Tech & Specs
A Little Background on November
November Bicycles is a small Maryland-based maker of bikes, framesets and wheels. By selling direct and limiting costs that don’t directly add value to their products (such as advertising and sponsorships), the company claims to be able to offer their goods at up to half the cost of some other, larger producers.
Like other companies following the same model, November also boasts that you are buying directly from the people who are, in the case of their wheels, hand building them on-site. If there is an issue, you call the person who built them, not a dealer, not a reseller, not a bike shop. Mike May, one of November’s owners, calls it the “food truck approach.” It’s laid out nicely in a blog post on the company website.
There is, to be sure, a certain feeling of value to be had by sourcing gear from a small company focusing on quality and building their own products. We were eager to try November’s new 52mm carbon clincher wheelset to see if the performance matches the quite favorable price.
Flared Design for Aero, Understated Good Looks
These are full carbon wheels (including the brake track). They follow the by now industry standard formula of wider flared rims started by companies such as Zipp with their Firecrest model. This design claims to improve aerodynamics and handling characteristics. (I’ve previously had a chance to review a set of Boyd 60mm carbon clinchers and came away impressed by the design’s benefits on the road.)
Right out of the box, November’s hoops impress with their good looks. They have an understated quality with only a small “Rail 52” decal on each wheel. Included with the wheels are rim strips, skewers and SwissStop Black Prince brake pads. November recommends using only these particular brake pads, which are made specifically for all-carbon wheels. The rims are manufactured to their specification in Taiwan, with wheel building being completed in the U.S.
Setting up the bike to use the wheels was relatively trivial. I swapped out the brake pads and made adjustments for the rims, which are slightly wider than my everyday wheels. The wheels ship with a cassette spacer to be used for 10-speed drivetrains; the spacer should be removed for 11-speeds.
Smooth and Fast, But a Bit Harsh
I received these wheels in January, about the same time I was learning for the first time the term “polar vortex.” As a result, the testing period featured less than ideal conditions, including frigid temperatures, roads often covered in salt and sand, and fewer group rides. To their credit, the wheels performed great in all these conditions.
My first impression – and a lasting one – is of smooth-rolling wheels that seemed to spin up to speed quickly. There is, however, the sensation of feeling more of the road on these wheels than on my everyday aluminum wheels.
The ride felt a little harsher − not to the point of being unpleasant, or unduly tiring, but it felt as though you could sense each little bit of road. Part of the reason for this is the wheels’ stiffness, which of course promotes the smooth-rolling, quick accelerations.
If this were my long-term wheelset, I’d be tempted to switch to 25mm-wide tires, which is becoming increasingly common in the pro ranks, as well as among recreational roadies – especially on carbon rims that already are a bit wider than most.
Performance: Quick, Lively, But Not the Best at Holding Speed
The aerodynamics are noticeable compared to the traditional rim shape. The bike handling remained safe and predictable in the frequently windy wintertime conditions with the deeper 52mm rims. The tire junction, where the rim and tire meets, is smoothed to further aid in the wheels’ aerodynamics. (Wind tunnel testing by November claims that their wheels demonstrate better aerodynamics than the Zipp 404 Firecrest at certain speeds. See the November site for more details).
The Boyd 60mm carbon clincher wheels I previously tested seemed to come alive at around 22mph while being perhaps a bit sluggish building up to that sweet spot. The November wheels, on the other hand, are quicker, more lively at lower speeds and seemingly make it easier to build speed.
Braking performance was good — almost as good as my aluminum wheels. The feeling through the brake levers was consistent and well-modulated, without any “grabbiness.”
In terms of holding the speed that they help you achieve, the November wheels fall somewhere between my Mavic Ksyrium SLs and the Boyd wheels. The Boyd wheels seemed to hold speed better, probably due to the slightly higher weight and slightly deeper rims. There’s no question that both the carbon clincher wheelsets perform better overall than my aluminum wheels.
For the testing, I was riding on my local rolling North Carolina Piedmont roads. I didn’t get a chance to test the wheels in the mountains; however, there are certainly lighter climbing wheels available, including the Rail 34 from November. It’s not unusual for carbon wheels, especially those with deeper rims, to trade weight for aerodynamics and speed, making them not practical choices for climbing.
At the price point November has set for these wheels, there are very few other options available for a quality carbon wheelset. In fact, these wheels are a mere $200 more than a set of Mavic Ksyrium SL S aluminum wheels, just for the sake of comparison.
The wheels performed extremely well in the testing period and matched up favorably to the previously tested Boyd wheels to which I was able to compare them. November’s Rail 52s certainly deserve a place on the list of any road rider who is considering a new set of carbon wheels – especially if quality and value for the money are important purchase considerations.
Paul Smith regularly reviews products for RBR. He’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in thePiedmont area of North Carolina. He commutes often, and his car is worth less than any of his bikes. Click to read Paul’s full bio.