Zipp Firecrest Track Wheels

Zipp introduces their new Firecrest track wheelsets in the “404” (58mm deep) and “808” (82mm) rim versions. Another touted feature is the new “303” track hubs.

So I guess SRAM feels like they can still eke out some cash from the Red Hook Crit crowd. Maybe I’m just a Debbie Downer, but the brakeless/fixie criterium racing seems like the tail end of the fixie boom/fad of the ’00s.In a way it somewhat parallels the BMX boom of the early to mid-80s when BMX racing carried on in pockets of this nation while trickriding/freestyle disappeared until the X-Games era. That’s not exactly analogous because BMX racing wouldn’t have existed/survived without the progression of junior/juvenile age-groups, whereas the Red Hook Criterium series is the logical evolution of underground, unsanctioned alley cat races into corporate-funded “unsanctioned” live entertainment. Well, maybe “brakeless track bike criterium” racing will show sustainable growth or maybe it’ll just live on as search words for cycling crash video clips on Youtube, only time will tell. Regardless I can’t see these Firecrest track wheels as being the first choice for track cycling’s elite, because the whole Firecrest design philosophy was optimized for road cycling, not track.

The whole point of the Firecrest wheels was to develop a rim shape that produced low drag numbers at a relatively wide range of apparent wind angles (yaw). A wheel being driven forward experiences an apparent wind vector that is influenced by the speed of the bike and the direction/angle of the wind due to the environment. Basically that means that the resulting vector is almost always a few degrees to either side of dead ahead. Ideally the form of the rim should be narrow to reduce cross-sectional drag (basically the force required to punch a hole in the wind equal to area of the bikes cross section) and also promote smooth, non-turbulent airflow around the surface opposite of the side the wind comes from. The wide, bulbous shape of recent aero wheel designs such as Hed’s current Stinger wheels and Zipp’s FIrecrest series are designed around those goals with maximum sectional widths of 26-28mm, whereas wheels before about 2005 invariably had long teardrop shapes no wider than 20mm (to keep cross sectional area to a minimum) with sharp trailing edges. The newer aero wheels (as well as aero frames and other components) give lower drag numbers over a wider range of real world riding condtions….on the road.

Racing on a velodrome isn’t the same as a road race, time trial, or triathlon on the road, especially indoor velodromes. At the World Championship or Olympic level, indoor 250m tracks are a pre-requisite, so there never is a breeze to give any angle to the apparent wind. In such a case, reduction of cross-sectional area remains a higher priority. That’s why you don’t see those big bulbous rims at the top levels, because those shapes are slower in those windless conditions. In fact, the fastest non-disc aero wheels seem to be designs such as the Mavic Io and Corima 4-spoke that date from the early to mid-‘90s. The Hed 3 was originally designed in the late ‘80s and is still used competitively today. Ironically, all those hours people have spent in wind tunnels to devise more sophisticated aero wheels has led away from those older shapes that still do best on the track. And though I’m just barely touching on the topic of disc wheels and track racing, rear discs are used almost without exception at the top levels, and front discs in many non-mass start events. A fine example is Bradley Wiggins set the latest hour record with front and rear discs.

Yes, there are a lot of recent trends for road bikes that have no traction in track racing. I’m specifically talking about WIDE tyres, a subject that Bike Hugger has often discussed these past few years. Yet I still see people rolling around on cyclocross bikes with 23mm tyres for city use for some reason. For some people like Compass Bicycle’s Jan Heine, wider tyres for performance riding has become their raison d’etre, but all the ProTour teams have moved to 25mm tyres for even the smoothest roads when once they would have been on 21mm tyres nailed at 125psi. The idea is that a tyre with a larger volume combined with a supple casing can have the same or less rolling resistance as a narrow tyre, and the larger tyre can do this at lower air pressure. The lower air pressure means the rider’s mass bounces less, and with less bounce there is also less energy lost from driving the bike forward. The kicker is that these wider tyres also work better with those new, wider aero wheels. Cool, right? Why of course it is, but it’s all mainly useless for track racing. Those guys will stick to 19-21mm tyres at 160psi plus because the best track are deadly smooth and they will be using narrow wheels. I think I heard that Wiggins used 200psi plus for the hour record and that is certainly plausible.

But what if you aren’t Bradley Wiggins or Gregory Bauge? What if you don’t race on indoor velodromes? Because most of us don’t. Then the Zipp Firecrest track wheels could be optimal for you. On a slightly bumpy outdoor track like Marymoor’s 400M oval, a windy day can totally change your tactics. It would certainly be desirable to have a front wheel that performs well at various yaw angles. Having a non-disc rear wheel is nice in the sense that it might reduce rotational inertia and perhaps be more versatile, but a disc might still be better choice in race conditions. Admittedly, this is all fine margins we’re talking here, and of course the difference between narrow and wide aero wheels isn’t going to put packfodder onto the top step of the podium. And these Firecrest rims are quite fast even in indoor conditions after all. It’s just at the top level the riders wouldn’t give any advantage away.

