BEST ALL-AROUND WHEELS FOR DISC BRAKE BIKES – 2017
If you bought a road disc bike recently, you may be looking for that one set of all-around wheels that perform well across a wide range of terrain. It’s a fair bit of work to sort through all the ones out there now because, along with the rapid growth of road disc bikes, there’s been a quick evolution or road disc wheels that do it all and do it all really well.
The latest generation of all-around wheels is the first group developed uniquely for road disc bikes and independent of design or manufacturing considerations that go into their often similarly named rim brake siblings. They are faster, more comfortable and more versatile on a wider range of terrain than either the rim or disc brake wheels that came before them, many of the latter which are still being sold.
In this post, I’ll take you through the rapid evolution of disc brake wheels, tell you how I rate each of the latest generation of all-around ones against the criteria that really matter, and recommend a Best Performer and Best Value wheelset.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ALL-AROUND WHEELS
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ALL-AROUND ROAD DISC WHEELSET DEVELOPMENTS
I wrote about the developments across all categories of road disc wheels (upgrade, all-around, aero, and climbing) in a review of the best upgrade wheels for road disc bikes. Here are some of the headlines.
Sales of New Road Disc Bikes For Endurance and Racing Overtaking Rim Brake Ones. There are now as many if not more models of endurance road bikes with disc brakes available and being sold to road cycling enthusiasts like you and me than those made with rim brakes.
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” – are the weakest link on the bike. The stock wheels are underperformers that limit the potential performance that exists in the new bike’s frame and components.
Compatibility Exists Even if Standards Don’t. Most (though not all) of the newer road disc wheelset hubs are designed for TA (through axles). Road disc wheels generally come with QR (quick release) axles and in many cases end caps that allow you to use QRs and different size front TAs.
Hub-rotor interface is a more binary. You can order some wheels either with a CL (CenterLock) or 6B (6-Bolt) hub. Others come in CL (aka AFS) with adapters to make them 6B compatible. Still others come with only a 6B interface. In those cases, 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 160mm 6B diameter rotors.
Tubeless is Ubiquitous (Almost). Wider and tubeless suitable rims are one thing that most all road disc wheel makers seem to agree on. Some have rim brake tire beds that are made to be “ready” to accept tubeless tires with the help of tape while others are clearly “optimized” for tubeless in their shape and often hookless design. You don’t have to use tubeless tires on these tubeless ready or tubeless optimized wheels but you can get a more comfortable ride and enjoy a wider range of uneven road surfaces with tubeless tires.
You can read more about these developments across all road disc wheelset categories here.
In addition, there are a number of developments specific to the all-around wheels for road disc bikes that are summarized here and further discussed below.
All-Around Road Disc Wheelset Evolution 2014-2018
The most notable takeaway for me after assembling this chart is how quickly things have changed and how much the latest generation of all-around wheels for road bikes are different than those for rim brake bikes.
These changes have made all-around road disc wheels faster, more comfortable, more durable, and more versatile than all-around rim brake wheels without any effect on stiffness, acceleration or handling.
Remember when better braking was all that most people fixed on when talking about the benefits of going to disc brake bikes? Well, the ability to get all the benefits I just summarized is a whole lot more than better braking, which was enough of a reason for many people to go with a road disc bike in the first place.
Let me go through some of these benefits a bit more.
Faster – Wider rims mean you can run 25C tires to gain more comfort without incurring additional drag. Most of the Gen 3 road disc rims were designed using 25C tires and produce vertical tire sidewalls that are narrower than the external rim width.
Putting 25C tires on many Gen 2 wheels will increase drag as the tire sidewalls will be more rounded and measure wider than the rim where the two meet. This creates a turbulent airflow from tire to rim and rim to tire. When the flow is less interrupted or laminar, it moves from one surface to the other more smoothly and creates less drag and more “lift” when you are riding at >18-20mph or 29-32kph.
Wider tires also will give you marginally lower rolling resistance when inflated to the same pressure as a narrower tire. Without the need for the rim to include a brake track, road disc rim profiles are also being designed with less limitation and more attention to crosswind management and reducing losses at the tire-rim intersection, both of which improve aero performance.
More Comfortable – Tubeless allows you to run your wider tires at lower pressures without pinch flat concerns. Lower pressures make for a more comfortable ride. You certainly can run wider tubeless tires on all-around rim brake wheels but most of the best of those wheels are still 17mm wide internally and several aren’t tubeless ready (see this chart).
More Durable – The best carbon rim brake wheels are using resins with high melting points to make it much harder for riders to warp them when they drag the brakes. The trade-off is that these resins can make the wheels a bit brittle. While I can’t quantify the difference, dedicated disc brake wheels use lower melting temperature resins that are less brittle. Tour magazine ran some tests that showed the relative impact resistance of different carbon road disc wheels though didn’t specify which had what kind of resins.
More Versatile – Because these all-around road disc wheels are wide, tubeless friendly, and more durable, you can comfortably ride them at lower pressure to enjoy dirt, fire roads and the like or use them for cyclocross. Doing so can save you having to buy another set of wheels for those kinds of surfaces.
