What's Cool In Road Cycling

Topolino C-19: Pez Test “Those Crazy Spoke Wheels”

Pez readers write in pretty frequently, asking about “those crazy spoke wheels”, so we decided to see if there was something more to them than just looking different. Turns out there’s a method to the madness…

About two seconds into the conversation with Topolino’s head head, Raphael Schlanger, I remembered who I was talking to. I remembered back to a time when the UCI had to try a whole slew of tests to get the Spinergy Rev X wheel to fail in a way that didn’t make most other wheels fail worse… The UCI finally succeeded (much to the delight and with a rumored nod and wink to a large European wheel maker) in finding a test that would be almost completely irrelevant to anything a bicycle wheel would go through, but made the RevX fail differently than other wheels (as it was both stronger and more aero than almost anything on the road).

The designer of the Rev X was Raphael Schlanger, and while he’s also designed medical equipment, consumer products, transmission systems etc. he’s really just a bike geek that started working in a shop as a kid and wound up getting to stay where he was happy, with companies like Cannondale, Spinergy and now with his one place and his own wheels at Topolino…

click the thumbnail for a big hub view

You may already know the hype on these wheels…

They are light and made of different stuff, which make them a combination tech weenie / weight weenie one-two punch. What they bring along with the looks factor and the weight is durability.

The easiest place to start with these wheels is to work from the inside out, so we’ll take a peak at the hubs first.

Front and rear hubs share the same shell. Both are a thermoplastic with Carbon Fiber added to help with strength and durability. The hub shells are actually two pieces that slide together. You can see the little rubber ring in the center of the front hub, where they go together.

Using Thermoplastic as the hub material allows the shells to be molded, rather than making them from the traditional metal that most others use. Metal simply can’t be machined in a way that is both cost effective and strong enough. But a molded shell lets Topolino make a more efficient shape, meaning there’s more material where you need it and none where you don’t. Note on the rear hub, all of the shapes toward the bottom, including the ribbing. That’s not a shape available in anyone’s metal hub, and because of the strength of the composite, there is very little material used.

A side view also shows how much material is taken away around where the shell houses the spokes. Note too the very short flange compared to anything I can think of that is currently on the market.

This small amount of material is in part due to the strength and shape, but it also speaks to one of the most novel parts of the Topolino design. Another photo shows that very little material is necessary at the hub, because the hub is under so much less stress than traditional designs. This happens as the spokes don’t fasten to the hub, but run through and out…

Spoking of speaks, You can kinda tell those ain’t normal.

The spokes are a fiber sandwich of Kevlar (yellow) and Carbon. Each spoke runs all the way across the wheel, passing through the hub, meaning the hub and spokes are an integrated system (also meaning Raphael’s brain works fairly well…).

As the spokes leave the hub and cross over, they are protected from rubbing on one another by little, eh, “black things”. These are used at all cross sections except drive side rear, where they are three cross.

Topolino call the spokes themselves “Aero Profile”. “Aero” in this case means a bit of an oval shape. They’re definitely not what anyone should call “bladed” and not a true 4-1 ratio, depth to width, needed for any benefit. But as they are thicker than any other spoke around, making them a little wider doesn’t hurt. (also note that just about every wheel manufacturer calls something “aero” that isn’t…)

On the C-19 wheels. The spokes end at the rim in another large “black thing”. The plastic retainer covers where the carbon and Kevlar spoke is fastened to a male threaded insert that will mate with an exposed nipple (this nipple is hidden on their new C-29). The nipple joins the rim in a traditional fashion and you might note the VERY nice machined surface on the 19mm rim selected for these wheels.

The spoke layout is fairly traditional with 24 contacts run two cross and spaced equally for the front wheel. The rear wheel gets 30 contacts (18 drive side and 12 off) with the drive side going three cross and also meeting the rim in alternating paired and single spacing…

Enough geek-o-babble…

So we went ahead and skinned these wheels with suitable rubber to match their pedigree (and to match the fact that it never rains in Arizona…) giving them a set of Vittoria Open Corsa in the racing slick KS tread pattern (distributed through Bike Mine).

And slapped em on a test bike suitable to keep the Bling-Factor in check, as the Topolino’s do stand out…

Another reason we chose to run these wheels on the Serotta and Seven Elium we have here is that these wheels have been described as “indestructible” by several large riders that have emailed us about this set. Both these bikes are light, but are built so damn well that I have a ton of faith in their ability to take a pounding. And because we have great relationships with manufacturers, they don’t mind, and in fact appreciate that we put things through a sh!tstorm while testing them…

I’m not suggesting you hop curbs with them. I’m not suggesting you hit potholes with them on purpose. I’m not suggesting you see how far you can full bunny hop your bike through the air… In fact, please don’t.

