THE BEST CARBON DISC WHEELSET

If you own a road disc bike, you may be looking for that one all-around, carbon disc wheelset that performs well across a wide range of terrain. It’s a fair bit of work to sort through all of those out there now because, along with the rapid growth of road disc bikes, there’s been a quick evolution of carbon wheels for those bikes.

The latest generation of all-around carbon road disc wheels are faster, more comfortable, and do more things well on a wider range of terrain than the best rim brake wheels and many of the earlier disc brake ones ever did.

In this post, I’ll take you through the rapid evolution of road disc wheelsets, give you my ratings and reviews of models from 10 leading wheelset makers against the criteria that matter most when choosing one, and recommend the Best Performer wheelsets.

Related: The Best Aero Bike Wheels

Related: The Best Lightweight Wheels for Climbing 

Related: How To Choose The Right Wheels For You

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BEST PERFORMER – ZIPP 454 NSW

Zipp 454 NSW Carbon Disc Wheelset

If you don’t want to pick between wheels that would be fast on flats vs. on rolling hills vs. on climbs or in a training ride vs. a group ride, road race, or crit, I recommend the latest Zipp 454 NSW Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset. It will be fast on all those and the fastest around on many of them.

At US$4000/£3200/3600, it better be.

It’s a stiff, deep (54.5 to 58.5mm), and light (1378 grams) wheelset. Those three attributes along with the 454 NSW’s quick engaging rear hub make it so responsive that it redefines the term “snappy.”

It’s available using these links to Competitive CyclistTweeksTredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ10) stores I recommended and rate highly for their prices, customer satisfaction, and support.

Read my full review here.

BEST PERFORMER – ENVE SES 4.5 AR DISC

ENVE Carbon Disc Wheelset

The ENVE SES 4.5 AR excels on nearly as many performance criteria as the Zipp 454 NSW but costs a lot less if you are paying in US Dollars.

It’s also a better bet if you also want one wheelset for both paved roads and those long flat and rolling gravel ones.

It’s available using these links to Competitive Cyclist and JensonUSA.

Read my full review here.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON DISC WHEELSETS

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

Carbon disc wheelsets are now in their 4th generation

A handful of performance criteria matter most when choosing between different wheelsets

Compare wheelset performance ratings, prices, and specs

Why I may not have included wheelsets you’ve heard about in this review

 

CARBON DISC WHEELSET DEVELOPMENTS

We’re now seeing a 4th generation of the evolution of carbon disc wheelsets. What started as modifications of rim brake wheels is becoming the only new carbon wheelset choice you have.

While it’s still early in this latest generation and most carbon disc wheelsets available to us enthusiasts are 3rd generation ones, the 4th generation of wider, lighter, tubeless-only, and hookless rims are upon us.

Many of the latest generation wheelsets will also be less expensive than those from the prior generation and thanks to new standards, will be easier to install tires on though will still not be as easy as clinchers.

Carbon Disc Wheelset Evolution 2014-2022

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 disc bikes are different than those we rode just a few years ago on our rim brake bikes.

In fact, many of the leading wheelset companies have stopped selling carbon rim brake wheels and all development time and money is spent on disc brake wheels. That’s why I’ve called the 4th generation “All In On Disc Brake Wheels.”

These changes have made the all-around, carbon disc wheelset faster, more comfortable, more durable, and more versatile than all-around, rim brake wheels ever were 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 road disc 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.

FasterWider rims mean you can run some 28C tires to gain more comfort without incurring additional drag. Wider tires also reduce “impedance” losses or energy that saps your body from the road vibrations that come with a narrower tire that you need to run at a higher inflation pressure to maintain the same opposing force as a wider one. (See my post on tubeless tires for more on this.)

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. Using 28mm tires on these wheels will reduce the aero gains you pay for when buying mid-depth, all-around carbon disc wheels.

More Comfortable – Going tubeless allows you to run your wider tires at lower pressures without pinch flat concerns. Lower pressures make for a more comfortable ride and fewer impedance losses.

More Durable – The best carbon rim brake wheels use resins with high melting points to make it much harder for riders to warp them when they apply or 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.

More Versatile – Because the latest generations of all-around, carbon disc wheels have gotten wider, more tubeless friendly, and more durable, you can comfortably ride them on gravel and cyclocross tracks with the appropriate tires. Those with 23mm or 25mm inside rim widths are as wide as dedicated gravel wheels. Doing this can save you having to buy another set of wheels to excel on dirt, grass, and gravel roads and trails.

A few words about tubeless tires. You’ll notice that tubeless tires are mentioned quite often in my description of developments and the benefits they bring.

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 minimally more added work they bring over standard clincher tires.

Lower prices, lower rolling resistance (equivalent or lower than the best clincher tires), the ability to run lower pressures, more comfort, and having nearly every puncture seal so far has made me look past many of my previous objections to tubeless.

While tubeless still requires a learning curve, I can now say the benefits they add to the right rims can outweigh the diminishing disadvantages and make it well worth getting up that curve if you want those benefits. My review of tubeless tires lays all of this out in more detail and gives you my recommendations of the best ones.

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, 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 all-arounds here.

Most of those are common with the ones I used for carbon 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 or less important depending on what kind of riding you do and what kind of bike you have.

Since the latest all-around carbon disc wheelsets are deeper than earlier ones, I’ve added crosswind performance as a criterion for this review.

And since these 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 carbon disc wheelsets than all-around rim brake ones.

Other criteria, like stiffness, are equally important whether you are talking all-around, climbing, or aero wheels.

Braking performance isn’t 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.

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 recommend a Best Performer (independent of price) but not a Best Value wheelset (considering performance and price) in this review. For less expensive carbon wheels which unfortunately do no perform as well, check out my review of value-carbon wheelsets here.

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 carbon disc wheelsets for road cycling enthusiasts.

 


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ALL-AROUND CARBON DISC WHEELSET COMPARATIVE RATINGS

Carbon disc wheels comparative ratings

Go directly to reviews:

Bontrager RSL 51 TLR

Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 Disc Brake

DT Swiss ERC 1100 DICUT 47

Easton EC90 SL Disc

ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc

HED Vanquish RC4 Pro

Industry Nine i9.45

Reynolds Aero 46 DB

Roval CLX 50 Disc

Zipp 454 NSW

REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Best Performer

ZIPP 454 NSW – FAST WHEELS ANYWHERE YOU RIDE

Zipp 454 NSW carbon disc wheels

If you don’t want to pick between wheels that would be fast on flats vs. on rolling hills vs. on climbs or in a training ride vs. a group ride, road race, or crit, get the latest Zipp 454 NSW Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset. It will be fast on all those and the fastest on many of them.

At US$4000/£3200/3600, it better be. But if top performance in a single wheelset in nearly every situation and against nearly every criterion is important to you, it just may be worth it.

That’s the conclusion that fellow testers Nate, Miles, and I reached after riding the Zipp 454 NSW.

At its core, it’s a stiff, deep, and light wheelset. Those three attributes along with the 454 NSW’s quick engaging rear hub make it so responsive that it redefines the term “snappy.”

Practically, the 454 NSW’s superior ability to accelerate made it an ideal partner for 20-30 second break-away efforts and sprint finishes. Except for on the steepest of slopes, Miles said this wheelset “made me faster on nearly any effort I tried”.

And Miles is already a fast dude, regularly winning P/1/2 masters crits, road, and stage races in the Northeast and finishing top 10 at US Nationals.

Even for me, a more average B group level roadie, the sensation of riding this highly responsive 454 NSW wheelset was energizing almost from the first pedal stroke. Once into my rides, I felt like I was having great legs every day I rode them.

Nate, our A group Bullet Train ride leader who rode the 454 NSW on a couple of those early morning hammerfests and out front of 100 and 140 mile one day rides with 8,000 to 10,000 feet of climbing initially resisted giving them up for others to test. Despite being a peace-loving guy, he paraphrased Charleton Heston’s line about prying them out of his “cold dead hands”.

Nate has been testing all sorts of wheels along with me for at least the last 5 years including the prior generation 454 NSW rim brake wheels. His feedback started with a most definitive statement.

These are the first wheels where I haven’t felt like I was making a tradeoff between aero and climbing performance.

I don’t know what they cost (I’ve trained him not to look at price or specs and just judge performance). I’m sure it will be high. But, I would put them in the category where it just MIGHT be worth paying $1,000 more for these than others which are ALMOST as good but not on all characteristics. (Nate’s capitalization.)

Unlike Nate’s experience with the earlier 454 NSW where that wheelset wobbled in crosswinds to the point where he slowed on each fast downhill section of a looping road race, he felt confident on similarly fast, windy descents riding this new 454 NSW.

Miles felt far less comfortable in some windy situations. When the breezes picked up to about 20 mph and came directly from the side, it felt like he was getting a slight body check and was pushed around far more than with any wheelset he’s ever ridden.

It may be that the 454 NSW’s sawtooth rim profile is best at reducing crosswinds at lesser yaw angles than what Miles experienced and perhaps more similar to those Nate did. For me, I always seem to be riding into headwinds no matter what course I’m on and it was no different riding the 454 NSW.

The only other slight knock we had on this wheelset was its ability to hold its momentum on the flats at speeds north of 25mph. While the 454 NSW rolled just fine at that speed, it felt like we needed a bit more effort to keep pace with the average aero wheelset that is often 5-10mm deeper and 200-300 grams heavier. It’s simply a matter of physics and a tradeoff the speediest of enthusiasts might want to keep in mind.

