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

  • Hi Steve, i have a trek fx 7.9 since april this year. recenly i am think of change the wheels to improve on both climb and flat speed. looking to improve my average speed to 28-30 kph. my budget is around USD500. I love century ride. thanks

  • i have recently started reading your website. its truly amazing how much thought you have put into it.
    and also how helpful you are to people who ask.

    i got back into cycling after two years of injuries and being bed ridden. since march, i have biked about 7000 km and average about 32 km ( climbs included ) on my binachi camaleonte. i have bought (online ) a specialized roubaix sl3 2012 model. it is yet to be delivered. i wish to also buy a pair of wheels . and what little i have understood of wheelsets the zipps, the Reynolds and the dura ace seem to be amongst the top buys.
    i ride about 300 km upwards a week. do about 40-50 km a day ( in bombay ) and 100-200 on weekends ( but not in the monsoons are the ‘roads’ are horrific ).
    i have recently bought an aero helmet after reading about it here ( it is, along with the bike, on its way ),and now am thinking of getting a aero wheels ( second hand though ).
    i weigh 79 kgs kgs -174 pounds .
    with a budget around 700-1000 $ . what would the best wheelset be for someone like me?
    thank you in advance.

    • Kunal, Congratulations on using cycling to help your recovery. I wrote this post here on aero wheels. Not sure I’d buy a used carbon one – hard to evaluate it from a distance. You might be able to find a used or discounted Dura Ace C50 carbon alloy wheelset as Shimano is replacing it with a deeper model next year. Steve

      • ah ! super Steve 🙂

        i have not been able to find any C50’s at a good discount at all. or zipps. the closest i have gotten to those two are SRAM s60s. which according to some are ‘heavy’ wheels ( point to note. the bike i currently average 32 + km on flats= climbs weighs in at 14.5 kgs ! 🙂 so weight is not so much of an issue here )
        thankfully since getting back on the bike. i have lost some 11 kgs ( since march ) so that is a bike and a half lost already and another bike to go. what little i have understood of weight vs aero, mostly by reading your website is that aero trumps weight. ESPECIALLY if you are not pro ( i am clearly not ). so a wheelset that weights 200 or 400 grams more is a minute difference. ( 400/80 kgs +14 kgs is not at all much :))) )

        how are the sram c60’s ? thank you again.

  • Kunal, I wouldn’t use the database you referred to compare wheelsets. Tests done by different sources are done under different conditions and cannot be compared. Merely look at the Zipp 404 tested by different sources to see the wide variation in results. The Zipp 404 Firecrest rim profile has never changed from it’s inception. As a further example, Tour does tests of wheels on a bike with a test dummy with the wind coming at different angles, with a weighting of those angles to come up with results. Others test only the front wheel using a different set of yaw angles and a different weighting combination. So as not to confuse other readers, I have deleted the link you provided to this compilation of different tests.

    Better to read an independent source (i.e. not a manufacturer) testing different wheels in the same test conditions, yaw angles and weightings. Unfortunately, there are few of these. Tour Magazine has recently done aero testing of a couple dozen well known wheelsets including Shimano, Mavic, Zipp, Campy of various depths (8/2016 issue) to come up with relative aero performance ratings. I cannot provide a link to that as a subscription is required. As you would suspect, however, deeper wheels are more aerodynamic than shallower ones and more rounded rim shapes are more aero than traditional box shaped ones according to their tests. This isn’t news. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I stumbled across your site and I am so impressed by all the work you’ve put in to help us. Thanks a lot! Your site is a gold mine. I came to road biking when I retired 3 years ago. I’ve been riding on an aluminum bike (a Felt Z85) since then but I’ve decided to upgrade a month ago to a full carbon bike (a Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp UDI2 great for the rough roads we have in Québec). It’s a great bike but I’m planning to replace the stock wheels that came on my bike (Fulcrum Racing S-19 Light) for next year. As a new biker at 59 years old, I’m not a racer nor a power rider and I’m light (160 lbs). When I go for a ride (3 to 4 times a week), I’m averaging between 23 and 26 km/hour on mainly flat roads. With a good training program this winter, I hope I will be able to add km at the faster pace next year. I know that to get aero benefit, I should speed up over 30 km/hour but even if I don’t reach that goal, do you have any suggestions to upgrade my wheels. It should be possible to get better wheels with better hub internal and bearing components that could maximize my speed and performance. As a low-power guy with a modest cardio engine, I’m looking for all the help I can find and some advice from you. Don’t you think having better wheels with better hubs should decrease the rolling resistance which slows me down and consequently, I should be able to ride faster or at least with less effort? I heard that 240 hubs internal are great. I also read that you often suggested Shimano C24 or C35. So, what do you think?

