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 June 21, 2017, you can find them in stock online at Competitive Cyclist, Tweeks CyclesMerlin.

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 ITK10Chain 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, TredzProBikeKit 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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150 comments

  • Hi Steve,

    I’m trying to decide between the Enve 3.4 clinchers with the Enve carbon hubs and the same wheels with the DT swiss 240 hubs. Are the Enve carbon hubs which weight less worth the additional cost ? Also, how durable are the carbon hubs ( ceramic bearings ) vs the 240’s which are supposed to be bombproof ?
    Thanks for your feedback !

    Stephen

    • Stephen, They are both first rate hubs. The weight difference is immaterial; you won’t notice it. The ENVE hubs are relatively new so I don’t know their durability but I’d be surprised, based on everything else ENVE makes and their 5 year warranty on the rims and hubs, if you’d have a problem or one that wouldn’t be resolved. They are both excellent performers – stiffness, engagement – and have quiets free-hubs.

      For me, the ENVE hubs roll better – silky smooth – than anything I’ve ever been on. I’d put the DT Swiss, Easton Echo, Dura Ace – all great hubs – in the next tier. Whether the ENVE reduces your rolling resistance or carries your speed better, I couldn’t say. It just glides better than anything I’ve been on. If you didn’t ever ride the ENVE you’d be totally happy with the DT 240. Once you’ve been on the ENVE, you know you’ve reached the top. Whether that added feel is worth the added cost is up to you.

      Steve

      • Hi Steve,

        Thanks for your reply. Noted the weight difference is immaterial between the Enve 3.4 clincher wheels with the Enve hubs and the DT swiss 240’s. If I were to upgrade the 240’s to ceramic bearings do you think I would get a rolling effect similar to the Enve hubs ? I think Enve does these upgrades at the factory so it would still be under their 5 year warranty.
        Thanks again,

        Stephen

        • Stephen, I’ve never ridden the DT 180s, which are the DT 240s with ceramic. I don’t believe ENVE offers the 180s as an option with the 3.4 wheels but you could check with them. Steve

  • This is one of the best reviews about anything bike related I read in a long time, thanks for that!

    Could you please comment on the ease of installing tires? One thing I particularly like about my “old” 202 Firecrests is the fact that I can take the tire off without a lever as they slip off real easy. I assume this is not the case anymore with any wheel that is tubeless ready. The ones that I’d like to hear about in particular are the Enve and the DT Swiss. Cheers, andy

    • Thanks Andy. I routinely use a tire lever but don’t find tubeless ready wheels harder to install tires on than ones than aren’t. Rather, I find that wider wheels and deeper wheels, tubeless or not, are the hardest to put tires on. Getting the first bead to the center of the rim when you are putting on the second is the key to getting the tire on successfully. Steve

  • Hey Steve, I’ve been researching Enve 2.2’s on their site and it seems like everyone complains about rear brake rub. Comments like “Flex in the rear wheel results in brake rub while standing” and “Brake rub with the carbon hub version of the wheel (clincher).” have me worried. I didn’t notice any concerns with your review. Can you comment on this?

    • Alan, I’ve seen the comments too and I can’t explain them. I rode the carbon hub version aggressively and had no brake rub issue. I also had a 200+ lb buddy ride them on a 125mile long event with a lot of 8% climbing and again, no issue. With wheels that wide, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the brakes set up right (sufficient caliper width, cable extension, pad alignment, etc.). Also, when you are cranking out a lot of watts, you have the QR tight. Assuming the posters have done this, if they are getting rub, I can only conclude that there is some flex in their rear wheel. Steve

      • Steve, I still haven’t quite pulled the trigger. After reading more of your reviews and doing other research I’m torn between Enve 3.4 and 2.2. I weigh 145, am a solid Cat 3 rider with nice racing results that involve climbing. I ride in UT with plenty of elevation and am doing longer rides at least one 75+ miler a week. With at least 8000 ft of elevation gain. There are still plenty of flats though too. I worry about aerodynamics going with 2.2 over 3.4 but my preference would be the 2.2 for the pure climbing aspect but don’t want to give up aerodynamics either. Your thoughts?

