Monday, 7 March 2011

2 Wheels Good, New Wheels Better (Part 1)

Inspired by Rob Penn's desire to create his perfect bike, I've been tweaking my road bike to get it just right.  The latest change has been a new pair of wheels.

Of course my wife wants to know why I need a new pair of wheels and what's wrong with the current ones.  A wheel is a wheel, right...?

Well, yes and no.

There are several factors that make a good wheel:
1. Light - obviously, the lighter the better;
2. Strong - but not too flimsy;
3. Stiff - it needs to stay straight;
4. Rotational Inertia - basically, the lighter it is, the easier it is to speed up or go up hill;
5. Hub/Bearing Smoothness - meaning you waste less energy;
6. Aerodynamics - it cuts through the air with less drag.

Now if I was Lance Armstrong (or my triathlete brother-in-law Huw), shaving grams and seconds off, all of that would be fantastic - and I would buy a pair of Zipp wheels at £1,500...!

But I'm not.  So for me, what it comes down to are:
1. Do they stay true?
2. Will they last?
(3. Shiny would be nice, too!)

The wheels that came with my bike were lovely.  They are Bontrager Race Lite wheels with paired, bladed spokes.

They're one of the things that really attracted me to the bike.  And, apparently, they are very good.  I've certainly had few problems with them over the two-and-a-half years I've had the bike - they've been light, strong and reliable.

They did start to 'dish' early on (that is, the rear wheel started to pull to one side without going out of true, like a dish) - it's apparently very common and, once re-trued, it's not something that has re-occured.

However I've always had a sneaking suspicion that they were a little too 'bling' to take seriously - those paired spokes are done for looks, and not strength after all, and if a spoke broke in the middle of a ride, I don't fancy my chances of truing the wheel.

So I decided to sell my wheels on ebay and go for something a little more traditional: Italian hubs and rims, Belgian spokes and an expert (not a machine) building the wheels.

Find out how it went in a couple of weeks...