This cyclocross season was a big one for Trek. It was the second year Katie Compton was riding for them and her second year to take the women’s UCI World Cup title on a Trek, they were signing the sport’s biggest name and greatest ambassador, Sven Nys—maybe the worst-kept secret in pro cycling—that would see him ride both Trek and Bontrager products starting January 1, 2014, it was the second year for the Trek Cyclocross Collective their own homegrown team, and they released the much anticipated Boone cyclocross bike.
The Boone was a few years in the making, going all the way back to the Domane road bike. When that bike was released, the first thing cyclocross racers said was, “put that thing on a ‘cross bike,” referring to the excellent IsoSpeed decoupler. Of course, it’s not that simple. So before we saw the Boone, there was the Crockett. The Crockett was developed with Compton’s input and was a complete redesign of Trek’s prior cyclocross geometry featured on the Cronus line of bikes. The changes ended up being a welcome relief as the Cronus CX, which I rode two seasons ago, was “temperamental” in terms of handling, thanks to toe overlap on even the larger sizes and a long trail number and resulting tendency to wheel flop. It was a shame since the bike was so excellent in terms of appearance, spec, and price.
So for her first year with Trek, 2012, the year I rode the Cronus, Katie Compton rode prototype aluminum rigs (proving in part that the material is still relevant even at the sport’s highest level) that tested the tube angles that became the basis for the aluminum Crockett’s geometry. What the 2013 Crockett represented then was Trek’s final dialed in new ‘cross geometry, while Trek engineers sorted out how best to incorporate the Domane’s IsoSpeed decoupler in a carbon frame using the Crockett’s design. By late 2013, everyone “knew” a carbon Crockett was coming, most suspected the IsoSpeed decoupler would be part of it, but nobody knew when exactly.
When the Boone was finally released it was early 2014 under Compton and Nys. Both riders took wins at the Boone’s debut, conveniently at the GP Sven Nys in Baal, Belgium. The bike was made from Trek’s well-known OCLV carbon, it shared the same geometry as the Crockett, it featured the IsoSpeed decoupler, and what Trek describes as a “weather sealed” frame for the repeated washings a ‘cross bike typically gets. It also had all of Trek’s well-known and proven road bike technologies, such as their BB90 bottom bracket standard, E2 tapered head tube and steerer column, and a nifty integrated chain catcher. Everything that everyone “knew.” What nobody knew was how the bike rode, aside from Compton, Nys, and a few other folks at Trek.
With an inside line through my friends at Cyclocross Magazine, to say nothing of the guys in the buyers’ office at Bicycle Sport Shop, I knew New Year’s Day was the day we’d all see the Boone. What I was hoping was that the bike would be ready for the masses at basically the same time. While production wasn’t fully ramped up, Scott our bike buyer let me know there were some Boone’s available for purchase and I ordered one, sight unseen. I considered it a bit of a risk given my relative disappointment with the Cronus, but also had faith that with design input from Compton—the best US cyclocross rider ever—and the stamp of approval from the sport’s best-known star Nys, it had to be good.
It isn’t good.
When it did arrive it was just in time. I put the Boone’s ride quality to the test–aside from on a spin around the shop parking lot in a pair of Converse–at the Holey Roller gravel grinder. Fifty miles of pavement, dirt, rocks, sand, and fun. The combination of the carbon frame and decoupler lead to a ride that can only be described as sublime. That’s not to say you can’t feel a single a bump, but the cumulative effect of every imperfection was so severely reduced that aside from the stiff headwind I would have welcomed another 12 miles to make it 100k or even another 50 miles to make it a century, despite the ride surface quality.
