How can you stop water from entering the rim again? See Uncle Al’s rant.
Top Tandem Tire
DEAR JIM: What’s a good, flat-resistant and comfy tire for my tandem? Our combined bike/riders weight is 350 pounds? What inflation pressure should I use? — John H.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: The consensus of my tandem-riding friends is that you can’t do better than the Continental Ultra Gatorskin (about $35). They say it’s a great-riding tire that resists punctures thanks to Conti’s Kevlar-belted Gatorskin technology and tough DuraSkin sidewalls. This tire also has a higher profile than other models, which provides more impact protection for your rims — a nice feature for the weight of tandems.
My friends recommend the 28C width pumped to 110-115 psi.
Tips for Easy Clincher Installation
DEAR JIM: After spending an hour attempting to mount Michelin Axial Pro tires on my Rolf rims, and withthree pinch holes in two tubes, I’m frustrated! Can I assume that this is not a good tire/rim match? What combo do you recommend for easy tire installation? — Dennis W.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: In checking with my LBS and online, I haven’t found any reports of problems with Rolf rims. In fact, I’ve owned two different Rolf models over the years and found them exceptionally easy to mount tires on. My luck with Michelin Axial Pro tires has been excellent, too.
This doesn’t mean that you couldn’t have rare oversize rims and/or undersize tires. I have seen this occasionally. But mounting problems are more often caused by improper tube or rim strip selection, or by poor mounting techniques.
I’ll offer my best tips in the hope they’ll solve your Axial Pro/Rolf problem.
- Use a tube that’s narrower than the tire. For example, if you’re running 700x23C tires, use a 700x20C tube. The smaller the tube is, the less space it takes up inside the tire, which makes it far easier to work the tire onto the rim. This is one of the keys to step 3.
- Use the thinnest rim strip you can find. When I say thin, I’m not talking about the width. The rim strip must be wide enough to completely cover the spoke holes or they will puncture the tube. I’m talking about the material’s thickness. The thinner the rim strip, the smaller the effective rim diameter. That gives you a tad more space when mounting the tire.Tip! With Rolf wheels, where there are paired spokes with a long stretch between each set, you can use small pieces of an adhesive rim strip just at the spoke holes. You can forgo the rest of the rim strip, which helps tire installation a lot.
- Center the tire beads. A rim is built with a deep channel (the “rim well”) in the center. It’s the secret to easy tire mounting. If you squeeze the tire beads (the edges of the tires) into this channel during installation, you’ll find that most tires will pop on and off by hand.It takes a little practice to keep the beads in the well because they want sit on the rim shoulders (where they are when the tube is inflated). When they’re on the shoulders, you’re working with a larger rim diameter, making it harder to mount the tire. So, your goal is to keep a good portion of the beads in the well, which creates plenty of slack to help get the tire on.
- Use only your hands to install the tire. I’m mentioning this because you said you “pinched” your tubes, which usually happens when tire levers are used to pry the tire on. After tips 1-3, you should be able to install the tire with your hands. If you prefer using a tire lever, get one designed for installation, such as the Crank Brothers Speed Lever. With a little practice, this tool is easy to use and works well.Tip! Uncle Al has written about this topic, too, and he offers some other tips you will find helpful. For his suggestions, click here.
Mounting Tight Tubulars
DEAR JIM: When installing a tubular tire, I’m having a problem getting the final few inches up onto the rim. The last bit is always a killer, even after pre-stretching the tire on a rim. What’s the secret? — Lou F.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Whether it’s a stubborn tubular tire (aka, sewup) or a too-tight clincher, attitude has almost as much to do with successful installation as technique. It’s really helpful to have a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude. Get a bit mad at it to make it bend — or in this case stretch — to your will.
Keep in mind that you want tubular tires tofit tightly because it helps keep them on the rim. So it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. By the way, the same is not true for clinchers. They’re mechanically held fast by the rim, so they needn’t fit tightly. In fact, it’s a bad thing if they do. (Are you listening, manufacturers?)
- Stretch it. Storing a tubular on a rim to stretch it is better than nothing, but it loosens the tire only a little. Before installation, you can stretch it more by turning the tire into a figure 8, bending over and putting one loop over your knee, the other over your shoulder, and then straightening your back. How well this works depends on the tire. Take it easy. You’ll feel pretty silly if you injure your back, which is a possibility. A less physical technique is to work around the tire, holding with one hand and pulling with the other.
