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Jun 25, 2019

Carbon wheel curious?   This week we feature a conversation about carbon wheels for gravel with Boyd Cycling founder, Boyd Johnson sponsored by Thesis Bike.


Boyd Cycling Website

Boyd Cycling Instagram


Welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I'm your host Craig Dalton. This week we've got Boyd Johnson from Boyd cycling out of Greenville, South Carolina on to talk about wheels. I don't know about you, but I've always thought about the carbon wheel upgrade for my bikes, but never actually pulled the trigger like many of you have. And part of the reason was I didn't really fully understand all the attributes of a carbon wheel and and what did we get me. The other thing I've been thinking about a lot has been rim width as it's come up in a number of conversations and the effect on tires and how they perform and how the tread spreads out. So how it will make a 47 maybe feel like a 50 with the different rim combination. These are all the kinds of things I asked Boyd about. He's been in the business for over a decade with the decade before that as a professional cyclist, so he's got a lot of wisdom on the subject.

Bring to bear before we get started this week. I've got a new segment. It's a sponsored segment from thesis bike. Randall. Jacob's one of the co-founders of Thesis and one of the guys that I go to in my local community when I have a deep technical question about gravel equipment. He's going to do a little teaser about some different bits of technology that you might want to think about when purchasing your next gravel bike. This week we're going to dig into dropper posts and Randall's going to talk about some of the different ways that you should be thinking about this product. We'd love your feedback on this new segment, so please feel free to shoot me a note If there's different areas you'd like our tech expert to drill into, just shoot me a note and let us know and I'll be sure to pass that along. So with that, here's Randall.


Thanks, Craig.

Today, I’m going to share with you why I think dropper posts are a game changer for gravel.

It starts with control.

Because a dropper post lets you drop your saddle out of the way, you’re able to shift your center-of-mass down and back over the rear wheel.  This in turn lets your front wheel to roll and sail while your legs are acting as suspension, and your rear brake, not your front, is doing most of your speed control. Because you’re not asking your front wheel to brake so much, your front tire is less likely to wash out, and if you come into a corner to hot, you’ll be able to fully utilize both brakes to slow down without lawn-darting over your handlebars.

Tech Corner with Randall of Thesis Bike

Now, of course, if you have more control, you’re going to be faster through technical terrain. However, just as important when it comes to speed is the fact that you don’t have to compromise your saddle position to get that control. Instead, you can optimize your fully-extended position for pure power and efficiency, then drop your saddle as needed when things get rough.

Finally, a dropper significantly extends the capability of your bike. Especially if you’re just getting into gravel, a dropper is going to give you that extra bit of confidence and margin of safety that lets you really push your limits. And because you’re not introducing any suspension slop into the system, you’re still getting that snappy feel when you swap in a set of road slicks.

Now, the weight-weenies are going to worry that a dropper is going to add almost a pound relative to a standard post, and...yeah, sure. Keep in mind, though: that pound is just a fraction of a percent of the total weight of your body, bike, and gear. Whatever hypothetical impact it may have on the climbs is going to be more than made up for by the extra control, power, and capability you’re gaining everywhere on your ride, including on the climbs.

So that’s my take on dropper posts. I’d love to get your feedback and appreciate you listening. Now, back to Craig and this week’s guest.

Boyd, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me.

Yeah. Boyd, I'd love to learn a little bit more about your cycling background before we get into a deep dive into gravel cycling rooms and wheel technology.

Yeah. So I've pretty much been my whole life. I started riding my bike when I was 12 years old, uh, with my dad. And, uh, we used to do the MS bike rides together. Uh, soon after that started racing my bike. It was all on the road and was very fortunate to where I got to the point where I wrote full time on the road for about 10 years. Uh, and with that, you know, sponsored by a lot of different wheel companies. Saw what made stuff good, what, you know, med stuff not so good and what we could do bit better. Um, so, you know, the love of the wheel set was born just throughout decades of writing.

And were you cycling out of the East Coast at that point?

Yeah, most of our stuff was east coast based. Uh, we're fortunate enough on the east coast where a lot of the cities are close together. So driving to a lot of criteriums, uh, following the national calendar, um, got to race a little bit. And, uh, you know, the Caribbean Central America and a little bit in Europe, most of the stuff was east coast based.

Interesting. And were you, were you mountain biking as well during that period?

Not at all. Um, I didn't start mountain biking until, um, after I was, you know, I still call retired from bicycle racing. Uh, no longer racing full time.

