THE BEST AERO BIKE WHEELS

Aero bike wheels look fast, ride fast, and race fast. At 55mm to 65mm deep, they are the wheels of choice for most flat and rolling terrain for those who ride at average speeds of 20mph/32kph and above. They are well suited for road races and crits, and can also work as time trial and triathlon wheels if you want one set of wheels for multiple racing events.

For those of us who don’t race but want to go our fastest in training and on competitive group rides, the best aero wheels can give you that extra aerodynamic performance when it’s your turn to pull or sprint for the town line. They provide the stiffness, handling, and comfort you’ll find in all-around wheels 10-20mm shallower while maintaining your speed better than those.

In this post, I review, compare, and recommend some of the best aero bike wheels available today and say more about why riders and racers should consider them.

Related: Looking for all-around carbon wheels for your road disc bike?  Click Best Carbon Disc Wheelset

Related: Not sure what kind of wheels to get?  Click Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You

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BEST PERFORMER – ENVE SES 5.6

Unique in our experience testing aero wheels, the ENVE 5.6 disc rides almost like a blend of the best performance characteristics of wheelsets in both the all-around and aero categories.

Stiff, responsive, fast accelerating, confident handling, superior in crosswinds, and climbs well. Doesn’t maintain your speed quite as easily as deeper aero wheels, it’s a wheelset you’d pick first for crits and lumpy time trials and most any road race or fast group ride.

Available for US$2550/£2800/3300 from stores I rate highly for US/CA readers using these links to Competitive Cyclist and ENVE, and for readers in the UK, EU, and other countries from Merlin.

Read my full review here.

 

BEST VALUE – ENVE 65

If you’re not all-in on aero but want some aero benefits, the ENVE 65 wheelset provides a solid foundation for aero riding without making a maximal investment. And the ENVE 65 is more focused on flat terrain speed, similar to most aero wheelsets, than speed across a range of terrain like the ENVE SES 5.6

The ENVE is also as stiff and compliant as the best we’ve reviewed in this aero category. Its performance on the remaining criteria are on par with the average wheelset in this group, neither better nor worse.

Its US$1600/£1850/2120 price sets it apart, hundreds less than the others and makes it a clear choice for Best Value.

It’s available at my top-rated stores using these links to Competitive Cyclist in the US and Canada and Merlin in the UK, EU, and elsewhere.

Read my full review here.

 

BEST PERFORMANCE-PRICE COMBINATION – ZIPP 404 FIRECREST

Nearly as versatile though not with the breadth of performance strengths you’ll get from the ENVE SES 5.6 and clearly less expensive than all but the ENVE 65 though still several hundred more than that wheelset in the US/CA and less outside, the Zipp 404 Firecrest is my best pick of the Best Performance-Price Combination among the aero bike wheels we tested.

Available at US$1900/£1600/€1800 from Competitive Cyclist, Planet Cyclery, and Tredz front and rear 10% discount with exclusive In The Know Cycling code ITKTDZ10.

Read my full review here.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AERO BIKE WHEELS

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Unlike weight, aerodynamics almost always matters

See our ratings and reviews of the best aero wheels

 


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WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER AERO WHEELSETS

The world that most cyclists know is flat. Pancake flat for the most part and even flatter than an IHOP pancake in the case of a half-dozen US states according to researchers. Unless you live in or near the foothills of the Rockies, Sierra Nevada or the Appalachian Mountains, those of us who ride in the United States and Canada are going to be on pretty flat roads most of the time with no more than an occasional and short hill that exceeds a 5% grade.

And despite the wonders of the Alps and other mountain ranges featured in the summer pro stage races, Europe is mostly flat too. The European Plain, which runs from the Pyrenees along the Spanish and French border all the way to the Ural Mountains in Russia “gives Europe the lowest average elevation of any continent” according to no less an authority than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific? Pretty much flat, flat and flat. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “after more than four years” work, the final topographic maps, covering Australia, New Zealand and more than 1000 Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Ocean islands” developed from radar data taken by the space shuttle showed that “Australia was the flattest continent in the world.”

As for the mountains, I’m told by some well-placed elves that only 12% of the world’s population actually lives there.

So why do so many of us look to buy (and read my post recommending) climbing wheels? Perhaps it’s because many of the most famous cyclists going back to icons Eddy Merckx and Fausto Coppi to the modern-day heroes like Egon Bernal and Chris Froome conquered the cycling world while climbing mountains.

And why do we focus so much on wheelset weight when choosing between them? Perhaps because weight is one of the most quantifiable differences between wheels. Yet for most riders, reducing our own body weight by 2.5kg or 5lbs would save us a whole lot more in both road time and pocket change than replacing our stock wheels with a good set of climbing ones.

If you are a serious regular cyclist or what I call a road cycling enthusiast (see here for definition), you need to focus on aerodynamics and aero wheels, two things that are critical to cycling fast on the mostly flat earth we ride.

Weight only matters when you are accelerating and when you are going up steep hills and climbs beyond 7% or 8%. But, as explained above, the weight that matters most is your body weight and how much power you can crank out relative to your weight. Your bike and wheelset weight have little relative effect when accelerating and climbing until you are super fit, well trained, and looking for incremental gains.

Unlike weight, your aerodynamics almost always matters except when you are drafting off of someone in front of you or slowly going up steep grades. And the faster you go, the more it matters. Aerodynamics even matters more than weight when you are accelerating, though the measured difference between the two is marginal.

If you regularly average about 20mph/32kph and faster on your rides, aerodynamics matters a lot and can save you minutes on a 50 mile/80K ride based on how you position yourself on your bike and what gear (wheels, frame, tires) and kit (helmet, jersey, etc.) you use.

If you are averaging anywhere near 25mph or 40kph on your road rides and races, you are leaving a lot of time on the clock and drag on the road if you aren’t locked into what better aerodynamics can be doing to save you time and power.

