By: Brian Klotz
About the reviewer:
I am a 29 year-old Cat 2 cyclist from Corning, NY currently racing for the Corning Race Team. I have been racing for approximately 4 years and riding my bike since I was 10 years old or younger. I did my first century (Seagull Century) when I was 15 years old and have absolutely loved the freedom of two wheels and human power. Over the course of my racing career, I have been able to ride and race on dozens of different types of tires and wheels on many different bikes. Each has a story to tell, but the most recent is the newly-released Notubes Alpha 340 ZTR tubeless road wheel. I ride 6-10K miles per year and I have logged over 1,000 miles on the wheels so far, so I thought I would share my experiences. My only disclaimer is that Stan’s Notubes is a sponsor of my team, however, I initiated approaching them to get the wheels and I did pay for them with my own hard-earned cash. I hope that you find my review informative. Happy Riding!
I received an early version of the Alpha 340 ZTRs in the form of the 28-spoke version of the rim, front and back. These will not be one of the production versions of the wheelset as they are slated to come out in 18-24 (Pro), 24-28 (Team), and 28-32 (Comp) spoke counts. Other specs on the wheels are American Classic Micro hub on the front, American Classic RD205 rear, radially-laced silver spokes on the front and radial (non-drive) and 3x crossed (drive) for the rear. I fitted mine up with a Dura-Ace 7800 12-25 cassette and Hutchinson’s Intenstive tires and Stan's famous sealant.
My history with Stan’s Notubes goes back about two years, when I first grabbed a set of Hutchinson Fusion 2 tubeless tires with Stan’s sealant inside to run on my Mavic Ksyrium Elite training wheels. Since I live nearby, Notubes was able to install the system for me and teach me how to do it in the future. I loved the demo that they did while stabbing a mountain tire with an awl multiple times and watching it seal right up without losing any air! When I started riding the tubeless system with Stan’s sealant inside, I was in seventh heaven. I would go out on Winter training rides with the team and while others flatted their tubed tires, I would happily be rolling along without incident, thankful that I had them. I also really thought that the feel of the tubeless system was nice, because the lower pressures that I could run with them really made a difference in comfort, especially for longer training rides.
Then the problems struck in the form of the quality of the Hutchinson Fusion 2’s. I was surprised to flat my front wheel on a training ride one time when I had no tools or spare tube with me, which I’ll admit was pretty dumb. I thought that the sealant would close it up, but instead, all of the air leaked out and I was left with a flat tire. I found out later that the slice was just too large for the sealant to effectively close. I could have patched the tire, but the Fusion 2’s wore very quickly, so I had to trash them. I replaced the set of tires that I had with another, and promptly found air leaking around the bead (a known issue for Hutchinson) and this time punctured my rear on the sidewall nearing the end of another training ride. I was able to limp it back to the car, because one of the cool things about the tubeless is that the tire won’t come off the rim because of the strong carbon bead. At that point though, I was through, so I went back to my old reliable Continental GP4000’s until late this Spring.
I decided to give the tubeless a try again because of the 25 mm Intensive tires that had been released late in 2009. They were billed as a longer wearing, tougher version of the tubeless system, and some of my teammates had been riding them with a great deal of success. It was also publicized that the quality problems that Hutchinson had with the carbon beads on previous tires had been addressed. Then I heard that a tubeless wheel was in development by Notubes and I found out more details in the early part of 2010. As Stan’s Notubes is a sponsor of our team, I was able to get an early glimpse of the wheels and inquired about getting my hands on a set. It seemed to me, by keeping an eye on the going’s on at the bike trade shows, that tubeless was starting to get more attention and finally starting to mature. As I relayed earlier, there was a lot I really liked about the tubeless system, I just didn’t have the patience for the durability.
