BEST UPGRADE WHEELS FOR RIM BRAKE BIKES – 2017

Like many cyclists who are looking for a more comfortable ride, you may have recently put wider tires on the wheels that originally came with your bike or on ones you bought a few years ago.  You may not realize that by doing so you probably made your bike slower and your handling worse.  If you want the performance as well as the comfort most road cycling enthusiasts are looking for today, you’ll likely want a set of wider upgrade wheels.

In this post I review the best upgrade bike wheels available today that have wide rims used on road bikes with rim brakes, most of which can be had for USD$/£/€1000 or less, including some for nearly half that amount.  Together with the right size tires, the best of these alloy wheels for rim brake bikes can give you far more comfort, versatility, speed, stiffness, acceleration, handling, rolling and braking performance than what you may be riding on now at a great value compared to upgrading to carbon rim road bike wheels.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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

Yes it’s true – Wheels should be your first upgrade

Wider tires and wider wheels chosen together will help meet your comfort, speed and handling priorities

Wide (17-18mm inside width) alloy wheelsets offer excellent value for those who want more comfort

Wider (19-21mm inside width) alloy wheelsets offer excellent performance in a range of areas 

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WHEELS ARE THE FIRST THING YOU’LL WANT TO UPGRADE

While it may initially seem crazy, many cyclists upgrade their wheels soon after buying a new bike, which of course already comes with a new set of wheels.  Some cyclists actually shop for new wheels at the same time they buy their bike and get a new set almost immediately.  Most make the decision to buy upgrade wheels within a few seasons.

It’s become a truism that wheels are the first and best upgrade you can make to improve your cycling experience and performance.  Why?  The unfortunate reality is that most $2500 to $5000 modern composite bikes that road cycling enthusiasts ride these days come with inexpensive wheels that aren’t at the same performance level as the frames that sit on them or the drivetrain components that transfer your power to them.

Stiff bikes made to be ridden and raced aggressively in this price range often come with wheels that aren’t laterally stiff enough to take advantage of the frame’s stiffness and actually dampen the responsiveness the bike is capable of when you want to accelerate, go aggressively into a turn, climb out of the saddle or sprint for the line.  And endurance or sportive bikes in this price range suited for long, comfortable rides are usually fitted out with wheels that aren’t as forgiving or compliant as the frame which makes your many hours riding over varying road surfaces less of a pleasure than it should be.

The wheels that come with your bike, commonly known as “stock wheels”, also tend to be heavy by modern day standards which slows your acceleration from stops or when you want to increase your speed during a ride.  Stock wheels also typically have hubs that are durable but don’t roll as smoothly as those that help you maintain your speed with less effort, use shallow and boxy rims that provide no aerodynamic benefit that ones with rounder noses and sides do, and have a pretty basic look to them.

The bike-stock wheel relationship is similar to you buying an engagement ring with an expensive diamond mounted on a cheap band or a home with an undersized circuit breaker panel.  You focus on the quality of the diamond or the size and location of the home and go forward with the purchase knowing (or learning later) that you’ll soon have to upgrade the band or panel.

There are probably a half-dozen reasons that might explain why bike companies fit out underperforming wheels on quality bikes.  Some are rider focused.  For example, there are a lot of wheelset choices and some bike makers believe they should put on a basic wheelset and let the rider decide later once they know what better performing wheels they want.  Others reasons are more retailer focused.  Putting on better wheels on a new bike would drive up prices and depress sales without improving profit for the retailers or most bike companies as they don’t make their own wheels in the first place and just have to pass through the costs of the more expensive wheels.

This is an interesting topic to explore but not one that will help you decide what upgrade wheels to get so I won’t discuss it here further.  But, given that these lesser quality stock wheels are what you get with your new bike, it’s not surprising that most road cycling enthusiasts upgrade them so soon.

While I’ll focus my evaluation of the different upgrade wheels on the performance factors I’ve mentioned above, I consider about 20 criteria – either performance, design, quality or cost related – when making my recommendations.  You can read about these selection criteria in more depth here.

Note that I do put an emphasis on performance and cost related criteria.  Quality is a go-no go consideration.  I won’t write a review on anything that is poor quality and I’ll note those products that have exceptional quality or longer than normal warranties.

Wheel makers have for years marketed higher quality wheels around some of the design factors – wheel weight, rim width and profile, hub materials, spoke shape and butting, etc. – because those are easier to quantify and promote.  These often take up the first half (or more) of many reviews.  The more important and harder to describe and quantify performance factors including stiffness, comfort, handling, acceleration, braking, aerodynamics and rolling smoothness are what truly separates one wheelset from another and is where I like to focus my attention.

Design serves performance objectives and shouldn’t be discussed in isolation.  Sometimes a wheelset’s design delivers on the performance objectives and sometimes it doesn’t.  If, for example, you end up on a light, wide, blingy wheelset with double butted bladed spokes and carbon hub shells that are as as stiff as a noodle and as comfortable as riding a jackhammer with spokes that break and hubs that don’t freewheel for more than a few seconds, you won’t be very happy.  So please don’t buy upgrade wheels based on a few of the eye-popping specs without knowing how they perform.

There is also usually a relationship between price and performance.  Stock wheels typically cost USD$150-$300/GBP£100-£200/€130-€260 and you are going to have to spend more to get something that performs noticeably better.  I find it’s best to know what you are willing or able to spend and then seek the level of best level performance you can get within that budget.  The wheelsets in this review run from USD$500/£350/€450 to a little over a $1000/£700/€900 from reputable online stores.  Even within that range, the level and nature of their performance with vary, often but not always, aligned with their prices.

DEVELOPMENTS – WIDE AND WIDER

Over the last few years there has been a move to wider tires and more recently to wider wheels in road cycling.  While riders used to be overly focused on wheelset weight, we now seemed to have become overly focused on width and mostly on tire width.

As I reported in a post dedicated to the topic of the relationship between wheel and tire widths (here), 3 out of the 4 rim brake bikes that were picked as the best in their price ranges for Bike Radar’s 2016 Bike of the Year awards are sold with traditional 15C (or 15mm inside width) stock wheels versus wider 17C (17mm) ones while 2 put 23C (23mm) tires on those wheels and the other 2 use 25C (25mm) rubber.  Of the 11 rim brake bikes that made up their £2,000 to £2,750 or USD$2800 to $3800 price range category where many road cycling enthusiasts shop, 8 of those 11 bikes are equipped with 15C wheels but 8 also had 25C tires.

Unfortunately, you can’t really upgrade your stock wheels merely by putting wider 25mm wide tires on them.  It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.  Doing this will make your ride on these typically less forgiving wheels more comfortable and that is one of the reasons why many new bikes come this way.  Another big (bigger?) reason is that it’s the trend now to have wider tires and without them bike makers appear to be behind the competition.  Many enthusiasts are also putting wider tires on their stock or upgrade wheels with the same objective.

With wider tires (or wider wheels) you can run them at a lower air pressure because you’ve put the same or slightly more air needed to hold your bike and body weight in what is now the larger volume of space between your tires and wheels.  Lower pressure tires are more comfortable because they absorb more of the road’s imperfections.

But, putting 25C tires on 15C wheelsets can also make your bike slower and your handling worse.  Wider tires without wider wheels certainly won’t make your bike any more responsive, accelerate any faster, get you in and out of turns more confidently or roll noticeably better or faster, all of which should happen, along with improved comfort, from upgrade wheels.

Why?  A tire that is wider than the outside width of the rim at the brake track will create a wheel that has more drag than one whose tire is less than or about equal to the outside rim width.  Most 15C wheels have an outside width that is 20-21mm wide measured across the brake track.  Most 17C wheels are 22-23mm wide at the same location.  And most 25C tires when mounted and inflated on 15C or 17C rims will expand by a mm or so creating a 26mm wide or wider tire mounted on a rim that is somewhere between 20mm and 23mm wide on the outside. That extra 1.5mm to 3mm of rubber on either side of the rim will cause air hitting the tire to get turbulent or stall as it passes across the tire to the rim.  With a tire that is narrower than the rim, more of the air will re-attach to a rim after it passes by the tire and continue with a more laminar flow reducing drag.