The chart below summarizes this; the posts on training and technique (here) and gear and kit (here) go into more detail on how to go faster including the role of aerodynamics.

Aero bike wheels

So if you want to go faster, an aero wheelset is part of what will make it happen.

But aren’t aero bike wheels just for time trialists and triathletes, those poor fools that bend over with their hands out in aero bars for miles at a time, not having to worry about making any sharp turns, with no other riders near them to maneuver around, and going so ridiculously fast that those freakishly deep rims they ride on really make a difference?

Yes, deep aero wheels are certainly for those riders. They will be on a 60-65mm deep front wheel and an 80mm deep or completely covered disc wheel in the rear. But aero bike wheels, those in the 55mm to 65mm range are also road racing bike wheels and regular riding wheels for fast roadies riding on flat and rolling terrain. Some can also climb.

In 2010 Zipp introduced the 404 Firecrest carbon clincher, a product that changed the direction of high-performance wheelsets of all depths. The Firecrest rim had a rounded “nose” where the spokes attached to the rim and toroid-shaped rim sides. This profile differed greatly from those pointy-nosed, V-shaped ones that deeper rims had at that time. It was also several millimeters wider at the brake track than most other wheels and was 58mm deep.

Testing showed the Firecrest had less aerodynamic drag than wheels much deeper and weren’t buffeted by side winds the way even shallower wheels were. As a bonus, you could actually slow these carbon-rimmed wheels down without growing old waiting for it to happen and losing your hearing from all the screeching coming from the braking action.

The Firecrest wheels set a new standard for rim and wheel design.

Most of the leading wheelset companies followed with carbon clincher wheels that emulated the Firecrest 404 shape and depth. Many also introduced triathlon wheels in the 70mm+ range to compete with the Zipp 808 Firecrest for the speed-demon, TT and triathlon riders. Another group of shallower, 30-45mm deep carbon clinchers also came out for “all-around” riding and climbing led by the Zipp Firecrest 303 and later the 202.

In the last several years, more and more 55-65mm deep, carbon-clincher wheelsets with “blunt” noses and either toroid or U-shaped rims with 17mm, 19mm, and even 21mm internal widths and 26mm to 30mm external widths have been introduced. Tests show these aero bike wheels are nearly as fast as the very deepest triathlon wheels.

The best of these don’t get pushed around by crosswinds, are stiff and comfortable, handle well, and are faster yet nearly as responsive and light as carbon all-arounds that are 10mm to 20mm shallower. They compare well or better against many of the same performance criteria that I find matter when choosing wheels (see here).

Below, I share with you the conclusions I and my fellow evaluators reached after riding many of the best aero wheelsets you can use as racing bike wheels or for riding fast without needing to race. At the end, I also list the aero bike wheels we haven’t reviewed and why.

 

RATINGS AND REVIEWS OF AERO DISC BRAKE WHEELSETS

Aero Disc Brake Wheeelset comparison

 

Best Performer

ENVE SES 5.6 DISC – A STANDOUT DISC BRAKE AERO AND ALL-AROUND WHEELSET

For a wheelset that was first introduced in 2016, the ENVE 5.6 disc still stands apart from the competition.

It’s not just the design characteristics that make it distinct, most notably the different front and rear rim depths, widths, and shapes. Rather, it’s the performance the design attempts to deliver that separates this wheelset on the road from others in the aero wheelset category with rims that go 55-65mm deep.

Conventional thinking about wheelsets (or at least the way I’ve always thought about them) is that there are low profile wheels, all-around wheels, aero wheels, and deep aero wheels.

All-around wheels, as the name suggests, should do a bit of everything. While not optimized for any single type of riding, the best are light enough for climbing, aero enough for fast riding, and stiff enough for quick acceleration. They are typically the best choice when you’ll be in the saddle for hours at a time riding a mix of flats, rollers, and climbs. Nimble, precise handling is a hallmark of all-around wheels and crosswinds are either not an issue or easily managed.

Conversely, aero wheels have typically been those we road cycling enthusiasts want when riding and maintaining speeds in the mid 20mph range (high 30kph range) is our priority above all else. While dedicated time trialists and triathletes might ride an 80mm or so deep aero wheelset or rear wheel, roadies go for 55-65mm aero wheels when most of what we ride is flat, straight, doesn’t involve a lot of big speed changes or accelerations, and lasts for no more than a couple of hours.

Good handling is a bonus for aero wheels. Since the rides are relatively short, comfort is nice but not a priority. Crosswinds and climbs are to be avoided.

ENVE 5.6 disc

Unique in our experience testing aero wheels, the ENVE 5.6 disc rides almost like a blend of the best performance characteristics of wheelsets in both the all-around and aero categories. The parallel that comes to mind is what’s happening more recently with bikes that are combining an aero bike’s speed, road racing bike’s responsiveness, climbing bike’s weight, and endurance bike’s comfort into one bike that delivers all of that performance.

This ENVE 5.6 disc is as stiff as the best of the road disc wheels we’ve tested in the aero or all-around wheelset categories. Its responsiveness and acceleration are unmatched by most others in the aero test group and on par with the best in the all-around field.

While most aero wheels demand the kind of effort that convinces you to bring them up to speed gradually, you can sprint up these snappy ENVE 5.6 discs without feeling like you are burning through your limited number of matches.

These wheels also climb like champs, a level above other aero wheelsets we’ve reviewed and on par with the best all-around ones. Nate, my fellow tester with serious climbing palmares, noted this strength. Road racing tester Miles took it a step further saying they turned his Giant Propel aero bike into a capable climbing one going up a long, New Hampshire ascent that topped out at 14%.

ENVE 5.6 Disc

Miles’ aero bike rides like a climbing one going up steep hills with the ENVE 5.6 disc wheels

The ENVE 5.6 disc handles as well as any of the aero wheels we’ve tested. Miles railed corners at high speeds with them and said he could often put in gaps to other riders during turns. He was also “totally confident diving these wheels into hairpin downhill turns.”

