While it was just a touch windier than we’d like it, the “gusts” barely made it to double digits out of the north. Also, it had been hot all day but we had some cloud cover that cooled it down to a perfect 80 degrees at ride time. We had a great group and rolled out with little fanfare after a request from the A Group was conveyed that, should any of us B Group latch on as they passed us in the home stretch, if we would stay to the back and let them cycle through their pace-line so there aren’t any issues, they’d appreciate it. I laughed when the request was first made last week. “Hey, do us a favor and let us do all the work, would ya?” Uh, I didn’t notice any of our group shedding tears as the message was relayed.
The seven-mile warm-up had even been fast – almost 20-mph. That normally bodes well for the actual ride.
We rolled shortly after the A guys with a pretty fair group. Two strong tandems and probably 20-25 solo bikes. The first mile was subdued but when the whole group formed up, it was on.
We had a tight group last night. The group that was staying at the back was fairly small, so everyone who was in the rotation up front was getting plenty of rest between pulls. This always bodes well for a good average pace at the finish – and I didn’t have much time to look at my computer.
The first north leg of the trip is relatively flat with some downhill to help, so it went mercifully fast into the headwind. From the first turn west, the crosswind didn’t hurt too much and from what I saw, there was no need for an echelon (or four). The group stayed together and when we made the turn south, things picked up gradually.
Then we came to the hills. I’ve lost enough weight lately to notice that I’m experiencing less difficulty in getting up the hills with our gang. Last night was the first time in years I can remember enjoying going up – normally it’s one of those things; you have to keep up on the hills to get to the good parts.
I was in the lead pack up the last hill going into the regroup and was ready for the intermediate sprint. Unfortunately I’d picked my place unwisely – or rather, the tandems stayed up front a little longer than anticipated. I became the tip of the spear for the lead-out train. So be it, I thought. I pushed the pace from a decent 27-mph coming down the hill into town, to 31.5. I love a fast lead-out. At the base of the downhill, smoked, I tapped out and went to move to the back. There was a gap, though, so I took a spot in line about four bikes back with maybe a quarter-mile to the City Limits sign. I was just going to sit in and catch my breath, but when the first two went for the sprint, I couldn’t contain myself. I went too, with one other. I think I was fourth in the sprint, but was the lead-out and in the sprint. I was pretty stoked, and when Jonathan rolled by and gave me a verbal pat on the back for the effort… well, it was pretty cool.
We regrouped in town, but when we made the final left to the home stretch, we could see the A Group coming up behind us. Normally we hold them off till we get to the last five-mile straight shot, but the little speech at the beginning put us behind. They caught us at the worst possible time, and with a car passing. They made it around but we were trying to give them enough room to pass whilst still maintaining our pace – it got messy. I was also too far back with too may people to pass to get around and latch on as they went by.
I resigned myself to riding back in with my group. Then Jonathan and Scott went. Then Chuck jumped to bridge the gap (what an effort that must have been!)… The timing was all wrong for me, though.
We came up to the last stop sign and we were only a hundred yards back of the A’s, when they slowed up for the turn. I saw my only chance to get up there and jumped on it. Chuck was just catching on the back and I only had half the distance he did to bridge. Toby went with me and soon enough we were on the back of the A Group. That’s when the hammer went down. There were, I think, counting… six times where I thought I was going to drop. The pace went from 24 to 28-29-mph and with that crosswind, it was a little tricky trying to get a draft and not crash. I found an opportunity to get into the drops and that helped immensely. We stayed above 25-mph for the last five miles and four of the five of us who made the bridge stayed with the lead group all the way in – the last mile we were above 29-mph (46/47 km/h)
I shut Strava down shortly after crossing the line. I showed a 22.5-mph average, while Chuck had a 22.6. Another fastest Tuesday night.
It never gets old.
I’ve dropped a combined seven pounds off two road bikes over the last several years, a little at a time, and can offer a few tips on where to start and where to end – and on what will just end up as vanity watts.
