Thursday, 17 April 2014

Kuota KOM Air - The Arrival


Whilst I'm 90% convinced (maybe even 99%) that nobody cares, I can't keep this from the world for any longer......so here is a first look at my new bike, the KOM Air. I've been banging on about it for ages but the wheels finally arrived last week and I got 'the call' on Friday to head on down to my LBS to meet her.

Everyone says this (and I hate it when they do…) but my amateur photos do no do it justice! The matt black finish is enough to give anyone a "carbone" and in every respect she's an absolute beauty - Even Charlotte agreed!

The most notable aspect (after the dark, stealthy aesthetic....obvs) is the, frankly ridiculous, weight. I've now weighed her on two different sets of scales and taking an average across the two she's.............actually no, I'll keep you in suspense until the full review!

More on this and my thoughts once I've prized myself away from her….


Sunday, 30 March 2014

A Done Deal - Kuota KOM Air


Calls were made, emails were sent. Sleep was lost, relationships tested and tempers frayed but a deal was finally struck.

What I can say right now is that a bike is being built up somewhere in the sky blue city and we'll meet on my return from La Belle France in around 10 days.

I'm literally wetting myself in anticipation right now. In the meantime, there's some 'work' to be done here the Midi-Pyrenees ...

That is all.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Amp Hoops 32mm Carbon Tubular Wheelset - Review

Drought, famine, global warming – the world is full of life’s problems and quandaries and that’s before you even get to the Tubular vs Clincher argument. As a race, we really do have some work to do so, leaving the less pressing issues for other mere mortals, I thought I’d take on this business of the wheel...


It’s widely accepted that wheels are awesome – fact. I’ve known this for some time but the Gods have seen fit to bestow a problem upon my fragile mind that I feel compelled to explore. Most of us are well versed in clincher wheel sets – it’s the wheel we grew up with as we cut our teeth on swapping tyres and fixing punctures with mum’s favourite teaspoons. The humble clincher has come a long way and with full carbon-tastic flavours now lighter, reliable and more widely available than ever – why would anyone bother with a tubular? After some obligatory Googling, I contacted British company Amp Hoops to find out…

Amp are based in London, import their rims and hubs and build up their wheels to order here in the UK. I liked the idea of getting a set of wheels from a small UK company and, after a few emails with Mark at Amp, we agreed it would be worth me trying a demo set of their 32mm carbon tubulars to find out for myself. Mark was keen to promote the virtues of tubular but Amp also offer clinchers for those afraid of glue and punctures. Claims of lower rolling resistance and better cornering aside, for me, the fact of the matter I can measure is that they’re a lot lighter than their clincher equivalents and that alone appealed to my weight obsessive mind. With that, Mark agreed to send a set and I agreed to post my thoughts.

Unboxing 
The wheels look awesome - fact. These were a demo set used by Road.cc prior to me so have done some winter miles already but nevertheless look nice with their matt UD carbon finish, bladed spokes and fairly discreet graphics. The red matches the colour of my Kebel really nicely and I’ve never seen my bike looking more epic and ready for the road!



Amp do offer Euro white and stealth black decals for those looking to colour match their frame. The hubs are black, unbranded and completely inoffensive to look at.




Naturally, the first job was pull out the Thirty Something Cyclist kitchen “scales of fairly accurate truthfulness” and got weighing. Irrelevant of the what the scales say though, there’s no denying their ruddy light and you notice this immediately as an uncontrollable grin spreads across your face! Now, since these are demo wheels, they arrived with Continental Sprinter tubs already clued on so I was unable to test Amp’s claimed weights for just the wheels of 1070g. We’ll do the math though and work back to some rough weights in a mo.

With glued tubs but with the provided skewers the weights are:
Front: 806
Rear: 979g
Total: 1785g


By anyone’s standards this is light and a great start before I even mounted them to my bike! Now, Amp say its 1070g for the wheel set so if we assume that the claimed weight of a Continental Sprinter Tyre is  275g, that would leave 1235g on the scales, which if Amp's wights are to be believed would then leave 165g for skewers, glue and valve extenders. Seems pretty reasonably to me.

Clearly, from the previous paragraph, we know that Amp sent through some lightweight skewers. These look light and minimalist  too but also have a cheap feel to them and never gave that feeling of reassurance that they were up to task. Having said that, they never came loose or gave me cause to doubt them, but when clamping down on the dropouts and forks there was never that sense of quality and robustness that you get with Dura Ace Skewers for example.

Brake pads swapped out and aligned, I added a cassette, checked pressure and waited eagerly to hit the roads and try them out.

Mark had advised that although tubular tyres can be run at higher pressures to clinchers it’s not a necessity and much more of a preference thing. It would seem that running tubs at high pressures (140psi+) isn’t always better in real-world conditions and, with this advice, I opted to go for my preferred pressures of 110psi on the rear and 100psi on the front. At least that's what I was aiming for but annoyingly I could never be exact with this as the valve extenders used are the basic tube type and never quite made a seal with my pump to allow the pressure gauge to provide an accurate reading. I tried with another pump but the result was the same. This could just be my stupidity or a feature of most valve extenders but I found it a little annoying. The only saving grace was the tyres didn’t seem to lose much air at all during the course of the review period - being used to latex tubes in my clinchers I found this a bit of luxury!

On the Road
I shouldn’t neglect to tell you that I’m not an experienced user of deep profile carbon wheels and my lightest and best set of wheels for comparison are my Dura Ace 9000 C24 clinchers. That said, make no mistake – these spin up really quickly, are super stiff and you instantly know you’ve got a light set of wheels beneath you. It’s impossible for me to say whether they’re faster or easier to get turning than my DA’s but there’s definitely an identifiable lightness to them, along with that amazing sound that only carbon wheels can make as they roll along the tarmac! If nothing else, this brings a smug grin that you'll be wearing for the first ten minutes of every ride.

