American Classic 46 Carbon Review
American Classic’s new Carbon 46’s are a lightweight tubular wheelset designed for serious cyclists who want it all – speed, acceleration, reliability and superior aerodynamics. Do they deliver? Our man in France Chris Selden has been testing them over the past 6 months through all sorts of conditions to find out.
If there’s one part of the accessory market for roadies that’s overloaded with choices… it’s wheels. It seems that these days every Tom, Dick and Harry plus many of the big bike companies are coming out with their ‘own’ brand of wheels. It’s led to good and bad things for us consumers – better prices in general across the marketplace thanks to increased competition but also a lot of choices that just aren’t up to scratch.
One company that’s been in the wheel game – and just the wheel game for a long while are the folks at American Classic. Unique wheels and well thought out engineering have been the cornerstone of their business, but to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace is an ever increasing challenge. CEO and chief wheel designer, Bill Shook and his team think their 2015 range of new wheels will certainly do that and one of the jewels in their range are the 46 Carbon Tubulars. Available in both disc brake versions and standard options I took the standard rim braked 46 Carbons out for a long review to check them out.
Getting products to test is always a fun part of this job, but getting products that are ProTour worthy and will be seen in the Tour de France to test under my unworthy legs? Even better.
Yep, American Classic are back in the pro peloton this year supporting the Bretagne-Séché team and with over a dozen wheelsets to choose from in the AC road range, the Pro-Continental team have their choice of wheels for every condition the road can toss up.
Any American Classic wheel they want + a Durace Di2 equipped LOOK 795 – the Bretagne boys have certainly got some of the best equipment in the pro peloton this year.
Interestingly at the races so far this year we’ve seen the 46’s in use, the standard ‘old school’ style aluminium tubulars for certain riders in the cobbled classics, 58’s carbons, 38 carbons and more, but if you don’t have a Pro Team’s budget would a set of 46 Carbons cover you for every occasion? Well I had 6 months to try these babies out for myself to see in my very own ‘Tour de France’ as I rode them around my region of the Herault Valley in the South of France .
Bill Shook was on hand at Paris Roubaix earlier this year to liaise first hand with the team
Out Of The Box
After taking delivery of the 46 Carbons and ripping open the box like an excited child on Christmas morning I was first hit by the beautiful feel of the wheels. As I stated before there are A LOT of choices on the wheel market but when you get a decent pair in your hands you can tell the quality differences immediately. The first thing that hits you of course is the feel of the Series 3 carbon used. Carbon fiber comes in many forms, styles and quality and from the first look it was clear that no corners had been cut with the 46’s.
As Bill Shook explained to me at Eurobike last year, the Series 3 Carbon sheets have been molded with the fibers oriented in specific directions to create the so called ‘ultimate result’ of strength, stiffness and aerodynamics. The result that was clear on my kitchen table was the feel – smooth, stiff and just oozing wow factor, at what felt like a very light weight.
Pushing the dinner preparations out of the way I pulled out the kitchen scales and confirmed the lightweight feel – 582g front wheel, 775g rear for a total of 1357g the pair. Whatever way you look at it, that’s a competitive weight for a semi deep sectioned carbon rim, and one that I was impatient to get out on the road and put to use.
Before I did though it was time to take some more photos and check out a little further what else you get besides just a nice carbon lay up and a light weight. The obvious place to look next were the hubs.
Up front we have the Micro 58, 100mm and at the rear the High-low 130mm.
The Micro 58 100mm hub is one of the smallest on the market and it’s true to its name being micro sized having a minimalist aerodynamic profile & is just 58 grams with a 100mm spacing. Yep, the guys at American Classic aren’t in to marketing style names with most wheels and parts being named exactly as you see them. I’m testing the 46 Carbon Tubulars and what do you know, they’re 46mm high carbon fiber tubular wheels……
So with the rear hub being called the High-Low 130mm there’s no prizes for guessing that yes, it’s a high – low flange effort with 130mm spacing.
