A new set of wheels is one of the most effective upgrades you can make for your bike, instantly making it lighter and often faster. There aren’t too many ready-made wheel options specifically for commuting and touring bikes, but American Classic is now offering a good choice with its TCX wheels.
These are 700c wheels whose main feature is a wide, tubeless-ready rim. Tubeless? Yes—this mountain biking innovation is invading the road side of things, and it’s about time. A tubeless set-up can improve the feel of your tires, and most importantly, cut down on flats, things we found to be true with the Bontrager Race TLR tubeless road wheels we tested in issue #22.
The only hitch is that tire manufacturers have yet to catch up to American Classic and broaden their tubeless offerings to commuting and touring styles. The widest tires available right now are 28mm; the rims on these wheels are a full 26mm wide, wide enough to support mountain bike tires, but too wide for skinny road tires to fit (at least not without a lot of hassle, cursing and broken tire levers). Tires in a width from 30 to 45mm would be perfect for these wheels, in my opinion, ideally with a bit of easy-rolling tread and reflective sidewalls—basically what’s commonly available for our non-racing road needs, but in tubeless versions. (Are you listening, tire companies?)
Still, the TCX wheels make it worth waiting for the right tires to come along. In the meantime, that wide rim gives current tires, like the 32mm-wide Panaracer RiBMo tires I’ve been using, a wider contact patch (or “footprint”) that helps the wheels float over imperfections and keeps the tire from rolling to the side in corners. I definitely felt more secure on gravel and sandy shoulders with these wheels, despite the fact that my tires are getting up there in mileage and a lot of the siping is gone. Despite their width, the rims are designed to be lightweight, especially around the outer edge, to minimize rotating weight.
The rest of the wheel build is similarly light but strong. There are 32 double-butted spokes front and rear, black except for a handy gray pair on either side of the valve hole, laced in a traditional three-cross pattern. The Terrain disc hubs feature six pawls with a cam plate that ensures they engage simultaneously. Rolling along, this translated to quick and sure engagement when putting on the gas. The aluminum cassette body (compatible with Shimano and SRAM 9 and 10 speed systems) has steel inserts so that it won’t get chewed up by the cassette, something you won’t notice right away but you’ll appreciate once it comes time to replace the drivetrain.
Another cool feature is the quick-release skewers: they’re a fat “thru-axle” style that centers the wheel perfectly in the dropouts and adds some lateral stiffness. My aluminum frame and fork are already plenty stiff, so I can’t say I noticed a big difference, but judging from thru-axle’s effect on mountain bikes, this would be a great thing for loaded touring.
Total weight for the TCX wheels is a respectable 1,895g, and their retail price is $475. To me, they look and feel like they should cost more. Grab a set now if you want to be an early adopter of the practical tubeless tires sure to come.