A few words about the elephant in the room…tubeless tires. You’ll notice that tubeless tires are mentioned quite often in my description of developments and the benefits they bring.
Those of you who have read my posts carefully over the years (thanks Mom!), may know that I haven’t recommended road cycling enthusiasts use tubeless tires. They have historically been a hassle to mount and can leave you with a difficult and messy repair job if your puncture is so nasty that the sealant doesn’t close it and you need to install a tube during a ride. Further, tubeless tire rolling resistance and prices have also historically been higher than going with a traditional tube and tire clincher on your wheels.
Well, some of that is changing and I’m changing my tune along with it. Yeah, this is next gen Steve reporting to my fellow roadies now.
While I hope to bring you a complete post on tubeless tires in 2018, I can tell you that much has changed since I shared my initial views on this kind of rubber.
Removable valve cores, easier to mount rims, and a whole lot more experience with tubeless tires while testing all these road disc wheelsets has made installing them easier and cleaner, and mellowed me somewhat to the added work they bring over standard clincher tires. Lower prices, lower rolling resistance (equivalent now to the best clinchers), the ability to run lower pressures, more comfort, and having every puncture seal so far has made me look past many of my previous objections.
While tubeless still requires a learning curve, I can now say the benefits they bring with the right rims can outweigh the diminishing disadvantages and make it well worth getting up that curve if you want those benefits.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
For each In The Know Cycling review, I evaluate category-specific criteria in four groups – performance, design, quality, and cost. The criteria that matter most in those groups for the best all-around wheels for road disc bikes are as follows:
Performance: Versatility, aerodynamics, crosswind management, stiffness, acceleration, comfort, and handling.
Design: Wheel weight and material, rim depth, rim inner and outer widths, rim profile, hub and spoke design or selection, and wheel finish.
Quality: Durability, warranties and service/support.
Cost: Purchase price, cost of ownership and replacement cost.
I detail what I mean by these criteria for rim brake all-arounds here.
Most of those are common with the ones I used for disc brake all-arounds with a few exceptions and changes in emphasis that I’ll point out below.
While all these criteria are important, some are more important depending on what kind of riding you do and what kind of bike you have. Braking performance, for example, is an especially important wheelset criterion for riders descending steep pitches or riding in the rain on rim brake bikes.
Braking is 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. Rotor selection – both size and material – and hydraulic brake components are key to road disc brake performance but largely independent of wheelset choice. For this reason, I’ve dropped braking as a criterion in this review.
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 brake wheels rather than rim brake ones since the former tend to be a tad heavier when you include the weight of the rotors 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.
Since the latest all-around road disc wheelsets are deeper than earlier ones (some closer to 50mm versus most Gen 2 being 35-40mm), I’ve added crosswind performance as a criteria for this review. And since these all-around wheels are ideal for both a wide range of paved road terrain and for mixed or unpaved surfaces and for cyclocross racing, versatility is even more important when evaluating all-around disc brake wheelsets than all-around rim brake ones.
Design specs like weight and rim width are worth noting but 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 (and sold) on and that we too easily equate to those performance attributes.
Considering the range of options the road cycling enthusiast has to choose from in all-around wheels for road disc bikes, I’m recommending Best Performer and Best Value wheelsets.
I pick the Best Performer using the performance criteria mentioned above independent of cost. My Best Value wheelset pick considers both performance and cost criteria.
Design shows up (or not) in performance so I don’t judge it alone. Two products with very similar designs (e.g. U-shaped rim profiles or equally low claimed or measured weight) may perform similarly or differently. Design is a means to an end but not an end from which to choose a wheelset in and of itself.
Quality is either a go or no go in my recommendations. I won’t recommend anything that doesn’t have an acceptable level of quality according to my criteria. I’m also not going to recommend something that has superior quality but under-performs or has higher costs. When two wheelsets perform more or less the same, I do consider quality and cost criteria in recommending one as a Best Performer.
With all of that noted, here are my evaluations of the best all-around road disc wheelsets for road cycling enthusiasts.
REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
ENVE SES 4.5 AR DISC – PERFORMANCE AND VERSATILITY THAT’S HARD TO BEAT
If versatility is one of the key measures of an all-around wheelset, ENVE’s SES 4.5 AR Disc is the most versatile of any disc or rim brake wheelset.
It does more things better than any of the other all-around wheels I’ve reviewed. At a market price of US$2900, £3100, €3500, it also costs more than others.
That’s for each of us to decide individually. If you are a full-on road cycling enthusiast who likes to come out and play aggressively and comfortably on rough roads or in the dirt, sand or grass of cyclocross races as well as go really fast and smoothly on good roads in individual and group rides or races, the ENVE 4.5 AR is the place where your money will have the biggest payoff.
You probably already know that at 25.0mm measured width, the 4.5AR has a far greater internal front width (by 3-6mm) than any other road disc wheelset. Its front wheel (50.2mm deep per my measurement) is as deep or deeper than the other all-around wheels for road disc bikes.
