What's Cool In Road Cycling

American Classic 40 Carbon Clincher Review

American Classic’s Carbon 40 Clincher wheelset is a full carbon wheelset that is designed as the perfect blend of aerodynamics, responsiveness and light weight with all the conveniences of a standard tire and tube setup. After a solid three months of training and racing on them, the verdict is in – are they as good as they sound?

amclassic40carbon-sun

In a world of high end, carbon fibre aftermarket wheels dominated by tubular setups, American Classic’s Carbon 40 clinchers stand out for their lightweight and high end finish all in a traditional tire and tube setup. Carbon clinchers were unthinkable for reputable wheel companies just a short time ago due to inherent problems with heat buildup when braking on a full carbon clincher rim, but advances in carbon wheel technology have now permitted reliable, full carbon clinchers to see the light of day. This means that you can now get the full carbon look – without the inconveniences that some see in the tubular form.

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What You Get
Cracking open the delivery box and pulling out these wheels I was immediately impressed by the feel of the carbon firstly and the weight – or lack there of. For 2015 American Classic have significantly updated the Carbon 40 model dropping the weight down to just 395gr for the rim alone with the overall pair weighing in at just 1417 grams. The front wheel comes in at 616 grams and the rear 801 grams which compares very well with other competitors in the marketplace and also with the pair of wheels I just took off my bike after my last test, the Carbon 40 Clincher’s cousins – the 46 Carbon Tubulars.

Traditionally clinchers have been significantly heavier than tubulars but these are a lightweight pair of hoops and American Classic have achieved this by putting their vast carbon fiber experience to work. The series 3 Carbon fiber used is the same carbon that they use in all their high end wheels and is as always, pleasant on the eye and also to the touch. Thankfully it’s not all about the looks though with the carbon layup and form all designed to reduce the wind resistance (drag) as you ride. The 40’s smooth rim shape and minimal spoke count with just 18 radial spokes up front and 24h 3-cross drive side and radial non-drive at rear all laced to some minimalist hubs should ensure that these wheels are not just good looking, but also fast.

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Before I could get out on the road and test the speed claims though I took a little more time to check out what else you get for your money with the Carbon 40’s and also to photograph them before they were too dirty…

First up I wanted to have a closer look at the braking surface that is made up of an advanced resin compound that does away with the problems of rims overheating under heavy braking.

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American Classic’s President and Chief Designer, Bill Shook explained to me that the advanced resin compound used is designed to work at high temperatures and that the rim actually helps shed the heat to reduce the temperature build up at the braking surface. The braking track feels smooth to the touch and is slightly different in look to the rest of the rim but from a distance looks exactly the same for an overall uniform look to the wheel.

The challenge for Bill when designing the Carbon 40 was to make a full carbon clincher that was fast and responsive but with improved braking. The advanced resin compound was the answer as he’s been able to keep the drag low and not just simply add material to the layup like some companies have done with their carbon clinchers.

The Hubs
The advanced braking surface and the carbon layup are obvious talking points but those positives would all come to nought if the rims were laced to a pair of lower quality hubs. Fortunately that is far from the case with the Carbon 40’s receiving some of the smoothest spinning hubs on the market with the front wheel getting American Classic’s Micro 58 hub and the rear the High-low 130mm. These are the same hubs that the Bretagne Séché Environnement Team used at the recent Tour de France on the various tubular American Classic wheels that they use and they are some serious, free spinning units.

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Smooth, reliable, lightweight – these hubs are exactly what you want tied into your wheels. The front hub has a great minimalistic profile for reducing wind resistance and its one piece forged hub shell has widely spaced bearings close to the point of loading at the fork ends and all with an impressive weight of just 58g.

The rear hub has received similar technical innovations as the front but it’s the parts that you don’t often see that are my favorite bits – namely the pawls and the steel face inserts on the cassette body. Yes, not much column time is ever taken up by talking about pawls but in this case they’re certainly worth a few lines as it’s thanks to them that all the power you put down through the pedals actually gets transferred to the road.

The rear hub uses a six pawl cam actuated engagement system for putting your power down and to ensure that all your power is transferred the pawls are actually a double-tooth design for very big engagement. What’s this all mean? Well a 6 tooth (doubled up) is actually giving you 12 engagement points which is a significant increase over many other pawl systems on the market. To ensure that all this power goes to the road and not to ruining the lightweight aluminum cassette body, AMClassic have a special system of dovetailed steel inserts to keep the lightweight cassette body in perfect condition even after the massive torque loads you’re sure to lay down with those massive accelerations your team mates envy and opponents fear.

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The small black, ‘American Classic’ branded steel dovetailed onto the cassette body protects the freehub from damage that heavy torque loads can do to lightweight aluminum.

