THE BEST CARBON CLINCHER CLIMBING BIKE WHEELS

I must admit, before I began the research for this review I didn’t get why someone who wanted dedicated climbing wheels for their road bike would buy carbon clinchers.

If you do uphill road races with names like Deadman’s Ascent and Climb to the Heavens or regularly ride in a range like the Sierras or Pyrenees, I’d think you’d want the absolute lightest of everything, including your wheels.  That would mean going with tubulars not clinchers.

Likewise, if you aren’t the kind of rider that likes to brake late going into downhill switchbacks and accelerate hard coming out of them, aren’t that excited about reaching 80 km/hr (50mph) down mile long 8 to 12% grades, or are planning your first week-long cycling vacation in the Dolomites or Rockies, then wheels with alloy brake tracks rather than carbon ones are probably right for you.

Yet leading wheelmakers from A to Zipp including Bontrager, Campagnolo, DT Swiss, ENVE, Fulcrum, Mavic and Reynolds make carbon clincher climbing wheels for road bikes and most have introduced their first or updated models only in the last year or two.

What’s going on?

In this review I look at the new group of carbon clincher climbing bike wheels (or CCCs), explain why they are the right choice for certain types of riders, tell you which I like and don’t and why, and link you to where you can find them in stock, at the best prices and from online stores with high customer satisfaction ratings.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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

What carbon clinchers are today

Who carbon clincher climbing wheels are for

What matters most in deciding between climbing wheels

How the wheels rate

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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WHAT CARBON CLINCHERS ARE TODAY

The first generation of carbon clincher wheelsets rightly earned a horrible reputation.  They were fragile and subject to cracking or worse for no apparent reason.  They squealed when you put on the brakes.  They slowed, but never really stopped your bike in the rain.  And the heat generated from excessive braking going downhill could cause blown tubes and warped rims.

If you’ve been riding for any length of time, you’ve probably heard stories from fellow riders who’ve had some of these experiences or had them yourself.  It’s hard to erase those from your memory.

What’s changed?

We’re probably somewhere around the third or fourth generation of carbon clincher wheels now and, while it’s hard not to forget what those first generation wheels were like, the current generation are very different.

I’ll spare you the tech talk and marketing mumbo jumbo about what’s changed and how much better today’s carbon clinchers are.  In simple terms, the latest generations of carbon rims from the best wheel makers use resins and manufacturing processes that make carbon clinchers more durable than alloy ones and their rims resistant to overheating.  Better brake pads have greatly reduced and in most cases eliminated braking noise and are also part of dissipating the heat created at the rims.  And the latest generation of brake pads and brake track finishes have brought the dry weather braking performance of carbon clinchers on par with alloy wheels and wet weather braking within range.

As riders, we have also adopted braking techniques that serve us well when riding carbon clinchers the same way any group of riders adopts to new products that can improve our performance.  For example,  TT riders have changed their body position using aero bars and power meters have shown enthusiasts the benefits of training differently.

Specifically, I and others who have learned how to get the best out of carbon clinchers don’t drag the brakes when riding downhill as many do with alloy wheels.  We also alternate braking the front and back wheels.  Doing this should allow you to give each wheel 2-4x the amount of time cooling as braking.

We give each other some space on the descents and engage the brakes firmly and get off them quickly rather than ease into it and hold them a bit longer as with alloys.  In the rain, we know to give ourselves a little more time and to brake a little harder when we first get on them, to essentially squeegee the water off the brake tracks for a few rotations.

Do you need to do this?  Not totally.  I’ve tested current generation carbon clinchers on 8%, 1 mile downhill stretches dragging the brakes the whole way and they aren’t even warm to the touch at the bottom.  I’ve also used carbon clinchers with textured brake tracks in the rain and can’t tell a whole lot of difference compared to braking on alloy wheels.

Should you adopt these techniques?  Absolutely.  It just so happens that they maximize both your performance and the longevity of your equipment.  You don’t go out and buy a carbon wheelset that enables you to go faster just so you can hold onto brakes going downhill or burn through your brake pads and wear your rims faster than you need to.  You also don’t buy one with textured brake tracks or the best suited brake pads to not get the best out of them by braking like you are on alloy wheels.

Has your view changed?

When I wrote my first post on climbing wheels (here), it was a couple calendar and model years ago.  While some of the carbon clinchers were much improved then, not all wheel makers had adopted some of the the improved resins, manufacturing techniques, brake track treatments and pads I wrote about above.  And, most of the CCCs (carbon clincher climbing wheels) available now had not yet been introduced.

So yes, my views have changed about using carbon clinchers in the mountains along with the improved and recently introduced wheelsets.  If you’re interested, I wrote a post titled 5 Beliefs About Choosing Cycling Gear I’ve Dropped which describes other beliefs I’ve changed on gear weight, crosswinds, power meters and hand-built wheels along with those on carbon clinchers.

Are tubulars still better than carbon clinchers for climbing?

Tubulars are definitely lighter than clinchers, typically by a 150-200 grams, an amount I think is noticeable.  So if you are racing, this can gain you a second or two a mile going up long, steep climbs.  (See my analysis here of weight and time savings when climbing).

On the other hand, if you don’t feel that amount of time savings is worth the extra work of gluing on tubeless tires and the added time you might need to spend dealing with them if you have a flat on the road, then clinchers are the way you want to go.

As I discussed above, current generation carbon clinchers no longer have the overheating issues that used to put them at a disadvantage to tubulars.  In fact, you could argue that a bad (or even a good) tubular glue job on a particularly hot day in the mountains might result in the tubulars coming off their rims, as has been known to happen.  I really don’t want to go there for the purposes of this post other than to say that it’s probably as real a possibility as someone cooking a current generation set of carbon clinchers after dragging their brakes for miles down an alpine descent.

Actually, I’d probably go tubeless with my CCCs rather than tubular or tube & tire.  If you’ve done any serious climbing, it’s just a reality that many mountain roads aren’t in great shape.  They don’t hold up well with the winter weather most see and aren’t maintained as well as more heavily traveled main roads or tourist mountain routes (and who wants to ride those!).  Fortunately, most of the CCCs I’ve reviewed are tubeless ready.

Are alloy wheels still safer than carbon clinchers for descending?

If you are unsure or have doubts about carbon clincher brake tracks or your ability to ride downhill safely due to descending speeds, road traffic, switchbacks or riding technique, go with alloy climbing wheels. You can read my reviews of those here.  Your level of confidence is probably the most important factor in riding safely.

solo shutterstock

Unsure if CCCs are for you? Go with alloy wheels for climbing instead.

That said, by modifying your braking technique in the ways I’ve described above and a little experience, I think CCCs are equally safe and offer you potentially greater benefits going downhill and uphill.

Carbon is stiffer and more responsive than alloy.  This will help your handling going downhill and translating your power more efficiently going uphill.

Carbon wheels also tend to be lighter, probably about 100-150 grams than alloy wheels of the same depth.  Not a significant difference in your performance as I described above but it’s there if you want it.

Finally, the better CCCs are wider than your average alloy wheelset.  This will allow you to ride a 25C tire downhill with better comfort and stability and handle better and with more confidence going in and out of corners.

Alloy wheels will run you about half the price as CCCs.  Tubulars will cost nearly as much.  So there’s that to consider as well.

WHO CARBON CLINCHER CLIMBING WHEELS ARE FOR

To state the obvious, CCCs are for climbers.  And by climbers, I mean those spending hours going up and down 7%, 8% and even steeper pitches that go on for kms or miles at a time.

I don’t mean those of us who regularly ride “rollers” or 4-5% hills or sections that total 5 or 10 kms or miles during the course of a 40 to 75 km or mile ride or who hit that 7% or even 10% pitch for a half km or even a half mile during your ride.

