Ellsworth AM Wheels – The $1,000 Wheels Reviewed
Picture by regularJoe
Wheels are a very special part of the bike. The single handily control how your bike feels on the trail and how your power is transferred to the ground. After my review of the Ellsworth Evolve and my recorded interview with Tony Ellsworth, Ellsworth sent me a set of their new $990.00 all mountain wheels to review.
At $990.00, these wheels are in the top of the mountain biking price bracket so the standard is set pretty high. For a complete spec on these wheels, you can check out the Ellsworth site or my preview post. For reviewing purposes, the wheels were mounted to my Ventana El Terremoto 6.0 (150mm travel frame) and they wore the new Schwalbe Big Betty UST tires (a true 2.4 tire – tubed). I have been riding these wheels for over a month and a half now in varying terrain. They have seen everything from local loops to shuttle runs to heavy rock gardens.
A Little About The Ellsworth AM Wheels
Highlights from the spec list include:
- Each wheel is de-tensioned 6 times, and then re-trued and re-tensioned again by hand.
- Each Ellsworth direct pull hub uses a full compliment of the highest quality Japanese EZO bearings.
- All Ellsworth spokes are direct pull to achieve maximum tension and quadruple taper and butted for superior strength and stiffness to provide you with a faster rolling, more durable wheel.
- Ellsworth rims have a wider rim profile that provides a wider stance of the tire on the rim. This gives the rider a larger contact patch of the tire on the ground. (32mm wide for this set)
- Claimed 2,376 grams
Weight as tested on Ultimate Digital (QR rear w/20mm Caps on the Front) – 2,420g
Front w/20mm End Caps – 1,100g
Rear w/QR Axle and No QR – 1,320g
They are only available in the polished stainless and black rim which ended up looking incredible on my bike. They are a 32 spoke, straight pull wheel. The front hub converts from a QR to a 20mm and the rear will swap between QR and 10mm. These are the provided parts with every wheelset (QR’s included).
The other parts were installed on the wheels which you will see later in the article.
Installing the Ellsworth AM Wheels
Changing the front wheel over to a 20mm axle is an easy process. The QR axle unscrews from itself and the 20mm end caps are set onto the hub. A rubber o-ring holds the end cap to the hub body and you are all set to place the wheel in the fork and install the axle.
Since the end caps are only secured by a small o-ring, they fall off very easily. As I was putting the wheel into the fork dropouts, the end caps kept on falling out (as seen in the above picture – the end cap is in the grass off the hub). Once I finally got them in, it was difficult to insert the Maxle all the way through because the end caps would not stay flush against the hub. There needs to be a better way to secure the 20mm end caps to the front hub.
Now that the front was taken care of…I moved to the rear. The cassette, rotor and QR went on like you would expect. I used the QR axle on the rear hub, but you can also use the 10mm bolt through.
Once the rear was in, everything lined up perfectly and the Ellsworth supplied QR had plenty of clamping force.
If you are interested in changing the rear axle into a 10mm. The process is as easy as the front hub, but the difference is that both axle configurations screw into each other. Both axles stay very secure in the rear hub.
The Ellsworth AM Rims
The 32mm wide, low profile rims gave the Big Betty’s a very wide profile (BB’s are 2.4 at the casing and 2.5 at the tread). It was actually so wide that at 60 psi, the tires rubbed the stays. That is the first time I have ever run into this on the Terremoto, but that brought a smile to my face. I love wide rims and at 26 lbs. there was no rubbing or clearance issues. The Ellsworth AM rims gave the Betty’s a very square profile which I really liked.
When I went to air up the tires, I did notice that the shallow depth of the rims did not let the retaining ring of the valve to grab enough thread. The result of this is a valve stem that moves from side to side…not that big of a deal really.
Ellsworth AM Wheel Hub Engagement
Whenever we talk about wheelsets, there are three areas that seem to be the most important in our groups.
Why is engagement so important? The faster the engagement, the faster the power from your legs moves the rear wheel. The more engagement a rear hub has…the fewer degrees the crank arms have to more to “engage” the drive mechanism and move the rear wheel.
The Ellsworth wheels use a 3 pawl, 24 point engagement drive system. As you can see by the pictures, the pawls are set up in pairs and engage the ring in the hub body. This makes for a very strong engagement system according to Ellsworth.
I emailed back and forth with TE on the subject of engagement because his 24 point is much less than the competition at this price level. Chris King’s ring drive is 72 point and Industry Nine’s 6 pawl system is 120 point. Long story short…TE explained that he wanted durability and less drag over faster engagement. You can see his exact thoughts in this pdf file.
Tony Ellsworth on Engagement PDF
From the email with Tony Ellsworth:
When I did my own hub, I wanted to really have the focus be on overall performance, and so, I made a conscious decision to go with a known low freewheel resistance and robust pawl for durability and reliability. Nothing ruins a ride faster then to have your hub cease to engage… I just wanted none of it. And that’s why there are the 24 robust POE in my hub that there are. When there’s a better way to do it all the way around–I’ll be looking to add that to my hub, but for now, my hub is dependable, durable and the mechanism that’s in there has millions of trouble free miles on it. That was my objective, that durability, and the known fact that the 24 POE, three pawl mechanism is a freewheeling resistance cue!
