THE BEST AERO ROAD BIKE WHEELS

Aero All-Around Featured Image credit

It’s been thousands of years since our ancient civilizations and cultures believed the Earth was flat.  The influential Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Parmenides and later Aristotle were among the first to proclaim that it wasn’t.  Explorers, cartographers, theologians, writers and many, many others bought into this notion in the years since and changed the way we think about our planet.

Clearly, none of these guys were cyclists.  And if they were, they wouldn’t have had access to today’s best aero road bike wheels to spread their message.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post

Unlike weight, aerodynamics almost always matters

The ‘Best Performer’ ENVE SES 4.5 clincher does nearly everything well and trades-off nothing for the aero performance of a deeper wheelset

Zipp’s 404 Firecrest clincher has become the ‘Best Value’ in the aero category among many competitors that took design lessons from this pioneer

Carbon-alloy aero wheels are less expensive but are neither as aero or as versatile as all carbon ones 

WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS

In The Know Cycling is for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who want to know what gear we should get next and where we can get it at the best prices from great stores.  I do hours of my own testing and analysis on an entire category of cycling gear for each review and incorporate insights from other independent reviewers and riders I respect.  I respond to most any question you have in the comment section of each post, usually within a few hours if I’m not on a long ride or sleeping (Eastern US time).

To eliminate potential bias, I don’t accept ads of any kind and don’t post press releases rewritten as “first look” reviews or articles paid for by bike companies or stores.  I buy or demo and return all the gear I and my fellow testers evaluate, don’t go on company-paid product review trips, and don’t offer or charge for special access to any of the content on this site.  My only influence is what I think would be best for my fellow roadies.  This is my passion, not a business.

The site is supported by a simple and transparent model.  I find and provide you regularly updated links to the lowest priced product listings for the gear I’ve reviewed at online stores that have the highest customer satisfaction ratings among the 100 or so I track.  When you click on and buy something through one of those links, some of the stores (though not all) will pay the site a small commission.  You save time and money while supporting the creation of independent reviews written for road cycling enthusiasts and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  If you prefer to buy your gear at a local bike shop, you can support the site with a contribution here or buy anything through these links to Amazon or eBay.  Thank you.

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER AERO WHEELS FOR ALL-AROUND RIDING

The world that most cyclists know is flat.  Pancake flat for the most part and even flatter than an IHOP pancake in the case of a half-dozen US states according to researchers.  Unless you live in or near the foothills of the Rockies, Sierra Nevada or Appalachian Mountains, you are going to see a lot of flat road riding throughout the United States with no more than the occasional and short 5%+ grade hills for most of your rides.

And despite the wonders of the Alps and other mountain ranges featured in the summer pro stage races, Europe is mostly flat too.  The European Plain, which runs from the Pyrenees along the Spanish and French border all the way to the Ural Mountains in Russia “gives Europe the lowest average elevation of any continent” according to no less an authority than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Australia and the South Pacific?  Flat. Flat. Flat.  The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “after more than four years” work, the final topographic maps, covering Australia, New Zealand and more than 1000 Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic ocean islands” developed from radar data taken by the space shuttle showed that “Australia was the flattest continent in the world.”

As for the mountains, I’m told by some well placed elves that only 12% of the world’s population actually live there.

So why do so many of us look to buy (and read my post recommending) climbing wheels?  Perhaps it’s because many of the most famous cyclists going back to icons Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi to the modern-day heroes like Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome conquered the cycling world climbing mountains.

And why do we focus so much on wheelset weight when choosing between one or another?  Perhaps because weight is one of the most quantifiable differences between wheels, even though for most riders, reducing our own body weight by 2.5kg or 5lbs would save us 5x the amount of time we would save by cutting 300 grams off the typical stock wheels that come with our bikes by moving to a pure climbing wheelset.

If you are a serious regular cyclist, what I call a road cycling enthusiast (see here for definition), you need to focus on aerodynamics and aero wheels, two things that are really important to cycling on the flat earth we ride.

Weight only matters when you are accelerating and when you are going up relatively steep hills and climbs.  But, as explained above, the weight that matters most is your body weight and how much power you can crank out relative to your weight.  Your bike and wheelset weight have little relative effect when accelerating and climbing.

Unlike weight, aerodynamics almost always matters (it doesn’t when you are slowly going up steep grades).  It matters even more the faster you go and the more time you spend riding without anyone in front you to draft off of.  Aerodynamics actually matters more than weight when you are acceleration though the difference between the effect of the two is marginal.

If you regularly average 30kph or 18mph and faster on your rides, aerodynamics matters a lot and can save you minutes based on how you position yourself on your bike and what gear (wheels, frame, tires) and kit (helmet, jersey, etc.) you use.  The chart below summarizes this; the posts on gear and kit (here) and training and technique (here) go into more detail on how to go faster including the role of aerodynamics.

Faster Featured Photo and Stats

So if you want to go faster, aero wheels are part of what will make it happen.

But aren’t aero wheels for time trialists and triathletes, those poor fools that bend over with their hands out in aero bars for miles at a time, not having to worry about making any sharp turns, with no other riders near them to manuever around, and going so ridiculously fast that those freakishly deep rims they ride on really make a difference?

Yes, aero wheels are certainly for those riders and they will be on very deep rims, often more than 60mm deep and as much as 90mm deep or complete discs in the back wheel.  But aero wheels, though not ones that deep, are for roadies too.

In 2010 Zipp introduced the 404 Firecrest carbon clincher, a product that changed the direction of high performance wheelsets.  The Firecrest had a rounded nose or spoke-bed and a toroid-shaped rim rather than the pointy nose, V-shaped profile deeper rims had at that time.  The Firecrest was also several millimeters wider than most other wheels and was 58mm deep.  It was faster than wheels much deeper but wasn’t buffeted by side winds the way even shallower wheels were and you could actually slow them down using your brakes.  It set a new standard for rim design.

Most of the leading wheelset companies followed with carbon clincher wheels that emulated the Firecrest shape, width and speed.  Many introduced wheels in the 70mm+ range to compete with the Zipp 808 Firecrest for the speed-demon, TT and tri riders

Another group of similarly shaped, wide carbon clinchers soon came to market in the 30-45mm depth range for more versatile riding options.  The all-around carbon clincher category was born.  These wheels struggled with braking that was suspect and construction that wasn’t always on par with what you could get from alloy all-arounds which were 10 to 20mm shallower.  Since then, wheel makers have improved their fabrication processes and introduced new resins, brake track finishes and brake pads to make for better braking and more durable rims.

These all-around carbon clinchers were fast but not nearly as fast as the 70mm+ clinchers and tubulars that Zipp and others introduced for the fast growing triathlon market.  These deepest of wheels were (and still are) the fastest wheels around and were combined with aero bars, aero frame, riders who wore aero helmets, etc.

In the last couple of years, more and more carbon-clincher wheelsets in the 50-60mm deep, round or ‘blunt-nose’, toroid-shaped, wide-rim design have been introduced.  These are nearly as fast as the very deep aero wheels and nearly as versatile as the all-around ones.  I call this emerging category of wheelsets aero all-around wheels.

As the aero all-around name suggests, these wheels are nearly as fast as the deepest aero wheels the TT and tri riders use and nearly as versatile as the shallower all-around ones.  The speed differences vs the deepest aero wheels and versatility vs all-arounders are at the margins.  I don’t think most enthusiasts are going to be compromising anything using the right aero all-around wheelset in a triathlon or taking them on all but the most demanding climbs.

The best carbon aero all-arounders don’t get pushed around by crosswinds, are stiff and comfortable, handle well, and are faster yet as indistinguishably light as the best carbon all-arounds that are 10mm to 20mm shallower.  They tick all the same performance criteria boxes (see here) as well or better than the shallower all-arounds.  They cost about the same as their shallower siblings from the same brand, which is not cheap for any of them.  But, for the serious road cycling enthusiasts who wants the most speed without losing versatility, this category is the new wheelset sweet spot that we should be riding.

In this review, I share with you my evaluation of 8 of the leading carbon aero all-around wheels and briefly compare 5 less versatile carbon-alloy wheels in this same depth range.  I recommend a best performer regardless of price and a best value where you get good performance at a good price relative to the others in this category.  For simplicity and to avoid confusion with all around wheels, I’ll simply call these “aero” wheels going forward (though don’t confuse them with the very deep 70mm aero wheels).

So let’s get on with the reviews of these wheelsets.

Best Performer – ENVE SES 4.5

When I first started looking at wheelsets in the 50-60mm depth, I’ll have to admit that I really wasn’t sure they were for me.  As a lighter rider (68kg/150lbs), I was concerned any stiff breeze would blow me off the road and that extra wheel weight would take away my “advantage” going up the hills that are central to most of my rides.  I worried that the deeper carbon would make the wheels too stiff to be comfortable on long rides.  And I really couldn’t imagine that a deep front wheel would handle nearly as well as my stock/training Ksyriums or any of the 35-45mm all-arounds I’ve been riding for other reviews.

