Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reynolds Aero 90 Wheels Review

For readers of this blog, you know that I don't normally review triathlon gear.  This blog is about me.  And, frankly, I don't want my readers to get used to reading "non-me" stuff and start demanding more diverse topics.

But as triathletes, we have to stretch our boundaries at times, and that's why you're being treated to a review of my new wheels.


Aesthetics:

Honestly, you don't want my opinion on style.  I have a couple nice suits that my wife picked out, but otherwise I'm pretty much married to day-glo lycra and Hollister sweats.

That said, here is a picture of the Reynolds Aero 90s on my bike a few days before Ironman Los Cabos.  People on Facebook tell me they look great -- and who am I to disagree?

That said, most 90mm $3,000 all carbon race wheels tend to make a statement.

Feel free to decide for yourself whether you like them or not.

Yes, the chain is tapering for the race too.  
Cornering feel:

The rims on these are dramatically wider than on my dimpled 2009 Zipp 808s, to the point where I've had to substantially adjust my brakes to accommodate the Reynolds Aero 90s.  It's pretty clear that the wider rim, like the wider, lower profile tires on a Porsche 911, makes a better handling wheel.  On these wheels, I am supremely confident when I tear round a corner at 30 mph hanging on to the aerobars for dear life.

Braking:

I once watched a buddy's all carbon wheel turn to pudding as he was braking on a long descent.  It was 70 degrees that day.  And part of the reason he was braking so much was that the cork brake pads barely gripped the wheel.

So I'm a skeptic when it comes to carbon braking surfaces.

However, Reynolds' proprietary braking system works.  You can read all about the technical stuff on their website, but let me say -- from a guy who just raced a hilly Ironman bike leg with some gnarly descents in 90 plus degree temperatures.  These brakes stop a bike just as well as the brakes on my 808s.  And my 808s have aluminum rims.

I should mention that at no point when I was breaking hard in the furnace-like temperatures of Cabo did the wheels show any hint of melting -- which I consider a big plus.

Handling In The Wind:

To me handling stability is the most important characteristic of a deep wheel -- and, yes, to some degree it tops aerodynamic performance, as far as I'm concerned.  Because, if your super-aerodynamic front wheel starts to spasm when the wind hits you from the side, you're going to start strangling your brake lever.  And I don't care how aerodynamic your wheel is, if you're braking more than me, my wheels are faster than yours.  (Not that the Aero 90's aren't faster than yours anyway).  

Ironman Los Cabos was very windy -- a lot like the conditions in Kona.  We had 25 mph winds all day, plus a couple tricky areas where the gusts blew through arroyos and over bridges.  And while I felt the wind pushing from the side, the Aero 90s were stable.  The only way to describe them is that they sail on the wind -- leaning a touch, but lazer straight.  There's none of that twitchy handling I experience with my Zipp 808s.

There is apparently science and math behind the features that make this a remarkably stable deep wheel, which I don't have the time or the brainpower to understand.  I just know that they work as advertised.

But if you're hankering for some science to back up your wheel-buying decision, just Google "Reynolds Aero 90" on You Tube and you can hear all about the aerodynamic principles behind the sharp inner edge.

Just take it from me -- don't try to explain this "data" to your wife when you try to talk her into your "investment" in these wheels.

Aerodynamics:

I have no idea.  Like I said, I don't do real science.

But since you're sitting there all disappointed having committed a full five minutes to reading this blog and you were expecting me to tell you that the Aero 90s are .4 seconds faster than wheel Z over 112 miles in 15 degrees of yaw, I'll share some anecdotal information that you may feel free to quote to your wife as science.

The Aero 90s have posted the best time I've ever ridden on 180 watts of power on my 54 mile aero-bar test track -- the Silverado Trail -- between Napa, CA and Calistoga, CA.  No, I can't account for every weather, setup and clothing variable, so get over it.  That said, I've ridden this rolling, breezy stretch of road about 20 times a year for the last 7 years, which makes me the de facto expert when it comes to making absurd statements about the aerodynamic properties of wheels that roll along this road.

So, having established my credentials to my own satisfaction, I can state with a high degree of reliability that these wheels are as fast as my dimpled 808s with a disk cover on the rear.   Maybe a few seconds faster, maybe a few seconds slower, but whatever.  I'd ride them any day over my current 808s with a rear disc.

So, are they as as fast as (fill in the blank with the other wheel you're shopping for) in a (choose one: windtunnel? Hilly, windy Ironman?  Calm, rolling Ironman?  Windy, flat Ironman with bad roads and lots of turns? ... I can stop now, right -- you see where this is going...?).

Who knows... But I can tell you that as a total package, they corner great, they handle wind great and they ride really fast.

Heck, and if you think they're good-looking, who am I to argue?

Disclosure:

Team Every Man Jack, the triathlon team for which I am fortunate to race, receives a discount on Reynolds wheels.  That said, Reynolds didn't ask me to write this review and being a contrarian, I wouldn't have done it if they'd asked.  And, even with the discount, I paid more for these wheels than I paid for my Zipp 808s.          

3 comments:

  1. Nice review. I just bought a set of Aero 90's, too. Have you had an opportunity to experiment with tire widths, yet? What width did you ride at Cabo?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Marcus, I rode 23mm Vittoria 320 TPI's in Cabo. I haven't tried 25mm tires yet, but coincidentally, that's exactly what I plan to do next week at the Boise 70.3. I am told by a teammate that 25's might actually be a little faster than the 23's on these rims. From what I understand, the rolling resistance of the 25's is slightly better and just eyeballing the way the 23's sit on the wheel, you can see that the rim is actually slightly wider than the tire, so I doubt there's any aero penalty associated with the riding 25's on this rim. Enjoy the wheels!

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  2. Aerobars are a great addition if your terrain is flat as they help increase speed but may not be as good on a mountainous circuit, as they need to negotiate curves. Beginners might want to try clipless pedals if they want to better their time.

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