On The Passing Of American Classic Wheels

Last week I was commuting to work on my lightweight race bike. I have a commuter bike but it was undergoing an upgrade and in pieces in my workshop. On the final leg of my ride I crossed a pedestrian plaza and came back out into a quiet parking lot. I was riding slow with my head on a swivel and WHAM! My front tire hit a newly placed concrete parking stop. I should have had a bobble head motion to go with the swivel I guess. My bars rotated down in the stem, I came unclipped and thought I was going to lay it down but I managed to coast away from it.

To order new rims I went to American Classic’s website but I found it oddly only half there.

But my beloved American Classic (AC) Sprint 350 front wheel had taken what turned out to be a fatal blow. One side of the rim was bent but otherwise it was still true, round and dished. I took it home that night and gently bent it back into shape as best I could. But under hard braking at speed I could feel the bend in the rim, there was no fixing it. It was living on borrowed time and probably dangerous to use for long.

After I got done kicking myself for not seeing a great big parking stop (for cryin’ out loud, man!) I got myself excited about replacing my non tubeless rims with new road tubeless AC rims.

To order new rims I went to American Classic’s website but I found it oddly only half there. Many links were not links and not only were the rims I wanted out of stock, everything was out of stock. I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach and did a web search for AC news and sadly discovered they were closing down and going out of business. The process had started 8 months ago. How had I not heard about this in any of my social media bike feeds? There is barely anything about it on the web so I wanted to weigh in on it.

AC was my favorite brand of wheels. I have owned Hurricanes, Sprint 350s, 101s and have laced up many wheels myself using their rims and hubs. Bill Shook, the main man at AC, never subscribed to proprietary integrated wheel system design. The wheels used hubs designed for standard j-bend spokes.  Even the nipples, while not completely standard, could be adjusted with a regular spoke wrench and had some nice advantages. 

I particularly liked the design of the Sprint 350 wheelset. The rim they used was the lightest of any aluminium rim I could find: 350 grams, thus the name of the wheels. But the wheels were very strong overall because they used 32 spokes. The net effect was moving the rotating mass in closer to the center of the wheel, reducing rotational inertia. Higher spoke counts also made the wheels easier to build and maintain because they gave you finer grain control over the shape of the rim.

No other wheel maker takes this approach. I know because I tried to source comparable replacement rims from different companies.  The only rims I could find were much heavier, like 100g heavier, or were drilled for a low spoke count. 

AC had a unique take on hub design as well, with high flanges, a unique, low rolling resistance engagement design and many other details.

The news I read was that AC wanted to sell their intellectual property and Bill Shook was available for consulting. I hope some of AC’s ideas and designs are picked up by another wheelmaker.

In the end, AC was a small company compared to the other big manufacturers. Integrated designs seem to be dominating the high end wheel market which is not good for a do it yourself person like myself. While this may be the end of the road for American Classic, I hope it is not the end of Bill Shook’s designs or ideas.

Let me know what you think