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How Mavic’s Ksyrium wheelset changed everything

French company Mavic, as famous for its yellow Tour de France neutral service cars as it is for its wheels, is largely responsible for the transition from handbuilt to factory built wheels. 

Mavic’s first foray into complete wheel systems was the Cosmic in 1994, but it was the Helium in 1996 that really set the cat amongst the pigeons, the first commercially successful factory built wheelset. It would lead to the introduction of the Ksyrium in 1999, a benchmark wheel, and transform Mavic’s fortunes from a supplier of parts to a big player in the wheel market. 

A wheel revolution

Today the majority of new bikes sold come fitted with factory built wheels, but up until the late 90s most racing and amateur cyclists were using wheels built by hand from separate hubs, spokes and rims, each chosen for their performance attributes or for budgetary reasons. “Mavic was the rim that everyone wanted,” says Sean Kelly who won the 1984 Paris-Roubaix on Mavic rims. 

Mavic was the first big company to enter the pre-built wheel market, and its anodised red Heliums changed everything.

The Helium planted the seed of change for the homogenous wheel market. It’s the Helium that is remembered as the wheelset that changed the perception of a wheel built by a machine and not a skilled wheel builder. The red hubs and single red spoke didn’t do any harm either, ensuring they were easily recognisable in the peloton.

The Helium was pitched as a climbing wheelset. At 1,650g they were light for the day, though that’s a figure that looks average compared to today’s wheels. The wheels had 26/28 spokes (front/rear) and they were straight pull which removed the spoke elbow, a common weak point in a spoke.

The low weight and race success and the flash of red at a time when all rims and hubs were silver helped the Helium to be a commercial success for Mavic. The Helium really was a gamechanger, and paved the way for the Ksyrium a few years later.

The introduction of the Ksyrium

The Helium was a hit.  While the Helium laid the foundations, the Ksyrium, launched in 1999, really was the final nail in the coffin for handbuilt wheels at the top level of the sport and the original equipment market.

mavic-ksyrium-2017.jpeg

mavic-ksyrium-2017.jpeg

While the Helium was undoubtedly a good wheelset, it could be improved upon and so Mavic developed the Ksyrium to take the concept to another level of performance and reliability. In doing so produced a radical new wheel design. 

The Ksyrium utilised oversized Maxtal hubs and fat Zircal bladed spokes that threaded directly into new aluminium rims, a process Mavic called Fore technology. This meant no more rim piercing, no need for rim tape and fewer spokes could be used for a lighter wheel, whilst improving lateral stiffness.

Building a complete wheel system, the rim, spokes and hubs, allowed Mavic to engineer each component to work in perfect harmony. It no longer had to ensure the rims and hubs it was producing at the time were compatible with other rims and spokes. 

Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset - rear hub.jpg

Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset - rear hub.jpg

“The main aspect was the mind-free approach and the introduction of an “easy” way to improve a bike's performance,” explains Mavic’s Michel Lethenet when asked about the development of pre-built wheels. 

“The Ksyrium had been thought of as a global concept, not just an assembly of spare parts. Each part was designed and optimised depending on its role and interface with other parts. This complete approach enabled Mavic to push the boundaries of wheelset building and design. It brought a combination of performance, lightweight, distinctive design, reliability, serviceability... Suddenly an aluminium wheelset was beating the old steel spoked wheels with a modern approach,” he adds.

The result was a far superior wheelset. The Ksyrium gained instant success in professional races, the perfect advertising for a new product. Mavic had developed its first complete wheelset in 1995 and by the introduction of the Ksyrium in 1999 it had set in place a permanent change from handbuilt to pre-built wheels.

“It moved Mavic from a spare part supplier to a bigger player in the cycling industry,” offers Michel Lethenet. “It [the Ksyrium] pushed a step further the revolution started in 1994 with the Cosmic of a complete wheelset featuring integrated parts and bringing live a brilliant piece of R&D. The performance was suddenly not only reserved for pro cyclist but to anyone. You could buy the very same product the top athlete use.”

Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset - spoke detail.jpg

Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheelset - spoke detail.jpg

So successful was the introduction of the Ksyrium that it has since become its own range of wheels. It added more affordable models and lighter and stiffer options at the top of the range, seeking to cater for the full spectrum of road cyclists, professional racers and enthusiasts alike. To this day the Ksyrium, in its many current guises, continues to be a benchmark wheel. 

The Ksyrium range currently consists of  25 wheelsets priced from £365 to £1,848 and includes aluminium and carbon fibre rim options and disc brake versions too. The Ksyrium wheelset is tagged with the endurance label, wheels that are designed to provide good all-round performance where weight, stiffness, durability and handling are important characteristics. 

Mavic continues to develop the Ksyrium to meet the constantly changing trends and technologies in the road cycling market. And the next development is embracing the growing appetite for tubeless tyres.

“We are now pushing a step further by integrating the tubeless concept on these respected wheelsets,” explains Michel Lethenet. 

