Rolf vs. Campy Wheels
DEAR UNCLE AL: I have a set of Rolf Vector Comp wheels and am thinking of upgrading to Campy Proton. Comparing the two wheelsets, is there is a great amount of difference? I’m looking for light weight, stiff and reliable — and within my budget. — Brandon A.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Brando, your Rolf Vector Comps are 820g front and 1,083g rear. They are very strong and pretty light. The Campy Proton wheels weigh 680g front and 960g rear. Very light and no doubt strong — if they are not the wheels you train on. The Rolfs would be the better choice for everyday use.
The Protons will climb really well but should be reserved for event use, not trips to the grocery or training on lousy roads. They fall under the category of Climb Dynamics, and are designed with that in mind. Sure, you can sprint on them, slam them into potholes and generally abuse them, but you’ll be whining if you mistreat their intended use. Save ’em for stuff that counts. Meanwhile, ride the Rolfs until they are all used up.
FEEDBACK FROM JERRY W.: I’m around 210-220 pounds. I put about 8,000 miles on a set of Rolf Vector Comps that came stock on my Trek 5200 without breaking a spoke or even needing truing! I was really worried about those wheels as I usually go through a conventional 32-spoke rear wheel every couple of years.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: All wheel builds are not equal, Jerry! A poorly built 32-spoke wheel is no comparison to your well-built Rolfs. If a wheel is properly tensioned and has good components, you should get many years of use without breaking spokes.
FEEDBACK FROM CHRIS A.: I follow you with a great deal of interest and respect, Uncle Al, and I learn something new every time I check the site. That’s saying something — I’ve been riding and racing for over 40 years.
I have one thing to add to your wheel assessment for large guys like me. I go 215 and have been as high as 235. I’ve been racing and training on a pair of Campy Shamal wheels for nine years. That’s a lot of mileage, and a lot of our roads are like cobblestone the way they’re broken up.
Not all wheels are created equal and, as you say, a very good builder is required. I think we can say that Campy wheels are probably built by people in that category. Incidentally, they okayed Proton wheels for me after I contacted them with my weight and usage information
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Campy Shamal wheels might be the strongest wheels ever built. They weren’t considered light, but the years of use you’ve gotten out of them speaks for itself. Hopefully, you’ll get the same good results from the Protons.
Beware of Climbing Wheels
DEAR UNCLE AL: I live in Miami and don’t get to train for climbing except on a local bridge and in spinning class, where I raise the front of my spinner 4-6 inches. I ride 6,000-7,000 miles a year and am training to try PBP again (only got to Brest in ’99). Do wheels marketed as “good climbing” really help, or is any good wheel all you need for the average guy? Rant on! — Ted S.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Teddy, you didn’t say how big of a feller you are. But as a general rule, I recommend standard wheels, like 32- or 36-spoke with 3-cross lacing on Mavic Open Pro rims, for everything — training, racing and reliability.
Climbing wheels, no matter who makes them, are very light and are designed for racing or special events. I see people buy these, train on them and destroy them. They are not stout enough for everyday use. If you are a big rider, say over 180 pounds, they are a waste of money for any reason.
A lot of this new wheel stuff is marketing at its finest and doesn’t have the rider in mind as much as profit margins. For something as important as PBP, I wouldn’t bet my results on the light stuff. Bernard Hinault once said, “In order to win, one must finish.”
Rear Wheel Slipping in Frame
DEAR UNCLE AL: I have a 1992 Pinarello. It has been great for over 50,000 miles, but I have two consistent problems I hope you can help me with.
First, every time I stand to climb or sprint, the rear wheel slips in the dropouts and rubs the left chainstay. I’ve tightened the quick release to a point where a gorilla couldn’t get it loose. I’ve tried different wheels. The problem still happens.
Second, the Ultegra bottom bracket keeps loosening. I finally resorted to Loctite. It works for about 1,000 miles, then it loosens again. — Scott G.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: I was looking for an easy way out on your questions, but you’ve already done most of what I would do.
Trying other wheels was smart, but it didn’t fix the problem, so here’s what’s left to do: Remove all the paint that’s left on both dropouts, inside and out, with a razor blade. Then take a flat file (a “bastard” file; where’d they get that name?) and make sure to remove any weird grooves that have formed from King Kong tightening the QR. Try it to see if the problem is gone.
If you are using the same quick release on the various wheels, get one that’s not the world’s lightest but is a proven design, such as Shimano, Campy or Salsa. Some of the off-brand or “world’s most unique” skewers will allow the problem you speak of. I can’t think of many things more annoying than a rear wheel you can’t trust to stay in place.
