Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Road Wheels!

The hoops on my Cannondale have been showing their age lately, so I've been searching around for a new set of wheels. The old Mavic Cosmoses (sp?) that I've been rocking for a few years were listing out of round and making weird noises that dosing them with lube was no longer helping. After hemming and hawing a bit I scored a set of Fulcrum Racing 5's from a very generous friend: Tom C's deal on this barely used wheelset, complete with Schwalbe Stelvio tires and high performance Schwalbe tubes really was generous. Add to the price the fact that Tom takes immaculate care of his equipment (we bonded over how many coats of wax we'd put on our bike frames), and I was happy with wheels before they were even on the bike.

I mounted the wheels up last night and took them out for a spin today. I think they're good looking wheels, but I'm not sure the red and white decals complement my frame all that much. (Then again, there's not that much to complain about: between the frame, fork, and seatpost has 'Cannondale' emblazoned on it no less than thirteen times.) The Fulcrums aren't significantly lighter than my Mavics -- a few grams or so -- and I didn't notice any difference in them as I spun them up to speed. I did notice the stickiness of the Schwalbe tires: my old rubber was getting pretty worn, so standing up and hearing these things stick to the pavement was nice.

Most importantly, the Fulcrums are significantly stiffer than the Mavics, which could be charitably called 'pliant.' The Fulcrums manage to be both stiff and forgiving. Whereas in the past I would often rub the tires on the brake pads when standing and climbing (or lately when seating and climbing), with the Fulcrums not only was there no rubbing, but the bike felt much more stable and predictable. In the past sprints were a bit of a adventure, with the bike rocking back and forth in sometimes unpredictable or downright frightening ways, and while I didn't do any sprints on my solo ride, standing up to climb felt more exact. Cornering was better too, and I felt like I could lean on the bars and weight the frame better with the new wheels on.

The best thing about the wheels was that the ride was much 'quieter' than before. This seems counterintuitive -- you'd think that stiffer wheels would make for a harsher ride -- but instead the bike felt like it stuck to the ground better, with less bouncing on chatter bumps and no wind-up on larger hits. It didn't turn the 'Dale into a carbon wonder (I still largely stand by my review of the bike from back when I bought it), but on the chip-seal surface of University Station I felt much more comfortable and in control of the bike.

It's obviously a bit early to have a final opinion on them, but I think I'm going to enjoy putting these things through a thorough test.

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