Normally I’d start a gear review with a quick description of the product, the weight, and price, but this time I’m going to start with a disclaimer. I am a tubeless novice! Yep, I’d never used tubeless tires before this test and despite 25 years of road racing under my belt I’ve rarely stepped outside of the traditional tire and tube setup. Sure, I’ve had tubulars before on a couple of sets of nice race wheels but I’ve found that their hassle and expense were drawbacks that I just couldn’t be bothered with anymore.
A couple of years ago I was buying a set of wheels and I hesitated just for a moment in my choice when there was a tubeless option on the table. But as I’d had no experience with them and neither had any of my riding buddies, I made the classic tire and tube choice once again. Would this test change my mind? I was impatient to find out ever since the PEZ told me that a set of American Classic Argent Tubeless wheels were heading my way.
There’s nothing quite like getting a new product in the mail, the feeling of anticipation as you open the box and discover the product for the first time (and are hopefully happy with what you’ve found). When I opened the box I was immediately struck with the light weight of these wheels which made me think of two things: A) Getting out and riding these babies up some hills and B) Weighing them on my wife’s kitchen scales when she wasn’t looking.
So after my better half had gone off to work, a quick check on her scales confirmed my thoughts of light weight with the front wheel coming in at 580gr and the rear at 785g for a combined weight of 1365gr for my test wheels. They’re actually listed on the American Classic website as being 586gr and 786gr for a total of 1372g so either my wheels were 7 grams lighter than advertised or the cakes my wife makes for me are actually 7 grams heavier than they should be.
Whatever the case, we’re talking about some pretty light wheels here. Not absolute feather weights, but for a set of tubeless wheels that are purportedly built for their durability and stiffness and with a semi-deep 30mm rim we’re certainly in the ‘light’ category.
Just in case you forgot the wheel’s stats – they’re written on the side of the rim. Rim depth 30mm, rim width 22mm.
The rim itself is a 22mm wide aerodynamic shaped effort that comes in at just 390 grams with bead barb technology to perfectly secure the tires in place.
The inside of the rims are then covered with a base layer of American Classic’s own fiber tape to cover the spoke holes and then a further two layers of plastic tape to seal the rim.
The 22mm Wide Rim
Like the grand majority of quality wheels on the market these days the Argent has gone wide – 22mm wide to increase the contact patch of the tire over your typical 19-20mm wide rim bead which in theory creates a lower Coefficient of Rolling Resistance (Crr) than a smaller tire. You can now ride smaller, lighter tires because they spread out across the wide rim whilst still giving you enough contact area for efficient grip.
What’s more the Argent has been designed so that the tire almost ‘blends in’ to the rim, there is little or no ‘step’ between the tire and the brake track, thus improving the aerodynamics of the wheel. We’ve all seen it before, where a tire bulges over the braketrack being signifcantly wider than the rim and therefore ruining the aerodynamics of the wheel. This ‘muffin-top’ effect is something that Bill Shook deliberately battled against in designing his wheels and the result is that the tire sits in line with the brake track thanks to the specially designed internal rim which is a full 19.4mm wide.
Little or no ‘muffin top’ effect for any tire that you mount is one of the key design features of the Argents.
Earlier this year I tested American Classic’s 38 Carbon Clinchers for 1000km before crashing them and not being able to ride anymore (I was broken, not the wheels) and one of my favorite things about those wheels had been the hubs. Luckily for me the Argents also come with exactly the same free spinning hubs so I would get to use these free spinning babies some more – but not end this particular test in the same way.
The front hub is one of the smallest on the market and they call it the Micro 58 100 hub. It’s true to its name being micro sized having a minimalist aerodynamic profile & is just 58 grams with a 100mm spacing.
Meanwhile the rear hub, the AC High-Low 130 hub is a high – low flange effort with 130mm spacing matched with one of the other features of the Carbon 38s I liked so much, the steel face cassette body. This clever piece of engineering is a mostly aluminum cassette body but with steel inserts that are dovetailed in place by hand so that the lightweight aluminum won’t be damaged with regular changing of the cogs or by loose fitting Shimano cassettes.
