BEST WHEELS FOR ROAD BIKES WITH DISC BRAKES – 2016
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You now have many good reasons and options to buy a road bike with disc brakes, more I’ve found than you do one with traditional rim brakes. If you’ve recently bought or plan to buy a ‘road disc bike’, you’ll likely want to upgrade the underperforming ‘stock wheels’ that come with almost all new bikes including these and that prevent you from fully enjoying and getting all you can out of your new bike.
Last year I evaluated the range of stock, alloy and carbon wheels across the ‘road disc wheelset’ category for the first time. This post updates how the category is developing and compares 20 of the best wheelset upgrades that are now available, highlighting three I recommend.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
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It’s become clear that roadies are moving to road disc bikes and we’ll likely buy more of these than rim brake bikes in the next few years. There are compelling braking, speed and versatility benefits that I first wrote about describing why and when to buy a road bike with disc brakes. If those benefits don’t convince you that these bikes are both the present and the future, take a look at the number of models of road disc endurance bikes available in 2016 in my review of some of the best. With few exceptions, the top 25 bike manufactures are making as many if not more road disc bike models than rim brake ones for the endurance cyclist and the number of racing models is growing quickly. You can also read about the current design, products and performance of the best disc brake components, the shifters and brakes used by these bikes, a category that is now reasonably settled.
In this post I’ve repeated some of the key background I originally laid out about road disc wheelsets in my first review last year and put the evaluations of wheels from that review along side the ones I’m reviewing for the first time here so you don’t need to click back and forth.
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ROAD DISC WHEELSET DEVELOPMENTS
Disc brake wheelsets have more spokes in the front wheel than a conventional rim brake wheel to handle the additional forces created by braking at the center rotor than at the outside rim. Disc brake wheel hubs are also beefier both in the front and rear and the rear ones are also wider than rim bike hubs. This gives you bigger rear wheel spoke angles between the hub and rim.
The extra front spokes, wider rear hubs, and bigger rear spoke angles create a laterally stiffer wheelset necessary for the forces disc brakes put on wheels. At the same time, most road disc wheels tend to be more compliant or ‘comfortable’ than most rim brake wheels because, as a group, they are newer and have been built on wider rims that can run with more air volume at lower pressures on wider tires.
It’s not that road disc wheelsets are made any wider than rim brake ones. It’s just that there are still a lot of long established and popular rim brake models from Mavic, Campagnolo, Fulcrum, Shimano, DT Swiss and others with 15mm inside and 21mm outside widths that continue to be sold on new bikes and as alloy upgrades. On the other hand, most road disc wheelsets from stock to upgrade wheels with either alloy to carbon rims have at least 17mm inside and 23mm outside widths and are ‘tubeless ready’ (or TLR) as the chart below show.
So more spokes, wider and beefier hubs, wider rims and tires, and TLR set ups sounds like heavier, less aerodynamic and poorer accelerating wheels, right? Well if you extrapolated from the mindset of the rim wheel world most of us have come from, that would be a natural conclusion. However, if you design afresh from the new world of road disc wheels, you get to a different and better place. Allow me to explain.
In my introductory post on why and when you should get a road disc bike, I wrote:
I expect road disc wheels will change and improve a good amount each year over the next few years with more aerodynamic and lighter wheels…We’re really at the earliest stages of development for road disc wheels…
Wider, more aerodynamic and lighter rims will make for quicker accelerating, faster overall, and better handling disc wheels.
Specifically, with purpose-designed and built road disc wheelsets, we are seeing the following developments:
- Reduced rim weight. Without the need for the rims to support braking loads, the outer section of the rim wall previously designed to handle the braking forces and perhaps other parts of the rim don’t need to be as thick, shaving some weight.
While there were only a few of road disc wheelsets I reviewed last year that are actually lighter than their rim brake siblings (ENVE SES 3.4 and DT Swiss RC 28 and 38 Spline C models), most of the ones that were converted rim brake wheels were 160-180 grams heavier (Zipp, Reynolds, Vision and others).
Most of the new disc brake wheels I’ve evaluated for the first time are still heavier than the rim model, but the gap has dropped considerably. The shallow depth alloy upgrade Easton EA90 SL Disc and DT Swiss RR21 Dicut DB wheels are only 50g and 55g heavier respectively than the rim brake versions of the same wheels. The deeper and wider all carbon Bontrager Aeolus 3 and 5 D3 Disc wheels are only 98g and 118g heavier, and the new 40mm deep Fulcurm Racing Quattro Carbon Disc is only 45g heavier than the same rim brake models.
Further, most of the better, newer low-profile alloy and mid-depth carbon wheels are 1450g to 1600g range, totally acceptable for all around riding that most enthusiasts do.
I don’t know how much of this difference is due to changes in rim thickness but I would expect the larger volume wheel makers will continue working hard to shed weight from their road disc wheelsets at the rim following the example of the ENVE.
- More aerodynamic rim profiles. When Zipp commercialized the innovative rounded or toroid shaped rim profile years ago based on the patent they and HED share, it greatly improved wheel aerodynamics, a key to better speed and acceleration and to reducing the push of crosswinds. Not only were the inside edge, where the spokes meet the rim, rounded as opposed to the box-section or V-shaped designs of others, their maximum width exceeded the width of the rim at the brake track. This enables the air flaring off the tire to reattach to the rim to reduce the amount of drag and also deflects the crosswinds.
Zipp and other wheel designers who use the same approach including Bontrager, ENVE, HED, and Vision continue the toroid shape, tapering the width all the way to the trailing edge of the rim to maximize the aero benefit. To accomplish this, they use angled rather than parallel brake tracks. For some, setting up your rim brake pads for such an angled brake track to avoid squealing and maximize performance takes a little bit of ‘feathering’ finesse.
Most of the largest wheel makers including Shimano, Campy/Fulcrum, DT Swiss and Mavic have stayed with box-section rims or those whose rims are slightly rounded but not very wide at the spoke edge and taper out toward the tire edge. I call this a UV shape. Other wheelmakers make U-shaped rims that have a rounded yet blunt nose rim that continues at the same width from the spoke to the tire edge. The rims on all three of these designs – box, UV and U – are parallel at the brake tracks regardless of their depth, material (alloy, carbon-alloy or carbon), rim type (clincher, tubeless, tubular) and, until recently, braking system (rim or disc).
Without the need to brake at the rim – whether they have angled or parallel brake tracks – we are seeing some of the new road disc wheels carry more aerodynamic profiles. The DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut DB is surprising rounded on the leading edge and across its profile for a DT rim. The Zipp 30 Course has a fully rounded shape unlike the hybrid toroid of its Zipp 30 predecessor whose rounded shape was suddenly flattened out for a parallel brake track. The new Boardman SLR Elite Seven Disc rims are stunningly rounded, a shape that looks much like the long balloons clowns use to make animals, hats and other forms at kids birthday parties.
- Phasing out of carbon-alloy wheelsets. Quite simply, with road disc brakes eliminating the need for brake tracks on road disc wheels, there is no longer a need for a carbon alloy wheel. This hybrid material wheel has served us well in the rim brake era for those wanting the extra stiffness of carbon and the braking confidence of aluminum and willing to ride a heavier wheel to get both. There are only a couple of carbon-alloy road disc wheelsets that I’ve seen that use this design and even though they are made by Shimano (RX830) and HED (Jet 4 Disc), two brands whose wheels I normally admire, I don’t recommend either of these models.
- Versatile hub designs. The hubs used in most first generation road disc wheelsets were taken from the off-road cyclocross world, designed for the forces that kind of riding puts on a set of wheels, higher forces than those they would experience riding on paved roads.
