The Café Roubaix Arenberg paired to FMB Paris-Roubaix

Cobbles, Carbon, Silk, and Dust

Cobbles, Carbon, Silk, and Dust

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I hadn’t planned to ride them every day. In fact, I had planned to only ride them once and let other people ride them. But, genius that I am, I forgot my ceramic brake pads and had to source some new ones which was a maddeningly difficult process given that Europe observes something in the neighborhood of 363 holidays per year.

I was more than a little apprehensive, to be honest, of riding a lightweight set of carbon wheels down the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix – let alone on three separate occasions and two days on the kasseien of Vlaanderen. At long last, I got my hands on some brake pads, but then my hopes of riding my Golden Tickets died with the harp hiss emitting from Stefano Museeuw’s back when when he took my FMB-clad Nemisis through a hole big enough to lose him in. One thing for sure, the young talent has the “Look Pro Stop at the Side of the Road in Disgust” nailed. I suppose it helps when you’ve got the Lion of Flanders as your dad and mentor.

But truth be told, the Cafe Roubaix Arenberg wheels were amazing to ride, especially on the tarmac. On the cobbles, they were noticeably less compliant than my box-rim tubs, but they more than made up for it in speed and featheriness on the tarmac bits. And that is the element we so often overlook about Roubaix: we identify so heavily with the 50km of Pavé, but we so easily forget there are 200km of tarmac to deal with as well – which is why Museeuw ultimately lost to Tchmil aboard his ill-fated Bianchi “Throne”. When judging a wheel, all these aspects must be weighed against one another.

One thing of note, however, is that on the roughest secteurs of pavé – in particular the Trenchée and Carrefour – I found it more difficult to discover my rhythm than I did last year. Could it be that the lightweight wheels bounced too much and spent too much time going up rather than forward? I find that notion easier to digest than the notion that there was something amiss with my riding.

I proclaim this knowing full well the wrath I’m sure to receive: even for the enthusiast, the carbon wheel is the future for every discipline of cycling. While my Ambrossios are much more lovable in terms of nostalgia and good-old-fashioned hardman looks, the strength and stiffness of the Roubaixs outmatched the classic box-rim of the Nemesis in every respect from weight all the way down to trueness. On the other hand, three-cross bladed spokes on a deep-dish rim are a real bitch in a Flemish crosswind.

 

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  1. @minion

    My tabby cat (a Downton Tabby), who is sitting in my lap, read your post and said, “Raahhr.” Which is Tabby for “Who the fuck would ride with such fucking idiots in the first place?”

    It’s my cat, I say.

  2. Hi Frank,

    Great post. I like your bike as well. I too have a Cervelo R3 (2009) but in white. Did you lift you saddle up just for the photo or do you always have that much seat post showing?

    Keep up the good work.

    TWS

  3. @PeakInTwoYears Gah the Sunday morning rides are usually a steady cruise on the way out and the hammer gets dropped on the way in. You usually just sit and chat on the way out, but it’s always the usual suspects lighting it up on the way home, by which time the fodder’s OTA. Unless they shove their fucking hand between the wheel and the frame, in which case they’re OTA a lot earlier than that.

    You have a very perceptive cat.

  4. Ok, here’s my 2c.

    If you have about $6-700. to spend, carbon wheelsets can be had from fleabay.  I have as a test purchased some 60mm carbon wheels from a seller in Thailand to replace some aluminium training wheels damaged in a car altercation.

    The main this I looked out for was to get Novatec hubs as my pricier carbon wheels have re-badged Novatecs and they roll amazingly well.

    I must say that I’m very impressed with the Thai wheels thus far, so much so that I’ll be racing the cross season on them and also I’ll be getting a set of 32mm carbon fixed for my track bike build.

  5. @minion

    You have a very perceptive cat.

    She was just being petulant because she knows I’d kill for a proper group to ride with. Love riding with the VMH and enjoy the weekly mtb group, but never a paceline in sight in these uncivilized parts.

  6. But who am I kidding? I’d never stay on…

  7. @Nate

    @frank. BTW: a shimmed seat post? I thought you had standards.

    Indeed i have standards, but also have a 2006 Cervelo R3 with a seat pin diameter that is no longer supported by any manufacturer.  Bastids.

  8. @eightzero

    But…can anyone list the MSRP of each?

    While this is a perfectly fair question, it has nothing to do with the subject of performance. The question of whether carbon wheels or alu wheels perform better on the cobbles has nothing to do with price or value, but of quality (both ride and materials).

    I always think the best way to view product selection is to start with what’s actually the best product, however that might be measured, and then work backwards from there until you got to a product that has an intersection with your budget and other requirements. A product does not become worse just because its out of our budget.