As for the Zipp track hubs….meh. You’re buying the wheels for the rims and you can’t buy the rims a la carte. Zipp has a patchy history of road hub designs (I’m being polite here), but their track hubs have been competent though never remarkable. The concept of a “wheel system” is a little weak in this circumstance, as the rim and spokes are clearly off the shelf items while the hub design isn’t breaking new ground. Zipp uses a conventional high-flange design with a bolt-in axle, so you tighten it with a 6mm allen key. The allen key method is convenient because the necessary tool is small, but you’ll never get as much force as if it used 15mm tracknuts. I never liked that the 6mm bolt-in axles personally. But I guess a lot of mass produced track bikes have built-in chain tensioners, so maybe the extra security of 15mm tracknuts threaded onto 10mm axles is superfluous. I do find it odd that Zipp chose to use 28 spokes front and rear on rims that they would only use 24 spokes if they had disc brake rotors.

More Friction

Trek 1400

As I explained it, friction shifting builds character, and every cyclist should learn how to do it. Read about the history and development of the derailleur bicycle in Frank Berto’s Dancing Chain. This Trek 1400 was equipped with SunTour.

650B Performance Road


After all the 27.5+ excitement this week, there’s another wheel size getting some buzz, and it’s 650b. Mark V texted me from the shop last night (where he’s building up, custom “allroad” bikes)

Cannondale is going 650b x 42 for their Lefty suspension gravel bike…as in Jan Heine tyres w suspension fork and disc brakes. Rad

This marks the first performance bike from a mainstream maker that explores 650B/27.5 tyre standard without knobs

Well that’s interesting, huh? As Jan wrote

The thought of a modern carbon bike that can fly over pavement like a racing bike, but handle rough gravel like a mountain bike, and everything in between, is truly exciting.

and I can’t wait to talk to him more about it. If there’s one thing the industry needs is to de-niche their lines, and bring back the all-around great, road bike. Call it made for adventure, gravel, all road, or whatever.

Scott 27.5+

Tuned LT 27.5+

Scott is now within the ranks of manufacturers that have joined the Plus movement – Muffin Top Tires, as grumpy Nathan Wright calls them. For 2016 the company will offer five Plus models: Scale Plus: Scale 710 Plus, Scale 720 plus, Genius 700 Tuned Plus, Genius 710 Plus, and Genius 720 Plus. All models will be equipped with 2.8-inch Schwalbe tires. Scott worked with Schwalbe and determined the 2.8 size provided a good balance of increased traction (+21-percent contact patch) with minimal added rolling resistance (+1-percent). The 2.8 size is slightly narrower than other brands that have been touting 3.0 tires. Scott then tweaked the frame geometry, with slacker head angles and shorter chainstays to take advantage of the increased traction.

The 2016 Scott Plus bikes, roll on Syncros rims with a 40mm internal width, while the Genius range include: Boost hub spacing (110mm front, 148mm rear), 2016 FOX suspension with a new TwinLoc lever and standard crankarm Q-factor. The Genius 700 Plus has 140mm of front and 130mm of rear travel and features Plus tuned suspension.

Prices have not been announced and see the full galleries on G+ and Facebook.

Also, a couple notes on plus sizes from Twitter

Base Power with Quarq and Gord Fraser


With our magazine content behind a firewall and in an iOS app, I wanted to bubble up this little bit from Issue 25, to talk more about the Quarq, and the work I did with Gord Fraser.

To get in shape for GFL, I worked with Gord on a solid plan and Quarq equipped my rain bike for the base miles. What resonated, is what Gord said in chat:

“Biggest goal is frequency. Back to basics man. No need to smash v02 max.”

For me, consistency is key. Because I’ve been riding for so many decades, the memory is there. Just have to engage the muscles, get them going, and then the speed will come. Smash the Vo2max later, as Cross season gets closer, and with more workouts from Gord.

I’ll leave the in-depth reviews of power meters to DC Rainmaker, but having used them all at one time or another, what I liked most about the Quarq is the consistent and steady readings. I pedal, glance down at a head unit, and see an accurate number that looks right. That’s all I need.

A funny anecdote is before Gord and I worked together, he asked me if I was a pussy and I replied, “If you mean like the time I brushed shoulders with you on a roller at the front of the group heading back to Monterey? Certainly not!” But what I am is a busy person with not much time to “train,” like I once did. As I shared in the magazine article, I also felt that racing was getting in the way of riding. So I focused on having some really great rides, re-centering on those moments, and then getting back into the drama of racing when it felt right.

It felt right last night at Tuesday Worlds, where I just showed up and it was a very fast points race. In a sea of white/red and red/green, I got in the mix for a lap or two, and enjoyed the feeling of speed. After so much base, and grinding out climbs, opening up the legs felt good.

Don’t think anyone wants to hear the specifics of my training, so the summary is

Hard stuff during the week, in target power zones, then long rides on the weekend at tempo.

Crosssports blogs about all of this too, sharing workouts and the flow of the season. As CrossVegas gets closer, there’s more speed work, and intensity, and really not taking the sport (and myself) so seriously. If you put the focused time in, the fitness will come, and always try to have fun with it. Pin a number on, show up at the line, and let that roulette table of a race spin as it does.

The Quarq I’m using on the rain bike is the Elsa and I agree with Ray who wrote

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Riken (Elsa is the non-Red version) is a solid power meter, capable of helping any athlete train. I saw consistent accuracy, and day to day use is spot-on with any other top power meter on the market.

“Solid and consistent,” just like Gord said and, “Back to basics man.” It’s also nice not to have to worry about whether my left and right legs are both doing equal work.

Finally, earlier this year, Quarq announced a 19% price drop, including the Elsa.

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