Friday, February 20, 2009

Zipp ZedTech: Addressing Freud’s Model of the Psyche

Well, race season has begun, Fabian Cancellara took the prologue at the Tour of California (and summarily bowed out), and heading into today’s time trial, Levi Leipheimer has the lead as the sun is finally making a showing in California. Was it just me who found it intriguing that longtime Cerveloite Cancellara won aboard a Specialized? I loved the California bear motif on Levi Leipheimer’s TTX, and the understated matte black Lance had going on his rig. And we saw a bike with triathlon heritage, the Kuota Kueen K, cutting its teeth in UCI road racing on Team OUCH.
And of course, we saw an idiot steal the equivalent of a cycling Mona Lisa (aka Lance Armstrong’s TT bike), then return it on the sly. To quote Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights: "That's just dumb." I thought they would have to pull out this test bike, from when I was at the tunnel last fall during his fit and product testing session. We'll see what he rides today at high noon.

Yeah, it’s that season, to start seeing who’s on what, what prototypes are going on, which is why I’m in Solvang today; to not only watch the TT, but also see what everyone has on their bikes. The Tour of California is a bellwether to what we’ll see the top pros in triathlon upon. It’s my favorite time of the year. I got a look at Cervelo TestTeam on last Tuesday at the San Diego Wind Tunnel and saw some pretty wicked stuff, and I’m quite certain I’ll see some things that will be of keen interest and utility to triathletes. I’ve already been asked to a few team and camps, with the promise of seeing some special stuff.I spoke to the folks at Zipp Speed Weaponry, who pointed me in the direction of some athletes’ bikes to see some special stuff when in Solvang. While there’s a lot of sex factor to their goods (and rightly so), Zipp has been delivering wheels that are so well engineered, studied, tested, it’s no wonder the Indiana-based company is one of the leaders. I was reminded of that when Zipp’s Andy Paskins reminded me that there will be heaps of athletes this weekend running Zipp wheels unbranded, wheels that the teams pay for of their own impetus.

OK, why the leading headline? That’s quite a statement, eh?

Freud came up with three facets of the human psyche: the id, the ego and super-ego. The id is impulsive action, satisfying for the now. The ego reasons for long-term benefit. And the super-ego keeps it all in check, with reason that serves as a conscience.

Maybe Zipp has a psychoanalyst on staff; ZedTech creates the watering mouth effect for the id (can you say custom color decals and hubsets?); the desire for something for substantial drag numbers that the ego will require; and takes care of that nagging super-ego with the consideration that if you don’t have these wheels, you’ll be slower. And your mind finally gives, saying, I gotta have these.”

While on its face they look the same, The 2009 iteration of the Zipp line, including the ZedTech configuration, have undergone massive changes, that will improve us both fashionally and functionally.

ZedTech is all about, well, me. Well, I mean you. “Me” in terms of being able to show your style. While the ZedTech consumer gets the dimpled hubs (the rest of the Zipp consumer base does not have access to this option), it’s about the color and flash.

So like Burger King thing, Zipp says you can have it your way. To illustrate it, visit Here, you can visually build your wheels graphically. You can choose pre-created decal designs, or do it all on your own.

Zipp invited me to experience the ZedTech customer’s experience, and the fun part is picking the look of your wheels. At the website, you can select every aspect of the wheel; decal color, hub external cap colors, bearings (steel or ceramic) and spoke nipple color.

Designing your decal design is all you. You can use a full color palate to determine the colors of the individual Z-I-P-P lettering, background and Advanced Technology Group lettering underneath. Zipp marketing manager Andy Paskins tells me he’s seen some “interesting” designs so far. Very political of him not to make any judgements. I hoped the crew at Zipp didn’t laugh at my design idea, whatever I came up with.

I have bikes of mostly a red or blue motif, so I wanted something that would work on either bike. I also went to the University of Arizona, so I thought, why not an Arizona Wildcats color concept? I chose a red inner lettering with blue trim and white ATG lettering. The hubs would be red, spoke nipples a simple grey, and went with a simple standard bearing setup. The wheels? It would be the Craig Alexander Special, the same wheelset he ran to take his Hawaii Ironman title last fall: a 404 front and an 808 rear.

As cool as they look, the true advancement in the new wheels (not just ZedTech but all wheels) comes in the details. First, Zipp re-designed the rim shape, with a slightly more blunt and rounded apex to the rim. The brake track has been angled a bit more as well, Zipp says.

The biggest advance from a functional standpoint comes in the new 88 front hub and 188 rear hub, which are 276 grams a pair. Gone is the somewhat flimsy carbon fiber dust cap on the non-drive side. In comes a bearing shield, and a clinch nut on the non-drive side of the rear hub.

The bearings are now a fair bit more protected from the elements with that dustcap replaced by the bearing shield. But more importantly you and I now have the ability to set the pre-load on the bearings. There is a factory setting of .08 Nm, but if you feel like you want it a bit looser for a more free run when it’s set and secured into your dropouts wih your quick releasen, you can do it with a 2mm hex key. Of course, it’s your onus to be sure they’re not too loose, so as not to allow too much play that can damage your bearings.

The big, stiff 17mm axle is larger than that found in cross-country mountain bike version, and you have the choice of either ceramic bearings, or Swiss-made steel bearings that Zipp says are rounder than many other subpar ceramic bearing offerings on the market— 10 millionths of an inch of tolerance, which is 2.5 times tighter a tolerance than the other guys. So, the wheel will roll better and faster with less friction and drag with such a smooth bearing.

Hub manufacturing has other proprietaries that make the flanges more crack-resistant. And, each front and rear hub has its spoke holes cut specific to a rim, for the most direct, optimal travel of spoke from hub to rim—reducing stress risers. Boring stuff on its face, but when your high-strung wheel has a weak hub and it fails, it’ll matter. Especially on race day.

About two weeks later, the box showed up at our office, and for your spend, they deliver with a showroom-floor perfect polish. The hubs are gorgeous and with the color option really set off the complete complimentary look of your bike. They’re also a fair bit more silent than their predecessor.

Complete with a set of Zipp Tangente Tubulars to complete the I got to take a maiden test voyage up the Coast Highway from Encinitas to Carlsbad. Are they fast? Does a bear…. ok, I’ll just say they are hella fast, unreal light. Braking was great, but no better than it was ever before; maybe I need a screaming descent to test that re-design. Nothing quantative here, but I’ve been on lots of wheels, and the sturdy build, the engineering, the testing I’ve seen them do, lead me to have a hell of a lot of faith in them that they have proven the wheels as fast. So it’s the wheelset I often default to when I am packing my bike away for a race.As a tinkerer, I love, love, love the ability to adjust my own preload. For those who like to know every facet of the bike, you can really tailor your bike for race day, making sure that you are getting as much resistance-free play with the wheel in the dropouts as you want—the wheels will be fast, and you have the ability to ensure that’s so.
My test set will make their true race debut at Ironman 70.3 New Orleans, which I will be covering and racing in early April. Meantime, I’ll watch the pros roadies put this new gear through its paces. It’s a wonder if any of the guys know just how much work went into these new 2009 wheels. Fortunately, I get to hang out with engineers like Josh Poertner and talk about this stuff for an hour or so in the Sands Convention Center halls in Vegas during Interbike.

See, the things you learn when you stay out of the strip clubs. It's enough to... uh... placate your ego.

Off to Solvang to see these wheels put to work…

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