        • Alan, Go with the 3.4 (best source for it in your back yard here). It’s only 100g more in actual weight and you’ll get a lot more out of the aero benefits than you’ll lose in weight ones. That’s a lot of elevation gain but not enough to justify sacrificing the aero over that long a distance. 10,000 ft in 35 miles with a mountain top finish, yes. Otherwise the 3.4 is your best option. Steve

  • Hi Steve I’ve heard Enve is coming out with a 3.4 tubeless in the next 2-6 months. I live in Florida and bike year round. I’ve also heard they will be priced the same as the clincher 3.4. If I’ve already decided on Enve, would you get the clinchers now, or wait for the tubeless?

    • Baz, I hadn’t heard this. It would take them redesigning the rim channel and bead hooks. But if this were true and if you were riding somewhere the roads are rough or prone to flats, I might consider it. Not sure where you are in Florida but my guess is that you’ve got relatively smooth roads with little road debris to worry about. It’s also flat there so you might consider the deeper ENVE 4.5 (reviewed here) as it would be more aero/faster than the 3.4 is still quite a versatile wheelset. Steve

  • Any thoughts to add on the Fast Forward wheels in this mix? full carbon clincher F3R for example?

    • Ryno, I’ve had several readers ask me about FFWD wheels as you have and have responded much the same way. There’s little about them that I am aware of or have read that suggests they’d be competitive with the other wheels that I’ve reviewed. If I thought there would be, I’d go out and buy a pair to test. I’ve also asked FFWD to tell me if I’m missing something and if they’d be open to letting me ride a demo set of wheels to see what I’m missing and they haven’t been interested. There also haven’t been any readers I can recall who have written in to tell me about their riding experience. Most have been curious about them as they’ve heard the name but don’t have any experience with the wheels. The ones you asked about are tubulars, which I don’t review, and narrow (22.4mm) which I no longer review. Sorry, I can’t review every wheelset out there and need to focus on those that seem as though they would be worth reviewing to offer another good option to readers. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I do mostly uphill on steep climbs and am used to tubular wheels. I use a Zipp 202 tubular and wanted to buy a new one, when I found their latest model, not tubular but carbon clincher 202 NSW. They’re almost 200g heavier then the tubular version, but have a different profile, brake tracks and hub (cognition). Do you thing those updates are worth the weight penalty? For someone that does mainly climbing which would you go for: enve 2.2 tubular, zipp 202 tubular or zipp 202 nsw? Best.

    • TMB, I haven’t been on the 202 NSW clinchers yet so really can’t speak to them. I have ridden the cognition hubs and brake tracks on other NSWs. Not a big difference with ENVE hub options (DT240, King, Enve ceramic) and tracks clincher though I did prefer the braking on the ENVE (see my review of the 404 NSW here) and thought the ENVE ceramic hubs were the best I’ve ridden. Profile not going to make much/any difference for a low profile wheelset. Extra internal width and tubeless option would favor the ENVE 2.2. clincher. Some alpine roads are for sh$t and tubeless is smart option to avoid flatting and if you want to lower pressure a bit to absorb cracked/cratered alpine roads. Rim width will also give you 25C tire option. All this would favor the 2.2 clincher over the 202 clincher

      I personally won’t ride or recommend tubulars as most enthusiasts don’t have the experience and not willing to put up with the extra work involved (me too). If you are comfortable with tubulars however, why not stay with them? 200g is a lot if you are climbing all the time. Steve

  • Hey Steve. I searched your site. Have you ever ridden a pair of lightweights?