When I looked at hubs for my earlier post on road disc wheelsets, I thought we’d see leading hub makers design and build hubs for road disc wheelsets that were lighter than the ones used on CX/off road bikes and closer to those used on rim brake ones. It appears I got that one wrong. (It happens, a lot if you ask my wife). Instead, it looks like hubs are being designed that are an improvement on CX/off-road hubs but stiffer and more versatile than the pure road hubs.
Zipp, for example, are using their new 77/177 hubs across all models of their Fieldcrest model and 30 Course rim and disc wheelsets. Reynolds use the same KT hubs for their rim and disc brake version of the carbon climbing Attack and all-around depth Assault wheels as well as on their cross/gravel ATR and road racing oriented 46 Aero disc brake models.
Further, most of these hubs now have built-in convertibility to fit on bike dropouts with Quick Release (QR) 10mm diameter and 100mm long front and 10/135 rear axles or Thru Axle (TA) 12mm or 15mm diameter front axles and 12/142 or 12/135 rears, and with Centerlock or 6 bolt rotors. To do this, they are built with hub internals including by the likes of DT Swiss that are used on many top end wheelsets and are built around the wider, more robust diameter TA dimensions and come with easily replaceable end caps to adopt to the narrower QR ones.
All of this makes economic sense of course for hub and wheel makers given that we seem to have new types of cycling popping up every few years (road>mountain>cyclo-cross>gravel>alternative>?) and it’s hard to justify coming up with hubs for each discipline especially when the number of units used in some are still quite small. It’s always good to have a stiff hub that can ride on any terrain that you can use in most any wheelset.
With these developments at various stages of maturity, should you wait to upgrade the stock wheelset that came on the your new road disc bike? Is there a risk that developments in the next few years will make something you or I buy now outdated?
While I think disc wheels in general will get lighter and more aero, the better ones are pretty close to the weight and shape and are as wide and stiff as the best rim brake wheels are now. Hubs are already as versatile as needed for almost all of the bike and fork designs.
But yes, they will get lighter still, though I’d expect only incrementally so (50-100g?) and some will get more aero. There will be more available to chose from and perhaps at more competitive prices.
I also think that while some of the bigger brands have yet to put their best road disc wheelsets forward (Zipp, HED, Shimano you can do better! Campagnolo, where are you hiding?). Others including DT Swiss, Fulcrum and Mavic at the alloy end and carbon wheel makers Bontrager, ENVE, Easton, Fulcrum and Reynolds have come out with new wheels designed for the road disc bike customer that represent some of their best work.
As you’ll read below, I feel some of these are quite good and worth spending my hard earned money on and yours to change out the stock wheels or specify on our new road disc bikes.
I’ll quickly go through the criteria I use to evaluate these wheels, summarize what wheels are coming stock on new bikes in this 2016 model year and then get into the actual reviews and recommendations on upgrade level alloy and carbon wheelsets.
When evaluating wheelsets, I consider 20 specific criteria that fall into one of four categories – performance, design, quality and cost. You can read the descriptions of those criteria here.
While all of these criteria are important, some are more important depending on what you are intending to use the wheelset for. Braking performance, for example, is more important on rim brake wheelsets used by riders doing climbing and descending than by time trialists or triathletes who don’t brake much and for whom aerodynamic performance is far more important. And while design criteria like weight and rim depth are worth noting and may (or may not) deliver the intended performance, a wheelset’s actual acceleration, stiffness and comfort, for example, are far more important than many of its design specifications that we often get so hung up on.
When it comes to a road disc brake bike, most cycling enthusiasts buying one will likely be doing so for its superior braking performance, its ability to be ridden more aggressively and faster down hills and into and out of corners, and for the versatility to ride it in most any weather or road terrain on one good set of wheels.
For these reasons, a good road disc brake wheelset should be a versatile, top performing all-rounder. Good on flats and rollers, in the mountains, on long rides, when going fast, in the endurance or club race competition, and for any day of the week, any weather, and any on-the-road purpose. Not a dedicated or optimized climbing or aero or club racing or commuter or cruising wheelset but a wheelset that does all those things well. That’s a tall order, especially at a good price, but it’s a good goal for wheelset designers and builders to shoot for, and for we enthusiasts to want from our disc brake wheels and for our cycling dollars.
With that as our goal, here’s my evaluation of the wheels that come with the 2016 model year road disc brake bikes, the low profile alloy upgrade wheelsets that come in disc brake models, and the all-carbon all-around disc brake wheelsets available.
NOTE: To be clear, I have not evaluated wheels whose primary purpose is for off-road, gravel, cyclo-cross or anywhere other than where a paved road surface is involved. That’s another kettle of fish, bag of bones, set of spokes, etc. Set up with the right tires, many of the wheelsets I’ve evaluated can be used off-road for these purposes on CX or ‘alternative’ bikes which have more space in the frame and forks for wider rubber, higher bottom brackets and other unique frame characteristics. But, to cover all the wheelsets that could be used on those bikes for off-road purposes would go well beyond this review.
Once again this model year, DT Swiss appears to have their wheels on far more new road disc bikes than any other manufacturer. Shimano and Mavic are on fewer models while Fulcrum is on a few more than last year.
We are also continuing to see some bike companies put their own branded wheels on their bikes even though many or these are made by others. For example Trek uses Bontrager wheels and Specialized runs Rovals, both of which are designed are made by these wheel divisions of the parent company.
But DT Swiss makes Axis brand wheels only for Specialized, Syncros brand wheels only for Scott, Concept wheels only for Focus, Maddux wheels used on a few Cannondale bikes and the Giant branded wheels used on their bikes. How different these wheels are than the ones that actually say DT Swiss on them that you’ll see on smaller bike brands like BH, Bianchi, BMC, Cube, KTM, Merida, Rose, Ridley, Wilier and others is debatable and likely immaterial to their performance.
With very few exceptions, the alloy stock wheels are shallow – 30mm or less and most in the 22 to 27mm range. They are also heavy – typically 1750g and up with just a couple with claimed weights around 1650g.
And, for road disc wheelsets, these are narrow – 17 to 18mm wide at the inside bead hook and no more than 23mm wide at the outside where the brake track used to be, though they are still wider than many of the stock wheels that continue to go on rim brake bikes.
Yes, you can put 25mm wide tires on these stock road disc wheelsets to add some compliance/comfort but I wouldn’t if you want any kind of performance out of them. In my humble opinion, none of these alloy stock wheels are worth riding for long and if you can avoid buying them either by building your bike starting from the frame or getting a credit for them toward a better wheelset when you buy the bike, you’d be far better off.
Here’s the line up of road disc brake wheels used on new bikes this year.
Most of these are true stock wheel performance while the ones in the shaded rows near the bottom are upgrade level alloy or carbon wheels that come on new, very expensive bikes this year.
Cannondale, for example put Hollowgram branded carbon wheels that are somewhat wider (19mm inside, 25mm outside) and deeper (35mm) on their top-of-the-line Synapse Hi-Mod $9500 Dura Ace and $7500 Red 22 builds. (Don’t know whether Cannondale makes these and their branded Czero wheels or someone like FSA make them for Cannondale.)
HED’s wider but still shallow Ardennes Plus alloy upgrade wheels (21mm/25mm wide, 25mm deep) will be found on the new $9000 and $7000 Cervelo C5 road disc bike builds. And Shimano’s deeper but not wider and heavy RX830 alloy upgrade wheels (18mm/23mm wide, 33mm deep, 1850g) will be on the $7200 Ultegra Di2 build of the Bianchi Infinito CV Disc bike.
