Ride like the wind
Words by Terry Hawes, Ian Harris & Dominick Bacon
Photography by Sean Hardy
Just how well do aerodynamically-profiled carbon clincher wheels perform? Do they justify the expense and, if so, which are the best?
These were the questions posed by a couple of our readers, whose cycling curiosity had reached that stage where their intrigue demanded answers. Their correspondence however revealed that each was at a very different stage in his cycling development.
Ian, a recent returnee to the sport, was riding, on average, 150 miles per week. At weekends, when not ferrying his children to national and international sailing events, he takes part in sportives. Ian is highly competitive, utterly driven and a tad ruthless - so much so, that to some he's earned the nickname 'The Shark'.
Dominick came to cycling from a very different route. He'd ridden, intermittently, on the same bike (an Ernie Clements, affectionately known as 'Ernie'), since his Sixth Form days. It was only when work colleagues began to invite him on group rides that the penny dropped, and now, six months down the line, he is on a more modern bike. 'The Tugboat' - a nickname Dominick earned from his ability to chug along all day, staying on the gas and pulling along lesser riders - has seen the light.
When we met up, we found significant differences in their physiologies. Ian is 5'9” and weighs 14 stone, while Dominick is 6'5” and 12 stone. These are important variables to bear in mind, within the aero debate. Having discussed how best to answer the curiosity and questions of these readers, we contacted Campagnolo, wheel suppliers to Movistar Team and Lotto-Soudal. They responded by lending us a pair of their prestigious Bora One 35 carbon clincher wheels.
When the delivery driver dropped off the eagerly awaited despatch from Vicenza, he fuelled our excitement further by commenting: “I think they've forgotten to put anything in this box, but you need to sign for it anyway.”
Taking our readers for a ride
The plan was simple: we chose a date, got both readers together and, along with photographer Sean Hardy and ace camera car driver Martin Duffell, planned a route. It began at ‘Base Camp #44’, a house in Kesgrave, near Ipswich, and led northwards through forest and agricultural land to the sea and the coastal town of Southwold.
However detailed the planning for a shoot like this, you can never determine the weather. As with any event held in British Summer Time, nature will have the last say. When I awoke on the day of the shoot, the sun was beginning to stream through the curtains - this was going to be a good day!
Both riders would get the opportunity to experience the Boras on a mix of terrain and to report their findings along the way. The plan was for one rider to 'session' the wheels up the coast to Southwold, the halfway point, and then swap hoops (and brake pads) for the return leg. Ian was first up. Here are his thoughts and comments…
Okay, at this point, in what is as close as Simpson gets to a product review, it needs to be flagged up that these particular readers were chosen in part because of the compatibility of their machines with the supplied wheelset: both bikes had already to be fitted with Campagnolo drivetrains in order for this plan to work.
We'd ridden the Boras beforehand and found their performance little short of astonishing. They were noticeably light, extremely responsive, but not prone to unpredictable behaviour when introduced to a crosswind. The advantages are psychological as well: mentally, they give the same type of feedback as if you have a motor concealed in your frame (perhaps the performance of carbon wheels explains the conspicuous failure of the UCI’s notorious i-Pad to detect any instances of ‘motor doping’).
The Boras effortlessly reach and then maintain a far greater speed than aluminium wheels. On our first outing, we trimmed 30 minutes from our fastest time on a cherished route. As with all carbon rims, braking sensations felt (and sounded) different to those of their aluminium counterparts, but somehow reinforced the impression that we were riding with something very special.
At the tearoom
Passing Southwold Pier on our left, next to the boating lake, we decamped, refuelled and swapped wheels to let Dominick embrace and experience the advantages of aero hoops. We had difficulty prising them away from a very reluctant Ian, but a deal is a deal, right? On the return the leg, it was clear to me from the proximity of our three-man group that Dominick had, and was using, an advantage from the superior qualities of the Campagnolo wheels. Here's his take on things ...
Returning with big smiles and 76 miles clocked up, the day had proven to be a resounding success. We felt accomplished in our primary mission, that of allowing two of our readers to experience first-hand the sensational performance gains offered by premium aero wheels and introducing them to an exceptional example from the House of Campagnolo. Okay, maybe money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a pair of top class carbon hoops which, to a keen road cyclist, equates to much the same thing.