Testing New Wheels and Some PB’s
It’s always difficult to do a proper test of new parts or new kit for the bike. There are always so many variables at play that it’s not easy to say for sure whether or not these things make a difference, especially when testing in the real world and especially when you don’t have a power meter. The wind, the weather, the traffic, what you had for breakfast and how you are feeling on any given day will all make a difference. Without a power meter I can’t even tell if I was generating more power on a given day, and more power should mean more speed even if all other variables are the same. So, knowing that a particular piece of new kit is better than what you had before is never easy.
It’s true that sometimes you ‘just know’, and sometimes there can be such a marked difference that it’s obvious. However, as you improve, the margins between one helmet or another, one chainring or another and any other changes become smaller. Those margins count though, one second here, a second there can make all the difference. This is especially true in a triathlon where you have to run off the bike where it’s not just your time around the cycle course that counts, but how much you can save for the run as well.
I also think there is a kind of placebo effect from new kit. You know you have new bits on your bike or better shoes, a more aero helmet or more comfortable position and somehow that just makes you faster regardless of real advantages from the kit. Maybe it’s just be the excitement of new toys that spur you on to greater performances rather than any real benefits, but it works so new kit is always worth trying!
Wind Tunnels vs The Real World
You can of course look at wind tunnel tests and such like to get some scientific data on the aero advantage of one thing versus another, but that doesn’t always mean real time gains in the real world. The real world isn’t a wind tunnel and manufacturer data can often be skewed to tell you what they want you to know. A particular piece of kit may perform better in wind tunnel tests when the wind is head on at 25mph, but could be terrible when hitting at 30º from the side or at 19mph. The manufacturers aren’t going to tell you about the bad tests, just the good ones, so in the end you need to test things in the real world.
Doing so is never going to give you definitive answers though, especially when the margins start to narrow. When seconds count, a new pothole here, an extra gust of wind there or a slight tow from a passing truck can all help or hinder your effort and make a difference to your times over a given course. If it’s purely aerodynamics you are testing you can do back to back roll down tests on a slope, but that only tells you about the aerodynamics, nothing else. What you really want to know is if a given piece of kit makes you faster around a proper course and then allows you to run faster off the bike too.
The wonderful world of GPS devices and software such as Strava can of course help to a certain degree here. Analysing your efforts over a given course has never been easier or more accessible. For most, this is the closest we can get to proper testing. Admittedly, an indoor track, a power meter, a stopwatch and some back to back equipment testing would probably give more accurate and repeatable results (more scientific), but at the end of the day most of us race outside on roads in the real world. Therefore, why not test in the real world using GPS and Strava PB’s?
That’s what I’ve been doing with my new wheels and have now ridden them a number of times on a number of different routes in varying conditions.
Ride 1 – A 10 Mile TT
My first ride was an undulating 25 mile out and back from Ynyslas to Machynlleth which incorporates the Glandyfi 10 Time Trial course. I’ve ridden this Time Trial course a number of times on my old wheels in the past and according to Strava my top 3 times were:
- May 3, 2014 – 27:39 (21.7mi/h)
- Oct 25, 2013 – 27:46 (21.6mi/h)
- Mar 19, 2014 – 28:07 (21.4mi/h)
I also rode it flat out the week before trying out my new wheels and I’m sure I got close to 26 minutes on it but my Garmin file was corrupted so I had no ‘official’ time for that ride. So, out I headed with my new Dymag Wheels with an official time of 27:39 to beat, but hoping for less than 26 minutes in order to be sure they were faster!
I started off quite hard from the house and the wheels soon spun up to speed making a nice hollow, rumbly whirr as they did. They looked good, sounded good and felt good too. From a handling perspective I didn’t really notice any difference, but they did feel quite stiff when cranking out of the saddle. They felt comfortable over bumps though and cornered well. I kept pushing hard all the way and really picked it up for the Glandyfi 10 Time Trial course, then kept the pressure on for the whole 25 miles, making it back in a time of 1:08:26. Not too shabby for a 25 mile ride and a PB over the entire route for me – Not a bad start, but how had I done on the Time Trial course?
As you can see, it was indeed a PB with a time of 25:48. Nearly two minutes faster than my previous Strava recorded PB. OK, there was the ride the week before on my old wheels that was probably fairly close to this time, but I can never be sure thanks to the corruption of my Garmin file from that ride. Things were looking good though. The wheels had performed well and with a PB in the bag they certainly weren’t slowing me down.
