First take: Spinergy wheels for heavy riders

Posted by SuperClydesdale on July 27, 2010 under Road Bike Components, Wheels | 2 Comments to Read

After my experience with Mavic SSL SCs, which was a $1,000 set of wheels that proved to be far too flimsy for the massive weight and power of an aggressive Clydesdale rider (a.k.a, “me”), I retreated to the relative comfort of a 32-spoke traditional steel-spoked wheelset.  In exchange for the extra weight and utilitarian appearance, I was told that these wheels with Dura Ace hubs and laced to Mavic CXP 22 rims with heavy-guage spokes were supposed to be indestructibly Clydesdale-proof.  I figured, what the heck – as a Super Clydesdale, why do I need to have sexy wheels?  The entire package (me on my bike) is so over-the-top great looking, I really don’t need any bling to look freakin’ terrific.

In lamenting my wheel problems, I often get notes from big guys about their wheelsets.  I hear all sorts of comments:

  • Try brand XYZ, they are bombproof
  • “I rode this wheelset for 1,000,000 miles with no problem”
  • “I weigh 900 pounds and I’ve been using the same wheelset since I was 19 with no problems.”
  • I use these wheels on my bike and my car, and they are terrific.

Some of these are wheels that I know for a fact are not meant for heavy riders.  I can only wonder how some people ride.  They must ride in some sort of Cyclotopia – where the streets are all downhill, smooth and prestine.   Not me.  I ride hills, lots of hills, with significant climbing (> 10% gradient is not uncommon).  In both directions.  I ride patchwork quilts of potholes that pass as roads in El Dorado County, California.   They are not technically roads in the strict definition of the term.  These are roads that were chipseal during the California Gold Rush, and have since been maintained by the El Dorado County Department of Transportation – which is like having your dentistry work be done by a carpenter – he doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t have the proper tools, but at the end of the day, the job will be called “done” so he can go grab a beer.

To compound the pressures on my wheels, I get out of the saddle a lot.  And I occasionally sprint.

If you are just going to sit there and grind it out, then perhaps any old wheelset will do.  Not for me.    That indestructable Dura Ace/CXP?  Less than a season.

So, I got a wild hair and thought, “What the hell?  Wheels don’t last me more than a year anyway without some major re-work – go for a performance wheelset.”  And so the journey began…   again.

Spinergy PBO Wheels for Heavy Riders

My first stop was Spinergy.  My wife has been riding Spinergy wheels for about two years now.  They look great and the PBO spokes provide for a really plush ride.

The super-sexy Spinergy Stealth PBO wheelset

The super-sexy Spinergy Stealth PBO wheelset

For those who are unfamiliar with Spinergy’s PBO spokes, the concept is pretty unique – instead of a stiff spoke, these are like rope.   30,000 strands of a special fibre made of polyphenylene bensoxazole, coated with nylon.  The spoke material themselves are supposed to be three times stronger than stainless steel, at half the weight.  I like the sound of that.  I have a ruptured disc in my back, and I read that the flexibility of the PBO spokes will take some of the road chatter out of the ride.

When first looking at Spinergy wheels, my first step was to call Spinergy.   I told them my weight, and that I was considering the Xaero Lite wheels.  They told me that the Xaero lites would work for me, but that they would need regular truing.   Instead, they pointed me to the Stealth PBO wheelset – which is a 43mm carbon aero wheel.   I was shocked that they recommended carbon over the aluminum Xaero, but the guy at Spinergy said that they are plenty tough and won’t need as much truing.  They had many Clydesdales using these wheels.   Because of this, I was willing to try a wheelset that only had 20 spokes in the rear.

Yeah.  Right.

While I cannot reveal the weight of my wife, lets just say that she’s at least 100 pounds lighter than I am.  Any lessons from her Spinergy wheels are not applicable to me.

I was excited about Spinergys because here is a wheel that is a very light performance carbon aero wheelset that the manufacturer was recommending.  To me!

Of course, I ordered them immediately.

The wheels are beautiful.  They make me look faster.    Unfortunately, I’ve had them for about four weeks and so far, I’ve only been on one ride.   Here’s why…

I had an initial bad impression when opening the box for the rear wheel.  In it, I saw a little baggy that had a spoke wrench.  It’s made of aluminum and is designed specifically to fit in the rim itself, into the little hole drilled through the aluminum wheel into the carbon, where the spoke comes through from the hub.  I looked at the spoke wrench, and I notice that it has a crack in it.  Whatever, I probably won’t ever need that.  I don’t do my own wheel maintenance so it was sort of like looking at a museum artifact – it’s interesting, but I don’t ever see myself using it.

