The Bike List

American Classic Road Tubeless Wheelset £900

Tested by Christophe Demoulin, tester for The Bike List

Tubeless technology has been around for a good few years now, and seems to be very slowly gaining a foothold. It has yet to appear in any pro races to our knowledge, and remains a relatively rare sight at club outings too. Opinions amongst The Bike List team are mixed. Some think that it is solving a problem that doesn't exist and others think that this is likely to be the future for all road bikes once the technology has improved.

So, what is a tubeless system? In a nutshell, a tubeless tyre is one with no inner tube. Tubeless tyres look very much like standard clincher tyres which are used on the vast majority of road bike wheels, The main difference is that no inner tube is required, rather a fluid inside the tyre which seals any punctures as they happen. Aside from this very useful feature, the main advantage is that you can ride using lower tyre pressures which improves comfort and also grip. In addition to this, the lack of an inner tube reduces the rolling resistance. The chances of air escaping quickly are also much less likely when compared to using an inner tube which is a great safety feature. Losing air quickly whilst cornering can be a very dangerous, especially if you're unlucky and the tyre pops off the rim. Finally, for those weight conscious riders, a tubeless tyre and sealant combination is generally a bit lighter than a tyre and inner tube combination. So, by and large, there are similar benefits to tubular or 'tub' tyres (a tyre and inner tube all in one that is glued to the rim) but with the advantage of being able to insert a tube should you puncture, rather than hoping an un-cemented tub stays mounted on your rim.

You'll discover the disadvantage of tubeless tyres the first time you try and fit them. You'll need some patience as it might take you a while to get a seal until you have fitted a few sets and worked it out. The trick is to inject air quickly once you have fitted the tyre and poured in the required amount of liquid sealant.

You'll need a track pump or ideally an air compressor to inject the air quickly.

If you have trouble getting the tyre to seal then you'll need to squirt some soap suds on the area where the rim and tyre meet to help create an airtight seal and hopefully get the tyre to 'pop' on to the rim. If it sounds like a faff, that's because it is and it has taken some practise for me to be able to get tyres on quickly. So, in terms of fitting, it will almost certainly always be easier, cleaner and quicker to fit a standard inner tube and tyre combination. Once you've got this initial set up out of the way however you should experience many miles of trouble-free riding as the sealant inside the tyre will repair any minor cuts and nicks that you pick up on your travels. And of course as a backup you can always remove the valve and insert a normal inner tube should you need to. But this can be a rather messy affair with the sealing fluid getting all over your gear unless you're very careful.

That said, we can now move on to the actual wheelsets that we had on test: the Argent Road Tubeless - American Classic's top of the range tubeless wheels; and the Road tubeless - wheels with slightly shallower sections with more spokes. All the specs are promising before you even pull these out of the box: bladed spokes, 1372g for the Argents and 1232g for the Road, both with trend-following 22mm wide aero rims. Once fitted with tyres, you can tell just by looking at the wheels that they're going to be fast with a perfectly flush interface between the tyre and the rim and a slightly wider profile similar to Zipp Firecrests, Zipp Firestrikes, Enves and rims from other top end wheel manufacturers.

An important thing to note about tyre and rim width is that recent studies have shown a 25mm tyre is in fact the fastest road tyre size. Way back in the day, "thinner is faster" was the general trend which pushed 18mm tyres. Then we started moving towards yesterday's common favourite of 23mm.

But nowadays, you'll be hard pushed to find a pro bike that isn't donned with 25mm tyres.

A wider tyre offers more comfort and better handling around corners with more rubber on tarmac. Also, as both these wheelsets so successfully achieve, it is possible to have a more uniform cross-section contour of the tyre and rim if both are slightly wider. To put it more plainly, if you were to cut through the tyre and rim, most profiles would look like a lightbulb - the bulge of the tyre with the square shaped rim below. In this case, it's more of well rounded oval, where the widest part of the rim continues straight into the widest part of the tyre. American Classic's "Bead Barb technology" allows the tyre to hook into the rim comfortably, without any burping. Lastly, and crucially, a 25mm tyre absorbs and rolls over road imperfections with greater efficiency than a 23mm tyre. At equal pressures, the 23mm tyre is more likely to momentarily lose traction or skip over an imperfection such as small pothole, loose chippings etc., while the 25mm tyre will absorb it and roll straight through, maintaining all the power transition through to the tarmac.