Frankly, for the lofty prices of these bikes, you should get far better wheels. With Cervelo and Bianchi dealers, I expect you’ll be able to trade up for better wheels if you buy the bikes. Not likely dealing with Cannondale.
Last year we saw bikes with top shelf Zipp 202 and Vision Metron 40 road disc wheelsets on them but those have gone by the boards along with the many Dura Ace Di2 builds that accompanied them. This year only the new, top of the line £8000 Boardman SLR Endurance Signature disc bike has a marque brand wheelset, the Zipp’s Firecrest 303 Disc Brake, and it’s a wheelset I don’t rank as highly as its rim brake sibling.
Instead, most road disc bikes this year are Ultegra mechanical or UDi2 level builds and there are slightly more carbon frame, enthusiast priced bikes ($2500, £2000, €2750 and up) with 105 series hydraulic disc shifters and brakes than there are those with Dura Ace mechanical, DA Di2 or Red 22 components.
The bike companies are undoubtedly trying to make road disc bikes more accessible to more enthusiasts by offering them at lower prices than last year. The quality of wheels that goes on them has to be in line with those lower bike prices. This is the same approach we’ve seen in the rim brake bike world for as long as one can remember.
There’s only a few new road disc bikes that come with wheels that look like they might be worth keeping speced on your new road disc bike and not because the wheels are necessarily better than the Hollowgram, HED and Shimano mentioned above. Instead, it’s because these wheels are on bikes that are lower priced so it will sting less in the pocketbook to keep and use them as backups without paying much of a price to do so while still upgrading to a better set.
Specifically, the Fulcrum Racing Quatro Carbon Disc comes on the £3300 ($4500 est.) top-of-the-line Cube C:62 SLT Disc racing bike. It’s an all carbon, 40mm deep, average width (17mm/24mm) new wheelset that’s a great value and good performer that I’ll have more to say about in the review section below. It’s also on the new Eddy Merckx em-525 disc bike that I expect will come in at 2x the price of the Cube – so not such a great deal.
I also think the P-SLR0 that comes on the $3700 Liv Avail Advanced Pro is a keeper. It’s carbon, 30mm deep and 17mm/23mm wide. Nothing special but a carbon wheelset on a bike priced like that is a nice throw in. I wouldn’t go for it on the $4600 Giant Defy Advanced SL1. You can buy the same Ultegra level build with their stock alloy for $1400 less. You don’t have a lower priced build option on the Avail Advanced Pro.
Finally, the Roval CLX40 SCS (short chain stay) disc wheelset comes with the higher end Specialized Tarmac, Roubaix and Ruby bikes and you should plan on keeping it. While no wider (16mm inner/23mm) than the stock alloy wheels, it is a 40mm carbon wheelset and its unique hub and the chainstay spacing of the Specialized wheels that initially required this SCS hub is a design that has found no other wheelset maker willing build to. So you are stuck with it.
Staying on the subject of these alloy upgrade and carbon wheels that come with new bikes for a minute, please know that you can’t buy some of them other than with the original bikes. Giant and Cannondale don’t readily sell their wheels in the aftermarket. I haven’t reviewed any of their wheels primarily for this reason. You can buy a non SCS version of the 40mm deep Roval and I’ve evaluated it as well as the Bontrager Aeolus disc wheelsets which interestingly aren’t on even the most expensive builds of the parent Trek’s road disc bikes.
That’s likely more than you wanted to know about stock wheels but I think it’s important to have as a starting point for what follows. With that out of the way, let’s move on to reviewing the alloy upgrade and carbon road disc wheelsets you can buy to improve the performance of your ride.
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ALLOY UPGRADE WHEELSETS
Of course, getting a better performing set of wheels comes at a cost. Whereas stock wheels would typically cost $400 (£320, €430, A$560) or less to replace, you’ll pay from $700 (£550, €750, $A1000) to as much as $1300 (£1050, €1400, A$1800) at competitive market prices (rather than MSRP or RRP ones) for current alloy upgrade road disc wheelsets. Good all-carbon road disc wheelsets will cost from around $1500 (£1200, €1600, A$2100) to as much as $3000 (£2400, €3200, A$4200).
[By the way, if the numbers above suggest I’ve got my exchange rates wrong, please appreciate that market demand, pricing strategies, delivery costs, and taxes in and to different countries or regions combine to create different total delivered consumer prices for bike gear than would be suggested by mere currency exchanges.]
Since my last review, there are three new alloy upgrade road disc wheelset options to consider – one from DT Swiss, Easton and Zipp. This nearly doubles the number of choices over last year from widely distributed wheel makers adding to those introduced by HED, Mavic, Reynolds and Shimano and reviewed in my earlier post. Among the leading players only Campagnolo and Fulcrum are missing in the alloy upgrade category though Fulcrum is making three alloy stock and one carbon road disc wheelset this year.
So while the number of alloy upgrade road disc wheelset models is still less than half those in the rim brake category, it’s not really that different when you look more closely. Some companies sell several rim brake models of essentially the same wheel with the same rim but somewhat different hub shells, spokes, brake track coatings, brand and cosmetic changes that alter performance little. For example, Campagnolo makes alloy upgrades Zonda, Eurus, Shamal, Shamal Mille and Fulcrum branded Racing 3, Racing 1 (discontinued), Racing Zero, and Racing Zero Nite which are more or less the same wheelset. Until recently, Mavic used to make a handful of Ksyrium rim models that performed pretty much the same. Shimano makes the Dura Ace C24 wheels in clincher, tubeless and tubular rim versions. Etc.
While we may see some of this kind of “variations on a rim” proliferation among alloy upgrade road disc wheelset models from the same company, I think it will be limited. Almost all of the alloy upgrade wheelsets are tubeless ready and are using recently designed or upgraded hubs so don’t have to hassle with different brake track coatings or treatments. While most have made the choice of TA or QR axles and Centerlock or 6-bolt rotor attachment, most also come with convertible end caps and the axle parts to go in either TA or QR. Third party adapter kits also help fill the void in some cases.
Now, it looks like just about everyone has come to play. While most of these alloy upgrade wheels don’t have a much wider outside rim width than the stock wheels, the inside widths are big enough to allow you to run 25mm tires for comfortable cruising. If you want to race on 25mm tires on one of these alloy upgrade wheels, you only have a couple alloy choices whose rims are wide and round enough. I’d still recommend racing on 23mm tires with these wheels for best aero performance. There are many more with better aero profiles among the carbon road disc wheels.
Unfortunately, I still don’t think any of these alloy upgrade wheelsets fully meet the goals of a versatile, top performing all-rounder I established earlier in this post. With the new additions, some are getting close but they are still best suited for endurance rather than competitive riding.
I also said in my post last year that “perhaps I’m setting the bar too high. Even at $1000 (£800, €1100, A$1400) plus or minus a few hundred, these are priced at roughly half that of the best all-carbon road disc wheelsets; it seems too much to pay considering their current limitations.”
After evaluating the new alloy upgrade road disc models, there are more options and perhaps less limitations but the prices still seem high. I guess I’m spoiled by having alloy upgrade rim brake models at 2/3 to 1/2 the price of these to chose from all these years. None of the rim brake alloy upgrade wheelets do all that I’m asking from the road disc ones either but since they are less expensive, we tend to have a few pair or rim brake wheelsets between alloy and carbon ones for different riding situations (training, climbing, racing, wet/winter weather…).