First, the cheapest, most efficient way to go about this is to buy the best bike you can from the beginning. Hands down, that’s the least expensive route. I couldn’t do that, though. When I bought my Venge, way back at the end of 2013, the bike was the first generation of “aero” race bikes. In other words, CHING! All I could afford was the entry-level 105 “Comp” model. The bike weighed in at 18.8 pounds out of the box (pedals and cages excluded).
Okay, now on a “Comp” bike, or an entry-level into the upper echelon of race bikes, the best place they save money is by putting cheap wheels on your fantastic bike. You take that bike and put a decent set of wheels on it and you’ve got a formidable race bike. The original wheels were 1,990 grams or 4.36 pounds (tires and tubes not included). With a little effort, you can find a decent 1,500 or 1,600 gram set of wheels for as little as $300 (Shimano Ultegra 1,660 – Vuelta Speed One 1,520 $300 on the nose and the hubs are spectacular [I ride the old SLR hubs on my rain bike] and those are just two examples). So let’s take my original 18.8 pound bike and knock 470 grams, or more than a pound, off it. 17.7 pounds. The next place to go for me was the handlebar. I wanted the carbon fiber aero handlebar and I got a new stem. The bar saved me no weight whatsoever. It’s the same weight as my old alloy handlebar. The new stem saved a little more than 100 grams (it’s carbon wrapped aluminum which is lighter than straight carbon fiber for structural construction reasons). Not much in weight saved, but the bike sure looked good!
In other words, you’re looking at vanity watts for the handlebar but there’s some significant weight to be saved if you’re savvy about picking the right stem.
Next up was another big hitter when upgrading from an entry-level racer; the crankset. I went big for my upgrade, opting for the S-Works crank. I dropped a little better than three-quarters on the crank alone! Now I’m down into the 16 pound range. Next was a cassette and chain upgrade. There are quite a few grams to be saved there, but you sacrifice a little longevity when it comes to the chain – there is a price to be paid for using lightweight parts. I went with a SRAM 1091R Chain (hollow pins, plate cutouts) and a PG-1070 cassette (one step under Red and still in the realm of reason at $60-$80 – the Red cassettes run $300 (!) but they’re light).
I upgraded the brakes next. I got a deal on some FSA Energy brakes that match the bike like they were made for it. The perfect red on jet black. I saved 50 or 60 grams there.
The next big weight drop was in changing the drivetrain from Shimano 105 to Ultegra. 105 is a great line of components but they’re on the heavy side of the race components. I got lucky and had a friend who upgraded his 10sp. Ultegra to 11sp. Ultegra. I bought his components for a couple hundred bucks. There’s another couple/few hundred grams. That was a game changer, right there. At that point I was flirting with the upper edge of 15 pounds (15.95 give or take).
Finally, I dropped my new 1,420 gram (3.11 pounds) carbon fiber wheels on the bike and another 150 grams down the drain. I’m at 15.75 pounds:
It’s no 13 pound mountain goat but the aero beats weight all week long unless you’re in the mountains (and often even then).
So, going by weight, here’s your order of importance:
Wheels, Crank, Stem, Cassette/Chain, Brakes, Handlebar.
Incidentally, as the rain bike went… This is (almost) how I bought it (I upgraded the saddle almost immediately after I bought the bike – the original was too wide):
She’s a 22 pound triple 9sp. right there. Fast forward a great paint job and upgrading everything but the chainring bolts and brake calipers:
She’s 19.5 pounds in that photo. I put the 105 drivetrain that was on the Venge on the Trek, put the old Venge wheels on it… New headset, new bar, new stem, new carbon seat post (that was a big deal on that bike, compared against the old seat post), new bottom bracket… Throw on the Vuelta/Velocity wheels that were on the Venge and now it’s down to 18-1/2 pounds.