Zipp 454 NSW

When you aren’t on a breakaway, going over rolling terrain, heading up climbs, or sprinting for the line, you are likely doing a lot of handling. And the good news is that this is another area where the 454 NSW outperforms most wheelsets.

We experienced precise, confident, high-speed cornering. These wheels do exactly what you want them to do in big arc turns, 50+mph downhills, slower switchbacks, and even quick, last-second movements.

With the right tires and at the right pressures, the ride is also very comfortable no matter how good the pavement is. While many wheels are similarly compliant nowadays, some deeper wheels tend to give up comfort by using a narrower rim to keep weight down. You make no such trade-off with this wheelset.

Add to all of this a very smooth rolling hubset and almost silent, fast engaging freehub. That makes it even more tempting to start a breakaway and easier crank up a sprint.

The 454 NSW defies categorization. It’s the wheelset equivalent of a hors categorie climb, one that is beyond categorization.

Based on its 55 to 59 mm deep rims, you might think the Zipp 454 NSW is an aero wheelset. You wouldn’t be wrong. Judging from its 1388 gram weight, you might guess it climbs well. Indeed it does. Hookless, 23mm inside rim width will make for a very comfortable ride, right? Yes and perhaps worthy of riding gravel, though we didn’t test it off-road.

So is it an all-around wheelset? Yes, that may be the most encompassing definition though it is faster and better than any all-arounder we’ve tested on terrain that never exceeds 5-6% up or down and faster than many aero wheels on the flats and climbing wheels on steeper pitches.

Perhaps it’s best to call it an all-everything wheelset. Or just fast anywhere you want to ride.

You can buy the Zipp 454 NSW Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset at stores I recommend using these links to Competitive CyclistTweeksTredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ10), stores I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection on enthusiast-level cycling gear.


Best Performer

ENVE SES 4.5 AR DISC – PERFORMANCE AND VERSATILITY THAT’S HARD TO BEAT

ENVE 4.5 AR Disc

If versatility is one of the key measures of an all-around wheelset, ENVE’s SES 4.5 AR Disc is one of the most versatile of any road disc wheelset.

It does more things better than any of the other road wheels I’ve reviewed except for the US$4000 Zipp 454 NSW. At a market price starting at US$2550, £2700, €3000 depending on the hub choice, the ENVE 4.5 AR Disc also costs far less if you’re paying in US Dollars though about the same in Pounds or Euros.

It’s also a better bet than the Zipp 454 if you also want one wheelset for both paved roads and those long flat and rolling gravel ones.

This sets up the ever-present question we roadies face – is it worth paying more to get the best performing gear for the kind of riding I do?

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, gravel, dirt, or grass in addition to going 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, the 4.5AR carbon disc wheelset has a far greater internal width – often by a lot – than others in this category and at 50.2mm front, 55.2mm rear per my measurements, are as deep or deeper than all but the Zipp 454.

The 4.5AR’s performance does bear witness to those design factoids. It feels as fast or faster on flat, rolling, and descending terrain, as comfortable on the good roads, and more comfortable on rough roads and unpaved paths than any other carbon bike wheels I’ve evaluated.

It accelerates, climbs, handles, and deflects crosswinds on par with all but the best wheels in those categories that I’ve reviewed here. With the more than capable and relatively quiet ENVE alloy hubset, the 4.5 AR weighs 50 to 100 grams more than most of the others in this category but its superior stiffness feels like it is more than making up for that additional weight in transferring your power. You can also get it at a higher price with a Chris King R45 hubset if you prefer the freewheeling sound and faster-engaging freehub.

Yeah, the 4.5 AR’s width makes them stand out against other bikes when you are riding in a bunch or stopping for a break. And with their hookless rims, you only should plan to ride them tubeless either with sealant or inner tubes. This takes a bit more effort to initially set up but is the only way to go if you want to get all the benefits of these wheels. You’ll also want to check the chainstay and fork width clearance on your frame if you’ve got an older road disc 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 you do, the 4.5 AR stands alone and probably is a more price-competitive option vs. the cost of buying two wheelsets.

As I wrote just above, the ENVE 4.5 AR is “hookless” meaning the rims don’t have hooks on the inside to mate with the beads from your tubeless tires. When you run tires at lower pressures, as you should with these rims, you don’t need hooks to keep road tires in place. As some tubeless tires don’t work well with these hookless rims, ENVE publishes a list of tires they have approved and recommend and a few that are not compatible with hookless rims (including the Continental GP 5000 TL).

You can get the ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc at my top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist and JensonUSA.


BONTRAGER RSL 51 TLR – THE DEFINITION OF AN ALL-AROUND ROAD DISC WHEELSET

It’s easy to judge any wheelset by looking at what it does well, what it doesn’t, what it costs, and what it looks like. And, if you’re into design and engineering, add specs and tech into your evaluation.

I’ll get to much of that. But when it comes to the Bontrager RSL 51 TLR, let me start with the bottom line.

The RSL 51 is the definition of a modern all-around road disc wheelset.

This mid-depth Bontrager does most of the things road cycling enthusiasts like you and me should look for if we can only buy one wheelset. You can train with it at speed on a variety of terrain, enjoy friendly competition against your buds riding hard on group rides, and do long-distance events in comfort. It doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses.

Its glossy finish and branding look good without being loud, it has a strong warranty and dealer network, and it’s priced in the same ballpark as other, less well-rounded alternatives.

The RSL 51’s specs are all modern without offending anyone. It uses the updated model of the well-established DT Swiss 240 hubs (Ratchet EXP) and has rims that are wider than most all-arounds (23.2mm internal, 30.7mm external), as deep as most all-arounds go these days (51.1mm), and are hooked for riding with tubeless or clincher tires.

And at 1441 grams on my scale with taped rims rather than the weighty plastic rim strips installed, they are marginally lighter (about 20 to 120 grams) than most in this category.

No, the RSL 51 is not going to outperform a climbing wheelset going up alpine roads or aero wheels in crit race or the best gravel wheels riding off-road. For that, you’ll need all-around wheels with those strengths but other weaknesses or wheels designed uniquely for those types of events or terrain.

Bontrager RSL 51

The Aeolus RSL 51 on Nate’s Venge

But, for an all-around wheelset, my fellow testers Nate, Miles, and I found the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 51 TLR do climb quite well. Descending at high speeds is also a confident experience thanks to their excellent handling and unfazed reaction to side winds.

That good handling extends to flat roads where the RSL 51 tracked well through corners paired up with the 28c Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite and 25c Michelin Power Road tubeless tires we mounted on them.

Acceleration is another one of RSL 51’s strengths. Combined with their handling skills, this makes for a very responsive wheelset, important when keeping up with moves on a group ride and staying out of trouble in a paceline.

Despite their few mm of added depth, we didn’t find they were any faster or held their speed any better than other all-around wheels we’ve tested. And while they accelerate well and are stiff enough for mere enthusiast mortals like me, they aren’t the kind of max stiffness wheels you want for the kind of >1000 watt sprints you might do in a crit. Bontrager does make wheels for that but these aren’t them.

On long rides, the RSL 51 is quite comfortable and better than most in this category. The new DT240 Ratchet EXP hub is louder than its predecessor when freewheeling but not overly so and it’s a relatively low-frequency sound that I don’t find annoying.

At US$2400/£2000/€2400 the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 51 certainly isn’t cheap but is one of the better all-around wheelsets we’ve ridden. They are out of stock at Bontrager’s online store until supply chain issues get resolved but you may be able to find them or get on a waiting list at your local bike shop that carries Bontrager gear.


CAMPAGNOLO BORA WTO 33 DISC BRAKE – GREAT LOOKS AND ENGINEERING

It’s easy to see how one can fall in love with the Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 Disc Brake wheels.

Taking them out of the box created one of those rare moments when I say to myself, “Wow. These look special.”

The glossy black paint finish on the rims is stunning. It’s as high quality as any I’ve seen on a fine automobile. I couldn’t help but look down at them gleaming in the sun from time to time during my month of test rides.

Likewise, the hub shells, while aluminum, look finely fitted and coated. The freehubs (I ordered Campagnolo 12-speed, Shimano HG11, and SRAM XDR bodies to test with different groupsets) look like they were precision machined.

Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 Disc Brake

I seldom even comment on the aesthetics of wheelsets or any bicycle component let alone open a review with the kind of praise of a product’s looks that I just did. One’s view of beauty, fashion, style, and the like are all subjective and personal. Far be it for me to suggest that my subjective perception of these things is how you should see it.

But the Bora WTO wheels are unique. Like them are not, their extraordinary look sets them far apart from other road wheels.

If that’s where the story ended – skin-deep beauty and all of that –  this would be a rather shallow review.

Instead, what you see on the surface is an indication of the engineering that shows up in the Bora WTO 33 wheelset’s performance.

The pleasing-to-the-eyes hubs I commented on above roll silky smooth on the road. The freehubs sing a refined, even-tempered tune I can listen to for hours rather than the loud or harsh emissions of other hubs that shout to stand out or the uneven whomp, whomp of those that don’t sound as well made.

I sensed these wheels would roll better than most after putting my thru-axles into the hubs. They don’t slap in as with every other wheelset I’ve attached to a frame. Instead, they slide in with a little resistance and tighten up only with the proper alignment of axle and frame that suggests tighter tolerances than most wheels.

