Haute Route Alps: Wheel choice poll

With 57 days to the start of the Haute Route Alps 2013, it is time to settle on wheel choice. There is one binding constraint: riders can only bring one wheelset and no spares.

I think I am converging towards my decision, but I am curious what you would choose/recommend? There is a short poll below (5sec), but let me first summarize and compare the choices I have (these are my own wheels–“L’embarras du choix” :):

1. Aluminum rim with clincher tires:

Benefit of alu is unrivaled braking power in wet/rain and in heat. Clincher tires are what I ride most of the time and have most experience with changing when I have a flat (easy!).

2. Carbon 38mm rim with clincher tires:

Benefit of carbon is weight + the simplicity of clincher tires.

Downsides of carbon is the less effective breaking when it is wet (even with the expensive yellow-Swiss or other carbon-specific brake pads). But a good buddy said: “well, if it’s wet, you should be careful and slow down those descents anyway.” Some also point out the risk of overheating the carbon when breaking at high frequency or continuously during long periods of time, thereby loosing the structural rigidity of the resin that holds the carbon fibers together. That surely could happen if we descent with 500 riders slowly in one long line, but it is more likely that the “peloton” completely shatters during the climb and that the descent is done in little groups of similar abilities. (And I hope to descent fast, so I am not worried about the overheating.)

3. Carbon 38mm rim with tubular tires:

Benefits: lowest weight, safety (the tire is glued and will stay on even when flatting in a turn) and, as a distant third consideration, “best ride feel.” Other benefits (irrelevant for my task in the Alps) are: for a crit, they accelerate well; for cross, they allow a very low tire pressure without the risk of pinch flats.

Downsides: tubulars are the most expensive tires (but almost irrelevant relative to the rest of the sunk costs). Concerns are having a flat: for a small leak, one can carry a “pit stop” which puts a sealant and inflates the tire, sufficiently to make it home. For a large leak, one would have to change the tubular (hence carry a spare, pre-glued one) but be careful on the descents as it may not be glued well. Last: one could “roll a tire” in a turn and crash.

Last, here are the weight comparisons, as measured on our kitchen scale (accurate to the 1g): 572g/838g means 572g for the “naked” wheel; 838g with tubes & tires (but no quick release nor cassette). ? means estimated; Exception is * which includes a powertap hub and old 11-28 cassette –estimate without those is probably around 800g/1131g.

Weight of the three wheelset options
Front wheel Rear wheel Wheelset
Alu wheel 679g/1010g 800g?/1131g??/1622g* 1479g/2141g?/2633g
Carbon clincher 621g/952g 790g/1121g 1411g/2073g
Carbon tubular 572g/838g 721g/987g 1293g/1825g

Which wheelset would you use/recommend for climbing 3000m+ per day, for 7 days in a row? Please enter your vote and any thoughts or additions to the above:

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4 Responses to Haute Route Alps: Wheel choice poll

  1. StevO says:

    jan.Use what ever you feel good with. I am taking light weight carbon tubular. I train with a 45 mm carbon clincher wheels roar down the Tourmalet in the rain and sunshine. Yes when it is wet the braking surface is no where near as good as Aluminium but then I take it easy on wet descents. I have just come back from the Quebrantahuesos event in Spain descents of the Somport, Marie Blanque and Portalet using my 45mm Carbon Clinchers at speeds that put a massive smile on your face. If you have deep section wheels use them. But and a big but if it is very windy they can be a handful on unknown descents. It all depends on your bike skills and how much bottle you have. In the above event there were almost 9000 riders and a huge amount of riders were using all styles of deep section carbon wheels.

    • Steve: interesting comment about the deep aero wheels: I do have 68mm carbon Edge clincher wheels but did never consider those for climbing, given that they are a little heavier (+60g per wheel compared to the 38mm carbon clinchers) and I figured my main challenge will be climbing times where aero matters less. But I never considered the aero benefit during the descents: would it make up for the weight penalty during climbs? (I bet that with my 50/34 compact and an 11 in the back, I will still spin out at 55kph+)

      Are your light weight tubulars deep rim? Do you just carry a PitStop sealant, or also a spare tubular? Last: how often have you had a tubular flat? (I’ve never had one, but only use tubulars for cross races and a few road races)

  2. StevO says:

    Hi Jan. One thought on very deep rims. They are a real handful on descents in the wind scary in fact. For some of the open descents in the alps I would not recommend using them if you have had no experience in long descents. The outcome could be catastrophic. Stick to light shallow wheels if you have them. The deep sections i would leave at home. My light weight carbons I am taking are shallow 25mm because I know riding my 45s down windy descents scares the crap out of me when I am down 65kph and get hit by a gust. Not worth it. Your 38mm would be a better bet not too deep to be a real bother in the wind. But if is blowing a gale……….I would not worry much about climbing times. Its what feels good for you day after day after day of climbing. Less weight will be your best friend. I hope to be 58-59 kg on race day. I have just done a sportive here in france 170km 3700m climbing 465TSS at 0.76IF. The next day i was ok but still shattered. This event scares me about cumulative fatigue day after day. So climbing speeds will not be something you will be thinking about later in the week. Survival will be more on your mind. I also run the same 50-34 x 11 and its a great gearing. On the flats i am always in my 11 and 12 sprocket. Just right. On the descents in the 11 but then you have to corner. so good brakes is so important. Its a long drop if you miss just one corner. Safety first. On the tyre front. You can be unlucky and get a flat outside the front door. Me I will take a spare tubular with me. Keep me posted on how your training is going. Off to the Marmotte this weekend for another sportive in the Alps.


    • Confirmed: no deep sections. While the poll favors aluminum rims, I am tending towards my 38mm carbon wheels, but still not sure about tubulars versus clinchers… If tubulars, I would definitely also carry a spare in addition to the PitStop sealant (never used it, have you?)

      465TSS is a BIG day! My estimate for a typical Haute Route day is 300 – 350TSS, and that seems to reasonably compare: 120km vs 170km and 3000m vs 3700. I wonder whether any rider from last year with a powermeter can tell us more? (Not that there’s much we can do anymore–my training is what it is. More on status in next blog. 🙂

      Good luck with the Mormotte!!

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