It was not planned this way, but I ended up equipping my cyclocross bike turned gravel grinder with new wheels a little early.
An online store that shall remain nameless, so that my LBS does not shame me forever, had a major sale on wheelsets and I was able to pick up a set of Vuelta Corsa Lites for less than $150. This is a screaming deal on a good set of wheels. Sure, I could have spent a lot more on wheels but I am putting these on a bike with Shimano 105 components that is going to get beat up on some gravel roads and trails here in Eastern Iowa. Exotic is not the name of the game.
The wheelset sat in my garage for a few weeks because I was planning on doing a complete rebuild of my current bike to make some major changes based on my riding this summer—don’t worry details on the major changes to come later. However, circumstances changed on a ride last week when something—probably a strip of flashing metal or something similar—ripped a hole through the tread section of my well-worn Kenda Kwicks. How well-worn? The front tire—switched from the rear about halfway through the season—was bald and ready to die. The piece of metal just hastened its burial.
Tire choice was probably the biggest decision. If you look up “good tire for gravel” on the Internet be prepared for a lot of opinions and no definitive answers. One theme that seemed to be constant was the love for Clement’s X’PLOR series of tires. These are the USH and MSO, named for the airport codes for Ushuaia, Argentina and Missoula, Montana respectively. The USH comes in 35mm width and the MSO comes in 32mm or 40mm width.
Trying to decide between the tires came down to the center ridge. The USH has a more solid center ridge that seems like it would offer a smoother ride on the pavement sections of my usual rides:
If the county ends up paving more of the Cedar Valley Nature trail than I will be riding on even more pavement. Plus, the 35mm width seemed to strike a balance between the 32mm and 40mm width of the MSO. I went with the 60 TPI version versus the high zoot 120 TPI version because I could not justify the difference in cost for a tire I did not know if I would enjoy. BTW, I changed out my old Tektro Oryx cantilevers for Tektro CR720 cantilevers. Big improvement, huge!
How do things look:
All up—including skewer and cassette—the wheelset weighed in at 3380 grams. This is compared to my prior no-name stock wheelset weight of 3925 grams. The stock wheelset included tires that were 5mm thinner and lacking a lot of tread after almost 3000 miles. Doing the whole conversion math thing—thanks Google—the difference of 545 grams works out to approximately 1.2 pounds of weight saved. For those of you who slept through physics, this weight is even more important than cutting frame weight because it is rotational. It’s not the two or three to one delta that cyclists have used for years to justify spending a lot of money on wheels but it matters.
The true measure of a new set of wheels is not how much they weigh, necessarily, but how well they ride. The Corsa Lites and Clement USH tires are light years better than the prior wheelset. The ride is noticeably smoother because of the tires, especially when the pavement ends and the gravel begins. Also, out of the saddle sprints seem a lot more fun which I am going to attribute to the lighter weight and “springiness” of the new wheelset. The bike just seems to pop when I start mashing.
The other big improvement was the aforementioned brake swap. The Tektro CR720s are a big jump in stopping power versus the stock Tektro Oryx brakes. For about $20 per set there are few better bargains for improvement in performance. Plus, the new brakes look “old school” cyclocross. Sometimes it is about how something looks when all else is equal.
In terms of “big changes” or transformations coming to my bike I am considering ditching the front derailleur and small chainring in favor of a single chainring setup. I rarely use the small chainring and I do not use the smallest cogs in my cassette, so I feel that a smaller big chainring with my existing cassette would meet all of my local riding needs. The Wolftooth “narrow-wide” chainrings look like a sweet option. Anyone have any experience?