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Tech Feature – Mavic readies SSC range for 2011

Mavic managed to keep a few surprises under wraps until just this week when company reps rolled into town behind the wheel of a brand new, bright yellow service course Sprinter van bristling with wheels, tires, and tools.

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Mavic’s critical new wheel for 2011 has already been spotted under the likes of Garmin-Transitions and Liquigas team riders. It’s a reality for the company with a long heritage in the professional peloton – keeping products secret is hard when you depend on pro riders for field testing and validation. Obviously, the new deep-section CC80 aerodynamic carbon tubular is already well in the public eye.

The CC80 is an 80mm deep, all carbon tubular wheelset.

Even so, Mavic managed to keep a few surprises under wraps until just this week when company reps rolled into town behind the wheel of a brand new, bright yellow service course Sprinter van bristling with wheels, tires, and tools. Focusing primarily on the premium Special Service Course (SSC) range of wheel/tire systems, Mavic unveiled improvements to their aluminum rims and the competition-grade tires now packaged with almost every high-end wheelset.

Wheel and tire systems expand for 2011

On the face of it, Mavic’s pursuit of pre-packaged wheel/tire systems is something of a head-scratcher. The concept kicked off last year with the K10 limited edition Ksyrium wheelset, which for $1400 included the lightest Ksyrium clinchers ever made plus pre-installed, Mavic-labeled tires and tubes. But given cyclists’ penchant for personal preference and the multiple choices among aftermarket performance products, forcing tires to go with a high-end wheel purchase seemed questionable.

On the other hand, Mavic pioneered pre-built wheels in 1994 with the original Cosmic wheelset. This early icon of semi-aero, all-purpose wheels marked a culmination of Mavic’s progression in wheel parts. From building the first aluminum rims, the first clincher rims, and then hub bodies and dedicated spokes for complete wheel systems, it starts to make sense that the wheel company would move on to consider producing branded tires to go with their wheels.

“For us, it’s the future of our brand and our wheels,” said Francois-Xavier Blanc, head of marketing and communication for Mavic in France. Blanc explained that producing their own tires gives Mavic a chance to control one of the most significant modifiers to the performance of a pair of wheels.

Sean Sullivan, director of marketing for Mavic USA, added that company engineers doing regular, extensive wheel testing repeatedly find that tire choice dramatically impacts wheel behavior. “We do a lot of testing and see a lot of variability among tires,” said Sullivan. Designing their own tires gives Mavic a chance to control not just the usual parameters of section width, composition, and tread compound, but also fundamental specifications like bead diameter, actual carcass width (as inflated on Mavic rims), tread thickness, and the like.

Blanc acknowledged that Mavic’s Yksion tires are made in Asia by one of the two largest tire builders, but emphasized, “Our tires have our own design and development in France.” He added that while the tires Mavic is currently making don’t bear any technological revolutions, the company may pursue more progressive designs for the future, possibly including tubeless road tires.

Part of the French design and development includes engineering tires specific to the demands of the wheels they’re mounted on. New for 2011 are dedicated, dual compound front and rear tires. The PowerLink (rear) and GripLink (front) tires are made in both clincher and tubular versions. PowerLink rear tires have harder, 70a durometer rubber in the center tread (for better power transmission, durability, and reduced rolling resistance) and softer 60a rubber on the sides for grip. The GripLink front tires have the softer 60a rubber on both the tread and sides, but the sides are enriched with silica for even more cornering grip. All the tires have a puncture-resistant belt under the tread. Yksion clincher tires have nylon, 127 TPI casings and the tubular have 290 TPI polycotton Kevlar casings.

Garmin-Transitions team logistics manager Will Frischkorn sat in on Mavic’s presentation and chimed in, saying that both he and Garmin’s U-23 development team were involved with testing and development of the tires. And if you need any further proof of the validity of Mavic’s tire program, the Garmin-Transitions team just signed up to ride them for 2011.

Hot wheels under those new tires

Mavic’s SSC products are the most expensive, highest performance in the range. Most of the SSC wheels get updates for 2011, not the least of which is the addition of Yksion tires to all of them (either tubular or clincher) to create wheel/tire packages.

In addition to tires, Mavic SSC wheels with aluminum rims get a new surface treatment on the metal. Exalith is an extremely hard, durable, 10-micron-thick surface treatment for aluminum rims that Mavic says improves the rim’s fatigue strength and braking performance. By making the material more durable, it slows wear on the brake track and reduces the incidence of micro-cracking at spoke drilling points on the rim. For the weight-weenies, the added strength and durability is good for about 10 grams per rim weight savings, in terms of a fraction less material needed on the brake track. Exalith rims require special, harder brake pads and they have a unique, textured brake track for added friction and improved braking in all conditions.

