Campagnolo’s Levante wheels are named after the Easterly wind of the Mediterranean. But will they be a cold headwind of disappointment or a warm tailwind of happiness? Here’s what we can conclude from the first few rides.
First, it’s probably useful to give you an idea of what I’d look for in a gravel wheel. The wheels should be light and stiff as I find that this gives the bike a nimble feel which is especially important on twisty trails which require constant speed and direction changes. The wheels should also be wide enough to properly support a wide tyre at lower pressures. This will differ for different riders as tyre sizes change, but something with upwards of a 23mm internal rim width is generally good for me. And finally, the wheels shouldn’t be too stiff vertically as I don’t want to be beaten up or have to face broken spokes when (not if) I ride into stuff.
Mounted tubeless with 35mm Vittoria Terreno Dry tyres, I had a setup that was best suited to all of the fast gravel roads that I don’t live anywhere near. Thankfully the Levante wheels boast a 25mm internal rim width and this boosted the tyres out to 38.4mm, though I was still forced to do a fair bit of pressure adjustment to get the 3T Exploro Ultra test bike to feel right on the trails.
I’ll be looking to get my hands on some wider tyres, partly so that I can let you know how easy they are to set up.
Gaining speed on the dusty gravel, I was impressed to find the wheels happily rolling at a fairly decent pace. There are no aero claims associated with the wheels but I don’t think these are going to be slowing you down if you’re aiming to fly along on fire roads.
Gravel riding in south Wiltshire often means doing a fair bit of climbing and these climbs are generally steep, with large channels cut randomly by run-off from heavy rain. The Levante’s claimed 1485g weight shone here with the wheels feeling both punchy and also perfectly happy to flick from poor line choice to poor line choice.
While a low weight is all very well and good when you’re climbing, if durability has been sacrificed, it’s a bit pointless. My first two rides on the Levante wheels have already seen me clatter into a few stray rocks which lay hidden in dappled shade. So far so good on the durability front as the sensible 24-spoke build on each wheel seems to be coping with my less than delicate treatment. This is one that I’ll have to report back on in my full review.
I have always had a soft spot for Campagnolo hubs. The wheels that I’ve owned with them at the centre have served me very well and I’m a massive fan of the quiet hum of the freehub. I’ll be keeping an eye on the hubs for wear in the dust conditions, but from experience, I’d be surprised to have any issues.
My final observation from the first couple of rides is in regard to compliance. Truthfully, I don’t want to comment on this until I’ve been able to swap the tyres for something wider and had a play with the pressures. Even though the 35mm tyres that came on the wheels sat out at 38mm, it’s still a relatively narrow setup for the trails that I’m riding and I was dropping the pressure a long way to get comfortable. Still, more on that in the full review.
So, to get back to the terrible analogy that I opened with, it’s looking like more of a lovely warm Mediterranean tailwind from these wheels. But before I reach a full conclusion, I’ll have to install some wider tyres, and maybe even go for a few rides around Salisbury plain with Stu.