Tandem Tech & Equipment: Composite Spoked Wheel Retirement

Our Georgia Tandem Rally (GTR) weekend yielded some interesting discussions, discoveries and anecdotes covering a number of different tandem technology & equipment topics.  So, this will be the first in a series of Tandem Tech / Equipment blog entries since I’m now sick as a dog and have no energy to do anything else… aside from sleeping:

Composite Spoked Wheel Retirement

Regular readers already know our beloved Topolino AX3.0T wheels fell victim to a broken front spoke from an earlier entry on May 8th. Subsequent investigation also disclosed multiple cracks in the rear rim around the spoke holes which I mentioned in the 3rd paragraph of a post on May 12th: not good.

SDC11210 SDC11206

This really tugs at my heart strings because Debbie and REALLY enjoyed the ride qualities of the Topo’s and they looked like they were made (i.e., color coordinated) for our nude Calfee with it’s standard Calfee decals, and that was before we adopted our ‘gold package’ with our Wipperman TiNitrate coated chains and SRAM X0 rear derailleur with gold accents!

I spoke with our friend and Topolino founder/owner Rafe Schlanger about a possible repair and several different repair scenarios that ranged in cost from $345.00 to $495.00 plus ~$80 for shipping to and from Massachusetts. Note that the Topolino’s are “modular wheels” where each wheel is comprised of two “wheel half” spoke networks laced to a rim and then held together at the hub by the axle, bearings, freehub and axle end caps.


  • The low-end was based on replacing only the assumed failed parts, i.e., one front wheel spoke half @ $75 + $80 for the wheel rebuild and the rear rim @ $110 + $80 for the wheel rebuild.
  • The high-end covered replacement of both front wheel spoke halves @ $150 + $80 for the rebuild and the drive-side rear spoke half @ $75 and the rim @ $110 + $80 for the rebuild. The rationale for considering a more extensive rebuild had two major components:(1) some enhancements were made to the spoke-end design that “should” improve the durability of the hybrid spoke halves and (2) the extra $150 would preclude an additional $160 for future front/rear wheel rebuilds if the original spoke halves were already weakened and failed as well as the additional ~$80 for shipping the wheels a second time.

As has always been my practice as a tandem enthusiast and consumer advocate, I shared our experience with readers via my blog, Facebook and at the BikeForums.net tandem sub-forum so friends and fellow tandem enthusiasts with the same wheels or who were considering wheels might find the information of some use.

In addition to getting confirmation of similar failures from friends who were early adopters of the AX3.0T Topolino’s, we also heard from at least one other friend who was prompted to inspect his AX3.0T wheelset and saw what he thought may have been cracks around the spoke holes in the front rim.  While that wasn’t something I’d seen on our front rim nor had I heard was a common failure mode for the AX3.0T, it was certainly possible.  Another forum member / friend volunteered to bring his Eddy Current machine to GTR where we’d all be in just a few days for a non-destructive inspection of our friend’s wheels which, in fact, he did.  The inspection revealed a total of 6 spoke with cracks propagating along the center of the rim from each hole in both the front & rear rims, including a few cracks that were hidden by the Topolino decals.  Since then at least one other forum member with the newer TruBlack ATR3.0T wheels has discovered early evidence of cracks in his rims.

Having thought about the cost/benefit of the Topolino rebuild over the weekend while enjoying the rock solid performance and comfort we enjoyed from our new 40°/48° White Ind/Dyads on the triplet w/28mm tires @ 120psi and the 36°/36° White Ind/Deep-Vs on the Calfee w/25mm tires @ 135psi we’ve decided to forego the expense of the rebuild and simply retire the wheels.

I’m fairly sure I could go and search the archives at Tandem@Hobbes and find at least 1/2 a dozen posts about boutique tandem wheels where the allure of the promised performance benefits or simply the bling would ultimate result in some very expensive shelf ware. In fact, this was always a risk with our original wheel comparison experiment on the Calfee.

As to whether or not we’ll replace them with something else, time will tell.  It’s not like we had $575.00 sitting in a self-insurance fund just waiting to throw at a set of wheels.  On the contrary, we just finished writing the check for the wonderful, all-black 40°/48° wheelset on our triplet so even if there was a slush fund it has already been spoken for.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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2 Responses to Tandem Tech & Equipment: Composite Spoked Wheel Retirement

  1. Gabe Mirkin says:

    I own thee sets of Topolino tandem wheels. They have all had spoke replacements.

    Recently I broke another spoke on my Revelation II AC29 wheels. I called Topolino and was told that the spoke cannot be replaced because that model is out of the system.
    I will never order Topolino wheels again because of the way that I was treated.

    Gabe Mirkin

  2. batsnapper says:

    I’m liking our Spinergy tandem wheels on our Co-Motion Primera, and we have had problems with standard tandem wheels. We got ours at the House of Tandems. http://houseoftandems.com/about/tx2-wheelset-pg93.htm I have no experience with Topolino but have followed posts here with some interest. As a <400 lb team, we stayed away from real light weight wheels.

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