When these C-4 CA 3.0 wheels arrived at road.cc we liked them and shared this with you straight away. Some novel claims were made for these hoops, which are well worth examining. If you're thinking ‘C who? Channel 4? Citroen?’, then check out C-4’s website.
First impressions: very light; smooth running; beautifully true in my wheel jig; quick-release skewers included; freehub nice and quiet; hubs fairly simple yet effective; spokes ordinary looking; rim v-section and semi-deep. The test wheels are quite plain looking, having a painted white coating with no pretty graphics. White rims conjure up images of washing machines and I am consequently reminded of my personal cycling hero and life-long inspiration, Graeme Obree. If a white rim is not your thing, don’t worry: you can choose from black, white, silver, red, blue, gold, and pink.
Somebody once said that the bike was ‘simply wonderful and wonderfully simple’ and this wheelset goes a long way to embrace that philosophy. Carbon composite rimmed wheels can be lighter, but this wheelset is among the lightest with aluminium alloy rims, weighing only 1476 grams the pair. Less revolving weight at the rim correlates with better acceleration, putting these wheels in with a chance of performing alongside some of the big boys.
The best bit about them isn’t so much their weight as their warranty. C-4 offer a three-year crash replacement programme with their wheels, which goes further than most others we've seen. Basically, if you bend one they'll rebuild or replace it, free of charge. And, I quote, ‘that includes JRA's [just riding along], leaving wheels on your roof rack and driving into the garage, or even backing over a wheel when you head out to a race.’ They say, ‘we want you to ride and enjoy your wheels, we will do whatever it takes to make that happen.’ So that's good. On top of that the wheels are guaranteed for five years. I wish these wheels had been available a few years earlier; they would have been the perfect for riding at Hengrove Aerodrome in Bristol, where the second corner of the first lap would inevitably result in a bottleneck pile-up. As two-time winner of the club crasher of the year award, these would have suited me down to the ground. As it were.
The CA 3.0s use a 30mm rim that includes Niobium as an alloying element, which C-4 claim adds greatly to hardness. C-4 also say that they're ‘the lightest rims for their depth possible in aluminium’. They weigh exactly the same as that perennial favourite, the Shimano RS80 rim, which is a carbon/aluminium mix and which is not as deep. Certainly the overall weight is very good for the money.
The hubs include pretty standard looking sealed bearing cartridge units and the freehub is interchangeable between Campag and Shimano without you having to re-dish the wheel. Spoke-wise there are 20 radial ones at the front and 24 at the back, radial on the non-drive side and two-cross on the other. C-4 use DT Swiss spokes across their range; these wheels feature bladed Aerolite spokes and they're hand-built in the US. Tension seems even and they're nice and taut out of the box. Should you need to true them a spoke key is supplied, although the nipples are seated internally through the ferrules so it’s a tyre-off job – which, of course, it should always be anyway. The freehub has a beautifully quiet ratchet. More of a tick than a clatter, it’s not going to give you away if you're sneakily sitting on someone’s wheel.
Let’s get to the bottom of whether these deliver a respectable performance. Test conditions were far from nice this winter: mud, wind and rain plagued each of my two-hour sessions. A 20% hill to start and the back wheel was as straight as a die. These wheels climb beautifully, with no spoke twang or rubbing of brake blocks. The wind didn’t permit a flat-out descent but at over 40mph they were a picture of stability, even in the wind. On the flat these feel as fast as the best non-carbon wheels that I’ve ridden. There is a good sense of immediate transference of power. If you’ve got a couple of watts of power left in the legs, these wheels will convert it into speed. It’s just what you want for those desperate seconds when you’re losing contact with the bike in front.
The CA 3.0s are very versatile set of wheels: you could confidently ride on them against the clock, in a criterium or in a road race. Married with good tyres they're properly fast. The guarantee adds an extra dimension, enabling you to use these wheels on a club run, training ride or sportive without worrying about spoiling your Sunday best.
They're not without their niggles, though. By the time I got to the mid-point of ride two, the freehub had come slightly loose, giving the same sort of effect as a broken hollow axle or loose cones. Tightening the very well engineered quick release to just short of snapping torque improved matters out on the road.
Taking off the cassette for a closer look, it seems that the freehub assembly is held in place by a collet/spacer at the end of the axle, which is a push-fit only. When you put the wheel in the dropouts there is scope for the chainline to dislodge the fit of the freehub, leaving it partially seated. If there were a circlip or allen key set screw in this spacer, the freehub would remain in the correct position even if you weren't careful – which I will be from now on. In my view it's a simple design issue that wants sorting out for future production runs.
There's also minimal sealing in the freehub body, with the cartridge bearing clearly visible, and despite having a 'perfect balance' sticker on the front rim there's a certain amount of unevenness in the weight when you give it a spin in your hand.
It is inordinately hilly in the lanes around Bath and the braking surfaces (used with brand new Ultegra blocks) started to show signs of damage, with small amounts of swarf apparent. That's not too unusual, however.
There are plenty of wheels to choose from in this price range: some are prettier; most are heavier; plenty are very good. So does anything set these apart? They are undoubtedly very light, quick wheels, but in my opinion it can only really be the guarantee, the cost of which will inevitably be built into the price. If you need that peace of mind – or you're just clumsy – the guarantee could be worth its weight in, well, wheels.
A very fast, light pair of wheels but not without a few niggles
road.cc test report
Make and model: C4 CA 3.0 wheelset
Size tested: White
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
These are competition wheels that I would happily use in a road race or time trial.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
A very lightweight aluminium alloy V-section rim. With the right tyre, a potentially very low revolving weight at the rim.
A seemingly uncomplicated construction, pity about the push-fit spacer
Before the freehub came loose, I loved the performance.
Not too happy with the swarf build up on the braking surface, although to be fair this is not at all unusual, particularly since the advent of machined braking surfaces without hard anodising. The freehub issues need addressing.
The grams speak for themselves. For the money, they're hard to beat on weight.
No sense, no feeling: I'm used to a rock hard ride.
Given the number of good wheels out there for less than the cost of these, you will need to consider whether you would benefit from the replacement guarantee.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very good indeed.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Dare I say, in a market where fashion or apearance can be a strong factor in buying kit, these do look a bit ordinary.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, if I thought that he could use the replacement guarantee
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
A very fast and super light set of wheels.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cinelli Super Corsa Ultegra My best bike is: Pinarello Paris Dura Ace
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, commuting, Tandem