Ultimate mods for the ultimate bike!

Bikes | 1986 Nishiki Intl | 1998 Fuji Team | 1994 Steelman | 1998 Turner
1990 Steelman |2000 Hunter Cross | Teschner | Scott Plasma
Cervelo R3 |SRAM Red | Bike To Work | Antares Saddle |eebrake
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Part 1 |Part 2 | Part 3 |Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Cervelo R3: Ultimate mods for the ultimate bike
I purchased a used Cervelo R3 frame from a poster in Roadbikereview classifieds in March of 2008. Luckily, it was in mint condition and I got a great deal on a phenomenal frame & fork. The R3, though now 3 years old, is still one of the lightest available frames. The performance is amazing; the frame somehow combines incredible stiffness yet still has a buttery smooth ride. It does this by having massive down tube, chain stays, and bottom bracket. But it has very thin and compliant seat stays which help it to absorb shock. It is no exaggeration that this bike climbs like nothing else! It also descends incredibly well with a feeling of confidence I haven't had in years. It feels as comfortable as an old steel frame yet climbs and accelerates like a super stiff aluminum one. It's no wonder it's won so many awards, including Roadbikereview's "Best of 2008" with an astounding 4.93 average rating. I freely admit that it doesn't look drop dead "beautiful" but it is engineered for performance, sort of like a Porsche 911.

Over the past year, I've tried to get the weight down but not make it "stupid light" with high maintenance and fragile parts. This is review attempts to capture the quest to built the ultimate in "smart light"--upgrading with lighter weight parts that would continue to improve performance.

This is a multi-part review and each component will be graded on three criteria with a 1-5 scale.

  • Performance. Does the new component improve the performance of the bike?
  • Weight. How significant is the weight savings?
  • Overall Score (mostly empirical, slightly subjective)
In the Beginning...

The Frame and Fork
The claimed weight is just over 2 pounds. This one actually weighed less than that. The 56cm size came in at 1pound, 13 ounces, including headset. The True Temper Alpha Q "sub 3" fork is supposed to weigh 300 grams but actually weighed 375 grams; a lot of weight goes into the star fangled nut implementation which requires epoxy and a special internal spacer to set.

I initially set this up with Dura Ace 9-speed and various components you can see in the table--and it came to 15lbs 2 ounces.

The only major hitch with this frame is the seat post; it is a 32.4 diameter and the stock FSA seat post, though beautifully made, is a portly 260 grams (the R3 SL and 2009 R3 feature a traditional 27.2 seat post diameter). Fortunately, U.S.E. makes a seat post adapter that reduces the diameter -- and it weighs just 30 grams, so you can substitute a standard 27.2 seatpost and still save a lot of weight.
(Note: picture has different saddle, cranks, brakes, and wheels).


Original Build
Component Grams
Wheels  - Easton Acsent II 1450
Frame - Cervelo R3 900
Crank+rings+bolts  - FSA Superlight  543
Brake Shift - Dura Ace 9 spd 485
Tires(f/r)  - Kenda Caliente 400
Fork - True Temper Sub 3 375
Chain - Shimano 9 spd 285
Seat post - FSA 260
Handlebar - FSA SLK 225
Saddle  - Fizik Aliante 215
Pedals - Look Keo Ti  198
Rear Derailleur - Dura Ace 9spd  195
Brakes - Zero Gravity  185
Bottom Bracket - Dura Ace Octalink  175
Tubes - Performance Light  160
Cassette - 11-23 Dura Ace  154
Stem - Ritchey WCS 117
Skewers - American Classics 85
Headset -FSA Integrated  83
Front Derailleur - Dura Ace 9 spd  75 
Computer - Mavic Wintech 57
Handlebar Tape - Deda 56
Cages (2) - Ravx 50
Headset spacers + Top Cap 45
Housing  35
Cables  25
Seat Collar  20
Rim Tape  10
Front brake bolt  6
Rear brake bolt
Seat post adapter 0
Total 6874
  15 lb 2oz


Part 1: SRAM Red 5-Piece upgrade

  • Includes: Double Tap brake/shift levers, front and rear derailleurs, 1090R chain, red cassette (11-26)
  • Gruppo weight: 915 grams
  • Cost: $1236
  • Better ergonomics
  • Significant weight savings
  • Quick shifting, fantastic gear ratios

In October of 2008, I decided to upgrade from 9-speed to 10 with SRAM Red. You can read more about my pro-review here. But the summary is I've stuck with Shimano 9-speed Dura Ace because I have accumulated 4 road bikes that I continuously swap components with. With the Cervelo, I finally decided to take the upgrade plunge with SRAM Red.