Now I am going to tell you why I disagree. In my opinion, there is two types of drag.
- Drag that can only be seen on the stand.
- Drag that can be felt on the trail.
Drag that can be seen in the stand doesn’t always transfer to the feeling on the trail. In the case of Industry Nine and Chris King, they may stop faster when spinning the wheels on the stand in comparison with the wheels from Ellsworth, but on the trail…I felt no noticeable difference in drag between the three wheelsets (I own a set of the I9′s and Kings). On the trail…I would rather have more engagement. More points of engagement mean better control in rock, tech situations and less gaps in double clutches. These are two areas that I spend a lot of time riding in.
Overall Ellsworth AM Wheel Stiffness
On the trail…these wheels are stiff. The quadruple butted, straight pull spokes do a great job of holding the wheels together under hard load. They hold a great line through rock gardens and there is no noticeable flex through heavy carving. If Tony’s main objective was to build a stiff wheel…he did it. Even through all of the pounding, the wheels are still as true as the day they were dropped off at my front doorstep.
For more of Tony’s thoughts on wheel stiffness…check out this pdf.
Tony Ellsworth On Wheels
Once you had the wheels going, there was no noticeable efficiency losses. The weight of these wheels are what you would expect out of an AM build. There are a little bit more than a comparable Industry Nine build and just about on par with a Chris King build…so there are no surprises here.
What are my final thoughts on the AM Wheels?
Ellsworth AM Wheels – The Good
- Very Stiff Build
- Reasonable Weight for an AM Build
- Look Great On My Black Frame
- Wide 32mm Rim
- Easy Axle Change
Ellsworth AM Wheels – The Bad
- 20mm End Caps on the Front Hub Fall Off Without Warning
- Only 24 Points Of Engagement
- No Color Options
- Proprietary Spokes
- More Expensive than the Competition
Honestly…the positives of these wheels do not outweigh the negatives for me at this price. When I am paying almost $1,000 for wheels…they need to be almost flawless. The annoyances of the axles makes the set feel “unfinished”. Yes…they are stiff…but so is the competition at this price. When you are building wheelsets above the $800.00 range, there needs to be a multitude of options with near flawless manufacturing. The engagement of the rear hub also has to be 72 point or greater. I have had zero issues with the Chris King and Industry Nine hubs in terms of durability. There are people out there still using Chris King hubs that are over 10 years old. I was really missing the higher engagement on the trail.
I hope that TE and the guys over at Ellsworth can take my criticisms as constructive. They build an incredible frame, but these wheels need some work if they are going to compete in this price range. As they sit right now…they do not feel like $1,000 wheels.
What would make them $1,000 wheels?
So…now that I have said they are not $1,000 wheels, what do I think would bring them up to that level in the mountain biking wheel world?
It’s A Good Start
These wheels are a good start with the wide rim and stiff build. The problem is that at this price level, a stiff wheel build is expected not a luxury. I would not even consider buying an AM wheelset over 500 dollars unless they are very stiff and hold a line through hard corners and rock gardens. The wide rim is an added bonus, but the rim industry as a whole is moving in that direction already.
You can have your reasons for going with a 24 point engagement drive, but it is not going to help sales at this price level. Engagement makes a huge difference on the trail. When we started sessioning a long rock garden, the gap in engagement started to become a huge annoyance. Up the engagement as soon as possible.
- Find a new way to attach the front end caps where they won’t fall off…this is a must.
- Offer Colors – I know that colors do not affect performance, but all of the wheelsets in this price range (minus Mavic) offer a range of at least hub colors. As riders are spending more money on frames and time picking out parts, they like things to match. If they are given two options with all things equal, they are probably going to pick the one that matches their frame if they can. I can’t tell you how many Ellsworth’s I have seen with multi-colored Industry Nines.
- Make the rim tubeless compatible – The space at the valve stem does not allow these rims to run tubeless. Having the option to run a tubeless setup on an AM designed wheelset would be a great option. I have switched a lot of sets over to the Stans Flow rims for this reason. They are light enough to run tubes but also run tubeless easily.
- Include several spokes with each wheel build – Having proprietary spokes is not as much of an issue if you already have some on hand.
- Price – Bring the price down. 990.00 for mountain biking wheels is too high (even with custom colors).
Maxxis Aspen – The New Do-It-All Race Tire
Last week…I threw up a teaser shot of a new tread design out of one of the major manufacturers. Well…you guys have waited long enough. That tire is the new Aspen from Maxxis. The Aspen will be available in a 2.10 and 2.25 version aimed at aggressive race use. I have been testing these tires for Maxxis for several months now to help with the continuing development and I have to say…I am extremely impressed. I have been testing these tires on the Ibis Mojo in varying terrain. I really wanted to see what the tires could handle in and out of race type situations. If you are really going to test a tire…might as well give it the worst conditions it will see.
