Re: [rootsradicals] Aerospoke wheels
Thanks for the congratulations. Personally, I do not think it is that
big of a deal, but I never started Cranksgiving for any kind of
recognition. Anyone, who really knows me in the NYC messenger scene,
knows I usually helped out in some capacity, major or minor, with
numerous courier events. I tended to be the sober guy behind the scenes,
and felt similarly when I did Cranksgiving. Although, the difference was
I got to directly order people around at my own Cranksgiving races.
The main positive for me about being recognized for Cranksgiving was I
had a paid trip with accommodations to Las Vegas and InterBike, both of
which I had never been to. After experiencing both though, I do not know
if I would ever go again unless everything was paid for. I guess Vegas
and the "wheeling and dealing" that happens at the convention just rubs
me the wrong way.
Speaking of InterBike and the Aeropsoke topic you are inquiring about,
I saw some five-spoked rigid wheels made out of aluminum at InterBike.
Perhaps they were the same kind, which you saw last week. At the
convention I was able to lift up the metal five-spoked wheel, but I
could not be sure if they were indeed heavier than Aerospoke wheels, as
I suspected. They did not have tires mounted on them so I could not be
sure, and even though I looked at the weight in the specifications
listed on their display, I do not remember what it was because I am not
one to really knit-pick over the weight of my bike.
I was not all that impressed, so I did not linger long to find out what
the manufacturers suggested retail price might be. I think it would only
be worth if if they were considerably less expensive than carbon fiber
wheels like Aerospokes. Even then, I would prefer to wait and see how
truly durable they are from reviews and reports of end users after
actually using them. I also apologize because I definitely do not recall
what those metal wheels were called or their brand name, etc. However,
perhaps that is a fair assessment of how unimpressed I was at their product.
To finally address your main question about my Aerospokes, they are
doing fine, and they are pretty much the same ones I had years ago. I
say pretty much because I did have a non-disc brake Aerospoke wheel
years ago while I was a messenger, but I literally blew it out from
braking with rim-based brake pads. It was winter and I kept my bike
locked up outdoors, so after working all day out in the cold and finally
getting home I had no desire to do proper "routine" maintenance on my
bike in the freezing dark. That of course included wiping off the grit
and snow-melting chemical salts from my brake pads. Eventually one day
toward the end of winter I was braking while riding down fifth Avenue in
the Flat-Iron district, and the grinding action had built up enough over
time to slice right through my rims like a can opener. My tire was cut
into as was the blown inner tube. Upon closer inspection and a bit of a
wiggle from just the pressure of my fingers, a ring of rim snapped right
off of one side and the wheel was completely useless.
When I first "upgraded" from regular spoked wheels to carbon fiber
wheels to avoid dealing with truing my spokes and make it easier to pass
through my kryptonite chain when constantly locking up my bike, I had
gotten a set of "Spins." They were a three spoked carbon fiber rigid
wheel, but much less expensive than Aerospokes. Not surprisingly, there
was a reason for their considerably lower price, and the company went
out of business years ago. I forget exactly why I upgraded yet again
from the "Spins" to Aerospokes, but I do remember having the slightest
feeling of vibration or "fluttering" while riding on the Spins. In my
opinion that was caused by the wide space between the spokes, which gave
way ever so slightly every time the wheel was in a position where the
empty arch had to support all the weight. Naturally the "fluttering"
seemed to speed up the faster I biked. As annoying as it sounds, it was
actually kind of soothing, but I would never trust a set of Spins under
a loaded cargo bike!
I also seem to recall upgrading from Spins to Aerospokes around the
time I became a long tail cargo bike rider with my first Xtracycle, some
time in 2000 or 2001. I think that might have been partly because the
FreeRadical had disc brake mounts, which my bike frame and the Spins did
not support. Therefore, I got rid of my Spins and bought a set of
Aerospokes. However, I only got disc brakes in the rear because of the
expense of both the much higher priced disc-brake Aerospoke version and
the more expensive Avid BB7 disc brakes. At the time I would have also
had to spend even more money on also replacing my front fork to get one
with disc brake mounts, so with all the other expenses I bought a
non-disc brake Aeropsoke wheel for the front.
Of course, you already know what happened to that non-disc brake
Aerospoke wheel. If I recall correctly, I was lucky in finding out about
the Aerospoke company's warranty policies. If I did not inform them of
using my Aerospokes during commercial use, especially as a cargo bike
messenger, I was able to ship back the damaged sliced rim, then they
would replace it for me as long as I also paid for shipping of the new
rim back to me. Of course, I never wanted to deal with the possibility
of a pricey Aerospoke wheel being worn out again from rim brakes, so I
paid the additional amount to upgrade to the disc brake version. That
obviously required me to spend the extra money for a new disc brake
compatible front fork from my local bike shop. Fortunately, I was able
to get a good deal because I wanted to get a rigid fork, and at the time
suspension forks seemed to be the craze so they had plenty of rigid
stock forks laying around in the shop, which had been replaced by
customer-requested suspension fork upgrades.
