I am going to be real honest here, there is a lot of personal bias in my thoughts on this bike. I worked with Adam, one of the Why Cycles owners years ago and he has turned into a great friend along with being a former co-worker. With that being said, having worked with him during the start up at his first bike company, I was able to witness first hand how he designs bikes and I was able to see what drives him which is what had me intrigued by his newest company making all ti bikes. Adam simply builds the bikes he wants to ride personally and because he truly loves this sport like many of us, he is able to get other people stoked on his bikes pretty easily. I personally have never been a carbon guy and always had a soft spot for both ti, and even more so, hardtails that lean more toward the "send it" category than the XC racer category which is where I really feel this bike delivers. Despite my personal bias, I did pay for this frame, it was not a freebie to try and butter me up for a good review.
Trust but verify. Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of most of Velocity's products but even so, when they make a claim saying they have a new rim that is not only wider and stiffer but also 50g lighter than their previous model it is enough to make you raise an eyebrow. Going off the old trust but verify motto I decided to order a set of Quills to replace my tried and true A23 rims for my cross bike to test things out. To be fair this review is only for initial impressions of the rim as I have not had them long enough to really test the durability of things like the brake track and spoke bed but I do have enough time on them to provide some insight as to how they built for me and how they rode relative to my A23's.
Pretty uneventful here really. The weight came in around as advertised at 410g. They built like you would expect any high end rim to build, nice and round, no weirdness to correct at the seam, etc. I was able to get both of mine dialed in to around 5% spoke tension variance which is about all you can ask for so no complaints at all here.
My first ride on the Quill was during the Pedal 50 gravel grinder put on by Pedal of Littleton (who run a fantastic event by the way). It is 55 miles and 4,600ft of elevation gain exploring the back roads near Monument, CO. For those who have not ridden Colorado's dirt roads, there is lots of sandy sections, pretty constant, sometimes super steep rollers and rough, rough washboard sections. Did I mention the roads are rough??
I was completely expecting these rims to feel at least a little bit flexy compared to the A23 but even when standing to crank up roller after roller I could not notice any more flex than my previous rims. To be fair I could not tell that they felt any stiffer either so as far as lateral stiffness goes these felt on par with many other high end, similar style rims I have ridden such as the HED Belgium. One thing I did notice in the first rough section was the little extra width the rim has, it is almost 2mm wider than the A23 and that was nice and took a little more of the edge off the endless washboard.
After beating these wheels and myself up, flying through nasty braking bumps at 30+mph and mild single track I am pretty happy to see they are still holding true under my 200+lbs. I will continue to try and put as much time as possible on them to see how they hold up over the long run and report back as necessary but currently I am pretty optimistic since I was told it is modeled off a combination of the Blunt SS and Aileron, both of which I have seen hold up very well. This could be a nice, only slightly heavier alternative to the somewhat fragile Iron Cross, especially for someone who wants the ability to run road pressures or rim brakes.
***2 Year Update***
I have had these wheels for a couple years now and wanted to update things a bit. In short, these wheels are still holding great although to be honest, I have not put a massive amount of miles on them. Maybe 2k or so since the initial post. For a little over a year I have been pretty hooked on racing at the Velodrome so my track bike has seen the buik of my ride time. The cross bike mostly comes out for recovery rides and times that I just need to remind myself how to turn right... I would absolutely continue to recommend these though and have built a handful of wheelsets with them and everything seems to be rolling happy with the rim.
***Note: I paid for these rims completely out of pocket to test how they will hold up before recommending them to customers and was in no way paid or compensated for this review***
Aren't you biased?
Absolutely! But there is a good reason for that. I first got into building my own wheels out of necessity. At the time I was commuting 40 miles round trip every day, 5 days a week and doing longer rides on the weekend for fun. During this time I did not own a car so I put a ton of miles on my bike. I kept breaking spoke after spoke after spoke and I finally got fed up and built myself a set of Open Pro's laced to Chris King hubs and never had a wheel problem again, even doing some light touring on those wheels in the middle of my long commute. This was the beginning of my love affair with custom wheels.