  • Hi Steve. Congratulations on your work – the material is well researched and invaluable for all of us looking to make our rides easier or more interesting. I live in a hilly area and have for years, been using Dura Ace C24 clinchers with 25mm tyres on all my bikes. They climb and accelerate well and always give me upwards of 20,000 kms. However now that I am getting a bit old in the tooth, I am having trouble hanging onto the wheels of the younger guys I ride with and thinking about something a bit more aero. The wheels that seem to be ticking the most boxes (including cost) are Campy Bora One 35 clinchers BUT from your article, I have a couple of concerns; the rim profile and the internal width both of which seem to have the potential to negate any aero advantage?
    I am working to a budget and the Bora One 35’s are A$1,000 cheaper than say, Zipps. Zipps are also heavier.
    So wheels would you suggest or do I just stick with C24’s?

    • Giantmouse, Thanks for your kind words and I welcome your question. The choice between a light, low profile wheelset like the C24 and a deeper, more aero, heavier one is always tough. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the value of an aero wheelset more and more and have worked to reduce my body weight to more than make up for the extra 150 grams of wheel weight in the hills. I own and am a fan of the Reynolds Assault for its rim depth but also its U shaped rim profile, DT240 hub and often very competitive price. I owned and loved the C24s for climbing but found, like you that I had to work too hard on the flats to keep up. The internal width doesn’t really affect the aero performance. 17mm is plenty wide and will suit a 25mm tire though a 23mm will be more aero on a rim that width. Here’s my review of the Assault. It’s not as fast as the Zipp 303 and certainly not as fast as the ENVE 4.5, both of which are more aero, but it’s a step up from low profile wheels and older box or V style rims even at 35mm depth like you find on the Bora and C35. With the link and code I have up now, the Assault are 25% off which brings them in at around the same AU price as the Bora One. That’d be my suggestion. Steve

  • Steve, truly an excellent site you have and you deserve all kudos. This is a similar question to one above, but if I’m understanding your posts about aerodynamic vs climbing wheels, you seem to skew a lot towards the benefits of aero over the issue of weight. I live in UT and do relatively little flat riding, almost exclusively going up and down our canyons. As Alan mentioned, many of these climbs are long (my favorites are 10 and 16 miles long) but often are undulating, with milder (3-5%) and steeper (10-15%) stretches. Coming down them is fast, with not a ton of braking but often variable and gusty crosswinds. Would you still recommend something like the enve 3.4 (or even 4.5) or zip 404? If it helps, I am also a relatively lightweight (155 lb) rider and typically average 16-20mph on the shallower climbs. thank you, and I’d love to see some handlebar reviews when you can get around to it!

    • Will, thanks for the feedback and question. I’d stay with the 3.4. The 404 are really drag racers and wouldn’t be great in the mountains. A little extra weight for all-arounds (1500g range) is fine to give up vs the pure climbers (1350-1400g) to get the aero benefits but when you get well above 1600g like the 404, that’s a load to take uphill and I don’t think you are getting a whole lot more aero benefit vs. the 3.4 going downhill. Work on the position on your bike to get more aero.

      • thank you for your preposterously prompt reply (you should really monetize this or at least take contributions from readers!). My position is already low and I never ever ride in wet conditions (unless on my old CX bike). So I’d assume you’d say the same about all your recommended wheels in that depth range? Reynolds, Zipp, etc? thanks!!

        • Will, For someone doing as much real climbing as you do, yes. If you were doing the normal >80% flat to small hills, <20% long, steep climbs most people who do, I'd go with the 4.5s and maybe a few other wheels as deep but not the 404s.

          And, fyi, there is a simple way to contribute to the site (here). You can also support the site by buying through the store links in red, many of whom pay a small fee when you do. There’s more on this in the section at the beginning of this post called WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS. Thanks, Steve

      • hi steve, been here before and have chatted with you here 🙂 so i’ve had a handfull of rides on the 404s, i was skeptical with crosswinds and was persuaded somehow to get them. i weight only 130lbs and in open fields of texas, they are quite frustrating and twitchy. its nothing i can’t handle but it takes a lot of energy to maintain my line (im a solo rider) plus with all the idiot drivers who cant keep in their lanes! i totally saw an aero benefit when winds were 10-15mph but 15+ im sailing…which is majority of the time.

        now im looking to resell this mint condition wheel as i’ve only been riding on my fulcrums. 🙁 i feel its a waste. but now if im able to sell off the 2012 404s fc cc i want to ask if i should just go for the 202s. the 303s look nice but im not sure i want to waste more time with mid-deep sections anymore since im so lightweight 😛 i want to stick with zipps and for aesthetics i like matching wheels…my position is pretty aggressive by the way.

        do u have any recommendations for me? thanks!