Though these wheels are easy to bring up to speed, holding that speed is one of the few places they are average compared to their deeper, heavier aero wheelset competitors.

Crosswinds are not an issue for the ENVE 5.6 disc. Their comfort is better than most, making 3-hour rides easy assuming your fitness also supports that long and fast a ride.

For those of us who take a close look at specs, this wheelset’s actual weight (1576g) stands out against other aero wheels with all but the Reynolds Aero65 DB (1611g) measuring between 75 and over 200 grams more. But, the Reynolds rims alone weigh 100 grams more than those on these ENVEs.

While the ENVE 5.6’s lighter weight may help you on climbs, that along with a 3-10mm shallower front wheel than others in the aero category may owe to its more average ability to maintain your speed. It’s not subpar but it’s also not up there with the best.

The finish on this wheelset and most ENVE wheels I’ve tested is a little disappointing. ENVE doesn’t use paint in their rims and the powdered curing agent they use in the resin can pool in spots near the surface of the rim during the molding process. When this happens, you’ll see some white markings when looking closely, typically along the spoke edge. They can become more pronounced over time.

It’s never been a big enough issue that I wouldn’t recommend ENVE wheels and I wouldn’t think it has any effect on their performance. ENVE replaced one set of wheels I bought where I thought the marks were particularly pronounced and they handled it professionally.

We tested the 5.6 disc with ENVE’s alloy hub, one that uses Mavic’s Instant Drive 360 internals. It’s a similar ratchet design to the DT Swiss 240 hub and engages well, spins smoothly, freehubs with a moderate amount of noise, requires next to no maintenance, and at $2550, is the lowest-priced option. ENVE also offers these wheels with Chris King R45 alloy and ceramic bearing hubs or I9 Torch ones, all of which make the wheelset marginally heavier and significantly more expensive than with the ENVE hub.

If you’re looking for a wheelset to help you in time trials, flat crits, or flat solo and group rides, a more traditional design aero wheelset may be better for you. But if you are an enthusiast who wants to ride fast all day, spinning up quickly from a variety of speeds, on all grades of terrain, handling precisely through corners and switchbacks, the ENVE 5.6 disc stands alone in being able to do all of that.

You can find the ENVE 5.6 disc, or more properly the ENVE SES 5.6 Disc Carbon Fiber Wheelset through these links to the wheelset’s page at my recommended stores Competitive Cyclist and Merlin. It’s also available from the ENVE website.

 

Best Value

ENVE 65 – A VALUE AERO FOUNDATION

If you’re not all-in on aero but want some aero benefits, the ENVE 65 wheelset provides a solid foundation for aero riding without making a maximal investment. For that reason, I recommend it as the Best Value for disc brake aero wheelsets.

What is all in? Aero frame, aero components, aero kit, 23-25mph/37-40kph, TT and crit racers, where every bike length matters.

What is want some aero benefits? Race bike, aero aware, 20mph/32kph and up, fast group rides, occasional races, where going fast on flats and gently rolling terrain matters.

Most aero wheelsets, the ENVE SES 5.6 disc wheels being an exception aren’t versatile enough to ride on all terrain. But on the right terrain and in the right riding situations, the best aero wheels make a decisive speed difference when compared to shallower, all-around ones.

ENVE 65 aero wheelsIf you want the benefits of the best aero wheelset performance but can’t quite justify the investment, the ENVE 65 will get you close and for a lot less. At $1600/£1850/2120 for the ENVE 65, that’s $800/£150/280 to $1000/£950/1020 less than my best-rated aero road disc wheelset performers.

The ENVE 65 is as stiff and compliant as the best. That’s a great combination to have in any wheelset, one that other aero and all-around wheelsets I’ve ridden priced in the same range as the ENVE 65 almost never pull off.

Aero performance is, obviously, the critically important measure of an aero wheelset. While we can’t test them in a wind tunnel, I and my fellow testers Nate and Miles can and have judged and compared several indicators of aero performance across the range of wheelsets we’ve ridden. And on those indicators, The ENVE 65 is on par with the average higher-priced aero wheelset though slightly off the pace of the best.

Specifically, the ENVE 65 holds its momentum well once at aero speeds though not as well as the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6, Reynolds Blacklabel Aero 65DB or Roval CLX 64. It also holds its own or, perhaps better said, holds you reasonably close to your line in crosswinds, something that most >$2000 wheelsets do these days and just the aero wheelset category’s Best Performers ENVE 5.6 and Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 do better in our experience.

The ENVE 65’s 28.3mm outside rim width meets or exceeds the rule of 105 rim to tire width ratio per my measurements with the ENVE hookless rim compatible and approved/recommended 25mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE, Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 11Storm, and 26mm Specialized S-Works Turbo RapidAir tubeless tires.

Acceleration, handling, and climbing performance are on par with the average aero disc wheelset in this review but off the pace of the best performers. Whether those performance differences would be noticeable in a flat to rolling TT or crit is debatable. They would if you were to take them on hillier terrain or races with more demanding cornering.

As with the ENVE SES 5.6 option we tested, the 65 uses the same ENVE Alloy hub internals. They engage and roll very well on the road and emit a low-frequency, hollow sound. The 65 uses the Foundation hub shell, only 6 grams heavier than the one on the 5.6 which is milled in such a way to allow for its paired spoke lacing. You can also order the ENVE 65 with a distinctively louder Industry Nine hub if that’s your preference.

So how do the aero category’s Best Performers ENVE 5.6 and Bontrager XXX 6 differ from the Best Value ENVE 65 and is that performance enough to justify the price difference?

The ENVE 5.6 is more responsive and versatile, a better handler, and less affected by the crosswinds. I can ride the 5.6 confidently as a very fast, everyday wheelset on any combination of flats, rollers, and climbs either riding solo or in a collegially competitive group ride. Fellow testers Miles and Nate would choose the 5.6 ahead of the rest for a road race on anything with a sustained 7%+ grade hill or three in the course profile.