Once installed, they spin in the stand seemingly forever or, in reality, for enough time for me to grab something from my workbench and come back to the stand and see them still turning.

The Bora WTO 33 disc brake wheels are also sufficiently though not overly stiff. Whether doing a 20-minute climb up an average 7% grade or 20-minute tempo intervals punctuated by sprint bursts every few minutes, the wheels didn’t flinch even though my legs wanted to.

Going downhill and handling at speed feels confident both on the Vittoria Corsa G+ 2.0 and Continental Grand Prix 5000 tubeless tires I paired with these Campagnolos. At recommended tire pressures, they feel comfortable but not overly plush.

Despite their 33mm low-profile depth, the Bora WTO 33 rides more like a smooth-rolling all-around wheelset that isn’t affected by crosswinds than a highly responsive, fast accelerating wheelset to take on your next alpine climbing vacation. Its 1512 gram measured weight (including pre-installed rim strips but not tubeless valves) is also in line with today’s all-around road disc wheelsets.

If the Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 Disc Brake’s combination of looks, engineering, and performance suits you, order them using these links to the wheelset’s page at Competitive Cyclist and Chain Reaction Cycles, stores I recommend for their combination of low prices and high customer satisfaction ratings on a broad selection of enthusiast-level cycling gear.


DT SWISS ERC 1100 DICUT 47 – PREDICTABLY GOOD PERFORMANCE 

(DT Swiss will replace the DICUT 47 with the new ERC 1100 and 1400 DICUT 45 introduced in November 2021. We will review them when they become available.)

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 own branded models of 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 other companies making high-performance wheels.

DT Swiss Carbon Disc WheelsetPerhaps realizing this deficiency, DT Swiss has gotten aero design and testing help for the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 and other new DT Swiss brand wheel 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 aero 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, 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 in the 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. They just don’t go uphill as well as other 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 25c tubeless wheels with its19C inside width dimension. 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. Very Swiss.

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 carbon disc wheelset they aspire to be, you can often find the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 at a far more competitive market price by clicking through to my recommended store Tredz (10% discount with code ITKTDZ10) and others at Know’s Shop. DT Swiss introduced a new model of this wheelset in Fall 2021 that we plan to review in Spring 2022.


EASTON EC90 SL DISC SOLID AT A GOOD PRICE 

Easton’s EC90 SL wheelsets have been through several iterations over the years. The rims have gotten wider, the hubs have improved, and tubeless and disc brake models have been added to the clincher and rim brake ones.

I’ve ridden several of these models and, as with the current EC90 SL disc wheelset that is the subject of this review, usually come away with the same conclusion – this is a solid wheelset and better than the last version.

“Solid” modifies several of the performance characteristics of the EC90SL disc wheelset. Overall, I always felt solidly planted riding these wheels. No surprises or conditions I need to worry about or make up for.

Easton Vault hub

The latest Easton, centerlock Vault hubs roll smoothly and coast with a rich (versus tiny or variable) freehub sound. The rear is a solid-looking thing with a hub shell shaped like the bottom 2/3rds of a nose cone as it increases in diameter toward the far larger drive-side flange.

There are a lot of specs – weight, pawls, teeth, engagement angel, etc. – that go with the hub description but what matters most is the noticeably quick acceleration it all produces.

I mention the hubs early in this review as I found they are what gives the EC90 SL disc its personality and allows the rest of the wheelset performance to be… solid, if not particularly distinctive.

It’s not an overly stiff or plush wheelset yet neither is it noodly or harsh. Crosswinds and wind gusts don’t affect your ride or line a bit, better than most in the all-around category.

I rode the EC90 SLs with 25mm Zipp Tangente road tubeless tires that together handled well through all the cornering and maneuvering I threw at it. Continental Grand Prix 5000 TL tires wouldn’t fit on these rims, a problem I’ve had putting those tires on other wheelsets as well.

While there are a lot of enthusiasts using 28mm tires on road wheels these days to get better comfort and handling, I’d recommend against that with these wheels if speed is a priority for you. Even the narrowest 28mm tire I tested measured only slightly narrower than the 28mm EC90 SL rims when mounted and most are wider.

This will put a big dent into the wheelset’s aero performance that is at best on par with the average hoops in this review of mid-depth wheels. And as mentioned earlier, the handling with 25C tires inflated properly is very good.

At a market price of $1900 in the US from Planet Cyclery and direct from Easton, the EC90 SL disc is one of the less expensive wheelsets in the all-around road disc category. Outside North America, it’s harder to find and more expensive than most.

While it clearly performs a step above wheels in the increasingly popular $1000-$1500 value carbon category, it might be time for some further updates to move it from solid to standout.


HED VANQUISH RC4 PRO – STIFF, VERSATILE YET NEEDING A BIT MORE CARE 

It would be an understatement to say HED Cycling took a while to offer an all-carbon clincher wheelset. One of the first to sell wheels using toroid-shaped, deep-section rims to gain an aero advantage over 10 years ago, the company had only used their patented design for tubular or carbon-alloy wheelsets.

That has now changed with the introduction of the disc-brake-only HED Vanquish carbon clincher wheelsets. By not making these in a rim brake version, HED effectively avoided the engineering challenges other carbon wheelset makers went through to prevent overheating, delamination, or blowouts from the heat created by rim braking.

My fellow tester Miles, a successful P/1/2 racer who wins a lot, and I, a B-group rider who watches a lot of races on TV, evaluated the HED Vanquish 4, the 40mm deep all-around and shallowest of the new line which also includes 60 and 80mm deep models

HED Vanquish 4 Disc Wheelset RearThere’s a lot to like about the Vanquish 4. This is a highly competitive road disc wheelset for the company’s first all-carbon clincher offering.

At the same time, there are a few things still lacking and that might not appeal to the less competitive, less handy rider that makes me think HED would have benefitted from getting carbon clincher experience a bit sooner.

Above all, the Vanquish 4 is a supremely stiff wheelset. This provides a big advantage when initiating or responding to acceleration on the flats, charging uphill, and sprinting out of corners.

Miles felt a ton of confidence going hard into corners and the post-corner sprint stiffness was inspiring. In a full-out straightaway sprint, he found nothing lost in his forward progress toward the line.

The Vanquish 4 are relatively light wheels too. The pair we tested weighed 1466 grams without tape or valve stems, about 50 grams less than what HED claims. That made them one of the lightest and another one of the stiffest wheelsets in this category.

While you probably want rims deeper than these 40.3mm ones for maximum aero performance or a flat criterium, a race whose last kilometer has a 3-6% kicker into the finish would be ideal for these HEDs.

If like me, you aren’t a racer, all that good stiffness and handling and climbing are still the things you want and that I enjoyed in this wheelset. And if you branch out to do some mixed surface, gravel or cyclocross riding, the Vanquish 4 offers a lot of versatility as you can run 25C, 28C or wider tires with good sidewall support on these rims which measure 21.3mm internal width.

For best aero performance, you’ll want to run 25C tires. HED’s aero tests with the benchmark Conti GP4K SII show the 25C performs better than the 28C version of the same model tire. My measurements show the Conti GP5K TL measures 27.0mm at 80psi or a millimeter narrower than the actual 28.0mm external rim width at the tire/rim intersection and 29.0mm max. My benchmark 25C Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless (RT25) comes in at 26.0mm at 80psi and the 28C at 29.0mm at 70psi.

Crosswinds within reason didn’t bother these HEDs even though they have more of a V-shaped spoke-edge rim profile than most of the U-shaped ones of current carbon hoops.

Miles and I had a slightly different impression of the Vanquish 4’s comfort. At 60-65psi with 25C tires, I found them to be in the middle of the range of the all-around carbon road disc wheels I’ve tested for this review. They didn’t seem a whole lot more comfortable at 50psi using 28C tires either. I found others including the ENVE 4.5 AR more comfortable.

Ever the hardman, Miles found them very comfortable at 70-75psi over rougher roads even though we weigh pretty much the same.

We did agree that the hubs rolled smoothly and the freehub audibly lets you know when it is coasting. It’s not anywhere near as loud as a Chris King, i9, or even Mavic hubs. While I prefer a quieter DT240 or silent Zipp Cognition hub, I didn’t mind the HED freewheel Sonic signature, a slightly higher pitched, higher quality sound.

Miles dug it.

Perhaps we’ve become spoiled with so many hubs not giving you pre-load adjustment options like these HED hubs do. The rear axle loosened and tripped up Miles when he swapped cassettes requiring readjustment to get it back into his frame. I had a similar issue with somehow changing the front preload and needing to readjust to get the rotor and caliper realigned. We’re both amateur wrenches and can deal with these things. I think this would frustrate most enthusiasts who may be a little less experienced.

We also agreed that the wheels’ tubeless setup wasn’t great. While both of us have a lot of experience with tubeless tires and rims, our experience with the Vanquish 4 suggests HED is behind the tubeless wheelset leaders.

First, HED doesn’t provide tubeless valves with these wheels. While that’s not unheard of, it is unusual these days and seems like a mistake considering you want to make things easy for your customers, especially considering all the variables in setting up tubeless wheels.

Second, for the wheels we tested, HED sent a rubberized sleeve or grommet that you put the valve into and then need to put in the rim’s valve hole. There’s very little tolerance for getting that sleeve in if you don’t cut out all the tape surrounding the valve hole.