A traditional 23C tire will still be wider, once mounted and inflated, than a 23mm wide rim but only by about 0.5mm on either side at most.  Racers or those looking for the most speed will put even narrower tires on their wheels.

Over-wide tires that add drag and reduce speed is less of an issue for shallow alloy upgrade wheels that aren’t really intended to give you more speed from better aero performance in the first place the way deeper, rounded profile carbon wheels do.  But more drag leading to slower speeds on a shallow wheelset certainly doesn’t help.

More troublesome is the effect wider tires mounted on too narrow rims have on handling.  A 25C tire on a 15C wheel can feel squishy, even more so if you’ve reduced the air pressure to get more comfort.  This squishy feel is a symptom of the wider tire becoming more rounded as it sits in the same width wheel and an increased tendency to fold back on itself without the support of wider rims.  This is the opposite of the improved handling that is also promoted by going to a wider tire.

A tire that’s too wide for its rim is more likely to experience a pinch flat when you are leaning into a turn or turning at a good speed.  The tire bead can also pull away from the rim hook in the turn, also resulting in a flat.  Not good, to say the least.

Tires to wide for the rim can lead to pinch flats

A wider tire and a wider rim together provide better handling.  The wider rim sets the foundation for the wider tire to better keep its shape as you can see in the drawing on the left above.

The square shape of a wider rim supporting and wider tire provides a wider “contact patch” than on a narrower tire.  While the total area of the tire patch for both tires is the same as long as your weight and the tire pressure are the same, that area spreads further across the width and less along the length of a wider tire.

So how wide should you go with your wheels and tires and what combinations are best?  It depends on whether you prioritize comfort or speed and handling or whether you want the best of both and, as always, what your budget is.

Here’s my take on what mix of comfort, speed and handling you can expect with different tire-rim combinations.

A 23C tire on a 15C wheel – this is the likely stock or alloy upgrade wheel and tire combination you have as a baseline on bikes made before 2016.  You know how this rides.  This is still a perfectly good width combination in my view.  What follows are your options.

A 25C tire on a 15C wheel – somewhat improved comfort over a 23C tire but worsened speed and handling for reasons described above.  Better to reduce pressure 5psi or so on 23C tire for better comfort without losing handling performance.  Neither combination is going to be an aero star.

A 25C tire on a 17C wheel – better comfort but no better speed or handling than a 23C tire on a 15C wheel.  23C tire on 17C wheel at right pressure will get you somewhat improved comfort with improved aero if the rim has at least a rounded nose rather than box or V profile, is >35-40mm, and you are riding at 18mph/29kph or faster.

A 25C tire on 19C or wider wheel – best comfort, improved speed and handling over options above. A nice set-up for long endurance rides at a good average speed (18mph/29kph or higher) especially on deeper (>35-40mm) and preferably rounded profile wheels.  But, most alloy wheels aren’t going to be that deep or have a rounded rim profiles where the spokes join the rim.

A 23C tire on a 19C or narrower wheel – best speed. If you’ve chosen this set-up, crits, road races or TTs and triathlons are probably your passion, deeper aero wheels are probably your preferred hoops and comfort is further down your list of what matters though there are plenty of wheelsets in this width that will be plenty comfortable to start without the need of a wider tire.

In general, the wider the wheelset, the bigger the budget you’ll need.  The best 15C alloy upgrade wheels (see here) will run about USD$400 to $800.  17C alloy upgrades will run in the $500 to $1000 range and 19C to 21Cs will cost your $700 to $1200.

If you’ve got 15C wheels now, you are better off going to 19C or wider rims if you want the best combination of comfort, speed and handling.  If you just want more comfort or insist on riding a 25C tire, you don’t need to go any further than a 17C wheelset.

Wheels with all-carbon rims start at around $1300 and most of the better ones are $1800 and up (see here and here). With carbon wheels you can usually get a faster, better accelerating and stiffer ride that also handles as well and is just as comfortable as on an alloy one.  This is because carbon rims can be made deeper and with more shape than alloy and because their strength to weight ratio is greater, allowing for no weight penalty for that added depth.

I’ve written mostly about rim and tire width developments in this section.  As of this writing, there has been little new in the other parts that make up a wheel – the hubs and spokes – that have caught my attention.  There are things going on, like wider spacing between the hub flanges where spokes are attached, but I just haven’t seen much data to determine how much of a difference they make in the performance of the wheelsets.

Of course, tires, rims, hubs and spokes aren’t developed in isolation.  Among the newer, wider wheels I’ve reviewed you’ll see more rounded rim shapes to improve aero performance, more straight pull spokes that connect the hubs and rims for higher reliability and easier replacement when necessary, and more tubeless ready wheelsets than ones that are strictly set up only for tubes and tires to reduce pinch flats at lower pressures.

Wider rims with the same width hubs does make for a bigger angle for the spokes running between them.  This theoretically creates a more laterally stiff wheel in most cases, something that should be welcome for heavier and stronger riders.

ALLOY UPGRADE EVALUATIONS

I’ve classified the wheels below into a wide group that have an inside width of 17mm to 18mm between the hooks that grab the tire beads and a wider group that run between 19mm and 21mm inside width.  Most of the leading wheelset companies have introduced wider alloy wheels over the last couple of years so I don’t expect to see anything new from them until model year 2018.  I’ve been surprised before and if something new comes out, I’ll update the post

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If you are ready to upgrade now, I’ve hopefully make it clear in these evaluations below which wheelsets I like and provided you enough (or perhaps too much) info and comparative analysis to choose which one or ones would be good for you. Without further preamble then, here’s my review on 10 of the best wide and wider alloy wheelsets out there now.

WIDE WHEELSETS

BEST VALUE

Campagnolo Zonda C17 – A stiff wheelset comfortable enough for both Moose and Squirrel

The newest model Zonda C17 for 2017 increases a couple of millimeters to 17mm inside and about 22.5mm outside width.  Little else about the design has changed.  The Zonda still has a box rim profile, steel bearing and aluminum body hubs, signature 3-spoke groupings around the rear wheel, low profile alloy rims (measured 24.4mm front, 27.2mm rear) and middle of the pack weight (measured 1537 grams).  It also still remains a bargain as of December 16, 2017 at a market price of about USD$350/£340/€415/AUD$475 from Chain Reaction Cycles, Evans CyclesTredz ITK10.

Zonda C17 upgrade wheelsetThe good news for stout riders is that the new, wider Zonda remains a very stiff alloy wheel.  My 200lb/90kg friend and fellow tester Moose reported that it has the best out-of-the-saddle stiffness while climbing of any alloy wheelset he’s ridden.  And I call him Moose for both his strength and weight so that’s saying something.

For a squirrel like me at 150lbs/68kg who finds many wheels plenty stiff for what I do to them, the Zonda is noticeably stiffer and seems to transfer every last watt I can put out with utmost efficiency.

The big question before riding these new Zondas was, would the extra width make them less harsh than the 2016 and earlier models, ones that only a heavier ride could love and for their stiffness rather than their compliance.

I mounted them up with 25C Michelin Power Competition tires and at 85 psi front and 90 psi back and found them middle-of-the-pack comfortable.  Neither harsh or plush.  Moose, who rode them closer to 100psi, felt they rode pretty smoothly on the typical unevenly paved and occasional bumpy roads he normally rides.

