Round, Straight and Bomb-Proof
The aforementioned Chris King R45 hubs were laced to Velocity A23 and A23 O/C tubeless-ready rims. Before sourcing them, I asked the boys at Velocity and Chris King about the appropriate spoke counts, given my weight and my wish for not wanting to be shy about riding the cobbles. Both companies recommended 24 for the front and 28 for the rear. It’s nice to have consensus, no? It makes life easier.
As usual, I took them to Gilbert Cattoir to have them hand-built using Sapim spokes. He had never seen a Chris King hub before and was evidently impressed, ‘C’est très jolie!’ It may have had something to do with the fact that it was the first time I handed him brand new hubs to use; I always bring in old Campagnolo hubs with traditional ball bearings, rear hubs threaded for freewheels rather than for cassettes. Regardless, the R45 is a looker, and ‘it rolls good’.
When I picked up the finished wheelset, he seemed more pleased than usual. He usually says that the finished wheels ought to last 20 years, which is actually something of an understatement as I have one wheel (albeit a front wheel rather than a rear wheel) that he built 20 years ago and still spins straight and true today. Instead, he again said ‘Très jolie’ whilst looking at the hubs and commented that the off-centre rear rim will make the wheel more durable. No complaints from me: if he is pleased with the set-up, then I’m delighted.
I was scanning the various photos on the wall of his workshop and came across a team photo of the Netherlands-based Team Panasonic. It is from an era when Wiggo’s sideburns would not have attracted comment. Seeing me examining the photo, Gilbert told me that he worked 14 years for Panasonic. So, he cut his teeth at Panasonic. Because Team Lotto, his most recent professional team affiliation, is always mentioned in the same breath as Cattoir, the notion of him having worked for another team never entered my mind. Funny, that.
At this year’s Paris-Roubaix sportive, I saw more than a few bikes with wheel failures. They were invariably expensive looking wheels that were factory-assembled. The mechanics from Mavic that were providing support at the event did not seem like they could do much for most of them. In contrast, I was rolling on wheels hand-built by Gilbert using vintage Campagnolo hubs, vintage Mavic rims and new Sapim spokes (36 each). Bomb-proof.
Actually, Gilbert thinks that the minimum spoke count should be 28 on any wheel, front or rear; anything less than 28 is not durable enough. The key question may be ‘durable enough for what?’, but we are talking about someone based a stone’s throw away from the cobbled routes of Flanders and has serviced plenty of bikes that trained for and raced in the cobbled classics. There is no marketing behind his perspective, just experience. So, he doesn’t do 24-spoke wheel, except this one. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I need to worry about my front wheel not being durable enough because the man himself built it. Hand built by Cattoir. Enough said.
Because the A23 O/C rim, as the model name implies, has holes drilled off to the side, you should be careful with the choice of rim tape. Thin, adhesive-backed rim tape, for example, the Schwalbe high pressure rim tape, is not suitable because a bit of the side can peel off. That bit is likely to be on the side where the holes are, in which case, just a little bit of the tape peeling back will expose enough of the holes to cause a puncture of the inner tube. I think the risk of the tape peeling becomes elevated if you install a tyre with tighter inner circumference such as those from Continental. This bit of peeling would not matter if it is a normal, centre-drilled rim, but here it’s different, a lesson I had to learn the hard way… I would recommend using rim tape that relies on tension rather than adhesive for staying put. I have been using Veloplugs on another wheelset and have been happy with them. However they are not compatible with this rim model.
As mentioned in the product manual, King hubs will settle after the first few kilometres and will likely require a bit of tightening. I was secretly hoping out of laziness that I would not have to make any adjustments, but after about 150 km, I did adjust the settled hubs. Making the adjustment enhanced my appreciation for the clever design, so it was well worth the exercise, aside from the obvious reason for making the adjustment. I am accustomed to dealing with the traditional cup, cone and ball bearings design; I can usually make the correct adjustment using a pair of cone wrenches and by feel, without the need to readjust after putting the wheel back on the bike. However, my hands are not familiar with this modern stuff, so I needed to take small steps. Fortunately, it is straightforward enough. Very clever design…
The Chris King signature ‘angry bee’ sound is still relatively rare here in Belgium. Whenever I approach other cyclists from behind and start freewheeling, unleashing the angry bee, I get to see stunned faces turning around to see what just appeared. Good clean, if purile, fun.
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