If you wrap your rims twice with tape as I did with these wheels, there’s no chance of getting the grommet in unless you have a very sharp, small knife and remove all the tape covering the hole after the first pass and then again after the second. Using a valve I had in my workshop that already had a wide rubber bottom, I didn’t see the value of the grommet, couldn’t get it in deep enough for the tire bead to easily clear, and put them aside.

Why the need for the grommet? Well as Miles and I learned, without it, the valve will come through the rim bed if, or in our cases when, the tire pressure exceeds about 80psi for any length of time. It happened to Miles when he had his bike on the top of the car in the sunlight. My bike was inside the car on a hot day when the valve came through.

I went back, retaped with more attention to clearing the hole and getting the grommet in place. With that done, no problemo. Further, HED says they’ve changed the layup so that the grommet is not needed and no longer shipped with new Vanquish wheels.

The tubeless tires we used required a compressor for the tire beads to lock out in the bead channels. We also needed to put sealant in the tires for them to hold air for any length of time. For 28C tires, the one-shot canister Joe Blow type pump didn’t offer sustained enough pressure to lock out the beads.

Noting that Miles and I each had difficulty (and made a bit of a mess) trying 3 different tires, I’m led to believe that an easier mating bead hook would improve the tubeless setup experience. Or, you could turn this over to your local wrench to take care of it.

With the tubeless setup out of the way, the Vanquish 4’s performance will hopefully put it out of your mind. It’s available at HED dealers and online using this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores.

HED has recently renamed the wheelset the Vanquish RC4 to reinforce that it is a Road Carbon wheelset. They are also selling the one reviewed above as the Vanquish RC4 Pro and a model with a lower spec hubset called the Vanquish RC4 Performance that sells for $1,000 less. It’s also available at the store link just above.


INDUSTRY NINE i9.45 – A DISTINCTIVE WHEELSET WITH RACE-LEVEL PERFORMANCE

I’ve always thought about Industry Nine as a hub company with its high POE (points of engagement) and brightly colored hubs garnering all the attention.

Turns out, “i9” also sells all-around, aero, and climbing carbon road disc wheels amongst a broader wheelset line.

The i9.45 road disc wheelset reviewed here is a collaboration between i9 and the rim and wheelset maker Reynolds. After evaluating them, it’s clear this 45mm deep all-around wheelset stands out in a number of important ways and has me now thinking about Industry Nine as both a hub and wheelset provider.

When I took it out of the box, I didn’t quite know what to think. The hubs and spoke nipples on my test set are purple, one of 9 distinct colors you can order in addition to black and silver. The labels are full rim height, stick-on ones with i9’s large, hub-inspired logos attached.

The rims themselves look like they are 2nd generation, converted rim-brake hoops with a hybrid-toroid profile whose curvature abruptly stopped in time for an unfinished brake track. Yet they are 3rd generation width (21mm internal, 28mm external) and tubeless-ready.

i9.45 carbon disc wheelsetI wondered if I was about to test a wheelset designed by a committee, the kind that melds the voices of past successes, exciting new ideas, and compromises needed to meet management’s cost and schedule targets.

It’s a good thing I don’t bias my reviews on initial impressions or how a product looks. While this wheelset doesn’t align with my aesthetic preferences, every cycling enthusiast has their own perception of what looks good to them.

On the road, the i9.45s are full-throttle, road race wheels. They are stiff, snappy, and responsive, great on a rolling course and one with a lot of climbing.

While the POE isn’t something most enthusiasts will notice or should care about, the Torch’s 60 POE (or 3 degrees between engagement points) is 2x or more than most hubs, something you do notice if you are doing any kind of competitive riding. Fellow In The Know Cycling tester and USAC Nationals Masters racer Miles felt near-instant engagement when sprinting out of corners or off lead-out wheels when he competed on the i9.45s.

A distinctive sound comes from that hub, louder than most but similar in volume to Chris King and Mavic hubs. Here are videos comparing the Chris King and i9 Torch and another comparing the Mavic 360 and DT Swiss. These hubs or their internals are used in many of the best road disc wheels.

The Torch hubs ride buttery smooth both in the front and rear. They make the wheels roll about as well as any Miles and I have ever ridden on the road.

Smooth-rolling doesn’t equate to ride comfort though. The later is a function of your tire width and pressure and the compliance available in the integration of the wheel’s rims, spokes, and hubs. While your tire choices can improve comfort, your wheels are usually what limits it.

While not uncomfortable and despite trying different tires at different widths and pressures, we didn’t find the i9.45 to be as comfortable as others in this all-around road disc wheelset category.

i9.45 carbon disc wheelset

If you are a racer or enjoy the competition of group rides, lateral stiffness matters more to you than compliance, aka comfort. And, the i9.45 has lateral stiffness in spades.

That stiffness along with the rear hub engagement make these wheels very responsive, fast to accelerate, and good on climbs. They also handle precisely and confidently, helping to keep you on your line going through a turn.

You can pick these wheels up, while supporting In The Know Cycling reviews, through this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores.


REYNOLDS BLACKLABEL AERO 46 DB – FAST, STIFF WHEELS BEST FOR ROAD RACERS WHO WANT TO BE HEARD

If you are afraid of heights, people tell you “don’t look down”.

If being on trend is important to you, I’ll give you the same advice when it comes to the Reynolds Aero 46 DB carbon disc wheelset.

However, if road speed unperturbed by crosswinds is more important, just look forward, pedal and smile.

Reynolds has stuck with a classic, V-nose design for the spoke edge of these wheels and added a somewhat toroid-shaped rim profile heading to the other edge where the rim meets the tire for the 46, 65, and 80mm deep disc and rim brake wheels in its Aero line. This, when it seems like the world of carbon bike wheels have gone to blunt nose, U-shaped rim profiles.

For me, Reynolds’ design definitely works to produce and maintain my speed. While I did find myself looking down riding these wheels, it was to see my speed and power output rather than the rim profile. With the Aero 46 DB it felt like I was riding faster than normal in the same power ranges I normally ride.

My experience is, of course, anecdotal rather than scientific. Interestingly, I came across the wind tunnel chart below of tests done by DT Swiss.  It compares the aero drag of their ERC 1100 Dicut DB wheels, designed by the Formula One aero engineers of SwissSide they regularly tout, against Reynolds Aero 46 (blue line) and Zipp 303 Firecrest (grey line) wheelsets.

About 80% of our road riding is done when the wind is coming from a 0 to 10-degree angle (or “yaw”) and 50% is done between 0 and 5 degrees based on field testing done by Flo Cycling.Aero Drag chart comparing different carbon disc wheelsets

Unfortunately, DT Swiss didn’t specify whether the Reynolds or Zipp wheels are rim or disc brake or current or older models. It is kind of important as Reynolds only makes the Aero 46 in a disc brake version now and the current Aero 46 DB (introduced in 2017, the same year as the ERC 1100 Dicut DB wheels) are wider and likely more aero than the 2016 Aero 46 DB and rim brake versions.

Based on when the DT Swiss wheels were being designed and wind tunnel tested, my guess is that they are benchmarking the ERC 1100 against older models of the Reynolds and Firecrest rim brake wheels.

Regardless, it’s interesting to see the Reynolds Aero 46 held up as a benchmark in the same way the Firecrest has for years (but no longer should be as the NSW has surpassed it).

The second aero consideration is how well a deeper wheel does in managing side or crosswinds. Much of the reason for the move to the blunt nose design was to… uh… blunt those crosswinds and keep riders from having to steer against the wind and constantly modify their line or get blown off the road.

Reynolds Aero 46 DB carbon disc wheelset

The Aero 46 DB next to Zipp’s 303 NSW disc brake wheel

Well, that design clearly works. Wheels like the blunt nose Zipp NSWs in road disc and rim brake versions at various depths are better than the old Firecrest used to be.

But, my experience with the Aero 46 DB found them as good in crosswinds as the NSW despite a very different design. I rode 100 miles and 10,000 feet on the Reynolds wheelset in the Vermont mountains on a horrible rainy day with swirling winds coming at me from seemingly every direction and often when I was crawling up steep passes or “gaps” as they call them up there. Weighing a mere 150lbs/68kg, I notice crosswinds as much as anyone.

My mind and body were truly miserable in the rain and wind of this ride but the Aero 46 DB wheels were totally unphased by either.

That reminded me of what I often remind you: focus on performance rather than the specs or design hype (though Reynolds does hype their rim profile as crosswind beaters).

On to other performance considerations…

The stiffness and rolling smoothness of this wheelset is good though not without a few characteristics I don’t care for.

Both in and out of the saddle I find these Reynolds wheels plenty stiff. After many rides, the wheels remain true and I’ve found the spokes are all still tensioned. But when I crank out big watts (for me) going up steep hills, I occasionally hear the spokes ping.

I’ve flexed the spokes by hand and heard the pings but can’t tell whether they are coming from the ends of these straight-pull spokes in the flanges or rims, from rubbing against each other in the cross pattern, or from rubbing against the inside edge of the rim where the spoke passes through to reach the internal nipples. My guess is that it is the latter.

Whatever it is, it is a little disconcerting to hear these pings when you are cranking it out going uphill even though, as mentioned, the wheels ride stiff and have remained true.

They also ride very smoothly on the Torch hub internals supplied by Industry Nine. That said, much like the Chris King hubs, the i9s make a distinctive, loud freehub noise. Zing zing zing zing.

