BEST UPGRADE WHEELS FOR RIM BRAKE ROAD 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 need a better and probably wider set of 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 

WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS

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

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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 upgrade 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 wheelset upgrades 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 an upgrade wheelset 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 wheelsets 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 a wheelset upgrade.

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.

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.

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 (>30mm) and preferably rounded profile wheels.  But, most alloy wheels aren’t going to be that deep or have a rounded rim profile beyond area 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 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 at a market price of about USD$350/£340/€415/AUD$475 (Wiggle, Tweeks CyclesProBikeKit UK code ITK10Chain Reaction CyclesRibble).

The 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, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) and twin Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 aka LG or 2017 (available at Wiggle, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) 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 (ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, RibbleMerlin)/Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite C17 (ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Tweeks), 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, free wheel 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.

DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut – A good but expensive mountain goat that will only graze on the flats 

DT Swiss RR21 DicutThe DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut (available from Tweeks Cycles, Wheelies, Bike24) is built around the company’s 240S hub internals used on many carbon wheelsets from high-end wheel makers like Reynolds, Bontrager and ENVE that sell for 2-3 times this alloy one.  This is a hub I really like – it rolls well, engages quickly and is quiet when freewheeling.  Combining that hub with a relatively stiff rim into a sub-1450 gram wheelset makes for a good climber that also accelerates fast.

Unfortunately, the RR21’s rims are about as deep (21mm) as they are wide (18mm inside, 21.5mm outside) which shows up in the need to really work them on the flats to keep up with a wider-than-the-rim 23C tire.  While a good training wheel that rolls and brakes well, it’s not going to be one you’ll be very satisfied with if you want to ride competitively, keep up on fast group rides or if you want to do more than cruise.

Compared to the benefits of other alloy wheels in the wide and wider groups that 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.

Mavic Ksyrium Elite – Still stiff but now more compliant at 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.

Why 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 $400/£375/€450 market price (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Tredz, Chain Reaction Cycles front and rear) 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 in 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.

Turns 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

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

Boyd Cycling is a US-based wheelmaker 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 standard tube or or optional tubeless rim tape.

Altamont Lite 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 it’s 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.

The EA90 SL is very stiff and responsive on the road.  I found it unflinchingly supportive when I put 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 re-installing 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 a 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 offer 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, its 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 PLUSlt profileSo 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 these one of the easier wheels 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 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 are shallow and these 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 CyclistHED Store), 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

The 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 (AmazonTweeks Cycles, UK/EU ProBikeKit UK front and rear code ITK10, AU/NZ Pushys) is a good option for you.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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328 comments

  • Thank you Steve and Martyn.

    How about the ROL wheels? I read a lot of good reviews about these wheelsets on http://www.roadbikereview.com/
    I assume these are independent?

    The Vollant Alloy is relatively cheap….

    • Hi jkneip, I don’t have any experience with the Volant, but ROL d’Huez is currently my everyday wheelset and I’ve been reasonably happy with them after >10000mi on them in the last 2 seasons.

      However, I have two complaints to share about them (not sure if relevant to the Volant or not)… 1) the rear wheel spokes have a criss-cross pattern wherein they rub together and create a slight “crunching/creaky” sound under heavy torque. Occasionally I have to clean the space between where the spokes contact each other and put some grease between them which makes the sound go away for several hundred miles or until the next rainy/gritty ride. I feared that there was something wrong with the way the spokes were laced and took it to my LBS for inspection, but they confirmed it was correct and that spoke tension was good. 2) the freehub body is too soft and over time my cassette has chewed into the ridges . I’ve had to take a file to them in order to get cassettes off/on. (Note, I’ve seen this on several freehubs, even on very high-end wheels; it’s not just something specific to ROL’s hubs.)

      When asked if I would buy them again, I would probably say “No”. Not because they are bad alloy wheels, but rather because they are only a few hundred bucks cheaper than good carbon wheels (≈$1100) and I don’t see a whole lot of need for “high-end” alloys any more. The Volants are cheaper than the D’Huez, so maybe your price point is maxed out at around $500, but if you can scratch the funds together… and unless you have some other reason to stay away from carbon… buy a set of carbon wheels like the Reynolds Assault SLG which both Steve and I think very highly of.