Those black inserts are the steel that will keep the lightweight cassette body in perfect condition for years to come.
The bridge between the free spinning hubs and the light aluminum tubeless rims are AC’s own Race Blade 14/16 Gauge Spokes that are specifically designed for the Argent rim. The front wheel gets a 18h radial pattern whereas the rear is a 24h 3-Cross Drive, Radial non-Drive Rear lacing designed for torsional stability and stiffness. This is the pattern that AM Classic’s Wheel Guru Bill Shook uses across many of his wheels and has successfully done so for the past few years.
The advantages of this pattern are well known and basically revolve around aerodynamics and torsional stiffness without comprimising too much in either direction. The concept behind the lacing pattern is to create perfectly equal spoke tension amongst all the spokes – both driveside and non-driveside – which is something that isn’t possible with a traditional pattern. A perfectly true Argent will have a spoke tension of 100 kgf driveside and 100 kgf non drive side.
On the driveside there is the high side of the flanged hub with two spokes for every one spoke on the non-driveside (low flange).
Finishing off the package are a pair of AM Classic cromoly quick releases which are the same again as I previously used on the Carbon 38s. They’re a good looking lever with stainless steel springs and weigh 46g for the front and 48g for the rear.
They’ve got a nice action to them for opening and closing and I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them. Do them up and forget about them – exactly as a quick release should be.
Ok, I’d unpacked the wheels, weighed them, photographed them and just looked at them all night up against my living room wall. But when it was time to go out and test them I ran into a problem – no tires!
Never having used tubeless I didn’t have any in my workshop so I headed down to the local bikeshop to pick up a pair of tubeless. No luck. Next shop, no luck again! It looks like I’m not the only one in the south of France not to have used tubeless tires before.
It wasn’t really a problem though as one of the beauties of the Argents is that they are perfectly compatible with BOTH tubeless tires and standard clinchers. Instead of hitting the roads to test these wheels with tubeless I instead hit the roads with my standard race tire that I’ve been using this season, the Michelin 4 clincher. Having used these tires all this season on a number of different wheels I knew that they were always pretty tight to mount but on the Argents they were that bit tighter again. A couple of minutes extra effort was all I needed and they looked like a standard clincher wheel – it was now time to hit the road.
It may say tubeless on the rim but I was going to use clinchers!
Once on the bike it took all of three pedal strokes to realize that these were a reactive pair of wheels. Whether it was their light weight, their torsional stiffness or perhaps the spoke pattern (or maybe all three) – the initial feeling was acceleration! An engineer could probably give you a better explanation but my feeling through the pedals was obvious, the bike wanted to change speeds and in a good way – it wanted to go faster.
Ok, so I’m not smiling in the picture but I should have been – these wheels were fun!
Exiting corners, taking off from red lights and changes of pace in the hills is where I could really feel the accelerating qualities of the wheels. Sometimes a quick accelerating wheel isn’t actually very good at holding high speeds on the flats though but I found that wasn’t the case with these Argents.
I’ve been riding a number of deep dish wheels this season, often 60mm and although these rims have an aero profile of exactly half that at 30mm, on the flats at speed the Argents held the speed nicely and I couldn’t tell a huge ‘on the bike difference’ between the two. What was blindingly obvious though was that these wheels felt significantly quicker than my 32 spoke, 22mm deep training wheels on the flat but it was the quick accelerations that were the standout feature of the Argents.
Despite these very positive feelings though I was still disappointed. The wheels after all are ‘Tubeless’ and here I was testing (and having a lot of fun mind you) the wheels with standard tires and tubes. It was time to get some tubeless tires and if my local bikeshop couldn’t help me then I would have to instead hit the net for my puncture-free nirvana. One quick transaction later I soon had a pair of tubeless tires heading my way.
The tires I chose were the Hutchinson Intensives and not having any experience with them I just chose them at random. They are designed for rough roads and general abuse which is exactly where and how I planned to ride these wheels and most importantly they were in stock so I could get my hands on them asap!