        • Jonathan. The 404 FC are as you described. The new 404 NSW are better but likely still not to your liking. From what you say the 202 FC would be the better choice, 202 NSW if you want better braking but more money. Not sure of your budget but the 303 NSW would be a nice middle ground. Improved crosswind performance but still aero (and expensive). Click on Competitive Cyclist for the full range of Zipp wheels with outstanding service.

          • yes budget is a factor. so im not sure if the NSW ones are on my list. I’m probably going to try to find a used one, just like the 404s i have now. so you think the non-NSW 303s would cut it? unfortunately i have no lbs that i can actually try this out on. i read another article that stated ‘whats the point of 202’ any alum rim can be done lighter and cheaper. so now i can’t find myself justifying the 202!…mid-deepish rims is the reason for carbon, i like aero. i read your article on the 303 best all rounder and thinking about doing that if i say no to 202s. any opinions?

          • Jonathan, I’d go with 303 FC. Best all-around and you shouldn’t have a cross wind issue. Steve

    • Hi Steve,

      As always thanks for your comments. I don’t recall if you have used the new enve 3.4s. I’m wondering about the new braking track. Any comments regarding how I read that the brake pads are wearing out exceptionally fast. Also, how are they performing in the wet ? Thanks as always.

      Stephen

  • Hi Steve. You mention that you can use Conti GP4000’s tubeless?
    It’s just that i tried to use them tubeless and the sidewalls leaked air quite spectacularly! They stayed up for about 20 seconds. Have Conti changed their spec do you know?
    Great blog, really informative many thanks.

    • Gareth, Perhaps a mis-statement or misunderstanding. You can use those tires with a tube in a tubeless ready wheelset but not alone without a tube. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Very interesting review, I feel I have much to read here!

    I have noticed DT SWISS has a new RC 38 SPLINE MON CHASSERAL, with a claimed weight of just 1.295, and some aero benefits. Still same narrow 15mm internal rim, though. Do you think this a good option to use with tubeless 25mm tires? Or the Aeolus 3 is a better option for an aero and comfortable climbing wheel? Will it feel much better than my Dura Ace C24 tubeless? (I live in the Pyrenees, so climbing and descending in not so good roads is part of my usual rides).

    • Edward, It sounds like you are searching for comfort in addition to aero performance. I would not put a 25C tire, tubeless or clincher, on a 15mm internal, 21mm external width wheel. With that extra width hanging out past the rim, especially at a lower inflation pressure you’d run for added comfort, the handling would be poor and perhaps dangerous heading downhill in and out of corners. As I said in my review of the Mon Chas, it’s not a very compliant wheelset. Putting a wider tire on it, even at a low inflation pressure is not going to make the wheelset more compliant.

      I’d also steer clear of the Bontrager in the mountains where you live because of its inferior braking. The ENVE will cost you a little more than the Bonty, but it’s performance will be far superior. It is set up for 25C tubeless and is a very comfortable wheelset. Unfortunately, a true carbon climbing clincher is going to be low profile so not offer much aero benefit.

      The C24 is a great, comfortable, light wheel as well but it’s a step or two below the 2.2 in performance (and also in price). If you weigh more than 75kg, you’ll find it nowhere near as stiff as you’d want going up to transfer your power effectively. The Bonty is also not terrible stiff causing you to leave watts on the proverbial table. Steve

      • Thanks Steve for your reply. Comfort is important to me (I like secondary roads, and my first objective next year will be a 300km brevet!). I noticed some better offers on ENVEs con be found lately, I always though they were too expensive. Have you heard about the “Filament Spin Evolution FSE” wheels? Hard to find any objective review about them and how they brake. (weight for the 35mm x 25mm looks promising).

