BEST UPGRADE WHEELS FOR DISC BRAKE ROAD BIKES – 2017
If you’ve bought a disc brake bike recently, you’ve probably asked yourself…what disc brake wheels should I get to upgrade at a reasonable price?
Road disc bikes are now front and center, mainstream, almost in your face. If you are a road cycling enthusiast, there’s a better than even chance your next road bike will have disc rather than rim brakes. And if you’ve bought a road disc bike recently, you’re probably asking yourself the same question you did shortly after you bought your last good rim brake bike – what are the best wheels I can get to upgrade my bike at a reasonable price?
There are now many more and better choices of road disc wheels than there were even a year ago. The same categories of choices you’ve had in rim brake wheels – alloy upgrades, carbon all-arounds, aero and climbing – are filling out now with new wheelsets specifically for road disc bikes.
This post reviews the best alloy upgrade disc brake wheels for road riding, many which can also be ridden on fire roads, gravel paths, cyclocross and other off-road surfaces that road disc bikes often go these days.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
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ROAD DISC WHEELSET DEVELOPMENTS
Several market, product and technology changes have occurred in the last year that may affect your consideration and decision of which road disc wheelset to buy. I describe these here before providing you my evaluations of the wheelsets themselves.
New Road Disc Bikes For Endurance and Racing Displacing Rim Brake Ones
There are now as many if not more models of endurance road bikes with disc brakes available and likely being sold to road cycling enthusiasts like you and me than there are those made with rim brakes.
These endurance bikes typically cost $/£/€2,500 to $/£/€5,000 with some going for $/£/€10,000 or more. They have tier 3 or better component groups like a Shimano 105, Ultegra, Dura Ace or SRAM eTap, have hydraulic (rather than cable-actuated) disc brakes and are almost all using carbon frames.
Among race bike models, road disc bikes are clearly in the ascendance even though the pro tour and many amateur sanctioned races are still working through the conditions under which they allow riders to use these bikes.
I’ve been following the emergence of road disc brake bikes since 2004. There’s little doubt that we are now well beyond the tipping or inflection point in shift from rim to disc brake bikes. My LBS, part of a chain of 7 stores that has won several retailer of the year awards says their enthusiast level disc brake bike sales already exceed those of rim brake ones.
Other retailers tell me that within 3 to 5 years, you won’t even be able to buy a rim brake enthusiast level endurance road bike. I don’t doubt it among the bigger brands but think the smaller and classic brands may take longer, unable to cover the added design costs in the short term or unwilling to change their iconic positions.
Campagnolo, which was the last major groupset and wheelset company to introduce disc brake components and did so years after the others, is probably exhibit A for the financially challenged and legacy positioned late switchers. Conversely, Giant, the world’s largest bike manufacturer, has been selling only endurance disc brake bikes for the last three model years. Canyon, one of the fastest growing bike brands, started selling road disc bikes this year with more road race models in disc brake than rim brake and an equivalent number of models in their top endurance lines.
For those of us traditionalists out there, get used to it. Road disc brake bikes for endurance riding and racing is happening now, not something off in the future.
Take a look at what many of the leading companies are doing in the comparison of model changes I compiled between 2016 and 2017.
Among the big 3 bike brands
- For the first year, Giant is selling road disc race bikes and now sells as many disc builds (3) as rim brake ones (TCR Advanced). For the third year in a row, they are only selling enthusiast level endurance bikes with road disc brakes (Defy).
- For the first year, Specialized is selling their aero race bike (Venge) with disc brakes (3 builds) and now sell only 1 rim brake build of this bike (down from 5 last year). They are selling 6 disc brake builds and only 3 rim brake builds of their popular endurance bike (Roubaix, down from 7 rim brake builds last year) and the rim brake builds are the lowest priced bikes in this line. They continue to sell 4 builds of their race line (Tarmac) with disc brakes and have increased the number of rim brake builds (from 8 to 12).
- Trek continues to sell both disc brake and rim brake builds of their endurance line (Domane) with the rim brake builds (13) selling for both more and less than the disc brake builds (5). Trek sells all its race (Madone) and aero (Emonda) bikes with rim brakes.
Among the leading Italian bike brands
- Pinarello – Similar to last model year, makes top racing bikes (Dogma F8, GAN) in disc and rim brake versions but only makes its endurance bikes (ROKR and Razha) with rim brakes.
- Bianchi – Little change from 2016 with two disc brake endurance models (1 Infinito and 1 Intenso build) among many more rim brake endurance builds and an all rim brake race (Specialissma, Oltre) and triathlon (Aquilla) line.
- Colnago – Replaced previous endurance line (CX Zero) which had disc and rim brake builds with new one (C-RS) which has only a rim brake build, at least to date. Top racing bikes (C60 and V1-R) come in both disc and rim brake builds.
