Tech letters for November 2, 2001

Confounded by carbon fiber? Need to sound off about superlight stuff? Tech letters is the forum for your gear-related questions and opinions. We'll attempt to answer questions that don't require a PhD in astrophysics or industrial espionage

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Wheels — Light, strong, cheap?

What's the deal with carbon wheels and rims?

I'm a 166lb cyclist competing at the national level in Switzerland and I can't seem to find an answer to my problem/question.

My race bike is a 5500 Trek with Mavic Ksyrium wheels. I would want to have lighter and profiled wheels while having at least the same stiffness and durability of the Ksyriums. (The Mavic Cosmics are good but they are at least 200 grams heavier than the Ksyriums)

I have looked everywhere and found a number of products at various prices yet none of these — ADA, Lightweightwheels, lew (Sydney), Zipp, Corima (Medium) — seem to be durable enough while all the Shimano, Ambrosio (X-carbo), Spinergy (Xaero), Fir (Antara) and so on are all too heavy, with the exception of the new Campagnolo Hyperion; slightly too expensive (USD 3,500)

What's your opinion on my dilemma? Can't I find a decent carbon wheel which I can take for tough road race (not time trial) without throwing it away after the finish?

Tom Maxwell, Geneva, Switzerland

Tom, my opinion on your dilemma is to quote tech guru Keith Bontrager: "Strong, light, cheap — pick any two." You want strong, light wheels, and the only way to create such wheels currently is to throw some expensive materials and construction techniques at the problem. And that's not likely to change any time soon. Even when, say, the Campagnolo Hyperon wheels appear in a form that costs less than a secondhand car, there will be something else lighter and just as expensive filling the vacuum at the top of the price heap.

I can't help wondering just how marginal an advantage you get after spending a couple of thousand bucks on a pair of wheels. As a tech ed, it's partly my job to encourage this sort of rampant consumerism and lust for shiny techo-goodies, and I freely admit to suffering a bad case of tecnho-desire when I was handed a pair of Hyperons at the recent bike shows. But the older, wiser, practical part of me says that a hell of a lot of coin that could be 'spent' indirectly on time off work to train or directly on the services of a really good coach.

Campagnolo steel

Being a gram head, I was wondering why Campy uses a steel plate as the back piece of the pulley cage on the Record (Chorus also) rear derailleur? Do you guys know of a way to replace/modify/delete this heavy chunk on an otherwise perfect component?

Mark Cole 13.4lb Calfee Luna Pro owner

Mark, I suggest you try and bulk up — at 13.4lb you're going to get blown over in every cross-wind, and you have no chance in shoulder-to-shoulder criteriums.

Smart-assedness aside, just because something is steel, doesn't necessarily mean it's heavier than it can be. Campagnolo probably uses steel in that application because for a less dense material to be as strong you'd need just as much of it in gram terms, and even if you could make thepart lighter in, say, titanium, it would have to be thicker to be strong enough. Making that plate thicker is something you don't wantto do - there's precious little space between it and the spokes as itis.

I'd look for other places to save weight, though I'll keep en eye out for carbon fiber replacement plates…

Reader suggestions for ways Mike can shed weight from his derailleur are welcome.

The 10.5lb bike

Re: The 10.5 lb bike: What would this retail for?

Mike Entwistle

Mike, if you have to ask…

Since we can't possibly afford this bike, we did ask. Here's Richard Bryne's response:

"I do not have a good answer on the price and I like your answer. The bike went together slowly so I never really added it up (and neither did my accountant, thankfully). I also don't think Bill Holland would ever build another bike like this one again. Bill said that it took him five times longer to build than any other bike he has ever built (so the frame would probably pencil out at over $10,000 at his going rate just for starters). Also the url for the Cat Cheetah cranks is: and the Smolke bars are available from Tune in Germany."

An even lighter bike

I read your article about the lightest road bike presented by Speedplay with interest. I read however in a French cycling magazine named "Top Vélo" (September 2001 issue) that a lighter road bike (4.68kg - 10.2lb I believe) was built and put together by Emmanuel Dehan (the cyclist) and Fabien Boitelle (mechanic, project manager, French Somec importer). The specs are as follows:

Frame: 51.5 Somec Dedacciai US Special Series Aluminum
Fork: Aviotech Custom Carbon
Seat Collar: Somec
Headset: Modified Stronglight A9
Stem: 1" ITM The Stem, polished
H/S Top Cap: Dia Compe
Fork Expander: PMP
Handlebar: 42cm (c-c) Carbon Schmolke
Handlebar tape: Somec
Seatpost: Carbon USE Alien
Saddle: Modified Tune Speed Needle
Crankset: Titanium Morati
Chainrings: Pierced 46-tooth Vuelta and 34-tooth TA
Chaniring bolts: Aluminum Omas
Crank bolts: Aluminum
Bottom Bracket: PMP
Pedals: Titanium Speedplay
Rear Derailleur: Campagnolo Record
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura Ace
Levers: Campagnolo Record rear + Super Record downtube shifter (front der.)
Cassette: TA Kheops + aluminum lockring
Brake Cables and Housing: Aluminum CLB housing + cables
Derailleur Cables and Housing: Gore Extralight
Chain: Campagnolo 10sp
Brake calipers: Titanium CLP


Rims: LEW Custom Competition
Hubs: White industries (front), Tune (rear)
Skewers: Titanium SRP, no quick releases.
Tubulars: Clément Pista Seta

The guys said it took 2 years to finalize the project, involving up to thirty people and the goal was to build the lightest bike that you could race on. They decided to use parts that were known for their light weight but also their race performance and left out a lot of lighter equipment for safety concerns. You gotta check out the pierced chainrings though, and the derailleurs...

Franck Abate

Franck, thanks for that — it's good to see there's more than one mad weight-weenie out there.Does anyone else know of anything lighter? Sub 10lb perhaps? Let us know.

Bike weight

Hi, thanks for the Interbike report and the "Weighing up the options" piece.

Could you tell me, is 20lb for a complete road bike with double chainring Dura Ace and a steel frame (like 853) and tubular tires still considered 'light' ?

John Stow

That is still considered sensibly light unless you're trying to win a hill-climb or mountain stage.

The push to ultra-light worries me. I come from a mountain biking background, and I watched the lightweight fad in mountain biking produce some extraordinarily dodgy components back in the early '90s, including a 130g aluminium handlebar that at least one racer sponsored by the manufacturer refused to use. I still have the scars from a failed carbon fiber handlebar but happily the magnesium saddle rails and carbon seatpost that also broke under me back then didn't leave scars.

20lb sounds like a good, reliable weight to me.

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