Attached to the hubs are American Classic’s own branded spokes, the AC Bladed Spokes. These are a traditional styled bladed spoke but have been designed to have a stronger thread and elbow of the spoke where strength is needed for greater reliability but a lighter middle section where there is less strength needed. It’s a nice touch instead of using just a standard no-name spoke and it’s one of the points that shows the thought that has gone into building the wheels.

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Finally after all the technical innovations of their hubs the wheels are topped off with the simple, yet elegant cromoly quick releases that weigh in at 46gr for the 100mm front effort and 48gr for the 130mm rear.

Rims
The rims of the Carbon 40s could be summed up with three words; wide, carbon & light. Yep, they’re wide, they’re all carbon and they’re light.

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The 22mm wide rim profile is designed to give you a more aerodynamically efficient and comfortable ride with the 40mm depth often considered to be the perfect all-arounder. It’s deep enough to give you a significant aerodynamic advantage, yet shallow enough to not be a hinderance in the mountains nor in crosswinds. Despite their lightweight the rims are stiff and designed to be crisp in accelerations and responsive in cornering – something I was keen to test after being highly impressed by the 46 Tubulars.

On The Road
Lightweight, improved braking and full of technical innovations these wheels promised a lot and I was impatient to get them on my bike and hit the road.

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In my first ride I wanted to check out the improved braking capabilities so I pointed the bike towards the mountains and headed off. Unfortunately for me though the world is not full of downhills and I had to ride up first before riding down and it was here that I was pleasantly surprised. Responsive, solid acceleration and comfort – a lot of boxes were ticked en route to the summit of my favorite local climb.

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The Carbon 40’s were certainly not as responsive as the 46 Tubulars, nor were they as slow to react as a deeper rim in the style of a Zipp 60. The acceleration was crisp and responsive and the ride was surprisingly comfortable for a carbon rim on the rough back country roads that I train on. These wheels performed in a steady and responsive manner over every terrain en route to my mountain and then steadily all the way up. Seated climbing was steady but it was out of the seat climbing where the response was quick when changing speeds and it was here that the wheel’s stiffness shone through. This ride for me though was all about the downhill as I really wanted to test the 40s braking abilities under constant and repeated heavy braking efforts. And after the 40+ minutes of climbing effort I deserved a little fun…

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Time to descend…

Long straights at 75kph+ followed by tight switchbacks and beautiful sweeping corners at speed – this descent has it all and after tackling the road numerous times over the last 6 months with the 46 Tubulars I was keen to note the differences with the 40s. First up, the braking was very similar with the nod not surprisingly going to the lighter 46 tubulars in stopping power but I expected the difference to be more noticeable. I was using carbon specific Shimano pads with Ultegra brakes and the stopping was smooth and constant. More anticipation is needed with full carbon brakes over an aluminum braking surface but the feel of the brakes was best described as steady. Certainly not spectacular but I’m yet to ride a full carbon rim that has completely blown me away with its braking capabilities. It’s clear that Bill Shook and his team spent a lot of time on the braking surface and after just one decent I can attest that it was time well spent.

amclassic40carbon-tyre

I had a new set of Continental Grandsport Race tires on board and they stretched out nicely over the wide rim providing a very nice grip and feel but I probably should have upgraded to a higher level tire as the 40s deserve it. Going into the test I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Carbon Clinchers because I’ve used some full carbon clinchers in the past and been disappointed by the performance – they had ‘the look’ but not much else. Pleasantly, the Carbon 40s certainly have the look but they also have the performance to back it up. They seem to walk the tightrope that is the perfect compromise for a wheel between, lightweight, reliability and performance. After some 4000km of racing and training clocked up on them the wheels are still as perfectly true as the day delivered and the hubs are still spinning as free as ever.

amclassic40carbon-rearhub

With the Carbon 40s American Classic have developed a wheelset that is fast on the flats, responsive in accelerations and out of the seat climbing and for a carbon rim, consistent and reliable braking on heavy descents. If your budget stretches to only one set of wheels then these could do the job as their versatility is their biggest asset.

In a perfect world I would choose the 46 tubulars as a race wheel and a simple clincher wheel as a training wheel but these days everybody seems to want to have the look of a professional even on their training rides and there’s no doubt that the Carbon 40s look great. In fact it was more than a month into this test before my riding buddies noticed that I wasn’t on the 46 Tubulars anymore…

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If you’re after a set of performance, carbon clincher wheels then the Carbon 40s at their recent price of US$1799 were certainly worth a serious look but American Classic have upped the game in a big way announcing a massive discount coming at the end of August that will see these wheels drop to just $1399. Check them out at your local American Classic dealer or if you’re in the States you can buy them online in American Classic’s online store.

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