While it takes longer up to speed, the ENVE 65 is a touch faster at full throttle than the 5.6 and would be the better choice for a flattish solo outing, bullet train group ride, or sprint finish race. Its wider internal, hookless rims, more basic layup, and standard spoke lacing might be what makes it a bit more compliant if less snappy than the 5.6 at the same tire pressure.

Though not as refined, the ENVE 65 has a more similar performance feel to the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 than ENVE 5.6. The XXX 6 is faster, quicker, handles better, and is less moved by the crosswinds. But the 65 and XXX6 are both focused on raw speed, are best on the flatter rides and crit races with only small or short rollers.

The choice is up to your aero performance id and cycling budget ego to resolve.

You can order the ENVE 65 wheelset at my top-rated stores using these links to Competitive Cyclist in the US and Canada and Merlin in the UK, EU, and elsewhere.

 

Best Performance-Price Combination

ZIPP 404 FIRECREST – PERFORMANCE FOR LESS

While you can find better-performing wheels and lower-priced ones than the new Zipp 404 Firecrest Tubeless Disc Brake, it’s the performance-price combination that makes this wheelset stand out.

As road disc wheels move into what I’ve identified as their 4th generation, it’s become harder to apply the traditional climber, aero, all-around, etc. labels to describe what type of terrain a wheelset performs best on or what type of rider it would be best suited for.

The latest generation Zipp 404 Firecrest is fast on the flats like its predecessors and as you would expect any wheelset with its 58mm rim depth should.

But, it also climbs and rides across rolling terrain better than most wheelsets this deep and as good as many 10mm to 15mm shallower. Add to that its ability to hold its line well in crosswinds, a welcome performance characteristic whether going all out on an exposed flat road or a fast downhill after a good mountain climb.

No, the Zipp 404 Firecrest is not the all-everything wheelset that I and my fellow testers fell madly in love with riding the Zipp 454 NSW. But the 404 is less than half the price of its US$4000/£3200/€3600 upper-crust, heart-throb sibling.

Nor is it quite the performer or as expensive as the snappier, smoother riding ENVE SES 5.6, a US$2550/£2800/€3300 beauty that is also one of the best on flats, rollers, and shorter climbs.

But if you want an aero wheelset that performs as well or better than most on a wide range of road terrain at a price less than many that are best over a narrower range, the Zipp 404 Firecrest is there for you.

As with any wheelset with a deep rim that’s intended for speed, you don’t want to go out and wreck your aero performance by putting a 28mm wide tire on the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s front wheel instead of a 25mm one if you don’t have to. You already get improved comfort and handling thanks to the 404’s added volume and straighter tire sidewalls coming from its 23mm inside width, hookless rims.

Note: If you weigh more than 175 lbs, you are better off going with a 28C tire. The recommended inflation pressure for your weight and a 25C tire would put you above the recommended inflation pressure for this rim (74psi).

While not the plushest or best handling wheels on the block, my fellow tester Miles and I found it’s plenty comfortable enough and handles just fine with our top-rated 25mm wide Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite and Schwalbe Pro One TLE tires that we tested on this wheelset. (The discontinued Zipp tires you see in the photos were used only to soothe my aesthetic sensibilities.)

For the Zipp 404 Firecrest, your tires need to be both tubeless and hookless compatible. And if you are partial to riding 28mm rubber, you can be both aero and comfortable if you are willing to work with me. Put a 25mm tire on the front wheel where aero performance is crucial and a wider tire adds little extra comfort. Then mount up a 28mm on the rear where aero is less decisive and you’ll feel the comfort of a wider tire more.

Zipp 404 Firecrest

Unlike the hubs used on the Zipp 454 NSW or ENVE SES 5.6 and many other performance-carbon wheelsets these days, the ZR1 freehubs used on the Zipp 303 and 404 Firecrest wheels are loud. They’re just as audible but not as rich sounding as the Chris King or even the Industry Nine hubs you can select or build into some wheelsets.

The freehub noise Miles and I heard may be beautiful music to your ears. Just know that you can’t coast in the wheels of your group ride mates or a competitive race peloton with 404s rolling underneath you without being noticed and likely encouraged to take more than your share of pulls or be more easily marked if you try a breakaway.

But the way this US$1900/£1600/€1800 wheelset performs, your buds may think you’re riding a more expensive set. And with how well you move across all pitches of paved roads, they may think you are fitter than you may actually be.

With the Zipp 404 Firecrest’s performance and its 1521 gram weight per my scale, it’s hard to see a reason to buy a 10-15mm shallower, more typical 40-50mm deep wheelset for so-called all-around riding. The latest Zipp 303 Firecrest falls in that depth range but my experience suggests it’s better for very hilly terrain and mountain road climbs as an all-arounder.

Certainly, US$1900/£1600/€1800 is not a value-price. There are many wheelsets available from established and new brands that sell for US$1300 to $1600. But the Zipp 404 Firecrest clearly outperforms all of those we’ve tested in that price range and, my dear fellow road cycling enthusiast on a budget, it easily justifies the added spend.

In our experience, this is a wheelset that performs comparably to or better than many aero or all-around ones that cost more and can do so across a mix of terrain that few more expensive wheelsets can.

You can order the Zipp 404 Firecrest wheelset using this link to Competitive Cyclist, Planet Cyclery, and Tredz front and rear 10% discount with exclusive In The Know Cycling code ITKTDZ10.

 

BONTRAGER RSL 62 – TRUE AERO WHEELS WITH A FEW TWISTS

The Bontrager Aeolus RSL 62 performs best as traditional aero wheels.

Go fast, as in at least 20mph/32kph and probably a lot faster, or cruise around at a tempo pace and be happy.

Stay on flat and rolling terrain, and don’t expect much help from them on climbs.

Use stiffness to your advantage in crits and sprints, but don’t expect rim weight or hub engagement to help you.

