THE BEST WHEELS FOR ROAD BIKES WITH DISC BRAKES – 2016

2016 Feature photo

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 3 I recommend.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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

There is little risk that developments will outdate today’s best road disc wheelsets

Most stock wheels are ones you’ll want to replace when you buy your new road disc bike

With most major companies now making an alloy upgrade model, one tops the others

Among several good ones, I recommend you buy either of two carbon road disc wheelsets

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.

EVALUATION CRITERIA

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.

STOCK WHEELSETS

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.

stock-wheel-chart-2

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.

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…).

Alloy upgrade chart

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).

Zipp 30 Course Disc Side

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 which means you would need to use 160mm rotors rather than the more popular 140mm ones sufficient for all but the heaviest riders unless you were to modify the hubs with an adapter kit.

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, ebay, UK/EU ProBikeKit front and rear code ITK10, Westbrook Cycles, Tweeks Cycles

Without the Zipp to compare to in my review last year, I picked the HED Ardennes Plus SL Disc (available at Art’s Cyclery, BikeTiresDirect, Western Bike Works).  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 <30mm deep like most of the others in this group but its wide rim gives it a rolling resistance boost with the right 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 (not available at a recommended online store). 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, Western Bike Works) 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 (JensonUSAMerlin, MantelUK) 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, ProBikeKit code ITK10) 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 (ProBikeKit code ITK10, 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 of 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 (American Classic) and Hurricane Tubeless Disc (American Classic) 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.

CARBON WHEELSETS

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.

BEST PERFORMER

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.

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When you compare the 1515 grams measured weight of ENVE SES 3.4 Disc wheelset to the weight of similar depth and widht 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 the similar depth but narrower Roval Rapide CLX 40 Disc (1492g) and far narrower DT Swiss RC 38 Spine C DB (1455g) wheelsets aren’t much lighter.

Hopefully you weight weenies are now satiated.  Botton 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 January 16, 2017: Competitive Cyclist, Westbrook CyclesTweeks Cycles

BEST VALUE

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.  Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc

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 and Roval Rapid CLX 40 Disc which are each 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 off 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 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 January 16, 2017: Wiggle, ProBikeKit code ITK10

Other Carbon Disc Brake Wheelsets

carbon-upgrade-chart-2016

Zipp 303 disc brake - ZippZipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, EU/UK Chain Reaction Cycles, Westbrook) – 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 disc brake - ZippZipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc-brake (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU WiggleWestbrookTweeks) – 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 (ProBikeKit code ITK10, ebayWestbrook Cycles) – 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 priceReynolds Assault SLG Disc Carbon Wheelset - Tubeless 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 hubs are set up for CenterLock rotor attachment and wheelsets are shipped with both TA and QR axlces 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.

Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR Disc D3 Clincher Road Wheel

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.

Roval CLX 40Roval CLX 40 Disc (Specialized store and dealers – Will be replaced by the CLX 32 Disc for model year 2017) – I wrote about the SCS version of this wheelset in my last review of road disc wheels.  That, like the short chain stay it was designed for, was ‘short’ sighted on my part as Roval also makes CLX 40 Disc wheels that aren’t limited by the Specialized bike-specific SCS hubs.  So here’s a somewhat revised review with the more universal DT Swiss 240 through axle (convertible to quick release), Centerlock hub in mind.

If you are planning on staying mostly on the road and don’t insist on riding the widest rubber, these are worth a look.  On paper they are as light as the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc, about as deep, run the same hubs, though are not as wide on the front wheel and have a more traditional V or what I call UV (rounded spoke edge) rim profile versus ENVE’s much more rounded one.

On the road, their rim width and profile differences show up.  The only knock against these otherwise very stiff, precise handling, smooth rolling and responsively accelerating wheels is their weaker aerodynamic performance and slightly less compliance compared to the more expensive ENVE and similarly priced Zipps 303 disc wheels.  They get pushed around in the crosswinds a bit more than those two models.  While you can run the ENVE and Zipps with 25mm tires to get more comfort without losing aero benefits, you really should run the Rovals at 23mm if you want to maximize aero performance, but this makes them less compliant.

So these are lighter but less aero and less compliant than the Zipps at the same price and weigh about the same while being less aero and less compliant but less expensive than the ENVE.

While there’s a lot to like about the performance of these Roval wheels, their rims are a little dated and underperform some of those with more modern designs and similar prices.  At the same time, there are others that perform nearly as well that are priced far below these.  With where they would go on a price/performance comparison, it’s hard to find a good rationale to buy them.