- Glue it. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve abused the tire enough and it’s ready to submit, apply glue to the rim and tire and let it dry. Follow this with a second, thinner application. Let this dry for a few minutes, but not completely. It’ll help you install the tire if it’s supple and tacky.
- Start it. Working on an uncarpeted floor, stand the wheel in front of you with the valve hole at 12 o’clock and the rim resting against your shins. This leaves both hands free to install the tire. Start by carefully putting the valve stem through the valve hole. Make sure the stem is straight and fully inserted. Don’t let the tire glue touch anything but rim glue.
- Lift it. Now, quickly place one hand at about 2 o’clock and the other at about 10. Lift the tire onto the rim at these points being careful not to get glue on the rim or tire sidewalls. As you do this, move your hands apart and lift more of the tire onto the rim on each side until about a third of the tire is on.
- Get mad at it. Okay, now you’re ready for the fun part. As you make your best Incredible Hulk face, grab the tire with a death grip at about 3 and 9 o’clock. Ph down with both hands for all you’re worth to stretch the tire as much as possible. As you push, let your hands slide down to about 8 and 4 o’clock. But keep gripping tightly and pushing down. Your face should be beet red and the veins should be popping out of your forehead. Grunting loudly will help, and impress the neighbors.What’s happening here is that the glue on the tire and rim is acting as a lubricant. The power of pushing hard while the tire is held in place by the rim allows you to apply significant stretching force. When you’ve given it your best effort, hold fast to the tire, grip the rim and lift the wheel.
- Finish it. If you did it right, you’ll now be amazed to see that the tire is slightly larger than the rim. You can easily set the remaining portion in place. Good job!
Replacing Rounded Spoke Nipples
DEAR JIM: I’m new to the world of wheelbuilding but have built 10 sets for my personal use. Being inexperienced, on the first couple of sets I used a spoke wrench that was too big on the final truing and rounded several nipples. I’m thinking of replacing them. Is that a wise thing to do? Any tips on how to go about it? — Mike D.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Good job on building 10 pairs of wheels!
Yes, replace the rounded nipples because if you don’t, you might find yourself stranded on a ride. For example, you might hit a pothole and warp your wheel. Then, the rounded nipples might prevent you from truing the wheel enough to ride home or to help.
It’s pretty simple to replace the nipples, especially for someone with as much wheelbuilding experience as you now have. As long as you replace one at a time, your wheel should barely go out of true during the process. If a nipple is so rounded you can’t turn it with a spoke wrench, use Vise-Grip pliers. Remember that nipples are soft (brass or aluminum), so be careful not to crush them. Only clamp tightly enough to turn. Once a nipple is loose, you should be able to turn it with a flat screwdriver from inside the rim.
Make sure the new nipple is the right size. There are several gauges of spokes, the most common for road wheels being 14 or 15 (14 is thicker). Each gauge has a specific nipple. This is important because a 14-gauge nipple will seem to fit a 15-gauge spoke. It’ll thread on, but when you start to tighten it, it will stop working correctly.
If you’re using 14-gauge spokes, you won’t have a problem because a 15-gauge nipple won’t fit. But if you’re building with 15-gauge spokes, you must make certain the nipples are 15, too. A good check is to thread a nipple onto a 14-gauge spoke. If it won’t fit, you know you’ve got a 15.
Lubricate the new nipple inside and out, then poke it through the rim hole and thread it onto the spoke. Gradually increase the tension, checking progress by plucking spokes on the same side of the hub. Compare the sound they make to that of the spoke you’re working on. When the pitch matches, the tension will be spot on and the wheel will be as true and round as before.
If you don’t have an ear for music and can’t hear the difference, true the wheel by eye. When it’s round and true, you have it back where it was before the bad nipple was removed. Repeat the process with the other rounded nipples and you’ll be good to go.
DEAR JIM: I recently purchased a Trek 5500 with Bontrager Race X Lite wheels (700x23C). I’ve ridden it four times and had four flats (the rear tire). I love this bike, but I’m not getting in a good ride without having to repair a flat, and that’s not what I had in mind when I purchased it. I read about Slime liquid sealer, Slime tubes and Mr. Tuffy strips, but don’t know much about them. I do know that a few extra grams in each tire aren’t going to make a big difference to me. Any suggestions? I’m running close to 100 psi (using CO2) and weigh 215 pounds. — Kevin O.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: I suspect that your punctures are “pinch flats,” also called “snake bites” because of the small side-by-side holes created in the tube. This is a common cause of repeated flats for heavy riders on skinny tires (23 mm or narrower). It happens when you hit a bump or stone that compresses the tire and presses the tube against the rim, which pinches it and causes a flat.