    This approach is particularly effective because the products that are most expensive are not given to be the best products available. You have to exclude price from the evaluation in order to vibe objective, and then add in the other considerations.

  9. @frank ah, so you have standards, and, characteristically, the mfgrs do not.  What size does the R3 take?

  10. @frank

    @eightzero

    But…can anyone list the MSRP of each?

    While this is a perfectly fair question, it has nothing to do with the subject of performance. The question of whether carbon wheels or alu wheels perform better on the cobbles has nothing to do with price or value, but of quality (both ride and materials).

    I always think the best way to view product selection is to start with what’s actually the best product, however that might be measured, and then work backwards from there until you got to a product that has an intersection with your budget and other requirements. A product does not become worse just because its out of our budget.

    This approach is particularly effective because the products that are most expensive are not given to be the best products available. You have to exclude price from the evaluation in order to vibe objective, and then add in the other considerations.

    Concur. However, the process is arguably more complicated. “Performance” also entails application and maintenance consideration. The Bike is a system, optimized for both ride and application.

    While a particular component might be the best performer, if it entails high maintenance to achieve that, it might not be the best choice. A good example is the recent debate over chain lube. Paraffin wax was found to be the “best” in saving watts, but there was no evaluation of wear (and thus cost) made. When evaluating performance, a prime consideration is the application. This necessitates a consideration of costs.

    Often lost is that an inexpensive part might be the best performer – as long as it is new.If an expensive part wears well, it may be worth the additional cost. If not, a lower priced component might suffice, but then the System should accept simply replacing the component sooner. “Performance” is thus optimized over the duration  of the application.

    Of course, if one is a ex- wall street banker with a buttload of quid in the bank, this is moot. Just sayin’.

  11. @eightzero

    While a particular component might be the best performer, if it entails high maintenance to achieve that, it might not be the best choice…Often lost is that an inexpensive part might be the best performer.

    All good points, and just as cost isn’t a valid measure of quality, neither is a low price a valid measure of poor quality. Although I think if you try to get to value directly (which you’re doing by saying maintenance needs to be part of performance) without starting with purely the performance of the parts, you’re still complicating it too much. Maintenance is not necessarily a requirement for performance, although any one of us who actually pays for a part would consider it to be. For Fabian, he doesn’t care if his Zipp 303’s (or whatever they actually were) can be ridden again or not – maintenance has no inherent relation to value if you’re not doing the maintaining or paying for it.

    I still prefer to start with what’s the best performing product in terms of ride, and then work backwards with respect to all other matters of cost, maintenance, etc. For example, my rain bike has a Veloce chain and cassette, because I’ll happily take the (small) weight penalty for the durability of the heavier parts. But they still are poorer performers when ridden side-by-side with the Record bits.

    The most important element is that by the time you buy a product, you have your eyes open in terms of performance, durability, maintenance, and cost. You don’t want to be surprised.

    This reminds me of a funny anecdote from Bird and Fortune; they’re talking about how the helicopters the RAF was using in the second Desert Storm were designed for Northern Europe and when introduced to the sand out there, they ran into some issues.

    We found that the flight time of these helicopters was reduced somewhat.

    By how much?

    From 4 hours to 20 minutes.

    And this came as a surprise?

    It did to the pilots.

  12. @Frank Wholeheartedly agree. Our analyses diverge, but I feel the guiding hand of Merckx upon both our paths.

    I simply stick with this truism: “A Helicopter is a piece of technology that is not yet fully invented.” Or put another way: ever see an old helicopter? How about an old helicopter pilot? Thought so.

  13. @eightzero

    @Frank Wholeheartedly agree. Our analyses diverge, but I feel the guiding hand of Merckx upon both our paths.

    I simply stick with this truism: “A Helicopter is a piece of technology that is not yet fully invented.” Or put another way: ever see an old helicopter? How about an old helicopter pilot? Thought so.

    FFS dont say such things, thats my commute to / from work some 20 plus times a year….!

  14. interesting read HERE on the death of the ally wheels at PR. Course it never stopped me on my shitey DT Swiss 23mm clinchers, must be just raw natural talent I guess.

  15. @eightzero@strathlubnaig

    On the other hand, I assume all this footage is 100% realistic.

  16. @frank aye, looks like a normal day in the north sea there, all good.