Among the leading non-Italian Euro bike brands
- Canyon – Selling first road disc bikes in 2017 and now have more road race models (Aeroroad) in disc brake than rim brake ones (7 vs. 4), and an equivalent number of disc and rim brake models in their top endurance lines (Ultimate, 9 vs. 10; Endurace 5 vs. 4).
- BMC – Similar line-up to last year with top endurance bikes (roadmachine) exclusively disc brake and race and aero bikes (teammachine and timemachine) exclusively rim brake.
- Focus – New 2017 endurance line (Paralane) has only road disc models. Continue to make Izalco and Cayo race geometry bikes in both disc and rim brake models.
- Cannondale – added disc brakes to carbon race bike lines for the first time (Supersix Evo Black and SuperSix Hi-Mod) and continue to sell road disc brake race models in lower price alloy race bike lines (CAAD 12). All endurance bike models (Synapse) in 105 level and above save one are sold only with disc brakes. Last year endurance line included rim brake and disc brake bikes up to the top of the line.
- Felt – added disc brake to race line for the first time (FR2 and FR3). Entire enthusiast level endurance lines (VR, VRW, Z) are now road disc only.
- Cervelo – a year after introducing its first road disc bike, 4 of 9 aero (S3D) and endurance (C5, C3, R3d) bike models are road disc.
Stock Wheels No Better on Road Disc than Rim Brake Bikes
Continuing the practice from rim brake bikes, the wheels that come with most new road disc bikes – aka “stock wheels” – continue to be underperformers relative to the potential created by the bike frame and components. Disc brake components are more expensive than rim brake ones so bike makers need to find places to keep their other costs down to prevent bike prices from climbing further. Combine this with down sales and profit years for the bike industry in 2016 and 2017 and you get a reinforcement of the old maxim that wheels are the first thing you’ll want to upgrade on your new bike including when it’s a road disc one.
Again this year, you’ll find a good number of DT Swiss, Mavic, Fulcrum, 3T and OEM brand wheels (Axis, Cannondale, Giant) made by DT Swiss and other on new road disc bikes that you won’t find available or promoted for aftermarket or upgrade sales.
Canyon and, in a more limited way, Specialized and BMC are exceptions to this. Similar to what a couple other bike brands did their first year selling road disc bikes, Canyon is putting top-of-the-line carbon all around and aero wheels from Zipp, Mavic, Reynolds or DT Swiss on all their road disc bikes. Specialized is putting their new Roval CLX series carbon wheels on a few of their bikes and BMC is putting the newest DT Swiss carbon wheels only on their most expensive bikes.
In a couple of places, you will also find alloy upgrade wheels like the Zipp 30 Course or HED Ardennes coming stock on a few models.
More Carbon Models Designed For Road Disc Performance; Few Alloy Ones Are
In my past two annual reviews, I’ve written about the performance and design differences between disc and rim brake wheels. Beyond the need to handle the forces of braking on the disc rotors placed at the center of the wheels rather than at the rims (more spokes and beefier, slightly wider hubs), there are ways to make purpose-built disc brake wheels perform better than adapted rim brake ones, once freed of the rim brake requirements.
I wrote here, for example, of the opportunities to reduce rim weight, create more aerodynamic rim profiles, phase out carbon-alloy wheelsets and build road-specific hubs rather than use off-road hubs that have been adopted in many road disc wheels.
All of that and more is happening in the world of carbon road disc brake wheelsets. Almost none of it is happening among alloy ones. And it’s not because of the material differences, at least not in my opinion. Rather, it is more likely because the innovation usually comes in carbon wheels first where the margins are bigger and there’s not enough volume yet for aftermarket road disc brake wheels to justify investing in lower margin alloy upgrade wheels.
Will it happen for those of us who want to upgrade the stock wheels that came with our new road disc bikes but are not able or willing to spend on carbon wheels? I believe it will.
When? As the number of new disc brake bikes on the road grows, the number of riders looking for purpose-built disc brake wheelset upgrades at alloy wheelset prices will grow with it. At that point, the volume of demand for alloy disc brake wheels, if not the margins, will justify it. At the same time, the demand for alloy rim brake wheels will be going down as fewer new enthusiast level rim brake bikes are sold, and wheel makers will be anxious to replace the lost aftermarket sales on the rim brake side with more disc brake wheels.
I’ve seen a couple things that could be interpreted as initial signs of this switchover among alloy upgrade disc wheels. The Zipp 30 Course, for example, is an alloy wheelset that is sold in both disc brake and rim brake models and using different rims. It appears to me better suited and more competitive in road disc brake applications than rim brake ones.
Also, while wheels are getting wider for all road (and off-road) bikes, Fulcrum announced a new, 19C disc brake version of its Racing Zero wheelset before it said anything about updating its 17C rim brake model. The brand still does appear to be holding on to the mindset that the rim brake world is the reference point, as you can read in its description of the new disc brake Racing Zero DB when it says: We believe we have succeeded, developing a design along the same lines as those of conventional brakes. But I’ll write that off to someone writing copy that isn’t in on the product development discussions.
