Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: November Rail 34 Carbon Clincher Wheelset


It’s been a little over six months since I last reviewed a November Bikes wheelset - the Rail 52, the company’s then-new effort into carbon clinchers. I was super impressed with the way these wheels performed and loved the way they made me feel on the bike – I just felt PRO, for whatever that’s worth. When I learned that the shallower Rail 34 was on the way, I knew I had to ride them. Unfortunately, that first ride had to wait a bit since my appendix decided it wanted to come out.

Mike and the team over at November have been awesome to work with – sending me a demo Rail 34 wheelset with their own November hubs (which I will be returning of course) and SwissStop carbon-specific brake pads. For the test, I’ve used 23mm Bontrager R3 tires with Bontrager tubes, and my Trek Madone 5.2 - the same setup as the Rail 52 demo (except I used 23mm Bontrager R2s)


First Impressions

Very sleek, minimalist design, light, cool pop of color from the hubs. They don't have the same anger to them that the Rail 52s possess due to their impressive size, but I would argue that the 34s look more hungry - up for anything.

First Ride

After a quick brake adjustment and spot tune I was off through the neighborhood headed out for a little afternoon adventure. The day is warm, but quiet and I immediately pick up the sensation of speed as I start turning the pedals. My ears are filled with the familiar sound of a quality hub – loud to some, but reassuring to me.

I continued through neighborhoods until I found my way to my new go-to route, a 36 mile loop with climbs followed by flats, or visa versa depending on which way you start. I opted for flats first and headed for the path. On the descent, I almost felt as though the wheels were pulling me and had to make a mental adjustment to the speed and how and when to brake.

Pedaling along the mostly-flat path, I could tell I was going a bit faster. Whether or not that was reality, I’m not sure. Perceived performance, right? On this segment of the route, it was the little bursts after underpasses where I was starting to feel the wheelset’s stiffness improving performance.  I could also feel a real sense of maneuverability and nimbleness – great to have in races, as well as dodging people running two abreast and dogs who are given too much leash. I always felt in control.

Moving into the hillier section of the route, the afternoon was starting to heat up. Like, you better be drinking more than a bottle an hour hot, and humid. My energy level was waning and I was regretting not starting here, but I pushed on and tried to go hard. Again, I could really feel the wheels’ stiffness assisting me uphill when I know that my Ultegras would have blended in to the suffering.
The rest of the ride went like this: thoughts like “why do I do this to myself,” quick stop for an ice cream bar and ibuprofen, new life, lots of sweat, and a great feeling of satisfaction followed by a sweet potato burrito when finished.

Thoughts from Subsequent Rides

Later rides on the Rail 34 wheelset have been filled with fun – though I might consider two changes on setup. First, I am a huge believer now in wider tires (currently riding 25mm tubeless on my Ultegras). Unfortunately, I did not have an additional pair of 25mm tires for this test – which I think could have helped smooth the ride out of over some of the rough terrain I usually find myself on.

Second, I am curious to see how November’s other hub options (White Industries, DT Swiss and Chris King) perform. After I had received my demo set, Mike from November reached out to let me know that the company is moving away from November hubs as the stock option – opting instead for White Industry.

Overall, I got some great compliments from both riding partners and complete strangers. One dude walking out of a gas station (as I was taking a picture of myself eating ice cream – lame I know) said, “sick bike – love those wheels.”

I managed a sheepish, “thanks,” muffled by a mouthful of ice cream Twix (quite delicious I must say).

The Good

Lots of good things to say about the Rail 34. They rode very quick, but remained very maneuverable, which for me is the mark of a good all-around wheelset. I felt empowered on both short, punchy climbs as well as longer grinds, and I always felt very fast on descents. Of course, always important to me – they make the bike look pretty sick.  

From a cost perspective – you can’t really go wrong. With the new stock White Industry hubs (available in a number of color options), you can essentially have a near-custom built wheelset for $1525, or full custom for not much more (thinking I need FLO yellow hubs, no?). Not too shabby.

The Bad

It’s difficult to pick out one or two things I would truly call “bad” about the Rail 34. I know in the first review I got a bit nit picky about the November skewers, which I thought felt flimsy. This set had the same skewers – but again those will be changing to a White Industry variety, so I will hold judgment there. Downs, climbs, flats – the performance just never lacked.

The Video Verdict

The Specs from November

Inside Width: 18mm
Brake Track Width: 25mm
Widest Section: 27.1mm
Rim Finish: UD carbon, satin finish
Weight: 1425g (620g front / 805g rear)
Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray, 20/24
Hubs: November A291SB/F482SB (red or black), White Industries T11 (choice of 8 colors), PowerTap G3, White Industries CLD disc (choice of 8 colors)
Drivetrains: SRAM/Shimano 10/11, Campagnolo 10/11
Brake Pads: SwissStop Black Prince (included)
Rim Strips: November (included)
Skewers: November (included)

For best performance, weigh less than 215 pounds. (this line kind of reminds me of this)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Out for Two Weeks with Bodily Mechanical

Lots of riding, not too much writing so far this year. I’m working on changing the second part, but a great new job has meant lots of learning and more time in front of the computer doing work things, rather than blog things. Here is a quick rundown of the season so far.

