Wheels are a key component on a bicycle, and we've been sent six sets of wheels for testing here at road.cc recently, providing an interesting look at the range of different wheel types available in the medium to high end price ranges. (Oh, and it's also a reminder that we need to get some more wallet friendly wheels in for testing too)
The six wheelsets we've got though are a good snapshot of the diversity of wheel design available on the market. There's everything from carbon clincher to carbon tubular, road disc and even a couple of tubeless options. There is the latest state-of-the-art aero rim profile with the Zipp's and a traditional box-section alloy clincher with the Stan's, lightweight tubulars from Amp and carbon tubeless from Velocite and a carbon clincher from Mavic.
Upgrading the wheels on your bicycle is one of the easiest performance upgrades you can make. Lighter wheels will climb faster, deep-section aero wheels will be faster on the flat, and some wheels are more comfortable. What is clear from the huge choice of wheels on the market is that there is a wheel for every type of cyclist, discipline and situation, from entry-level prices right up to the more premium offerings like the first set we are going to llook at…
Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc
Disc brakes on road bikes are happening, if the number of manufacturers with at least one disc-equipped model at the recent Eurobike was anything to go by. US company, Zipp are one of the leading brands in the wheel market with their famous dimpled surface texture borrowed from golf balls. They have been instrumental in leading aero battle, pushing the benefits of the wider rounded rim profile that is rapidly becoming the norm.
With their parent company SRAM releasing a road disc brake groupset this year, it was only a matter of time before Zipp offered a road disc wheel. This is it, the disc version of the popular 303. It’s a wheelset that could equally be at home on a ‘cross bike as one of the current wave of disc-equipped road bikes. The 45mm rims have the Firecrest toroidal rim shape with the dimpled surface.
New 6-bolt disc hubs with a 11-speed freehub and larger diameter Swiss sourced stainless steel bearings with a custom cartridge in the rear hub shell to increase durability. Spoke count is 24 front and rear with a 3-cross lacing pattern used on the rear wheel, and 2-cross used on the front wheel.
No word that we can find on the aero benefits or otherwise compared to the rim braked version of the 303, though we're guessing Zipp will have something to say about their aero abilities against other disc braked aero wheels… when there are some more.
Next up something more mid-range but that also incorporates one of the latest big technical devlopments to hit the road bike world.
Shimano RS81 C35
With Shimano’s groupsets switching up to 11-speed, they’ve had to update their wheel range accordingly. These are the new RS81 with an 11-speed compatible freehub body, and for the first time at this RS level a 35mm rim, first seen in the pricier Dura-Ace range.
Shimano reckon that the carbon laminate rim construction keeps the weight to a minimum. The rims are laced to the hubs with 16 spokes in the front wheel and 21 in the rear, using stainless steel double butted bladed spokes. Inside the hubs are double contact sealed bearings with a digital click bearing adjustment. They weigh in at 1,700g on our scales which would seem to back up Shimano's claim.
We really liked Shimano’s previous RS80 wheels; they were a really well made, comfortable and lightweight offering at a competitive price. So we’re looking forward to riding these.
Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40
Mavic describe their new £1,800 Cosmic Carbon 40 clincher wheelset as the “first reliable carbon clincher.” Unlike most other carbon clincher wheels with an all-carbon construction, these wheels feature a 40mm rim made by bonding a carbon shell to an internal alloy extrusion. The inside is filled with foam. Mavic’s reasoning for this design is to counteract the heat problem that afflicts other carbon clinchers: the alloy extrusion basically acts as a heat sink and draws heat away from the carbon braking surface.
Mavic have a long held belief in the benefits of combining aluminium and carbon in their wheels - aluminium features to a greater and lesser extent in both their R-SyS and Carbone ranges. The approach taken here if very much an evolution of a previous Cosmic Carbone that featured an aluminium rim and a carbon fairing.
For the braking surface Mavic have used the new TgMAX Technology. This involves combining two types of resin in the braking surface with a proprietary heat treatment process, which they claim improves the rims ability to deal with high temperatures generated during heavy braking.
Spokes are bladed and there’s 20 in each wheel, radially laced in the front wheel and non-driveside on the rear wheel, with a 2-cross pattern on the driveside. The hubs feature alloy flanges and a carbon shell, the same as used on other wheels in the Mavic range. The Mavic freehub body is compatible with 11-speed cassettes.
These are also the only wheels here that are supplied with tyres, so that’s worth taking into note when comparing prices. A pair of Yksion Pro Griplink (front) and Powerlink (rear) 190g tyres are supplied along with inner tubes, so they are ready to ride from the box.
Read more about the Cosmic Carbone 40 wheels.
Amp 32mm tubular wheelset
Weight: 1,070g claimed weight (1,767g on our scales with Sprinter tyres glued on)
Tubular wheels have enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity in the last few years, principally as carbon fibre has dropped in price and because their shape makes them the outright lightest wheel available. These 32mm carbon tubs have a claimed weight of just 1,070g - they arrived with Continental Sprinter tyres glued on and the set weighs 1,767g on our scales. That’s still pretty light.
These are the only tubular wheels in our round-up. For many tubulars are the only choice when it comes to high performance wheels, and are still very much the favoured option in the pro peloton. Of course they have a support car following them so they don’t have to worry about punctures. You certainly don’t want to be puncturing a tub 50 miles from home, and you do have to carry an entire spare tyre with you. Or the phone number of a local taxi firm.
The rims are laced to Amp Superlight hubs with 20 front spokes and 24 rear, with sealed cartridge bearings in the hubs. Spokes are double butted bladed spokes.
Our last two wheelsets showcase another of the growing trends in road wheels, tubeless technology but with very different approaches in terms of the materials used. Oh, and just to show that some work does go on round here, the reviews of these last two have gone live in the last couple of weeks (or since you started writing this then - ed) so you can get even more info on how they performs by following the relevant links.
Stans NoTubes Alpha 340 Wheels
Stans is a name familiar to any mountain biker, and with a range of road wheels they’re starting to make inroads into the road tubeless market. For so long tyre choice was between clincher or tubular, but you can now add tubeless to the list.
Tubeless involves a rim designed to provide an airtight seal with a tubeless-specific tyre, eliminating the inner tube and replacing instead with liquid latex. No inner tube means there’s no inner tube to pinch flat (such as when you hit a pothole) and the latex sealant will seal any small holes caused by glass, flint or thorns. The potential is for near 100% puncture free cycling, and who can say that isn’t appealing.
The wheels use Stan's unique rim profile, which incorporates its Bead Socket Technology. This is essentially a sidewall that is 2-4mm lower than a regular rim, and which secures the tyre bead firmly into place. Once it's locked in there it's not budging. I've had no problems at all inflating tubeless tyres with a hand or track pump onto these rims, and once the tyres are up they stay inflated.
You can read the full review here.
Velocite RT50 tubeless carbon wheelset
A rare thing, Velocite RT50 wheels have all-carbon rims for low weight, a deep rim profile for aerodynamics and are compatible with tubeless tyres. They’re the second tubeless wheel in this roundup, but the only deep-section carbon offering. Such a wheel is far from common at the moment, but the choice will only start to expand in the coming years. Easton are the latest with a similar offering.
These wheels have a full carbon rim with a braking surface made with a resin capable of withstanding excess of 190° C temperatures. The rim is 50mm deep with a 23mm cross-section, and 20/24 spokes with double row pawls in the freehub for a speedy pickup and low drag.
You can read the full review 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.