IMG_1590

The ENVE SES 4.5 aero wheels on my Specialized Roubaix endurance bike. Source: intheknowcycling.com

On the other hand, I also knew that bigger guys put out more absolute power in their legs than I could and that I struggled to keep up with them on the flats.  I figured there would be some trade-off between going faster and losing some of the handling, comfort and climbing benefits I’d enjoyed from shallower all-arounds.

Really, I didn’t know how much I would gain and lose in all these trade-offs.  So I went in search of wheels that would go faster for whatever power I could muster, not be bothered by crosswinds for even light riders and wouldn’t weigh a noticeable amount more than the best regular all-arounds.

Was it possible?

With the ENVE SES 4.5, beyond what I could have ever imagined.

It seemed like these were designed to minimize the trade-offs I feared I would have to make.  Indeed, I’d say that instead of trading off anything, I’m really pushing into new territory in nearly everything.

First, my worries were unfounded.

Crosswinds?  Not noticeable despite riding in some pretty heavy ones.  No steering, leaning, compensation required.  I felt the wind on my body but not in my wheels.  I kept waiting for some pulsing or pushing sensation in the front wheel but never felt it.  I guess I have to look for stronger winds.

Too stiff?  While I’ve been on stiffer wheels, I couldn’t get these to budge laterally between some narrow gap brake pads either going up 10% + grades or sprinting full on.  Maybe a heavier or stronger rider can but I couldn’t.

Comfortable?  Once figuring out what tires and pressures suited the wheels aerodynamics and my weight best (25C front at 85 psi and 23C rear at 95 psi) they were as comfortable as anything I had ever been on.

Handling?  I navigated these big boys in and out of corners and pacelines with all the control and responsiveness I could ask for.

Weight?  These 48mm deep front, 56mm deep rear ENVE wheels climbed as well as any 40mm-45mm all-around I’d been on before.  Not surprising as they weigh in at 1575 grams on my scale, essentially the same as the shallower best performer 45mm deep Zipp 303 Firecrest (1570g), best value 41mm deep Reynolds Assault SLG (1552g), and most of the other carbon and carbon-alloy all-around wheels in the same depth range I’d previously evaluated (see here for that review).  These are weight differences that most enthusiasts can’t discern out on the road.

It turns out I had been riding these wheels on and off for about three weeks when I was scheduled to do the B2VT, an early season 217 kilometer/135 mile, 2500 meter/8200 foot vertical ride from outside of Boston to one of the ski areas in Vermont.  This is the longest ride with the most climbing I had scheduled all year.  I’d been having fun on the ENVE SES 4.5s so decided, what the hey, let’s see how they do on a ride like this.  (Note: Thinking about how wheels and other gear will do on this or that ride allows me to avoid thinking about how I’m going to do.)

The distance, despite a steady head wind and some nasty crosswinds for what seemed like the whole day, was not a problem.  These wheels were well planted on the road and plenty comfortable riding on my Roubaix.

While they didn’t climb like the 150g lighter, shallower (21mm front and 23mm rear depth) Shimano Dura-Ace C24 CL wheels I used going up three mountain gap roads on the Mount Washington Century the previous year, they settled right in to the cadence I wanted to tap out on the climbs and responded well to the changes in grade.  We did some long steep ones with 7-8% pitches that went on for 10K/6 miles (CAT 3) and they felt very sprightly going up and very confident going down, topping 70kph/45mph at my fastest.  Fortunately, these were long straight runs with few cars (this is Vermont) so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of braking.

OK.  I was convinced that I wasn’t trading off much if anything to get the benefits of these deeper wheels.

IMG_1573The benefits?  Speed.  Faster than 35-45mm deep carbon, toroid shaped, wide rimmed all-around wheels.  No doubt. These and most of the other modern carbon aero wheels go faster than shallower all-around wheels.

I have a two-mile nearly flat section of road where I do my flat road interval training.  It’s totally unscientific but running the deeper 50-60mm all-arounds versus the shallower 35-45mm ones there showed I could ride consistently faster at the same power output, with same tires, in a similar body position, etc.  And I feel like I’m going faster too.  Oh, what a feeling

Nearly all the carbon aero wheels I’ve evaluated for this review will give you more speed.  It’s impossible to know whether the ENVE SES 4.5 is faster, the same or slower than any of the others in this deeper all-around category.  From looking at the few publicly available wind tunnel tests, the amount of difference between many of them is so small that you, my dear road cycling enthusiast, wouldn’t be able to isolate it out on the road.

The latest version of these and all the ENVE SES wheels have a new textured braking surface.  I rode the 4.5 with the first generation surface and thought they were great –  quiet, comfortable and consistent from the first day I rode them.  Knowing they are carbon rims, I didn’t ‘drag’ or hold on to the brakes for long periods going downhill and since I can choose when I ride, I didn’t spend a lot of time on them in the rain.  But I found they braked perfectly fine and gave me plenty confidence.

Yes, I did ride them knowing not to drag the brakes, alternating braking front and back on long descents, and giving myself plenty of time to slow in wet conditions.  If you try to ride any carbon wheelset like you ride one with an alloy brake track, you are looking for trouble.

And they were totally cool (pun intended) braking on downhills.  I checked the rims at the bottom of each of 5 times down my 1+ mile, 8% hill repeat training course one day in the summer and they weren’t even warm.

I rode the new textured brake track on the ENVE SES 2.2 for a review on carbon clincher climbing wheels (see here).  These textured track ENVEs brake even better.  I’m not going to try to get quantitative on you and say they are x% better or keep the rim temp y degrees cooler, I’m just going to qualitatively say they give you even more confidence.  What worked well before works even better now.

Do they brake as well as disc brake wheelsets or rim brake wheels with alloy tracks?  No, though it seems the gap is considerably narrower versus alloy wheels.  Are they one of the best carbon braking tracks I’ve been on?  Yup.

Another difference I’ve noticed between the first and current or second generation ENVE brake tracks is the sound they make when you apply the brakes.  The last gen put out a barely audible “shhhh” sound, the kind you make when you are trying to quiet a baby.  The new generation tracks sound to me like a dentist’s drill while you are under anesthesia.  Zing, zing, but not so much as to scare you.  While I much prefer the shhhh sound, the drill sound of the new generation isn’t troublesome and nothing like the shriek you hear on some carbon rim brakes.  On one group ride I took, one of the guys I was riding with and didn’t know before the ride made a point to tell me he thought the sound of my brakes was “really cool.”  So, there you go.  I’m sure I would have heard from others if they though it was “really annoying.”  I’ll take cool any day.

Personally, I like the look of the wheels.  The quality also is first-rate.  The first gen brake tracks I rode on the SES 4.5 showed minimal signs of wear after four months.  They remained true despite my hitting a major pothole, double flatting and cutting through both tires on one of the first group rides I did with them.  Yeah, following some rookie’s wheel.  Stupid me.

If there were any faults I could find with the ENVE, I’d probably pick on two things.  They didn’t accelerate any better than the others and they may not be as stiff as some of the others.  The acceleration is probably determined by the weight of these wheels along with their aero shape.  They weren’t worse, they just weren’t any better.  They use the very competent and quiet DT Swiss 240 hubs that wheels from Bontrager, Reynolds, Roval and many others do. (You can also get them with Chris King or ENVE hubs but it will cost you more.)  The actual weights of those three wheelsets are within 25g of the ENVEs and all but the Reynolds have a similar rounded nose so maybe I shouldn’t expect any different acceleration.  Again, good but not any better than the others.

As I mentioned before, I found these both vertically stiff and laterally compliant.  At my weight, most wheels feel very stiff; these felt a touch less so.  It may be that they will also be plenty stiff for heavier riders too.  Rather than drilling the spoke holes into the rim, they mold them which theoretically makes the whole rim stiffer.  They don’t have a weight limit on these wheels or make a Clydesdale version for heavier rides.  Seems that they’ve designed them to be stiff and comfortable for heavy riders too.  A couple of 200lb/90kg big boys comment in my all-around wheelset review that the have found the shallower ENVE SES 3.4 wheelsets to be plenty stiff for them and they had broken spokes on other carbon wheelsets before moving over the the ENVEs.

So what makes the SES 4.5 my choice for best performer?  All of the carbon aero wheels I’ve reviewed below are good and many are great.  Most have some drawbacks.  It’s the combination of all the good things that the ENVE SES 4.5 wheels do with none of the drawbacks the others have that separate them from the rest.

Combining two different rim designs into one integrated wheelset may be part of what makes the SES 4.5 perform so consistently well across all criteria.  Perhaps you would be better off with the same front and back wheels if your weight was distributed evenly on your bike, or the aerodynamics were the same coming at your front and back wheels, or you turned the back wheel the same way you did the front, or any number of other things that make the life of a front and back wheel so different.

Modern wheels have different front and back wheel hubs, spoke counts, spoke configurations and often spokes to deal with the different forces these wheels?  If this is the case, then why should the rims be the same on the front and rear wheels if the aerodynamics are different at different places on the bike, especially for a set of “aero” wheels whose purpose is to be more aerodynamic?  Duhhhhh!?!?! …. as my daughter says to me when discussing other topics she figured out light years before I did.