While I know it is popular with some, I personally don’t care for freehub zinging. You attract attention coasting down a road and you can annoy or even anger someone pulling their legs off in front of you to hear you freewheeling behind them. Sometimes it’s an invitation to pull enough to drop you and your coasting, wheel-sucking noise.

While my personal bias against occasional spoke and freehub noise doesn’t affect these otherwise stiff and smooth-rolling wheels, I found the compliance or comfort of the 46 Aero DB to be their weak link.

I ran this road disc wheelset tubeless with both 25C and 28C Zipp Tangente Speed RT and Schwalbe Pro One tires trying to find the best combination of comfort, speed, and handling. No matter, I couldn’t get beyond average compliance with any of these.

As the chart above and others like it show, wider tires increase aero drag. On the flip side, wider tires reduce rolling resistance, can improve handling, and allow you to ride at lower pressures to improve comfort.

So there are tradeoffs and you have to consider and tire choice decisions based on what you prioritize among those trade-offs.

For example, when you start riding at aero speeds (18-20 mph/29-32kph and up), the reduction in aero drag of a narrower tire far outweighs the increase in rolling resistance. Don’t ride that fast and care about comfort more than anything? Put on wider tires because your rolling resistance will be lower, comfort will be greater and you won’t be going fast enough to affect your aero performance.

Assuming, though, that you are looking to ride at aero speeds on these aptly named Reynolds Aero 46 DB wheelset (and the other wheelsets in this carbon disc wheelset category), know that only 25C tubeless tires measure narrower than the 28.2mm wide rims at the “brake track” that have a 28.6mm max width. The Zipp Tangente Speed tires measure 25.8 mm wide and Schwalbe Pro One measures 27.5 mm, both at 80 psi, the max pressure you’d want to run tubeless tires on 19C rims even if you weigh 200lbs/80kg. 28C tires measure wider than the outside width of the rims.

I didn’t measure them with tubed clincher tires. From my experience with other 19C rims, the benchmark 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II at 100psi measures very similarly to the Schwalbe Pro One at 80psi. Both measure wider than other popular tubeless and tubed clinchers.

With the 25C Zipp Tangente Speed road tubeless inflated to 65-70 psi where I run my tubeless tires on wheels with this one inside width, the Aero 46 DB wasn’t comfortable. Tolerable, yes. Comfortable no. If I were racing, I’d go with these tires both for their width on these wheels but also because they handle beautifully. You can read about other tire options in my review of tubeless tires.

You can order these wheels through these links to Chain Reaction Cycles and Wiggle.


ROVAL CLX 50 – ANOTHER GOOD CARBON DISC WHEELSET OPTION THOUGH AT A HIGHER PRICE THAN MOST 

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 carbon 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 couple of years 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.

Roval CL 50 Carbon Disc WheelsetInterestingly, 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 the 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 their actual weight all come in somewhere between 1440 and 1460 grams.]

The Roval CLX 50 has a modern aerodynamic profile and maintains your momentum well. It’s what you should expect from 50mm deep wheels that will set you back US$2400, £1870, €2200 as these will. 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 you around. A light steady touch on the tiller will keep them on course.

They also accelerate and climb better than most. Their light weight, good depth, and sufficient stiffness makes for a great combination leading into and going up hills.

The CLX 50 wheelset is also compliant and handles 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.

Click on these links to Competitive Cyclist, JensonUSA, and Know’s Shop to buy the CLX 50 wheels online at stores I recommend because of their superior price, selection and customer satisfaction ratings.

 

WHY I MAY NOT HAVE INCLUDED WHEELSETS YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT

Carbon disc wheelsets are a fast-growing and fast-changing category of cycling gear. The generation chart displayed near the top of this review shows how much has changed in the last few years.

In this post, you’ve got the latest, best, all-around depth, carbon disc wheelsets available widely to consider in this category. Several others are sold in low volumes or supported only within a limited geographic region or both.

There are several wheelsets whose depth might suggest they might fit in the all-around category. This includes the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc and SES 3.4 AR Disc, the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 Disc, and the Zipp Firecrest 303 Disc and 353 NSW. From our testing, you can certainly use them as all-arounders but they aren’t as fast on the flats and rollers as those in this review and are better as dedicated lightweight, climbing wheels. You can see my reviews of them here.

There are a growing number of deeper, mid-depth aero (55mm to 65mm) carbon disc wheelsets you can read about here. While specializing in high-speed riding, few approach the versatility of all-around road disc wheelsets reviewed here.

*      *      *      *      *

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.

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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve

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First published on September 23, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.

333 comments

  • Hi Just read another article https://www.velonews.com/gear/what-is-the-fastest-bicycle-tubeless-wheel-and-tire-setup/

    It seems that as you have found out in the real world, Tubeless and hookless rims are best. Thats also what Enve say, and their hooked rims are just older models that will be updated.

    Tubeless is heavier, but it seems the rolling and aero benefits on hookless rims out weigh the weight, as you said.

    So its Enve for me, with the lightest, lowest rolling resistance tyres I can find and 30ml of sealant.

    🙂

  • Great read and very helpful in what is a minefield of what to get!

    I’m after a a good general purpose disc wheelset for road (aero) and climbing.
    Last weekend I was pretty sure Zipp 303 NSW were my dream wheels, but a week on I’m now confused with Zipp!!
    My issues;
    1 – This week they launched their new wheelset 303 Firecrest and website, but disc version of 303 NSW no longer appears on website only rim…..is disc discontinued?
    2 – 303 Firecrest on specs seems lighter, is disc suitable, so would this be better than NSW or now only option?…..but being only 40 deep obviously not so aero, and lightness is one major factor to climbing ability, but so is stiffness, which again based on your report NSW was!
    3 – would you consider new 303 Firecrest more suited to gravel, whereas NSW better for road?
    4 – finally, other reason for new wheels is to go tubeless. New 303 Firecrest being straight wall and no hook are apparently easy to fit tyres ie. compressor not needed and track pump ok. So would this make the Firecrest a better choice over NSW?
    As you can see now really confused with Zipp choices and so welcome any guidance you can provide – many thx

    • AP,
      1 – Yes, Zipp will discontinue the Zipp 303 NSW disc at the end of June. You may still be able to find some in inventory at stores I recommend and link to in the review above.
      2 – If you want to buy Zipp mid-depth road disc wheels, the 303 Firecrest and 303 S introduced a few weeks before are your only options. The 303 Firecrest weight, stiffness, aero, and other performance factors are only claimed at this point. I’ve not reviewed them and haven’t seen any actual posts from reviewers I trust that have ridden them enough to provide independent feedback on their actual performance. I have ridden the 303 S a handful of times but am not ready to comment on their performance yet. Mid-June review target.
      3 – Yes, at least as far as the I can tell from the specs of the new Firecrest though Zipp says it is better suited than the NSW for both. Only real performance testing will tell
      4 – No, in my experience, being hookless doesn’t make tires easier (or harder) to fit (mount, inflate, seal, dismount) or enable you to fit with only a track pump. Tire choice, tire – rim compatibility, the experience of the fitter are what matters.
      I’m writing a post now about the questions and implications surrounding the Zipp announcements which will amplify my answers to your questions and related ones I’m getting from others. Steve

      • Many thx for your replies which has helped clarify a few things and look forward to your pending Zipp article concerning their announcement.
        If thought is Firecrest is way forward, at least from Zipp, with ‘improvements’ over NSW, it would seem that’s the way to go, plus it’s cheaper, but feel I will wait now for an independent review, as in my head how can a 40 deep wheel have improved aero/speed retention than a deeper wheel?
        ……but guess they wouldn’t have stopped NSW production if performance was better?!…….but did not your article which suggested NSW was a pig to fit some tyres!

  • Many Thanks for your help Steve. I now have bought some Enve 3.4 SES with hooked rims! I actually bought some Foundation 45 too, but decided against them after my tyre options being so limited.

    My 3.4 SES weigh 1449g – Inc Rim Tape (Ally Freehub)
    The Foundation 45 weigh 1651g Inc Rim Tape ( I suspect much of the weight is in the steel freehub)

    The lightest & Fastest everyday Tyre setup for each is;

    Contis 5k (215g) & Tubo s tube (23g) = approx 480g in 25c
    Schwalbe Pro One TLE (260g) & 30ml Sealant & Valve (11g) = approx 602g

    At 80psi, they roll at conti 12.1w and Schwalbe 12.5w. Conti Tubeless are faster but heavier and not approved for the Enve Foundation 45. The schwalbe is the lightest fastest tyre approved for use.

    So all in the 3.4’s are around 320g lighter with tyres set up, than the Enve Foundation 45, they can use any tubed or tubeless tyre, but are, even according to Enve, slightly less aero.

    They do look lovely though, but cost quite a bit more.

  • Ps. I have conti race 28 light tubes in at the moment at 75g each, so only 200g lighter than the tubeless 45’s, but I needed some new tubes and the tubolito S, is only £20 extra a pair, so I thought I would try them. I might regret it, as there seems to be very mixed reviews.

    I noticed the man (Wolfgang Arenz) who developed many of the top performing tyres, for conti, schwalbe and specialized, and now has his own brand, wokfpack, also sells a similar tube tube to the tubolito.

    This is what he says,

    “Ultra Lightweight TPU inner tube

    Just 25g, this tube reduces the rolling resistance in a
    Wolfpack Tyre by 8 watts compared to a 100g Butyl Tube.

    Tested and re-tested on the track using both our cotton and race
    tyre.