Other wheelsets, like the Campy Zonda and DT Swiss RR 21 have asymmetric disc brake rims to handle the differential braking forces on the wheels. These are modest changes not fully realizing the potential redesign opportunities I mentioned above but are further if still signs of added road disc wheelset focus.
Alloy road disc wheels still weigh more than their rim brake siblings – most an unnoticeable 50-80 grams – when they should weigh less by roughly the same amount, which would begin to be noticeable. And while their retail prices are now about the same in disc and rim brake versions (disc brake wheels used to be notably more expensive), most are still closer to $1000 than $500.
That’s the bad news.
More Wheelset Brands Are Selling Alloy Upgrade Disc Brake Wheels
The good news is that most of the better rim brake alloy upgrade wheels are now made in disc brake versions, with brands like Campagnolo and Fulcrum joining in at the alloy upgrade level and Bontrager and Mavic offering more alloy upgrade disc brake wheels than in past years. While there were some good alloy upgrade disc brake wheelsets out there when I wrote this review last year, there are more to choose from now and some, like the Zonda DB and hopefully a twin from Fulcrum yet to be announced, that will push the prices down.
Shimano, which has been a pioneer in disc brake components and standards, has unfortunately done nothing to advance an early and now inferior alloy disc brake wheelset line. If or when they re-engage here (and their financial performance of late suggests it might be a while), I would expect to see prices pushed down further.
There are of course many smaller wheel brands sourcing components and often complete wheels designed and assembled by contractors or assembling them in low volumes on their own. They are also increasingly offering alloy upgrade disc brake wheels.
Much as I would like to provide you, my fellow road cycling enthusiasts, guidance on the wheels offered by these brands and by custom-built wheel makers, the sheer number of them makes it such that there’s just no way I can evaluate them. And if I did, there’s no way I could determine that what I experience is what you would experience as the custom-built wheels are, by definition, unique and the ones designed, built and assembled by others on contract for the wheel brands that sell them are at the mercy of what their contractors are sending them from lot to lot and how those contractors or contracts may change from year to year.
Compatibility Exists Even if Standards Don’t
As with any relatively new product category – whether it be road disc bicycles or electronics or most anything else that grows organically – it often takes years for standards to be set. Usually, the strongest players call the shots and if the product category or ecosystem that it is part of is fragmented, standards bodies can take eons to get agreement.
There are some dominant players in different segments of the cycling industry but none that cross all of its equipment segments. At this point, Shimano and, to a lesser degree, some of the larger bike companies, are birthing and shaping the emerging standards for road disc wheelsets as there are no dominant wheel makers and the wheels must obviously work with the bikes and components.
What I’m seeing emerging is more Thru Axle (TA) than Quick Release (QR) axles with a 12x100mm front axle diameter and width (rather than a 9 or 15×100) and a 12x142mm rear (instead of a 10×135). I don’t see the competition between Shimano standard Center Lock (CL) hubs and 6 Bolt (6B) ones being decided yet as the predominant rotor interface standard though CL (or what Campy calls AFS) seems to have the upper hand.
For the time being, most (though not all) of the newer road disc wheelset hubs (and bike drop outs) are designed for TA though come with QR axles. Wheels come with (or in some cases you have to buy) adapters (mostly just simple end caps) that allow you to use different front TAs or QRs. Hubs used in road bikes that were originally made for mountain bikes are often set up QR axles and need to modified for bikes with TA drop outs.
Hub-rotor interface is a more binary. You can order some wheels either with a CL or 6B hub. Others come in CL (aka AFS) with adapters to attach to a 6B. Still others come with only a 6B interface in which case, you have to buy a 6B rotor if you’ve been using a CL one and get shims to allow your disc brake calipers to fit the 160mm diameter rotors size used on most road disc bikes set up for SRAM and other 6B component systems rather than the 140mm diameter ones used on most Shimano component CL ones.
There are a few 140mm 6B rotors you can buy (like the Avid G2 Clean Sweep one that I bought here) but if you are a heavier rider (more than about 165lbs/75kg), I wouldn’t recommend it. These 140mm rotors don’t have the materials and design that dissipates the heat as well as the 140mm Shimano CL Ice-Tech rotors do. And Shimano doesn’t make a 140mm 6B Ice-Tech rotor.
In the wheelset comparison table, I’ve noted the compatibility options for each wheelset.
All of this sounds a bit confusing. If you are unsure of what you have, there’s a few things you can look at on your bike to sort through it all. First of all, if you have to unscrew your axle to get your wheel off, you’ve likely got TA. You can also look at your drop outs. If they have a slot, it’s a QR. If the ends are completely enclosed, it’s TA.