The Boone looks much like the Domane in terms of tube shapes. Like on the Domane, the IsoSpeed decoupler has the effect of reducing vibration that reaches the rider. Notable differences though include generous clearance for cyclocross tires (a given) as well as a slightly repositioned IsoSpeed mechanism. The more rearward location of the Boone’s IsoSpeed device serves two purposes; it increases the size of the front triangle offering riders more room to shoulder the bike, and it also gives a measure more compliance to the Boone’s ride quality. On a cyclocross bike the effect is amplified by the fact that you’re typically riding around on 32 mm wide rubber at 40 psi—or much less depending on your tire set up. It does not feel power robbing when getting after it, but it does also feel like added control on sustained sections of less than perfect surfaces.
The Holey Roller was the perfect testing ground for the new platform. Sections of slight inclines along with headwinds and loose surfaces, not to mention the lead group of riders not taking much time to enjoy the scenery, meant the chance to see how the bike responded to hard efforts. The Boone rewards riders who put the power to the pedals and gets up and goes quite well. I’ve noticed this characteristic on rides on the Boone since then as well. The bike simply feels fast. Once I flatted out of that front group and my pace slowed as a result I could really focus in on the bike’s comfortable, solid ride.
And the front end of the bike is a delight. Nimble without feeling nervous, it strikes a balance more towards where other cyclocross bike manufacturers have gone—lower bottom bracket heights and steeper angles. Very different from the Cronus. The result is a bike that up front feels very similar to a road bike, aside from the typical, and welcome, higher and shorter reach on a ‘cross bike, putting a bit more weight on the back end for added traction and control. When it came time to move around slowing riders or off particularly rough sections to slightly less rocky ground along those country roads out near Smithville the Boone changed lines easily and predictably.
Since that gravel grinder I’ve had the chance to ride the Boone on more cyclocross race-like rides in terms of terrain and turns and the Boone’s steering in tight corners is similarly fantastic. Gone is the wheel flop tendency of the Cronus and in its place is a bike that goes precisely where you point it. But it also won’t punish you if you make an error in judgment in terms of say, heading too fast into a slightly uphill off camber u-turn. You can correct and keep rolling without the bike trying to compensate for your error or, worse in my opinion, not wanting to come back from the “point of no return.”
What the Cronus had going for it, and what the Boone keeps, is the excellent spec. There are four models to choose from and while Trek says they aren’t making the braking choice for you, options between disc and cantilever brakes are at least a little bit limited based on which model you go with.
The grey and blue Shimano 105/FSA equipped Boone 5 smartly comes in a canti or mechanical disc version. The SRAM Rival/FSA equipped lime-green Boone 7 is a canti offering only. The Boone 9 features a full Ultegra drivetrain and TRP’s excellent canti brakes. The Boone 9 disc not only adds disc brakes, but they are in fact Shimano’s hydraulic road (or in this case ‘cross) discs mated to their Ultegra Di2 drivetrain. Both Boone 9 models share a stealthy black look with red outline logos. The haydraulic/electronic set up on the Boone 9 disc means a significant price jump from the Boone 9, but the drivetrain performance according to some is beyond comparison. You can also get the Boone as a frameset in disc or canti configurations in the Boone 9 colorway. And it’s important to note every Boone shares the same frame while disc versions feature a fork with an aluminum steerer instead of the carbon one found on the canti bikes. The disc-ready Boone bikes and frame also features hidden finder mounts, something that somewhat strangely isn’t the case on the canti models.
Each of the complete bike models feature wheels that are tubeless ready, although the disc bikes don’t run Bontrager branded rims. (Bontrager is expected to release their own tubeless road/’cross disc wheel this year.) What’s unfortunate is that none of the bikes are sold with a tubeless ready cyclocross tire. While Bontrager doesn’t yet have a tubeless ‘cross tire offering there are a few others on the market. That means extra dollars spent to make the conversion, money well spent in my opinion but still additional dollars. The added finishing bits are all Bontrager as one would expect and each of those pieces does the intended job.