What is the Aspen?
The Aspen is the new race tire from Maxxis. It is designed to have very low rolling resistance with a weight that is less than the Ardent. The latest set was made out of 62a compound and weighed in around 630g each for the 2.25′s. It will also be available in a 2.1 version.
What were they mounted on?
The Ibis Mojo (29 lbs. 140mm bike) Stans Flow rims in three configruations:
- Industry Nine Enduro Build Tubed
- Industry Nine Enduro Build Tubeless w/Stans Sealant
- Hope Pro II Build Tubed (pictured)
In all tests, the tires were run at 27 psi with a 180 lbs. rider. The forks used on the rides was the new Fox Talas 140 RLC 15QR TA (pictured) and a Push tuned Rock Shox Pike 140mm.
How does it perform?
It is fast…incredibly fast. The low center tread with the “Chevron” styled center knobs show literally no rolling resistance on the trail. The tires carry speed effortlessly without any compromise in grip. Through the flats, the tire really opens up and allows you to keep a fast pedal cadence without much energy loss. It is great to see this out of a tire that has as much volume as this 2.25 does.
The center knobs do a great job climbing. The climbing ability was one of the first things that really turned me on to these tires. They climb like a mountain goat. You can stand up and hammer or sit and spin without breaking traction. The only time I had any real issues was in really loose soil conditions. The high volume helped, but the lack of any substantial center tread made the tires float in dusty conditions.
The side knobs on the Aspen closely resemble the knobs on the Ardent, so I was expecting the cornering ability to be pretty close in comparison. I was right…they hold the line very well and the transition between flat riding to hard cornering is smooth and controlled. The transition knobs do a great job of bringing the tires down to the side knobs. Again…in really loose conditions the tire started to show some weakness, but this is to be expected. I have also not found a tire that performs really well in those situations as of right now.
Braking performance was good but not great…if that makes any sense. The speed of these tires can really get away from you if you aren’t careful. Under normal braking conditions, I didn’t even notice that the tires were there (this is a good thing). Under really hard braking, I did get the rear to break loose a couple of times, but it was controlled. Braking in the rough stuff was also above average because of the volume of the tires.
Maxxis is known for having tires that are undersized as compared to their quoted size. These tires are actually the opposite of that rule. The 2.25′s measured out…on average…at 2.3. This was the biggest surprise. Maxxis is really trying hard to make sure that the tires are close to the quoted size this year. The high volume really helps in rocky sections. I haven’t had one flat yet and they have been run tubeless and tubed on the Stans Flow rims.
Predictable slide is how I would describe it, and that is only when you put the tires in situations that are over their head. These are not downhill tires by any stretch, but for tight singletrack downhills like you are used to seeing in xc and am conditions…they really perform. The side knobs combined with the low rolling resistance and high volume make a very fast and comfortable tire on the descents. I took the bike into some more aggressive terrain and they held. Hard pack gully and jump runs were fantastic with the low tread and volume but when things got really rough…the tires were a little out of their league. However, they did perform above my expectations.
My biggest worry with the Aspen’s was premature wear. Marketed as a race tire, this would be expected. With the low, multi-cut center tread…it is almost guaranteed. One problem…my first set still don’t look used once you clean them off! I was completely surprised. These tires are wearing incredibly well and that is the first time I have ever been on a race marketed tire that lasts this long.
This has been my favorite cross country tire since my testing started months ago. Their lightweight, high volume and grip are perfect for southeast singletrack. Our trails are tight, fast, rooty, leave covered spiderwebs that twist their way around the Appalachian Mountains. Most of our riding is tree covered so you can imagine the roots and debris that we encounter. These tires are a perfect mix of weight vs. volume and everyone I have had on these tires are impressed. These riders range from 24 hour racers to freeriders and I have never come across such a diverse group agreeing on a tire choice.
Now the bad news…they are not going to be available to the public until 2009. They are in final approval stage, but when they are released…I would pick up a set. You will now be disappointed.
The Good and Bad Summarized
The Good News
- Great wear for a race marketed tire
- Mountain goat like climbing grip
- Higher than quoted volume
- Extremely low rolling resistance
- Solid cornering ability
- Light enough to race but forgiving enough for everyday use
The Bad News
- Had trouble holding tubeless
- Not available to the public until 2009
Where to buy?
Like I said before, these tires are not available yet. But for a great alternative that was just released recently, check out the Maxxis Ardent. You will find my review on the 29×2.25 version here.
New 110 Headsets from Cane Creek
For Interbike 2008, Cane Creek released some new models for their line of 110 headsets. The Zero Stack and XX-II (1.5 heatube) round out their line of 110′s. This is great news for 1.5″ headtube owners as the options for your application continue to grow. Last years release of the 1.5 Chris King headset and this years 110 bring high end headsets to the 1.5 application. Until now, your options were rather limited.
