FLO Cycling Wheelset Review
article & images by Nick Salazar
Apr 20, 2011
You want the punchline first? Okay. These wheels are snazzy. REALLY snazzy. They get you 90% of the big-name performance at 25% of the price. You get a bombproof set of racing clinchers that'll be perfectly happy going double duty as training wheels as well. Heck, you could buy both sets of FLO wheels AND the disc for less than it costs to get one set of top-shelf wheels. Use 'em, abuse 'em, and keep on rolling with some of the most aero wheels out there. They definitely win our approval.
In essence, FLO's design follows the major themes we've seen recently from top-end brands like Zipp and HED. The brake track has gotten wider to mate seamlessly with the tire, and the inner rim edge is blunt, to better serve as a leading edge on the back half of the wheel. The fairing's sidewalls are nearly flat, but gradually slope outward before coming back in. In the video, we mention a visible angle change in the sidewalls, but FLO has informed us that the walls have been smoothed out on production versions and will no longer be visible, if that matters to you.
The shape is certainly unique to FLO, but it ultimately achieves the same function as other wide wheels: it mates the tire with the rim beautifully to make them a single aerodynamic unit. FLO reported in some of the prototyping stages that their rim shape was achieving negative drag in their preliminary CFD analysis. That was without hub and spokes, but impressive nonetheless. The fact that they're even THINKING about the drag, and doing the CFD analysis, means they're on the right track. But looking good and being good can be very different things. So, how'd we like them?
We LOVE them. These wheels represent a level of technical refinement that's only been available at much higher price points until now. We can start with the ride quality. The wheels are built much like a Mavic Ksyrium - traditional aluminum rims matched with top-of-the-line Sapim CX-Ray spokes. This produced a wheel that's stiff and responsive. The FLO Cycling wheels look and feel very well-built. They handle very well under normal conditions. And how about crosswinds? What we've heard from big-name wheel manufacturers is that wider, flatter-shaped rims play a big part in doing so.
We had some horrendous crosswinds during our testing. We took the wheels out on three separate occasions, and all three were windy. Weather reports clocked the wind at 25mph with 40mph gusts. Bad for us, good for you. We fully expected the wheels to blow us all over the road, but they performed in spectacular fashion. We have reported on other wheels that have demonstrated excellent crosswind performance, and can confirm that FLO Cycling's wheels are absolutely on par with the best. They perform like a much more expensive wheel. And FLO tells us that they're headed to the wind tunnel soon, so they'll have some data to back up their claims.
The Bottom Line
In short, FLO isn't really doing anything NEW - they're just taking the best of what's out there, and delivering it at a price that's a fraction of their competition. What's so special about these wheels IS their price point. For one thing, it means you don't have to really baby these wheels - ride them as your daily trainers to get used to handling aero rims. They aren't fragile - they're made with the same box-section aluminum rims that are trusted by pros on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. They'll take all the beating you give to them, and still perform perfectly. Plus, if you keep these wheels on all the time, it means you'll never have to adjust your brakes or brake pads for your race-day wheels, which can be a big pain. And at the low price point these are set to sell at, a gear-savvy triathlete could buy up FLO's entire line for the price of one set of high-zoot carbon hoops. That would give you the flexibility to make a very specific race-day wheel choice based on the course profile and race-day conditions.
So what does FLO Cycling give up in order to achieve what they have? Well, for one thing, their development process was necessarily quicker and less refined than what others do. They didn't have the capital to take every prototype shape into a physical wind tunnel, but rather did all their development in a computer using CFD. And because they're just using beefy alunimum rims and a carbon fairing, instead of structural carbon, their wheels are heavier than some of the competition. But even to say that other top-end wheelsets are competition is a huge tip of the hat to FLO, given that their wheels are selling for 25-30% of the price of those other brands. We LOVE what FLO is doing, and were really, really sad to see these wheels go. We wanted to keep them, but FLO made us promise to send them back, because this particular set is earmarked to go to the wind tunnel. Read the Q-and-A on the next page for info about that, and more.
A category unto its own: the cheap, high-tech wheel
Following our time with the wheelset, we sat down co-founder Jon Thompson to get his answers on some of the questions we had, that we're sure are buring at the back of your mind as well.
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