    • Claude, Welcome to the wonderful world of cycling. I wrote a couple posts on how to ride faster that you might want to take a look at to put decision to upgrade wheels in perspective. In short, your training program will be the most effective way to get faster. Good wheels will also help for the reasons you suggested as will tires with lower rolling resistance at the speeds you are riding. I agree with all that you are saying about the DT 240 hubs and Shimano wheels. Beyond the wheelse in this post, depending on your budget, you might also want to take a look at my best all-around wheels post. Steve

  • Steve – you managed to compare the Campy Zondas c15 vs 17’s?

    Some good deals on the narrower model now and keen to see what difference there is.

    Quick summary of me 210lbs, 6′, 3 rides a week, 30miles to 50miles per ride, ave speed 18mph.

    • Antony, Go with the C17 if you want a more comfortable ride and are willing to put a 25C tire on it. The Zonda has never been a very comfortable wheelset so the wider tires would give you some relief. both are pretty inexpensive, relatively speaking. Steve

  • Hey Steve,

    First off, your knowledge on wheels/tires is absolutely astounding. I’m somewhat new to cycling, so reading all your information has been both enlightening as well as overwhelming. That being said, I’m here commenting more or less because of why everyone else is: I stumbled across your website while looking for wheel upgrades lol.

    I’ve only been cycling since mid-July, but the bug has bit me and it has bitten me hard. I absolutely love it. The last time I had touched a bike before buying was when I was 13, so I was pretty tentative at first. That went away fast. I’ve worked myself up to 50mile weekend rides where I can average about 20-22mph on flats by myself (I can hit 25 solo, but I start to get gassed after about 3 minutes of cycling). If I’m working with a someone else or in a group, I can generally up my pace to about 25-27ish, but that’s where I stall. Additionally, I find myself really struggling on hills (not super slow, but not nearly as fast as I’d like to be going).

    Right now, I’m riding a Fuji Transonic 2.9 and am none too happy with the Vera Corsa wheels. I’m also 6’0 and about 210lbs, but my weight has been steadily dropping since I’ve picked up cycling and my speeds have constantly been improving after each ride as I get more comfortable shifting and keeping my cadence up (as well as the aforementioned weight dropping).

    So far, I’ve somewhat narrowed my search down to either the RS81 C35s or the Fulcrum Quattro LGs, both with 25mm tires. My budget is $600. If you could point me in the right direction or to another option, I would be greatly appreciative.

    Thanks!

    • Alan, Neither of those wheels will do any better for you than what you are currently riding and at the speeds you say you are riding. For more background, I’d suggest you read my post on the Best All Around Wheelset here, set some cycling objectives for the next year and set out a budget and training program on how to achieve it. There are many wheelset categories, each geared to different types of riding and budgets. Knowing what you want to do and how much you are willing to invest in it will help you decide what to get. Steve

      • Hey Steve, thanks for the quick and honest reply. Something I should have also mentioned was that I was also more for comfort purposes as opposed to speed purposes (wider rim/wider tires). I am under no delusions that swapping out wheels will improve performance, and the only reason I’m actually even looking at the 35mm rims is because I had a feeling the 24mm rims might not work as well with my weight.

  • Hi Steve! Thanks for all your good info. I really like my Campy Zonda wheels that you recommended. I have had them a while now, and have put many miles on them with no issues. But like Alan above, I would like to run 25c tires for a bit more comfort, and therefore would like to get the new C17 Zonda wheels. I see that they are for sale on several websites now, but I do not see the 2-way fit for tubeless available in the new size yet. I live in Arizona, where there are a lot of thorns, and I have been getting a lot of flats lately and changing tubes (sometimes 2 a week!) is getting to be a pain. So I would like to try running tubeless tires. Do you know when the new Zonda (or Fulcrum Racing 3) C17 in 2-way fit set might be available? In the meantime, I am going to bite the bullet and switch to Gatorskins over the GP4000 SIIs I have been running. Thanks.