As for the bottom bracket problem, pull it apart again and clean the threads with acetone (love that smell). I mean inside the shell and the bottom bracket itself.
Don’t get acetone on the paint! Put 3-4 drops of blue Loctite #242 on the cups, reinstall and torque to 25 foot-pounds. Don’t ride the bike for 24 hours, so the Loctite can cure.
The right-hand threads of drive-side Italian-threaded BB shells have always been a problem this way. Bianchi went to left-hand English threading years ago to solve the problem. I wonder why the rest haven’t? National pride?
Did I mention not to get Loctite on the paint? Try it if you want to see why.
Mysteriously Creaking Wheel
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’ve got this light-but-annoying creak that seems to come from the front end of my bike each time I stand. I’ve checked the handlebar stem and greased it appropriately. It’s not the bottom bracket or the pedals as I’ve had them checked. Every possible nut and bolt is tightened sufficiently.
I’ve done my detective work and believe the creaks are coming from the spokes because I can re-create the sound when I squeeze them slightly. There’s some give where the spokes cross each other. Is this likely to be the cause? If so, what can be done about it? Is it a question of lightly greasing the “cross points” or does it require tightening all the spokes? — Steve T. in Australia
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Hello Down Under! Ain’t the Internet a wunnerful thang?
Steve, you’ve found the culprit. It’s the spokes. If you increase their tension 1/4 turn all the way around the wheel, the creaking should go away. It’s probably coming from where the spokes join the hub, rather than at the crossings. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that a little more tension — we need more tension in our lives, don’t we? — will solve the problem.
Now if I could just make those voices go away!
FEEDBACK FROM LON F.: A shop owner once solved a creaking in my bike by putting a little grease between my wheel’s quick-release skewer and the dropout. My guess is that the embarrassing sound was caused by aluminum on aluminum.
DEAR UNCLE AL: Some people are weight weenies. I’m a noise weenie. I can’t stand any weird sounds coming from my bike.
I’ve got a pair of Mavic Open Pro wheels with 28 14/15-gauge spokes (2-cross) in front and 32 3-cross in back, with brass nipples.
I hear a clicking or rattling noise when I’m moving. The speed of the noise increases as my speed increases up to 18-20 mph, where it’s barely noticeable. I hear it once per revolution of the wheel.
I know I should just ride faster all the time, but that’s a tough solution. I’ve cleaned the spokes, de-stressed them and even put some lube on them where they cross, but nothing works. Any thoughts? — Marty E.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: My thought is that it ain’t your spokes, Marty, it’s your rim.
When Mavic makes rims, they insert a short sleeve at the joint and center punch it to hold it in place before the rim is welded. Those two little dimples you see are those punch marks.
What you’re hearing is that little sleeve, which has come loose and is moving in the rim every time the joint passes the ground. It’s a truly annoying tick, tick, tick sound, right?
To stop it, take off the tire/tube/rim strip. With a center punch and hammer, whack those two little divots hard. Don’t pound away at them, simply give each one a sharp rap. Reinstall the rubber and go for a ride to see if it worked. It will have in most cases.
I’ve heard it happen with Mavic and Campy rims. It’s not considered a warranty issue, but Mavic is generous about covering it if your shop has a good relationship with them and goes to bat for you. So if my remedy doesn’t stop the tick, see what your shop can do for you.
FEEDBACK FROM DEREK E.: I too am a noise weenie and am always on search-and-destroy missions with creaks, clicks, cracks, pops and groans. I also have Open Pro wheels and have wrestled with the clicking. I’d seen suggestions about the tab at the weld but was hesitant to take a hammer and punch to the wheels.
After about nine months, I was ready to give up on them. But someone suggested putting a drop of oil into each spoke eyelet. I figured that was easy enough to try, and lo and behold the creaking was gone for at least three months. When it returned, I relubed the eyelets and it was gone again. This is such an easy, quick, non-threatening fix that everyone should know about it.
FEEDBACK FROM DAN Y.: Uncle Al may well be correct in his assessment of Marty’s ticking problem. Almost everyone in our club who has Open Pro wheels has heard them click. What we have found is that one must lube the spoke nipple/rim eyelet interfaces.
DEAR UNCLE AL: I’ve heard that wheel balance is not an important issue in bicycling. Yet I’ve watched wheels spin in a truing stand (with no tire/tube on them), then rotate back when coming to rest so the heaviest part of the wheel is at the bottom. Given that balancing rotating elements is necessary in industry and on my car, should I try to balance my bike wheels? If so, how? — Bill F.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: You are correct about imbalance in bicycle wheels, Wm., but this issue is in the realm of theory. In practice, the only time you’d feel a wheel out of balance is if it’s out of round, something that’s corrected by spoke tension and not by weights and counterweights.
