Lightweight Wheels: Pimp My Bike Part 1
There are a few instantly recognizable pieces of equipment and these are in that group. It struck me as funny that people on the first few rides would instantly associate “Lightweight” with Jan Ulrich (especially in winter…) but it was so… And it turns out that these are actually also the Armstrong, Bettini, Simoni, Zabel, Cipollini, Musseuw, Kloden, Garzelli, Hondo, Nardello and Moreau wheels. At a glance that list is impressive (and it leaves out several stars…).
It’s far more impressive to note that some of these guys are notoriously picky about having the specific tools that best suite their specialty, yet two of the best climbers ever in Pantani and Armstrong chose to dance up mountains on the same wheel that Zabel and Cipo used to overpower the rest of the sprinting world. Sounds like the Lightweights would have been a great wheel for Merckx the year he won not just the yellow, but took the mountain and Sprint Jersey too in what is the single most dominant race performance by any man, ever. And I can’t think of many parts that have that kind of crossover use at the pro level.
UPS or OOPS?
When the boxes arrived from Germany, my heart was instantly in my throat, as I spotted a big hole, revealing a damaged rim. So the first time meeting Carbon Sports’ Stefan Behrens was at interbike, where I swapped the dinged wheel for a good one. It was also at interbike where I got schooled in what is by far the largest selling point of Lightweight wheels; Stiffness.
I got my first lesson in how strong and stiff the wheels where, as Stefan told me to “try and bend the rim”. Because I had just handed him 2 grand worth of sadness, I had no interest in ruining the only other Campy rear available in the country… So I gave it a little twist… It didn’t flex at all.
Upon seeing my pathetic effort, Stephen says “no I mean really try!”, so I did… Hands at the top of the rim, bracing the bottom of the rim at my waist, bending over and crunching down with my elbows in a move that cracked a wheel at last years interbike (because that manufacturer said “try and break it” too).
I “think” I felt it flex slightly, my ego is sure it did, but nobody there saw it move. Now I am no place near a muscle head, but I can pretzel a wheel doing what I did, and this wheel laughed at me (along with other people in the booth…).
The next thing I was handed was a rim cut in half. While lots of wheels are stiff due to tremendous spoke tension, the foam filled rim structure of the Lightweight is incredibly stiff with no spoke tension at all. I could not twist the half section of the rim with my hands no matter how hard I tried.
So stiffness is king with the lightweights…
The total package stiffness as it relates to performance can be attributed to the fact that the spokes and rim are effectively a one piece unit once the resins used to bond Carbon and Kevlar fibers together have solidified. The spokes are molded directly into the Rim, with no nipples or other fasteners and are molded almost in-line with the rim surface. A large amount of stiffness is gained there, as the spoke hardly needs to bend at all.
Additional strength is built in to the wheel as the spoke basically shares the complete load with the Rim. In fact, looking carefully (below) you can see that the spoke goes all the way through the rim, effectively making for a one piece build, rather than focusing all the pressure on the rim in a tiny place, like at the nipple with standard wheels
The Spokes themselves are a 3/5th Kevlar, 2/5th Carbon blend that are beyond strong. In fact, you could tow a truck with one of these spokes according to Lightweight (that must have been a fun test to watch). And while they can be cut in a crash, they basically are unbreakable in the standard sense as each spoke will hold a load of more that 2500 pounds.
Now when I hear unbreakable, I get this “gimmie a hammer and a couple seconds” mentality, and I hate bike stuff that isn’t built to last longer that it takes to weigh something and then brag about it… But the best answer to any of the questions I had for Lightweight must have been for the rider weight restriction. The standard set ordered (and paid for) by the pro’s is 16 spokes front 20 rear. That wheel set has a rider weight suggested max of 220 lbs! An 1130 Gram wheel set OK for riders that would more likely use 36 spokes on one wheel, not two…
The Hub internals are all DT Swiss. They are alloy and feature elastomer sealed stainless bearings. As standard they would be a 96 gram front and 230 gram rear, but one would have to wonder if Lightweight doesn’t do a little “machining”, as they don’t need to hold spokes in the flange.
The wheels are now made in a more modern facility, but the process is as simple and hands on as when Mr.’s Obermayer and Dierl started the show. In fact, they started out making light weight wheels for horse racing buggies. And when the light came on, it was a relatively simple deal (simple if you’re a damn smart pair of German engineers…) to go to bike wheels. Until very recently, the shop that put the wheels under the stars was a very simple affair, full of hand tools and a hand crafted oven…
The wheels are made one at a time and take about 18 solid man hours to make. Each passes through several proprietary steps that allow layers to be put together, fabric do be wet with resins and the whole deal placed under a poop load of pressure and heat.
The Hubs are wrapped in full Carbon and the spokes placed between a pair of Carbon disks. Lightweight wouldn’t say how they do it, but I would imagine that anything this strong would have the spokes anchoring to or around something while “wet” and then sandwiched under pressure between the disks. Once the resin is dry, they would basically also be a one piece Carbon component at the Hub. (Of course it would mean destroying the wheel to see, so we’ll leave that for someone else…).