The model I chose for myself was the Boone 9. The mechanical Ultegra drivetrain is a revelation. I haven’t been on a Shimano bike in 5 years and the light lever action and crisp, nearly silent shifting is fantastic. While I still judge front derailleur performance against Campagnolo, the Shimano system gives it a run for its money thanks likely in large part to Shimano’s excellent crankset and chainrings. I know that for some riders there’s a vanity that compels them to ride absolutely top-shelf bits for every single piece of gear. I know because I’ve been there. But if you’re looking at a bike and you’re not considering something like Shimano’s Ultegra kit or Bontrager’s aluminum tubeless ready road wheels, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
One thing I’m not quite as keen on is the Boone 9’s finish—matte black. Don’t get me wrong, I love the appearance of it and the quality of the finish is top notch. What I’m less enthused about is cleaning a matte finish bike. Matte finishes are notoriously hard to keep clean. The surface texture seems to “trap” water, cleaning products, fingerprints, etc. It’s not that it looks bad, it’s that it’s not as easy to clean as a bike with a glossy clear coat. On a bike that’s going to get repeatedly filthy and then washed, that would be a great feature. You find it on the Boone 5 and 7, both of which have clear coats.
Since it isn’t ‘cross season I haven’t had much occasion to hop off the bike and run with it, although I’ve done a few dismounts and remounts. It feels much like a ‘cross bike in that regard, and always needing to work on my technique I’m less bike-focused in those moments. Still, the bike is easy to grab whether suitcasing it or shouldering it. The relevant tube shapes are now almost industry standard flat under the top tube and nearly beer can sized in terms of the down tube. Both are welcome.
Since it is the off season I’ve mostly ridden the Boone on recovery rides or spins around town to grab a bite or goof off. Needless to say, I’m ready for cyclocross season. I just need a pair of Bontrager’s Aeolus 3 D3 tubulars for race day.
The rest of my Boone 9 is good. No. Great.
With the launch of our new Get Started bike and accessory packages, we wanted to tell the story of how some riders got started on their cycling journey. After talking with a number of folks we found three really great people with really great stories about their rides to becoming cyclists. If you know someone on the fence about giving cycling a try, share one of these stories with them. Below you’ll see Bryan’s and his “ride to confidence.” We want to hear your story too. Take to social media and use the hashtag #myrideto and tag us telling us your story. We’ll share our favorite pictures and posts with our followers to help get more people on bikes.
Bryan’s Ride to Confidence
My best friend/roommate got a bike for Christmas. Watching him put it together reminded me of how much I loved riding my bike when I was younger and how I couldn’t wait to get home from school so I could ride around the neighborhood with my friends. It had been so long since I had been on a bike and I had gained so much weight since then that I didn’t really think that getting a bike was an option for me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to get a bike so off to the store I went.
I stopped at several places not really seeing anything that I liked, let alone anyone who would help me. Then I remembered seeing a small bike shop that was not too far from home so I figured I’d check it out. Walking into Bicycle Sport Shop was overwhelming at first because there was so much to look at. I was greeted almost instantly by Laura. She asked me what kind of bike I was looking for and I told her that I didn’t really know. I hadn’t been a bike for at least 10 years at that point and I was just wanting something to ride in the neighborhood a few times a week. She pointed me to the hybrids where one bike in particular caught my eye: the Trek 7.2 FX. I began to ask her about it and before I knew it I was test riding one in the parking lot. I could tell that I was out of shape and would need to get used to riding again but I knew that I had to have that bike!
I bought it and got on it as soon as I got home and began riding around the neighborhood behind my apartment. I did one lap around the block and was almost instantly exhausted but I was also exhilarated. I loved my new bike and wanted to keep riding! I started riding 2 to 5 miles about 3 days a week and began adding more miles as the months passed by. In March of 2013, I signed up for the Real Ale Ride. By April, I was riding 25-30 miles twice a week and so I decided to do the 50-mile route which made me both very excited and very nervous. A 50-mile route within six months of getting my first bike in over ten years. The ride was the toughest challenge I had encountered at that point, but it was also incredibly rewarding. I was exhausted and more motivated that ever at the end of that ride! I had set out to ride further than I ever had in a single ride and accomplished it. What else should I push to achieve? A century?
