Spare Wheel Carriers for Cyclocross

It’s a common dilemma: You want to ride to the start of a cyclocross race. The distance of 20 miles to the start doesn’t bother you – it’s a good warm-up. But your expensive cross tubulars will wear off their knobs quickly if you ride them on pavement. What to do?
One solution is equip your bike for the commute with a spare wheelset with road tires, and carry your cross wheels to the race. I have seen various setups, from single-wheel Bob trailers to strapping the wheels to a backpack, but all leave something to be desired.
Years ago, I read how British time trialists faced a similar problem. They did not want to wear out their tubulars on the way to their events, or worse, get a flat that couldn’t easily be repaired on the road. So they made spare wheel carriers that allowed carrying a second wheelset on the bike.
I suspect the first of these were hand-made, but the British Cyclo company offered an aluminum version. I tracked down a set, figuring that they might come in handy for cyclocross.
You can see how simple the carriers really are: a flat piece of aluminum, bent to provide some offset for the wheels to clear the cantilever brakes. There is a hole at each end. One goes over the axle of the bike’s front wheel, the other receives the axle of the spare wheel.
Toe-straps stabilize the wheels on the handlebars. With quick releases instead of wingnuts, I had to put washers under the unsupported side, so the quick release could tension, but otherwise, installation was simple.
Riding with this setup was fine, but there were a few surprises:

  1. Toe overlap was severe. Perhaps not a surprise if I had thought about the geometry of the setup. Tight turns are impossible: The spare wheel hits the down tube.
  2. The wind resistance of the two extra wheels is enormous. Now I know why even racing tricycles are so slow. On this windy day, I just was riding across town to Hahn’s house to get a ride, and I almost didn’t make it on time.
  3. With the most of the two extra wheels ahead of the steerer axis, cross-wind instability was severe. Fortunately, my old Alan has a low-trail geometry that is relatively unaffected by cross-winds, but on a modern ‘cross bike with a mountain bike-inspired front-end geometry, this setup might become an unmanageable handful.

Switching wheels at the race took less than a minute. My old Alan still is more than competitive against modern bikes. Or perhaps more importantly, the FMB tubulars it wears are absolutely wonderful. The race went well, too.
It was a dry day, so we didn’t get muddy, just lots of dust on our sweaty faces. The photo was taken seconds after the finish: It was fun!
Cross season is still going on. Give it a try! Do you have a way to bring along your spare wheels?

26 Responses to Spare Wheel Carriers for Cyclocross

  1. Vik October 31, 2015 at 7:13 am #

    Would it be worth using clinchers and swapping tires when you race if this is a regular feature of the CX race season for you?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly October 31, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

      I love my FMB tubulars so much that it would be sad to race on clinchers… You’d need 40 mm clinchers to get the ride and pinch flat resistance of the 34 mm Super Muds, and those wouldn’t fit the Alan.

  2. Paul Knopp October 31, 2015 at 7:35 am #

    Just sold a pair of carbon wheels to a top senior racer.  He loves them.  But then he dug out his old tubular wheel set, aired them up and did the weekly fast ride on them.  He now regrets spending $800 on carbon.  Even with Panaracer training tubulars they ride better than carbon clinchers  (but we could have told him that, right?)!

  3. Paul Ahart October 31, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    What a brilliant idea! Love it. I can’t think of a situation where I’d need to carry an extra wheelset, but should the occasion arise…….

  4. Jason Marshall (@jmarshall312) October 31, 2015 at 9:34 am #

    Cool. This particular application may be a case where a rear load would work better.

  5. Dan Michael October 31, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    I did a double-take when I first opened this email. One of these pictures would make for a good caption contest for April 1st. 🙂
    Given the limitations (TCO, xwind instability), would it make sense to mount the spare wheels on the rear axle? I usually ferry wheels strapped to the sides of my rear panniers which gives adequate heel clearance.

  6. Conrad October 31, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    The wheel carriers are a great idea! My Boulder is becoming something of an anomaly… I’m usually the only person on a steel bike in my field – but I still think my setup (with FMB super muds) is better than a carbon bike with mediocre tires.

  7. John Duval October 31, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    I wonder if a seat post mounted rack could be rigged to put the wheels behind you.

  8. Tim Willis October 31, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    Jan I’m curious about your tire selection for a dry race. Do you only have one set of tires glued, hence the mud tries? What kind of pressure were you running? Thanks!

