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by Matt de Neef
June 17, 2014
The Rail 34 rim is an all-carbon clincher that has just been released by November Bicycles. It is 34mm tall with an aerodynamic profile. The company used everything they learned from designing their Rail 52 rim to develop this lower profile rim that will appeal to riders looking to build a versatile racing wheelset at an attractive price. CTech editor Matt Wikstrom tested the rims and put together the following review.
My first experience with November Bicycles’ rims came last year when I reviewed a couple of custom wheelsets built by Wheelworks. November’s Rail 52 carbon clinchers were used for one of the builds — a race-oriented aero wheelset — that promised similar aerodynamics to Zipp’s 404 wheels at a significantly lower asking price.
I was impressed with the Rail 52 rim — it was stiff and light and well suited to racing — though it was susceptible to crosswinds.
Interestingly, in the wake of the release of the Rail 52, November received a lot of requests for a lower profile rim. I suspect there is a large contingent of potential buyers keen to indulge in a carbon wheelset provided it performs well in all conditions.
With the prices involved, it makes less sense to commit to a tall rim when it’s not suited to every race or weather condition. Or perhaps a mid-profile design simply represents an attractive middle ground; the “Goldilocks” option. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a growing part of the carbon wheel market to which November adds the Rail 34.
A set of test wheels with pre-production Rail 34 rims were built and supplied by Wheelworks, a custom wheel-building shop that is also the Australasian distributor for November’s rims. The build essentially mirrored the Rail 52 wheelset I rode last year, mating the carbon clincher rims (20-hole front, 24-hole rear) to White Industries hubs and DT Aerolite bladed spokes.
November basically scaled the Rail 52 down to render the Rail 34. Thus, both rims have the same wide rim bed and external width (18mm and 25mm, respectively). The company is quick to point out that they haven’t done any wind tunnel testing for the new rim. Their priority was to preserve as much of the Rail 52’s characteristics while eradicating the rim’s susceptibility to crosswinds.
The final production weight for the Rail 34 is expected to be around 450g. The rim is constructed from uni-directional carbon and a heat-resistant resin with a smooth, satin finish. November continues to insist upon the use of Swissstop’s Black Prince pads with Rail rims to minimise the dangers associated with the generation of excess heat during prolonged braking.
Wheelworks chose to build the Rail 34s with White Industries’ T11 hubs because of their reliability and durability. Both traits exact a small weight penalty compared to other boutique brands but that is easily forgiven by anyone who wants value for their money.
The hub shells are made from 6061 aluminium alloy that is more resistant to corrosion than other alloys, so there is less chance that the flanges will ever crack. An oversized alloy axle is used for the front compared to Cr-Mo for the rear, and the freehub body is titanium rather than alloy.
Where once there were limited colour choices, White Industries now offers T11 hubs in eight colours: polished silver, black, red, blue, green, gold, purple, and pink. All told, the T11 hubs are an easy choice for a custom set of wheels that will get ridden hard.
Bladed spokes are an obvious choice for a carbon wheelset. Light and strong with a small improvement in aerodynamics, DT Aerolite spokes (like Sapim’s CX-Rays) are also more supple than round spokes, adding more feel to the wheels. Wheelworks added a couple of round white spokes to each wheel for contrast, along with custom decals to finish off the build.
Final weight for the Rail 34 wheelset tested was 1,467g at a cost of $1,986 (including rim tape, brakepads, and skewers). November offers a two-year warranty against material defects and the quality of workmanship for the Rail 34. For more information visit November Bicycles and Wheelworks.
The Rail 34s immediately impressed me with their stiffness. Just like the Rail 52s, they stiffened the bike up and improved its responsiveness. As such, they make for a perfect race wheel — ride a set of training alloys all week, then switch to the carbon Rails for maximum effect.
I had no problem with the wind on the Rail 34s. Crosswinds failed to push the front wheel off its line and I never had to concentrate on keeping the bike steady, which is in marked contrast to my experience with the Rail 52s.
Acceleration was superb thanks to both the stiffness of the Rail 34 and its relatively low weight. Indeed, the Rail 34s behaved just like a light set of low profile alloy rims when it came to making any kind of ascent — easy to accelerate and just as easy to keep a good cadence, regardless of the slope. Actually, I’d give the Rail 34s a slight edge over a set of alloys, thanks to the stiffness (and hence responsiveness) of the rims.
The Rail 34s are a pleasure to ride on any terrain and they provide an overall sense of improved efficiency. Based on their experience with the wheels on the road, November’s blogger is convinced the Rail 52 is faster than the Rail 34 , but in my hands, there isn’t much in it. The only satisfying way to settle the dispute is to find two similar riders and a 40km long dragstrip to ride identical bikes at the same power output to see who comes home first. Then repeat, with a crosswind.
Braking was very good though there was a little squealing. Toeing the pads minimised the noise, but never eradicated it. Regardless, I enjoyed plenty of confidence on descents and never had any problems controlling the bike at speed.
Wheelworks continues its high quality craftmanship and buyers can expect a robust build with a lifetime warranty against spoke breakages. There is no such thing as a stock Wheelworks build though: each wheelset is built to suit the needs of the customer, and as such, there is no catalogue from which to make a choice.
Tristan (Wheelworks’ owner) works closely with every customer to decide every detail of the build (hub choice and colour, spoke choice and count etc.), which is where the value of custom wheels lie.
Riding the Rail 34s reminded me of both Enve’s 3.4 and Bontrager’s Aeolus 3 wheelsets. All three offer the same quality of ride, the same sense of improved efficiency, the same versatility, and the same performance in crosswinds. But only a Rail 34 wheelset can be had for under $2,000.
Ultimately, the price of carbon rims will continue to limit their general appeal, but then, they are not designed for widespread use. Racers looking for the next level in performance to satisfy their own needs or ambitions will always find value in a carbon wheelset.
November’s Rail 34 rims have broader appeal than a race-oriented product because of their attractive pricing — not enough to lure enthusiasts — but for any rider that appreciates performance-oriented equipment, there will be some temptation. Indeed, it’s a temptation I’m finding hard to resist.