The naming of his products was another thing that I talked about with Bill at Eurobike and in particular I asked him – why does he name the wheels, ’58 Clincher’ for example and then doesn’t change the name when he has updated them, now that they are lighter, stronger etc than when they were first introduced?
Bill told me: “Well every year or two BMW come out with a new 3 series model but it’s still called a BMW 3 series. They’re proud of their product and have built a reputation with it. Yes, our wheels may be lighter now, better hubs, design or whatever but it’s still an American Classic wheel and we’re proud of our range.”
I can understand why Bill is proud too, the range is certainly impressive but it’s the new, improved and lighter 46’s I’m testing now so let’s get back to the matter at hand – the hubs. Aside from their lacking in style names, their actual real life style is good. Small and grey with AmClassic graphics all over them they look sharp but the looks wouldn’t mean anything if they didn’t spin well – and spin they do being easily one of the best spinning hubs I’ve used.
The micro 58 fronthub, small, lightweight and free spinning
Attached to the equally fast and smooth spinning rear hub is the renowned AM Classic steel faced, aluminum cassette body. This clever piece of engineering is a mostly aluminum cassette body but with steel inserts that are dovetailed in place by hand so that the lightweight aluminum won’t be damaged with regular changing of the cogs or by loose fitting cassettes.
Do you see the black steel piece labelled with American Classic dovetailed in place? Well those simple black inserts are the steel that will keep these lightweight cassette bodies in perfect condition for years to come.
Laced to the hubs are AM Classic’s own bladed spokes matched with silver aluminum nipples in a 3 spoke style for the rear 24 spokes and radial lacing for the front’s 18 holes. The reasoning behind this 3 spoke style that AM Classic use across many of their wheels is for its consistent spoke tension and its ability to handle rougher roads and larger riders.
Radial lacing up front and 3 Spoke, 24 hole for the rear.
The most obvious benefit of the 3 Spoke System is being able to use a low spoke count but still maintain the durability of the wheel. On the rear wheel there are 8 sets of 3 and they’re directly opposed around the wheel to spread the load evenly. It’s a tried and trued system that is not only good for reducing the spoke number and improving durability but also has a big role to play in the performance of the wheel and its stiffness – but more on that later.
Bill Shook was one of the pioneers of the ‘wide is good’ movement of modern wheels so it’s no surprise to see that the 46’s have a 22mm wide rim designed specifically for tubulars to sit inside the rim for not only better aerodynamics but also better handling.
With the trend for wider tires many think immediately that wider is better but it’s not necessarily the case. If you put a wide tire on a too narrow rim then the rim floats from side to side on the tire. The key is to use a wider rim with a smaller tire that then stretches out over the wide rim. This then minimizes the float effect, improves aerodynamics and improves handling at the same time. I used two tubulars during this test, first up were a pair of 23mm wide Michelin Pro 4 handmade tubulars and then secondly a Vittoria Corsa Evo Slick 23.
At left: A diagram of the 46’s rim. 22mm wide and a full 46mm deep
The Vittoria Corsa Evo Slick 23 after some solid miles up front, sitting nicely in the rim with no ‘muffin top’ effect.
In the past carbon wheels were somewhat lacking when it came to effective stopping ability but the 46’s have a high TG resin, reinforced braking surface designed for ‘high performance braking’.
Basically that means that combined with some decent carbon-specific brakepads the braking surface should be able to handle high use and high friction incidents with a significant reduction in the thermal expansion on the braking surface compared to ordinary carbon fiber rims. This in turn helps with the durability of the wheel for a much improved full carbon wheel over standard carbon rims of years gone by.