  • Steve, first off let me thank you for the time and detail you put into your reviews. I am sure you put in countless hours to give unbiased feedback to the cycling community. You probably are asked this many times over, but I’d like your opinion and suggestion on the best wheelset upgrade for my Kestrel Legend SL 105. It has stock Oval’s currently and I want to upgrade this winter. My riding is predominantly over flat to slightly rolling terrain. I average between 18-20 mph on my rides between 25-60 miles. I would say I am a fitness rider who does an occasional triathlon. I weigh 185#. I have read many of your reviews and have closed the gap between 2 particular wheelsets (to this point). The Shimano Dura Ace C35 and the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Clincher Wheelsets (no disc brakes). The price points of these wheels are in the $ range which I can afford. Any thoughts or points of comparison between the two that I should consider before purchasing. Or another wheelset that I may have overlooked. Thank you in advance!! Sincerely-Ross

    • Ross, Thanks for your thanks. My pleasure. As to your question… With the relatively flat terrain and speeds you are riding at, I’d think you’d benefit from a more aero, all around wheelset than either of these especially if you are doing the occasional triathlon. I’m not sure what your budget limit is but I’d look at the Reynolds Assault as an option. All carbon but a more aero rim shape, a touch lighter and a decent price. Outstanding hub. A favorite of mine. Review here. Steve

  • Excelent post my friend all easy and well explaind.

    I’ll go with tire 23c on a zonda c17 wheelset , i was concern before i read this post everyone told me that is not a good idea to mount less than 25c on that rims.

    Cheers from Spain.

  • Hi Steve- this is a brilliant guide, thanks! I’m looking to take the plunge with a wheel upgrade from 4ZA cirrus. I’m around 10.5 stone looking to ride approx 250-300 miles per week in the hills.

    I’m after something fun to ride on a ridley helium but will be useful for competing Hill climb events. I’m torn between bontrager’s paradigm elite, fulcrum racing zero, the DT swiss RR21 and a magic equivalent. I’d be looking to use clinchers bike is rim braking set up. Budget is ideally £550 topping out at £600 (ish)

    Any options greatly appreciated!

    Dave

  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for all your knowledge, which has been especially helpful for an aspiring (and relatively new) cyclist. I wanted to get your opinion on buying used carbon wheels. Should I do it? What are some key risks? What should I look out for when buying?

    For context, I’m thinking about either buying new Flo 60s or used Zip 404s, both of which are in $1000 range. I’m mostly competing in Crits.

    Best,
    Nick

    • Nick, I get it; wheels are expensive. But unless you know and ride with the person the wheels are coming from or can examine and ride them ahead of time, I just don’t know a good way to confidently buy carbon used wheels. You’d want to check the obvious things – brake track wear, damage from crashes, wheel true, spoke tension, hub maintenance, blisters/fiber delams – and the less than obvious things – cracks in the rim, at the spoke holes, how many miles on the wheels etc. which are are to see with the eye, I wouldn’t even trust myself to know what I’m looking at and would want to take it to a shop that knows/sells Zipp wheels and knows what to look for on the model wheels you are buying. Wish it was easier. We could all move up to better wheels for a lot less. Steve

  • What are your thoughts regarding there not being any weight limits on the Shimano c24 wheel set.

    At 200 lbs. and I’m concerned that they will not be stiff enough laterally both out of the saddle and in turns.

  • Hi Steve. Thanks so much for imparting your unbelievable research upon us.
    I have been searching your articles to find more information about the Easton EC90 SL disk wheel set. I note you mentioned it in this post. I am very interested in trying them as I can get a pair here in Australia for $1899 AUD. I think that is about $$1,400 USD.
    They come in around $1,000 AUD cheaper than a set of 303’s and $2,000 cheaper than Enve. I would love to be riding either of those wheel sets though I am very price sensitive (unfortunately). I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Easton EC90 SL disk and also if you are aware of any recent changes to the HUB etc that I should be aware of.
    Of all the Carbon disk wheel set out there I can find the least amount of reviews and information from the general riding public about this set.
    I am definitely moving to disk brakes with a Giant Defy Advanced Pro 1 bike. The 2017 bike is priced very well at $3,500 AUD with the Giant Carbon wheels though I would be interested in going for a wider wheel that could manage a 30C tyre.

