Friday, November 19, 2010

So I got some light wheels and the craziest thing happened...

...I rode slower than before.

So this was the deal.  I got a couple of sets of pre-built, high-end wheels for review and one set was installed on the long term Giant XTC-1 29er HT test bike.  I always loved the handling of that bike in the twisties but felt that the stock wheels were lazy on long climbs and quick bursts of speed.  They also were not easy to set up tubeless.

So the new wheels and tires without tubes dropped nearly 2 pounds off of the rotating weight of the bike.  Sweet!  I assumed I would go riding and find a quicker rolling bike that handled like the old one.  That did not happen.  What did happen was, I gained a snappier accelerating bike that would crest rises in the trail with much less power going into the pedals.  Nice.  What also happened was I turned a quarter horse into a nervous filly.  I was heading down the same old trails at speed, and warning buzzers were going off in my head..."Danger Will Robinson!"...I was pinging around on the trail like a rubber ball, blowing my corners and scaring myself a bit.  Wow.

So, I posted a question on a popular MTB forum linked here and it kinda bloomed into a heated debate of sorts.  But it did raise a question:  Is there a price to be paid for very light and very stiff wheels that goes beyond the purchase cost?  Perhaps.

I have about 6 rides on the bike now post-wheel change and I am adapting and getting back in the groove.  What I discovered was illuminating, but not really profound.  A wheel that is lighter and very responsive to steering input will take less effort to accelerate and turn but also will be easier to deflect from the intended path.  I was both oversteering and feeling the ping-pong off of rocks and such.

I put on a 100mm stem instead of the 90mm stocker...that helped a bunch...and the rest has been time and re-training myself to color between the lines.  It did point out that a bike that is quick steering to begin with might just benefit from a moderate wheel build/tire weight if it is just an all-around trail bike.  But I am not going back to heavier wheels on this bike, I just need to become a better rider and be aware that I took a step closer to the edge of unforgiveness for faster, rougher trails.

And I need to listen to those little warning buzzers in my head.

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