To determine if that’s the problem or if it’s something else, inspect one of your popped tubes. Inflate it until it’s pretty huge, then listen for the hiss of escaping air. Or, put it under water bit by bit and watch for bubbles. If you find two holes close together, you need to run higher pressure.
If you find a single hole in the same circumference the valve stem is on, check the inside of the rim for anything sharp and file it smooth. Make sure the rim strip covers all nipple holes. Their sharp edges can easily slice the tube.
A hole in the top of the tube means it was punctured by something from the road. And because you’ve had repeated flats, this nasty could still be in your tire’s tread waiting to pop a new tube every few miles. That’s why you should always carefully inspect tires when repairing flats.
A good technique that will find even the smallest thorn or piece of glass or wire is to wad up your glove, stuff it inside the tire and slowly run it around. Do this in both directions in case the object has penetrated the tire at an angle. With luck, the glove will snag the culprit and you can remove it. If not, it might have already fallen out. Just make sure there’s nothing in the tire before putting it back on.
If the problem turns out to be pinch flats, underinflation is the likely reason. If you really ride at 100 psi you should be okay, but you mentioned that you’re using CO2 to inflate your tires. That suggests you may not be checking your pressure often enough because CO2 leaks out of tubes faster than air. Tires go softer between inflations. The solution is to top them off with a good floor pump that has a pressure gauge (about $30) before every ride. That’ll ensure you’re really riding on 100 psi.
I would try proper inflation before any flat-preventatives, such as Slime or Mr. Tuffy. These are fine if you live where thorns, glass or other debris constantly threatens your tires. Otherwise, they have drawbacks. A better protective measure is to use a tire with a Kevlar belt beneath the tread, such as the Continental Gatorskin.
Feedback: Mavic Rims
DEAR JIM: I read your comments on squeaking Mavic rims in newsletter issue No. 126. Let me say right off that I’m not a Mavic fan.
I’ve ridden Mavic rims for many, many miles, and I build wheels for a small bicycle manufacturer. While they’re great to build up, my experience is that Mavic rims don’t hold up very well under heavier-than-normal use, which is what most people subject their wheels to these days. This doesn’t matter much to pro racers, who regularly change wheels.
I’ve recently been using Velocity Razor rims, and they seem to be a good alternative. Single eyelet, profile very similar to the Mavic Open Pro, and nearly the same weight (maybe 9 grams heavier).
I’ve found that the squeaking problem you addressed results from improper assembly/building of the wheel from the get-go. It will occur with just about any eyeleted rim. Without proper lubrication, the final tensioning will possibly gall some nipples, and it can distort the eyelets. This creates an uneven mating surface, which will then squeak under load. (To prevent this problem, I put a tiny spot of Phil Tenacious Oil on each nipple at the eyelet after lacing.)
Of course, this is only my experience to offer an additional view on the problem, not dispute anything you said.
Another thing about wheels, since you dealt with broken spokes/nipples in newsletter issue No. 127: It might be a good idea for alloy nipples to be regularly lubricated at the spoke/nipple juncture.
Stainless steel, alloy and moisture (which is “injected” into the nipple by centrifugal force) is a formula for corrosion. The nipple will become brittle, crack and fail. A tiny drop of any penetrating lubricant, preferably one with anti-oxidants, such as WD-40, will retard this process. It should be a regular maintenance procedure for a wheel with alloy nipples. Likewise, a rim with no eyelets should be lubed at the rim/nipple juncture. — Rich L.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Thanks for the great input, Rich. I appreciate you sharing your expertise.
I would just mention that your comments about Mavic rims take me by surprise. I haven’t built wheels regularly (except for myself and a few friends) since 1989, so you make it sound like Mavic’s quality must have slipped significantly.
For me, though, (a 175-pound road rider who logs about 7,000 miles a year around hilly Santa Cruz, CA), I’ve never found a rim that rides as nice or lasts as long as a Mavic. However, I haven’t ridden on one produced later than about 1999.
DEAR JIM: I disagree with a statement you made in newsletter issue No. 127. You said spokes almost always break at the hub end. I’ve been riding a long time and probably 9 out of 10 of my broken spokes have been at the rim end. I’ve never had one break at the bend.
