Mavic R-Sys: is there a problem? We ask Mavic

Are they worried about the R-Sys, and if you've got some should you be?

by Tony Farrelly   June 12, 2009  

Mavic R-SYS wheelset

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Earlier this year Mavic recalled all of its first generation R-Sys front wheels when some wheels failed under certain conditions. The wheels had  passed all of Mavic's existing safety tests however the company's engineers devised a new test replicating those conditions in the lab and confirmed that there was a weakness in the original design that could lead to the wheel failing.

In April the French company launched a new beefed up Mk 2 R-Sys which Mavic were certain addressed the problems of the Mk 1 design. All well and good, but this week the faith of many in the R-Sys design took a new blow when Velonews writer Ben Delaney recounted how his new Mk 2 R-Sys front wheel “self destructed”, in the words of a watching bike mechanic,  as he took a corner during a race.

So, was this simply the case of a wheel failing in a race, serious for the rider concerned but nothing more sinister, or do the owners of R-Sys front wheels have reason to be worried?

Not yet, and possibly not at all was the response from Mavic yesterday. The man from Mavic HQ was keen to stress that:

“There have been almost no cases of problems with the new wheel [in fact Mavic say this is the only MK2 R-SYS failure they are aware of] if there had been there would have been a recall. We don't play with people's safety, we do all we can to ensure the quality and safety of our wheels, it is too dangerous to play with that, but the unbreakable wheel has not yet been invented”.

Mavic have invested a lot of time, money and credibility in to the R-SYS design in which the spokes are held in both tension (as on a standard wheel) and compression, so the company is unlikely to call time on it without thoroughly investigating every possible cause of a failure. The claimed benefits are a stiffer wheel that benefits from increased vibrtation damping. 

Mavic engineers, and investigators from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are still trying to work out what caused Ben's wheel to fail. Mavic site road conditions, bike speed, rider weight (although the R-SYS doesn't have a weight limit), the condition of the tyre, and the likely forces the wheel was under – in particular the torsional forces at play – as all having parts to play in a wheel failure.

“When carbon breaks it falls apart, unlike steel or aluminium and that can be shocking. The cause is the same, but it has a psychological impact” the Mavic spokesman told us. 

The message is that in the wrong circumstances all wheels break, but while carbon wheel might not break any more often than the non-carbon variety (they may even break less) when they break they are more likely to… really break. Although we can't help feeling that a wheel that falls apart is likely to have more than a pychological impact on the person riding it.

And according to our man from Mavic:

“R-Sys have to be considered carbon wheels – you can't treat them like Ksyriums. Carbon wheels do not react in the same way as aluminium or steel, manufacturers need to take that into consideration when they are building their frames, and so do riders. Rigidity transfer [from frame to wheel] has to be considered by manufacturers and also by riders.

“Torsion is a problem and Mavic is working on developing new testing methods to test the effects of torsion on a wheel". Were such tests to find the wheel too torsionally compliant Mavic say they would would beef them up "to balance the frame".

The bracing effect of a a torsionally stiffer frame puts more of that twisting force through the wheel, rather than spreading the load through the rest of the bike.

“Three years ago when the pro peloton first switched to carbon wheels in a big way there were a lot of crashes. We sponsored Vinokourov at the time. He didn't use carbon wheels for training – he didn't like the braking and the stiffness – but like the rest of the peloton as he put more miles in he got used to them: they adapted their riding styles. The same thing happened in Moto GP: as frames became stiffer, riders had to adapt.”

Of course the pros put in thousands of kilometres a year on their bikes, more than enough time and distance to adapt to the demands of new technologies. Where that leaves the rest of us who ride our bikes a fraction of the distance in the demanding environment of a race or sportive – the latter usually involving fast descending over poor roads (if it's in Britain at least) in often treacherous conditions and amongst a crowd of other riders – is another question. Nothing about UK races or Sportives makes for the sort of smooth lines and even braking styles of the pros, and that kind of riding puts a lot of stress on your wheels.

