Round And Round We Go

I gotta say, this bike’s really working for me this week:

I’ve had it set up for my older son, and so the stem is two centimeters shorter than what I usually use. I thought of changing it back, but it turns out it feels great, most likely because I’ve got at least two extra centimeters of belly fat to hunch over since I last rode the bike regularly. Pro bike fitting tip of the day: consuming beer is more fun and less tedious than swapping stems, so if the reach on your bike is too short, I recommend simply drinking your way there.

While the Litespeed is from 2001 (well, the frame, anyway) I acquired it in 2019 from Classic Cycle in what I consider to be an extremely favorable trade. I got the bike of my erstwhile turn-of-the-century Fredly Cat 3 dreams, and they got this:

I call that a win-win.

The Mavic Ksyrium wheels on the Litespeed are the wheels that came with the bike. Like any cyclist who owns multiple Rivendells (Rivendae?) and writes pompous think pieces about friction shifting, I of course think pre-packaged wheels are “icky,” especially ones with lots of proprietary parts. At the same time, if a perfectly good pair comes into my purview, I’m more than happy to use them. Also, there was a time when I didn’t think such wheels were icky; I thought they were cool, and riding the Ksyriums reminds me of how those cunning Frenchmen at Mavic so captured the imaginations and wallets of Freds all around the world.

Mavic gets most of the credit and/or blame for the whole idea of the out-of-the-box “wheel system” or whatever you want to call it. In fact, I think Campagnolo were doing it before them with wheelsets like the Shamal, and Spinergys and Hed Tri-Spokes also go way back. But it’s the Mavic Helium everyone thinks about when they think of the prototypical pre-built wheel, probably because Mavic made a big deal on the Helium’s 10th anniversary and convinced everyone they invented the concept:

As a young Fred I remember being captivated by the Helium, even though it was just an ordinary wheel with a red rim and too few spokes. I was similarly taken with the Cosmic, which compensated for having too few spokes by having a too-heavy rim:

[Pic from here.]

As well as the Classics wheelset, which had barely enough spokes, but which Mavic’s marketing people tried to convince you was overbuilt by putting the word “Classics” on it:

[Pic from here.]

Then in 1999 they came out with this:

I’d been racing on a set of Cosmic something-or-others, which had a finicky rear hub and had to be sent back to Mavic at least once. So naturally when Mavic introduced an even more proprietary wheel I absolutely had to have it. Sure, it’s hoary and clunky-looking now, but when the Ksyrium first came out it seemed impossibly exotic, and yet it promised to be a crit wheel and an aero wheel and climbing wheel and a training wheel–all at the same time! Plus, it didn’t use rim tape (hello-weight savings!!!), and the spokes were aluminum, just like your bike! I’m too lazy to look it up, but my recollection is that the Ksyrium cost something like $800 or $900 at the time, which was very expensive for a set of wheels back then; sure, they’d pioneered all sorts of proprietary gimmicks technologies with this thing, but the real accomplishment was convincing people they needed to spend close to $1,000 for a set of all-around performance wheels. (Remember: this was at a time when even if your local bike shop no longer built wheels you could still get a set of well-built Ultegra/Open Pro wheels from like Colorado Cyclist or whatever that were superior to the Ksyrium in nearly every way for like $250.)

Anyway, the fat-spoked Ksyriums looked absolutely fantastic on my fat-tubed Cannondale. This was also the height of the colored road bike tire craze, and until they started to peel the exciting decals looked great with red or blue or grey or whatever hue I happened to be riding that week. Then one day I was riding through Manhattan and was the victim of a tragic act of violence when a young miscreant ran out into the street and kicked the wheel of my fancy race bike for no reason, sending it way out of true. Even after taking it to the shop where professionals tended to it with the proprietary Mavic spoke wrench and hockey puck you need to true it, the wheel was never quite right again. So I gave up on them and bought a beautiful pair of blue Open Pro-rimmed wheels with Dura ace hubs, on which I seem to recall I got a very good deal as by this point such wheels were all but un-sellable to “serious” roadies. And that was that.

Having more or less gotten off the Mavic wheel system horse in the early 2000s, these newer Ksyriums seem positively futuristic to me, and yet at this point they’re over 15 years old. I guess the red spoke is meant to memorialize the Helium, and thanks to the aluminum spoke technology they’re able to broadcast one of their many acronyms on it:

Consulting a popular search engine, “ISM Technology” refers to Inter-Spoke Milling, which is a pretentious way of saying they scrape some material off the rim in between the proprietary nipples:

Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s done quite judiciously, only they left out the “J” since otherwise it’d be JISM.

Around the time this iteration of the Ksyrium came out, Mavic substituted a bearing in the freehub with a bushing. This bushing would eventually dry up and/or wear out, especially if not lubricated, leading to a screeching sound when coasting that people refer to as the “Mavic death squeal” or something like that. I was still “racing” at that time, and so I have heard it in person; like the sound of cats fucking, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Even though I’ve never experienced it with these wheels, being neurotic as well as a tinkerer (they tend to go together), awhile back I tried to replace the bushing with an aftermarket bearing, a procedure I managed to botch. I then ordered upgraded pawls from a guy who specializes in Mavic parts, since supposedly the reason they start howling is the original pawls were too soft and as they wore the micro-debris would wear out the bushing or something ridiculous like that. All of this was almost certainly a waste of time, since I don’t use the wheels nearly enough to need to worry about it happening any time soon. Nevertheless, before my ride this morning I took the freehub apart in order to administer a preemptive lube job:

The retrogrouches among us love to decry all this proprietary performance-oriented technology, though the problem with it really isn’t the technology itself so much as the delusional people who purchase it, and often we get upset at companies for making products we really shouldn’t be buying in the first place. Basically, starting in the late ’90s we seemed to accept the notion that we should have special fancy race wheels on our road bikes all times, which is completely ridiculous. However, there is one good thing you can say about wheels like this, which is that they’re designed so that a team mechanic can overhaul like 20 of them in a single night in the middle of a stage race. So while the bushing that saves like 20 grams may start loudly protesting if not lubed frequently enough, at least lubing it is a simple matter of taking two Allen keys and popping the freehub off:

You don’t even need to remove the cassette first in order to get full access to the internals:

Once in there, it’s just two pawls, that bushing, and some skateboard bearings:

There was still plenty of the synthetic motor oil I’d lubed it with last time I was in there, but I wiped some of the peripheral grime away and added some Dumonde freehub oil for good measure:

The Ksyriums are just old enough to seem funky and outdated, but hopefully with due care I can keep them rolling until they become properly vintage. Because when it comes to bikes, everything comes back into style, whether you want it to or not.

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