In short, SRAM Red cut nearly 250 grams off the Shimano DA 9-speed.  In addition:
- The 11-26 SRAM cogset offers a much betterr range than DA 11-23 and in many ways obviates the need for compact gearing. It is a wonder that their competitors didn't offer gearing like this long ago.
- Pricing competitive with Dura Ace 7900/Caaampy Record.
- Shifters cables don't stick out like DA 99-speed and 7800 series
- If you had to pick just one SRAM componentt for the greatest weight savings--choose the shift levers. They are 155 grams lighter than Dura Ace 7800, have a sweet ergo design, and of course, have the internally routed cables. Additionally, the less expensive Rival and Force models offer similar weight savings.

On the performance side, the shifting is fast and intuitive and the shifters are extremely comfortable. Only two complaints
- The chain is noisier and seems to have morre friction than good old Shimano.
- The derailleurs take time to dial in. Thiss gruppo is meant for pros who spend their time in the big ring. So the front derailleur is optimized to trim in the big ring, not the small. You'll need to adjust the front derailleur accordingly. 

Summary: significant weight savings, faster shifting, 10 speed ratios, better ergonomics
Savings: 248 grams
$/Gram: $4.98
Performance: 5 Stars

Weight Savings: 5 Stars

Overall value: 5 Stars

Part 2: Easton EC90 Cranks

Easton hits a home run, first time at bat!

  • EC90 Cranks: MSRP $699.00
  • Ceramic Bearing Bottom Bracket: MSRP $199.00
  • Crank: 170, 172.5, 175 arm length, 53x39 chainrings (compact coming soon)
  • Crank weight: 574 grams including end cap
  • Ceramic Bottom Bracket Weight: 102 grams. Total 676 grams
  • 5 year warranty

Of all the upgrades, I was most excited about Easton's new carbon cranks. I've been using 9-speed Dura Ace with FSA Superlight Cranks (543 grams with bolts) and the reliable and light Dura Ace Octalink bottom bracket (175 grams). The combined weight of 718 grams seemed hard to beat; most of the newer 10-speed crank/bb's actually weigh more. But since I switched to 10-speed recently, I wanted a crankset that was optimized for the 10 cogs. Easton's crank was the one that was lighter without being quite as cost-prohibitive as some of the competition. Better still, the EC90 crank and bottom bracket weigh a total of 676 grams, a savings of 32 grams.

How does it compare?

So how can you objectively measure the relative worth of these cranks without riding them? To try and quantify this, I looked at the weights and MSRPs of the latest high end standard sized cranks (the FSA K-force Light TI was not compared because it is only available in compact). I then gave 100 points to the lightest and 100 points to the least expensive with proportionate weighting to each. Each crank is then graded relative to the best in class.

In the end, it's very clear that there is a huge price premium for ceramic bearings; the jury is still out if the maintenance is worth the claimed reduction in friction. However, and more importantly, along these two judging criteria, the EC90 with standard BB has the best overall score. With the ceramic BB, it comes in at 3rd.

Looking purely at $/gram, the EC90 with standard BB slips to 2nd with the Ceramic BB version still at 3rd.

Not a bad empirical showing for the EC90.

How do they ride?
Easton has truly done their homework, and it's impressive that this is their first commercial crank. The arms are noticeably massive, and appear even more so once mounted on the bike. The left, non-drive side, is particularly impressive as the bottom bracket end wraps around with opposing nuts keeping it fastened. Easton claims CNT "nano technology" is the secret to their light weight and strength as stated here:

"The weakest areas in a traditional carbon-fiber component are the tiny spaces between the fibers that contain only resin. To radically improve strength and toughness in these critical areas, Easton Scientists have developed an innovative Enhanced Resin System using carbon nanotubes (CNT). Carbon nanotubes are an array of carbon atoms arranged in a pattern of hexagons and pentagons (similar to the pattern found on soccer balls). These structures can be manufactured in tubular shapes one billionth of a meter in diameter, hence the name nanotube. Carbon nanotubes have been called “the strongest fiber that will ever be made”. Nanotubes have a strength-to-weight ratio orders of magnitude greater than steel. Easton’s proprietary process impregnates the resin/fiber matrix with evenly distributed carbon nanotubes. The addition of real carbon nanotubes greatly improves the toughness and strengthens Easton’s already legendary components."