To answer that final question I posed in the title, how light is light, we need to look at things in context. Back in the day, meaning the 80’s and 90’s, a 21 pound bike was exceptionally light. That doesn’t hold true today, of course. Nowadays you’re looking at 12 to 15 pounds for the climbing bikes with the aero bikes reaching from 14 to 18-1/2 pounds (give or take on the high end). If you really want to drop some cheese you can get on a Trek Emonda at 13.7 pounds for $11,500 (disc brakes, SRAM eTap). Or how about a Madone SLR 9 at 16.9 pounds for $12,000 (disc brakes, Dura Ace Di2)? I’m guessing here, because Specialized isn’t as cool and unafraid as Trek, who give the weights on their bikes, but I’d bet the Tarmac Disc is pretty close to that 13.7 pound mark ($11,000) and the Venge ViAS is reportedly 17-1/2 pounds ($12,500).
So, in context, my aero bike is really quite light when compared to the newer aero models. It’s also a little heavy next to the mountain climbing bikes. However I slice it, cost to weight value, my Venge is the cat’s meow at $355 a pound. A new Venge ViAS rolls out the door for $714 a pound and a Madone goes for $710….
The weather was nice on Monday, if memory serves. Not a whole lot of wind, unseasonably cool, but nice.
Then, a high pressure system settled in and then wind died down to nothing.
Tuesday night, the club ride, the temp was a perfect 75° (24 C) with a 3-mph breeze. We (the B Group) turned in our fastest time for the loop. Ever. A 22.5 (or 6) average. Last year our best was 22.1.
Wednesday was too nice to work. Chucker and I played some afternoon hooky and did a route I normally can’t make for a Thursday night obligation. It was a fast one – a 20-mph average on a tough, hilly loop. After dropping Chuck off I just couldn’t bear to put my bike away so I went out for a 16-mile bonus loop.
Thursday was another perfect evening for cycling but I spent a bunch of time on the phone with the club VP sorting out stuff from Tuesday night’s debacle of a meeting. I only had time for a quick loop and my legs were a little smoked.
Friday we started in thick fog/mist on the gravel bikes. It was simply too dangerous for paved roads.
Saturday, we started out in a lighter fog that got worse as the morning wore on. Most of the gang did 36 miles. I stretched it out to 51.
Then, Sunday. Oh, what a glorious day. Wind in the single digits, impossibly sunny… It was the best day of the year for a ride. Maybe the second, best day of the year.
A little on the warm side, but you can see, there was no shortage of sunshine. The six of us cruised for a 100k, though Chuck and I both opted for an eight-mile bonus to take the total to 73-miles and some change.
In all, 265 miles on the week according to Strava.
Sadly, this won’t last. This is Michigan, after all. I’ll definitely enjoy it while it does.
The question in the Title is a set-up. The answer is no. And yes.
Deep-section carbon fiber wheels are no faster than their alloy shallow-section counterparts… at certain speeds. And therein lies the rub.
Let’s make a few things clear here. As my buddy, Chuck likes to say, I don’t know everything there is to know about cycling. To the contrary, I like to stick to what I do know and what I’m about to get into, I know. The Venge shown in the photos above has 17,000 miles on it – all on exceptional shallow-section wheels. I have another road bike and I’ve got more miles on it, all with shallow-section wheels:
All told, in the last seven years or so, I’ve got over 50,000 miles – all on regular, plain old, ordinary alloy wheels.
I wrote a post the other day, an initial review of my new Ican 38mm carbon fiber wheels. A commenter asked:
I do wonder, given your saddle time and the number of miles you put in, what you notice about speed with these wheels vs others. Specifically, I’ve been told the deeper-section wheels tend to hold speed better, therefore making the overall ride faster (less effort to maintain speed). Have you found this to be true, or what thoughts do you have on it?
I had heard, from maybe a half-dozen friends, that the deep-section wheels absolutely tend to hold their speed better, saving watts, but there’s a catch. This real, but magical power only kicks in at about 21-mph. In other words, the only benefit at 18-mph is style watts. In fact, I would argue against deep-section wheels unless you’re planning on averaging north of 20-mph because you’ll get killed with crosswind.