  • Hello Steve, I recently ordered a set of 2017 Campagnola Bora Ultra 50s for my Cipollini and am a bit concerned if this will be to heavy or too wide of a profile rim for me. I do lots of climbing in the local mountains. I currently am climbing with Fulcrum Zero Race Nite aluminum wheels which weigh approx. 1500 grams. The Bora Ultras are 1400 grams in the clincher version.

    I chose the higher profile Boras as I am seeking versatility on both flats and hills. I don’t seem to maintain speeds greater than 26 mph on 10 mile time trials with the Fulcrum Zero Race’s. My concern is perhaps I should have purchased the Bora’s in a 35, but felt it was too close in specs and performance of the Fulcrum Zero Race.

    What is your best opinion on my choice. I see your negative ambivalent comments regarding Campy Bora Ultra 35s and am concerned. BTW the New campy Boras will accommodate size 25 or 28 clinchers.

    • Rivak, good to hear from you with a good question. Your intention to get a wheelset that can do well for all the types of riding you do makes sense. Unfortunately you can’t find one wheelset that is optimal for steep, >5% grade climbs and for riding TTs at 26mph. To do that, you really need two different wheelsets. One from the post you’ve commented on here and another from this post.

      If you aren’t riding that many climbs or doing that many TTs, you could go with a wheelset like the ENVE SES 4.5 which is very fast and climbs decently. It’s the one with the least compromises that’ I’ve found. You can certainly get better climbing wheels (or just continue to use your Fulcrums) but these will be about as fast a wheelset you’ll find unless you go to deeper, pure TT wheels.

      I’m also not a fan of the Ultra 50s for a couple reasons. They have a V profile rim which has shown to be more affected by crosswinds you’ll find in both the mountains and on some coastal or other high wind TT circuits. You are much better off with a toroid or even U-shaped rim to reduce crosswind effects. Also the 17.5 inside and 24.5 outside rim dimension may accommodate 25C or 28C clinchers in the view of ETRTO, but it will be slower and handle less well than a 23C tire. For more on this, see this post.

      So, in summary, I would cancel the Ultra 50 order and wouldn’t buy the Ultra 35s either. I’ve recommended some choices in the posts I mentioned that would make you faster in the TTs and a better climber in my posts. Hope that helps. Steve

  • Thanks Steve, I considered the Enve’s but they are about $1200 more than the Campagnolas. I hoped to keep in a $2500 budget. I blew my wad on my Cipollini and am limited. Perhaps I’ll cancel the Boras and wait a couple of months and get the Enve’s. Love your intelligent logic, and take you very seriously. I have followed your posts and they have steered me correctly. Happy Holidays my friend.

  • Thank you for your kind words Rivak. Wish I had a less expensive solution for you but you sound like a very serious rider and I can you aren’t up for finishing in the middle of the pack. Happy holidays to you as well. Steve

  • I really like my wheels, made by Knight Composites, but they are the only carbon wheels I’ve tried. I’d be interested to hear whether you have tried them and what you think

  • Hi, I mostly ride ups and downhills (road), and i’m planning to buy a new set of wheels for my Scott Foil 10 2017. Between mavic r-sys and zip 303 wich one will work better? Great article by the way.

    • Edu, Hard to know from what you said about your riding. How steep and long are your uphills and downhills? How straight or turny are they? Do you brake a lot going downhill? Ok with braking carbon rims? How often do you ride? What percent of your distance is going uphill and downhill? These are two very different wheels for quite different kinds of riding and neither of which I would consider climbing wheels. If you are into low profile alloy wheels for true alpine climbing (not hills), check out this review. If you are into all-around carbon wheels which could also be used in some hillier climbing situations, check out this one. Steve

      • Thank you Steve! I ride 3 to 4 times a week at the hills, steep but not too long climbs and descents, lots os turns and braking.40 to 60kms and 1.000 of elevation average.

