Thursday 23 June 2011

Strada Handbuilt Wheels - Major Tom offroad test

Dedicated followers of cross wheelsets won't have failed to notice the arrival in the market of the Velocity Major Tom tub wheels, handbuilt by Strada, not least because I have been banging on about them via a number of channels. And very taken with them I have certainly been.

Whilst I have ridden and reviewed them in detail for road use, I had yet to comment on their ability in their true vocation on the course. Cue some gluing of brand new FMB Gripos and a handily scheduled Yorkshire Summer Cross series race for an ideal opportunity to look at their performance off road.

I've commented on the quality of the build in the previous review, but after some decent abuse, I mean riding (sorry Jonathon from Strada), on cobbles and the Dickensian potholed roads in my part of the world, the Toms remain absolutely true to the micron. I've never used wheels before that have remained that true after that type of use. Impressive.

Gluing wise, as suspected they are a dream for the wide, flat base tapes found on FMBs and Dugast cross tubs. Narrower carbon, as well as alloy rims can make it harder to seat the tub and get a solid gluing surface. Cheats like gluing base tape fillers in the centre to flatten the profile of a too concave rim profile never feel good and add extra faff to the gluing process.

No worries here, the tubs seat without any fuss and maximum security. The Major Tom rim profile will also work well for Vittorias and other similar tubs with a central seam bulge on the base tape as there is still a channel for this to sit in, whilst the important outer contact patches at the rim edge remain in close contact with the basetape of the tub.

And so to the ride off road......

The race I did was one of the Huddersfield rounds and came at the end of a pretty dry period. Hence the conditions were dry and fast. Not necessarily usual cross fare, and for a while I pondered whether it would have been more useful to try the wheels in normal, muddy conditions. on reflection, I think not. In then mud speeds are lower and what can reveal the most about a wheelset for cross is the way it performs in carving turns, and in the way it accelerates out of corners, not grinding through the mud. The course that evening had multiple 180 degree turns, fast cambered and off cambered turns, some very greasy and some bumpy sections where maintaining speed was crucial. It was in fact an ideal testing ground for the Toms.

They were simply flawless. As they are light and very stiff, I found them spinning up really quickly out of the many tight turns and switchback sections. They may even have flattered my far-from-race-honed form too - it certainly felt like it. The stiffness was also on show in the slow turns in these sections. Breaking hard from speed into these 180 degree momentum sappers was controlled and predictable - the braking surface is generous and well milled and contributed to plenty of power from the TRPs I was using. Into the turn and the stiffness allowed a good amount of lean and pushing of the front wheel through the turn for grip.

I am not a particularly technical rider, and have always struggled on this kind of tight turn, blaming my lankiness and high centre of gravity for poor performance (ahem). That night, however, I was losing very little if any time to riders around me and enjoyed pushing for more speed through them each lap. I firmly believe the Toms were helping me on that count.

Finally, a superb section of downhill right and left through changing cambers allowed me to establish that they work well at speed too. Flicking the bike rapidly from side to side through this section was a joy and it felt so stable at the front and the back as the wheels did their thing.

There are a reasonable amount of alloy tubular wheelsets out there in the market and the Major Toms are perhaps a little more expensive than some of these offerings (though not all). They do however have one clear advantage for me - their handbuilt quality - and this makes them a winner and worth paying a little more for. Their performance is spot on for the weekend cross warrior and will not leave you wanting more. Their overall quality really shines through and will reward you for many seasons and because of this I'm confidently recommending them to lots of friends and fellow cross riders who are looking for a new wheelset.


Clive W said...

I'm used to seeing hand built wheels laced 3X. Why are these laced radially? Do you think that they would handle / feel different in a traditional format?

crossjunkie said...


For the definitive answer talk to Jonathan Day at Strada Wheels. However, in my experience, radial means a lighter, stiffer and more aero wheel. One of those three is not overly relevant to cross but certainly I appreciate the stiffness of the radial front on technical stuff as it just feels so solid. I have a similar pair of radially laced old Race X Lite tubulars and they handle in much the same way.

Lacing 3x is fine, and the Major Toms work great that way too. My friend has a pair of disc Toms laced 3x and they are superb. I have other 3x wheels and they are more compliant and shock absorbing because of the spoke pattern.

The Major Toms are such a wide rim anyway that they soak up much of the vibration, especially with fat tubs and thus the radial build doesn't add any harshness to the ride, but does add valuable stiffness.

need4gforce said...


Any long term review on these rims? Did you race cross on them last season??? Im going with these or HE'D Belgium on a disc application.

Thanks and keep up the good work on your site!!!

crossjunkie said...


I didn't use them for much of last season as I changed over to disc but the use I had confirmed them as one of the best wheelsets I've ever ridden.

The Strada build is superb, as evidenced also by some deep profile clinchers I had built by them. The rims seem very robust and hard wearing - I returned them in almost new condition to Strada after quite a bit of use, including a 3 Peaks Cyclocross (and training). My training partner has the MT rim built on disc hubs and these have done some serious off road (not just cross) use with no problems either - including being ridden down one of the Peaks with a flat.

Hope that helps.