Icons of cycling: Spinergy Rev-X wheels

Cutting-edge, four-spoked American fliers for riders who like to live on the edge

Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

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.

>>> Icons of cycling: Giant TCR

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.

Looking sharp

Mario Cipollini Spinergy wheels_Graham Watson_2

Super Mario was an early adopter of the new wheels. Photo: Graham Watson

Schlanger made full use of his Cannondale connections and the Saeco team, led by talismanic sprinter Mario Cipollini, were early Rev-X adopters.

>>> Mario Cipollini’s response to criticism for not wearing a helmet is slightly x-rated

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.

>>> Icons of cycling: Campagnolo Shamal wheels

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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Simon Smythe

Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.