By the end of May, I was riding my hybrid amongst groups of road bikes and keeping pace for the most part, but I was starting to think that it was time to upgrade. I wanted to ride more! I wanted to ride farther and faster than I ever had. I wanted to push myself past my limits and then push myself some more! In June I sold my Trek and bought a Specialized Allez Sport! That same day Laura (from Bicycle Sport Shop) and I went for a ride and she took me to Mount Bonnel. I pushed myself yet again past my limits and rode to the top of that hill feeling like nothing could hold me back. Almost seven months after buying a bike I had lost almost 40 pounds and had gained more confidence than I thought I could ever have. I was happier and healthier than I had been in years.
Last October, I was given the chance to ride my first century, the Livestrong Challenge. That day at the starting line I was a mix of so many emotions. Could I really do it? Starting off I focused on just enjoying the ride and the miles seemed to go by fairly easy. At mile 60 I was still going strong and thought I would be able to make the finish line without much struggle. But at mile 75 I began to wear down. I was tired, but I knew that I couldn’t quit. I had come too far to stop and could not live with the idea of ‘almost’ making it. The group I had been riding most of the ride with was waiting for me at the last stop before the finish line. When we started off I realized that I was going to make it! A ride that was meant to be a simple challenge had suddenly become one of the most emotional experiences I had ever had.
Thankfully I was so sweaty at this point you couldn’t see the tears falling down my cheek. The group started to pace a little faster than I was going but I somehow kept up. We kept going faster and faster until I realized we were at a full sprint with less than a mile to go! I had to resist the urge to throw my hands up at the finish line. It wasn’t a race, and if it was I certainly didn’t come in first place. But I had accomplished my goal, which was more than enough of a reason to celebrate. In less than one year I had ridden a century! I logged almost 4,000 miles for 2013. This year I plan on riding at least 5000. Along the way I hope to see new riders pushing themselves the way I have. I hope to inspire them to push themselves past their limits. I hope to show them that they can do anything that they can set their mind to. But most importantly I just want to show them how much fun riding a bike can be!
You should want to ride in bad weather. Or at least not mind it.
In Austin we’re pretty blessed with great weather. Mostly clear skies. Long stretches of moderate temperatures. Still, many of us ride the most when the weather is at its worst, not to mention potentially most dangerous—Summer.
Setting Summer aside though, like we saw this past weekend, in the Fall and Winter weather can go from Spring like to Polar Vortex in a matter of hours, if not minutes, around here. We’ve seen plenty of sunny, frigid days as well as cool or even warm, damp ones this Winter. But none of that shouldn’t keep you from your ride.
If you’re like most of us around the shop, cycling is a passion. You’re invested in it to some degree or another. You’re a new rider getting going and taking in as much information as you can find. You’re an enthusiast riding most of the trails Austin has to offer or many of the longer road rides that happen each weekend. Or you’re an old pro that commutes everyday, logs thousands of miles a year, and can name every stretch of trail along the Greenbelt. Whatever your current skill level, you have the bike, you’ve joined the club, you’ve got the race license, you have the perfect commuter bag, and you maintain your gear. Cycling is a passion. You or someone you know introduces you as a cyclist first.
So why let something truly out of your control—weather—keep you from your passion? I’m not talking about riding during tornado warnings or thunderstorms. That’s dangerous. Trust me. But simple cold and rain are no reason to pack it in. You just need the right approach and the right equipment.
In my experience the right approach is knowing that you want to ride and setting realistic expectations given the conditions. Many of us are already thinking about the rides we’re going to do next weekend. Maybe you want to ride more because you didn’t ride this Sunday knowing the weather was going to deteriorate. But then you watched highlights from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and saw the conditions they rode in. Yes they are pros getting paid to do a job. Luckily we don’t have that problem and can ride for fun—even in the cold rain.