Gotcha. And at what point did the gravel bug start hitting you?


uh, that would've been in 2008. Uh, we went and did the baton kill race. It was on the UCI calendar at that point and it was long before gravels riding was really a thing. And uh, it was a 200 kilometer bike race, upstate New York, lots of gravel roads on there and everybody showed up on their road bikes. I remember I was using 22 millimeter tubular tires pumped up to 110 psi because that's just what we did. And uh, after that it was, it was really cool finding the gravel roads. I'd been writing some around Greenville area in preparation for this race because I was so excited about it.

This is Greenville, have a lot of gravel road options.

Yeah. So a little bit north of town. We've got some great gravel roads. Um, so you know Joe Kasey, we've named the wheel set after tons of gravel riding in there. And the first time I ever rode in Joe Cassie was on my road bike, 25 millimeter tires. And uh, you know, I started riding there a lot more and you know, that's where the, that's where the inspiration for the Joe Kathy wheel came from because we started increasing our tire sizes. So I ended up getting a cyclocross bike and running 32 millimeter tires on that. And then I put 38 millimeter tires and 40 millimeter tires and every time I was increasing the tire size, the traction got better. But the bike geometry felt a little bit off. I felt super tall. I was getting tow overlap. Uh, Mike, your ratio is changing and that's where we were pretty early on saying we need to shrink down this wheel set and increased the tire size. So the Joe Cassy was born out of that and riding the six 50 be set up around those roads.

Why the fuck I want to drill into that, but let's take a step back. So at some point you decided that we'll building and selling wheels and designing wheels is going to be a professional opportunity for you. Did you have a manufacturing background or where you kind of learning on the fly and taking just your, you know, what you've learned as a professional cyclist and bringing it to a manufacturing position?


So I made a lot of connections through my psych claim. Um, when it was time to launch the company. Um, I mean it was actually really good timing. I was just finishing up my last year as a pro cyclist. Uh, I had a job as a cycling coach and then I was also divided developing a cycling computer. And so life was already pretty busy, but I started making contacts with a lot of manufacturers and, and uh, in 2009 I called them my wife, uh, she was at the Interbike trade show and I said, you know what? It's time to start this company. I think we're going to do this. And uh, so I started contacting a bunch of the manufacturers when we first started. We were using open mode grams. Uh, we were very upfront about that and uh, but stuff that we had always, you know, test it out really well. We were building all the wheels in house. So the QC that happened was really well done. And uh, yeah, wheels were something that really started taking off for us.

And was that that original wheel set? Was that a aluminum wheel set?

We had a couple aluminum options and then a few carbon options.

Okay. One of the things I've always sort of been interested in having some on board talking about is, you know, as a writer, as you're thinking about making the choice between aluminum and carbon, what are the things you should be thinking about and what are the attributes of carbon that makes it such a special wheel set?

Yeah. And so, you know, a lot of people have that question, you know, should I get carbon or should I get aluminum? And both options are really good. I mean, you know, there's some really good alloy wheels out there. Obviously they're going to come in at a better price in the wheel set. So budget concerns is something that know we really take into consideration when recommending a wheel set with the carbon you're getting better impact resistance and better stiffness to weight ratio. So you can build up a stiffer wheel with better impact protection when you go carbon. And that's why I really like it for mountain biking and for gravel riding.

Yeah, it sounds like, you know, the investment is an investment in a wheel that is going to have the durability to take all the abuse you can throw at it.

Yeah. And you know, I've seen pictures of broken carbon parts and that is the downside. You know, when, when you damage it in aluminum product, it bends and it doesn't look as bad when you damage a carbon product, you know, it reaches a point of failure. And you know, that's where people like to show the pictures of broken carbon frames and wheels. But it takes so much more to get to that point compared to an aluminum aluminum. So, for example, like you have an aluminum wheel we'll set and you might dent that far before you would break your carbon wheel set.

I'm remembering Taco in a wheel back in my early mountain bike days. I guess Taco isn't really something to describe a broken carbon rim,

right? Yeah. I mean that's usually what you would find a, anytime you would break a carbon mountain bike grandmas, you know, somebody lands and if you're landing too hard, you're going to get stuff around the uh, uh, like the four o'clock and eight o'clock positions. Uh, that's where the rooms actually going to break. And it's from the compression of the rim.

Yeah. Is it typically from hitting a hard object, like a rock in the follower?

Uh, it's more so like you're really compressing that rim. So landing hard landing, you know, without grace will say rock strikes or something that, um, you know, obviously that can still do that with a mountain bike. You've got such a big air buffer with your tire that we don't see a lot of impacts on the hook of the rim.

Right. Again, budget, not withstanding the jump to carbon will typically get you not only a more durable wheel set, but also potentially a lighter. We all set,

it depends on what you're building at four. So like for example, on our mountain bike wheel sets, um, right now they're designed for that all mountain and Duro typewriting. And so that carbon layup has gotta be reinforced pretty good. Uh, we don't want to have the carbon wheels set that we have to tell people all the time they can't use it. And so we reinforced the carbon pretty well and the carbon wheel set actually comes in a little bit heavier than the aluminum wheel set.

