They came in a hard-side plastic case. My Italian-made rear derailleur jockey wheels looked like bicycle jewelry, ready to install. Branded Tiso, these Albabici-distributed components are special because of their ceramic bearing — not common steel — and they are said to increase drivetrain efficiency with noticeable effect.
But at $200, these are one seriously expensive upgrade for such tiny parts. My gut said right away they were as much about looks (bling factor!) as actual performance for the bike. I added the little spinners into a new road bike I was building and pedaled off for a test.
Why ceramic? A steel bearing, if introduced to dirt, will score and make the bearing less smooth. That’s the beginning of a break-down of the ball. Ceramic is much harder than steel, and it will crush those same dirt particles and continue rolling smoothly.
Tiso touts “full ceramic bearings” with this product, meaning both ball bearings and bearing race are made of ceramic. The design is smoother rolling, with less drag and longer life than your stock jockey wheels.
Aluminum pulley wheels on these little spinners are flashy and eye-grabbing. A flick of the finger will have them spinning quickly for several seconds — much longer than any of the other derailleurs I own.
At 24 grams, the Tiso product is slightly lighter than Shimano Ultegra stock, but the weight is barely enough to term as an “upgrade.” I’d lump this sort of item right next to titanium bolts and carbon bottle cages, as in overpriced for the actual gains but gratifying for a certain type of weight weenie looking to drop every extra gram.
What about performance? Tiso claims that for a 150-pound rider putting out 150 watts on a flat, sea-level road, you get “a 150-yard advantage over a four hour ride.” Even if that’s honest, those numbers strike as extremely unsubstantial for the average club rider. Perhaps for the “every little bit helps” crowd or a pro rider I can see a case, maybe, for the Tiso wheels.
But let’s be honest here. Whatever difference these guys make in drag is not going to be noticeable outside a test track. So why drop the $200? Most people shouldn’t, flat out. But affluent riders might consider the jockey wheels just because of the bling factor.
I did not pay for these wheels. We’re just testing them out. But I admit to enjoy seeing them when I look at my bike. I also like when my bike geek friends notice without me telling them. Call me a bike-narcissist if you must.
It gets worse, too. If the Tiso aluminum-body unit like we tested is not exotic enough for you, the brand sells a titanium body set at $250. It drops a single gram of (unnoticeable) extra weight and ups the oomph even just a nudge more on the scale of bike vanity and maximum bling.
—T.C. Worley is a contributing editor.