    Thanks again Adam

    • Adam, A few things to note. Easton’s model names can get a little confusing so it’s important to make sure to look at the listings closely. I review the latest EA90 SL in this post. This is the alloy rim brake wheelset. The carbon EC90 SL rim brake wheelset is reviewed here . I make mention of the disc brake versions of both of these wheelsets here . I have only ridden the rim brake ones but would expect the disc brake versions to perform similarly, except of course for the braking.

      Note also that they’ve introduced new models of all of these in the past couple years but I continue to see inventory of their older models for sale in stores that aren’t carrying their new ones. The older models have narrower rims and older hubs. You can see the rim width specs of the newest models in my posts. Their new Echo hubs will come on the wheels with the new, wider rims. You have to read the specs closely on the some of the store listings to make sure you don’t buy the older wheels. Finally, none of these Easton wheels should use anything wider than a 25C tire for on the road riding. For more on that, see here. Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks for your very informative website. I’m looking to upgrade my stock wheels (Mavic Aksium) that came with my bike – Merida 95 Ride 2013.

    I’m 51, weigh around 75kg and describe by riding as endurance/sportive. I ride around 180-200kms a week over 4-5 days, with lots of hills and some flats. I also ride a few charity and Gran Fondo stuff up to about 100km. My riding is sometimes solo and sometimes with a bunch. I intend to continue doing this riding pattern.

    I like an all-round wheelset that can handle climbing well (my favourite part of the ride ) but also give me more confidence and control with steep descents and be reasonably good on the flats. Of course, at my age, comfort is also a consideration.

    Having said this I was thinking of the Dura Ace C24 or ProLite Bortola. My budget is up to around $1K AUD. I’ve read very positive reviews from yourself and others regarding the C24, but would the wider Bortola be better for my style of riding?

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated

    Cheers
    Mark

  • Hi, Great article.
    I’m in the market for a wider wheelset. I can’t decide between HED Ardennes+ SL (£700) or the Easton EA90 SL (£850). My criteria is durability/servicability first, then performance. What would you get having ridden both?
    Cheers,

  • I saw some Pro-lite Bortola a21 on Wiggle. Are they the same as the Pro-lite Bortola a21W ?

    Thanks

  • Steve great review. I’m looking to upgrade to aluminums around 1500gm and am light at 150lb and do road/crit racing in Ohio. Campy Zonda and Mavic Ksyrium Elites are in my price range and thinking. Which would you recommend and apart from 100gm is there big difference between the Ksyrium and Ksyrium elite? thanks

    • Mark, Both are traditionally for heavier riders and can feel quite harsh for riders your weight (and mine). As a road racer this might not matter to you. I’ve got a pair of the new Zonda C17 mounted and will begin riding them next week so can tell you if their compliance has changed any. I don’t know that Mavic makes just a Ksyrium anymore. It was a stock wheelset; the Elite is pretty much the same for heavier riders but is also a good deal more expensive (like 2x) than the Zonda C17. Steve

      • thx Steve – look forward to hearting impressions on the Zonda’s.

      • Steve,

        Thank you for all your work. Please, provsional views on Zonda c17. I have Kyrium elite Sls, which ride quite hard but are pretty “effective”.

        Thank you.

        John

        • John, Sorry, still hanging up. March has been filled with a couple warm days here, a couple of snowy days there. If you are light and finding the Elites harsh, my guess is that the Zondas may be as well. I’ll let you know for sure, hopefully by mid April. Thanks for reading. Steve

          • Steve,

            Thank you for your swift reply. I look forward to your thoughts. I am somewhere between the Campag Bora One 35 tub or clincher, the Fulcrum Quattro Carbon Racing, and a set of nice alloys.