The 110 headset is an amazing piece. I have been using mine for almost a year now and have had zero issues.
Also new from Cane Creek…100 Headset, New Ano Purple 110′s and more. Stay tuned for more info.
Sneak Peak! New Tread Design
I have been involved in the product development end of a new tread design out of one of the major tire manufacturers for several months now. After several sets…I can say that these are probably the best cross country tires that I have ever ridden.
Until now, I have had to keep this a secret…but I was just informed that I can start spilling the beans. Here are some shots to hold you over until I do a full review next week with the details.
These things flat out rock!
Tag TR3 Composite Wheels
Ok…I had seen these wheels posted around the net on several blogs and press releases. They are the new Tag TR3 composite wheels. Curiosity got the best of me and I emailed the guys over at Tag for more information. They sent me their new press release with their booth number for Interbike. Here is what I gather from the press release descriptions.
- The composite legs are hollow and have a rib inside of each “spoke” to increase the overall stiffness of the wheel.
- More comfortable ride through a shock absorbing design.
- No maintenance
- 4-Pawl engagement
- They come in several colors
- 2 year limited warranty and several low cost replacement programs.
I am pretty sure that they are using hubs manufactured by DT Swiss, but the wheels…overall…are heavy. Just check out these specs.
Over 1000g for a front wheel (w/o a tire) is in downhill range. We all know how rolling weight drastically changes how a bike rides…especially a cross country rig. I can’t see how these will be successful on lighter bikes where weight is a huge issue.
For downhill sleds, I can’t see using a composite wheel. There are too many rock gardens and drops that destroy some of the best wheels on the market today, so I guess you are out of that range also.
I am not trying to completely knock these wheels right off the bat because I have never ridden a set. On paper, they aren’t impressing me.
I do find it funny that out of all of the articles I have seen on these wheels…no one has made this comparison yet. If you were riding in the early ’90′s like I was, this will bring up some old memories.
Haven’t We Been Down This Road Before?
Back in the 1990′s, the Spin and Spinergy wheels were the HOT ITEM for your Trek Y Bike! I actually saw one at the local trail head in perfect condition all spec’ed out with XTR and a Judy SL. Wow…those were the days.
Do I think these wheels are going to gain that same popularity? I don’t think so. Full carbon wheels on mountain bikes can not be made efficient or durable enough for regular use. For the same amount of money…or less…you can have a killer, lightweight, hand built set that will last you for years.
If I had a 20″ BMX bike, it would be pretty cool to run some. I remember when that craze hit too.
To the guys over at Tag – I know you sent me the press release in good faith and I do appreciate that. I am sure these are better than the Spins from the old days with the many advancements that we had had in composite molding over the years. In my opinion, I still don’t see the need at this time.
2009 Fox Talas 140 RLC 15mm QR TA Review
Earlier this year, Fox and Shimano shocked the industry with the introduction of the 15mm QR TA on the Fox Talas 140 RLC. Much of the debate and most of the articles have been written about this controversial subject which begs the question.
Does the industry need another standard?
The answer to this question will be sorted out over time, but for the purpose of this article…we need to see how the fork performs.
The Controls on the Fox Talas
Talas Travel Adjust/Air Pressure Adjust
One of the better features of the Fox is the Talas travel adjust. This three step travel feature is perfect for trail riding. For the 140 RLC, you can switch from 100/120/140mm with a turn of the non-drive side knob. Turn the knob clockwise and push down to decrease and a counter-clockwise click brings the fork back up automatically. It doesn’t get much easier than this for travel adjustment. Rock Shox has the 2 Step and U-Turn travel adjustments, but…in my opinion…the U-Turn is too many options and the 2 Step is not enough. The “3 Step” Talas option seems to be the best of both worlds.
To adjust the air pressure, unscrew the center cap and attach a shock pump. The redesigned Talas feature is easier to use, but that comes at the expense of the air chamber valve. It can be difficult to remove the cap and some pumps may be harder than others to get on the air chamber valve.
On the top of the drive side fork leg you will find the compression/lock out lever, rebound adjust and low speed compression dial. Having the rebound adjustment on the top of the fork leg is a huge plus for my riding. There are other forks on the market that have to relocate the adjustment to the bottom of the damping leg. With it on the top, you can make necessary adjustments while riding.
Your lockout/compression lever is in easy reach and the low speed compression is easy to use. I didn’t notice a significant change in the LSC through smaller clicks, but going from one extreme to the other does create a change in pedal induced bob vs. small bump feedback.
Lock-Out Blow Off/QR TA Adjustment
On the bottom of the damping leg, you will find the lock-out blow off adjustment knob. When you have the fork locked out via the compression switch on the top of the leg, there is a threshold that the fork will “blow through” to suck up the obstacle. You adjust this through that blue knob.
The dial with the numbers 1 through 18 written on it is your thru axle adjustment. According to the Fox instructions located on the provided cd (pain that there isn’t an included printed copy…I am not next to a computer while I am wrenching.):
If the 15QR lever cam tension is either too loose or too tight when the 15QR lever is positioned between one (1) and twenty (20) mm forward of the fork leg when it’s closed, use the following procedure to correct this misadjustment.
