Mrs. Bgddy called me Saturday morning and gave everything she had into getting me to drive up to her mom’s house. I went on a guilt trip and even had her resort to pleading… I won’t lie, it was raining out and I seriously wanted to take advantage of laying about the house. On the other hand I really missed her and after a few “pleases”… I told a bit of a mis-truth and said I couldn’t see driving 2 hours to get up there just to have a nice dinner and drive home another two hours so I could get my ride in and make it to bowling Sunday afternoon.
After finishing the conversation and hanging up I got to thinking that my decision to stay home would be far less enjoyable than heading up – and if I was worried about timing I could bring my bike, stay the night and ride Sunday morning… That would work, then I could head home and just go straight to bowling. Perfect.
I quickly threw my cycling gear together, packed a change of clothes, my shoes and helmet, my lights (just in case I had to ride early), dropped everything in the car and then got my bike. When I got that in I was struck by the notion, because Mrs. Bgddy complained about not being able get her run in due to the weather, that I could pack her bike too and we could go out for an adventure together. That would make perfect even better. I packed a pair of cycling shorts, tights, arm warmers, a jersey, her helmet and shoes into a gym bag and wedged her bike in (with a couple of blankets between) in the trunk of my Escape.
Two hours later, after my wife had told my girls that I was staying home, I pulled up to the warmest reception I’ve gotten in quite a while – and my wife and kids are known for some fine receptions, even for something as simple as coming home from the office. There was a veritable parade of people who came out – my daughter’s first, then my wife, then her sisters kids… My word, the hugs [and one kiss – 😉 ] alone were worth the drive!
The trick, heading up north without my wife knowing that I was on my way, was that by the time I’d gotten half-way there the rain had turned into clouds mixed with sun and I was passing by one of my favorite cycling destinations: The Pere-Marquette Rail Trail. I’d written, a while back, about possibly having some over-training issues so I had a serious struggle going between stopping for a quick 20 before finishing my journey or just heading straight through. In the end, heading straight through won out – I wanted to get to my in-law’s house and adding an extra ride while trying to take it easy for a few days just didn’t make sense.
So yesterday morning, after breakfast and my wife’s amazement at how much weight she’s lost over the last couple of months (her cycling clothes are starting to loosen up), we headed down to the state park where we started out. Right or wrong I was a little ambiguous about how tough this ride was going to be when my wife noticed that the first several miles were downhill. She was worried about the ride back and having enough gas… While she’s more than competent on a bike and she has been riding with me in the mountains (on the smaller hills), she’s never been on anything like what we were going to experience on this ride – 1,400 feet of elevation gain and another 1,400 feet of descent over 20 miles – we even hit a 10% hill… This was a lot of climbing for her but she handled it like a champ after I explained some of the finer points of maintaining control for the length of each hill – a lot tougher than anything she saw down in Georgia and almost double the length she was used to riding.
I lost out on my opportunity to sit around and be useless but the weekend turned out to be a lot better for it.
Carbon Vs. Aluminum Wheels – and the Chinese Knock-Offs…
I keep a slush fund for hunting. Not much, only $100 a month, but come October, if a buddy wants to take a few days out-of-town to take a shot at a deer, I’ve got the cash on-hand to go without having to worry about whether the car needed tires or not. When I got to hunting season this year to find no trips in cards, I had some money to spend and I chose to get a new set of wheels for the Venge.
The most I wanted to spend was $500 so carbon clinchers were effectively out – or so I thought. Aluminum clinchers offered a wide array of options but there was a caveat: I wanted a lighter bike afterwards. I did some research and decided the best bang for my buck would be Vuelta Corsa SLR wheels from Nashbar – I wrote about them yesterday – and I was mere minutes away from cancelling that order. The wheels were backordered and according to an email I received from Nashbar, I had months before my new wheels would arrive. The wheel purchase became interesting when I saw a guy with new carbon clinchers on his Storck… They had no stickers and he claimed he got them on EBay for $600 – and that changed everything! I thought I had plenty of time so I started checking EBay. It wasn’t long before I found the wheels I saw on that Storck (simply Google EBay 23mm carbon clincher wheel set [the 23mm part is important, the majority of the wheels that will pop up if you leave the “23mm” out will be 20.5mm wheels]). You’ll come up with a list of 38-50mm carbon clinchers, no brand stickers ranging in price from $370-$480 but the wheels in that price-range come with the label “from China”.
Now I’ve heard that almost all carbon road frames and wheels come from either China or Taiwan so the label didn’t bother me too much. On the other hand, what caused me to pause was the fact that I don’t play around on a bike. When I ride, I ride as fast as I can – especially downhill, so I’ll be relying on my wheels to carry me down a hill upwards of 50 mph. At those speeds, unless you’re exceptionally lucky, you don’t just walk away from a crash so “I heard” simply wasn’t good enough. With two small kids and a wife to provide for, I’m not going cheap unless I can be relatively certain of safety. I checked with a semi-pro racer who works at my LBS and he confirmed that with some exceptions in finish and processing, they’re quality rims and pointed out the customer satisfaction ratings of the sellers (99.5-100%). I couldn’t argue with that but it still wasn’t enough. I checked out several message boards and found that with a few exceptions, people were generally quite happy with the knock-off wheels.
What things boiled down to, at least as I saw it, the big-name wheel companies (Enve, Zipp, Mad Fiber, Reynolds etc.) require common sense safety measures in the manufacturing processes that ensure rigidity. For instance, a big name wheel company will ensure that a seam doesn’t occur on a spoke hole or they require that the spokes are molded into the rim… These requirements slow production and increase cost, but also improve safety. In addition, you’ve got an amazing amount of markup in each wheel set. So the question is do you want to pay $2,000 for a wheel set that you can get for $500 without the stickers. The trick is to be an expert on rims and wheels – if you’re an expert you’ll be able to pick out flaws and return a poorly constructed wheel if you get one. Otherwise, it’s pretty much buyer beware, though it appears that poor customer experiences are quite rare.
Now, I was only minutes away from canceling my aluminum wheel order because I found a set of 38mm carbon clinchers that weighed in at 1400 grams, had a decent hub and came from a well-respected seller. I even had the customer service number up. Just before I punched in the number I received an email that my wheels had been shipped so I decided to stick with those because of one flaw in all carbon clinchers: They don’t handle heavy braking well. This is mainly due to user ignorance or error but I’ve read of a few instances where seasoned, competent cyclists damaged their rims on a decent by over-breaking down a steep descent… In other words, while the carbon rims may be cool, I wouldn’t want use them when we go to the mountains for our yearly vacation/cycling adventure because I regularly ride steep hills that I am not familiar with so I’m harder on the brakes. The last thing I want to have to worry about is whether I’m braking too much going down an unfamiliar hill, a couple of dozen miles from the house we’re staying at and poor cell service. No thanks. To still further cloud the issue, these problems normally happen to those who weigh substantially more than I do (they range, from what I saw, from 195-220 pounds) so it could simply be one of those “given all of the right (bad) circumstances”, failures happen.
On the other hand, carbon clinchers will eventually be mine because they’re perfect for the vast majority of cycling I do here in southeastern Michigan. Easy rolling hills, hardly any braking. Now I’ll just have to decide on whether I’ll pay retail price or get the Chinese knock-offs. I have a funny feeling I’ll be going cheap. 😉