            Best,

            John

      • Steve I went ahead and ordered the Mavic Ksyrium Elites as Probikeit had a good deal (for some reason the Campy versions are more discounted and I ordered and Shim/Sram freehub and replaced it easily). I got the blue hub version and they look really nice and are reasonably light around 1500/1600 gm. Very solid and stiff and I have them on a Cannondale Caad12 so response is up there. Only disappointment is they don’t spin as well as the Aksiums that came stock with the bike….which is surprising for the next level up the range. I don’t know if “spin time” is a real performance factor – interested in your views – but I have a set of Reynolds Assault and Easton 90’s that spin all day. thanks again. Mark.

        • Mark, tell me more about the freehub replacement you did? Steve

          • Steve, Mavic make and sell replacement freehub so you can interchange Campy with Shim/Sram. There was over a $100 difference between the Ksyrium Campy and S/S wheelset so I got the Campy’s and ordered the M11 S/S freehub for $40 after discount. The switch was very easy and took 5 mins. I’m just trying to figure if I can adjust the hub rolling speed now. You could on older versions of the Ksyrium elite with provided tool. Mark. http://www.artscyclery.com/descpage.html?pcode=MVFHB

          • Mark, So yes, “spin time” is a factor. It suggests how much friction is in the hub and how much extra work you are going to have to do to overcome it when you pedal and how much slower it will be when you freewheel. The Elites shouldn’t spin less well than the Aksium but it’s hard to know whether it is the replacement hub you put on or something to do with the axle and alignment from the original hub that is the issue. I might try seeing if the original hub spins better than the replacement. If so, perhaps get another replacement hub. If not, see if you can replace the original wheelset. Steve

          • Steve it’s more of the front wheel spin….but I discovered the hubs are adjustable so I will try that, should work. thx.

  • Hi Steve,

    I really enjoy your insight and your kit – this will be PMC year 14 for me. I’m looking into a wheel upgrade and am considering Bontrager Aura 5 TLR and Paradigm Elite TLR as well as HED Adrennes Plus CL & SL. Is there a set you think has a clear advantage training for and riding into Ptown? Thanks!

    • Josh, That’s outstanding support forthe Jimmy Fund and DFCI. Thank you for riding all those years. As to wheels that will help you get to Ptown, that’s quite a variety of choices you are looking at across just a couple brands. Sounds like you are limiting yourself to what an LBS sells. I’ll give you my thoughts on the wheels you mentioned and then suggest one that I think will serve you better for about the same amount.

      The Aura is a heavy, carbon-alloy, deep wheelset that will be good on the flats as long as there aren’t any crosswinds (e.g. Route 6 in Truro). See more about it in this review here. Not one I’d recommend unless you are time-trialer or triathlete and don’t plan to ride many steep hills. It’s also narrower than the other three.

      I’ve written about the HED Ardennes Plus SL above. The CL is the same wheelset has a more basic hub. If I were considering the Ardennes, I’d go with the SL for a few hundred dollars more to get a better rolling ride. Comfort and quality (rather than performance) is what you are paying for with the Ardennes. If that’s what you want, don’t think you should ease off that objective by going with the CL version. I still haven’t ridden the Paradigm Elite yet but I’m doubtful its the equivalent of the HED. Earlier low profile alloy Bontrager branded wheels weren’t. This one is made by DT Swiss for Bontrager and DT makes great hubs and spokes but their rims are nothing special in terms of comfort/compliance, stiffness, handling and other performance factors.

      The PMC is relatively flat with a few rollers so you can typically ride it a bit faster than other events where there is more challenging terrain. Yes, I know there are some steep sections in Truro and out near the start in Sturbridge but for the amount of distance you are riding, a very high percentage is no more than 1 or 2% and flat.

      At an amount near what you pay for the HED SL or Aura 5, you might consider the Reynolds Assault. It’s a carbon all-around wheelset that’s as light as the alloy Ardennes but at 41mm will give you some aero benefits on the flats assuming you are getting up between 18 and 20mpy. I rate it as the best value all around. You can read more about it here.

      If you are more of a recreational rider, i.e. mostly weekends and train up for the PMC and then don’t ride a whole lot after you’ve done it, I don’t think you’re going to get a whole lot more out of any of these wheelsets than going with the Pro-Lite I’ve recommended above. Save yourself some money (or put it toward your minimum) and know that you are getting a good upgrade that suits the kind of riding you are doing.