Yes, you could certainly ride CCCs on your rides to give you some advantage going up and down those hills.  But you have to ask yourself whether what you gain on the hills with a CCC is worth the what you lose on the flatter sections not riding a 40-45mm all-around or 50mm+ deep aero wheel.

My personal experience?  I really miss the deeper wheelset on the flats and going down the rollers when I’m riding a CCC or any lower profile wheelset.  I did a 100+ mile long ride last year on a CCC that had two steep, long, tough alpine climbs.  The CCCs were great on those climbs but I think I worked just as hard trying to keep up with the group on the rest of the flat and rolling route because I didn’t have deeper wheels.

What about riding mid or aero depth carbon clinchers in the mountains?  Is it worth getting CCCs at all?  I did another 100+ mile ride last year with aero depth wheels (ENVE SES 4.5) which also had a couple of steep, long, tough climbs.  The deeper wheels were in the the mid 1500 gram range, about 150-200g heavier than the average CCC.  They climbed fine, though certainly not as easily as the CCCs would have.  On the rest of the route though, the deeper wheels were aces and I felt I really flew for the effort I put out.

Where I ride and even when I do the kind of 100+ mile long events like those I’ve just described, mid or aero depth carbon clinchers are the way to go.  More about those wheels here and here.  If I lived at the foot of or visited the Rockies, Sierras, Pyrenees, Alps, etc. and regularly rode up and down them however, I’d definitely go with the CCCs.

Of course, you could always have a support vehicle follow you and do a quick wheel change to your CCCs when you hit the big mountains and switch back when you get off them.  What?  Your spouse not into that?  Mine either.

Regardless, CCCs are also for those of you with deep pockets (and good spousal relations… or spouse free riders).  A CCC may often be a third or fourth wheelset in your quiver.  You may still have your stock wheels that came with your bike or another alloy set you use for all-weather training.  You may also have a mid or aero depth carbon clincher (or both) for most of your training, group riding, road racing or TT riding.  As most of these CCCs cost at least $2000/£1500/€2000 and many run half again more, it’s not a purchase for those trying to stick to a cycling budget.  Lucky you!

SELECTION CRITERIA

So if weight is the primary benefit of riding a dedicated climbing wheelset, is that the primary criteria to choose between them?  Far from it.

When I evaluate wheels, I look at four groups of selection criteria and about 20 specific ones within those groups.  You can read all about those here.

Immediately below, I’ve highlighted which of those criteria are relatively more important for wheels you’ll want on long, steep climbs and descents.

What matters - Selection Criteria

As you can see from the criteria I’ve emphasized for picking wheels for the mountains, half of them – aerodynamics, compliance, braking, and rim profile – are not criteria you would consider in choosing what has been traditionally thought of as a ‘climbing wheel’.  These are important characteristics to ride fast and confidently on the high speed, steep descents you’ll experience going down a long mountain pass rather than going up.

In these situations, you’ll want aerodynamic wheels for max speed with rim profiles that keep the bike stable in crosswinds.  While most dedicated climbing wheels are lower profile, you can still shape the rims to reduce drag and cheat the crosswinds with some designs better than others.

You’ll also want wheels that are compliant going down often rough alpine roads and handle well as you are whipping through the switchbacks.  You’ll want to be able to brake reliably at high downhill speeds and in all weather conditions and you don’t want any fading or degradation in braking on long descents.

For climbing you might as well take advantage of light weight wheels but you also want ones that transfer your energy into power as effectively as possible.  That’s why stiffness is emphasized.  When you are cranking out 250-400 watts trying to keep upright going up grades ranging from 7% to 15% for what seems like forever, you want stiff wheels and the right spoke count for your weight to convert as much of your effort as possible to the road.

As I hope you can see, you have different and equally important needs going up and going down a long, steep mountain and weight is only one of many considerations.  That’s why I think climbing wheels is a misnomer and you should really think about these as both climbing and descending wheels.

Handling in corners - Trek

Selection criteria that help you perform going downhill are just as important as those that help you going up.

Finding wheels that accomplish all of this requires some trade-offs.  Very light wheels aren’t usually the stiffest, for example.  And, aerodynamic wheels usually mean deep dish rims which aren’t usually the best at handling.

There are also some things that you really don’t want to compromise on.  Older carbon clinchers have no place on long descents where you need to do a lot of braking as they can overheat, warp, ruin the wheels and result in a blowout at speed.  Those CCCs reviewed here represent the latest generation of carbon wheels that have overcome these problems.

As I believe 90% or more of road cycling enthusiasts aren’t going to mess with tubular tires, you only want to be riding clinchers with either alloy brake tracks or the latest generation of carbon ones with high temperature resins, textured or etched brake track treatments and brake pads designed and chosen to work with the rims your are on for best heat and water dissipation performance.  This is where the material choice criterion comes into play.

The heavier you are, the more these criteria matter because you’ll be putting more energy into the bike going up and will be able to travel at higher speeds and create more braking energy going down.  A rider weighing 190lbs or 200lbs or more will want a stiffer wheel than a 150lb rider (or the same wheel with more spokes to further stiffen it) and will need more room to brake.

On the other hand, the lighter rider will be more prone to get pushed around on a windy descent if the wheel’s profile doesn’t handle crosswinds well and will benefit more from an aerodynamic profile that cuts through both crosswinds and the apparent wind created going down a mountain.  None of these CCCs are so deep as to really have a big problem but some are shaped better than others so as to have no problem.

Looking to the pro racing circuit for guidance on climbing and descending wheels is a mistake.  The best climbers typically weigh 135 to 145 lbs, have 6% or less body fat, and are riding tubular rims on super-light, super-stiff bikes.  And, the better riders often have support vehicles to give them different wheels during the race depending on the terrain.

I’d guess many road cycling enthusiasts are 160lbs to 190lbs, have 15-20% body fat (the amount for a “fit body type”), are on clinchers, and more often are riding comfortable endurance bikes than stiffer race bikes.  Sorry to say, the pros and we amateurs live in two different worlds.  

So with all that as background, let me share with you my evaluation of the best carbon climbing clinchers currently available.

HOW THE WHEELS RATE

ENVE SES 2.2 – THE PICK OF THE LITTER FOR CLIMBERS

The first time I rode this wheelset, I quickly reached a humbling conclusion.  “I am not worthy” I thought to myself.  I just couldn’t keep up with them, couldn’t push them, couldn’t challenge them.

The sensation of riding the ENVE SES 2.2 was similar to taking a new puppy out for a walk.  The puppy/wheels are raring to go, they tug at your leash/crankset to let them go free or at least for you to run/ride as fast as they can.  Full of energy, spirit, spunk.  More than anything, they are ready to play and want someone to play with to make it all the more fun.

I don’t know whether I trained them (not!) or upped my game a bit (wishful thinking) but over time, we became a good team (the wheels and me that is, not a puppy and me as my daughter will readily tell you).  Riding a smaller sprocket allowed me to keep up a bit better with these wheels and yet get more power without what seemed like more effort.

Was it just the difference in weight between these and the wheels I normally ride?  Undoubtedly that was part of it.  With a measured weight of 1359 grams including rim strips (1309g claimed, 1330 measured w/o strips) and titaniium skewers that were only 59 grams (almost half the weight of the others), these were one of the two lightest in this review and one of the lightest I’d ever been on.

But these were also stiff wheels as I learned going up some 10%+ average sections when they responded very attentively to every move I made (just like that puppy).  They rolled incredibly smoothly on their ENVE ceramic hubs, the most expensive and lightest hub option you can order for these wheels.  You can also get them in still great, less expensive but slightly heavier DT Swiss 240 or 180 and Chris King R45 or R45C hubs.