While they might handle better with 23C tires at 5-10psi higher pressure or be more comfortable on 25C tires with 5-10psi lower pressure, the size and pressures that Moose and I ran them provided for a great combination of handling and comfort.  I also recognize that with all the hype around wider tires, few are going to buy these wider Zondas and put 23C tires on them.  That’s ok because they are too shallow to get any real aero benefit out of them, even if the inflated tire width were narrower than the rim width to improve air flow.

The hubs are also middle-of-the-pack performers.  They certainly aren’t the fastest to accelerate but aren’t slow.  They aren’t super quiet but also don’t put out the clickety-clack of louder hubs that some riders love.  Overall, reasonably good accelerating, rolling and sounding hubs that aren’t going to set themselves apart from the others for these qualities.

In summary, the Zonda C17 addresses one of the biggest issues with stock wheels – lack of stiffness – with a solution that works for riders large and small, the latter thanks to the little bit of added width.

Perhaps the best news for Campy and Fulcrum fans (I’m a fan of good wheels, not of brands) is that almost all of the variants of the Campy Shamal and Fulcrum Racing lines have moved to 17C widths over the last couple of model years and I expect the rest likely will.

The new, wider Campagnolo Shamal Ultra C17 (available at Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles) and twin Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 aka LG or 2017 (available at Wiggle, Tredz ITK10) are the flagship alloy models from Campy, essentially the same wheels and from the same company under different brand names.

They are part of lines that include the Campagnolo Zonda C17 /Fulcrum Racing 3 (the latter still made only in the narrower, 15C width), which run at least half the market price of the Shamal Ultra/Racing Zero, to the Campagnolo Shamal Mille C17/Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite C17 (Tredz ITK10, WiggleChain Reaction Cycles), the models with blacked out brake tracks that sell for more.

These wheelsets all share the same rims and spoke patterns with differences in rim etching, brake treatments, spoke materials, hub shell materials and bearings, freewheel and flange materials.  Whether you would notice any performance differences between these wheels or could justify the price differences is for each of you to decide.  I, for one, can’t and am just happy to have a decent upgrade option at a great price.

I recommended the last, narrower model Zonda as the best alloy upgrade for 175lb/80kg and heavier riders.  If you need or want a stiff wheel and budget is your first consideration, the new Zonda C17 should be your first stop for riders of all sizes and my recommendation as the Best Value among alloy upgrade wheels.

 

Mavic Ksyrium Elite – Still stiff but now more compliant with a budget price

Mavic has gone wide with new Ksyrium Elite and Ksyrium Pro but in true Mavic fashion, it’s a conservative move.  These new Ksyrium rim brake clincher wheelsets are 17mm inside but only about 21.5mm outside and 25mm deep.  As with other Mavic wheels, these come with Mavic’s Yksion brand tires in a 25C size.

Mavic Ksyrium Elite upgrade wheelsetWhy 25mm tires on wheels whose rims are less than 22mm wide at their brake tracks, where the air flowing off the tires transitions to hopefully reattach with the rims to minimize turbulence and stall and therefore aerodynamic drag?  Mavic is wed to what I believe are outdated ETRTO standards that recommend nothing less than a 25C tire on a 17C wheel, aerodynamic penalties be damned.

And don’t confuse Ksyrium Elite or Pro, both 17C wheelsets with the Ksyrium Pro SL (15C) or the Ksyrium Pro Disc (15C) or Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad (19C).

OK, now that we’ve cleared that up, how do they perform?  I’ve focused here on the Ksyrium Elite which at $800/£500/650 MSRP/RRP but more like $600/£420/€540 market price (Competitive Cyclist ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) is one of the less expensive 17C models in this review.  The Pro will cost you about $300 more to save you less than 100g of weight.

If you have ridden earlier model Ksyrium and especially Ksyrium Elites, you’ll recall they are pretty stiff but not very compliant or comfortable wheels.  The prior model Elites were always good for heavier riders, over say 185lbs/85kg but downright harsh and to be avoided for lighter riders.

These new Elites with the wider rims and tires make them more comfortable for sure.  The tires are only average performers however and the wheels are not tubeless ready as far as the ever-conservative Mavic is concerned.

If you want to add improved handling and lowered rolling resistance to the added comfort you get from wider tires, you’ll want to replace the Yksion tires that come standard on these wheels with better performers.  On the other hand, if you care more about speed than comfort, you’ll want to go with 23C tires and get any added comfort from the extra air volume you put in the wider rims and by easing off the air pressure a 5psi or so.

Don’t set your aero expectations high for these wheels even with 23C rubber; despite having rounded off some of the square edges on the prior version’s box rim profile and while they still roll well, they don’t feel any faster than past Ksyrium which have never been wheels you turn to for speed.  At a measured weight of about 1600 grams they will also be one of the heavier wheelsets in this review, though the 50-100 gram difference between these and others is not something you’ll readily notice.

Stiffness continues to be the characteristic strength of the Elites.  The Ksyrium line also has a history of being very durable and reliable, staying true, braking well and rolling well if not spectacularly.  Bottom line, they are a decent first upgrade at a good price especially for heavier riders over the stock wheels (often Mavic Aksium) that come with many new bikes.

Pro-Lite Bortola A21W – Good all-around performer, if not the fastest, at a great price

After reading comments from a couple of readers who’d asked me about this wheelset that I’d never heard of, I looked up the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W and am glad I did.  Turns out the Pro-Lite company has been in business for about 30 years, building a pretty good range of alloy and carbon wheels, mostly for the road but also for track, cross and mountain bikes.  The company is based in Taiwan, where most of today’s road wheels are made usually on contract to companies whose names you likely know and who focus on some combination of designing, sourcing, assembling, distributing and marketing but not manufacturing.  The fact that I didn’t know about them was due to my own ignorance, something your humble road cycling enthusiast reviewer isn’t in short supply of.

Pro Lite Bortola A21 Alloy Clincher upgrade wheelsTurns out the Bortola has a lot going for it.  The wheels accelerate well using hubs with EZO stainless steel bearings and moving a wheelset that measures about 1520 grams, on par with most others in this review.  The hubs roll well down the road and are quiet when you are coasting, something I prefer to the clicking of some others

The wheels feel quite stiff on climbs and riding out of the saddle.  Handling is also good, confidently connected when leaning into corners at speed and when going downhill.  Braking is even, predictable and relatively quiet.  And mounting tubeless tires is somewhere in the middle of the pack, not easy but not as hard as some.  They come set-up with a pretty tight rim strip already installed.

You’ll also find these wheels to be comfortably compliant.  The boxy rims are as wide inside (17.5mm) and out (23.2mm) as any of the others in the wide group but also as shallow (21mm).  As a go anywhere wheelset, they’re a welcome confidence building and comfortable companion, just don’t expect to get there faster than the others in this category.

In addition to their range of good performance characteristics is a truly great price, typically about USD$500/£350/€475/AUD$625  online, lower than most.  Perhaps it’s because they are selling primarily through online stores (Wiggle) instead of the multilevel distribution and marketing that goes with selling through local bike shops.  While the wheels are quite well made, they carry a two-year warranty and have an online store where you can order replacement bearing kits, spokes and other items for regular or episodic maintenance.

The Bortola’s comfort and solid level of performance along with its great price makes it a good value option for those of you enthusiasts looking to upgrade to a wheelset wider and better performing than what likely came stock on your bike.

WIDER WHEELSETS

Bontrager Paradigm Elite – Great handling and braking for the cruising enthusiast

Bontrager’s alloy Race and Race Lite road wheels have been found as the stock wheelset on bikes from parent company Trek for years.  From my evaluation, the performance of the Race Lite is better than most other stock wheels, including those from Mavic and Fulcrum, but not as good as most upgrade wheels.

When Bontrager Paradigm Elite wheels started showing up on the highest priced builds of Trek’s Madone and Domane bikes in 2016, I was curious.  When the long-time manager and bike fitter at my LBS said he put a set on his wife’s bike, I asked for some to test.  And when I noticed an enthusiast riding alongside me on a group ride was using Paradigm Elites that came off the bike from a friend who “upgraded” to a wheelset he said didn’t seem to be much of an upgrade, I was intrigued.