    The cotton tyre coupled with this lightweight tube created a
    lower rolling resistance than is possible with even a tubeless set up”.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the great review and information! I have a set of ENVE 4.5 ARs and just love the wheels. I am building up a Cervelo R5 Disc which has tire clearance for 30mm tires but unfortunately the 28mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless (2019 version) I currently have mounted on the ENVEs measure out at 31.5mm. I heard the 2020 Schwalbe Pro One’s are slightly narrower (truer to advertised) but was wondering if you have any advice on tires that fit closer to their 28mm measurement despite the 25mm internal width?

    Thanks!
    Ryan

    • Ryan, the new 28mm Schwalbe measure 29.0mm at 60psi on the 25mm internal width 3.4 AR wheels I recently reviewed. You can see the review of the tires and the best places to get them here: https://intheknowcycling.com/tubeless-bike-tires/#Prices. That said, the outside width of the 4.5 AR rims measure 31.2mm front and 30.7 rear so if you truly have only 30mm of room, I wouldn’t put those in the Cervelo. You typically want to allow 3-4mm either side of the rim or tire width (whichever is wider) to allow for deflection. I’d check with Cervelo to see how big the opening actually is in the chainstays, seat stays, and front fork for your wheels. Their suggestion of 30mm tires may already account for typical tire overage and deflection and the actual opening may be wide enough. Steve

      • Hi Steve! Thanks for the quick reply and all of your great information – definitely one of my favourite resources for bike information on the web. My Cervelo R5 is rated for tires up to 30mm factoring in a minimum of 4mm clearance on all sides. I broke out the callipers last night and the tightest point on the frame are the chain stays at 39mm. It looked a little tight with the 2019 Schwalbe’s when they would balloon out to nearly 32mm but the new Schwalbe’s with a measured width of 29.0mm should be perfect leaving lots of room. Thanks again for all of your hard work and insight!

        • Cool. Enjoy.

          • Hi steve, further questions about enve SES 4.5 AR. And im about to build a 2020 sworks tarmac sl6 disc.

            you measured the 4.5 AR outside width is 31.2 mm. And with 28mm tire, it will balloon up to 32mm. Then, I read on the specialized web that tarmac sl6’s tire clearance is up to 30 mm. So, the 4.5 AR won’t fit into the tarmac?

  • Hello Steve!
    Thank you so much for your in depth reviews and expertise! I am placing a pre-order for the Tarmac SL7 this week and I am hoping to create my dream build. As a rider, I live in the Mountains here in Utah. I love to train in the mountains and typically don’t ride my road bike unless I head out to climb in the canyons. The closest canyon is 11 miles and 3000 feet (5% grade) and the steepest canyon I occasionally climb is 8 miles 3000 feet (7%) grade. There is a healthy strava culture here and at 42 years old I can still compete 🙂 My weight is typically 80-82 kg and my FTP is around 320 watts. The wheels I’m looking at are ENVE 3.4 Disc, ENVE 3.4 AR Disc OR ENVE 4.5 AR Disc. What do you suggest? So many choices!!!
    Thank you so much for your thoughts!
    Paul

    • Paul, Take a look here for my reviews of the 3.4 and 3.4 AR. https://intheknowcycling.com/best-climbing-wheels/#Disc. If you’re not also riding gravel or planning to, I’d probably go with the 3.4 disc. Steve

      • Perfect!! I poured over both your reviews repeatedly!! It seems Nate, your climber—albeit lighter and stronger than me—didn’t love the AR version as much as the disc. Good to know!! I think that was my main question was when it came to AR vs disc. You would pick disc!! Okay!! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer!! ??. In the back of my mind, I had wondered if I was mostly climbing 5% grades if the 4.5 AR would give a bit more aero advantage overall, but I think since I spend so much time climbing it just makes sense to go with the 3.4!!! Thanks again!!

  • Hi,

    I wonder if you have ridden Enve 45 (foundation series)? and how it compare with the original SES? And also, one of my wheelbuilder don’t reccomend ENVE due to theie super raw build quality. any comment regarding this?

    • Tommy, Hope to test those later this year. Don’t know what your wheel builder is referring to. Steve

      • So basically he mentioned about the finishing of the rim and this is what he said when I was texting him:

        “They cut a big hole to extract the air pressure bladder used during the molding process. And patch the piece back later with glue”

        He also mention it could be affecting the structural strength of the rim itself.

        Never saw Enve rim in real life, but they’re on my list so, I’m trying to gather as much as information.

        Thank you

  • Hi Steve,

    Great site and reviews – hard to find a resource like this online.

    I’m upgrading from rim to disc now (Tarmac) and from 303 NSW rim (the 1st gen ones with 17.25mm inner width) to a yet to be determined disc brake wheelset. If I upgrade at the shop, I can switch from the C38s that come with the bike to a CL 50 or CLX 50 just paying the difference in retail price. If I go with another wheelset, I’m paying full retail and may have difficulty where I’m located in getting good value on the C38s even selling them new, so we’re talking about a much bigger delta in price between Roval and Zipp/Enve. Would the CL or CLX 50 be a noticeable downgrade in terms of climbing and aero performance to the older 303 NSWs that I have now? My subjective experience of those 303 NSWs is that they are fast and snappy but perhaps slightly less snappy when hammering out of saddle and rocking bike than I would have wanted/expected for the price – at the same time, I’ve never tested (and can’t test) any other carbon wheelset, rim or disc, for comparison.

    I’m roughly 72 kg and do a real mix (50:50) of hills and flats in the UK. I’ve never measured FTP but have measured 820W on a sprint before and guesstimating around 550-650W when I’m passing slow riders on the bi-directional narrow lanes. My hill rides are somewhat steep, avg 7 degree grade with 11 degree sections, and am out of saddle somewhat frequently. I average 29-33 km/h on the flats (bi-directional so averages headwind + tailwind). Also am a fair weather rider riding exclusively on pavement.

    Hope that’s enough info, many thanks in advance for your advice.

    • Grant, I’d trade up and sell the wheelset if you find you need or want a stiffer wheelset or one that offers better performance. I don’t think the Roval will be any stiffer or responsive than the first gen Zipp NSW but the CLX 50 should be better on hills and more comfortable if you lower the pressure enough in a tubeless setup. Less so with the CL 50 though it’d be less of an investment and probably sell easier than the CLX 50. Either wheelset isn’t going to be as stiff as the Tarmac so you may find you want a stiffer one as you increase your FTP. 800 watts in a sprint and 30kmh average on the flats for your weight probably translates to a 250 FTP which shouldn’t tax the Rovals and show much difference in your aero performance. When you get to 300FTP+ and 35kmh, you may want to upgrade. Cheers, Steve

  • What are your thoughts on the new Roval Rapide CLX?

    • Jamal, Honestly, it’s a head-scratcher. Clincher only and a front rim width that won’t fit between some/many forks. That said, Specialized does some very forward-looking things and others just to get a lot of looks. They are able to make speed/aero claims about the new Tarmac SL7 that they wouldn’t without that wheelset. I remember them doing something like that a few years ago with a new Venge that included a wheelset that that they never really promoted in the aftermarket and was replaced within a couple years with the CLX series intended for that market. I’m not doubting this wheelset, I just don’t know whether it’s the future or a flash. I’ll watch it but don’t have any plans to test it. Steve

      • Steve, I wish you would consider testing the new Roval Rapide CLX. It looks like an interesting wheelset for those of us who are not interested in going tubeless.

  • Great article, these [DT Swiss ERC-1100 Dicust 47 Disc] are currently on sale for $1500! [here]

    • Tom, Thanks for the tip. While I don’t have any inside info on the evolution of the ERC line, I will note that DT just announced updates of their ARC line. While I stand by my review of the ERC 1100 Dicut 47 db wheelset and agree that it’s a great deal at this low price, a price drops like this often comes when stores try to clear their inventory knowing they’ve ordered an updated model that will replace it. Steve

  • Great in-depth and independent articles!
    Like Zipp 303 NSW’s but they might be to wide for frame – latest Zipp’s certainly are – hence now looking at other wheels and have Campag Bora WTO 45’s in mind.
    Like you think they are a thing of beauty and your write up on the WTO 33 was favourable, but have you ever tested the 45 or have any comment?
    FYI, wheels are intend for an Italian frame, so Campag and beauty would suit well, albeit not as wide as I would like, but that said only intended for solely road use.

  • I’d be interested to hear how the Shimano Dura Ace C40 Disc wheels compare with these.

  • Hi Steve!
    first of all… thanks for all the information which can be found on you website!
    i’m going to design my new bike (titanium, tailor-made, total custom) and in these days i’m collecting (…and getting mad with…) a lot of info about any components
    now the core topic of my reply…
    what do you think about Swiss Side wheelsets?
    i saw there is a strong collaboration with DT Swiss and, if i’m right, they design for them the rims for their wheels
    did you ever test or ride their wheels? have you ever heard reviews or opinions about them before? if not, based on the information on the swiss side website, would you recommend them or not?
    i really love DT swiss wheelsets (at the moment ERC 1100 disc brake is at the top of the wheels-for-new-bike ranking) but i would like an opinion from an expert as you…
    thank a lot!

