Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reynolds Assault C wheel test- first impressions

It was a beautiful day here in San Diego today- the temp was just right and the sun was out with very light winds. Exactly the kind of day that has people flocking to live here (and causes property values to go through the roof).

While I was in Rhode Island, a couple of boxes of amazing sexiness showed up at the office- a pair of the new Reynolds Assault carbon clincher road wheels and a pair of the all-new Assault carbon clincher track wheels! Now, as I've said recently- I really love my current wheels I've been riding on my Ultegra 3VC bike. The Ritchey WCS Zeta wheels are amazing- hands down one of the very best clincher wheelsets I've ever ridden- period. The Ultegra tubeless wheels paired with the Hutchinson tubeless tires is an amazing set of wheels too- the tubeless tires mated with the great wheels really does do a fantastic job of mimicking a set of high end sew-ups... even I have been amazed. However... I admit I am a massive product dork... massive. Reynolds makes some of the most respected carbon wheels on the market and the new carbon clinchers are making a lot of people very happy. I have friends at Reynolds who asked me to test the wheels out and give them some feedback... so I'm gonna do that!

I have to admit that I have stayed away from carbon clincher rims; I've never been impressed with the braking power/ responsiveness and the potentially fragile nature of the rims has always left me wondering "why bother?" So I am more skeptic than fanatic, to say the very least. With that in mind, I have been keeping an open mind. The Assault C wheels have an advertised weight of 1525gms... damned light for a set of wheels with 46mm deep section rims and more than 2 spokes per wheel! It's a very respectable weight for a set of aero wheels and light enough to make a fella my size- 198.6lbs at the start of my ride- worry about durability and stiffness.

Reynolds supplies the wheels with special plastic tire levers to prevent damage to the rim when installing/ removing tires, a spoke wrench that goes into the deep recess of the rim, very nice rim strips, valve extenders, nice quick release skewers and a full set of carbon-specific brake pads. The rear hub uses the "older" Shimano 8/9/10 cassette body, so you can use all Shimano cassettes as well as SRAM- the newest version of the deeper grooved Shimano 10spd cassette body will ONLY work with new Shimano 10spd cassettes due to the profile of the grooves in the body. That's good news for people like me who have more than one component group on multiple bikes and don't want to have to buy multiple sets of performance wheels.

I mounted the wheels with my new Ultegra 6700 cassette and my current favorite clincher tire- the Kenda Kriterium 700x25. Seriously, this is an amazing tire- it rides SO much like a sew-up on the right wheels and is easily on par with any tubeless tire/ wheel combo I've tested so far. Sincerely- you should try them out and not just as a training tire because the extra width and sticky rubber make the tires excellent race tires that corner like the proverbial bats from hell.

Once the tires and cassette were installed, I changed out the brake pads and they went in smoothly into the shoes. Like nearly every carbon brake pad I've seen so far, the pads had a small "ridge" down the center of the braking surface that is caused by how they are molded. I didn't bother to file or sand the ridge off- mostly because I couldn't find my sandpaper- but you might want to when you install yours. It just helps them break in better and a little faster in my opinion. Now the wheels and the bike were ready for today's ride!

Today I tackled one of my favorite loops that is pretty much an out and back from my home and then north up the coast and back home. This loop includes numerous hills as well as longer stretches where you can put your head down and hammer like it's a time trial or a breakaway... all in all a great way to test wheels over the 55 miles. Plus, many of the roads are pretty nasty in parts, so it's also a good test of durability and comfort.

As I rolled away down the street, the wheels popped and pinged with the sound of spokes settling in to their newly stress-relieved homes. There's something about that sound that is just very satisfying. I don't know why, it just is. My first thoughts on the wheels as I took off where that the slightly extra power needed to start the wheels rolling was quickly rewarded with them wanting to stay rolling and being easy to keep moving quickly. They seemed to like to be up to speed and accelerated very well once moving. The first few stops were met with a little more "slowing" than "stopping" as the carbon pads and rims wore in a little. I was pleased to not notice the usual "pulsing" sensation when braking that I have felt on other carbon wheels I've ridden, including the carbon sew-ups I occasionally ride. The braking was consistent pretty quickly after the rims and pads began to get to know each other, but the braking power was noticeably less than normal pads on an alloy breaking surface.