So this is how I know this: having put 50,000+ miles on standard alloy wheels, then jumping to 38mm CF wheels, I know what 25-mph feels like on alloy wheels. Better, I can describe it, because I’m geeky enough to have paid attention. As your speed increases, the resistance to pushing the air around you increases exponentially. You can feel this in the pedals – you simply have to keep pushing harder to keep or increase speed as you pass 21 or 22-mph (35-km/h). With 38mm carbon clinchers, you hit 21 or 22 and it feels like 20. 25 feels like 21 – and it’s an all of a sudden thing. You’re cruising along, expecting to have to pedal a little harder to increase your speed, and the bike just goes. If I had to guess, we’re talking about maybe 15 or 20 watts difference, but there’s no question you’re not pushing as hard to keep the bike going as you would have been on shallow-section wheels… and I’m only cruising on 38’s. I’ve heard the 50’s, 60’s, and even 80’s are even better.
I chose the 38’s for two reasons. First was weight and second was crosswind. I wanted a good all-around wheel rather than something that was just good on non-windy days, so I gave up a little on flat-out aerodynamic performance for a good cross between weight, aero performance and performance in the wind – because we get a lot of that here. I’ve got a couple of friends who run 60’s and 80’s (Zipp’s, both) and they get blown around considerably when the wind kicks up. Sometimes it’s even scary riding in a group with them, and they’re both exceptional cyclists. I didn’t want that. The weight was more a vanity issue, really. I wanted something in the 1,400 gram area (no tubulars – too much work) and the 38’s fit the bill nicely.
So, carbon fiber vs. alloy? I’ve got a good buddy who runs 32mm Rolf alloy wheels that are almost as light as my 38’s (75 grams heavier). Is a mere 6mm going to make a difference? I really don’t know, probably a little bit, but not enough to shake a stick at. Where the carbon fiber gets sexy is in the ride quality over the alloy. Most serious cyclists will know the difference between an aluminum frame and a carbon fiber frame. The difference in wheels is just as stark. So you go from an alloy frame to a carbon fiber frame and you’re a happy camper. Then you go from an alloy wheel to a carbon fiber wheel and you’re like, “DUDE!” And I’m like, yeah, I know. Because now I do know. It’s nice.
Here’s the important part: I can do things on my carbon wheels that I can’t on my alloy wheels. I’m just that much (pinches two fingers together so there’s a sixteenth of an inch between them) faster at higher speeds that it takes me from “strong cyclist” to “animal”. I like “animal”.
If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, if you’ve got the cash I recommend it.
UPDATE: Bucky added, “I think [a] point you missed is the effect of terrain (ride style). Enve have a nice graph on their website that shows that, for example, I’m hardly ever riding flat [roads], [so] I [don’t] need anything deeper than a 45mm rim. And some  say, I would actually be better with a shallower profile. Glad you love your wheels.
I find that reasonable enough, though I believe 50’s are the generally accepted “middle of the road” to tackle most terrains. I could be wrong, though.
I own a large, commercial construction company. Before I was an owner I was a manager of a similar company as far back as my late 20’s. I was on the board of my church. Now I’m the president of our cycling club.
Being on the board of my church sucked. We got a new pastor and things went downhill fast. It went from a legit spiritual sanctuary to a ridiculous far left extremist parody. My wife and I quit the whole thing, or rather, we were run out. Lesson one.
Owning a construction company is a lot tougher than managing one. Lesson number two.
The cycling club is a labor of love. I was asked to be the president and I accepted. Everything was great for two years. Then the bureaucrats rolled in… Lesson number three.