    • Fausto, I’m afraid I’m no expert on DT Swiss and Swiss Side wheels. I only tested a few DT Swiss wheels including the ERC 1100 in this review. Never tested a Swiss Side wheelset. Their designs look a bit old and they are discounting all their wheels now. Maybe a new line is coming out… or the company will pursue another path? Steve

  • Torn on a few wheel choices, hoping to get your thoughts. Torn between the Knight Composite 50 Disc Clincher TLA 50s, new zipp 303 firecrest, and foundation 45s. Leaning towards the knights right now with the latter tied for second, but haven’t heard much on the knights. Thanks!

  • Since someone has to ask…with the ink almost dry on the writeup of the Enve 65 wheelset, do you have a test of the Enve 45 on your Radar?

    • Bleeep….bleeep….bleeep….bleeep…. It’s out there. Getting closer. Will let you know when the periscope goes up.

  • Hello,

    First off, many thanks for all your great reviews and buyer’s guides. Really valuable insights.

    Had a quick question. I am thinking about getting a set of SES 4.5ARs for my new tarmac sl 7. I’m looking for something with strong aero features but that is optimized around a 28mm wheel. With that context, i was wondering whether, in your experience, the 4.5AR passes the 105% Rule for most tires (specifically the Pro One TLE or the Turbo RapidAir 2Bliss).

    Cheers,

    Kevin

    • Kevin, The 28mm Pro One TLE does pass the rule on the front wheel of the 4.5 AR. (Rear wheel rim is narrower than the front but doesn’t contribute to aero performance nearly as much as front so can disregard rule violation.) The 28mm RapidAir is on the border of the rule depending on the pressure and tire age (it barely passes at 60psi and <500 miles). I found the RapidAir a b*tch to get off the 4.5AR and 3.4AR hookless rims so would be swayed to the Pro One even though the Schwalbe doesn't wear as long. Steve

      • Thanks, Steve! Really appreciated. I’m a big fan of the Pro Ones so will probably just stick with it until Conti sorts outs its hookless difficulties.

        One final Q: do you find it a bit odd that Zipp went so narrow (30mm) on the external width of the new 303 Firecrest? If I recall, the original 105 rule came out of Zipp research. They claim that the 303 Firecrest is optimized for aero performance around a 28mm tire — and in their accompanying technical paper make some pretty big aero claims vs. the old Firecrest and even the NSW. But clearly on a 25mm internal almost any tire will exceed the 105 rule. A bit of a head scratcher for me.

        • Kevin, Not sure if you saw my review of the new 303 Firecrest Disc but I think they went for versatility over first-place performance in any one area. It’s a good all-around and among the better road climbing and gravel wheelsets. But you can’t do everything well so it looks like they sacrificed some external width (and depth) to keep it light for climbing paved and gravel roads. And it’s really too shallow to be an aero wheelset. The ENVE 3.4 AR is similar as a light climber and gravel wheelset but they managed to get the rims a couple mm wider without affecting the weight to make it a better gravel set.

          The 4.5 AR is more of an aero/all around wheelset that you can ride with wide tires on without aero penalty but also that absorbs a lot of rough roads. The 5.6 disc (review) is really the best option if aero is your thing and you are ok with 25mm. I find them plenty comfortable enough for me at 150lbs/68kg and 70-75lbs with 25mm tires. You could also ride a 25mm on the front and 28mm on the back with minimal (1-2W?) aero penalty if you wanted more comfort. Steve

          The Rule of 105 came from an earlier Zipp engineering leadership team and I’ve been told that they have moved on from that as the dominant design principle. You can see from their Total System Efficiency mantra now that they are trading off a bunch of different design and performance considerations. Steve

          • Thanks, Steve.

            On the 4.5 vs 5.6, as I’m sure you are well aware, Hunt published a couple technical papers over the past year or so that included multiple wind tunnel results for both. With the big caveat that results need to be interpreted with a large degree of caution, I was struct by finding that going from the 4.5 (disc and rim) to the 5.6 only saves you a handful of watts (2-4W). Perhaps more importantly, similar findings also held when comparing mid-depth aero to full on aero wheels of other firms (e.g., Zipp and Roval). Also of note, the 4.5 AR was tested with the old (wider) Pro One TLE rather than the narrower recent version.

            In the context of Zipp’s new TSE mantra — where the 4.5 AR would also get all the purported benefits of wide tires, wide internal rims, and hookless design — would it be reasonable to conclude that in a large share of real world riding conditions (less than ideal tarmac), that the 4.5AR (28mm) might actually be faster than the 5.6?

          • Kevin, a few things.
            1) I don’t consider wind tunnel tests of competitive products done by a competitor to be objective (Hunt’s relative lack of engineering expertise and focus on marketing further clouds this picture). Wind tunnel testing has so many variables (speed, yaw angles and weighting, tire choice, wheel on/off bike, etc.) that one could clearly design and run a test or choose from different test protocols that make one product look good and another look bad. Independent testing is worth considering but the same variables can make some wheels look better or worse depending on the testing protocol. (see Hambini vs. the cycling industry.)
            2) I would consider the relative performance in wind tunnel testing an experienced company may do of its own products valuable but not the absolute wattage differences. Unless you ride those wheels under the same conditions as in the wind tunnel, and very likely you don’t, there’s just no way to put an absolute wattage difference figure on them that translate to the road. That said, the 5.6 disc is more aero than the 4.5AR based on Enve’s testing but by how much is debatable and potentially not relevant to the kind of riding you do.
            3) Zipp’s TSE approach is another one of those proprietary formulations of what matters in determining speed that is hard to independently validate. I like that they incorporate the energy you save (body vibration losses) riding a wider wheelset but who knows how that plays with each of us riding with different fitness levels, ride lengths, road surfaces, human tissue conditions, etc. let alone the simpler considerations of other contact points like how cushiony your bar wraps or how comfortable your shoes are or how much compliance is built into your bike.
            There are also some fallacies built into the TSE approach, at least in the way people apply them.
            – First, wider tires provide a wide contact patch and lower rolling resistance ONLY if you inflate them to the same tire pressure as the narrower ones you are comparing to and depending on the tire model. Of course, most people don’t inflate a wider tire to the same pressure as a narrower one; they ride a wider tire so they can inflate it to a lower pressure for more comfort.
            – Further, a wider tire offers less wind resistance, only if it comes up narrower than the rim per the rule of 105 we’ve talked about earlier. My measurements showed that the Zipp 303 Firecrest Disc 30mm external rim width didn’t measure 105% mounted with four 28mm tubeless tires including the new Schwalbe Pro One TLE and Spech Rapidair that you were interested in and also with Zipp’s own Tangente Speed RT28.
            – To net it out, per the TSE equation for the Firecrest, you may save some energy/watts with the wider tire (same as you would with that same wider tire on most any 25mm rim) but you wouldn’t get any more contribution to your speed from lesser rolling resistance (if you lowered the pressure) or wind resistance. You would gain some speed from the lighter weight wheels on 7% plus grades, but that doesn’t happen often or for long unless you are doing a climbing ride. (1K feet/10 miles)
            3) Using the same TSE concepts to compare the 4.5AR and 5.6 disc which weigh essentially the same, you’d likely save more energy/watts with lower pressure tires on 4.5AR but get more aero benefits from the 5.6, assuming you picked tires and inflated them to levels that passed the 105 rule on both the 4.5AR and 5.6. Rolling resistance, at aero speeds, would likely matter little between, say a 28mm, 60psi tire on the 4.5AR and the same model 25mm, 70psi tire on the 5.6 disc.

            If it were me, I would choose between them based on a lot of situational things – how fast do you ride (favors the more aero wheelset), how long do you ride (favors the more compliant wheel/tire setup), how rough are the roads (favors the more compliant wheel/tire setup), how aggressive a rider are you (favors the 5.6 which has more snap), how competitive do your ride, how wide a wheelset can your bike fit (might matter if it can’t take the AR width), how strong is your back, what kind of condition are you in, how fast do you recover, how much compliance is built into your bike, etc.

            More aggressive, younger, competitive, aero focused, fit riders doing hard group rides or races would lean to the 5.6 whereas those who are some, but perhaps not all of those things and ride rougher roads would probably enjoy the 4.5 AR more.

            Frankly, you can’t go wrong with either. Ultimately, I’d suggest you go with the wheelset you believe in for whatever combination of rational and emotional reasons because when you do, you will ride more confidently and happier with your choice. That will likely make you ride faster and have more fun than you would, regardless of all the tech distinctions, than if you are riding a wheelset you are unsure about or second-guessing.

            It’s about going fast, believing in yourself and gear, and having fun.

            Time to climb out of this rabbit hole. Cheers, Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Wow. Many many thanks for taking the the time to respond and outline so systemically your analysis. I was not expecting such a detailed and thoughtful response.

    One of the things that is so frustrating from a consumer standpoint at the moment is the light speed at which wheel design philosophy is changing. Pair that with all the mixed messaging from industry on the benefits of tubeless vs tubed (exhibit A: roval’s recent release of the Rapide and Alpinist CLX), and it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when contemplating dropping a few thousand loonies (what we call a dollar here in Canada) on a wheelset.

    As such, really appreciate you helping us roadies navigate the morass of information being put out there by manufactures.

    To close the loop: I ordered the 4.5 AR and upgraded the hub to the new DT 240. So stoked! 🙂 After a few more seasons I may switch over to the 5.6 AR (I assume it will be released by then haha).

    Best,

    K.