With road disc brake technology, a carbon wheelset can ride in any weather and downhill at any speed. This has been the knock against carbon clincher rim brake wheels. If not for price then, and I readily acknowledge that it’s a big “if not for”, I would go straight to the even more expensive carbon road disc wheelset section below of this post to find that one-wheel-that-does-it-all wheelset, probably at less than the cost of several rim brake sets you may have accumulated.
For those of you who aren’t going to skip ahead to the carbon road disc wheelsets and are holding firmly onto your wallets or purses with one hand while you scroll through this post with the other, here’s my take on the current crop of alloy upgrade road disc wheels.
The new Zipp 30 Course gets my vote as the best alloy upgrade wheelset for your road disc bike. It’s a good all-around performer with nearly all the design benefits from coming late to the party at a competitive market price ($900, £700, €1000, A$1200).
What you’ll notice most about the Zipp is its strength and responsiveness. It’s laterally quite stiff, a bit on the heavy side but still quite responsive to your acceleration efforts. Good acceleration depends as much and probably more on rim aerodynamics and hub performance as low weight (see here for a recent discussion of this). Drawing from the Zipp-patented round aero profile and the new 77/177 hubs on the 30 Course that Zipp puts on their more expensive 202, 303 and 404 Firecrest carbon wheels offsets this ones’ slight weight disadvantage when compared to most others in this category.
The Zipp 30 Course is quite comfortable to ride. The rims are wide (21mm inside/25mm outside), wide enough to enable you to ride 25mm, 28mm or even wider tires if you want to maximize comfort on rough paved or gravel roads. The wheels are set up at the factory with rim tape to run tubeless. According to multiple sources I trust, it is one of the easier wheelsets to mount a variety of tubeless tires on so if you’ve thought about taking the leap into tubeless, this would be a good wheelset to go with for that reason as well.
Like many of the best road disc wheelsets it comes with all the hardware to easily convert from quick release to thru axle of the range of sizes your bike might might need (12x100mm or 15x100mm for the front and 12x135mm or 12x142mm for the rear dropouts). Unfortunately, the wheelset hub only comes in a 6-bolt option. Most rotors for 6-bolt hubs come in 160mm the more popular 140mm ones sufficient for all but the heaviest riders and require an adapter kit if you are set up for 140mm rotors now. Avid does sell their Clean Sweep G2 rotors in 140mm for 6-bolt hubs through Amazon here.
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 August 23, 2017: Competitive Cyclist ITK10, eBay, UK/EU Tweeks Cycles, Chain Reaction Cycles, Westbrook Cycles
Without the Zipp to compare to in my review last year, I picked the HED Ardennes Plus SL Disc (available at Competitive Cyclist). It’s only about 80 grams heavier than it’s rim brake sibling, rides as comfortably as its rim width would suggest (20.6mm inner, 25mm outer) and handles extremely well.
The disc brake version of this wheel is stiffer than the rim brake model, which was a concern I expressed about the latter in my rim brake upgrade wheelset review. While similar in profile to the rounded Zipps, it’s tires inflated to the right pressure.
Like most in this category, it’s tubeless ready. Its hubs are convertible between quick release and through axle and you can choose between CenterLock and 6 bolt. This gives you lots of options to use this set on different bikes over time.
Taken all together, this wheelset will be a better climber, handler, more comfortable and convertible than most of the other alloy upgrades road disc wheels. It’s about 75g lighter than the Zipp and has the CenterLock option that Zipp doesn’t. Normally it’s a good deal more expensive than the Zipp and everything else in this category though it did sell below the best Zipp price I’ve seen for several months last year. Other than that, they perform pretty similarly and have nearly identical rim dimensions and rounded rim profiles (they share the original toroid patent). If the price is right and you prefer a Centerlock rotor attachment, I’d go with the HED over the Zipp. Price and availability favors the Zipp
If you do a lot of climbing, you should consider the DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut DB (Bike24). This is the lightest and shallowest of the alloy upgrade wheels and has the very smooth and responsive DT Swiss 240 hub usually seen on much more expensive all carbon wheelsets.
The RR 21’s rim combination of wide 18mm inner and narrow, 21.5mm outer width is a perplexing mix. Because of the wide inner, you can use a 25mm tire in either the tubeless or tube and tire set up possible with these wheels. While a 25mm tire gives you a compliant ride, it will be an aerodynamic disaster with the amount of rubber extending either side of the rim. So, yeah, good for alpine riding where aero doesn’t matter, at least going uphill. Just make sure to position your upper body low and flat going down the mountain to try to make up for the poorer aerodynamics of 25mm wide tires on these rims.
These wheels are also quite laterally stiff, important when you are cranking hard watts in or out of the saddle going uphill. While the stiffness helps cornering as well, the combination of relatively narrow rims and wide tires on this DT Swiss wheelset make for less precise and confident handling than the Zipp and HED wheels described above.
Easton has introduced entirely new versions of its alloy wheels and added the Easton EA90 SL Disc (Wiggle) to the mix. They have similar specs to the HED and Zipp wheels above – a little narrower (19.5mm/24mm), a little taller (27mm), a little lighter (1540g) and a similar in price to the Zipp 30 Course but the hardware to go from QR to TA axles isn’t included. I wish I could say more but I haven’t been on these yet nor have any trusted sources who have. I did find the road brake version stiff and responsive but with a hub that didn’t roll very well. (More on that here.)
The Shimano WH-RX830 was one of the first wheels designed from scratch a few years ago to be a road disc wheelset and to be an upgrade over the entry-level RX31 stock set. Its alloy rims are carbon wrapped, similar to the Shimano C24 and C35 rim brake wheelsets, but the carbon on these extends all the way to the trailing edge since there is no need to expose an alloy brake track.
At a measured 32.5mm deep, it has the deepest profile of any of the alloy upgrades and its 17.9mm inner and 23mm outer width brings Shimano alloy wheels less than 50mm deep into the modern wheelset width world, enabling you to comfortably use 25mm wide rubber on one of their road clinchers for the first time. It’s also tubeless compatible whereas the rim brake C24 and C35 wheelsets come in separate clincher (CL) and tubeless (TL) versions, the later being more expensive. It is encouraging to see Shimano follow its road disc brakeset leadership with a road disc wheelset line.
Unfortunately, the RX830 is a heavy wheelset (1860g measured weight) with a boxy rim profile, uses an Ultegra level hub, and carries a nearly $900 (£750, €1000, A$1300) market price. I haven’t ridden them yet and at that weight and price, I’m not anxious to compare them to some of the wheelsets I’ve written about above. I don’t expect these wheels would climb well, be very aero, or roll any better than other alloy upgrades. I’ve recommended Shimano’s Dura Ace C24 and C35 rim brake wheelsets but I think their disc brake models have missed the mark. The RX830 is their top road disc wheelset, the RX31 and newest model RX010 being stock grade wheels. I expect much better from Shimano in the future, especially since they are leading the way in disc brake components.
Unlike Shimano’s development of unique stock and alloy upgrade wheels for road disc bikes, the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc (Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles) is essentially a road disc version of its Ksyrium SLS alloy upgrade rim brake wheelset. It’s light (1535g) for a road disc wheelset but that is in part due to its narrow rims (measured 14.4mm inner, 19.4 outer widths), shallow depth (26mm) and mix of carbon (front) and alloy (rear) hub shells. Like most of Mavic’s higher priced wheels, it is sold with a Yksion tire but you need to do your own conversion on the sealed rims if you want to make them tubeless.