If it’s going to be wet, why not take a spin on Town Lake since riding MTB trails in such conditions can cause trail erosion? Why not pack the bike into the car and head to the Veloway to practice some wet road riding? Or pick an area close to you to do an hour practicing cornering in the rain? If the wind is howling out of the North, how about heading out into it and getting pushed all the way home? Or, my personal favorite, grab a cyclocross bike and mix it up a little on the road and some light trails like Town Lake or Circle C. Adjusting your ride for the conditions is a surefire way to keep that date with your bike.
The value in riding in such conditions is threefold. First, there’s the basic sense of accomplishment. You did something you didn’t think you could do! Of course, you can do it. And after a few rides you’ll realize it’s not as tough as you thought. Second, and probably the most important, is that poor weather riding builds skills and confidence that translates to nice, dry weather riding. You learn your personal comfort zones and how far you and your equipment really can go in the wet. That builds skills you can grow further when the clouds break and the sun shines. Finally, if you’ve planned on a specific event and looked forward to it for months and the weather is less than ideal on the big day, you’re still ready to have a great ride.
There is no such thing as bad weather. Just bad gear. That’s the expression and I’m pretty much a believer in it. Heading out in bibs and a jersey when it’s 35 degrees and drizzling isn’t going to cut it. But with some planning and a few key pieces I’ve yet to miss a day of riding this Winter due to weather.
We talked some time back about dressing for success in the Fall. And for the colder conditions we’ve seen as recently as Sunday layering in the Winter holds just as true. But there are some secrets if you’re going to get out there when it’s in the 30s.
Despite my known preference for Castelli gear, the secret with whatever you choose is to think of each layer aside from the outer one as insulation. It should cover everything and it should fit snug, trapping warm air and body heat against the skin. The outermost layer not only provides you warmth, but also blocks wind and rain.
For a ride where the ambient air temperature isn’t going to get above 35 degrees, here’s a breakdown of what I generally wear:
- Castelli Risvolto Winter Cap, which is an insulated cycling cap with ear flaps built in. It’s been in my wardrobe for years.
- Castelli Sorpasso bib knicker or Nanoflex bib knicker if it’s wet also. The nanoflex line is pretty amazing in the wet.
- Castelli iride seamless base layer, potentially one of the best products I’ve ever ridden, these come in short sleeve or long sleeve options. If I don’t have a clean long sleeve base layer to wear, I’ll throw some arm warmers on for temps at 35 or lower. Again, the Nanoflex line from Castelli is great, but be careful with sizing. The grippers aren’t as stretchy as some other offerings, so a snugger fit is better for keeping these warmers in place.
- A short sleeve jersey.
- A thermal long sleeve jersey. I look for ones that have sleeves that run a little long, like a moto jacket, so I can cover the cuff of my gloves.
- Two pairs of socks, one short cuff, thin pair like one of the excellent Swiftwick offerings, and then a longer pair over them, often wool if I have some clean.
- My secret weapon: Castelli Leggenda gloves WITH a glove liner. I find that if my hands are warm, the rest of me is ok almost no matter what. And talking with other all-weather riding friends, they generally mention the same thing.
- And the best piece of cycling clothing I currently own, the Castelli Fawesome (formerly Gabba) vest. The black one looks sharp, but the hi-viz offering makes more practical sense on gray days. Save the black for sunny cold days and/or group rides where visibility is up.
Some of this I’m willing to adjust based on the ride I’m going to do. After all, 35 degrees in the rain isn’t the same as 35 degrees in the sun, nor is two hours in Westlake Hills the same as an easy hour spin on Town Lake. Harder efforts produce more body heat, so I might skip arm warmers under a thermal jersey depending on how I’m adjusting my ride for example.
The great thing about cold and wet weather riding in Austin is that it’s a treat. It’s not really a season-long slog like it is on the East coast where I used to live. Given the relatively few days of truly “epic” weather, it’s something you can actually look forward to. And, best of all, quality cold and wet weather gear last a good long time here. After all, you don’t really get to use it that often!