I’d guess it’s an extra challenge and expense to design two different rims that together serve an integrated purpose into one wheelset, but it makes sense even to a practically minded road cycling enthusiast like me.  And rather than just putting a shallower wheel on the front than on the back as you can do with many of wheels from other brands I’ve reviewed below, it seems that there is so much more going on.  The front and back wheels not only have different depths (claimed 48mm/56mm but I measured them closer to 49mm/57.5mm), they also have different widths, different rim profiles and probably a lot of other differences built into them that I don’t understand.

Front wheel collage 2Rear Wheel Collage

I will really miss these wheels but I don’t get all weepy when I think about them.  I buy or return every set of wheels that I evaluate; these were only a test pair.  I can’t (or at least try not) to get emotionally attached to any of them.  And most of the other wheels in this review are pretty great wheels if you want a very fast and versatile set of wheels that might have a few deficiencies you can overlook if you like their price point or cosmetics better than the ENVEs.  It just feels to me like ENVE has nailed it better than anyone else in this carbon aero wheelset category.  Perhaps they are ahead by being the last ones into the 50-60mm pool or that their experience with the shallower SES 3.4 and deeper SES 6.7 (now discontinued) taught them a lot of lessons that they incorporated into this wheelset.

As with all the ENVE wheels, they aren’t cheap and you don’t find them discounted often but I certainly think they are worth what you pay for and recommend them enthusiastically.  The construction of these wheels is first rate and ENVE stands behind them with a 5-year warranty, unmatched by other major brands.

Here are the page links for this wheelset at the stores I’ve found have them at the best prices, have them in stock and have top shelf customer satisfaction records as of January 16, 2017: All of these are carrying the 2nd generation wheelset with the textured brake track: Competitive Cyclist, Westbrook CyclesMerlin Cycles

Best Value – Zipp 404 Firecrest

This wheelset’s round nose, full toroid rim shape, crosswind deflection and carbon clincher design at a 58mm depth made it one of the pioneers of this category of aero wheels for the road enthusiast.  You rode fast and looked fast.  It changed the game so much that it became the new benchmark for wheels from established companies and likely motivated several entrepreneurs to jump into the wheel business.  Zipp followed this wheelset with similarly profiled, deeper 808 and shallower 303 and 202 Firecrests to make it a complete line.

Firecrest , V and hybrid toroid cross sections

Source: cyclingtips.com.au

For some riders, these wheels became the product we saved for, splurged on and bragged about.  Others just dreamt about them and bought something far less expensive because they couldn’t justify spending more on their wheels than they had on their bike.

The Zipp 404 Firecrest started this revolution in aero wheels in 2010.  The wheelset’s rim dimensions are unchanged since then but it has incorporated better brake track resins, finishes and pads to improve dry, wet and downhill performance.  It remains one of the best braking wheelsets amongst today’s carbon clinchers.  The hubs were upgraded for the 2014 model and spokes were added (2 in the front, 4 in the back) in 2015 to improve the 303’s stiffness and durability.  A new hub (so called V3 or 77 front, 177 back) with a modified flange geometry and increased axle diameter was introduced on the 2016 model to provide additional lateral stiffness.

https://i0.wp.com/zipp.com/_media/images/dynamicproducts/WH-404-CC-V2-700-SR-11S-BLK-Hero-A28L.jpgEven with these updates, the 404 Firecrest is now more a benchmark, a symbol of the kind of wheelset we aspire to ride but no long the wheelset we must ride.  It’s not as comfortable or wide or light as others in the group of wheels that have followed it.  It’s probably just as aero as it ever was, which is to say among the best both in reducing drag and handling the crosswinds but others wheelsets feel just as fast now and ahead of the 404 Firecrest in the areas I’ve listed above.  The MSRP/RRP of the 2016 model was reduced by 20% to $2100/€2,200.  Their performance and price make them the best value wheelset in this category.  I almost can’t believe I just recommended a Zipp product for its value more than its performance but in the case of the 404 Firecrest, it brings a lot of both.

Here are the page links for this wheelset at the stores I’ve found have them at the best prices, have them in stock and have top shelf customer satisfaction records as of January 16, 2017: Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU ProBikeKit code ITK10, Westbrook Cycles, AU/NZ Pushys

OTHER WHEELSET EVALUATION SUMMARIES

Carbon Wheels

Comparison Chart Sept 2016

Zipp 404 NSW – A top pick for flat road races, crits, TTs or solo breakaways 

Despite the similarities in name, the new Zipp 404 NSW and Zipp 404 Firecrest are quite different wheelsets.  Yes, they did add a textured brake track and are using a new hub on the NSW but they’ve also changed some of the rim’s key dimensions, something they’ve never done to the Firecrest as they’ve updated it over the years.

The 404 NSW wheels are a good deal wider (about 1mm at the bead hook and 2.5mm at the brake track per my measurements) and lighter (about 150g) than the 404 Firecrest. They are still dimpled, not tubeless and should be run with a 23C tire to minimize the aerodynamic drag.

T404-nsw-2hese remain very fast wheels and good in crosswinds.  Zipp makes quantitative claims about the % improvement that I can’t verify but on the road I can tell you they are fast, maintain your speed very well and are minimally affected and quite easily managed in heavy cross winds.  They were one of the fastest wheels I’ve ridden in my highly unscientific 2-mile interval training repeats and just barely noticed the wind (or view) coming off the ocean in my high wind crosswind runs.

My A level, 20mph+, damn-he’s-fast bike club friend Nate summed up their sweet spot well after riding these 404 NSWs when he said: “These would be my pick in a flat road race, crit, TT or solo breakaway but I would opt for the ENVE SES 4.5 in a hillier race.”

The hubs are quiet and silky smooth both pedaling and freewheeling with a Dura Ace cassette but annoyingly loud with the SRAM one they came with.  Likewise, the wheels ran smoothly with 23C Conti 4KSII rubber but I found them downright buzzy with Zipp’s own 23C Tangente Course tires.

The brake track width measured wider than these 23C tires, comfortably in the 105-110% range, best for minimizing drag/maximizing aero performance, i.e. speed.  While I’d put a premium on aero with these depth wheels, and aero drag reduction with 23C tires will generally outweigh rolling resistance reduction with 25Cs at the kind of speeds you’d likely ride these wheels, you could run 25C tires at lower pressure to make the ride more comfortable, something where the 404 NSW don’t excel.

The stiffness and climbing were also disappointing to both Nate and me.  Neither of us are heavy guys but we both noticed that the 404 NSW weren’t terribly stiff and you could get the rear wheel to rub the brake pads if you were rocking side to side when climbing or sprinting.  They didn’t climb very well on anything more than a roller.  A bit surprised here as the 404 NSW at 1562 grams aren’t light but are as light as any of the other aero wheels in this review.

Perhaps the stiffness and climbing weaknesses come back to the hubs.  Zipp seems to change hubs nearly as often as I change cassettes and the Cognition hubs used on all their NSW wheelsets is yet another new hub for Zipp.  They don’t engage particularly fast, certainly not as fast as the ENVE or DT Swiss 240 hubs and that affects your ability to keep up with changes in speed or moves in the group and changes in pitch going up a hill.  A wider hub flange can also make the wheels stiffer, something you see with good effect on Easton’s latest Echo hub and other new hubs coming out. The rim walls also seemed a bit thinner and easier to depress than the others, perhaps contributing both to less weight and lateral stiffness.

While a wheelset this fast is not one you should buy for its braking ability, the 404 NSW certainly do brake extremely well on dry pavement and stay very cool going down steep, long hills.  On wet roads, the braking goes from average carbon to as good if not better than any alloy after a couple seconds (I counted on multiple passes), likely after squeezing the water out of their tracks.

The 404 NSW are available at US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Wiggle, ProBikeKit code ITK10,  AU/NZ Pushys

Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 – Added bead width and tubeless ready option extend wheelset’s versatility at nearly comparable performance levels

Bontrager recently updated the Aeolus line, introduced in 2012 in an attempt to match the Zipp 404 Firecrest profiles.  The major changes in the 2015 update of the Aeolus 5 D3 is the further broadening of the bead width (to 19.5mm) and redesign of the bead to run with tubeless tires.  Bontrager appears to be targeting the cycling enthusiast who wants a comfortable ride for on- and occasional off-road riding and who puts that characteristic above speed, stiffness and other performance criterion.

Aeolus Drag Performance vs Zipp 404 and HED Stinger

Note: This chart was provided by Bontrager. No information was provided along with this chart about the testing protocol. Brand Z likely refers to Zipp 404 and Brand H to HED Stinger. Steve

The recent changes add to the versatility these wheelsets can already claim compared to others in this category.  Their own tests show drag performance within range of the benchmark Firecrest 404s, although details of the test protocols have not been provided – one can only guess this is the best case example.  Tests run by VeloNews on the last model of the Aeolus 5 showed that they consistently lagged the aero performance of 60mm deep wheels from HED, ENVE and Rolf Prima. This is not unexpected as the Aeolus wheels are 8-10mm shallower than the others.

