I've heard all the arguments by carbon rim makers in support of internal nipples: the smaller hole yields a stronger rim, it's more aerodynamic, and it's really not that big of a deal. Every time I have to strip a tubular tire off just to true a wheel, though, all I'm thinking is, "I hate you."
Picture this scenario: it's Friday evening before a big event and you're doing a final check on your race wheels. Crap – one's out of true from slamming a pothole and it's nearly rubbing the brake pad. You crack out your trusty spoke wrench and then… oh, wait. Now you have to strip the tire you so meticulously glued on, find the nut driver you haven't used in ages, true the wheel, and then glue the tire back on.
Sadly, a re-glue is almost never as nice as a fresh job and once you've come down from huffing hexane fumes, you then realize that you still have to let the thing cure for 24 hours, turning what should have been a three-minute job into one that spans more than a full day. Guess that means back-up wheels for Saturday.
Put another way, consider if you're comfortable with truing wheels but not with gluing tires (which is common). Now you've got to drop that wheel off at a shop, pay for a true and tire gluing, and put yourself at the mercy of their service schedule – which I can guarantee won't be at 6am the next morning when you need to load up to head out.
This looks clean, but in application it's maddening
Damn the technical arguments – tubulars are hard enough to justify for amateurs but internal nipples on tubular wheelsets are just plain stupid. It's an inordinate pain to strip even just part of the tire if you've glued it on properly and in extreme cases with delicate cotton tires, you even risk damaging the thing just by pulling it off. Oftentimes the spoke holes that you need to access are clogged with glue, too.
It's an entirely valid point that carbon rims can be prone to spoke pull-through and that the smaller holes are more structurally sound. If companies want to use them on carbon clincher rims, I can live with that. That being said, many companies have figured out how to get external nipples to work and I've even also seen pro teams using carbon rims specially drilled out (at the factory!) for conventional nipples, too, whereas the consumer version uses internal ones.
Bikes are glorious machines and I applaud the efforts of designers and manufacturers to push the envelope in terms of performance – but let's make them easier to work on when we can, not harder. I curse enough as it is.
James Huang has been writing about bicycle tech since 2005 and has more than 14 years of experience as a shop mechanic. In that time he's seen plenty of fantastic gear and technology but also a lot of things that have just flat-out pissed him off. Follow the AngryAsian on Twitter at @angryasian, and check BikeRadar for more of his columns, which run every other Tuesday.