      Cheers,
      Steve

      • Thanks again, Steve. You are correct that my question was driven by LBS input. Your suggestions make for great snowy day reading.

        I’m looking to upgrade from the Shimano R21 wheels that came stock on my Guru Photon V4. I want to spend enough that I will notice a difference, but not spend so much that I’ll have marital issues 😉 I ride about 3,500 miles a year and find plenty of hills larger than Truro.

        With my goal being to get around the local reservoir faster, not make a kick for the finish line, is the difference I’d notice from stock to Reynolds larger than the difference between Reynolds and Zipp (not accounting for the marital issues a set of Zipps would induce)? Also, I saw new 2015 Zipp 404s on bike radar for $1699. Seems too good to be true. Thoughts?

        Thanks again!
        Josh

        • Josh, starting from where you are and with the mileage you do, you’d notice a bigger difference going from stock to Assault than Assault to Zipp 303 or 404. The 404 isn’t really for climbing – more for flat riding at high speed.

          Also, for about the last year or so, Zipp dealers can only sell to customers in their region and they are pretty tight about requiring US dealers to advertise and sell pretty close to the MSRP else they lose their distribution agreement. In the UK and EU, the laws don’t allow them to dictate pricing. My guess is that the wheels you saw are the V2 or 88/188 hub versions which are a hub generation old and had some recalls. Steve

  • Steve, you being an owner of a specialized roubaix, have you ever tried the roval clx 40?

    I am very interested in this wheelset but I see people pleased with the breaking power whilst others saying it is not good.

    Any thoughts?

    • Carlos, Roval replaced the clx 40 with a clx 32 and clx 50. I wasn’t a big fan of the 40 and haven’t had a chance to evaluate the new oes yet. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Really enjoyed the review as well as others on the site. I’m looking for a good pair of all-around alloy wheels I can use for training on low/moderate hilly to flat terrain and potentially riding some steeper terrain around the Blue Ridge mountains occasionally. I weigh 149lbs and ride a Cannondale SS. Being a lighter rider, do you have any suggestions? My budget is ~$1k. Also, should I be considering something not as wide such as the DA 24c’s as well? Or should I stick to the wider alloys market?

    • Mark, Good question. While the cycling world is trending to wider wheels and tires for their improved comfort, the DA 24C is still an excellent, light wheelset that you’ll find plenty comfortable at your weight and that will be very responsive go with its first rate hub. Competitive Cyclist here in the US and stores like Wiggle and ProBikeKit in the UK have the 2017 model at the best prices and have very good levels of customer satisfaction (you can click on those links to go to the C24 listing at those stores). If you don’t want to spend on that wheelset, I’d recommend the Bortola which is the best value of the wider wheelsets. Steve

  • Graeme Bothwell

    Hi Steve, your site is a credit to you. Thank you. I’ve just bought the Zonda c17’s, I’m generally 75-78kg. What tyres are you running on yours? I have 23c Pro 4 Endurance on mine, should I be looking at 25c tyres?!

    Cheers,
    Graeme

    • Graeme, Thank you very kindly. If you are looking for more comfort, you could go to 25C tires. I provided some guidelines for this decision earlier in this post. My complete explanation can be found in this one here. Best, Steve

  • Hi Steve, I am replacing the stock Axis tires that came on my Specialized Carbon Sirrus. I weight 145 and ride about100 miles a week on terrain that’s half hills, half flat. My budget is around $500-600 per wheel. My LBS suggested Giant SLR 1 Carbons. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Hi Steve,
    Thank you for the time and thoughtfulness that goes into your reviews. I am 53 years old, 195 pounds, and have been riding a Marin Hawk Hill mountain bike for the past 20 years. Last February, my wife purchased as a gift, a 2016 Trek Domane 5.2 road bike. It was the first road bike I’ve ridden since my twenties – But what a difference the carbon frame and ultegra gear-set make! Since March of last year, weather permitting, I ride 4 to 6 days per week, 18 – 30 miles per day through the hilly terrain of Pittsburgh, PA. One of my goals is to ride longer distances this riding season. Currently, I am riding on a Bontrager Race TRL wheelset, in which I am satisfied with the performance, but it needs to be trued! I am now looking to upgrade my wheelset. I want the wheelset to be light and responsive, since I do a significant amount of climbing. But the roads here are a mess with pockmarks and potholes everywhere, so I also need something durable and compliant to compensate for my weight and the condition of the roads. I am considering the Fulcrum Racing 5, Campagnola Zonda C17, Pro-Lite Bortola A21W, and the Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 (~700 USD). Would any of the listed wheelsets be a significant upgrade from what I have, and what would you recommend for my type of riding? Is there another wheelset I should consider? Thank YOU!