“With 18 years of experience on the MTB side, it’s now time to move forward and benefit from the tubeless advantages on the road side too: lower rolling resistance, lower risk of flats, better grip. Road UST is the next evolution for a better riding experience. Thus it has to be properly integrated: precise rim diameter matching precise tyre diameter, specific internal rim profile to secure tyre beads lock and easy inflation, mastered bead stiffness to ease up mounting and dismount even with levers but preventing any tyre blowing off,” he adds.

So Mavic’s Ksyrium wheels have gradually evolved since 1999, building up a reputation for combining lightweight with loads of strength. The wheels have gotten lighter, wider and are now available in carbon fibre. And they continue to be popular wheelsets with all levels of cyclists.

You can view the full range here.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

27 comments

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drosco [369 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

I've had a set of Ksyrium SL for years and they're still as they day I got them. Despite being light, their strength is fantastic too.

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Oranj [34 posts] 4 months ago
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I've had a couple of Mavic wheels/rims where the rim joint has been a bit noisy/creaky, but Ksyriums of all flavours are still great wheels.

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nowasps [519 posts] 4 months ago
4 likes

This reads like an advertisement.

 

Maybe a paragraph on finding spares and rebuilding the buggers.

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Ogi [118 posts] 4 months ago
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@nowasps

I remember bike24 had spokes, bearings, freehub bodies etc.

I can't remember that they sold rims or hubs though, if that helps.

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Jamminatrix [170 posts] 4 months ago
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I had the first generation Ksyriums back in the day (2000). They had the same problem as their Crossmax MTB wheels (which I also had both first and second gen), which is the rim cracks right around the nipples and they pull out the rim. Some people also broke the cast spokes, but I never had that problem. They were light wheels back then, but they were very flexy! Like wet noodles.

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SNS1938 [121 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Still running some Ksyrium ES's which must be over ten years old now. Love them.

Spoke powdercoating has flaked a bit.

Servicing is so simple.

They look great.

They fit 11 speed shimano cassetttes!!

I see no reason to upgrade until I go to carbon disc brake wheels 

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LWaB [61 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

Spending another couple of quid for decent freehub bearings, rather than a cheap bush would have been nice. 

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The _Kaner [1144 posts] 4 months ago
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LWaB wrote:

Spending another couple of quid for decent freehub bearings, rather than a cheap bush would have been nice. 

Now if only something not quite as expensive was available...no need for ceramic bearings...

http://www.ebay.ie/itm/NEW-HUBDOCTOR-PRO-MAVIC-FREEHUB-REBUILD-KIT-HYBRI...

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Reedo [16 posts] 4 months ago
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Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

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ibr17xvii [232 posts] 4 months ago
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Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

Always liked the Mavic wheels but currently trying to decide between the RS81 C24, C35 & the Krysium Pro SL. 

The Mavics are quite a bit more expensive & not sure if they are worth the extra. 

Anynreal world reviews would be appreciated. 

Avatar
The _Kaner [1144 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
ibr17xvii wrote:
Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

Always liked the Mavic wheels but currently trying to decide between the RS81 C24, C35 & the Krysium Pro SL. 

The Mavics are quite a bit more expensive & not sure if they are worth the extra. 

Anynreal world reviews would be appreciated. 

Likewise...as much as I'd love a pair of Ksyrium Pro Exalith...or even the 'bargain basement' Haute Route version...

The C24s look a way better set up with regards bang for the buck...plus my LBS probably wouldn't go near the Mavic if any repairs needed done..

Avatar
ibr17xvii [232 posts] 4 months ago
1 like
The _Kaner wrote:
ibr17xvii wrote:
Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

Always liked the Mavic wheels but currently trying to decide between the RS81 C24, C35 & the Krysium Pro SL. 

The Mavics are quite a bit more expensive & not sure if they are worth the extra. 

Anynreal world reviews would be appreciated. 

Likewise...as much as I'd love a pair of Ksyrium Pro Exalith...or even the 'bargain basement' Haute Route version...

The C24s look a way better set up with regards bang for the buck...plus my LBS probably wouldn't go near the Mavic if any repairs needed done..

The C24's look excellent value but I'm leaning towards the better looking (IMO)& slightly deeper rimmed C35's. 

There aren't actually that many reviews online of the Pro SL's which is surprising. They are at the very top of my budget though & £200 more the C35's which as much as I like Mavic & never had an issue with them whatsoever is making me consider if it's not just cash wasted. 

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Trekpro [144 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

I've got some 12 year old Special K's that have been my commute and winter wheels for all of that time with a LOT of miles on.

The other day I thought I'd treat the rear to a true-up.  I found it was impossible.  It was considerably less than a mm out.

Simply incredible toughness, and not heavy either.  I replaced a spoke recently on a friends set of the LTD ones with the single yellow spoke (stick went into the wheel down a back road).  Ordered genuine spoke from Germany for a couple of quid, took 2 days to arrive, all done and true in under 30 mins.