These wheels were very comfortable or compliant as well.  On rims I measured 19.0 mm wide between the beads and 27.1 mm at the parallel brake track (ENVE specs them at 18.5 and 27mm), I could easily run a 25C Conti GP4K clincher tire that stretched to 27.7mm once mounted and inflated to 80psi front and 85psi back without much aero penalty.  I rode them with tube and tire but they can also run tubeless, something I’d recommend if you are going to take these or any CCC wheelset into the often cracked, heaved and potholed netherworld of alpine cycling road surfaces.

The 2.2s gave me supreme confidence going downhill while ripping in and out of turns.  Their width, matched only by the Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3, is the widest by at least a couple of millimeters inside and out than the other wheels in this review and that provided great stability.

These were also the first ENVE wheels to feature the textured brake track the company is putting on all their wheels now to improve braking, especially when the roads are wet.  These do brake with better modulation (feel) than the ENVE brake tracks and pads I’d ridden before, which I thought were already pretty darn good.  I’m not going to try to get all quantitative on you and say they are x% better or keep the rim temp y degrees cooler.  I’m just going to qualitatively say they give you even more confidence.  What worked well before works even better now.

Do they brake as well as disc brake wheelsets or rim brake wheels with alloy brake tracks going downhill?  No, though it seems the gap is considerably narrower when compared to alloy wheels to the point that I almost can’t tell.  Are they one of the best carbon braking tracks I’ve been on?  Yup.

Another difference I’ve noticed between the last and current generation brakes and tracks is the sound they make when you apply the brakes.  The last gen ones on the ENVE SES 4.5 put out a barely audible “shhhh” sound, the kind you make when you are trying to quiet a baby.  The new generation tracks sound to me like a dentist’s drill while you are under anesthesia.  Zing, zing, but not so much as to scare you, rather to let you know they are working.

While I much prefer the shhhh, the faint drill sound of the new generation isn’t troublesome and nothing like the shriek you hear on some older carbon rim brakes.  On one group ride I took, one of the guys I was riding with and didn’t know before the ride made a point to tell me he thought the sound of my brakes was “really cool.”  So, there you go.  I’m sure I would have heard from others if they though it was “really annoying.”

ENVE 2.2 photo

Stealthy

At 25mm depth, these aren’t aero wheels, far from it and far from what ENVE is typically known for.  They also have U shaped rims rather than normal ENVE toroids but were unaffected in my experience with cross winds.  They are the same height and width front and back, another difference from the SES wheels which pair different dimension rims in a set (3.4, 4.5, 5.6 etc.) to achieve various goals.

No matter, these are thoroughly ENVE, the build quality and attention to detail consistent with the high standards of their other wheels.

Their price is thoroughly ENVE too.  The set I rode with ENVE branded ceramic hubs were a chart-topping $3500 for the pair.  With DT240 hubs, a great hub that is used on many other high end carbon clinchers, they will run you $2900.  This is the lowest priced option for the 2.2s.  And they almost never sell at a discount.  Ugh!

Ah, the pure bred pick of this CCC puppy litter but also the ideal playmate if you want a pal to bound with you up and down alpine roads and you have the scratch to afford it.

As of April 24, 2017, you can find them in stock online at Competitive Cyclist, Tweeks CyclesWestrook Cycles, Merlin.

DT SWISS RC 28 SPLINE C MON CHASSERAL – CARBON LIGHT AND STIFF WITH THE ROAD FEEL OF AN ALLOY 

As the rather grisly yet immediately understandable saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  In the case of carbon climbing wheels, DT Swiss joins old and new wheel designs to create a lightweight and sure braking wheelset for getting up and down a mountain.

The Mon Chasseral, named after a Swiss mountain, combines the narrowest (15mm inside, 21mm outside), typical-of-climbing-wheels shallow (28mm) rim along with a high zoot ceramic bearing, carbon shell version of DT’s 180 hub to create the lightest (1250g claimed) wheelset of any in this comparative review.

DT Swiss also use a new-for-them high temperature resin with the well regarded Swiss Stop Black Prince brake pads to provide the stopping power for the Mon Chasseral.

The result is a very good choice for those who want the benefits of carbon clinchers and like the road feel of a traditional alloy wheelset.  They spin smoothly and are there to help you climb as aggressively as you want to with their combination of low weight and the excellent power transfer that comes from their unflinching stiffness.  That stiffness also helps you go where you want heading downhill, handling the ins and outs of turns with precision.

Compliance isn’t their strong suit however, certainly not the way the wider (2-4mm inside and 4-6mm outside) rims of the other wheels in this group of CCCs that also come tubeless like this one.  You’ll certainly feel the road, imperfections and all, going downhill on the Mon Chasserals.  If you are ok with that, cool.  If you’ve become accustomed to the comfort of wider wheels and tires and don’t want to go back, this will stop you from enjoying the Mon Chasseral.

Measuring actual weights of the wheels including rim strips and skewers, the Mon Chasseral come in about 30 grams less than those of the ENVE SES 2.2.  The two wheelsets perform similarly along the important performance characteristics save for their comfort.  There, the Mon Chasserals trail the group while ENVE leads it.

The market price of these DT Swiss wheels at TredzBike24 puts them at about 2/3rds the price of the ENVE however. So, there are some major trade-offs to consider that might just frustrate you enough to want to strangle that cat (sorry Kitty).

CAMPAGNOLO BORA ULTRA 35 – A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO STANDOUT

Campagnolo introduced their well establshed Bora Ultra 35 wheelset in a carbon clincher model for the first time in 2015 along with making the entire Bora line wider (17mm inside, 24mm outside).  For these wheels, they also remove some of the resin on the brake track surface to expose the pads more directly to the carbon fibers for better bite and wet weather performance.  The improved braking performance is welcome in the mountains both in their ability to stop (duh!) but also to allow you to be more aggressive in and out of the turns, braking a little later than wheels that need more time to slow you as you approach the switchbacks.

The wheels are plenty stiff and responsive both in and out of the saddle, though not out of the ordinary.  They do feel a bit less compliant than others, consistent with the feel of most Campy wheels.  Putting 25C tires on these 17C rims, something I wouldn’t normally recommend, added comfort and probably without a big hit to the aero performance that is already limited by Campy’s old school rim profile.

I included this wheelset in this comparative evaluation because it’s the shallowest carbon clincher that Campagnolo makes.  At 35mm, it along with the Aeolus 3 D3 have the deepest rims among those reviewed.  Unlike the Aeolus however, the Bora’s rim don’t require tape (saving 50 or so grams) because the spokes don’t attach on the inside of the rims. (Note that Campy doesn’t recommend or support you running these tubeless though tires seal up rather easily to them).

Bright

Given this combination of depth and light weight, Campagnolo’s unwillingness to update their rim profile, or perhaps their lack of rim design expertise to do so, is disappointing.

The Bora Ultra 35 profile is what I would call a “box V”.  Like the Shamal and Bora Ultra tubulars that this wheelset is a descendant of, the rim on the Bora Ultra 35 clincher has a flat spoke-side nose which then squarely turns up and linearly widens along the rim side walls until it stops for the parallel brake track.  No blunt nose, rounded edges, curved sides, angled or tapered brake tracks you find on modern day carbon wheelsets that have figured out how to cheat the wind to reduce drag and crosswind effects.

While most of the wheels in this review aren’t very aero in the first place simply due to their low profiles, this is just a missed opportunity to add downhill speed given Bora Ultra’s rim depth.  If they shaped these rims better to make them more aero, you could use this carbon clincher for both climbing and as a all-around.

