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American Classic Wide Lightning:  Mid Term- by Grannygear

With the Out Of the Box article here, and the First Impressions here, I took the American Classic Wide Lightnings and transferred them to the Scott Genius 910 Test Mule rig.  This would allow me to do two things.  First, I could push the wheels a bit harder.  Second, I could ride a bike I really enjoy and have gotten to know well, so I will be able to sniff out any differences from the stock wheels, if any.

To begin with, I mounted a set of Continental Trail Kings in the 2.2 size, Black Chili, Protection, etc.  These will be a review tire in the near future, but for now, it is all about the wheels.  I followed that up with a set of tires I was very familiar with, a combo of a Specialized 2.3 Butcher front and a Specialized 2.3 Ground Control.  That would give me a standard of handling I was familiar with.

So there really are two things that I suspect most people are wanting to know about.  One, are they tough enough?  Two, does the width buy you anything worth having on the trail?  Talking to American Classic at Sea Otter, the talk centered for some time about the direction that mountain bike wheels are taking with the move toward wider rims.  Ibis just shook up the tree a bit with their “new normal” wide and really wide carbon wheels with an internal width of 22mm and 41mm respectively.  For the most part, we only see European centered companies clinging to the 19mm internal rim that was so common only a short time ago.  Bill Shook, American Classic wizard and the designer of the rims, mentioned that the Wide Lightnings were originally designed as an XC rim.  They wanted to allow the racer to run a smaller size tire and gain a wider profile due to the internal rim dimension, taking weight off of the wheel/tire combo where it does the most for you…the far edge of the wheel i.e. the tire.  But they found out that the rim was very durable and the low sidewall height, combined with the wide rim design, made for a rim that took very well to fending off dents and rock strikes.  Light…strong…wide.  Maybe you can have three things at once?

In my testing, so far I have not seen any indication that the wheels are not up to fast trail use beyond XC boundaries.  They feel just as stiff on the Scott Genius 910 and have not given me any pause yet to continue to run them on a 130mm travel bike.  Would I toss them with abandon down really, really rugged trails?  No, I think not.  That low rim weight has to have some limits and these are not shuttle-type DH rims.

But the more interesting thing is the width.  What does that really buy you?  One thing I have noticed across several tires from different brands and in varied sizes is that the American Classic Wide Lightnings are a guaranteed size increase of a factor of one tire size.  So a 2.0 becomes a 2.1 and a 2.2 becomes a 2.3.  Every time, based on my experiences.  So, you can gain the tire volume of a heavier, larger tire while running a lighter, smaller tire on that rim.

Yet the biggest draw to a wider rim, if you read the on-line forums, etc, is the ability to run any tire at lower inflation pressures and retain good handing characteristics.  I seldom run lower than 25psi on any bike I ride.  My SS will be right at that point, but the Genius would be more like 30psi.  We have rocks and ruts here and turning at speed on hard surfaces with a low PSI tire feels as vague and uncertain as a politician before a grand jury.  So I set out to see if the 29.3mm internal Wide Lightning would change my paradigm.  It did.

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I set out on a trail that had lots of tight turns that allow for a moderate speed and had a poor solid surface to boot.  It would allow me to do multiple laps in a short time.  I took a digital tire pressure gauge with me to put numbers to my findings.  I would drop pressures beginning from 30psi and see when it became ugly out there.  It was very interesting.  All tires were run tubeless.

  1. Tire/wheel combo one:  The stock Syncros wheels and the Butcher/Ground Control.  I believe the Syncros OE wheel is a somewhat standard 23mm internal rim.  After the base run at 30psi, I dropped the psi until I hit right at around the low 20s and things began to get squirmy.  It was barely OK and I would not want to ride there on our hard packed dirt situations for very long unless I was just poking along.  At 16psi it was, as far as I was concerned, unrideable.  There was no way to keep the bike pointed on any certain line on hard, quick corners.
  2. Tire/wheel combo two:  The American Classic Wide Lightnings with the Conti Trail King IIs.  Now the Trail Kings have a very stout sidewall construction and so I was expecting them to do well at lower psi.  They did.  At 25psi they were solid and gave me tons of traction, better than the 30psi norm.  At 21psi they were still rideable and I could tell they were a bit lower, but they still were almost ‘normal’.  At 16psi they were still pretty OK, although I had to be very careful about rock strikes.  But I was in control.  Crazy, really!
  3. Tire/wheel combo three:  The Wide Lightnings and the Butcher/Ground Control combo (the ones that were not so great on the stocker Syncros rims at low psi).  I was expecting these to give up a bit earlier than the stiffer sidewall Contis, but really it was about the same.  I was able to confidently ride at the mid to low 20s and at 16psi it was still OK, but getting a bit slushy.  At the low 20′s the trail performance was pretty crazy really and traction was significant.  I am considering rethinking my ‘normal’ trail pressure settings.  25psi might be the new norm for me, even on this 130mm bike.

So, yes, it made a difference.  It does bring up the point, “are tires really designed to take advantage of their new rim width?”.  Dunno.  I think not, most likely, but tire molds are costly things.  We shall see how this works out down the line.  One thing is for certain though.  I am never running a narrow (like 19mm) rim again if I have a choice.  I typically ride a rim that is 23mm internal as an average, but the American Classic wheels showed me the light(ning).  As long as you can moderate the weight increase, and these are light wheels, well into the carbon wheel realm, then it is all a plus.

Wider is gooder.

Next up, and as a wrap,  you will hear c_g´s installment on his recent experiences and similar results with the American Classic Wide Lightnings. After his time with wide tires (here) he went for 2.1 XC-type tires and rode those first on a fully rigid bike and then on his 130 mm trail bike, resulting in some interesting observations. Stay tuned!

Note: American Classic sent over these products at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.