In 2014, the UCI updated its rules regarding the Track Hour Record, with the unveiling of the single classification Unified Hour Record. This sparked a surge of renewed interest amongst athletes looking to stamp their legacy on what is regarded as the most tortuous sixty minutes in all of cycling. Some of those athletes were riding Roval wheels, and we thought it would be a prime time to pull out all the stops and bring to life the trickest, most aerodynamic disc wheel ever. It would be a one-off kind of thing, purpose built for chasing the Hour, an uncompromising prototype.
Working without any of the production-based constraints that can bedevil them, our engineers crafted a beautiful asymmetrical disc wheel; standard on the drive side, with a lenticular profile on the non-drive side. It was incredibly light for a disc wheel, and it was an incredibly complex wheel to make – the lenticular nature of the non-drive side of the disc meant that the entire wheel shifted dish slightly as it was inflated, as the lens changed shape in response to the tire air pressure. We had to figure out how to retain the weight and ride characteristics we desired, and precisely control both the shape of the lens and the exact amount of dish so that the wheel would be perfectly centered when inflated. It was a couple year project, but we did it, and found ourselves with the fastest prototype wheel in the world. It was not something we really intended to put into production.
Prototypes are wild and awesome and attention grabbing for a reason. They embody what we dream about. They are the cutting edge, the limits of what we can achieve in any given moment of technology when it comes to applying all our material and theoretical knowledge toward one specific goal. But the thing is, prototypes don’t really have to get judged by the same rules as production. Production is a much tougher world. Things have to be consistent, reliable, and repeatable by the thousands if they expect to even see the light of day. They need to be able to withstand some level of real world abuse, meet reasonable performance and lifespan expectations, and they need to have a price tag that hopefully reflects some level of reality.
But what good is all this trickery if it can’t be used in the real world? Our thoughts exactly. So, our engineers who had just scaled the dizzying, unrestrained heights of prototype development, were pulled back into the trenches and tasked with navigating the harsh reality of bringing this beauty into production.
By 2017, two years after we embarked on this project, the prototypes of the wheel we now call the 321 Disc were being raced. They were fast. Real fast. Tim Don rode one to an Ironman record in Brazil on the wheel in May. Maciej Bodnar won the stage 20 Time Trial at the 2017 Tour de France in July. Javier Gomez won the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in
September. And Lucy Charles dominated the Ironman South Africa in April 2018.
The 321 Disc is now available for sale to the public, something we really didn’t set out to do, in extremely limited numbers. Trickness still abounds. The wheel is still lenticular on one side, allowing it to outperform and outhandle the competition at increased yaw angles and during crosswind situations. It still shifts dish a very carefully calculated amount when the tire is inflated. But get this, it’s designed to fit in the real world. The 321 Disc is a tubeless clincher disc wheel, with a 19mm inner width designed to work with modern, wider tires. The rim bed is solid, so there’s no need for rim tape. The valve stem access pockets are large and easily accessible, so there’s no need for funky valve extensions or crack pipes. The hub internals are ultra-dependable DT 240 components, and the wheel rolls on CeramicSpeed bearings. There’s even a 142x12 disc brake version.
This is a very rare beast of a wheel. We’ve never built anything like it, and it was something we didn’t initially intend to even sell to the public. But here it is, available to those who seek definition out there on that edge where wattage and willpower are stretched against the merciless implacability of a sweeping second hand. To quote Hunter S Thompson: “There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”