As for the rotor interface and rotor itself, if your rotor attaches with screws it’s a 6B. If it attaches with a ring, CL. If the rotor looks to be about the same diameter as your largest cog, it’s probably a 140mm one. If it looks considerably larger, you are probably looking at a 160mm. Some bikes have 160mm in the front and 140mm in the rear so look at both of them.
Tubeless is Ubiquitous (Almost)
Wider and tubeless ready rims are one thing that most all alloy upgrade (and carbon) road disc wheel makers seem to agree on. With the notable example of Campagnolo’s late entries into the road disc market, all the wheels in this review and those alloy upgrades that have been announced but won’t be available until later are tubeless. They also range from 18mm to 21mm across the inside of the rim, the dimension that matters most to tire shape and its mounted width. (The outside rim width at the brake track in relation to the mounted tire width provides an indication of the wheelsets’ aerodynamic performance.)
I mention tubeless and rim width together as, while this review is for road disc wheelsets, I know some of you plan to take your wheels off-road for a change-of-pace ride during the season or race cyclocross in the fall. Don’t hide. I know you are out there. I’ve seen you out there! (Oops).
A wide, tubeless wheelset will allow you install and run tubeless tires down to very low pressures and still provide you comfort and good handling on dirt, gravel or grassy trails.
Note, however, that all tubeless rims are not created equal. While replacing a tube and installing and inflating a clincher tire is pretty much the same experience on most wheels of similar width and depth, the experience of mounting, getting sealant in and blowing up a tubeless tire varies greatly from one model wheelset to another. Does it ever!
On the flip side, none of these alloy upgrade road disc wide wheels are very wide on the outside, ranging from 22-25mm. This likely ties to their rim brake heritage and perhaps some practical alloy rim manufacturing limitations or the added weight that accompanies added alloy width.
Carbon road disc wheels, while having similar inside widths to alloy road disc ones, are now ranging in the 27mm to nearly 30mm range allowing for wider 25C and 28C tires that still optimize aero performance by having the inflated tire width remaining less than the rim width. Since none of the alloy wheels are very deep (most ranging in the 25mm to 30mm range) and some still have older box and V shaped profiles, there’s no aero benefit you should expect to gain from them in the first place and 25C tires on these wheels that measure wider than the rims aren’t going to change your aero performance and can provide you more comfort.
I wouldn’t recommend going to 28C tires unless you plan to do a lot of off-road riding. 28Cs on alloy wheels the width of those in this review can make your road handling quite mushy with the lower tire pressures you’ll likely run them at and the 5-8mm of tire extending beyond your rims that create a less vertical (more lightbulb like) tire sidewall shape.
Improved Performance That You’ll Notice, At A Price
Of course, you upgrade your wheels to give you better performance over the wheels that came with your bike and a better and more enjoyable riding experience overall. Wheels are usually the weakest link on your new bike and hold you back from getting the performance and enjoyment you can obtain from the frame and components that are the foundation of your bike.
I have found that that to balance the potential of what your bike can do, you should plan to spend somewhere between 20-40% of your bike’s original price on better wheels. The price of most stock wheels is about 5-10% of the bike.
Looking at the price tags rather than the percentages, these wheels aren’t cheap. $/£/€1000 give or take a few hundred is the asking price for a good set of alloy upgrade road disc wheels that will give you a noticeable improvement in performance.
However, if you think you also might want a more versatile or more dedicated aero or climbing wheelset in addition to the stiffness, acceleration, comfort and other basic performance improvements you get with an alloy upgrade, you’ll need to move to a carbon and spend closer to that 40% number or more.
It’s important to think now about what kind of riding you plan on doing 2-3 years out and what kind of wheelset will best serve you then so you can avoid buying an alloy upgrade now only to decide you’d prefer to have put that money into a carbon wheelset a year or two down the road.
When evaluating wheelsets, I consider 20 specific criteria that fall into one of four categories – performance, design, quality and cost. You can read the descriptions of those criteria here.
While all these criteria are important, some are more important depending on what kind of riding are intending for your new wheelset. Braking performance, for example, is most important on rim brake wheelsets used by riders doing climbing and descending or riding in the rain. It’s hardly even part of the disc brake wheelset evaluation since most hub and spoke systems on disc brake wheels effectively transfer the braking responsibility to the rotors and calipers.
Other criteria, like stiffness, are equally important whether you are talking rim or disc brake wheels or all-around, climbing or aero wheels regardless of your braking method. Still others, like acceleration need to be looked at a bit more closely on disc over rim brake wheels since the former tend to be a tad heavier and have road hub designs that haven’t had as many years of refinement as the off-road ones they may have been born with.
While design specs like weight and rim width are worth noting in and of themselves and may (or may not) deliver the intended performance those specs are often associated with, a wheelset’s actual acceleration, stiffness and comfort on the road, for example, are far more important than the design specifications that we often get so hung up (or sold on) and too easily equate to those performance attributes.