I'm pretty cynical about big brand wheels and the general price of their wheelsets, but chapeau to the K's.  And for that matter, the Askiums which I put on a disc winter trainer build last year - great bang for the buck.  Ok, so they are the "Mondeo" of wheelsets, but there's a good reason for that.

Tyres are absolutely awful mind.

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bigblue [21 posts] 4 months ago
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Note, something you may or may not have noticed in the specs, but Pro SL's are 15mm width, Pro's (and most, or maybe all of the rest of the range) are (now) 17mm internally.

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ibr17xvii [232 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
bigblue wrote:

Note, something you may or may not have noticed in the specs, but Pro SL's are 15mm width, Pro's (and most, or maybe all of the rest of the range) are (now) 17mm internally.

Slightly firmer ride on the Pro SL's then I take it?

Does anyone actually ride the SL's?!?!?!?!

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Boss Hogg [107 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
LWaB wrote:

Spending another couple of quid for decent freehub bearings, rather than a cheap bush would have been nice. 

 

The new ID360 freewheel body has no bushing but rather a bearing in its place. This means  4 bearings in total for the rear wheel, two in the hub and two in the freewheel.

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Boss Hogg [107 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

 

As stated above, the new ID360 freewheel body has no bushing but rather a bearing in its place. This means  4 bearings in total for the rear wheel, two in the hub and two in the freewheel.

Avatar
pwake [427 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes

"the Helium in 1996 that really set the cat amongst the pigeons, the first commercially successful factory built wheelset"

Think Campagnolo may disagree with that statement having introduced the factory-built wheelset concept with the Shamals in 1990; a line of wheels that still exist today, so should surely also be considered commercially successful.

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Hub_Gears [4 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Mavic Ksyrium came with a GIANT Defy I purchased in 2010. Worst. Wheels. Ever.

The spoke nipples continually broke in exactly the same place. So, a design fault.

Sold them second hand. Stupid ridiculous prices for spare spoke "units" just to get the new nipple.

I build my own wheels now with DT Swiss rims, spokes and nipples and now I have RELIABILITY!

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Chris Hayes [164 posts] 4 months ago
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Got my first set in 2000 and ran them for a few years on my Litespeed.  The first rim split, but was replaced without question.  Still, after experiencing shoulder - neck pains after long rides I switched to Open Pros.  I sold the Kysrium SLs on eBay in 2014 for a staggering GBP475....so whilst I didn't get on with them I certainly can't complain about them not holding their value.  I'll be replacing my Open Pros with the new ones when they're released. 

 

 

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ehelifecycle [3 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJyPhYAJTWs

 

be careful when buying any mavic product as they might fail

look what happened to david millar https://youtu.be/8qWYsJLqPG4?t=4m16s

I bought myself some Mavic wheels to help me get around
And all’s I wanted those wheels to do was just to turn around
But they failed me failed me
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
They were a mavic fail

They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
a mavic fail

They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
They were a mavic fail

They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
They were a mavic fail

They only had to take me down any road
They never had to carry a heavy load
But they failed me
They failed me

They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
They were a mavic fail

They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail  
They were a mavic fail
a mavic fail
They were a mavic fail
FAIL

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medilink [1 post] 4 months ago
0 likes

Had several.  Rims wore out quickly and had some spoke breakage problems.

Have switched to Shimano (Ultegra for training) and will NEVER look back

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Rapha Nadal [607 posts] 3 months ago
1 like
ehelifecycle wrote:

be careful when buying ANY product as they might fail

Fixed that for you.

 

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andyjjackson [4 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

Love my Kysrium ES Helium Specials. Must be 10 years old. I've replaced a spoke in the rear and the bearings front and rear. They transform any bike they are fitted to. 

If I was in the market for more wheels, I'd go for Mavic. Love the R-SYS and Exalth wheels. 

 

Avatar
madcarew [450 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes
Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

Not so sure about the durability of the C24. I've got a set and they've done about 6000 miles and the braking surface is well worn - about .4mm, at .8mm they're fooked and need new ones. On the other hand I have some Duraace 7800 rims that have done at least 30,000 miles and they're still going really well.

Having said that C24's - light, reliable, strong, brilliant.

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The _Kaner [1144 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Haute Route version of the Ksyrium Pro Exalith - currently €700 in the sale in Canyon.com

Avatar
Sub4 [48 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Boss Hogg wrote:
Reedo wrote:

Has Mavic solved the plastic bushing problem?  Sounds like no. C24's are cheaper and lighter, and their durability and reliability are amazing. 

 

As stated above, the new ID360 freewheel body has no bushing but rather a bearing in its place. This means  4 bearings in total for the rear wheel, two in the hub and two in the freewheel.

 

Has this resolved the well known (but strangely absent from review) 'Mavic scream of death'?