All I know is that these cranks are noticeably stiffer and the bike feels more "of one piece". Climbing on the already amazing Cervelo R3 became even easier. With the old cranks, when standing you could feel a slight "mush" as your foot pushed through the arc. Now there is no waste; everything is driving you forward.

Easton has finished these off with excellent quality chain rings; shifts were crisp and quick. Better still, they are traditional 5 bolt x 130 sizes so replacement rings are easy to come by. Some may complain that a compact size isn't immediately available but with the recent advent of wider ratio clusters, this seems like less of an issue. Regardless, compact sizing is reportedly in the works.

These cranks are gorgeous but a little "darth vader" on my bike; the mostly black matte finish disappears against the R3 frame. I added some red alloy bolts (hope they don't look too cheeseball) to brighten it up. All in all, these are very impressive cranks which I highly recommend.




Summary: Gorgeous, stiffer, designed for 10-speed, among the lightest available.
Savings: 32 grams
$/Gram: $23.81
Performance: 5 Stars

Weight Savings: 2 Stars

Overall value: 4 Stars

Part 3: Accessorize -- Fizik Antares saddle and KCNC quick releases
The next two were easy upgrades that actually saved a lot of weight.

Fizik Antares Saddle

  • Cost: $199 MSRP
  • Comfortable yet very light weight
  • Natural Leather Seat Cover
  • Made in Italy
  • ICS bag compatible
  • Weight: Claimed 175 grams. Actual: 177.

The Antares is the newest saddle from Fizik. It is positioned between the ultra-comfortable Aliante and the ultra-popular Airione. I love the Aliante but the Airione never quite fit me. The Antares' real competitor is a minimalist saddle like the Selle Italia Flite which weighs an astounding 135 grams. However, I find the Flite extremely uncomfortable. The Antares weighs a little more but I found it to be surprisingly comfortable--even on 50 mile rides. Plus, at 177 grams, it saves 38 grams over the Aliante. You can read my in-depth review here.


Summary: The most comfortable minimalist saddle?
Savings: 38 grams
$/Gram: $5.26
Performance: 4.5 Stars

Weight Savings: 2 Stars

Overall value: 3 Stars

KCNC Quick Release Skewers

  • Cost: $65-70
  • 45 grams for the pair
  • Excellent workmanship
  • Strong clamping mechanism
  • Weak and poorly designed springs

At this point, I admit I was starting to get a little weenie-fied looking for more ways to save weight. I tend to shy away from super-shiny bright CNC'd parts that can be too fragile for normal use/abuse. But these KCNC quick releases/skewers were just so tempting. Super light but at a reasonable price. I debated over "plain" silver or black...but took the plunge with these anodized red jobs. In a word, they are amazing. At 45 grams for the pair, they weigh less than a rear Zipp, Salsa, or Mavic skewer! They also cost less than many of these. The only disappointment was the springs that mount between the bike and the axle ends; they were tightly wound around the axle and would "burrow" in while turning the QR. Just substitute them with your old QR springs, and you'll be good to go. More impressive was the clamping quality and leverage of the diminutive handle. Somehow KCNC has worked in significant mechanical advantage with the bulbous pivot and stubby lever. These QRs exceeded expectations--and at 65$ are a great way to shave 40 grams.


Summary: Cheap way to save weight with no compromises
Savings: 32 grams
$/Gram: $1.40
Performance: 4 Stars

Weight Savings: 2 Stars

Overall value: 5 Stars

Part 4: Ritchey Carbon Magic
I am extremely lucky to have Steve Parke as my neighbor. He's the General Manager at Ritchey and he was very enthused about helping out with this project. Ritchey parts embody the spirit of this project: light but strong and extremely well engineered. So we took the lightest and newest carbon offerings to see what more could be done to lighten the bike further-while continuing to improve it's overall performance. We upgraded the seatpost, handlebar, and fork.

