What's Cool In Road Cycling

Product Test: American Classic Wheels

In walked the UPS guy asking why someone would ship me empty boxes… OK, so the weight review is done on the new American Classic Wheels that arrived today. These are not the “light” ones by the way. These were 420 Aero Clinchers with Bladed spokes that have a recommended rider weight of over 200 lbs…

I first noticed these wheels at Interbike on an ROI bike that weighed somewhere in the 12 pound range and again recently when looking at the hubs on one of Jen Longo’s bikes. I then realized I had seen them with one of the local teams, so I decided to take a look at the company and the products to see what I could see. I’m glad I did…

American Classic is basically the brain child of Bill Shook and started a long time ago in a Galaxy, er State, far-far away from the comfy winter confines of their current facilities in Tampa Florida. Bill started working in the bike business, first as a local wrench, then moving into parts designing while getting his undergraduate and Masters degree’s. He founded the original version of American Classic with family more than 20 years ago and has gone through reorganization, a restart and recently culminating with the buyout of partners. He moved the whole enchilada from Ohio to Florida in the near past, not because of the weather, but because he found the right woman (talk about your good fortune double whammy!).

With full control of American Classic back where it belonged, the company has enjoyed a resurgent energy in getting the best stuff to the cycling public in a way that keeps the rider happy. That means putting a priority on quality in product design (rather than ease of production which is the focus of so many other companies), while keeping the eyes and ears open to the cycling public so as not to assume that any one item is right for everyone. The final piece of the puzzle was great product support and customer service (It’s nice to have someone in the same hemisphere to talk to when a product problem comes up). American Classic seems to have gotten it right, as they are enjoying record sales this year, and are seeing their product in the pro peloton domestically and internationally despite not having to spend the tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of dollars that competitors are paying…

For our test, we were lucky enough to be able to choose two sets of wheels from American Classic, and after an extremely hard decision making process (due to multiple product types, all available in a myriad of spoke options tuned to the rider) we decided to roll around on a set of “do it all” 420’ Clinchers and 38mm Carbon dream tubulars. This test is on the 420’s spoked with full bladed 16 / 20 DT’s.

Starting with the 420’s, we basically decided to benchmark them against the desirable Campy Eurus Wheels and make some comparisons to a few other top line wheels and what we found was a pretty positive comparison.

The 420’s, named for the rim weight, seem on paper as the better set right off the bat. With a more Aero profile than the Eurus wheels (or the Mavic Ksyrium ssc sl),

and with genuine full bladed spokes to add to the Aero effect (rather than the oval spoked Eurus), you might think the trade would be in adding weight. You would be wrong, in that you will also be pulling a quarter pound of rotating weight off the bike when you choose the 420’S (note that the weight of the Campy’s is suggested in contrast to an actual weight for the 420’S and that these are also a fifth of a pound lighter that the suggested weight of a set of Mavic’s Ksyrium SSC SL’s). Aerodynamics – Grams = good.

A design advantage to the 420’s is that they don’t follow the paired spoke trend (or G-3 in Campy’s case) of other companies. I am sure there is some type of advantage to paired spokes, but so far, the only “advantage” I have seen with two sets from two different manufacturers is that when a spoke goes on you, the rest of the wheel is toast. When a spoke goes on a standard wheel, you hear it pop, the wheel goes out of true, and you brake to a stop, loosen your brake adjustment and ride home. When a spoke goes on a paired spoke wheel (speaking from experience) you hear it pop, you feel it taco (because of the high tension and lack of other spokes nearby to help stability) and you slide to a stop on the ground looking backward at the cool strip your flesh made on the pavement…

Another plus is that, rather than using special (and extremely expensive) spokes on the Ksyrium (or Dura Ace…), the American Classics use simple, easy to find spokes from DT.

These issues are big, if you have ever spent 60 bucks replacing a special Ksyrium spoke, or have gone over the bars when your paired spoke wheel folds up and then waited a month for your new wheel to come back. The other plus is that you don’t have to pull the tires and rim strips off just to true the American Classics (Campy requires truing through the rim bed in order to hide the nipple) or need a special tool (Mavic).

The Hubs have a nice finish and are very light.

The bearings are better now (fully sealed) and the 6 large pawls are sturdy and built away from the center to help with leverage in power. Something interesting is that these hubs are also a bit narrower than most, but it’s for a reason. It allows the non-drive spokes to take a higher tension and load and take pressure off the drive side. This makes great sense when compared to other thoughts of how to better relieve drive side pressures in wheels from other manufacturers who keep trying to do things that actually seem to put even more emphasis on the drive side, making wheels that are even more imbalanced with regard to spoke tensions.

Now to the fun part. We strapped the darn things to the Colnago World Chaps C-40 for a ride (or 2…) to see if any of this matters!

These wheels roll extremely well. They are responsive, quick and tight even with the low spoke count. Because bladed spokes are stronger and take load pressure better than standard or double butted, you can build a stronger wheel with fewer spokes. The Rim is deeper, narrower and better formed for aerodynamics on the 420 than either the Eurus or Ksyrium, which means it should carry more momentum and have less drag. And the fact that these came with full bladed spokes helps in the speed department as well. It’s tough to find both speed and quickness in a wheel and these have it! All this coupled with infinitely easier maintenance than the competition makes the American classics 420’s a pretty easy choice! That is unless you have a problem with wheels that are lighter, more aerodynamic and far easier to service and maintain.

It’s just a shame I only have two thumbs to put in the up position, as I would give the American Classic’s 420’s more than that if I could. If it’s any indicator to you, the shop mechanic that put the cassette on the 420’s for me called and ordered a set upon inspection despite the fact that he can get Campy’s or Mavic’s for less money because he gets them at cost, and I am not running the Campagnolo’s any longer and will be paying for the 420’s to take their place…

Next up is the test of the Carbon 38mm tubulars. Could they do to Campagnolo’s Hyperon and Hed’s Alps what the 420’s did to the Eurus and Ksyrium???

Stay Tuned…

See more at the American Classicwebsite.

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