One of the first things my fellow tester Moose (90kg/200lb) and I (68kg/150lbs) both noticed after riding the Paradigm Elites was their handling performance.  They tracked very well in and out of corners on the flats and on downhills, giving you plenty of confidence.  We ran them with Bontrager 26C tubeless tires and at about 10 psi lower than regular clincher pressure.  This, in combination with the wheelset’s 19.5mm internal width likely helped produce the solid handling platform.

I also loved the braking feel – confident, smooth, no fade.  Most alloy wheels brake when and where you want them but the feel or “modulation” of these stood out for me and made them “Elite” compared to others I’ve ridden.

What makes many alloy wheels an upgrade over the stock set is the way they roll – usually smoother and quieter.  The Paradigm Elite uses DT Swiss 240 hubs that are often speced on carbon wheels which cost several times the price of these.  That said, there are a lot of great hubs in this review and the hub is only part of what leads to the great rolling. Moose, for example, preferred the rolling performance of the Campagnolo Zonda, a much lower priced wheelset.  I found the Zipp 30 Course, a more expensive wheelset, rolls just as well as the Paradigm Elite.

These wheels, while stiff enough for most riders, aren’t as stiff as the Campy Zonda, Zipp 30 Course or Easton EA90 SL or for heavier ones.  They also don’t accelerate as well as the Campy or Easton, wheels that measure only about 25-65 grams less (respectively) than the 1564 grams I measured for these Bontragers.

Comfort?  With tubeless tires and inflated to a lower pressure than a tubed clincher, the Paradigm Elite absorbs the bumps better than most.  But, I felt bumps, surface cracks and rougher roads being dampened by the tires rather than by the wheels themselves before they ever got to the tires.

Speaking of the tires, the Bontrager 26C R2 TLR on these wheels measured 26.7mm wide once installed (piece of cake) and inflated (one with a hand pump, the other took a compressor).

Overall, the Paradigm Elite wheelset gives you an enjoyable upgrade over the average stock set – confident handling, refined braking, smooth rolling, and dampened road surfaces.  At $900 (from Trek online at Trek dealers), a marginally lower price than most of the other wider upgrade wheels, they give the cruising enthusiast a good option for a better ride.

Boyd Altamont Lite – A very capable if not dazzling wider alloy wheelset at a great price

Boyd Cycling is a US-based wheel maker that sells alloy and carbon clinchers and carbon tubulars in shallow and mid-range depths for both the rim and disc brake sets.  They sell direct and through dealers in the United States and Canada.

The Altamont alloy wheels come in two versions.  The Lite reviewed here is the 25mm deep model and claims to be about 100 grams lighter than the straight Altamont at 30mm deep.  Boyd offers each in three-spoke counts to best suit your weight or desired stiffness, three hub options for either Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo gruppos, and with a standard tube or optional tubeless rim tape.

Boyd Altamont Lite upgrade wheels The Lite with 20 spokes in the front and 24 in the back, standard hub and regular rim tape weighed in at just under 1500 grams (1496g) on my scale.  This $700 model’s rim measured 19.8mm wide inside and 24.5mm wide outside.  So while this Altamont is as light and wide and nearly as deep as the others in this wider group, it’s about $150 to $400 less expensive.  It also has a U shaped rim, bladed spokes, brass nipples and a machined (grooved) brake track, a unique combination of features of the wheels reviewed in this post and all features that should add a little something to the performance and value of this wheelset.  It looks to be well made all around.

On the road, the Altamont Lite is a very capable, if not dazzling wheelset.  While it only took me a couple hundred miles to develop an opinion about these wheels, there is a lot I like about their performance but nothing that really separates them from the others.  They roll comfortably, smoothly and quietly on both 25C and 23C tires.  They handle and brake confidently.  Climbing is good, what you would expect from a wheelset at about this weight.

Maybe I’m getting greedy, and I’m certainly not complaining, but I would like the Altamont Lites to be a bit stiffer and more responsive when I put the hammer down.  They don’t flex or hesitate but they also don’t spring into action like the Easton EA90 SL wheelset does or like any number of carbon wheelsets do.  Of course, they are a lot less expensive than those wheels.

You can add 4 more spokes front and back (adding 50g that you’ll not really notice) and should if you want them stiffer at my weight (150-155lbs/68-70kg) and, as Boyd recommends, when you get up around 175lbs/80kg.  You can also go with the Boyd designed Eternity hubs which have a wider-than-most distance between the hub flanges (80mm front, 105mm rear) and quicker-than-most engagement angle (5.6 degrees).  This should certainly improve stiffness and enhance acceleration, though by how much I can’t say.  It will, however, cost you $350 more to upgrade to these hubs and this moves the Altamont Lites into the same price range as the more expensive wider wheels.

If comfort and good performance at a great price in a wider wheelset is most important to you, the Altamont Lite is a wheelset worth considering.

Easton EA90 SL – Stiff and responsive but could be built a bit better for the price

Easton has been updating its wheelset models over the last couple of years including considerably widening all of its carbon rims and several of its of alloy ones.  At 19.5mm (19.6mm measured), the EA90 SL has the widest inside dimension of its alloy rim brake offerings, 2mm wider than the EA90 SLX and less expensive EA70 SL and SLX models, and actually 0.5mm wider than any of its carbon ones.  At 24.5mm (24.7mm measured) wide across the brake tracks, it’s essentially as wide on the outside as all the others in this wider alloy wheelset category.

Easton EA90 SL upgrade wheelsThe EA90 SL is very stiff and responsive on the road.  I found it unflinchingly supportive when I put the power down going uphill and very willing to go with me when I accelerate to close gaps on the flats (something I find myself having to do all too often).  It was also very comfortable with my used (i.e., slightly stretched out) 25C Conti GP4K rubber (widening to 27.3mm mounted and inflated) and with a used 23C size of the same model tire (26.02mm mounted and inflated).  Mounting and inflating a 23C size of a used Michelin Pro4 Service Course gave me a tire width of 25.02mm and a 23C size of an unused Zipp Tangente Course gave me a tire width of 24.72, both quite close to the 24.7 outside width I measured for these Easton wheels.

The handling is confident and the braking on these wheels is very solid.  Excellent performance and what you’d expect from a modern, wider alloy upgrade wheel that you can find for about $800 at a local bike shop.  [Note, there are many stores still selling their inventory of the previous EA90 SL models, either 15C and 17C ones.  Not the same wheels!]

I was a little surprised by the build quality though.  The rims have a very attractive matte black finish with the modern looking Easton logo.  The rim welds are unnoticeable, or at least I couldn’t find them when I went looking for them.  The wheels arrived true with fairly normal tensions.

I was not impressed with the hubs, however.  The rear hub was particularly noisy and didn’t seem to roll as freely in the stand as those on some of the other wheels with DT Swiss 240 internals that you can get at this price point.  The front hub also sounded like it was dragging when I put some extra weight on the handlebars.

Easton told me the freehub was probably a little dry and the seal may have been pinched.  Taking off the freehub and seal, lubing the pawls with heavy oil, and reinstalling to make sure nothing was pinched was the recommended solution.  Not something your average enthusiast should expect to do with a new wheelset and surprising since this is a new hub design for Easton which probably contributes to the excellent stiffness I felt.

I’ve since ridden the same hub model (Easton Echo) they put on this wheelset on their carbon EC90 SL and EC90 Aero 55 wheelsets.  Both rolled very smoothly and quietly.

The brake tracks were also nothing to write home about.  They were a little more raised from the rims than on most other alloy wheels, enough where you could feel the sharp edge on the hub side of the track.  The track isn’t machined and the spokes are rather basic Sapims going into aluminum nipples.