To address some of your more specific questions...
Q1) How are your Aerospoke wheels holding up?
I would say my Aerospokes are holding up very well considering I have
been riding on them for about ten years now, and under particularly
extreme conditions at times, whether that is due to the weather or the
cargo loads being carried. In my opinion the only noticeable wear is a
slight fading from dark grey to a lighter grey, which appears similar to
a layer of dust even after a thorough washing. I do not know for sure if
that is due to sunlight bleaching, natural exposure to the atmosphere,
or perhaps chain and dirt kick-up wearing down the factory-new outer
most finished/polished layer.
Q2) They're carbon fiber, right?
I believe they are carbon fiber, but I seem to recall them technically
referred to as poly-carbon fiber. I am no expert or chemist, so it might
be the same exact thing. Of course there is a chance it is not. Perhaps
Aerospoke uses a slightly different proprietary mixture than the typical
carbon fiber when molding their wheels, so they can not officially refer
to it as carbon fiber I do not know for sure.
Q3) Carbon fiber, like aluminum, can break suddenly
and catastrophically, so how are they doing on your bike?
I think I pretty much answered this already, but the question does
remind me of something in particular. It was an incident where I was
moving my wife's furniture from her old apartment to mine back while I
was still living in Brooklyn, NY. I had a number of items loaded up on
that trip, but I remember one of them was a rocking chair. It was not
the traditional type, but rather the kind with a static base and a
floating seat, which I believe is referred to as a glider rather than a
rocking chair. Anyway, that meant it was considerably heavier and more
bulky than a traditional rocking chair.
While riding to my place with the loaded bike, I was passing between a
limo stuck at a red light and a parked black SUV. It was a relatively
narrow space considering I was riding an Xtracycle with two
wide-loaders, but from experience I knew I would fit. Unfortunately, I
did not notice the SUV's front tire was jutting out slightly as if the
wheel was turned to quickly pull out of the parking spot once the driver
was back in his/her vehicle. I was therefore totally surprised when I
felt a sudden harsh bounce against the rear right side of my bike. I
went crashing down to the pavement, and at first I thought someone had
deliberately kicked my bike, perhaps the driver of the SUV, who did not
want to risk my bike scratching up his/her paint job.
When I did not see anyone there I finally noticed the SUV's tire
sticking out. My paranoid mindset about someone kicking my bike made me
think the driver of the even more expensive limo would freak out at me.
I was particularly vulnerable since it was awkward trying to get out
from under my crashed loaded bike in such a narrow space. Luckily, the
limo driver was genuinely more concerned at my well being, even when he
could see a streak in the side of his paint job. It turned out the
glider chair had bumped and streaked down against his limo, but since it
was a wooden chair the streak was not serious and could be buffed out. I
did not know that at the time, so I was more than apologetic and
insistent of my intact good health, hoping the driver would not notice
the mark on his limo and might prefer to flee the scene before any cops
showed up. After that the driver got back in his car and drove off with
At the time I was more shocked by the driver's positive attitude
considering I was at fault and every driver I had ever encountered in
any remotely similar situation would have flipped out. In any case, my
disbelief in the pleasant reaction of the driver caused me to not pay
attention to my own bicycle's condition or that of the load I was
carrying. Soon enough though I noticed the glider chair was broken and
my front wheel was slightly untrue in a spot. Needless to say the untrue
Aerospoke worried me a great deal, but I could not do anything about it.
I did a quick inspection of the wheel to see if it was dangerously
cracked anywhere, but when I could not find any defects I just nervously
continued on my way.
Ever since then my front wheel has been slightly untrue, but no cracks
or further complications have developed, and since I have disc brakes I
do not have to worry about rim brakes rubbing an untrue wheel. Keep in
mind that accident happened around 2005, and not only am I still using
those same Aerospokes, but on those same wheels I have also carried
numerous loads including that massive lumber haul in the "LunarLoad"
photos. To get to the point of the long story, despite inflicting
apparent damage on my Aerospoke during a collision involving a very
loaded Xtracycle, the only outcome was what a picky cyclist might
consider cosmetic. No one would ever notice the wheel being untrue
unless they looked at it while spinning it in place.
Q4) Aren't you still on the first set of wheels?
Q5) If so, how many years have you been using them?
I believe I also answered both of these questions already, but just to
be thorough, technically I am still riding on my first rear Aeropsoke
wheel, but I have been riding on a set of front and rear disc-brake
compatible Aeropsoke wheels for about ten years now. Apart from one or
two bicycles and the Xtracycle, I would say my Aerospokes have been one
of my best investments when it comes to cycling gear. In fact, they have
outlasted two FreeRadical frames and the Univega bike, which the
FreeRadicals were mounted to.