These wheels, like many in this review, are priced by the manufacturer at the top end ($3200) though very good discounts can be found at WiggleProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles to bring them below the market price of the Mon Chasserals.  While the innovations and performance justify it in others, save for the braking there’s nothing that really stands out in the performance of these that would suggest to me they are worth their price.  The Bora One 35 ((WiggleProBikeKit UK code ITK10), the same wheelset with slightly heavier hubs rather than the Ultra’s, would be a better deal if you are committed to getting a Bora clincher.

BONTRAGER AEOLUS 3 D3 – A GENERATION BEHIND IN BRAKING PERFORMANCE

Bontrager updated the Aeolus 3 D3 most recently for the 2015 model year by making it wider (19.5mm inside, 27.0 outside), lighter (about 100g less to 1399 grams with rim strips), and tubeless ready or “TLR.”

Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 Clincher Road Wheel

The wheelset retained its U profile, DT Swiss 240 hubs and Aerolite straight pull spokes.  The rim resins, brake tracks and cork pads were also carried over from the prior model.  Quality and durability remain good.  This is a well built wheelset that rolls beautifully on tubeless or 25C tires and with its smooth hubs.  Reports from the field however do say you need to replace the rim strips each time you take the tires off, something of a nuisance.

It’s as wide and deep (35mm) and comfortable as any of the other wheels out there and probably more aero judging from its depth and shape, though I haven’t seen any data.

Stiffness is good, if not exceptional and its extra 40-100 grams of weight compared to the ENVE and DT Swiss CCCs is a minimal and indistinguishable difference when you are out on a ride.

In this latest model however, Bontrager didn’t make any changes to improve the wheels’ braking and the difference is a very important one against the others I’m comparing these to.  The last model of this wheelset was equal to many of the other last generation carbon clinchers on dry roads but really was inadequate on wet ones with the cork pads that come with these wheels.  A couple other reviewers had good luck using SwissStop Black Prince pads in wet weather but they were a bit noisier and I don’t know that they’d improve braking performance in dry weather on their own going down alpine descents and through switchbacks.

Making no changes to resin, tracks or supplied pads puts the current Aeolus climber a generation behind those that have upgraded their braking performance in their new or updated models.  Fine for rollers and all around riding, but not for the steeps.

At it top shelf price ($2850 MSRP and $2700 online from Trek Bicycle Superstore), the Aeolus 3 D3 really isn’t up to par in performance for what you pay for in price.

Here are the prices, performance and design ratings and specs of these wheelsets:

First 4 CCC spec chart

OTHER CARBON CLINCHER CLIMBING WHEELS

Four other wheelsets naturally fall into this CCC category but I’m either unable or unwilling to give you complete reviews on them at this time.  I’ll tell you why, give you a brief description and their specs along with the promise to give you a full review when it’s more appropriate to do so.

Fulcrum Racing Zero CarbonThe Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon is a lighter, wider, carbon version of the popular alloy model of the same name.  It has similar performance goals – very stiff, highly responsive, confident handling – that the alloy model built its reputation around.

As a 17C wide, deep wheelset with a box V rim profile (but not tubeless ready), it shares many of the traditional conservative design characteristics of the Bora Ultra 35 clincher made by the Campagnolo which developed and own the Fulcrum brand.  As such these Zeros are narrower, likely less aero yet marginally heavier than the Bontrager and ENVE wheels.  The Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon is likely very well built and is definitely a good deal less expensive than all of those I’ve reviewed above (Competitive Cyclist, Chain Reaction Cycles, Evans Cycles).

I nor any of my sources has had a chance to ride these wheels for review so I don’t know whether they will be a good value relative to the other CCCs or just a premium priced carbon Fulcrum with only incremental performance improvement compared to its alloy namesake.  When I can determine which, I’ll update this post with a review.

Mavic introduced its first two all carbon clincher wheelsets just a month before I completing this review.  The Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL C (Competitive Cyclist, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles, Slane Cycles) is the climber of the two, the other being a 41mm deep all-around Cosmic Pro Carbon SL C.

I have had a chance to ride and review the Cosmic Pro Carbon (here) but have yet to do so with the Kysrium Pro Carbon.  The dry braking of the Cosmic Pro Carbon was on par with the new ENVE and Zipp NSW brake tracks but I was disappointed with the wet braking and the loud free-hub.  I also found the claimed weight of the Cosmic to be about 125g lighter than the actual weight I measured, a gap that would make a difference in choosing between climbing wheels.  The Cosmic (and Ksyrium) price is about 2/3rds that of the ENVE SES 2.2 so that’s working in its favor.

I’m a little more encouraged about the Ksyrium Pro Carbon wheelset than I am about the new Fulcrum as it looks like Mavic has really tried to extend itself with a curvier rim shape, some new high temp resins and a brake track treatment that should bring the big M into the modern age.

Yes, the Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL C rim is only 17C wide and 25mm deep while the claimed weight is nearly 1400 grams, but this is progress for Mavic compared to the carbon outside, alloy inside Cosmic Carbone line they’d been putting out there the past few years.

The “first-looks” that came from reviewers who rode them at the product introduction gatherings in Nice on the French Riviera were uniformly positive about the braking… and the magnificent views they were undoubtedly braking for.  As with the Fulcrums, I’ll add a review of the Ksyriums to this post when I have some significant riding experience to share with you about these new wheels.

Zipp 202The Zipp 202 Firecrest (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Tweeks Cycles, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles) is essentially the grand dame of the CCC category.  I believe it was the first carbon clincher aimed for climbers and many probably thought Zipp completely crazy when the 202s first came out in 2013 to try to compete in a segment where tubulars were (and still are lighter) and better at managing the heat created from braking.

That seems like a long time ago in human, dog and especially Zipp years.  Looking at the wheels now, some of their specs – 1450 grams claimed weight, 16mm inside and 24.6mm outside width – are quite a bit behind the times even though the toroid profile and some of the performance aspects are still quite advanced.

Zipp has recently introduced a NSW line that have textured brake tracks, new hubs, are lighter weight and claim stiffer performance. The 404 NSW that I have reviewed here has a very good brake track.  The Zipp 202 NSW (US/CA Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Wiggle, Slane Cycles) is a grand more expensive than what the Firecrest sells for now but I don’t believe the 202 Firecrest is competitive on a performance basis with some of the CCCs you can get now at close to the same price as this Zipp climber.

Second 4 CCC spec chart

Finally, there is the Reynolds Attack (Competitive CyclistProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Merlin), most recently updated for the 2015 season.  Tour International, the well regarded and analytically rigorous cycling gear review magazine ran lab tests of carbon clinchers including the prior model Reynolds Attack and current Zipp Firecrest 202 (and others not reviewed in this post) to simulate the repeated braking you would do going down mountain grades of 10% and steeper (Issue 9/2014; available by subscription only).

Reynolds AttackThe Attack showed initial rim deterioration about 1/3 through the testing and completely failed about 2/3rds the way through Tour’s test.  (The Zipp passed.)  According to a tech rep I spoke with at Reynolds, the company did not change the resin, brake track or brake pads on the Attack from the one that failed the Tour test when Reynolds introduced the latest model in 2015.  I personally own a set of Reynolds Assault SLG that uses the same braking technology but I dare say I’ve never taken them down anything like the steeps that the Tour test simulated, and won’t be anytime soon.

This was a harsh test that Tour ran and I would expect that if you were headed down descents less steep than this and used the braking techniques I laid out above, you wouldn’t have any problem.  But I can’t be sure you will do either so I have got to recommend you pass on this wheelset for alpine climbing, using them instead for tamer hills.

Not being able or willing to review these four wheelsets underlines for me how important it is to get your choice right for the CCC partners you want to spend good money on to fire up and scream down serious mountain roads.  It also spotlights how much progress has and continues to be made in this category of wheelsets.

