hear you've invested your windfall wisely.

    Kevin L

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  5. Hi, looking at purchasing a set of these, any further reviews since your first spin on them? Also the figures regarding the mass of the wheels with tyres, skewers etc is the cassette included in the figures?

    1. Hi Mark, sorry about the delay, only just noticed your comment. Quick questions first, mass excludes cassette, so 1559g for pair including rim tape and skewers but nowt else.
      I've had them for about 8 months now and done about 1000 miles on them I guess (I have a winter bike for the crap weather) and review wise I guess the only thing I can add is a comment about wet braking. It's not as bad as people say, but it's definitely worse than alloy rims - noticeably so. In fact I'm going on a sportif tomorrow that's probably going to be wet, definitely going to have steep and unknown descents and will likely be a fair bit of bunch riding - if it was dry I'd stick with these but given the expect rain I'm going to be putting an alloy rim back on the front. I keep meaning to get some Black Prince brake pads because the reviews suggest that these will give you alloy-like levels of braking back, but I didn't get round to it.
      In terms of build, wear and tear etc, there's really not much to say - despite a lot of those miles being in less-than-perfect condition the wheels look and feel exactly as they did when they came out of the box. Bearings are still smooth with no sign of play, there's no deflection in either rim (horizontal or vertical) and there's no sign of wear on the brake tracks.
      If I was buying again I'd buy exactly the same wheels.

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