At their 50mm depth, you trade-off some aero performance for better handling.  Actual weights of these Bontragers are essentially in the high 1500g range of most of the wheelsets in this review so ignore any claimed weight differences; they have no effect on anything other than your perceptions.

The Aeolus 5 are comfortably compliant on the road, brake similarly well to most other carbon clinchers introduced in the last couple of years, are competent but not the best in the crosswinds, and are not as stiff when climbing as many of the others in this category.  They ride on DT 240 hubs and spokes, known solid performers.

These wheels are available directly from Trek or from a Trek dealer.

 

Reynolds 58 Aero – Accelerates like a lighter, shallower wheel with a revamped, old-school and highly successful approach to crosswinds

If the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s round-nose set a new design and aero drag performance standard that most other carbon wheel makers followed, Reynolds decided to stay the course and improve on their V-shaped profile rim design that were central to the identity of their top-of-the-line and well-regarded RZR and Aero wheelsets.  There’s a tremendous amount of theory, testing and marketing that surround almost anything you hear or read about the 58 Aero and their deeper, triathlon dedicated wheelset siblings.  Frankly, it  makes me want to plug my ears and start yelling “lalalalalalalala” to block it all out.  Even if it’s sound physics, my BS detector pegs when a company spends so much effort trying to tell consumers and reviewers why their wheels are better instead of just enabling us to go ride them and find out for ourselves.

Fortunately Reynolds also offers a no-obligation Ride to Decide demo program and riding these wheels tells you most of what you need to know.  They are very laterally stiff, responsive and accelerate better than you would think a 58mm wheelset would.  They hold their speed well when you get them north of 20-22mph/32-35kph.

They brake confidently in dry conditions but suffer the same underperformance that most carbon clincher wheels when the brake track gets wet.  Curiously, they don’t drain the water that gets inside the rims through the spoke holes particularly well.  You need to remove the tire and tube to dry out these wheels and to reach the internal nipples if you want to true them yourself.

They handle well and are comfortable even with their relatively narrow 15.5mm inside rim width.  The tires go on rather easily, almost too easily and you’re right on the border of putting a 23C or 25C tire on their 26mm wide rims to maximize aerodynamics.  It all depends on which tire you prefer and how wide they inflate, regardless of what it says on the box.  The loose fit is a bit concerning – inflate them off the ground when you put a new tube in so they set up in the bead evenly.  Picking a tire with minimal rolling resistance that has the best inflated width to maximize aero performance is normal; complicating the selection with one that also fits tighter to ease the fear of it coming off on a sharp turn is a bit more than even my analytical mind wants to work through.

https://i2.wp.com/www.reynoldscycling.com/uploads/images/rim-profile-58aero.pngAnd, what about all that noise about their V-profile rims?  Well if you don’t ride in an area where you get strong crosswinds, it won’t matter.  If you do, these 58 Aero wheels handle them better than most – it feels like more of a quick light tap to the front wheel than the smooth light push you get from the better round-nose designs.  It’s a differentiating characteristic similar to the way Campy, SRAM and Shimano components shift differently.  Both the Reynolds 58 Aero V-shaped wheels and the better round-nose rims get the job done but you may prefer the Reynolds way over the Zipp, HED, ENVE, etc. way.  At the end of the day, I’m not sure its worth all the attention Reynolds gives it.

Reynolds has announced a new Aero line for 2017 with rounder, wider, and deeper rims yet still with a pointed V spoke edge. The 46 and 58 Aero will disappear and the shallowest in the new rim brake line will be the 65 Aero.  While they last the, 58 Aero is available at ebayWestbrook Cycles, Mantel UK and Bike24.

Easton EC90 Aero 55 – Stiff and fast but crosswind and braking performance is lacking

Easton comes out of the chute claiming the EC90 Aero 55 is “the most aerodynamic road wheelset on the market today” and “fastest in all conditions.”  It’s quite bold and who knows if it’s true, but at least they have the balls to publish the results of wind tunnel tests comparing their Aero 55 tubular and clincher wheels against Zipp 404 Firecrest, HED Stinger 5 and ENVE 6.7 tubulars models.  Zipp has since introduced their NSW series and ENVE has replaced the 6.7 models with the 7.8 but I wish more companies would publish their own results like Easton did.  Perhaps some brave soul (or a very rich one) will run independent wind tunnel tests to document just how different today’s wheels and bikes are.  The good old Roues Artisanales comparative tests published ten years ago now feel ancient.

Easton also share the results of their tests using different model and size tires on these wheels.  Both the wheel and tire test results are published on page 3 of their white paper here.  The tire test results are below.

Easton Fantom Tire Tests

Easton’s aero tests of the EC90 Aero 55 Fantom rim with different tires.

What I find most interesting in their data is not necessarily who has the fastest wheels.  Rather, the Easton tests show that the time differences between the wheels are about the same as the time differences you get by changing tires.  This shows that you can mess up the speed you are trying to gain spending $2000+ on a set of wheels by picking the wrong $100 set of tires, usually by going too wide.

Note that of the ones they test, the 21C, 22C and 23C tires are the fastest, in that order and they don’t test 25C clincher tires nor do I assume they recommend one if going fast is a priority.  Get your comfort from the extra volume in the rims, not the tires, unless speed is less important than comfort, in which case you probably are looking in the wrong aisle for you next wheelset.  (I’m talking to you Mr. “I must put a 25C tire on whatever wheel I ride because that’s what everyone else says I should be doing”.)

I bought a pair of Zipp Tangente 23C clincher tires to run on these wheels.  According to the chart, the 21C size of the same model would be a lot fast but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever use a 21C again after evaluating these wheels so budget considerations got the better of me this time.  (See, I do it too!)  Once mounted and inflated, the 23Cs measured 24.7mm wide on these 19C rims.  That’s still over 3mm narrower than the 28.1mm rim width I measured at the brake track.  So I was doing my small part to improve the aero performance.

https://i1.wp.com/cdn3.volusion.com/n9g24.e5uwf/v/vspfiles/photos/Easton14-EC90-Aero-Tubular-2T.jpgWith the EC90 Aero 55, Easton also made a serious effort to integrate some of the latest advances into an aero wheelset.  Introduced for the 2014 season, I believe this was the first carbon tubeless clincher available in a 50mm+ aero road wheelset (the Reynolds Strike followed in 2015) and the first to go ultra-wide with 19mm bead and 28mm brake track widths (HED’s carbon-alloy Jet 6 Plus also went this wide in 2014, Bontrager’s New Aeolus 5 D3 followed in 2015).

So does the Aero 55 hold up against the competition a couple years removed from its introduction?  I rode these wheels for a few hundred miles and then asked Nate, one of the fastest roadies in my cycling club who also does crits and TTs (without aero bars) to give them a go solo, in group rides and in a weekly TT run near him.

We both found them very stiff and responsive to changes in speed while underway.  That stiffness also helped Nate, who weighs about 153lbs/70kgs and is far younger, stronger and faster than me to get good acceleration from a rolling stop.  I had more difficulty getting them up and going than I did, for example, with the ENVE SES 4.5 that weigh essentially the same as the Aero 55.

The Aero 55 hold their speed well, are comfortably compliant and handle confidently for an aero wheel with the 23C tires I mentioned above.  They also ride quietly, with only a little of that slicing or swooshing through the wind sound that you can get on some deeper carbon wheels when you ride them really hard.  Nothing that seemed to affect or take away from the riding experience.  The hubs were also quiet while freewheeling, a characteristic I prefer vs the click-click-click you hear from other hub models.

Nate was impressed with the braking force whether the rims were seeing their first braking action in a while or after repeated braking in a relative short period of time.  Braking under damp conditions required more distance but nothing out of the ordinary for carbon rims with untreated brake tracks.  Neither of us rode these in the rain but on the 38mm deep Easton EC90 SL model with the same rim finish and lack of brake treatment, I found the stopping distance really lacking.  So I don’t recommend you take these out in the rain.

In dry conditions the brakes start squealing when you brake them hard, long or repeatedly. (Get your mind out of the gutter!)  The SwissStop Yellow brake pads that come with these wheels also leave a pollen colored ring on the rim.  Yes, it comes off if you wash your bike regularly but it’s really bugly (look it up) while you are riding.  I’d think Easton could quiet the rims and avoid the coloring with a better choice of pads.

Both Nate and I agreed that these wheels didn’t handle the crosswinds very well.  We’re lightweights and got pushed around a good deal, far more than I’d experienced with other modern carbon wheels this deep.  On a day with a fair amount of crosswinds, Nate didn’t feel stable on the Aero 55 in his normal aero position during a TT and bailed for a more open one.

The carbon clincher game is played quickly and with new players like Mavic and Shimano joining in the all-carbon aero division and stalwarts like Zipp and ENVE hardly standing still, it may be time for Easton to throw down a new aero rim profile and brake track treatment along with their current hub to keep in contact with the leaders.  If the braking noise and crosswind performance are not issues for you, the Aero 55 wheelset is available at Competitive CyclistChain Reaction Cycles.

