A new set of wheels

No, I haven’t bought another bike, though when my fiancée was asking about what sort of Christmas tree we were going to get in out first house next year I said “you’re allowed 1 foot of tree for every bike I’m allowed to own”, which based on her aspirations would limit me to seven… 

Nope, I’ve just swapped out Major Tom’s original wheels for the ones I built up over Christmas. I had mixed feelings, as I did like looking at them all new and shiny, perfectly clean and with that smell of fresh rubber. But I didn’t build them for decoration, so I bit the bullet and popped them on. Between wheelsets I swapped out the brake pads for some new ones, and also took the opportunity to clean up and regrease the calipers. Before the new wheels went on I got my accurate scales and weighed them, then weighed the old ones that came off. It turns out I’ve shaved off a full 600g on the old ones! The new front weighs 1.32kg, and the rear 1.85kg including tyres and freewheel. Not bad, but I could have saved more with butted spokes.


Here’s the fresh front wheel with it’s lovely Continental Grand Prix Classic tyres. They look every bit as good as I’d hoped and I’m amazed at how supple they feel to the touch. I put them on just after Christmas and they went on a little easier than the Schwalbes I’m used to, I was able to do it thumbs-only, which is always a plus (well, it’s really the only correct way to do it, but with tight beads sometimes needs must). My thumbs were quite sore after though. One thing that made me chuckle was this photo on the back of the box the tyres came in. Have you ever seen a more German-looking pair in your life!


I rode Major Tom about 5 miles on Saturday on the old wheels, then yesterday did 11 miles on the new ones. It wasn’t the nicest conditions, damp and generally miserable, so I didn’t get much of an idea of grip, but I can definitely feel the missing weight. I know reducing rotating mass doesn’t have quite the effect a lot of people think but it certainly improves acceleration and that was immediately apparent. That and the tiny clangs of what sounded like a dozen fairies dropping their small spanners all at once as the spokes evened out their stresses. I also noticed the ‘new’ SunTour freewheel made an improvement to gear changes, having a much crisper transition between gears and no riding over the sprockets like the Maillard did.

It was a bit tough riding through mucky roads on brand new wheels. I was wincing constantly to think my perfect wheels were getting dirty. When I got home I surveyed the damage: the front rims were quite clean but the rear brakes were full of gunk, which I sort of struggled to understand to begin with. I thought about it more and imagined the stuff landing on the rims (thrown up by the front) and then gradually migrating across the brake channel to the outside of the wheel. Then I did the calculation and it turns out that even at only 20mph the rims experience 26g of centrifugal force, and at 30mph it’s nearly 60g. That’s a pretty hefty force. Interestingly the old Weinmann rims I took off have a little ridge on the corners next to the brake channel, so perhaps this helps to retain some of this mucky stuff?

Anyway, I’m very pleased with my new wheels. The bike felt better than ever. That’s one fun aspect of riding a vintage bike. A brand new bike starts off perfect and gets gradually less good, but a bike you refurbish starts off OKish (hopefully) and then gets better and better.

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