  17. Fhronk, when you say,

    “The most important element is that by the time you buy a product, you have your eyes open in terms of performance, durability, maintenance, and cost. You don’t want to be surprised”,

    that’s the best argument for the Nemesis wheels going. Just as Faboo doesn’t care if he can use his 303s again, Sep Vanmarke’s destroyed C50 front wheel, while probably excellent in terms of performance, fails the other criteria you’ve listed. I’m not anti – carbon tubs, I have a pair, but I also have a pair of Nemesis wheels and refuse to ride an ‘endurance’ geo bike. So the best way for me to get a decent ride out of the bike on shitty surfaces is not to put the outrageously stiff, aero wheels on and hammer my poor self, but to put the compliant wheels on that roll really well, that I’ll be able to swap out and use again next time. What the pros ride in races is the shop window for the Ferrari showroom. What most of us drive, and the decisions we make on what to drive, is miles away from that.

    Anyway, I’m sure all this is moot now that Sram’s hydro brakes have been released and we’re all going to need new bikes to brake properly or we’ll be delivering death and destruction via inferior braking to the other Mamils we ride with. It’s a fucking never ending parade of consumption this sport, that quite frequently shits me.

  18. I always figured this is what @frank looks like on the trainer getting ready for Halelakela:

  19. @minion Spot on.

  20. @minion

    Anyway, I’m sure all this is moot now that Sram’s hydro brakes have been released and we’re all going to need new bikes to brake properly or we’ll be delivering death and destruction via inferior braking to the other Mamils we ride with. It’s a fucking never ending parade of consumption this sport, that quite frequently shits me.

    That is very well put.

  21. @strathlubnaig

    @eightzero

    @Frank Wholeheartedly agree. Our analyses diverge, but I feel the guiding hand of Merckx upon both our paths.

    I simply stick with this truism: “A Helicopter is a piece of technology that is not yet fully invented.” Or put another way: ever see an old helicopter? How about an old helicopter pilot? Thought so.

    FFS dont say such things, thats my commute to / from work some 20 plus times a year….!

    Holy shit, you must have some cash handy, to finance your bikes and a helicopter ;-)

  22. Whow! A lot to talk about. My wheels and I am busy with like business and family and stuff… I will try to add my 2 cents and answer a few questions that have popped up…

    @roger

    @RedRanger enve and hed design and engineer their rims. the enve does look best out of the lot, including lightweights. the hed stingers i had last season looked like toy squirt guns.

    im not sure how involved Café Roubaix is with the rim other than sourcing it, slapping a decal on and building it up. Perhaps danr can shed some light on that for us.

    Frank, what pads are you using? When i spoke with dan he mentioned reynolds seemed to play nice with the brake track…

    To be clear, roger has ordered some rims and nipples from CR to build his own wheels. We all wish him luck with this project. To answer roger and the group, I have enough of a small design change in our rims to warrant the open mold that we have employed with our manufacturer, to call the rims our own. This also puts our manufacturing in a queue that boasts some other great companies. So while our rims are based on an open source mold, they are unique (kinda, I am told I am not the only company that asks for similar changes). CR carbon rims are painted by my manufacturer, as they have produced some of the best finishes I have been able to find. As for pricing, I wanted to put them within range of the avid rider, but while they are a labour of love, I need them to pay some bills too. I think we have a good balance so far. Another great thing about doing things my way, is that I can build them up any way I want. I have a “stock” lightweight Taiwanese hubset that makes these wheels nice and light, but I also bring in Miche, Shimano, Campagnolo, Chris King (yes! finally!), White Ind and Alchemy hubs. In the end, my own wheels are a small part of a larger project called Café Roubaix, as I am bringing in Enve, Ambrosio, and DT Swiss rims too. Oh, and bikes. We have a lot of bikes for a small studio….

    As for the large number of chinerello, cholnago, etc frames & parts on the market, once a major company is doe with its mold, they “sell it off” to the actual factory or another company. These CF molds can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so when you are changing your main line up every year, it makes business sense. This is why you will find more of NA and Euro custom and semi-custom producers using a tube to tube construction, as it eliminates the need for a mold  and still produces a great frame.

    @eightzero As for my MSRP, I am not sure I can even call my own pricing “MSRP.”

    I would love to spend more time, but I have some demo rides to finish building, a Bianchi and mountain bike to service, a set of custom mnt bike wheels to quote, and a whack load of social media networks to comment on! And I have to clean out a garbage can – damn, I need a junior unpaid intern/apprentice.

  23. Oh, and that whole A-Team sequence is completely realistic. They just changed a few of the names and made three characters to fill my role…

  24. @Dan_R you could get the young’uns to do the lacing?  grab some color coded painters tape and make a game out of it!

  25. @roger

    @Dan_R you could get the young’uns to do the lacing? grab some color coded painters tape and make a game out of it!

    hehe, if the 6 year old wasn’t always asking for a more money…$2 a week? I own a bike shop not a bank!

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