Somehow I always manage to find my way to the top of whatever I do (my wife is so afflicted as well). This doesn’t have anything to do with an egotistical, “because we’re so awesome”, either. No, it’s more because we’re willing to take the job – because anyone who knows anything about being a leader of people, it’s not all that glamorous. You have to be willing to be the chief floor sweeper and the lead paperwork completer… as a bonus, everyone gets to point their finger at you when things get tough – and you, being at the top, have to figure that $#!+ out. Better, everyone above you is looking to pay you less and most below you are looking for ways to get the most money for the least amount of work (and then come up with excuses for why that’s your fault when they get caught). In other words, being at the top usually isn’t as “at the top” as you think, and it’s a lot less glamorous than you think.
I have been a fan of hotdogs for more than 42 years. I have ADD (or ADHD, take your pick), so when I was just five years-old, to get me to slow down long enough to eat lunch, my mom would cut up a hotdog and set the plate on the living room coffee table. I would do laps around the table, picking up a piece of glorious hotdog every two laps… and that’s how I ate lunch. Decades ago, people tried to turn me off to hotdogs because of “how they’re made”. Later it was the “processed food” crowd. I still love ’em. Grilled or nuked with my wife’s chili on them… I love those little tubes of goodness.
Running things is a lot like a hotdog. It only looks fun from the outside. Once you realize how those dogs are made, it takes a little of the tastiness away. And that’s a crying shame.
What’s the lesson, though?
I don’t give a f*** how hotdogs are made. Those bastards taste great.
I was certain in cycling you get what you pay for. So much so, I was saving up for a set of carbon fiber Roval wheels ($1,600 to $2,200). I was certain those cheap Chinese wheels were flawed in some way.
It’s been four years I’ve been saving up for those Roval wheels. I spent my slush fund on Christmas two years in a row. I spent half of it on my daughter’s varsity jacket last year. I blew all of it one year on hunting… Whenever I got close to the magic amount, something would come up. I don’t even have a slush fund this year.
We are sitting on enough cash that $400 wouldn’t hurt, so I pulled the trigger after some online research and talking to three local guys who run the vastly less expensive Chinese wheels (one Yoeleo, one Ican, and one Superteam) – they all gave glowing reviews and recommended them highly. Two are in the C Group (18-mph avg.), one is in the A Group (25-mph) and I’m in with the B’s (22-1/2-mph).
I read a review article that gave the nod to Ican as the top of the heap. Their two year warranty, their six pawl hubs, the sealed cartridge bearings in the hubs impressed the author…
I’ve got a little more than 400 miles on them over the last several weeks – some very fast miles – and so far, I’m not kidding, they’re legit.
I’ve put them through everything I could throw at them short of a 55-mph descent, and they beat my alloy wheels hands down. And my alloy wheels are fantastic.
I even went as far as setting my Venge up next to the 5200, upside down, and spinning the wheels to see which stopped first. I was sure my Velocity/Vuelta hybrid wheels would kill the newer Ican wheels. Three for three, the Ican out spun the alloy wheels by more than 20 seconds with about a 10-mph spin. Twenty seconds. Of course, the wheels will react differently with the rubber down and my big butt on the saddle, but still.
So here are the details. I paid $400 for them. They came with rim tape, brake pads, and QR skewers. I also had a pair of brand new 25mm Michelin Pro 4 tires to put on them.
The weight of my bike, even though I went from 23mm tires to 25’s, went from 15.90 to 15.75 pounds. The alloy wheels were 1550 grams so I’m guessing the 1420g advertised weight was right on. They’re light.
The QR skewers that came with the wheels are junk. They’re in the recycling bin already. I’m rolling my old Ultegra QR’s. It’s too bad that the Ican skewers work so poorly, they’re quite light.
New tires are NOT easy to fit on the wheels. They were so hard, a Kool-stop Tire Bead Jack had to be employed.
Other than those tiny pitfalls, my initial experience is entirely pleasurable. Without a doubt, the Ican wheels have vastly out performed the $400 I have into them.
The question that I’ve got left is going to be about longevity. I know friends who have thousands of miles on them without issue. I hope I’m that lucky.
Finally, I’ve seen some comments and reviews mention that the wheels rival $2,000 carbon fiber wheelsets. I can’t go that far because I’ve never ridden anything that expensive. I can say this about my Ican 38’s: I like them. A lot.
