Let’s be clear. If you’re a cyclist in the bottom 85% of our size distribution as a species you don’t need this wheelset. (Unless that is, you’ve got room in the garage and you love cobbles, gravel, and paying reverence to the best part of the year, the spring classics. Invent reason to suit.) But if you’re over a hundred and something kg, if you’re sick of breaking wheels and you want a nice sunday best that’s not going to explode in showers of expensive, overstressed carbon, these could be your friend. Read this, then beg or borrow a set from somewhere and tell me if I’m right. I have more than a sneaking suspicion I am.
Regardless of weight, lots of us revere the Nemesis. Just go check out Weight Weenies, or have a peek on Velominati. Admirers are many, fervent, and constant. This last soldier of the box-section, handbuilt days has not gone quietly into the night – the last rites might have been read in the media, right next to another full column ad for something carbon and temporary, but not out here in the trenches. It has a special place in our collective heart, and it shows no sign of letting go just yet.
Mine are 32 hole laced to Dura Ace 7900 hubs, in a 3x pattern, using double-butted DT competition spokes. There are many valid reasons for using alternative spoking patterns, but none of them apply to the Nemesis. 3x is the law here.
Hub choice for the Nemesis seems to be, by convention, limited to a fairly narrow range. Admittedly there isn’t the choice of high spoke count hubs there once was but wheelsets made with the Nemesis seem to draw from an even more select pool consisting of Dura Ace, Record, Chris King, and Ambrosio’s own (PMP sourced) hubs, notably on those sets built by Harry Rowland. These wheels get built for the toughest of tough lives, even if only a vanishingly small percentage of them will ever get to see the Arenberg or the Carrefour l’Abre.
Similarly, the choice of tyres seems to be bound to a select few classics from the cobbles. Handmade FMB’s for the well heeled, Veloflex’s, and the Vittoria Pave’s, which are what I’m rolling at the moment. I always have, actually, on these rims – this is the third tyre on the rear, the second on the front. I have nothing bad to say about the Paves, except for the set I bought off TradeMe that had mangled base tapes that refused to stay glued unless they were kept up to pressure. They haven’t cut up any worse than any other tyre I’ve ever had, I’ve never punctured a set, and the ride is just…special. That doesn’t mean though, I won’t allow for the possibility of there being other dance partners. When these go I’m going to try a set of Conti Gatorskins, just because they’re cheap, and that means I can use them even more, presuming they’re not altogether horrible. (I’ve never tried a conti tub, and I’ll do so with a little trepidation. Butyl inner tubes and a reputation for riding like lengths of hosepipe, apparently. But I’ll never know until I try, so I’m keeping an open mind, for now.)
So what do they weigh, and how do they ride? If you’re asking the weight question you’re missing the point. Mine come out at a fanny under1700g for the pair, since you ask, sans skewers tyres and glue.
To the ride. As you’d expect the handling in foul weather is just what you want, but to regard these wheels as an anachronistic, one trick slug is a mistake: I have a 40k loop near home that climbs from sea level to a little under 500m, then plunges and twists and turns through a greasy rainforest-covered lane into an 8k nuts-out descent, then another 7k of flat time trialling to the finish. It’s my barometer loop, because it measures everything, and out of all my wheelsets I’ve gone round fastest on the Nemesis. The braking on them is better than on any rim I’ve ever ridden and the Paves inspire confidence like no clincher ever has when the surface is 90% shit and pothole.
Alright, they don’t get pulled out for that many races. Yes, there’s faster wheels in the garage for most days. I won’t be humming and ahh-ing between these and the Reynolds or even the Zondas. Aero was a chocolate bar when these were born, and shit as the roads around here may be, they’re still well within the everyday capabilities of more youthful, faster models.
But none of them will ever, and I mean ever, feel as special as these. Get your best grimace on, find a muddy puddle, and pretend you’re on King Kelly’s wheel or that Boonen’s choking in your dust.
Some things never grow old.