Be sensitive to tire choice and pressure, but not about wheelset acoustics or aesthetics.

Unlike the ENVE 5.6 and Zipp 404 Firecrest that are versatile aero wheelsets with a range of strengths that can be applied in a variety of situations, the Bontrager RSL 62 seems to operate best in the aero lane as do most of the other wheelsets in this comparative review.

My fellow testers Nate and Miles rode the RSL 62 and reached some similar and different opinions about them, in part owing to preferences and styles.

Nate rode them first and took a bit of time to get them settled in and adapt to some of the newer aspects of these aero Bontragers. The rear wheel emitted some clicking sounds initially, my guess due to spoke or nipple tensioning issues but that disappeared after a few rides.

Nate and Miles also found the DT Swiss 240 EXP freehub on the RSL 62 quite loud when coasting, something we all experienced riding this same, new hubset on the RSL 51 and a few other wheelsets earlier this year but not to the level of what they heard on the RSL 62.

More significantly, tire pressure, and perhaps tire selection, seemed to affect how well the RSL 62 carried the wheels’ momentum on the road.

The RSL 62’s 23mm internal and 31mm external width on these hooked keep most 28mm tubeless tires abiding by the rule of 105 for optimum aero performance. Yet at the suggested tire pressure where Nate rode the Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite tubeless tires I mounted to these wheels, he was underwhelmed by their cruising speed in the fast group rides he leads.

Miles, perhaps due to his inveterate racer’s mindset, pumped the tires up above the suggested level and found more speed and good maintenance of his momentum once well into the aero speed realm (22mph/35kph).

Both agreed the Bontrager RSL 62 cut through direct and cross winds without any issue. And despite their slightly different tire inflation approaches, both also enjoyed comfortable rides with great handling on the wide wheel and tire combination.

Stiffness is another strength of the RSL 62. Miles was able to translate that characteristic into sprints where it seemed to him that every watt he put down translated to the wheels that also held the bike right on his line.

Yet neither Nate nor Miles felt the wheelset’s stiffness translated to better than average acceleration and noticed the added effort to take these relatively light wheels (1539 grams with tape but no valves) up even 5% gradient hills.

The RSL 62 are best-ridden fast and probably raced on flat and rolling terrain. Bontrager makes the RSL 51 for more versatile, all-around riding and the RSL 37 for climbing in the mountains.

You’ll be able to order the RSL 62 direct from the Bontrager site at some point but will likely need to go to a bike shop that carries Bontrager and parent Trek products to get them during this period of shortages caused by the pandemic’s effect on cycling product supply.

 

REYNOLDS BLACKLABEL AERO 65 DB – STIFF, FAST GLIDERS

If you are looking at aero wheels like the Reynolds Blacklabel Aero 65 DB, you should be all about going fast. You likely race and may even live to do so. But you certainly have speed as your top priority and there’s nothing else in your top 5.

You’re probably doing the whole aero thing – an aero bike, aero position, aero road helmet, racing kit, shaved legs, etc., etc. You don’t much care about things that don’t matter when it’s all about going fast for you. Things like comfort, climbing, even the occasional crosswind are distractions at best.

If that doesn’t describe what you are looking for, you’re in the wrong aisle (or wrong review).

If it does, come a little closer and let me tell you about this Blacklabel Aero 65 DB wheelset from Reynolds.

Reynolds Aero 65 DB

Bottom line, this is a stiff, fast wheelset. My fellow tester Miles, a P/1/2 crit and road racer who finishes top 10 in his age group at the US Masters Nationals reported that “once in a full sprint, these wheels just simply fly.”

Riding the Aero 65 DB wheelset enabled him to snap a bunch of sprint-oriented Strava KOMs and make his Giant Propel Advanced SL Disc go about as fast as he thinks it can.

Speed comes from a stiff wheelset that responds when you tell it to go with rims that cut through the air on smooth-rolling hubs. That’s the make-up of this wheelset.

The Blacklabel Aero 65 DB uses i9 hubs. They’re louder than most but engage quickly and roll easily. The rims have a V-shaped profile with internal spoke nipples that trades-off crosswind performance and easy spoke tensioning adjustment for straight-ahead lift.

Remember, it’s about the speed with this wheelset. If loud hubs and the need to keep both hands on the bars in the crosswinds isn’t for you, neither are these wheels. They also aren’t the most comfortable wheels at the 75-80psi that Miles rode them at or the 60psi that I did on Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tires that mounted easily but took a few iterations to seal and hold air.

For these Reynolds wheels, it’s not just about going fast in a sprint or straight line. Both Miles and I experienced the momentum the Aero 65 DB gave us to quickly punch the kind of 100 meter climbs up to about 10% you’ll often find on circuit races. We were also impressed with how well their aerodynamics assisted on extended climbs up to a 5% grade.

Oh, and they corner very well at speed too. While crits and road races are only a dream in the age of Coronavirus when we tested these wheels, Miles reported he “was able to confidently whip through some corners at around 30mph” in his non-race testing.

I don’t often ride that fast even on a straight but, when I do, I felt the sensation of gliding along at such pace and with such ease that I could block out the stresses of life around me.

If you’re all about going fast and doing crits and rolling road races and time trials – and everything else be damned – you should consider the Reynolds Blacklabel Aero 65 DB. At US$2200/£1800/€2160 it is also competitively priced among others in the aero wheelset category.

You can get it through this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores and at others I recommend for their low prices and high customer satisfaction ratings by clicking on this pre-sorted link to Knows Shop.

 

ROVAL CLX 64 DISC – SPEED IS THY NAME

Speed is clearly the calling card of the Roval CLX 64 wheelset. It’s one of the fastest aero disc wheelsets we’ve tested and one of the easiest to maintain its speed.

Fellow tester Miles sensed that immediately and went KOM hunting, bagging three highly competitive ones with the CLX. He only wished he could have put them work on a crit course or rolling circuit race where he felt they would be ideal. Alas, covid wiped out those opportunities and much else this year.

