Project Orange and the Chinese carbon clincher.

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Black Beauty, our Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 had served us well for about a year, with a couple of foreign holidays under its belt and plenty of Dubai riding.  A truly, lovely, comfortable bike for all conditions, in a Medium it was probably a bit too big a frame size for our needs, so was to be sold and sent off to fresh pastures.

As a replacement the new 2016 Gaint TCR Advanced Pro 2 seemed like an obvious choice, as it was first and foremost Orange in colour.  No idea why this has become so important, but it just is!  The all new for 2016 TCR has a new frame that is more compliant, comfortable and stiff, than the previous model, the modern triad of bicycle marketing spiel.  Due a very advantageous exchange rate and fundamentally good pricing structure, the TCR was available at a cracking price at my favourite dealer in Brisbane, Cyc’d.  Duly picked up and carried back to Dubai, the new bike was whipped out of its cardboard box in no time, ready for assembly.

The TCR was always going to be a bit of a project bike, for some reason the 2016 model year TCR’s are not available with Ultegra Di2, which while a bit of a luxury, is a really nice groupset to ride with.  The “wonderfully orange” 2016 TCR Advanced Pro 2 came with the excellent Shimano 22-speed 105 groupset, however the plan had always been to upgrade it to Ultegra Di2.  The good news is the bike is Di2 ready, with the only part needed being an internal seat-post battery clamp.

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105 Groupset

While the bike was still new, the 105 groupset was removed and replaced with the Di2 kit that had been waiting patiently on my bench for a week or two.  As per previous experience, the Di2 was fairly straightforward to fit.  After an hour of threading cables through the frame and hooking up the derailleurs and levers, it all fired up first time, just as expected.  A quick registering of the gears and we were good to go.

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Upgraded to Di2 and Zipp bars

The removed 105 groupset was put on one of our riding groups Facebook page and sold within minutes of being advertised, ironically to one of my serious-bike-nut neighbours, who spotted a solution to his spare frame’s needs at a sensible price.  Along with the Di2 conversion the other upgrade for the TCR was a nice set of Zipp SL70 carbon aero bars, sourced at a very reasonable price from eBay.  Again another unnecessary addition, but they are really light, truly lovely to look at and have the added benefit of removing some road buzz from the bars.

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So the new bike was already to go, first test rides indicated it was perfect, a wonderful blend of lightness, immediacy and remarkably comfortable to boot.  In fact the new saddle was a revelation in comfort; usually this level of Giant has come with Fiizik’s over the last few years.  However for 2016 the new Giant branded saddle is made by Velo and is by far and away the most comfortable race saddle I have ridden.  As far as the bike itself goes, the TCR weighs exactly the same as my Propel at 7.3kg without pedals and has virtually identical geometry, yet it appears to be much more nimble and flickable.

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But the wheels, what to do about the standard Giant aluminum rims, that are designed first and foremost for climbing.  The Giant SL1 rims are perfectly acceptable at 23mm wide and a weight of 1580g for the pair, but do not feature much in the way of aero performance.  Most of our riding in Dubai is at 34kph plus speeds, so the potential benefits of having aero wheels is tangible, not to mention the aesthetics of a nice set of deep rim carbon clinchers, (clinchers are simply wheel rims that use an inner tube) which to my mind would just finish off the look of the bike completely.

One of the joys of my job is that I end up in a hotel room wide awake in the middle of the night; this gives inordinate amounts of free time to research bike stuff on the internet, trying to stave off the boredom of a sleeping city.  More than a night or two was allocated to the benefits of aero wheels, hubs, bearings, wheel widths, spoke lacing design and all other arcane aspects of Carbon wheels.  There is a huge amount of information out there, with possibly one of the best resources being In the Know Cycling, who has looked at most of the obvious big market wheels, like Zipps and Enve etc.

My own take on it all was that you do pay for what you get, but many big name wheels have compromises, often with wheel width, rim or hub design.  The evidence seems to point to some obvious conclusions.