  • Steve, I haven’t seen the 2-ways out yet. The 17C Zonda clinchers are just now coming to market so I suspect it might be a few months or more. They 17C are also about 3x the price of the15C models so I suspect the 2-way fit will be quite a bit more as well.

    Meanwhile, there are other choices in 17C and 19C out there now that might be worth a look once you get into that price range that I wrote about here https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/05/03/best-road-bike-wheel-upgrades/.

    Sadly, going to the Gatorskins is going to give you pretty high rolling resistance and not the most comfortable ride. Damn cactii! Steve

    • hi to steve and steve re gatorskins and flats.

      i ride in the east bay area of n CA and we have goathead thorns that do much damage to tubes especially around this time of year. i was experiencing the number of flats steve alluded to and also switched to gatorskins 23c to see if that made a difference in the flat issue. it helped quite a bit; indeed, enough to be quickly noticeable. (i also keep a maintenance diary which confirms the improvement.) i’m not a strong enough rider to note the ‘rolling resistance’ issue and the ‘ride’ was not any different from the tires i replaced. good luck on your decision.

    • Hi Steve, in the Campagnolo wheels catalogue for 2017, found on their website, there is no Zonda 2-way model, 2-way is only available for Shamal Ultra and Eurus. They seem to have dropped the 2-way option for Zonda for 2017, just as tubeless is gaining in popularity, so frustrating! Being a huge fan of tubeless and wanting to change to C17 this leaves the Bortola A21, but I don’t want to deal with the hassle of rim tape, any thoughts on options?

  • Hi Steve and also grasspress. Yes, I have resisted going to the Gatorskins for those very reasons. I like the grip, feel and handling of the GP4000SIIs. I really don’t want to switch to the Gatorskins, but if a little more rolling resistance is the trade-off for fewer flats, then I think it might be worth the switch. Of course, that is why I want to try tubeless – the best of all worlds, or so it appears on paper. I normally average about 20 to 21 mph when I ride alone, and about 25+ mph when I ride in a group with West Valley Cycles, so that rolling resistance is important to me. I need to be able to keep up! Those guys don’t let grass grow under them. I am not a light rider, 6’4″ and at 225 pounds, that’s why your recommendation for the Zondas was spot on. I really like the Zonda wheels, even more than my Zipp 60s (I mainly run the Zipps for time trials and triathlon events). The bike is noticeably “zippier” on the Campy wheels than the Zipps (go figure!).

    I will have a look at the other wheels that you linked to. But I may just wait for the 2-way fit versions of the C17 wheels to come out, and run the Gatorskins in the meantime. Thanks again for your help.

    • I would agree with Steve here on the GP4000SII. I ride in Mumbai – which has the worst roads in the world for a major city. The roads are lumpy, sometimes full of loose stone and potholes. Both me and wife ride the GP4000SII and have had very few flats with them. If you are regularly getting flats it might be because the offending item it still lodged in to the tire carcass. I have ridden this tire in the rains in Mumbai when the roads give way and turn into loose pebbles 🙂

      • Ragtag, I have been able to pinpoint the source of every one of my punctures/flats. 90%+ of them have been thorns. I have also had one episode with broken glass from a broken beer bottle on the road that I couldn’t avoid, a manufacturing defect between a presta valve and a tube and one pinch flat that I caused myself early on in my riding (a lesson learned and not repeated). But these are admittedly very rare and unusual occurrences. I carefully check the inside and outside of the carcass of the tire every time I change a tube. Each time, I am able to find a NEW thorn. I carry a pair of very small needle-nose pliers in my saddlebag to pull then out with. More than once I found MORE THAN ONE thorn in the same tire. There are just millions of them on the roads and in the bike lanes where I ride. I have never had any issues with gravel.