  • Hi Steve,
    Do you have any information about the Fulcrum WIND 40 DB. I have the Racing 500s that came on my Cannondale Synapse and am considering the reasonably priced upgrade.
    Thanks,
    John

  • Hi Steve- any thoughts on the new Giant SLR1 42mm hookless disc brake wheelset? They’re a good price and seem well made

  • Have you tried the Bora WTO 45? Those look like they would have been a more appropriate option from Campy considering the competitors. Thanks for the great reviews! Always a good read!

  • Just wanted to flag that Tour Magazin recently (aero) tested both the new Roval Rapide CLX and DT ARC 1100 DB in their 10/2020 addition. Unclear if all wheels were tested with the same tire (which would be odd, of course), but the Rapide (35mm wide) surprisingly tested almost identical to the ARC 1100 (27mm wide).

    • Kevin, Thanks. After taking a look at the article, it’s hard to tell what protocol they were using other than the stated -20 to +20 degrees of yaw (no weighting indicated) at 45 kph. From the photos, it looks like they used different tires – a Specialized on the Roval, a Conti (5000 TL?) or a Schwalble Pro One on some of the others, and hard to tell on the ENVE. Tire widths and pressures not indicated. Four of the five wheelsets came within 1.5 watts of each other or about 0.5%. So there’s little difference in the results of what they tested in the way they tested them but hard to know what difference there might be if the tires were optimized for the wheels (e.g. rule of 105).

      And that’s just the aero considerations. The other comparative factors they use are stiffness, acceleration, and weight. No mention of compliance, handling, responsiveness, versatility that I’ve found are also important. Steve

      • Hi Steve,

        TOUR’s full testing protocol can be found here:

        https://www.tour-magazin.de/service/so_testet_tour/rennrad-test-in-labor-und-auf-der-strasse/a45576.html

        You can click through for the aero and wheel specific protocols.

        I reached out to the guys at ‘cycles et forme’ (CeF) to see if they had any idea, as they covered both Tour’s wheel test and their test of the new Tarmac SL7. Apparently all wheels other than the Rapide were tested with GP5K. (I assume because spesh requested it?)

        http://www.cyclesetforme.fr/largeur-de-roue-ou-va-ton-en-roulement-et-aerodynamisme/

        CeF speculated that the front wheel design (massive 35mm external) may have been specifically designed to deal with the very poor aerodynamics of the turbo cotton tire (open tubular leading to boundary layer issues in relation to laminar and more turbulent flows).

        Makes a little sense, on the face of it. I’ve seen some data from Tom Anhalt where once you get down to a tiny 21mm turbo (the volcanized version not the cotton, but also a not great aero tire) on the CLX 64, it starts to perform similar to something like a GP4K. In addition, spesh has released data showing that the Rapide actually performs a tad better aero-wise with the turbo cotton compared to the s-works tubeless 2bliss. No idea how aero that tire is, but it certainly can’t be anywhere as poor as an open tubular/cotton sidewall tire.

        https://cyclingtips.com/2020/09/specialized-and-roval-have-stopped-investing-in-tubulars-heres-why/

        All a bit of mystery once you add in the whole non-tubeless compatible drama.

        Cheers,

        K.

        • Kevin, Thanks for the additional info. While all very interesting for nerdy types like you and me and perhaps some of our fellow enthusiasts, we should take some of this with a grain of salt e.g. the Specialized talking points presented in Cycling Tips. We should also recognize that other aspects just aren’t terribly relevant to most enthusiasts e.g. Turbo Cotton tires are very fast wearing race day tires that most enthusiasts aren’t going to ride, many bikes don’t have enough clearance for the 35mm wide Rapide wheelset and its natural deflection between their front forks, and most enthusiasts won’t notice a weight difference less than 100 to 150 grams. For pros, all of this matters. For enthusiasts, it doesn’t until you’ve gotten the most out of your training and technique and even then, perhaps only for those that are also racing at high amateur levels.

          I readily admit to getting nerdy in my reviews, for example measuring rim to tire-widths against the rule of 105 for my best tubeless tires review. I went through all of that so readers don’t wreck the aero performance of the deeper wheels we spend so much on by the wrong choice of tire model or width. However, my take on rolling resistance, weight, and aero performance is their differences among the wheels I review in a given category (everyday tubeless tires, climbing wheels, and aero wheels respectively) aren’t significant enough to be a deciding factor when compared to other criteria I outline and evaluate. Cheers, Steve

  • Hi there,

    I already own a DT Swiss ERC 1100 as an all around wheelset and I am currently on the research for a climbing disc wheelset. My budget limits my options to 2.000€. After reading your articles I am between Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 and Zipp 303 Firecrest. The main drawback of Bora WTO 33 is that there is no significant weight difference regarding to DT Swiss that I already have.
    1. Do you think that I will notice any difference between these two wheelsets (Bora vs DT Swiss)?
    I tend more to Zipp 303 Firecrest because there is a significant weight difference.
    2. Which wheelset do you think is better (Bora vs Zipp)?
    3. What is your opinion of tubular wheelsets? By choosing a tubular wheelset you can reduce the weight significantly. Campagnolo Bora One 35 weighs only 1285gr.

    Thank you in advance,
    Paschalis

    • Paschalis, If you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to read my review of the best lightweight wheels for climbing. In it, I review and compare 4 climbing disc wheelsets and share my view of tubular wheels.

      As to your specific questions
      1. No, I don’t think you’d feel much of a difference as I noted in my comparative chart in this review.
      2. If climbing is your overriding objective, I’d recommend the Zipp 303 Firecrest Disc over the Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 DB, each with tubeless tires. But, as you can see in the post I linked you to above, I think you can do better than either of those at the price of a Bora WTO or DT Swiss ERC if you are looking for a dedicated climbing wheelset.
      3. If you are dedicated to climbing and willing to deal with the hassles, risks, and potentially higher rolling resistance (compared to some clincher and tubeless tires) that come with a lighter, tubular wheelset, then tubulars are a way to cut weight.

      I would also add that you can improve your climbing performance in other, potentially more significant ways including increasing your FTP and reducing your body mass. More in my review of how to ride faster. Those are also good ways to save a lot of money too! Steve

      • Hi Steve,

        Thank you for your response.
        I didn’t mention before that except from the DT Swiss wheelset, I also own a Mavic Cosmic Pro SL UST disc wheelset (it was a present). These two wheelsets have similar specs and I think is better to sell one of them and buy a wheelset with different specs. Thats how I decided to go for a climbing wheelset.
        1. I feel that DT swiss wheelset is better than Mavic on the road. What is your opinion?
        2. Would make any sense selling Mavic to buy Zipp 303 Firecrest? Or should I stick with the Mavic wheelset?

        Thank you in advance,
        Paschalis

  • Have you tried out the Prime Black Edition out of interest? They have very good customer reviews and look good on paper. I know you have previously advised on the Zipp 303S as a better ‘value carbon’ option than the budget brand, direct to consumer options. However, you weren’t over the moon with the 303S and they seem to be marketed as an all rounder rather than an out and out road wheel. The recommended tyre size is 28mm and I’m not sold on hookless on the basis that you will struggle to achieve the ‘105 rule’ if the tyre needs to be 110% the internal rim width.
    I am also interested in Scribe wheels, which look good on paper, but are loud and the company are only 2 years old. Winspace Hyper also look interesting.

    • Sean, I have reviewed earlier rim and disc brake models from Prime (here). While they’ve introduced newer models since then, the basic characteristics of the Prime, and many other of what I call “value-carbon” wheelsets sold direct by “Branders” and “Manufacturers” I wrote about in two reviews (here and here) are much the same – they don’t perform near the level of the better carbon wheels along one or more of the dimensions that matter – stiffness, comfort, acceleration, aero/crosswind, etc. The specs and prices are attractive (and the marketing is often very good) and they clearly serve the needs of cyclists who can’t and don’t want to spend the money or don’t ride at a level to justify the expense of a higher performance carbon wheelset.

      It sounds like the 303 S isn’t for you and may not be for many riders. Perhaps you can find some better options in the value-carbon category that fit your budget and performance needs. Best, Steve

  • Steve, quick (random) Q: did the AR 4.5s actually weight 1518g with rim tape on your scales? If so that’s pretty impressive given the claimed weight! Cheers, K.

    • Kevin, Yes, I tested a few years ago with the DT Swiss 240 hub which they don’t offer anymore. The claimed weight with that hub was 1506 and my weight was 1518. Tape is about 10g per wheel extra (one wrap only with ENVE tape). I will update the chart to reflect this. So probably still under 1600g with the ENVE alloy hub that replaced it and tape. That’s pretty light for their depth and one reason they climb relatively well. In my experience with a half dozen ENVE wheelsets, they measure +/- 10-15 grams their claims. Steve

      • Many thanks Steve! Appreciate you taking the time to answer questions. I assume that the weight totals do not include tubeless stems, in your great posts?

  • Have you seen the revolver XW wheel range? A 45mm deep wheel with sub 1500g claimed weight tubeless ready with hooked rims at £1300… looks pretty ideal for this category (and me!)

    • Hi Tommy, Thanks for the heads up. Their depth/width/weight spec isn’t unique and the price is perhaps 10-20% below better known/established brands. Warranty (18 mos) is shorter than most. No info on who designs, makes, tests them, and where to get sales/service support. Seem like more of a regional/country-focused brand which is fine but ITKC readers are all over so would be harder for most to get support without sending them back. They may be great wheels or not but these are the kinds of considerations I have to make before deciding to buy/test wheels from the many companies out there selling them. Steve

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