After a couple miles I was on open roads, less shielded from the winds. Though the winds were light today, if you've ridden lightweight wheels with a tall profile, you're familiar with the sometimes twitchy nature of them and how easily they get buffeted by the winds. The very skinny, but non-aero spokes used in the wheels definitely help with that. I only noticed minor wind issues when sitting up riding with no hands to use my phone or reach for food in my pockets- otherwise they were very stable under normal conditions and did not require any real extra attention.

The front wheel felt very stiff when I got out of the saddle and showed no signs of moving around when climbing or sprinting- at my weight, that's something I frequently experience with light/ lighter wheels. The rear wheel seemed to be pretty darned stiff too- especially when applying power when seated. However, I did notice a bit of flex when out of the saddle and really swinging the bike around on a couple of short, steep power climbs on my ride- including one short climb I did a sprint interval on. Under that extreme sideloading, I did feel flex and possibly even the rim pulling into the brake pad- but I can not yet confirm that and will give the wheels the benefit of the doubt until I can do a better job of testing that theory. That said, I did not notice any flex from the wheels when diving through turns very aggressively, at speed. Normally, if a wheel is flexy, you'll feel it there too but the wheels tracked perfectly through turns- no matter how hard my sub-200lb body drove through the turns- which impressed me. So I'm not sure if I felt actual flex when out of the saddle or not- I'll keep testing and will report my findings. Again- not all that many wheels out there wouldn't flex under the size of a rider like me.

I put the wheels to the test on some longer, stair-stepping climbs along the route as well. In my lighter days, I was actually a very good climber and still climb well- when fit- for a heavy sprinter. So good climbing wheels have always been something I have appreciated and the Assaults did pretty well. Again, at 1525gms, they are not true climbing wheels, but they aren't intended to be- they are aero wheels that are light enough to not be a penalty when the road isn't flat or going downhill. On the climbs, I noticed very little resistance to acceleration from the wheels. The rotational stiffness of the wheels seemed to make up for the weight and this is a recurring theme in many brands these days- whatever "penalty" there may be for a heavier wheel is made up for with acceleration and all-out speed when descending or on the flats. Speaking of descending... they do it very well. Again, that perceived desire of the wheels to keep rolling was a nice thing when flying downhill- they got up to speed and stayed there, requiring very little coaxing to maintain descending speed. Once near the bottom and needing to stop, the pads did the job well enough- though a bit of squealing was heard on a few descents/ quick stops. Still... not bad.

Overall, I'd give the wheels pretty high marks so far. I'm still going to check to see if the rear wheel is actually flexing when I sprint hard, but they rode very well today. In the end, I really can't think of any reason not to buy these wheels. At roughly $1500 for the wheelset, they are a pretty good value for a set of race/ training/ all around high performance wheels from what I can tell so far.

  • I did manage to break the end off of one of the tire levers when installing the tires. The rim bed is pretty deep- which is a good thing on a carbon clincher- so rolling the tire on by hand was impossible with the Kenda tires. Maybe another brand might go on easier, but I am used to rolling these tires on without tools. So be ready for a little sweating.
  • Carbon rims are notorious for poor breaking performance, so be prepared to adjust your braking patterns. That said, these did better than other wheels I've ridden. There wasn't the usual pulsing and as the day went on, the braking didn't suffer much- though the few times the wheels did squeal, it was near the end of the ride. But all in all, it was better than others.
  • The wheels are really nice looking and the rims are clearly very well made- especially for the price. The hubs run on very smooth sealed bearings and the cassette hums along nicely and engages pretty quickly. Again, all very nice features in an "economical" set of full carbon wheels.
I'll keep riding the wheels and will report findings along the way.


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