When it comes to choosing between a road disc and rim brake bike, most cycling enthusiasts will likely go with a road disc bike for its superior braking performance, its ability to be ridden more aggressively and faster down hills, in and out of corners, and for the versatility to ride it in most any weather on varying road terrain. Those things have more to do with the bike than the wheels.
Alloy upgrade wheels will noticeably outperform the stock wheels that came with the bike through some combination of accelerating better, being stiffer, more comfortable, handling better and improving the bike’s versatility to ride a variety of terrain mostly on the road and on some off-road surfaces. And that will make a world of difference to the performance and enjoyment of a good $/£/€2500 to $/£/€5,000 (or more) road disc bike that you’ll likely have invested in as an enthusiast.
Alloy upgrade wheels combine these performance improvements typically for $/£/€1000 or less, a far better price than carbon wheels which are often priced 1.5-3 times alloy upgrades.
If you want a wheelset with better aerodynamics for flats and rolling terrain, that climbs exceptionally well in the mountains, that combines the versatility to perform well in all types of terrain, to help you ride competitively in endurance rides or club and higher level road races, or even mix in some gravel or dirt or cyclocross with your road riding, you’ll want to upgrade to a carbon wheelset.
Note that I have only evaluated wheels for their performance riding on a paved road surface. Gravel, dirt, cross and other alternative or off-road riding is entirely another kettle of fish, bag of bones, set of spokes, etc. Many road disc bikes can be taken on fire roads or dirt tracks or gravel paths with the road wheels I’m evaluating and some are intended to perform well both on and off road.
Set up with the right tires, many of the wheelsets I’ve evaluated can also be used off-road with CX or ‘alternative’ bikes that have higher bottom brackets and have more space in the frame and forks for wider, lower pressure tires and other frame, component and wheelset characteristics designed principally for off-road riding. My evaluations however, are based on road riding and I can’t tell you which ride better off-road or in some combination.
With all of that noted, and uploaded to the cloud, here’s my evaluation of the current range of alloy upgrade wheelsets for road disc bikes.
ZIPP 30 COURSE – BEST PERFORMER
The Zipp 30 Course Disc-brake gets my vote as the best alloy upgrade wheelset for your road disc bike. It’s a good all-around performer with nearly all the design benefits from coming late to the party in 2016 and at a competitive market price ($900, £700, €850, A$1300).
What you’ll notice most about the Zipp is its strength and responsiveness. It’s laterally quite stiff, a bit on the heavy side but still very responsive to your acceleration efforts. Good acceleration depends as much and probably more on rim aerodynamics and hub performance as low weight (see here for a recent discussion of this). These wheels use the Zipp-patented toroid aero profile and the 77/177 hubs on the 30 Course that Zipp puts on their more expensive Firecrest carbon wheels. This probably offsets the slight weight disadvantage when compared to most other wheelsets in this category.
The Zipp 30 Course is a very comfortable ride, the most comfortable and smooth riding one of this group. The rims are wide (21mm inside/25mm outside), wide enough to enable you to ride 25C or even 28C tires if you want to maximize comfort on rough paved or gravel roads. However I wouldn’t go any wider than 25Cs (which will measure 28mm+ once mounted) if you plan to do mostly road riding. They are plenty comfortable with tires of that width riding even rough paved roads at normal pressures.
The wheels are set up at the factory with rim tape to run tubeless. It is one of the easier wheelsets to mount a tubeless tires on so if you’ve thought about taking the leap into tubeless, this would be a good wheelset to go with for that reason as well.
Like many of the best road disc wheelsets, this one comes with all the hardware to easily convert between quick release and thru axle of the range of sizes your bike might might need. Unfortunately, the wheelset hub only comes in a 6-bolt option requiring you to buy new 140mm or 160mm rotors (plus an adapter kit for the larger size) if you are currently using 140mm rotors in a center lock system as is the case with most Shimano disc brake component systems.
Here are the page links for this wheelset at the stores I’ve found have them at the best prices, have them in stock and have top shelf customer satisfaction records as of July 24, 2017: Competitive Cyclist, eBay and in UK/EU Tweeks Cycles, ProBikeKit UK front and rear code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles, Westbrook Cycles.
AMERICAN CLASSIC ARGENT DISC TUBELESS – GOOD MIXED TERRAIN OPTION
The American Classic Argent Disc Tubeless and its rim brake sibling have bead hooks designed to run tubeless tires first and foremost. While traditional tube and tire clinchers work, you probably aren’t getting what this wheelset was designed for and does best unless you run it tubeless.
Not all tubeless tires work well on these rims. The popular Schwalbe One do and American Classic recommends them. Those with carbon beads, like the Hutchinson Fusion, don’t fit easily or well and the company recommends against them on these wheels.