Vision Metron 55 – A good bargain for riding mostly flat terrain

The Vision Metron 55 might be better off changing its name to keep its 55m rim dimension a bit of a mystery.  That’s because it rides differently than the stereotype its depth would suggest.  It is a very stiff wheelset and holds its speed like a deeper one would.  At the same time, it handles, manages the crosswinds predictably and accelerates like a shallower set of wheels.  Braking is on par with the majority of carbon wheelsets regardless of their depth – fine when the sun shines, a bad bet when its wet.

Vision_slider-images_1920x920_rw-1600x605Another irony is the Metron 55’s acceleration – good – vs. its weight – not so good.  Acceleration can overcome weight with a stiff and responsive wheelset, which this one is.  And while I’ve cautioned you, dear reader, not to put much stock in a few grams difference here or there between wheelsets, the Metron 55 actual measured weight from three sources I trust comes in at an average of 1705 grams (+/- 20 grams), consistent with my own experience with Metron wheels measuring about 100 grams more than their claimed weight.

While many wheel makers seem to have scales that somehow calibrate 50 to 100g less than those of riders and reviewers, getting above 1700 grams puts you up in the same class – on a weight standard – with carbon-alloy aero wheels and starts taking you out of the range of what I consider 50-60mm deep aero wheels.  While aero wheels are not those you want to climb tall mountains with, you’ll notice 150 grams of difference between wheelsets powering up short, 5% rollers that any all-around should cruise up without wondering what they are dragging.

The only other comment I’ll add is that three other reviews I’ve read on this same hand-built wheelset wrote that their Metrons came in out of true.  While I’ve not experienced this issue with the Metrons I’ve tested, and it’s certainly one that can be easily fixed, it suggests the need to be vigilant when inspecting these and any new wheelset.

Vision wheels are frequently discounted (Chain Reaction CyclesWestbrook Cycles, Mantel UK) and this often makes them a great bargain. If you ride more flat than rollers and want an all carbon aero wheelset that’s plenty stiff and you can manage trueing them up or have someone who can, the Metron 55 at the right price is worth considering.

Carbon-Alloy Wheels

The late Steve Hed and his HED Cycling company were one of the innovators along with Zipp in aero wheel design, demonstrating that a round-nose, toroid shaped, wide rim offered a faster and better handling solution that managed the crosswinds better than traditional narrow, flat sided, V-shaped rims.  While he applied these innovations to deep carbon tubular wheels but felt firmly that carbon clinchers didn’t brake well enough to associate his company’s name with so his company has never made them.

Instead, HED’s deeper clinchers all have carbon wings or “fairings” bonded to a stock alumium rim.  You get the aero benefit of the rim shape with the superior braking of an alloy wheel.  This also results in a lower cost and generally lower priced wheelset than the carbon ones reviewed above but it is generally heavier and doesn’t accelerate as well as the all carbon of the same depth wheels do.

Other companies – most notably Shimano, Mavic and Campagnolo – who are more conservative in their product design have generally followed the same braking philosophy as HED and also make carbon-alloy clincher aero wheels instead of all carbon ones.  But none of the carbon-alloy wheels from the major brands reviewed here except HED have as wide or rounded a rim and therefore the aerodynamic performance the HED wheels do.

The trade-offs between the better aerodynamics and noticeably lighter weight you get with carbon aero wheels and better braking and (mostly) better prices that come with carbon-alloy ones  are clear.  Make your decision with your eyes open.

Because of their relative heft, I hesitate to put carbon-alloy wheelsets into the aero all-around category.  They are certainly more aero than low profile stock or upgrade wheels but not as aero as the what you get from the rim shapes of the rounded, toroid carbon rims.  I also don’t think they are well suited to the variety of terrain and uses, including short climbs, hill riding or road racing that are part of the all-around wheels’ repertoire.

Carbon-Alloy Aero Wheelsets

Yes, you will see the pros riding Shimano C50 and Campagnolo Bora 50 carbon-alloy wheels, but these are almost always the much lighter tubular versions that sponsors pay a lot of money for teams to use and get on camera while they are riding.  And if you are riding behind others in the ‘peloton’ or group of riders that numbers 30 or more for hours on end, aero doesn’t matter a whole lot.

My bias is that these wheels are best for flat terrain riding (less than 3-4% grades), time trial and triathlon training and racing for riders with tight budgets.  There is certainly a lot of flat terrain around.  Indeed, most of us who ride in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America and Asia ride overwhelmingly on flat roads.  So there is definitely a big demand for lower priced carbon-alloy aero wheels that are a little heavier and less versatile than their carbon brethren but a step up from low profile wheels that come with most bikes.

For all the reasons carbon-alloy wheels are popular and to get ahead of the questions I know would come if I didn’t include these not-quite aero all-around wheels in this review, I’ll give you short summaries of my take on the most popular of them.

https://hedcycling.blob.core.windows.net/assets/standard/PRODUCT/43/large/Jet6Plus_Double.jpgThe HED Jet 6 Plus (Competitive Cyclist) is the latest product in the evolution of HED designs.  It does most everything well and is probably one of the most compliant of the carbon-alloy aero wheelsets.  With a whopping 20.7 inside diameter it’s clearly the widest but also one of the heaviest at a measured weight of 1750 grams.  For what you should really use this wheelset for (see above), weight is irrelevant and aero advanced toroid aero profile makes it, on paper, one of the fastest.  At 60mm, the Jet 6 Plus is also 10mm deeper than the other popular carbon-alloy wheels.  The fairing on these and the Bontrager wheels described below are non-structural and you can deflect them in with your finger.  It doesn’t affect the performance; it just feels rather odd. This wheel is often used with the deeper HED Jet 9 Plus for a TT set.

https://i0.wp.com/media.bontrager.com/images/articles/230x150/5213dd3a0d46c_bt13_web_aura_technology_470x310.jpgBontrager makes the 50mm deep carbon-alloy Aura 5 TLR (Trek) in addition to their carbon clincher Aeolus 5 reviewed earlier in this post.  It rides stiff laterally yet is quite compliant (or comfortable) vertically.  it gets pushed around by the crosswinds, not surprising considering it basically has a V-shaped rim profile.  Handling is average but braking is good, the kind you’d expect from the alloy rims that this wheelset is made from.

Yes, it is tubeless ready but with a relatively middle of the pack rim width (17.5 at the bead, 22 at the brake track), I think it’s done more to keep it consistent with the differentiation Bontrager is trying to create with tubeless across its wheel lines than providing any great comfort or handling advantage.  The tubeless tires are more difficult to mount on this model than most.  Having internal spoke nipples means you (or your shop) will have to pull both the tire and rim strips off and put them on again while dealing with the mess of the sealant when you need to true the rims.  You also will get water and road dirt getting inside the fairing around the slots for the spokes.  Not for me!

You can install the regular tube type rim strips that also come with the wheel instead of the tubular ones and valve stems and save yourself the mounting hassle and about 40g of weight on an already heavy wheelset.

https://i1.wp.com/www.sport-import.sk/fotky29455/fotos/_vyr_90r95.jpgShimano’s 50mm deep Dura-Ace clincher, which goes by the not-so-catchy model name of Shimano WH-9000-C50-CL  is a favorite of many in part for its performance and in part because of its discounted price, consistent high quality, wide availability and large service network.  But these traits are common to most Shimano wheelsets and groupsets.  What about the C50’s performance?

Shimano Dura-Ace wheel cut-aways - Weight Weenies

Shimano Dura-Ace C24, C35 and C50 clincher sections

These wheels feel quite robust, solid and sure-footed on the road.  Unlike the HED Jet 6 wheels which use a non-structural carbon fairing, the C50’s carbon is structural, perhaps giving it that robust feel. The hubs are… well Dura-Ace, simply the smoothest rolling, fastest accelerating and simplest to maintain hubs available today.

Price, hub and quality are probably the most favorable things I can say about these wheels and that says a lot for many riders.  Shimano will be replacing the C50 clinchers in 2017 with C60 wheels that will be wider (17C) and hopefully have a more aerodynamic profile that better match the HED and carbon competition.  I say ‘hopefully’ but can’t say that it is likely.  Even with the current C50 CL originally introduced in 2013, they are ahead or on par with the more recently introduced carbon-alloy aero clincher offerings from their primary OEM (original equipment manufacturers) competitors Mavic, Campagnolo and Bontrager.  Much as some think the prestige of the Zipp, ENVE, HED designs are worth it, Shimano is in it for the profit that comes from volume and bleeding edge design doesn’t usually support the lower price points Shimano tries to hit to support that volume strategy.  You can check out whether those price points are to your liking for this C50 wheelset at ProBikeKit code ITK10.  No price has been announced for the C60 as yet

Campagnolo’s entry in the carbon-alloy aero field are the Bullet line of wheelsets.  They make them in 80mm and 50mm depths and 3 different hub bearing options – steel, ultra smooth ceramic (USB) and ultimate level ceramic (CULT).  (No, I didn’t make those names up.)