A spoke’s threads create a stress riser, which is why they break there. Makes me wonder why companies make spokes that thread at both ends.
Also, has anyone fatigue tested straight-gauge vs. double-butted spokes? I’d bet on the double butted. — Will T.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: That’s a good point, Will — spokes can break at the threaded end if a stress riser has been created. However, in my experience that’s far less common than breakage at the hub, where a spoke’s bend receives a major workout with each wheel revolution.
I wonder what brand of spokes you use. Some have threads that are rolled (stronger) while others are cut (weaker). I’ve found only two reliable spoke manufacturers, DT and Wheelsmith, so if you’re using something else, that’s probably the reason your spokes are failing at the threads.
Also, it’s interesting that you mention spokes with threads on both ends. A company that makes wheels with such spokes, Velomax, claims that it has never heard of a spoke breaking.
Concerning spoke design and strength, Jobst Brandt discusses this in his book, The Bicycle Wheel. He definitely prefers to build with double-butted spokes because they can be tensioned higher. That prevents loosening, the leading cause of spoke-related problems.
However, Brandt says that thicker-gauge spokes are stronger at the elbow/bend. He writes:
“Two spokes of several of the currently most popular spokes, both stainless and non-stainless, butted and straight were tested for breaking strength and weak points. All of the high-quality spokes broke near the elbow and at the same uniform force. The ones with heavy gauge ends broke at 320 kg while the lighter gauge spokes broke at 270 kg.”
Brandt’s book is available at the big online bookstores, and you can find it on eBay, too. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Noisy Spinergy Carbon Wheels
DEAR JIM: I’ve had a set of carbon-blade Spinergy wheels on my road bike for several years. During the last few months, I hear a popping sound from the rear wheel every time I get out of the saddle and apply torque, such as when going up a hill. I don’t hear it if I stay in the saddle and don’t move the wheel side to side. I have the recommended stiffeners between the blades because I weigh 195 pounds. Can you tell me what’s causing this popping? Would tightening the cassette help? — Bob T.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Here’s a quick test that might reveal the source of the sound: Have one friend kneel next to the rear wheel while another friend stands in front and holds you up by the handlebar. Squeeze the front brake, stand and put pressure on the rear wheel to try to make it pop. Your kneeling friend might hear the sound and be able to pinpoint where it’s coming from.
Popping sounds under side-to-side pressure make me think something might be coming apart at the spokes, hub or rim. Look closely under a good light so you can see details in the black carbon. Squeezing, tapping and gently prying are ways to test connections and root out a problem. Also, because your front wheel appears to be okay, you can compare how it looks and feels to find possible problems in the rear. Cracks mean the wheel could fail.
Check the axle carefully because it might be the culprit if it has cracked. Even broken, an axle will work for a while because the quick-release skewer holds it together.
You asked about the cassette, but you described the noise as “popping.” If it were a loose cassette, I’d expect you to describe it as “knocking,” perhaps accompanied by minor shifting/drivetrain problems. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to remove the cassette and carefully inspect the wheel in that area. Maybe you’ll be lucky and tightening the cassette will make the noise go away.
Also, check the quick-release skewer carefully. Is the lever’s action smooth? Do the threads look good? Corrosion, worn parts or sloppy action might indicate a worn and weakened QR, which could make noises and should be replaced for safety.
Another possibility is that the wheel has lost its spoke tension. Engineer Jobst Brandt (author of The Bicycle Wheel), has written about this possible problem with older Spinergy wheels like yours. Over time or through abuses such as leaving the wheels inside a hot car, it’s possible for the spokes to lose some of their tension. When this happens, a wheel becomes more flexible and susceptible to failure under side loads.
Check the rear spokes with the fronts to see how the tension compares. It should be close. If not, the rear spokes might be allowing the wheel to move excessively when you stand. That could allow a joint to pop. If you determine that tension has been lost, I recommend retiring the wheel — or at least getting a second opinion from a good bicycle mechanic — because it might soon fail.
Park Tool’s TS-2 Truing Stand
DEAR JIM: I notice in your picture that you are checking a wheel with a dishing gauge and that in the background you have the Park TS-2 Professional Truing Stand. I recently purchased the same stand to try and build some wheels for myself. I’ve had pretty good luck with it so far, but I was under the impression that the auto centering feature of the TS-2 eliminated the need for a dishing gauge. That’s why I was willing to pay about 4 times the cost of a standard stand. What gives? — Bob R.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: While the TS-2 truing stand is a wonderful thing and the stand I always recommend, its automatic dishing function is hit or miss in my experience.
