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

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

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.

The Crosswinds

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.

The Looks

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.

The Verdict

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.

 

From the Manufacturer:

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"We used house molds from a Taiwanese manufacturer, so on the outside they'll look the same as some other wheels, and those designs are pretty well nailed down," said Shook. "Inside, we created our own molds to control the shape and position of the spoke nipple bed put into a proprietary ring that's not only our design, but has a specific fiber layup."

"In the upper part of the rim where the brake track goes, there are pre-molded parts we designed there, too. The critical part was getting the nipple bed shaped just right and the fiber orientation at the transition from the nipple bed ring to the sidewall. The goal was to make the ring strong enough to have proper nipple extension from the outside of the rim for easy truing but strong enough to meet our standards."

Hawley Group informational video on the wheels:

[youtube width="610" height="343" align="left"]httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tN-NsJh1W5Q&hd=1

Price: $2350

RIMS New Carbon 85mm Series 3 Tubular Rims 700c
SPOKES AC Bladed Spokes Black, AC Aluminum Nipples Silver, 18h Radial Front, New 24h 3-Cross Rear Drive Rear, Radial Non-Drive
WEIGHT Front 715gr Rear 901gr Pair 1616gr
HUBS / SPACING Front Micro 58 100mm Rear AC High-Low Flange 130mm Rear Spline Shimano / SRAM 9 / 10 or Campagnolo 9 / 10 / 11 Style Spline
LOOK / COLOR New AC Alphatype Black with Red Hubs
QUICK RELEASE Cromoly QR's
EXTRAS Ceramic Bearings, Titanium QR's, Wheel Bags
BRAKE SURFACE New high TG resin brake surface system for improved braking. Carbon specific brake pads are recommended.

American Classic has entire new line of carbon fiber wheels, engineered inside and out for top performance. Carbon fiber is composed of extremely thin, bonded fiber made of carbon atoms. Thousands of carbon fibers are bundled together into cloth-like sheets. The sheets are combined with plastic resin. The sheets are placed into a mold with the fibers oriented in specific directions to create the desired characteristics of strength, stiffness or flexibility for the completed rim. Carbon fiber is used in wheels because of the high strength-to-weight ratio, low weight and the ability to mold the sheets into aerodynamic shapes. The subject of intense study in cycling, aerodynamics is the air flow over and around your wheels, bike and body as you ride. The goal of aerodynamics is to reduce the wind resistance called drag on your equipment, so the rider slices through the air and goes faster. At slow speeds, there is smooth air flow called laminar flow. As speed increases, the laminar flow turns to turbulent flow. There is a "sweet spot," the point of reduced drag, when the air begins to tumble over and across the wheel surfaces in turbulent flow. The key to top carbon fiber wheel design is to produce rim shapes that optimize, capture and maintain the aerodynamic sweet spot for each rim depth.

Bill Shook started the engineering process on our carbon fiber rims from the inside, dictating the direction and lay up of the fibers to form stronger internal spoke beds for structural integrity and stiffness. He then moved to the outside of each wheel, designing unique features for aerodynamic performance to achieve the "sweet spot".
  • Carbon 38 and Carbon 50 tubulars are the most challenging shapes because of their minimal surface area. Bill designed a gentle curved shape down to the spoke bed to minimizing drag by bringing the air flow back together without turbulence.
  • Carbon 58 tubulars and clinchers have a recurve shape under the brake track. The recurve shape creates air pressure fluctuations causing a ripple effect to induce turbulent air flow to reduce drag at higher speeds.
  • Carbon 85 tubulars are a semi disk shape with no spokes near the leading edge of the wheel. Bill designed the large, smooth carbon surface bringing air back together reducing cavitation behind the spokes.
  • Carbon TT Disk is the ultimate in aerodynamics with lenticular skins to sustain the sweet spot for maximized power output.