It the forks shipped setting, it worked perfectly, so I didn’t change a thing.
How does the Fox Talas 140 RLC ride?
Ok…enough of the formal presentation. I installed the fork on the Ibis Mojo test mule and set everything to my liking. After messing with the air pressure some, I ended up around 70-75 psi for my riding style. At 140mm of rear travel and a sub 30 lbs. overall weight, the Ibis is a perfect match for this fork. The rear shock is a Push Industries tuned RP23 and the rest of the component group is a Hope, XTR and SRAM X.0 group on a Hope Pro II/Stans Flow rim wheelset built by John Kovachi at Kovachi Wheels. The switch to post mount brake mounts on all 2009 fork models make for a much easier install process. The Fox cable keeper is also a nice feature. I screwed in the Fox 15mm QR TA and was ready to ride.
For my first ride out, I took the bike to our local trail, Blankets Creek, to get a feel for the fork where I knew every rock. The second ride was at the Tanasi trail system in Tennessee. Tanasi offers some of everything…including one of the best cross country downhills in the southeast. Thunder Rock Express has worn out nets on the side of the trail to catch riders as they flew off the mountain. This rocky, rooty descent would really put the 15mm QR TA to the test.
Small Bump Absorption
This is one area where the fork really shined. It took the small bumps in stride and I never got the feeling that the fork was jarring under the bike. In the breaker bumps and small bumps in fast succession, some forks struggle to keep up. The Fox Talas was smooth over these transitions. Pedaling feedback was easily controlled with the LCS and compression switch. For most of my riding, I didn’t even touch the compression switch, but I did end up with the LSC a little less than halfway. This seemed to be a great compromise between small bump plushness and arm pump feedback.
I kept the rebound setting a little slower than halfway through its adjustment. This allowed the fork to recover fast enough without springing down. Overall, the damping performance in small bump situations was perfect.
Coming down from large hits and fast stroke situations was controlled, but the fork tended to ramp up through the end of its travel. Some of this ramping is positive as it doesn’t allow for hard bottom outs, but I found that I wasn’t using all of the travel as much as I would have liked to. For fun…I took the carbon ride off a 5 foot to flat and I still didn’t feel the fork bottom. The landing was smooth and controlled, but if the travel is there…I want to use it. I tried letting some air out of the fork, but that came at the cost of the small bump and climbing performance.
The Fox is stiff for a 140mm fork. For redesigned the crown and lowers for 2009, so when you combine that with a thru axle, the new Talas feels much stiffer than last years QR model. I also feel a noticeable difference between the current QR vs. the TA. Fox really stepped up to the plate to make sure that their forks would not deflect through the rough stuff.
This should be no surprise to anyone. Cross country riders are really starting to see the distint advantage of thru axles on light weight forks. The bike tracks better through corners, holds a better line through technical sections and it bulletproof by design.
Fox Talas 140 RLC Conclusions
In every article, forum post or blog…no one has argued that Fox makes a great product. The large question is why Fox and Shimano went with a 15mm TA instead of the already proven 20mm. For the purposes of this review…that is an argument for another day.
Where this fork performs its best is in the beginning and mid-stroke of its travel. The damping and rebound action is very smooth and controlled. Towards the end of its travel, the spring rate ramps up to the point that I never felt like I used all of the travel. Overall, this fork felt and rode like a perfect compliment to the Ibis Mojo. It is also stiff enough to handle the duties of a more “All Mountain” styled 140mm bike.
The Fox TA on this fork weighed in at 93.55 grams for those that were wondering.
- Great small bump absorption
- Excellent beginning and mid-stroke performance
- Easy to use thru axle
- Post mount brake mount
- Talas travel adjust
- Easy access to necessary controls
- Consistent rebound and damping performance
- Lightweight – 1899 grams uncut w/axle
- Less friction than previous Fox models
- High cost of entry – $850.00 does not include the need for a new wheel build.
- Hub selection – As of right now, you are limited to Hope, Shimano, DT Swiss and Industry Nine. It is going to be some time before companies like Chris King are able to jump on board.
- Spring ramping on high speed hits
- Access to air pressure valve difficult
Last Thoughts on the Fox Talas 140 RLC
The 140mm fork market is in an all out fight. The reigning king…Rock Shox Pike 454…it being closed in on by some new TA 140mm counterparts. Fox has come out swinging. The good news…thru axles are taking over on the cross country side of mountain bike forks. Death to the QR is on the horizon…
Where Can I Pick Up A Fox Talas?
JensonUSA | 2009 Fox Talas
Thomson Seatposts, Stems and Seatpost Clamps
Whenever I am doing a build, there is only one brand I go to for my seatpost and stem needs…L.H. Thomson Co.. Located in Macon, GA USA, the L.H. Thomson Company makes, by far, the best posts and stems on the market.