  • The biggest difference in Aero on wheels is not when the wind is straight ahead, but at yaw angles of around 15-20%
  • A toroidal or U shape rim is best for aero and side winds
  • If you are going to use 25C tyres, you need wide rims, ideally at least 25 to 27mm
  • On flat terrain aero is more important than weight
  • 50mm is where rim sizes make a real aero difference, with 60mm being a little better if a bit more gust affected
  • Hub designs (within reason) make little difference, bearings even less
  • Many big name wheels are of old design, narrow and not that good for the money
  • Marketing bulls*it is KING

Decent brand name Carbon aero wheels are expensive, the prices of the gold standard wheels of Enve, Zipp and Hed can be hard to justify unless you are a Pro or serious racer looking for incremental gains.  As a lover of value (cheap) my attentions turned to the Chinese and Taiwanese wheel and hub options.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of crap carbon out there, particularly the fake copies of big name components, these are to be avoided like the plague.  However there is a large number of quality Carbon manufacturers in China and Taiwan that make their own branded items as well as produce for some of the better known brands.  The beauty of the internet these days is you are only ever a Google away from finding out both the success and the horror stories on any brand, especially if the company has been trading for a few years.

Even the best brand wheels can fail
Even the best brand wheels can fail

After much research I settled on a fairly established Chinese wheel company Farsports, who have a solid reputation built over the last 5 years and are bang up to date on rim design, width and hub choices.  A set 50mmx25mm clinchers (Model: FSC50CM-25) were ordered.  I went for the Taiwanese Novatec AS01SB/FS12SB hubs, which appear to be almost a perfect copy of the DTSwiss 240S hub.  Novotec are possibly one of the biggest cycle hub manufacturers in the world, making hubs for many big name wheel companies, often re-branded with their own name.  The hub is light weight, with straight pull spokes and quality Japanese bearings, that are easy to replace.

hubs

Nine days later a package arrived at work for me, with no hassles at all on the whole ordering and delivery to Dubai process.  The box included rim strips, super light-weight skewers, FSE Carbon brake pads for Shimano calipers and spare spokes, a very complete package.  The rims were weighed and came in exactly as specified on the website at 1570g which is pretty well on the money for a 50mm rim wheel.

Rim tapes fitted along with a set of the fantastic Continental GP4000 tyres, the wheels were then fitted to the bike along with the supplied carbon compatible brake pads.  The quality of the wheels appeared to be excellent, and spun up beautifully on the bike, appearing to be perfectly straight, round and friction free.  The finish on the carbon was just a little bit lovely to boot.  It’s virtually impossible to be objective about what the performance gains of the wheels are without a wind tunnel, but having done a few thousand km’s on them, they appear to be better in crosswinds than my Giant Propels PSLR0 55mm carbon rims and seem to have pretty well the same performance enhancing feel above 40kph.

The wheels have been tested properly up and downhill at both Jebel Hafeet and Jebel Jais.  The downhill at Jebel Hafeet was on a really gusty day with gradients of up to 12% and gusts of about 50-60kph and while they did react to the wind, it was impressive how stable they were.

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Braking wise the supplied FSA Carbon pads are at best OK, they are a little noisy until well bedded in and even then much noisier than those on the Propel.  There was no problem with stopping power, however because of the noise a change was made to Wiggle supplied Lifeline carbon pads.  As a result a dramatic improvement has been made in both noise and braking feel with the blue pads.

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All in all delighted with the Farsport wheels, apart from not having the boasting rights of a big name sticker, they appear to be perfect.  With a very reasonable price compared to some of the old narrow rimmed designs that are being sold for silly money, they are arguably an option that is worth serious consideration.

Project Orange Costs including all taxes and delivery:

  • AED 6000 – Gaint TCR Advanced Pro 2 from Cyc’d
  • AED 4030 – Ultegra Di2 6870 full groupset from Merlin Cycle
  • AED -1500 – Original 105 groupset sold
  • AED 800 – Zipp SL70 Carbon bars from eBay
  • AED 290 – Shimano SPD-SL 105 Carbon pedals from Merlin Cycles
  • AED 2530 – Farsport FSC50CM-25 Carbon clinchers
  • AED 290 – 2x Contiental GP4000s tyres from Merlin Cycles

Total project bike cost: AED 12,440 or $3,380 USD

Project orange is pretty well finished, we now have what is for us the perfect bike, the only problem is, that it is so lovely to ride, I doubt I will ever be able to get it out of DMC’s clutches.

DMC on her new favourite bike
DMC on her new favourite bike

3 thoughts on “Project Orange and the Chinese carbon clincher.”

    1. Thanks for that, if you want to have a look at them or have any more info, contact me through the contact form on the site, cheers.

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