While the Argents and Roads were both delivered already equipped with a pair of Ultremo ZX tubeless 23mm tyres, the rims pulled the tyres slightly wider, resulting in a 25mm tyre width and all the associated benefits, but without the weight penalty of riding a heavier and wider tyre. Throughout our testing, we were in awe of the comfort on offer by this system. The bike used for testing the wheelsets was a Cervelo S5, an outrageously fast but reputably harsh bike designed for speed and not comfort. Yet, we rode hundreds of plush, comfortable miles through the hills of Rutland, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and the Ardennes, something I never thought I'd say of an S5!

We took the brave decision of carrying out some field tests to compare both American Classic wheelsets to a pair of Fulcrums: the Racing Zero. I say 'brave' because it is inevitable that such tests can cause a few frowns, but we felt the need to test wheels more objectively. So, we developed a few field tests using power as the constant variable which, with the same tyres, should offer a reasonable degree of objectivity. However, these are field tests completed on open roads with shop bought equipment to measure performance that will not be 100% accurate. Temperature, wind direction and wind speed are simple examples of variables we simply have no control over.

The Argents are a slightly deeper section wheel at 30mm front and back compared to the Road's 21mm and Fulcrums 25/30mm front/rear combo. The AC's are also both slightly wider at 22mm compared to the Fulcrums which are 21mm wide. The results were astonishing: at a shade under 300W over 820 flat metres, the Argents were on average 6 seconds faster than the AC Road and 8 seconds faster than the Fulcrums, taking both a tailwind and a headwind into account. We also did a similar seated uphill test at 385W over 550m resulting in a similar result: the Argents were 10secs quicker than the Fulcrums, but 2secs slower than the slightly lighter AC Roads! Wheel weight will come into play more uphill, and as the claimed weight for the AC Roads is 1232g, and 1372g for the Argents, both have a lighter, tubeless system compared to the Fulcrum's 1435g plus tube and tyre.

The best way I can describe the riding experience on the Argents is a sensation of floating effortlessly along.

These wheels are seriously quick and unbelievably comfortable. They don't actually always feel as though they are even there, cutting through the wind silently and managing crosswinds admirably. Descents are exhilarating and cornering is solid, grounded and confidence inspiring thanks to the wider rim and the absence of a tube. But, every coin has a flipside…

The 18/24 spoke count is fairly standard on racing wheels, but the American Classic hubs that these spokes are laced to are very different to other manufacturers. The flange is just miniscule, especially on the front. It's hard to imagine how small the bearings must be to even fit in the front hub! As for the rear, the flange is unimposing, promising a low weight, but with questionable lateral stiffness. And indeed, the one weakness we found in our testing was the stiffness: with our brakes dialled out completely, we could still flex them enough in an out-of-the-saddle effort to get brake rub. Joking aside, this was a truly devastating discovery as the wheels had been superb in every single mile we put them through, until we got out the saddle.

American Classic have absolutely nailed the shallow but aero rim shape with the Argents. They're a fast set of wheels that go largely unaffected by side winds and the numbers from our field test do prove it relative to similar depth of rims. The tubeless technology did offer excellent comfort and improve the feel and handling, although the debate of clincher vs. tubular vs. tubeless remains and we won't seek to bottom it out here. But, the combination of rim, spokes and hubs that resulted in all of the aforementioned brilliance simply didn't give us the stiffness we would have liked out of a pair of fast racing wheels. Perhaps a lighter rider would draw greater benefit from the Argents, but at 72kg, I'm not exactly at the top end of any rider weight limit. The lack of stiffness was a small chink in the armour of a great wheelset,well worth considering especially for those seeking comfort and pleasure out of riding a bike.

The AC Road are a slightly different story though, with stiffness posing a much less significant problem for us.

We nailed plenty of 20%+ climbs in the Ardennes and weren't really all that concerned about flex.

The increased spoke count was probably a benefit, and perhaps the 140g difference compared to the Argents made it that little bit easier to beat gravity. However, the downside for the AC Road was the aerodynamic capability of the rim. By no means were the wheels slow - in fact they were slightly faster than the Fulcrums - but they just didn't give as much speed as the Argents. The aforementioned benefits on offer from the tubeless technology obviously remains on these wheels, with increased comfort, superb handling and generally a 'floaty' feeling. But you've got to turn the pedals a bit harder to get shifting on the AC Roads. Perhaps a more balanced wheelset than the Argents for the sake of stiffness, and as a result, the American Classic Road Tubeless would get my vote. A generally better all rounder for the same price.