A bicycle wheel is so light and of such large diameter that it does not generate the “hammering” forces an automobile or motorcycle wheel does. Nor do we typically travel at the same speeds as a motorized vehicle. Heavy stuff and precision machinery spinning at high rpm does require balancing.
The “heavy” spot you see rotate to the bottom of a wheel on a truing stand is the joint. Most rims have some sort of internal sleeve where they’re joined, making it the heaviest area.
Rim companies are clever. They put the valve hole for the inner tube opposite the joint. In this way, the valve stem serves as a counterweight and all is good in the world. The sleeve and valve stem probably aren’t exactly the same weight, but they’re close enough that “balance” becomes a non-issue.
So Bill, I’m thinking you are a very smart guy worrying about these kinds of things. It’s people like you that move us all ahead with better designs and higher standards. But in this case, worry no more.
Now if you’ve got some ideas about a maintenance-free chain, let me know!
Water in Rim
DEAR UNCLE AL: The day after riding in a downpour, I washed my bike and noticed that when I spun the wheels, they sloshed. I removed the tires and found water inside them and the rim. Is this normal? Can I prevent it by forcing a little wax between each spoke nipple and rim? — Steve B.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: After living on the north coast of California for 10 years and riding in the rain day after week after month — you get the picture — I swore to never ride in the rain on purpose again. I’m a rain weenie and might not ride even if it only threatens to rain. But I secretly enjoy it when I get caught, as it makes me feel like a flahute, a Belgian term for those classics riders who thrive in cold, rain, mud, sleet, cobbles. Those are the riders to be reckoned with. You are a rider to be reckoned with, too, and more power to you for not calling your wife on the cell phone when the storm hit.
Oh yeah, water in the rims. Some rims have a recessed (hidden) eyelet, which is pretty cool except it allows water to run unabated down the spoke and into the rim. A conventional rim with a visible eyelet is not as prone to watery intrusions because the spoke nipples act like a dam.
If I were to follow the advice that I’m sure my friend Grant Petersen at Rivendell would give on this matter, I’d use beeswax around every spoke/rim interface to seal out that weighty water. I think beeswax will work better than anything. It will surely add some weight, but not the amount that water does. Maybe water intrusion is a rim maker’s clever way of slowing you down when the conditions mean you should.
Wheel Weight vs. Rim Weight
DEAR UNCLE AL: I was looking at various wheels and wondering if there is a way to compare them that not only takes into account their weight, but the distance that weight is from the hub. For example, if two wheels are the same weight, but one has 20 spokes and requires a heavier rim to compensate, and the other has 32 spokes, isn’t the fact that more weight lies on the perimeter of the first wheel less desirable? — Frank E.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: Hey, I’m only a bike mechanic, Frankie, not a physicist. But yeah, I think you got it right about heavy stuff being harder to accelerate and decelerate the farther it is from the center point of rotation.
Had I been paying attention in physics class instead of sticking paper clips into electrical outlets and causing California’s first brownouts, I could give you a slick scientific answer and all sorts of cool numbers to back it up.
Instead, I’m going to give you my seat-of-the-pants answer. Hopefully, it might be correct.
Look at a wheel and consider that each spoke — and each section of the rim in proximity to each spoke — is something that has to be lifted. Doesn’t it make sense that the fewer the spokes, the more weight each spoke has to lift and more effort is required to do it?
Now factor in the need for a stronger, heavier rim to compensate for the higher spoke tension required for wheels with fewer spokes. This adds to the weight each spoke is lifting, compared to a normal wheel.
If you check some of the high-tension, low-spoke-count wheels, they almost never list what the rims weigh. Instead, you’re told the overall wheel weight, which can be impressively light.
I know you engineering types are getting ready to write. But a number of roadies have told me they’ve recorded faster times on conventional wheels than on $800 wonder wheels over a fixed distance on a repeatable course.
So, I think using lighter wheels is no advantage if they have heavier rims and more spinning weight compared to conventional wheels.
Aerodynamics play into this as well, which is a whole other discussion. I think I was in the principal’s office when that topic came up.
Just know that losing wheel weight is no guarantee that you’ll be faster. Make sure you are getting a net gain in performance when you are looking at new wheels, and not giving up simplicity and durability for something that ends up being slower. What’s the point then?
FEEDBACK FROM VALLE S.: Your mechanic’s sense is dead right, Unc, but your seat of the pants answer is a bit off track.
