Ellen Kast of American Classic invited us to try their carbon wheels and we immediately went for the big boys – 85 mm Tubular Carbon Wheels. 85 mm is deep and is ideal for triathlon use or road use by big, powerful riders that can fight off the influence of crosswinds. The theory with aero carbon wheels is the deeper the better for reducing aerodynamic drag. But the enemy is wind as deeper wheels will create a bigger sail for steering the bike off the intended path of the cyclist. This influence is bigger with the front wheel so often you will see a shallower wheel in the front and a deeper wheel on the rear.
But we wanted the whole experience so we went for 85 mm front and rear for our 150 lb. test rider. We’ve often heard of aero wheels’ advantage on average speed so we wanted to leave no doubt to see if we could raise our average speed. Crosswinds be damned. We were going for it!
American Classic only makes these wheels in tubular since Bill Shook does not feel that full carbon wheels are safe for clincher use. Clinchers (pictured on the right of the photo) are the traditional wheels 95% of cyclists use as the tire is held in by the sidewalls of the rim and a tube is used to hold air. Tubulars use a tire that is fully enclosed like a donut and it is glued on to the rim. Bill feels that clincher tires put so much outward force on the sidewalls and failures are common when the brakes heat up the carbon and break down the glue that holds together carbon fiber. Aside from that, clincher wheels are much heavier since so much more material has to be used on the sidewalls of the rim.
We got the wheels and they looked stunning. They looked so good and race-ready that our test bike looked a little too professional and it instantly got a lot of stares from other cyclists. That was not bad but we feared that they expected great things from our feeble legs as well.
Lifting the wheels is a bit shocking as they look massive with tons of material but they weigh only 1600 grams. It was a bit surreal as the magic strength to weight ratio of carbon fiber really started to sink in. The front wheel was 715 grams and the rear was at 901 grams.
So we went for a ride and reveled in carbon-tubular nirvana. Here are our impressions:
The speed was definitely higher. It seemed like we could average 2 mph faster on a flat road. These wheels just ‘whirred’ along as we accelerated up to speed and we could average 25 mph instead of 23. On rollers, it seemed that these wheels were able to keep the speed better than our lightweight wheels and we were able to keep momentum better. For climbing, we didn’t see any degradation as the 1600 gram wheels accelerated nicely and the stiffness of the wheels allowed us to accelerate and slow down as good as any other high performance wheel.
Braking has long been the crutch of carbon wheels. Because of the material texture, stiffness of the sidewall, many other carbon wheels provide inferior braking compared to an aluminum clincher wheel. We used Swissstop carbon brake pads as carbon wheels require special pads to prevent embedded contaminants in the pads that can damage the wheel. We’re happy to report that braking was awesome! There was plenty of power and it was fairly easy to modulate.
Ok, here’s the downside. Riding these wheels when crosswinds are around is an extreme sport. The wheels are so deep and so light that it is definitely affected by cross winds. Couple that with our 150 lb test rider weight and riding a straight line or descending a big mountain road is a challenge when the crosswind is 15 mph or higher. We never crashed or lost control as we always throttled back when the winds exercised their unwelcome influence. Of course if the rider was 200+ lbs, this effect would have been decreased. But if this was a long term investment for us, we’d opt for the 58 mm front wheel and 85 mm rear. American Classic offers this as an option.
As you can see in the photos, these wheels look stunning. Craftsmanship is first rate and the graphics really stand out. The only downside is other cyclists will automatically assume you’re a pro and may want to challenge you in an impromptu time trial.
If you’re a triathlete or like to dabble with time trials, we wholeheartedly recommend these wheels. They work well, are easy to live with and will give you the unfair advantage.