A Dying Art

This week saw the last stage of my original ideas for the build for Jolly come to fruition – completion of the race wheelset. The Dura Ace hubs have been languishing in the box of bike bits alongside my desk for what seems like months. It took me a long time to decide on the Velocity rims that they would be built into and even longer to get hold of the rims and spokes. Even now, really observant bike enthusiasts might notice in the picture below that not all is quite right – the front wheel is currently laced in a two cross pattern with a standard double butted spoke. It’s a bit of a long saga, but the CX Ray bladed front spokes are stuck in the South African postal system, held up by a recent transport strike. I just couldn’t wait any longer though, with the DC just around the corner I desperately needed to get out on the new wheels and run them in and so gave William the go ahead to do an interim job with spokes he had in stock.

Pictured left is William doing some last minute truing when I picked the wheels up last week. I remember his comment about wheel building dying out in bike shops when we first discussed the wheel build, so I count myself lucky to have a local guy and shop so capable in the art. The Mavics which I’ve been riding for the last few weeks were also built by William, and they’ve been an absolute joy to ride – fast and true. But their intended purpose is Audax riding, and the added weight which that extra durability carries has seen me lagging at the back battling every climb on our recent training rides.

I was excited to get the wheels home and fitted on to Jolly – in fact so excited I forgot to weigh them, so that’s something I’ll have to try and remember to do at some stage. The Mavics came out at 840g for the front and 1020g for the rear, so just shy of 1900g for the set. Not bad for a high durability build, but at a guess these race wheels feel to be at least 300g or so lighter.

The first test ride this weekend did not disappoint either – I’ve never been a fast descender, but was easily up with the front of our group racing down the far side of Helshoogte, and despite very poor visibility we also sped down Franschhoek pass. On both descents the wheels felt extremely stable and solid. I’ve got used to the larger footprint of a 28mm tyre on the Mavics and so was expecting a few jitters going back to a 23mm tyre, but I hardly noticed the change.

As for the climbs, no more hanging at the back for me – at least not because of the weight of my wheels anyhow. I was easily able to increase the cadence to keep up with the quicker climbers where I wanted too.

All in all a superb outcome – they look great too. I must confess I thought the Velocity claims about the rim giving clincher tyres something closer to a tubby profile were probably marketing BS, but the tyre does look visibly rounder and seems to roll very smoothly onto it’s edges through corners. The only qualm now is whether to actually bother re-lacing that front wheel when the bladed spokes arrive. A radial lacing and bladed spokes will definitely look better, but as things stand the wheel feels extremely strong so I’m not sure if it’ll really be worth it.

All photos by Rob Walker


If you asked Yoli about me I’m pretty certain that, in amongst some good qualities which she would hopefully mention, would be the fact that I am an obsessive worrier. I prefer to think of it as just being careful about planning, but Yoli’s assessment is I suspect closer to the truth. In all the years I have been travelling on business, I can’t remember ever missing a flight. I can, however, recall many times arriving at an empty checkin desk hours before departure to the amused look of the attendant who is more used to seeing doddery pensioners allowing hours more time than they need than smartly dressed business men. The only time I came close to missing my plane was because I arrived so early that everything was closed and I fell asleep waiting for the desks to open. Even then, my internal worry clock woke me just in time to make the flight.

My ability to obsess over things doesn’t just extend to travel. Any significant purchase ends up being endlessly researched, sometimes re-reading the same reviews and opinions multiple times to see if I missed some subtle point that might mean the item in question looked a a better or worse fit than an initial cursory read had suggested. Yoli had been winning the battle to get me to just buy stuff we needed and not worry so much until a spate of recent impulse purchases went bad, all of them needing to be returned, arguments with shop owners, refunds, credits and shopping for replacement items. To be fair though, the refund arguments were very few, in this day of internet shopping it’s good to see that a number of our local shops realise their edge is now service and there’s no quibbling over faulty or inadequate items. None of that helps Yoli though, I’m now worse than ever on wanting to research every tiny facet before the plastic comes out.

