Ask Nick: Melted helmets, fair play and wide wheel clearance

Tech editor Nick Legan gives a tough answer on wheel/frame compatibility and talks road rash treatment

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

Will an occasional southern California summer afternoon in my car trunk affect my helmet’s structural integrity or life?
— Greg

A. Greg,
I couldn’t say definitively. But I have a feeling that it’s not the best thing for your helmet. To answer you more thoroughly I got in touch with Eric Richter at Giro/Bellsports. Here is his reply:

“Helmets can be deformed by exposure to high temperatures or heat over prolonged periods. Without knowing the exact temperature, length of exposure, or other variables we’re talking about in this type of case, we can only say that it is possible. Fortunately, helmets that have been compromised by heat will often show signs of damage such as deformed foam beads, warping, discoloration, etc. The bottom line is that we strongly recommend that riders avoid exposing a helmet to extreme temperatures or direct sources of heat. And we also recommend that riders inspect their helmet before a ride to be sure it’s in good, functional condition. If there is ever a question about the condition of the helmet visit a local dealer or contact our customer service group: 1-800-456-2355.”

Really, there’s no reason to leave your helmet in your trunk or car. Take it in to work with you. Fly your cyclist colors proudly!

I recently hit the deck at 40 mph and needless to say I’m missing a fair amount of skin. After a visit to the hospital to get everything cleaned and bandaged there’s no way I could have hopped on my bike and raced 150km the next day. How do doctors to pro riders treat road rash in order for the rider to return to competition the next day? — Stu Alp

A. Stu,
Having a team doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, or physio (or some combination of all four) on hand certainly helps. Riders get amazing treatment and care when they crash. But obviously some riders continue and others don’t. Every crash is taken case-by-case.

If a rider is going to try and continue, wounds are usually kept wet, covered with bandages and antibiotic ointment. Second skin-like dressings (developed for burns) are popular as well. This keeps the affected area flexible. Cracking scabs are pretty painful.

A rider will receive as much treatment as is practical. Massage on bleeding limbs isn’t advisable, but a chiropractic adjustment often works wonders. After a big impact, a body is knocked out of alignment. Getting that back on track helps prevent unnecessary issues. Assisted stretching can help keep muscles limber. It’s also common to see a fallen rider get on his/her bike for a few minutes of spinning before the start of a race to loosen up before the racing begins.

During a Giro broadcast, Astana rider Roman Kreuziger was on a climb and made a hand-gesture that he wanted a water bottle. He grabbed one, offered by a BMC soigneur! Is this common practice for teams… or will the soigneur be fired for “aiding and abetting” the opposition? — Mat Orefice

A. Mat,
While strictly speaking, helping a rider from another team is forbidden. But in practice it happens all the time. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours…”

There’s simply no reason not to give a rider from a different team a bottle if your team’s riders are taken care of. The same thing goes for pacing back up to the field after a mechanical or a natural break. It makes sense for teams to help each other. Good sportsmanship, fair play, karma; whatever you want to call it, it comes back.

I once changed a wheel for Roger Hammond while he was riding for Discovery and I was a Team CSC mechanic. Another of his teammates had previously crashed and his team car was far behind. We were on a single lane road and my director, Tristan Hoffmann, asked if I was game to change his wheel. “Of course!” I replied.

It was far better to give the man a wheel (especially while he was racing his home race, the Tour of Britain) instead of letting his race be ruined by an untimely puncture. Not everything in the racing world must be cutthroat.

While drooling over pro bike pictures, I have noticed it is somewhat common for different riders within a team to use different wheels and/or tires for a stage. It seems to be most noticeable on TT days. Is this because of different riding styles/preferences for each rider, or because limited resources force teams to ration the “best” equipment to their top riders? — Jay

A. Jay,
How very keen of you to notice! The answer is both. It depends on the team (or perhaps the size of the team truck!). In some cases, a given rider will want a shallower front wheel than another of his teammates. In other cases, there aren’t enough to go around.

Mavic’s all-carbon rear disc is a good example. While from a short distance, all Mavic Comete discs appear the same, some have an aluminum Exalith rim while others are all carbon. Garmin-Barracuda closely partners with Mavic and even some of its riders have to give up the lighter version to top stage or GC contenders. Other Mavic-sponsored teams may not receive any of the all-carbon versions.

Similarly, Cervélo has only a very few of its new P5 time trial bikes built right now. That’s why you see Ryder Hesjedal, Dave Zabriskie and Andrew Talansky on them while other team riders are rolling on P4s.

I’m not sure of the appropriate forum for this note as the two manufacturers (Specialized/Zipp) continue to defer responsibility onto each other or to the consumer (me) and my local bike shop.

