Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review of the Revolution Wheelworks Rev 22

After my writeup about how to upgrade your road bike, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and drop the coin for a pair of Revolution Rev 22 wheels. Full disclosure: I contacted Revolution Wheelworks and pointed them to my blog post, and the kind words about their product made them happy enough that they gave me a modest discount on the purchase of the wheels.

I ordered the wheels on Monday afternoon. A couple hours later, I got an email from Jonathan at Rev letting me know that he’d be building my wheels on Tuesday evening (after he gets home from his “day” job) and would ship them on Wednesday. Sure enough, they shipped Wednesday and arrived Friday. Along with the wheels, I received three replacement spokes (labeled “front,” “rear drive,” and “rear non-drive”) and a pair of Revolution Wheelworks socks. Each wheel had a tag with the model number, my name, and the weight of the wheel (which I verified, because, um, I’m anal and also have a gram scale). They were a shade under the listed weight of 1350 grams.

A lot of wheels claim to be “hand-built,” but hand-built really doesn’t tell you anything other than it wasn’t done by a machine. A good machine can build a better wheel than a crappy pair of hands, so I asked Jonathan for more detail. Here’s what he had to say, including some telling commentary about moonlighting as a wheel builder:

We're still a long way off from being about to quit our day jobs but eventually I'd like to at least cut down on some hours at work to keep things a bit more relaxed.  I guess I could hire another builder but I'm doubtful that I could find someone who would work for what I pay myself while putting up with the super anal tolerances I hold myself to as far as build quality goes.

And as for the build...measuring dish is pretty simple since I use a self centering truing stand.  I check the calibration on it about once a week and double check the wheels with a dishing gauge once they are done.

I stress the spokes a few times during the build process.  I have some leather gloves with very thick lining that I use for this.  One of the nice things about working with bladed spokes is the bladed section is being held by a tool while the nipples are being turned so you can't get too much spoke "wind up."  Even so, stressing the wheel is very important to make sure it holds its true as best as possible.

I don't trust myself to build without a tensiometer.  Some builders can do a good job by sound or feel but I'd rather depend on a tool to give me a consistent readout.  Each spoke is checked many times with a tensiometer and I'm pretty picky about getting things as even as possible.

For alloy wheels, I put a dab of grease on the base of the nipples as I'm lacing the wheel and a low strength (purple) locktite on the threads of the spoke.  This combination makes it fairly easy to get the spokes to the necessary tension, keeps the spokes in place and assures they won't seize up if and when they need to be adjusted.

The first thing I noticed about the wheels was how light they were. Indeed, this took some getting used to on the front, as I was used to a certain amount of gyroscopic effect from the front end, especially going down hill (as every ride from my house begins). I had to learn to adjust to the handling of the lighter wheel.

The next thing I noticed was the stiffness. This makes for a different ride quality. I would not describe it as less comfortable, but the increased stiffness is noticeable. As I’ve ridden more miles, the stiffness has become one of the characteristics I like best—I noticed a degree of flex in my old wheels when sprinting, and the Rev 22s have very little if any noticeable flex.

The bearings are exceptionally smooth. The hubs and bearings in my Bontrager wheels are made by DT Swiss, and I thought the quality there was exceptional. The Rev 22s are better still. They roll smooth and seemingly spin forever if you pick up a wheel and spin it. The hubs are the same as on all Rev wheels and are very similar in design to a Reynolds hub. I’m assuming that they’re sourced from an ODM and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the same shop that makes hubs for Reynolds, especially since the pawls and ratchets in the freehubs sound identical.

Since I’m inclined to pick at nits, I will. The one annoyance I noticed about the rims is that they are pinned at the joint rather than welded and then machined. While this has no impact whatsoever on the strength or durability of the wheel, I did notice a bit of a hump or skip when braking, which has since gone away (took about 100 miles). Furthermore, a pinned joint isn’t going to be air tight, so running road tubeless is probably not an option on this wheel. Not an issue as far as I’m concerned, since I am pretty set in my ways as far as tires and tubes are concerned, but it could be a drawback for some.

As for how they are in action, that’s easy. They are noticeably lighter, which was the goal. The bike was a full pound lighter after installing the new wheels. And while a pound isn’t a huge amount, if it’s 10 seconds, and that’s the difference between getting dropped and staying with the lead group, then it’s material.

The most impressive benefit I didn’t expect was when sprinting. The increased stiffness and decreased weight make for a noticeably faster acceleration, which deserves at least some of the credit for my result at RMR. More importantly, though, on these wheels I am undefeated on the sprint to the fee booth at the bottom of AF canyon. Even on days when we’re gunning to the top and one participant called it “not much of a sprint” at the bottom, if it’s contested, it’s a sprint. And a win is a win.

These wheels are a win for price and performance.