  • Hey Steve, thank you very much for the reviews. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the Roval CLX 32 wheels? I love the combined weight of 1280 for clinchers, they use DT Swiss interiors, and are supposedly more aero than Roval’s CLX 40. They seem to be a well rounded mid priced carbon clincher, but it is difficult to find any more info on them. Thanks in advance.

  • Hi Steve, Love your thorough reviews and recommendations. I see that you think highly of both the ENVE 3.4 and 4.5, but which would you recommend given below?
    I do most of my riding on flat courses, but often target form towards mountainous sportives in the alps and dolomites (>175km/5000 alt meters) and love to fly down fast descents (I hope i still hold the 7th fastest descent time on Col du Glandon on Strava in 2016). I currently ride a pair of syncros rr1.0 38mm CC. And do not know if the 3.4 or 4.5 would suit me better? Are the 3.4 too “similar” to my current wheelset from an aero and climbing pov? I imagine the 4.5s would be a significant upgrade in from an aero perspective, but would they be a liability (significant) in the mountains? Thanks in advance.

    • Thomas, There’s only 100g of actual weight difference between the 3.4 and 4.5 and the 3.4’s actual weight is about 50g more than the claimed weight of your Syncros RR1.0 38mm. Claimed weights are usually less than actual weights though I don’t know for sure with the Syncros. Either way, I think these differences aren’t significant and certainly not as important as the relative aero and cross wind performance of the ENVE vs the Syncros. The Syncros rim is a flat sided, V profile which is typically less aero on the flats and will get pushed around more by the kind of cross winds you can find in the mountains than the ENVEs. I’d go with the 4.5 for the best flat and downhill performance benefit with little/any loss on the uphills. Steve

  • Steve, I am very interested in your review of the new Durace C40 Clinchers. Are you testing them soon? 200Pounder

  • Hello Steve,

    Very straightforward question:

    Dura ace C50 can be found now around $1,1-$1.3k. Any reason why should I pay $2k more for a carbon competitor?

    Cheers

    • Carlos, It depends on what you want to do on your bike. You’re asking this question at the end of a climbing post so I assume you are interested in climbing with your wheels. The DA would be much heavier than those in this review, considerably adding to the work you’d need to do to go uphill. I’t also catch crosswinds common on mountain roads where wheels in this review perform best. Handling going downhill wouldn’t be as good, especially at high speeds. So there are 3 good reasons.

      The question to you is, what do you want to with your new set of wheels? Climb, time trials, all around road riding, something better than your stock wheels, …., …. ? And where are you coming from? Current wheels, budget, bike, components, weight, riding frequency, distance, speeds, terrain, …., …., …. ? Steve

      • Hello Steve, thanks for your comments.

        To answer your questions: I am fairly light (70kg) and I ride a focus izalco max, which are currently equipped with dura ace c24 but I am looking towards a new set of wheels with aero profile (yeah, the aero bug got me).

        I usually ride on places that are a mix of flat and hills, so probably an all rounder should be the best option (obviously I wouldnt want it to be a liability going uphill)

        The C50 got my attention as team sky and bmc pro team use it as their all rounder, so I thought it would be a good performer ( I know they are sponsored by shimano, but they could choose c35 or c24 instead)

        I understand the 303 or enve should perform better than the C50, but their prices are 2-2,5x higher, so are they 2,5x better in overall performance? Worth the big price jump?

        • Pros use C50 tubulars, not clinchers, and wouldn’t use them if they weren’t sponsored. C50 clinchers are ok but won’t give you the aero performance of the wheels I’ve recommended. Whether it’s worth the extra is up to the buyer. I can’t tell you whether it’s value for you. Check my links for the best prices. Don’t think 303 is 2x C50

  • What happened to the Hyperon clinchers? Were they just not economical?