Ride 2 – Hitting the Hills
My next ride on the wheels was a slightly hillier affair. Well, you do need to test new kit in a variety of situations and my next race is in Kitzbuhel, Austria which will be fairly hilly. Kitzbuhel is in the Alps after all!
I headed out on a course that I do fairly regularly through Bont Goch. I wasn’t going flat out, but kept up a nice steady, moderately hard effort all the way. I actually felt a little slow up the hills and wasn’t expecting much once I got back and uploaded the ride to Strava. The wheels felt fine though and I was thinking that the lack of performance on the climbs was due to me being a little tired from the hard Time Trial effort a couple of days before and some hard training in the pool the day before.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see that I had gained a couple of PB’s on this ride too, and they had been on climbs at that. Maybe the wheels were adding more than I thought?
Ride 3 – The Wind
The next ride on the wheels was a real test for them. 1 mile efforts up and down the straights between Borth and Tre Ddol, and it was windy. These straights are pretty much at right angles to each other and exposed to the elements. I’d be riding one hard effort with a tail-wind, one with a head-wind, one with a cross-wind from the left and one with a cross-wind from the right. There was no hiding, so now was my chance to see if the deep section rims made the bike more difficult to handle in the wind.
I was soon off and riding and I pretty much forgot about the wheels. I had expected them to be a bit of a handful in the wind compared to the tiny rims of my Mavic Ksyriums, but the 50m front and 60mm rear rims of my Dymag wheels felt fine. They were actually a lot lot easier to handle in the wind than the Ksyriums. I can only put this down to the flat bladed spokes of the Ksyriums which are a nightmare in crosswinds. I’m often having to cycle leaning hard into the wind along the Borth Golf Course Straight and need to be prepared when passing cars not to swerve too much as the wind drops for a second or two in their lee. With my new deep section wheels I had no such issues, they were, without a doubt much better in the wind which was a surprise.
I was also beginning to notice that they really come into their own once up above about 23-24 mph. At this speed, the hollow, rumbly whirr from them changes to more of a hollow whizz and the aero advantages of the rims starts to be felt. They aren’t necessarily easier to get to this speed, but once there they seem to want to stay there. If your legs can handle it then this is where they shine and who doesn’t like the sound of a ‘hollow whizz’?!
Ride 4 – Another 10 mile TT PB.
My final test ride on the wheels before my bike was packed up and sent off to Austria in the back of Frank and Andreas car was another 10 mile Time Trial on the Glandyfi 10 course. I was now into a bit of a taper for the race so I was taking it a little easier on the ride out to and back from the Time Trial. I didn’t feel too good on the way out either. I was having to get out of the saddle on any little rises and felt as though I had no energy. Morgan was suffering badly with some horrible lurgy and I was beginning to think that maybe I was coming down with it as well.
I picked up the speed when I got to the Time Trial course though and started pushing hard. I didn’t feel as though I was going flat out though and had almost given up on the effort before I started – I just didn’t feel as though I had it in me. I did keep pushing though, despite making lots of excuses in my head as I rode the course. I finished well and eased up for the ride home with a quick glance at my watch. I hadn’t even pressed the lap button at the start of the Time Trial effort so lackadaisical was I feeling, so wasn’t really sure of my time over the course but looking at my watch it might actually have been fairly close to lasts weeks PB.
At home after an easy ride back I uploaded my ride to Strava and sure enough, despite what I though was a fairly lack lustre day, there was another PB over the course. 11 seconds faster than last week, taking my new course record on the Glandyfi 10 to 25:37. That’s two whole minutes faster than my ‘official’ Strava PB on my old wheels and 4th place on the overall Leader Board. I also know for a fact that the people above me on the leaderboard did it as a 4-up Team Time Trial whilst training for the National Team Time Trials so as a solo rider I’m at the top. Strava really should have a way of filtering solo and group rides!
As I said at the start it’s almost impossible to draw any definitive conclusions from real world tests of new bits of bike kit. New PB’s could be down to any number of factors from the vagaries of the weather to an improvement in the riders fitness. Singling out one improvement from another is virtually impossible, but after several rides on these new wheels from Dymag I have so far been impressed. They feel good, handle well in a variety of conditions (although I’ve yet to try them in the rain!) and have produced two PB’s over a 10 mile Time Trial and a couple of PB’s in the hills too.
Maybe it’s the placebo effect of new kit, maybe it’s an increased effort on my part to get them up to that sweet spot above 23mph, or maybe they are just plain faster, but whatever it is, I’m pretty happy with them. I only wish I’d taken the plunge earlier and splashed out on some better wheels before!