You can pick out some new favorite items now for the few remaining days of cool weather ahead of the heat and be well stocked when Fall and Winter roll back in. All of the cold weather clothing and some accessories at the shop are currently on sale. Stop by and let us help find the right gear for you.
Just about every one of us has been out biking for transportation or recreation – and encountered an unsafe street, intersection or bridge. Most of us have have friends and family members who want to get out and ride but can’t find a convenient route that feels comfortable and accessible.
That’s why we need Complete Streets that are designed for everyone – including people who walk, bike or take public transit – right from the start.
Now we’re closer than we’ve ever been before to a national complete streets policy - take action today to ensure YOUR streets are designed for ALL of us.
Last year, the Safe Streets Act (HR 2468) was introduced in the House – and the bill is gaining momentum. Last week, the same bill (S 2004) was introduced in the Senate. The timing is critical because both the House and Senate are drafting transportation bills – and we need complete streets to be included!
We were so close in 2012, when the Senate passed a bill including complete streets – but it was stripped out by the House. With bi-partisan support in the House and growing support nationwide, now is the time to make it happen in 2014.
Help ensure that YOUR streets are designed for everyone – take action today!
Last year, the League and Sierra Club released a report – “The New Majority: Pedaling Toward Equity” – that highlighted the prevailing disparities in safe biking and walking in low-income and communities of color nationwide.
Now, a bi-partisan bill in Congress, introduced by Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), would take steps to advance equity for bicyclists and pedestrians, and boost funding for bike/ped projects low-income communities.
Take action now – tell your member of Congress to support H.R. 3978!
The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act of 2014 (NOBPIFA) will allow communities to take advantage of low-cost financing for projects that make streets and sidewalks safer for all users through a new federal credit assistance program that would direct millions specifically for low-income communities.
- Creates a low-interest long-term loan program for communities to build biking and walking networks.
- 25% of the funding must be spent in low income communities
- The funding, $11 million, is a set aside from the $1 billion dollar TIFIA loan program funded in MAP-21.
- Offers a new tool for Mayors and local governments to finance needed transportation infrastructure.
- And doesn’t add any new costs to the transportation bill, or to the federal budget.
If you believe bicycling should be safe for everyone, tell your Representative to support H.R. 3978 today!
Ever thought about joining a cycling club or team? Wonder why folks do or what’s expected? While it varies from club to club, the general premises of each of them is the same—to have a group of folks to ride with and have fun!
For the second year Bicycle Sport Shop wrapped up January with a launch party for its Cycling Club. Last night over half of the nearly 200 club members stopped by the Lamar store to socialize, pick up club gear, eat, drink, and be merry.
Actually comprised of four clubs—road, mountain, triathlon, and cyclocross—the Bicycle Sport Shop Cycling Club started last year as a way to bring together folks of all skill levels and all types of riding. To date, the club boasts Ironman winners, pro mountain bikers, women track racers, junior and masters cyclocross champions, as well as folks taking on their first tri, riders that are just learning off road riding techniques, beginner road riders and first time road racers, and members that are just learning what cyclocross is.
While a portion of the members race their preferred disciplines—yes, even our triathlon club captains have given cyclocross a shot—the vast majority of club members never toe the line. Instead, many of the riders take to the club’s various weekly rides or workouts, attend clinics hosted the club’s captains, or go to events hosted by the club’s amazing sponsors. Those sponsors support the club not only by offering riders discounts and perks, but also by helping fund things like the club’s race reimbursement program.
Captained by seven dedicated and passionate riders—including me—the club is a chance for new riders to learn the ropes from more experienced cyclists. Not only are club captains available to answer questions and offer advice, but for this year there is a mentor program where riders can get paired with another club members for advice on anything riding related from equipment choices, to favorite commuter routes, to race tips, to favorite trails.
While the mentor program givers members a chance to give back one-on-one, many folks give back to the cycling community at large through the club’s legacy program. These folks volunteer a set number of hours a month and help make things like the Real Ale Ride the great time that it is for the rest of us. And for their efforts, legacy program members carry special perks and benefits throughout the year.