The situation is this: I purchased a Tarmac S-Works SL4 in November of 2011 and as soon as the Zipp 303 Firecrests were available I was able to acquire a set around Christmas time. At the time of the acquisition of the frame or the wheels there was no known compatibility issue or at least not one that was disclosed on the website of either company or communicated to the local bike shops or to the end consumers. A couple of weeks ago my local bike shop received an email from the Zipp representative stating that they should urge customers not to purchase the 303 Firecrest rear wheel as the width of the wheel may rub against the frame under load (specifically referring to the Tarmac SL4 and the Venge). The note also made reference to the fact that although the sponsored riders of Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Saxo Bank appear to be running 303s on their respective Tarmac/Venges, they were/are running 303 Firecrest fronts and older 303 (non-Firecrest) rears.

Upon being made aware of this revelation I checked the rear chain stays of my frame and sure enough there is a substantial amount of friction wear on both sides of the inner chain stays, so much so that it would appear to have made its way past whatever clear coat was there and into some carbon. Now I’m not sure of the structural damage that has been caused after about 1,500 miles of riding with this combination and maybe it would take years to create a problem; however, it has created the doubt in the back of my mind that at some point the rear wheel will stay put as I continue on a forward trajectory… not something I’m looking forward to… as both the frameset and the wheelset are currently under their respective warranties (and I have my original purchase documentation).

Have you heard of such compatibility issues or experienced them via testing, or have you received such communications? (No such communications have been posted to Specialized’s website to date.) — Christopher

A. Christopher,
That is quite the situation. I have ridden a Venge with 303 Firecrest wheels and didn’t have any issues, but I’m not a large, or particularly powerful, rider.

I did hear some rumblings about this particular problem, though. Seems you may be one of the first to experience it. But I have some bad news for you. I think your only recourse is to visit your bike shop and discuss the matter (unless you installed the wheels yourself).

I’m a mechanic and shop co-owner myself and it is my responsibility to assure that the parts I install are compatible with one another. This goes for bars, stems, headsets, brakes, and yes, frames and wheels. If tolerances are questionable, I reach out to manufacturers. And if they can’t give me a definitive answer, I advocate caution.

It isn’t the responsibility of Specialized to make sure that its frames work with every wheel on the market. Nor is it Zipp’s responsibility to design its wheels around every known frameset. If the Tarmac had been sold with Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels that would be a different matter.

Honestly, the onus is on the shop or individual who installed the wheels in the frame. If clearance was an issue, the shop should have contacted both parties. Simply looking around a website is a poor excuse when Specialized and Zipp have customer service phone numbers available to shops and consumers. If there was any question, instead of riding the bike with the 303 Firecrest, the shop should have advised you to hold off on riding the rear wheel.

While I understand your frustration, I’m not sure what I can do to help, other than to make this more public. I reached out to both Specialized and Zipp on this one, to help me better understand what occurred.

Specialized’s Sean Estes:

“Unfortunately 303 Firecrest wheels do not have adequate, functioning clearance in the Venge and Tarmac SL4. Both frames were on the market prior to the introduction of the 303 Firecrest and the 303’s rim design includes a substantially wider cross-section than most wheels, which we were unable to anticipate when designing these frames as we were unable to obtain advanced information on frame clearance requirements from Zipp.

This issue only pertains to the 303. The 404 and 808 dimensions allow adequate functional clearance in both Venge and Tarmac SL4. I run a pair of 404 Firecrest wheels on my Tarmac SL4 and they work very well.”

David Ripley of Zipp:

“Yes, there are some fitment issues with the new 303 Firecrest wheels and some road frames. The 303 and some of the other newer carbon offerings from other wheel manufacturers are starting to push the boundaries of what is considered “standard”. We strive to work closely with all of our industry partners to attempt to avoid as many of these types of issues as we can, but sometimes things slip past. I hesitate to liken it to the industry bottom bracket “standards” that have blown up over the past couple of years, as I don’t think that we are that far apart from each other.

But alas, there are still some problem combinations that we are working through. Most recently we have seen some compatibility issues with the new Tarmac SL4 and McLaren Venge from Specialized. I believe that there are some older aero road and tri frames that were known to have issues as well, like the first two versions of the Scott Plasma and the Ridley Dean and Noah models, as well as some of the Cervélo aero bikes. We have a listing on our website under the specific wheels where we have known interface issues, like the 303 Firecrest.”

Christopher, I don’t mean to be brusque in my treatment of your question. But as bicycles become increasingly complex and built to ever-tighter tolerances, shops and mechanics need to raise their game. In this case, I don’t believe they did.

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