February 28, 2014
Wheels that offer great grip due to sheer surface area thanks to the low pressures, yet are still firm enough for road riding without undue squirming.
At the risk of enraging half of the readership and delighting the other half, here’s my last ’cross-related review of the season: Stan’s NoTubes Iron Cross wheels for cyclocross bikes. As a mostly mountain bike company, Stan’s has been helping mountain bikers (literally) plough a different furrow for years and it has now brought that same convention-breaking technology to the odd world of ’cross.
For all of its carbon frames, carbon wheels and now disc brakes, regular cyclocross is an oddly conservative world, where the pinnacle of tyre technology involves gluing (over a few days) a tubular (tub) tyre onto a rim with a corresponding groove for the tyre and no sidewalls. This allows you to run silly low pressures, down in the 20s of PSI, as there’s very little chance of pinch-flatting, in return for fantastic grip. Tubs aren’t perfect, though. Swapping tyres just before a race is impossible and if you flat, repair is long-winded and/or expensive.
The Stan’s Iron Cross wheelset aims to do away with all that faff by bringing tubeless mountain bike technology to skinny wheel off-road racing. The basis is a Stan’s Bead-Socket-Technology rim, with generous (for a road rim) 20mm inner width and Stan’s tubeless tape. These are laced with 24 (front) and 28 (rear) spokes to Stan’s popular 3.30 disc hubs. There’s an 11-speed compatible freehub if you’ve got flash new gear, but an included spacer lets you run 10-speed.
I have a hate/love/hate relationship with tubeless; when it works, it’s fantastic, but it can take ages to get to that point. With the Iron Crosses, both tyres seated first go with a track pump but then one deflated overnight. Eventually, with a tyre swap to Stan’s (US-only) 35mm Crow race tyres and some extra sealant, I got them to go up and stay up.
I’d originally got these in for the Three Peaks race; however, the 45psi max pressure meant that, in the (unlikely) event of a pinch flat, I’d be limited to running those pressures with an inner tube in – and that wouldn’t last long on the rocky tracks. Rather than risk it, I chose to run different wheels and 75psi instead, leaving the Stan’s wheels for ‘normal’ cyclocross racing and some long-ranging on/off-road rides.
Having run the Iron Crosses and Crow combo for racing and trail riding, with pressures as low as 25psi, I’ve been very impressed. On rocky trails I’ve felt the rim bottom out, but without puncturing and, so far, without rim damage. Even with the minimally treaded Crows, the wheels offer great grip due to sheer surface area thanks to the low pressures, yet are still firm enough for road riding without undue squirming. The tyres, too, have kept their pressure between rides.