It’s the only one of the all-around wheels that are designed to run a 28C tire without negatively affecting the aero performance.
[Note that not all 28C tires will measure the same width when mounted and inflated on this or any other set of rims. I ran the 28C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires that have a low rolling resistance that compares favorably to Conti GP4000 clincher tires. Unfortunately, the tire I ran on the front wheel measured a mm wider than the rim. At the suggestion of ENVE customer support, I also ran the 28C Maxxis Padrone tubeless (available at Tredz ITK10, Amazon, JensonUSA, ModernBIKE). It measured a mm narrower than the front rim but I have no comparative rolling resistance data on this tire. It certainly felt fast to me, for what that subjective, quantitative assessment is worth.]
The 4.5AR’s performance does bear witness to those design factoids. It is as fast or faster on flat, rolling and descending terrain, as comfortable on the good roads, more comfortable on rough roads and unpaved paths, and handles better than any other set of all-around wheels for a disc or rim brake I’ve ever evaluated.
I’ll just let that last statement sit there and breathe for a minute.
It accelerates, climbs, and deflects crosswinds on par with all but the best wheels in those categories that I’ve reviewed here. With the more than capable DT240 hubs, the 4.5 AR weighs remarkably little given its size, no more than all but a couple other wheels in this review of largely Gen 3 all-around wheels.
Yeah, their width makes them stand out against other bikes when you are riding in a bunch or stopping for a break. And you only should plan to ride them tubeless, which takes a bit more work than tube and tire, if you want to get all the benefits of these wheels. You’ll also want to check the clearance on your frame if you’ve got an older disc brake bike.
But, if you want great performance from one wheelset that you otherwise might need to have two different ones for the range of riding do, the 4.5 AR stands alone and probably is a price competitive option vs. the cost of buying two wheelsets. You can find it at the best prices as of November 16, 2017 from stores with top customer satisfaction ratings and help support this site at the same time by clicking on and buying through these links to Competitive Cyclist ITK10, Merlin.
If you don’t need all of this wheelset’s versatility, you can save a good deal of dough with one of the other all-around road disc wheelsets below.
FULCRUM RACING QUATTRO CARBON DB – Gen 2 Value Option For Those Who Prefer Carbon over Alloy
While its 17C width makes the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon DB a Gen 2 all-around carbon road disc wheelset, its market price of under <US$1000, £850, €1000 is half to a third the price of the best of the new generation ones.
Other 17C carbon road disc wheelsets sold by widely distributed wheel designers and manufacturers like Mavic and Reynolds and from respected wheelmakers with smaller sales and service networks including AX Lightness, Vittoria, and Knight sell well above the Fulcrum market price.
Many enthusiasts want the stiffness-to-weight ratio, rim depth, and look of carbon that an alloy wheel can’t match but have a hard time paying extra for those attributes.
One option has been to buy wheels sold by companies that specialize in marketing carbon wheelsets they don’t design, make, assemble or test but instead contract all or most of those functions from others. These “open-mold” or more derisively labeled “Chinese” wheels are often sold at prices far less than brand-name ones because of the lower overhead costs they incur and smaller profit margins they are willing to accept.
Without the reputation or customer service network of a well-established company, it’s often hard to know what you are getting and what will happen if you buy a defective wheelset from one of these contracting marketers.
At the $1000, the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc wheels match the price of the best alloy upgrade wheels (here) and are no more and often less than many of the contracted carbon wheels I’ve seen while offering the reputation and service network of one of the largest volume wheel makers.
I don’t how or why they are selling it at these prices but they have been doing it for a while.
So that’s the value equation. What about the performance?
The Quattro Carbon Disc is laterally stiff, gives you a good feel for the road yet is compliant and not buzzy or harsh underneath you. The hubs ride very smoothly. The feel (but not the performance) is more like a ready-to-go racing wheelset than a ready-to-cruise endurance one.
This wheel does many things well and some less so than the best. It accelerates well on the flats but hesitates a beat when you try to increase your speed going uphill.
At about 1600g (1605 claimed, 1590 measured), it’s about 40 grams lighter than only the far wider and deeper Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless Disc of all the all-arounds I reviewed in this post.
The Quattro Carbon Disc is plenty comfortable but at its width (17mm/24mm) and with its overall good responsiveness and good handling, it’s at its best on the road with nothing wider than a 25mm tire. You’ll get the best out of these wheels riding them aggressively and fast with 23mm tires on a flat or somewhat hilly paved route.
It wouldn’t be my choice for dirt, gravel or cyclocross riding.
Fulcrum says it is intended only to be used with clincher tires with tubes. They will work on most any frame and caliper system as you can order them with quick release or through axles and for CenterLock (or what they call AFS) or 6-Bolt rotors.
Because the spokes screw into the top of the rims rather than through them, you can disregard everything I just wrote and set them up tubeless, run 28mm or wider tires on them, deflate and run them off road or for cyclocross races (as a fellow reviewer has proven).