After picking up my new set of Alpha 340 ZTR’s, I promptly took them out on my evening speedwork and was a fan from the get-go. They were light, even with the full system installed, and they spun nicely. Over the course of the next 1,000 miles, I tried to simulate every possible condition that I could think of and put the wheels and tires through. In the first 200 miles, I didn’t take them too far away from home, just in case something did by chance go wrong. It did turn out that I had a loose spoke in the rear wheel early on, but that was easily and very quickly addressed by Stan’s great staff, who gave the wheels a good once-over while they had them in hand.
From that point on, I really opened them up. I took them on near-40 degree rides to a super hot 87 degree ride. I took them out in the pouring rain, crazy gusting 50 mph winds, sustained headwinds, dirt and loose stone roads, tar and chip seal roads, regular pavement, 10 mph easy spin sessions, 30+mph pacelines, 50+ mph downhill descents, hard and fast braking and even jacked them up to 1200+ Watt sprints. I took them on short 1 hour rides to 5+ hour century rides. I didn’t get them into any snow or ice, but I’m not particularly looking for any of that this time of year!
I came away from all of that very impressed. With everything I had thrown at the wheels, they hadn’t shown any sign of giving up. I’ll start with the tires and Stan’s sealant. The Intensives fit their billing and I’ve definitely found my new training tire. The 25mm width allows you to take the pressure down lower than you might think possible, due to no pinch flatting. I have reliably taken mine down to a pressure of 85 – 90 PSI, but have found when pumping up my tires at times that it was as low as 75 and I had no problems! The extra rubber on the road made for a smoother ride all around. I took them out on a century ride last weekend with a group and was impressed to find out that a teammate riding behind me had actually heard me puncture the rear tire, the short hiss of a leak, but then it went right away as it sealed up with Stan’s sealant. I didn’t even notice. The tires don’t show wear like they have 1,000 miles on them, that’s for sure. Aside from the puncture on the ride last weekend (that’s why it’s a great idea to pair tubeless tires with Stan’s sealant), I couldn’t find even one other knick in the tire. They look like they can go at least another 2,000 miles or more easily.
The wheels are also definitely in the realm of any other high quality aluminum road rim that I have ridden, such as Mavic Ksyrium SL, Ksyrium Elite, Aksium, Bontrager Race Lite, or Shimano RD series. When I throw them hard into a corner, they carve extremely well and track the line that you point them on. While climbing, either short or sustained, they roll smoothly and transfer the power from your pedals well with no noticeable deflection of the rims. In high speed paceline rides or when bridging a large gap, they feel like you are riding a little deeper aero rim than the 22.6 mm they are billed to be. In windy conditions, I wasn’t getting blown around much as you would be in a deeper carbon rim, but straight into a headwind, they did seem to cut through a bit. High speed downhills, either wet or dry can be done with confidence, due to their stiffness and a reliable, consistent braking surface. When I really turned it on and ramped up for a high power sprint, it felt like the power I was putting out was going into the road with a reactive and jumpy acceleration. In Upstate New York, we have the privilege of having lots of dirt and other unfinished roads, such as tar and chip. Riding on those, you normally fear for your wheels and tires lives, but I took these roads at speed and rode the wheels hard, and was surprised to not have any fear of throwing something at my equipment that it couldn’t handle.
I have thus far been very happy with my Stan’s Notubes Alpha 340 ZTRs. In addition to providing the durability that I was looking for in the 28-28 spoke configuration, the wheels performed very well in any condition I could throw at them. After 1,000 miles and untold abuse, the wheels still look good as new and are still true. I would highly recommend the Alpha 340 ZTRs to anyone looking for a reasonably-priced, reliable wheel that is built for a tubeless system. If you haven’t tried tubeless yet, you should. You will notice the difference and it is a very positive one. My only wish list item would have been that the wheels be sealed on the inside so that you didn’t need to run Stan’s rim sealing tape over the spoke holes, but I recognize the technological and design challenges to doing so. Overall, a great foray into the road tubeless arena for Stan’s Notubes, and even though it’s not all that important in the overall scheme of things, they look pretty rockin’ as well! I will try to provide an update to the review farther down the road when I have more miles on the wheels, and hopefully I can get my hands on the Pro version to review sometime as well. Thanks for reading!