Tubeless tires mount relatively easily and all you need is a basic track pump to get them to seal. The air valves have removable cores so you can put your sealant in through them rather into partially installed tires. It’s still easier, quicker and cleaner to use a conventional tube and tire but at least running these tubeless, you aren’t swearing and cleaning up a big mess before you’ve even started your first ride.
Everything about these wheels says “mixed terrain” and this is one of the reasons why you may be drawn to the Argent. One option would be to use them tubeless with a knobby tire off road and tubed with a smooth tire on the road.
These also come with all the axle options. And while the hubs are made to take a Center Lock rotor, there’s also an adapter kit included if your calipers are set up to use and you already own a pair of 6 Bolt rotors.
While not light overall (1590 grams measured), this wheelset keeps its rim weight down by using rims that are thinner than others. They are wide on the inside (19.4mm) but only 22m on the outside. This means you’ll want to put on a 25C tire while measure about 5 mm wider than the rim on and have a light bulb shape.
The Argent wheels are also deeper (30mm) than most alloy upgrade road disc wheels but really aren’t deep enough to suggest you’ll get an aero benefit. They do have a nicely rounded leading spoke edge but, because this disc brake wheelset shares the same rim with the rim brake model, the almost toroid rim profile abruptly changes to a flat one for the parallel brake track used on the rim brake model. This shape may help with crosswinds, though that’s usually not an issue for low profile wheels like these, but doesn’t really help much with aero performance.
Frankly, the rim design seems out of date to me but performance is what I really care about anyway.
On the road they are responsive, accelerating well when you put the hammer down or are just trying to match the pace of the group you are riding with. They are also comfortable with wide tubeless rubber, though this can be said for most every 19C or wider wheelset set up tubeless nowadays.
These wheels are stiff and they remain true in normal road riding. Handling is confident and predictable. The hubs roll smoothly but the wheels don’t feel any better at holding your speed than most other low profile wheels regardless of shape.
Bottom line, the Argent is an older design that performs nearly as well as the Zipp 30 Course. While the Argent sells for more than the 30 Course, it can be had below its RRP in the UK and EU at ProBikeKit UK code ITK10 and directly from the company store here. The Argent is also set up to run Center Lock while the 30 Course are 6 bolt. You can run 25C tires with both but if you want to go to 28C for road riding, you are better off with the 30 Course.
CAMPAGNOLO ZONDA DISC BRAKE – LIMITED PERFORMANCE RANGE AT A BIG SAVINGS
If your riding is focused on flat and rolling paved terrain and your current stock wheels are flexy and heavy, the Campagnolo Zonda Disc Brake offers an upgrade at about half the price of the other wheelsets in this review. If you are looking for a wheelset that will give you the ability to also climb well and go off-road from time to time, you can get a good deal more from other wheels in this review but you’ll pay for it.
The Zonda is one of the most recently introduced road disc brake wheelsets among those reviewed in this post. It shares many characteristics with the often seen stock Racing 5 DB wheelset introduced a couple years ago that is made in Campagnolo’s Fulcrum division. They both are made with 17C width rims, use asymmetric designs, what appear to be identical hubs and have similar spoke counts and lacing though with slightly different spacing. Neither are tubeless and both weigh about 1700 grams.
This makes the Zonda at least a couple mm narrower than most of the other wheelsets in this comparative review, noticeably heavier than many of them and the only one that you can’t put tubeless tires on.
The wheelset is stiff and responsive, corners well and has a smooth rolling hub. These are all good characteristics for riding flat and rolling terrain for an hour or so at a time. The heavier weight of these wheels compared to others in this review is noticeable however and feels limiting going up steeper climbs.
The Zonda is also moderately comfortable but, if comfort is a priority for you, it is not one I’d pick for long road rides or ones on dirt or gravel surfaces. Other wheelsets in this review are wider and you can run them with tubeless tires at 10 psi or so lower for cushier trips without concern for a pinch flat.
I included the Zondas in this review because many people like Campy wheels and the Zonda has historically been a popular model among rim brake wheels. This Zonda will be the only disc brake wheelset available from Campagnolo until the fall of 2017 when a 2x to 3x more expensive Shamal Ultra will be introduced using essentially the same rim but one that is taped for tubeless use, has a hub with ceramic bearings and likely a few mostly cosmetic flourishes to try to justify its price. (Reading between the lines, not worth the wait.)
About the same time, Fulcrum will begin selling a 19C width version of this tubeless ready rim in its Racing Zero DB model in the same price range as the Shamal (may be worth waiting for) and Campy will begin selling road disc versions of its carbon Bora wheelset line.
Campy is attempting to catch up and the Zonda is a low priced if limited performing upgrade wheelset to start with. You can find it at the best prices from stores with high customer satisfaction at Wiggle, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10.
