Do Wheels Really Make A Difference? We Put A Pair To The Test
December 3, 2013 2 Comments
For a minute I almost forget I’m on a video shoot. It’s a beautiful, cold morning, with the fog lying heavy in the hollows of the foothills around our office. To either side of the road, a dark forest of pine and hardwood echoes with early morning bird call and the scent of conifers fills the air. The sound of the tires on the pavement and my own breathing form a rhythm for my pedal strokes. The clothing I’m modeling has me far underdressed for the temperatures, but as I climb higher and higher up the hills, I kind of begin to enjoy the feel of the cold air on my skin, cooling me down from the effort.
I’m starting to find my climbing rhythm, and I shift my hands to the top of the bars and sit up a bit to breathe a little easier. My legs feel like they are turning in perfect circles, and I let my hands relax on the bars. Normally deeper dish wheels like the Assault Limited carbon clinchers don’t make the best wheels for climbing, but these seem to be an exception. They feel as fast going uphill as downhill, the stiffer build making up for the additional weight. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good on a 10.5% grade. A hawk swoops down from a powerline to my left and I turn my head to watch its flight. I begin to feel like I’ve reached that special place where the ride becomes easy and feels natural.
We’re out here to film some B-roll footage for product and brand videos, which means that nothing is mine. My heels keep coming out of these shoes, I’m still adjusting to the fit of the Fuji Altamira, I continually misshift the unfamiliar Shimano controls, and the fresh-from-the-box helmet doesn’t feel quite right after so short a time. Among a million different sensations vying for my attention, it’s the feel of effortless climbing and nearly free speed from the new Reynolds Assault Limited wheels I’ve been given for this shoot that really grabs hold.
The Fuji Altamira is a great bike. It’s among the stiffest, most efficient, and comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. But as you’ve doubtlessly read countless times before, a great set of wheels can drastically improve how any bike rides. I’ve been riding an older set of Reynolds Assault wheels on my personal Van Dessel Rivet for a few years now, but I can say without a doubt that the new Reynolds Assault Limited’s are stiffer, faster and lighter. The new carbon lay up on the rim, the stiffer bladed spokes, and the re-engineered hubs with new, upgraded bearings make this new set an amazing improvement over what was already an incredible wheelset.
The hill ticks up a grade again, and I can hear the engine in the camera car rev up. My legs burn, and I debate whether to downshift or stand. I’m still forgetting which Di2 levers to hit, so I decide to stand. The bike feels stiff and light underneath me, pure power transmission. The wheels feel incredible. Not once do I hear a brake pad hit the rim, there is no quiet ticking of spokes or the eerie silence and sudden BANG! of a stuck pawl suddenly reengaging. The wheels are silent and powerful, stiff enough to respond without question to every watt of power I put into them. I pedal and the bike obeys.
Finally we hit the summit. I take a drink of water cold enough that it seems to drill straight into my forehead and reminds me I have a cavity that needs filling. We begin to descend. I shift into the big ring, the Shimano Di2 controls effortlessly shuttling the chain onto the big ring. I depress the right upshift lever and hold it, feeling the chain slide across cogs. The resistance feels huge at first, my cadence low. My quads rebel for a moment after the long slog up. But as the hill disappears below me, the resistance evaporates, and my cadence climbs. I reach the bottom of the cassette, and have no place left to go. I am flying down the hill. The deep carbon rim of the Assaults knife through the air. I go into a tuck over the handlebars and begin to drop the camera car. The camera man yells at me to slow as I slide past, but I ignore him. This is too much fun. With my chin near the handlebars, I can hear the wind sliding past the wheel rim, and I chance a look at my Garmin. This is the fastest I’ve ever descended this hill, and I know it’s the wheels. The bike isn’t an aero design, and I’ve ridden in a tuck here dozens of times before. These wheels are giving me free speed on the descent, and I wish I could have a chance to try them out on a flat. Or during the Thursday evening group ride. Or even just take them out for a day and see what else they can do.
But the video shoot is over, and I have to turn them back in. The next day I take my personal bike out. I love the familiar controls, the professionally-tailored fit, the stiff and responsive frame, but something is missing. My bike just doesn’t seem to have that pop to it, the liveliness from the test bike yesterday. It’s a small thing, almost imperceptible, but after the joys of yesterday’s ride with those new Assault Limited’s, nothing really quite feels the same.
And lest you should think that these wheels are only for carbon fiber super bikes, remember that a wheel upgrade can have massive effects on pretty much any road bike. Wheels can confer a huge advantage when you want to make your bike more aerodynamic, lighter, or just perform better. We’ve tested the Reynolds Assault Limited wheels out on many different road bikes, and found that they were faster, stiffer, and looked 247% cooler than most other wheels. We were especially impressed with the aesthetic and riding performance advantages they conferred on our new special project with GT bikes.