Campagnolo Bullet 50 Wheelset - CarbonThe wheels with the ceramic bearing options are called Ultra, for example the Bullet Ultra 50, and those with standard steel bearings are the Bullet 50.  The rims and spokes are the same.  The graphics on the Ultra are a little louder.  The Ultra with the CULT bearings claims to weigh about 135 grams less though its at the hub which has less of an effect on the road than if it were at the rim.  The Bullet 50 (WiggleProBikeKit code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) is hundreds less than the Bullet Ultra 50 and one of the least expensive brand name deep wheels available.

Neither of these wheels are going to set the world on fire.  They are sluggish, get pushed around by crosswinds, and are not very comfortable.  Both hold their speed well on the flats when up to speed, brake well, and are well-built.  The Ultra rides smoothly and quietly but their graphics yell “look at me.”  Upon closer inspection the less experienced cyclist may say “wow” but the more informed enthusiast will see the boxy, narrow rims even with sunglasses on to shield the bright graphics and probably say “bow-wow”.

Note: Campy recently introduced a carbon clincher version of their previously tubular-only Bora Ultra and Bora 50.  I haven’t been on them yet and don’t know anyone who has.  There doesn’t appear to be anything particularly novel about what they’ve introduced and some of the design aspects in these wheels are a generation old. That, along with the price, doesn’t make me want to suggest you should wait for a review to help you make up your mind.

*      *      *      *     *

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401 comments

  • Hey again Steve! I’m back with another connundrum. I’ve just bought myself a new Giant Propel SL2 that comes with Giant SL1 aero hoops as standard. A buddy of mine is looking to sell off his old Zipp 404 firecrests for real cheap (he doesn’t ride anymore). Do you think it’s a worthwhile upgrade?

    • Hard to know. Price, condition of Zipp 404? How much do you like/hate the stock wheels? If you are seriously interested, best thing would be to ask your buddy to ride the Zipps for a few days to see how they ride, how they compare and if it’s worth it to you to upgrade.

      • Cheers Steve, should’ve been more detailed. Price: He’s willing to trade with mine (brand new) with me adding an extra $400. Condition-wise, he’s ridden it for about 200 kilometres, it’s a 2013 model that’s just been laying around unused for a long time. Hubs were replaced and re-laced by Zipp themselves. I don’t hate mine at all honestly, I purposely bought the complete bike because it left me with a bit of cash from my budget for upgrades. Just wondering if the performance gains outweigh the price is all. Any and all ideas are welcome ^_^
        – Cheers, Damien

        • Still hard to know. 200kms is like new. Why did he stop riding so soon after buying them? Where did he buy them from? Why/when were the hubs replaced? What model hubs now? Zipp did them as in at the factory or by a dealer? Why does he want yours if he’s quit riding? They won’t fetch much in the aftermarket? Zipp had a lot of issues with their hubs back then and upgraded them in just about every model year since. I don’t need to (don’t want to) know the answers to these questions but suggest you try to answer them to figure out what’s really going on. All things being cool, they should be far superior wheels for flat, rolling, high speed rides. Still suggest you ride them to see if you like them more than your own. Good luck, Steve

        • Hey Damien,

          I had more or less the same dilemma. I had the possibility to by for a nice price a set of top MAVIC wheels from 2013 , ridden for 300 Km and also from a friend.
          I didn’t do it because I believe that since 2013 a lot of things changed in the world of aerowheels. I tried them and noticed that those wheels were not fitted for 25 mm tires . This was for me definitely a NO GO.

          My suggestion : Keep the wheels and spend some extra money next year ofr whenever on a new wheelset. And keep the old ones for winter/rain conditions.
          That’s what I did and just purchased , after feedback from Steve the ENVE 4.5
          Good luck

          Guy

      • Hi steve, im looking for a new wheelset. I ride an ridey fenix sl (blue paris nice edition) its quite heavy. Guess around 5 kg without wheels. Was looking for carbon alloy because i bike in the hills (amstel gold race in the Netherlands) as well. Should i choose a full carbon for the weight? Of carbon alloy for braking? Was looking for a ffwd f4r.. shamal ultra.. or should i go for a ffwd f6r? Hopefully you can help. Regards.

        • Pablo, The Ridley Fenix SL is a pretty stiff ride especially for lighter weight riders. It’s also on the heavier side. Wider wheels that you can put 25mm wide tires on without affecting aero performance will help make it more comfortable to ride, as will putting on lighter wheels that won’t further weigh you down on the hills. FFWD wheels are narrower than most of today’s more modern wheels and won’t take to a 25C tire without negatively affecting their aero and handling performance. And a carbon alloy wheel will be less aero and heavier than an all carbon one. The new Shamal Ultra C17 is an alloy wheelset but not very wide or very aero and over priced for what you can get if you wanted to focus on riding the hills.

          I don’t know your budget but I’d suggest you consider some of the carbon all-round wheelsets in this review. A tubeless wheelset like the 40mm deep Reynolds Assault I recommend in that review would also allow you to ride a 23C tubeless tire at lower pressure to improve comfort while not losing the aero performance of a wider tire and the price is not too far off from the other wheelsets you mentioned. Steve

          • Hi Steve. Thank you. Thought the Fenix SL was a more comfort then a Noah SL. Paris Nice isnt that comfy ride 😉

            Is there a carbon alloy set you recommend? High carbon set better or? I ride 25mm Challenge Strada.

          • Pablo, The Fenix SL is more comfortable than the Noah but still not as comfortable as many others bikes. The Strada will help. You can read about the only carbon alloy set I recommend in the post I referred you to but I wouldn’t recommend you putting 25mm rubber on it if you want any aero benefit. Most of the carbon alloy wheelsets made now are deeper, like those in this post but they aren’t going to be great in the hills. Putting a 25C tire on all but the HED will ruin the aero benefit you look to get from buying these wheels in the first place. If you are committed to using a 25C tire and want an alloy brake tracks, take a look at the lower profile wheels reviewed here. They are as shallow as the Shamal C17 but there are a handful that are much wider and would suit you better on a rougher surface. If you are still committed to carbon, I’d encourage you to consider the ones I review in this post like the ENVE and Zipp NSW which have excellent brake tracks on par with alloy. Steve

          • Hi Steve, Thanks. So the shamal would not be ok? Im not comitted to the 25 tires, but it feels like allround use. Thats also what im looking for. Allround wheelset. Around 30-50mm.

            Zipp and Enve are way to expensive.

            I dont know what to buy anymore….

          • read the all around review I recommended above…

          • My English isn’t that good! Sorry! But a Ksyrium set or Shamal shall be ok with a 25c tire? As i Can see in the alu allround sets…

  • hi steve, i hope you had a good week ( and that the weekend’s fun too )
    based on what i have read here on your site as well as a few other sites i read. i have finally decided that i shall be getting myself a pair of shimano wheels. either the C24/35/50.
    as i said earlier, there are not a great deal of climbs in bombay. but the roads are amongst the worst in the country.
    as of now, i am yet on my bianchi camaleonte, but with the new helmet my average speed on flats is now in the 36-39 kmph region ( i ride about 40-45 km daily and about 100-150 on weekends ).

    i would like to ask you a couple more questions on the shimano wheels .
    there is a R81 C24/35/50 which i read has ultegra hubs and then there is a dura ace C24/35/50 which suppository is ‘much’ better. ( and twice the price or thereabouts )

    i have of course not ridden on good wheels to begin with ( the bianchi is stock and is probably the best bike i have ridden, {i have bought a specialized roubaix but it will only arrive in end december as my friend is coming then )

    based on very little climbs. which of these wheels should i get ? ( C24, 35 , 50 )
    And is the difference between the dura ace and R81 really worth it ?

    thank you

  • Steve hope well

    Just wondering if you tried the EC90s with different brake blocks? The yellow grime and squealing is getting on my nerves. I’ve heard black prince may be a good option but wanted to see what you think?

    • Neydon, Here’s what I wrote about your question in my review of these wheels in my all-around wheelset post.

      The Swiss Stop Yellow brake pads may be part of the problem, though the brake tracks on these Easton rims don’t have the textured or etched finish you see on the new generation of wheels from more expensive (market price) ENVE SES and Zipp NSW wheel lines. In addition to leaving a pollen colored ring on the otherwise very attractively finished and labeled rims, the front EC90 SL pulsed the first few times I rode it. I changed the pads out for a set of broken in Yellows I had in my tool box and the pulsing went away. When I put on a set of black ENVE pads, they stopped whining and the modulation was better but the stopping distance didn’t improve.

      Steve

      • thanks Steve, sorry didn’t see that post after reading your other posts about aero wheels i’ve just focused on aeros! so had been looking at the aero55s and missed the SLs .
        thanks that’s really helpful

  • Hi Steve. I really enjoy your reviews and advice. My query – I have FF4 Carbon Alloys with 25mm Vittoria Corsa Graphene tyres. I take your point about the narrow width and loss of aero design benefit. Therefore should I be swapping for 23 mm’s ? Is there likely to be any noticeable speed benefit c/w comfort loss?

  • Many thanks for prompt reply Steve. I’ll give them a go and report back ! On a separate note, Ive been contemplating full carbon aero wheels but I can be a bit of brake dragger on real steep descents. Are the latest carbons heat dissipating enough or am best sticking with the best alloy brake rim I can get – Shim DA 55 etc?