It works, but it’s fussy. And over time, the washers that keep it aligned wear and loosen, changing the results. You can fine-tune the stand and fix the centering, but I find it more effective to use the stand as an approximate centering tool. I always double-check dish with a reliable dishing gauge, my favorite being the Campagnolo tool shown in the photo.
Dishing gauges are important for another reason. It’s usually a good idea to build the rear wheel slightly out of dish — about 1 mm closer to the left flange). This is a trick wheelbuilders use to add appreciably to the left-side spoke tension, helping the wheel remain tight and true.
As for the higher cost of the TS-2, you get your money’s worth in the rugged construction and the excellent design that lets you close the stand on a wheel and align the caliper by turning only 3 knobs. If you start building wheels regularly, you’ll love these features. Other stands require endless fussing. With this Park stand, things are much simpler and faster.
By the way, you can also double-check dish by flipping the wheel over in the Park stand. If the rim aligns to exactly the same relationship to the caliper when it’s placed in the stand in either direction, you know it’s dished precisely. Still, I prefer the dishing tool as the final check because there can be no discrepancy with how you’ve placed the wheel in the stand’s dropouts, how snug you’ve made the stand grip the wheel and how the stand’s centering washers have worn in.
I guess I’m like those carpenters who always say to “measure twice.”
In Search of the Perfect Wheels
DEAR JIM: I’m looking for a new wheelset for my Trek 5200. I’ve been using Cane Creek Aeroheads for 2 years and like their feel. However, the rear rim has split near a spoke nipple twice and Cane Creek has replaced it both times (at no charge). I think it’s time to look for new wheels. I weigh 185 pounds and I ride in varied terrain. I don’t race but do regular 60- to 100-mile club rides. I’m not mechanically inclined, meaning I’d like a low-maintenance set that even I could service if stuck in the middle of nowhere. I’m looking at Ritchey, Mavic, Bontrager, Velomax and others but am having a hard time deciding. What do you recommend? — Gordon W.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Thanks for the question, Gordon, but I’m thinking you might not appreciate my answer.
If you weigh 185 pounds, ride in varied terrain, regularly cover long distances and want low-maintenance wheels, this means you should stay away from all the wheelsets you mentioned. Instead, have the wheelbuilder at your favorite shop make you a pair of 32-spoke wheels on high-quality rims such as Mavic Opens. I recommend DT 14-gauge spokes, or 14/15-gauge if he (or she) prefers double-butted spokes.
This type of a wheelset will ensure the longest life with the least amount of problems because it’s more suited to your weight and how you ride. The proof is in the experience you’ve already had with your Cane Creeks. That splitting rim is a classic indication that you’re stressing the wheels more than they can take.
In 32-spoke wheels, there are more spokes to support the rim, which also allows each spoke to work a little less and stress the rim less. This means that should a spoke break, it’s possible to keep riding the wheel until you can fix it. On many modern wheelsets, however, when one spoke goes, the wheel is so compromised it strikes the frame and you can’t ride home. In fact, in some cases, a broken spoke so seriously disturbs the tension of the wheel that the rim is damaged. That’s unheard of when there are enough spokes sharing the load.
So, in my opinion, riders above 170 pounds should stick with tried-and-true 32-hole wheels and leave the high-zoot wheelsets for the gossamer guys — or for occasional use in special events such as time trials.
In case you’re wondering, I weigh 175 pounds. I’ve broken spokes and even rims on the 4 sets of “modern” wheels I’ve tested over the years. So I’ve given up on them and now ride what I recommend, good ‘ol 32-spokers. My bike doesn’t look as cool as I’d like, but I enjoy knowing that my wheels aren’t going to let me down no matter how far or hard or much I ride.
I hope this answer doesn’t ruin your day!
CO2 Cartridge Size
DEAR JIM: I ride Continental Grand Prix 3000 clinchers with a max inflation of 120 psi. I use 16-gram CO2 cartridges because they fill to a max 130 psi. Is this a mistake? I’ve been told that I should use the 12-gram cartridges, which inflate only to 90 psi. That seems too low. — Doug L.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: Does your CO2 system have a shut-off valve? Valves are found on most of the models sold by Innovations in Cycling, perhaps the largest maker of CO2 pumps.