Ksyrium’s are typically stiff and responsive but not very comfortable and the Pro Disc rides much the same even with a 25mm wide version of the Yksion tires that come with these wheels. They do move out well and give you good road feel. If you wanted an alloy race wheel for your road disc bike, this would be one to consider. But it’s expensive, harsh for lighter riders, narrow, and still has a boxy rim profile, shown to be amongst the least aerodynamic shapes. Mavic seems to have one foot in the past and one in the future with this wheelset and while there are some things to like, there are other wheels you can do better with if you’ve made the decision to ride a road disc bike.
Like the Mavic, the Reynolds Stratus Pro Disc Brake (Westbrook Cycles) is a road disc version of its alloy upgrade rim brake wheelset of the same name. It’s nearly 200g heavier and uses the same rim (17mm inner, 21 mm outer width, tubeless ready) of its rim brake sibling, the only two alloy road wheels that carry the Reynolds name. While I’m a fan of Reynolds Performance line of carbon wheels (Attack, Assault SLG and Strike SLG), there’s nothing about this wheel that stands out. Reynolds introduced the ATR (All Terrain Road) wheelset this year for off-road riding which is far wider and lighter with the same depth. Reynolds would be better off designing an on-road alloy disc wheelset from scratch to replace the Stratus.
American Classic has two alloy upgrade wheel models, each coming in a rim brake and disc brake format. Both the Argent Disc Tubeless and Hurricane Tubeless Disc and their rim brake siblings have bead hooks designed to run tubeless tires first and foremost. While traditional tube and tire clinchers work, you aren’t getting what these wheelsets were designed for and do best unless you run tubeless.
Certain tubeless tires however, like the popular Schwalbe One are recommended for these rims while those with carbon beads, like the well established Hutchinson Fusion don’t fit easily or well and the company recommends against using them. Both American Classic wheelset models keep their weight down by using rims on both their rim and disc brake wheels that are thinner than most wheelsets from other companies. They are moderately wide, similar to the Shimano RX830 but not as wide as the HED Ardennes Plus. Coming standard with thru-axle hubs and 6 bolt brake rotor interfaces, they need to (and can) be retrofitted to work with most road disc bikes today that are set up for quick release and CenterLock interfaces.
The Argent wheels are amongst the most expensive alloy upgrade road disc wheels available but are also on the deeper (30mm) and lighter (1531 grams claimed) end of alloy road disc wheelsets. They have a nicely rounded leading edge but don’t feel any more aero or quick than shallower or less rounded rims. Perhaps there’s only so much you can do to make 30mm of depth more aero. Because this disc brake wheelset shares the same rim with the rim brake model, the rounded rim profile changes to a flat one for the parallel brake track used on the rim brake wheels. The Argents handle well and ride comfortably but at this price, they really serve a distinct (read: narrow) customer taste.
The Hurricane is designed for heavy, rough riders on any type of road surface. With 32 spokes front and back, they are very stiff and will take whatever you are willing to dish out. Going for about half the price of the Argent, they are ideal for someone who wants to ride off-road probably as much as they do on it. So if you have a cyclocross bike and want to do some gravel riding on your road bike, these wheels would work in both set-ups.
Fortunately, for those who want that versatile, do everything well, road disc all-around wheelset, there are several good choices amongst the all-carbon road disc wheels.
Unfortunately, it’s going to cost you. So, depending on what you are willing (or able) to pay, I’ll offer you recommendations for a best performer (price be damned) and a best value (that still performs well). I’ll also give you my evaluations of the others, some of which are quite good alternatives and some that aren’t there yet.
— ENVE has introduced an updated model of the SES 3.4 Disc Clincher which I have not yet evaluated. I hope to do so in Spring 2017 and will update this review when I do. Meanwhile, the original model is reviewed below and remains on sale and is being discounted at some stores noted below until the new model ships. —
The ENVE SES 3.4 Disc Clincher gets my nod for best performing road disc wheelset again this year. While ENVE’s rim brake wheels are on most people’s short list of carbon wheelsets alongside those from Zipp, Reynolds, HED and Bontrager, their road disc set stands alone atop this new category.
They are the first of this top-tier of carbon wheel makers to eliminate material no longer needed in the rim’s brake track, reducing rim weight by about 100 grams. And, despite adding beefier versions of DT 240 hubs front and back and extra spokes to the front wheels to handle the braking forces on the centers of the wheels, this road disc brake wheelsets’ claimed weight is actually about 20 grams less than its rim brake sibling.
When you compare the 1515 grams measured weight of ENVE SES 3.4 Disc wheelset to the weight of similar depth and width wheels like Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 Disc (1565g), Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc (1590g), Reynolds Assault SLG Disc Brake (1597g), Reynolds 46 Aero Disc Brake (1665g claimed), Vision Metro 40 Clincher Disc (1675g claimed), and Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc Brake (1678g), you can see one of the advantages that ENVE’s disc wheel-specific brings over the others. Even the shallower Bontrager and Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc Brake (1550g) are heavier than the ENVE and far narrower DT Swiss RC 38 Spine C DB (1455g) wheelsets aren’t much lighter.
Hopefully you weight weenies are now satiated. Bottom line, it’s clear that ENVE has pulled off a lighter disc brake wheelset than its rim brake one and done it at the rim where it matters most.
One caution is that wheel weight is just one of many criteria in selecting a wheelset (see mine here), but unfortunately, the one that many of us put way too much emphasis on. (I know, I’m doing it now in the process of trying to get you to not do it.) Rim weight is more important, since rotating mass matters more than static mass, but that measurement is often hard to find unless the rims are sold separately. Some companies offer a line of wheels with the same rims using different hub bodies, flanges and spokes of increasingly lighter material (going from steel to aluminum to carbon) to justify price increases with each 30 to 50 grams of less weight. (See Campagnolo and Mavic alloy wheels, for examples.)
Also recognize that most cycling enthusiasts can’t tell wheel weight differences until the get to around 150 grams. You can’t. Not even going up a hill. Not even you weight weenies. So note the weight, yes, but don’t obsess over it. Performance matters more than weight.
In terms of performance, these wheels are fast on the straights, climb with ease and handle extremely well in and out of corners. They are stiff and responsive yet comfortable. The DT 240 hubs spin well, a known and easy hub to service that is used on many top-shelf wheels. There’s the option to get a Chris King R45 hub if you want a more distinctive and colorful look and sound. (They will add about 50 grams and a couple hundred dollars.)
I’m not a rocket scientist, but several comparative wind tunnel tests show these rims to be as aerodynamic as any of their competition. Once you get them up to speed they just keep on going, a truly wonderful feeling. Their performance in crosswinds is also well-behaved. You’ll feel the wind, but with the ENVEs it seems less forceful and the wheelset’s reaction is more predictable than with most others this deep.
Unique amongst carbon wheelsets, ENVE pairs a 35mm deep, 26mm wide (outside width) front rim for handling with a 45mm deep, 24 mm wide rear one for aerodynamics. This answers a question I get a lot – should I get the 32mm deep Zipp 202 for the mountains or the 45mm deep 303s for the rollers, flats, club races and everything else? The answer is … get the ENVE 3.4 as they will do both well. The hubs are also convertible from the Shimano brake system-compatible and currently dominant CenterLock and quick release standard to the less common but Trek preferred thru-axle hubs and 6 bolt rotor systems.
So this is the versatile, do everything well, road disc all-around wheelset that I set as a target. There is so much to like. They appear to be a year or two in front of the others in road disc wheelsets yet thoroughly tested and future-proofed with their hub compatibility.