Mavic continues to devise new tests for its wheels to simulate as wide a variety of riding situations as possible – maiming your customers is not the basis of a sustainable business model. As of now the R-SYS Mk2 wheel is not being recalled by Mavic, if that changes road.cc will be the first to tell you. In the meantime we passed on the link posted in our forum of a reported failure of an R-SYS rear wheel – a hitherto trouble-free design that Mavic will now be investigating… We'll keep you posted on that too.

16 user comments

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That was the point I was trying to get across in my usual vague way. This wasn't meant to be a story to reassure nor to scaremonger either just to give people a clearer idea of where we are not just with the R-Sys, but with a lot of performance high end kit. It's a blog I've been meaning to write for a while now.

As you can see from Mavic's reply to Velonews http://www.velonews.com/article/93240 they are not convinced that this crash was caused by the wheel failing, they site other factors that could have caused it including the frame cracking and the tyre puncturing and also site evidence as to why the wheel might not have failed - lack of damage to the hub all of which they say could have lead to the crash.

It is very likely the case that these wheels break less often than standard ones, but if on the rare occasions they do fail it is going to have such potentially serious consequences for whoever is riding them - and if they're in a group their companions too … well, that's a risk that most of us would want to be paid to take rather than have to pay for ourselves.

The problem is you could apply that argument to loads of high end lightweight carbon componentry - including bike frames.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
12th June 2009 - 17:55

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That is very true Tony, I now ride a ti framed bike after discovering how fragile a thing a carbon frame is when stressed in the wrong way - a fairly minor RTA wrote off a frame that looks to all intents and purposes 100%.

I'm more and more pulled toward reliable rather than inspirational kit, but that said, my ti bike has carbon cranks, forks inc steerer, bars, stem and seatpost!

I think carbon is good for a great many applications (most of those above), but I'm inclined to think spokes are not one of them.

Maybe I'm over-reacting to the safety issue regarding these wheels, but when you are puting your life in the hands of the mechanical properties of your kit, I need to at least beleive in it.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
12th June 2009 - 21:22

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Thanks for the investigation Tony...

My issue is that I don't really want to find out whether my R-Sys are going to hold out or not. I really have lost confidence in them, and the potential for serious injury if they give out like that is vast.

A spoke breaking on your average wheel is annoying, and may ruin a ride, but is very unlikely to cause the entire wheel to collapse in an instant.

Oh well, I'll wait and see what happens, but I don't think I'll be riding them again.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
12th June 2009 - 21:23

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Totally with you on that Dasy.

I was never a great descender but the older I get the more I find myself thinking while going down hill about the adhesive properties of the tyre compound and the size of the contact patch. One of the few downers on test bikes is that tyres are an obvious, and to be fair logical, place to save a bit of money for a manufacturers trying to hit a price point.

Of course going up hill I worry about the 'bars snapping Confused

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
12th June 2009 - 22:05

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I love descending (a hang over from my MTBing days), and often push it right to the edge, but just at the point when I'm really fully commited, I get this recurring thought about my carbon steerer shearing, and my front wheel disappearing off into the sunset. Same thought every time, but the stupid thing is I never back off..?

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
12th June 2009 - 22:17

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I'm always conscious of staying relaxed and not tensing up 'the bike doesn't want to fall over, but the thing that's most likely to make is you' is what I'm telling myself - I'm always surprised at how tense I am without even realising it until making that conscious effort to stay relaxed…

or maybe I'm just at one with the bike - laterally stiff yet vertically compliant

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
12th June 2009 - 22:33

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Tony, has there been any further word from Mavic regarding the VeloNews related failure of the Gen2 R-Sys?

I would love to know what Mavic see as the future for the R-Sys, I'm really hard pushed to want to ride them much now, and on my recent trip to the Alps, I left them at home in favour of my trusty SL's...that is a bit of a shame, as the R-sys should be my best wheels, and would have been perfect for the trip, but I was hitting speeds of over 50mph on many descents, and just didn't fancy taking the risk.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
13th August 2009 - 19:48

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Yes, I did speak to them some more about it. This was all off the record, but what I was told that they took the Velonews wheel failure very seriously, the head of Mavic and there top technical bods were on a plane to the US within hours of it happening.

