While much of the cycling industry seems content on making incremental increases in rim width, American Classic is taking a much bolder stance for its 2014 wheel range. Nearly every model, both road and mountain, sports a wider-than-conventional rim. There are lot more tubeless and disc brake compatible models, too, making American Classic one of most progressive wheel companies currently on the market.
There's wide – and then there's wide
Highlighting the mountain bike range for the coming season is the new US$849/£600 Wide Lightning, which uses a brand-new aluminum extrusion with a massive 29.3mm internal width – a 5mm jump from American Classic's other models, about 50 percent wider than Mavic's latest enduro offerings, and more than 8mm wider than most so-called 'trail' wheelsets currently available.
"I saw what was working and how we were evolving and then looked at where I thought the end point would be," said company founder and engineer Bill Shook.
Despite the breadth, American Classic is aiming the new Wide Lightnings primarily to the cross-country and trail categories. Claimed weight for a pair of Wide Lightning 29er wheels is just 1,569g, while the 27.5in version is only 1,512g – on par with many companies' carbon wheels. Notably, there is no 26in version – for any American Classic mountain bike wheel, in fact.
The new Wide Lightning is nearly 50 percent wider than most traditional cross-country rims
"By going wider we can actually save weight on the tire for cross country use," Shook added. "You can use a smaller tire and get the same air volume and the whole package is lighter even though the rim is wider and a little bit heavier."
Shook says that dedicated cross-country racers will probably still opt for the company's US$999/£680 MTB Race Tubeless wheels, which are about 5mm narrower but also roughly 100g lighter per pair. Likewise, Shook recommends that enduro racers and riders who are generally more abusive with their gear stick with the company's existing US$849/£590 All-Mountain wheels, which are the same width as the Race Tubeless wheels but use a thicker extrusion for better ding resistance. Claimed weight for the All-Mountain wheelset is still light – 1,673g for the 27.5in size and 1,752g for the 29in version.
The MTB Race is still American Classic's lightest off-road wheel option
In addition to the usual plethora of axle options, all of American Classic's disc-compatible wheels are now also compatible with 11-speed Shimano and SRAM road cassettes, which should make them viable options for privateer cyclocross racers who prefer to run tubeless instead of tubulars. Racers entering UCI-sanctioned events will want to limit themselves to tires labeled no wider than 30mm, however, as the wider rim will balloon any tire several millimeters larger than the stated width.
Wider road rims, too, plus more disc options
The 'wider is better' philosophy also applies to American Classic's updated 2014 road lineup, with the biggest beneficiary being the mid-range Victory 30. Last year's version was just 13.6mm wide (internal width) but the new version grows to a far more generous 18.1mm. Even better, the 30mm-deep rim is now tubeless compatible and 45g lighter. Claimed weight is a competitive 1,547g and suggested retail price is US$559/£400.
Key rim dimensions on the higher-end 30mm-deep Hurricane carry over from last year with the same 18.1mm internal rim width as the Victory 30. However, American Classic has revamped the extrusion for 2014 – it's essentially a thicker version of the top-end Argent – to add tubeless compatibility. Claimed weight drops just slightly from last year to 1,580g and the retail price is US$799/£500.
"[The Hurricane is] still our super duty wheel even though the rim is light," said Shook. "The wheel is extremely strong."
Looking for a stiff and durable road wheelset? American Classic says the Hurricane is for you - and it's available in disc and rim versions
Still want more? Both the Hurricane Tubeless and Argent Tubeless get disc brake compatibility (and dedicated disc-specific graphics) for an additional US$50/£30-40. Interestingly, adding that lumps an extra 60g of weight on to the standard Hurricane but about 160g on to the standard Argent according to American Classic's specs.
American Classic has several new carbon road wheels for 2014 as well: the 46mm-deep Carbon 46 Tubular in both rim brake (US$1,799/£1,250; 1,278g) and disc brake (US$1,849/£1,300; 1,435g) flavors; the 40mm-deep Carbon 40 All Carbon Clincher (US$1,799/£1,350; 1,580g); a lighter-weight Carbon TT Disc tubular rear wheel (US$1,599/£1,900; 1,050g); and the three-spoke Carbon TT 3 tubular front wheel (US$1,199/£1,400; 684g).
American Classic has revamped its 46mm-deep carbon rims with a more rounded profile
American Classic unfortunately doesn't offer its top-end models as standalone rims, but DIYers still get the new 18mm-deep AC RD 2218 hoop for 2014, featuring an 18mm internal width, CNC-machined sidewalls, tubeless compatibility and an appealing claimed weight of 375g, Retail price is US$99.
We've got several key models already incoming for test, so stay tuned for full reviews soon.