  • Hi Steve,
    have you ever tested any of the Xentis wheels? They can be found here: http://www.xentis.com/en/ and http://www.xentis.com/en/2011/squad-4-2-silver-line-clincher-carbon/2987/products/. I am a light rider and my focus is on climbing (lightweight) and good breaking power. I do have an older set of Lightweight Ventoux wheels, but do not always want to deal with tubulars so looking for a high quality carbon clincher wheel. These wheels have been recommended to me by several Swiss riders, but I cannot seem to find any reviews (positive or negative) on them. Any input is appreciated.

  • Hi Steve, thanks for review. Quick question: Quattro carbon (actual weight 1485gr), speed 40c (a/w 1420gr) and Zero carbon (a/w 1350gr): what would you recommend me? (I’ve a Scott Addict SL (’15)+DA9000)

  • Hi Steve, really enjoyed reading your review and the follow-up commentary. I’m a mid-level rider, late 50’s, struggle up hills a bit but do well on the flats. I usually average around 28-30km/hour on my rides. I’m thinking of moving from Campagnolo Shamal Ultras to a carbon wheelset. What I have in mind is something like the Campagnolo Bora One Clincher (perfect match for my campy groupset and Colnago) or the Enve 3.4 DT240 clincher. Do you have some quick thoughts about which might be a better wheelset? I’m particularly interested in what you think of each wheel’s hubset. The Enve 3.4 retails for around $700 more than the Bora One in Australia. Many thanks.

    • Peter, thanks for your comment. I’ve reviewed both of the wheels you’ve asked about and other in this category in this review here of all-around wheels. ENVE has just released a new, wider version of its SES 3.4 which might (or might not) mean stores will discount the current model. I’d definitely choose the Enve over the Bora. Both the DT240 and Bora One hubs are very capable hubs. I’m somewhat partial to the mechanism of the DT240 but I don’t have an issue with the Bora One’s hub. Steve

      • One potential problem with the new Enve 3.4’s is your bike may not have enough clearance to run the new width rims with 25mm tires. This may be particularly true if your frame is over 2-3 years old and made before everybody jumped on the wider 25mm tire bandwagon.

        • Stephen, you raise a good point to check clearances but your mention of 2-3 year old frames is too all encompassing and likely way too recent to have clearance issues in most bike models. For example have a Specialized Roubaix SL3 frame that’s two models and 5 years old which runs 25mm tires with plenty of room. In fact there’s 50mm of space between the insides of the front forks on that bike. And when Zipp introduced the 303 Firecrest wheels around the same time, there were only a couple bikes (both racing bikes with rather aero geometries) that they called out where the wide Zipp rims (albeit not as wide as the new ENVEs) were too wide for the bike frame.

          For those of you running tires that expand beyond the width of your rims (an aerodynamic no-no), remember that a 25C (aka 25mm) tire mounted and inflated on your standard 17C (aka 17mm inside width) rim will measure 27mm once mounted and installed.

          Equally if not more important is to make sure your brake calipers are wide enough to allow clearance for the rim width on some of today’s wider wheelsets and that those calipers have enough room to provide good leverage when you apply the brakes. The new ENVE 3.4 have nearly 30mm wide rims. Some older brake calipers won’t open enough to fit or provide you good leverage if you do. Current generation Shimano 105, Ultegra and last and current generation Dura-ace calipers all provide enough clearance and leverage for these wider rims. The same goes for current generation 11-speed SRAM and Campys. I can’t say with confidence how far back this goes but I’d suspect that most 11-speed vintage calipers open wide enough for these wider wheelsets. If you have a 10-speed groupset, you’d probably need to change out the calipers which is a rather inexpensive and simple fix if you want to ride one of these seriously wide rims. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I currently ride the Enve ses 2.2s. I live in Colorado and most of my rides include a lot of climbing. I’m a bigger rider at 6’4″ 195lb. For the most part, I love these wheels, but at times the back wheel feels flexy, which doesn’t instill confidence for me. If I was to upgrade the rear wheel to an Enve ses 3.4, would I feel a noticeable upgrade in stiffness and would the weight increase be all that much?

    Thanks

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