Two-time European cyclocross champion and eight-time UK champion Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Team) thrives in the horrifically muddy conditions that exemplify cyclocross – a fact further driven home by her choice to base herself in cold, wet, and dreary Belgium instead of her native England. Traction is at a premium on such treacherous ground, but she's gone to considerable lengths to ensure she retains as much control as possible.
Tires are everything ’cross and Wyman feels fortunate to have a highly supportive sponsor in Challenge to keep her Kona Super Jake carbon chassis and Zipp wheels properly outfitted. In addition to offering a wide range of treads and casing constructions, the company has gone so far as to create a unique tread pattern just for Wyman. The recently introduced Chicane model, in particular, was born out of a custom project to give her an advantage in terms of straight-line speed when the conditions allowed while still including full-height side knobs for cornering grip.
Tire sponsor Challenge will apparently build for Wyman just about anything she wants
Wyman's husband – and mechanic – Stefan showed BikeRadar a set of earlier test tires that she still races on today. In true prototype fashion, these were built with three-piece, hand-cut treads that were then glued on to the casing.
Disc brakes continue to be a point of debate in the world of cyclocross, but Wyman sits firmly on the supportive side of the fence. Wyman does prefer the greater range of a traditional 2x drivetrain, however, and so her Super Jake is fitted with a SRAM Red 22 HRD group instead of the newer Force CX1 package used by some of the company's other sponsored racers.
Helen Wyman is firmly in the pro-disc brake camp. Note the green backing plates of her aftermarket SwissStop brake pads
"The braking advantage you get, how late you can brake, and then the confidence you have in them – for a rider like Helen, it's really fantastic," Stefan Wyman told BikeRadar. "It can transform the way you ride."
A few key changes separate Wyman's Red 22 HRD setup from what normally comes out of the box. Instead of the usual 46/36t or 46/39t chainrings, she goes with a tighter 44/39t arrangement that includes an FSA outer ring (since SRAM doesn't offer a 44t to fit). Likewise, the stock pads and rotors are swapped out for SwissStop pads and discs are sourced from Carver Bikes in Maine (although they're essentially rebadged units from Taiwanese manufacturer Ashima).
Wyman keeps two different pad compounds and rotor shapes on hand to suit the course conditions, too. In particular, muddy races call for rotors with no cutouts on the brake track.
Wyman switches between vented and solid rotors depending on the course conditions
"We found that the braking performance is really greatly increased, and with the solid rotor there's almost no brake [pad] wear in a muddy race," he said. "It's unbelievable how it changes the longevity of your brake pads."
Despite what he sees as a huge performance advantage, Stefan Wyman admits that there's still little sign of a sea change when it comes to the European arena.
"In America, you have a lot of individuals [single-person teams], but the market in Europe, in terms of the racers, is driven by a few big, dominant teams," he said. "You're dealing with people that have been setting up 'cross bikes for 25 years and it's a big change. In Belgium, there's a big feeling that 'cross is traditional and it should be this, and it should be that. It's going to take a big change in attitude."
An all-alloy cockpit and a traditional-bend bar for Helen Wyman
"There's also the misconception that there's a weight penalty with discs. This bike is 6.97kg [15.37lb] and that's not a weight penalty. It's less than 200g over the weight limit. There's absolutely no reason not to change over, apart from a lack of knowledge of how it works and the traditional elements of it, really."
Regardless of which side of the disc brake fence you sit on, one thing is certain: Wyman continues to tear it up this year, and we're looking forward to seeing how things shake out as the season draws to a close.
For more information on Helen Wyman, head over to her website: www.helenwyman.com.
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Kona Super Jake, 53cm
- Fork: Kona Full Carbon CX Race Disc
- Headset: FSA Orbit ZS, 1 1/8-to-1 1/2in tapered
- Stem: Zipp Service Course, 100mm x -7°
- Handlebar: Zipp Service Course SL-88, 40cm (c-c)
- Front brake: SRAM Red 22 hydraulic disc w/ 140mm Carver rotor, SwissStop pads
- Rear brake: SRAM Red 22 hydraulic disc w/ 140mm Carver rotor, SwissStop pads
- Brake levers: SRAM Red 22 HRD
- Rear derailleur: SRAM Red 22
- Shift levers: SRAM Red 22 HRD DoubleTap
- Cassette: SRAM PG-1170, 11-28T
- Chain: SRAM Red 22
- Crankset: SRAM Red 22 BB30, 172.5mm, 39/44T with FSA outer chainring
- Bottom bracket: Kogel Bearings PF30
- Pedals: Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11
- Wheelset: Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubular Disc
- Front tire: Challenge Chicane Team Edition, 33mm
- Rear tire: Challenge Chicane Team Edition, 33mm
- Saddle: WTB Silverado SLT
- Seatpost: Zipp SLSpeed, 25mm offset
- Rider's height: 1.75m (5ft 9in)
- Rider's weight: 56kg (123lb)
- Saddle height from BB, c-t: 760mm
- Saddle setback: 50mm
- Seat tube length (c-t): 532mm
- Seat tube length (c-c): 480mm
- Tip of saddle nose to center of bars (next to stem): 535 mm
- Saddle-to-bar drop: 90mm
- Head tube length: 135mm
- Top tube length (effective): 550mm
- Weight: 6.97kg (15.37lb)