While they are 40mm deep, their profile once again proves that wheels of a similar depth do not produce the same aerodynamic results. It doesn’t hold your speed like other wheels of this depth and is pushed around by crosswinds as much as wheels 5-10mm deeper.
The Quattro Carbon Disc’s rim profile may explain some of this. It is what I’ll generously call a rounded V profile – mostly flat and narrow with rounded edges at the inner spoke edge and widening linearly toward the tire edge until it hits the brake track where it flattens out. It shares the same rim profile as the rim brake version of this wheelset, lacking the brake track treatment of course.
Used in a way that gets the most out of them, the Fulcrum Racing Quattro Disc wheelset provides the combination of good road performance at a great price that equates to the best value in this category.
Here are the page links for this wheelset at the stores I’ve found have them at the best prices as of November 16, 2017, have them in stock and have top shelf customer satisfaction records: Wiggle, ProBikeKit UK ITK10, Chain Reaction Cycles.
DT SWISS ERC 1100 DICUT 47 – PREDICTABLY GOOD PERFORMANCE
Even though they sell a ton of wheelsets under their own brand name and as stock wheels for leading bike makers including Giant and Specialized, DT Swiss has never been known for the performance of their more expensive wheelsets. Hubs and spokes? Yes. But, high-end wheels? No.
DT Swiss seem to have always been behind the curve with rim shapes, widths, carbon and whatever else goes into making rims that combine with their ubiquitous hubs and spokes to make top performing wheelsets. They seemed to lack a design point-of-view about how to make great rims that, right or wrong, is clear and consistent at companies making high-performance wheels.
Perhaps realizing this deficiency, DT Swiss has gotten aero design and testing help for the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 and other new DT Swiss products from the wheelset design company SwissSide. The latter is a relatively new company led by race car designers that sell mid-depth and full-depth wheels targeted to triathletes and time trialists. As for DT Swiss, their new line of endurance wheels are only made for road disc bikes. Very Gen 3!
Has this collaboration brought the ERC 1100 to the performance level of the best all-around wheelsets? Not in my evaluation, but they seem to be getting closer.
Overall, I’d say the ERC 1100 is predictable. That word can have both positive and negative connotations of course, but it best sums up for me what I find in this wheelset.
It is certainly fast and stiff, as you would expect from a wheelset this depth. Anecdotally, and I say that since construction on the In The Know Cycling wind tunnel is not scheduled to start until 2038, I’d put the ERC 1100s in the range of the faster wheels of this group on the flats and hills. Tour magazine put their aero performance only behind the ENVE SES 4.5 AR amongst the wheelsets we both evaluated.
Though their weight measures middle of the pack and they certainly can climb, they wouldn’t be my first choice for a long ride with a lot of hills and steeper climbs in them. They just don’t go uphill as well as others all-around wheels I’ve reviewed in this post.
The ERC 1100’s ride is firm, even at the 70 psi pressures that I ride tubeless wheels. Firm is not harsh and it’s not cushy. You’ll get the kind of response from the road you would expect based on what you see in front of you. You won’t get jarred nor will you float above it.
If you want to go off-road and not get tired out riding on dirt or mixed surfaces, I’d suggest dropping the pressure on these wheels another 10 or 20psi from the level you normally ride.
Wind conditions are manageable with the ERC 1100. When the winds come, you can comfortably steer through them. You certainly won’t get blown over nor can you plan on the wheels totally taking care of the crosswinds for you.
Finally, handling is confident, precise and … predictable. So are the hubs, which use the very solid DT240 internals I’ve come to know and very much enjoy. They are used on many top performing wheelsets.
Predictable for me means you are going to get what you expect and not be let down. Applied to the ERC 1100, it means you aren’t going to get any special thrill or surprise, good or bad, from these wheelsets. They are solid performers that do what you expect.
Perhaps it is surprisingly good to get a predictably good top end wheelset from a company that has, for me, turned out only average wheelsets in the past. I’ll take it.
Despite an MSRP/RRP that is as high-end as the wheelsets they aspire to be, you can find the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 at a far more competitive market price closer to USD$1850, £1650, €1900 at by clicking through to recommended stores Starbike, Bike24.
ENVE SES 3.4 DISC – AN ALL-AROUND WHEELSET THAT DOUBLES AS A CLIMBER
If you want a top performing Gen 3 all-around road disc wheelset that climbs extremely well, the ENVE 3.4 Disc is the one you want.
ENVE claims the 38mm deep front rim weighs 390 grams and the 42mm rear one just 10 grams heavier. I measured the complete wheelset with DT240 hubs at 1410 grams with tape. These kinds of weights for clincher rims and wheelset scream climber. Yet, their rim widths (measured approximately 21mm wide internally and 28mm wide externally, a little more for the U-shaped front and less for the V-shaped rear) and depth (38mm front, 42mm rear) put them just over the line as all-around wheels.