TG Resin reinforced braking surface
On The Road
I’d weighed them, photographed and generally just ogled them for a few days before I finally got out to ride with them but the wait was worth it. Normally I’d be out on a test product the very next day after delivery but this is where the downside of the 46’s come in to play – tubulars. The preparation involved in correctly gluing them on takes time and there is no doubt that when you puncture it’s a pain to change them – let alone the cost in comparison with tire/tube or tubeless setups but after that very first ride it was all worth it. There truly is nothing quite like the on-road feel of tubulars on a fast set of hoops.
A quick pause in the bare vineyards in this first winter test ride
The first sensation you get from these wheels on the road is that the stiffness of the 3 spoke design and the Series 3 carbon has translated to a relatively quick straight-line acceleration. I was expecting good things, and they delivered a steady acceleration and a solid feel… a good start.
But it was out of the seat climbing and sprinting where my opinion of these wheels went up a significant notch – what a response! Quick, nimble and just plain fast were the words coming to my head and I felt like a climber (I’m not) and a sprinter (no luck there either).
The stiffness of the wheels and their responsiveness when pushed led to a very active feel to the bike. My bike is what I would generally describe as a, ‘performance on a budget’ machine but it just got a huge dose of performance. Budget performer no more, I was now on a true racer’s rig as my bike had come alive with this change of wheels.
I could use many adjectives to describe the performance of the 46’s but it could most easily be summed up with ‘speed‘. Getting up to speed is average/good, holding the speed with its aero 46mm profile, low spoke count and bladed spokes is very good, acceleration at speed for sprints is superb and cornering at speed is exceptional. These are a racer’s wheel and they are designed to be ridden fast. Using these wheels for a ride around a lake on a bike path and a stop at a coffee shop would be a shame. An enjoyable shame sure, but a shame nonetheless. These wheels are for racing, sprinting and descending at crazy speeds – all of which I have done in the past 6 months.
Interestingly I also upgraded my rig halfway through the test from a, ‘performance on a budget’ ride to a, ‘don’t tell the wife how much I spent’ ride.
My new machine decked out wth the 46’s.
I held off putting the 46’s on my new machine for a long 2 weeks so I could get used to the feel of the new bike before changing wheels to ensure that anything I noticed wasn’t down to the new machine and then I continued this test.
On this more aggressively angled and lighter new bike, the sensations that I’d first felt were still here – a relatively standard acceleration up to speed in a straight line from take off but it was when accelerating at speed and cornering at speed that these wheels really shine. They seemingly want to go faster and their performance impressed across all areas. Flat riding – check, climbs – check, descents – double check, braking – check.
In my opinion these are race wheels and should be used as such, but that certainly doesn’t discount them being used as everyday wheels like I have for the past 6 months. For me personally though the expense of tubulars and the hassle of changing them when punctured makes them more of a race wheel. During this test and the thousands of miles covered I was fortunate enough to only have one puncture and unfortunate enough to test the wheels on numerous occasions in the rain or once even in the light snow (South of France winters aren’t normally too tough).
The braking was certainly up to par for an everyday set of wheels in both dry and wet conditions and I chose to use the simple yet effective carbon specific offerings from Shimano. On a dollar/performance basis combined with Shimano brakes and the AM Classic reinforced braking surface they provided solid and predictable braking. Still not quite as effective as braking on an aluminum rim but the gap between the two materials has closed considerably here.
One of the many beautiful things about my part of the France is the variety of terrain on offer and I was able to test these wheels on the flats, in the mountains and even across some short gravel sections and they have performed in all areas and stayed true and as free spinning as when they first came out of the box.
At $1799 you get a lot of bang for your buck with the 46 Carbons. Pro quality ride, solid acceleration, a quality hubset combined with handling and feel that rivals wheelsets twice the price. Certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for some versatile race wheels that could cover many different terrains whether it be crits, roadraces or hilly stage races. For those with disc brakes the same wheelset in disc version is available for $1849 and with a weight of just 1435g for the pair.
Check them out at your local dealer or if you’re in the US you can buy them online in the AMClassicStore and more info on the entire AM Classic range is online at AMClassic.com.
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