Vision Metron 40 discVision Metron 40 Clincher Disc (BikeWagonBike24) – Vision, which has focused for 20+ years on aerodynamic triathlon components, dove into the road cycling wheelset market a half-dozen years ago leveraging the late Steve Hed’s (HED Cycling) open patents for toroid profile wheel rims that were first licensed to and commercialized by Zipp.

Vision introduced 40mm (and 55mm) rim brake clincher and tubular wheelsets with the toroid shaped rim profile several years ago and more recently introduced a clincher disc version using the same rim.  Like the Zipp 303 and 202 and Reynolds 46 wheelsets, their disc wheelset adds about 180 grams (claimed weight) but maintains its wide rim dimensions, 17mm inner and 25mm outer (at the former brake track).

While neither I nor any of my sources have had a chance to ride or report about their experience with the road disc model, I’ve ridden the rim brake Metron 40 and its a solid if uninspiring wheelset.  In my earlier all-around wheelset comparative review, I wrote that the Metron 40 are stiff, fast, spin up well but aren’t the most comfortable wheels I’ve been on, even with a pair of 25mm tires mounted and inflated at 85-90psi.  They were somewhat affected by cross winds requiring some counter steer.

The Vision wheels are not distributed as broadly as some of the larger brands but the market prices fall below the Zipps. They do offer quick release and thru-axle hub solutions but only 6 bolt rotor attachment as best I can tell.

AERO46_Disc_ClincherReynolds 46 Aero Disc Brake (ProBikeKit code ITK10, 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.

RC_38_Spline_C_db_15_100_FW-(1)DT Swiss RC 38 Spline C DB (Wiggle) and DT Swiss RC 28 Spline C DB (Wiggle) – 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.

prime-rp-28-store-photoThe 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.

* * * * *

There are other carbon road disc wheels that I’m interested to ride or hear about including the new Easton EC90 SL Disc, Boardman SLR Elite Seven Disc, FFWD F4D FCC, and Rolf Prima Ares4 Disc.  Unfortunately, these aren’t as readily available to evaluate.  Give me you thoughts or questions on the wheels I’ve evaluated above or those you’d like to see me cover in the comments section immediately below and I’ll do my best to get on it.

Thank for reading and supporting In The Know Cycling.  If you’ve made it this far, congratulations (really, this was a long one).  And if you got some benefit from reading this or any of the reviews on the site, feel free to support it and save yourself some money by buying your gear through the store links in red throughout the post and site or by making a contribution here.  Thank you.

I also encourage you to stay connected!  Click follow button in the lower right to get an e-mail when new posts come out or use the buttons in the sidebar to get posts sent to your RSS reader or follow In The Know Cycling updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Enjoy the ride!

298 comments

  • Steve, your thoughts on the updated 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc Brake model that was announced in August and just now becoming available? Using your table above, its gone from 26.4 outer width to 29.9, and 17.25 inner to 21, and is now tubeless compatible (don’t care for me). They don’t list aero optimized tire size in specs, seems like that would be 25mm tire (music to my ears), the only statement I see is “the new 303 Firecrest delivers lower drag than the outgoing version when used with 25c or wider tires.”

    My short list is down to Enve 5.6, the new 303 Firecrest, and Stan’s Avion Disc Pro. Hoping to pull the trigger soon and be riding before our club’s first 2017 “Train for the Tour” century ride on Jan 7.

  • Good Morning Steve,
    I’m ready to purchase the Enve 4.5 wheel set that you recommend to me. In fact almost purchased 5 minutes ago but wanted your clarity and opinion that I value so much. I would be buying the Enves through Merlin in the UK for $2900. My main concern is because of some of the threads I have read regarding “gray marketing” it appears Merlin, Probikekit and Chainreaction are the heavy hitters in this practice. Yes, gray marketing is legal in Europe , but my concern is getting wheels without a serial number or registration authentication. Do you strongly endorse Merlin for delivering me real wheels vs counterfeit? I understand you have a relationship with them as you have rated them. As always I appreciate you awesome well constructed opinions. Happy Holiday, Rivak

    • Rivak, Happy Holidays to you as well. Sounds like you are treating yourself to a nice present.

      A few things. First, I recommend you buy your gear at any of the 35 or so stores that make my Best Online Bike Store Ratings list. To make this list, stores need to have a “very satisfied” or “outstanding” rating (which is 4* or 5* rating) from one of the independent customer satisfaction services that get feedback from fellow enthusiasts who are their validated customers. Another 65 online stores I follow don’t meet this standard. If a store is selling wheels without a serial number or registration, etc. or shipping slowly or the wrong product or not handling returns well or anything that makes customers less than “very satisfied”, customers are going to get wise to that real quick and they will get rated poorly and wont make my list of recommended stores. Customer feedback is wonderful, cleansing thing. You can read more about how the stores make the list in that post. Price, customer service, selection and whether or not they support the site’s readers – in that order – affects their ranking on the list but they only can get on the list in the first place if they have 4* or better customer satisfaction rankings from independent reviewers that I have vetted.

