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.