Little of this affects performance except of course for the hubs and that’s mostly the loss of some free speed when free-wheeling on the flats and downhills.  As described above, there’s a fix for this if you happen to get a set with hubs similar to the ones I did.  I would think, however, that Easton could build these a bit better for a wheel selling at this price and to go along with what is otherwise a well-performing wheelset.

These wheels are available at Bike24, and local bike shops.

HED Ardennes Plus SL – An innovator that combines performance and prestige at a high price

HED has been one of the leaders in the wide rim movement with the Ardennes.  First introduced with wide rim dimensions and a 24.5mm deep V-profile, HED went wider with the Ardennes Plus model in the 2014 season.  It now measures at 20.6mm inner and 25mm outer width, making it one of the two widest of those evaluated for this review. Only the Zipp 30 Course is wider on the inside at a full 21mm but has the same outside width and the other wider alloy wheels in this category.

This added width enables the same tire to square up that much more and offers even better aerodynamics if you don’t have a tire size that puts it out past the outer rim width.  While I haven’t seen any published data showing how much quantitative aero or speed difference the extra width of the 19.5 to 21mm wider wheels gain compared to the wide wheels that run 17-18mm inside, I can certainly feel the effect on the handling and do feel a speed difference between the wheels in the two groups when their rims have 23C tires mounted.

Of course, whether my “feel” is real or just imagined is debatable; it’s definitely subjective and something you might not feel or care about if comfort is your priority.

The Ardennes Plus is available in a dizzying number of wheelset models all using the same rim with different combinations of front and rear hubs, spokes and brake track treatments to suit what you want, think you need or are willing to pay.  All this choice seems to me to make picking the right wheel more difficult but other companies including Mavic, Shimano, Campagnolo and Fulcrum do much the same with their wheel lines.

HED also helpfully makes versions for heavier riders with more spokes front and back for riders over 225lbs/100kg.

For this review, I chose to evaluate the Ardennes Plus SL, the one with the best-equipped hubs and spokes and the lightest of the Ardennes models, on par with the others in this review.  HED does sell a more expensive version of this wheelset that comes with a blacked out brake track.  While it does provide some amount of braking improvement in the rain similar to that claimed by other alloy wheel manufacturers that also put a black coating on the brake track, it’s hard to beat an uncoated alloy brake track without going to disc brakes.  I’ll bet if you had a discussion over a few beers with most of the wheelset designers, they’d probably tell you they coat the brake tracks of their alloy wheels mostly to make them look like more expensive all carbon clinchers.

HED Ardennes PLUS upgrade wheelsSo how does the Ardennes Plus SL perform?  These deliver big on a comfortable ride with confident handling even with the 23C tires on them.  I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek since people have been led to believe that only wheels with 25C tires on them these days are comfortable.  So know that you can get the combination of superior comfort, speed and handling on these wheels with traditional width, 23C tires.

If you ride tubeless, you’ll find this one of the easier wheelsets to work with.  Tires install and remove relatively easily and inflate with a floor pump.  These are also very well built and HED wheels have a reputation for being very durable over time.

While not flexy, these aren’t the stiffest wheels out there, so if you plan to race or ride them hard up hills, in and out of corners etc. and you weigh north of 185lbs/80kg you might consider going with the stiffer Clydesdale version with its added spokes.  For most enthusiasts, this won’t be an issue.

The Ardennes, as with most of the wheels in this review is shallow and also have a V profile.  So while it says HED on the rim and certainly rolls very well, don’t think you are getting an aero wheel just because of who makes it.

There’s really is a lot to like about this wheel and while just about every other wheelset in this comparison was introduced or updated at couple years since this one was (2014), it still rates on par with the others in all areas except its price.  At $1150 and with few discounts to be found (Competitive Cyclist ITK10, Bike24), you can consider it the luxury choice of wider alloy wheelsets.  It performs well and is worry-free rides in style and comfort, and if you are willing to spend a little more for it, is one that will add a little cache to your steed.

Zipp 30 Course – Best for off-road riding but versatile enough to use on-road as well

Zipp 30 Course upgrade wheelsThe Zipp 30 Course is a wheelset you’ll want to check out if you ride off-road as much or more as you do on.  It’s as wide and tall as any of the wheels in the wider group but it’s heavier by about 150 grams, an amount that begins to make a difference on the road especially when compared to other wheels that have similar rounded shapes and well rolling hubs.

Off-road you can put on 25C or wider tires and lower the pressure to maximize comfort.  You can do the same with most all the wheels in this wider group but the 30 Course’s stiffness is a level above that of the others and comes in handy when grinding up rough mountain roads or navigating holes and obstacles along on a bumpy, turny trail.

The trade-off comes back on the road when higher speeds and smoother pavements are your natural environment.  Whereas the disc wheel version has a full toroid profile that runs to the edge of the rim that joins the tire, the hybrid toroid rim brake version ends its rounded profile early to make room for a parallel brake track.

So some aero benefit is lost and the added weight against the others in this review makes the Zipp a little slower to accelerate.  Whereas most disc brake wheelsets these days are converted rim brake ones that bring some characteristics that make them less than the ideal on a disc brake bike (e.g., unneeded brake track thickness/weight), Zipp appears to have designed the 30 Course for disc brake bikes first and its conversion to rim brake use brings characteristics that make it less than ideal in that mode (e.g. rim profile).

However, if you are a serious roadie that wants to try out the ‘gravel’ or cyclocross riding or you want to have a year-round training wheel so you can leave your carbon wheels inside during lousy weather, the Zipp 30 Course rim brake wheelset (Amazon, eBay, UK/EU Mantel UK) is a good option for you.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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413 comments

  • Hello Fellow Enthusiasts,

    For those of you who may be wondering, the exclusive ITK10 discount code for In The Know Cycling readers at PBK UK is still very much alive. You simply need to go to PBK UK from any link on this site and it will work fine. You can find links to PBK UK in the right hand column of any page on this site.

    The code will no longer be accepted if you go to the PBK site directly or through a site other than this one. This avoids other sites from publishing the ITK10 code and PBK providing discounts that were intended exclusively for ITKC readers.

    Thanks,
    Steve

    • Steve
      Your post on DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut wheels…..at the end you mention……..”run 5mm to almost 10mm deeper and 3mm to 4mm wider inside and out, weigh less than 100 grams more and cost about the same… and just feel faster and more planted when cornering, it’s hard for me to get excited about this DT Swiss wheelset.”

      Which other wheel sets would you recommend in this category then?
      Thanks,

      • Jason, Amongst the “wider” wheels below, I like the Easton, HED and Zipp 30 Course. You can see the performance attributes in the chart below and the write-ups about each to help choose between them. Steve

  • Steve,
    Do you have any knowledge/opinion of the Chinese wheel manufacturer “Yoeleo?” I’ve heard good things from a few people, curious if you had thoughts on them? Thx
    Jonathan

    • Jonathan, I’ve never ridden a pair. Unfortunately, there are many wheel manufacturers that put their brand and marketing behind wheels designed and made by others in open mold factories. These are generally copies of wheels a generation or three old and, depending on the factory, not made to the quality/reliability level of those that are designed and tested by engineers at the company selling them. After sales support can be very limited. Many of these companies also follow a marketing practice where they pay customers to say good things about them on forums and pay bloggers to write about them. I don’t know that Yoeleo is doing this but it is not uncommon.

      Yoeleo doesn’t say anything I can find on their site about their design, manufacturing, testing etc. I haven’t seen any reviews of their wheels from writers or publications whose work I know, good or bad, so I really can’t say. Steve

  • Hi Steve. Just caught up with your 2017 wheel set upgrade review for 2017. Thanks for one of the best and most comprehensive pieces on wheel dimensions etc. It’s damn confusing for those of us who love riding but don’t have time to dive into industry trends and scientific stuff.
    I’m a big rider at 90kg riding a 2017 Trek Domane on the stock Bontrager wheels. They’re okay but I don’t feel they roll as well as even the Mavic Aksiums I had on my previous bike. Any view on this and do you think the Mavic Kysrium is a good step up on the Bonts in terms of rolling, stiffness and comfort?