While I believe there are three good CCC options out there now – the ENVE 2.2, DT Swiss Mon Chasseral and Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 – I’ll continue to update this post as I get enough on new CCCs to give you even more to choose from.

* * * * *

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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149 comments

  • Good timing as the Giro Hill TT is just started! Carbon resins & layup have come along way in the past ten years, C24 are old but still very good. Excellent article as always, very informative . Keep up the good work,

  • Hello, curious if you considered the Campagnolo Hyperon Ultra 2, this wheels are seriously fantastic albeit for climbing… Have you had a look at Lightweights Obermayer Meilenstein wheels. Just purchased a Shwarzed set. Very very stiff and weight nothing.

    • Yemi, These are both tubular wheels, right? I’ve focused only are clinchers for reasons I outline in the post. Cheers, Steve

      • Hello Steve, the wheels are both clinchers, Lightweights Meilensteins and the Campag Hyperon Ultra 2.

        • Yemi, Campy made the Hyperon in clinchers in the past but only in tubs now. http://www.campagnolo.com/US/en/Wheels/wheel_hyperon_ultra_two. At about the same time they started making the Boras in clinchers. Go figure!

          The Mielensteins are made both in tubs and clinchers but Lightweight doesn’t recommend using clinchers in the mountains. In the Tour article from a couple years (and a generation of clinchers) ago I mentioned in the post above, Tour wrote that Lightweight declined to submit a wheelset for the review and quoted their PR manager saying “We would not recommend a carbon clincher wheelset in Alpine mountains. Tubular wheels have a higher margin of safety and are the better choice for such situations. Even though with tubulars, you have to make compromises in every day use.” So I won’t go against their recommendation and wouldn’t likely get a hold of a set even if I wanted to test them in the mountain environment.

          Obviously companies disagree but my evaluation shows with the right resin, tracks, pads and manufacturing techniques, the current generation clinchers will be fine in the mountains.

  • Oh and thanks so very much, this is such an informative sight. Peace.

  • Thank you so much for your hard work in putting out more reviews like these. Your site has become one of my go to places for wheel comparisons and sites that offer the best prices.

    Regarding the ENVE SES 2.2 wheels. It appears that Velonews recently reviewed these wheels (albeit with the DT Swiss hubs): http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/05/bikes-and-tech/reviewed-enve-ses-2-2-wheels_402932

    Their take was quite interesting though. From their published article, Velonews stated: “we’d have a hard time recommending them over something like the Shimano C24s, which performed as well or better in our tests and cost roughly one-third as much.”
    I understand that different reviewers weight different aspects “differently” because we are not all carbon copies of each other. However, that’s still quite a praise for the C24s and quite a deflating statement for the very expensive ENVEs.

    I currently use Shimano WH-9000 C24s and also WH-9000 C35s thanks to your site and I currently do a least 325,000 feet of climbing a year. I am not posting the above link in order to undermine your valuable work. I truly do appreciate it. My point was to bring up what I (and probably many of your readers) are thinking: How do these carbon clincher climbing wheels compare performance-wise to your previous recommendations for climbing and descending wheels? Namely, you previously indicated the C35 as the best performer in the climbing and descending category. Given this, how would you compare the C35 and C24 to the SES 2.2 in terms of performance? In your view, is the very big price differential justified for an enthusiast?

    Once again, thanks for your hard work in putting out articles like this one.

    • Omar, Thanks for your comment. I did read the Velo News review when it came out a few weeks ago. I like a lot of what they do, but this review seemed based on the results of lab tests they don’t provide much information about rather than testing from a known source and their own reviewer’s comparative testing experience. I looked up the lab source they cited and… well… you look it up and tell me if you can figure out their qualifications for testing bike wheels. The writer also does mostly news stories. I’ve not seen his name associated with gear reviews before.

      Anyway, to your question about the difference between C24, C35 and 2.2. It’s a difference of use, degree and preferences between three wheelsets I really like. The 2.2s are more comfortable then both the others, far stiffer than the C24, a good deal lighter than the C35s, and tubeless ready (while you have to buy the C24 and C35 in a tubeless version if you want that capability). They all handle and roll well and the braking is comparable.

      As I laid out in the opening of this post, you need to be a certain type of rider to want/need pure climbing wheels and you have to be able to afford what is often a 3rd or 4th wheelset to go for one of these. After reviewing most of the candidates, I’ve concluded the ENVE is the best pure climbing & descending clincher out there. Some enthusiasts are willing to pay for the best. The C24 is a great low profile all-around wheelset under $1000, the best for the kind of rider I described in the post where I recommended it, and it’s also a good pure climber for lighter weight riders. The C35 is a better climbing and descending wheel than the c24 and also is a good alternative to carbon wheels as an all arounder if you don’t want or can’t afford a carbon all arounder, which will perform better than the C35.

      Is the price/performance ratio justified? That’s a personal consideration each of us need to make. Steve

      • Steve,

        thanks for the thorough and informative reply comparing the three head to head (to head). I imagine your response will be appreciated by many of your readers who have (or will have) the same question.

  • Great article as ever. I have a (potentially stupid) question. Referring to the enve’s you say “I rode them with tube and tire but they can also run tubeless, something I’d recommend if you are going to take these or any CCC wheelset into the often cracked, heaved and potholed netherworld of alpine cycling road surfaces.”

    Why would tubeless be better in these circumstances? Do you have a recommended tubeless tire?

    Many thanks!

    • Ian, Thanks for feedback and question. It’s a fair question no doubt. Going tubeless allows you to run your pressure lower, say as low as 80 psi, without worrying about a pinch flat going over cracks and potholes that you might get a tube & tire set up at the same pressure. I’m fairly light (150lb/68kg in season) and I’ll run 25C tube & tire at 85psi front, 90psi rear when I want to maximize comfort. If I was much heavier, I’d want to run them higher. Tubeless also seal up if you have small punctures whereas you’d have to replace a tube. So tubeless is a safer bet on a rough road. Schwalbe Pro One is one of the best tubeless tires I’ve used as they fit a range of rims and their rolling resistance numbers are among the best. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Thank you for another great review.

    I am considering buying the Enve 2.2s, I have Enve 3.4, and the wheels are almost perfect for me, the Enve 3.4 is stable and fast, brakes good in dry weather but the issue I have is braking in the wet. I do racing in Sweden and sportives in southern Europe. So I hesitate to take the 3.4s to those sportives in the south of Europe because I have been caught in rain on long descents and the braking is not that great in those conditions so I had to slow down a lot, I am an experienced descender, have done a lot of racing and mountainous stage races in when I was young so this is frustrating to have to slow down so much when it is raining.

    So how do you rate the braking in the wet with the 2.2s new brake track and new brake pads? Do you think there is a distinct improvement compared to older Enves and similar wheels from other brands?

    BR, Bengt

    • Bengt, I did find the braking significantly better in the wet on the 2.2s than with vs the 4.5s I rode with the last version brake track. They are one of a few new tracks out there that are textured (like the NSW) or where some of the resin at the brake track is removed to expose more of the fiber. I think the former approach is better on wet roads than the latter. Note, all the new ENVEs have the new textured track so if you prefer the 3.4 and don’t want a wheelset just for the mountains, you might consider going with the new 3.4. Steve

      • Thank you Steve. I will buy the 2.2s then and use them mainly for hilly races and sportives, I travel to Gran Canaria every winter for training as well and that island is really hilly so they will be perfect for that training as well, expensive wheels for training but I expect the fun-factor of riding really good wheels to be huge.

        The 3.4s I might sell or trade up to 4.5s next year, but for this year I focus on buying the 2.2s for my hilly sportives this summer. So thanks agan for your great, informative reviews,

        all the best, Bengt

  • Have you tried the Giant SLR 0 climbing wheels? These are advertised at 1335 grams for the pair and are less than $1500.