      Second, I regularly update and provide links to the stores at which you can get the best prices and that have the gear in stock from one of the recommended stores. For the gear I’ve recommended, you can find that in the sidebar of every page of the site. For those and the other products I’ve reviewed but not recommended, you can get the store links in the posts where those products are reviewed.

      In the case of the ENVE SES 4.5, the three stores you mentioned do not have the SES 4.5. Further, ENVE restricts the sale of their products through online stores to customers in the same region or country as the store. So, if you live in the US, you can’t buy an ENVE from a store outside the US. Not sure where you are from, but if you live in the US (you mentioned a price in $) the store I currently recommend and the link to get the 4.5 at is Competitive Cyclist, in the UK/EU Westbrook Cycles, and in AU/NZ Pushys.

      ENVE and most brands these days run a very tight ship when it comes to distribution through online stores. The kind of things you fear, to my knowledge, don’t happen anymore with good brands and stores with good customer satisfaction ratings. That’s why I try to steer my fellow enthusiasts to those stores on my recommended list and recommend brands and products that are proven.

      Best,
      Steve

      • Hello Steve,
        I live in Arizona. Merlin , the UK site that I was focusing on does sell Enve. 4.5 SES NBT cliched with Chris King Hubs. $2891.25
        I spoke to Matt via email on 3 occasions. He said ” We warranty our products not our vendors. I specifically asked if they provided Certilogo authenticity. He said no. I am concerned as I always look for this. And all my Campy and SRAM products have been authenticated.

        You may want to investigate this. So in summary I can get Enves through Merlin but without an Enve warranty. Only through Merlin.

        Merlin is #6 on your list.

        • Rivak, Well that’s interesting, to say the least. I’d not heard of Certilogo before but know that Merlin has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings. I will investigate. I don’t know the specifics of Merlin’s agreement with ENVE but my understanding is that there are geo restrictions on ENVE products. That is my bigger concern with you buying ENVE from Merlin if you live in Arizona.

          I’d avoid them for now and get the wheels through Competitive Cyclist. Price is the same, service is first rate. Their headquarters are within a stone’s throw of ENVE as well. And they are one of my two favorite stores. Steve

        • Rivak, have you contacted Competitive Cyclist about your pricing target?

          • Not yet. They are more expensive and want to see if they will price match. I have spent thousands with them do I m hoping they will flex.

            Thanks for your idea Steve!

            Best,

        • Rivak & Steve – Under UK law and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, your contract is with the vendor and not the manufacturer. All warranty claims should go through the retailer and it is their duty to follow up with the manufacturer so Merlin is technically correct. The law may be different in the US.

          • US warranty law is different, and a manufacturer can limit warranty coverage based on where you purchased (e.g. only authorized resellers), who provides the service (mfg or reseller), etc., etc. Some info here https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0252-warranties – and I’ve seen this issue come up a lot with friends that bought a Fitbit as the company only provides warranty coverage if you purchase direct or an authorized reseller.

  • Hey Steve,

    Super informative site. Spent way to much time here,. I like to ride long hours and brevet type events and distances. Terrain where I live is hilly. Not a particularly fast rider about 24-26 kph average and about 200 lb although working on lowering that. Is there a benefit of upgrading to an aero wheel set such as a assault or zipp 303. Right now I have a custom built alloy wheelset that’s about 28 deep 25 external coming in at about 1700g for the set. Is it worth upgrading or should I save my money.

    Thanks again and Happy Holidays !!!

    • Hi Paul, Glad to hear you’re spending a lot of time getting informed before you spend a lot of money. At your speeds and on hilly terrain, you aren’t going fast enough or likely long enough to get much aero benefit from a deeper wheel. You would likely notice and benefit from a 150-200g lighter and stiffer wheelset than your current one. A carbon wheelset like the two you mentioned would do that and make you faster up hill and down hill. The added stiffness of carbon over alloy will transfer more of your power through your wheels, the lighter weight would get you uphill easier and the deeper rims would make you faster downhill. They are also likely to handle more precisely. So for a lot of reasons, you’d be better off with the assault or 303.

      Merry/Happy/Peace out,
      Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    this is an incredible article. An amazing amount of work and knowledge has gone into it I’m sure. Thanks a lot.