Lifting the heavy side of the wheel isn’t the issue because the opposite side is descending at the same time. Rotational inertia is the evil culprit.
Higher mass at the perimeter means higher rotational moment of inertia. A flywheel has high mass because it wants to have lots of rotational inertia. A bike wheel wants to have low rotational inertia so acceleration is easy. As you say, traditional wheels accelerate better and can have lighter rims.
Overcoming rotational inertia is a small factor when the wheels are as light as they are now, but it has meaning.
FEEDBACK FROM TERRY B.: My physics & math background are about equal to yours, Uncle Al. In regards to wheels, www.analyticcycling.com gives an understandable explanation with some non-comprehensible formulas. It’s called “rotational inertia.”
FEEDBACK FROM MICHAEL R.: You said: “Look at a wheel and consider that each spoke — and each section of the rim in proximity to each spoke — is something that has to be lifted. Doesn’t it make sense that the fewer the spokes, the more weight each spoke has to lift and more effort is required to do it?”
Sure that’s true — but consider (and I’m not physicist either, not even a mechanical engineer) the whole wheel. While you’re lifting that wheel section there’s another part of equal weight on the other side of the wheel being dragged down by gravity.
It doesn’t make sense that you have to “lift more” since your friend and mine, gravity (at least on the descent), is on the other side giving a helping hand.
I agree with the “it’s the whole wheel that counts” thought. And the weight out on the end of the spoke presents a lot of inertia to overcome. It’s a balanced system that needs to be looked at as a whole.
FEEDBACK FROM PAUL W.: Wheel inertia can be compared with a simple device called a trifilar rotational pendulum. Attach three strings to the ceiling with the free ends straight down and attach the wheel rim, evenly spaced, to the other ends with the wheel plane parallel to the ground. Then displace (turn) the wheel a little and measure the number of oscillations per minute. The natural frequency squared is inversely proportional to the rotational inertia, thus the higher the frequency, the lower the wheel’s inertia.
Overall wheel weight is important for hill climbing, and wheel rotational inertia is important for accelerating. At constant speed, the wheel’s rotational inertia does not affect the energy expended by the rider, however the rider has to “lift” the entire combined weight of the bike and him/herself when ascending a hill.
When accelerating, the rider works against the angular inertia of the wheels to increase their rotational speed, thus the radius of gyration (distance the mass is from the center of rotation if it was all lumped at a point) is important. The mass moment of inertia of a spinning object is equal to its mass times its radius of gyration squared.
Spokes work in tension in the top half of the wheel, they do not “lift” the rim. Think of the hub as hanging by the spokes toward the top of the wheel. The more crossings used in the lacing, the more the tensile load is spread out among the spokes and the better it is able to transfer drive torque in a rear wheel (or disc brake torque) from the hub to the rim. Spokes at the bottom of the wheel actually see a reduction in tensile load under the rider’s weight from their unloaded condition.
Much of the mass of a clincher rim is dictated by its tire flange strength for retaining the tire and resisting damage when striking a road impact. It’s interesting to note that paired spokes allow much wider spoke spacing because they more evenly balance the lateral loads on the rim thus allowing it to stay in true, although pairing the spokes does little to reduce the tendency toward rim hop. That’s probably why paired spoke wheels tend to have a taller rim cross-section than standard wheels.
FEEDBACK FROM KERRY I.: While you’ve got the conclusion right, Uncle Al, your “spokes lifting weight” thinking is a bit fuzzy.
Accelerating any object requires an increase in kinetic energy (KE). The amount of KE is one half the mass times velocity squared (KE = 1/2m v^2). Since the rim/tire part of the wheel is rotating at the same speed the bike is going, the total KE of a bike in motion is the sum of the total mass plus the KE of the rotating rim/tire. You can ignore the spoke weight since it’s so small, and the rotation speed of the hub (or crank and pedals) is so low that it is likewise negligible.
The physics is simple: When you have to accelerate a rim/tire, it takes twice the KE of accelerating the same mass anywhere else on the bike. This is the source of the old “a pound off the wheels equals two pounds off the bike” maxim.
What it means is a little more complicated. Though it is easier to accelerate light rims/tires, they also slow down faster when you quit pedaling because they have less momentum. While riding at steady speed, weight is weight since there is no change in KE.
For everything except a crit where you’re braking for the corners, saving rim/tire weight is no different than saving weight anywhere else. In the crit, you’re burning off the KE every time you brake, but in any other riding situation, you get the KE back when you coast. This applies just as much when your speed is surging with each pedal stroke on a steep hill as when you coast in a paceline to scrub some speed.