Specialized’s Roval wheelset division makes the CLX 32 Disc which runs 6-10mm shallower than this ENVE 3.4 and claims to be about 60 grams lighter with the same rim widths and tubeless ready platform. The Roval CLX 50 Disc (reviewed later in this post) is 8-12mm deeper than the ENVE 3.4 and measures 1450 grams, roughly halfway between the weight of the ENVE 3.4 and 4.5 AR Disc wheelsets.
The German wheelmaker Tune sells the 41mm deep Airways Disc wheelset that is slightly narrower (19mm x 26mm) and lighter still (1342g measured). While tubeless, Tour Magazine gave it one of its worst impact resistance ratings. The wheelset currently comes only a with a hub that connects to 6-bolt rotors and uses quick releases.
There were only two other road disc wheels in this 1400g weight range that could pass as both all-arounds and climbers. Both the AX Lightness Ultra Disc 45C (1404g measured) and Knight 35 Clincher Disc (1460g measured and 445g claimed rim weight) seem to be of an earlier vintage – 16.5 and 17mm wide internally respectively and neither is tubeless ready.
All this talk of specs is probably a bit unnerving for all but us tech nerds and doesn’t determine performance or my recommendations. It is just one of my considerations in choosing which wheelsets to buy or demo, evaluate and write up, etc. For reasons that I explain more fully at the end of this post, I chose not to review any of these wheels other than the Roval CLX 50 Disc.
Perhaps I will do a dedicated climbing road disc wheelset review at some point. For the time being, the ENVE 3.4 Disc and Roval CLX50 currently look to have the combination of light weight, stiffness, aero performance, handling, and comfort with wide, tubeless optimized rims that best suit the kind of all-around, varying road quality surface you are likely to encounter as a versatile, road disc bike cycling enthusiast that goes climbing. (Phew, that was a long sentence!)
As all-around/climbers go, I found the ENVE 3.4 Disc wheels to be excellent performers. While only 100 grams lighter than the ENVE 4.5 AR Disc, all of it is in the rims and made climbing notably easier when I rode them back to back.
The 3.4s seemed almost immune to crosswinds and they accelerated with the best of the other wheels I’ve reviewed here. They handled confidently making high speed turns. This combined with their no-worries attitude around crosswinds made me very calm going fast downhill.
They are also stiff and comfortable, though on par with most of the other wheels in this review for those criteria. If I was doing a lot of dirt and gravel riding, I would probably go with the ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc for the similar volume of air at a lower tire pressure the wider rim allows.
Using the same hubs and trying to keep in the same riding position, I don’t find the 3.4 hold their speed as well as the similarly profiled 4.5 AR rims. That’s to be expected due to the depth difference and isn’t an issue in group riding. If you are racing or doing long pulls, you might want to go deeper so you don’t need to work as hard.
The one disappointment with these wheels was strictly cosmetic. I noted some white markings along the spoke edge of both rims that seemed to get worse over time. The carbon in the rim’s side walls and spoke beds appeared well laminated and structurally sound.
As these were wheels I bought rather than demoed, I tried to look at this with a “glass half-full” attitude.
How? I used this situation to see how ENVE’s customer service would deal with my inquiry as just another paying road cycling enthusiast rather than trying to impress the marketing or PR folks with my reviewer status for some kind of special treatment.
An ENVE “consumer experience” agent got back to me the morning after I submitted my comments along with a couple of photos I attached on their web product support form. He explained that what I was seeing was powdered curing agent that normally dissolves into the resin but had pooled up in the molding process. The agent said this happens to various degrees in all their wheels as they don’t use paint, filler or cosmetic weave layers but their tests showed no affects on performance. I can’t confirm that independently but I didn’t notice any performance changes as the markings grew more evident.
After responding that I didn’t much care for the look of these markings and would like another set, the agent pulled my product registration information and sent me a shipping label. While he said the markings on my wheels were particularly obvious and expected the replacement set wouldn’t exhibit them, he couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t but would again replace them if the situation re-occurred.
I was fully satisfied with the service response. While I would have preferred there were no markings in the first place or that they replace them overnight, I think this was about as good as it gets if you ever have a problem.
If you see the value for this combination of all-around and climbing performance together with good customer service and are willing to pay the added price, you can pick up these wheels at Competitive Cyclist ITK10, Westbrook Cycles, stores with customer satisfaction ratings that have these wheels in inventory at competitive prices.
ROVAL CLX 50 – ANOTHER GOOD OPTION THOUGH AT A HIGHER PRICE THAN MOST OTHERS
The Roval CLX 50 is one of those all-around road disc wheels that makes me smile. Not because it does anything notably better than other road disc wheelsets I’ve reviewed in this post, except perhaps accelerate, but because it does so many things well just like other wheelsets in this post.
I couldn’t have written that paragraph above a year ago. Not just about Roval but about a good sized, competitive collection of carbon all-around road disc brake wheelsets we enthusiasts now have to choose from. Like the Roval CLX 50 Disc, there just weren’t that many all-around wheelsets that really did road disc bikes justice a short while ago.