  • Hi Steve, with the new Zondas c17 in the market for a price similar than the Bortolas (and even cheaper through some online stores), what do you recomend for a 78Kg rider who goes out twice a week in a brand new CAAD12?
    I assume to use 23 tyres for the best comfort / handling balance.

    • Hi Oscar, I haven’t ridden it yet so can’t comment on the C17 version. For a rider of your weight and riding frequency, I wouldn’t have recommended the C15 version as I believe you would find it a rather harsh ride. I’ve ridden several new 17C width wheels that aren’t terribly comfortable even with 25C tires and inflated to 80-85psi. The Zonda has always been a good low cost choice for a heavier, hard charging rider who wants a stiff, durable wheelset and is less affected or bothered by the less compliant ride.

      As to price, I would caution you to shop online only at stores that have high customer satisfaction ratings. I track nearly 100 online stores and only about 35 meet a standard that makes me comfortable shopping there and recommending you do the same. You can see the list here and also read into the post further to see the names of those that don’t make the cut. I also update the list of recommended stores who have the gear I review and recommend regularly and these can be found in the sidebar on each page of the site and in the reviews themselves. As of the update done this morning, the best prices for the C17 Zonda are about $100 more than the Bortola. Steve

      • Thanks Steve, for your clear and open approach.

        Just to let you know; the 4th and 7th shop ranked in your list of online stores, have the zonda c17 at the same price (or even some pounds less) than Wiggle has the Bortolas.

        • Ah, thanks Oscar. I was comparing them in $ and you were looking at them in £. Silly me. I hope to be able to evaluate these before long and give you and other readers a report. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I’ve got a Blue Prosecco Ex (http://rideblue.com/prosecco-ex-di2/) disc gravel bike on order that I might try to use for entry level cyclocross racing. I want to replace the default wheels with tubless-ready wheels that can handle 33mm wide tires. I’m 5’9″ and weigh 175lbs. I’m not “in it to win it”, so alloy wheels are fine. Would you recommend the Zipp 30 Course’s? Can they handle 33mm tires? Thanks in advance!

  • Hi Steve.
    First of all thanks for a great site and great articles. On to my question. I have recently bought my first full carbon bike( except for wheels :)) after several years on alloy frames. I bought a 2016 cannondale supersix evo ultegra 3 (at a good discount :)). I have been riding on both the stock mavic aksium elite and my old fulcrum racing quattro ( prior to the LG version), but I am now looking to upgrade those.
    I am a fairly heavy rider, 87 kg, and I ride mainly alone or with my girlfriend. Typically I ride around 200 km a week at around an average speed of 30 km/h in mostly flat or hilly terrain.
    Judging from your article I am currently leaning towards getting the Zonda C17 wheelset, but have also been considering the Dura ace C24. Which of those do you think would suit me better? Or do you perhaps have an even better option in mind for a rider like me?
    Thanks in advance for your advice

    • Peder, Betweeen those two wheels I’d recommend the Zonda. The C24 is not stiff enough to perform well for someone of your weight. There are others wheelsets you can consider depending on your budget. For someone riding as much and as fast as you do, you’d get a lot more performance out of an all-around wheelset that is deeper. If you haven’t already reviewed it the all article (here), the Dura Ace C35 (carbon alloy) and Reynolds Assault (all carbon) would be the best value wheelsets I recommend in that category. If you want to stay with an alloy wheelset but want to put on a wider tire for more comfort to prioritize comfort over speed, I would consider the Easton, HED and Zipp wheelsets I reviewed in this post. Steve

      • Steve, Thanks for the reply! I had looked a little on C35, but it is a little pricier than what I had hoped to spend…Right now I am still leaning towards the Zonda C17 for now, since they offer the stiffness and lightweight I am looking for, with the added rim width for comfort. Alternatively I will wait a few months to save up for a more aerodynamic wheel. Maybe I should wait and save the money till the Dura ace C40 comes out? It should have a 17 mm wide rim and still low weight and good aerodynamics.