Sullivan was quick to point out that Exalith is nothing like the ceramic brake track coatings of old. He explained that it’s actually a change in the composition of the metal that penetrates the surface, rather than a coating applied on top. Furthermore, it’s much harder and improves rim strength through the entire structure. He said that brake track life more than doubles with Exalith.

Cosmic Carbone 80
The CC80 is an 80mm deep, all carbon tubular wheelset. A CC80 wheel/tire system weighs 2330 grams (the wheels alone are 1750 grams) and costs $2700. Mavic points to extensive wind tunnel testing in concert with their sponsored teams as part of the development process.

Cosmic Carbone Ultimate
This wheelset is the mainstay of Mavic’s ProTour riders. At 1200 grams for the wheels alone (1765 grams with included Yksion tires), the CCU set comes as a $3600 wheel/tire system for 2011.

Cosmic Carbone SLR
With an aluminum clincher rim mated to a deep carbon airfoil and bladed carbon spokes, the Carbone SLR is intended to bring CCU performance with the convenience of clincher tires. Carbone SLR wheel/tire systems get matte grey Exalith rims (plus GripLink front and PowerLink rear tires) as part of the $2450 system price for 2011.

The R-Sys SL

At 1370 grams (1995 grams for the wheel/tire system), the R-Sys SLR isn’t Mavic’s lightest R-Sys wheelset. That honor goes to the 1295-gram R-Sys SL introduced last year. But the $2000 R-Sys SLR clincher system (also available as a $2080 tubular system) gets the Exalith makeover on the rims and a completely greyed-out color scheme.

Ksyrium SLR
The Ksyrium SLR wheel system is really just a front wheel with a tire, because the complete set actually comes with an R-Sys SLR rear. That’s right – at the SLR level, a standalone Ksyrium rear wheel with bladed aluminum Zicral spokes doesn’t really exist. Mavic says the stiffness and inertia benefit of R-Sys TraComp spokes is most relevant for the pedaling loads incurred by rear wheels. The R-Sys SLR rear wheel is lighter, too. Going with the Ksyrium SLR front wheel instead of an R-Sys front wheel saves $200 and adds just 30 grams. Like the R-Sys SLR set, it’s available as either a tubular or clincher. Like the other aluminum-rimmed wheels in the SSC range, the Ksyrium SLR front wheel has Exalith treatment.

So, how’d they ride?

Say what you will about the validity of Mavic’s wheel/tire system concept. Complain about the majority of the wheel platforms remaining more or less the same as in 2010 (excepting the CC80 and Exalith rim treatment).

For starters, the matte-gray, smoked-out look of the new wheels looks pretty cool.

And at the end of the day, Mavic wheels still just ride really, really well. Company engineers prioritize high-stiffness, low-inertia designs, and the ride quality of Mavic wheels is always correspondingly precise and responsive. When you add tires to the system, the ride seems to feel even better (although it’s probable that a good Michelin or VeloFlex tire would feel just as good).

We only managed a short couple of hours on local roads in gusty, cloudy conditions on each of the main SSC wheel systems. But it’s fair to say that the CC80s feel plenty fast and don’t suffer much buffet in crosswind. They’re a little on the heavy side, but their stiffness is outstanding. The aerodynamic Cosmic Carbone SLRs are likewise a touch heavy, but remarkably stiff and accurate.

The wheels with Exalith aluminum rims are indeed quick to slow under braking – combined with the special Mavic pads, they feel much more grippy than standard aluminum rims, without being grabby. The brake track surface texture does make them sing when the binders are applied, but it’s nothing more obtrusive than the squealing of carbon rims (and Mavic says the texture is subject to final revision before production anyway).

And how about those costly Cosmic Carbone Ultimate wheels? It’s easy to forget about them in Mavic’s catalogue, because they’ve been there for what seems like a long time. They haven’t changed since they were introduced two years ago, but there’s a good reason for it. They’re absolutely impressive in terms of stiffness, acceleration, what feels like reasonable aerodynamics, and light weight. It’s no wonder that the ProTour teams turn to these wheels more than any others in the SSC line for everything from flat road races to hilly time trials.

Stay tuned as we get more wheels and tires in the office for longer term tests.

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