DT SWISS RR 21 DICUT DB – LIGHT, STIFF AND RESPONSIVE MAKES FOR GOOD CLIMBING
If you do a lot of climbing, you should consider the DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut DB. It’s one the lightest and shallowest of the alloy upgrade disc brake wheels you can find and uses the very smooth rolling and quickly engaging DT Swiss 240 hub usually seen on much more expensive all carbon wheelsets.
The combination of relatively narrow rims (18mm inside, 21.5mm outside) with 25C wide tires on this DT Swiss wheelset makes for less precise and confident handling than the wider wheelsets reviewed elsewhere in this post.
I recommend using 23C tires on these wheels to get a better tire shape for handling but I recognize that many are going to go with 25C because of the ongoing hype around wider tires. You will get a more comfortable ride with 25C width but just don’t hit the corners too fast going downhill.
DT makes great hubs but their rims, or at least the ones on this wheelset limit the range of terrain where the RR 21 Dicut DB wheels will compete with or outperform other options. It’s available online from a store with high customer satisfaction ratings and at the best price at Tweeks Cycles, Starbike.
EASTON EA90 SL DISC – A STRONG, VERSATILE PERFORMER THAT WILL LIKELY NEED SOME MODIFICATION
As I’ve found with other Easton alloy and carbon rim brake wheelsets I’ve tested in the last couple of years, Easton gets a lot right with the EA90 SL Disc wheelset but will likely frustrate many by having a few attributes that don’t quite cut it against other competitive alloy upgrade disc wheelsets.
The rim and disc brake models of this wheelset use the same rim and have a contemporary rounded rim shape and width. The EA90 SL Disc wheels are amongst the stiffest wheels you’ll find, absolutely unbending no matter how much effort you put into them. This, of course, is a good thing when it comes to wheels.
They handle precisely going around corners, accelerate well and are very comfortable on either tube and tire or tubeless rubber, the later which sets up quite simply.
While their weight is middle of the pack among these upgrade wheels, they climb as well as any likely due to their stiffness and perhaps owing to their rounded rim profile. While it’s a personal thing, I like the look of their black matte finish and lettering and find it more attractive than most others in this review. If your last name is Easton, even better.
So, a lot to like.
While I have nothing against mountain bikes, I do object to Easton still using mountain bike hubs in their road wheels, even ones with disc brakes that might go off road occasionally. This is where most wheelset makers started when road disc bikes were still being sold in low volumes a few years back and at a time when investing in the design and production of more versatile and lighter, purpose-built hubs for road disc wheels was hard to financially justify.
Unfortunately, legacy MTB hubs are mostly 6 bolt and quick release (QR) oriented and the M1 hub Easton uses in these EA90 SL Disc wheels are equipped that way. If these were easy to change over, I’d have no complaints. But unlike most of the newer road disc bikes coming with thru axle (TA) drop outs, you’ll have to pay extra for TA hardware (full length axle sleeves not just end caps) that are not included with these wheels and you’ll also likely spend some more coin to get them installed unless you are a pretty good home wrench. Here’s the video showing how to do the conversion if you think you are up for it.
And if your bike is set up with Shimano components as many are, you’ll have to get new 6B rotors to interface with these hubs as I wrote about earlier in the developments section of this post.
This adds to the price of these wheels and move them up near the most expensive of this group of alloy upgrades. With all the other performance benefits going for these wheels, this takes some of the shine off. However, if you can afford it and are fine dealing with the modifications, it’s a solid option. They are available at Wiggle, Amazon.
HED ARDENNES PLUS LT DISC – THE INNOVATOR THAT OTHERS HAVE CAUGHT UP WITH
Before the Zipp 30 Course was introduced in 2016, I picked the HED Ardennes Plus Disc as the best performer road disc alloy upgrade wheel. It weighs much the same as its rim brake sibling with which it shares the same rim design, rides as comfortably as its rim width would suggest (20.6mm inner, 25mm outer) and handles extremely well.
HED led the revolution to wider road wheels and the Ardennes went to its current “Plus” width in 2014. As you can see from the chart, most of the others in this category have caught up or nearly so in their rim dimensions. I personally can’t tell much improvement in comfort and handling on the road between 19C and 21C width rims with 25C tires but the 21C rims do allow you to more easily roll 28C and even wider for off-road riding if you want to use your wheels that way.
The disc brake version of this wheelset is stiffer than the average stiffness level of the rim brake model, the later of which was underwhelming. The more robust, HED designed Sonic Disc hub and added front spokes undoubtedly contribute to this.
Like most wheels in this category, the Ardennes is made tubeless ready. You select your QR or TA axle preferences at the time of order rather than switch between axles and end caps. If you plan to use these wheels on different bikes, say a road bike and cross bike or gravel bike that have different axle specs, you’ll have to buy some extra hardware and do some installation work. The 15mm diameter front hub TA uses different bearings and a sleeve than the 12mm ($65 for the kit) and the wheels don’t come with QR skewers ($40) as many others reviewed in this post do.