    • Michael, Congrats. Sounds like the your conversion to a roadie is almost complete. Longer distances and longing for new wheels will seal the deal :). The wheelset you have is on par with the Racing 5, and maybe just a notch below the others. The Racing Zero is just a gussied up and overpriced version of the Zonda with a lighter but functionally similar hub. If you don’t want to go to an all-around carbon wheelset, which would be a significant upgrade in performance and price, I’d suggest the Zonda C17. At your weight, you’d probably find it a good deal stiffer and more responsive than the your Bontis if not any more comfortable. Steve

      • Hi Steve,
        After much consideration and contemplation, I decided that if I am going to upgrade my stock wheels, that I should go with a carbon wheel set that has the potential to improve the quality of my ride. Based upon many hours of research and your recommendations here, I decided to purchase the Reynolds Assault SLG Clincher Wheelset – Ordered from Probikekit yesterday. I will update you soon about the ride. Again, thank you for all the work that you do!
        Michael

    • Steve,
      I was interested in your advice to Michael. I recall that you were hoping to test the Zonda C17, I take it from your response that you have now; please share. In respect of the Racing Zero (and Campag Shamals) I take it that you are not supportive of the addition of ceramic bearings or aluminium spokes for stiffness? I understand the old (C15) wheels were a little harsh by some accounts but were also described as mountain goats by owners. One poster who owned both Zondas and Shamals acknowledged that on paper there was not such a diffrence but his experience was that the Zondas were slightly “mushy” in comparison. I wonder have you had the opportunity of trying the c17 Zeros/Shamals or the two way fit versions for comparison?

      Grateful for your views as ever.

      Best,

      John

      • John, not yet there on doing a full Zonda C17 evaluation/conclusion. These things take time. Just trying to give Micheal some direction amongst the wheels he’s considering. Regarding your other questions: Ceramic bearings and aluminum spokes don’t add to stiffness. Old C15s were indeed harsh for lighter riders and I wouldn’t consider them mountain/climbing wheels any more than another 1500g low profile alloy wheel (i.e., not!). Can’t/won’t try to respond to individual accounts/posters out of context from other forums. Steve

  • Steve, very interesting following the discussions. I have 2 of the wheelsets discussed here and sharing my impressions in case they help. The Dura Ace C24: light, stiff and strong; they blend carbon with aluminum braking surface; not very pretty and they spin ok – not the longest (like a pair of Reynolds Assualt I have that spin all day); available for about $700 which I think is high. The Mavic Ksyrium Elite: lightish, very stiff/strong, look good with the chiseled rim and colored hub, good value with included tires; spin time bit disappointing even when adjusted; available for about $450 which seems good value. I don’t regard either of these as a racing wheel and still on the lookout for a good value aluminum set. very keen to hear your impressions of the Zonda C17 and more on your view of the Fulcrum Racing Zero which seems light and I would think spins well with ceramic bearings…but about $300 more.

  • Steve,
    As a newbie cyclist, I gain a lot of knowledge and truly enjoy reading your posting/reviews.

    I’m looking for a replacement for stock wheels (RS10) that came with Cervelo R2.
    I ride about 30-60 miles a week and need a wheel that can handle a good climb/descent in Northern CA and reasonably well for acceleration in flat. I’m not a heavy weight at around 147 lbs.

    I’m deciding between Fulcrum Racing Zero, Rol D’huez and Shimano DA C24. They all fit within the weight profile/perfomance I’m looking for.