  • Steve, thanks for all the informations that you give us ! I own a Trek Emonda SL (H2 geometry, Ultegra Di2 groupset) & wan to update the wheels (Bontrager Race) that I found heavy and not responsive. After extensive reading and visit to my LBS, I got a short list of 2 wheelsets and kind not decide between the 2. I know that I want a 17C wheelset & will use 23C tires on it.
    – Easton EA90SLX are the first. I like them to be tubeless, very light and with classical spokes. Finish & look are great to and like the ECHO hub embedded technologies too.
    – Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 are the second. I like them to be easy to service with the USB ceramic hub, but they are not tubeless (it is not mandatory but I’m often afraid of flats… so tubeless will help like when I use my MTB), great finish too (but I found it inferior to the EA90SLX finish for the sets I’ve seen at my LBS). Heavier than EA90SLX but with perhaps more versatility due to more wheel height.

    I’m 46, doing 1 to 2 “trips” per week, mainly 40 to 60 kms. I’m living in Provence (south east of France) where road are flats but can be hard when the altimeter climb… I’m at about 80 km from the Mont Ventoux…
    My Emonda SL is with a 50/34 compact crankset & I own two 11 speeds cassettes : 11-28 (classical) and 12-25.

    Can you give me you advice to choose between the Easton EA90SLX and the Fulcrum ?

    Thanks

    • Jean-Christophe, Seems to me like you are limiting yourself by choosing between two your LBS has to offer rather than all that are available on the market. Between this review and an earlier one I did on upgrade wheels (here) there are many more to choose from and both wheels you are considering and the Bontrager Race X Lite TLR are reviewed.

      Also seems that you are focused on specs – weight, rim depth, hub bearings, etc. – rather than performance. Avec tout mon respect, you won’t notice a performance difference between these two wheelsets at your riding frequency and distance. If you think you will, you can read my reviews on them for more about their performance (and a chart comparing both performance and specs). I’m not sure which Bontrager Race wheelset you have but the Race X Lite TLR is not noticeably heavier than the other two. If it is is a stock Race, it could be a couple hundred grams heavier, something you might or might not notice with your riding frequency and the the flat terrain you are riding in the beautiful Provence region (J’adore Provence!) The SLX is an older Easton model that will probably be replaced with a wider rim in a model year or two. The Racing Zero C17 has the same rim as the Racing 3 C17 but adds a ceramic bearing hub and some hub shell material changes, neither of which make any performance improvement for a recreational rider but come at a 2X or more price premium. You’ll not have a bearing wear issue with the number of kilometers you ride each year that would justify a ceramic hub and the weight differences between the two are all at the hub where it matters little to responsiveness.
      .
      I’d look first to see what you can do to improve the performance of your Bontrager wheels before spending extra money on new wheels whose actual performance you might not notice. If you want to go/stay tubeless replace the Bonty tires with lower rolling resistance and more comfortable Schwalbe Pro One. Make sure you inflation pressure is right (80-90psi for your weight on tubeless). Service the hub if it needs it. If you don’t notice a performance difference and still believe you can do better after doing those things, then choose between the wider range of wheelsets I’ve reviewed or ask your LBS to ride the wheelsets he’s recommending and see for yourself. Steve

  • Steve,
    I haven’t seen you post anything about Williams wheels. I am in the market and at 19mm inside diameter for their alloy clincher/tubeless set, the price is too good to be true….is it?

    • Paul, I wish I could answer your question. I don’t have any experience with Williams. There’s just too many different wheels out there and I tried with the post above to cover a good range of the better wide alloy upgrade wheels that are broadly available. Typically, if something is good or potentially one of the best, I’ll have heard about it and will try to ride it. If you’ve heard or can refer me to anything about it’s performance other than what’s on the site I’ll look into it and perhaps review it for my next update. Sorry I can’t give you more than that but I’d be making it up if I did. Steve

      • Steve,
        Thanks for your quick answer. Here is their site…http://www.williamscycling.com/
        I am particularly interested in the System 31 wheel set. It meets many of the criteria that you mention in your article but of course it is their site so I really would be interested in your take. Maybe they will send you a set to test. Paul

  • Hi Steve

    I am new to cycling but have been bitten by the bug after years of spinning. I have purchased a Trek emonda s6 but would like to purchase new wheels. Am I better purchasing at the discount prices available now or waiting until better weather in April.
    My knowledge is very limited and I worry about what to buy. My main issue is my weight 107kg but my average is now creeping up past 16mph and does seem to be getting faster every trip, mainly due to a very heavy training schedule I have set.