Thomson MTB Product Features
- Machined out of 7000 series aluminum
- One piece design with no welds or joints
- The bolts are custom-made from high strength steel. A corrosion-preventative plating is added to prevent rust. All six bolts are interchangeable. A 4mm hex wrench will fit all bolts on our stems and seatposts.
- Every component of the Thomson stem, including the fasteners, is 100 percent American made.
Why Are Thomson Stems and Posts The Best?
One look at these parts and you will notice the manufacturing superiority over the competition. Every tolerance is held perfectly. Thomson’s bread and butter business is in specialty manufacturing and engineering for companies like Boeing and Ford, so it is pretty safe to assume that bike parts are on their “simple to do” list.
The Thomson Stems
I can actually feel a difference in the overall stiffness of the front end when switching between brands. The widely spaced 4 bolt front clamp design tightens evenly around the bar and does not slip over time. Each bolt has a torque setting printed on the stem. If possible, stick to these settings as close as possible. The Thomson stems have a lot of clamping force and over tightening can damage bars or steerer tubes.
You can purchase these stems in 3 flavors with plenty of length/rise combination’s with each.
- Thomson Elite – Your typical 25.4 mountain stem size. This stem uses Thomson’s own two bolt wrap around clamp design. The makes the stem have no exposed bolts that normally damage knee caps.
- Thomson Elite X2 – The 31.8 road stem with 10 and 17 degree rise options.
- Thomson Elite X4 – The 31.8 mountain stem that is stronger and 30 grams lighter than the Elite.
For all of my bikes, I run the X4 for the oversized 31.8 mountain bars.
The Thomson Seatposts
Thomson posts are solid. When properly greased, you will see absolutely no creaking between the post and seat tube. The two bolt clamp is easy to adjust and they provide hash marks to correctly set the saddle angle. Changing out saddles can be a pain, but with the Thomson posts…it seems to be easier than usual. The rough lined surface is durable against scratching and provides a little resistance while setting the saddle height.
You have two options when choosing a Thomson post (besides seatpost size).
- Elite – The standard seatpost.
- Masterpiece – A 40 gram lighter version of the Elite.
I have no justification for the extra cash it takes to save 40 grams, so I always go with the Elite version. If you are a true gram counter…you will probably disagree.
Conclusions on Thomson Mountain Bike Products
I know what you are thinking…this is starting to sound like a Thomson commercial instead of a product review article, but honestly…I can’t find much at all wrong with their product. The posts and stems come in silver and black with no nonsense performance. The multiple stems and posts that I have had over the years have worked flawlessly. I can honestly say that I think the Thomson products are the only parts that I have had zero issues with their performance or reliability. One can argue that this is due to the lack of moving parts, but I have had creaking and loosening issues out of other manufacturers.
What Is Next For Thomson?
At this years Eurobike, Thomson revealed the much anticipated seat post clamp and 1.5 steerer tube stem line. I would like to eventually see a wide handlebar to match the stems and posts…hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future.
Where To Buy Thomson Posts and Stems?
Thomson X4 | Thomson Elite Stem | Thomson Elite Seatpost | Thomson Masterpiece Seatpost
2009 Hope Mono Mini Hydraulic Disc Brakes
I am a huge fan of Hope brakes. As you can probably tell by most of the test bikes. For 2009, Hope is updating it’s line and getting rid of the Ti 6′s. This is the first sighting of the 2009 Mono Mini’s at Eurobike. The redesign brake lever has more adjustments and the caliper is an all new one piece machined unit.
More Changes Coming From Hope
- Redesigned Moto Lever
- The End of the Ti 6
- New Mono Mini’s
- A More Powerful Redesigned M4
Why Are Hope’s The Best Brakes On The Market?
Superior modulation and power. It just doesn’t get any better than Hope brakes and they are making them even better for ’09. I have owned 2 sets of Mini’s, 2 sets of M4′s and 1 set of Moto’s. The only brakes that even come close are the Formula’s. From what I hear (I haven’t ridden them yet), the new Formula One’s are supposed to be on par with the Moto’s. Some ride time will confirm this, but until then…Hope’s are the king of brakes.
Be on the lookout for reviews on the ’09 line from Hope. It should be a great year for this component maker based out of the UK.
New Hope Lever
New Hope Mono Mini Caliper
Ellsworth Aluminum All Mountain Wheels – Preview
After the exclusive interview with Tony Ellsworth, I got set up with a demo set of the Aluminum All Mountain Wheels for review. They came this week and here is your first look at the set.
From the Ellsworth Bikes website:
- 32 spokes laced 3x, means maximum strength to weight ratio lacing design.
- Ellsworth’s Quad Butted spokes make for more spokes with less weight.
- Bottom line is you won’t experience another mountain bike wheel that will roll and track like this one. It’s an experience you have to ride to know.
- 32mm cross section on this All Mountain wheelset allow for wide tires to maximize the contact patch on the ground. Increasing control and traction, without increasing weight for a bigger tire. Also, reducing sidewall ?ex and tire slop in handling from the large aspect ratio of a big tire on a narrow rim. Again, resulting in an overall lighter wheel package with bigger tire contact patches on the ground and higher stiffness and directional control.