Not all wheels are created equal, even when from the outside things look almost identical. Take the wheels above, both have carbon rims, Sapim CX Ray spokes, 24 hole count, built to the same standards, surely they are the same right!?!? Not at all, while both wheels could be used in similar conditions there are some small but key differences that will really make the difference when pushed. The wheel on the left will be used by Kurt Searvogel to get him to the end of his attempt at the highest annual mileage record and is shooting for 80k miles in 365 days averaging just over 200 miles EACH day, he is currently at around 50k miles for the year... The wheel on the right will be raced by Fernando Riveros Paez and is likely going to see the podium in a number of pro level cyclocross races. The set ridden by Kurt has a few changes that should significantly increase its life over something like the wheel ridden by Fernando. Things like a higher quality hub, brass nipples, slightly heavier rim that can take higher spoke tensions are all small changes that should have a big impact on durability. On the other side, the wheel ridden by Fernando has a cheaper hub because being race wheels they will not see many miles, it also uses aluminum nipples and a lighter rim to help acceleration on the race course. While this wheel is sufficiently durable for its intended use I would not have much faith in it if I expected it to see 10k miles or more which the wheel for Kurt should easily do. These are just two examples that stood out because I happened to build them in the same day and it hit me how drastically different the operating environments will be despite seemingly similar design.
Most of us do not fit in the middle of the cycling bell curve and we all place different demands and expectations on our equipment, even during the same style of riding. A 130lb climber will place different demands on their equipment than a 180lb sprinter even if they are both in the same exact race at the same time. The climber could benefit from a 20 spoke super light wheel when under that 180lb sprinter would feel like a noodle that flexes so bad it rubs the brakes when they stand to pedal. Even if you don't race you can still benefit from fine tuning your wheels to your riding style. Someone who rides 12k miles in a year might be willing to make some slight performance compromises to maximize comfort and durability and the rider who loves fast club rides but sees much more modest miles might sacrifice comfort for an aero edge.
If you do big loaded tours, well...no one really has good "off the shelf" options for you...
The same can be applied through all areas of cycling, commuting, touring, mountain biking, etc. We all place different demands on our equipment and with wheels being one of the biggest changes you can make to how your bike feels, it seems like a shame to just go with a cookie cutter wheel aiming for the "average" cyclist.
So how does one customize ride characteristics of a wheel?
Comfort is a big thing that can be changed through selecting the best components for your riding style. Box section rims tend to have a more compliant ride than deep aero rims. Shallower rims also are less influenced by cross winds than a deeper rim making it easier to control the bike in windy areas. Rims come in all sorts of different depths, everything from your traditional box section rim like the Open Pro all the way to 80mm or deeper rims, usually in about 20mm increments. The trick is finding that balance between comfort and aero that fits your riding style best.
From a performance standpoint, you obviously factor in aerodynamics with things like rim profile and depth but also throw in things like spoke count, spoke type, hub quality, nipple type, etc. Some things in building "fast" wheels can even be counter intuitive, sometimes higher spoke counts can actually help you go faster by wasting less energy in flexing the wheels rather than propelling them forward, deeper wheels may be more aero but there is a threshold you can cross where you are just adding weight for the climbs slowing you more there than it helps in the faster sections. If you ride huge miles you may end up on wheels so stiff they beat you up so bad that you get fatigued from a harsh ride well before your legs are finished. This can be especially true with big gravel and dirt road rides that have a ton of washboard more than on pavement.
The real art in custom wheels is not the black magic many think it is. It really comes down to paying attention to details many consider silly or trivial. Not only the obvious things like sufficient and even spoke tension, proper stress relieving, and proper lubrication of spoke threads but also other details like proper component selection for your riding style. Not only does that mean rims and hubs that fit your needs but also selecting the right spokes and nipples for your rim selection. Some rims can not handle the extra stiffness from heavier gauge spokes but will work flawlessly with lighter gauge options, some combinations leave rear non drive side spokes at lower tensions than ideal and can benefit from lighter gauge spokes that seem to be happier at lower tensions on the non drive side. When durability is king, you can gain a ton of fatigue resistance by going with a triple butted spoke such as the DT Alpine 3. The number of options are truly limitless and this is why it pays to work with someone who has not only the experience to guide you through the component selection process but also the desire to do everything possible to exceed your expectations.