Nate also tested these wheels extensively as they came with the Specialized Venge he bought this spring. Always in search of the best setup, he rode them with both Specialized’s 26C Turbo Cotton clincher tires at 85psi and 65psi and 26C Turbo RapidAir tubeless tires at 85psi, 72psi, and 60psi.

For Nate’s bike and body weight, the tire calculators suggest a front tire pressure of 68-69psi and rear tire at 72-74 psi with the tubeless tire inflation at the lower end of this range. Doing some of his own speed testing, he actually found 85psi front and rear to be the fastest on both the clincher and tubeless tires.

Miles, a few pounds lighter than Nate and also riding an aero bike (Giant Propel Advanced), had his best speed with the Cottons at 65/70psi front/rear and the RapidAirs at 60/65psi. This is just another example of the value of finding the right pressure for you.

Both found the pressures that gave them the best speed also gave them the best comfort and road feel.

Unfortunately, both also reported the CLX 64 slow to get up to speed compared to other aero disc wheelsets we tested. Stiffness was only average and with both the XDR rear hub driver on Nate’s bike and Shimano one Miles used, the DT star ratchet was slow to engage.

Climbing was also a mixed bag. Coming off the flats into short rollers, these Rovals flew. But for longer pitches below 6% and anything steeper, the CLX 64 struggled.

Handling was a bright spot on the Turbo Cottons but only average on the RapidAir. We tested all the other aero disc wheels in this review on tubeless tires and several performed exceptionally well, clearly better than the Rovals. Mind you, the Roval CLX 64 handle confidently and well overall but just not to the level of those we rated higher.

With the widest rims among those we tested (approximately 30mm external, 21mm internal), most any 25C or 26C tires and narrower 28C ones including Specialized’s S-Works Turbo RapidAir will give you a rim to tire ratio well above the 105% where you’ll find your best performance. You can check out our review of the best tubeless tires for the details.

Not surprisingly, our take of the comfort of the CLX 64 varied somewhat based on tire and pressure choices. While all of us found the wheels very comfortable on the super-supple Turbo Cotton, that’s not a tire you’ll want to ride every day as its puncture resistance scores quite low on independent tests.

On the Turbo RapidAir at the 60-65psi range Miles and I rode them, they were comfortable enough for a day-long ride. Nate actually found them more comfortable at his preferred 85psi than at the lower pressures he tried but even there, didn’t experience the same level of comfort as the other wheels tested for this review.

Our performance score sheet shows pluses and minuses for the Roval CLX 64 disc wheelset and many more that are on par with others we tested. If what matters most to you puts these aero bike wheels in the win column, you can order them for US$2500 through this link to JensonUSA.

 

WHEELSETS WE’D LIKE TO REVIEW NEXT

Full Priced Carbon

Campagnolo Bora WTO 60 – I’ve not been able to get a hold of one yet to test. If I do, I’ll add it to this review. (link to Know’s Shop).

DT Swiss ARC 1100 Dicut DB 62 Another one I’m hoping to test. The rims are designed by Swiss Side, made by DT Swiss, and use DT’s 240 hubs and Aerolite spokes. The wheels are typically discounted from their original high asking price to bring them in just under some of those I’ve reviewed above.

HED Vanquish RC6 – Chalk this up in the column of haven’t but hope to ride it soon. I’ve tested the Vanquish 4 (read the review here) and hope to ride the Vanquish 6 at some point. If you can’t wait, you are in good company and can follow this link to Know’s Shop to buy it online at stores I recommend.

Value Carbon

Many brands sell 55mm and deeper wheelsets in the $1000-$1500 range. I’ve been digging into the broader group of wheelsets I call “value carbon” in a multi-part examination and set of reviews starting with my post The Best Carbon Wheelset for the Money – Part 1.

While that post focuses on 40mm – 50mm all-around value carbon wheelsets, many of the same companies also sell deeper wheels at similar prices. I believe much of what I’ve found in my research for that review extends to those selling aero bike wheels.

It’s a broad generalization but from what I’m finding so far, the saying that you get what you pay for appears to hold true among value carbon wheels. The question we roadies each have to ask ourselves is whether we need all that the full-priced wheels provide.

There are 10,000 words about this in the post I linked you to above so I’ll stop here and encourage you to go there if you are interested in reading more.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

If you’ve benefited from reading this review and want to keep new ones coming, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links in this review and others across the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish more ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported reviews that are independent, comprehensive, and comparative.

If you prefer to buy at other stores, you can still support the site by contributing here or by buying anything through these links to eBay and Amazon.

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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve

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First published on April 23, 2019. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.

88 comments

  • Hi Steve. Why is there such a difference between the acceleration of the rim and disc bontragers?

    • Danny, Good point. I’ve reviewed our test notes and I had the acceleration for the disc brake Bontrager too high. It’s clearly not in the same class as the ENVE 5.6 disc and more like the others I noted with a 0 the rating for the average of those we reviewed in the disc category. I’ve now fixed the chart to reflect this. As to why the Bontrager acceleration is now rated 0/average for the disc version and still -/worse for the rim, I’ll note that these are comparative ratings against a group of different wheelsets in the disc and rim brake categories and with one different tester along with Nate and me. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Another great overview.

    I’ve noticed from your past review of tubeless tires that very few 25c tires pass the 105 rule on the Aeolus XXX 6.

    Curious how that influences your assessment of the relative aero performance of the wheelset.

    Cheers,

    K.

    • Kevin, There are a few that will pass the rule or come very near to it depending on where you inflate your tires. I use an 80psi pressure level for my comparative testing. That’s appropriate for a 175lb rider. The 25mm Tangente Speed Road Tubeless, my best performer recommendation comes in 104% at that pressure. If you are lighter, then you inflate to a lower pressure level which makes the tire be a bit narrower and put you at or above 105%. I ride at 145-150lbs and 70-72psi so that tire gets me (and Miles and Nate).

