Monday, July 28, 2014

Opposite Day: Wider is BETTER

It was some time ago now, but as happens to every bicycle part, the technology "improved" and our wheels got wider. Yes, in the name of aerodynamics, with the use of "Computational Fluid Dynamics" (dork speak for computery imagery thingy), we got a wheel that is "better" because it's wider.


That's all I need to rationalize shelling out almost $3,000 for two wheels (still more than I have in the cars that I own). But wait! There's More!

"More strength.
... a wider rim increases lateral stiffness for sprinting and cornering yet offers greater vertical compliance for more control, comfort, and durability on rough surfaces. The same holds true for Firecrest rims. The 303 Firecrest is a proven performer on the open road, cobblestones or rough cyclocross courses. In both tubular and Carbon Clincher versions, the wider design places more rubber on the road while cornering without adding rolling resistance."

There you have it, one more thing that is somehow super "stiff" yet really "compliant."
(there is a euphemism in there somewhere)
 I will give them this however... A wider rim will in fact open the tire up more allowing the tire to roll better through corners, but so will a standard 25c tire with 100psi in it (or 27c if your bike will fit it, which of course it will most likely NOT because most manufactures have reverse engineered wider tires out of their frame geometry considerations). If you remember, it was not that long ago that, before wider rims came along, we were just discovering that wider tires were the ticket. Basically, wider tires offered us the chance to have the same pressure in our tires, but more volume, which made the ride more comfortable and less jarring.

Proof that we had in fact, already solved the "wider" issue as far as contact patch and comfort goes. But making a wheel more aero was a much larger task. I am going to avoid the tech speak as to what exactly makes a wheel more aero, as this blog is already dripping with copious amounts of boring but simply said: to achieve better results (at the time), the rim profile had to become a much deeper V-shape. This made the wheel feel like a sail as it was hit by moving air and would push the rider all over the road. So it was indeed the aero effect that sent us on the quest for the Holy Grail so to speak; a wheel that was wide and aero, that did not push like a dump truck in a cross wind.

Then Zipp developed the new (at the time) Firecrest Rim.

While it is more aero (and they have the numbers to prove it), there was a large problem with them at the onset. See, of all of the standards that had come and gone in our industry, one had yet to change: the width of the rim. For years, the standard was somewhere around 18 to 23 millimeters wide. This number varied of course between manufacturers based on their own rationale as to what worked better, was stronger, or even "more aero." For the sake of argument, it is fair to say that there was a standard for many years and it had not been challenged to this new extreme. While the wheels had not changed, brake calipers remained the same as well. I mean, why would they change? Wheels hadn't, so brakes didn't have to. So with the new wheel on the market, brands had to quickly adapt to the wider rim in order to keep their brakes on people's bikes. It did hurt a few brands in the beginning. I mean, you had guys who just bought a Dura Ace grouppo that had to change their new brakes to those bullshit ones from Ciamillo. They weren't much wider but they did offer pad holders that had a more narrow profile which allowed the pads to clear the rim. They stopped like shit because they had no spring tension but at least it was a solution to the problem.
Then of course, as I had alluded to a couple of times before, the industry once again started to over-engineer things like brake technologies. So now you have brands like Cervelo, that offer the most aerodynamically advanced time trial bikes available (in a niche referred to as "super bikes") that are using hydraulic rim brakes as stock equipment. But there is a problem with that: the people who buy those bikes want the wheels to go with them and they don't fit.

(with the brake in the fully "open" position, the wheel will not even turn)

So how do you make them work? Well for that answer, I called the guys at Magura and was told what usually works is to "remove the concave washer on the brake pad holder." Yeah, it worked, but now I can't angle or "toe" the pads to keep them from squealing. I must say that at least the clearance problem was solved by doing that, but I cannot live with the fact that I had to remove parts from a $1,000 set of brakes to make them work. To me, that is unacceptable. 

It's sad too because the brakes work really well with a regular wheel.*

 *it's worth noting that while they may work, I still think that hydraulic rim brakes are unnecessary.

What's more is that they actually worked in cooperation with Cervelo in order to bring these things to market in a BIG way.

"MAGURA streamlined the RT8 TT in collaboration with the aerodynamics expert CervĂ©lo using a wind tunnel. The brake bodies are shaped aerodynamically and the hydraulic lines are hidden inside the tubes. The ultra-stiff brake levers form part of the wing profile."

What could be bigger than partnering with an aerodynamic powerhouse like Cervelo? Well, perhaps partnering with (or even considering for that matter) the only other brand that can boast the same aero tech - Zipp Speed Weaponry. It's foolish if you ask me, to spend all the time, money, and wind tunnel testing to have not even considered that Cervelo and Zipp are like peas and carrots.
But I digress...

For the most part, brake manufacturers have since caught up to Fire Crest technology but just as it looked as though a company had truly developed "A better wheel in every way," 
Zipp dropped a new "F bomb" in our laps.

(the "F" stands for Fire Strike)

Almost 2 millimeters of new width, and no where to put it.
(...that's what she said ;)

It is no secret that I am a fan of what Zipp has done for wheel technology. Made in my home state, I have nothing but love for the quality of products they produce. That said, will I ever own one? Probably not. I have neither the money, nor the need. But, after seeing this new development, I am left to ask... 
Is it planned obsolescence? I mean, they already created "a better wheel..." right?
All of the sudden I am supposed to buy into an even better one?! If the other was the best, and now we have a better one, 
What is to stop them from making another? Will the brake manufacturers have to continue building brakes to fit? To what end? 
With the realization of disc brakes on road bikes being a real thing (again, one more thing I hate) I wonder if it will end by making brake calipers a thing of the past anyway. When that happens, will it be the clearance of the frame that finally dictates an end to this madness? I will say this, if they have to make forks and stays wider in order to accommodate an ever growing wheel width, we might as well go back to riding Rivendell's least then we could back to making bikes useful again by adding racks and fenders.