Carbon rims going backwards?

Just a small observation but looking at the high end wheels there seems to be a trend of heavier rims. In recent years we’ve seen some really light wheels.

Take the 2010 Reynolds MV32-T, the 32mm deep wheelset. It’s been listed at an impressive 1000 grams per pair. But the 2011 version, the “Thirty Two” will now weigh 1066g. Still very light but a weight gain of over 6%. The same is true for other wheels in the 2011 Reynolds range, the new rims each weigh in about 30-40g heavier.

It’s a similar tale with other high end firms. Zipp’s 202 goes up by a more modest 15 grams. Edge Composites, currently renaming itself Enve, also sees the weights of its rims rise, the popular Edge 45 rim is going up in weight by over 10% too.

I’m not claiming an exhaustive survey of the entire sector. My point is that we’ve got used to bike bits getting lighter and lighter over the years and now we’re seeing these cutting edge manufacturers not just holding the weights constant, instead many are going to add more material back into the rims.

For cycling spectators the differences are invisible. Any pro bike has to weigh a minimum of 6.8kg, so ultra light bikes are out of the question anyway. It’s more a question for customers, anyone buying bike parts in recent years has got used to ever-lighter things, suddenly here are some examples of this going into reverse. Will the prices fall?

I’ve spoken to a European distributor for one of the manufacturers named above and the idea is increased returns. No longer are a few people opting for carbon rims, sales have been booming. And in turn so did the warranty claims. It’s hard for a manufacturer to put a weight limit on wheel, it’s easier just to beef up the material for next year. So whilst the consumer faces heavier wheels, hopefully they’ll get more durable wheels. The fashion for “weightweenie” parts has brought technological benefits but the lightest wheels going aren’t necessarily suited to everyone.

17 thoughts on “Carbon rims going backwards?”

  1. Manufacturing components and bicycle frames, simply to a "weight" is a fools lesson.

    Cafe Racers might talk all day over their super lightweight 5.4kg roadbike, but those same components last 5 minutes when confronted by Belgian cobbles, and demanding slow, brake, turn, sprint, change gear, sprint, slow, brake turn, etc kermis…

    Bicycles, wheels & components should be built for a purpose, not to a weight.

  2. I have a vague recollection of a recommended weight limit for the Bridgestone MB-0 mountain bike, back in the early 90ies. I liked the idea, being a pretty skinny kid at the time – why should I push a bike up the hills that has been built with safety margins for much bigger riders. Granted, something that light probably doesn't last forever, but they were fun to ride.

  3. That's very true FP. But I'm a bit with David here: the high end wheels, normally reserved for fine roads and lighter riders, get weight added to them so heavier riders can't break them so easily.

  4. "Will prices fall?" – I don't think so. Demand for the raw material, carbon fibre, increases yearly as it's use in the aero industry increases. The amount used by the cycle industry is comparatively small compared to the acres of the stuff included in each new plane.

    As to the weight rise – it may be about learning where to lay the fibre to make it strong where it needs to be strong and thinner in the walls for rider comfort rather than a uniform layer throughout the rim.

  5. Jono, yes carbon prices are rising but the raw material cost is a very small part of the cost. Even if the price of CF doubled it would not add much to the cost of a wheel because the real costs like in the design, moulding, manufacture and marketing.

  6. If indeed these are actual weights going up, then there are a few things that may be in play. Certainly, it's for durability, but the market is growing, too.

    In that market, "big" is somewhere north of 13 st., unlike the pro peloton, and deep section tubulars are creeping into lower and lower categories of cyclocross racing.

  7. I’ve read in the past that wheel manufacturers will often come out of the gate very light with a new model, then beef it up quietly in year 2 or 3. This allows them to trumpet just how advanced they are that they can build a wheel that weighs only XYZ grams, but allows more of a CYA cushion to make sure too many don’t get sold that will end up breaking under a heavier or stronger rider.

  8. What I found interesting is the way several companies are doing this. Reynolds, Zipp, Enve are all adding weight back. You'd almost think they'd talked to each other.

  9. Zipp lists the 202 at 1095 grams in both the 2010 and 2011 catalogs – are you quoting actual weights, or manufacturer weights? Bare rim weights or complete wheels? old front v. new front/old rear v. new rear, or just total combined weight?

    I totally believe wheel weights could go up, but I'm curious to know if its definitely rims being made stronger as versus wider, changes to the hubs, spokes, etc.

  10. What you are seeing is a move by manufacturers learning from their pro level teams and bringing that knowledge to the consumer. Pro riders and those with little to no descending/braking skills are remarkably similar in that they destroy light parts. This is not a deceptive practice it's being smarter for their customers particularly with carbon clinchers.

  11. Thanks Anonymous, I know what you mean. That's what I was hinting at, in that reinforced rims means a better life. Although I was wondering if the pros suffer the same failure rate as the weekend warriors?

  12. The pros fail product in the same way as the weekend/less skilled riders. The big difference is how fast they get to the failure point. Pros ride differently, for instance braking style. A pro will not drag their brakes on a descent. They wait and brake really, really hard very late before a corner. The weekend guys tend to drag their brakes all the way down. The end result is a really high rim temp at the braking surface(400+ deg F easily) but the pros rim comes on quicker, to a lower ultimate temp and cools faster due to riding style. Consistent 400+ deg F on a carbon clincher starts to degrade the matrix holding the rim together (This is different for every manufacturer. Some higher some lower…) By dragging your brakes you are essentially heating the glue/resin/matrix high enough melt it, thus a failure. Carbon rim manufacturers’ are hedging their bets that the general public doesn’t know how to brake effectively hence the weight increase. A blown sidewall on a carbon clincher coming down a long steep hill is a bad thing. Weights go up, warranties go down.

  13. Thanks Anonymous for the feedback. That's worth repeating, that pros brake late and hard rather than "drag".

    An interesting compromise in design, making it suitable for the mass market but high performance too.

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