By Simon Smythe
Cool is never safe, which is why the pioneering Spinergy Rev-X with its dangerous look and even more dangerous reputation is the James Dean of wheels.
Fortunately, none of the crashes attributed to catastrophic failure of the four-spoke carbon-fibre design has been as serious as Dean’s, but a Google search on the Rev-X very quickly turns into a horror story involving Michele Bartoli’s kneecap being severed during the 1999 Tour of Germany, Paolo Bettini nearly cutting his hand off, and amateurs throughout the 1990s reportedly having Spinergy Rev-X wheels ‘explode’ underneath them without warning, causing broken bones and other gruesome injuries.
To spice up the Spinergy story further, there’s a conspiracy theory. When the UCI introduced its new wheel rules and regulations in 2001 it was claimed that the governing body had been persuaded by a Continental wheel manufacturer to introduce a particular type of rupture test solely with the intention of outlawing the American Spinergy Rev-X wheels.
Of course it can never be proven, but a former Spinergy engineer remained convinced the UCI had another agenda even after he’d left the company.
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Spinergy was set up by Rafe Schlanger, a former engineer at Cannondale. When Schlanger patented his radical design in the early 1990s nothing like the Rev-X had ever been seen. DuPont had already created what would become the Specialized tri-spoke, but that was completely different from Schlanger’s wheel.
The Rev-X looked like a monocoque from a distance, but its construction consisted of eight flat carbon spokes bonded under tension. It made a helicopter-like thwacking noise and it lent a bike a startlingly futuristic appearance.
Schlanger made full use of his Cannondale connections and the Saeco team, led by talismanic sprinter Mario Cipollini, were early Rev-X adopters.
It wasn’t long, though, before the UCI expressed concern to Spinergy about spoke-edge sharpness — despite the edges of the Rev-X clearly not being as sharp as those of conventional bladed wire spokes. In 1998 the UCI was worried that the stiffness of composite wheels could cause vibration-related injuries to riders’ spines and wrists.
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Finally the UCI devised an impact test that the Rev-X could not pass. From that point on every wheel that had fewer than 16 spokes or a rim deeper than 2.5cm had to pass the rupture test.
So Spinergy stopped making the Rev-X, but for a wheel that supposedly could explode at any moment, there are still a lot of them still around 15 years on. Spinergy’s forbidden wheel has become the last word in retro cool.
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