Now there are. And that makes me smile.
Interestingly, the Roval CLX 50 rim and disc brake wheels share the same profile – width, depth, shape, tubeless ready, rim bed, etc. Sure, the two wheels have different spoke counts and hubs but even the hubs have the same DT Swiss 240 internals.
While many of the first two generations of road disc wheels were optimized for rim brakes and tweaked for discs, this one appears to suit both formats well, if not necessarily optimized for either. It may straddle the Gen 2/3 characteristics I laid out earlier, but these compete on performance (and specs) with the latest Gen 3 all-around wheels.
Yes, these road disc wheels are heavier than their rim brake brothers, but the CLX 50 disc brake wheelset, at a measured weight of 1457 grams, is one of four wheelsets in this review coming in at under 1500 grams. So, it’s not sacrificing anything by being a rim twin with its rim brake brother.
[By the way, the 1415 gram claimed weight is probably without rim tape. I and several others that have reviewed this wheelset and actually weighed it all come in somewhere between 1440 and 1460 grams, likely due to whether we ran the tape around once or twice.]
The Roval CLX 50 is and maintain your momentum well. It’s what you should expect from 50mm deep wheels that will cost US$2400, £1870, €2200 like these. Not all wheels deliver speed even at that price that but these clearly do.
They remain stable and easily handle in the crosswinds. These will tell you they are feeling the wind but they won’t jerk around on you. A light steady touch on the tiller will keep them on course.
They also accelerate and climb better than most. While the weight difference between the CLX 50 and ENVE 3.4 is a minimal 50 or so grams, I felt a little more comfortable on the ENVEs on a blustery day of climbing and descending. But, the Rovals aren’t far behind.
Perhaps it’s because the ENVEs are 10mm shallower or the handle the crosswinds amazingly well. On the flip side, the Rovals are faster on the flats if you are riding at speeds where aero really matters – >20mph or 32kph.
The CLX 50 is stiff but not overly so. Likewise, they are compliant and handle well, on par with many of the wheelsets in this review.
Run them tubeless and lower your pressure if you want maximum comfort. Toss the plastic spoke hole plugs they come with and run rim tape if you want minimum hassle installing tubeless tires. The tires can get hung up on the plugs and make installing and removing them a whole lot more work than anyone should have to do to enjoy cycling.
If you are a local bike shop supporter, you are in luck. That’s the only place you can find them in many countries. Those of you who live in the UK or EU countries and want to support this site can order them online by clicking through to Tredz.
STAN’S NOTUBES AVION PRO – DOESN’T STAND OUT IN THIS FIELD
For Stan’s NoTubes Avion Pro wheelset, my effort to find distinctive performance qualities came up empty. It’s a solid wheelset but I couldn’t find anything about its performance that sets it apart from others to the point I would say “buy it if you want this or prefer that.” I’m happy to have another good set of all-around wheel to join the road disc club, but at a US$2000, €2050 I’d like something special.
That was disappointing for me as I spent several months riding these wheels in different types of terrain and road conditions and with different tires to try to find a sweet spot. The wheels also look great (IMHO), as though they were made for my Parlee frame, but of course, that doesn’t make them (or me) perform any better while riding them.
Stan’s is perhaps best known to roadies for their tire sealant and their support of all things tubeless. As tubeless tires have been slow to catch on amongst road enthusiasts and amateur racers, I wanted to see how well the Avion Pro rode with regular tube and clincher tires, something that the wheelset’s feature list promotes as an option. And since this is a mid-depth wheelset (41.6mm deep by my measurement), I wanted to try a tire that would measure narrower than the wheel’s outside width to maximize its aero performance.
My benchmark 23C Continental Grand Prix 4000S measured 0.5mm narrower than the Avion’s 27.8mm outside width but was stretched too round across the 21.8 mm inside width of these wheels to provide a good sidewall shape. The handling and compliance were awful with this combination.
The 25C version of these tires made the wheels handle much better and were more comfortable though not nearly as comfortable as I like on 50 mile/80km and longer rides with the range of good and uneven pavement I typically ride through, even at low tube and tire pressures (80-85psi) for my weight.
Setting up the Avions tubeless with Schwalbe Pro Ones at 25C (Stan’s minimum recommended width) was a no grunting, no mess, normal vigorous manual pumping non-event. The wheels come with valves that have removable cores making it much simpler and cleaner to get the sealant in the tire when you run these tubeless. The rims also come with plastic rim strips already installed so you don’t have to tape them yourself to cover the spoke holes.
Regrettably, the sealant didn’t stay in the tire as well as other tubeless wheels I’ve run. Within a couple of rides, it was weeping out multiple spoke holes on both wheels and even along the junction between the tire and rim on one of the wheels. I cleaned it all up and expected the sealant to dry in those spots and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, I saw leaks at the spokes most every day and it was a bit embarrassing to show up at a group ride one Saturday morning and have a fellow rider point out a fresh white streak of sealant across the rim of my rear wheel.