    • I haven’t. Unlike Specialized with its in house made Roval brand wheels and Trek with their Bontrager division wheels , Giant doesn’t promote aftermarket sales of its wheels, preferring instead to sell them principally on their new bikes. It’s probably because DT Swiss designs and makes the wheels under contract to Giant and there’s probably no brand or profit benefit for Giant beyond promoting a better performing bike. That said, you can order them through a Giant store or dealer. The list price I’ve seen on them is closer to $2100.

  • Thanks for taking the time to come up with this great and detailed review on Carbon Clinchers. I am unlike many, and use tubulars on both of my road bikes ALL the time, not just for racing. Fortunately, only had two flats in the past 24 months or so. Still, I replace the tires at least two-three times a year and that can start to get $$$. They do have sealant in them which “plug” up small punctures really well (saved me on several occasions where tube clinchers would have flatted). I am considering CCs though, as I start to do more remote mountain rides. Currently using Zip 303 tubs and Enve 3.4 tubs (CKr45). I was considering the Knight 35 CC with Aivee hubs. Advertised weight is about 1400 g with the Aivee hubs in a 20/24 configuration without skewers. Have you Steve heard much about the Knight 35 CC and the Aivee hubs? Would greatly appreciate your feedback. Just fyi: 5’8″ and 132 lbs. Last year accumulated ~750K’ of elevation on Garmin 510 and currently at 370K’ for this year.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thank you for all the great reviews and recommendations.

    I am on the market for new pair of wheels and I would appreciate your advice. I have the zondas currently on my bike, but after just one and a half year the brake track of their rims have become really concave and really worries me (they haven’t done more than 7,000km). I use them all year round in Edinburgh, UK, but clean them regularly and use the swissstop bxp pads, so not sure why such a quick deterioration. I was looking for something similar – an all year round and all around wheelset. Scotland is a bit hilly but nothing extreme like alpine climbs, and on longer rides I average around 31kph and during the group rides we average ~36-37kph. I don’t compete in races but do do some sportives, centuries etc. and do like to go fast (also bought a new aero bike recently). So I am currently in between something light with alloy brake surface like dura ace c24’s or the slightly more aero c35’s – albeit they are a bit old now – or taking the leap, stretching my budget, and going for carbon zipp 303’s or 404’s (not sure about Scotland’s crosswinds though). I would be grateful if you could offer any advice.
    Thanks very much,
    George

    • George, you’re welcome and thanks for your question. Very surprised to hear about the quick deterioration in your Zonda brake tracks. While I read that you clean your pads regularly, is there any grit on the road surface where you ride that would prematurely age the tracks? When you clean the pads, are the channels full of any kind of abrasive materials that you might have picked up on the road? Have your riding friends had similar issues? You may have potentially bought a defective set of Zondas but unless they weren’t authentic, it’s unlikely that both rims would age the same way. It’s important to understand this as your next wheelset could suffer the same fate if the road conditions are causing the premature brake track wear. Regarding the wheelset choices your mention, your weight could affect your decision. C24s would be better in cross winds if you are lighter rider but won’t offer you any aero benefit at your speeds. If you are heavier (>80kg), C35 or 303 would be better with the 303 being more aero. If you are heavy enough (>85kg) you won’t be bothered by crosswinds and could go with the 404 to get even more aero benefit. But, if the road had a lot of grit, carbon tracks will wear fast. Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks a lot for your prompt reply. I was really surprised myself on the zondas after having read all these raving reviews on the internet about durability etc. The roads are pretty clean from March-October, then a bit less after leaves fall and there are more debris on the roads. Interestingly, when I clean the pads I don’t find very often metal shards from the rims or any other material, they are pretty clean. The problem seems to be exacerbated in the rear wheel and it is not so prominent in the front where it is far less noticeable. The wheels were bought from wiggle. It might be also of interest that the the pads are worn twice as fast in the rear blocks compared to the front, although I apply both consistently. A few fellow riders that I have asked haven’t had any problems like this. My main riding partner has a pair of wheels for 5-6 years now and their rims are still smooth. I am not a heavy rider, I fluctuate between 68-71kg. Because of the problem with the zondas I am a bit skeptical about the carbon rims and using them year round, but would be really font of the wider rim compared to c24’s or c35’s. Hence, my inability of making a decision on the most suitable wheelset!

  • George, got it. Sounds like you may have had a bad rear wheel. Wasn’t thinking you would find metal in the pads; more like grit that can be left after a rain. But sounds like your roads are pretty typical. Might want to reassure yourself you are using good brake pads. Your braking performance is still good? Just the concave wear in the back? Are there any scratches or abnormal abrasions in the brake track, different from in the front?

    Another thing that comes to mind is your braking technique, but it shouldn’t affect the wear as much as what you describe. Most of your braking should be done on your front wheel. It’s a lot more effective in slowing and stopping you than braking on the rear.

    Don’t know if you’ve seen it but I recently did a review of alloy wheelset upgrades wider than the Zonda and Shimanos. It’s here: https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/05/03/best-road-bike-wheel-upgrades/. If you aren’t ready to go to carbon just yet, there are some options in there that are as wide as any of the carbon wheels available now.

    Steve

    • Hi Steve, yes braking is still really good no problems there. And haven’t noticed any significant differences compared to the front rim. Regarding my braking I tend to use both brakes equally, although I have to admit I might use my rear one a bit more for micro-decelerations. I did see your other post as well and was thinking about the Pro-Lite bortolas, but are their hubs as good as the dura ace ones? And my other concern was whether they will do justice to my newly acquired aero frame, or it will be like riding a Ferrari with Zastava wheels 🙂

      • George. I don’t think the Pro-Lite hubs are on the same level as the Dura Ace, no, but they are good hubs for that price. As to your Ferrari, if you want an aero wheel, you really need to get into the 40+ depth range, 50+ would be better still, and that takes you to carbon. I would just write off the Zonda rear wheel wear as an aberration and not base any decision on your next wheelset based on that experience. Steve

        • Thank you very much for your replies, Steve. It has been really helpful. Keep up the good work.
          Looking forward to your next posts.
          George

          • Hi George ,

            I was just in time to do my first road bike upgrade get new wheels and especially Campagnolo Zonda.

            I found out your comment and got many doubts now. I can not afford Shimano Dura Ace C24 as Steve told me in the past but Zonda cost 390 euros which is in my budget. Also Shimano Ultegra 6800 cost 380 euros and old Shimano Dura Ace 7701 410 euros. All are in same price range.

            Now stock wheel which are rubbish total weight 3.280 gramms with tyres tubes qr and cassete and had 5000 kms in very rough roads etc. Rims are almost as new in term of braking contition maybe because i clean them almost regurarly.I also change brake pads from crappy Shimano R50T2 with Shimano Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 Brake Blocks R55C4 and damn 30-40% more braking power! Rims are still clean and not see sign of wear in braking surface.

            I am not willing to buy used wheels due to future servicing and cost much more from brand new. I am asking Steve and you George in how many kms must a rim change as your case?Steve insist on Zonda is maybe rims fault and not your i use as you said equally braking and almost back for micro adjusting.

          • I want to know how many kms does a new wheelset last…. 68kg rider rough roads 7-7.5 bar psi Shimano Dura Ace brake blocks and normal to aggresive riding. 12000 kms total in a year Never ride in rainy salty mud conditions only crappy slippery asphault

            Thanxs

          • Fotis, It’s hard to generalize because road conditions, rim materials, wheel makers, brake pads, braking techniques, braking frequency, riding weather etc. all vary but if you are riding rough roads, doing a lot of braking, aggressive riding on wheels like the Zondas, you should get a couple to three years tops at 12K kms/year.