Okay. And then in your, your gravel lineup, does it tend to be lighter than your aluminum wheels or heavier?

So one of the things we do with gravel is we realized a lot of these events are taking place where you're spending a lot of time above 18 miles per hour. Um, most of the events I do, they're going to be some on the road, some on the gravel, there's a mix of climbs, descends, speed is all over the place. And so we put an Arrow profile on all of our gravel carbon stuff, uh, about 36 millimeters deep. And so with that you do get some aero benefit and you know, we found that saving a couple of grams of weight when you already have a pretty heavy tire is not something that's going to be that beneficial.

Is that same profile, does it exist on your 700 CE will sets as well as your six?

Correct. Um, it's the same rim shape, uh, the width or a little bit different. And then of course the outside diameter is different.

Do you think about the wheels differently when you're thinking about creating a high performance 700 see wheel versus a six 50 be wheel?

Mainly it has to do with the tire shape. And so one of the things that we really look at is, you know, what size tire are people going to be running? So somebody who's running six 50 B, we designed that around a 47 millimeter tire with the 700 c more than likely on the gravel, they're using a 36 to a 40 millimeter tire. And so what we look at is what's the tire pressure going to be? What does that tire shape look like? How much is it going to deflect when you're riding and really trying to create a good contact patch and, uh, good shape between the tire and the rim.

As you've seen change over the years. Can you actually talk about how, why that's been occurring, why the wider rims have started to appear and what the benefits are?

Yeah, so the big benefits, I mean, you spread your tire out a little bit and you're not creating this big light bulb shape. Uh, so for example, for road tires, uh, back when the rims were 13 millimeters internal, um, people started riding 25 millimeter tires. Your rim, your tire would bend it back so far that you would almost have this light bulb shape to it. And with that, you're not having good handling your tires moving around a little bit. So with road tires especially, they started going wider rams and matching the tire profile. So, you know, taking a 25 millimeter tire onto a 20 millimeter internal rim. So there's aero benefits, there's handling benefits. You can run a bit lower pressure with that. So there's comfort benefits. Uh, when we start looking at, you know, mountain bike and gravel and your tire start getting larger, you do need them to bend back a little bit. You'd want some of the light bulb shape in there.

Well, you were just describing before we got disconnected. How with the gravel or mountain bike tire, you do want a little bit of that light bulb shape, uh, when you're looking at it, can you, can you dig into that a little bit and describe why you want that shape? Yeah,

yeah. So using the light bulb shape a little bit on your gravel tires and your mountain bike tires, um, you know, number one, a lot of times you've got hooked us beats on there. And so you want something where the tire Ben's back to fit into the ram. Uh, you're also running lower pressure. And so if you're tired, come out too far with that lower pressure, you're doing two things, you're creating more contact patch with the surface and you're also really exposing the sidewall of the tires. And so, you know, if you start running like a, uh, to point to a mountain bike tire on a 30 millimeter internal rem, your sidewalls are exposed so much that you turn and you're going to be doing rock strikes and cutting through your sidewall. The same thing holds up for gravel tires.

Okay. So that, that's sort of the pinching of the light bulb kind of protects the sidewall, which is really designed around hooking up with the rem rather than providing any traction or turning performance.

Yeah. And so it's, it's protection and it's also, you know, uh, just a better shape for those larger volume tires.

As you've seen the industry evolve to kind of accommodate that with particularly in gravel, have the tire designs changed with an understanding that, you know, the rim is now allowing for the tire to have, uh, a larger contact patch?

I mean, I think with especially gravel riding, what we're seeing is kind of, it's splitting into two segments. And so there's the racing segment, which is, you know, the tire tires for that are trying to be as light as possible. Sometimes you know, to, to light to where you know, you're really risking flatting. Um, and those don't have the sidewall protection. Uh, then we're seeing more of the adventure cyclists, the backpacker who flatting is something that's just out of the question for them. And so they don't care if their tires a little bit slower. So that's where we're seeing more of that edge to edge tire protection. And so, you know, looking at designing around the width for that, um, you know, you're seeing people using larger and larger tires and the racing gravel seen is using more of the 36, uh, even 32 millimeter tires on gravel and the bike paths, venture scene in force treads and sidewalls.

Right. Yeah. It's interesting, like as we, as I speak to event organizers and athletes in different regions around the country, tire selection definitely rears its head. And imagine rim selection would as well based on where you, where you're at. A lot of the courses out here in mile mind on the west coast kind of are trending towards a little bit bigger tire than a a 32 or 36. But I know from talking to friends riding East Coast gravel scene, they're definitely racing on those, you know, 32 and 36.