    • Craig, Welcome and thanks for the feedback. Not sure what you mean by the Bontragers not rolling as well as you would like. The Bonti stock wheels are usually pretty good as are the hubs they put in them; I’d rate them above the Aksiums. The Ksyrium Elite will be stiffer but, depending on how you have your Isospeed decouplers set up, the stiffness and comfort you feel will be more a function of the cushioning in the Isospeed than the wheels you have on the bike. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I had a chance to try the 2016 Reynolds Assault and was pushed around a bit by crosswinds. I am 150 pounds on a 51 cm Focus brand bike. Would you think the 2017 might handle crosswind any better?

  • Steve – this is mostly as a heads up to you as I suspect this info could on the off chance be helpful and a thank you for your insights. I spent considerable time reading and debating wheels. Really should get a pair of the Reynolds Assaults but budget ruled and I needed a reasonable commute (3k of commute miles with pack that puts me over 200 lbs) set of wheels. Decided on the Zonda 17s you suggested and bought them through PBK with your code hoping to help out… Here was the review I had to submit when they asked if I was happy with my purchase.

    It all started with the shipping and hasn’t gotten much better. – After the box sat at a location for over two weeks I ask PBK to look into it 2 times, each time they politely responded asking for more time to check but it took PBK another week to get the package progressing again. Finally the package arrived 2 weeks after scheduled. (and they never left a message that they had sorted the issue out… the wheels just arrived – odd customer service in my mind after several messages but was definitely happy they arrived.) When I took the wheels out of the box, that was definitely beaten up, but the internal packaging suggested it looked like the wheels should be okay. First ride, 35 miles, they seems okay and rolled better than my previous wheels. Next two rides (commute to and from work) I passed a brand new paved section of road and noticed a vibration in the rear. Seems odd that the “road” would not be smooth so I spun the wheel in the frame… big flat spot. UGH! Rode to work today trying to figure out what I would do in my mind. And then I got an email asking me to rate my purchase… Sorry PBK but you asked for my feedback and this is what happened.

    Steve – maybe I am unique but PBK and these wheels were a nightmare. FWIW – I did see about true out of the box on my relatively cheap Spin Doctor truing stand. Front was good with one little scrape/noise in a small spot, rear had a slightly noisier vertical scrape but short and I just figured “I guess even good wheels are not perfect and maybe what I have been doing to true wheels hasn’t been so bad after all… ” Spoke stiffness seemed pretty consistent also but that was just by feel. So I mounted and rode…

    Thanks again. Power meter next purchase. Hope it goes better. 🙂

    • Scott, Thanks for the input. Hope you provided the same to PBK. Note, I only recommend and link to the PBK UK site as customers using their PBK US/CA and PBK AU sites have reported delivery and customer service issues that have brought their TrustPilot scores below the level at which I would recommend a store. I say more on this at my store rating post here .

      As to the flat spot, you might want to double check the intersection of the tire and rim to make sure the tire bead and rim hook are fully engaged all the way around. I will occasionally install a tire quickly and I get a section that does full extend to engage the hook. It’s usually easy to see; some of the sidewall near the rim is somewhat submerged. I just deflate the tire and reinflate it to 20-30psi, make sure bead and hook are fully engaged, jockey it if not, then inflate further. Sometimes just inflating it will get them to hook in fully. If the issue is something more than that and it’s in the rim, definitely get in touch with PBK. Let me know if you have any further issues and I’ll try to help.

      Steve

  • California Rider

    I’m interested in your thoughts on the 5mm deeper and slightly heavier Boyd Altamont? If I follow your reasoning elsewhere, you should prefer that rim, right? Slightly stiffer, slightly more aero, for a negligible weight cost?

    • CR, That’s a broad generalization that isn’t a good guideline to follow. Sorry if you drew that conclusion from my review. Wasn’t my intention. There are too many things beyond depth and weight that affect stiffness (things like spoke angle, number of spokes, hub) and aero performance (rim shape, absolute depth, your speed). Depending on what you are looking for and need, Boyd offers different spoke counts, hubs, depths and prices. If you are interested in sorting out what’s best for you with the Altamont, I’d suggest you give Boyd a call. Your weight, riding terrain, speed, power output, budget, etc. would all play into consideration. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I’m trying to purchase the Fulcrum Racing 3 Wheelset since Campagnolo Zonda (Shimano Hub) is out of Stock. I use your ITK10 discount code on Probikekit.co.UK, it is invalid. I am accessing the wrong web country/region?

    • Bryan, My apologies. Some of the links to PBK UK aren’t working to validate the discount code. I’m fixing that this morning. In the meantime, please use this link to ProBikeKit UK which should work along with the ITK10 code to get your 10% discount. Let me know if you have any further issues. And thanks for supporting In The Know Cycling. Steve

  • Hi Steve, i have a specialized elite 2012 with axis classic stock wheels. I can’t say that i’m not happy with them but i really haven’t ridden any other bike with better wheels so to have a comparision criteria. I’m thiniking of upgrading the bike, first the wheels and later the groupset. My budget for the wheels is about 500euro. For the groupset i’m thinking of 105 11sp (now i have sora). My weight is 80kg and i ride about 200km per week, planing to increase them in the near future and participate in races. I ride in mixed conditions with preference to mountains.
    I was wondering if i would see a major improvement by moving from the axis classic to a wheelset of your first group (Zonda C17, DT RR21,ksyrium elite and pro lite A21) so to worth the upgrade. If yes which one would you recomend ? Is there any other wheelset that you could recomend in this price?
    Thanks

    • Kostas, The Zonda would be the best value of that group. Steve

      • Thanks a lot Steve, my initial preference was the ksyriums but there was a major diference in the price with zondas (about 490 euro the ksyriums and 370 the Zondas) so i was also considering the zondas. I finally found the ksyriums with 399 euro in 4thebike online store so i bought them.

        • Kostas,

          The links next to each wheelset reviewed in the post above give you the best prices from stores with independent customer satisfaction ratings of 4* out of 5* or better from TrustPilot or 8 out of 10 from Google Customer Reviews.

          4thebike has no ratings from either of these independent sources and 4thebike’s own Facebook page has their followers giving them a 3.4 out of 5 rating with about 35% giving them a 1*, the lowest rating. Also, the Ksyrium Elite they have for €399 is a 2015 model with a black Campy hub, which won’t work with your Sora groupset. The lowest price Ksyrium Elite they have with the Shimano red hub version on sale for €539.

          If you click through on the links to the stores I provided, the lowest price on the Zonda in stock with a black Shimano hub is €357 from one store using the ITK10 reader discount. The Ksyrium Elite are available with black Shimano hubs for as low as €435.

          Steve

          • Hi Steve,
            I looked into the forums before buying from 4thebike and i didn’t see any major concerns, maybe some delays in the delivery but i think that the price diference worths it. So i decided to do it i hope that i will not regret it..
            First of all to correct my mistake, i have tiagra groupset and not sora. The ksyrium model that i bought is https://www.4thebike.de/wheels/roadbike/aluminium/12956/mavic-ksyrium-elite-wheels-clincher-set with the shimano HG rotor option. Is also says that it is compatible with shimano 9/10/11 speed. So i suppose that it will work with my 10sp tiagra (with a spacer), isn’t that correct ?
            I didn’t know that there is a direference between the coloured habs,to be honest i didn’t find someting like that in mavic’s site. I think that the colour is only cosmetic and all the hubs are the same… Maybe you mean that the 2015 hub is not the same with the 2017 one ? Could you please clarify ?
            Thanks

  • Kostas, Forums don’t provide well researched, independently collected input. Link you provided is for Mavic wheelset that isn’t in stock and that costs more than Zonda that is in stock and equal/better performer from more reliable shop. Just trying to help. Hope it works out for you. Steve

    • Hi Steve, my receipt says that they are in stock.If they dont ship them in a week i will cancel the order and get my money, if they send them and i’m not satisfied i will send them back and get my money. Zondas are there waiting in any case…
      Most of the cases i prefer trusted stores but this price was unbeatable so i decided to take the risk with the 4thebike.
      Anyway thanks a lot for the advices.

