The ‘Carbon 38 Clincher’ is the latest offering from American Classic in its totally unoriginal but practically named range of Carbon wheels. Clincher because it uses the classic system of tyres and tubes rather than tubulars and ’38’ because it has a 38mm rim depth, 20mm less than its big brother the ‘Carbon 58 Clincher’. What the 38 lacks for in naming originality though it makes up for in technological advancements with Series 3 Carbon rims mated to an aluminum braking surface, 3 spoke laced rear wheel and a 22mm wide rim profile.
First Things First
Before getting into the technical details of the wheels though it was time to get them out of the box and study each part in detail. The front wheel was the first one I unpacked and what hit me straightaway was the quality feel of the carbon fiber. As any bike fan knows these days there’s some big differences in the use and construction of carbon fiber weaves with the adage of just because it’s carbon fiber doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.
The American Classic clincher and tubular carbon range all use the well thought out Series 3 carbon which has been engineered from the inside out by the American Classic founder, president, engineer and just general wheel guru Bill Shook. He first looked at the direction and form of the carbon fibers to provide stronger internal spoke beds before turning his attention to the outside where it was all about aerodynamics.
Being a low to medium depth rimmed wheel at 38mm dimensions can throw up problems for engineers to get the best possible aerodynamics in a relatively small surface area. The 38’s have been designed with a steady curve away from the spoke bed, bladed spokes with a low spoke count of 18 front / 24 rear to provide what certainly looked like a quick wheel on my kitchen table…
From a first look I was pleased to see that the spoke nipples were not hidden inside the rims like some other carbon wheels I’ve used in the past but instead were easily accesible on the rim. This obviously overcomes the annoying problem of not being able to true your wheels without taking the tyres and tubes off and confirms the 38’s overall philosophy of being an all-around, practical choice wheel. Training, racing – it seems to have been designed to cover all areas. So if you need to true the 38, a simple, standard spoke key will do the job just fine. Thankfully no adjustments were needed out of the box with both the front and rear wheels perfectly straight – something that hasn’t been the case for me with some other brands in the past.
Let’s Get To The Centre Of Things
It’s hubs time. Let’s face it, you could have the best engineered rims in the world laced with the lightest and greatest spokes but if your hubs aren’t up to the job then your wheels just aren’t going to cut it. My initial impressions of the hub on the front wheel in particular were wow – it’s small!
It’s the Micro 58 100 hub used on the front with the AC High-Low 130 on the back and they both spin very, very easily. These are not your typical hubs that you would find on a wheel in a lower/medium price range of wheels and in fact are exactly the same hubs that are used on American Classic’s top of the range Carbon 58 & 85 Tubular wheels that were used by the guys at Cofidis in the Tour de France last year. The Micro 58 100 hub on the front is named that way in typical AM Classic style because a) it’s micro, having a minimalist aerodynamic profile & b) it’s 58 grams with a 100mm spacing.
No prizes for guessing why the rear AC High-Low 130 hub is so named. Yes, it’s a high – low flange effort with 130mm spacing and it too is also used on their top end wheels.
Now mated to that free spinning rear hub is another one of Bill Shook’s masterpieces, his steel face cassette body. Now this is not a part that would normally get much press or even chatter from your buddies in the local training group – but it’s ingenious. Why so special? It’s all about the steel inserts that are dovetailed in place by hand so that your cassette body won’t be damaged with regular changing of the cogs or by loose fitting Shimano cassettes. As somebody who is constantly swapping cassettes from one set of wheels to another this is truly a great feature and one that is much appreciated (by me at least) and probably completely ignored by the majority of consumers. It’s not until you have problems with your lightweight aluminum cassette body that you wish that somebody had thought of this earlier though.
If the heart of the wheel is the hubs, then its spokes are the veins and I’m glad to report that these wheels passed their health test with flying colors. The front and rear wheels are laced with AC Classic’s own bladed spokes matched with silver aluminum nipples in a 3 spoke style for the rear 24 spokes and radial lacing for the front’s 18 holes.
Radial laced spokes on the front….
And 3 spoke style on the rear.
The reasoning behind this 3 spoke style is for its consistent spoke tension and its ability to handle rougher roads and larger riders. It’s a system that American Classic use on their top end wheels too and has the benefit of being able to use a low spoke count but still maintain the durability of the wheel. There are 8 sets of 3 and they’re directly opposed around the wheel to spread the load evenly.
The 38 Clincher’s follow the modern trend in going to wider rim widths with a new 22mm rim exterior width. The idea behind wider rim widths has been greatly debated and studied with the latest thinking all pointing to the benefits of larger rim widths outscoring the old thinking of 19mm or less from just a few short years ago.
Yep, these babies are 22mm wide alright
Take any tyre size and mount it to a 22mm wide bead and the tyre will have a larger potential contact patch than the typical 19-20mm wide rim bead and in theory create a lower Coefficient of Rolling Resistance (Crr) than a smaller tyre. Fact or fiction? Debate is wide and vast on this one but with all the big manufactures seemingly going this way it looks like it’s either a great fact – or just a great bandwagon to jump on. With no wind tunnel testing in the almighty PEZ testing budget we’ll just have to let that one pass but the other benefits of a 22 mm rim with extra comfort and better handling of a wider tyre contact patch are undeniable.
Now here’s the part that the weight weenies amongst you either love or hate, the weight of the wheels. For the pair, the 38 Clinchers come in at a respectable 1751 grams being 778gr for the front wheel and 973 gr for the rear. Certainly not outright lightweights like some other wheels in the American Classic range but a weight that seemed reasonable to me with their clever engineering, aluminum rim for braking and semi deep carbon profile in a clincher format.
The skewers provided with the wheels are the company’s basic cromoly quick release units that have an excellent action but at 97 grams I guess you could save a few grams if you wanted to replace these for lighter versions.