Ah, but the price. It’s steep and not discounted. Is it too much? Well that’s for each of us to decide. But, I don’t think it’s too far out of proportion for the 30-40% of a bike’s total cost that I set aside for wheels and what you see some of the new top-of-the-line road disc bikes going for. Remember, when you go road disc, you won’t need to buy 3 sets of wheels like you do with a rim brake bike – 1) an all-carbon mid-depth wheelset for dry, all-round group or event type riding, 2) a lower profile set with alloy brake tracks for the mountains and wet weather and 3) that n+1 set for whatever reason you thought you had to have it.
ENVE wheels also have a 5-year warranty and lifetime crash replacement – unheard of in the carbon wheel game and probably worth a tidy sum not having to shell out for another wheelset that craps out in year three of its life.
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 May 22, 2017: Competitive Cyclist, Westbrook Cycles.
The Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc represents just what I mean by Best Value – a good performer at a great price. It also represents a performance and price bridge between the best alloy upgrade and the best carbon road disc wheelsets.
Here’s what I mean by all of that. With a carbon rimmed wheel, you get a generally stiffer, lighter, more compliant, and more responsive wheelset than an alloy wheel. This is the case with this Fulcrum compared to the alloy upgrade road disc wheelsets I reviewed earlier. It’s basically a function of what you can do with carbon versus alloy. Of course, the hub, flanges, spokes and lacing all matters too and these are executed well with this Fulcrum but the rim material you start with determines how much performance you can get out of a wheelset.
The Quattro Carbon Disc is laterally stiff, gives you a good feel for the road yet is compliant and not buzzy or harsh underneath you. The hubs ride very smoothly. The feel (but not the performance) is more like a ready-to-go racing wheelset than a ready-to-cruise endurance one.
This wheel does many things well and some less so than the best. It accelerates well on the flats but hesitates a beat when you try to increase your speed going uphill. At about 1600g (1605 claimed, 1590 measured), it’s +/- 50 grams of every other carbon road disc wheelset with a similar depth (40mm) except for the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc which is nearly 100g lighter.
The Quattro Carbon Disc is plenty comfortable but at its width (17mm/24mm) and with its overall good responsiveness and good handling, it’s at its best on the road with nothing wider than a 25mm tire and not with an oversized tire ooff-road It’s not made for tubeless tire use, though because the spokes screw into the top of the rims rather than through them, you can set them up yourself if you want to run them that way. You can run it with QR or TA axles and Centerlock or 6-Bolt rotors.
While you can disregard everything I just wrote and set them up tubeless, run 28mm or wider tires on them, deflate and run them off road or for cyclocross races (as a fellow reviewer has proven), I believe you get the best out of these wheels riding them aggressively and fast with 23mm tires on a flat or somewhat hilly road route.
While they are 40mm deep, their profile once again proves that wheels of a similar depth do not produce the same aerodynamic results. It doesn’t hold your speed like other wheels of this depth and is pushed around by crosswinds a bit more. The Quattro Carbon Disc’s rim profile may explain some of this. It is what I’ll generously call a UV profile – mostly flat but slightly rounded and narrow at the inner spoke edge and widening linearly toward the tire edge until it hits the brake track where it flattens out. It appears to share the same rim profile as the rim brake version of this wheelset, lacking the brake track treatment of course.
The price for these wheels is certainly right, especially if you want the performance benefits of a carbon wheelset. Depending on the day and store (see below), they are several hundred $, £, € less and more available than the Reynolds Assault SLG Disc wheelset I had picked as best value last year and several hundred more than the Zipp 30 Course Disc alloy upgrade wheels I recommended above. Used in a way that gets the most out of them, the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Disc wheelset provides the combination of good performance and great price that equates to the best value in this category.
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 May 22, 2017: Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles.
Other Carbon Disc Brake Wheelsets
Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, EU/UK Westbrook) Zipp has introduced an updated model of this wheelset which I have not yet evaluated. I hope to do so in Spring 2017 and will update this review when I do. Meanwhile, the earlier model is reviewed below.
I’m a huge fan of the rim brake version of the Zipp 303 Firecrest, recommending it as the best performer in my review of all-around rim brake road wheels. It has been the leader and standard setter in speed/aerodynamics, stiffness, responsiveness, comfort, braking, and crosswind management. The Firecrest rim brake wheelsets have also been a price leader but, if you are patient and follow my store recommendations, it’s possible to pick them up at 20-30% below the manufacturer’s price (MSRP or RRP).
The disc brake version of this wheelset causes me to pause however, in part because of what the recommended ENVE wheelset has done to jump out front in the road disc category and in part for what Zipp hasn’t done to keep up. Zipp didn’t change anything about the rims used on the disc wheels other than to stop treating the brake track. The result is the 303s weigh about 150 grams more than the ENVE 3.4, an amount at which the road cycling enthusiast will feel a difference.
Yes, Zipp did introduce new 77/177 hubs for these wheelsets (and the 202 Firecrest reviewed below). They got rid of the pre-load adjustment ability and went back to cartridge bearings to reduce the exposure to and effects of dirt and moisture on bearing wear, something particularly troublesome for those who run these or any wheels through the muck of a cyclocross course. Zipp’s new hubs are a bit smoother and quicker to engage than the DT Swiss 240s used on the ENVE road disc wheels.
The hubs also are convertible between quick release and thru-axle standards. Much of this hub change was targeted to the off-road rider whose environment and frame options will benefit most from these changes. Zipp still doen’t offer a Centerlock hub option, staying with the 6-bolt hub attachment standard that fits with their parent SRAM’s disc brakes but forces you to go to 160mm rotors if you use competitor Shimano’s.
If this frustrates you like it does me, see Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies strategies that try to wall out all others. Unfortunately, SRAM’s road disc components badly lag Shimanos in terms of acceptance but SRAM/Zipp are not relenting.
Zipp introduced their disc brake 303 clincher in July 2013 for the 2014 model year. While that’s not too long ago, it was a period when road disc was still dawning and cyclocross was the on the rise, especially with the success of Zipp and SRAM sponsored athletes on the cyclocross race circuit. When the 303 disc brake model was introduced, Zipp’s representative told Cyclocross Magazine that rather than thinning it, they “kept the rim the same… because the same amount of material was needed to retain the rim’s aerodynamics and stiffness.” OK…
Judging from what Zipp has done to rim design over the years (see Firecrest and NSW), I have no doubt that they’ll be able to figure out how to reduce the amount of material, improve the aerodynamics and maintain the stiffness in a future version of this wheelset, once the market establishes the demand is there. With SRAM investing so heavily in hydraulic disc brake components for CX and road bikes, I think it will only be a matter of time before their SRAM-owned brand Zipp follows with a similar investment in their road disc wheels. And hopefully, they’ll relent and provide a Centerlock solution too. One can only hope.
Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Wiggle, Tweeks Cycles) – While I think it’s a splendid wheel, I’ve never really understood why one would buy the 202 Firecrest clincher rim brake wheelset with the 303 in the same product line. Why go for an all-carbon, all-round clincher wheel that is only 32mm deep (the 202) when you can have one that is 45m deep, wider and faster/more aero for the same price (the 303)?
True, the 202 is lighter than the 303, but not by enough to make a difference in the mountains for all but serious racers and they would go with the still lighter and better/safer braking 202 tubular anyway. And at this depth, you can find much lighter carbon clincher wheels for climbing and much cheaper (and lighter) alloy wheels that are shallower but probably not much different aerodynamically.
Compared to the recommended ENVE 3.4, the Firecrest 303 weighs about 175g more (185g claimed, 163 measured). The 202 is still about 50g more (70g claimed, 35g measured) than the 3.4 which is a deeper and slightly wider wheelset.