- This wheel features and interchangeable 20mm to standard QR front hub.
- Each wheel is hand built by a master wheel builder with over 12 years experience;
- Each wheel is de-tensioned 6 times, and then re-trued and re-tensioned again by hand.
Hubs and Bearings:
- Flex in a wheel robs your energy. Flex starts where your wheel ?xes to the dropout, the force to ?ex is ?rst countered by the bearings, then the spokes.
- Each direct pull hub uses the highest quality Japanese EZO full compliment bearings
- Sealed against the elements for durability, and from impurities that would impede smooth rolling performance.
- The highest quality Japanese EZO Full compliment bearings means more balls:
- Less Flex–The bearing is the ?rst line of defense to resist the lateral loads that START to ?ex the wheel from the axle out. More contact points mean better resistance to wheel ?ex originating at the center of the wheel.
- Smoother Rolling under load–More bearings dissipate the loads, so that each bearing contacts the race with less pressure, and is able to roll smoother under load. These are FAST wheels under load! You’ll have to ride them and feel the difference
- Direct pull quadruple taper butted spokes:
- The patented 2.3mm head and quadruple butted spokes continue the stiffness from the center of the wheel. Faster rolling, stiffer wheel due to engineered bearings, Quadruple butted 2.3mm head strait pull spoke and high spoke tension possible with direct pull lacing, ?nished with shot peened special 6 series alloy rims.
- No loss of energy from rotational “wind up” of a conventional spoke.
- During acceleration or deceleration. Up to 30% more ef?cient then a conventional spoke wheel.
- Patented Quadruple Taper Butted spokes for increased strength, fatigue life and less weight.
- 2.3mm head area resists the ?ex from the center of the wheel better then any other spoke con?guration.
- As loads on spokes reduce from the center, the tapers save weight without compromising strength and stiffness.
- At the nipple, the 2.0mm threads and size provide reliable strength and durability, even in Alloy Nipples.
- Breaking tension is the same as a 14 gauge Stainless Steel DT Swiss conventional spoke, at a fraction of the weight!
- Polished Stainless Steel
- The natural bright stainless steel has not been treated with heat and chemicals that weaken the temper and compromise “black” or colored spokes.
- Eyeleted for durability at the nipple whole.
- Shot peened Aluminum for increased strength and fatigue life.
- XC and RACE models feature a 6066 high strength alloy for longer fatigue life, lighter weight and increased stiffness.
- WIDTH provides a wider stance of the tire on the rim, allowing a larger contact patch of the tire on the ground.
- Aluminum weighs less then rubber—a narrower lighter tire can have more ground contact and provide better traction on and Ellsworth wheelset due to the wider stance.
- Results in an overall lighter tire and wheel package particularly on the bigger rims, the All Mountain 32mm and the Rogue 40mm.
- Wider rims, mean less sidewall ?ex and more control on the bike as a whole.
What Am I Doing With This Set?
I am going to beat the hell out of them…that’s what I’m going to do! I am installing these silver spoked beauties on the El Terremoto 6.0 for some good thrashing. That bike sees everything from shuttle runs to fast, techy xc. It is time to open up the test gates for another round. Stay tuned for the review!
Avid Juicy 5 Hydraulic Disc Brake Review
Are you looking to make the switch to disc brakes without breaking the bank? Are you tired of the poor lever feel and performance out of those other “budget” disc brakes? Look no further than the Juicy Fives from Avid.
Avid Juicy 5 Disc Brake Specs
From the SRAM website:
- Intended Use - Cross Country, All Mountain, Freeride, Downhill
- Finish – Aero Silver
- Special Features – New refined lever body design, 20 grams lighter than last years model, Tri-Align Caliper Positioning System, Power Reserve Geometry, Ambidextrous, Split Clamp/Matchmaker compatible, Drip-free bleeding, Indexed reach adjustment, DOT 5.1 standard
- Rotor Sizes – 160, 185, 203mm
- Fluid – DOT 5.1
- Weight – 397g (160mm rotor; front post mount)
Before the introduction of the Juicy 3′s, the Juicy 5′s were Avid’s answer for low cost hydraulic disc brakes that didn’t perform like their price would suggest. This 2008 set came installed on the Ellsworth Evolve review bike, but I have also owned a set of the 2006 version.
What do you gain over the Juicy 3′s? From the stats off the website, you get lever reach adjustment and a light brake. Those two features alone make upgrading to the 5′s a no brainer.
What do you lose from the Juicy 7′s? They are a little bit heavier (if you call 2 grams heavier) and you have no pad contact adjustment. The lighter 7′s carry around a 40 dollar premium.
Avid Juicy 5 Hydraulics – The Good News
Price – Finding the Juicy 5′s around 120.00 dollars US is a pretty easy task. This puts these brakes at a great price point for hydraulics.