The more I ride them, the more I like them. They vastly exceeded my expectations.
Best feature: If you’ve never ridden carbon fiber wheels, it is ridiculous how much cf wheels smooth out the road. Throw 25’s on them and it’s impressive. If you know the difference in feel between an aluminum and a cf frame, that same difference exists for alloy and cf wheels. They’re that good.
So, are the Chinese wheels as good as a set of Zipp’s that’ll set you back $2,300? I highly doubt it, but I’ve never ridden a set of $2,300 Zipp’s to be able to give a proper assessment. I have, however, ridden superior and inferior wheelsets and at only $400, the set of Ican’s I have are in the “superior” class. Initially, they’ve exceeded my expectations by a wide margin.
My buddy Chuck and I played a little afternoon hooky yesterday. With my blowup after Tuesday’s club ride, I needed to blow off some steam anyway. Chuck suggested we do a local route that he rides every Thursday. I have a meeting to attend on Thursday night so I never get to ride the route.
To say it’s challenging is a bit of an understatement. There are several real hills on the route. A 10%’er and a few others.
I picked Chuck up at 3 and we rolled to the high school where we start the route from. A little prep, don the brain bucket, and we were rolling.
It was supposed to be an easy recovery ride.
The first mile was at the right pace. It was also mostly uphill. It was @$$holes and elbows after that.
Sometimes Chucker gets on a tear and there’s no reigning him in. I just settled in and rode him like a rented mule. I figured I’d suck his wheel till he was good and tired and I’d take the rest at a more… um… responsible pace.
After a bit, call it five or six miles, I didn’t hold his draft anymore, I didn’t feel all that cool stuck on his wheel and the pace was reasonable if way faster than we’d talked about before the ride. I was more off to the side so I wasn’t sucking wheel but I wasn’t going to come around to contribute to the madness, either.
Before I knew it we were through the lake loop and heading back to town for the big climb. The road surface when from perfect to sketchy so we split apart to concentrate on our line and not hitting any major potholes.
Then the climb. We only had a few miles left so we took the climb fairly easy. We got down into the little gears to spin up. After the climb came the 40-mph descent into town. A few jogs, a wait to get onto the main drag back to the high school and a couple of miles trying to keep our speed up for our average and we rolled into the parking lot. Chuck’s got a Garmin, so he was able to shut the time down as soon as he got into the parking lot. I took several seconds longer to dig my phone out of my pocket, key in the password while coasting and stop Strava so I dropped a tenth from our average…
So much for a recovery ride. Normally, when we turn in a 21 or 22-mph average, it’s on a relatively flat route. The Lake Shannon loop is a legit route with some decent up to it (40′ per mile is fairly hilly in these parts). Putting in a 20-mph average after the previous night’s 22-1/2, I didn’t think I had that in me. Chuck texted me later in the evening to let me know he had to go all the way back to April to find a faster night on that loop and they had a whole train of guys working to get a 20.2 out of the route.
I dropped Chuck off at his house and headed home. I started unloading my car and got stuck on what a perfect evening it was… the wind had died down and it was sunny and peaceful… It was only a quarter past Five and Mrs. Bgddy and the kids were out and about for school events. It seemed like such a waste of a perfect day to just shower up and watch TV.
I put on my dome protector and shoes and rolled down the driveway. I was supposed to get a recovery ride in anyway. I did Chuck and my normal weekday loop, minus one subdivision. I wasn’t going for any KOM’s but I didn’t watch the grass grow, either. I just plugged away. I pulled into the driveway with just shy of an 18-mph average and another 16 miles… and a big smile on my face.
There’s nothing like a bike ride to put life back into perspective. Or “another bike ride”. 42 miles on a Wednesday and I had to come up with something for dinner… I could afford extra cheese on the pizza last night. I sat down to some Star Wars and devoured it. Yesterday made all of the hard days worth it. I slept like a baby last night.