Come to think of it, I might be wrong about riding on my original rear
Aerospoke wheel. There was one other "possible" problem with my
Aerospokes. Again it was toward the end of a winter and also after
having the Xtracycle attached to my bike. I started noticing chain
skipping when I would really pedal hard. For instance, it might occur
when I was loaded down and reaching a slight slope or it might happen
when I was first starting out and needed to put some weight on the
pedals. The problem seemed to get progressively worse, and actually got
to the point where I would usually have to pedal in a lower gear or need
to push off a curb or the ground with my feet to get up some speed
When I finally went to my bike shop to fix the problem, they
immediately suggested swapping out my gears and drive chain in case the
skipping was due to normal wear and tear, which in my case was very
likely. However, that did not entirely fix the problem, so they were not
exactly sure what it could be. They had never worked on an Xtracycle
before nor did they have much experience working on Aerospoke wheels,
which went through as much winter usage as mine did. Since they had
dealt with longer drive chains on tandem bicycles they suspected it was
not the added chain length of the Xtracycle though, so they opened up
the rear hub of the Aerospoke. This was a bit of a hassle because my
bike shop had to special order a custom tool from Aerospoke to properly
disassemble the hub. Luckily, they did not pass on the expense to me.
Upon opening up the rear hub and separating it from the carbon fiber
part of the wheel/rim, they noticed some moisture and grit inside. They
could only guess grit along with moisture, possibly from condensation
or snow/rain infiltration, had gotten trapped inside the hub. With the
added strain of constant stop-n-go NYC traffic while being a cargo bike
messenger, they suspected the moisture and grit may have slightly worn
the carbon fiber part of the wheel enough to cause a tiny bit of play.
There was also the chance the moisture was freezing and expanding enough
to cause the play. Either way the slight play might have been enough to
allow the chain to skip. Naturally, once the chain was susceptible to
skipping it would wear itself and the gears down much faster than
normal, thus compounding the problem.
Unfortunately, I do not completely recall what the outcome of the
situation was. I just remember my bike shop took care of it and did not
pass on any charges from Aerospoke. I also remember my preference for
the bike shop staff dealing with Aeropsoke instead of me so that I would
not have to reveal my profession as a cargo bike messenger, which might
void Aerospoke's warranty. I do think my bike shop did get some kind of
replacement from Aerospoke, but I do not think it was a full wheel. If
anything, it might have just been the hub or even some part inside the hub.
I definitely recall being worried about having the same reoccurring
problem with my rear Aerospoke in the upcoming winters. Fortunately, it
has never came up again. For all I know the chain skipping problem might
have just been my derailleur struggling with the chain tension of the
Xtracycle's longer chain. It could have also been the choice of drive
chain I was using at the time.
There was a period of time several years ago when I was trying to use
stainless steel Connex/Wippermann brand drive chains. My logic figured a
stainless steel drive chain would be rust resistant, and therefore fit
into my low maintenance ideal of a bike. Like I hoped, the stainless
steel chain did not rust. Unfortunately, the stainless steel chain was
just not strong enough to handle the torque requirements of a loaded
Xtracycle. I found this out the hard way when chain links would break,
but luckily I carried a Topeak Alien multi-tool, which had a chain
breaker built into it. When a chain break would happen on the road I
would pop out the snapped link, shorten the chain, and switch to a lower
gear if necessary.
Eventually, I realized there was a pattern of chain breakage when using
the stainless steel chains, so I returned to using standard drive
chains. Now the Stainless Steel chains are no longer on my bike, but I
still use them. I thoroughly cleaned them all up, and recycled them into
industrial looking jewelry. For a couple of years I actually wore a
length of the stainless steel drive chain around my own neck as a
choker. Since I could not be entirely sure whether the torque
requirements of the Xtracycle was snapping my drive chain, I figured if
my standard chain totally failed, then I would have a back up around my
neck. I no longer wear a drive chain as a necklace, but since then I
bought one or two new stainless steel drive chains to make more finished
looking jewelry for girlfriends/wife. Other than the industrial
aesthetic appeal, what I like about them is a person can even wear the
jewelry in the shower, rain, or pool without it developing rust!
In any case, I guess I can not say for sure whether I am on my first
"set" of Aerospoke wheels. I know the front wheel was not my first
wheel, but there is a slight chance the rear wheel or at least part of
it is not my original rear Aerospoke wheel. Regardless, I still know I
had my current Aeropsoke wheels for around ten years now. I am also
quite certain my customarily lengthy e-mail most likely has more than
covered your original inquiries, so I will stop contributing to any eye
strain you may be experiencing from staring at a screen for so long.
Best wishes and ride safe,