Choosing wheels was one of the most time consuming and laborious parts of the bike build. Everything from the type of spoke (single, double, triple, plain gauge, mixed) to the type of valve hole was deliberated (read: argued) over, with procrastination being the most common element.
Ultimately it broke down into the following parts:
Superstrong rims with supersonically embedded carbide for an ultra hard wearing coating.
The tungsten carbide rims should allow for more effective stopping power, all the more important when you’re shooting down a mountain in the rain, on a fully laden bike. I wish I had these in Japan!
The valve holes have been drilled for Schraeder valves, with grommets to enable use of Presta valved tubes.
These rims have been specifically designed for use with Swisstop Blue Sky brake blocks.
At the moment, the front is squealing like a squealer, so we’re currently considering using brake boosters…
Update from the Road: This is by far the single biggest disappointment of the bike so far. SJS have sold them as viable touring wheels but looking at mine, Stu’s and Tim’s (another cyclist who was riding an off the shelf Thorn), these should be bought with caution.
I noticed the first issue with mine only days into the trip. The front rim when braking vibrated rhythmically, as if there was an imperfection in the surface of the rim. 6000km later, and it’s still there. Although not a major problem, it does make me somewhat concerned, especially as this is the same issue that Tim had before his rim eventually split, requiring replacement.
The major issue with the rims though became apparent in Eskisehir, after the first thorough clean of the bike in weeks. The rims had begun to crack along the spoke holes. I can only imagine that this is a result of the high pressure tyres, heavy loads, and occasional pot holes.
Of course it could just as easily be as a result of the wheel build – rebuilt, the wheels seem to be at a much lower tension, and still survived the dodgy roads of India. There’s even been suggestion that the spokes used were simply too short… Either way, having seen this on both Stu and my rims I wouldn’t say that these make ideal touring rims.
On the plus side, the squealing issue on my wheels was soon better with the proper toe in. Stu’s however, wasn’t. Even with a brake booster his wheel squeals as loudly as ever when braking hard.
Starting over, I would certainly go with different rims. A bit of research and discussion has left me in favour of Sun Rhyno Lite XL Rims, which I’ve somehow managed to convince Jack to buy. Guess we’ll be finding out soon how good they are!
With no reviews or feedback to go on, the decision making process for buying these hubs was rather… odd.
One moment we were holding some very nice looking XTR hubs, the next we had bought beautifully shiny British made Royce hubs.
From a man called Cliff, no less.
Described as “virtually indestructable”, the all weather seals and titanium freehub body and axle mean that these hubs should long outlive us. And I intend to live to be a grumpy old man.
Hopefully this leap of faith proves worthwhile.
Update from the Road: So far these hubs have proved fault free. I’ve had to replace the cartridge bearings on the rear hub but beyond that, they’ve stayed strong, and look hot.
Spokes and Bike Build
DT Swiss Champion/Competition
From Paul Hewitt Cycles
The final part of getting our wheels turned out to be one of the hardest. Any LBS can build a set of wheels, but to find someone who truely understands what is needed in a touring wheel is a different matter.
Paul Hewitt (based in Northern England) was recommended to us by Cliff of Royce UK, and from the outset was happy to advise, recommend and listen to our needs.
Although we had originally intended to go with DT Swiss Alpine 3s, their diameter was too large for the hubs, and ultimately we went with DT SWiss Competition (double butted) and Champion (plain gauge), with Pro Lock brass nipples to keep the wheels rolling as sturdily as possible.
Update from the Road: The wheels stayed strong and true throughout the first 6000km. The only problems faced were a snapped spoke in Budapest (my fault after not paying attention and crashing into Craig at some lights). Having had my rear wheel rebuilt to swap my rims, the spokes have been put under slightly less tension. The hope is that there’s less chance of the rims cracking again… at the risk of the wheel going somewhat out of true.
Tyres (Leg 1 – Europe)
Continental Ultra Gatorskins
£22.99 From Evans.co.uk
With all the different terrains out there, there was never going to be one tyre that suited everything. To start ourselves through Europe, we chose a slick, skinny, and puncture resistant tyre. A combination of low resistance, light-weight while still being hard-wearing , apparently. They are only available as 26×1.2 inc tyres, so narrower than many people would care to use on a touring bike.
Beyond Europe, there’s a whole host of tyres still to choose from…
More about the wheels to follow, as they rack up the miles…
Update from the Road: I have to reluctantly admit, the tyres have lasted surprisingly well. I had many doubts about using Gatorskins on a touring bike, but they provided about 2500km of puncture free low resistance riding (although they did have a few vicious looking slits in). That said as we rolled through Turkey and closer to Syria, they became more and more of an issue, with punctures to all three of our tyre sets happening almost daily. Only on one of the last days before Damascus did I finally give in with my rear tyre, and put my spare Pasela on when a triple puncture laid me flat.
Tyres (Leg 2 – India)
Schwalbe Marathon Plus
£27.99 From Evans.co.uk
Leaving Europe (and dealing with the deterioration of roads and inevitable destruction of our tyres), we’ve opted for more traditional touring tyres – Marathon Plus. They’re significantly heavier, and at a lower pressure (70psi) will offer higher rolling resistance, but with the “Smartguard” technology they should be far less prone to flats.
Update from the Road: The only issue we’ve had so far is in the purchase of the tyre. We originally bought these from SJS Cycles, with them being advertised on their site as 26×1.75, and labelled as such. However when trying to fit them in Damascus we found something of an issue – they were far too large. Their explanation was simply that they are for the old English 26″, rather than the modern 26″. I’ll be avoiding buying anything from them in the future.