  9. Jeff Lyall November 1, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    I’ve always wanted to build a set of those. You make me feel bad for binning those old red look pedals I inherited. heaviest pedal I think I have ever picked up.

  10. Josh November 1, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    I remember a racer I knew who had a seatpost-mounted 4-bolt rear rack, to which he welded an old steel fork. On either side of the fork, he would mount his race wheels, and then he would ride to the race, detach the rack, race, and the repeat for the ride home.

  11. David Le Fevre November 2, 2015 at 1:06 am #

    I still have them. We call them sprint wheel carriers. I even used them again a few years ago when riding home from a bike shop with a new pair of wheels.

  12. TJ Martin November 2, 2015 at 12:40 pm #

    I don’t know what cyclecross racing looks like out your way but here [ CO ] you’ll be needing a spare bike carrier .. never mind spare wheel carriers . I mean seriously . Who even shows up these days without the mandatory spare bike .. or two .. or if you want to win … three

  13. Hardley T Whipsnade III November 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Methinks this one’s delving deeply into the Land of Nerd . And seriously . Who shows up for a ‘ cross ‘ race these days with even the hopes of being competitive without at least a spare bike or two , never mind spare wheels ?

  14. Jeff Lyall November 2, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    If CX isn’t the end game, and you are not expecting to make the podium in your class, even if you are, you ride there and back, for training. Some friends might take your race wheels if they are not all riding. It would be a shame to waste half your weekend on a 60 minute race.

  15. Patrick Moore November 2, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    Racing tricycles are not so slow; even upright ones. The British Road Racing Association gives 3:11:11 as the 1993 100 mile record for a bicycle, and 3:39:51 for a tricycle (I assume it’s for an upright “delta”). From a quick survey of the records, the gap seems to be proportionally less as the distances get longer, but even the 25 mile trike record is 46:39, over 30 mph (the bicycle record is 40:50). Note too that the selection pool of trike riders is probably considerably smaller than that of bicycles.
    During the year or so I owned a Ken Rogers tricycle, I found that, sure, it was slightly slower — my gauge was the slightly greater effort to turn a similar gear — but it wasn’t huge, and my impression was that it was as much a matter of tire drag as wind resistance, though I’m sure that wind affected it.
    As for carrying wheels, I’ll have to hack carriers like yours. Carrying wheels and other large things is one of the few reasons for using my car — though I have carried wheels ~10 miles strapped to a good rear rack with toe straps.

  16. mike November 3, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    I first saw this setup on old english path racers. Basically that were track bikes with a (un-mountable) single front brake and a set of spare wheels mounted like yours.
    What’s about carrying the spare wheels on a small one-wheel-trailer? It weights more, sure, but driving has less limitations and you could carry spare clothes too 😉

  17. Luis Bernhardt November 3, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    Back in 1972, when I first started racing back in the SF Bay Area, I met a crazy Englishman named Andrew Ritchie. He showed up at one race with a spare set of wheels mounted on those exact wheel carriers, which he went on to extemporize on before a few of us California bike racers. He said they were quite common in England. Andrew, btw, went on to write quite a good book about Major Taylor.
    Another time, I was talking to an old guy, I don’t think I ever got his name, but he raced on the track back in the 30’s. He said it was pretty common for trackies to ride to races on their track wheels, but they had these adhesive rubber strips that they’d use to cover and protect their tires during the ride.

  18. Steve Palincsar November 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    At first glance it looked to me like a tadpole trike conversion. At second glance, too. It took three glances before it looked like what it was. Dan is right about this being a perfect picture for the first of April.

  19. David Le Fevre November 4, 2015 at 1:51 am #

    I suppose that they must look bizarre to people who’ve never seen them before. Some years ago my (then teenage) son was embarrassed to ride with me when I used them to carry wheels home from a bike jumble.
    However, I grew up with them, so they don’t look “wrong” to me. We used them to carry wheels to time-trials and to track meetings. I fitted a longer spindle to one track front wheel, so that it had room to take the two sprint-wheel carriers.

  20. Jesse November 5, 2015 at 11:39 am #

    Are the rims on your two wheelsets the same width? Do you have to adjust your brakes to accomodate any difference or are a couple of millimeters so minor that it’s unnecessary?

  21. Mike November 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

    Same chain with different cassettes poses no probs?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly November 6, 2015 at 12:16 am #

      Both wheels use 6-speed freewheels. For mud, fewer cogs means less clogging. I rarely use more than 3 or 4 gears in a ‘cross race anyhow.