The wheels rode much more comfortably tubeless at 70-75psi than with the 25C tube and tire clincher set up I described earlier. But dropping the pressure 10psi or so on a tubeless tire below where you would run it on a tube and tire combo will make most every wheelset more comfortable.
Anyway, lesson learned. Run Stan’s NoTubes wheels with no tubes! Duh. I’m a dummy for not starting there.
With tubeless tires in place, the handling was very confident rounding corners going fast down 6-8% and higher grades. The wheels were a little buzzy on downhills and riding the flats however, regardless of whether I had the Contis or Schwalbes on for reasons I can’t explain.
The Avion’s stiffness and acceleration was good going uphill and on the flats but didn’t stand out or compare favorably to some of the best road disc wheelsets on these performance criteria. The set I rode measured 1494 grams on my scale, but they didn’t feel as light and lively as the ENVE 3.4s going uphill.
I also found that they didn’t hold their speed or momentum particularly well on the flats, perhaps owing to the inflated width of the 25C tubed clincher (30mm at 100psi benchmark) and 25C tubeless tire (29.7mm at riding pressure of 70-75psi) being wider than the Avion rim width (27.8mm) or to other factors in the hubs or rim shape.
The best mid-depth and aero wheels do a better job of quickly deflecting the crosswinds than what I experienced with the Avions. While manageable, at 150lbs (68kg) I found myself getting pushed around a good deal more than I would have liked or experienced with the best wheelsets in the 10-15 mph April winds I experienced for many days during my testing.
The hubs engage quickly, ride smoothly and give off the classic rear-wheel ratchet sound like what you hear when you cast a fishing line. My personal preference is for a quieter hub but if you like your hubs audible, the Neo Ultimate hubs on these all-around wheels will identify you and tell fellow riders in the paceline that you are coasting behind them or slowing without you having to say a word. The Avions come set up to attach to the Shimano standard CenterLine 140mm disc rotors and the end caps to go thru axle or quick release.
At USD$2250/€2400 MSRP and several hundred less online (Bike24), they fall in the mid-price range for the all-around wheels reviewed in this post.
ZIPP 303 FIRECREST CARBON CLINCHER TUBELESS DISC-BRAKE – ZIPP GETS ROAD DISC WHEELS RIGHT
Every Zipp Firecrest wheelset comes with an image built up over a decade. I associate the words innovative, fast, expensive, and status with the Zipp brand. And I’ve always thought of Firecrest as the aero standard that is also comfortable and brakes well but is flexier and heavier than other all-around wheels. One other connection I make – Zipp always seems to be updating the hubs they put on Firecrest wheels, perhaps to try to rid themselves of whatever quality demons possessed earlier models.
Road disc, wide and tubeless were never words I’ve associated with Zipp and Firecrest.
Yes, Zipp has made disc brake Firecrests for years but earlier models were essentially the same as rim brake Firecrests just with a few more spokes and a way to bolt on the rotors. Their rims were wide externally but never wide enough internally to go with a 25C tire if you still wanted their best aero performance. And tubeless? Nah.
So, when Zipp introduced the 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset (yes, that’s its full name) that also had a 21mm internal width, I was curious to see if this was still a Firecrest or it was just using the name.
This tubeless disc brake Firecrest is still fast and comfortable, among the best in both categories from my anecdotal experience and as measured on machines by the independent Tour magazine. Only the ENVE 4.5 AR performed better along these two dimensions amongst the road disc wheels they tested.
I rode the 303 Firecrest with 25C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires at 70psi which measures a few tenths narrower than the outside rim width where the air will come off one to meet the other.
Zipp has also introduced tubeless tires which, while I haven’t tested them yet, I expect will be narrower than the Schwalbe. Zipp designs its tires to provide optimum aero performance when mounted on its wheels. From my measurements, their 23C and 25C Tangente clincher tires run closer to actually measuring 23mm and 25mm than Contis and Michelins, which typically run a mm or two wider depending on the wheelset.
True to my Zipp 303 Firecrest and 303 NSW rim brake wheelset experiences, the 303 Firecrest disc brake wheels aren’t the stiffest or flexiest in this category. As a light rider, this isn’t a huge issue for me. If you are a heavy rider you might want a stiffer wheelset.
Despite the average stiffness and being one of the heavier wheelsets (1632g measured) among those reviewed here, I found they accelerate well. Perhaps it’s the hubs which I found to roll comfortably and easily with only a little ratcheting sound coming from the rear.
Note that the hubs only come with 6-Bolt fittings for your rotors. I have 140mm rotors in both 6-Bolt and CenterLock that work fine with my Shimano disc calipers, though I prefer the later.
While not as versatile as the ENVE 4.5 AR for off-road riding or as suitable for climbing as the ENVE 3.4, this tubeless disc brake Zipp 303 Fieldcrest is still one of the better all-arounders and costs about 20% less than those two.