    • Steve, Some are better than others on steep descents but you are better off if you learn to alternate front and back braking. See this post on both those points https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/05/22/best-carbon-clincher-climbing-bike-wheels/. More likely if you buy a wheelset as deep as those I’ve written about in this review, you aren’t going to be riding them down anything real steep… because they are less than ideal going up something real steep in the first place. 🙂 Steve

      • Thanks again Steve. I live in a hilly area and so some steep (up to 18%) climbs and descents feature regularly. I do alternate on the brakes but some descents on narrow twisty lanes leave you no choice other than to cover (and drag a bit) both if you want to avoid lock ups as a car ignores you or pulls from its drive!. think I’m going to stick with Carbon Alloy. Final question from me. 25 or 23 tyres on a DA 35? I’m 75 kg with puncheur riding style. Cant put out the power of the big boys on flats and gentle climbs but overhaul them on steep stuff

        • Steve,

          Dragging for short distances (10 secs or so) from time to time for isn’t a problem but if you are going to do it on and off for several miles or kms as you might feel the need to down a mountain, that’s where you’ll have an issue with some of the older generation brake tracks.

          C35s should take 23Cs.

          Steve

  • Hi Steve, do you see any problem with using 23C tire on a ENVE SES 4.5 front wheel? I am curious as your article mentioned that you had used a 25C tire for the front wheel and 23C for the rear wheel for the ENVE SES 4.5. Sorry if this question was already posed somewhere on the site.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

    • Andrew, Not a problem. I rode it with 23C Conti GP4KIIS front and back, 25C Contis front and back and 25C front, 23C back and at varying inflation levels. They all work; it’s up to your personal preference and speed and comfort priorities. Steve

      • Thank you Steve. I’m wondering if my next question makes sense, please ignore if it doesn’t. Can I get better speed with a 23C or 25C on the front for SES 4.5? I weight about 160lbs.

        • Theoretically (since I don’t have access to a wind tunnel) more aero speed with a 23C and less rolling resistance with a 25C. If you are riding solo the aero benefit will outweight the added rolling resistance. If you are tucked into a paceline, the rolling resistance will become relatively more important as you are drafting a lot, but it’s likely only a watt or two of RR benefit from all the testing I’ve seen. Read more about all this in this post https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/04/03/best-wider-road-bike-tires-wheel-sizes/.

  • Hi Steve! What is your opinion of Reynold’s 2016 Aero 46 Clincher Wheelset? I recently purchased a pair and have found climbing hills to be sluggish vs my lighter set Visions which were about 100 grams lighter.

  • Hi Steve! Thanks for the very detailed research. Any opinion / infos about cheaper competitors like these? (link removed)
    Best,

    • Nicolas, I really can’t recommend these kinds of wheels. There is basic information missing about them like rim size/photos, company or founder experience/expertise, dealer network, etc. that would give me enough knowledge about them to choose them for testing. Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of wheelmakers and I can’t test most of them so I need to have some minimum standards/confidence before I do and I recommend you and other enthusiasts do the same. There’s a lot more that matters beyound price. I lay out my decision criteria in each review.

      Many wheelset companies are merely marketing wheels on the web these days that that they don’t design and are made by what’s called “open mould” rim makers who themselves own the designs and mould and make the rims available to others who are better at distribution. The rims are bought through contracted lots by the marketing companies, shipped to another company that buys spokes and hubs and assembles them for the marketer. It’s unknown who if anyone does quality testing on these components and wheels. Many companies don’t have dealers (you often buy direct) and doesn’t have service facilities so if you have a problem you are out of luck. I have tested open mould wheelsets from well established marketing companies (see my most review of the all around Prime RP38 carbon wheels) and found they aren’t as good as those from some of the brand name companies who put a good deal of design and testing into their projects. The wheels from the company you linked to also aren’t sold at a big discount either, certainly not enough to take a risk on them. Finally, I don’t know this to be the case with the company you sent me the link about but some companies pay individuals a fee to get their links posted in forums like these. In order to discourage that kind of practice and others from considering these wheels and since you asked about this category of “cheaper competitors” rather than a specific wheelset, I’ve deleted the link to the wheelset company. Steve

  • Hi Steve. Love your reviews. I’m looking for a 50-60mm carbon clincher. I’m having a hard time deciding between the Enve 4.5 and the Zipp 404 Firecrests. I weigh around 185lb and ride mainly flats/rollers but with some longer descents and climbs (2-3 miles at 5-8%). Braking performance is important to me as I want to use them as every day wheels and I’m not a super confident descender. They also need to be durable so I’m concerned about the Zipp hubs. The 4.5s are around $3800 vs the 404’s at around $3000. I could also go to the 404 NSW’s which are more again. Interested in your thoughts.

    • Alex, Welcome and thanks. For what you’ve described, I’d definitely spend the extra on the ENVE 4.5 with the new textured brake track. They are just as fast as the 404 Firecrest or NSW, lighter than them going uphill, better handling and braking going downhill, and I prefer the quieter DT Swiss 240 hubs. From the pricing you mentioned (and the time you wrote) I’m guessing you are in Australia or New Zealand. Make sure to take a look at the links to stores I provided for best prices. You can only buy Zipps now from a regional dealer but you should be able to buy ENVEs from anywhere. You also may be able to find the first generation ENVE SES 4.5 which I found to be perfectly fine braking on the flats, wet and downhill as long as you don’t drag your brakes. Best to alternate the front and back and do some free wheeling/coasting downhill to avoid overheating any carbon braking surface though the textured tracks and other high temp resin tracks on newer wheelsets (including the SES first and second gen, Fircrests and NSWs) should be pretty good if you aren’t dragging most of the way down. Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks for the detailed answer! They looked appealing, but I’ll probably go for a discounted or second hand pair of 404, much more reliable (and resale value, by the way). Have a great day! Best,

  • Hello Steve, it is my first post at your site. I haven’t see any your opinion about: Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbone Clincher Wheelset 23c (2016).
    What would you say about those wheels? I ride on flats as you wrote. Since May I rode 2200 km with elevation of 6300 m. This year I exceeded 3000 km, and I am looking for not very expensive aerodynamic wheels. I am 187 cm high, and my weight now exceeds 95 kg, but I am working on it.
    Best regards
    Rafal

    • Rafal, Welcome to the site and posting a comment. The quickest place to find anything on the site is to post the product name in the search box at the top of each page. I’m a little slower than the search box but I’m glad to tell you that I reviewed the Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL Clincher here in my review of The Best All-Around Road Bike Wheels-2016. I’ll also be posting the same content as its own review later this week. If you sign up to get e-mailed about new reivews in the top box in the right hand column of the home page, that review and every new review I publish will come straight to your mailbox. Cheers, Steve

  • Slight puzzled by one comment of yours on NSW engagement. The cognition hubs have 36 point while the normal 240 has 18. Should be quicker to engage.

  • do you think the Reynolds Aero 58 discounted to 1400 dollars represent a compelling value compared to the aforementioned wheels or would you still go with the zipp or enve?

    • johny, If you like what these wheels offer, the price is quite compelling. The fact that they are discounted obviously doesn’t make them perform any better. I still favor the performance of the ENVE 4.5 and Zipp 404 over these. Steve

  • Steve,
    Wow – until I read your comments
    (“The best carbon aero all-arounders don’t get pushed around by crosswinds, are stiff and comfortable, handle well, and are faster yet as indistinguishably light as the best carbon all-arounds that are 10mm to 20mm shallower)”
    I never envisaged that ‘aero’ wheels were something I should consider. Thank you once again for such a wonderful site.

    In an earlier post you helpfully suggested that for a planned new bike with Dura-Ace 9170 I upgrade my thinking for disk-brake wheels to include ENVE 3.4’s.
    Background: I am rapidly approaching age 70, weigh some 175lbs, ride in Ontario which is relatively flat / rolling countryside (but includes some short sharp hills) with road surfaces generally deteriorating – therefore prefer to ride 28mm

    Question: Is it reasonable to assume the disk-brake ENVE 4.5 AR will be as competent an ‘all-rounder’ (re crosswinds etc) as the ENVE 4.5 that you rate so highly?

    • Peter, Gosh I sure hope so. I haven’t had a chance to ride these yet but most everything else I been on from ENVE has been first rate. I’ll report out after I ride a set for a couple months but unfortunately not until early next year. I will tell you that you won’t enjoy them though if you fixate on that 70 thing! 🙂 Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks for all the great information. I am after a wheel upgrade on my Giant propel advanced pro 2 from my current campagnolo zonda’s. The wheels will be mainly for fairly flat triathlons and the odd sportive. I weigh 68kg and generally ride at ~22mph on the aero bars or 18mph for general rides. My budget is up to £1000 and I was thinking carbon clinchers with alloy brake surface would probably be best for me due to budget and ease of maintenance? Do you still recommend the Shimano WH-9000-C50-CL as the best wheel in this area? They are now nearly 4 years old and the updated version will be coming out shortly so just wondering if its better to wait or if there are any other better alternatives out there?