But I did… All damn winter I did.

PEZ obtained these actual post-crash photos taken by a customer of WiseCycleBuys.com, that reportedly give some idea of how tough these wheels are. The incident involved a car, and the rider’s bike took the brunt on the front – see the busted forks…? But the Topolino wheel did not break. Note: that is NOT our test bike – or wheels, nor did we take these pics.

That said, I weigh a buck and a half, give or take 5, pretty much all year. So maybe you’d also like to know that Nelson Vails who plays around between 215 and 230 (and still has some of that Olympic Sprint wattage) calls them durable too…

I can’t find rider weight limits on Topolino’s site, but I would call these wheels tough and possibly the big man’s dream wheel, as nothing weighing in at 1400 grams should be this durable.

As for acceleration, the Topolino’s are great. I was a bit worried that with Topolino indicating that the Hub and Spokes are where the weight is saved, that these would be heavier at the rim. As you probably know, the further toward the outside of a wheel the weight is, the more you feel it. These felt fine on the gas, rivaling any of the few other wheels that weigh in at a genuine 1400 grams (Topo say 1390, we say 1410).

Flex and wind up were good. The wind up on acceleration wasn’t very noticeable at all and the back wheel stays fairly straight, even when trying to toss power around in a purposely sloppy fashion that will have a few light weight wheels rubbing hard on the brakes as the wheels flex. You can get some movement, but you really have to put in the effort to do it and it’s more effort than some other wheels at this weight. There are stiffer wheels to be had than these, plain and simple, but the spoke tensions required to have a wheel be stiffer and still maintain this weight would be a real chore for other designs, and that added tension would harm durability in other light designs.

Vibration damping is very good on these wheels. The carbon, Kevlar spokes do what fiber tends to do and mutes buzz and the hub is suspended in the wheel more so than traditional designs. They also soak up heavier chatter very well, along the lines of carbon tubulars like Zipp’s 404’S who’s egg shaped rim dampen vibration well. The difference in comfort is not as massive as some might think. You’ll not get on the bike and just be blown away by the comfort, but you’ll notice it over time and certainly if you test it back to back with something that rides as rough as a set of Ksyriums…

There are a few drawbacks to the Topolino’s. Not huge, and in the case of spoke replacement, maybe irrelevant, but drawbacks still. Should you break a spoke, you’ll need to send the wheel back and they have to replace the half of the hub and all the spokes on the side you broke, as they are a single unit. The cost is not cheap either. Then again, these wheels NEVER needed so much as a break in truing, and I would imagine that if you do break a spoke, that you’ll be far more concerned with the hospital bill for the injuries sustained when you dropped off a cliff or got hit by a truck… I can’t see anything else damaging these wheels that wouldn’t destroy everything else around them first.

The second drawback is in aerodynamics. The large spoke heads, shallow rim profile and meaty spokes make these take a bit more effort to keep up to high speed. Riding in Time trials, in big big solo efforts on the flats or at extremely high speed groups taking long pulls are about the only time you might notice this though, and again, this is only at high speed. The amount of time you spend in those specific conditions is probably limited way beyond the drawback being any place near as much a consideration as all the positives that go with these wheels. I hate to even mention it but as we have a very focused group of pretty hard core readers, it deserves comment. I would also say that even if you find yourself occasionally in these extreme situations, the comfort and weight that comes with the Topolino’s will have you fresh enough at the end of it all that the few extra watts it takes to push these wheels at extreme speed is no big deal…

All in all these are a great all round wheel set. Maybe the best combination of low weight and durability make them the first very light wheel I would ever consider suggesting to bigger guys (contact Topolino for exactly how big though). I tried like hell to blow em out and didn’t even get em out of true… I also like that they stand out in a crowd, making them a great mate to a top dollar bike as well as a stand out part on more run of the mill gear.

They’re not priced as high as I thought they would be with an MSRP of $970. Honestly, the only other wheel using spoke through the hub technology and cool looking Carbon Kevlar spokes are the guys at Lightweight wheels! And I would guess that saving 2-3k per set isn’t a bad thing (nor is being compared to the most high end wheels on the planet…).

Bottom line?

Topolino’s are competitively priced with a lot of wheels that lose out in weight, comfort and durability or a combination there of….

Have Fun.
Charles Manantan

You can find more info here at TOPOLINO’S SITE. And you can buy em at WiseCyclebuys.com.

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!

Pez Cycling news and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limits that may limit their use.

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