Impressive stiffness is the stand-out feature of these C40 Lites from Cole Wheels, especially considering their low spoke count and light weight. They are right up there at the top of the price band of the competition, though, so they don't score too highly on value for money.
One of the biggest performance upgrades you can make to your bike from the standard spec is a new set of lighter wheels, and whatever your favoured style of riding or preferred terrain you're likely to find the C40s give your journeys a boost.
At 40mm deep they don't offer a massive aero advantage – you don't get that feeling of free speed above 25mph like you do with a set of hoops over 60mm in depth – but they certainly don't hamper you either. Plus, if you are light yourself you won't suffer with any buffeting from crosswinds.
At 1,430g (640g front, 790g rear) including rim tapes they scrub a good 200g off most aluminium alloy wheelsets, and while weight isn't the be all and end all it does make a huge difference to acceleration and climbing, provided you've got the stiffness there.
Cole has gone for a pretty low spoke count of just 16 on the front and 20 at the rear, so I wasn't actually expecting them to be as tight as they are, but boy are they rigid.
The hubs are what Cole calls DSA2, or Dynamic Spoke Alignment, where it has used a large flange design with anodised inserts to accept straight-pull rather than J-bend spokes. There are various disputable claims to be found saying that by removing the bend in the spoke straight pulls are stronger and less likely to break.
Either way, the C40s do look smart with their single cross of each spoke at the hub, and thanks to external nipples at the rim the aero spokes are quite short, too, increasing stiffness.
The tension feels equal around the wheel and there was no pinging of spokes over the first few miles as things settle down, plus there was never an issue with them being out of true.
The bearings are steel, which is quite rare to see at this price point, although there is a ceramic bearing upgrade option if that tickles your fancy. The standard ones here are very smooth, though, and Cole says they are a common off-the-shelf size.
All this stiffness does come at a slight cost to comfort, as they have a very rigid feel to them compared with other similar depth carbon wheels I'm currently testing. I wouldn't say they are boneshakers or anything, but you can just feel that they don't quite take out the road buzz like some do.
The freehub has a hard anodised finish on the aluminium alloy body which sees it resist 'grooving' from the cassette as you initially put the load through from a standing start. I've known some lightweight freehubs require filing to replace a cassette but I don't see that being necessary here.
The Shimano/SRAM version we've got here is designed for 11-speed but also comes with a spacer for use with 8/9/10-speed gearing. If you like a defined clicking noise from your freehub then you are going to like the C40 Lites as the mechanism is pretty noisy; you won't be doing any stealth wheel sucking that's for sure.
Moving out to the rims, you'll find that the Coles are following the trend to go wider to better match the sizes of tyres many of us are using these days. I use a set of 700x25mm Schwalbe Duranos for testing across wheelsets, and the 17mm internal rim depth (hook to hook) meant that the tyres sat nicely in line with the rim for a smooth transition, although they didn't get stretched outwards like some rims have them do. They were easy to fit and remove from the rims too.
Across brake tracks the width is 22.3mm, but the rest of the rim has a sort of bulbous profile which seems them increase to 25.1mm according to the Vernier calipers, before rounding off in a 'U' style shape.
They also have a maximum tyre pressure of 120psi, which is about the norm for carbon clinchers.
The brake tracks use a Heat Shield coating to reduce heat and the grabbing effect you used to find with carbon rims: brake hard, nothing, nothing, nothing and then stop dead was the way it used to go!
You don't get any of that with the C40s, but braking wasn't that amazing even when paired with Cole's Pink Pads. It was all pretty vague and even trying them with my own favourites, Swissstop Yellow, the stopping power didn't really stand out.
While we're speaking of accessories it's good to see that Cole provides screw-on valve extenders plus a meaty set of quick releases. I'd much rather pay the weight penalty over some flimsy clamps to keep the wheel from moving under heavy accelerations.
On to value... Are they worth £1,700, which to be honest is a substantial upgrade even on a £4,000 bike?
Well, if you compare them to the highly respected FFWD F3R FCC at £1,650, then yes. The weight is practically the same and the performance and quality is easily comparable. Then there's the Knight 35s at £1,990, which are a touch heavier but also performed very well.
On the flipside though, you've got the Hunt 38 Carbon with a claimed weight of just 1,483g but at a price of just £899. We haven't actually tested this model, but Hunt wheels have done well in our reviews, plus as an owner of a set of Four Seasons a while back, I can vouch for their quality and durability – second to none.
I reckon if you've got the money for the Coles then you won't be disappointed, especially if you are a larger rider or really want those stiffness levels. But if cash is more restricted, there are plenty of other options.
If light weight and stiffness is key then these are the wheels for you, if a little pricey
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Cole C40 Lite Wheelset
Size tested: 700C 40mm depth
Tell us what the wheel 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?
Cole says: "Cole's patented DSA hub allows for high spoke tension. This translates to better power transfer, as less energy is lost in the flex of spokes. More rigid wheels offer crisper acceleration and improved tracking through corners.
"DSA's cylindrical nipples distribute the spoke tension and road vibration into a larger area of the hub flange, resulting in less stress concentration at the hub/spoke interface. Straight-pull, butted spokes eliminate the stress and breakage of traditional j-bend spokes.
"Cole Carbon wheels are treated with our Heat Shield technology, which minimize heat while braking. Combined with our special Pink Pad braking compound, provide class leading braking performance."
The C40 Lites are a good all-round set of wheels that focus on light weight and impressive stiffness.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Cole lists these details:
WEIGHT 1450g / 1630g (Disc)
HUB DSA2 patented design, Cold Forged Alloy Body
SPOKE Straight Pull, Aero Type 2.0/2.5/2.0mm
RIM COLE® Carbon, Profile: 40mm
QR COLE® Design Forged Alloy Ends, one-piece shaft
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
The wheels stayed true throughout the test period.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
The tyres I tried went on very easily requiring just thumb power to fit.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
No issues with any of them.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Impressive performance across the board.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Stiffness levels are very high.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Comfort is compromised a little.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Possibly
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The Cole C40 Lites are really impressive all-rounders, especially for the rider who delivers a lot of power or is on the heavier side. The price keeps the score to an 8 rather than 9; there are some cheaper alternatives out there, which might also be a little more comfortable.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.