So yes, it’s a Firecrest. You can find them in stock at the best prices from stores I recommend based on their customer satisfaction ranking by clicking these links to Competitive Cyclist ITK10, Slane.
WHEELSETS NOT INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW – WHICH AND WHY
I considered roughly two dozen wheelsets for this review. While it would be fun, I and my fellow testers don’t have the time to spend several months riding and reviewing that many wheels in one category. Nor can I afford to buy all the wheels from companies that aren’t able to provide me a demo for a few months, which is many of them.
So, while I’d prefer to ride each blindly and rate them on performance alone regardless of their specs, the all-around road disc wheelset evolution chart did provide me some guidance on which to start with in my search for the best performers.
First, I considered just all-around wheels. As the category name suggests, all-arounds should help you do a wide range of riding well.
Other wheelsets specialize in riding extremely well on flats and rollers at high speeds (aero-wheels) or in the mountains (climbing wheels).
Another category of wheels (alloy upgrades) will give you notable performance improvement over stock wheels for riders who can’t budget the money or won’t get the benefit that an all-around, aero or climbing wheelset will bring. If that describes you, take a look at my review of the Best Upgrade Wheels for Disc Brake Bikes.
All-around road disc wheels these days have rims that are roughly 40-50mm in depth. Climbing road disc wheels are typically 30-40mm in depth and aero wheels are usually at least 55-60mm deep. All of these use carbon rims. Upgrade wheels have alloy rims that typically measure 25-30mm deep and cost under USD$1000, £800, €900.
Because In The Know Cycling is fortunate enough to have readers around the world (thank you!), I don’t typically review gear that isn’t sold and doesn’t have a robust service network at least a couple of the major geographic regions. It just isn’t worth the time of the majority of readers to hear about a great wheelset that is sold in limited quantities with a distribution and service network that can support riders in just a few countries. That is also one of the reasons I don’t consider wheels from custom builders, the other being that they are one-offs (that’s why they are custom).
OK, with those provisos up-front, here are the wheels I haven’t reviewed in this latest post and why. For the most part, I don’t think you should consider buying any Gen 2 wheelsets unless their performance is good enough for what you want to use them for and their price is half of what Gen 3 ones are selling for.
Give me a moment to put my helmet and face shield on before you throw up on me in the comments section for not reviewing the wheelset you are curious about.
Gen 3 wheelsets I hope to review and add to this post when they are available
- Zipp 303 NSW Disc-brake – will review in spring 2018
- Reynolds Assault LE – this 21mm internal, 28mm wide external “limited edition” Assault is available now only on a Canyon bike. I have no knowledge but would expect this to be available as wheelset alone in 2018
- HED Vanquish 40 – Again, no knowledge but I would expect they will introduce a model with this name in 2018 now that they have introduced the Vanquish 60 all carbon road disc clincher in fall 2017
- Hunt 50 Aero Disc – happy to review it if they can send me a demo
Narrow Gen 2 – AX Lightness Ultra Disc 45C, Knight 35 Disc Clincher, Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL C Disc, Vittoria Quarano 46 Disc, Fast Forward F4D FCC, Giant SLR 1 and 0 SLR 0 42MM Carbon Disc Road. These are 17mm wide internally (the AX is actually 16.5mm) and all but the Vittoria and Giant aren’t tubeless ready
Early/Wide Gen 2 – Boyd 44 Clincher Disc (weight, network), Tune Airways 41 Disc (network), HED Jet Plus 4 Disc Brake (new Vanquish 40 will likely succeed it), Easton EC90 SL Disc Clincher (weight), Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR Disc D3 (weight). These were introduced early in the Gen 2 era, most are 19mm wide internally, have rim brake rims and weigh too much to be competitive against Gen 3 all-around and/or don’t have a very wide distribution and service network.
Previously reviewed Gen 2 (here) – Reynolds 46 Aero Disc Brake, Reynolds Assault SLG Disc Brake, Prime RP 38 Carbon Clincher Road Disc, Vision Metron 40 Clincher Disc. Not included in this review because they are Gen 2 specs and performance not competitive with those in this review.
Gen 2 reviewed in this post – Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon Disc. My best value pick of the Gen 2s with no announced successor that’s even less expensive and roughly on par or not a whole lot worse than the other Gen 2s previously reviewed ones listed above. If you don’t need the versatility or performance of a Gen 3 wheelset, want a carbon all-around from a well-established company with a good service network, but don’t want to spend more than you would on an alloy upgrade wheelset, this is the one for you.
Previously reviewed Gen 2 (here) with Gen 3 successors reviewed in this post – DT Swiss RC 38 Spline C DB, Roval CLX 40 Disc, Zipp 303 Firecrest Disc-brake (but not tubeless and with a different rim shape).
Announced but not yet available – Campy Bora One 50 DB (tubular only), Shimano Dura-Ace C40 Carbon Road Disc. Large wheelset makers Campy, Fulcrum, Shimano, and Mavic are behind the curve in road disc wheelsets. Not a big surprise. They typically focus on the higher volume, lower priced wheelset segments.
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