Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to introduce you to the first sponsored Southern Wheelworks Athlete: Neil Beltchenko.

Photo: Bikepackers Magazine
Photo: Bikepackers Magazine

Neil lives in Crested Butte, Colorado and is quickly making a name for himself in the ultra endurance/bikepacking mountain bike race scene.  2014 was only his second year racing, and he managed 3rd place in the 300 mile Arizona Trail Race and he took the win in the 560 mile Colorado Trail Race!

Besides being an animal on the bike (an animal that can ride silly distances on little to no sleep, for days on end) Neil is working hard to promote bikepacking, and is a co-founder of Bikepackers Magazine.

Some Recent Results (click the links to read the race reports):

This is not Neil’s first set of SWW built wheels, he purchased a set in May of ’13, and used them in the Vapor Trail 125 and Colorado Trail Race that year.

This year, he’s really stepping up (as if those other races aren’t enough…) and is tackling the grand daddy of bikepacking racing, the Tour Divide – a 2,700+ mile self supported mountain bike ride from Banff, Alberta Canada south along the Continental Divide to the US/Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.  So now that you know a little about Neil, lets talk about the parts used for a set of wheel made to go the distance.

RIMS

When Neil and I first started talking about building him a set of wheels I wanted to put him on a set of carbon Nox Teocalli rims, a very popular rim I build quite often.  The Teocalli’s have a 26mm inner width and weigh only 385g, there’s really no other rim that is as wide and as light, and as tough.  But, since he’s been able to earn himself a reputation in these types rides, he has a few other sponsors as well, including Chumba who is providing a titanium frame and some other bits to go with it, including some drivetrain components and a set of ENVE M60 Forty rims.

ENVE's internal nipples allows for smaller holes in the rim, but they make replacing a spoke more difficult, and they're kind of a hassle to build with.
ENVE’s internal nipples allows for smaller holes in the rim, but they make replacing a spoke more difficult, and they’re kind of a hassle to build with.

It was a package deal, and one too good to pass up.  While I think the Nox rims are a better fit, the ENVE’s aren’t exactly slumming it, they are some very nice rims.  They have a 23mm inner width, weigh around 415g, are made in the USA, and the spoke holes are molded into the rim instead of drilled like all others.

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One potential downside is they use internal nipples, so if he had to replace a spoke trailside it’s going to be a huge hassle since you can’t use a normal spoke wrench, and he’ll have to take the tire off, remove the rim tape, etc.  With a standard spoke and external nipple, if you’re careful, you can replace a broken spoke without having to take the tire off and deal with sealant and trying to get the tire set up tubeless again.  Also, the tubeless kit is just a set of valves and Gorilla tape.

Thin layer of tape to help seal up the rims.
Thin layer of tape to help seal up the rims.

Gorilla tape works okay for ghetto tubeless conversions, but is a bit porous and not super air tight, so I added a thin layer of tape over the spoke holes so Neil doesn’t have to top off his air very often.

HUBS

Self supported bikepacking races mean lots of riding in the dark, often in extremely remote areas, for many hours at a time.  Lighting is a big concern.  Battery powered lights are light weight and very powerful, but battery life is a problem when you want to ride all night long – most will only last a few hours, requiring you to be extra diligent in keeping the batteries charged (which means having to stay in towns longer while charging the batteries), and probably carrying extra batteries as well, which adds more weight and bulk, and it’s just more stuff to have to worry about.  To simplify life in the saddle, Neil has decided to use a dynamo front hub, which is a generator that produces electricity when the bike is moving.  At night he’ll use it to power lights to see where he’s going, and during the day it can charge his GPS and other electronic devices.  With a dynamo, you never run out of light!  He can be more independent and rely less on finding places, and time, to charge his electronics.  We used an SP Dynamo hub, which is one of the lightest dynamos on the market, and also has the lowest drag on the market.  I use an SP hub on my commuter, and the drag is so low I can’t feel it at all and the dynamo hub stays on the bike all the time – there’s just no need in removing it.

SP Dynamo PD-8X

For the rear, we’re using an Industry Nine Torch Classic hub.  It’s made in Asheville, NC, is light weight, and has super fast engagement with 120 points, only 3 degrees between engagement points!  This means every bit of energy Neil puts to the pedals immediately goes to the rear wheel, no wasted effort spinning the cranks waiting for the hub to engage.  The I9 hubs are fairly loud when coasting, which will help keep Neil awake at night and help scare off the bears along the route haha.

Industry Nine Torch Classic Rear Hub

The I9 hubs also have very little drag when coasting, and when you’re riding 2700+ miles every little bit of resistance you can remove is a good thing!  And if he finds himself in some nasty conditions and needs to clean the hub internals, it can’t be easier – the freehub pulls off by hand (no tools required) giving you access to all internals.  Clean it out, apply a few drops of oil, and back down the trail you go.

SPOKES/NIPPLES/OTHER

Like most carbon MTB builds I do, I’m using DT Swiss Revolution spokes on Neil’s wheels.  Carbon rims are stiff, so stiff you can use light weight spokes and still have a very nice and stiff set of wheels.  The Revolutions save ~100g compared to the DT Competition spokes I typically use on alloy rim wheels, and they are the same weight and stiffness as the much more expensive bladed spokes like the DT Aerolites or Sapim CX-Rays.  I also tend to believe the round Revolution spokes are less suspectible to damage than the bladed spokes – their thin bladed section (less than 1mm thick) seems ripe for getting nicked by a kicked up rock, which can act as a stress risers that causes the spoke to fail.

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For nipples I’m using the brass internal nipples provided by ENVE with the rims.  They’re made to fit the shape of the molded spoke hole, and they are use a slightly deformed thread to act as a mechanical threadlock – they can be easily turned, but the threadlock will prevent the nipples from backing off if spoke tension is too low or uneven.  Of course, that wont be a problem since I’m building them.

All in all the set weighs in at 1,893g.  The first ride for these will be the Stagecoach 400, a 400 mile self supported ride in California.  Or as Neil calls it, a little shakedown ride.

Good luck this season Neil!

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