Sunday, August 07, 2011

The 406 vis 451 wheels debate and Bike Friday Crusoe 

The Bike Friday Crusoe is a multi-function machine with ability to mount either 406 or 451 wheelsets.  So when should you use which wheelset?  I’ve been riding my Crusoe for over a year now with Speedster 406 wheels equipped with Schwalbe Kojak tires.  This is a great workhorse setup either on road or indoors on rollers.  It also packs a solid performance punch combined with the Shimano Capreo cassette. 

Now I have just installed a set of Spar Co 451 wheels and Schwalbe Stelvio tires its time to consider the differences.  First I’ll discuss general handling characteristics and “feel” on the bike, and then look at the numbers to see if they confirm those subjective opinions.  And then compare the specs and performance of the two wheelsets to compare those aspects as well.

Impressions from my first ride on the Spar Co 451 wheels were overwhelmingly positive.  They are beautifully made and true, the hubs are completely smooth rolling and the black aero spokes perform great.  The handling and cornering is more positive and direct than the 406 wheels with faster more stable overall cornering and better retaining of momentum going into hills.  Speed wise the 451 wheels are clearly faster; it feels like you have one extra top gear even though both wheelsets have identical Capreo cassettes.


So why ride 406 wheels?  At lower speeds for touring with the extra weight hauling equipment the advantage of the 451 disappears and now the extra tire width and depth of the 406 provides better ride comfort and grip in wet or loose road conditions.  The 406 sits slightly lower by 1.5 inches, so seat post reach with the 451 is another consideration and dismounting off the bike back to the ground if you have the seat mast in a high position. Also having a 406 rim opens up more space on the frame for racks and fenders or if you are packing the bike into a 29 inch sized suitcase for air travel rather than the newer 31 inch suitcase.  Therefore you will pick which wheelset better fits your use needs, or just have a set of each.

Interestingly you would think that the 451 wheelset would be dramatically faster but of course you have to make it ride faster which means more effort and work and power needed.  So for the average Bike Friday rider this is probably a wash, they will simply down shift on the 451 wheel to the equivalent work ratio with the 406 wheel and have that 451 top gear only for high speed downhill sections.  For spirited road riders however the 451 means the ability to ride a faster pace and train harder on each ride pushing the higher gearing.

What does it take to install the 451 wheelset on the Bike Friday Crusoe?  First you can simply swap out the wheels as the rear frame and front forks have clearance for either wheelset.  However the brakes either require V brake extenders (see ThorUSA here) to move the brake pads out 2 inches for the 451 rim, or installing a new 451 size brake set. The Paul Motolite linear-brakes are adjustable to easily fit either; also, these Taiwan made V-brakes from Avola 100mm long type also adjustable.

Overall the 451 rim with narrow Stelvio tires works out about 1.5 inches taller than the 406 rim with the 1.35 form factor Kojak tires.  That translates to 4.5 inches further on each wheel rotation, and with the Capreo cassette top gear that means 9.4 meters travelled per pedal rotation compared to 8.7 meters, or 8% higher gear on the 451 compared to the 406 which is why it feels like one higher gear riding on the actual road.   That 8% however on a 16 mph average ride pace may net around a 1 mph increase in average speed.  Ride speed with cornering stability and hill climbing will be noticeably improved with the 451 rims.

Looking at the specifications the two wheelsets are highly comparable.  The Spar Co Bike 451 weigh 550 grams front and 800 gram rear and the Speedster 406 weigh 575 grams front and 760 grams rear giving 1,350 grams wheelset compared to 1,335 grams.  The Spar Co uses black aero spokes while the Speedster comes with stainless steel aero spokes.  Both are rock solid wheels using 20 and 24 spokes on the rims.  The front hubs have indivisible performance in being whisper quiet and super smooth rolling.  For the rear hubs the Spar Co freewheel ratchet and hub is quieter and seems to roll a little smoother but both are excellent and both are wildly better rolling than stock Shimano hubs.

That is the roundup on 451 vice 406 wheelset rims.   I’ll provide further insights as my road testing proceeds and I also intend to try road riding with the 451 setup with regular road bike folks to see how viable that is for shorter rides.  There the Bike Friday at 22lbs kerb weight is giving up 5lbs to an average carbon fiber road bike while the gearing and wheel characteristics provide further differences when group riding.  Probably not an issue on around a 20 mile ride, but over 30 miles is sure to be more challenging.  You can check out the Crusoe with SparCo wheelset here.

Postscript: I've just become aware of another Taiwan source for 20" wheels, Shimano hub (not Capreo) - FAXSON Cycles and reseller here. Good if your drive train is setup for 10 speed Shimano gearing.

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