            Not sure how this comment stream about Zondas ended up on a post about carbon clincher climbing wheels. If you are looking for a relatively inexpensive upgrade from stock wheels, best to review and comment on one of two other posts on upgrade wheels either here (which includes reviews of the Zonda and C24 and other traditional width upgrade wheels) or here (on the group of wider upgrade wheels). Thanks, Steve

  • Raymond Griffin

    Hi Steve,

    Appreciate all the effort you go to. I would like to know if you have any plans to test Planet X wheels. They seem to offered great deals in carbon clincher, tubular sets. They may be a little far away for you.

    I would like to know how they compare with some of the above, especially when they come at a cheaper price.

    Ray

  • Raymond, It is generally understood that Planet X doesn’t design their own bikes or wheels, preferring instead to source them from factories in China that make them available to any retailer that want to brand them. While I can’t say specifically about the wheels that Planet X are selling, these types of wheels are generally not up to the performance or quality levels of those who design their own wheels and have them made at factories to specific, and usually higher quality standards. Steve

  • Interesting read on the Reynolds attack. I own (now only half own) a 2012 set of the Reynolds attack and took them to ride the marmotte. However, descending to the start line from alpe d huez the front wheel warped. I usually alternate braking front rear and avoid braking too much on descents but this day was full of traffic. So I attribute the failure to too much braking and probably should have run with less pressure than my usual 100 psi. Fortunately no accident and I could purchase a new mavic ksyrium front wheel from a busy bike shop and get to the starting line as planned. BTW. The ALU clincher performed great and loved the improved braking.will be going back to ALU again. I am running campagnolo group so no shimano c24 for me un fortunately so will be considering the hed Ardennes

    • Jesper,
      If you’re running 11-speed you will have no problem! I run Shimano C24s on a bike which is otherwise a full Campag Athena groupset (& they’re great wheels). It works like a dream – you could never tell! I also run another set of wheels with a Shimano hub on the same bike from time-to-time. I’ve been doing this for 2-3 years. (I read about this on a blog some time ago by some guy in New Zealand and gave it a try. If there is a spacing difference between Campag and Shimano on 11-speed it’s so minimal as to be negligible. However if you’re still on 10-speed it probably won’t work.)

  • Hi Steve,

    A question on DT SWISS RC 28 SPLINE C MON CHASSERAL.
    Seems that DT Swiss is producing RC 28 SPLINE (non MON CHASSERAL).

    Do you know if there is any breaking performance difference between those two or is it just down to weight ?

    Thanks,
    Konrad

    • Konrad, the Mon Chasseral rim uses a higher temp resin than what’s used in the non chasseral (regular RC 28 Spline). It also uses the ceramic bearing 180 model hub vs the steel bearing 240 hub on the non. Steve

      • Thanks,

        Would love to get something a bit cheeper than the 3 presented options that wouldn’t melt on my way down a big mountain 😉
        I’m getting that you wouldn’t risk that on a regular rc28 spline ?

        Need something for an alps trip soon and looking for something black to match the bike 😉
        Seems hard at this point in time, hopefully that will change fairly soon…

        btw. Are any of the blackened alloy rims wear resistant (i.e. fulcrum zero nite, shamal mille and the like ?)

        If that’s not an option seems dura ace c35 is the one for me 🙂

  • Right. You don’t want to ride down any alpine decent on carbon rims that don’t have the right resin and I wouldn’t recomment the regular RC28 spline for that. The blackened alloy rims from fulcrum, campy, mavic, hed are all quite pricey for what are essentially the same alloy rims they sell for a lot less with other badges on them. The braking improvement is incremental and they sell them (and can get the added price) mostly for the customer who wants the look of a carbon wheelset. I wish there were more carbon rim choices – and there will be soon – Mavic Ksyrium Carbon SL C, Zipp 303 NSW (and likely a 202 NSW to follow – but they are so new that I haven’t been able to get a set to try out yet. Meanwhile I think the c35 is an excellent all-around and climbing choice. Shimano has announced a successor that will be a tad wider and deeper but won’t be out likely till next spring. If you can hold off to your alps trip next year, there’ll be more to choose from. See if you can get a hold of the Mavic Ksyrium Carbon SL C for this year’s trip. They have a no obligation, try before you buy program that some retailers are doing. Steve

    • Thanks so much for your feedback !

      It seems I can get Mavic Ksyrium Carbon SL C and Campagnolo ONE 35 at roughly the same price.
      I can also get Dura Ace C35 ~250 $ cheaper.

      Considering what I wrote, what would be your recommendation ?

  • Hi Steve, which tire/size do you recommend I get to pair up with the DT SWISS RC 28 SPLINE C MON CHASSERAL?

    thanks,
    Andrew

  • Andrew, in the spirit of “teach a man to fish…”, read these two posts to choose based on your preferences.
    Size: https://intheknowcycling.com/2016/04/03/best-wider-road-bike-tires-wheel-sizes/
    Tire: https://intheknowcycling.com/2015/05/28/best-road-bike-tires/
    Steve

  • Steve, What is your professional opinion on Swiss Side HADRON 485 wheels? I am interested in these because of decent price point of $1200,they are aero, and have a nice aluminum braking surface. I do a ton of climbing 18,000 ft per week and recently blew out my Zipp 30 aluminum wheels after 6000 miles. I weigh 175lbs but am a good climber.

    Im now riding on Mavic Cosmics aluminum wheels ( stock wheels which came with my Boardman) which suck for climbing and hubs feel sticky, I have read mediocre reviews about Swiss Side products, but not sure how much is PR vs real life reviews. Your opinion is appreciated.

    • Rivak, First, I’m a fellow enthusiast blogging my take on gear and not a ‘professional’ (i.e., not a cycling journalist, former racer, bike shop owner, wheel maker, etc.). Second, I’ve not ridden the Swiss Side wheels nor know anyone whose opinion I trust that has. Save for the Shimano Dura-Ace C35 which weighs in the 1500g range, most carbon-alloy wheels at similar or greater depth are on the heavy side relative to all carbon or low profile alloy and are best for the flats. Steve

      • Thank you for your prompt response Steve. I trust your opinion as I have followed your reviews on tires, Flo Wheels, and other bike gear. You have been spot on! I will check out the Dura-Ace C35. Thank again!

  • Hey, Steve.

    You may recall our comment exchange a month or two ago. I ended up getting the ENVE SES 2.2 wheelset complete with the ENVE carbon body hubs (DT Swiss internals). 1300g for the pair, clinchers, no rim tape.

    Some thoughts you might be interested in. First, braking in the wet is the best I’ve experienced in a very, very long time. I descended 12,000′ Independence Pass in Colorado in 45F rain and braking was solid, consistent, reliable, with excellent modulation and feedback. I was able to easily and consistently push the grip limits of my tires slowing for switchbacks on 6% average grades. The initial grab is immediate, strong, and confident; even aluminum usually needs one revolution to wipe water off the track before giving solid grip. I was amazed.

    That said, they are VERY loud. You have an initial sound familiar to anyone riding carbon fiber; a whirring type sound that announces you’re braking. Not too obtrusive, I don’t find it annoying. As the brakes grab more (and heat up), however, they transition from whirring to very loud squealing. And I mean loud, people will turn to look as you slow down.

    I also found that the texturing eats your brake pads. I’ve done a fair amount of climbing / descending on these wheels, after ~450 miles and ~40k feet descending, I’m 2/3rds through both the front and rear pads. The wheels came with two sets, and I’ll be ordering more soon.

