Rolf's cool Urraco wheel set reviewed.|
Saturday, July 15, 2000
When I pulled the Rolf Urraco wheels out of the box, a couple of tired old clichés came to mind... `You can't judge a book by its cover' and `beauty is only skin deep.' On the other hand, if Rolf's latest mid range priced wheel set rides as sweet as they look, I am going to need a dentist! The Urracos are built with shining black hubs, black spokes and glowing red rims. Sexy is an understatement. But it is the underlying construction and technology behind the beauty that makes these wheels so attractive.
Rolf uses what they call paired spoke technology to decrease the weight of each wheel while increasing the radial and lateral load capacity. In addition to fewer spokes, (20 in front and 24 in the rear). Rolf achieves this by aligning the spokes next to each other along the rim, which spreads the dynamic load cycle over two spokes at any given time. As a result, spoke tension can be set at considerably higher levels than on conventional wheels. Translation? The wheels are stronger and stiffer laterally, which means more precise tracking, prolonged spoke life and reduced rim fatigue. The front wheel weighs in at 670g and the rear at 995g. Using titanium skewers with non-quick release bolts can decrease this weight even more.
The Urraco's rear rims feature an asymmetrical design, which offsets the spoke bed to reduce wheel dish and tension disparity. In layman's terms this means the spoke tension is more even, creating a much stronger rear wheel. In addition to the asymmetrical rim, the Urraco's high low flange design ensures maximum torque transfer in the rear wheel. The flange is larger on the non-drive side of the wheel and pulls the spokes with greater leverage than on the smaller drive side flange during each pedal stroke. The greater leverage compensates for the non-drive spokes sitting at lower initial tension - pulling them to the same total peak tension of the drive side pulling spokes. Equal tension on both sides of the wheel means you'll get the most out of each pedal stroke.
The shining black hubs are built to withstand a beating as well. Let me explain why by comparing them to your basic Shimano hub. All Shimano hubs are sealed mechanism or loose ball type. The bearings roll on a surface that is built into the hub itself. When that surface is ruined by contamination of the bearings by water, mud, lack of grease, etc., then the entire hub must be replaced which usually means just buying a whole new wheel. The upside to these hubs is that they are cheap to make and hold up O.K. in non-hostile environments like Texas and Arizona, as long as the bearings are kept lubricated. Again the basic principle is that they are cheap and easy to build.
Cartridge bearing hubs, like the Rolfs and others like Chris King, Hugi, Real, and some WTB hubs, use encased bearings that are pressed into the hub body and can be removed as a bearing set. So, if they are ruined or damaged you can just take them out, clean up the surfaces of the hub insides and just press new bearings in. At this point you basically have a new hub without replacing the whole wheel. Cartridge sealed bearings are initially more expensive than loose balls and the require a different type of hub. However, any initial costs of the hub are offset by the fact that the hubs are repairable while the loose balls are not. If you live in hostile areas, Southwest Canada, the Pacific Northwest or the Northeast Coastal area of the US, Cartridge bearings are a must in hubs and headsets if you can afford them. While the Urraco's are not disc brake compatible, they are built with sealed cartridge bearings and a dirt shield that increases the hub's durability in wet muddy regions. The rims however, are not ceramic coated as the higher end Rolfs are. The result is that they may not last as long in these harsher regions.
How do they ride? For a mid-level wheel, the Urraco's are stiff and remarkably strong. Not a single ounce of energy is lost during powerful pedal strokes due to the wheel flexing. During turns, the Urraco's track like a train on a rail providing you with increased confidence at higher speeds. Not to mention, the sealed hubs hold up well in muddy, wet, winter conditions.
The retail price range is $499 to $549 per a set. It may be a bit high, but this is one "book" with a beautiful cover, that you'll enjoy reading. Sorry, I meant riding.