    Can you recommend a set of wheels to suit my weight that would be an improvement on my stock wheels but also hopefully give me an extra boost. I am never going to be a racer, though may join the local club when I get my speed up further. I have a budget around £400 to £500 should I also be looking Zonda C17.
    Many thanks

    • Robert, Great to read that you are joining the crazy and fun world of cycling. There will be a lot of good deals going on from now through the end of the year but there are plenty of deals during the year too so buy when you are ready.

      There aren’t a lot of wheels I’d recommend for someone of your weight. You are at the limit for most manufacturers standard wheels (See Campy’s advice here). If you can get down to around 100kg, a lot would open up for you. Alternatively, you could likely have a decent wheelset custom built for you with more spokes by a shop near you in that budget range. Go to the BikeRadar forum and poke around there. Seems like a lot of custom builders hang out there and might have some suggestions for you.

      Best,
      Steve

      • Thanks Steve.

        If I can just sort the diet out with the training its got to come down. Think I will leave it then until April when I may be winning this battle and would have more options.
        Just need to pedal harder. Thanks

  • Hi Steve, I am 86KG, ride three times per week (two times 30K – 500m elevation, one time 80K – 1500m elevation) and currently have the campagnolo zondas bolted to a cannondale supersix (2011). what would be a great upgrade, given that 75% of my riding is done in hilly (but not mountainous) areas? I have about USD 1000-1200 to spend (but don’t necessarily have to spend that much! 🙂

    • TvD, What don’t you like about the Zondas? What are you looking for from a new wheelset? Steve

      • Hi Steve, a great question. I love everything about them. I upgraded to my Zondas from Giant stock wheels (on my Defo 0) about a year ago and was overjoyed by the difference in stiffness, engagement and smoothness I immediately experienced, so I guess by upgrading to the next ‘level’ of wheel quality I was hoping for a similar leap again in more stiffness, engagement, smoothness that I enjoyed when I switched to the Zondas – hope that makes sense?

        • TvD, thanks, that’s helpful. Given your budget and what you like about the Zondas and would be looking for in a next wheelset, I’d suggest you stay with the Zondas. You really have to go to a carbon wheelset with a great hub to get you to the next level. That’s going to cost you at least 2X your budget to get something like the Zipp 303 that I recommend out of the all around carbon wheelset category (see review here). You could get an upgraded version of the Zondas, the Shamal Ultra C17 for example and some may try to talk you into that. But they are essentially the same rims and spokes with a dressed up hub for 3X the price. No difference in stiffness, slightly more comfortable with a wider tire but not a leap in anything over what you like about the Zonda. Steve

  • Steve, GREAT article! I am 157 lbs and am considering the Boyd wheelset. I am curious as to why you suggest the Altamont Lite over the Altamont. I would go with your suggestion of adding the 4 spokes front and rear (to 24/28) but does the Altamont profile not add enough aero benefit over the Altamont Lite or is the weight penalty more of a consideration. I do want a stiffer wheel and the price is good. In talking with the company they seemed to think the 20/24 would be great for me but I am not convinced of the stiffness level. Your thoughts.

    1) Altamont Lite (24/28) compared to
    2) Altamont (24/28)
    3) either at a 20/24 set up?

    Thanks

    • plindley, I don’t know that the Altamont adds anything over the Altamont Lite in terms of performance. The Lite is … lighter weight and lighter on you wallet depending on how you order it. You only need extra spokes if you want a stiffer wheelset or are heavier but for your weight a 20/24 would be plenty stiff. It certainly was for me at 150-152 lbs. Steve

  • Hi Steve…
    It’s such a pleasure to read your material. They’re a real wealth of research and information. I’m a light 64 kg rider and I ride a Specialized Tarmac Sport. I’m training for a 6000 km supported ride across 3 countries. So as you can imagine, I’m very keen to replace the stock Axis 2.0 wheels…as also try to make the race geometry of the bike more comfortable to ride for 7-8 hours everyday. I like using 25c tires at a lower 95-100 psi and would prefer to continue using 25c tires on the new wheelset as well. My shortlist includes the HED Andennes SL SL OR Zipp 30 Clinchers OR Shimano C35 Carbon. I would love your opinion on this. My budger is in teh range of $1000-$1200. Thank you so much!!