    LBS strongly recommends Fulcrum Racing Zero, and friend of mine is swaying me toward Shimano DA. I’ve been reading a lot of good review on Rol D’huez, but no one I know here have experience with one. What’s your thought one these options?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Robin, All due respects, with the amount of riding you are doing, you won’t notice a difference by changing out your wheels. There are many other things you can and should do first to help you climb/descend better and accelerate on flats better and generally ride better before spending a lot on a new pair of wheels. Take a look at this post here. And if you do feel the urge to spend some money, try upgrading your tires (here) to ones that likely roll and handle better than those that came stock with your stock wheels. Steve

  • Steve, thank you for your candid feedback which is much appreciated.
    Great article you sent about training to ride faster.

    Best,
    Robin

  • Steve, do you have any experience with the Williams system 31 and opinions vs Boyd Altamonte’s? Currently on a Fulcrum 3, weigh 170ish lbs. Considering the Campy Zonda 17c, Boyd, or Williams. Looking to use 25 tires and figured a 17c would be not much difference from my current setup but like stiffness of Fulcrums and Zonda’s hear are same. So any opinion of the Williams, Boyd’s, Zonda, and if going to a 24/28 spoke count on the Williams/Boyd would provide the most benefit.

    • Frank, No experience with Williams. Campy Zonda C17 currently in test. Going to higher spoke count will increase lateral stiffness but should not be necessary for rider your weight unless wheels aren’t as stiff as most in first place. I’m unclear what are your goals/constraints are in considering options to Fulcrum 3. Could perhaps help better with that in mind. Cheers, Steve

    • Frank, I purchased a pair of Boyd wheels in December 2016 (about 4 months ago). I put Conti 25mm Grand Prix 4000’s on them and LOVE them. Like Steve said in his review, they measure out wider than you might think. The wheels spin up quickly, look great and are easy to mount. Dealing with Boyd is a great thing. If you call the company, he often answers the phone. I did get the upgrade hub but only because it was a special they were running, otherwise I would have happily gone with their own hub. I decided not to go with Williams wheels after speaking with a mechanic on a ride who was on a pair. He was not that impressed and offered to sell them to me immediately. One of his complaints was that they were too hard for his wife to mount tires on (he also rode the same tires that I run).

      I have 2000 miles on the Boyds and will buy a pair of their disc wheels when and if I upgrade my bike to a disc bike.

  • Thanks for the quick reply Steve. I’m happy with my current Fulcrum 3s but would like to run 25mm tires. I’ve used 25s on my Fulcrum R3s (and does give better ride IMO) but thought a 17c or 19c rim would be better. So whether the Zonda C17 or to make a bigger change in size going to a 19c rim like the Boyd or Williams. Given the price point of Zonda and its a known quantity (based on my prior experience with the Fulcrum R3s) I was leaning in that direction but was considering the 19 internal widths of the Boyd and Williams. Wanted to stay in that price point of aluminum clincher. So in short if a 17c rim is a noticeable difference for a 25 tire vs a 15c or better to go with a 19c. I do not plan on running anything bigger that 25s.

    • Frank, looks like you may be taken in by the hype around wider tires. Depends on what your goal is (more comfort, better handling, mixed road and dirt/gravel riding, racing etc.), what size rider you are, how often/much/fast you ride, what kind of terrain you ride, how aggressively your ride (race, group, individual, etc.). Some combinations of those things you’ll notice a big difference making some of the changes you are considering, some you won’t notice any difference. Steve

  • Hi Steve
    Thanks for the reviews/info you provide here.

    I came to your page via researching the Zonda myself
    Glad I found it looks like a great source of info you have built

    I see from the comments section your now testing the
    Zonda yourself & know your not ready for a full evaluation but….

    I wondered what your thoughts were between the Zonda & the Pro-Lite Bortola?
    These are two I have been looking at

    About myself I would be using these on a stiff Alum frame & all my rides include 1-2000′
    climbs minimum. My weight is high now at 170lb but will likely return to 155-160 in near future 🙂
    I was wondering if the Zonda due to spoke pattern may be too harsh a ride on a Alum frame? What do you think?