Now On The Road!
All these observations and facts are all well and good but what you probably want to know – and I sure wanted to know is how these wheels actually performed on the road. First some background though. A wife, small child, another baby on the way and a new house has led me to ride a rig that I would have to call ‘wife friendly’.
My wife friendly machine.
My machine is wife friendly because I managed to buy it at a very low price (even if my wife wouldn’t agree with that statement) but the limits of this price range of bike are normally fairly obvious on the road. In my case I managed to get some quality componentry matched to a fairly low standard frame and budget conscious wheels. I bought the machine though as a) I needed a bike and b) I knew there was potential there if I changed the wheels.
The wife friendly machine just got a whole lot more rider friendly.
The potential that was unleashed though from this admittedly sluggish frame just by changing the wheels was nothing short of astounding. From the very first pedal stroke with the 38s on board it seemed like I was riding a completely different bicycle, and for all intents and purposes I was. The 38 clinchers were super stiff, responsive and full of ‘life’. It’s a difficult feeling to explain but the overall feel of the bicycle had suddenly changed. What was once a slow to respond bike that I would use words like ‘solid but not spectacular’ to describe, I could now start using some more exciting vocabulary. Responsive, alive and reactive immediately came to mind.
I shod the 38’s with Michelin Pro 4’s Service Course 23mm tyres – which has been my standard racing tyre this year and they fit well on the 22mm rims and felt like their standard, fairly grippy selves but there was no doubt that the bike had come alive and it wasn’t just the rider feeling good because his bike looked classier…
Climbing was an area I didn’t think that I’d see a huge advantage in the 38s as the wheels that I had changed from were only slightly heavier but hitting the first mountain on my test ride I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of acceleration. Changes in rhythms, although never pleasant whilst climbing, were handled easily with little or no lag effect that I’ve previously experienced from a higher profile wheel.
It wasn’t just the stiffness and added feeling that had me excited though, the bike now seemingly sat at higher speeds with less effort thanks to the aero benefits of the 38mm profile and I’m sure in no small part thanks to the free spinning hubs.
With my motivation sky high thanks to my ‘wife friendly’ machine turning into feeling more like a ‘rich single guy’s’ ride overnight it was now time to do what I feel these wheels are designed for – race. With an 80km regional race with a challenging circuit involving 2 climbs per 20km lap on offer just a couple of hours drive away I packed myself and these test wheels into the car to head off for the ultimate in road tests. On the reconnaissance lap I found something very typical for my part of France – rough roads. We’re not talking Paris-Roubaix cobbles or anything but more abandoned country road style rough – the type where you just can’t avoid the potholes as there are simply too many.
In my experience, ridiculously rough roads like this are the down point of any deeper profiled wheel but full credit to the 38’s they handled the conditions well and although they felt harsher than your typical 20mm rim / 32 spoke style wheel over the rough stuff, the wider profile rim soaked up the bumps quite well.
Rough roads? More like no roads! Sometimes riding in the South of France can get pretty adventurous.
When the race actually started the weather turned from pleasant sunny conditions to a raging hailstorm in the blink of the eye and it was at this point that I was very happy to be testing a carbon rim that had an aluminum braking surface. As good as carbon specific brake pads and various treated carbon brake surfaces have become there was something reassuring having an aluminum braking surface to rely on as I descended with near zero visibility and 100 riders around me. There’s no denying that the aluminum provides tried and tested braking in all conditions as I unfortunately found out.
Being only my 2nd ride on the bike with these wheels on I still had the excitement in the legs and mind of something ‘new’ on the bike and so when the attacks started flying on the climbs I followed them and managed to even put in the last and most successful attack of the day to ride away with the win. A) Thanks to the wheels? B) Thanks to the fact that over half the field pulled out due to the extreme hailstorm? C) Or thanks to some good tactics and good legs?
American Classic would probably like to say that it was thanks to A), I’d like to say it was thanks to C) but my wife would chip in and say it was most likely thanks to D) her husband being more pigheaded than the others in refusing to give up in the hailstorm.
So one race down and over 1000km into the test I then made the ultimate in PEZ product testing sacrifices; I performed a crash test on the 38 Clinchers at 60kph. Halfway through a 130km race in a breakaway and pushing hard on a tricky descent I hit a mix of gravel and diesel in a corner and went crashing down and off the road into the so called ‘crash barriers’. The result was one wrecked bicycle but two perfectly true wheels. Yep, not one little shudder or wobble from the 38’s with them continuing to be dead straight as they were when I unpacked them from the box 1000km earlier. It’s just a shame that I no longer had a working bike to use them with – or working body for that matter.
Heading off for a training ride in the beautiful Loire Valley pre-crash
This was obviously not the way I had planned to end the test – I had planned to do at least 2000km and take some more action photos of the wheels with some stunning French scenery behind me, but hey a crash test? You can’t get much more dedicated than that.
Ok, so not as many stunning French photos as I’d hope’d to take but I did manage to get this one in front of my house……
For a wheelset that retails for US$1429 you get a lot of bang for your buck with the 38 Carbon Clinchers. It’s a wheel that has some quality engineered carbon fiber, a mid profile aero rim with the advantages of clinchers and an aluminum braking surface all laced to some high end hubs. There’s a lot of engineering in there for this price range of wheel and although I personally would have liked a lighter wheel for even better climbing performance I don’t see how American Classic could achieve that without significantly increasing the price and sacrificing the big advantages of the 38’s – their incredible versatility and durability. For the budget minded these wheels could be used as both a racing and training wheel or are easily good enough to use just as a racing wheel.
For more on the Carbon 38 Clincher and the other wheels in the American Classic range, check out their website: www.amclassic.com