Does it handle better than the 303? Is it more responsive? Better in crosswinds? Better in crits or club races? I don’t think the road cycling enthusiast would notice any difference. Perhaps Zipp just feels it’s important to have something in that depth to fill out its product line. Adding it last to the Firecrest line as they did suggests to me that this may have been one of their motivations.
Reynolds Assault SLG Disc Brake – Last year, I recommended this wheelset as the Best Value, that combination of a good performer and a great value at about $1200 less than the ENVEs in the market. While the wheelset hasn’t changed, they have been in short supply throughout the year, the price of the Zipp 303 has come into the high end of the Assault’s neighborhood, and the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc has moved in at a better price with good performance while also being more available.
When you can find it and at near the same price, I still like what the Assault has to offer more than the Fulcrum.
Reynolds has created a very nice line of value-priced all-carbon wheelsets – the Attack (29mm deep), Assault SLG (41mm) and Strike SLG (62mm) – to sit below with its top priced line of 46mm and deeper, higher priced Aero and RZR wheels. The Attack and Assault SLGs now come in a disc brake versions and it’s the latter that I’m writing about here.
On-the-road comfort, handling and acceleration are all very good. They are stiff and responsive. They handle cross-winds without a problem. They climb well, coming in at a weight (claimed 1565g, measured 1597g) that is less than 100 grams more for the disc brake version over the rim brake one.
They are wide (17mm inner, 25 mm out), mid depth (41mm), and have a toroid shaped rim profile for great aerodynamics. They are also tubeless ready, use DT Swiss spokes that you can find most places, and have external nipples if you need to true them. The latest version hubs are set up for CenterLock rotor attachment and wheelsets are shipped with both TA and QR axles for compatibility with most road disc bikes.
If all of this sounds modern and up-to-date, well it’s probably because the rims were introduced in 2014 and the disc brake model for 2015 season. They’ve incorporated the latest rim designs though not road disc-specific and made some reasonable bets on dominant standards. I think the design choices will stand up well for several years. I know these wheels will provide great, versatile, all-round performance on the road without you having to pay top of the market prices.
Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 Disc (Trek Store and dealers) – Bontrager’s 35mm deep Aeolus disc wheelset, one I’m evaluating for the first time this year, is comparable in many regards with my Best Performer pick, the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc. It accelerates well on the flats and holds its speed very well. It’s claimed weight is within grams of the ENVE’s; it’s measured weight is about 50g more. Not a big or noticeable difference.
The Aeolus 3 D3 Disc corners precisely, holding very firmly through the turns. Its acceleration and handling is no doubt due in part to its excellent stiffness. It also feels unaffected by crosswinds, uses the same DT Swiss 240 hub and spoke configuration, and has the same wheel depth as the front wheel of the ENVE. It costs essentially the same, high priced amount to call your own.
So what’s different? Why not go with the Bontrager for your one road disc wheelset now and forever more?
Two differences, enough to sway me but maybe not deal breakers if you like something else about them matters more to you. First, they don’t climb as well as other carbon disc brake wheels. I can’t explain why but several people I trust who have ridden them had this reaction.
Second, they don’t feel quite as compliant/comfortable if you are running these wheels against others with the tire widths they are designed to use for road cycling (no wider than 25mm).
Bontrager designed the D3’s rims with an inside width of 19.5mm and an outside of 27mm for better aerodynamics rather than improved comfort. Their tests have shown (if I understand and can explain it correctly) that a tire that’s narrower than the rim will catch the air flaring off it to reattach to the wider rim and give the wheel-tire combination less drag. And a tire whose shape is squarer because it hooks to a rim with a wider inside bead width will both direct the air coming off the tire at a better angle to the rim than a tire that’s made rounder because it is wider. A squarer tire shape will also reduce the length and increase the width of the tire’s contact patch to lower rolling resistance and improve handling. Zipp, Reynolds and others hold similar views.
Whether the Bontrager is more aerodynamic than the ENVE, because its front wheel (the one that matters most in the aerodynamic equation) is a mm wider both on the inside and out is something I can’t tell. There are other variables – the ENVE’s rim profile is a little rounder than the Bontrager for example – that would make for a fun discussion with a road cycling enthusiast that’s also a physicist or rocket scientist. If you are one of those, please get in touch and let me know if this all real or hooey. I’ve already likely droned on too long here myself.
A final difference, and one that’s difficult to know which side to come down on, is the tubeless consideration. The Bontrager is designed to run tubeless but doesn’t do it easily (it can also be run tube and tire). Different tires, even Bontrager’s own, are awfully hard to get on the rim, but seal up well once they are. The ENVE is not made for tubeless, but can be run that way over with some rim tape. If you don’t plan to run your wheels tubeless, it’s of little consequence.
Because the ENVEs climb a bit better and are a bit more comfortable, and because they lightened the weight of the disc rims rather than use the same hoops on their rim and disc brake wheels, I go with the ENVEs over the Bontrager for best performer.
Reynolds 46 Aero Disc Brake (JensonUSA) – This is a very good wheelset but compared to its 100 gram lighter and nearly $1000 less expensive Assault SLG Disc Brake cousin or the similarly performing, depth and weight but $500 or so less expensive Zipp 303 Firecrest Clincher Disc competitor, it’s hard to get my head wrapped around the reasons why a road cycling enthusiast should go for this Reynolds model.
It really comes down to which aerodynamic theory or experience you buy into. The Reynolds 46 takes an updated old-school approach to getting aerodynamic lift from their rims while fighting off the crosswinds. Unlike the modern rounded leading edge and toroid profile of Zipp, Enve, HED and others (including Reynolds own Assault SLG wheelsets), the Reynolds Aero series use a traditional V-shaped leading edge and profile that flattens out to a parallel profile about half back to the trailing edge.
Greg Kopecky, the technical guru who used to write for the triathlon site Slowtwitch, did a good piece here on Reynolds V-shaped approach and the rounded leading edge alternatives. Frankly, it’s too much for me (and perhaps some of you) to fully get through without a few reads but the link to it is there if you want to give it a go. I guess triathletes are just smarter than roadies, or at least this roadie. Suffice it to say, Reynolds design also works for reasons Greg has relayed.
Regardless of theory, these wheels perform well – stiff, responsive to acceleration, controlled in the corners, though slightly less comfortable than others even with a 25mm tire they easily take on. You will get a little nudge in crosswinds on these, a bit unsettling but something you can get used to.
DT Swiss RC 38 Spline C DB (Wiggle, Tredz) and DT Swiss RC 28 Spline C DB (Wiggle, Tredz) – DT Swiss is a major spoke, hub and wheelset maker. Their spokes and hubs are pretty well-known and show up on mid to higher priced wheelsets assembled by others. DT’s complete wheelsets are made for and branded by others at the stock wheel level (e.g. Axis for Specialized) and under their own brand name for road and mountain bikes from shallow alloy up to deep profile carbon.
These RC (which stands for road carbon) 38 and 28 (mm depth) Spline (hub model) C (clincher) DB (disc brake) wheels were new for 2015 season and represent the top of DT’s road disc line. At claimed weights of 1455g and 1325g they are among the lightest of the all-carbon road disc wheels out there. But, at 15mm internal and 21mm external width, they are also the narrowest, a width that most major wheel manufacturers have moved past both for new low profile alloy and deeper carbon rims.
The results on the road are consistent with what you might expect from this design. They accelerate well and roll smoothly. They handle well though get pushed around by crosswinds more than most and don’t feel as fast as wider, deeper wheels with more rounded leading edges. Running them tubeless would make them roll a bit more comfortably.