    One thing I will say from your brief summary of these wheels that caught my eye is like you
    these days I tend to prefer a quiet rear hub. Funny as I use to like the clacking of a DT240 but by chance have
    been using some inexpensive Oval Concepts clinchers & they have the silent rear hub/freewheel
    I found I really like it now on long twisty descents being so quiet

    So when you mentioned the ezo bearings in the Bortola being silent it caught my eye as a ++

    Thanks for any thoughts you may give & thanks for the great resource in your site

    Mike

    • Mike, I’m almost finished evaluating the new Zonda. Taming the Beast or something like that is going to be my headline. With a set of 25C tires on them and run down at 85-90psi they are not harsh like the last version was for lighter riders like me (150lbs/68kg) so I suspect they would also be fine when you get down to mid season weight. Their stiffness is still their strongest asset. My fellow tester Moose (200lbs/90kg) has been riding them of late and loves that stiffness. The hub noise is middle of the pack and a non issue for me, certainly not loud but not as quiet as some. I’m not bothered by them at all. All-in, and at what (Wiggle, Tweeks Cycles, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) are selling it for now, it’s a great value for a good performer. Steve

      • Hi Steve
        Thank you for the speedy reply!
        Good info & thanks for mentioning the hub noise too.
        Yes… if it is not too loud that is always a bonus for me.

        Glad to hear all the praise for these wheels + as you say the price
        at some places has really come down a lot making them even more attractive

        Thanks again much appreciated!
        Mike

  • Hi Steve – great write up and very detailed reviews. Which one would you recommend for an 180lb+ rider looking for a wide, tubeless-compatible, reasonably stiff wheelset that’s also comfortable for long rides?

    I’m currently using the 15C Zonda which is very stiff but not comfortable if the road is slightly uneven. I also used Bontrager’s Race Lite which was comfortable but noticeably less stiff. From your reviews it looks like EA90 SL or Ardennes Plus might work best but I’m not sure how much difference they could make.

    Thanks in advance.

    • James, they’d make a world of difference in your comfort compared to the 15C Zonda. As you can see from the comparative chart, the Ardennes are more comfortable than the Easton but the Easton is stiffer. There’s also a new Zonda C17 which is still stiff but far more comfortable than the 15C model you have. Steve

      • Thanks Steve! If I remember correctly, there used to be Bontrager Race X Lite in the comparison chart, which should be fairly similar to the Race Lite that I have. How do you compare it to Easton and HED?

        Also both Eason and HED’s rims are sold separately for $100-150. Guess they might be good candidates for custom wheel builds.

        • James, yes, I removed it as Bontrager discontinued the wheelset. They aren’t on par with either the Easton or HED in terms of performance. Not as stiff as the Easton or as comfortable as the HED. Steve

  • Hi Steve, you guided me to the bortolas last year – which I bought and liked . Now they are on my wife’s bike. I was going to buy another set but asides from being sold out, I found a khysium elite and Easton ea sl for cheaper ( the mavic being the cheapest). Would you recommend either of these mid – price wheels? Especially at a lower price?

    • Fwiw, I am 255-165lbs. I live in the mountains, ride 150-250km weekly and am looking for an all rounder so I can hang with the younger guys in my group and get me up and down mountain passes. Thanks in advance.

    • Michauxg, Make sure both are current generation wheelsets rather than last generation narrower ones (look at the specs in my chart). I know there are still last EA 90 SL around in dealer inventory. If it’s the current generation at less than the Bortola’s, I’d probably go with those over the Mavics if the price were less than the Bortolas and it comes from a good dealer who will service or warranty the hub if there is an issue like the one I had.

      To you second comment, none of these are going to help you hang with the younger guys or get up and down the mountains. that has to do more with your training. These are relatively inexpensive alloy upgrade wheels. I’ve written other posts on climbing wheels, carbon all-arounds and aero wheels which could help you gain some benefit above your conditioning. Steve

      • Thanks again Steve! They are both online deals so good info on checking out the service and warranty. However, now I know there is a forth coming Zonda review, I have added them to the list.

        I would love to put a pair of Reynold Assaults on but my bike is a 2010 CAAD9-5 and would be looking to get a wheelset that would let me squeeze another couple of years out of the bike and give me a push above my conditioning while not spending more than I paid for the bike. My next bike will have a zoot set of wheels.

        I love reading your reviews, keep up the good work!!

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