Find out how the American Classic Argent Road Tubeless Wheelset scored.

At a glance

Verdict American Classic’s Road Tubeless are genuine all rounders that will see you through miles of comfortable, fast riding on all terrains – a top choice.
Value
Performance

American Classic says:

  • Discipline: Road
  • Rims: Road Tubeless 310gr Aluminum Clincher Rims 700c
  • Spokes: AC Race Blade 14/16 Gauge Spokes Black | AC Aluminum Nipples Silver | 24h Radial Front | 24h 3-Cross Drive, Radial non-Drive Rear
  • Weight: FRONT 543gr | REAR 689gr | PAIR 1232gr
  • Hubs/Spacing: FRONT Micro 58 100 mm | REAR AC High-low 130 mm | Rear Spline Shimano/SRAM 10/11 or Campagnolo 10/11
  • Look/Colour: AC Black Uppercut with Gray Hubs
  • Included: AC Tubeless Road Tape Installed | AC Tubeless Valves
  • Quick Release: Cromoly QR's
  • Upgrades: Ceramic Bearings | Ti QR's | Wheel Bag
  • Other: For race or special event use // Can be ridden with regular tire and tube

Weight pair

1232g (Front 543g / Rear 689g)

Spokes front

18 radial

Spoke count rear

24 - 3 cross drive, radial non drive

Spoke type

Bladed

Rim width

22mm

Rim depth

30mm

Rider weight limit

235kg

Rim weight

310g

Hubs / Spacing

FRONT Micro 58 100 mm | REAR AC High-low 130 mm | Rear Spline Shimano/SRAM 10/11 or Campagnolo 10/11

 

Description

Three decades of research, development and results bring the world's fastest, technologically advanced tubeless road race wheels to you. Bill Shook mathematically engineered our 22mm wide, 310 gram tubeless rims for high performance and aero-dynamics with convenient tubeless flat proof technology. They are simple to set up because of the pre-installed inner AC fiber tape layer and outer AC honey colored double tape layer. Add your favorite tubeless ready clincher tires and pump liquid sealant into the system through our included, proven AC tubeless valves. The liquid sealant replaces the conventional tube. Your tires seal tight without burping on the rim's large bead seat and bead barb. Low spoke count Series 3 lacing for torsional stability and stiffness. Hand built with our new AC Race Blade spokes specifically designed for this rim. Fast accelerating, nimble climbing and descending, steady cornering, smooth riding, speedy low friction rolling without flats. All this in one fast wheel set to make every race your best.

AC Road Tubeless Technology


AC tubeless wheels take rim technology to the next level. Our mountain bikers are successfully riding and racing tubeless, and now this innovation is available for our AC road riders. Our tubeless wheels are set up with a base layer of AC fiber tape covering the spoke holes and two layers of AC honey colored tape to seal the rim. Next, install tubeless ready clincher tires and pump liquid sealant into the system through our proven AC valves. The liquid sealant replaces the conventional tube.

You may ask how our tubeless system works. Bill Shook designed the rim with a bead barb running along the edge of the bead shelf. When installed, the tire firmly pops into position over the bead barb. The tire bead centers and tightly grips the circumference of the rim creating a sealed environment to hold the liquid sealant without burping.

The number one reason to run tubeless wheels is to avoid flat tires. In the event of a puncture, the sealant quickly fills and closes small holes in the tire preventing flats caused by glass, metal and other debris. Pinch flats can not occur as the tube is not part of the system.

Our tubeless system is about speed. It lowers wheel weight at the extreme outer edge of the rim resulting in lower rolling resistance and better performance. In a traditional clincher set up, the tire and tube interface moves as the wheel rolls, creating friction and energy loss. With the AC tubeless set up, there is no frictional energy loss between the tire and tube because the tube is gone. Liquid sealant is lighter than a tube. You can ride lighter weight tires with our tubeless system because you don't have to use tires made with heavy, inflexible puncture layers. Overall, our tubeless system is lighter and the wheel will spin up faster with less rider energy output. And the best part is flat tires are past history.

Supplier: Todays Cyclist, +44 (0)1332 274252, todayscyclist.co.uk