The hubs mount to the Shimano CenterLock standard and come set up with 15/100mm front and 12/142mm thru-axles with adaptors of 6 bolt and quick release endcaps included.
At their market price, these could be considered a relative ‘value’ compared to other carbon wheelsets however their rim widths, aero performance and thru-axle limitations make them less desirable.
Prime RP-28 Carbon Clincher Disc Road (Chain Reaction Cycles) – Prime Components, the house wheelset and component brand for UK online retailer Chain Reaction Cycles, introduced the RP-28 Carbon Clincher Disc Road Wheelset in the summer of 2016. Their USD$950, £730, €930, AUD$1225 market price is equal to that of most of the alloy road disc wheelsets but hundreds to over a thousand less than other carbon hoops from name brand wheel makers.
Bottom line, for the kind of rider whose preferences align well with where this wheelset performs best, the RP-28 road disc wheels can be a good solution. They are not as versatile as some of the better alloy or carbon wheelsets but if you like to climb, prefer tubeless wheels, aren’t looking for the speed of an all-around wheelset or the cushy comfort a wider set can bring you and are happy having your shop work on your bike, these wheels will likely be a good fit for you at a great price.
The Prime rims are set-up for tubeless and, if you are interested in these wheels, it’s the only way to go. I first rode them with my benchmark, low rolling resistance 25C Continental Grand Prix II S tires that use tubes and I didn’t find the wheels comfortable, even down at 80-85 psi. With 25C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless down at about 70psi however, they were comfortable, though certainly not plush.
While I’m typically able to install tubeless tires using a floor pump, I had to take these wheels to my shop where they have a high volume, pneumatic air pump. Even for them, it took a little bit of doing to get these all sealed up. It also took a few rides before the sealant stopped weeping out of some of the spoke holes in the front wheel and spraying back on my legs. The tires do come off the rims easily though, so you don’t need to worry about not being able to get a tube in if you ever flat on the road.
They aren’t well suited for off road riding, which some of the wider alloy wheels can do quite well. Dropping the pressure down to 50 psi on a gravel and dirt path still made for an uncomfortable ride. These kind of trails are left to still wider tires and rims filled with less air.
They do climb well, feeling stiff but not overly so going up and track well in the turns going downhill at speed. The acceleration you get out of them is good, the rear hub engaging soon after you start turning the cranks. They also coast smoothly with the hub keeping relatively quiet.
For those of you who use Shimano disc brakes and prefer their rotors, know that the RP-28 hubs only come with 6-bolt hubs. That means you’ll need to pick up and install or have installed for you a set of 160mm rotors and adaptors as most Shimano road disc components are set up with 140mm rotors and attach using the CenterLock standard. The wheels do come with both quick release and thru axles and the end caps to support both.
Stan’s NoTubes Avion Disc Pro (Amazon, Bike24) – For Stan’s NoTubes Avion Disc Pro wheelset, my effort to find distinctive performance qualities came up empty. It’s a solid wheelset but I couldn’t find anything about its performance that sets it apart from others to the point I would say “buy it if you want this or prefer that.”
That was disappointing for me as I spent several months riding these wheels in different types of terrain and road conditions and with different tires to try to find a sweet spot. The wheels also look great (IMHO), as though they were made for my Parlee frame (see photo above), but of course that doesn’t make them (or me) perform any better while riding them.
Stan’s is perhaps best known to roadies for their tire sealant and their support of all things tubeless. As tubeless tires have been slow to catch on amongst road enthusiasts and amateur racers, I wanted to see how well the Avion Disc Pros rode with regular tube and clincher tires, something that the wheelset’s feature list promotes as an option. And since this is a mid-depth wheelset (41.6mm deep by my measurement), I wanted to try a tire that would measure narrower than the wheel’s outside width to maximize its aero performance.
My benchmark 23C Continental Grand Prix 4000S ii measured 0.5mm narrower than the Avion’s 27.8mm outside width but was stretched too round across the 21.8 mm inside width of these wheels to provide a good sidewall shape. The handling and compliance was awful with this combination.
The 25C version of these tires made the wheels handle much better and were more comfortable though not nearly as comfortable as I like on 50 mile/80km and longer rides with the range of good and uneven pavement I typically ride through, even at low tube and tire pressures for my weight (80-85psi).
Setting up the Avions tubeless with Schwalbe Pro Ones at 25C (Stan’s minimum recommended width) was a no grunting, no mess, normal vigorous manual pumping non-event. The wheels come with stems that have removable cores making it much simpler and cleaner (for tubeless) to get the sealant in the tire.
Regrettably, the sealant didn’t stay in the tire as well as other tubeless wheels I’ve run. Within a couple of rides, it was weeping out multiple spoke holes on both wheels and even along the junction between the tire and rim on one of the wheels. I cleaned it all up and expected the sealant to dry in those spots and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, I see leaks at the spokes most every day and it was a bit embarrassing to show up at a group ride one Saturday and have a fellow rider point out a fresh white streak of sealant across the rim of my rear wheel.
The wheels rode much more comfortably tubeless at 70-75psi than with the 25C tube and tire clincher set up described above. But dropping the pressure 10psi or so on a tubeless tire below where you would run it on a tube and tire combo will make most every wheelset more comfortable.
Anyway, lesson learned. Run Stan’s NoTubes wheels with no tubes! I’m a tubeless troglodyte for not starting there.
With tubeless tires in place, the handling was very confident rounding corners going fast down 6-8% and higher grades. The wheels were a little buzzy on downhills and riding the flats however, regardless of whether I had the Contis or Schwalbes on for reasons I can’t explain.
The Avion’s stiffness and acceleration was good going uphill and on the flats but didn’t stand out or compare favorably to some of the best road disc wheelsets on these performance criteria. The test set measured 1494 grams on my scale, as good as the first generation ENVE 3.4 as the lightest mid-depth carbon clincher disc wheel I’ve weighted but they didn’t feel as light and lively as the ENVEs going uphill.
I also found that they didn’t hold their speed or momentum particularly well on the flats, perhaps owing to the inflated width of the 25C tubed clincher (30mm at 100psi benchmark) and 25C tubeless tire (29.7mm at riding pressure of 70-75psi) being wider than the Avion rim width (27.8mm) or to other factors in the hubs or rim shape.
The best mid-depth and aero wheels do a better job of quickly deflecting the crosswinds than what I experienced with the Avions. While manageable, at 150lbs (68kg) I found myself getting pushed around a good deal more than I would have liked or experienced with the best wheelsets in the 10-15 mph April winds I experienced for many days during my testing.
The hubs engage quickly, ride smoothly and give off the classic rear wheel ratchet sound like what you hear when you cast a fishing line. My personal preference is for a quieter hub but if you like your hubs audible, the Neo Ultimate will identify you and tell fellow riders in the paceline that you are coasting behind them or slowing without you having to say a word. The Avions come set up to attach to the Shimano standard centerline 140mm disc rotors and all the hardware to go thru axle or quick release.
At USD$2250/€2400 MSRP and several hundred less from stores with high customer satisfaction ratings that have them in stock at the best prices (Amazon, Bike24), they fall in the mid-price range alongside road disc brake wheels like those from Reynolds 46 Aero, Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL C and Zipp 303 Firecrest. I haven’t evaluated the latest versions of all these wheels but compared to those I have and those in the slightly lower priced carbon road disc wheelset neighborhood (Reynolds Assault SLG, Shimano Dura Ace C40, Fulcrum Quattro Carbon), the Avion Disc Pro is a good performing road disc brake wheelset but doesn’t set itself apart from the others.
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