    • Prashant, First, I’d suggest you reduce your pressure down to 80 to 85 psi. There’s no reason for you to be riding tires that hard. For the wonderful journey you are describing, if it is relatively flat, I’d suggest the Zipp; if it is hillier go with the HED. Both can be run with tubeless tires which might help you if you will have some rough roads. If you already ride fast (>18mph/29kph) and want to ride this one as fast as possible, go with the Shimano and put on Conti GP4000 23C tires. They will measure 25mm and will be very comfortable. Have a great time. Sounds like a super exeperience you have in front of you. Steve

      • Steve, Thank you for your note! Just wanted to check why you felt the Zipp was better than the HED on flats. More aero? Also, I just realized that putting 25mm tires on the HED might balloon them to 29-30mm, which may not fit my bike’s frame. So I may have to run 23mm on HED or 25mm on Zipp. I usually ride an average of 26-27 kmph over a 130-150km distance…so speed is not my top consideration for this trip. Finally, I’d like to invest in wheels that will serve me best for this trip as well as any odd Sportive or Grand Fondo’s that I might do in the future. Will that have any bearing on the shortlist I have?

        • 25C tires on either the Zipp or HED will measure 28-29mm wide. Zipp is about 150g heavier so will maintain your momentum sightly better than HED on flats but won’t climb as well.

  • Looking for a training/racing wheel set under $1000. (Hoping to get a holiday deal).
    I race primarily road races with a few Crits. I consider myself a power climber where 600-900wt surges are repeated often. Don’t have s great sprint and don’t care to get tangled up. My stock Giant PS-1 rear wheel has had to be sent in for warranty repair twice in 2 years. My teammate has fulcrum racing zeros from way back and has put 60000mi of training and racing the past 6 years that have been trued once. I’m 165-170 lbs and. In training usually avg 20-25 on the flats. Racing is 22-28 avg. I saw your review for the shamal/zeros and since durability is a high priority as well I was leaning towards those. Would you recommend otherwise?

  • Steve, I was thinking about Shimano Dura-Ace C24 or Pro-Lite Bartola as an upgrade for my stock Fulcrum 7. Today I see DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut on Wiggle for $352. Would you recommend Dicut at this pricepoint (I read your review, but the price was very different)? I’m 165 – 170 lbs, average speed 18 – 20 mph, ride mostly flat and rolling hills, don’t race. Any deeper carbon clinchers are out of my budget (~ $700). Thanks a lot for your great work.

    • Hi Michael, Unfortunately, my opinion of this wheelset isn’t enhanced based on this price. (And I think you may be looking at the price for only the front wheel) Steve

  • Thanks Steve. The price is for the set. The description doesn’t match the one on the DT Swiss site though. 1460g vs 1415, inner width of 16 vs 18.

    • That’s an older model. Good catch

      • Hi Steve, They Say on the website it is the 2016 model and it should be 18 instead of 16… They will fix it I imagine. Because of the sharp price drop I am also considering these wheels as an upgrade from my Mavic Aksium wheelset. However I also like your review about the Bortola’s… Tough call?

        • hello jkniep.

          i took steve’s advise and purchased bortolas from wiggle for my scott 2012 cr1-pro. i have no regrets. however, please be advised that i am not a ‘power rider’. i ride with energy but i can’t keep up with the locals at the club; i don’t get far behind, but i do get behind.

          the order arrived in good shape from wiggle, and i’ve had zero problems with the wheelset, and i would not have known about them if i hadn’t read steve’s article.

      • Hi Steve. They say they made a mistake and do mean the 2016 model. In that case it is 18 mm instead of 16 mm… This makes me excited about these wheels also… Better value for you money?