What has all this got to do with cycling you may be wondering? Well, if you hadn’t already gleaned it from the preceding entries, planning and acquiring the components for Jolly has been a perfect case in point. The one significant impulse buy I made during this last year’s heightened interest in cycling was the Easton wheels, and that went south in a bad way.

The ramifications of my Easton issues are still rumbling on too. Helderberg Cycle World and Omnico have been excellent and replaced the wheels, but my lack of confidence in the wheels means they are sitting in the garage unused, still wrapped and boxed. That has left me riding the old Shimano wheels from Merry, and scrambling around trying to get both my audax wheelset and my new general training and racing wheelsets sorted. And by “scrambling around” I of course mean obssessive worrying and large dollops of internet reading. Luckily many of our favourite TV series have recently ended, so the latter has mostly been done on the couch with with some trashy show on as background noise.

I have at last, I think, come to some decisions though – which will no doubt be a big relief to Yoli who is sick to her teeth of hearing about this rim, and that hub, or these spokes. Of course the names of these have about as much meaning to her as any brand of fashion would have to me, but despite that she mostly manages a smile and an encouraging nod rather than a “what the hell are you asking/telling me this for?“, which frankly would be more than justified.

And the winners are …

Choosing components for the audax wheels wasn’t difficult. There are a few tried and tested formulas, and it’s way simpler to follow one of these rather than, well, reinvent the wheel. I’ve opted for Mavic Open Pro rims, 32H front and 36H rear, laced with double butted spokes to Hope Pro3 hubs. For audax use strength outweighs lightness, hence the high spoke count, although the Mavic rims themselves aren’t particularly heavy. Hope hubs have a reputation for durability under harsh conditions, thanks in part to their sealed bearings. In fact, I will have an extra 32H front rim laced to a SON Dynamo hub, also a standard component on many audax machines. This wheel will get used for rides likely to have long night-time sections, which will include PBP since it starts at night. It’ll also quite probably get used on LEL too, given it is intended as a dress rehearsal for all of the equipment I plan to use on PBP.

It’s proved much harder to decide on a replacement for my Eastons since I want something that is both strong enough for everyday training and light enough for “racing” – by which I mean PPA rides where I care about my time, since I’m nowhere near fast enough to be actually racing anyone apart from my own shadow. The problem though, is not that there are few wheels which fit this bill, but there are way way too many. If you believe the marketing blurb, practical every wheel you can buy is “tough enough for training, yet fast enough for racing”. Frankly, most aren’t – my Eastons being a classic case in point. They were wonderfully fast on timed rides, but just didn’t seem to be able to soak up the day to day punishment. Maybe I’m just rough on my wheels, but whatever the cause it’s made me cautious of lightly spoked, race oriented wheels. In the end, despite the horrendous shipping costs from the UK, I decided to go with Velocity A23 rims, 24H front and 28H rear laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs with Sapim CX-Ray bladed spokes. I had the hubs already, which helps offset some of the cost, as does the ability to sell my replacement Eastons at an “as new” price, since they are actually still new and unused. The bladed spokes are a bit of an extravagance, but their reduced weight and reputation for toughness were hard to resist. Plus of the many reviews I read on the A23 rims, most were laced with bladed spokes. This included some guys who had pounded them on dirt roads and muddy tracks without issues or breakages. It seems not everyone believes they need a a mountain bike to go offroad.

So there you have it – hours of research and dithering, boiled down to two short paragraphs. Yoli can heave a sigh of relief that the ear bending is over and the topic is done, and I can look forward to getting the new wheels built and tried out. Hopefully this won’t take long as being reduced to one set of wheels has held me back from setting Merry up as a permanent fixture on my newly acquired indoor trainer – a Tacx Bushido. And no, you don’t want to know how much prevarication that decision took, although I will write up some notes once I’ve had a chance to try it out.

On the positive side for Yoli, with this behind me I can start to work on that weatherproof bits and bobs cupboard for her vegetable garden, which has been overdue now since April. And, as it inevitable willl, when that process becomes a maze of interlinking options and decisions needing to be contemplated, at least it’ll be on a topic vaguely of interest to her.