The Intensives are marketed as being 320g but mine came in at 333g which meant that I’d actually just gained weight going from my 200g Michelin clinchers (plus 95g inner tube) to a tubeless setup. Sure I’d gone from a racing style tire to an admittedly stronger/training oriented tire but still I was surprised at the difference. Even the lighter weight tubeless tires available on the market still seem to be much heavier than the light weight clinchers and this was one of the questions I got to put to Bill Shook, the President and designer from American Classic when I met him at Eurobike halfway through this test.
“Tubeless has the potential to have even higher performance than clinchers because there’s a certain amount of friction and drag created between the tire and the tube, they move around inside. Every time you’re rolling the tube and tire over the road, they’re flexing and the tube moves inside and all that friction adds up. Even though it’s a very small amount it all adds up and it’s an energy loss but if you get rid of the tube then that goes away. A lot of the testing today proves that without the tube the rolling resistance drops. The problem right now is that a lot of the tire manufacturers are not providing lightweight tubeless tires, but it is possible, they just aren’t doing it right now – but it will come.”
Bill Shook with some of his babies at Eurobike. This man is seriously passionate about his wheels. He talked to me for an hour alone but I’m sure he could have talked for triple that.
So I now had the tubeless tires, but as I’d ridden and been impressed with these wheels in a clincher format I wanted to try and compare between the two setups so I first decided to put tubeless only on the rear wheel and keep my clincher on the front to see if I could feel the difference. First step was to mount the tubeless tire but after hearing a few nightmare stories of mounting tubeless tire disasters on the internet I was apprehensive of this step and a little clueless to be honest.
Luckily AM Classic provided a vey simple step by step process with their wheels to run me through it and although I couldn’t say it was easy, I did manage it. Recommended tools are soap, water and an air pump along with your tubeless tires and appropriate sealant. It’s certainly not a 2 minute process like a standard tire and tube change but the beauty of the tubeless is that you only have to do it once as in theory you won’t be getting any punctures again.
The hardest part for me was actually mounting the tire on the rim as it was super tight but using tire levers to give yourself a helping hand is a big no-no with tubeless as they can damage both the tubeless bead and even the rim tape. So as I was suffering and swearing away, I simply decided to sit back down, read the instructions again and simply start again but this time with more soap suds and I eventually got the tire mounted.
The next step is to ‘seat the bead’ of the tire which requires you to pump up the tire just until the bead pops into place. It’s recommended to use an air compressor for this step although my high output track pump displaced enough air for me that I passed this step successfully without a compressor.
We were then onto the next step where I once again sidestepped the ‘recommended tools’ list with the adding of the sealant. Ideally you should have a funnel or an injector or the like to put the sealant inside the wheel but as I had neither I came up with the idea of a cut down drinking straw. Cheap and effective! Now it was time to hit the road.
A pump, soap, some sealant, the American Classic valve stem that is delivered with the wheels and a straw was all I needed.
Tubeless – A Change Of Universe?
On my first ride with my tubeless rear/clincher front setup I had my second disappointment, as I didn’t feel any difference between the two! I’d ridden over 1000km with the Argents as a clincher wheel and now I’d set one up as a tubeless I guess I expected some big magical change, but it felt very similar to me. The Argents remained a fast accelerating wheel that was stiff and responsive with solid cornering that were quick and easy to spin up to speed.
Clincher front, tubeless rear and good sensations from both.
After reading opinions on the internet about how tubeless technology feels like tubulars thanks to the big advantage of no tube/ tire friction inside the tire I guess I was expecting more but that was probably the fault of the weight of the tire more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, the tire handled beautifully and the wheels still felt lively and superb but until the tire manufacturers catch up to wheel manufacturers like AM Classic in terms of engineering I think the tubeless tires will still be behind tubulars in terms of ‘on road feel’.
I later set up the bike with tubeless front and rear and continued to have great sensations in the corners and general feel of the bike but it was very difficult to tell if they were a step up from the clinchers or not. If anything they were perhaps slightly better rolling but then I started thinking that I was over-analyzing things.