Seatpost: Ritchey Superlogic Carbon One-bolt

  • MSRP: $350
  • Actual weight: 140 grams
  • Sizes: 300/27.2 (tested), 300mm/31.6, 350/27.2, 400/30.9, 400/31.6
  • Beautiful workmanship, intelligent single-bolt design
  • Monocoque (one piece) construction with forged carbon head

It's hard to find a seatpost that comes in at less than 150 grams. The Ritchey Superlogic Carbon is one of the few. It is also very strong. Ritchey has designed a post that is "3-D forged" from the shaft to the head mount. That means it's heated and super-pressurized carbon to mold it into it's shape.

Another nice feature is the simple one-bolt clamping mechanism that holds the cradle and end pieces together. Ritchey even makes clamps that come in different sizes to, for example, work with the carbon railed fizik Aliante which has a taller rail profile.

Installing the saddle takes a bit of time but once on, it's easy to adjust fore/aft and the angle. The seatpost didn't have any noticeable flex and complemented the already plush ride of the Cervelo.

Summary: pure indulgence in one of the lightest stems available.
Savings: 140 grams gross; -30 for U.S.E. adapter, 90 grams total.
$/Gram: $4.10
Performance: 5 Stars

Weight Savings: 5 Stars

Overall value: 5 Stars


Handlebar: Ritchey SuperLogic Logic II

  • MSRP: $370
  • Claimed weight: 190 grams. Actual weight: 186 grams
  • Sizes: 40, 42, 44 (tested). 31.8
  • 142mm drop, 82mm reach
  • One piece construction
  • Clip-on compatible

The Ritchey SuperLogic Logic II handlebars are crazy light. It's amazing that they are clip-on compatible. The are also "crazy functional". I am a fairly conservative descender so I really value handlebars that feel good in the drops. The design of these bars is perfect for me. They feature an aggressive mid-bend that provides an excellent and secure feel when descending. The bar ends extend back, giving additional security; you feel like your hands won't run out to the ends prematurely. They are also a nice perch when descending. Ritchey has a slightly different bend with their Evo models; in my opinion, the Evo looks slightly better because it's more upright. But, for me, the performance of these SuperLogic II's surpasses the looks. By the way, Logic II is Ritchey's way of saying the reach and drop is customized for all three bar widths. Additionally, riding on the hoods was comfortable and well placed.

These are impressive bars that improved my descending skills while also saving weight.

Summary: Cheap way to save weight with no compromises
Savings: 39 grams
$/Gram: $9.49
Performance: 5 Stars

Weight Savings: 3 Stars

Overall value: 4 Stars

Fork: WCS UD Carbon Road

  • MSRP: $400
  • Claimed weight: 298 grams. Actual weight: 297 grams uncut, 345mm steerer tube
  • Available in 43mm (tested) and 45mm rake
  • One piece all carbon construction
  • Alloy dropouts
  • Easy to install compression plug
  • Wide, 45mm width

The stock fork on the Cervelo was the excellent True Temper Sub-3. I honestly had very low expectations with the new Ritchey fork. The one disappointment with the Sub-3 is inordinately heavy at 375 grams. This is because it requires epoxying of the star-fangled nut mechanism--and the nut itself is heavy. The Ritchey reduced this by 78 grams. And looks-wise, the wide, 45mm "shoulders" of the fork mate perfectly with the stout head tube of the Cervelo.

This WCS fork turned out to be an absolute revelation; the handling is superb. The fork has an amazing dampening quality; it smooths out bumps. But at the same time provides continuous feedback. You can really feel the road but it is not fatiguing. And, as stated, I am a conservative descender. On the maiden voyage, I ended up in a huge group ride of over 50 people. I was petrified as we all descended our local highway 84 out to coast at mach speeds. But the fork (and handlebars) provided a new found confidence with the incredible feedback--and comfort. For the first time in a while, I actually enjoyed the descent. On the way back, we dropped down Kings Mountain road. And for the first time in 10+ years, I was able to hang on my buddies wheel. Typically my friends have to wait for me post-descent.
This is by far the best fork I've ever used and the most impressive upgrade in this whole project.