Everyone at the shop is excited to see the success of the Bicycle Sport Shop Cycling Club and the enjoyment that the members have in being a part of it. While you can find lots of information about the club on-line, swing by the shop and talk with a staff member about the club. Or better yet, come ride with us and check it out!
“Tubulars. Totally.” The answer to the question of what piece of gear has made the biggest difference in riding this past cyclocross season. But this isn’t just a cyclocross story. This is the story of resilient, fast, and yes, totally tubular wheels.
A quick lesson in tire terminology before we talk wheels. The vast majority of us, me included, spend our riding time on clinchers. These tires have a bead that fits within a rim bed’s hook and the inner tube acts as the pneumatic vessel that gives the tire its shape. Clinchers can be ultra lightweight like those reviewed here, durable and puncture resistant, or a balance like those reviewed here, and can be for road, mountain, or commuter bikes, and come in more variety than possibly even bikes themselves.
Some clinchers can be run tubeless. That is to say, no inner tube is needed. The tire bead and rim hook are so precisely fit, and the rim (or rim strip) is constructed in such a way that the system is airtight. Most of these set-ups are “tubeless ready” in that with a bit of liquid latex sealant the use of tube is alleviated and punctures are virtually a thing of the past. Some are truly tubeless systems where not even sealant is necessary to hold air. Tubeless and tubeless ready systems are, at this point, quite common with MTBs, are becoming more and more popular with cyclocross racers, and are gaining traction with road riders as well, as seen here.
Tubulars, also knows as sew-ups in some circles, are a tire casing where an inner tube is sewn inside and then the entire structure is literally glued to the rim. Tubular tires are often the most expensive option. And the rims beds required bear only a passing resemblance to those we see on our clincher wheels. While much of this sounds arcane (it does a little) and troublesome (it could be if you’re not careful with the process and the equipment choices you make) tubulars offer unmatched ride quality and incredibly low weights.
Tubualrs are still go-to equipment for most pro road racers as well as many cyclocross racers, even those in the amateur ranks. Tubulars allow riders to run extremely low tire pressures since the chance of pinch flatting is greatly reduced. And given that you can run sealant in a tubular fairly easily with little weight penalty, it makes a good amount of sense for a discipline like cyclocross where cornering is key and courses can be rough.
When the chance arose for Joey and me to demo tubular wheelsets back in September 2013, we jumped at it. Neither of us had spent significant time on tubulars. I in fact had no experience in terms of cyclocross. I just knew that any time I talked ‘cross gear, anyone within earshot said “if you get anything, get tubulars.” Thanks to Enve Composites, we did.
Since I was going to be on a cantilever brake bike, I opted to ride Enve’s SES 3.4 tubular. SES stands for “Smart Enve System” named in part after Simon Smart, the F1 aero guru who joined Enve back in 2010 to help them advance their wheel design in terms of aerodynamics. In a nutshell, Enve’s wheels present a system where the front and rear wheels are constructed differently with different rim heights, since they interact with the bike, rider, and wind differently at any given yaw angle. The “3.4” is the shallowest of Enve’s SES wheelsets with the front rim coming in at 35 mm and the rear 45 mm. Enve’s are made right here in the U.S. of A. and come with a solid 5 year warranty. Great news for a product that’s bound to be put through the ringer.
Joey, being on a disc brake equipped cyclocross bike had special considerations. At the time, Enve, like most other high-end wheel manufacturers, weren’t offering disc-specific road wheels. Consumers either had to go with a MTB wheelset or build a set around a road rim and a disc-ready hub. Joey opted for a complete wheel from Enve and rode the 29 XC tubular. While designed for a cross country MTB application (and yes, some MTB riders run tubulars) the use on a ‘cross bike made perfect sense. “The 29 XC’s definitely can take a beating, while making accelerating an inspiring experience! The DT hubs roll buttery smooth and I never had any issues with performance or maintenance after a full race season,” noted Joey when I asked him about his experience with his wheelset.