    There is a lot of flex in the rear wheel when you stand. Despite having the brakes open as wide as I dare, I still get rub when standing. I don’t generate the kind of power that could reasonable cause that problem, and my 155lbs isn’t mass enough to warrant the flex.

    Despite that, the cornering is ridiculously confident, even in windy conditions. They are stable and solid in hard cornering, which coupled with exceptional wet and dry braking makes for fast threading through technical roadway. They are quite comfortable, and confident, descending on fast sweeping corners and mountain road switchbacks.

    I hear that wheelsets with the Chris King hubs have less flex. Someone have insight on that?

    • Chris, Thanks for your report. Surprised about the noise. Have you tried toeing in the brake pads? Regarding brake rub, I wonder if it may also be due to the brake set up. These are wide wheels. You might want to double check that you’ve got the cables set up so the brakes aren’t A-framing around the the top of the brake track. Another thing to check is that the wheel is not out of true. If it is, it could be causing the rub. As you say, at your weight it’s unlikely that you are flexing the rear wheel. If the wheels were flexing that much, they wouldn’t handle as well as you have reported. I’m of course suggesting these things without seeing how the wheels interact with the brakes and the bike. Perhaps you and a mechanic you trust could take a look together and see what else might be going on. Steve

      • Steve, you’re welcome. Hope it helps.

        I’ve found the braking noise gets louder as the rims and pads get hotter, after descending a 4-mile 8% grade, then a 1.5 mile ~10% grade with lots of tight corners. They’re quiet on “flat” roads. The noise was present on my first ride, and hasn’t really changed as the pads wore in – they’re now quite well formed to the braking surface. I suspect this is a function of the brake track surface and material used in the pads. They stop very, very well, I suspect this is a price we pay for exceptional braking performance.

        As far as rub, I thought the same thing about wheel flex – that it would be felt in hard cornering. Somehow, that’s not the case. I’ve had precisely zero problem with flex in the front, so I wonder if that’s a good portion of the cornering confidence. All my aggressive cornering has been on descents where front wheel stability is paramount given combination of the braking and cornering loads. I’m sure the 25c tires help, too.

        I’ve used the wheels on two different frames (albeit both with the same SRAM Red Aerolink brakes) with the exact same results. I have to run a lot of gap on the rear wheel between braking surface and brake pad. Interestingly, I’m not the only one with the issue; several have put it in their reviews on Enve’s website.

        All that said, I’m planning to have a shop service the wheels (about 1000 miles on them now), I’ll have them look everything over when I do that.

  • Hello Steve,
    I have just purchased the new Giant TCR Advanced SL 0. I have the option of staying with the Giant SLR 0 carbon clincher wheelset or switching to Zipp Firecrest 303. I weigh 79kg and, mostly ride in undulating terrain with occasional steep climbs as found in Provence and Mallorca.
    Have you any comment which may help me decide which would be my best choice?
    Thank you. Paul.

    • Paul, the 303 Firecrest is clearly a better all around wheelset than the SLR ) but I wouldn’t ride either the of these two carbon wheelsets on steep descents down long steep climbs (>7% longer than a 1-2K) where you need to do a lot of braking. Steve

      • Hi Steve, you make the comment about 303 FC CC not suitable for braking on long fast descent s with hairpins I’m assuming to engage the heavy braking you mention.
        Can you categorically back up this statement with real world experience / statistics or is it more heresy and the stigma attached to CCs that people seem to quickly suggest with bias.
        I know from what Zipp are saying with the new 2016 Firecrest 303 has excellent braking and do not overheat to the point where the outer rim warps and have read some articles on real world brake performance testing that suggest Zipp are at the top of the game regarding CC braking performance. This takes into account that reasonable braking technique is applies as opposed to simply dragging your brakes down a 10 k descent.

        Cheers
        Kurt

        • Kurt, I have seen and know of enough warped older generation carbon clincher wheels, including Zipp 303 Firecrest, to know that they aren’t suitable for braking in the kind of alpine conditions I describe unless you can follow the recommended braking technique I describe in this post. Unfortunately this technique is not always followed by enthusiasts so this is why I don’t recommend the Firecrest for these situations. The Tour tests on the 202 Firecrest show that it passed but just barely – some delamination but no warping. The new Zipp 303 is called NSW (and not Firecrest) and it along with the first four carbon clinchers reviewed in this post are suitable for these kind of conditions. I have been riding the NSW for a few weeks now and the braking is excellent. I will be taking it into the mountains soon and will have more to say then. Steve

  • Good evening Steve
    I’m about to bite the bullet on a set of lightweight meilenstein C, latest model. Couple of alpine trips per year….173 pound rider.
    Experienced descender, opting for very late braking long periods between switchbacks off the brakes.
    All the talk of warped rims have me trembling at the knees….although I’ve had a front alloy clincher fail descending the croix der fer.
    What are your thoughts regarding the new generation lightweights? Or is this the generation carbonsport advised against?

    Regards Steve

    • Steve, I have no experience riding them. Haven’t seen any reviews of them in the mountains. Flat/hill reviews suggest they brake like last gen carbon clinchers (good on the dry roads, less so on wet ones). Yes, incredibly light (1220g). But crazy expensive, relatively narrow (20mm), quite deep (50mm) for mountain crosswinds, no information provided on braking performance, resins or track treatment, relatively “old” design compared to newer (2016) wheelsets with textured tracks and high temperature resins. But you probably know all of this and plan to buy them anyway. Go with the tubulars to be safe along with your good descending and braking technique, get the wheel insurance, and if you’ve got any money left, make sure your life insurance is paid up. (Or buy the ENVE 2.2 or 3.4).

      Let me know how it goes. Steve

  • Hi Steve, Brilliant job on the write ups, very much appreciated.
    I’m about to buy the DT Swiss Mon Chasseral 28’s based on this page from Bike24. Eurobike 2016 is just around the corner and the 38 versions will be available then. The question that is driving me crazy is will the aero advantage of the 38’s be a wiser decision than the lighter weight of the 28’s (1250g vs 1295g). There is so little in the weight it makes it tough. Over a 50km ride I will climb just over 1000m. I like to sprint. my rides usually average around 25kph with max speeds of 60kph descending and 50kph or so on the flat sections. Sydney has been very windy the last few years so crosswinds are relevant. Will I notice the faster spin up and lighter weight of the 28’s or would you recommend the 38’s for the slight aero advantage? Maybe the aero going from 28-38 is meaningless and I may as well go the lightest wheel?! I’m worried the 38’s will neither be the lightest or the most aero and sit in no mans land…or the best of both worlds!
    All the best, Sam.

    • Sam, You won’t notice a 50 gram difference; you will a 10mm one. While the claimed weights are usually under the actual measured weight (by 30g in the case of the 28s) it’s likely the 38s will be one of the lighter wheels around in that depth range because they will be one of the narrowest. Hard to know whether they will be one of the most aero. Tour Magazine recently did a review which rated the RC38 Spline C, which has the same rim profile as the Mon Chas, less aero than similar depth wheelsets including the Campy Racing Quattro and Mavic Pro Carbon SL C. Neither of those companies are known for having wheelsets as aero as those from companies like HED, Zipp, ENVE, Reynolds, etc. Steve

      Crosswinds shouldn’t be an issue for either. They are too shallow.

  • Thanks Steve! Sounds like, based on the Tour Magazine test, that the 38’s won’t be much more aero than the 28’s making it less compelling to trade any weight at all for a nominal advantage? Funny they release two wheels so close to each other, maybe it’s more an aesthetic thing…

    • Sam, I think you missed my point. There is an indistinguishable weight difference between the 28 and 38. It will have no effect on your climbing. The 38 is distinguishably more aero than the 28.You will go faster at aero speeds (>18mph/30kmph) but it is not as aero as others of the same depth. Steve

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