Summary: The single biggest improvement in performance
Savings: 78 grams
$/Gram: $5.13
Performance: 5 + Stars

Weight Savings: 4 Stars

Overall value: 5 Stars

Part 5: One year later--13 pounds 13 ounces
Almost exactly one year later, the Cervelo is now a whopping 587 grams (1lb 1.6 ounces) lighter...and about $3700 heavier on the wallet. Each gram of weight savings cost $6.30. Is it worth that additional money? Of course, that is subjective. It is less than buying a brand new bike and offers the satisfaction of being completely customized. On the other hand, it is still a lot of money :-)

More importantly, the bike now climbs better due to lighter weight, better low gear range, and stiffer cranks. And it descends with greater confidence and ability due to the phenomenal fork and handlebars. In a word, the bike has gone from competent to fantastic.

There are a few more upgrades that I did:
- Nokon brake cables; definitely challengiinnng to install but they offer firmer braking and some weight reduction (didn't measure)
- Gore shifter cables that came with SRAM rred
- Schwalbe Ultremo tires. Beautifully made and light (184/186 grams). They are more supple than Conti 4000's and very easy to mount. Jury is still out on puncture resistance and wear.
- "Wet Black" Ritchey stem. Gorggeeous compliment to the rest of the carbon parts. At 117 grams, stems don't get much lighter. This replaced the "matte" finished WCS 4-axis which weighed exactly the same.

Stay tuned for continued upgrades...wheels are next!
And if you have any ideas on how to continue to shave weight, please let us know
by leaving your comments below.


Part 6: But "weight"...there's more. 13 pounds 5ounces
I replaced the headset with an FSA orbit (20 grams less) and Performance Lunar Light tubes (48 grams less), bringing it down to 6220 grams, or 13 pounds 11 ounces. Then came the tubulars...

Ritchey Superlogic Carbon-Boron 46 Tubulars

  • Full Carbon and Boron rims made by Lew Racing
  • 46mm tall for aerodynamics
  • Ritchey hubs with premium bearings
  • Cool quick releases
  • Estimated total weight: 1200 grams; claimed 1171
  • Front: 20 hole, 491 grams claimed. $1349.95 msrp
  • Rear: 24 hole, 680 grams claimed. $1449.95 msrp
  • Clinchers claimed weight of 1221 grams (516 front, 705 rear)
  • Clinchers: $1495.95, $1539.95 MSRP, front and rear respectively

Steve Parke showed up with the a set of Ritchey Superlogic Carbon-Boron 46 Tubulars. They were pre-glued with Ritchey Slick WCS tubular tires that have a claimed weight of 250 grams each; I think they were closer to 280 grams each with glue, so this puts the real weight at 1200 grams for the wheelset (sans quick releases). The net actual loss was 182 grams, dropping the total bike weight to 6038 grams, or 13 lbs 5 ounces.

The full carbon rims are designed by Lew Racing (which is now merged with Reynolds). Lew also uses Boron, a material that is 4x stronger than Carbon and 10x the cost. By leveraging Boron, less material is needed to make the wheel, decreasing weight. There are also many other cool features.

The rear wheel has a crisscross, aka "Crowsfoot" pattern on the drive side; the cross bend has a straight pull for extra rigidity. The quick releases feature "smart" labeling; the rear skewer is meant to face forward. This is to prevent accidental opening if you make contact in a race. If the QR faces backward, it's more prone to opening with someone coming up on you and brushing against it.

So how did they ride? The first ride was in a test against the already very sweet Easton SLX clinchers which have a 20mm rim height. The test was a 5 mile time trial. Using this bike and the clincher wheels, I did the course in 14:05 or 21.3mph. On the second run, using the Ritchey Tubulars, I was able to shave 44 seconds off the previous time; 13:21 or 22.5mph! For comparison, another rider switched from his clinchers to these tubulars and shaved 10 seconds. Granted, there are a lot of variables and the test wasn't perfect, but it seemed conclusive that the wheelset was definitely faster.

During the hectic testing, the ride quality was impressive. They were smooth and of note, they seemed to roll much easier. Going up a hill, the wheels felt like they could maintain speed with less effort. It was subtle but definitely noticeable. Additionally, the rim height seems to be ideal for multi-purpose use; tall enough for aerodynamic savings yet not prohibitive in cross winds.