  • Hi Steve. Firstly, thanks for such an informative site.
    I’m looking to upgrade the stock Bontrager Race wheels on my Trek Emonda SL6. I’m 70 kg and riding around 350 km a week. I don’t race and ride a mixture of flats and hills, but more hill work planned soon. I live in Thailand and my choice of wheels is limited. I would love a set of Dura Ace 24s but they are over my budget. The 2 wheelsets I’m considering are the Campagnolo Zonda for $392, and the Ritchey WCS Zeta II. What do you think?

  • Hi, Steve. Great post and thanks for all the wonderful work you do. Here is my question:
    Do you think Dura ace C35 is outdated in 2016? I am thinking buying a pair of barely used C35 for $600 so I am not sure if I should jump the gun or buy a FLO 30 Aluminum wheelset (~$600). What do think about FLO 30 Aluminum wheelset? Thanks in advace!

    • Tenjor, thanks for your kind comment and good question. The C35 is a steal for that price and still a great wheelset. Yes, it’s narrower than the 17C and 19C wheelsets in this post but it’s a very comfortable wheelset already and deeper/faster with as good or better hub as anything in this post. The FLO 30 is a fast wheelset and comfortable wheelset too but its hub is not as responsive or smooth riding as the Dura Ace one on the C35. Also, if they don’t have the FLO30 in stock, you have to pre-order them at a specific date and time or risk having to wait another month to try it again which can be madenning for some. Steve

  • Hi Steve, first thank you for your valuable website, have learned an immense amount. I’m a relatively new rider but already enjoying some respectable 30km/h + avg rides in mostly flat area, at my 1.82m and 96kg frame. Anyway I’m upgrading the stock wheels on my Domane, which are the Bontrager Race you reviewed earlier, since they have broken through in the spoke area. Looking for a budget upgrade, specifically looking at the Fulcrum Quattros (for aero benefit) and the Zonda C17 or the Fulcrum 3. Anyway wanted to hear your opinion as far as which one would you recommend? Also would you say the Campy Scirocco 35 are similar to the Fulcrum Quattros?

    • Eric, Congrats on turning up the speed. I’ve got an unopened box of Zonda C17s in my garage but that’s the closest I’ve gotten to any of these. The Fulcrum 3 is due for an update very soon I wouldn’t consider them now. I’ve never been a fan of the Quattro/Scirocco twins as they are as heavy as a stock wheelset and their profile doesn’t make them any faster despite their added depth. Frankly, none of these would be a real upgrade to the Race you have now though they all would be stiffer and handle the strength of someone your size better. If you’ve got to pull the trigger now and don’t want to spend more, the Zonda is probably a safe bet but if you can spend more, many of the wheels in this review would be a true upgrade for you. Steve

      • Hey Steve, wanted to close the loop on my previous post as I went ahead and bought a pair of wheels. So ended up going with the Zondas, I just couldnt get myself to spend the money for some carbon wheels. Figure I’ll just train harder. Anyway, the Zondas are solid, as you very well stated they are very similar performance wise to what I had (Bontrager RXL), except a lot stiffer and therefore more responsive. Before I used to feel the wheel flex under me so much that at times I would look back to see if I had a flat. None of that now, in fact Im starting to feel bumps that didnt use to bother me before. Anyway I’m very happy with my decision and I actually had an accident this morning (unfortunately I wasnt injured except for a broken ego and helmet) and my wheels are still true, so yeah it speaks for their general solidity. Thanks again wonderful job on your website, and if I may, suggest you review some bike lights for those of us that do sunrise rides. Take care!

  • Hi Steve,

    I am still not sure what wheelset to buy as an upgrade from my Mavic Aksium. I live in the Netherlands and saw several good reviews about Hunt Wheels from the UK. Are these familiar to you?

    https://www.huntbikewheels.com/collections/road-rim-brake-wheels/products/hunt-race-season-aero-wide-road-wheelset-1480g-31deep-24wide

    These are only 500, euro’s and under 1500 gram, aluminium build, 24 mm extern rim widht and 19 mm intern. Rim height is 31 mm… Wondering what your view on these is.

    • Haven’t ridden any of the Hunt wheels. Never seen an independent review of them though a lot of sponsored content product descriptions which put them in a favorable light.

      • My bike shop said they would recommend them for disc brakes, but not rim brakes. They didn’t rate the rims Hunt use on their rim brakes version.

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