Sunday, May 23, 2010

Durable Wheels for Clydesdale Cyclists

Light weight clincher wheels utilizing low spoke counts are numerous and fashionable, but they may not be the best choice Clydesdale recreational riders.

For example, I purchased Mavic's Ksyrium Elite wheel set because of its innovations in rim and hub design, light weight, quality bearings, aerodynamics, and good looks. Unfortunately, all that goodness couldn't overcome my 109Kg rider weight driving the rear wheel severely out of true just a few days into the Bicycle Tour of Colorado.

So what's a better choice for the Clydesdale? I decided I would build a wheel set optimized for (ordered from most to least important):
  1. Durability
  2. Ease of maintenance
  3. Cost
  4. Aerodynamics
  5. Weight
First, I identified spoke count as the most important factor in durability. I especially understood it would take more spokes than the 20 of the Mavic Ksyrium Elite's rear wheel to keep me from frequent visits to the truing stand. Additionally, I decided I needed to find an inherently stronger rim.

So just how many spokes and what lacing pattern to use? Instead of a more scientific approach, I just I called upon my experiences with wheels I have ridden over the years that consistently proved themselves to be durable over thousands of road miles and requiring only infrequent trips to the truing stand. Those have been wheels with the traditional 36 spokes laced in a 3-cross pattern on both drive and non-drive side.

Having decided on the number of spokes, I starting looking for a strong 36 hole rim. My own experience with and the reputation of the Velocity's Deep-V MSW clincher rim made it the obvious choice for me. The shape of this rim gives it high strength with the bonus of good aerodynamics. The fact the Deep V is available in numerous colors is an extra added bonus. To keep things simple I decided on the same rim, spoke count, and lacing for both rear and front wheel.

Now for the hubs.... I needed to select hubs that are durable and readily available in a 36 hole drilling. Adding the factors of cost and ease of maintenance I decided on Shimano 105 hubs. They are common, perform well, are nicely finished, and simple to service. OK, I admit the Ultegra hubs where probably a better choice at just $30 more.

Here's a price comparison of hub sets as of (05/23/2010):
  • Tiagra - $53
  • 105 - $133
  • Ultegra - $163
  • Durace - $440

Now for the spokes.... I am attracted to CX-Ray spokes given Sapim's claims of 3x durability over any other spoke. They also claim their spoke's oval shape provides better aerodynamics without the hassle associated with building a wheel with bladed spokes. The downside to the CX-Ray spokes is at $2.90/spoke + nipple they are almost 6x the price of a basic DT 14g stainless spoke + brass nipple costing only $0.50. With 72 spokes in the wheel set that adds up to a difference of $173! I decided the benefit of a 36 spoke count was sufficient to meet my durability requirement and chose the basic DT 14g spoke option to keep cost down. I also considered a middle ground of using a double-butted spoke for weight savings, but I decide it was not worth the 2x spoke cost. Lastly I considered mixing spokes, perhaps putting the CX-Ray spokes on the rear drive side, but decided to keep it simple.

So here is a cost summary:

Velocity Deep V Rims x 2 - $120
Shimano 105 Hubs - $133

DT 14 SS Spokes + nipples x 72 - $36

---------------------------------------------
Total Parts Cost - $289
USD


So what is the weight penalty of my Clydesdale-friendly wheel set? Using my spouse's digital kitchen scale (admittedly not the most accurate) I found the Shimano 105, Deep V, 36 DT 14g spoke wheel set to be 434g heavier than my Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheel set. That's about 1 pound.