      The new Bontrager 25mm R3 tubeless tires, one I’ve yet to post a review of come in at 104.5% at 80psi on the XXX 6. So drop the pressure a touch you are at 105%.

      Of course, if you are a heavier rider, you’ve got to go with 23mm tires to get 105%+. The most serious aero riders, those doing time trials or TTs will pull out all the stops including narrower tires to get the max aero performance. If you’re into 28mm tires for their comfort, you probably aren’t out there looking for an aero wheelset and tire combination that gives you 105% but there are choices like the Roval CLX64 or the ENVE 4.5AR with a 28mm Specialized RapidAir or Schwalbe Pro One TLE that will give you that. Steve

      • Thanks Steve!

        When deciding on wheel/tire combinations would it be a fair assessment to conclude that going from just over 105 to just under 105 (e.g., 107 vs. 103) amounts to splitting hairs, given all the trade-offs involved?

        I noticed that Enve’s new SES tires include a 27c that is explicitly designed for max aero benefits if rocking one of their AR wheelsets. They claim it will grow to 30mm on a 25mm internal (50-85 psi), which puts it at 104 on the 31.2 mm front rim of AR4.5.

        Obviously, with a series like the AR the manufacturer is trading off a variety of performance factors, but would you speculate that part of the reason for accepting this narrower wheel/rim ratio is the added aero benefits that a hookless bead supposedly provides (limiting disturbance at tire/rim interface)?

        Also interesting to reflect on the fact that the AR series was designed at a time when 28c tires were far far wider. The wind tunnel tests I’ve seen (large grain salt – but impressive on the face of it) of the AR 4.5 were done with old pro ones at around 31mm measured (e.g., Tour Magazin, Hunt, and Enve’s own testing).

        As always greatly appreciate your expertise and candor.

        • Kevin, From what Mr. 105 (Josh Poertner) has written (see my tubeless article for links), things drop off precipitously below 105 and improve incrementally above it. As to the ENVE SES tires, my jury (Nate, Miles and me) is still out on those tires. We tested a preproduction set and they weren’t as advertised in several ways including sizing. We’ll test some production models in the spring. Meanwhile, if you need new tires, I’d stick with the knowns. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I keep coming back to your articles as I am hoping to purchase a new bike soon (has to be Italian!). Anyway, I am still trying to pick a pair of carbon disc wheels. I am looking for an all-rounder, and I am also hoping to go to the Dolomites in the future. I keep trying to locate an article you did about myths or change of opinion on wheel depth. While I have mostly rollers where I live, there is also a lot of crosswinds, and that is the biggest issue from keeping me from purchasing a deeper rim tire. Can you add a link where you have talked about this? Thanks!

  • If one is racing in bunches (i.e. most of club racing) then aero wheels have NO HELPFUL EFFECT. The bunch is being aero for you.
    If you’re off the front they’ll be a help but few of us get to do that. If you’re off the back of the bunch…your race is over!
    Light weight wheels will always help over heavier wheels up climbs – even short non steep climbs.
    The choice is simple – light weight wheels over aero wheels for racing.
    Aussie and NZ being flat – really?! If they’re so flat then disc wheels aren’t needed.
    NZ – a lot of it is hilly. Most of my riding (I aim for the hills) and a lot of my racing here in Auckland is hilly.
    Regards, Paul

    • Paul, Thanks for your perspective. I agree with you about the aero effect of the bunch and won’t argue with you that there are hilly sections in every country including NZ and AU, even though most of both are pretty flat. But light wheels only give you an advantage in the mountains – long, 7-8% climbs. The benefit of light wheels on short hills vs. aero wheels that might be 150 to 200g heavier but can carry more momentum into a short hill and better speed heading down is debatable.

      As long as you are riding fast enough, aero wheels are better on flats, sprints, crits, non-mountainous road races when tactics matter, TTs, triathlons, solo rides, downhills, and when you are doing your share of the pulls on small and large group/club rides.

      I love a good, light climbing wheelset when I head to the mountains but hate when their speed tops out or I have to work too hard to keep their momentum up on flatter sections.

      As to disc vs. rim, that’s a discussion for another day 🙂 Cheers, Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    I see your mention of HED alloy wheels in your article and that you say to look else where. I know everything is about Disc wheels lately but people with rim bikes should still take a look at HED Jet 6 plus wheels either regular or black series. In fact, It would be interesting for you to test out a black series out to see how close it is to Disc wheels for braking power. There is lots of data of these wheels on the web showing them very aero and comfortable riding wheelset for years. I currently have the HED Belguim plus wheelset with White Industries T11’s hubs and really love these wheels for training. Have you ever tested the the HED Jet 6 plus and would you ever consider doing so? Also if anyone out there still use the Jet 6 Plus wheels please leave comments about them.

    • Dave, Haven’t tested the HED Jet 6 but with its alloy rim brake track, I’d expect it’d be as good as wheels with disc braking and better than carbon rim brake wheels. Steve

  • Are Corima and Lighweight wheels too expensive to review? Also would like to see a review of hubs. DT 180/240 Chris King industry 9 and Alto
    Thanks

    • Chuck, Thanks for your comment.

      Being an independent, reader-supported site (rather than an industry-driven, ad-supported one), I want to review what I think the majority of our readers are or should be interested in choosing between and can afford. The Lightweights are indeed expensive and I don’t remember hearing from many readers asking either about them or Corima wheels. There are probably 50 different wheel brands out there, each with many models and there’s just not the time or budget to review that many of them. Price, reader demand, distribution, dealer service, technology, company track record, etc., all come into play in choosing the wheelsets to review.

      Of course, if more readers support the site by buying their gear using the links to stores we recommend, buying at Know’s Shop, and the half dozen other ways I’ve laid out, we can do more reviews of more wheels and other gear and kit.

