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Shook spoke very strongly about their tubeless road tires, and suggested we try his new Argent Tubeless clincher wheel. It is available in rim brake and disc brake versions; we opted for standard rim brakes.
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Let’s take a gander at the basic specs for the Argent Tubeless.
American Classic Argent Tubeless specifications:
Weight: Front 586g, rear 786g, 1,372g per pair
Rim material: Aluminum
Rim weight: 390g
Rim depth: 30mm advertised, 29.5mm measured
Rim width (external): 22mm advertised, 22.6mm measured
Rim width (internal): 19.4mm
Spokes: 18 front, 24 rear bladed spokes with aluminum nipples
Hub compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9-10-11 or Campagnolo 9-10-11
Size: 700c only
Includes: Tubeless rim tape, steel quick release skewers, tubeless valves, freehub spacer
Warranty: 1 Year
Also available in disc brake version
You may notice that the rim boasts a width of 22mm at the braking surfaces (my rim measured 22.6mm). While that certainly ventures in to wide rim territory, it’s the inner width of 19.4mm that jumps out at me. The photo below clearly shows all of the key rim dimensions:
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That is a very wide internal rim width relative to the outer rim width. Most standard aluminum and carbon road rims have a much larger difference.
How does American Classic pull it off? They’ve taken a page from the playbook of the latest tubeless mountain bike rims with very thin bead hooks. As you can see in the photo below, there is just a tiny raised ridge that serves as the clincher hook:
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This thin bead also makes for a very light rim – just 390 grams. For reference, many shallow training weigh in the range of 415 – 460 grams.
The Argent Tubeless wheels come with an accessory kit that includes tubeless valves, freehub spacers, and steel quick release skewers:
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If you’re familiar with American Classic, you know that they have manufactured a super minimal front hub for many years. It features low flanges to save weight, and pushes the bearings as far out to the side as possible to retain stiffness. This leaves the bearings fairly exposed to the elements, but for front hubs that is typically a non-issue. Rear hubs see much more grime and higher loads, while front hubs live a comparatively easy life.
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In the photo above, you can see the orange bearing seal peeking out.
The rear hub has, in my opinion, the coolest freehub design on the market for racing-intended wheels. Aluminum freehubs are soft, resulting in little notches getting dug in to them by your cassette cogs. Steel freehubs are strong enough to resist the notching, but are much heavier. Shook’s design has steel faces on a few splines of an otherwise aluminum freehub, resulting in very low weight and great durability.
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The rear wheel features now-common 2:1 lacing, and groups those spokes into trios:
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We’ve seen paired and grouped spokes from other companies such as Bontrager, Rolf, and Vuelta. Why does American Classic do it?
According to their website,
“Bill Shook obsessively engineers every wheel system to its optimal ‘sweet spot’; the balance of spoke tension, hub flange width, spoke angle and selection of the appropriate materials. After years of research and development, Bill Shook designed the American Classic three group spoke lacing for our 24 spoke rear wheel systems to build the strongest, stiffest and lightest road rear wheels in our line. We call this advanced system Series 3 for our 420 Aero 3, Magnesium, Road Tubeless, Aluminum Tubular and Carbon wheels.
The concept behind this lacing pattern is to create equal spoke tension for the drive and non-drive sides of the rear wheel, a state that cannot be reached in traditionally spoked wheels. Mathematically, this unique balance of spoke tension occurs on 24 spoked rear wheels. To achieve this balance, the rims are drilled in groups of three spoke holes. The spokes are laced to our [high-low 24 spoke hub]; two on the drive side of the wheel to one on the non-drive side. The result is more spokes on the drive side where the wheel needs to be strongest, and fewer spokes on the non-drive side. Bill Shook calculated the optimal position for the non-drive side hub flange to create the ideal bracing angle of the non-drive side spokes. ‘The three group spoke design is a better use of materials achieving the balanced use of the spokes with equal spoke tension on both sides of the rear wheel,’ says Shook.”
While you can use the Argent Tubeless wheels with standard clincher tires and tubes, I opted for the full experience. As you can see, the wheels arrived with orange tubeless-specific rim tape already installed:
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These wheels have very specific requirements for what tires you can use, and this was a source of some confusion for me. I happened to have two pairs of tubeless tires in my garage – the Hutchinson Fusion 3 700x23 and Intensive 700x25. As of today, these are probably the two most common tubeless road tires on the market, and I was eager to try them. Due to a misunderstanding, I thought that they were fine to use with the Argents, so I mounted up the Fusion 3’s… with considerable difficulty. They were really, really tight on the rims. I had to use a long shop tire lever, and highly doubt that I could remove the tire on the side of the road.