The wheels are set up standard with a Center Lock rotor interface. You can get an adapter kit ($20) if you want to use your 6 bolt rotors.
A couple years ago, these wheels really stood out among the pack of alloy upgrade road disc wheels in handling and comfort and also climbed better than most. Others have caught up and some are a good deal less in price.
To better compete, and not unlike what you’ve seen from Campy, Fulcrum and Mavic over the years, HED offers these wheels using the same rims with slightly different hub components and spokes to create SL, LT and GP models. The price drops about $300 from the SL to the LT and another $200 to the GP. On the flip slide, the wheelset weight increases about 80-100g from model to model.
The SL and LT models use the same HED designed Sonic hubs whereas the GP uses open catalog hubs. The SL uses high end, lighter Sapim CX Ray spokes whereas the LT uses Pillar spokes that add about 80g to the total weight of the wheels. Hard to believe you pay $300 more to save 80g but I guess that’s cycling economics for you. The GP uses still lesser spokes
I’d expect the SL and LT to perform quite similarly so would recommend the LT between the two. The GP is more of a stock wheelset and you do see it on some new bikes.
The SL and LT are both available from Competitive Cyclist so you can take your pick.
MAVIC KSYRIUM PRO DISC ALLROAD – ON PAR PERFORMERS AT A HIGH PRICE POINT
Mavic’s product line seems to be an ever moving target. New wheels are introduced that have similar components in their names to ones that have been retired while still others go through major updates with no name change at all. It can be difficult to follow them from year to year, and I say that with British understatement. As an American, it’s more like, WTF?
For model year 2017, Mavic is making four models of alloy upgrade road disc wheels. All four use the same hub internals, hub bodies, steel bearings, number of spokes front and rear (24), lacing pattern, nipples, TA and QR compatibility, and CL or 6B interface options.
The differences are in the rim width, tires and spoke material. The Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad (19C, allroad tubeless, aluminum, 1620g) goes for $1000 while the Ksyrium Pro Disc (17C, road clinchers, aluminum, 1595g) goes for $900. The Ksyrium Elite Allroad Disc (17C, allroad tubeless, steel, 1690g) and Ksyrium Elite Disc (17C, road clinchers, steel, 1670g) both are sold for $800.
Given this line-up, I chose to evaluate the 19C model as its inside width (although only 23.5mm external) appeared to make it the most advanced of the group. It’s also widest and only 19C clincher, alloy or carbon, that Mavic makes. Not more than 18 months ago, they seemed stuck in the 15C world so this rim is a break-the-mold play for them.
The Allroad tires that come with these wheels, slick in the middle and slightly treaded on the outside, proved not to be very good for off-road riding and Mavic’s Yksion road tires are not rolling resistance leaders. So consider the tires to be a write off.
Shod with my benchmark Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires, the wheels are quite stiff, ride comfortably, handle predictably but don’t accelerate or feel any more responsive or climb any better than average. Ksyriums over the years have built a great reputation for durability and those who’ve reported on their time off road with these wheels specifically confirm they are very durable indeed.
At the Ksyrium Pro Disc Allroad’s price point and with nothing that separates their performance from rest of the field, I wouldn’t be terribly motivated to go out and buy them unless I was a Mavic fan or could find them at a good discount. If you are and depending on regional sales restrictions, you can find them at Competitive Cyclist (currently USD$650), Tredz, ProBikeKit UK code ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles at the best prices and at stores with high customer satisfaction ratings.
That’s my take on the current field of upgrade road disc wheels. There are new ones that have been announced but are not yet in stores including the Campagnolo Shamal Ultra and Fulcrum Racing Zero. I shared my initial thoughts about those in my review of the Campagnolo Zonda above. At some point I also hope to review the Trek house brand Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR Disc and the Specialized house brand Roval SLX 24 Disc. Both those two appear to be line gap fillers more than brand advancing wheels. Giant’s leading alloy disc wheelset, the SL1 disc wheelset made for them by DT Swiss is more of a stock wheel than a stand alone upgrade offering. Reynolds is only making carbon road wheels now and Shimano has been MIA in this category for the last couple of years.
On the carbon side, I’m currently evaluating a number of new wheelsets or waiting to get my hands on several announced but not yet released all-around disc brake ones from Zipp, ENVE, Campy, Shimano, Mavic and others. As I wrote in the developments section above, carbon is the most fertile (and expensive) segment of the road disc wheelset market now with new all-around, aero, climbing, and all-terrain wheelsets being introduced. I and my fellow testers will be busy reviewing and reporting on the performance of wheels in these categories for a while to come. I’m anxious to get the word out to you about these and appreciate your patience as we work through them to give you independent comparative evaluations and recommendations.
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