Zipp assembled a number of journalists to introduce the 650c Firecrest 404 Carbon Clincher, Vuka Stealth bar, the new 30 and 60 wheels and Elsa and Riken Quarq cranks. There’s not much point to bringing us all together just to talk about this stuff. The hope had been that we’d ride three days, but the Tucson weather had other ideas.
There’s a belief that Tucson, Arizona, is a place to go when you’re tired of winter elsewhere. Just how this belief came to proliferate, I can’t tell. In my two visits to Tucson during the late fall and winter, I have to say this place is colder than most of California and it’s hard to make a case that you’re a winter-free locale if snow can fall there, something that did happen on Monday, killing that day’s ride. This isn’t a criticism of Zipp; it’s a curiosity about the source of what strikes me as a fundamental fallacy. There are stories enough about Discovery/RadioShack training camps with Belgian weather occurring in Tucson that you’d think someone would have amended the Wikipedia entry.
We did manage to get out for two rides thanks to excellent support from Jose Alcala, Justin Koch and Chad Contreras at SRAM NRS. We were provided with Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4s (those of us who were riding road bikes—guys checking out the Vuka Stealth were on Cervelos) equipped with SRAM Red which was great for me given I’d just finished riding a Tarmac.
For both rides I went out on the new 30 wheels. As I clipped in for my first ride, which came before our tech briefing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d already seen the rim shape and wondered how they would performer. Of course, that first ride was miraculous. What really made the difference were the special edition testosterone and dopamine-laced Clif Shot Bloks, but I didn’t suspect them at the time. As we were rolling out from the Starr Pass resort, I delivered a 1350-watt 20-second effort, jumped a flock of road runner and then skidded sideways to a stop without folding up the wheels.
Okay, so that didn’t happen.
What did happen was as we descended out of the resort I felt that familiar difference in acceleration that I experience with more aerodynamic wheels. I’ve just spent a bunch of time on the latest Dura-Ace hoops and while they rolled strong, true and reliable, they are to aerodynamic what Marlboro is to healthy living.
Numerous studies have shown remarkably consistent application of the Rate of Perceived Exertion by athletes. I bring that up because a couple of weeks ago, troubled by my inability to think of a more objective way to quantify the difference in experience I have with aerodynamic wheels vs. standard wheels, I began thinking about whether I could view it as a difference in RPE. Bingo. I’ll probably do a survey of my experiences in a separate post if I can put together something that seems sufficiently rigorous to report as responsible analysis. Let’s suffice to say that my experience at effort placed these distinctly ahead of box rims, but not nearly as fast as something like the 303s.
Despite the fact that these aren’t what I’d call light wheels (in my head, 1500 grams is the big dividing point), they were easy to wind up. My takeaway on that is a reinforcement of the wheels’ notable aerodynamics.
According to my Garmin, I’ve got about four hours on the wheels in two rides. I’m impressed by them, full stop. I’m well aware that not everyone wants to spend $850 on a pair of wheels. I’m also aware that there are RKP readers who can spend that much for a set of spares. If $850 is more than you want to spend, that’s fine. But in that $750 to just less than $1000 range, I think these are a fairly remarkable set of wheels.
I love the chance to ride new products; some end up amazing, but others … not quite as much. The funny thing is going to these events is often less about the products themselves than the people there. I had plenty of reasons to stay home: My wife is pregnant. I missed the chance to do a fun ride in Malibu with friends. I also missed a chance to take my son to the skatepark. The days were long, and while the quality of the room was stellar, Having a few boxes show up at home while I stay put would be easier. I go to these events in part because I’m honored that they ask, but also because it’s invariably an opportunity to talk with other people—smart people—passionate about bikes, people who are passionate enough about bikes that they gave up the chance to earn more in another industry by sticking to what most of the world thinks of as a kid’s toy. Just showing up means a chance to learn something.
There’s a lot in the bike industry that excites me, but it’s not everything by any means. In writing about new equipment I’m chasing the promise of something that makes the experience fresh, that renews what it feels like to get on a bike for the first time. These wheels are a great option for those who want a great set of wheels but don’t want to spend top-shelf cash. But why take my word for it? I’ve already heard from friends who were asking how soon they’ll be available so they can purchase a set.