A few days later, I was also able to ride these wheels in a less hectic environment, tooling around the beautiful back roads of the Woodside area. These wheels make it feel like you are cheating. The bike shoots forward and you find yourself in a higher gear just for the fun of it. The handling becomes even more responsive as you attack the road. It's like sushi and comparing ahi to toro. Ahi is good but toro is sublime. Honestly, that is the difference--just a whole new and more incredible level of performance. The aero benefits also came in to play; there is a steep descent near home; my previous top speed was 46.5mph. With these Ritcheys, I hit 48.5. But the wheels and the rest of the bike mods made the bike feel rock solid. I had a big stupid grin at the bottom of the hill.

Would I recommend these wheels? The weight and performance were truly remarkable. However, if you've ever dealt with tubulars, they are a pain in the butt. Mounting them is messy, takes time (you need to stretch the tires for 24 hours) and requires arms (and thumbs) of steel. And changing a flat while on a ride can border on the impossible. Vittoria makes "Pit Stop", a self-sealing inflation kit that would make punctures a little more convenient; something like this would be highly recommended. This being said, in the spirit of "smart light", tubulars as a whole don't really make the grade. But they sure were light and absolutely sweet to ride!

Ritchey does make a full carbon clincher version that is claimed to be just 50 grams heavier. They may be the perfect balance of lower weight and aerodynamics with easy to live-with clincher rims. They are full carbon (ie, an aluminum braking surface isn't glued on), so they should have comparatively better strength and tubular-like ride characteristics. At 1221 grams for the pair, the clinchers could be the lightest available-period. Now THOSE wheels are definitely in the spirit of this project in that they'd deliver on performance and weight without the high maintenance cost of tubulars.

Summary: Wonderful wheelset...too bad they are tubulars
Savings: 182 grams
$/Gram: $15.38
Performance: 5 Stars

Weight Savings: 5 Stars

Overall value: 4 Stars

Could we make this bike lighter?
At this point, it looks like the "smart light" modifications will keep this bike at 13 pounds, 11 ounces, 1 1/2 pounds lighter than when we started. However, if price was no object we could do the follow upgrades

  • (Keep) Ritchey Superlogic Carbon-Boron Tubulars (-182 grams)
  • KCNC CB1 brakes (-17 grams)
  • Speedplay Nanogram Ti pedals (-68 grams)
  • Zipp Vuma Quad cranks (-14 grams) and ceramic bottom bracket (-28 grams)
  • KCNC Ti-SC-Al 11-23 "race only" cassette (-62 grams)
  • AX-lightness Phoenix saddle (-119 grams)
  • Aramid Bottle cages (-36 grams)
  • Total: 5714 grams or 12 pounds 5 ounces!

But the bike feels great as is. It's a blast to ride and has durable components that improve its performance.
I'm satisfied (for now) and can't wait to get back on it and out there!

August 16, 2009

Part 7: Ritchey Carbon Clinchers
Bike weight: 13lbs 11 oz

Ritchey Superlogic Carbon-Boron 46 Clinchers

  • Same as the tubulars above but in a clincher-style rim made by Lew Racing
  • 46mm tall for aerodynamics
  • Ritchey hubs with premium bearings
  • Cool quick releases-extremely light
  • Front: 20 hole, 610 grams claimed. $1460.00 msrp
  • Rear: 24 hole, 800 grams claimed. $1540.00 msrp
  • Actual combined weight of 1430 grams with rimstrips

As promised, Steve from Ritchey came over with the clincher version of their amazing Superlogic Cabon-Boron Clinchers. Despite the incredible weight savings that can be had with tubulars, I'm not a fan of them; I've gotten caught in the rain and cold because of a puncture; my hands were too cold to remove the tire, let alone install the spare. I ended up walking several miles before hitching a ride home. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to see the clincher version of these phenomenal wheels. And they didn't disappoint. Like their tubular siblings, these wheels truly make you feel like you are cheating.  Though slightly heavier then the tubulars, they are still an amazing 1430 grams--with rimstrips installed! The additional grams put the total build at an amazing 13lbs 11oz.

