FLO Cycling unveils all-new Carbon Clinchers
article & images by Nick Salazar
Mar 1, 2016
In general, FLO's aero testing and design process is exemplary of what the industry can and should be doing. FLO went so far as to test a wide variety of tires, landing on the Continental GP4000S II in 23mm as the fastest of the bunch (yet again, a result corroborated by other testers). Then they carefully created physical molds of the actual shape that tire makes when fully inflated on their rims. Those physical shapes were translated into their 3D models and used for the testing algorithm that created the new shapes. So long story short, the FLO wheels were designed to be fastest when also used with the world's fastest tires. Big win all around.
If I have any comment to make about, it's with regard to testing wheels only versus bike + rider + wheels. FLO's models were wheel-only. Actually, just rim + tire. No hubs, no spokes, no bike, no rider. In point of fact, it's something I would have done the same in FLO's shoes, but we should note nonetheless. Arguments against this setup is that all the interactions between wheel, spokes, bike, and rider could change the equation, and that a faster wheel could be made taking these things into account. ENVE has touted this message with their new SES wheels, which have different shapes for the front and rear rims, supposedly to make a faster overall setup. The counterargument from FLO's position is that optimizing for one particular bike or one particular type of rider doesn't necessarily help you in the broader world of bikes and riders. And that furthermore, the interactions with bike and rider aren't as important for a wheel, particularly the front wheel which hits clean air. To satisfy the "we must model with bike + rider" folks, FLO could have modeled some kind of bike, with some kind of rider on it, and still run their same optimization algorithm. But they'd have to dramatically reduce the size of their CFD mesh, and ultimately get less robust results. Again, in my opinion, they did the right thing here. But it's worth understanding what they did, and why.
So now we come down to brass tax. After all this work and smart design, what has FLO accomplished? Like a growing number of other brands, FLO has chosen to compare their new wheels to their own previous generation, but not to their competitors. It would be nice to see some head-to-head comparisons against the industry's heavy-hitters, but I'm satisfied that FLO got some very big improvements over their last gen. The biggest of these is in the new FLO 60, which clocks in at over 20% faster than the 2012 edition of the wheel. This result is for the new carbon clincher. FLO also ported the new designs to a hybrid alloy-plus-fairing model similar to their 2012 editions, but for the FLO 60 and FLO 90, the carbon clinchers are significantly faster. And since they're only $100 more expensive than their hybrid counterparts, they're a no-brainer upgrade. I can't see the hybrid wheels sticking around very long when the full carbon clinchers are THIS good, and this economical. We'll talk more about that on the next page.
One quirky result is that the new FLO disc tested a smidge faster in its alloy hybrid version than in its full carbon clincher form. The difference is pretty small - just 7g of drag - pretty close to the margin of error for the wind tunnel. For most intents and purposes, we can call them equal. My recommendation would be to just stick to whichever form you're using for your front wheel -- if you buy the carbon clincher up front, keep it the same in back. The braking is actually very good on the carbon clinchers.
The long and the short of it is that FLO has made significant improvements, and told a really compelling story about why these wheels are absolutely on the bleeding edge of fast. To underscore the significance of the new design, we see that the new FLO 45 is actually faster than the old FLO 90, when using a weighted-average drag number based on FLO's yaw statistic. The new FLO 60 approaches the speed of the old FLO Disc! In short, they're fast. Very fast.
Now let's get down to what they are, how they work in practice, etc.
The Dream Team
I was fortunate to review a whole collection of the new wheels, including a FLO 45 front, 60 front, 60 rear, 90 rear, and Disc. This dream team of five wheels clocks in at the price of one pair of wheels from a competitor, and covers virtually every imaginable training and racing situation.
The FLO Disc is based off of the design of the FLO 90, with the remainder of the wheel (the spoke fairing) optimized independently. This results in some strange-looking shapes, but an undeniably fast wheel.
FLO makes their own hubs, compatible with 10 and 11-speed cassettes. These are user serviceable, even on the disc, and are all laced with Sapim CX-ray spokes (except the discs, which get Sapim Laser spokes).
Design + Development
An exemplary and innovative design process led FLO on an incredible journey resulting in the wheels you see in this review. All images in this section courtesy FLO Cycling.