What was absolutely certain though is that the cornering was great and the comfort on the road superb. If needed with the tubeless I could let the pressure out of the tires as much as I wanted for a smoother ride on the rough stuff with absolutely no fear of getting a pinch flat which was something that I obviously couldn’t do when I was running the clincher setup.
There’s no doubt that people will buy tubeless technology for their one big drawcard – their puncture resistance. Lacking a tube you already eliminate all pinch flats and then combined with the 20g or so of sealant you have floating around in your wheels you should eliminate all the various punctures that you could get from glass, nails, debris etc.
To test this out (after I’d set up both wheels on tubeless) I basically decided to thrash these wheels at any occasion as afterall AM Classic sent them to me for a test and test them I shall! When I was out riding and saw broken glass on the road, I rode through it. Potholes? I hit them at full speed and didn’t even try to avoid them. Cobbles, dirt roads, debris, speed humps – I hit them all and not once could I get these wheels to puncture nor did I get the wheels to even buckle a little. I didn’t go as far as Bill Shook did as in the video below with Bob Roll but I did try to puncture them ‘naturally’ at any rate, without success.
On examining the tires after each ride I couldn’t see any evidence of repaired punctures and the tires held their air remarkably well throughout many miles and weeks of tough riding. Ok so my thrash the hell out of them technique wasn’t exactly scientific but it sure was fun. To properly compare the differences between the clinchers and tubeless I would ideally have had two sets of wheels to trash (oops, I meant to say ‘test’ of course) with one pair on tubeless and one on clinchers and then run over the same obstacles on the same day at the same speed etc. Obviously this wasn’t practical to do though so I instead set out on my thrashing technique and as much as I tried I just couldn’t get a puncture to happen.
Outside of being in a race and suffering bigtime when I thought ‘A puncture right now would give me a good excuse to pull out’, I have never voluntarily wanted and tried to get a puncture, it certainly was an interesting test.
So no punctures, but what I was most impressed with was the fact that these lightweight wheels stayed dead true throughout the abuse that I dished out at them. Short of hitting the mountain bike trails of my region, I don’t think I could have been any more brutal with these wheels and they took everything I threw at them and still looked and performed like they’d just come out of the box.
Lightweight, reliable, quick to accelerate and well engineered and constructed – there’s not much more to say about these wheels. If you’re considering making the jump to tubeless then you couldn’t go too far wrong with the Argents. In both clincher and tubeless setup they felt quick and they handled all the punishment I threw at them while staying perfectly true.
If you’re looking for a pair of lightweight, strong and reliable clincher wheels the Argents could be a surprising choice. Run them as clinchers, run them as tubeless – your options are open and that’s one of the great things about the Argents – their versatility. Not only are they versatile in terms of tire choice but they are also versatile in their performance. They’re not just a lightweight climber’s wheel, but also perform admirably on the flats at high speeds. Although not as stiff as some of the deep dishes carbon rims I’ve used, for an aluminum rim with a low spoke count and weight, the stiffness in cornering and accelerations was direct and I could easily use these wheels for criteriums.
It’s a shame that for the moment the wheel companies seem to be ahead of the tire companies in terms of technology with such major players as Michelin and Continental not even offering tubeless options. Others like Hutchinson, Schwalbe and IRC do have some interesting tires on offer though and I’m sure that the advantages of tubeless will start being picked up by more and more people in the coming years.
With a US MSRP rim of $1449 and weighing just 1370g the Argents stack up pretty well against others in the market and are certainly one to consider. They even have a new disc version for ‘cross or road which weighs in a bit heavier at 1531g and retails for $1499.
The Argent tubeless disc on display at Eurobike.
For my next wheel purchase tubeless has just moved up the list for me and that wheel purchase may come quicker than first planned if I continue my rough riding techniques that I took on in this test with my own wheels . . .
• Get more info on the Argents and American Classic’s full range of clinchers, tubulars and tubeless at amclassic.com