They put a team together and forensically went over what happened looked at the bike, the wheel and the tyre, the road etc,They did issue a statement to that effect which Velonews rang http://velonews.com/article/93240/mavic-responds-to-wheel-collapse-article, although I notice that Ben Delaney's original article doesn't link to it, but nor has anything else been added to it…

I was told that Mavic team concluded that the cause of the crash was a puncture (the tyre reportedly had over 30,000 miles in it), the rider lost control and crashed wrecking the wheel in the process. Their anaylysis of the wreckage was that it wasn't consistent with the cause of the crash being a failure of the wheel. If a spoke had gone tension would have been lost the fork would have dropped down and the wheel would have disintegrated.

So it's all gone quiet. Probably if the incident had happened to anyone but a respected journo we'd have heard a lot more about it from Mavic. You can bet that if there was anything to worry about we certainly would have heard about it - look at SRAM's recall of that 10-spd PowerLock earlier this week as an example of what a company will do at the merest hint of a problem – even at a cost of short term embarrassment.

As for the future there is a new R-Sys wheel on the way, in fact we've been promised a look, (if anyone from Mavic is reading this - ready when you are guys). From what I've been told it is both lighter and stronger than the previous incarnations.

Should you be happy to ride your wheels down a mountain? On the evidence there shouldn't be anything more to worry about than if you were riding any other wheel, but In the end you're the man in the saddle hitting 50mph on a mountain descent and only you can make the decision whether to ride your R-Sys wheels or not.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
13th August 2009 - 21:17

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Thanks for that Tony, interesting stuff.

I still can't quite decide how I feel about them, and the problem is made worse by the fact that my Ksyrium SL Premiums are so nice that I don't really gain enough with the R-Sys to make them irresistable, so I seem to settle for status quo.

I will probably sell them and get a set of HED Ardennes in the long run.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
14th August 2009 - 14:57

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Well, I have finally decided how I feel about my R-Sys wheels; I sold them (easily too!), and invested in a set of HED Ardennes.

The Ardennes are virtually the same weight as the R-Sys, but have the 23mm rim width that is supposed to give a very different ride. I hope to get out on them this weekend, assuming my failed Easton EC90 cranks are replaced in time, otherwise it's back on the trusty Look. I don't want to have my first ride on the HEDs on other than my best bike, so I may just have to be patient.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
28th August 2009 - 9:54

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Where did you sell them and how much for? Just out of intrest.

not all carbon is the same.

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posted by Jon Burrage [1080 posts]
28th August 2009 - 10:04

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Through my friends bike shop, and got £475.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
28th August 2009 - 11:25

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Not a bad price, expensive wheels when new though. Like you say, once there have been bad news stories your confidence in them dips.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1080 posts]
28th August 2009 - 12:27

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I got a very good deal on these wheels when I got my Litespeed, and effectively got them thrown in on the deal FOC.

They didn't owe me anything, so I was not fussed to see them go, I hadn't really bought into them as a good idea in the first place, they came as part of a deal, it was either take them or nothing, so I took them.

The sad thing is they rode really nicely, the lateral stiffness and cornering was second to none, especially for such a light wheel. The thought of them giving out at high speed on a mountain descent just unnerved me.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [648 posts]
28th August 2009 - 15:03

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R sys slr front wheel, 2 months old, just gave way catastrophically on a flat section of road, 4 spokes snapped and wheel folded and rim ripped.
Scary!! 10 miles earlier I was descending Holme Moss.

posted by alexjones5 [25 posts]
5th May 2014 - 11:35

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alexjones5 wrote:
R sys slr front wheel, 2 months old, just gave way catastrophically on a flat section of road, 4 spokes snapped and wheel folded and rim ripped.
Scary!! 10 miles earlier I was descending Holme Moss.

Jesus.

Got any photos? I was considering getting a set. Have you let Mavic know?

posted by ajmarshal1 [266 posts]
5th May 2014 - 14:14

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