Yeah. And we've got a lot of, you know, more sandy streets here. I mean there's some chunky gravel that happens. Um, but for example, I did a gravel race a couple weeks ago and I actually used a gravel, tubular tires, um, very lightweight tubular tires on there and I was estimating, I probably saved 150 grams per wheel between my room setup and tire setup compared to a lot of other people.

Right. Yeah. And I guess that trade off works for you in that, in that instance, no flats, I assume

no flats, um, bonk like crazy. So, um, but, uh, that's definitely nothing to do with the tire selection.

Interesting. Why? Again, I think it's one of those equipment choices that I think you spend a lot of times thinking about and it evolves over time or whether you're going to be in the six 50 be really wide tire camp or sticking with the more sort of traditional red set up with the seminar at sea. We all sat in a little bit narrower tire.

Yeah. And that's one of the beauties of the gravel, uh, writing is, you know, it's not just a, you know, how you're, you know, performance. It's, it is equipment selection. It's knowing which equipment to use for the conditions. Um, you know, one of the questions we get asked the most is what tires should I use and what pressure should I run? And for road cycling, it's fairly easy to tell because we know people are riding on asphalt. And so we know the conditions for gravel. It's just one of those things where you've got to figure this out and you need to know what's going to work best for you and your writing style.

Yeah, I think as you alluded to earlier, you sort of need to pick where do you want to perform and what's important to you or is it all about speed or is it a a long event where having some comfort is going to be more important to you as an athlete then then going fast.

Yep. And even flat protection, you know, um, taking that risk of, you know, I may be a couple seconds slower, but if I don't flat I've saved minutes.

Yeah. It's interesting cause I think, you know, a lot of cyclists get drawn into the gravel seen from the road market more so from the mountain. So that progression to trying larger and larger tires and even going down to six 50 [inaudible] I think there's a lot of just personal hesitation to go there. But everybody I talked to you, it seems like who goes to six 50 be ultimately tends to appreciate the higher volume of the tires and the comfort that it provides for most rides.

Yeah. And it's, it's something where I don't think people realize how fast six 50 [inaudible] is even on pavement. Um, you know, you get some of the fast rolling tires like for example a WTB horizon or by way and you know, those roll on the pavement pretty well. Um, I just did our Tuesday night worlds. Uh, we average typically 26 to 27 miles per hour on a 35 mile road race course and I hung right in there on the six 50 by 47 millimeter tires.

Wow. Yeah, no, I think that is an important takeaway and it's come from a number of different sources that exact same sentiment that you know, a nice set of wheels, six 50 be with some, something like a byway that can take you from a a pack ride on the road into your favorite trails. It's super versatile and a lot of fun. And for me, I think in the bay area in Marin County, it opens up a world of possibilities because you can take some the best road riding around here and then take a right turn and head into the trail system whenever it strikes your fancy.

Yeah, I always get jealous whenever I fly into California, San Francisco airport. I fly over the mountains there and I just look down and see all the gravel roads available there. So

yeah, exactly. Well next time you're out I'll have to take you for a ride.


Well I appreciate the time and giving us a little bit of insight into rem technology and widths. The answer, a few questions that have been hanging around in my head for awhile and I'm going to continue my exploration of what tire sizes and what Rim wits, uh, are going to work best for me out here. And I've got a few events elsewhere in the country this year, so I'm going to have to go outside my comfort zone and I think try some narrower tires and 700 see wheels.

Yeah. And don't count out those gravel. Tubulars it's, it's amazing how well they felt. Uh, but the whole time just going through my head, I was like, don't flat dot flat, don't flat. Um, but it's something that, it feels really good even traction wise. Um, you know, going through the gravel. So.

Interesting. Oh boy. Thanks for the time. I'm going to put a link to your website on our show notes. I encourage everybody to go visit the Boyd website. There's some great videos about how the team over there hand builds the wheels and there's a little bit of on the blog. There's a great history of further how you started the company and what you've been doing the last decade, so thanks again. Have a good weekend and best of luck the rest of the year.

All right, thank you very much and look forward to seeing you at some of the events.

Big thanks to Boyd for coming on this week to talk all about gravel wheels and the things we should be considering when looking at carbon wheel sets. I learned a lot that had been a few nagging questions in my mind about all this stuff, so it was great to learn from one of the experts. Definitely check out the work that Boyd's doing. I hope you enjoyed this week's episode and if you haven't done so already, please hit subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform. We're doing some planning for the upcoming year, and it really helps us understand what type of hosting needs we're going to have in the upcoming year. As always, keep the feedback and suggestions coming. You can find, also on Instagram, Facebook under the gravel ride. So until next time, here's to finding some dirt under your wheels.