Lever Feel/Adjustment – The lever design allows true one finger braking and is comfortable to use. Many of the brakes in this price point come with 2 finger levers. You can also adjust the lever reach closer or farther away from the bars depending on your hand size and preference.
Modulation - While the modulation is not great, it is very respectable. Juicy’s tend to have an “on/off” feeling sometimes. The lever has a light feel that is progressive throughout. Match this with the ability to use one finger and these may be the best feeling budget brakes on the market.
Two Bolt Lever Clamp – Installing and removing the levers is extremely easy with the two bolt design. You can also use the Matchmaker from SRAM to mount the Juicy brakes with SRAM trigger shifters.
Design – The overall fit and feel of the brakes are top quality.
Easy Pad Replacement – The spring system makes pad replacement a breeze.
Avid Juicy 5 Hydraulics – The Bad News
The Turkey Gobble – This set of Juicy 5′s had the infamous Avid “turkey gobble”. The G2 Clean Sweep Rotor on the rear emits a gobble-like sound when braking is applied. There are other brakes in the Avid line that do this same thing. This can get annoying during the ride.
Noisy – On top of the “gobbling”, these brakes can be loud if not adjusted perfectly. There are other brakes on the market that are not quite as finicky.
No Pad Contact Adjustment - You could adjust some of the noise out of the brakes with a contact adjustment. You would also be able to keep lever feel constant as the pads wear.
Power - The braking power on this set was not up to par with some of the other brands I have used in the past. They do have more power than their direct competition, but I would recommend using the 185mm rotors to get more power and better modulation out of these brakes.
Avid Juicy 5 Hydraulics Overview
For the price, it will not get any better than this. One finger braking on a high quality feeling design. If you are going to run these brakes on a 29er, opt for the 185mm rotors (at least on the front). These brakes were overpowered by the big wheels on downhills, and the 185mm rotor would have prevented it. The little annoyances that go along with these brakes to not change their overall value. You can step down to the Juicy 3′s to save a couple of dollars, but I believe the weight and reach adjustment make the Juicy 5′s worth the upgrade.
Note: If you plan on cutting the lines and bleeding these brakes yourself, pick up the Avid bleed kit.
Where To Buy
Avid Juicy 5 | Avid Bleed Kit | Avid Juicy 7 | Avid Juicy 3
Avid Juicy 5 Caliper
Avid Juicy 5 Lever
WTB LaserDisc 29er MTB Rear Wheel Update
Last week, I got in touch with a WTB contact after I couldn’t get a response through email. He took a look at the video that I posted on the WTB LaserDisc 29er after one ride, and he assured me that the wheel should not have gotten that far out of true in one ride.
WTB sent me a new rear wheel that arrived on Friday, and I am going to box up the old one, send it back and let WTB take a look at it. Today, I am going to mount up the new rear and give it a run over the course of the week. Hopefully, this one holds up much better than the last, but from what the guys at WTB were saying…they haven’t seen one go out like mine. Sometimes it is just luck of the draw.
The only difference on this new LaserDisc Trail 29er wheel from the old one are the stickers. This new wheel came outfitted with the newer styled gray, black and white stickers on the rim. The rest of the hardware is exactly the same.
Stay tuned for the update as I go thrash this wheel around the local trails.
Schwalbe Big Betty UST 2.4 Mountain Bike Tires
Yes…you are not seeing things. These are real Big Betty UST’s and not a Photoshop rendering.
I received a call from Chad at Red Barn Bikes a week ago that went like this…
Robb…the Sasquatch has been sited!
What the hell are you talking about?!
Your Big Betty UST’s are on the way.
You have to be kidding me. I thought those were just an urban legend!
Sure enough…Just as I was ready to file the these tires in the same category as Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster…Fedex showed up today with a very pretty pair of Schwalbe UST Big Betty’s.
About the Big Betty UST’s and Why This Is Funny
I have been a huge fan of Schwalbe tires for quite awhile. The Big Betty has been my go to tire for 6″ travel bikes because of it’s mass/volume, tremendous grip, fast rolling and surprisingly light weight for a true 2.4 tire (2.5 at the tread). They have, until now, only been available in a Gooey Gluey and Triple Compound version…no UST. I have always said that this tire would be perfect as a UST tire and at the end of last year…my dream came true. Schwalbe announced that the Big Betty was going to be available in a UST version in ’08.
You can imagine my excitement, so at the end of last year I put a set on order. The original estimated delivery date was the middle of January. Then it got pushed to February…then it got pushed back more and more and more…
The Big Betty UST’s started to become a running joke between Chad and I as we waited not so patiently for their arrival. I seriously thought that the tires were never going to make it or that Schwalbe had a misprint. They must have meant January 2009!
When it is all said and done…I am happy to see that the tires finally made it to my doorstep. At 935 grams a piece, the Big Betty UST’s are light for a 2.4 tubeless tire. I am just hoping that they perform as well as the non-tubeless versions.
The Betty’s will be mounted, tested and reviewed soon so stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, here are some pictures.