The second hit to my view of Spinergy was an aluminum shard still stuck to the spoke hole.  I put on the rim strips (the ribbon of material in the rim that protects the tube from the spokes – or in this case, from being forced down the “spoke holes” which would have caused a rupture to the tube), and I ran my hand around the wheel.  I noticed a rogaine vs propecia lump in the rim strip.  I took off the strip and found about a ¼-inch-long piece of aluminum left over from when the rims were drilled at the factory – still attached to the wheel.   Additionally, the holes drilled into the inner part of the rim have very rough edges.   Although they are covered with the rim strip, I was left wondering why Spinergy wouldn’t smooth out the edges of those holes just a bit.  It would prevent the wayward shard that I discovered, and give the wheels a finished look.  This is, after all, the point at which the customer’s first impression is going to be made – when putting on tires for the first time.

Admittedly, both things are minor, I took off the aluminum shard, and the rim strip was smooth enough.  I drilled a new hole in the spoke wrench to allow a different rod to be inserted to turn the tool.  To me, it reveals a lack of quality control by Spinergy, who certainly aspires to be a top-tier manufacturer of performance equipment.   Spinergy has a lower price point than Easton and Zipp, and I am thinking that its because of these little trade-offs that have been made, which lead to lower quality control.

But, whatever, the wheels were just gorgeous, and I threw on a cassette, some tires, and took off on my maiden Spinergy Stealth PBO voyage.

My first ride had quite a bit of climbing.  Although a moderate-distance ride of 41 miles, it had 3600 feet of climb, some of which was quite steep (one mile stretch had an average grade of 16%).  I had an 11-25 cassette on the back wheel.  I was out of the saddle on climbs, and had my 195mm cranks, so lots of torque on the back wheel.  As a result, by the end of the ride, the wheels were creaking pretty badly.  Every pedal stroke, it sounded like I was stepping on a frog – not that I’ve done that, but if I were to step on a frog, I imagine that it sounds like a Spinergy Stealth PBO wheelset being ridden by a 225-pound rider.

Riding a creaking wheelset will not do – will go insane if I have to listen to expiring amphibians on every pedal stroke of every ride — so I sent a note to Spinergy.  Spinergy told me that I need to add 3Kgf tension to the spokes in the rear wheel.  “This is something that we recommend for Clydesdales or performance gurus.”    I don’t understand the performance guru part of that recommendation.

My comment back to Spinergy was that I am not accustomed to having to retension a brand new wheelset.  I don’t even own a tensiometer.  Furthermore, having me go in and start mucking with my wheel is like giving a handgun to an infant.  No good will come from it.  Luckily, I know a whippet – the guy who bought my Ksyrium SL SSC’s from me – who builds wheels.  Very nice guy who did the Markleeville Death Ride with me last year.  Don the Whippet.

This is where the adventure begins.  As tension was being increased, one of the “three times stronger than stainless steel” PBO spokes snapped.  Actually, it wasn’t the spoke, it was the metal (I suspect aluminum) housing that is fused to the top of each spoke.  It’s bonded to the PBO material, and has threads on in to allow for tensioning of the spoke.

The broken spoke -- actually the metal end with the threads snapped

So, I’m watching the retensioning of the spoke, and I heard that sickening “snap” sound of the spoke failing.   I knew that I was going down a bad path.  Here I am, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and cause damage to my wheel.  Unhappy.

Send a note to my Spinergy guy, he says, no problem, I’ll send some spokes, he says.

Three days pass, spokes arrive.   Back to Don the Whippet’s place to replace the spoke and have another go at retensioning the spokes.

Put in the new spoke, tightening it up, hear another “crack.”  This time, it’s the damn Spinergy spoke wrench  breacking – the other end.  The part the goes onto the spoke has cracked and the retensioning effort must again be suspended.  Why can’t they make the spoke wrench out of steel?  Obviously, since it’s broken on both ends after relative light use, aluminum is a very poor choice of materials.  How could I be the only person experiencing this?

The original spoke wrench that came with the wheelset -- now broken on both ends with very little use, and the new replacement spoke wrench that Spinergy sent, along with the tool to keep the spokes from turning (one didn't come with the wheelset originally)

So, as I write this, I am out of town on a business trip.  A new spoke wrench has arrived, and as soon as I get back into town, it’s back to Don the Whippet’s place to try to get the spokes re-tensioned and the wheel re-trued.

A month later, still only able to ride a total of 40 miles on my new Spinergy PBO wheelset, I am supremely frustrated.

It’s painful.  I want to like Spinergy.  They are a small company.   Every message from them ends with “Ride And Smile.”   They are American – based in Carlsbad, California (although I’m sure their stuff is made by the same small Taiwanese children that make most every other bike component).   There stuff looks great.   They are trying to make these wheels work for me.

For now, I can only conclude that for a Clydesdale, PBO is an acronym for “Pretty Bad Option.”

Stay tuned…

  • spencer said,

    I hope this story has a happy ending. I’ve been looking at upgrading my wheels to something a little lighter, but strong. I’ve got about 30 pounds on you.

  • spencer said,

    I hope this story has a happy ending. I’ve been looking at upgrading my wheels to something a little lighter, but strong. I’ve got about 30 pounds on you.

Add A Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.