Track 3 from Long Cold Winter (or Why Relying on R-Sys Wheels as your Primary Set of Cyclocross Tubulars is Stupid)

A lot of people will say “no shit” without even needing any of this associated evidence.  But I got a set through a sponsor last year, and having seen a few super fast dudes race them, I felt reasonably secure in racing them myself.  In fact, they seemed to be surviving a fair amount of abuse, including a rugged mountain bike race, as well as a spectacular wreck from a handup gone wrong.

So anyway.

As I mentioned, the bike hit the deck pretty hard at Quad Cross when I ate shit running the barriers.  But I finished the race on the bike, and it seemed to be fine.  In fact, I raced a few more laps on it after the crash, which included a few climbs that I had to stand up and mash to get over.

But when I put the bike in the stand on Tuesday night, that rear wheel just weren’t right.

And then after some further inspection, this was discovered:

So this is not good of course.

Then I did some reading in the Mavic Tech Manuals.  These are wonderful documents that might only give you a small nugget of repair wisdom, and then reference an older manual to fill in the gaps.  Then you’ll find the referenced manual, and it will reference another manual.  As R-Sys has undergone some evolution in past years, there is a bit of this treasure hunting.  Anyway, had to do some reading, because these are not very straightforward wheels to repair.

Somewhere in there, I found a procedure for evaluating the integrity of Tracomp spokes.  Essentially, you grasp them in the middle and try to move them in a 360 circular motion.  This is extremely important to do on a regular basis, because a spoke can be damaged and you may never see it.  Which was the case with another spoke on this wheel.  It was splintered right up the middle, very easy to feel in 360-degree evaluation, but almost impossible to spot.  In fact, when repairing the wheel, we lost track of it several times.

Tracomp spokes are generally sold in Mavic-supplied packs of 10 for $150.  Fortunately, we had the full-on Mavic parts kit, which had spares.  We went through the procedure of lacing them in, but guess what…rim is just wacked.  Junk.  Take your carbon fiber drinking straws, pour some gin and get loaded, because it’s time to write a check.

A new R-Sys rim is about $140.  Then you have the labor.  Pull the tire, disassemble the old wheel to salvage the parts, rebuild.  Reglue.  Yuck.  If you don’t want to do this yourself, you can pay Mavic an additional $300 and they’ll do it (so, $440), plus replace all the spokes.  The tire is still on you of course.  You’re not getting out of the fact that you just glued that fucker down with the Stu Thorne method and it’s coming right back off.

So we’ll figure that one out some other time.  But I’m not repairing that wheel and racing ‘cross on it again.  The rim bed isn’t all that wide; I know the spec says 20.5mm for my model year, but it’s never quite enough.  There always seems to be a little too much base tape poking out.  And hey – I’m going to crash again.  Or someone is going to run into me.  Or something.  This will happen again.  Don’t really want to go through it again.  Before, I rode like nothing would hurt these things, but that probably won’t be the case anymore.  These will be fine wheels to chase 1:20 on though.  When they were intact, they were rock solid.

So I learned a few lessons:

  1. My backup is a pair of clincher training/pit wheels.  Unfortunately, these are not tubular race wheels.  When you’ve had the good fortune of racing tubulars, and then you’re strung out not having them for an indefinite period of time, this SUCKS.  And when you’re bigger than the average Cat 3 sprite, clinchers are not going to get it done for you.  This pair I have is an older Open Pro/Ultegra front, with a vintage 105/CXP-21 rear.  Does the job, but it’s flexy, tanky, and I’ll ultimately flat out with them.  So lesson here: if you’re going to have backup wheels, make sure they’re wheels you actually want to race on.  So, maybe better stated – if you race on tubular wheels, you should probably have backup tubular wheels.
  2. If you see amazing deals on tubular ‘cross wheels, at any time, GET THEM.  They don’t have to be anything fancy – you don’t need a maintain a quiver of rolling sex.  But you will need them at some point.  And if that point happens to be right in the heart of the season, you are up a creek, when inventories are decimated and builders are strung out filling orders.  The boys at Revolution Wheelworks are building me up a pair, but I’ll be out 2 weeks when all is said and done.  That’s at least 4 races for most people.
  3. If ‘cross is something you wait all year for, you gotta be prepared.  It’s a long season, but it’s not.  Don’t get sidelined by putting yourself in avoidable situations (like this).
  4. If you are PRO, none of this is a big deal.  You’ll bust your fancy carbon wheel product and use one of your myriad of other ones.  And ideally make someone else do all the work in fixing the broken one.  And you probably don’t have to pay for it.

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