If your system does not have the valve, I recommend sticking with the 16-gram cylinder because, just like with manual pumps, you usually lose a little pressure during inflation. It doesn’t take much to lose 10 pounds, which would put you closer to 120 psi than 130.
Also, CO2 doesn’t remain in a tube as long as air. The day after fixing a flat, you’ll actually have less pressure.
For these reasons, you’ll be much closer to your recommended pressure using the 16-gram rather than the 12-gram cartridge. The latter might give you only 80-85 psi after leakage and leave the tire soft.
You could test this advice with an accurate pressure gauge. Use the cartridge size that gets you closest to optimum pressure.
By the way, I had enough problems with CO2 systems when I tried them a few years ago that I went back to the more reliable mechanical pumps. I also did not like having to pay to inflate my tires. But, I do appreciate that the pumps are small, inconspicuous and preferred by some riders.
Mysterious Mavic Rim Click
DEAR JIM: My Mavic Cosmos rear wheel has about 6,000 miles on it. The problem is a clicking noise that occurs when a specific part of the wheel crosses the ground under even a little pressure. I hear it whether or not the chain is rotating. I have taken the wheel to my local bike shop three times. Each time, the owner has adjusted the spokes and the noise has gone away. But it comes back after about 40-50 miles. Can you provide any insight? — Dennis S.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: First, try to find and mark the point on the rim where the click occurs. Remove the tire, tube and rim strip, then drip a drop or two of light oil into the spoke nipple hole.
If you’re not sure where the click is coming from, do this all the way around the wheel. Then gently squeeze pairs of spokes, which will flex the nipples and help the oil seep beneath them. Finish by wiping off excess oil.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, it could be a bad eyelet. Mavic has experienced problems with the eyelets in some of its rims. Eyelets are the ferrules that reinforce the holes. Eyelets support the nipples and prevent them from pulling through the rim when the spokes are tensioned.
It sounds like your mechanic believes the problem is loose spokes. This could be the case on a wheel with 6,000 miles. But if the spokes were uniformly loose, I wouldn’t expect a clicking noise in just one place.
By uniformly tightening the spokes, I believe the mechanic is temporarily quieting the click by seating the eyelet deeper into the rim. However, if the eyelet is damaged or defective, after a few miles it’s likely to loosen again and allow the click to return.
Take the wheel back and ask the mechanic to inspect the eyelets to see if he can spot a defect. Depending on what he finds, he may have to contact Mavic for a solution.
By the way, clicking around the entire wheel is often caused by wear at the points where spokes cross. These clicks can be quieted by lightly lubing the spoke intersections and ensuring the tension is right.
Wheel and Tire Performance
DEAR JIM: I just bought a Campy Chorus front hub so I can have another beautiful, smooth 32-spoke, 3-cross wheel with Mavic Open Pro rims. Now after reading your review of the Neuvation R350 aero wheelset, should I get those instead?
Second, what are the most compliant clincher tires for all around use? I’m looking for a high thread count for resistance against wear and punctures, but I’d like them to be compliant like tubulars. — Tom G.
JIM LANGLEY REPLIES: I think you should stick with your 32-spoke wheels. I haven’t ridden my Neuvations nearly long enough to determine their reliability. I won’t know until I’ve been on them for at least a year. As you read in my review, I haven’t found any low-spoke-count wheels that hold up as well as 32-holers, so I’m hesitant to recommend them for all-round use.
For tires, a few years ago I got a large batch of Continental Grand Prix 3000 clinchers, and they’re just about all I’ve ridden since then. They work fine for me. I have ridden Michelins and enjoyed them, too.
However, I’m not one to notice differences among tires. The roads are so bad here in Santa Cruz that the important thing to me is a 25-mm width with Kevlar beads.
I once switched between tubulars and clinchers for fast training rides. On Saturday I’d ride the tubulars. On Sunday I’d ride the clinchers. I ended up selling the tubular wheels because I didn’t notice enough of a difference to justify the price and hassle. But that’s me. You should use what you like.
The best way to decide is probably to buy three or four different tire models and see how they perform on your bike. Or, you could ask friends who ride the same roads you ride and weigh what you weigh. Find out which tires they like.
Another idea: Visit your local road shop and ask the staff members what their favorite tire is. They might surprise you.