    • James, In the budget range, the C50 will be hard to beat. The C60 will be deeper (duh!) but I don’t think they’ll initially be discounted to near where the C50s are now. If you can stretch it a little, you can get into carbon with the Zipp 404 at under £1400 with the ITK10 code. They’ll be faster with no more maintenance. Steve

  • Great review, Steve, sheds so much light on the subject. I’m a triathlete so naturally love any thing aero. Picked HED Jet Plus 4s as my all around wheels, excellent experience so far, don;t feel too heavy, surprisingly great on climbs here in NorCal (SF Bay area, Marin county, etc). So good that eventually replaced my all around pair of Shimano’s C24 clinchers. I tried Zipps before (303,404) , almost grabbed a pair of Shimano C50s, then got a bargain offer for HEDs. I also really loved braking with HEDs (using Shimano Ultegra brakes), precise, accurate and super responsive. I used Jet 4s in a couple of Ironman 70.3 races, enjoyed every moment. Currently plan to pick either Jet Plus 6 or 9 for even more aero setup, races only.

    I’m curious about overall durability factor in carbon or carbon-alloy wheels, the regular usage and crashes (unfortunate but happen).
    Thanks, Zeev.

    • Zeev, Current generation carbon are actually more durable than carbon alloy. First gen ones were less durable and could crack. But that’s many moons ago.

      Hed Jets are great wheels too but, as you probably know, you need to be careful with the flexible carbon fairing that comes off the alloy structural rim to avoid damaging it. Brake tracks on carbon wheels won’t last as long as alloy ones but you should be able to get three or four seasons out of them, depending on your usage.

      Steve

  • Hi Steve, great review, thanks!
    I´m 6´, 86kg, and ride a Spesh Tarmac.
    I was looking to buy an all-rounder durable everyday wheelset (flats, hills, climbs, fondos), my choices were ENVE 4.5, 3.4, ZIPP 404 NSW, Bontrager Aelious 5 and Bora Ultra 50, and after reading this review, you helped make my decision an easy one, I´m pulling the trigger on ENVE 4.5……Thanks!

    Never had a tubular wheelset, only carbon clinchers, because of functionality and convenience, and wanted to give it a try with this new acquisition but I´m afraid to invest so much money on an everyday wheelset having to risk convenience factor. What is your experience on this issue? This gen tubulars are more manageable and rewarding? what would you suggest me?

    Cheers!

    • Isaac, I’d stay with the clinchers. On some wheels like the 4.5 (according to ENVE’s testing) the clincher is actually faster than the tubulars (and they make it in both forms). Clincher tire sidewalls on this width rim will actually be more square or parallel to the rim because of the way they sit in the beads. Tubulars will be more rounded because of how they sit in the channel. Squarer sidewalls will be more aero because of the direction the air comes off of them onto the rims (more up and down). More rounded side walls tend to put the air coming more in at the rims. Geek-level stuff but apparently it makes some difference. How much the enthusiast level rider will notice on the road is hard to say but it’s another reason to not bother with tubulars. Steve

  • Thank you for your detailed review and comparisons among those aero wheels.

    I’m confused to choose between Enve 4.5 (new version) and Zipp 303 NSW due to similar weight and depth. I ride 50/50 flat road and climbing, and my weight is around 73 kg. Actually I’ve just received a new pair of Zipp 303 NSW by PBK U.K. and may consider to refund for Enve 4.5 instead after your detailed review of Enve 4.5

    Really appreciate your help.

    • One more thing that I’d go for Chris King Ceramic hubs for Enve 4.5 if it is my final option. Is it worth compared to DT hubs?

      Thanks a lot!!

      • Gordan, You’ve seen my review of the ENVE so you know how I feel about it. I don’t think there’s much performance difference between the DT Swiss 240 and Chris King hubs. The 240s free wheel very quietly while the King hubs have a very audible signature pitch which some people prefer. My colleague Nate began testing the 303 NSW mid October but I haven’t had a chance to ride them yet. He’s been very impressed with them but I don’t have any specifics to report. We both rode the 404 NSW earlier this year and you can see my review of that in this review. The 303 of course is a different wheelset in many regards so it’s hard to draw too much from a comparison of the 404 and 303 NSWs beyond the similar hubs and brake tracks. The Zipp Cognition hub is probably a step above the DT Swiss 240 or Chris King – almost on par with the even more expensive ENVE ceramic hub – but the new Zipp brake track isn’t as good as the new ENVE in my experience. You don’t buy these wheels (or at least I wouldn’t) based on how well they brake – how well they go is more important – but the ENVE is clearly superior on wet roads and they both are excellent on dry roads

        I wish I could say definitively one or the other at this point but I’m not able to do so. 50% is a lot of climbing and if it’s more than rolling hills (<5%), you are probably better off with something lighter and shallower than either of these (see my review on carbon clincher climbing wheels). Would also want to understand your speed on the flats. The 4.5 are deeper than the 303 and will give you a bit better aero performance if you are riding fast enough to benefit from the difference.

        Steve

        • Thank you for your prompt reply.

          Normally i ride about 25-30 km/ hr with my Mavic ksyrium elite 2015 on flat road in casual riding. My climbing is about 8% or less.

          And after your comments on break performance on NSW, i wouldnt consider this as one of the advantages compared to Enve 🙂

          Gordan

          Gordan

    • I missed my question that which would you like to pick ? And is it worth to go for Chris King Ceramic hubs on Enve 4.5 instead of DT hubs?
      Thanks a lot

      Gordan

  • Hello Steve,
    Thank you for all your insight on your website. I have a 2016 Cannondale Synapse Ultegra 3 rim brake bike. I am at 145lbs. I upgraded to Shimano Dura Ace 9000 C24 Clinchers with 23mm Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II tires based upon your recommendations. I really like this set up when I have routes that include hill climbing. I was wondering what your thoughts are for more flatter rides. I was thinking a more aero setup to get more speed. Someone locally has a set of brand new ‘take offs’ that are ENVE SES 3.4 Clinchers w/ black Formula hubs and black spokes for equivalent to $1700USD. Is this a good deal? or should i save some up some more for a better setup? What are your recommendations for me? Thanks for your help in advance!

    • Dennis, That’s a lot of money for a “take-off” wheelset of unknown manufacture. If you don’t see anything you like above, take a look at this post on all around wheels. The Assaults would be a great value option on a very good wheelset. Steve

      • Steve, I decided on getting the Assaults with your recommendation. Found a good deal I think. It doesn’t break the bank in terms of cost and the Zipp’s and ENVE’s are more $$ than I was wanting to spend. What size tire should I be running on them? Will the 23mm Continental Grand Prix 4000 S II I have already work? I have been running those tires with the dura ace c24’s @ 85psi. We are almost the same weight. What psi were you running on the Assaults?

        • Dennis, Good move. I go with Contis at 23C at 80psi front, 85psi rear. Have also run them with 23 Scwalbe Pro One tubeless at 75 to 80 with good success. Cheers, Steve

  • Hey Steve,
    I bought a specialized tarmac disc last summer I was thinking of upgrading the wheels to their new Roval CLX 32 disc wheels was wondering your thoughts?From what I understand specialized Tarmac lock you into their wheels so I don’t think the Enve 3.4 will fit my bike? Am I correct? the Enve support were not sure…

    • jahman11, If the wheels you have on the Tarmac have an SCS hub (for short chain stay) you are limited to other wheels with the same hub, which means only Rovals at this point. I’m pretty sure that was the case. What wheelset do you have now? Do you see a designation on the hub? You can read this post about the Spech Roubaix which also had an SCS set up for more. Steve

      • Hi Steve
        Thanks for the quick reply I currently have the Roval CL40 on my bike I was thinking of putting them on my old trek crossrip (unless they won’t fit)I use as a trail bike, giving me a good excuse to buy the CLX 32s I don’t see the SCS on the hub but one of my buddies told me my bike has a SCS did not want to take his word for it. Also would this special hub affect putting my old wheels on a non-specialized bike like my trek?

  • Steve, thank you again for another excellent and indepth analysis. No questions, just that comment! And of course you are always welcome to join us out here in Utah to test some ridiculous climbing and descending!

  • hey steve,
    first time poster, so first of all: great website, love to read your stuff! thanks for sharing!!
    i have a BMC teammachine and am looking to upgrade my Shimano RS11. eventhough i ride mainly (75%) flat roads here in Switzerland it happens that i go up and down some pretty steep roads (12%) in the Alps.
    so my question: have you ever had the chance to test and ride DT Swiss wheels? i could get some Aero RC55 Spline for a real good price as DT is just around the corner from mine but i havent had the chance to ride them or any other DT wheels. my biggest concern is the breaking performance and the stiffness as i am not really light 🙂 85kg and tend to use a lot of power while going uphill.
    keep up the great work and thx from switzerland, jonas

    • Jonas, welcome and thanks for reading. I wouldn’t take any DT Swiss carbon wheels except for the Mon Chasserals into mountains like the Alps. They aren’t made with resins that stand up to the heat from braking on the pitch and over the distance it takes to get down them. Frankly, there are only a few carbon clinchers I’d ride in the mountains There’s more about that in this post here. Steve

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