Of course since we’re talking about Enve wheels the usual and expected accolades abound. The wheels were incredibly light. My set came in right at the advertised 1,335 grams built with DT Swiss 240 hubs. Joey’s wheels, not featuring the SES design, were the same weight despite the use of the disc version of the same hubs. Joey’s wheels of course ended up a hair heavier. He ran an 11 speed SRAM Red drivetrain this year, while I was on older 10 speed kit, thus he had an extra gear and of course he had to run a rotor.
We both ran the same tire—a tubeless tubular from Clement. I know. “tubeless tubular?” There is no inner tube. The tire casing itself is airtight. A little sealant and you have a virtually flat-proof tire save a catastrophic sidewall cut or something similar. Since we both only had one race wheelset we chose their all-around tread, the MXP. I was happy with the MXP, and after 23 races there’s still tread to be worn and life in the sidewalls. Joey’s experience was the same as mine. “I was very happy with the Clement MXP. They are known as an all-arounder, and they sure did deliver. After 15 races there is still plenty of life left and handled every course with great traction and cornering. Tubular tires for cross have such a huge advantage: they are lighter, there are far more tire choices, and running very low pressure ensures better traction which can translate into better handling and faster lap times.”
And the wheels proved bombproof for both of us, as you would expect from Enve. Because of the added cornering traction I regularly rode my Enve’s at 23 psi or so in the front and 27 psi in the rear. At Waco where it was particularly muddy this year I went to 22 psi in the front and 25 in the rear and felt like I cornered as if it was dry. At nationals, where a 9:00 am race meant completely frozen over ground, I ran them as low as 20 in the front and 23 in the rear. While I bottomed out the rim on the biggest ruts on course, they never gave any sign of giving up. I wasn’t too surprised. After all Enve makes carbon downhill wheels. For Joey, nationals meant a rear flat at the start of lap two. He rode the flat nearly a full lap before making it to the pits where he got a spare race wheel from neutral support. Imagine racing a flat tire in ankle deep mud and having your wheel be fine afterwards.
And the wheels were fast. How fast? How about 1 mph faster laps times over last year on the same course on more than one course? Yes, some of that is training, but when aerodynamics plays a role at every speed, and rotating mass is reduced by over 300 grams compared to my normal wheels, the wheels themselves definitely played a role. Not to mention that anywhere from two to four times a lap in a cyclocross race you’re picking the bike up and running with it—weight really counts then. Plus, when compared to the wheels I’ve run for the past two years, the mud buildup on them is less. When out on training rides the wheels gave the same effect that the first generation Enve wheels gave when I reviewed them here. Like having an extra gear. Lighter, faster rolling, better handling wheels that shed mud because the rim is taller and are bombproof? Yes please!
The bigger questions for many though when it comes to tubulars are set-up and maintenance. Set-up is something I didn’t undertake. With the tire being glued on the rim, I went to Rick at the Lamar service department. He’s glued literally hundreds of tubulars, for pros and recreational riders alike. While Rick assures me that anyone with patience can do it, I’d rather leave it to the experienced. And I can say that after three months and 23 races and a handful of training rides, I’ve not experienced a single issue despite hard cornering at silly low pressures across rough surfaces.
Tubulars can be an everyday wheel with limited maintenance, particularly when you’re talking about a high-quality wheelset from a maker like Enve. The biggest reason not too—road-side punctures—can be offset with smart tire choices for your typical riding conditions and a can of sealant like Vittoria’s Pit Stop and a C02 cartridge in most instances. Alternatively a pre-glued spare in your flat kit that can be stretched onto the wheel and inflated is an option. After all, that’s what folks did for years before the advent of clinchers. If the ride quality offered by tubulars combined with the weight savings is important to you, it’s worth it. Like Joey said, “I am convinced a competitive advantage will always be had with a quality tubular wheelset.” Without a doubt.