      As to hubs, we review them as part of wheelsets. Most readers aren’t building wheelsets from rims, hubs, and spokes so we review how the hubs perform in a wheel system that you can buy rather than as independent components. Steve

      • Well thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I may be spending more time on here and making future purchases form your recommended sites. Thanks again and have a great week!

  • Hi mate, a bit late to the party but this popped up in my google recommendations. Is there any reason yourself (and every other reviewer) neglects reputable Chinese manufacturers when they review wheels? I.e. Far Sports, Yoeleo, Lun/Hyper?

    Considering the major difference in cost, the minor difference in aerodynamics if there is a repeatable and measurable one, and the fact they are even uci approved and tested, they represent a much better value for money proposition for most people.

    • Jaime, I not only didn’t neglect Chinese manufacturers, I researched and wrote two 10,000-word posts about those manufacturers, companies who brand products sourced from those manufacturers, and compared wheels from those two groups and from integrated and regional suppliers. You can read those posts entitled The Best Carbon Wheelset for the Money here and here. Take a read through those posts and come back and let me know what you think about the value proposition. Steve

  • Hello Steve, any news on when the review of the RSL62’s are in?

    Im about the pull the trigger on ordering a 60’s set but its between the Enve 5.6 alloy hubs, Campagnolo WTO Db Ultra or Bontrager RSL 62’s

    Bontrager costs approx 1800£ in UK, WTO ultra’s around 2500£ and Enve’s 5.6 around 2500£ as well at the moment

    All great wheels I am sure however if your review of RSL comes out positive its a bit of a cost saving compared to the 2 other options. Bontrager are also the more wider and modern dimensions of the 3.

    Thanks

    • Eric, It’s up. Honored that you were awaiting my review to help make your decision. Would welcome your support when you make your purchase so we can keep cranking out reviews to help you and others make those decisions. Cheers, Steve

      • Hi Steve, great thanks for that.

        Well it seems Enve is still
        Topping the throne!

        Amazing how they still keep at the top of the list for best overall aero wheels

        Thanks again

  • Hi Steve,

    I was about to place an order for the Zipp 404 Firecrests based on your reviews (thank you!) but am now reevaluating given tire compatibility concerns with the 23mm internal rim width. Based on what I’ve found from various manufacturers, it looks like 25c tires are not generally recommended for this inner rim width (max widths I was able to find below):
    – Schwalbe Pro One TLE: 22m (I know you’ve used these with the 404s, but they appear out of spec based on what I’ve been able to find)
    – Goodyear Eagle F1: 22mm TSS
    – Continental Grand Prix 5000 S Tubeless Ready: ?21TSS (just announced)

    Given the 404 Firecrest is designed for 25c tires, it seems like there isn’t a great way to adhere to tire manufacturer recommendations while also maintaining the maximum aero advantage. For my riding, the specs of the 404 are definitely appealing over the deeper and heavier Enve 65, but the within spec 21mm inner rim width of Enve is making me reconsider.

    Do you think the maximum widths are a result of tire companies being overly cautious, and it’s fine to use these tires with a 23mm internal width rim, or do you think Zipp missed the mark a bit on this one and fell just outside the allowable range as standards have evolved?

    Thanks again for your reviews and all the work you put into the site!
    Jason

    Tire compatibility references:
    https://www.schwalbe.com/files/schwalbe/userupload/Images/FAQ/reifen_felgen_2020/Reifen_Felgenkombinationen_2020_EN.pdf
    https://www.goodyearbike.com/tires/eagle-f1/
    https://www.continental-tires.com/bicycle/tires/race-tires/grand-prix-5000-s-tr

    • Jason, It’s a shame but tire and wheelset companies have never been on the same legal wavelength and the ETRTO hasn’t been able to bring them together. Independent tire companies like the 3 you’ve cited are super cautious legally and end up recommending wider tires than most enthusiasts I know ride on. Many wheelset manufactures will tell you what width tires they developed their wheels around for maximum speed, handling, and comfort but, with few exceptions like ENVE, won’t tell you which tires their wheels are compatible with.

      And you are only talking about tire width. If you dare look at the min pressures on tubeless tires these days, they are almost always higher than the max pressures recommended by wheelset manufacturers. It’s enough to make you take up running.

      I can only share what we’ve learned about tire and wheelset performance, often in combination, as I’ve done in my reviews. I can’t explain or try to mediate between the two groups of suppliers. Steve

  • Thanks Steve!

    I did some more digging and, for what it’s worth, found the following line in the article linked below: “Despite the latest ETRTO guidelines specifying that 25 mm-wide tires are safe to use with 23 mm-wide hookless rims, Continental explicitly does not approve of that combination.” Continental compatibility aside, it gives me confidence knowing this tire/rim combination is approved by ETRTO (though I haven’t been able to find their source documentation).

    Definitely hear you on the pressure issues as well..

    Thanks again,
    Jason

    Article: https://cyclingtips.com/2021/10/continental-grand-prix-5000-s-tr-tubeless-road-clincher-officially-announced/

    • Sure, and if you go to the Zipp tire pressure guide, https://axs.sram.com/guides/tire/pressure, a 25mm tubeless tire on a 23mm hookless rim for a rider my weight (150 lbs) calculates to about 65psi pressure. I’d expect that Conti is saying don’t put a 25mm tire on a 23mm hookless rim because someone is going to ride it at 100psi forgetting they are wider rims and tires and there could be a problem (though they design these things not to fail until well above any inflation pressure a rider would try – 150psi).

      FWIW, the 25mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE measures about 27.5mm @ 80 psi on Zipps 23mm 454 NSW, which have the same rim widths as the 404 FC. Nate, Miles, and I have all ridden those tires on those wheels and Miles successfully raced them several times this summer without issue, albeit at a more reasonable pressure.

      Note: If you weigh more than 175 lbs, you are better off going with a 28C tire. The recommended inflation pressure for your weight and a 25C tire would put you above the recommended inflation pressure for this rim (74psi).

      Your mileage may vary…

      Enough already. Cheers, Steve

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