Fitness is Good, Appendix is Not

So far this year I have felt strong, which I credit 100% to my new bike fit and to work put in late last year on core work from Core Advantage. I still honestly don’t feel like I’m ready to move on to level 2 of 3 of that program, but know that I am way ahead of where I was this time last year.

Now, I’m not going to say that I am in race shape by any means. Quite the opposite, as Bryan and others from a local group ride recently put me in the red - which did led to the season’s only back flare up (so far). I took a few extra steps back just this week after my appendix decided it was done for and needed to come out. No rupture, so things could have been way worse - but that does mean a few weeks off of the bike and some fitness to make up.

Riding Around Austin

My new company has an Austin, TX office, so on a recent training trip I decided to explore the city - by bike. The Austin B-Cycle program is super convenient, and for only $8 per 24 hours, you get unlimited rides under 30 minutes. Just enough for commuting too and from the office, and for checking out downtown, the state capital and the University of Texas campus.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Healthy Breakfast Burritos in Bulk

I love burritos. You probably do too. Breakfast burritos are my newest love (+Chipotle Mexican Grill take note since you're open to new products now), as they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner if you are so inclined. They are great to have before a long ride too - a good healthy mix of protein, fat and carbs. The problem I was having however, was finding packaged breakfast burritos that didn't cost $3 a piece. Not easy to do.

I had resigned to the fact that I would only be able to afford the Amy-brand knockoffs from Target when someone on Google+ reminded me of The Feed Zone Cookbook's version and explained how they wrap them up and freeze them for easy reheating. I had tried the recipe before and liked it quite a bit, but never really thought about the freezing part. Genius (whoever you were).

Okay, I will say this endeavor requires a bit more work than tearing a wrapper, but will stress that it is worth every single fold of the tortilla. It will also save you a burrito full of money, more on that to come.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My First Professional Bike Fitting

I don’t have the time. It’s too expensive. It wouldn't make that much of a difference for a cyclist like me - I’m not into racing. These are just a few of the excuses I have been using to convince myself not to get a professional bike fit done over the last few seasons - ignoring the countless counter arguments from riders both faster, and slower than me (there actually are a few).

Well, the excuses are officially over. I recently visited my home shop (where I used to work in college), The Trek Bicycle Store of Omaha, and did what needed to be done to address some nagging knee and back pain that flares up quite a bit during the season. The shop has doubled down on its professional bike fit offerings lately - dedicating an exclusive space and offering the services of very talented fit specialists - including Amy Collison, a practicing physical therapist and all-around strong rider.

Check out Amy's blog The Cycle Therapist for more insight on good form and how to address some common issues faced by riders of all levels.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year and Cheers to 100 Years of Bikes

Uncovered 1914 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Chicago Bicycle Catalog

I hadn't really planned on writing a year-end post. I sort of expected the new year to come and go like most others - too much food and booze, some exercise to keep up. Yada yada it'll be spring soon. Plus, I know most are bored of me talking about hating the trainer and pining over a few coveted reviews.

Things changed however when I received a package from my aunt and grandmother a few days ago. My grandfather passed this summer and the two of them have been culling thorough years and years of his collected things. They found one item in particular that was set aside for me that I am just so thankful to receive - a nearly mint 1914 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Chicago Bicycle Catalog. It is amazing to see how the bicycle has changed, but really stayed very much the same.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December Update: Indoor Madness, Food and Avoiding the Slip

Fourteen days in to a very cold month and I am already dreaming of complaining about 40 degree days. It has been in the 20's pretty consistently since the beginning of the month and I have been very inconsistent about spending time in the gym or on the trainer. I have gotten pretty good at mindless snacking at work though, so there's that (so many treats, everywhere).

It's time though, before damage is done, to right the ship and get back to a modest diet along with two to three days in the gym - one of those spent sweating on a spin bike. I feel that if I can maintain overall fitness and improve cardio fitness through high rep/intensity gym work, 2014 will be a good year.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: November Rail 52 Carbon Clincher Wheelset

Carbon wheels were meant to get dusted up.

It's fitting that I had the opportunity to ride the Rail wheelset from November Bicycles in the actual month of November. While this month has not afforded some of the best riding, I believe it was actually perfect for wheel testing thanks to the frequently shifting winds and plethora of road obstacles (branches, gravel, nut-hoarding squirrels, etc.) to maneuver around. A big thank you to Mike at +November Bicycles for setting up the demo - I promise to have them back soon after the snow starts flying.

I first heard about November Bicycles from Bryan and became curious this time last year when I started seeing their Hot Cross Buns cyclocross build. That interest was piqued when photos of their new Rail 52 carbon clinchers started surfacing. After reading more about the company and knew I had to work with them if at all possible. Bottom line: they are a US-based small business who is working super-hard to build great products that are high-quality, yet affordable for the majority of racers and cycling enthusiasts alike. Low overhead means lower prices for consumers. I can get behind that.