If you’re like me – and judging from the length of the related threads on weightweenies plenty are – you will, at some point, have looked at getting a set of carbon wheels from China. Providers like FarSports, CarbonSpeedCycle, and Yeoleo offer a bedazzling variety of products. Wide, U-shaped rims, apparently everything the big boys are offering, and at a fraction of the price. What’s the catch?
The bike industry is not transparent. The inrng post who makes what offers a small insight into the bewildering world of cycling brand names. What gets outsourced to where and who is even more nebulous.
Taiwan’s Gigantex, for example, are known to make carbon rims for plenty of brands with cachet and credibility. All the Chinese providers listed above offer badge-engineering services. If you want to start your own wheel label it’s never been easier. A quick read through the open-mold carbon clinchers thread on weightweenies reveals plenty of satisfied customers. It also reveals more than a few horror stories.
I’m not going to go into the carbon clincher safety debate here, and I am certainly not going to take the point of view that only the biggest and most moneyed purveyors of carbon hard-on material can get it right.
I know Zipp and ENVE etc spend a huge amount on R & D, and I know too, that Chinese companies are damn good at reverse-engineering (read: stealing) carbon tech in the blink of an eye. (Your morality on buying copied stuff is your own. You might think there’s more than one big brand got it coming to ’em. I won’t argue.) And you and I both know there’s lots of cheap knock-off crap out there along with the good copies, and that if your Chinese wheel fails – well, good luck with that warranty.
There is, however, a reason that China has come to dominate the world’s manufacturing base: more often than not they get it right enough, for the right price, which is what most of us want. You can get a serviceable wheel from China.
But does it make sense?
I am no expert on carbon fiber, but I’m perfectly capable of adding a few figures together. A pair of Chinese carbon clinchers with basic but serviceable Novatec hubs runs, near as dammit, $700 NZD delivered to your door. A quick read of the weightweenie thread I’ve linked to above tells me you should allow too, for the possibility of returning at least one of the wheels for something flawless. Let’s call that another $100, because it will be. If it gets lost or damaged, look forward to a week or two of fun with your carrier.
If that equation puts you off, what then? Do you really have no other choice?
Of course you do. Go secondhand.
For $500, to my door, I got a pair of Reynolds DV46 tubulars with less than a thousand k on them, essentially unmarked. 1315g, 46mm profile. No weight limit.
OK, they’re a couple of years old. OK, they’re not 11-speed compatible, but I won’t be there myself for a couple of years. How long were you expecting those Chinese wheels to last, anyway?
So far so good. Then chuck in the almost-brand new Dura-Ace cassette, the brand-new Vittoria Corsa tub on the back wheel, then half-worn Schwalbe on the front with plenty more life in it. The valve extensions. The wheel bags. The nice hope skewers. The envelope with the four barely worn SwissStop yellow pads in it.
I rode these for the first time in a race a couple of weeks ago. It was pissing down and windy. Modern wisdom says that these older wheels don’t stop, they fly like a kite and want to do nothing so much as pitch you into a hedge at the first breath of wind.
I’ve got nothing against modern wisdom. It makes good stuff cheap.
If you disagree, if you’ve had great (or bad) experiences with Chinese carbon, or if you’ve snagged a great secondhand deal – I’d love to hear about it…