Sure, custom wheels can cost more than some of the bargains you can find in some online retailers but when you consider that wheels have one of the biggest impacts on ride quality and performance it seems like a silly place to cut corners, there is a reason pro teams have trucks filled with different options. With wheels, you also have to consider many people move their wheels from bike to bike, which makes them an even better long term investment. If you go with a builder who really takes pride in their work (like me) you will usually even get a lifetime guarantee against spoke breakage and free touch up work for life at no additional charge (who charges extra for them to stand behind their work anyways?!?!?).
Again, obviously I am very biased but after having built many thousands of wheels I have still not had a single person regret their decision to go with quality wheels tailored directly to their riding style. You give a lot of your life to this wonderful sport, indulge a little!
About a year ago, Panaracer released the 32c Gravelking which raised a lot of eyebrows, a 32c tire labeled as the king of gravel? While the tread pattern and size tire may be great on smooth dirt roads and actually fit into many of today's "all road" bikes but the gravelking? What caused people to question the name is most tires that really were king of the gravel grinder scene were closer to the 40c size and understandably so. When it comes to big miles on chunky gravel, volume is the real king for me. Not only does it help take some of the beating off of a long day but when it comes to stability on loose gravel and sandy roads size really does matter. About a year later it looks like Panaracer listened and decided to show us how they plan to back the claim of "Gravelking" with a 40mm wide version of the Gravelking. Not only did they keep the very fast rolling tread pattern but also made it officially tubeless ready.
In full disclosure I have been begging Panaracer to make this tire for a while now so when I finally got word this tire was in the works and was going to be tubeless compatible I got very excited. I have always been a fan of high volume yet minimal and fast rolling tread tires and I can say this one did not disappoint.
The two tires I received weighed in at 484 and 497 grams and when set up tubeless on Velocity A23's they initially measured 41.7mm but after a couple days of riding they stretched and settled on 42.3mm wide. Initial tubeless set up went as easy as one could hope for, on my A23's I used two layers of Velocity's Velo Tape and valves. Once I mounted everything up they snapped into place very easily with an air compressor, I did not try using a pump. When seating there was a nice confidence inspiring "snap" as the bead seated into place. The tires held their pressure as well as any tubed set up from the first day.
In my eyes this tire really shines in the gravel grinder scene. This is not the most versatile 40c tire on the market but if you want a tire that is really good at going fast on dirt and gravel roads I do not think you could do much better than this. This is the fastest rolling 40c gravel I have tried to date, it seems to roll slightly faster that my previous favorite gravel tire, the Clement Xplor. It also seems to have a more supple ride as well. I am not sure if that is having a little more volume, if it is the fact that it is tubeless or something in the casing, all I know is I really love the way it rides.
One thing I was very skeptical of was the pretty minimalist cornering knobs but in a typical gravel road ride it was never really an issue. On gravel you do not gain cornering stability through cornering knobs but rather volume. One nice surprise from the minimalist cornering knobs was the amount of stability you get cornering hard on firm surfaces such as packed dirt or pavement was some of the best I have ever felt.
The tubeless performance was all you could really ask for. They installed great, held air from the beginning with no initial loss of sealant, no flats yet and no burping even at lower pressures over washboard roads so rough I could barely hold onto the bars.
Overall this is my favorite gravel tire I have tried to date but it is not the most versatile 40c tire on the market. If you are willing to sacrifice some rolling resistance in exchange for climbing or cornering traction on loose singletrack you may want to look at other tires like the Panaracer Comet, WTB Nano, Kenda Happy Medium, etc.
Panaracer Gravelking 40c Specs:
Weight: Actual: 484/497 grams
Width: Actual: 42.3mm after settling.
Casing: Tubeless Compatible
Availability: These should be available through your local shop around December 2015.
More Info: Panaracer.com
**While I was provided these tires at no charge, Panaracer did not offer any compensation for this review**
There is nothing more I love seeing than the crazy adventures (that may be an understatement for this his trip...) my wheels can take people on. Thanks so much for the great review Iohan, I will continue to live vicariously through your amazing trip!
Obsession, or passion? Who am I to judge? Either way I simply love building wheels for those who appreciate quality!