My first proper trip out with these was a Sunday morning spin on one of my regular short but fast routes. It was a very windy morning and not the best day for a test of deep section wheels. Nevertheless, I was eager and mindful of Rule 5 and 9 so gritted my teeth and got stuck in.

The first and most obvious thing to me was the effect of the wind on forward motion. The wind on this first ride was coming across me from 10 o'clock and gusting from this angle provides a noticeable feeling of drag on the bike. The effect was quite noticeable until the wind direction was coming more directly from the front or behind - where it was barely noticeable. This isn't a problem all of the time but would make me think twice about choosing aero rims for longer rides in windy conditions - particularly on my own.

Somewhat conversely, the wind didn't ever seem to catch the deeper profile of the rim and effect steering as such, but lets not forget that 32mm isn't that deep in the aero wheel arena and would more likely be an issue with 50mm rims or deeper.


Wind and crappy cycling conditions aside, on a good day when you get these spinning and giving off that whoosh of a carbon wheel, they instil a feeling of rapidness, of self-propelled speed and awesomeness that makes you want to keep pushing. Its a hard thing to attempt to describe or quantify for objective review purposes, but on quite a few outings I genuinely felt as though I was steaming along - almost like they want to go faster and harder and they reward when you do. It took me a little time to find my confidence in the tyres (a personal thing) but once I did, throwing the bike round bends at speed was a joy. The additional stiffness of these wheels over the DAs is never more obvious than when hitting a corner. There's a stiff, reassuring and planted feeling that I just don't get from the my other wheels when cornering at speed.

Speed and cornering is all very well and good but what about when it comes to stopping? I'd read a lot of whining on the internet about reduced braking performance on carbon rims and, to be honest, was a bit concerned it would be a problem I wouldn't be able to get over. In reality I could not disagree more with what I read in relation to braking with these particular rims. Amp supplied a set of Swisstop Yellow pads that had clearly been worn in through previous reviews and worked perfectly. In fact, I preferred the progressive feel of the braking with these more so than my alloy rims. The stopping effect is even across both wheels and there's a nice sound emitted as the wheels slow and the pads grip.

In the wet, I'd say there was marginally less response on initial application of the brakes but a revolution or so of the rim on pads creates the friction needed and its all good. I'm sure that descending down a mountain at speed in the wet would be more….butt clenching than in the dry but once you know how they react in wet and dry conditions its a feel that I actually missed the moment I swapped back to my DAs.

Tubular Vs Clincher
The most obvious reason, to me at least, to choose tubular over clincher would be the inherent weight difference. There's no escaping the fact that if you are looking to lighten your pride and joy, this is undoubtedly the way to go.

The Gods then go and balance this feather-light loveliness with the constant, paranoia-inducing threat of a puncture and I was a little pre-occupied with this on my first few outings. I risked it and didn't buy a spare tub to carry about, despite Mark's advice, but even with the winter debris I cheated the Gods and suffered no punctures. The need to carry a pre-glued or taped tub around for longer rides was off-putting to say the least but further discussion with Mark and my LBS revealed the perfectly viable option of tyre sealant - many of which are easy to get hold of and relatively cheap. I didn't try any of these myself during the review period but from what I have read I'd be happy to squirt a bit of this sealant in the tub at the mounting stage (before installing the extender) and head out happy that I'd be OK for most situations. Clearly, if you have a penchant for riding over barbed wire, glass, or razor blades, then this isn't the miracle cure but for anything other than a gaping hole it seems you're golden with some sealant. This would of course add a few grams to the wheel itself but would be saved in both convenience and weight in carrying a whole tub and having to fit this at the roadside.

I don't know about you, but all my punctures are inflicted in wet, cold and dark conditions - particularly when I'm trying to get home in a hurry or can't feel my hands. For this reason I'd consider squirting some of this in the clinchers I use for commuting.

Summary
It seems odd to me that we should have to choose between the clincher and tubular variety of wheels and so I say get both!



Having tried a set, I'm happy to go tubular for my best bike and purely for the weight savings alone (Amp's 38mm clinchers in the same spec weigh in at 1445g Vs 1070g).

I'm not going to get into the issues some have faced with heat-induced warping to the rims with carbon clinchers, because I simply can't comment but that might also be a consideration you find in favour of the tubular if you're into such dramas.

From a convenience perspective, tyre sealants and tape reduce the risk and mess that have traditionally scarred the tubular wheel set's PR; and I personally think the reasons against their use for average Joe are becoming largely immaterial. Nevertheless, common sense still has to prevail in certain circumstances and tubular wheels wouldn't be the obvious option for a LEJOG attempt for example!

All in all I enjoyed my first experience with tubular wheels and I was sad to send these back if I'm honest! Aside from the weight, the stiffness and whatever aero advantage a deep section wheel might bring, there's no escaping the simple fact that carbon wheels make bikes look epic! It's no surprise then that my new bike (see what I did there) will be coming with wheels of the carbon tubular variety and its arrival cannot come soon enough…

For those interested in finding out a bit more about Amp, I'll publish my brief interview with them in a future post and update that link here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The First 10K


Today was witness to a pretty important milestone.

Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't that I laid my first artificial turf lawn today and nor was it that I managed to spend 8 consecutive hours outside without getting rained on. It was in fact that Thirty Something Cyclist just ticked over it's first 10,000 page views!

Hurrah, thanks guys! This calls for a beer.

That is all.