PRINCETON CARBONWORKS – REINVENTING THE WHEEL
01.04.18 – by Colin O’Brien
It’s easy to be dismissive about newcomers to the cycling market. We’ve all seen the woeful pitches on Kickstarter. And the endless articles about new gear, offering the perfect solution to a problem that never existed. But every so often, one comes along that deserves some attention.
It could be a new idea like Strava, or a better take on an old product, like Rapha or Wahoo. Then, before you know it, they’re part of the furniture, as much a fixture as companies who’ve been around for decades.
Princeton CarbonWorks looks like one of those success stories. There are a ton of wheel options out there, sure, but this enthusiastic group of friends have started from a blank page, based their work on a firm foundation of science – actual science, not the stuff that marketing men retrofit to sell us stuff – and travelled the globe looking for the best materials and manufacturing location.
Founded in 2012 by a group of rowers turned elite cyclists, the company’s stated aim was simple and just a tad ambitious: create the most groundbreaking wheels imaginable. Five years later, they believe they’ve done just that.
The Wake 6560 is sinusoidal with a varying depth of 60-65mm, putting it squarely in the aerodynamic-obsessed triathlon market. But with serious aero gains to be made without a weight penalty – it’s a claimed 1480gm for the pair – they’d sit comfortably on any road-bike that isn’t planning an alpine excursion, especially given that PCW are claiming industry-leading performance in crosswinds.
So where did it all begin? We caught up with PCW’s Paul Daniels, a World Champion rower and an eight-time member of the US Rowing National Team, who these days can usually be found clocking up serious mileage on his road bike.
Where did the idea for PCW come from?
It started simply. My friend Marty Crotty had rowed for Princeton, Oxford, and the US team, and he started racing triathlons after hanging up the oars. Most elite rowers struggle with the transition from training to exercising, and Marty was no different. So he kept training, but swim/bike/run instead of rowing and lifting. To call him physiologically gifted would be a bruising understatement, Marty is savage, an absolute animal. His engine, retrained for triathlon, quickly translated to success in 70.3 Half Ironman and three consecutive trips to the World Championships. And while all this was happening, Marty was also Head Coach for Princeton University Rowing, so he had a crazy idea: Leverage carbon manufacturing of the rowing shell industry to create aero wheels. It didn’t pan out, turns out layup of racing boat shells is pretty “dumb” compared to rim profile creation, but Princeton CarbonWorks was born.
There are no shortage of wheel options these days, so what did you guys hope to do differently?
Options are abundant, no doubt. But advanced aerospace engineering and next level design and material science uber-nerds from Princeton and Boston University are scarce.
Bradley Werntz and Harrison Macris met while trialling for the U23 United States Rowing Team, and became fast friends, bonding over engineering. In March of 2014, Marty tapped Brad to design a “radically different, undeniable” aerodynamic wheelset. Brad quickly looped in Harrison and PCW’s prototype V1 was delivered in December 2014.
It wasn’t so much “hope,” it was more about the freedom to source design beyond what’s considered possible by the cycling industry. We sourced speed from outside cycling.
What was involved in developing a new wheel from scratch?
Harrison and Brad delivered a killer design. Best-in-class, benchmark, elite, etc. wheel brands are easy to identify from the podium steps at The Tour and Kona. Their three depth approach makes sense in a practical way: shallow to climb, mid to cover distance with control, deep to haul. The three product approach is an easy out, a convenient compromise. They think “light, stable, fast – pick two of the three” and cover the demands of your potential customers with three wheelsets.
Harrison and Brad were just far enough removed from cycling to forego this convenient compromise. They believed they could design an uncompromising wheel profile, optimized across weight, stability and aerodynamics. And the smart kids were right. They utilized aerospace engineering, computational fluid dynamics, material science, finite element analysis, with the elegantly simple trigonometric function “sine” as the special sauce.
This is a bit technical, but sine provided breakthroughs in high frequency vortex shedding for aerodynamics and stability, while simultaneously aligning carbon fibers into optimized tension. All of which yielded a wheelset that’s lighter than the Zipp 303, more stable than the Zipp 454, and faster than the Zipp 858.
The Wake 6560 is tubeless ready, 1480g, and it’s faster and more stable than profiles 25mm deeper. We’re calling it a quiver killer. We think it really is the one wheel that can do it all, but that is actually motivating us to optimize the shallow and deep categories and see what’s possible. So watch this space.
Were there any surprises along the way?
There were a couple! Prior to joining Princeton CarbonWorks, I’d thought manufacturing facility mattered. Now I know manufacturing facility matters. We visited dozens of facilities across China and Taiwan, and simply put, all “carbon manufacturers” are not created equal. In fact, the spectrum is far broader than most cyclists, and even industry people, appreciate.
The second surprise was how industry benchmarks perform in controlled testing environments verses the marketing attached to them. The performance/marketing spin gap is massive – specifically at the top. It has been eye-opening to see the reality, because I think of myself as a discerning cyclist who felt relatively well informed.
Zipp came to market with a similar design just before you launched. Was that frustrating or a vindication of your work?
Zipp launched the NSW 454 while we were roughly 10,000 miles into testing our V2 prototype. It was a double edged sword – we felt they were validating our concept, while simultaneously stealing our thunder. Truth is, they most likely spent 10x our total research and development cost on the NSW 454 media launch. The real vindication came when we tested the Wake 6560 against the Zipp NSW 454 at A2 Wind Tunnel in the heart of NASCAR, Mooresville, North Carolina. And at every single yaw angle the Wake 6560 outperformed the Zipp NSW 454.
You’ve wasted no time in signing up high-profile athletes.
Hamish Bond is the embodiment of Princeton CarbonWorks – former elite rower turned elite cyclist. He podiumed at the New Zealand TT National Championships last year with 10 months on the bike, so he’s living the PCW team dream and applying the legs and lungs engine developed over more than a decade of World Championship/Olympic rowing onto the bike.
He’s racing the Wake 6560 in the NZL National Championship Road Race this year. His team wanted to independently test the wheels against the HED Jet 9+ prior to using it for the TT, which is totally understandable. We know we have a superior product, but it takes time to develop credibility for equipment changes at that level. We look forward to their testing.
What’s next for PCW?
The Wake 6560 is going into the wild. We’re fulfilling Batch 1 end of January and Batch 2 will follow mid February. And custom orders are being accepted for USA hand-builds with Chris King hubsets. Meanwhile, disc testing is complete and production will begin in March, with first retail availability in April. It’s a kick-ass wheelset – you need to ride them!
Princeton CarbonWorks-Reinventing the Wheel
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