  • Hi Steve,
    I’m ready to upgrade and was thinking of the Campagnolo Zonda or Fulcrum Racing 3, when I checked further I found that I am too large (6’6″) and heavy (115K ) for a standard wheel.
    In my search I came across American Classic whose site recommended the 420 Aero 3 as an suitable option. Have you heard of them or had any experience with any of their product?
    I find the lighter weight and slightly more aero rim profile appealing over the Mavic Aksiums that came with my bike.
    I’ve been keeping up with your site for a bit and I am very impressed. Your writing is clear and lucid, and you explain things quite well. Thank you very much for all your effort; it is much appreciated.
    Regards, Michael

    • Michael, I have reviewed their Argent and Hurricane wheels before. Good product if not anything out of the ordinary. I don’t know the 420 Aero 3 but the design (width, spoke count) looks rather conventional. For a guy your size, stiffness is going to be key and I just don’t think a standard built wheelset from any brand is going to give you what you need. You might consider going to a wheelset maker like Boyd that offers its wheels with different spoke builds for more or less stiffness or to go to a custom wheel builder who you can offer you a few options of rim, hub and spoke combinations at the right stiffness level based on your riding profile and budget. Steve

  • Any thoughts on the Shimano Ultegra 6800? Thanks.

    • Eugene, Closer to a stock wheel than an upgrade. It’s several years old with an outdated design. Shimano will replace it as part of its move to Ultegra 8000 components. I wouldn’t necessarily wait for it as I suspect it will stay behind the curve from a performance standpoint. Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    Thanks for the great articles. I’ve just begun reading them but have learned a lot already. Let me begin by saying I am a notch below enthusiast, usually ride alone but like going as fast as my budget will allow. I’m considering the Pro Lite Bortola A21 wheelset as an upgrade to stock wheels on an older (2010) Trek 1.5 with 9 speed SRAM cassette. I’ve got two questions. First, I’ve changed flats, tires, chain but never swapped out a wheel. Any considerations or ‘gotchas’ to lookout for? I’m ordering the wheels from Wiggle so with shipping from UK to US, would hate to get them and find out they just won’t work with my bike for some reason. Second, I was already running Conti Grand Prix 4000S II 700x23c tires on my stock wheels but rear tire is damaged (not sure how many miles on front but seems in pretty good condition). Would you recommend I replace both with 700x25c, just buy a replacement 700x23c for rear or (and feel free to tell me I’m crazy) consider leaving current 700x23c on front and buying 700x25c for rear? Thanks.

    • Ron, Welcome and thanks for reading and commenting. The Bortola and all the other wheels I’ve reviewed won’t work with a 9-speed Shimano or SRAM groupset. Some will work with 9-speed Campy gruppos but I don’t imagine that’s what you have on your Trek if you are using a SRAM cassette. Unfortunately, you’ll need to upgrade your groupset to use current model wheelsets. There are some good deals now on 11-speed Shimano Ultegra groupsets (review here) now being replaced by newer model ones (review coming in next couple weeks). Steve

      • Bummer. The Bortola mentioned 9-speed Shimano compatibility in description and Zonda C17 also listed 9/10/11 in selection box for both Shimano and Campy so hoped it was as simple as using the appropriate spacer on the freehub. With two kids headed off to college in the not too distant future, don’t think I can convince the wife of an upgrade that will end up costing more than the original bike. Got any archive articles or recommend on an older wheelset that I might be able to pick up used that would be worth an upgrade from my stock Bontrager Series 6000 and work on my bike or should I just stick with the stock wheels, buy a replacement tire (which was what started me down the upgrade path) and wait until I can afford to get a new bike farther down the proverbial road?

        • Ron, File this under “my bad” and “learn something new every day”. Your mention of risking a discussion with wife set off alarms. I checked with Wiggle and they said putting one, perhaps two spacers on the hub before you put on the cassette would make it work with a 9-speed hub/groupset. The spacers come with the wheels. So that’s a “gotme”. I don’t know of any other gotchyas other than to check that there will be enough room between the brake calipers for the wider rims (may need to add more cable) and enough room between the forks in the front and the chain stays and seat stays in the back for the wider tires. You’d want about 5mm clearance on both sides of the inflated tires so you want in the range of 38-40mm total width or more. I’d expect that if you are running 23C Contis on your current wheels you’ll likely be ok but I’d suggest you double check. I would encourage you to get a fresh cassette and chain if you haven’t replaced them in a while. And, yes, you can run 25C tires on front and/or back of both these wheels. If you only buy one, I’d put it on the back. Two new ones would probably give you a more consistently performing ride but it isn’t necessary. They are a lot of tire sales going on now. Show your wife how much you saved and you’ll be a hero (and I will have escaped being directly responsible for another fellow enthusiast spending a night on the couch). Steve

        • hi ron: just a quick and encouraging comment. i bought the bortolas several years ago on steve’s review and i like them just fine. they came with the spacers steve mentioned so i had to use (just one) for my ultegra 10sp cassette. works fine. hope you have similar luck with your 9sp set-up if you take this route.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for such great information. I’ve had a Specialized Secteur (2014) for a little over three years now and have finally decided to bite the bullet and make some upgrades from the stock wheels and components my bike came with. I’ve recently upgraded to a 105 groupset. I’m budgeting around $400 for wheels. I live in a pretty hilly area and will occasionally do a longer climb. I usually ride on weekends with a LBS group and will do the occasional longer endurance event; definitely looking to increase my weekly milage, but only in an enthusiast setting. I’m 6’1” and weigh around 230lbs (105kg). In reading your reviews and looking at several other websites I’ve narrowed my search down to Mavic Ksyrium Elite, Fulcrum Racing 3, and Campagnolo Zonda C17 wheels. My primary concerns are wheel quality/durablity and certainly as much aero/stiffness/handling benefit I can afford. I’ve read a ton of reviews from each of these three wheels and the vast majority are positive. They all seem to be good choices; is there anything I am not taking into consideration here? Do you have a recommendation from those three (or another wheel I am not considering) based on my information?

    Thanks in advance,
    Mike

  • Steve, would you recommend the Mavic Ksyrium Elite’s at $480 or the Zondas at $360? I am looking for a climbing wheel, all around mainly, and am 200+lbs. Thank You. Love your site btw.

    • 45, Both are good options for someone your weight. If you want tubeless, the new Ksyrium Elite UST is a better option. Steve

  • Steve, I went with the Boyd wheels after reading your GREAT assessment of wheels in general. I LOVE them. I purchased in November of last year and am happy to say that after 8500 miles, they are as true as the day I got them.

    thanks for you posts!

  • Hi Steve,

    Budget: <700USD
    Discipline: Road
    Average Distance per ride: 80km
    Rolling Speed: Above 32km/h
    Terrain: Mainly flat. Average 300-400m elevation gain per ride
    Rider: 5'6 101bs

    Hope to be hold high speed with lesser effort than stock wheels

    • Karw, Not a lot of good options out there to meet your goals within that budget. The Fulcrum Racing Quattro LG you asked about earlier is heavy (>1700g)/similar weight to most stock wheels and more or less a box shape so not particularly aero despite its depth. At your weight, will take more effort to get these up to speed than shallower, lighter wheelset and won’t hold your speed any better due to its rim profile and width.