The ride
As with the tubulars, riding with these wheels was amazing. I was able to pass people without pedaling on descents. And they roll so smoothly at speed; maintaining 20mph+ was noticeably easier. One thing that struck me was how stiff they felt; while descending it feels like you have more precision in the turns, something I've never really noticed before. Coming out of turns felt like you could rocket forward. Over bumpy roads, the carbon hoops seems to mute bumps--ideally suited to the Cervelo frame. However it does "crash" more over potholes versus my traditional wheelset.

I found two nits with the wheelset. First, the rear hub is somewhat noisy on coast-down, similar to a Chris King hub. Because of the otherwise magical smoothness and speed, I would have preferred a more silent hub.

Second, because the rims are so light and stiff, I tended to climb out of the saddle more than normal. But the rear spokes developed a creak which would chirp whenever I got out of the saddle. The creak got worse with time which must have meant a spoke was loosening.  

Carbon rims are notorious for mediocre braking performance. Because they are harder than alloy rims, they build up more friction and require more effort to stop. I used these wheels on both the Cervelo R3 as well as a Scott Plasma. The Scott had carbon-specific Swisstop yellow pads and the braking performance was good; I didn't have any real complaints. However, I didn't have a set of carbon-specific pads for the Cervelo, and the braking performance suffered. I went on a ride that had a few climbs with  a long descent and the pads started screeching unnervingly. Ritchey does specify using carbon-specific pads and the test would have been more enjoyable if I did. Clearly if one was to purchase the wheelset, a set of carbon-specific pads would be mandatory.

Time Trialing
During the Summer of 2009, I participated in a time trial series. It was a lot of fun and far harder and more painful than I'd anticipated. The course is an out and back 10.4 miles with a two climbs. Unfortunately, at the turnaround, the course tends to be extremely windy. To improve my times, I tried a variety of equipment variations on my Scott Plasma. These are the configurations and the results:

Date Speed Time Front Wheel Rear Wheel Wind %/fastest Aero Helmet
27-May 23.13 26:59 Hed Alps 50mm Hed Alps 50 none -5.6% No
24-Jun 23.47 26:35 Hed Jet 60mm Hed Jet 90 strong -4.2% Yes
12-Aug 24.49 25:29 Ritchey 46mm Ritchey 46mm strong 0.0% Yes
26-Aug 23.59 26:27 Hed Jet 60mm Disc cover none -3.7% Yes
9-Sep 22.79 27:23 Hed Jet 60mm Hed Jet 90 light -6.9% Yes

So what does this mean? With the Ritchey Carbon Clinchers, I was able to record my BEST time by nearly 1 minute and a full one mile per hour faster. On average, this wheelset was over 5% faster than any permutation. The rim height and profile was obviously less affected by the wind and I assume the lighter overall rolling weight played a huge role as well. Regardless, I was amazed by these results; I thought that the deeper wheels would certainly lead to the fastest times. In the very stiff winds, with the deeper Jet 60/90's, I did have to fight the bike to keep it from being blown off course. With the Ritchey's, I could certainly feel the wind but had to expend far less energy to keep the bike tracking straight. Amazing.

Bottom Line
This is quite possibly the best all around wheelset currently available. They are very light, yet extremely stiff for climbing and descending. And the moderate 46mm rim depth provides a clear improvement for time trials and triathlons while not sacrificing safety and handling in windy conditions. And best of all they provide all of these performance gains as clinchers.

This wheels epitomize the spirit of this project by providing incredible performance gains and significant weight savings with no real sacrifices.


Part 8: Mad Fiber Wheels: 13lbs 5oz
December 12, 2011, demo'd Mad Fiber wheels from Veloro Bicycles. Bike weight: 6040 grams (13lbs 5 oz).


Mad Fiber Carbon Wheels

  • $2599 MSRP, 4 year warranty
  • 12 spoke front, 18 spoke rear full carbon tubular wheels
  • 60mm front, 66mm rear rim height
  • 1085 grams/pair. 430 grams front, 655 rear.
  • 1980 grams/pair with tires and 13-29 cassette (1280 rear/ 700 front)
  • White Industries rear hub
  • QR levers 44 grams/pair. 21 front, 23 rear.