I later learned via email that all tubeless tires with carbon beads tend to have trouble with the American Classic tubeless rim, which includes all Hutchinsons. I was instructed to call in to American Classic customer service for further recommendations (they do not include this information on their website). Through the course of this process, I learned that the best tires to use with these wheels are the new-for-2014 Schwalbe One, and the newer IRC tubeless tires. Unfortunately, I did not have either of these tires available.
In any case, I had the Hutchinson tires on my wheels already, so I pumped them up for a ride. Due to the snug fit between the wheels and tires, they pumped up very easily with a floor pump; no air compressor required here. I did find that the valves (pictured below) were somewhat finicky.
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Specifically, notice the non-threaded portion just to the right of the plungers. Similar to other valve extenders with this design, not all pump heads maintain a good grip on them. I have a brand new Specialized Air Tool Pro pump, which has a fantastic grip on almost any valve, including these. I also have a trusty Topeak Joe Blow pump that I keep around as my valve tester. The seals are in decent shape, but are not new. With full-threaded valves, the pump head stays on even at high pressure. With these American Classic valves, the pump head would blow off at about 100psi.
With the tires mounted, I used my favorite latex-based sealant to date, Caffelatex. I have experienced small punctures with this sealant before, and it has done its job every time so far. Using my Effetto Mariposa sealant injector, I put about 2 oz (60ml) in each tire.
For some reason, the valves did not seem to like this sealant. If I depressed the plunger at all, it would not go back shut again on its own (e.g. the plunger got stuck about halfway in the ‘down’ position). Mine spit sealant constantly, losing quite a bit from each tire. I had to attempt to thread the valve shut while it was leaking out, which was not easy with the slick sealant everywhere. I have used Caffelatex with other valves, and have not experienced the same behavior.
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Those who deal with tubeless tires will become familiar with a sealant mess at some point. It’s going to happen. With different tires, different wheels, and no agreed-upon road tubeless standard, the valve and tire interfaces can vary wildly. If you happen to have a wheel, tire, sealant, and valve that play very nicely together, I suggest that you not change a thing. Stick with a formula that works for you.
My tire fit and sealant leaking issues could be of no fault to American Classic’s wheels; we just don’t know. In order to really have a better idea, I’d have to try a whole mess of different tires and sealants – which we simply can’t do with every review for obvious reasons of practicality. It is not uncommon or out-of-the-question that wheel manufacturers recommend specific tires, but that information needs to be readily available at the manufacturer’s website and point of purchase.
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After all of the tire and sealant turmoil, I was eager to find out how the wheels behaved on the road. I have ridden extensively on Zipp’s now-discontinued 101, which actually looks quite similar to the Argent on-paper. Both wheels have rim depths of about 30mm, and the external width is within 0.5mm. The Zipp does have a slightly angled braking surface, whereas the American Classic does not. Overall, my experience with the 101 left me very hopeful for the Argent; they were great rims.
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Overall, I found that the Argents felt very smooth and oddly ‘easy to pedal’. There is a lot that goes in to an experience with a wheel (hub design, spokes, rim characteristics, tire choice, wind, and so on), and my impression of the Argent was quite positive on every ride. With the shallow rim profile, crosswinds were no problem.
I did notice a ‘tick’ with the front wheel. For reference, I used the wheels with brand new Swiss Stop blue pads for aluminum rims. It seemed as though the wheel was either very slightly out of true, or I was getting a noise on the rim joint:
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It appears as though American Classic is using a pinned rim rather than a welded rim, which would help to explain the very light weight (welded rims typically need extra material to withstand the heat of manufacturing). I've had this noise on welded rims, too; it all depends on the execution.
The obvious area that these wheels succeed in is weight. The 1,372-gram weight is astoundingly light for a pair of 29.5mm deep aluminum wheels. One consequence of this should come as no surprise, and that’s price. The $1,449 price tag puts these above the Zipp 101 (1,530 grams, $1,325) and Flo 30 (1,624 grams, $500). Product warranty is also something to consider, and American Classic offers a 1-year program against manufacturer’s defects. In comparison, most other brands offer a 2-year plan, such as Hed, Zipp, Rolf, Bontrager, and Flo. With high-end products, I personally feel that two years should be standard. Many seasoned cyclists have more than one set of wheels, so it is possible that a manufacturing problem wouldn’t be found within the first year if the wheels are only used for racing.
If I was recommending these wheels to Average Joe Triathlete, I would suggest using a standard tire and inner tube. In no way do I blame all of my tubeless woes on these wheels; the entire road tubeless category is still underdeveloped. I think it is wonderful in theory, but it is above the heads of the masses. Additionally, I’ve never found a system that matches the rolling resistance, puncture resistance, and ability to repair punctures that you get with standard clincher tires. I imagine I would really enjoy these wheels with a supple clincher tire like the Schwalbe Ultremo ZX, Vittoria Open Corsa, or Challenge Criterium.