      If you need to replace your current stock wheels soon, would suggest the Easton or Boyd reviewed above. If you can wait, suggest you save a bit more and look at an all-around carbon wheelset https://intheknowcycling.com/2017/03/19/best-all-around-carbon-rim-brake-road-bike-wheels/. At your speed and weight, those will give you a lot more aero benefit, hold your speed easier and allow you to get up to speed quicker due to their better hubs and lighter rims. Steve

  • Hello Steve. I just receive my new Trek Domane SLR 8 and it is delivered with Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR wheelset & 28mm tires.
    I don’t try the bike yet (because of the bad weather I got at home this week).
    My cycloclub mate propose me a new Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 wheelset for a very good price. Do you think it is worth the “upgrade” to buy the Racing Zero ? Reading your review, comparing the Racing Zero C17 to the Zonda, I can not tell if the Racing Zero will be better than the stock Paradigm Elite, especially with the 28mm tires. Moreover, Paradigm Elite can be run tubeless in the future. I got some doubt.
    I weight 73 kg & fears the I’ll found the Racing Zero C17 unconfortable too.
    So, can you ask me if, from your point of view & experiences, I’de better to kept the Paradigm Elite or the buy the Fulcrum ?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Clayton, Congratulations on your new bike! I wish you many great rides on it. The Paradigm Elite is a great stock wheel, one that I consider an alloy upgrade. It’d be better than the Racing Zero if you want to run 28mm tires, which I wouldn’t suggest anyone ride on the Racing Zero. I don’t see any reason for you to buy the Racing Zero if you already have the Paradigm Elite. Cheers, Steve

      • Thanks for the reply Steve. The 28mm are 32mm inflated at 90 PSI !!!! I will not run it but swap it for a pair of Michelin Power Competition 700x25C. With 25mm wide tire, do you suggest the Racing Zero C17 or the Paradigm Elite as the best suited ?

        • If you already have the Paradigm Elite, I wouldn’t see the Racing Zero C17 as an upgrade. I’d suggest you stay with the Paradigm Elite and save and upgrade to a deeper carbon all-around wheelset in the future. Steve

  • looking on a set of wheels for my sis for Christmas. The Zondas are at the top end of my budget. any sugestions for something a bit less expensive, or are the less expensive ones too similar to stack wheels to be and upgrade?

    • Chad, Looks like your sister has a heck of a brother! The Zondas are the best value wheels I’ve found that are an upgrade from stock wheels. You may find some other off-brand or earlier generation (ie. C15 width) wheels that are less expensive, but I’m not aware of any that combine the performance and value of the Zonda.

      If you shop carefully including checking the links provided in the post and using the exclusive discount codes, you’ll find the Zondas aren’t a whole lot more expensive than many stock wheels. Steve

  • Steve,

    had the good fortune of bumping into your impressive site: informative, clear and direct.

    Have a (Bertoletti) Legend HT 7.5 fitted with Athena 11drivetrain and Zonda 15C (vintage 2014/2015) wheels, 25mm Veloflex tire in front, 28mm Vittoria in rear aimed at comfort. (Conti 4000s did not fit). I’m 69, 6’3”, 175 lbs, ride 2-3 times a week, typically 25-40 mile ~15 mph club rides , with 1500-2500′ of ascent.

    Started to wonder a ~$1,000 wheel upgrade would offer a meaningful improvement in performance and feel in two respects: climbing (primarily), and the occasional spirited top speed blast (secondary). If so, what are your specific recommendations?

    Side question: recently happened to be riding alongside a pair of Enve (50 or 60 mm deep rims) carbon wheels that cost $3,000+ and was dismayed at the noise they generated under load, when freewheeling and squealing while braking. It seemed as if the hollow rim was acting as an amplifying echo chamber. Is this is the norm for carbon rims?

    • rdv, unlikely to be a wheelset in that price range that would meet your goals with the riding you are doing. could get something like the Shimano DA C24 for better climbing but won’t do anything for you in the sprints.

      And I’d strongly discourage you from running a 28C tire on a 15C rim. Handling going downhill at any kind of speed could be an issue. Would suggest 25C tire max and lower the tire pressure to get comfort you want.

      What you heard from ENVE wheel freewheeling was likely a Chris King hub which have a signature sound that some prefer. Brake “squeal” may have been textured brake tracts doing their thing or a set of brake pads that weren’t set up right (not “toed-in”). Steve

      • Thanks. Would characterize my secondary goal as sustained speed to “close the gap” rather than sprinting. Was looking at the Easton EA90SL or HED Ardennes+ SL you reviewed as possible difference makers.

        The next logical questions become: at what price level would you say a “satisfactory” level of improvement can be gained? What wheels would you recommend at that point?

        As to carbon rims, I was really asking if added noise is inherent.

        • rdv, both great wheels but neither will be any better climbing or help you close the gap. That, my friend, will come from interval training. You really need to be riding at speeds (18-20 mph and up) where deeper, all-round wheels (40-50mm and up costing $1500-2000 and up) will help you ride faster (1-2 mph) all else being equal. Take a look at my reviews of climbing and all-around wheels if you want to see what the next level looks like. Also read my two posts on how to ride faster starting with this one on training and technique https://intheknowcycling.com/2015/04/15/how-to-ride-faster-on-your-bike-10-better-ways-part-1/.

          And no, noise isn’t inherent with properly set up carbon wheels. Steve

  • Exactly the unvarnished feedback I was looking for. Much appreciated.

    I had already delved into your overall and climbing wheel posts, and views on tires, and will catch up with the rest of the site in short order. With all the talk about wheels as the best upgrade, I didn’t want to miss out on potential ‘affordable’ performance benefits (rather than working for them). I don’t spend enough time at 25 mph to fret over 1-2 mph gains. The feedback deepened my appreciation of the Zondas. I haven’t had to touch them in nearly 3 years and have an older set on a vintage Bottecchia that haven’t needed trueing in a decade.

    As follow-up, I’ll keep an eye out for developments, initiate a wish list, and start feeding a piggy bank. Many thanks.

    • On to Round 2.

      Hoping for noticeable performance improvement over the Zondas in the $1,000 to $2,000 range. Might be more visceral than practical for my riding, but more responsive climbing and a bit less effort on 25+ mph stretches would increase the fun quotient. The incremental gains at higher prices are beyond my means.

      For the $1-2k market range, your table of all-arounds shortens to the Fulcrum Racing Quattro and Speed 40C, and Reynolds Assault SLG, while the text mentions the Campagnolo Bora One 35 and HED Jet 4. The climbing list adds the Mavic Ksyrium Pro SL C and Fulcrum Racing Zero.

      Which two or three among these would you rate as noticeably superior to my15c Zondas, and superior to the others in the range, with respect to climbing, acceleration, and retaining speed ?

      How would these better wheels compare to the Zipp 303 Firecrest, which seems exceptional and worth keeping an eye out for deals on?

      Thanks.

  • Hi mate, just stumbled across these reviews – most excellent! Was wondering if you had an opinion on the Fulcrum Racing 3s when compared to the Zondas? Both are similarly priced on Wiggle. I don’t race cits; more so long-distance rides with a look to drop my mates on climbs.

    Cheers!

    • JB, Welcome. The Zonda and Racing 3s have historically been the same wheels with different branding and a few other nuanced differences that didn’t make any performance difference. The new model Zonda – wider, more compliant for lighter riders, yet still stiff for heavier ones – was introduced about a year ahead of the new Racing 3. Wiggle has the new Zonda (here) but still the old Racing 3 (the link you provided). I haven’t actually seen the new wider version of the Fulcrums in stores yet. The 2017 model is still the narrower one. I suspect the 2018 Racing 3 will be the new Zonda twin. Steve

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