Ric Hjertberg (pronounced "yurt-berg") is something of a legend in cycling circles. Those who live in the SF Bay Area may remember his famous Wheelsmith store located in Palo Alto, established in 1975. The shop was as much a museum as a place to buy and service your bikes and parts. Ric distinguished himself as a master wheelbuilder and continued this pursuit, even bringing back wooden-rimmed wheels. Recently, Ric has also been working as Technology Manager for component maker FSA. But he came upon a new idea to truly "reinvent the wheel" with the creation of "Mad Fiber" carbon wheels. They are unique in that they use carbon fiber spokes bonded to two rim pieces. Ric claims that carbon fiber "likes" to be placed under tension-loads. The pieces lay flat prior to gluing and then are stretched out, origami style to fit over the hub; he claims "It is the first wheel designed for carbon fiber". Despite their diminutive weight, Ric claims they can handle a static load of  700 pounds each, and there is no rider weight limit. Yet the weigh in at a breath-taking 1085 grams complete.

At 1085 grams, this puts Mad Fiber in rarified air, primarily Reynolds and Lightweight. The Reynolds RZR 46 weighs 910 grams for the set and retail for $6000. The Lightweight Obermeyer weigh 960 grams and retail for $6495. So at nearly a third of the price and only 100 grams more, the Mad Fibers are a value leader in the ultra-high end wheel category.

Check out this great interview with Ric done by Roadbikereview that describes the unique construction of the wheel:

Getting a set to test!
Response for Mad Fiber wheels has been amazing. With the PR of Interbike, Ric has barely been able to keep up with demand. Working in a converted bakery, Ric and his team have been working round the clock. They've haven't been able to create a batch for "the Media". However, Gebhard Ebenhoch, manager of Veloro Bicycles in Redwood City, is the first distributor of Mad Fiber wheels. Thanks to Gebhard, we were able to get this set to test.

So how did they ride?
I wanted to evaluate the Mad Fibers in both climbing and a time trial, so I mounted them (and the cork brake pads) on my Scott Plasma triathlon bike. Once up to speed, the wheels had a "disc-like" thrum when spun up to speed. I immediately noticed that maintaining speed was more effortless. In fact, compared to my old Easton Ascent II's, the Mad Fibers seemed 10% faster. On roads where I'd typically go 20 mph, I was going 22. On descents where I'd average 28, I was going 31 mph. Accelerating from 24 to 28 mph was noticeably easier. However, at 35 mph, there was a new "hum" and vibration from the wheelset; this was slightly unnerving. I didn't go faster than that though I wonder if that hum would go away at faster speeds. Regardless, the wheels were remarkably smooth as the carbon spokes seemed to mute road imperfections. They would be great in a long triathlon or century as the ride was incredibly smooth.

Remarkably, the braking performance was awesome. Of the carbon wheels I've tested, these were the most drama-free. There was no screeching or grabbiness. They felt like "normal" alloy rims. Impressive.

In any case, off to the climb, where I thought these wheels would shine. Despite weighing nearly 3/4 pound less, it wasn't clear if the wheels improved my climb time. On the benchmark Old La Honda, my previous PR on the Scott Plasma was 19:14 (18:38 on my Cervelo R3 road bike). Though I gave it a solid effort, my time was a somewhat disappointing 20:07. Not sure if it was conditioning or something else, but I thought the 3/4 pound weight savings would have been more beneficial.

Later on, we motored over to do a the local time trial course on Canada Road. And this is where the wheels really shined. The course is 5.2 miles long with two rises in the middle; it's difficult to maintain 20 miles an hour over these rises. My previous PR was 12:57, using an aero helmet and Jet 60/disc combo. Using the Mad Fibers, my time was an incredible 12:02, averaging 25.9mph, nearly a minute faster than my previous best effort. Considering that I'd done the hill climb previously, the results are truly remarkable.

Bottom Line
These wheels are remarkably different. They offer extremely low weight and are comparatively less expensive than other offerings in this weight range. They should be fantastic Ironman wheels and are a wonderful indulgence for those who have the means.

Many thanks to Gebhard Ebenhoch, manager of Veloro Bicycles, for providing these extremely rare wheels to test. Gebhard is a walking encyclopedia for bike frames and parts and is one of the most passionate cycle-nuts you'll ever come across. If you are in the Bay Area, it's worth checking out his new store.

Value: 4.5 stars 
Overall: 4.25 stars

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