    Like Paul above, I’m after some advice.

    I currently have DT Swiss R24 Spline Disc Break wheels (https://www.dtswiss.com/Wheels/Road-Wheels/R-24-Spline-db) that came with my 2015 Focus Cayo, which to my knowledge, appear to be a basic, all round, lower level disc wheel. They seem to be pretty strong which I need here on rough Australian roads, but they’re also slow (1775g, and I reckon I had some Fulcrum 3’s that were faster). I especially notice the resistance when riding at speeds above 40km/25mile/hr.

    However most of the riding I do is not racing but climbing and rolling hills. Of course like everyone, I also like to go as fast I can where possible (both descending and on the flats). I weight about 83kg/183lbs.

    I don’t want to spend that much money on the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc Clincher. More around the $2-2.5K mark.

    I also require a centre lock disc attachment.

    Are you able to advise?

    Much thanks on advance for whatever you can offer.

  • Steve, thanks for all the help and feedback. Sent you a donation to support the site 🙂 Yesterday I received my Enve 5.6 wheels from Wheelbuilder.com. Lisa was great to work with and I decided on heavy duty DT aero comp spokes paired to DT 240 hubs. LBS installed rotors and made minor adjust to front brake. Waiting for the 2-day storm to pass so I can finally squeeze in a ride before this weekend’s rainout.

    • 2, Thanks for supporting the site. Enjoy the new wheelset. Steve

      • Finally got to ride and wow these are fun and fast! Wasn’t my first choice in rides to test out the new wheels, but in between storms our club had 16 riders able to make Friday’s “plan B” of the 2017 train for the tour series of century rides. It was a chilly 27 degrees at ride start, and below 30 for the first 30 miles, but eventually warmed up to 45. Can’t wait to get more time in, these spin up so much faster than the stock alloy wheels and it was a lot of fun hitting the rollers in last 15 miles of the ride. Went off the front a few times with a couple guys and it seemed effortless to hit and maintain speeds in mid twenties.

        • Did a 51 mile ride yesterday with 5000′ of climbing. Definitely easier climbing with these wheels versus stock. Did a long 3 mile pull on gradual descent at 30mph with a crosswind and cars driving by at 60mph (on a state 2 lane highway) The Enve 5.6 wheels were very well behaved at speed, and only felt small tugs when getting passed by trucks.

  • Hi Steve, Thanks for all the invaluable advice and testing, which has helped me make quite a few decisions in the last while. I’m relatively new to road cycling, but after about 2 years on a hybrid, i bought myself a Giant Defy Advanced Pro 2 last year for my 50th birthday. I put up about 3000 km on it and added a Stages power meter to it recently. Love the bike and cycling and plan to do a few more sportive events in the coming year. Im now looking at upgrading the stock alloy wheels, which are fine, but i’m looking to improve performance, handling, even comfort and i’m seriously tempted by the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Discs. My question is, would it make any significant difference to the ride by changing from the stocks to the Fulcrums and would there be any noticeable between the Fulcrums and say Zipp 303’s, which are heavier but considerably dearer. Would it be worth saving a bit longer and going for the Zipps ? Many thanks

    • James, It depends on what performance you are looking to achieve, what speed and surface you ride, whether you ride competitively, what you weigh, how much of your riding is on flat vs hills vs in the mountains, whether you insist on putting a certain tire width on or inflation in your tires, etc. Let me know and I can answer more specifically as to your situation. Generally the Fulcrum and Zipp will both be upgrades but the Zipp may be a better performer which you may or may not notice depending on your answers. Steve

      • Thanks Steve for the prompt reply. My post Xmas weight is currently 78kg but it will be down to 72 or less within the next few months. I live in Ireland and ride the best roads I can find, not snooker tables, but, most are pretty decent, i average about 150-200km per week and average speed is about 26kph. I would love to increase this and have been working on a trainer indoors for the last few months. None of the events I have entered had roads that would damage a bike. I have no preference for tyres but was probably going to get Continental Grand Prix 4000S II next. Thanks again for your help.

        • James, I’d suggest the Zipp 30 Course or, if you are doing a lot of hills, the HED Ardennes. These are both shallower alloy wheels than the Fulcrum but are wider and will be more comfortable than the Fulcrum with plenty of stiffness. They lack the depth of the Fulcrum and other carbon wheels but you need to be going about 30kph to really get any aero benefit from them. Steve

  • Steve, Specialized Roval just came out with another new wheel. CLX 50. Light, wide and aero. Any chance you will review this soon as well as the CLX 32.

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