Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shattering Wheel Deals

Right after I posted about the amazing 2-Spoke wheels (that supposedly generate speed in crosswinds) I caught "wind" of this other high-tech wheel-related story - about Shimano 3-spoke aero wheels shattering under a Team Sky rider in the team time trial at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico race.

The wheels are Shimano PRO Textreme carbon fiber wheels that were also being used by the BMC, Orica-Scott, FDJ, Sunweb, and LottoNL teams in addition to Team Sky. Shimano claims that the wheels passed "rigorous testing" and have a "flawless record."

When the front wheel of Gianni Moscon begins to shatter, he appears to be on perfectly smooth pavement, just riding along (at nearly 40 mph). Although Moscon's wheel is the one that was utterly destroyed and caught on camera, teammate Geraint Thomas said that two other wheels used by the team were also badly damaged in the stage. So much for the "flawless record."

So, what happened? The failures are being blamed on three of the riders hitting potholes in the road (how big these holes were isn't mentioned) but what's interesting is that the wheels didn't break right away. According to the interview with Thomas, Moscon's wheel was the first to break up, but others broke further down the road, whereas the rest of the team had to wait for the others to catch up so they could finish the stage with at least five riders.

By the way, the same wheels have been available to the public for a couple of years now and sell for about $2500 (yes - that's for just the front wheel). I can't imagine paying that much for any wheel -- not even one that doesn't shatter spectacularly.

Shimano is reportedly investigating the incident. In their statement they said, "We are continuing to look closely into all factors that could cause the incident. During production the three-spoke wheel passed PRO's extremely high internal quality control and ISO/UCI standards. PRO's three spoke wheel was introduced in 2014 and has a flawless record, achieving countless time trial victories since, including BMC's team time trial win in the same stage."

In other words, "isolated incident" and possibly, "rider error." Something tells me that their investigation is going to conclude that the riders should have known better than to hit potholes in the road. Good advice for any fool with more money than sense who shelled out $2500 for a single wheel.

Just to put this all into some Retrogrouchy perspective, I recently built what I consider to be a pretty killer set of wheels with NOS vintage Campagnolo Record hubs and Mavic Monthlery Legere rims, and butted stainless steel spokes (36 rear, 32 front). The components were about the best one could get in the late '70s and early '80s -- professional quality all the way -- and in my view, just as good today as they were back then, regardless of the current era's carbon fetish. Their weight rivals a lot of today's carbon fiber wünderwheels, and I expect that they'll probably last the rest of my life. I think the total cost was about $350. Hmmmm . . . which would YOU choose?


  1. Unrelated, yet related, I've always really disliked Shimano's branding and graphics for this stuff, I can't be the only one who visually associates it with Ace Pro Hardware stores house brand stuff, which is pretty C grade crap to begin with.

    All that aside, as long the rider is okay, my only response is, silly, professional, next time, buy real competition grade stuff, not something that tells you it's for professionals as many times as they can fit the stickers on the parts....

  2. Am I the only one who shudders every time I see that nasty set of three letters?

    Carbon fiber may be fine with forces in one direction but shatters into lethal shards with little force in another. They happily ride on this stuff but wimp out over brakes near the hub...

  3. If a lightweight, professional, bicycle rider cannot be trusted to ride "correctly" (i.e. avoid potholes, unweight the saddle on rough patches, etc), how could Shimano trust these wheels in the hands of the general public? The image of that wheel shattering under the rider makes me cringe. It's exactly why the whole idea of a carbon fork or wheels, in general, makes me cringe.

    The issue of price aside, I cannot stress strongly enough how much of a non-issue of a decision it would be for me to take a nice set of wheels like yours over any CF set of wheels.


  4. "I can't imagine paying that much for any wheel -- not even one that doesn't shatter spectacularly." You'd think that a basic design constraint is that the product NOT shatter under use; but then again, this is the rarefied world of pro bicyclists - and wannabes with deep pockets - that we're talking about here. I'll stick with my basic set of alumin(i)um wheels + wide and plush clinchers, thanks. That one wheel is conservatively 10 times the value of my whole bike; and yet, it doesn't have a fall-apart problem. Perhaps I didn't pay enough money?

    On a related note: we have 3-spoke wheels and now 2-spoke wheels. Any bets on when 1-spoke wheels will make an appearance? I can hear the mainstream bike blogs and mags repeating breathlessly: "Just think of the weight savings!" "It'll make you faster, auto-sync with your GPS and upload your data to Strava, and hoist your bike overhead for you at the end of your EPIC rides!" No, I don't count disc wheels for this, as they're 0-spoke, and they've been around for a long time.

  5. Of course, I was sold at: NOS vintage Campagnolo Record hubs.

  6. The cyclist that falls in the video is a victim. It pains me to watch this.

  7. One spoke wheels. Likely could be tuned to work like the IngoBike of old, and that would be a riot!


    As for CF rims/wheels?

    I honestly don't get it. I'm not opposed to the concept, I'm opposed to spending nosebleed amounts of money on wheels that stand a chance of doing that.

    I deal a fair bit with a Chinese, consumer direct company, Light Bicycle. Most are for MTB and fat bikes, but they do road too.

    I've seen one fat bike version fail (for a darn good reason) and it simply splintered, and split, still hung together, tire stayed on, guy finished his ride, the whole bit. They replaced it with minimal fuss.

    I personally hit a rock on my fatbike while using pressures WAY too low for the conditions. I never knew I had a problem till I noted a persistent leak. Took the tire off, saw I'd cracked the inner wall.

    Good carbon epoxy, and a few layers of carbon sheet, it's be rock solid for two years since.

    All of this to say, if Light Bicycle can make a rim that has a "safe" failure mode, for under $300 a hoop, why are Shimano's so damn brittle and plainly unsafe for more than 10 times as much?

    Lamesauce right there.....

  8. If that rider had been more skilled or careful, he could have used the shattering wheel to his advantage. You see, as the wheel falls apart, it becomes even lighter. And as his front end drops from under him, he becomes more aerodynamic.

    Hmm...I wonder if what I just said was going through the minds of Shimano's marketing department.

    Give me Retrogrouch's wheels any day. Or anything built by a skilled hand with alloy rims and hubs and steel spokes with brass nipples.

  9. 36 spokes all around or my old fat ass doesn't mount up. Carbon schmarbon