Just for reference, light rims/tires would save less than 1% in total energy if you are braking for every corner in a 1-km crit course. Rim/tire weight is significant for crit racers (if they brake a lot) but no different than any other weight for the rest of us.
While people will rave about how much faster they are on lighter wheels, they cannot support the subjective experience with data (like comparing several time trial or hillclimb results with the same tires at the same pressure).
Hope this makes up a little for your not paying attention in physics class!
Wondering About Wheels
DEAR UNCLE AL: I wish I had a real uncle who knew as much about bikes!
Can you take out the hype and explain simply why spokes are crossed? Also, why the drive side of the hub on many wheels has a different crossing than the non-drive side. To me, this says that the hub twists under load so that the drive side is doing more work. I find this hard to believe, given the low power output of bicycle motors (us mortals).
[Editors note: This roadie goes on to ask more questions than a 5-year-old, then finally reaches this bottom line: “Am I thinking about this too much?”]
P.S. I’m a returning rider with a job and a family and not a lot of available riding time. I bought a nice, used Trek 5500 road bike. It rides great, very light and responsive. It has low-spoke-count aero wheels (Rolf Vector Pros). I like them because they look cool, they are easy to keep clean and it’s easy to add air (not too techie, but honest). The seller told me he’d never had a problem with them, and it appears to be so.
I know you recommend traditional-spoke-count wheels, as does the shop owner I go to. However, the Rolfs are working for me now and I’m not looking to fix what isn’t broken. — Valle S.
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: For your questions about wheel theory, I’m going to cop out and recommend three books that deal exclusively with the subject:
- The Art of Wheelbuilding by Gerd Schraner, the recognized Zen master of wheels.
- The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. Although published in 1981, the information is as good today as it was then.
- Building Bicycle Wheels by Robert Wright. I’m guessing this one is out of print, but its excellent, no-nonsense approach makes it worth searching for. Try Google.
Wheelbuilding theory is an age-old and very interesting subject. I’ve been building wheels for many years, and really don’t think much about theory anymore. Each wheel is a learning experience, even after having built hundreds of them.
P.S. The Rolf wheels are good and strong. Just hope you never break a spoke when you are a long way from home, as you’ll be walking for sure.
Sexy Wheels vs. Sensible Wheels
DEAR UNCLE AL: Sexy or sensible? Hot or ho-hum? I don’t mean you — that answer is obvious — I mean bicycle wheels.
I know you’ve ranted about lightweight wheels, but I’m looking for your absolute bottom line. I’m ready to trade my entry-level Mavics for a better set of everyday wheels. I don’t race, but I ride centuries and train on decent to bumpy roads
I’ve been agonizing over whether to buy a set of hot-looking wheels like Mavic’s Ksyriums or Campy’s Eurus, or whether I should go with a set of Mavic Open Pro rims on Dura-Ace hubs. Please help! — Christina
UNCLE AL FIRES BACK: What do you think, Chris? Sensible girls are much more desirable than those that are purely sexy. Same with bike wheels.
I consider the new generation of wheels, like the Ksyriums or Eurus, to be “event’ wheels. They are designed for competition and are beautiful to look at. That’s great, but my experience says they fall short in durability. They cannot be serviced without a skilled mechanic and parts/tools that are not readily available.
This past summer, we had Ride the Rockies and the Bicycle Tour of Colorado pass through our town. Guess which wheels showed up at my shop? Broken spokes, bad freehub bodies, etc., etc.
I can fix nearly anything on a bicycle, but I’m left muttering to myself when I don’t have the right kind of spoke or spoke wrench to service these wheels, which all seem to have durability issues when they’re put to everyday use.
So if you choose sexy over sensible, you’d better have the correct spoke wrench, extra spokes of correct type and length, and any other miscellaneous parts unique to your wheels. You cannot count on shops having this stuff in stock when you need it.
I have a friend/customer who got “a really good deal” on a set of wheels that shall remain anonymous. One day he had to hitchhike 35 miles back home because he broke one spoke. His wheels require a weird spoke length and a nut driver, so he couldn’t do the job on the side of the road.
Normally, a broken spoke isn’t a ride-stopper. But his wheels, like many of this type, won’t rotate in the frame if even one spoke pops. When you reduce the number of spokes and increase their tension, you are far more likely to suffer catastrophic results when a spoke breaks. End of ride!
So, Chris, do yourself a favor and go with the D-A hubs and the Open Pro rims with 32 holes. Forget looking sexy while you stand by the side of the road with your busted wheels, hoping that whoever stops is not some kind of demento. Chances are, they won’t be able to fix your wheels, either.