The rim surface is all carbon weave and very smooth. The same surface is found on the side wall, Braking surface and even the rim bed (and note no spoke holes…).
Lightweight partners with Swiss stop for a very nice set of brake pads.
These have more of a fibrous content than some of the more common pads for Carbon wheels. I used these pads on Zipp and Reynolds wheels along with the Lightweights and they seem to have a very smooth and consistent feel to them. In fact I liked braking with these pads better on all the wheels than the current pads used. The Swiss stops also seem to wear slower.
As for the braking surface on the Lightweights, It was very smooth and made for good feel, but since it has yet to rain at time of writing, I never had to gauge wet weather feel.
The Logo still has an old school “spray can and stencil” look to it, and it’s intended.
The entire wheel looks hand crafted and the logo matches that feel far more than some snazzy decal could. All together, it makes for a package that will have folks moving in for a closer look… On the rides, it was kinda funny, as on the new Serotta, loaded with these wheels, the bike made folks nervous enough to where I had a “buffer zone” around me that must be a bit like what the yellow jersey gets when the peloton is rolling along in a relaxed state. Nobody wants to be the guy that makes you crash this.
On the Road, it’s a simple, easy thing to see whey Pro’s without budget constraints like these wheels.
At speed, in a straight line, they are a lot like other deep carbon. Zipp have a patented shape that gives them the top mark in the Aero wars (and that was before they dimpled their 404’s), but the Lightweights feel on par with anything else in the depth category.
Handling with these wheels was extremely good. In the Serotta Review we let you know that the bike was built with feel and handling as a priority, and adding wheels with so little flex to that balanced package made for big time joy round corners. I’m not sure that some folks realize how much flex they get from some wheels, and how much handling is affected by wheels flexing at different levels in the front vs. the back (due to differing spoke count’s etc.). Tufo’s Tires (run on all the test tubulars we have) definitely don’t hurt handling either, and I love em for that as much as the ease of use that comes with their sealant that has me rolling again after a flat in about the same time as a clincher…
The stiffness also makes for acceleration that is the first and foremost reason that these wheels are used by the pros that choose em. You pedal, they put your work to the street… not too complicated. But unlike some other super light, super responsive wheels, these have a deep profile that lets you hold more of that speed you just cranked up.
Comfort was a big concern on something this stiff, but I guess with vibration having to pass through a foam filled rim, carbon / Kevlar spokes (with the little carbon knots) and then into the hub between the disks, it just loses energy. Road vibration feels like it does on other carbon. Big bumps don’t get soaked up at all, but that’s no different than on anyone else’s wheels (although the “oh shit” factor is magnified several times with the costs involved).
So the racers pedigree is huge with these wheels, but even if nobody you knew had won (a huge number of) races on these wheels, the combined package of stiffness, light weight and a deep profile would still make these wheels special. And while there are wheels that have better Aerodynamics and there are wheels that are lighter, I’m not sure that any come with both of those features and manage the stiffness and strength of the lightweights. Truth be told though that, while these wheels perform with the combined characteristics of a two or three different wheels, they also cost what two or three others would when combined, at @ $3,500.
The down side is-what-it-is for essentially a one piece wheel. Cut a spoke in a crash and the entire wheel is gone. Crack a rim (although I can’t imagine the force it would take to do that…) and the same applies. Lightweight do have a crash replacement discount of 30%, but on something that costs more than double what some other Carbon hoops do you need seriously deep pockets and a clear understanding of what happens if something goes wrong before heading to your dealer.
Maintaining them is pretty easy. Change the tires when you need to and maybe swap bearings, but there is no truing them, and with the wheel made like it is, you won’t need to. This set had a little settling in, and was not perfectly true, but it wasn’t out far enough that I would have made a trip to the shop for a twist either. And they stayed the same from 35 miles through 1100 without going any further. Zabel has had his for 5 years, and other than bearings, nothing has needed doing…
The Lightweights are pretty much what I expected from a couple German craftsmen. They give a businesslike, no nonsense performance in an old world package that put a big smile on my face.
Huge thanks to Stefan for helping Pez to pimp our ride, and a huge thanks to Mr. Dierl and Mr. Obermayer. An incredible wheel from two classic German Craftsmen.
Big Smile boys!
One more time, you can do it!
At a Boy!
Turns out that the one that took more convincing was Mr. Dierl on the left… In true German fashion, Mr. Obermayer was smiling the whole time!
You can hit up the folks at Javbike.com for a dealer near you, and don’t forget that they come in lighter fair, TT wheels and that climbing only set for you uphill TT only folks.
You can see all the models at Carbon Sports web site.
And just kidding about Mr. Obermayer smiling. He has a major stake in Carbon Sports, is driving forward with product development, and yes, he can smile with the best… Mr. Dierl was probably a bit quicker with a grin, as he knew he was about to retire!
Note: if you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews or a slap in the head if you feel the need!
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